I want to talk about discrimination, even if though I have been fortunate enough to rarely be a target. I don’t expect to change the world. I doubt I’ll even have the opportunity to change any minds. I want to talk about it as “othering” because it weighs heavily on my mind every day, perhaps more so than any topic.
Every single day, I see examples of discrimination. From blatant, overt racism to silly blonde jokes. Fat shaming, kink shaming, ageism, ableism, sexism. Liberal versus conservative. Religious intolerance.
Discrimination manifests in ways as subtle as microaggressions to as overt as physical assault. Some people just like to pollute the air with slurs. The worst is the discrimination we don’t see, where people are denied jobs and loans and opportunities just because someone else takes offense to the way they look or the way they live their life.
Maybe it is difficult for some people to look at others and see the differences while retaining the idea that we are all the same.
Some individuals are true monsters, but not because of their cross section or identity. It’s okay to judge a person on their actions. When someone shows you who they really are, believe them. But let people show you first.
This is not simple. It takes practice and patience. But it is necessary.
I’m no saint. When I was younger, I took the messages from my church to heart, and I was not as kind as I should have been to someone that came out to me as gay. I hurt them with my disapproval. It’s one of my biggest regrets, and I’m sorry they had to suffer for me to learn the lesson.
It’s like we’re taught to Other people early on, and then we’re encouraged to practice it daily. Have you ever seen someone shout at someone for liking a different sports team? Have you been part of an organization that regularly hazes the newest members? How do you feel about patriotism? If you’re in the US, how comfortable are you with talking with someone with a thick accent? We’re trained in school, during pep rallies, to hold some other group of people in contempt, and as we get older, we continue to practice those ways every day. Reducing people to the place they’re from, or the way they look or sound.
There are worse forms of discrimination than others, and I’m not trying to diminish racism by also talking about sports fans treating each other badly. People are dying because of the color of their skin, every day. Although some sports fans tear their town apart and overturn cars based on the outcome of an event, it’s different. I’m talking about discrimination and othering broadly because I think the type of thinking involved is the same, and I want to reiterate that we are encouraged into this type of thinking in every walk of life. It’s systemic.
Is there an answer? Is this just how humans will always behave?
I want to believe things are getting better over time, but I don’t know. Individuals can certainly overcome ingrained habits and treat other people with respect and kindness, rather than reduce them to whatever cross-section is present. It takes a little bit of empathy and active listening. If enough individuals choose to overcome prejudice, then positive change can occur.
There are no easy answers. There are just people.