NATASHA THOMAS: Challenging Conversation Corners — I’m Not ________ist BUT…

Never have I heard anything good follow such a sentence …

“I’m not sexist, BUT … I just don’t think women make good business owners.”

“I’m not homophobic, BUT … I just can’t support that lifestyle.”

“I’m not racist, BUT … I just plain don’t like black people.”

No joke, I’ve heard people use all three statements. There are totally people out there who believe that admittedly disliking a group of people doesn’t make them any sort of “-ist.”  This kind of reasoning makes zero sense to me.

We as a society have somehow crossed into this magical, maddening netherworld where in order to be an “–ist,” you have to explicitly “act” on your feelings. It’s not enough to just dislike someone because of who they are, if you don’t “actually harm” them with intent. No foul, right?

Yes, foul. So much foul.

In my first post here on Unheralded, I gave a scenario where you and I are hanging out and I suddenly double over in pain. In that post, we talked about how telling me to straighten up and suck it up wasn’t helpful but rather to invite me to tell you what was wrong and ask how you could help. Let’s take that scenario one layer deeper.

Let’s say that this doubling over was caused by me stubbing my toe on something in the street. Let’s further imagine that upon helping me to my feet, you discover the item I stubbed my toe on is an item that you had in a backpack you were carrying.

It may have fallen out of your bag by accident. You might have set it down absentmindedly and forgot to pick it up. You may have never even known that item was in your bag. Or  maybe someone else put it there.

Regardless, it’s entirely possible you didn’t mean to hurt me, but the reality is that something you did (or neglected to do) resulted in me being injured.

I, as the injured party, reserve the right to call you out when that happens.

In keeping with the “taking the conversation deeper” theme, now let’s consider the devastating consequences that cyber bullying can sometimes take: young people ending their lives because of what is said or done to them online.

Individuals who engage in cyber bullying rarely think they’re responsible for their actions. But you can be tried for cyber bullying now. Even if you aren’t the one engaging in the bullying, if you are aware of such things happening, and do nothing but stand by, you’re implicit (at least morally if not legally) in the results, too.

No one involved in such things is ever blameless. You are responsible for the impact of your actions (or inaction), no matter how far away from the results you are.

This applies to history, too.  No mater how long ago something happened, the effects of any negative action are felt for generations — it’s in all of our blood, our DNA, tainting our every perception.

So, yes, slavery was a long time ago. Jim Crow was a long time ago. But the racism that existed then still exists now. It may be watered down, but it’s still racism. And it’s poisoned all of us in the instinctive biases it leaves behind. Every person on the planet is biased. Every person on the planet is infected with this poison.

I guess the takeaway here is that you might as well own it. As the Avenue Q song says, “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes … doesn’t mean we go around committing hate crimes…”

If we all just acknowledged our biases up front and agreed to listen, learn from and support each other rather than living in constant fear of being called a bigot, imagine what deeper, truer changes for the better we could enact in our world?

Because saying you can’t “support” alternative genders and “lifestyles” when all that’s being asked of you is not to allow them to be targets of discrimination absolutely makes you sexist and/or homophobic. And it absolutely makes you morally accountable for whatever should happen to them once you have failed to protect them.

So, the next time you think about starting any sentence with “I’m not ____ist, BUT”… reconsider. Either drop the facade and own your bigotry or try silence and a dose of tolerance instead.


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