Monday, December 5, 2011

I Have A Dream - MLK Blogfest
Let's Discuss Racism & Discrimination

I know.  It's the holidays.  People want to focus on the warm and fuzzy, and avoid that which makes us uncomfortable.

Taking about racism and discrimination; hell, even thinking about it, is not comfortable.  Yet whether we think or talk about it, or avoid the subject, it's still the big elephant in the living room.

I don't want to interrupt your holidays, whether you celebrate Chanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, New Year's, or Other Holiday Not Specified Here.  Go.  Get your holidays on.  I hope they are wonderful, and that your family, friends and activities are less dysfunctional and stressful than they normally are.

But I do want to plant a seed.  Sooner than we like to think, the holidays will be upon us, and then in the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 16, 2012) will be here.  I have often wanted to write a piece during that week, but have hesitated to do so because I didn't have time to carefully approach what I wanted to say, and it's an explosive subject.  I don't think I'm the only one with that problem.

I'm inviting you to join me for a serious (or lighthearted, if that suits your style and you can manage it) discussion on racism and discrimination, by posting about this subject on your blog on Monday, January 16.  I'll put up a Linky List on January 15, but am announcing now, so you have an opportunity to think about what you'd like to write.

There's an urban legend that scientists took a brown monkey, dyed it pink, and put it back into the cage with its mates who killed it for being wildly different.  I couldn't find any links to document such an experiment, but we accept it as true, probably 1) because we've been hearing it for a long time, and 2) because it makes sense to us.  Robert Heinlein (and probably others) have pointed out that in every culture and every language, there is some way to say, "He is a stranger, therefore a barbarian."  He's not one of us

Racism and discrimination isn't simply a black-and-white issue, at least in the USA.  We include people of all religions, skin tones, ethnic backgrounds, and abilities, and despite the fact that most of us get along fine most of the time, discrimination and the economic and social cost of past and current racism still exists.

No question, there are still too many bigots with white(r) skin who believe they are better than people with dark(er) skin, based purely on pigmentation.  There are also those within the Black/African-American community who favor those with lighter skin or straighter hair, or despise Latinos and Asians.  There are Cuban-Americans who take great pride in not being Puerto-Rican or Mexican-Americans, thank you very much!  There is nepotism and cronyism among some Jewish-Americans in the entertainment industry.

My son (on right) with one of his long-time best buddies.
Brian (who also calls me Mom) is Chinese-Korean,
and designs drop-dead gorgeous clothing for a line called In Vein.
(Yes, they're real tall: 6'6" & 6'4".)
Asian-Americans come in as many "flavors" as Latino peoples; they are Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and much more, not simply "Orientals," and there is racism within those communities too.  In Los Angeles, where I live, there is a large Armenian community.  Some have assimilated into American culture and customs, others not so well (or, perhaps, too well).   Technically Armenians are not a separate race, but the culture clash is very real and ongoing.

Not there's any one American culture.  I grew up in an interracial family.  I live, date, work, shop and socialize with Latinos, Blacks, Filipinos, Jews, LGBT, Middle Easterners, Native Americans, Asians, people in wheelchairs and many others not like me. My next-door neighbors are a friendly young married couple: he's from Brazil (where they speak Portuguese) but his first language is Italian; she's a dark-complexioned East Indian with awesome librarian-style glasses who talks like a Valley-Girl.  Like, OMG, totally.

Women face sexism and discrimination.  African-American men were granted the right to vote before American women of any color.  Barack Obama, the first President of the USA who wasn't a white male, wasn't female, either.  Women and girls all over the planet face gender-specific abortion, abandonment, forced child bride marriages, rape, beatings, mutilation, and poverty, just because they are female.  

People who are differently-abled battle a hostile environment simply to negotiate public buildings and transportation, let alone to date, get jobs, and be part of the larger community.  Just because their eyes, ears, or legs aren't fully functional, some people simply look at the differently-abled and dismiss them as lesser.

Those who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or otherwise clearly "different" in their expression of sexuality may be considered and treated as sexual deviants and outcasts.

And speaking of the elephant in the room, why is it that for many, it's always open season on fat people?  What about the social perception that overweight = disgusting/lazy/bad, while slender = attractive/active/good, and it's okay to ridicule and discriminate against people based on their size?

I don't think I can cover racism and discrimination, in its blatant or covert forms, in one blog post, or even a thousand.  But perhaps together we can shed some more light on the subject.

This speech always makes me cry, but not without hope. I truly share the dream that someday, we human beings can get past the BS and treat each other with fairness, dignity and respect.  

Tossing out some ideas on where to start (feel free to go off wherever the subject leads you):
  • Am I prejudiced/racist/sexist?  In what ways?
  • Am I aware of the ways in which my society grants (or denies) me privilege?
  • As a writer, do I seek to include characters who are "other" than my own groups?  If not, why not?  If I do, do I make great efforts to research and present them fairly, or do I go for the easy stereotypes because it saves time?
  • Do I bend over backwards to deny that some individuals do fit old tired stereotypes and insist that they should be excluded from any consideration of what white / Black / Hispanic / Asian / Jewish / Christian / fat / thin / differently-abled / homosexual people are really like because I find their behavior offensive?
  • Do I have friends who are different from me, or do I "stick to my own kind"?
  • If I have friends or co-workers who are "other," do I allow one or two to represent all "those people" in my mind, or do I recognize they are individuals?
  • If someone tells a racist or sexist joke or makes a bigoted remark in front of me, what do I do?  Does it make a difference in how I react if the person telling it is my boss, my mother-in-law, my preacher?  If I'm in a group of people, all laughing or agreeing?  Should it?
  • Is it possible to be a member of a minority group and still behave in a  racist manner towards other minorities, or towards those I perceive as being privileged?  Or should people in traditionally oppressed groups get a pass because they are rightfully angry?
  • Is it okay to "stick to my own kind" in dating?  Why or why not?
  • What if my dating preference is outside "my own kind?"  Am I creating a fetish of the "other," or is this as normal and acceptable as a preference for hair color, height, or shared religious values?
  • If I live outside the United States, what kinds of discrimination issues are there in my country or community?
  • What, if any, was the most hurtful discrimination I have personally experienced?
  • What was the most racist/insensitive thing I have done, either inadvertently, or deliberately?  If I had it to do it again, what would I do differently?
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. had his flaws (and affairs), as did many who have advanced human rights throughout the centuries.  Does this strengthen or detract from the impact of their message(s)?  Why can I look past this - or why can't I? 
  • Besides Rosa Parks, women in the civil rights movement are not generally recognized, although they were key figures.  Why does (or why doesn't) this bother me?
  • What do I see as the most pressing issue/concern regarding discrimination?  Is it more important to focus on one facet - racial discrimination, say, or discrimination against women or the handicapable?  Or  should we try to address all forms of discrimination together?
  • What seems better than it was ten or twenty years ago, and what seems worse?  Is it truly worse, or is that simply my perception because the bad incidents stick more in my mind?

If you'd like to join this blogfest, please leave your name & link in a comment, below, if you'd like a reminder or e-mail me at bevdiehl (at) gmail (dot) com.  (Or, you can jump in at the last minute, too - but I can only send reminders to the people I know about.)  

I may not be a little white girl, or from Alabama, but I'm reaching out my fat, white, (currently) able-bodied, female cisgendered hand to any and all who want to move beyond skin color and other superficiality, to valuing one another according to the content of our characters.
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P.S. Coming this Wednesday - Deanna from My One Woman Show is promising me something spicy and fun.  Please come back and check her out.