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Over and over we set up the same dichotomy of Us v. Them. Pick your group, pick your label. Everyone else is excluded because they don’t know, don’t understand and have never been there.

One of the reasons diversity is so difficult to talk about is that someone always gets offended because you’re saying it wrong.

There is no way to talk about diversity without offending someone in some way.

Feminists can’t agree what feminism is, or even whether men can or should be feminists.

People of all races and cultures deal with astonishing ignorance and insensitivity from others, including other minorities.

And everyone discriminates, in both overt and unconscious ways, against pretty much everyone else, especially people they don’t know or who aren’t like them.

Those who have been discriminated against are justifiably angry. It is right and appropriate to raise our voices and assert our civil and human rights. Yet, the conversation on discrimination is so full of labels and accusations that all our righteous indignation becomes suspect.

We call each other horrible names: misogynist, racist, homophobe, ageist, ignorant, evil. And we mean it. We believe these labels are true, and sometimes they are. Yet, in calling people names, we exhibit the exact hatred, dislike, mistrust, and mistreatment we are complaining of. We end up fighting discrimination by judging every other person as biased, then alienating anyone who is not our particular brand of victim.

Over and over we set up the same dichotomy of Us v. Them. Pick your group, pick your label. Everyone else is excluded because they don’t know, don’t understand, and have never been there.

I was recently stopped short when I realized I don’t trust men to understand feminism. I am uncomfortable and suspicious when men speak out for women’s rights and equality. I assume they don’t mean it, and are just trying to get in someone’s pants.

Sure, it comes from years of men being nice, and not-so-nice, in order to get in my pants. It’s a reasonable assumption based on empirical evidence. It’s also gender discrimination based on stereotypes. More importantly, my own bias and hostility toward men who are genuinely trying to help is a really bad way to encourage effective change. We can use all the help we can get.

Many years ago (and definitely past any potential statute of limitations), I was in charge of making the first cull from  batches of resumes for new associate lawyer positions in my firm. I automatically eliminated any applicant who had a number or Jr. after his name. Of course, there was no Jennifer Jr. or Emily the Third.

I didn’t even read past the name at the top of the page. I just assumed they were pretentious, rich-boy dicks who would come in and try to get me to bring them coffee even though I was smarter and had more experience. I didn’t need that kind of treatment. I’d had plenty.

Of course, I have always demanded to be judged on my experience, skills, intelligence, and scintillating wit. But I did not bother to look at their qualifications or experience — not even a glance. My assumptions and disdain were much easier and more convenient. Besides, I enjoyed believing I was saving the world, or at least my world, from more sexist jerks. On some level, I still don’t think I did anything wrong by making sure that I didn’t have to work with more privileged white men. But there’s no question I was also being a sexist jerk.

I confess to having similar views toward certain political parties, religions, cultures, and anyone who even remotely reminds me of my ex. I have been quick to label others as misogynist, or racist, or classist, or just plain stupid. And there are plenty of examples to make a convincing case for any of my judgments. But it’s still discrimination based on assumptions and labels.

I have repeatedly done the very things I believe are morally wrong and a deprivation of fundamental human rights. I have marginalized and made assumptions without ever considering that the person I was labeling was probably just as scared and uncertain as I am. I relied on labels instead of making the effort to see people for who they are.

I really hate it when I do that.

I could give you a big pile of justifications about my history or theirs. I could enlighten you with a long explanation of the neurobiology of bias. But it would not really excuse anything, least of all my behavior and hypocrisy.

In order to encourage diversity and promote equality, we have to understand that when we label and attack each other, even with the best of intentions or justifications, we are inflicting the same damage we are suffering.

This does not mean we have to put up with crazy shit. It’s essential to have boundaries, avoid weasels, and not give time and attention to those who can’t or won’t listen.

Anger and accusations simply threaten. While threatening people can make them do things, it never changes their hearts or minds.

We need to quit expecting other people to fix the world and do the right thing. We need to change ourselves first. And we need to accept the help, insights, and wisdom of anyone willing to support human equality.

Or maybe we can just start a group for righteous, well-intentioned assholes. We can call it humanity.

Related Posts:

Diversity: Tampering with Certainty

Diversity: Voices of Discrimination

The Cult of Nice


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Photo of China Gorman by Heather Bussing Photography
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