Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Shut-Up Words & Bigotry

Recently there has been a little rumble in the blog(o)sphere (what is with the "o"?) regarding racism, at least in my little ring of regular blogs that I read. I got hit with one, and so did Peggy Kaplan of What if?. As it turns out, they appear to be from the same irritated reader. You can read his posts here and here. So let's get really offensive and talk about shut-up words and racism. Shut-up words are words that are intended to shut you up. These include, but are certainly not limited to, threats of sexual harassment, religious prejudice, political barbs, and, my personal favorite, racism. These all attempt to force people into silence and embarrassment. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, racism is defined as "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race." However, in today's America, we use racism as a term to delineate anyone who talks about someone of another race or a racial issue without using glowing terms and engaging in absolute approval of everything they do. Or at least, it is always on the precipice, ready to fall off and crush you lest you teeter ever so slightly on the edge of what popular culture does not want to hear. For example, if you don't think affirmative action is a good idea, SPLAT! If you think affirmative action could use some tweaking, SPLAT! If you think affirmative action is an excellent program which should be used at all places of employment and education and is the perfect solution to all our problems....phew! You just made it out safely. Racism applies to anyone who determines their race to be superior....not just concerning black or Hispanic races. A black person or white person can be racist. A Japanese person can be racist. Read the definition. It can apply to anyone. No one corners the market on bad behavior. Now let's talk about the experience of being called a racist. It is something that stops you in your tracks. I'm what?! Especially if you are someone like me, you stand there and look behind you, determined they must be referring to someone else. Racism has never been something I have ever understood. Racism is never in my mind, nor does it guide my hand. Behavior determines my view of people, certainly not something as ridiculous as where fate concocted your DNA strand. So when you are called racist and no part of you has ever been that way, it is a shocking, horrifying experience. It makes you question every motive you have ever had regarding your view, treatment, and response to others. Remember, racism is considering your race superior, or defining a race as superior. Being uncomfortable around a group of people that are a different race than you is not being racist. Thinking yourself superior to them, or thinking of them as superior to you, is racist. Being uncomfortable is human, just as a man is uncomfortable in Victoria's Secret (are you with me here, guys?). Is the experience of being the victim of racism worse than being called a racist? I have no doubt that it is. It is demeaning and inhuman. Is it vicious? Yes. Is it impossible to overcome? No. Is someone having a different opinion about how to bring minorities into the workplace the same thing as that person being racist? No. That is called having a different opinion. It is called using your brain, looking at what is in place in our legal system, seeing that is doesn't work a good portion of the time, and thinking that there has to a better way. Someone calling you racist based on your thought-out conclusion - they are being a bigot (defined as "a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices"). I am offering definitions here because I think we have distorted and shaped the meanings of words so that fear is inspired by them, rather than thought. So let's be honest and use them appropriately, shall we? Now, let's open the playing field a bit. Racism is another form of prejudice. So have I experienced racism of a sort....well, my last name is Jewish by marriage, so yes, I have experienced racism, but I am not about set myself up at a podium and start proclaiming my victimhood. I have no right to it, as my experiences have been mild. Others have experienced cruel and horrific treatment at the hands of racism that I can only imagine. However, what I have experienced is prejudice. I am 5'3", female, petite, with certain parts of my anatomy more blessed than others, if you get my drift. Do you know how often I have conversations with men glancing down at my chest every five seconds, or worse yet, staring blatantly? Do you have any idea how many times I have not been taken seriously because I am a woman, both in the workplace and in social situations? And because I am mildly attractive, I get no respect from some men, and more than a few women right me off as a bimbo. So yes, I have experienced prejudice. I have walked into an arms dealer and had every eye on me because I "didn't belong." I've been told I'd make a good secretary because I'm a woman. Now, let's add to the list. I have opinions like everyone else in the world does, but mine are conservative, sometimes political, ones. Prejudice - I've been introduced to you on many occasions. I have few friends because of our intolerance of differing opinions in this society. Because I don't agree with the shallow nature of today's social life, I am left bereft of close friends and uncomfortable around groups of people. To add to the fun: I never get drunk, think casual sex is irresponsible, believe recreational drug use is among one of the dumbest things you can do, and wearing clothing that shows most of my body is not my style. My Friday nights are spent with a movie or a book, as I do not get on well with the Friday Night Crowd. My point is this: many people have experienced some form of prejudice. Can I keep my mouth shut and have more friends? Probably. Can I change the way I look or how I'm built? Only if I want to do a TV reality show. There are certain things about me, like my genitalia, reproduction possibilities, and appearance, that are just the way they are, and I have to deal with others' responses to them. It is demeaning and frustrating. I do not, however, walk around and call people prejudice, sexist chauvinist pigs, unless they do something to earn it. Having an opinion does not make you prejudice, racist, sexist, etc. unless it fits the meaning of the definition. But if I call you, a male reader, a male chauvinist pig, it makes you shut up, doesn't it? It makes you wonder if your opinion, that children are better served by mothers than day care, is really sexist? Could it be that you have some hidden strain of piggish male that runs subconsciously behind everything you say? Do all women think this of you? Are really a horrible person? Do you see my point? Yes, words hurt. I know that. It is why I use them very carefully. Do I think Al Sharpton is an idiot? Yep. Does it make me racist? No. Do I think he needs to deal with the fact that slavery is over and we have made incredible strides towards to equality? Yep. Does that mean that discrimination has disappeared and racism is non-existent? Please - I live 10 miles from the center of a KKK clan. Stupidity is not my gift, and neither is denial. But those are the fringes of society now. We have standing jokes about these idiots. These are no longer the rulers. No longer is racism accepted among the civilized. That old attitudes die hard is a fact. Given that we 40+ years on the road to equality and the obliteration of racism and prejudice, we have made incredible strides and those MUST be acknowledged. To demand perfection - it will never exist. That I will always be looked at differently than a man - that is just the way it is. I can never change that. However, I can encourage and revel in how far women have come (and I can kick them in the ass when they start becoming stupid and irresponsible). Some people will always see other races as lesser. I am thankful, though, that these people are looked down on, these true racists. Words damage people....look at Peggy Kaplan's responses. She has been hurt, not only by a friend, but by the very concept of racism being aimed at her. I know this irate reader obviously has the right to all hurt feelings, and no one else could possibly ever understand what it feels like to be maligned. He would do better though to look at his own motives when he strikes out at others. Taking out his pain and bitterness on those that don't deserve it is no better than being racist. And he had best realize that bigotry is a nasty cause to support. __________ See update.