Okay, I’m Sexist, maybe Homophobic, but I aint never Racist, so don’t Act like I Am!
It dismantles my sensibilities (essentially blows my mind, but that saying has become a bit trite, don’t you think?) when people immediately want to fight off the accusation that they are racists. They’ll own the fact that their thoughts on women may be limiting, disrespectful, or antiquated. They somehow find a way to attribute their thoughts and behavior to the way they were raised and somehow also find a way to rationalize their sexism as not so much of a problem because they don’t really mean anything by it. Have you found this to be true?
Yes, it obliterates my rationale when people immediately will often own to varying extents the fact that they are homophobic or heterosexist, but not want to own the fact that they are racist. Their discomfort or unintended biases towards people with a different sexual orientation are often framed as having been served to them in sermons, or biblical canon, or subtly situated in language that they’ve grown accustomed to using (sissy, act like a girl, soft, etc.) and therefore, it isn’t really their fault that they’ve acquired the habit(s) of being inconsiderate of others. Is this the case, or not?
Obviously I could go on. People are wrapped up in their classist behavior and comfortable with it, with the underclass striving to become middle class, the middle class striving to become upper class, and the upper class, when not with others of their ilk, often downplaying their class status. Off handed comments about this or that, inconsideration of the privileges that they have strictly by the luck of the draw, and they therefore are dismissive of others less fortunate.
People are ableist along some of the same routes. Posing as if they are empathetic, but rolling through life as inconsiderately of people who are differently-abled as they do the homeless when they have just exited a shopping spree having purchased frivolous goods that probably won’t even be worn while the homeless person they just passed has only the clothes on her back and is scrambling for tonight’s meal.
I have never minced words when I speak to audiences on the subject of race/racism. I firmly believe that if you were socialized in this country, educated, or mis-educated around the subject of race, you are as racist as you are sexist, heterosexist, and ableist. How can you not be if you have never really participated in a discussion about how it feels to be oppressed, or the many ways that we disrespect others.
There is a misconception however that if you are a kind person, or someone educated in doing work in the field of Cultural studies, Jewish Studies, Women and/or Gender Studies, LGBT Studies/Chicana-Hispanic/Native American/African American/ Asian-American Studies that you automatically get it because you know and have studied the oppression of one group and logically wouldn’t purposely put that onto others. GIVE ME A BREAK!!! People in every one of these camps have scars as profoundly deep and troubling as the ones non-educators sometimes carry. Just because you are the director of a Diversity Studies program doesn’t mean you don’t see Gay men as less manly even though you may purport to being an advocate for equal rights. Just because you are the chair of a Gender Studies program doesn’t mean you’ve been introduced to Angela Davis’ Myth of the Black Rapist and are capable of seeing underrepresented men in a light that doesn’t automatically frame them as sexual deviants if they deviate slightly from your expectations. Just because you are the director of a educational enterprise (consultant), a dean, provost, president, principal, or superintendent, you are not absolved from succumbing to your own biases, albeit at times subconscious biases. Personal prejudices rear their ugly heads inadvertently as a result of our blind spots, or sometimes deliberately as a result of how we play the game of leveraging ourselves at other’s expense. This is often called playing the ______ card (insert the identity construct that applies). Get this through your head though, everyone carries a deck, but some or just more adept at playing it.
So, what’s my point? Well, what is the point? Why do we accept a certain amount of ownership around our ill-treatment of others in these other problematic identity categories, but are ready to fight the accusation of racism? Does racism trump the other isms? Somebody please explain to me how it is possible to not be racist in American society if you are a product of our educational system?
Oh, and when we own the fact that we may be sexist, homophobic, and yes, even racist, we then can start to entertain some of the other problematic dimensions of our socialization/indoctrination and examine even deeper how we may have dysfunctionally responded to some of society’s other poorly taught/strategically implemented lessons (what might those be?). After all, as Albert Camus once said: “beginning to think is beginning to be undermined...”