Author of Adam and Steve, a novel about reexamining your prejudices

Posts tagged ‘bigotry’

Walk a Mile in their Moccasins

What does the name of Washington, DC’s football team and the 30-mile ridge along the Allegheny Mountains stretching from western Maryland into Pennsylvania have in common?  The names are considered by some to be offensive. For decades, Native Americans, with respect to “Redskins”, and African-Americans, with respect to “Negro” Mountain, have sought to rid the region of these lingering relics of a bygone era. Recognizing that each group’s separate efforts have resulted in little to no success, Cortland Milloy, a columnist for the Washington Post, called for African-Americans and Native Americans to pool their resources to create a stronger voice, one more likely to be heeded. Http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-29/local/36612601_1_offensive-names-washington-redskins-mount-davis.

On another front, Julian Bond and others are trying to forge “a national constituency for civil rights” that includes all Americans standing together to level the playing field for all Americans in our ongoing momentous struggle against inequality and injustice.  After all, as Mr. Bond says, “[lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights are civil rights” worthy of inclusion in our “historic struggle for civil rights” and justice. A critical mass having the power to cut short a politician’s career or detrimentally affect the finances of a reluctant team owner has a better chance of educating the more callous among us and effecting change.

To speak in one voice, however, requires identifying with another’s feelings. Because intolerance is an equal opportunity victimizer, targeting a wide range of characteristics, including race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual preference, age and disability, almost all of us have had the “slings and arrows” of intolerance leveled directly at us. One would think empathy would come easy. Yet, it is still in short supply where intolerance is concerned.

We feign a failure to notice. We stand apart as if we are safe while the “other” is victimized – a “better him than me” mentality. We defend our prejudices by blaming the “other’s” thin-skin. We may even participate in offensive rituals to mask our own fear of being targeted or to pump ourselves up into believing that we are better than “them”. Even if we can say with all certainty that we are not bigots, racists or homophobes, who among us can say we have not laughed at an ethnic joke or said something stereotypically stupid?

Yet, we seethe when vitriol is leveled against us, and are blithely unaware when vitriol spews from us.  Now is the time to walk a mile in their moccasins. Now is the time to feel someone else’s pain. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on this the 50th anniversary of his historic March on Washington – “No one is free [of injustice and intolerance] until everyone is free [of injustice and tolerance]”.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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A lesson of tolerance from the Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts of the United States of America

Girl Scouts of the United States of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over a decade of statistics evidencing sexual violence against females in America tell a sobering story that, if we are truthful, comes as no surprise.

  • In 1995, of the 126,000 children who were victims of sexual abuse, 75% were girls.
  • In 1997, girls 16-19 were four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  • In 1998, one of every six or 17.7 million American women were the victim of an attempted or completed rape.
  • In 2003, nine of every 10 rape victims were female.
  • In 2006, 232,960 women or 600 women everyday were raped or sexually assaulted. *

Females are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence perpetrated by heterosexual men.  Nonetheless, to their credit, women, for the most part, do not condemn the entire heterosexual male population for the epidemic of violence against them in this country. If they did, society as we know it would cease to exist. Few women would endanger themselves or their daughters by living under the same roof with a man whose heterosexual orientation was the root cause of female sexual abuse.

To condemn an entire group for the acts of a few is a hallmark of intolerance and prejudice. The Girl Scouts of the United States of America, an organization devoted to the well-being of America’s girls and young women, has refused to so broadly blame heterosexual men. Accordingly, membership in the organization as adult volunteers is open to both women and men 18 years and over. The organization uses screenings and reference checks conducted by independent, third-party agencies to protect girls and young women from potential volunteers and staff who might cause them harm. See, http://www.girlscouts.org/for_adults/volunteering/volunteer_faq.asp.   This approach seems to have worked.  We have not heard stories of sexual abuse within the Girl Scouts or of its supporters demanding the prohibition of heterosexual males from serving as volunteers.

On the other hand, by refusing to accept gay scouts or permit gay volunteers, the Boy Scouts of America has condemned the entire gay population for sexual violence against boys. In a change of policy, the organization now allows gay youth as scouts, but continues its prohibition against gay volunteers. Some view this change as a step in the right direction. Others view it with fear and trembling. In actuality, the new policy is morally inconsistent and perpetuates the BSA’s blanket condemnation of gay men. The BSA and many of its supporters use their homophobia as a shield against a simple and, perhaps, inconvenient truth. Sexual orientation is not what makes either a heterosexual or a homosexual man a predator. The BSA’s new policy is only an expression of the organization’s continuing prejudice and intolerance, both of which the BSA has no right to teach our children.

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* Http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims, and http://.now.org/issuew/violence/stats.html.  See, National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey, 1998; U.S. Department of Justice, 2003 National Crime Victimization Survey, 2003; U.S. Department of Health $ Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 1995 Child Maltreatment Survey, 1995.

Obesity – Fair Game

I get it. Rex Reed didn’t like the movie Identity Thief starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. Although Mr. Reed believes the movie is far from an Academy award-winning production, that doesn’t give him license to trash Ms. McCarthy, not based on her performance, but rather on her size.  We learn from Mr. Reed that Ms. McCarthy is “tractor-sized”, a “female hippo”, and “a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success.”

Photo courtesy of: http://blog.nola.com/davidcuthbert/2008/01/tennessee_idol_contest_new_at.html

Mr. Reed’s comments are small-minded and intolerant, but not surprising. Unlike most other forms of prejudice, the obese intolerant blame the obese for their condition and the resulting humiliation, embarrassment and inequality they suffer at the hands of the intolerant.  That little turnabout permits the intolerant to express their prejudice with impunity, as Mr. Reed did. For the most part, the intolerant may be right. There’s no federal law punishing weight-based discrimination and only a handful of state legislatures have seen fit to enact such laws.  http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/what_we_do.aspx?id=206.  Without legal prohibitions, the intelligence and talents of the obese, which are unaffected by body type, go untapped. A full 16% of the employers questioned admitted that obesity is “an absolute bar to employment”. http://nyti.ms/WErAT3.

There’s little to stop the weight discrimination and obese intolerance that flows from the bigot who feels justified in his bigotry. Stereotypically, from an early age and out of the mouths of elementary school children, the obese are accused of being “dirty”, “lazy”, “ugly”, “stupid”, and “sloppy”.  http://nyti.ms/WErAT3. That’s how early this intolerance starts.

Since obesity cannot be hidden, the obese are obvious targets for the ostracism, humiliation, despair and, at times, violence that follows them throughout their lives.  Such visceral disregard seems strange given that over 50% of our population is overweight (which may include Mr. Reed) and 18% are obese. See, http://nyti.ms/WErAT3

As a society, we cannot afford to lose the inherent abilities of over 18% of our population. The time has come to “separate our weight from our worth” (Kelsey Rae Eller, http://bit.ly/WVI3Sc).  If we succeed in making that separation, then we not only free the obese to maximize their potential, but free ourselves from our unworthy intolerance. In that regard, Mr. Reed would benefit from tuning in to Ms. McCarthy’s acclaimed television show, Mike and Molly. There he’ll see that the overweight can, for example, be caring, loving, intelligent and talented, maybe even more so than Mr. Reed.

Image courtesy of: http://www.mynjattorneys.com/employmentlaw/

There Ought To Be A Law

Here’s the thing.  At best the bigot is a thief, at worst, his thievery is murder, plain and simple. The bigot is much like the common crook, only worse – so much worse. The common crook steals property. Maybe he’ll use it to buy a loaf of bread or a much needed fix.  The bigot, however, steals significantly more than property.  The bigot steals human dignity. Once stolen, the bigot has no use for it at all. A purely gratuitous taking.

I’m not talking about hate crimes, for which we have laws.  I’m talking about your run-of-the-mill this is America, and I’m free to spew anything I damn well please intolerance, whether it’s directed at a racial, religious or ethnic group, a gender or a sexual orientation. Make no mistake, intolerance is invidious and meant, from the first uttered intolerant word, to bring a person down, to make that person feel less about themselves and to instill fear and shame.  At the same time, the bigot gets the benefit of the equal and opposite reaction.  The bigot experiences an undeserved high, puffing and strutting, because he has the power to make someone feel small.  That power, in and of itself, makes him, by his own standards, better than “those people”.

Bring all of this foolishness into the schoolyard, and the bigot inflicts pain on impressionable children who will carry the scars of intolerance for the rest of their lives. It stands to reason that if a child is told often enough that he is worthless, that child will believe his worthlessness. This is not rocket science.  Not many children can withstand the bigot’s ugly “truth”.  For why would anyone say such hateful things, except if they were true.

When a gay, lesbian or transgender child can no longer cope in this world,  find sanctuary in this world, carve his own place in this world or merely survive in this world, then the bigot has become a murderer, a killer of spirit, if not a killer of life.  For that, there ought to be a law.

image curtesy of: http://unshaned.wordpress.com

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