Modernized Prejudice

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. 🙂

-Ruth

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2 Responses to Modernized Prejudice

  1. ByGolly says:

    Phobic Foibles

    My dad is 76 years old and is deeply southern- raised in the hills of Tennessee. He is also a very bright and considerate man. His best friend of the last 45 years or so is a man named Manny Pacheco. Manny is a “true-blue and proud to be” Mexican American having been raised in Estancia New Mexico by first generation immigrant parents. In Manny’s eyes, Dad is one of the few truly good Anglos he has known and Dad is generally suspicious of Hispanic culture in New Mexico but counts Manny and several other “good Mexicans” as his friends. He would do anything in the world for them and knows that they would for him as well. If confronted on his bigotry he will tell you clearly that to not notice that Manny is Mexican is to deny one of the basic facts that defines Manny. He is what he is. He will also tell you that if you don’t notice that underneath the veneer of civilization he himself wears in the business world that he is a good old hillbilly you will be ignoring his basic nature as well. These are the foundations of who they are.

    He would also tell you that where you live and what you do and how you were educated and how you dress all affect who you are and how the world perceives you. Good, bad, or indifferent, a book is in fact judged by its cover and the author’s past writing may give good clues to his future writing as well.

    We are what we are and the challenge is to see past our basic assumptions when we can and get to know the people we meet for who they are. We don’t need to (in fact should not) expect to remove our differences from our perception- diversity (in the true sense of the word) is what gives us strength as a people.

    These two men respect and admire one another on many levels but make no attempt to redefine themselves or anyone else to make the world more comfortable. Their friendship is true. Manny loves Dad and Dad loves Manny. It is without the condition that they come from or exist in the same places or with the same ideals or goals.

    They are who they are.

    America is greatest when we embrace our differences rather than when we pretend they are not there. Americans are most honest when they can freely admit that they find some aspects of one another uncomfortable, unusual, or unsettling and work together- not to necessarily agree or endorse but perhaps just to accept.

    We are who we are and we are not all the same.

  2. Ruth says:

    Re: Phobic Foibles

    Bravo. 🙂

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