Monday, September 28, 2015

No, I'm sorry, your intolerance isn't "different"

It has been a weird few weeks for me. Coverage of the ongoing Syrian crisis, and the resulting refugees, has plunged me into the unfamiliar waters of having racism and intolerance flooding my safe places. 

Mild, and sometimes not so mild, racist and intolerant propaganda has spread quickly through social media, shared by people I’d least expect it from. 

People I know to be good and kind.

People who would give someone in need the shirt off their back. 

People I know would normally take the time to fact check, to question things. 

More than once, I’ve found myself in strange conversations where sympathy for a child refugee is expressed in the same breath as fear of an adult. 

Conversations in which I think we are sharing our mutual empathy and sympathy, but suddenly, we’re not, and I’m not sure where in the chat the shift happened. 

This isn’t the type of racism I am familiar with. It’s not loud and mean and in your face. It’s a mild undercurrent, wrought with false justifications, by good people. 

Good people who have let fear take over their common sense. 

I suspect this form of racism might be the most dangerous kind.
“But we were all immigrants once. We’ve all faced intolerance”, I say.

 “But this is different”, they say.

That’s the kind of thing I keep hearing.

“This is different.”

“We could be in danger.” “We could let someone into our country that could hurt us.” “Why can’t they be more like us?”   

 “This is different”, they say. 


Fearing someone who is not just like you, is different

 Let's recap.

Europeans came to North America and were, for the most part, welcomed, protected and cared for by the First Nations people who had always lived here. 

We repaid them by converting them to our religion, dressing them in our clothes and sharing our diseases.

We did not assimilate to their culture. 

In fact, those First People who didn’t conform to our ways, were slaughtered or kept as slaves. Later, they were stuck them in residential schools or moved to remote areas, onto land we didn't need, where they couldn’t harass us with their different ways. 

African Americans were different, so they became slaves. When slavery was abolished, sharecropping encompassed anyone who was poor, or “lower class”.

Hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans and Canadians were rounded up and put in internment camps during World War II.

There was too much risk that they could be a spy.  

Six million Jews, along with the disabled, “gypsies”, some Russians and Polish, and various other “supporters”, were persecuted and murdered.

Because the Germans saw their differences as a threat. 

We have lived in fear of communists and we have burned “witches” at the stake. 

War after war after war has been fought over religion.

Women are treated as less than men. 

We have persecuted people from the LGBTQ communities.

At one time or another, people have disliked and distrusted the Irish, the Polish, the Scottish, the British, the Germans, the Mexicans, the Italians, the French, the Greek, the Lebanese, the Hungarian, the Chinese etc. etc. etc. 

If you don’t see yourself, or your parents and grandparents, in the list of persecuted people above, you’re not looking hard enough. Much of it was happening in the last eighty years. Some continues today.

I have no doubt I am leaving pieces out here, but my goal isn’t to give you a comprehensive history lesson on intolerance, it’s to make you see the pattern of intolerance that we exist in. 

There is not one moment in history when we were not persecuting someone who we saw as different.

There is not one moment in history, when we persecuted a person/group of people that we can look back on today, and say “Yes! We were so right to behave that way. Yay us.”

Clearly, we don’t learn from our mistakes. 

You can say “but that was a different time” as many times as you like in order to make yourself feel better.

The first Europeans were just so sure they were doing the right thing by converting and slaughtering the people that they encountered. 

We were just so sure African Americans were less than human and had to be managed.

We were just so sure we were protecting ourselves by sticking Japanese neighbors and friends in internment camps. 

The German’s were just so sure they were doing the right thing by murdering millions of Jews. 

We were just so sure that everyone was a communist. 

We were so sure one group or another posed a threat.

So let me ask you, how sure are you when you say that your intolerance is different? 

Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky has recently come under fire for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses. Because she is just so sure that she is doing God’s work. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of any God that promotes hate and intolerance. People do that. 

Ironically, many of the same people sharing memes attacking Davis for her intolerance are the same people sharing xenophobic and racist memes or stories about Syrian refugees and/or Muslims. 

So please, when you share this incorrect, misspelled, racist garbage, do not tell yourself that you are different from Davis. 

When you say that you don’t mind immigrants as long as they mold to “our” ways, do not tell yourself that you are different from any other group in history that persecuted another. Groups that, at one time, would have persecuted you. 

When you say you are just being realistic about the "threat", do not tell yourself that you are different from those who found threat in Jews, or Japanese, or African Americans. 

Please, stop telling yourself, this is different

Because it is not. 

It is intolerance. It is racism. It is fear of someone who is different than you. That’s what it was then, and that's what it is now. 

Not one thing about your intolerance is different. 

The only thing that would be different is if we all decided to embrace our differences instead of fearing them. 

The only thing that would be different is if we realized that all life is important, all the time.

The only thing that would be different is recognizing how alike we all are, not how different.

No comments:

Post a Comment