The Difference Between Bigotry and Prejudice

Racism is one manifestation of bigotry, which is a form of prejudice.
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Although often used interchangeably, “bigotry” and “prejudice” differ. “Bigotry” is a stronger term, suggesting narrow-minded intolerance. “Prejudice” can be more general, referring to pre-judgment not based on fact.

1 Bigotry Means Intolerance

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines “bigotry” as being a bigot, which in turn refers to someone who “holds blindly and intolerantly” to a viewpoint; a second definition calls a bigot “a narrow-minded, prejudiced person.” The connotation suggests that bigotry is a form of extremism. "Chicago Tribune" columnist Eric Zorn takes this a step further, arguing that bigotry refers to intolerant actions, not just opinions.

2 Prejudice Means Pre-Judgment

While bigotry refers to strong intolerance, prejudice can be milder. In its most basic form, it simply means a “preconceived idea,” one formed without knowing all the facts and usually unfavorable, says Webster’s New World College Dictionary. The dictionary gives further, stronger definitions: intolerance of other groups or even the harm arising from intolerance. This overlap permits the dictionary’s use of “prejudiced” in helping define “bigot.” Someone could use “prejudice” to describe feelings about a sports team or film genre: “She is prejudiced against romantic comedies.” The same word, however, could also refer to the kind of social intolerance that is more specifically described by “bigotry”: “She is prejudiced against Muslims.”

Jennifer Spirko has been writing professionally for more than 20 years, starting at "The Knoxville Journal." She has written for "MetroPulse," "Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times" and "Some" monthly. She has taught writing at North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. Spirko holds a Master of Arts from the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-on-Avon, England.