. . .and I’m a bigot.
And so are you.
Did I hurt your feelings? Are you clutching your pearls right now, offended and incensed at my gall, wondering how I could make such an assumption?
It might hurt to hear, but it’s important to understand. I loathe this saying, but this is one of those “no pain, no gain” kind of situations. We all grew up in the “western world,” especially those of us in North America, a world of racism, a patriarchal system set up to benefit (straight, preferably wealthy and Christian) white men in government, society, work. They’re a minority when you look at the whole of the population, but they’ve maintained power because the systems put in place to keep them in power many generations ago continue today.
And we are partly to blame, you and I. We don’t always know how we prop it up, in the things we do or don’t do, but we do it. Every day.
I’m not blaming any of this specifically on us or our parents as it’s our entire society, but from birth we’re taught how to get along in our community, in this system. Bias happens, and it is on us to work to consciously avoid it every day of our lives. Through instruction and observation, children learn social cues and “rules;” we’re programmed with what is possible, what is acceptable and what is not, how to be a contributing member of our society, what our place is (what it could or couldn’t be) and what others’ places are. There are flaws in every society, including the lessons and limitations we are taught based on gender, class, skin color, etc. These flaws, which are perpetuated through the generations, directly affect how each of us believes others fit, what their capabilities are, and what behaviors are to be expected. I expect most of us don’t necessarily recognize them because if you’re raised in it, it is “normal.” Among those flaws are one of the foundational systems that is usually referred to as patriarchy or “The Patriarchy.” Another is racism, and I don’t mean just an occasional jerk who uses the “n-word” to offend someone; I mean institutional racism.
Our beliefs and opinions are formed from the facts we’ve gathered, so far, filtered through the lens of our experiences, our upbringing, the racism and sexism – all the bigotry, even the preconceptions about people who are over- or underweight, people who have a physical disability, people who worship in a way we’re not familiar with, everyone who isn’t pretty much exactly like us – ingrained in our society and its people. These beliefs are the sum of all of our experiences, so they can change as we have new experiences, but changing things that even “feel” true because they are “the way things are” since infancy can be difficult. If you’re doing the work, though, your opinions can change often, each time you’re presented with new information, each time you find out your old opinion was wrong, each time you see how doing this thing or that affects other human beings and has turned out to be “wrong.”
We’re seeing overt bigotry every day, constantly, since Russia installed the Bigot-In-Chief. Many of the discussions I see in social media are people who are confused about why some of the worst offenders are more upset about being called a racist than about actually being a racist. This is a part of what I’m trying to point out. As individuals in this society, we all know it’s wrong. Racism or being a racist (or being seen as one) is bad. Even if we lack empathy or are racist, if we don’t actually care for the people who are the victims of racism, and sexism, and fat-shaming, and all the other bigotry and discrimination people live every day, we don’t want to be seen as or known as a bigot. As if the label, the shame of having it attached to us, really is worse than being what the label implies. As individuals in this society, one of our biggest problems is that while we might be able to pick up on bigotry in other people, a LOT of us have a blind spot when it comes to our own attitudes and offenses. To be fair, for a long time we were expected to keep our racism to ourselves so even when we saw it we dared not point it out. So our own offenses passed as others failed to point it out. And when we did them again, they passed, reinforcing our (bad) behavior, our wrong ideas.
Nobody called us on it.
I’m here to tell you that the more offended you were at being called a bigot or a racist or a sexist at the beginning of this post? Well, that is an indicator of just how deep you are into the programming. I’m a little way into the deprogramming, the unlearning of all that bigotry, now at age 52. The first step was in my 20s when I first started to believe that I have some racist views. That was a rude awakening. And mine are relatively mild which is surprising considering my upbringing. Some things I was able to recognize as wrong even as a child. It took another ten years or so, into my 30s, to really start to recognize my own sexism, in the way I looked at others and even at myself. I had silly limits that I realized I’d let other people put on me, and those were separate from the things I let people do and say and get away with. The point is, the first time you get called on something like racism or sexism, you’re defensive and angry and offended. Step back. Really look at it. Substitute another person for the subject – another gender, another color, another religion. Consider if what you said or implied is suddenly very wrong when you look at it this way. Get it? The person who called you on it did you a huge favor by speaking up. You learned something very important. And that thing might just be the tip of an iceberg you now know exists and that could use some melting. These kinds of epiphanies are precious. I hope you’ll thank that person who had the courage to call you out.
Think of some awful thing a person said or did to you, how it made you feel, but how you couldn’t quite find the words to describe how what they did was wrong. It had to be wrong because it felt so terrible. Before you make excuses for their bad behavior and blow it off, try to figure out why.
Examples: men telling women to “smile” because they look pretty when they smile. Or the way coworkers ignore a woman in a meeting when she has an excellent idea that is suddenly recognized as excellent. . . when a man suggests the same fucking idea as his own. Someone tells another person they’re obviously not a “lady” or something they said or did was not “ladylike.” How about those things we automatically think if a woman was raped on a date or after a night out? (Hint: rape is rape – making excuses for the rapist, blaming the victim for something done to her because of her clothing or having had drinks, is sexism which is why we live in this rape culture where even other women, even victims, defend sexual predators/rapists and blame victims). Defending any of that is signs of your own sexism.
Sexism is insidious, but it’s all around us. And it’s inside our own heads. We apply judgments, limitations, and expectations to other people based on their gender, but they are individuals, and their genitals don’t determine who they are, what they like, what they can do, or how they should act or react in a situation.
This one was a good exercise in contemplation (of sexism, rape culture):
Like sexism, racism is insidious and all around us. It’s inside our own heads, too. If we don’t train our brains, we might apply judgments, limitations, and expectations to other people based on the color of their skin (or their religion, nationality, etc.), but they are individuals, and the pigmentation in their skin doesn’t determine who they are, what they like, what they can do, how they should speak, or how they should act or react in a situation. Don’t judge any of us by our covers; what’s inside is not known until we choose to share, if we choose to share.
These ideas aren’t new. They’re out there. But you’re not looking at what other people are saying right now. You’re here – and I’m more grateful than you can imagine for that, by the way – you’re here, and you’re “listening” to me. So while you’re here I’ve shared something I think is important, and I’m also going to tell you that I love you, and we’ll keep on working to be better people, you and me. And I will fight for your rights and your privacy, your choices and bodily autonomy, no matter how you feel about me even after I called you a bigot. I hope you’ll support me, too. We’re in this together.
“What woman here is so enamored of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face? What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny?”― Audre Lorde, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism (1981)
(This post was originally part of another when I realized the idea that we all have some bigoted ideas because of where we live isn’t common knowledge. It’s obvious to me now, but it took me years to get here. Not everyone has arrived at this conclusion. The rest of the post is in the works around my contemplation of 100 years of women’s right to vote being recognized (huge thing, surely there’ll be a post?), Democratic debates, and all the bullshit in the news. Learning and trying and screwing things up and doing it over regularly so I will be reporting here again soon. Love to ALL.)
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Link: Out of Bubble Gum – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters
Link: Hysteria, My Ass – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters
Link: Live Your Life; Leave Us Out Of It – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters
Link: Uppity Woman – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters
Link: Less Than – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters
Link: Tuning Up The Ol’ BS Detector – by E. Brooks of Gray Matters
Link: “‘Everything is racist these days’ because white supremacy is as American as apple pie” – by Annie Reneau at Upworthy. Added this link later, and yes, I’m aware (now) that applie pie was originally British, not American.
Link: Equal Rights Amendment
Link to original Tweet from feminist next door. She’s an excellent follow, one of my top three favorites on Twitter. I mean it. As for the Tweet, if your first response goes something like “there’s nothing wrong with chivalry,” consider a few things. First, chivalry is a person (who is male) doing something for another person (who is female) expecting something in return. Being nice isn’t transactional and the involved parties can be any gender. Second, let’s then consider that the idea behind chivalry, a man doing something nice for a woman, is because she can’t or should not do it, or it wouldn’t be right for her to have to do it herself. Remember when women weren’t supposed to raise their arms above their shoulders because their uterus could fall out? Among other things, chivalrous actions were to demonstrate that he would be sure to handle the things that a lady shouldn’t do so that her uterus wouldn’t fall out and she could have lots of healthy babies. There are more takes – definitely look at the replies in the link – but I hope that helps you to see the differences and how they still apply. How they hold us back, hold us down. And why they’re icky.
Wrapping this up today with a little story, not directly related, but something we all face if we choose to raise a child in this climate of bigotry and ignorance. My son’s an adult now, but when he was a baby, I decided to do what you do with a baby who has a Catholic father: I got him baptized. That meant I had to do the classes and get baptized, too (my mother’s cult didn’t baptize children, adults had to choose it – long story), though I did it through a Lutheran church because I knew Catholics wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I stayed through all of that, got him baptized, and I continued to attend church weekly, listened, learned. It seemed the right thing to do so my son would “be normal.” I tried. I really did. But the time came when the church did a terrible thing to me, and I was done. Never went back. And then I realized there is a fine line we walk as parents. It’s important to expose our kids to things that society “knows” and things/events/behaviors society expects, but it’s also important to help our children understand right and wrong, not so much through the lens of a religion or arbitrary rules or stereotyping, but right and wrong from the standpoint of history (lessons), compassion, and facts. Logic. It was important to me to help him understand some of what other people thought, what I thought, and then leave it to him to choose what is right (for him, for those he loves, whatever, because times change). He attended church sometimes with high school friends or with his dad at Christmas; his friends were white, black, and Hispanic as I chose a fairly diverse school, and they were equals. He has been with the same woman since high school, and they married a little more than a year ago. She has her bachelor’s degree now, they both work full time, and marriage-wise they appear to have a partnership. I have no idea if he’s religious – it’s none of my business – but I feel sure he understands how religion can help, how it can harm, and that in the end, what matters is what is right even if he’s the only one who can see what is right. I wish I knew just how racist and sexist I was earlier because I probably would have been a better parent. The point is, we need to teach them how and when to fit in, but we also need to teach them to see reality, to seek truth, and to stand up for right, for human beings, against bigotry, above all the rest of the rules. Hate divides. It makes problems; it never solves any. People, truth, and love is what matters.
Edited 9 August 2019 to add link.
#GMWeAreAllBigots #NoHate #OnlyLove #ChooseLove