Wednesday night I had the opportunity to participate in the race relations project for credit in my business ethics class. After sorting us into racially diverse small groups, the moderators kicked off the talk by asking us whether stereotypes are accurate, racist or helpful.
After sharing personal experiences of racial prejudice and our thoughts on the effectiveness of being politically correct, discussion turned to the generational gap that often discourages the respect of other races. If a senior citizen has racist proclivities but does not regularly encounter members of other races, does society still have a moral duty to enlighten the senior, and further is it still ok for him to continue to hold to his racist prejudices?
The group was pretty split between those who found the senior’s prejudices acceptable and those who did not.
Ethical relativism -the notion we all have our own different but equally valid moral standards, does not exist in real life. Just because bribery is the norm for African governments (our own too) doesn’t make corruption any less wrong.
So how is it ok for seniors to be racist when our generation knows it isn’t proper social conduct? I fully appreciate the duty we have to respect the elderly, but historically it hasn’t been the more consequential problem.
We don’t need to campaign for ethnic tolerance among seniors, but I do think we owe it to society to call older people out when they fall out of line with acceptable behavior. If we don’t, we’re sending a message that “I don’t care about you enough to explain to you why you’re wrong and what the implications of your paradigms are”. After all, is there really such a thing as a happy racist? If someone refuses to forgive, then he is making a choice not to love. If he refuses to love others, then he’s unable to allow platonic love to enter into his live, and as a result he will not be as satisfied as humans were made to be.
The short: if you really do care about a person, then you should be less worried about offending him than you should be about his long term happiness.