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?