catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Can people be racist and tolerant?

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A Newspoll published in this morning’s Australian asks:

Overall, as a society, would you agree or disagree that Australians today are:

Tolerant – 53%
Racist – 44%

I hadn’t seen that poll when I was asked to write an op-ed that also appears in the Australian today. Through discussing polls on these subjects, I argue that tolerance and racism are not opposites. Racism is a negative view of people of other ethnic backgrounds, but tolerance is a code of behaviour when faced with people we don’t like, for whatever reason. In a multicultural society – taking that term in its widest sense, and not just the cultural differences associated with ethnicity – there would be few of us who manage to take an equally positive view of all those around us. It is impossible to achieve agreement or consensus on many subjects. But it is possible to achieve tolerance, a peaceful co-existence. This is why people can be racist and tolerant at the same time. They may not like people of other ethnic groups, but this is not a prejudice they would act on.

This is hardly an original point on my part. Liberals have been arguing it for centuries, from the time that John Locke acknowledged the futility of trying to get everyone to agree on the one true religion and argued instead for mutual tolerance. But we still intuitively think that attitudes lead to behaviour, and so believe that racism and tolerance are necessarily opposites.

Written by Admin

December 22, 2005 at 7:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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