Kami Jordan: Find ways to overcome any political prejudices

Racism, while far from being wiped out, has become publicly unfashionable. Racist remarks by public figures are condemned instantly by traditional and social media, but "partyism" still wears a cloak of respectability, and recent studies show political prejudice is far more prevalent than racism.

In 2013, interracial marriages made up a record 12 percent of newlyweds, while a 2009 survey showed only 9 percent of marriages are bipartisan. Considering there are many more other-party singles than non-white singles, the effect of prejudice is even more pronounced than the statistics reveal.

In a 2014 Pew Research Center study, 63 percent of conservatives and 49 percent of liberals reported, "Most of my close friends share my political views." One wonders who the additional 14 percent of liberals are making friends with.

In the same study, 50 percent of conservatives and 35 percent of liberals said, "It's important to me to live in a place where most people share my political views."

Partyism has financial fallout as well. A 2014 Stanford University study asked more than 1,000 people to evaluate scholarship candidates. Some applications contained racial markers, such as the president of the African American Student Association, while others contained political markers, such as president of the Young Republicans.


The racial cues made a significant difference. Black participants selected black candidates 73 percent of the time, and whites also showed a slight preference for black candidates (55 percent).

But political affiliation was a much stronger predictor of who was chosen. Democrats chose the in-party candidate 80 percent of the time, and Republicans selected the in-party candidate 69 percent of the time, with the academic credentials of the candidate making little to no difference.

Now, let's not minimize racism. There is an important difference between the two types of prejudice. Racism and other biases such as sexism are based on a power differential and result in the oppression of an entire class of people. Partyism occurs between two groups of relatively equal social power, depending to some extent on where you live and work. Equity is not the issue with political prejudice. So what is?

As social isolation — the growing preference to marry, make friends with and live near others who think like us — increases, we listen less to the other side, understand less and drift farther to the extremes of right and left. This increasing polarization is bad for democracy. A two-party system of government like ours depends on compromise.

Congress has received heavy criticism recently for its inability to compromise, but elected representatives simply reflect the mood of the voters. Those who are too moderate are voted out — or, like John Boehner, driven out by party hardliners.

Rising isolation also is leading to growing hostility between the two sides. As Shanto Iyengar, the author of the Stanford study, writes, "Americans increasingly dislike people and groups on the other side of the political divide and face no social repercussions for the open expression of these attitudes."

A double standard has developed. Social norms have made open insults of most groups taboo, but such restraint does not apply to political affiliation. Columnist Courtland Milloy responded to tea party protests of the health-care reform act saying, "I want to spit on them, take one of their 'Obama Plan White Slavery' signs and knock every racist and homophobic tooth out of their Cro-Magnon heads." This was no anonymous commenter spewing venom below a blog post; this was on the front page of the Washington Post.

Can you imagine a newspaper getting away with expressing similar sentiments about Native Americans or lesbians? Why are the social norms so different for partisanship?


Perhaps partly because political affiliation is a choice, unlike race or gender. But a bigger reason may be what New York Times columnist David Brooks calls the "hyper-moralization" of politics. He writes, "Politics becomes a marker for basic decency. Those who are not members of the right party are deemed to lack basic compassion or basic loyalty to country."

When opposing political opinions are viewed as morally reprehensible, the obligation to respect the people holding those opinions loses strength. How often have you heard Dick Cheney described as "evil" or Obama as a "terrorist"? We see their political choices as unscrupulous, assume malicious motives and rush to condemn. Compromise becomes immoral, giving in to evil.

So what can we do? Here are a few suggestions: Reach across party lines by reading thoughtful books and asking others' opinions. Listen for the good in their motives even when you disagree with their position. Avoid talk shows and blogs that demonize the other party. Tell your legislators — state and national — that you favor compromise. Speak with respect of the other party and politicians you disagree with.

Changing the culture of political prejudice and hostility begins with us.

Kami Jordan, of Rochester, is the Diversity Council's office and communications coordinator.

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