This has bothered me for so long, and I’ve wanted to talk about it so much, that it has blocked me from writing other things. Today, it’s come to a head. Maybe because it is March. Maybe it’s because of the rumor that Westboro Baptist Church will picket Leonard Nimoy’s funeral. Whatever the reason, I want to talk about how to deal bigotry.
But first, here are two answers that do not work:
Do not White Knight
It’s noble to stand up for the little guy, and fight for people that cannot fight for themselves. Unfortunately, that’s the message you’re sending when you soapbox for people of a different race, gender, or sexuality. You’re saying that people X cannot stand on their own, that people X are weaker, and require assistance.
White Knighting is not the same as spreading awareness. When one group of people are oppressing another group of people based on something as superficial as gender, race, or sexuality, we need to know. But if you are fighting for a people not your own, because you think they need it, maybe you should examine the root of your motivation.
Do not Counterattack
Reverse discrimination comes in several flavors and names. No matter the direction, it’s still discrimination, and will not make our society better. Instead, it polarizes. People stop thinking, and instead, just start fighting over bullshit.
White males have ruled the world for a long time. I cannot and will not dispute that. However, calling on people to marginalize or ignore an individual’s work because they are white or male is, in the long run, just going to create a new bigotry. That’s not justice, anymore than punishing a child for the crimes of their parent is justice.
Now, here are the three things you can personally do to make the world a better place.
Start with The Golden Rule
As a reminder, it is this: treat people as you would want to be treated. That is the rule in its simplest state. Personally, I expand it to include treating people with love.
This is an ideal. You will not always remember to do this. Depending on what’s going on in your life, you may not even be capable of doing this. However, like any skill, the more you practice, the easier it will become.
If you choose to treat other people the way you want to be treated, you will stop doing the first two things I listed.
Remember that Individuals are not People
At my most cynical, I think people are generally stupid. Individuals, on the other hand, can be exceptional. When dealing with an individual, remember that they are unique. Do not unnecessarily burden a person with the history and stereotypes of the people that they look like.
You may have been raised in a household (or a church) where bigotry was part of the education. You may have inside you some prejudices that you are unaware of. If you remember that individuals are not people, and treat every person you meet on their own merits, you will start to free yourself of the ingrained prejudices that you were unfairly saddled with.
Stop Feeding the Bigots
If the first two directions were idealistic, this one is practical. When you become aware of an organization or an individual acting on prejudice, do not support them. But keep the first two rules in mind when you do this.
The best way I can explain this point is through two examples.
Example 1: Chick-fil-A
I enjoyed Chick-fil-A, until I found out that they were publicly spending money to fight gay marriage. I tip my hat to them being brave enough to stand on their principles, but I will not give them anymore of my money. And I tell people about this, as I’m telling you now.
Chick-fil-A made a huge profit after it became publicly known that they were spending money to suppress LGBT rights. This is the opposite of what should hav happened. If we want companies to stop acting on their prejudices, then we need to hit them in the pocket book.
Example 2: A Relative
I have a relative that loves Fox news. For years, she has sent ridiculous items to her friends and family. Being the asshole that I am, I would read her emails, go check the facts, then send her a reply (usually with a link to snopes) saying that she’s spreading misinformation. I asked her often to stop, and she finally took me off her mailing list.
I still had her on Facebook, and she still posted some crazy stuff. Occasionally, I’d refute the most egregious things she posted. Finally, she posted something that was straight up racist, and I called her on it. I told her that I cannot condone that, and now we’re no longer in contact.
This relative is an individual. I treated her as I would want to be treated. If I say something stupid and offensive, I want people to give me the benefit of the doubt, call me on it, and warn me. I did this for her. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, and now I’m not going to give her anymore of my time or energy.
I’m idealistic. I cling to notions that make me seem naive. However, I believe if we all did these three things, we would end racism, sexism, and mistreatment of people based on their sexuality.
It’s important to be ready to forgive. If Chick-fil-A completely stops funding anti-LGBT stuff, I will consider eating their food again. If the relative I mentioned ever approaches me to try to bridge the gap between us, I’ll listen to her. This is all still part of the Golden Rule, really. When I screw up, I want to be forgiven when I seek to make amends.
If I have missed anything, please let me know. If I am mistaken, please let me know. I want the world to be a better place for everyone, and not just for my children.