Monday, August 06, 2012

Five things every freedom fighter should know.

Yesterday, I started a post about the whole Chick-Fil-A sitchination. However, I quickly realized that I had so many thoughts in my head, that even my beloved bullet points wouldn't help me get them organized.

Then, the idea for this post came to me. Immediately, it was already appearing to flow better while it was still in my brain. So, I'm gonna go with the brain flow.

Let me first talk about the term freedom fighter. I like the alliteration, but I don't necessarily like the imagery. Freedom fighter brings to mind bandanas around the bottom half of the face and molotov cocktails. I'm not really a fan of either of those things for myself. The term freedom seeker would work, but then we lose the fuh fuh. So we'll just stick with the original.

Now the question becomes, freedom from/to what?

Well, when I think of freedom, I think primarily of freedom from the shackles in our minds that are holding us back. All the messages that we get about what we are, what we aren't, what we can be, and what we can't be. As Oprah would say, the things that are keeping us from being our best selves.

It's like, the more I read about and think about, and do things related to issues of race and inequality, the more I realize that it really does all start in our minds. So these tips are for anyone who is also interested in moving beyond racism and all the other -isms, and creating positive change in the world.

#1) be honest with yourself and others.

I will be the first to admit that I struggle with and perpetuate racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, heightism, lookism, sizeism, classism, speciesism, ageism, xenophobia, transphobia, and any other -ism or -phobia that I forgot about, or have yet to hear about. If the premise is that I make snap judgments about people (and animals) and treat them better or worse as a result--then the answer is Yep, that's true.

The reason that it is important for me to admit this is because the less time that I waste trying to claim that I don't hold these biased attitudes, the more time I can spend examining said attitudes, and doing things to help lessen the frequency of the thoughts that come from the attitudes, which will eventually lead to decreased frequency of biased actions.

myblackfriend, did you just say you were a homophobe? I thought you liked gay people!

I do like gay people (at least most of the ones I've met so far.) And, you'll notice I didn't say I was a homophobe, I said I perpetuate homophobia through my thoughts and behaviors. When we apply labels like homophobe or racist, it's like we are trying to sum up a person's entire identity in one very hate-charged word. No one can be defined so completely so succinctly.

And because those words (and all the other words in the list above,) are things that very few people want associated with them, people will spend a lot of time defending themselves against such labels, instead of just being open to learning how to do things differently. But if we make a much more specific statement, we can accept it as true and move on. I am not completely defined by those thoughts and behaviors, they are just one aspect of my personality. This leads nicely to point my next point...

#2) No one is perfect, including you. And that's ok.

There used to be a thing going around on Facebook: 25 random things about me. Remember that? Boy that was fun. If any of my facebook friends wants to start that up again, that'd be cool; I really liked learning new things about you.

Anyhoo, one of the random facts I wrote when I did it was,

I believe there are two kinds of people in this world: good people, and good people who are covered up with varying layers of bad.

I believed that at the time, but now I would change it to this:

I believe there is one kind of people in this world: good people covered up by varying layers of bad.

No one is perfect. There was one Guy that was supposedly perfect, and his name was Jesus. But a lot of people don't even believe in Him. And even if you do, he wasn't just a Guy, he was the son of God. You're not a Guy, you're just a guy (or gal.) So remember that the next time you screw up and say something racist, or have a snarky thought about an overweight person. It happens. Why? Because you're not Jesus.

The decision then becomes: What are you gonna do about it? You can hold yourself up to some unrealistic expectation that you clearly haven't met and then waste time rationalizing and minimizing to hold onto a false view of yourself, or you can say, "I screwed up and next time, I will do better. Because it is important to me to do better." Then keep it movin'.

#3) Help the biases that you have about other people help you to understand the biases that other people have about you.

Since you've already accepted your biases (see #1,) you can now start to really examine them, which is kind of exciting.

Where did these biases come from?
When did they start?
What's going on with me right before I think/do something that perpetuates an -ism? How do I feel as I'm doing it? Afterwards?

I'll answer the first question to help illustrate my point.

This is the first instance that I can remember of being exposed to gay people in a movie:

Biloxi Blues. It's a movie about some guys in the military. There is a scene where the the main character goes into the latrine and comes across two guys doing something--it all happens very fast, so the viewer is not sure what exactly. But they are discovered, and one of the guys starts to leave quickly through the bathroom window. I was a young kid when this movie came out, so I asked an adult that was with me what happened. The adult told me that the two guys were gay, and that was the end of the conversation. So the connection in my mind was made that gay= do secret things in the bathroom and run away through the window when someone else comes in. And get kicked out of the military. To my young military brat mind, I knew that you only got kicked out of the military for doing very bad things.

Now for the first time I was exposed to transgendered/cross-dressing character: Silence of the Lambs.

Spoiler Alert: Don't read the rest of this paragraph if you don't want the whole plot of the movie given away. In Silence of the Lambs, the killer is a transgendered person or a cross dresser (I don't believe they clarify which,) who is killing women so he can make a suit out of their skin. So in my mind transgendered = serial killer.

So in my young mind transgendered = good person covered up by lots and lots and lots and lots of layers of bad.

This is at least part of the explanation of where my bias against people who don't fit neatly into the heterosexual box comes from. If I hadn't made the choice to see movies like Transamerica, or Brokeback Mountain, or Pariah--the two examples above would hold a much bigger space in my brain.

Making the conscious decision to see the movies with the more positive messages contribute to me to seeing movies like The Hangover as an adult and say, "Hey that gay slur was not cool, and didn't add much to the plot. What was the point of putting it in there?" It is also worth noting that the blockbuster hit of the Summer of 2009 will give some kid 20 years from now the opportunity to write on his blog, "My first exposure to homophobia on the big screen was when I saw The Hangover..."

So a lot of my bias came when I was a young impressionable child, consuming extremely popular media put out by extremely reputable corporations. So when I see someone who has racist behavior, it is not unreasonable to assume that perhaps that at least part of where their bias towards me comes from similar sources.

Since I am not an evil, vile person, he/she is probably not an evil/vile person either. This is what helps me to have reasonable conversations with people (on this blog and in person,) instead of yelling at them, calling them names, and pulling their hair. This does not lead me well into thing #4.

#4) Stop fighting with other people who are in the struggle.

Please stop comparing your struggle to other struggles, trying to prove why yours is just as/more valid than another one. When I hear "________ is the last socially acceptable prejudice." I have to make the conscious decision not to roll my eyes. (forgive me, but it is true.)

The reality is that they are all still socially acceptable prejudices; that is why they all still exist. It doesn't matter if you were born that way, or choose to be that way, it doesn't matter how you were dressed, it doesn't matter whose ancestors had it worse. Time spent trying to one-up each other or negate certain groups--that is time that could be spent on actually doing the work of making things better.

you can read more on my thoughts on #4 here and here. That leads to a pretty good segue to #5

#5) We are all in the struggle.

Some of us don't even know it, and are actually doing things that make the struggle worse. But as my white friend 5280 tech so eloquently said on this post,

I think a lot of white people have these moments where they wish they were black (I know I have,) so they could not always be seen as the over dog and the cause for other peoples' problems. It seems nice to think about being part of a struggle and taking down the system. If I am being honest with myself I could probably boil these thoughts of struggle down to "I wish I had an excuse for all this shit going on in my life.

I know from secondhand experience that being a straight, white, male (rich or otherwise,) is not easy.

Just because someone else appears to have it worse than me, that doesn't mean that I don't have the right to feel my own pain. At the same time, it doesn't mean that I can't hold myself or others accountable, and it doesn't give the the right to try to inflict pain on others in a misguided and ineffective attempt to try and feel better about myself.

But it does give me the right to say, "This sucks. And it doesn't just suck because of me. Sure, I've screwed up (see #2,) but there are other factors at play also."

We all need to get in touch with our own pain. We need to look at those "other factors" that we didn't control but that have hurt us. Examining our own struggle will help us to move through it. It will help us to see the struggle in others. It will help us to have compassion.It will help us to see the difference between people who know they are in the struggle and those who don't. It will help guide us to what to do next, and figure out what numbers 6 through infinity are on this list.

But most importantly it will help us to Get Free.

As always, I am interested to hear what you think. Do you have #6 (or 7 and 8) to add? If you do, or if you have anything else to share, leave me a comment.