In the last decade or so I have sadly seen a steady rise in the level of prejudice that is openly displayed by people both in my immediate circle and in the wider world in general.
This has lead to a peculiar set of circumstances for a whole lot of us. One where we frequently hang out socially & professionally with people who we now know don’t share our value system.
This has lead to a huge internal dissonance in many minds and hearts. Speaking for myself, I can definitely say that it has in mine.
Often when I am venting, angry or disturbed about it, I am told that I should learn to take people as they are. That they have an opinion just like I do and that they are entitled to it. That they are old friends or relatives. Or that they are essentially “good people” and other things along that vein.
It set me thinking..
Are racism, casteism, classism, islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, fascism and so on really just opinions?
How am I supposed to defend the indefensible even if only to myself?
I personally don’t think any of these extreme prejudices are truly just opinions. They are so much more than that. They are values and values are what define us. Values are about character. They essentially make us who we are in a sense.
An opinion for me, as in “I have an opinion”, would be on a film or on a holiday destination or whether I prefer milk or dark chocolate. If I like donuts more than cupcakes, it doesn’t say much about me as a person. It doesn’t describe me or my value system.
Whereas if I was prejudiced against people from the LGBT community or Muslims or believed in racial segregation, that would say something about me and my character. It defines who the real me is.
Prejudice or extreme bias goes way way beyond an opinion.
It disturbs me when we legitimise these prejudices by telling ourselves that’s its ok to hang around with racists or bigots of any kind because they are entitled to their opinion. We all have “flaws” we tell ourselves and isn’t that what being a good friend is all about.. acceptance? We pat ourselves on the proverbial back for being non judgemental. We don’t see it for what it really is, which is looking away & not caring enough to call it out.
Flaws to me would be characteristics like selfishness, greed, insensitivity or having a bad temper.. you get my drift. But bigotry, blind hatred or extreme prejudice, those aren’t just flaws are they? They are belief systems and belief systems are the heart and soul of a person.
The million dollar question we should be asking ourselves is why we are we so comfortable with this and if we are not then the bigger question is why do we keep tolerating it?
The answer I guess would be that sometimes we just have to because the social situation requires us to. Maybe we are related or we have known each other for a long time, but I do think that it should definitely make us deeply uncomfortable.
If we aren’t uncomfortable then maybe there’s something we haven’t understood about ourselves.
Maybe it’s about the self. Why are we not more disturbed?
Maybe we can start by not defending it to ourselves and to stop telling ourselves that we accept another person’s racism, sexism or any other kind of prejudice as just an opinion.
That compartmentalising a person’s values as separate from them is just not possible, especially if those values are abhorrent to you and go against everything you hold dear.
What we should be doing is accepting that we now clearly see the person for who they are. That we know that our relationship has changed irrevocably.
That we might have to tolerate it but we don’t have to accept it. The moment we say, even just to ourselves, that we accept it, we in a sense legitimise it, we condone it, we OK it. Telling myself “she’s a nice person” or “he gives to charity” or “he’s a good father” is letting myself off the hook.
If we are not uncomfortable then we have to ask ourselves why? Is it because those values are not important enough to us?
Speaking for myself the answer is self evident. I have realised that for me it’s extremely important, it’s a critical component of my value system and therefore when I encounter that bigotry in others it deeply impacts my relationship and changes it permanently.
It’s the reason why I can’t and refuse to accept the bigotry and why I often take many metaphorical & physical steps away from it.
It true that it sometimes leaves me sadder but here’s the dichotomy, it also leaves me at peace.
I then stay true to myself and I stay ME.