Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a bigot.
It’s a weird thing to think. In fact, I struggle very hard not to be bigoted in any way. I’m part of several marginalized groups in society and I know firsthand what it’s like to experience bigotry directly, through being a fat gay woman. As a result, I’ve become extremely intolerant to any kind of societal inequality, and I’ve struggled to examine my own privilege in order to lessen the ways that I, personally, am bigoted. It hasn’t been an easy road, but nothing that’s worth it is.
But when I put myself into the shoes of someone who is exhibiting bigoted behaviour, I see a lot of defensiveness and guilt, which manifests into a need to protect themselves and their dignity at all costs. So you see a lot of anger and a lot of over-the-top posturing, like animals blowing up to be bigger than one another, in order to appear “right” and “okay”, because they’ve been taken out of their secure thinking. The security blanket has been ripped away.
I know how it feels. I’ve done it. I’ve been angry and judgemental and bigoted, because my secure thinking was taken away from me.
But I’ve heard, lately, that there are two ways you can go with this. You can carry on being bigoted, or you can change your thinking and try to see it from the other person’s point of view. You can listen to lived experiences, or you can ignore them and insist that your experiences trump all. In all, you can choose to open your mind, or you can choose to close it and cling to the old ways of thinking as hard as you can.
Each of those choices is your prerogative. Each of them is legal.
Both carry consequences.
What I’ve been hearing a lot, when it comes to issues surrounding bigotry, is that the side that “loses” feels that they don’t have the freedom to express their views without consequences. Therefore, if you’re an evangelical Christian who believes that homosexuality is wrong, you don’t have the freedom to express those views without societal consequences. If you’re a racist who hates Arabs, you don’t have the freedom to say so without serious real-life stuff happening to you.
You do have the freedom to say it. You don’t have the freedom to escape the fallout from your words.
As someone who has had to hide parts of who I am for years and stay silent in situations where I’d rather speak up, I’m the first person to agree that it sucks when you don’t have the freedom to express your views without consequences. So, there are times when I don’t – especially in non-partisan places like work. I have worked for people who would have cheerfully found a reason to fire me if they knew I was gay. I’ve dealt with fatphobia and pointed comments about my body in spaces where if I spoke up, it would be me that would face consequences for doing so. The difference is, I’m fighting for the same rights that everyone else has. I don’t want anything that isn’t already given to anyone else. But because my words have consequences – and not always good consequences – I have had to choose what I say and where I say it. I have had to preserve my own dignity as well as the peace of the space that I’m in.
Yes, it has hurt me deeply. Yes, something has been taken away from me when I’ve done it. That’s why I’m glad to see the tide turning towards equality everywhere.
When you are a bigot – and I use the word without malice – you are trying to block another human being from having the same rights you have. Whether it’s the right to shop in a public store, the right to get married, or the right to simply walk down the street without being harassed and catcalled at, by speaking up and insisting that you be allowed to practice your bigotry without consequence is supporting inequality.
Make no mistake – no one is saying you can’t feel the way you feel. I don’t personally understand why anyone would feel like another human being shouldn’t have the same rights they have, but I support your right to practice your life in the way you see fit.
When it touches other people, however, that’s where I draw the line. You don’t get to tell me that I can’t exist in society because you don’t like something about me. You don’t get to tell me that I can’t walk down the street, unharassed and unharmed, because you think that I should lock myself away so that no one has to lay eyes on me. And you certainly don’t get to tell me that my lived experiences mean nothing and that I need to shut up and “learn my place”.
And just like I have had to be quiet in situations that would bring me adverse consequences, so do you. If you don’t want to lose your job. If you don’t want to have your show taken off the air. If you don’t want to have your sports team taken away. The difference is, you may not have a job or a TV show or a sports team, but you still have all the rights you had before you shot your mouth off. In the end, you and I are still equal. You just learned that your bigotry carries consequences in the public sphere.
You can feel however you want to feel. There is nothing wrong with your religious or philosophical beliefs, and in our society, you are free to practice them and believe what you wish. But before you ask why you lost something that meant a lot to you because of the words you said, think about the pain you’re feeling as a result. That’s how people like me feel daily when people like you tell us we don’t have a right to exist in society and be equal to every other citizen. We lose a piece of who we are, every time.
You have a right to say whatever you want. But freedom of speech does not carry a get-out-of-jail-free card. And I, for one, am glad that accountability is ruling the day.