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A few (more) words about bigotry


Last May, I wrote a post about bigotry and gay people. About how I sometimes hear sexist, racist comments from gay men, and how destructive that is – for all of us as humans, but especially for those of us in despised minority groups. How can any of us rise to full acceptance if we help perpetuate a climate of division?

I had an experience this week that reinforces my point of view and made me realize I’d left out a minority group I needed to include.

Monday I was talking to a gay man whose business employs unskilled labor. I’ve known him for years and he’s basically a nice, hard-working guy. We were at a job site and he was doing a big share of the work himself. He said to me, “Of course Pedro, or whatever his name is, didn’t show up today. I gave him money on Friday.” After a short pause, he continued, “What’s the worst thing you can do with a Mexican? Give him money on Friday afternoon.”

I changed the subject.

Two things were going on here. One is objectification. He had employed this guy, but couldn’t quite remember his name. Or he didn’t bother to. The man has a name. We all do. And we dishonor others – reducing them to the status of an object – when we refuse to call them by the name that belongs to them.

The other is generalization. He judged – negatively – an entire nation on the actions of one individual who didn’t show up for work. I don’t know why “Pedro” didn’t show up that day. But neither did my friend. “Pedro” might have had a perfectly reasonable excuse for not coming to work. Or he might be a totally worthless layabout. I have no idea. But whichever it is, it has to do with his character, not his nationality or his status as a recently-arrived immigrant.

Objectifying and generalizing. Isn’t this exactly how we have been treated for centuries? We are heathen, corrupt, perverted, unstable, silly, flighty, incapable of lasting relationships, sex-crazed. And – here’s a big one – interchangeable. Gays are ________. Supply a stereotype, negative or otherwise. We are all exactly alike. We not individuals. We don’t really “have names.”

I despise it when we are treated this way. And these attitudes are alive and well. Look at the Republican presidential primary. It’s not just Santorum. In a desperate attempt to woo the Republican base, his opponents are falling all over themselves to outdo him and each other demonizing gay people.

But I despise it even more when we treat each other and other minority groups the way we are treated. We stand or fall together. And these days, with legal protection from the haters almost within our grasp, we all must stand.

Or we all will fall.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Margaret Ellis permalink
    03/23/2012 7:04 AM

    Another piece of beautiful writing. And so true.

    • 03/23/2012 8:16 AM

      Thanks, hon.

  2. Mary Nell Bryan permalink
    03/23/2012 8:53 PM

    Agree with Margaret. Thanks, David.

    • 04/01/2012 7:26 AM

      Thanks. And you’re welcome.

  3. dolphin permalink
    03/31/2012 11:26 AM

    I used to change the subject or sit quietly and hoped it went away when bigoted comments came up, but lately I’ve started taking it a bit further and speaking up against such comments when I hear them. It’s a bit scary at first, but I’ve found that, approached properly, it generally doesn’t cause any conflict. I don’t approach it from the perspective of “you’re wrong to say that” (though they are), but more from “I don’t like to hear that.” It keeps people from getting defensive (mostly) but hopefully still gets them thinking about why whatever they said maybe something not so appropriate.

    • 04/01/2012 7:35 AM

      I agree on your approach and I’ve used that exact phrase – I don’t like hearing that – too. And I think it often works. Starting fights never does.

      Decent people so often toss off casually bigoted remarks without really considering the hatred that underlies them and the damage they can do. If you can stop them and make them think, you give them an opportunity to re-think and change.

      Another tactic I’ve used now and then is to say something like,”Tell me what you mean by that.” Or, “What makes you say that?” It’s amazing how people will struggle for an answer, and sometimes admit they really don’t have a good point. It’s a little more confrontational, but usually doesn’t start a screaming match. The trick is to keep asking questions and waiting patiently – and politely – for answers.

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