Great article! As Adventist we are “experts” on Social, Theological, and Moral Cooties!
wikipedia.org says "Cooties is a word in North American English, used by children, referring to a fictitious disease or condition, often infecting members of the opposite sex. One catches cooties through any form of bodily contact, proximity, contact with an infected person’s possessions, or third-party transmission. In prepubescent children, it effectively serves as a device for enforcing separation of the sexes."
These mythological bugs and disease of the schoolyard or playground are expressions of prejudice, bias and discrimination. The word probably derives from the Malay kutu, meaning “a biting, parasitic insect”. Often it is believed by some to spread from female children to male children (or the opposite, male to female) via kisses or other public displays of affection.
As the world becomes more interconnected—more collaborations between countries, more intermarrying between different groups—more and more people are encountering greater diversity of others in everyday life. Just ask yourself if you’ve ever been asked, “What are you?” Such a question would be preposterous if you were only surrounded by members of your own group. Categories, then, are becoming more and more uncertain, unclear, volatile, and complex. People’s identities are multifaceted, intersecting across gender, race, class, age, region, and more. Identities are not so simple, but maybe as the 21st century unfurls, we will recognize each other by the content of our character instead of the cover on our outside.
The definition of prejudice provided by Gordon Allport 60 years ago is still used as an authoritative definition of the term prejudice: or having, spreading, using, “cooties” aversive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to that group.Prejudice is the result of being ignorant and being afraid. Prejudice is seen as having different sources, chief among them being different forms of fear.
The Integrated Threat Theory of Prejudice is inclusive of several different types of threat: the expectation that the other will do one harm; the perception that the different worldview of the other will create challenges to one’s own; the presumption that interaction will lead to embarrassment, rejection, or ridicule; and the generation of fear of negative consequences as a result of negative stereotypes.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Words, in fact, can hurt; vicious language is part of the arsenal of the bigot and the bully alike. Attitudes, however, by themselves, are more likely to hurt the holder than the target. If I avoid people who are different than myself, I stunt my own growth, and have little impact on the target of my disaffection. But, each of us is likely to translate attitude into behaviors, whether they be sticks, stones, words, or things more subtle.
Unfortunately, prejudice is not simply an attitude that remains internal to its owner; it impacts behavior. When negative attitudes on the basis of differences translate into behavior, we have as a result, “cooties” discrimination and the social inequity it produces.
When I was younger, I was puzzled by the energy with which my father pursued learning so many different languages (Biblical Greek, Latin, German and English) and the amount of time he spent on a wide assortment of cultural events, when we were only connected by heritage to some of these things. I don’t remember the question I asked him, but his answer stuck with me: “You can’t really understand your own culture unless you understand others.” Perhaps far from being a detraction to one’s identification with, and love for, one’s own culture, learning to appreciate those of others could actually be an enhancement. It certainly gave me a “a cure, an immunity” to cooties!