This is an article on a topic I am sadly all too familiar with: Bigotry and bias. There are a few concepts to be aware of in this space and the first is oppression and disadvantage. I spent four yeas as a socialist in my youth and I have been discriminated against as a member of various groups for many years so I have given this topic a lot of thought. Oppression and discrimination are not the same as just being mean – although the two tend to be related. An oppressed or disadvantaged group is one which is structurally and historically disadvantaged in society. By that I mean that others who share a characteristic – for example being autistic – face similar sorts of issues. Discrimination tends to generate a number of problems for people – both practical things like being excluded from employment or education and personal, individual things like self-hatred or under-confidence. Bigotry is a social issue but also a personal choice. Bigoted people can change their views and behaviour. This is a complex issue.
Disadvantage does not necessarily preclude a person from achieving what they wish to but they tend to have to overcome a lot more hurdles to get there than people who do not face disadvantage might have done.
Another important point about people who are disadvantaged or oppressed is that they can be prejudiced against those from other groups. While this might seem contradictory it definitely happens. As a non-binary person I have experienced bigotry from some in the autism community. While it would make logical sense that those facing disadvantage would be respectful of others, sadly this is not always the case! People also can self-stigmatise and judge and hate themselves and try to remove any associations or linkages to the disadvantaged group they belong to. Being oppressed or disadvantaged also does not necessarily mean someone is a passive victim, or for that matter a big revolutionary! People are just people living their lives. We are all different. Belonging to a disadvantaged group doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about a person’s character or personality.
An important concept around these things is intersectionality. Intersectionality is where a person belongs to a number of disadvantaged groups. When I talk about autism and intersectionality, the example I use is that an autistic Aboriginal woman living in a regional area is almost certainly going to experience life very differently to an autistic white man living in a wealthy suburb. Both people share membership of the autistic community but each has a different set of, well differences which will impact on how they access services and interact with the world. I find intersectionality to be a really useful way of looking at difference and oppression.
Here is the thing I imagine people might be waiting for… the dreaded ‘political correctness.’ Political correctness is quite a maligned concept but at its heart is something really positive which everyone can benefit from: respect. Listening and learning from others’ viewpoints goes to respect. Helping to even out the disadvantage by assisting someone, for example through affirmative measures in employment goes to respect. Not using offensive language and stereotypes goes to respect. When people complain that their ‘freedom of speech’ is being attacked by people not wanting to be insulted and vilified baffles me. Why would anyone want to be disrespectful to others?When as many people as possible support and defend others from bigotry it puts the bigot on the outer.
I believe that respect is the key to addressing bigotry and discrimination. I cannot love respect more! It is kindness and decency. I have faced a lot of discrimination, bullying and abuse over the years so when someone is respectful and particularly when they go out of their way to be respectful I feel great. Being a member of disadvantaged groups can be pretty soul-destroying at times. Showing respect and including others is a great counter to that.
Some quick thoughts on oppression, diversity and respect:
- Someone’s identity is their own. How they define themselves is is the correct way, even if it doesn’t seem right to you. It is their ‘them’ after all!
- You may not see the impact of being respectful and inclusive but it can make a huge difference for a person. Being respectful is a small and immensely important way that everyone can change the world.
- Not everyone in disadvantaged groups identifies strongly as member of that group, or at all. This is their business and is perfectly fine! Once again, it is their ‘them’.
- Oppression, bullying and discrimination can have an immense toll. People can hate themselves and it can lead to self-destructive behaviour.
- Judging someone from a disadvantaged group through the lens of privilege doesn’t work. ‘They should just do this….’ isn’t dreadfully helpful.
- Being paternalistic is also not helpful.
- We start out equal. The other issues are applied by humans. There is no real basis to racism or ableism or anything else – they are things humans have learned to do. Knowing this is a good place to start addressing it.
- Individual action alone will not fix this stuff but that is no reason not to do what we can as individuals.