Stephan Eric Bonner in Salon:
Karl Marx once quipped that “violence is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” Just as surely, however, prejudice is the midwife of violence. The bigot embraced this view from the start. Hatred of the Jews goes back to Egypt and Babylonia. Contempt for what the Greeks considered the “barbarian”—whoever was not of Greece—existed even at the height of the classical period. And Homer already understood the struggles of the outcast and the stranger. What today might be termed ethnic or racial conflicts between empires, religions, tribes, and clans have always shaped the historical landscape.
But there is a sense in which modernity created the bigot. Prior to the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century, perfectly decent people simply accepted prevailing prejudices as a matter of course. They suffered no opprobrium. Even in early twentieth-century America, few people (other than the targets of prejudice) were especially bothered that major-league baseball admitted only whites, that the armed forces were segregated, that rape and incest were barely mentioned, and that the white male was the standard by which intelligence was judged. The bigot of today, in recalling the jokes and everyday humiliations that these groups endured, seeks to re-create the normality of prejudice. That subaltern groups have proven so successful in resisting his project only intensifies his frustration.