prej·u·dice: from Latin praejudicium, meaning previous judgment
Although there are several implications of this word, its most basic definition, as suggested by its Latin derivation, is “preconceived judgment or opinion.” Far from necessarily being a bad thing, at times, prejudice is essential. Like cholesterol, there is good prejudice and bad prejudice.
Painful life experience has taught everyone thousands of little lessons. Here are a few non-controversial examples.
Don’t eat this particular food because it will make you sick.
Give a wide berth to snarling dogs.
Don’t do more business with someone who has already cheated you.
Avoid people with obvious contagious illnesses.
Would a young lady all by herself, late at night in a high-rise office building, feel better about getting into an elevator containing a frail 85-year-old woman, or one holding five big, strapping, young Black men? There is the possibility that the old woman could be a serial killer, and the young men be Baptist preachers, but most young ladies would choose the elevator with the old woman. This is clearly a prejudicial act, but is it wrong?
Ratcheting things up just a bit, we are aware that all the recent terrorists have been Arabs. Does it make any sense NOT to profile this group during airport inspections? Yet, there are countless incidents whereby the most unlikely people are subjected to extra scrutiny, just to demonstrate that the system isn’t prejudiced, as if that were a virtue. On a recent trip, I personally observed a tiny, elderly Japanese woman being harassed mercilessly by inspection personnel. How clever to squander precious resources, and maybe even miss a real suspect, just to be politically correct.
No doubt, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta recalls his own internment during World War II, and despises the very idea of profiling. However, the analogy does not hold up. In what was easily the most flagrant violation of civil rights in 20th century America, under the War Relocation Authority, citizens and aliens alike were rounded up and placed in concentration camps, strictly because of their race. At the same time, Japanese-American men were fighting with valor in the European theater.
Many public officials, including J. Edgar Hoover, were against the relocation and internment, but it became law by executive order in February, 1942. FDR’s hatred of the Japanese is no secret, and without question was the primary reason for the order. Another revered liberal, Earl Warren, was outspoken in his support for the policy, during his successful run for the governorship of California.
To this day, it is not widely known that two months before Pearl Harbor, the State Department sent a special investigator, Curtis B. Munson, to report on the disposition of the Japanese-American communities on the West Coast and Hawaii. According to Munson, Japanese-Americans possessed an extraordinary degree of loyalty to the United States, and immigrant Japanese were of no danger to our nation. His findings were corroborated by the FBI and Navy Intelligence, who had put the Japanese-American population under covert surveillance for a number of years. Of course, these reports were all kept secret.
No rational person could compare mere investigative profiling to the wholesale removal of civil rights from more than 100,000 people. We might ask Mineta about his thought processes in this connection.
We might also ask Mineta why he has been a liberal Democrat for his entire political career, despite the appalling wrongs done to him and his brethren by the very patron saint of liberalism, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
What truthful answer could he give except…”Prejudice”?