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I think I was wrong about what bigotry is.

At the very least, my understanding of it was incomplete, and sheltered by ignorance.

And now that I’ve got the big “abandon hope, ye who’d like to just have a casual chat” introduction out of the way, I’ll tell you what I mean and what I’ve been thinking about.

As I’ve gone through chapters seven, eight, and nine to prepare them for the third volume, I’ve been reviewing not just the story itself, but thinking on the conversations that accompanied the pages. And I’ve found my opinion and perspective has changed.

When I first started discussing the subject with you all, bigotry to me was defined purely by the outcome. If any person treated another person badly on the basis of some key aspect of their identity, then that was bigotry. And in the strictest, Webster Definition sense, that is true. A bigot is “a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc.” and bigotry is “bigoted acts or beliefs.” (From the Mirriam Webster dictionary online.)

What Webster doesn’t delve into is the difference in the SOURCE of those behaviors. And, at the time, neither had I.

Growing up in a middle-class family, daughter of a born-n-bred Kansan and an Austrian immigrant, the only way I ever heard bigotry applied was for political bigotry. So to my mind, if a white, old, male democrat and a white, old, male republican could be bigoted towards each other, that meant that bigotry could be independent of race, or age, or gender. It could be independent of societal influence. Only the treatment mattered.

The fact that I didn’t have other examples to contemplate in connection to bigotry was a result of both my privilege, as a white and middle-class person, and a healthy dose of denial, because I never thought sexism “counted” as bigotry. Mostly because there’s so much of it I thought that it was “normal” and therefore “not wrong” growing up.

I recently read an article that made me completely re-think my results-focused perspective of bigotry. It was written by Kayla Ancrum, and is titled “How to Write Women of Colour and Men of Colour if you are White”. One section that jumped out at me discussed why it is important to persist in research, even in the face of the intense anger the topic of racial discrimination brings up. The article reads:

“A lot of the harshness is born from anger. And as I have said several times on my blog, anger is a secondary emotion. So this blinding rage some POC [people of color] have for white people is not born of bigoted prejudice, but rather from old hurt. Or fear. Or pain. “ (Emphasis is Kayla’s.)

When I read that, something missing immediately clicked into place in my mind. The source of behavior, even if the end result is the same, matters.

I’m not saying that anybody gets a free pass on doing something bad to another human being. I still think bad behavior is bad behavior. What I’m reevaluating is what constitutes bigoted behavior.

My new line of thinking is that bigotry does not come from pain or fear, bred by many negative experiences. It comes from trained, unquestioned, habitual prejudice. There is no reasoning for it, and if there is fear, it is fear of “the other,” which is artificially assigned to a group of people.

The source matters.

The distinction may seem like an unnecessary one, but I think for solving problems it may be important. Let’s say that a person is acting badly towards another person. If they are doing so because of bigotry (prior prejudice) the solution is to educate them and dispel preconceived assumptions about the other person. However, if they are acting badly in an effort to avoid repeating prior painful experiences, the solution is to ensure safety and respect.

It could be the exact same behavior, but the way to approach it is different.

This is the current course of my thinking. I am not saying it is right. In fact, I am probably still hopelessly ignorant on a lot of different aspects of this issue. It is a very complex, massive, and constantly shifting problem. I regret being ignorant, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can. It twists my stomach to know that I will no doubt look back at this in a year and shake my head at what a fool I was. All the things I didn’t know in 2013 bother me now. I want to be “right,” but I’m not sure that’s even something anyone is entirely capable of being with a subject as big as this one. I am pretty sure that I’ve been wrong.

I want to dive into these new thoughts in future LeyLines chapters. I want to explore it from the inside out and see if I can learn something new. In many ways, I think I write less to change the world, and more to change myself. I’ve learned a lot of new things this year, and I’ve reevaluated future chapters and characters to apply what I’ve learned. I’m trying to excise any lazy writing, default assumptions, or tired and stereotypical tropes. It doesn’t mean my future work will be perfect or free of problematic elements, but at the very least I hope to avoid the worst of them.

I would ask for your help with one aspect of this continual education process. One of the things Kayla recommends is to find representative literature. She says, “I would first spend some time reading literature written by black women for black women. Learning the way black women have discourse among each other is the first step to understanding their perspective AND emulating their voice. Literature is the genre of media where POC (People of Colour) have the most liberty (unlike film) to discuss certain topics or parts of their identity.”

In this regard, I confess myself willing, but a little overwhelmed and intimidated. I’m not sure where to start looking. So I ask you, Leylians, do you have any book recommendations? And not just for people of color, but for any book that’s written from a different perspective than a straight, white, cis-male?


Children visit this site. Moderate your language accordingly.

Ohhhhh, Lu. I thought you were really friends with Una, but there you are gender policing. D:

Aw, Robin, try not to beat yourself up too much. You’re trying, and you’re aiming in the right direction if you’re trying to find works written by marginalized people. I cringe SO HARD at old me all the time–and by old me I mean like the person I was six months ago. It’s a constant journey, basically, but as long as you’re working and admitting when you’re wrong, that’s the best you can do.

I like to read blogs by POC a lot, although since I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading blogs I don’t have a lot of recs anymore. There’s always the excellent Tumblr Writing With Color, though.

I’m trying not to beat myself up, but I think it’s also important to acknowledge that my opinion has changed and continues to change. I think there are aspects of my previous line of thinking that were incomplete, and I need to keep researching. This will always be the case, because the issues and problems themselves will continue to evolve as I age and society shifts. So I should probably just get used to being wrong.


^ mostly non-fiction about the modern race issue in America, but there’s a lot of good suggestions on there. I haven’t read all of them, but it’s a decent start.

Medieval POC is a good tumblr, as is East is Everywhere. Mostly for historical art/artifacts.

I’ve got more, but I can’t pin them down right now. Tell you later. 🙂

The thing I have an issue with is that IMHO, it is still bigotry if a black person hates a white person for no other reason than that they are white. If a woman hates a man for no other reason than that he is male. “reverse” discrimination is still discrimination. So many people I’ve read talk about ‘revenge’ on X where X is a privileged group and say that it’s okay if they treat them badly because X is privileged and shouldn’t whine because “now you know how we feel”. And I think that that’s as much bigotry as X treating the underprivileged group badly. If a black person says, “I want to be friends with you, but you’ll only hate me and try to oppress me because you’re white” it’s as much prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination as that white person saying, “I don’t like you because you’re black.” A woman saying, “Men shouldn’t run this government because they all oppress women” is just as bad as a man saying “Women shouldn’t run this government because they don’t have what it takes”. Past actions don’t justify hurt and wrong, because two wrongs will never make a right.

In other words, Bigotry may be born from anger, yes, but anger born of old hurt or fear or pain is still anger. No mistreatment of others based on their skin color, preferences, etc. is justified, even if from a position of historical ‘moral superiority’. “Your father did X to my father, so I get to do X to you” is considered wrong in almost every sense, except as revenge for bigoted actions. Somehow, our culture gives that a pass. But in turn, that only leads to more bigotry.

A book series I read said it best – “There are no crueler masters than former slaves”. Those who have been oppressed foster incredible anger, and unfortunately often decide that instead of trying to create positive change, where all people can live equally, they want to be the ones on top again.

A real society is one where there is no ‘master’. Where all people are equal. Assigning blame and giving people passes for angry, hurtful actions just because they’ve been wronged in the past does nothing to further equality.

Er, book. Not book series. The book is called “Heroes of Zara Keep”, and I’ll add it to the lsit of recommendations. The main characters include a white male, a Native American male, a white female (and not a skinny waif who can’t do anything for herself, but an ‘ample’ young woman who is as strong as any of the boys) and a black female. The book rotates between their points of views and really talks about a lot of social issues, too, including prejudice, discrimination, etc.

And on the point of bad behavior, I agree with you. And I’m not arguing that anyone should get a free pass on bad behavior. I’m not arguing at all. Only positing that it may be useful to make a distinction between the source of prejudiced behavior, in order to come up with solutions to those problems.

To use your example on women vs. men in politics, since that is a situation I feel I can represent myself in, I can say that I do not feel well represented in my government. Or in society as a whole. I have worked in male-dominated fields where sexism is alive and well. I am surrounded by sexist media. I am a survivor of assault.

So while I wouldn’t say that men shouldn’t be involved in government, I can easily imagine myself into a mental state where I might think that. And it would be the voice of hurt and despair, born of countless bad experiences.

How would you solve that problem?

Now compare that to the multiple times I have had a man tell me that a woman could not possibly be president, because menstruation would make her irrational to the point of setting off nuclear war-heads or causing international incidents. This is not an opinion born of pain. It is born of ignorance.

How would you solve that problem?

Would you solve these problems in the same way?

I am suggesting that the ways to address each problem are different, even though the basic prejudiced opinion is the same. Hence, in my opinion, it is worth determining what the source of the perspective is. Perhaps the word “bigotry” is too loaded a term, but I don’t have a word better for the concept.

I think it’s important to remember that even if the reasoning is illogical, the fear and pain (or expectation of future pain) is still real. To your brain, it doesn’t make a difference. People naturally play up the perceived slights of others and downplay your own. Even if you have all the power in the situation, your instincts tell you to be wary.
On the other hand, I think the education vs reassurance difference is a crucial one. If your fear is logical then you need reassurance that it won’t be realized here. If your fear is illogical, then your “logic” needs dismantling. It’s an important difference in how to confront the issue.
If anybody’s taking lit recommendations, I suggest Stephen Pinker’s analysis of violence, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”. It’s well-written and insightful and actually pretty upbeat.
If anybody’s still reading comments on the months-old discussion page of a webcomic, thanks for your time! Also, stop having engrossing conversations. How did I just spend 6 minutes of my life typing this?

I still read them! And I think your point is a really good one. Fear and pain are real, no matter what the reasoning. And ultimately, they are what will drive a person if those emotions are in control.

The distinction you make between education vs reassurance is really interesting to think about. If a person is terrified, no amount of education will help, because all of it will still feel threatening. If a person is ignorant, reassurance will not address the key problem underlying destructive decisions. Tricky to recognize which is needed most, or how to provide both at the same time, but I can see how powerful it could be.

And I’ve added “The Better Angels of Our Nature” to my wish list. Always welcome a new book to read!

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