Equality does not mean sameness
When we accept ourselves “as is,” we are more able to shrug off the irrelevant opinions of others.
Instead of poisoning ourselves by internalizing the hate, ignorance, and fear demonstrated by the bullies of life (who are trying to make themselves “bigger” by making us appear ”smaller”), we embrace our individuality.
When we have the courage to swim against the stream of outdated societal expectations and values (whatever they are), we become strong and resilient. We learn to survive and thrive, instead of tossing in the towel or cashing in our chips when others disagree with our lifestyle, our choices, or our unique point of view.
Nancy is right. It just isn’t that easy for all people to achieve, so we need to practice.
Many groups have strived and still strive for equality over the years. Women, black people, gay people and disabled people as primary examples. I remember back when women were fighting for equal pay for equal work (the fight isn’t over): many women were burning bras and tossing out the heels and the makeup. I refused. Yes, I expect to be treated equally, but that doesn’t mean I want to BE a man. I like my nail polish and my heels, thank you very much. I’ll accept the nail polish may not be so good if I wanted to be a plumber or a mechanic, but I’m not either. I don’t want to have to adopt mannish traits simply to be entitled to vote or earn equal pay. Mind you, don’t call me “love” in a professional environment.
I once worked for a gay manager. In those days, to avoid discrimination, he behaved perfectly straight. Was he comfortable doing so? I don’t know: my guess is, not so much.
My children have been suddenly thrown into a situation where many people perceive them as different. This is a new experience for them. We have conversations about what constitutes prejudice or bigotry and what is just joking and having fun. I’ll share an example and two different reactions.
One of the boys was in class about to watch a film. The lights were turned off. A classmate said “Hey, where are you, X? You’ve disappeared!” X was concerned this was a “racist” comment. Our other son’s suggested response was “It is MAGIC!” Certainly more the response I’d recommend. My suggestion was to respond “You glow in the dark”. I really do not for a minute think the classmate was being anything other than jovial, but I am aware I could be wrong. I believe this was more a case of the child in question adapting to someone making a comment based on him being different, something he is not used to. Where he came from, he wasn’t different. If I went to live in Nigeria, I would be different, just in the reverse.
Another example was being called a coco-pop (chocolate flavoured and coloured breakfast cereal, very popular). This time the response was to call the other child a cornflake. I’ve written before about kids giving each other nicknames. If it were me, I’d prefer being called a coco-pop than being called carrot-top.
We try to be so politically correct in preventing bigotry and discrimination we forget to just enjoy and celebrate differences. Not everything that someone says is actually bigotry. If it is, Nancy’s words swing into action. Don’t buy into someone else’s issues about who you are: it is their problem, not yours. I tell the children humour is the best defence. The aim of the speaker is to upset you. Upsetting you gives that person power. If you turn the situation into a joke and refuse to buy into their perspective, they have lost, they have no power. Of course, I am not suggesting this works in serious or life-threatening situations. In the workplace or schoolyard it can be effective.
I acknowledge we tread a fine line. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. What is funny to me is not necessarily funny to you and it can be very easy for a bigot to claim they were really just being funny when in fact they weren’t at all. The bumper-sticker woman comes to mind.
Body language is often the key. The eyes are indeed the window to the soul. If someone’s eyes glare disapprovingly, I’m not inclined to perceive their words in a warm and fuzzy way. If their eyes are full of friendly laughter, I know they are with me, not against me.
I don’t like seeing us throwing the baby out with the bath water. I am not the same as a man. I am not the same as a black person. I am not the same as a lesbian. I am not the same as a Christian. I am who I am. You are who you are. We are all individuals, each one unique. I don’t want us to ignore all the differences as if they don’t exist: I want to be able to share the differences, laugh about the differences when they result in amusing experiences or situations. Acknowledge the differences, look at them in the light of day and realise these differences are nothing to be scared of – remove the fear and perhaps the prejudices will also be removed. For what really fuels prejudice? Fear. Fear of the differences. Fear of the unknown. If we ignore differences, if we pretend differences do not exist, the fears are never eradicated.
It comes from the same place as the impulse of “cool” black kids who tell smart black kids to “stop acting white.” As if to be smart is to be un-black! It makes me so angry.
I do not have the answers. I do know the human race manages to go overboard in both directions. Will we ever reach a happy balance? A place where we are all free to be who we are without sometimes having to wonder what the other person REALLY means when they mention our difference. Admittedly, I rarely wonder. I belong to Nancy’s school of thought: if you don’t like something about me, well, that is not my problem, it is yours! I am not a criminal, I pay my taxes, I care for my children. I have too much going on in my life to worry about your problems. I do know if I react as the person may want me to, I’ve given them power. THAT is not going to happen.