A word on discrimination

handling-discrimination-complaints-at-work

Discrimination is real.

It goes beyond race, gender, sexuality, or any one particular thing.

To discriminate means to recognize a distinction or difference. It is frequently evil when used to exclude or injure people based on their personal characteristics. It is often good when used to carefully choose which thoughts one wishes to verbally articulate.

When we hear the term “discrimination” in our culture we typically associate it with the kind that injures people because we have a particular history of doing just that: racial minorities, women, and people with homosexual orientations have all been and continue to be victims of the evil kind of discrimination.

I lament this fact and would love to see this kind of discrimination come to an end (though I admit I am somewhat cynical concerning the prospects of this ever being completely wiped out – it seems this is a human tendency that we unwittingly fall into, so even if discrimination of these groups ended, other groups would likely take their place; a good indicator that there is a need for redemption within human nature).

Towards that end, here are a few thoughts, for what they’re worth.

Technically speaking, the societal response to discrimination of racial minorities and women known as Affirmative Action is a form of discrimination itself (in the workplace and in schools it can act as a negative for whites and males because it enhances the status of others), BUT, that does not by default make it the “evil” kind of discrimination.

There is no such thing as an idea that exists in a vacuum without a particular history attached to it. Just because in the “pure realm of ideas” two things may equally be considered discriminatory, it does not follow that each are on the same moral ground.

I as a 31-year-old white American male do not live in a world without a history. Just because the privileges of my racial and gender status are not blatantly obvious to me (because all the things that happened in my life were not preceded with a list of explanatory caveats for why things happened the way they did) does not mean I do not unknowingly enjoy privileges.

Admittedly, I can’t point to a particular moment in my life where I thought, “Dang, my status as a white male is really paying off for me right now.” But God forbid that my perception of my personal experience should be the only criteria I use to determine the validity of something – billions of other people over thousands of years have other experiences that are vastly different from my own.

The history of the culture I live in is that, from its inception, the lives of those different from myself were used for hundreds of years to make life better for those like myself. That history cannot be erased in the blink of an eye (unfortunately) because it has to be worked out of a society through the same long and arduous process in which it entered society. Cultural beliefs and stigmas develop gradually over a long period of time.

Stop-Racial-Discrimination

The unfortunate other side of the coin that is terribly difficult to address is from the perspective of those who have been victimized.

I hope it’s acceptable for me to say this, because I am guilty of resorting to it myself when trying to explain to people what it’s like to deal with panic and depression: I think we really need to move beyond the place where we attack others with variations of the phrase “You don’t know what it’s like to be me.”

Because of course we don’t. No one knows what it’s like to be anyone else. You aren’t inside my head, and I’m not inside yours. You didn’t go through my life, and I didn’t go through yours. Of course I don’t know what it’s like to be you, and you don’t know what it’s like to be me; good, bad, or indifferent.

All we do is erect more walls when we resort to this. It immediately ends any attempt at constructive dialogue (the attempt to actually get someone to try and understand your perspective) because you’ve just written off the ability of others to know anything about what’s at issue. Thus no progress is possible and we’re left where we were before, which is not a place where any of us should want to remain.

I would lastly suggest that we all take far more care than we usually do when using the label of discrimination (or racism, or prejudice, or sexism, etc.) on a particular person or event. No person or event is completely reducible to a single label as an explanation for who someone is or why something happened – people and events are far more complicated and intricate.

A particular act can surely be an act of discrimination, but events and the characters of people are, with few exceptions (but there absolutely are some, sadly), defined completely and thoroughly by any one descriptor (be it discriminatory, racist, loving, or kind). We are a mixture of motives and agendas, and haphazardly throwing around negative labels does nothing to help end a history of discord; it only furthers it.

These important issues relate directly back to our earlier discussions about identity, and it’s in part because of these issues that I think it’s so important that we all come to the place where we realize our identity is not found in any of our “accidental” traits, but rather in the fact that we are all equally beloved and cherished children of God.

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