I'm a Bigot and Don't Know It



I laugh at the old situation comedy All in the Family. Archie Bunker is its star character. His reactions to, and expressions regarding, people who aren’t like him have made him an icon. I prided myself a progressive person like Archie’s son-in-law. I’m not an Archie Bunker. Or am I?


The movie The Green Book assured me that I didn’t need the lessons learned by one of the story’s main characters. I know better than to promote withholding rights and freedoms I have from someone else. But I was dumbfounded when my writing partner had to point out that a Native American character I created had stereotypes I never heard of. Which means my bigotry runs so deep, it’s woven into my subconscious. I need to comb bias from my core through myopic censorship. The last time I spewed the saying from my childhood ‘Don’t be an Indian giver’ the conscious part of my brain flashed a vision of suffering and dying Native Americans walking the Trail of Tears.

As a child, I used “colored person” in a conversation with my sister. Her response, “What color were they, Dawn?” jarred me to realize I wouldn’t want to be referred to by my skin tone. Or have my appearance, sex, or age pointed out when someone speaks about or to me. These are personal aspects I have no control over that shouldn’t pigeon-hole me as a person. Referring to an individual by something other than their name or merits they’ve earned gives the speaker entitlement they have no right to. Another expression I no longer use in describing people is ‘white trash.’ It infers that most trashy people couldn’t be white.

YouTube has an MTV show called Decoded, hosted by Franchesca Ramsey. It shocked me. Certain episodes explain the origins of stereotypes throughout American history that still affect America today. Francesca’s video on cultural appropriation made me re-think costumes, clothes, and jewelry I wear as a white European-American.

The saying, ‘Don’t be a baby’ is age discrimination in lamb’s clothing. I admit to parroting this saying. Babies cry and tantrum because they can’t talk. When children can talk, they aren’t mature enough to express their feelings and needs accurately. Have you ever heard a 3-year-old say, “I’d like to stay home from daycare this morning, I need a mental health day.”? To reference someone as acting like a baby demeans a group of people who haven’t had enough time being alive to be able to act otherwise.

Children understand who provides their needs and comforts. They mimic and give devotion to their providers for survival and social acceptance. Adults who laugh at a joke targeting marginalized people are acting out their fears of the unfamiliar. This not only teaches and reinforces stereotypes, it fans fear into a child by building suspicion around those who are not in or around their circle of providers. I wonder what my children brought into adulthood from their early years.

Recently I listened to an author speak about controversy over her successful children’s book series. She sounded like a nice person who means well. However, the author mirrored stereotypes in her fictional characters. Her answers to accusations of bias resurrected things I had said but then buried, hoping no one remembered. I wanted to reach into the podcast, shake her, and say, “You’re embarrassing yourself.” It concerns me that stereotypes depicted in her books slipped through a publishing house. Children learn from children’s books.

If the US military could welcome the LGBTQIA+ community and heterosexual women with as widely open arms as it has heterosexual men, would a draft ever be necessary? I’m a selfish mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, friend. I’m proud of loved ones who are in the military but hope the military will only and always be made up of those able and willing to accept that challenge.

I scratch my head at huge audiences in the stands of sporting events who are mostly white, yet the teams on the fields are not. PBS has a documentary on the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Festival, a massive gathering that promoted equality. It showed footage of diversity on the stage, but not in the ocean of faces below the stage.

Why have I heard poor marginalized people called lazy? I was poor growing up. So, of course, I entered adulthood poor. I received WIC benefits when pregnant. I qualified for a grant from the city of Philadelphia for improvements on my home. I’m not lazy because I came from a family who didn’t have resources to empower me when I became an adult. But I wonder how much my white skin has been an asset when I needed assistance on the road, in a job, and for an apartment or loan. The worse I’ve been called is a bitch. My value as a person wasn’t attacked. The verbal assault was easy to ignore.

Diversity on social media, TV, billboards, and in magazines is starting to reflect a more realistic view of America. People who look and sound different from me are shown doing the same things my family and I do. Experiencing this purges ignorance by exposing reality. I prefer the whole picture to a limited misinterpretation. Why not? It’s comforting. It assures me I shouldn’t feel threatened.

The above doesn’t mean I expect a pass for slanted views. I have no right to be excused. I must continue combing through myself for destructive biases that may run deeper than I even now realize.  




CONVERSATION

2 comments:

  1. This is a terrific post with really thoughtful and insightful ideas. I agree there are levels of prejudice and bias and bigotry etc. and Ben for those who think they are above it may not realize it runs deep and is part of being human. We all must embrace the idea of learning and growing. You are brave to acknowledge and say so. Thanks for sharing your views.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. My hope is to not pat myself on the back but hold myself responsible and maybe poke others to examine themselves.

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