`THEY all look alike to me.'' This statement - so bland, so indifferent, usually uttered not so much with scorn as with a shrug - is the insidious root of all racism and bigotry. There are whites who say it of blacks and Asians, who say it of Caucasians and of each other. (An American soldier in Saigon, accustomed to hearing the phrase used by his countrymen about the Vietnamese, was startled when a Vietnamese man used identical words to explain his inability to describe a certain white GI.)
It commonly doesn't begin as hatred, this tendency to differentiate people without distinguishing them; but it can slide into hatred so easily. For when we classify people as groups rather than see them as individuals, we submerge their humanity. This makes it easier to treat them as objects for contempt and wrath.
The consequences of ``they all look alike to me'' were seen in Brooklyn last week. Black youths attacked the apartment of three Vietnamese men, one of whom was severely injured in the ensuing melee. What did the blacks have against Vietnamese? Nothing; they thought the men were Koreans. Tension between blacks and Koreans in Brooklyn has mounted over a recent incident in a Korean fruit and vegetable stand. Blacks are boycotting two Korean produce stands.
Would it have made any difference if the victims of the attack were Koreans? Of course not. The point is not that we correctly identify our victims, but that we stop victimizing each other on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, language, culture, or any other lump-'em-all-together categorization. We discriminate because we are indiscriminate.
Bigotry is raising its head with increasing frequency. Last summer a black youth was murdered by whites in New York City's Bensonhurst area, and not long before that had come Howard Beach. Racial incidents are spreading on American college campuses.
In Europe, tares of bigotry are growing beside the wheat of regained freedom and economic revitalization. A newly emboldened anti-Semitism is cropping up in the Soviet Union and in France (where a historic Jewish cemetery was desecrated last week). Persecution of immigrant workers is rising. And political freedom in Eastern Europe has released pent-up, centuries-old ethnic animosities in a number of regions.
Good people everywhere must unite to destroy the beast of bigotry. Each should start with himself. For in banal all-look-alikeness germinate more pernicious seeds of group hatred.