Recent Supreme Court decisions and state legislative actions have brought to the fore the tried and true idea that the variety of oppressions are all related.
The forcing of women to give birth, the threats made by Supreme Court justices to end marriage equality and the right to contraception, the numerous red-state laws from “Don’t Say Gay” to transphobic discrimination, the orders by governors to have family services investigate parents of trans youth or parents who take their own children to an event hosted by someone in drag, the attempts to suppress the votes of those who disagree with them, the calls for “Christianizing” the laws and the country itself, the worship of megalomaniacs, and the violence inspired by all this that’s acted out on anyone not them, are all signs that a bigoted minority is willing to do anything it takes to protect their identities.
If you’re following the news, the list is depressing. It’s all become blatant because the last president modeled hate speech.
We are seeing a radical, right-wing, reactionary version of what Lutheran pastor/theologian Martin Niemöller famously authored in 1930s Germany as he witnessed the rise of the Nazis there:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
And if we don’t see the intersection between racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the others in the threats of the radical, anti-democratic, so-called “Christian” right-wing, we’re not only not paying attention but enabling our own demise. Even straight white males who voted for the loser, and would again, and their children are threatened if they don’t toe the exact line.
It’s not just an idle saying at all: “No one is free until everyone is free.” A commitment to diversity and equality that will fully heal our society is commitment to a process of ending discrimination.
It’s a commitment to a new way of relating to others, a commitment to an entire way of approaching life. It’s not just commitment to ending discrimination against one group or another. It’s not refocusing discrimination onto a group other than one’s own.
That’s because discrimination and prejudice are something that is more like a lifestyle that blames and scapegoats those we define as “other.” It’s an approach to life which sees others as less than fully human, focuses on roadblocks in the path of understanding others, projects negative attention on others so as to take it off of one’s own group, or says: I may be how I am but at least I’m not like them.
Ending discrimination is ending a pattern of seeing others in a certain way, a pattern of not dealing with the effects of discrimination on each of us, and a way of misunderstanding our larger society itself.
This pattern looks for reasons to discriminate. It clings to personal experiences and universalizes them to stereotype everyone in a group. It hunts through everything in the past to find some evidence that its attitudes are “traditional.” It takes one interpretation of the Bible as “what it really says,” rather than as just one way of understanding that ancient text. It even shuffles through all the data that science provides to find those “facts” that support the prejudice.
This way of life gets so ingrained that it’s not recognized. We become like fish in water. We get so acclimated to the water that we don’t even know that we are wet. We may not know there is an alternative to being wet and we may even fear dying without the water.
And discrimination is not just a personal issue. It’s not merely ended by deciding I will no longer discriminate. Ending it requires change in the institutions about us. It requires recognition that we have been a part of the discrimination, often unconsciously, and that it is time we became more conscious. It means that we reject denial and seek new information and new ways of understanding each other and the dynamics of discrimination.
It means we cannot apply the ideas of capitalism to our relationships. We cannot think in terms of shortages and competition for limited resources when it comes to ending discrimination.
We must reject the idea that there is not enough freedom, attention, or love to go around. We must reject the idea that if your group gets attention it will take it away from mine. We must begin with the idea that the more others are free, the more others experience real equality, the better that is for all of us.
That’s not always easy. We’ve been raised to believe there isn’t enough of anything to go around. We were often taught to believe that if someone gets love, that that will diminish the love available for me.
We were seldom taught that the more love, attention, and kindness that is expressed, the more there will be in the world. As children, our parents’ time and attention were limited. We may have had to compete with brothers and sisters for their attention and may even have “fought” for it.
That pattern is often carried over into our adult lives and our anti-discrimination work.
But it’s not true. We will not run out of time. We will not use up all the attention. And loving another will not mean there is no love left for me.
Seeing discrimination as a lifestyle brings us all together to change things. Seeing it as one victim group pitted against another keeps us fighting and never ends what’s hurting us all.
That’s why we honor all diversity every chance we get and through our votes. The more diversity we honor, the more we are able together to change the lifestyle that keeps each one of us in stifling boxes that never break the pattern that finds someone else to diminish or even hate.
Plus the more we honor diversity, the more we prove that we belong on this planet.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.