Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Talking about racism: to do versus to be

This also applies to sexism, homophobia, and ableism. Everyone can have a lapse, and in fact, the way our culture works, it gets hard not to lapse into saying something you didn't mean to say. Our culture contains a lot of dark currents, and they get awfully easy to tap into, and then, often before people really know it, they've stepped into a deep dark pool that's lurked just under the surface of our society for generations. And then a lot of ugly assumptions come bubbling up.

For example, our culture has a lot of ideas about people with differences of various kinds as living symptoms of the vices in our society. We have people talking to themselves on the street because we have an alienated culture, or we have turned away from the true path, or we have the genocide of First Nations people in our past. In fact, most of the people who talk to themselves on the street have brains that work differently from those of the rest of us. But accept the idea that difference expresses and carries all the vague guilt so many people encourage us to feel, and some really ugly things can happen.

Or take privilege. We all value the ability to say what we want, and to strive for good things for ourselves and our families and our communities. And we've come to value local activism; in fact, many of us buy the green motto, think globally, act locally. But what many times, we look the other way when what happens globally works to our benefit, even if we would act locally to prevent those things from ever happening in our neighbourhoods. Plenty of people who would "act locally" to shut down an electronics recycling facility near them still buy the newest, greatest computer systems and ignore what happens when a truck takes their old system away.

That doesn't make us bad people, but it does make us people who have choices to make.

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