Here is a philosophy I try to employ every day. When I meet another human being even just in passing, I smile at him or her. I acknowledge that I make assumptions about that person based on my own social experiences and what I have been “taught” because of his or her skin, clothes, walk, age, gender, all the exterior things that I, as a person, can not help seeing and judging. And then I smile and sometimes add a hi if the contact lasts long enough. Perhaps we chat a little as we stand in line or try and corral our kids in a parking lot. I remind myself that all of those judgments are just in my head, and I am facing a person just trying to get through the day like I am. All I can hope is my smile, more my acknowledgement of his or her place in this world, makes a moment go a little more smoothly. I hope that I have taken that moment to say, “The ways we are other do not discount that we are also the same. You can be the person you are and always matter.”
That is where we get lost. When someone decides based on race, gender, religion, whom you decide to love, age, weight, eye make up, the hat on someone’s head, etc., to make people Other. When the differences turn from biases into judgments that make different wrong. And then that person sees nothing but different and wrong all around him or her. The resentment festers. Sometimes it turns into mean things like racial or sexist epithet muttered under the breath or hurled like a stone to make someone else feel little and inferior. Sometimes it is more insidious leading to a resume with an ethnic name going into the trash, or a prospective employee deemed not worthy as soon as he or she walks through the door. And sometimes it ends with nine dead in a church.
See, when I smile at another person, it is as much for me as it is for him or her. It makes me remember that a person is more than what he or she presents to the world. We all are. And even though the philosophies and ideals that make us more are often different, they are all equal. Other is not wrong. There is no wrong except when one person decides to hurt another. Ideas, beliefs, lifestyles are not wrong until they lead one person to harm another.
I also think most human beings feel the way I do. I think most of us value each other. I think we all have our biases, but, on the whole, we try to not let our differences turn into a game of who’s better than whom. But do I speak up when I see someone who is using the differences to belittle someone, to feel superior, to keep someone else repressed and “in his or her place”? Do I stand between the bully and his prey? Do I call out my boss when h/she won’t give the qualified Other a job interview? Do I tell the lady calling someone a fag that she can keep her homophobia to herself? Do I say something when the teenager is being ignored by the cashier?
Not enough. Nothing changes because we choose to not change it. Doing nothing is a choice. It is hard in an awkward or dangerous moment to think and do what is right. It is scary to stand up. It is scary to do more than smile.
But I am a member of the privileged. The judgments made about me based on my exterior are more often than not beneficial to me. I see people similar to me portrayed in a positive way across all media and entertainment. Heck, even when someone of my race does something heinous, like shoot elementary kids or blacks in a church, they are called more human things like mentally ill and troubled instead of terrorist or monster. Mostly, the message I receive is that my exterior has value.
It should be part of my job to make sure everyone feels that way. And if that means I need to start speaking up more and not shying away from conflict or disagreement when I see bigotry, then I need to do that.
I must use my voice and my power to back up my smile.
So… (In no particular order)
Racism is everywhere. White is still seen as better. Stop that shit.
Being poor is not a crime.
Much as I think it looks silly, saggy pants do not a thug make. I still smile even when I am not that happy about seeing your boxers. You’re probably judging my mom jeans. We can both deal. (Same goes for leggings worn as pants.)
Get over the gay thing. Homosexuality has been a part of human existence as long as heterosexuality has. Love is love, people. If you don’t see it that way, you are wrong because you are using that difference to harm someone else. If you want to spout off about it at whatever you call a church, fine. That is your right. It is my right to call you a bigot. But it is unconstitutional to deny another person the right to marry whomever he or she wants.
Neither is a superior gender. We need to get over all the centuries that tried to make one better than the other. It pretty much works the best for everyone if men and women work together.
When you get down to it, the basic idea to every religion is be nice to each other. Who cares if the way we show it is different? Just live by that one tenant, and we are all golden.
Fat people are not always lazy. Skinny people are not always runners.
My grandfather knew not one word of English when he got off the boat in New Jersey. You want to get bitchy about someone not knowing English, you’re bitching about my grandfather. We will have words.
I will let you know when I have something to say.