Prejudice History Essay
Difference of all people and unwillingness to accept it have always caused the majority of conflicts in the society. At first sight, it seems quite strange that the majority of people doesn’t want to admit the fact that all of them are individuals and have a right to have their own unique beliefs, habits and ways of life. People are usually guided by the wish to be superior to others and to oppress them due to this superiority. Therefore, they take every chance to find any drawback in others and to accuse them in their imperfection and their incompatibility with the society.
However, very often all these so-called drawbacks are nothing more than prejudice that is the foundation of most of social conflicts. If there are no grounds for conflicts, people can imagine them in order to humiliate others and to tower above them. Prejudice helps weak people to assert themselves and believe in their omnipotence.
This idea is corroborated by Jean-Paul Sartre’s work “Anti-Semite and Jew”. In his book, he develops the idea that anti-Semitism is a means of self-assertion of those who oppress Jews. He calls it “bad faith” and is sure that “if the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him” (Sartre, 15). In such a way, we see that Sartre sees the cause of anti-Semitism in the human wish to seem greater, more powerful and never to be lonely.
In his work, Sartre rests upon several key notions. They are the authentic Jew, the inauthentic Jew, the democrat and the anti-Semite. Jews are described by Sartre as people who can be easily assimilated with others as they, in fact, have no civilization. As Sartre claims, they have the Jewish identity only because anti-Semites imposed this idea on them. Despite the argumentativeness of this idea the reasons of anti-Semitism are described by Sartre quite clearly and convincingly. Discussing the problems of co-existing of democrats, anti-Semites and Jews, Jean-Paul Sartre shows how people distort the problem according to their aims and points of view. While anti-Semites purposely invent this problem, trying to win the non-existent enemies, the democrats pretend not to see this problem and to admit the identity of Jews in order not to solve any problems and to speak freely about equality of rights of all people in the society. We see that though the book was written by the author in the nineteenth century, today the situation has not changed much and both politics and discriminators try to benefit at the expense of others.
Sartre’s attempt to find the roots of anti-Semitism with the help of psychological analysis makes his work interesting and unusual. His assertion that “it is first of all a passion” (Sartre, 12) makes us ponder over those factors that made people choose passion and reason as their guide. People refuse to think rationally; instead, they surrender themselves to indulging their caprices and wishes. Those who oppress others are mostly weak people with a great amount of complexes and phobias. Sartre wrote that anti-Semite is “a coward who does not want to admit his cowardice to himself” (Sartre, 30) He is afraid “of himself, of his own consciousness, of his own liberty, of his instincts, of his responsibilities, of solitariness, of change, of society, and the world – of everything except the Jews” (Sartre, 30). So, it is evident that the choice to hate Jews comes from the fear of the outer world. Having chosen the most suitable object for hate and oppression, anti-Semites feel more self-confident. They unite together as they afraid to be aside and to win reputation of a person with independent views.
Owing to Sartre’s thorough research of the causes of anti-Semitism, we can see the reasons of any prejudice that stirs up hatred among people. The need in some faith that can be a good support in life often results in the wrong choice of that very faith. “The anti-Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith” (Sartre,25) Likewise, people who oppress homosexuals, do it because of their weakness and of their need to prove themselves.
In order to receive evidence that every prejudice is founded on human foibles and on self-assertion of some people at the expense of others, we should analyze the book written by John D’Emilio, called “Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities”. Though this book seems to describe a quite different social problem, it has much in common with Sartre’s work. In spite of the reasons, people’s discrimination has the same history and the same roots in any time and in any country.
If to compare these two books and the experience of two social groups being oppressed, certainly we can find both common features and differences. Speaking about the prejudice history, while Jean-Paul Sartre gives a profound analysis of anti-Semitism, based on psychological and philosophical concepts, John d’Emilio focuses on the history of homosexual liberation movement. Recounting the process of its development John d’Emilio gives the readers to understand the reasons of such attitude to homosexuals and the way this attitude was formed by the society. As Sartre considered that the problem of anti-Semitism was formed by people and it was the society that shaped the attitude and favored its development, John d’Emilio also saw the roots of the problem in the society. He wrote “It also made sense to play with taken-for-granted concepts like sexual orientation and ask whether they had always existed, whether they described the essence of human beings, or whether they were creations of history that came into being under one set of social, cultural and economic conditions and might remake themselves in yet other ways in the future” (D’Emilio, 53). Researching this question d’Emilio made a conclusion that the inferiority of homosexuals was imposed by certain people and not by the history. “In combating prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory practices gay liberationists encountered a quite clearly articulated body of thought about homosexuality” (D’Emilio, 25). Still the author of the book specifies the part of the society that has the most influence on sexual minorities. In the course of his research during the trips around the USA John d’Emilio made sure that these were sexual communities and he noted their importance on the development of liberation movement in the title of the book “Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities”. “I saw how dependent the movement was on the subculture; in reality, the subculture or community, was the sea in which activists swam” (D’Emilio, 125)
John d’Emilio was interested not only in the development of the movement but also in the time of its beginning. There is an established point of view that the homosexual liberation movement started in 1969 with the Stonewall Rebellion. D’Emilio shows that gays and lesbians started asserting their rights much earlier.
Except this new fact we learn many others interesting and sometimes shocking details about the liberation movement. Due to d’Emilio’s thorough research we realize how oppressed homosexuals were in the second half of the twentieth century and how much they had to do and to experience in order to gain more or less equal with others position nowadays.
Still if to compare the history of anti-Semitism and the one of oppression of homosexuals, we see that being quite different in the development and taking place in different countries, these processes had quite similar roots. Human unwillingness to accept the equality of people in spite of all differences, intolerance against individuals that can differ somehow from others, the need to rule over others favor the development of prejudice in the society. Two books are united by the common idea – every prejudice as well as the stratification of society into inferior and superior groups is invented and imposed by people.
According to Sartre, Jews were persecuted just because they were chosen by other people as the object of oppression. They had to find ways out of that situation and had to struggle for their rights. Homosexuals were oppressed because people decided that their difference from others could be the solid ground for their inferiority and persecution. When gays and lesbians tried to change situation, they faced the wall of reluctance of society to give in and to admit its wrongness.
Both books “Anti-Semite and Jew” by Jean-Paul Sartre
“Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities” by John d’Emilio made a significant contribution into history and helped millions of people to realize the problems of our society and to better understand the status of minority groups and their way to liberation.
Having analyzed two books, devoted to the oppression of particular social groups, we can say that any prejudice has almost the same roots. Despite the fact that these books describe absolutely different social groups (Jews and homosexuals) in different countries, the process of their aspiration to equality, the development of liberation movement had very similar nature and both these strata experienced the same difficulties and challenges. That is another evidence of the idea that any prejudice has the same historical basis.