Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Defining -isms.

This blog has been brewing for a long time. I have become increasingly impatient with excesses of political correctness. Please note: excess. When P.C. stands for Plain Civility I am all for it.  

Let's get some things straight before we start.
I am all in favour of measures designed to level a tilted playing field. 
I would gladly pay more taxes in order to fund programs designed to rectify past grievances as far as possible.
I want committed partnerships to be recognized with the full force of the law, regardless of the variation of sexual identity.
I am in favour of making workplace adaptations for people with various challenges, physical or mental.
I want schools to teach the true history of everyone, not just the winners. 
I am aware that I live on a stolen continent.
And so on.

But I am sick and tired of that whole walking on eggshells thing one keeps reading about. I say reading about because hey, I live near a village of 1500 mainly pinko beige people. My own experience is limited.  I just seem to have this compulsion to read, reflect and comment on what goes on in society at large. Maybe there is a disorder name for it. Compulsive Comment Disorder?  Some enterprising psychologist can add CCD to the next DSM. But, as is my wont, we digress. So many topics! So much to go on about! 

Anyway, here goes.

Defining  -isms.

In some circles, mainly the liberal tribe that I mostly identify with, the ugly accusation of '-ist' is taken on board at the slightest provocation. It used to be just racism, but we now have other forms of prejudice like sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and so on. There is even "able-ism". The accusation usually has the effect of stopping a conversation in its tracks while the liberal in question adopts a stance of cringing apologetic reverence to the aggrieved minority du jour. I remember a white woman in Every Woman's Almanac twisting herself into a mental pretzel accusing herself for feeling guilty. This attitude sets my teeth on edge and rouses my inner redneck.

Some time ago CBC radio did a program on Trans people. More on that topic another time. Someone used the term "cis woman" to refer to herself. She meant she was a woman, you know, the regular kind. Estrogen, tits, vagina, just born that way. DoC forbid we use the word without qualifier as a default setting. That is Privilege, also used as verb. Privileging is a sin bound to get the perpetrator accused of being an -ist.

Here is my main beef, voiced before: too many people cannot make the distinction between being genuinely mistreated because they are a minority, and the inconvenience of being one.

I used to have the typical knee jerk guilt reaction. I still often do. But something shifted many years ago thanks to an article in another small feminist magazine that had been taken over by what we now call identity politics. The more victim categories one could claim, the greater one's status. An author was whining about the difficulty of getting time off work for her religious holidays, while Christians could be guaranteed free days at Christmas and Easter. This is when the penny dropped. You see, the author was Jewish, and so is my father, freeing me from the usual guilt reaction in this case. In a true AHA! moment it clicked: This is not persecution, it is inconvenience.

Being denied an apartment or a job because your name is Goldstein is wrongful discrimination, subvariety anti Semitism. A misnomer of a term but that is another topic.  It needs to be denounced and fought. Having to live with a weekend that starts on Saturday instead of Friday is an inconvenience. Deal with it. Replace example with minority of choice.

When it comes to defining racism I prefer a narrow definition. It goes for other -isms and phobias as well. Racism is a philosophy that considers certain groups of people inferior to others,  and wants to organise society to reflect and reinforce that inferiority. 

All too often we see an -ism claimed when the issue is not malicious persecution or even resistance to needed change, but simple lack of awareness or just old habits of thinking.

Do the fortunate among us need to be aware that privilege played a role in whatever we have accomplished?
Yes. One does not have to share a prejudice in order to benefit from centuries of it.
Do we need to somehow compensate and hear more of the voices that have been silenced for centuries? Again, Yes.

But could we please distinguish between malevolent oppression and people of good will just coming from their own experience?

Like everyone else muddling through this three dee  life, I live life as myself. I had the good fortune to be born 
in a favorable time and place as a white heterosexual able bodied woman with a loving, solid family of origin. On a good day I can pass for neurotypical. I have always been aware of my good luck, our parents instilled that in all four of us. I am a counter of blessings. Even so I do not go through daily life constantly wondering what a given situation would be like if I were a paraplegic lesbian of colour who was abused as a child. Fill in disability, identity or tragedy of choice. 

The following riddle went around some years ago. A surgeon and his son are in a car accident. The surgeon dies, the son is seriously wounded. As they arrive at the hospital the surgeon on duty exclaims: "I cannot operate on this patient, that is my son!" How could this be?

If you did not immediately say that surgeon #2 had to be the boy's mother, as at the time I did not, that supposedly proved you were a sexist. I say bollocks to that. It just proved your reflexes had not caught up to your convictions. Old conditioning dies hard. Refusing the boy's mother her position as surgeon just because she was a woman, now that would be sexism.

The bottom line: Could we please approach each other with an assumption of goodwill as the default setting, instead of angry suspicion? 


JBinford-Bell said...

I can totally agree with you. My pet peeve is beimg made to feel guilty for something I am 300 years too young to have done. And I refuse to believe the purity of the first nations. I have lived to close to them and know the are not gods but flawed people. We are all flawed and we need to own that.

Ien in the Kootenays said...