Generalizing about the Amish

Erik Wesner posted something on Amish America this week that I couldn’t help but respond to. To understand my comments, one really needs to read his post, which you can do by clicking here.

I responded in the comments section, and I am posting these comments here:

In reading through the original post and then the comments, I have to say I am torn about the whole electronic filing fee/fine and whether the Amish are making too much out of it. Perhaps they should be more discerning in picking their issues.

I am actually struck much more by the comment “The public for the most part views Amish society as one collective group–so if conservative Amish are making an issue out of a minor point, this becomes a complaint coming from ‘the Amish’ as a whole.”

Whose responsibility is it that people view Amish society as one collective group? The Amish are very aware of the diversity among their groups. Why is it okay for us to lump them together? Perhaps the responsibility for those of us who know about Amish diversity and have public fora, is to speak out against the generalizations that are normally made about “the Amish.” Erik, I feel you have done the opposite here — you actually used a generalization to make your point. Especially when you used the following example:

“To illustrate this point, I got an email from someone this weekend dissatisfied with what he described as poor work done by an Amish construction crew. As a result of the bad experience he stated that he has lost his respect for ‘the Amish’, and would never hire an Amish person again. One experience with one Amish group becomes ‘the Amish’ as a whole.”

There is no other ethnic/religious group in this country in which we could get away with such a statement. If we replace ‘Amish’ with Hispanic, African-American, Roman Catholic, or Jewish and then say we have lost respect for that whole group because of a single experience, wouldn’t we think of that as prejudice? Most of us would — and rightly so. I certainly hope this was your message to the person who emailed you. If not, you missed the opportunity to get the message across that we cannot generalize about the Amish — any more than we can about any other religious or ethnic group.

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6 thoughts on “Generalizing about the Amish”

  1. I haven’t read anything else by this person, but he certainly did sound to me like he was lumping all Amish together and like it was their own fault. I see he tried to backpedal in a subsequent comment–regardless, that is a prejudicial statement. Whenever you lump all people together as in his example in the article–that is a dangerous thing. No one should write off an entire group just because they didn’t like one person. I totally agree with you and am glad you made your comment.

    As far as the non-electronic fee is concerned–the majority of the people who can’t even use electronic filing are the poorest people in America. The Amish should be exempt for freedom of religion reasons, in the first place. I think the fee is ridiculous! Sometimes I wonder where “freedom” in this country has gone.

  2. I am Muslim and EVERYONE uses these generarlizations about Muslims. It is Bigotry and stereotyping. I actually see the generalizations and stereotypes as harmless as compared to the same against Muslims. How many people think we need to put Amish in internment camps and make them have a special card they carry? It’s exactly the same as we used to do to the jews, catholics, polish, africa-americans, etc.
    Honestly ur comment about how we don’t generalize about other cultures and religions is just wrong and offensive. How would u feel knowing when people see ur husband they see “a terrorist” b/c he is arab? How is that not harmful?
    Aside, there will always be those we stereotype and generalize about. All cultures/countries do it to an extent.

  3. Rita, thanks for your comments. I just read Erik’s comment and responded to it. You make a good point about the fine/fee. And that is true, no matter which religion you belong to. I can only think of this issue separate from the Amish response, otherwise it gets very complicated.

    wanttowearhijab, I’d be careful about saying that everyone uses these generalizations about Muslims, because that in itself is a generalization. I don’t actually believe some stereotyping is harmless — I believe we should all be treated as individuals. To be honest, I was not aware that the kind of prejudices you describe are still going on. It is indeed harmful to think of someone as a terrorist, just because of who he is. I’m sorry to hear that this is your experience. Peace be with you.

  4. Hi Saloma, I appreciate your feedback on my piece, and you’ll see on my blog I’ve responded to your latest comments.

    In my response I tried to point out that I was quoting someone else who generalized about the Amish. In other words the generalizer was the person quoted, not me.

    I think my site has a long track record of doing just the opposite–pointing out the flaws in generalizing about the Amish.

    Regardless, the average member of the public still does generalize, which was key to the main point I was trying to make–that the public often views the Amish as one group, and that public goodwill towards all Amish can be affected by the actions of individual Amish.

    This means that the effects of one Amish group’s actions could ultimately influence the well-being Amish as a whole–ie, as public sympathy for Amish in the past helped lead to positive results in cases like Amish exemptions from Social Security, or high school.

    I also just wanted to note with all respect that in no way was I backpedaling on anything said in the post. I elaborate more on that there. The only thing I might grant is that perhaps the Amishman cited in the piece was misrepresented by the reporter, or that there was perhaps some miscommunication of what the Amishman meant (ie, maybe he was including other issues as being of ‘grave concern’, not just the e-file requirement, which by itself can be avoided by what sounds like a fairly simple exemption provided for this type of situation). But the general point still stands.

    I always enjoy your blog and appreciate your insider’s perspective, by the way.



  5. Wow, interesting discussion starter, Saloma, and I appreciate Erik’s response in the comments.

    Having been exposed to two distinct Amish communities growing up, I’ve seen that there are many differences. But for someone who has never had real-life exposure, there’s no framework. Your comments help to enlighten us all and make us aware of those differences, so thank you! :)

  6. Wow – interesting topic! I have to say that I do think generalizations about different groups of people are a fact of life, sometimes to their benefit, but more often unjust & unfair. We all do it – to some degree – and this discussion is a good reminder of just how unwise it is to do so. The fine for non-electronic filing is a whole other issue – one I definitely feel is discrimatory. I’ve been concerned for some time that the rapid development & constant changes of technology seem to have little, if any, regard for those being left behind – the elderly and poor, who are often the minorities. Should one be penalized for being old or poor?

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