Sometimes I have questions that don’t have answers. Sometimes I have questions that I figure if I write about them, it will bring on a barrage of angry comments. Then, I discover I still have the question. Today’s question is about prejudice. Is it better when people are overt about their prejudice, or is it better when they hide their prejudice? For me, the answer has become more complex. I have always believed that I would rather have someone be honest, even if it’s ugly, because then I know where they stand. I found myself debating the value of silencing ugly speech, and I surprised myself.
Prejudice, bigotry, stereotyping; One of my favorites is “It’s reaching the point where a person can’t say anything about homosexuals without being called names.”
I grew up in the sixties. It was an every day occurrence to tell jokes regarding someone’s ethnicity, race or religion. People just couldn’t get that the jokes were hurtful. They would protest that they were only jokes and meant no harm. We still hear that today. Worse were the comments intended to be blatantly derogatory. Negative stereotyping and generalizations about any group of people are typically inaccurate and damaging. Slowly, as a people, we’ve learned that our words were hurting people, even when we thought we were telling innocent jokes. Many of those that purposely and knowingly practiced hate speech were on the end of enough social pressure to stay silent. It didn’t necessarily mean that their minds had changed.
And that’s the part that would bother me – knowing that bigotry still exists in people’s hearts, behind closed mouths, behind closed doors. I have always maintained that I would rather know someone is a bigot. After all, people are still finding plenty of ways to discriminate against people, they just hide their bigotry behind something else.
After reading articles about LGBT rights and readers comments for over a year now, I found myself pondering the question of the social pressure to refrain from making derogatory comments. (Please note carefully. I said social pressure, not legal pressure. I’m a big fan of freedom of speech. I don’t deserve freedom of speech if I want to take it away from someone else.) I began to realize the benefit of making this kind of talk unacceptable. Our children don’t hear it. I want to believe that each generation of kids has become more open, that it is natural for them to have friends of different races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientation and political beliefs.
Do I really want my son to hear people making ugly comments about someone’s religion? Someone’s gender? Their race? Ethnicity? No. I don’t. So I have come to realize that pressuring people into silence has risks but also has value. When we don’t speak up against hateful words, we make it acceptable. We build a better society for all of our children when they aren’t exposed to prejudice and bigotry. When they don’t learn bigotry, they won’t move on to the next steps of verbally and physically harming people.
We learn prejudice and hate. We learn name calling and stereotyping. Can we learn the meaning of human dignity acceptance and respect? Does this mean I accept and support everything that everyone says? No. It means I look at each person for who they are as a person; their behavior, their values. Are they honest? Are they kind? Do their actions hurt others? Do they treat others with respect and dignity? Do they stand up for the weak? Do I judge people when I don’t like their actions? I would like to say I don’t, but I do. However, I tell them what I don’t like and why. I don’t threaten to kill them. Believe me, it twists them in knots when you refuse to stoop to their level.
We live in a society where divisiveness and sensationalism are so pervasive, we call it news. People on the extremes get the attention of the media. This creates impressions that cause us to make sweeping generalizations about groups of people. This is done to LGBT people every day. We shouldn’t lower ourselves to that standard. Direct your voices to the individuals who have hurt you. Thank those that support you.
LGBT people have faced discrimination and brutality for too long. We can’t change the world through violence. We can’t change it by being silent. We can’t change it by asking nicely. We can change it through courage, an unwillingness to back down, and articulate and persuasive arguments. But mostly, we can change the world by living our values.
“It’s reaching the point where a person can’t say anything homosexuals without being called names.” All I can say is – I certainly hope so!
To find that heart of compassion in brutal leaders and people in power situations is, I imagine, one of your greater challenges. Power by humiliation is an acquired disease, cultivated by thousands of years of pathological history. We need to find the antidote, which is compassion coupled with a firm, non-violent use of resistance and pressure
– Victor Zurbel, November 30, 2006, in a personal message.
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
geekgirl: Jude is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.