Equality does not mean sameness

On my recent article Bullying isn’t cool, Nancy of Spirit Lights The Way commented:

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When we have the courage to swim against the stream of outdated societal expectations and values (whatever they are), we become strong and resilient.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.

Then we see instances of certain groups trying to be SO different as a badge of honour, as Lisa mentioned in her comment on Dealing with the N word.  This is equally destructive.

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.

42 comments on “Equality does not mean sameness

  1. […] am not particularly against any clubs being men only or women only – as I have always said, equality does not mean sameness. Men and women are not the same, get over it. Sometimes it is good to have a space just for […]


  2. […] the one hand we are often so politically correct we take the soul out of everything. The other extreme is we lose the value of language through the use of of language as a tool of […]


  3. […] a man? I never suggest men and women are the same, for clearly the genders are not the same. But sameness is not required for equal rights. All three mainstream religions have taught subjugation of women, yet the most maligned of the […]


  4. […] on a rant along the lines of “we are all the same and none need any special treatment“? Equality does not mean sameness. Not in relation to “race”, gender or any other of the grounds for discrimination we […]


  5. […] have written before about Equality does not equal sameness and suggested we can tend to become so politically correct in order to avoid offence that we […]


  6. […] I know where I would be writing – on my palm! Just like my kids do! They weren’t being dumb to write on the “wrong” (to Caucasians) side of their hand, they were being damn sensible! For them, they are writing on the right side of their hand. Regular readers will know I am very big on NOT saying equality = sameness! […]


  7. […] I’ve read Helen’s article twice. While I agree with some of her points I don’t agree with others and I do believe again Helen tries to convince us all men and women are all the same. I am convinced part of the problem we have is we refuse to accept we are in fact different. We refuse to ustilise the strengths of each gender to the betterment of the human race while ensuring equality of rights. There seems to be this general push for everyone to believe equality means sameness. It doesn’t. I’ve addressed that question before too. […]


  8. […] always going to be an issue in this country where we have so many cultural backgrounds: we need to accept this and manage it, not try to ignore […]


  9. […] in the arts is the focus of Nicolle’s argument.  Perhaps we need to consider the question of equality versus sameness.  I recommend you click on that link and read my argument before […]


  10. […] is my personal view that society tends to confuse sameness and equality.  Society also confuses misogyny and […]


  11. I read this, bookmarked it, and forgot to comment. This is an excellent post. And I couldn’t agree more with you. I think it’s all in intent. I think it’s okay, and good, to acknowledge differences, but we must be sure to not allow ourselves to believe that differences from us are bad or wrong.


  12. […] Equality does not mean sameness (teamoyeniyi.com) […]


  13. A really insightful and thought provoking Blog. I really enjoyed this piece, you have raised some very valid points. Especially the nature of not having to embody who/that which you are protesting against.


  14. Great post Robyn.

    I’m going to have to come back to this one to give it some more time and thought. Brilliant.


  15. In general kids don’t have racist views. Their dislike of a fellow child is born out of disagreement and passes like the wind. Without external input kids just see each other as friends or enemies because of actions rather than because of any colour or gender bias. Hatred of race, colour or gender is imbued by parents and sadly spreads like oil on a pond from the unwitting child victim to the whole class. Stand tall Robyn and encourage your family 🙂


  16. I concur. You’ve done some heavy lifting here… much food for thought. 😉


    • It stewed around in my brain for a while. It is always hard to write about such things, as my only claim to lack of equality is being a woman (actually a pretty solid claim: people forget). I’m not any of the other demographics, although age discrimination might start creeping up on me soon!


  17. When we accept ourselves “as is,” we are more able to shrug off the irrelevant opinions of others.

    I think this simple statement of Nancy is so true!
    When we cease to worry about what others think our true selves will shine through.*see my comment below

    If the powers that be think they can irradicate racism they are living in cloud cuckoo land.
    But if your family learn to see the racist bigots for what they are and feel sorry for them they will be free,
    I loved 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 This is children being children IMHO I loved his response and I laughed out loud. Not because I was laughing at his colour, cripes I’m digging myself a hole here because I do not have the words.

    *Here goes…Young Mr O’s quip shows IMHO he has a brilliant sense of humour and that would stay with me and I would be attracted to him as a person. If someone goes off to play the race card when no racist remark was intended I would always be on my guard and shun away.

    This goes back to Nancy’s simple statement.

    Sorry Robyn, I am not explaining myself too well but I know from my bullying experience (completely different I know) if we are not careful we can let things eat at us from the inside and destroy who we are.

    Your kids are great!


    • I’m taking it you loved the “It is MAGIC” response Yes, I thought he was onto it with that, definitely!

      You are fine, no hole dug, I know exactly what you mean, because I loved it too. I could just imagine this “disembodied” voice echoing around the classroom! 😆 You are right about the sense of humour. That one is very quick witted (perhaps a little TOO much so, sometimes) and can be hilarious.

      To back it up, what were the kids doing last night? Playing a Nigerian game in the dark based on – yes, you guessed it – not being able to see each other! I also pointed out just how, in comparison, I indeed do “glow in the dark”.


  18. Great post Robin.
    What makes some people feel uncomfortable when they are in the company of people who swim against the tide? Guess it’s because they can’t imagine others being different from them. It’s a way of controlling. A very sad and selfish way.


  19. I think one of the fears you have missed is fear of having the culture you have grown up with in your own country swallowed up by the cultures of others..
    To give you a little example of this and I am just stating what I have seen so this is not based on personal prejudices!
    As an English woman, for 25 years I lived in Southern Ireland just close to the border with Northern Ireland and for many years I worked in the North.
    One of the major fears amongst Northern Ireland’s Protestants (currently the majority but not by much now) that I discussed this with was that eventually the majority would become Catholic and vote to reconnect with Southern Ireland ( The republic bit) and then they perceived they would live in a Catholic Church influenced state.
    Before you dismiss this remember that until very recently there was no divorce in The Republic of Ireland ( I know I had to wait years for mine! until they eventually brought it in ) , no gay rights and there are many other inequalities that I could mention which are thankfully very gradually being eroded in the Republic.
    In Britain I have worked in a town where there were the majority of residents were immigrants and many did not appear to be integrated with British culture. As a Social Worker I worked with families who had no English at all even though they had lived in England for 25-30 years.
    They continued to entirely live their own culture and keep themselves separate so whole areas of this town were unrecognisable as being in the UK. Like mini foreign towns within the town.
    I believe it’s this lack of integration that many people are afraid of and I’m sure this is happening in countries all round the world but some deal with it in different ways. For example 30 years or more ago I had a friend who married a Swedish woman and moved to Sweden, I don’t know if it is still the same now or exactly how it worked then but he said he had to learn the language to a certain level before he was able to apply for work.
    I’ll stop now…
    You always provoke long replies from me Robyn with your thoughtful posts!!


    • Helen you are 100% correct in my view. That IS one of the fears. You are right – I overlooked that totally!

      Let me share an example with you from my own experience. I lived near some Italian migrants, many years ago. They were terrified their culture was going to be torn from their children by Australian culture.

      Then they went back to Italy on a holiday and discovered Italy had changed dramatically. However, their fear had been very real. I also know of an Italian couple who offered their son a Ferarri if he would NOT marry his Irish fiance.

      Even Mr O – in Australian culture it is OK for a girl to ask a guy out or add a guy on Facebook (for example). In Mr O’s culture, that would be TERRIBLE for the girls to do!


      • The difficulty is how people maintain their culture AND be integrated into the society where they have chosen to live.
        Happiness and harmony require both I think..


      • It is a huge question in Australia, as we are a very laid back, casual society really. To integrate, some ethnicities have to lighten (loosen) up!

        My personal view is maintain music, food and if you really must, your religion (remember I’m an atheist). Then learn how to have a BBQ and wear thongs! After all, many of our people came here for FREEDOM! Enjoy it! A little light-hearted respone I know, but essentially, if you want to keep ALL of the “old country” – stay there!


  20. Wonderful post, Robyn.

    I perceived the statement, “Where are you X? You’ve disappeared.” exactly as you did . . . a jovial recognition AND acceptance of an obvious difference.

    It’s OK for us to notice clothes, hair color, eye color and other visible distinctions. Trying to ignore differences in skin color is just apt to make everyone uncomfortable about the “elephant in the room.”

    Vive la difference!


    • Trying to ignore any differences makes everyone uncomfortable. A gay person feels uncomfortable is he/she has to “pretend” as if they are something they are not.

      *sigh* humans are a problem, Nancy! 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words and I am SO glad you saw that comment in the light I did.


  21. I agree that humor is the best defense! Great post.


  22. Have you read Nurture Shock? There’s a whole chapter in there about children and racism – and how the parents freak out when the kids observe and mention physical differences – whereas acknowledging those differences is a more healthy and useful approach. We are different from one another. Let’s notice those differences and move on!


    • I haven’t read it – but clearly I think I should! Thanks for the tip Karyn. Sadly, I haven’t had a lot of time to read lately, so I am a bit behind. Glad to see I’m not the only one with the thoughts I have.


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