Okay, I have a question for you:
Is it appropriate to call someone who disagrees with your political views a bigot?
Why I'm asking: fantasy author Jane Yolen – whose books I LOVED as a kid, I should note – criticized a Tea Partier for reading a children's story to kids at a library at the same time that the Tea Party is demanding cuts in spending that will eliminate those libraries. In response, some guy on the internet [linked to in the link I just provided] called her a "hateful bigot."
Now, I thought the use of that label was telling. Myself, I have always sort of understood bigotry to be directed against something more immutable than political belief. That is, it's an attitude directed toward a group of people who share some characteristic, frequently some quality that they cannot change, and largely based on ignorance about that group. I'm not saying this is necessarily the scientific definition – it's just how I understood it. So you can be bigoted against racial or ethnic or religious groups – for instance, someone who thinks that "them damn brown Mexican wetbacks are taking all our JERBS!!!" would be a bigot. But I've tended to think that you simply disagree with a political belief. So that someone who believes there should be stricter immigration controls isn't a bigot simply for believing that.
Where it gets complicated is that of course, someone might support stricter immigration controls purely because they are a bigot – because they want to keep out all those nasty brown immigrants who have the temerity not to speak English, say. But wanting stricter controls need not, in and of itself, be evidence of bigotry. (Unless you believe that everyone who wants to clamp down on the border does so for bigoted reasons, but let's just assume that's not the case – I was just struggling for a hypothetical here!)
Of course, as I say, this is just my understanding of the word. So I looked it up in Merriam-Webster's (not having access to the OED at the moment – anyone else have access?), which defines a "bigot" as:
a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.
I think that kind of gets at how I understand the term.
The point is, I find it striking that the Tea Party (or, this one guy who seems to identify as such, at least) would call someone who disagrees with them a "hateful bigot" rather than an idiot or misguided or wrong or plain old liberal. As a rhetorical move, it analogizes being a Tea Partier to being a member of some other kind of minority group defined by an immutable characteristic – race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin (I'll throw in religion, too – it's maybe not as immutable as race; people leave and join churches all the time – but in modern society it seems to me that, especially, Jews and Muslims are frequently judged as such even if they leave those churches; plus you have the sort of ethnic/racial component of Judaism; all very complicated!).
In this respect, I think it's telling that the very first comment on the Merriam-Webster definition of "bigot" (M-W asks you to tell them why you looked up the word) reads:
I looked up "bigot" because I find it very ironic that so called "tolerant" people see nothing wrong in attacking, berating and making widespread assumptions about white, conservative Christians.
And in response to a comment about anti-GLBT sentiment as bigotry, another commenter wrote:
Cameron, you and the GLBT minority would also be considered bigots for your relentless quest to torture and illegalize(sic) the Christian majority.
(Ah, yes – it's wrong to criticize Christians because they're the majority! Just what our constitution is about: Majority rule wins!) (Sorry, couldn't resist snarking at that one.)
I guess this isn't really new; for instance, I know that for a while now, Republican student groups on various campuses have sought to gain some kind of "protected class" status, on the grounds that in academia, they are the minority and need protection from the majority. (Sorry, no specific links/cites here; just based on vague memories. In fact, I think this was happening way back when I was in college!)
So. I find it odd to call Jane Yolen a bigot for believing that the spending cuts the Tea Party wants to make will force libraries to close and limit childrens' access to books and reading. But I don't find it odd to, say, call Michele Bachmann a bigot for opposing GLBT rights. Is that inconsistent or illogical? Should I rethink my definition of bigotry?