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Acceptable Biases, and Unacceptable Ones

We’ve written in the past about the very thin line that separates an acceptable expression of racial or ethnic bias from an unacceptable one — for instance, the tumult over Andy Rooney writing that “today’s baseball stars are all guys named Rodriguez to me.” As we wrote in Freakonomics, evidence from the TV show Weakest Link suggested that bias against women and blacks was considered less acceptable than bias against Latinos and the elderly.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a good piece about the degree to which anti-Mormon sentiment hobbled Mitt Romney‘s campaign. (“Mr. Romney’s campaign exposed a surprisingly virulent strain of anti-Mormonism that had been largely hidden to the general public,” writes Suzanne Sataline.) It cites an NBC News/Journal poll in which 50 percent of the respondents said they had “reservations” or would be “very uncomfortable” about a Mormon becoming president, while 81 percent would be “enthusiastic” or “comfortable” with an African-American president and 76 percent with a female president.

And in today’s Times, there’s an article about a high school principal named Shimon Waronker, a Hasidic Jew, who took over a troubled middle school in the Bronx whose students are mostly black and Latino. So far, Waronker’s tenure seems to have been pretty successful. Even though the article is inherently about a clash of cultures, I was pretty shocked to read the following:

Some parents at J.H.S. 22 … were suspicious, viewing Mr. Waronker as too much an outsider. In fact, one parent, Angie Vazquez, 37, acknowledged that her upbringing had led her to wonder: “Wow, we’re going to have a Jewish person, what’s going to happen? Are the kids going to have to pay for lunch?”

Hmm. Is Ms. Vazquez’s bias acceptable because she “acknowledged that her upbringing led her to wonder” it? What kind of debate did the reporter (Elisa Gootman) and her editors have about including this quote? If a black principal took over a yeshiva, would a similar quote in reverse from a Jewish parent have made the newspaper?

Based on today’s newspapers, at least, it looks like Hasidic Jews and Mormons probably wouldn’t have done so well on Weakest Link either.