I got into a bit of a discussion about what it means exactly. There seems to be some disagreement over it.
I present a few different dictionary definitions for your delectation and delight:
A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
A person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions
A person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, esp on religion, politics, or race
The concept of Bigotry can have slightly different meanings in American and British English.
In British English it refers to a state of mind where a person is obstinately, irrationally, or unfairly intolerant of ideas, opinions, or beliefs that differ from their own, and intolerant of the people who hold them.
In American English, the term can be used similarly; however, it can also be used to refer to intolerance towards a group of people in general based on their group characteristics such as race, religion, national origin,gender, disability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.
It is my considered opinion that when people refer to bigotry they are referring to the behaviour of the bigot, and specifically his prejudices and negative attitudes towards those holding the opinion in question. The concept of intolerance seems to be key.
It's not simply a disagreement of opinions.
Now then, all that said, what can happen is that good old battle of intolerance. That is to say there is an accusation of intolerance of intolerance. A suggestion that those objecting to bigotry are being bigots. This is where definitions come in.
So the question is, who is being harmed here? Who are the oppressed? Who is being discriminated against?
If we persecute the KKK is that bigotry? We are being intolerant of their opinions, and the behaviour that these opinions lead to.
Would anyone in their right mind refer to it as bigotry?
Well, the KKK might, but then I'm not convinced they are in their right minds.
Here's how I see it.
Blue is harmless. He has hurt nobody. He has opinions/behaviours that Red disagrees with. Red does not harm Blue in any way.
Is there any bigotry there? No. Just a difference of opinion. This is human relationships. We are never going to agree all the time.
Blue is harmless. He has hurt nobody. He has opinions/behaviours that Red disagrees with. Red hates him for it. But Red does not harm Blue in any way.
Is there any bigotry there? Maybe. Maybe not. In theory there is potential for it though. Grey area.
Blue is harmless. He has hurt nobody. He has opinions/behaviours that Red disagrees with. Red has a restaurant, and refuses to serve Blue. Asks him to leave.
That's bigotry. It's not the worst thing he could do. There was no damage to person or property. All Blue has to do is eat elsewhere. Red's business is private and he can do as he pleases, but yes, that's bigotry.
Yellow objects to Red's behaviour. Is that bigotry? No. That's just an opinion.
If at this point Red calls Yellow intolerant, in a way he's right, but his reason is that he saw harm being caused to Blue. Ethically Red is wrong, and Yellow is right. All sorts of arguments can go on here, but ultimately Red is being intolerant without a good reason (just his opinions, no harm was done to him).
This plays out over and over around the world, and it's seen most commonly over racism. That's the reason I chose colours for names. Maybe Blue is being discrimasted against just for being blue. That's deep bigotry. But if Blue was being discriminated against because he dyed his hair green, it would still be bigotry, because his green hair is hurting nobody.
Ah says Red, I hate green hair and I don't want to see it. It's my restaurant and I don't want green hair in it. He has no good reason. He allows in purple hair, orange hair, pink hair, and even turquoise hair, it's just green hair he objects to.
If you think that's nuts, that's exactly how racism would look to an outside observer.
When question, Red says that Blue's blueness and his green hair are two totally different things. He can't help being blue, but he DELIBERATELY has green hair. Makes no difference, it's still bigotry if he's discriminated against for it.
Then Red pulls out his holy book and on page 231 it specifically states that green hair is an abomination. On page 232 it says charging money for food is an abomination, so Yellow points THIS out and asks him why he's running a restaurant.
Red says "I'm being persecuted!"
I'm not sure how to fix this. When bigots complain about people being mean to them my instinctive reaction is to respond with "WAH WAH WAH". You'd think they'd get the hint but they really don't.
So, foolishly, I repeat myself, and patiently try to explain.
If you don't like the words used, if bigotry sounds too harsh, there are plenty of other words to use. I'm not sure that it helps.
We can discuss the related words, such as hate, mean-spiritedness, intolerance, prejudice, discrimation, unfairness, cruelty, and have the same argument. At the end of the days, somebody harmless was harmed by somebody's opinions. Then the harmer cannot justifiably cry foul when he is called out on it.
It's a bit like invading a country that had done nothing to harm you, then getting upset when you are called a warmonger.
I will continue to call bigotry bigotry, and if I get called a bigot for doing so, I'll simply ignore it. I use my words carefully.