I'll be the first to admit that negative generalizations are easy to acquire; when I talk about "meatheads" and "hootchies," I'm laying a negative stereotype on people I hardly know, and I need to constantly remind myself not to jump to conclusions. But I like to think that the stereotypes I fall prey to are based on less superficial evidence than religion, skin colour, or gender.
I'm not going to get into an in-depth discussion about bigotry -- since the causes and effects differ depending on the person who says them, the setting they're in, and the target of their venom -- but it seems to me that people who make socially-obnoxious, bigoted comments are probably responding to some combination of three things:
- Ignorance. They just haven't thought things through, or they're basing their assumptions on inadequate information.
- Anger. They've got some sort of chip on their shoulder, and they focus their anger on some group of people in order to direct it away from themselves.
- Social Inadequacy. They don't know how to attract positive attention so -- like schoolkids -- they "act out" and try to shock people. And they probably aren't aware of how they're perceived when they do this.