Responding to Your Own Prejudice

Someone I know voiced their upset at an advocacy organization that discriminated against them.  The whole situation reminded me of experiences I’ve had in the past (albeit different scenarios that didn’t affect me as significantly as it affected this person).

You are prejudiced.  Really.

You act like a bigot.  Really.

You discriminate.  Really.

Sure, you don’t do this all the time, in all ways.  And it need not be a big deal.  None of us fully understand the experiences of others, so it’s really easy to discriminate out of ignorance (and, no, ignorance is not a dirty word).

If you are a member of a minority community, you’ll experience prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination from others – even from people that are “good people.”

In fact, for some reason, I’ve found some of the worst discrimination comes from advocates for other minority groups.  I’ve also found some of the best, most accepting, most decent people are among advocates for other minority groups.  How can advocates be so much more polarizing than the general population?  I’m not sure.  I expect them to be a bit abrasive when challenging power structures that have discriminated against them.  but I’m always surprised when they turn around and discriminate against others.

Quick: Think of the last time someone said you were not being accepting, open, accommodating, etc.  Think of this last time when someone said that something you were doing was hurting a member of a minority.  How did you respond?

If your response was denial, explaining how you weren’t discriminating, being offended, or similar, please think about your actions carefully.  Nobody likes being told they’ve done bad.  And nobody likes to be seen as discriminating.  I suspect part of the reason I’ve had so much trouble with people who should know better (advocates for other minority groups) compared to people who shouldn’t know better (such as employers who don’t know about the minority issues important to me) is that the advocates for other groups have their identity tied up in not being discriminatory.  So when they are told something they do is discriminatory, this is a challenge to their very self-image.

I’ve seen amazing denial by organizations when confronted with this type of discrimination.  I’ve asked organizations to simply call a room something other than a “quiet room” when they create an accommodation for people who are having overload (quiet room also can mean the room where a person might be secured to a bed against their will, which obviously can be very triggering for people who have lived through that experience) – and seen that organization respond by digging in their heals and explaining why that term is not discriminatory.  Well, who really cares?  How hard is it to call a room something different?  But I apparently challenged some egos that were tied up in being seen as progressive, understanding, and accommodating people.  So when I said, “Hey, you are normally great people, but this is a problem,” I was telling them that they weren’t quite as great of advocates as they wanted to be.

At that point, they could have responded two ways.  They could have said, “Oh, I didn’t know.  It’s easy to change the name of the room.”  Or they could have fought for their honor.  They chose the fight, not realizing that this doesn’t give you honor, it takes it away.

You want to show me you’re an ally?  It’s simple.  LISTEN.  Seriously, listen.  If people in a minority group tell you about something that’s hurting them, take it seriously.  Even if it means a little work or public acknowledgement of your change.

You want to show me you want a fight?  That’s simple too.  Ignore my pain and the discrimination you are showing.  Tell me it’s not as important as something else.  Tell me that you are really a good person.  Tell me that people I care about don’t need whatever it was I was asking for.  And then get mad at me for sticking to my own community and needs above that of a community discriminating against me.  For extra points make sure to tell me how I’m aggressive, over-reacting, trying to start a fight, or am otherwise acting against my cause – while you do nothing for my cause.

Your acts don’t tell me if your discriminatory.  They might tell me you might be discriminatory, but you also might just be ignorant – like the rest of us.  None of us can know everything about everyone’s experiences!  It’s your response to people who call out your ignorance that tells me if your a bigot.

You’re either a great person or a bigot.  It has nothing to do with whether you did something wrong.  It has everything to do with how you respond.  It’s your move (and my move).

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