Society’s idea of prejudice is itself prejudiced. It’s time to confront that
A few years ago the Washington Post attached a note to the bottom of a news feature on San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin and his then incarcerated father, declaring that the journalist, Deanna Paul, “has a parent who was formerly incarcerated”. The implication was that she was or could be biased. It seems like a gratuitous exposure of a private history and perhaps humiliation for the journalist that proceeded from the widespread assumption that a person who has experienced something firsthand emerges with prejudice or bias. This often comes up in jury selection – for example, the idea that someone who has been sexually assaulted will not be impartial in a trial about sexual assault (which given that about 20% of women, by conservative statistics, are survivors of sexual assault, would disqualify a lot of us, and a lot more women than men). But the opposite may be true.
I came across the example about Paul’s byline when I was reading Clio Chang’s reporting in New York magazine on the case of another Washington Post reporter, Felicia Sonmez, who was “told that, by speaking up about her alleged assault, she had acted like an ‘activist’ and had ‘taken a side on the issue’, which in their view meant her reporting on assault could open the paper up to accusations of bias”. What is the other side than the victim’s side in sexual assault? Is it siding with the perpetrator? Is it not believing the victim? And how far do we extend this idea that to have experienced a thing is to have become biased? Its premise seems to be that someone who has not experienced a thing is not biased.
Rebecca Solnit is a Guardian US columnist. Her most recent books are Recollections of My Nonexistence and Orwell’s RosesContinue reading...