It’s back to the future day and I feel I should ask, have racism and sexism changed? Based on recent observations of American society, I think they are defined much differently than they were 30 years ago. The idea of what makes for racism or sexism today seems almost opposite of what made for them when I was younger. It’s a strange new world, and when I look at it there comes a sense that people today have it wrong because it’s different than what I learned. Rather than judge that and be seen as stuck in my ways (or labeled as racist), maybe just explaining the difference I see will spark some progressive discussion (or not).
Let’s jump back 30 years and look at how these ‘isms were being handled in college while I was in the midst of getting a humanities degree. We all knew that institutional sexism and racism existed, and we knew that they came from draconian ideas that had been codified into rules for accepting people into jobs and community groups. Laws had changed, but that didn’t necessarily change subconscious attitudes and prejudices, so there existed a sort of dichotomy of awareness related to issues of racism and sexism. On the one hand we didn’t make a big deal of it or discuss it much in a group setting (other than in the classroom), while on the other hand we looked at ourselves and tried to make sure we were treating all people equally—tried to see our remaining prejudices as a backwards fiction that the culture had instilled in us.
In short we didn’t believe our own press if it led to being in a group of people who all looked and acted like us. We also didn’t engage in what I call ‘creedism’, which is not truly accepting a person as one of the group until they proved their ideologies jibed with ours. If we looked around our ‘community’ of friends and didn’t see diversity, we considered that we were letting our prejudices run amok. Being different or weird wasn’t seen as a bad thing or a product of race or gender, it was seen as a good thing, as individuality.
Jumping to now, what am I seeing? The dichotomy is gone. People seem much more likely to see their prejudices as somehow true, forcing people to tell a story or put forward a bio that defines their ethnic background in a way that is acceptable to the larger group. If they don’t, a story is created for them that follows many negative stereotypes or pigeonholes their behavior. People get frustrated with having to fit a stereotype and leave. The end result being a lack of diversity and groups of people who all act alike. Boringness.
For the first time in my life (since being a child with my family) I looked around at one of the groups I am in and saw nothing but white people being defined in christian motifs. It’s a shame. Stereotypes are keeping this group that way, and I’m just seeing it clearly now. To be sure, I feel stereotyped and pigeonholed too. I miss the days when we were all allowed to be different and weird.
Have you noticed this in your own groups? Has the way you think about racism and sexism changed? When was the last time you asked yourself if your prejudices are running amok and limiting who you hang out with? Might it be time to expand what is acceptable?