Thursday, January 4, 2018

Racists who believe they aren't racists

I love language. I love English. Not in a "Everyone MUST speak English in the USA!" kind of way, but in a "Let's read aloud from Hamlet tonight!" kind of way. I like poetry. I like well-written narratives. I lose myself in a well-crafted novel. I love hearing a well-spoken person deliver a speech where every word feels perfectly, lovingly placed. I correct people speaking on TV, particularly newscasters, sometimes talking back to the TV and sometimes tweeting the channel (I'm sure they love that). I correct myself when I realize I have been using a word incorrectly, or not using proper grammar.

A friend posted a photo on Facebook that had this caption:

This pic of the openly gay son of Alabama’s new senator, staring defiantly into the eyes of the outrageously homophobic VP who’s swearing in his dad, is everything! 

A friend of his commented:

I’m sorry, but just because someone holds a religious opposition to homosexuality does not mean they are homophonic, nor does it mean they hate anyone who is homosexual. This rhetoric and word twisting is infuriating.

So I responded:

"homophobic | ˌhōməˈfōbik | adjective having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people: homophobic remarks." Pence is against allowing gay people to marry, for conversion therapy to 'change' gay people to straight, for allowing businesses to be able to fire people who are gay, and against gay couples from adopting children. If we are English speakers and understand the meaning of words as they are defined in the dictionary, yes, the vice-President is homophobic. Were he against all of those same things for black Americans, he would be racist. That's how words work.

And it dawned on me yet again that not only do homophobic people in the USA not want to be called homophobic, but racist people in the USA don't want to be called racist. And I wonder - why?

Homophobic people in the USA say, "I don't HATE gay people. I just don't want them to marry, to adopt children, to be my doctor, to rent an apartment from me, to ask me to dry clean their clothes from their wedding, or to ever mention anything all of the rest of us are allowed to mention - like 'I had a date last night' or 'I think I'm in love' or 'my boyfriend and I just made plans for a vacation to Mexico.' And if my child said he was gay, I want to be able to take him to a counselor who says he can change him and make him straight. But I don't HATE gay people. Jesus tells us to love the sinner, hate the sin! In fact, I have gay friends!"

And racist people in the USA, say, "I don't HATE black people. I just don't want them to date or marry white people, to be my doctor, to be my massage therapist or to rent an apartment from me. I don't want their kids in my kids' schools because they will bring down test scores because most of them can't be as smart or well-behaved as white kids - it's just their biology, they can't really help it. I don't want one as my mayor, or sheriff, or governor, or President. But I don't hate black people! I love their music! And I have black friends!"

I've heard almost all of those actual statements from real people, particularly back in Kentucky. Some of the comments have come from relatives. And I love my family, and I love Kentucky, but, yes, a lot of people there are racists. You might "have black friends", you might not march with the Klan, you might not want to bring back slavery, you might never, ever use racial slurs, you might have black co-workers and you all use the same bathrooms, you might prefer a certain bank teller because she is the nicest of everyone at your bank and she also happens to be black, but, yes, you can still be racist.

Did you see the movie Get Out? If you didn't, stop reading and SEE THAT MOVIE. If you did, keep reading: I loved that movie. I cannot get that movie out of my head. The white characters in that movie, in response to the question, "Are you racist?" would say no. Seriously. They would say no, with great sincerity. When the dad says he would have voted Obama a third term? He means that. Yeah, I know the movie is fiction, but those white characters rang true for me on a level that shakes me to my core. I know those people. They don't lure black people to their homes and steal their souls, but they feel entitled to exploit black Americans economically, to make voting difficult for them, to defund their schools, to pollute their water - and that sense of entitlement makes them RACISTS.

And I know I've singled out racism against black Americans. I fully acknowledge the racism against other perceived races - Arab people, indigenous people of the Americas, Asian people, and on and on. I hear people try to attribute biological traits to Eastern Europeans, to Irish people, to people from a specific province of a country. I've heard Africans from one country disparage as biologically inferior Africans that are also from that same country, but are from a different "tribe." It's all JUST as offensive as any racism, of course. It's just that racism against black Americans is the racism that jumps out at me the most, the one I grew up with.

Racism. Racist. Homophobia. Homophobic. These words have specific meanings. And if the meaning describes you, why not own it? If you don't want to own it, maybe the problem isn't the word - maybe it's you.

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