ism — a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.
I had a mild case of homophobia growing up.
Gay people were “weird” and different. Kids threw “gay” around as meaning the same thing as stupid.
I use the term homophobia when I really mean something closer to bigotry. I wasn’t afraid. But I was something akin to intolerant.
But it didn’t matter! Because I didn’t know any gay people!
I also didn’t have any close black friends before college.
I didn’t know anyone who didn’t believe in the Christian God of the bible.
I didn’t know any feminists or really even understand why there was a gender-equality conversation to be had.
I wasn’t exposed to anything except one story about right and wrong growing up. Fortunately, I was raised by kind and decent people, so any ugliness stemming from my core belief system was always rooted in a general love for human beings, rather than having people teach me that certain groups of people were evil and warranted my hate and discrimination, as many less fortunate children are taught.
I was an only child, so I gravitated to my friends, but one of my closest friends was a cousin about my age. At family gatherings for holidays or weddings, he and I were mostly inseparable.
We spent countless hours talking about girls, playing video games and playing basketball.
Years later, I was the best man in his wedding where he married an awesome girl I’m not sure I’ve seen since.
They fairly quickly divorced, and my cousin—one of my lifelong best friends—moved to another state.
Turns out, he’s gay. Which caused a bit of strain in the intimacy department before everything broke.
What was different about my cousin between all of those years he was among my dearest friends, and after coming out?
I thought about that for a bit.
The answer was simple: Nothing.
“For in spite of itself, any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” ― John Dewey
The Kinda-Racist Old White Guy & the Young Black Kid He Adores
Maybe (if you grew up anything like I did) you remember the old prejudiced guy in your personal circle who predated The Civil Rights Movement.
The guy you could count on to say something super-racist at Thanksgiving dinner or while watching an athlete showboat on TV after a good play. Maybe he even dropped an N-word or two now and then.
And because you KNOW him, you know he’s a pretty good person, if a bit out of touch.
But here’s where it gets interesting:
This lovable old guy (who you’ve NEVER seen mistreat anyone short of using offensive or insensitive language about a group of faceless strangers in private conversation) doesn’t BEHAVE as a racist.
A group of black people who committed a crime on TV might earn a foul label from him, but as he goes through life, he treats the actual individuals he meets with kindness and respect regardless of their skin color.
Maybe he meets a nice kid named Daryl because Daryl is a waiter at the old guy’s favorite breakfast spot, and Daryl is working hard to save money to go to college. Maybe Daryl is also a star on one of the old guy’s favorite local high school teams.
The old racist guy loves Daryl after getting to know him, and you can’t help but notice how he still speaks in (unintentionally) offensive ways about people of different races or cultures, but he sings the praises of Daryl.
Daryl – the hard-working, intelligent, well-mannered, kind kid from the restaurant who always makes sure the old guy’s coffee is full, and who delights the old man when he’s sitting in the stands cheering on Daryl’s team.
“So. Old Guy. I gotta ask: You periodically say things about black people we see on TV which is racist by every known definition and interpretation of the word. But then over here, you’re always raving about Daryl. Daryl has the same skin color and is from similar communities as all of the people you are categorically speaking ill of. It’s inconsistent. What gives?”
And then maybe the old guy responds: “Daryl’s a great kid! He’s not like the others.”
But the real truth is, if he spent the same amount of time with any of those others, getting to know them on an interpersonal level, he’d feel the same fondness for each new person.
If he didn’t? It wouldn’t have anything to do with skin color. It would have everything to do with the same personality conflicts we have with People Like Us.
Did you ever see films like “American History X,” or “Remember the Titans,” or “A Time to Kill,” or “Gran Torino,” or “Crimson Tide,” or “Men of Honor,” or “The Help”?
Do you remember when former vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter came out as being lesbian and he changed his entire tune on homosexuality as a U.S. social issue?
I don’t believe people actually hate one another to the degree the social narrative suggests.
I believe everyone simply hasn’t gotten to know each other yet.
When People Meet and Develop Relationships, It’s Never Skin Color, Gender, Sexual Preference, or Creed That Fosters Dislike
There are clearly notable examples in history where people really do hate as much as they say. They behead innocent people on video, and they violently attack through word and action people who belong to some group they’ve identified as being Different From Themselves.
I think a lot of people subconsciously think (especially when young and unexposed to different cultures): I’m me. I belong to this group. We are good. I am good. Those people over there don’t belong to this group. They are different than me. We have competing interests sometimes. They must be bad.
But when we ACTUALLY spend time around other people with diverse beliefs and backgrounds, we are regularly exposed to the fact that human beings share so many commonalities, and mostly have the same goals.
It’s not a black football player and a white football player. It’s teammates who play for the Titans.
It’s not a black defendant and a white attorney. It’s two fathers who love their daughters and demand justice.
On Sept. 11, 2001, it wasn’t “That stupid idiot Bush fighting his daddy’s war over oil!!!” Or black or white or Hispanic or male or female or Christian or Jew or atheist or gay or straight or New York Yankees fan or Boston Red Sox fan.
It wasn’t even American or “foreigner.”
Because for a moment, it was only about humanity.
When we realized that fiery explosions kill people no matter what tribes they belong to, or what beliefs they have.
When we meet human beings where they are—or when we meet each other where WE are—we work together or play on sports teams together or fight battles together or laugh together or pray together, and then we collectively grow together.
I felt weird about gay people because I didn’t know any.
But then I found out that I did, and there had been nothing weird about it at all.
Every one of us is a minority somewhere.
Every one of us is different in another part of town.
Every one of us has an accent.
Or. Just maybe.
No one is a minority.
All of us have a million things in common.
And underneath all the nonsense, everyone actually speaks the same language: Human.