I’m taking an anthropology course this term, called Intercultural Communication. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s turned out to be really interesting. I thought, having grown up in Japan and living in as many places as I have, that I was pretty culturally aware. But, as usual, there’s always more to learn.
This is something I wrote for my class, about a questionnaire that was supposed to tell us how biased we are against homosexuals. At the end, the authors had listed the score rankings in terms of how “homophobic” our answers indicated us to be. That just didn’t sit well with me, and in this essay, I attempted to explain why.
The word “homophobic” in the bias questionnaire really jumped out at me. Lorene and Tiffany and I agreed that it seemed harsh, but I had to ponder on it for a while to really understand my feelings about it and where they were coming from. What I have realized is this.
If our goal is to become more culturally sensitive, to accept the differences between us and others, then it is necessary that we apply those standards to *everyone*. Otherwise we are only reshaping our biases to fit into a more socially acceptable format, and that’s not really cultural sensitivity; it’s just modernized prejudice.
50 years ago, it was socially acceptable for white people to hate black people. If a white person dared treat a black person as equal, he was violating the popularly-held standards of society and risking becoming an outcast himself. Today it is socially acceptable for white people to accept black people as equals, and to not do so is to violate the popularly-held standards of society, and again, risk becoming an outcast. This in itself does not indicate a lessening of bigotry. It just indicates that our bigotry has shifted. It’s still okay to hate one group and not another; we’ve just switched the target groups around.
If we REALLY truly intend to be culturally sensitive and accepting of others, then I think that means we have to discard our predjudicial attitudes against ALL others — not just those who it is currently popular to be accepting of. If labeling is wrong, then it is wrong to label ANYONE, not just those currently in the spotlight of public opinion.
The word “homophobic” is a label. It is derogatory and disrespectful of what others may feel entirely because of their cultural background, which makes it culturally insensitive. Although it’s a popular way to be culturally insensitive, if we really believe what we’re talking about in this course, then it’s still cultural insensitivity.
Even saying someone is “a little bit homophobic” is harsh. There’s no such thing as “a little bit phobic.” You can’t be a little bit dead, or a little bit pregnant, and you can’t be a little bit phobic. Phobia is a strong, irrational, disproportionate fear triggered by the unconscious. It’s a psychological illness. If someone comes from a cultural background that, because of religious or moral reasons, or simply unfamiliarity, makes it more difficult for them to be comfortable with homosexuality, then they are naturally going to be uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean they hate homosexuals, nor does it mean they have psychological problems. They don’t deserve to be labeled “homophobic,” especially by a survey in which they are attempting to explore their feelings in an honest and open way.
My husband’s best friend is a man named Earl McDonald who he worked with in the Air Force. Earl is one of the wisest people I’ve ever known. He’s six foot ten, black, and has a voice that comes out of the depths of the earth somewhere — deep and rumbling. (He was, at one time, a Mandarin Chinese linguist. I have a very hard time imagining Mandarin being spoken in that voice!)
Earl says that everyone is inherently prejudiced. It is human nature, it is how we are made. He says that being prejudiced isn’t what matters, what’s important is what we DO with it.
It’s not always going to be popular not to be prejudiced against someone. There is always going to be a bias in society against certain groups. But I don’t think that popular opinion makes it okay to be prejudiced against those groups. I think that to be fair, we have to be fair to EVERYONE. Not just those it is easy or popular to be fair to.
There’s my two cents for today. 🙂