My mind has been reeling with events of late. I have pondered how to talk about it, or even if I should talk about it, because this site is about life with chronic illnesses, not a political website. Yet, chronic illnesses don’t discriminate, unlike many of our fellow citizens are doing. Chronic illnesses attack regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or abledness. Therefore, any issue of bigotry and discrimination against any minority, automatically includes those of us with chronic illnesses. Not forgetting, of course, that even just having a chronic illness and/or a disability also puts you on the chopping block of discrimination.
We cannot pretend that racism, sexism, or bigotry of any kind are separate from the struggles of people with chronic illnesses, as there are people of all races, genders, orientations, religions, etc., who suffer from them.
I’m sure many will dismiss this article as political propaganda, send hateful comments, block me, curse my name, etc. I’m positive I will receive messages or comments about how I should stick to talking about chronic illnesses and stay out of politics (see above). My counter argument to that is that no person’s right to exist should be considered political fodder. Yes, people absolutely debate the civil rights of non-white males every single day. They act as if it is some philosophical idea that should be debated rationally.
I’ll say this again, just so I’m clear, the right to exist is not a political matter. It is a human matter. To pretend that it’s ok to “rationally” debate whether a human being has the equal right to exist that you do is not policy or legislature, it’s oppression, plain and simple. You don’t have to agree with me, it is true regardless.
Because, that’s what racism, sexism, ableism, all the “isms” are doing. They are saying that whoever doesn’t fit into the box of “normal,” usually measured as a white wealthy man, is less deserving of human rights than the “normal” people. Have you ever truly stopped to consider the sheer audacity and ego that goes into an idea like that? And then, to tell the people who are being oppressed, as they yell for their voices to be heard, that it’s just politics, not personal, and they should be rational, not emotional, is a special kind of cruelty. It’s gaslighting, I should know. I was gaslighted most of my life, so I’ve gotten fairly good at recognizing it.
Think about this, would you stand by silently while people, who do not represent you and haven’t even attempted to understand your experiences, calmly debated whether or not you should be afforded the same basic rights that they are afforded?
I like to think of myself as a fairly tolerant person. I am a people-pleaser in recovery. I have smiled at people spouting hate and ugliness, both at me and at others, because I believed that’s what being tolerant meant. No matter how awful or repugnant someone’s behavior is, I would respect their right to have differing views and just deal with it.
I have changed my notion of tolerance. I respect that everyone has the right to have their own opinion, regardless of facts. However, I refuse to respect or tolerate any opinion that denies another human being of their rights or basic civil liberties. I have decided that by simply smiling and nodding as this vicious verbal violence rolled off of their tongues with delight, I was essentially allowing it to happen and saying that it’s ok. It’s not ok.
This past weekend we all watched as Nazis, white supremacists, KKK klansmen, and “alt-right” people took to the streets claiming that they are being oppressed. They seem to think that they are at threat of being replaced. There’s this insidious notion that if other people are given equal rights as they have, then they will somehow have less rights. That’s not how rights work. And oppression is not just a fancy word for feeling uncomfortable. It is systemic and can easily be traced throughout history as well as legislation.
Now, my purpose in writing this is not to merely condemn the horrific actions of these self-proclaimed Nazis, nor to simply shame those who have remained shockingly silent through it all. Rather, I want to talk about a devious cruelty that hides in plain sight that each and every person, no matter your political leanings or personal affiliations, needs to actively work to dismantle. I’m talking about our own biases and prejudices.
We all have them, I guarantee you, no one is immune from the power of generations of bias and prejudice that are handed down like grandma’s precious china and strengthened through poor media representation and stereotyping. I feel that many well-meaning people do a lot of harm perpetuating these prejudices because they refuse to admit that they have them.
As soon as someone is confronted with a statement of “that’s racist,” “that’s misogynistic,” “that’s ableist,” the person being corrected immediately goes on the defensive. “I’m not racist, you’re racist for saying that,” we have all seen people cry out along with, “that’s not ableist, you’re just too sensitive, snowflake.” The immediate response that is so often seen is that the person spouting bigoted comments turns the conversation on the oppressed person who is trying to call attention to the oppressive behavior and makes it all about them being wrong. I have seen this time and time again, without hesitation. They don’t even pause for a second to think, “how could what I said have impacted that person?”
This rush to defense is a huge enabler for bigotry in our society. Instead of reflecting on your own words, or even asking to understand how what you said was hurtful, no matter the intention, it automatically becomes the other person’s fault. You are the one who is being harmed or attacked.
It’s not comfortable to examine your own prejudices and biases, it’s just not. But, we will never defeat the bigotry rising in our society if we constantly turn every conversation of “hey, that’s oppressive, please don’t do it,” into “stop being such a snowflake.” When that happens, an incredibly important learning moment has been turned around to focus on the feelings of the oppressor rather than the oppressed.
This reaction is so automatic and ingrained in our way of thinking, that it will not go away without actively working to correct it. When I first became disabled by my illnesses, I suddenly found myself in a brand new world. I had never even heard of the term “ableism” before then. I was suddenly faced with the true impact of my prejudices before and how many times I ignored the struggles of disabled people. It was hella uncomfortable. I mean, it sucked, because no one wants to admit that they have been biased, or prejudiced, or added to the oppression of another human being. At least not people who like to think of themselves as all loving and all accepting.
I still fight this defensive instinct whenever I am called out on oppressive language or run into an article or post that challenges my comfort zone. My face gets hot and my mind rushes to, “but, I mean well, I don’t want to hurt anyone, surely that’s good enough,” and I have to stop myself, reflect, breathe, and realize that intentions don’t really matter that much if the results are still the same as those with bad intentions.
I’m gonna say that again, good intentions do not make it ok to take part in oppressive behaviors.
If your intentions are truly good, and not to hurt or harm anyone, then don’t you want to know if what you’re doing is actually harming people? How else will you know how to stop doing it if you aren’t called out on it?
It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to dismantle the oppression of minorities. This isn’t the kind of fight where you can stay neutral and just wait to see who wins. Neutrality, I hate to tell you, is a myth because by staying “neutral” you are allowing oppression to continue. So, either you fight against oppression, or you are an active participant in it. Those are literally the only two options.
Take responsibility for your actions. If you accidentally step on someone’s foot, are you going to scream at them about being a snowflake? Or are you going to apologize for accidentally hurting them? Why should it be any different if you accidentally offend someone? Challenge yourself to examine your words, your behaviors, your gut reactions, and ask why they are the way they are. If your actions are hurting someone else, and you don’t intend to hurt them, then stop. Really, it’s as simple as that. You don’t have to understand why something is oppressive or offensive for it to be oppressive and offensive.
If you are intentionally hurting other people in order to feel superior or because you truly believe they don’t have as much value as a human being than you do, then you need to stop and reevaluate your whole belief system. And, you probably shouldn’t be reading my page, because you honestly aren’t going to like it. There is no superior race or gender or religion or orientation or so on. Just stop. Read up on biology and just stop. Because you are wrong. That I can say with 100% certainty.
But, if you are like the majority of Americans who hope for peace and unity, then you need to be willing to examine your own actions and beliefs. We can’t possibly fight bigotry in our system if we refuse to recognize and fight it within ourselves. And there will be no unity as long as people are still promoting the idea that oppression of others is ok as long as they are quiet and stop whining about it. You want things to get better? Then go out and make it better. Stop waiting for the world to change while refusing to challenge your own way of thinking.
My heart and thoughts are with all of those who were attacked and harmed by the actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville over the weekend. And my heart is with all of us who will continue to fight for equality for all, no matter the dangers we face.
© 2017 spooniewarrior.com