I hereby decree…
Yes, you ARE racist/sexist/ageist/homophobic/etc.
You just don’t know it.
Wait, what? What am I saying? If you were bigoted or prejudiced, wouldn’t you be aware of it? Wouldn’t it be obvious?
No. Doesn’t work that way. Most prejudices (except for ageism I guess, since that one is still socially acceptable) today are unknown to those who hold them. It’s unconscious.
The idea of white being the standard or male being the standard is so ingrained in our society, so laced in culture and attitudes and language, that it’d be a miracle not to adopt even the slightest unconscious belief that non-white and/or female is somehow “other”.
So don’t take offense to this. In fact, it’s through challenging these assumptions that we can seek out these harder to extinguish bugs of bigotry. Take it as a suggestion, not an insult. True, it is sometimes used as an insult, and that’s not right, nor is someone who points out a possible prejudice in you always necessarily right. In the long run, you do yourself a favor examining yourself for personal unseen prejudices, before it settles in too much.
Let’s take sexism for example. Let’s say you’re part of a group of people, mostly male, let’s say six guys for every one girl. And you generally like most of these people, but some of these people you find really goddamn annoying. You find them hostile or rude or demanding or ignorant. Oh, and the majority of these annoying people just happen to be girls. In a group where girls are outnumbered by guys six to one.
Okay, you’re probably thinking “it has nothing to do with them being girls, it’s because they are hostile/rude/demanding/ignorant!” Perhaps. But are you really saying that very few or none of the guys in this same group are equally hostile/rude/demanding/ignorant? Seems unlikely.
Or… are you more forgiving of guys when they exhibit these traits?
Or do you not notice it as much?
Or perhaps you have involuntarily different visceral reactions to an unhappy guy and an unhappy girl?
Perhaps, unconsciously, you believe when a guy is displeased and saying so, he has valid reasons, but when a girl does, it’s most likely just her own personal issues and she should shut up already?
Perhaps even the most sound arguments are to you only so sound and rational when said by a tenor, baritone, or bass, while unsound and crazy when by a soprano or alto?
Again, the key words are “involuntarily” and “unconsciously”. I’m not saying you’re thinking about it. The whole point is you aren’t thinking about it. And even self-identified feminists (of any gender) make this mistake all the time. I know I do. And why not? We live in a culture where we’re directly or indirectly taught that any time women complain or are unhappy, it’s never because we have an actual reason, but because we’re just being hysterical or are on our periods or want jewelry or babies or some other ridiculous dismissal, while men are the paragons of rational thought.
As for ageism, I wrote last year about how just because you’re a youth rights supporter doesn’t mean you can’t still be ageist. Even the most self-identified radical youth rights supporters I’ve known have been ageist in some way. In some cases, they rationalize it away, but in other cases, well, it’s to be expected, since we grew up in the same anti-youth society as everyone else and received all the same messages that the young are always inferior to their elders, that their elders are always right. As youth rights supporters, yeah, it’s our job to challenge these messages, but it’s silly to pretend we haven’t absorbed any of them and downright negligent to not challenge those that got through.
This day and age, sure, people “know” you’re not supposed to be a bigot. But it doesn’t take much to realize they don’t want to be bigots only because they don’t want to be called names, not so much because they care about not being intolerant of people because of their sex or skin color or age or whatever in and of itself. But whether or not you carry the label of a bigot or not, doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do and what you try not to do. You can call yourself a feminist (or at least a non-sexist or equalist or whatever) all you want, but when a group whose leadership is mostly male over time finally gets some female leadership, yet most or all of those female leaders just happen to be hostile or incompetent, and must be thrown out because they’re so hostile or incompetent, when over time the leaders you’ve had the most friction with just happen to be female despite the group being mostly male… yeah, I’m not buying it. Sorry.
Not an insult. Just work on that. Be aware of it.
But if you don’t… THEN you’re an asshole! 😛