Sunday, April 6, 2014

Discrimination Gone Subtle

When I was growing up, racism, sexism, gay-bashing, was pretty in your face.  People flung racial epithets, using the n word and worse, with little consciousness of the obnoxious nature of the words they spoke.  Sexual harassment was not a phrase - bosses oftentimes expected "perks" from their secretaries, who were never called administrative professionals.  Andy 95% of all gay people were in the closet.

Times have changed.  While prejudice is less direct, unfortunately that does not mean it is eliminated.   Racism, sexism, homophobia all exist, but are harder to spot.  Most people, have a hard time identifying their own bias.  When I say most people, I include myself.

Bias and prejudice have negative connotations.  However, we all have biases and prejudices, that is the nature of humanity.  We all have experiences, both good and and bad, which help to form who we are. Most of us grew up with people who look and act like we do.  When an aging white man crosses a lonely street with and encounters a group of teenage African-American youth, he may feel anxious.  He knows no African-American youth.  He has pre-conceived notions based on what he hears, sees or reads.  Those notions may have nothing to do with fact, but he is afraid anyway.  Yet when he sits in a jury panel and is asked if he can be fair in a criminal case with an African-American defendant, he will say, "Of course I can be fair."  We all want to believe we are fair.  Few people today admit to being racist.  Yet, I suspect, to some extent many of us, regardless of whatever ethnic group or race with which we identify. has pre-conceived notions about others.  

That is what prejudice is, preconceived notions.  Making assumptions about groups of people is discrimination. We all make assumptions.  Most of us are afraid to admit that we make assumptions about people.  We don't want to be prejudiced.

I submit that people who recognize and admit their biases may be more prone to being fair.  Honestly, especially about oneself, is a good thing.   Introspection aids the ability to make just decisions.   Of course, those crazy folks in neo-Nazi groups or the KKK may admit their racism, but their admission is not the product of introspection, but of insecurity, fear and hate.

Before we believe that racism is dead because we have a President of mixed race, before we declare that we are "color-blind," in reality a code-word for insensitivity, before we declare that women fail to break the glass ceiling only because they interrupt their careers with child-rearing, let's have a dose of reality.  Racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and religious discrimination are alive and well.  We are just much for indirect about it.

Each of us, whatever or race, sex, sexual preference, age or religion, need to recognize how we have assumptions about others unlike us and those assumptions are prejudice, pre-judgment before we have facts.  Knowledge of our own feelings and assumptions is power.  Perhaps one day we will eliminate discrimination against humans, when we are all united against the space aliens invading our planet. Until that day of space invasion or global destruction, I suppose we will just have to do the best we can to eliminate attitudes that oppress others.  And we need to be honest about our own assumptions, even if it's hard and even if it's not politically correct. 

To a new dawn of opportunity for all.

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