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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Discrimination -- Is It Okay? I Mean, We All Do It.

Where is the line drawn when it comes to discrimination? I mean, is it a hard and fast line or is it more fluid and ethereal? Is it okay to possibly be discriminatory in one area of our lives while we are vehemently opposed to it in another? Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe that many of us are good, solid folks who are able to identify someone who is being discriminated against. And most of us claim to not like it when we see it happening …especially to us. But I’ve also been more aware lately that many of those among us are probably discriminatory in the back, dark, hidden closets of our minds -- yours truly included. You know exactly what I mean … the recesses that no one knows about, things we just could never verbalize. We justify it in our heads. And we dare not let it leak over into our hearts or we may be called upon to reconcile the head versus heart debate. Blatant, outright crimes against one group of people are not generally tolerated in the city where I live. We call for justice frequently here. But I’m painfully aware that not everyone sides with fairness on a regular basis. And I know that some would shout out “You don’t know what it’s like where I live -- in my family, in my part of the world” as a quick rebuttal in an attempt to justify less-than-pretty words, feelings or actions.

I grew up in a family where we were not allowed to “hate” anything. We couldn’t use that word. We could hold “strong dislike,” but not hate. As much as I’d like to think that my family circle was welcoming and accepting -- and I do, in general -- I know that my father would never have bought a Japanese-made car … “the war,” you know. And my step father frequently makes fun of other races with jokes at their expense. Or he’s happy that “the school is such a great one because it doesn’t have any spics in it.” It’s not pretty. And I do call him on it. Regularly. One day, I even threatened to turn the car around and drive him right back to the church service we had just piously sat through. And at the same time, he loves and accepts my partner and I to death. He really enjoys his time with us and would defend us to the end. And then, there are the passing comments from my ex brother-in-law that “No child of mine is going to speak any language except English.” Or even my close gay friends who I overheard say “Man, would you look at the size of that girl” and “I suppose it was an African-American who did that?” with added emphasis and inflection on the African-American part. Or what about yelling “Go Home!” to a woman from Rwanda when she struggles at a cash register to find her money because we harbor a growing intolerance and unfamiliarity with Rwandan customs and culture. And these prior words from a woman who is a good Democrat, liberal, has two gay sons, and a huge animal rights advocate. Another friend made mention of “Those Puerto Ricans” that he works with. Or the Jews. Or the fact that “there are always homeless people there.” And what about getting out of your car to go and tell a prostitute that she “should get a job like the rest of us and stop asking for money.” And even “White Trash” is tossed about with liberality. And dare I even bring up the less-than-amiable feelings among gays, myself included, toward “those right-wing nuts who hate us." (Now, that outta hit home.) I don’t know….maybe coming from, or being in, a group that continues to be discriminated against gives us the right to do it to others. Maybe we’re just trying to repay what’s been tossed in our own faces. Or possibly if we just joke about it, it suddenly makes it acceptable or at least takes the sting out of it.

Again, don’t misconstrue my intention here. I’ve long been a believer in accepting people for who they ARE, not necessarily for what they DO. I do not condone someone’s poor behavior or believe that it should ever be an excuse. Many times, I’m afraid that we let certain behaviors continue simply because “he’s just that way” or “it’s just how they were raised.”

I’m not sure, my friends. It seems to be nearly everywhere, in nearly every subset of our society, on some twisted sort of dark level. It has dug its way into the very fabric from which we are woven, individually and globally. It bridges divides of religion, nation, races, homes, portions of nations. And, no, I don’t believe it will ever truly end in its entirety. But I’m not so sure we should stop working toward it.

I’m not quite sure how to bring any sort of adequate conclusion to my thoughts. They are deep and varied. But, of course, if I actually had a proper conclusion, I could probably market it and end the world’s hatred…right? I’ve had the stone thrown at me and, sadly, I’ve also been the one throwing the first stone. I guess it’s a work in progress. Progress being the key word there. Bit by bit. One less comment and bad thought at a time. I only know that I don’t want to end up at the same place at the end of my life that I started.


D-Man said...

You hit the nail right on the head: It's all a work in progress, and we hope to end up better than we started. A perfect summation, my friend.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a home filled with prejudice and hatred. It's hard to avoid falling into that trap of a mindset. Yet, it serves as a reminder often hen the very thoughts beginning of where I came from and why it's important to avoid that trap.


Laurie said...

My dad and my younger brother
are really prejudice people.
The ironic thing is that my
brother all growing up NEVER
liked the site of a fat woman.
He was one that would make fun
of them and laugh. Now, he's
married (for seven years) and
she is twice his size.

Breenlantern said...

Great Post. You've taken a step just by acknowledging it, thinking about it and discussing it. Bias is a feeling, discrimination is an act. We may not always be able to help what we spontaneously think or feel, but we can decided what we will do with those thoughts and feeling - act on them or try to understand and change them. Yes, we are all biased about multiple things, but not all of us discriminate, at least intentionally, and some of us actually try to recognize when we do and stop it. As long as we remember doing what is right is not always popular and doing what is popular is not always right, we can keep going, doing our best to change the world, or at least ourselves, one person, one step, one moment one thought at a time. The only failure is the refusal to try. Thanks for a thoughtful post and something to chew on today as I go about my daily activities. PL&P!

Lemuel said...

I think you raise an important issue that most of us would prefer to keep hidden. I think it is fact that we all "discriminate". I think what separates us is how we handle those inclinations to discriminate. We can recognize them, deal with them within ourselves, and rise above them, or we can give in to them and be crude and rude to others.

Cooper said...

Wonderful, thought provoking post, Lewis. The prevailing prejudice here is against First nations people. I grew up being surrounded by a culture that has the mindset that "Indians are lazy. They live off the government. Their kids live on chips and pop. The only good Indian is a dead one." A guy at my work who I actually like ... a gentle, affable man who you wouldn't define as the prejudiced type, stunned me one day by expressing that he hoped his daughter when she grew up wouldn't ever "date an Indian". I immediatly felt the sting of the same shame and helplessness that filled me as a little boy hearing people say such things.

My Nana was fiercely determined that I learn to never take a thing from anyone. She once refused a Christmas hamper of food that we really needed. To this day I have a problem receiving any sort of handout or gift, even those given with with kindness and grace. I am working on this, but these things bite deep into the psyche.

The only way we can change our prejudices is to confront them head-on. We must also not be passive when we hear such things voiced or joked about. I am the least confrontational guy in the world, but when it comes to this, I speak up. I won't allow it in my presence. Dignity is a human right.

Thanks for writing this.

Steven said...

Definitely a thought-provoking post. It wasn't until I spent years working for an organization that caters to a certain population that my hatred toward them started to unravel. I look back 25 years later and I say to myself, "What a waste of time to have harbored that hatred." But it will always be a "work in progress." Thanks for sharing!

Derek said...

I came from a mother that taught us much of what you believed, and a father that was quite prejudiced, it was a mixed up time. I believe I took on many of my mom's views. I guess we all have our own lessons in life to learn, I wanted so bad for my dad to learn them, still do at times,but he will when he is ready.

WAT said...

I like yer new profile pic. SOOOOOOO sexy.

I'm a minority twice! Hispanic und gay! Imagine that! I don't just speak English and I is queer too!

Doug said...

My parents are extreme non-haters. I got very lucky in this regard. My parents had a wide range of friends, and I don't remember them ever saying anything derogatory about someone based on a prejudice. So I was raised to have a very open mind.

I still catch myself, however, thinking or talking about people based on their membership in a group. Thanks for the reminder to spank myself when I do that.

Java said...

I often see people from one minority group, people who have battled against prejudicial treatment for generations, displaying the same ugly prejudice toward other minority groups. This makes no sense to me. Or, for example, my mother who has learned to at least act very accepting of African-Americans, says the nastiest, ugliest things against Hispanics. The first time I heard an anti-Hispanic diatribe foam from her mouth I was shocked! She taught me never to say such stuff about others. I guess she meant "negros." I know she harbors bias against African-Americans, but she tries. She doesn't even try to be nice in regard to Hispanics.
Funny story: All this "make nice with the negros" talk as I was growing up... then my senior year in high school I had a black boy friend. THAT really pushed the limits!!!

ikanbilis said...

when i lived in the "ghetto" area in Tulsa, I was yelled and told to "go home"

but that definitely didn't break me up to have a successful experience there. i keep trying to make people around me realize that its wrong to discriminate all the time, and i'm always a minority everywhere, even among the minority.

kudos for you, as this article is my favorite among previous ones!

Ur-spo said...

excellent post
you ask cosmic questions we all struggle with (or most of us).
discrimination is so archaic it may take centuries to reverse.
we have to be mindful; i know i have to be.

Durand said...

Very good. Very insightful. We weren't allowed to use the word 'hate' either. We could dislike something, but that was it. I think my curiosity and love of people seems to win out over discriminatory thoughts that might try to settle in. I'd much prefer to know someone and find out where they are coming from. It's the best way to make interesting friends.

Uncle Gerry said...

Excellent post, we are definitely a work in progress. I was raised in a So Bapt home where my Mother was the religious one and my Dad cursed like a sailor (he was in WW2) who railed on and on about the (N word) and how the government was screwing the poor man. What really got to me was how much I was reviled by my Mother when she outed me to herself by snooping through my mail. I still have to work on not hating those religious right wing nuts on a daily basis. Thanks for making us think.

Tony (LT) said...

You're so spot on. We all do it. And I fell ashamed when I recognize it in myself. But it still happens.

Billy said...

Despite our best intentions we still 'discriminate' against those that are different from ourselves, or from what we've been taught...

Well written friend!

Trailhead said...

Amazing post.

Keith said...

My view of this matter is that discrimination is a good quality. Discrimination means being able to separate what's worthwhile in any set of people or things from what isn't worthwhile.

But racism is exactly not discrimination--it's just the opposite of discrimination. Racism means to dismiss all the objects in a given set, without even thinking about them, without considering the differences between them or even the possibility that there might be any differences between them. Just dismiss them all, for what they "are," as if they were all the same. And sexism, homophobia, and ageism are all forms of racism, by other names.

It's hugely unfortunate that racism and "discrimination" have become almost synonymous in this country, because "discriminating" is exactly what racism isn't.