A bigot, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, is “a narrow-minded person who is intolerant of other creeds, opinions, races, etc., that differs from one’s own.” Bigotry is defined as “the actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., of a bigot.” What Webster’s definition does not touch on is the fact that bigotry can be directed against members of one’s own group – e.g., women who are bigoted against other women.

A bully, as defined by Webster, is “a person who hurts, frightens, or browbeats those who are smaller or weaker.” A Chicago paper recently had an article on office bullies (RedEye April 21) that categorized a variety of bullying tactics. Since bullies and bigots frequently employ the same methods, either label may be appropriate for the perpetrators.

I witnessed a Caucasian woman bully several women of color under her supervision in a workplace. Several other Caucasian women in that workplace were horrified to witness this blatant bigoted, bullying behavior. One of these women even overheard the bigoted bully (=BB) boasting about her victimization of one of these women with another bully in the office. Was anything done about BB? Of course not. If a company’s philosophy is based on bigotry and bullying, why would it do anything about its BBs other than promote them to higher positions? And that’s what happened. BB was promoted. The women of color who were bullied as well as the Caucasian women who were horrified by the bullying left the company. As one woman who left said, “You just decide that nothing is going to change, so you might as well leave.” Now if we do some simple math, it doesn’t take much to figure out that if more people leave a company because of their intolerance to bigotry and bullying, the greater the concentration of people left in the company that tolerate or even perpetrate bigotry and bullying. I understand why people decide to leave dysfunctional companies/organizations. On the other hand, just as in the Civil Rights movement(s), somebody has to take a stand, and sometimes companies (stockholders) see the evil of the company’s ways when a major lawsuit is filed against them or their dysfunctional activities are made public.

The perpetual question in my mind is why do people want to bully others? Without consulting papers on this subject by psychologists and sociologists, I assume that bullies (like bigots) are so unhappy with themselves for whatever reason that they decide to pick on others. Acting out one’s bigotry and bullying are both dysfunctional displays of power. When an attractive woman once asked me why I thought a coworker picked on her, I flippantly replied that the unattractive woman that picked on her probably got angry whenever she saw herself in a mirror. (“Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?” The mirror would break into pieces.) All jokes aside, if a person has no substance (solid quality), bigotry and bullying prevail.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...