I spent the summer between Seattle and Portland. I have seen incredible displays of inequality. But, I have also seen dedicated patriots trying to reform the system. And, that gives me hope amid one of the worst years of our lives.
This is not another essay on why women need choice when it comes to childbirth and deciding one’s lifetime fate, but it does touch upon choice. Choice is something every fully human being needs, and inequality takes all manner of choice away.
To keep choice and voice, we have to work ceaselessly.
Inequality, whether through racism, or sexism, or even fat discrimination, is always destructive. In the quiet way that resentment builds in any injustice like a slowly inflating, infected boil, the poison is in there. It will seep out, eventually.
On the surface, however, we are socialized to act as though inequality is normal. We don’t interrupt a teacher, preacher, cop, or any other senior figure and ask why they have the authority to tell us what to do. After all, we should, by most measures, know our own needs better than anyone else, but we learn to be polite.
Authority figures figure into it
I have met with a physician, for example, who pontificates widely upon why my body needs this or that, although I have known my body my whole life. I know what does and doesn’t holistically work with every intricate interaction of internal physiology and external life on Earth. I only really respect and trust doctors, who if I respect their expertise, will attempt to respect my own.
With all due respect, women faced with infertility and pain don’t need a man who has looked at a screenshot of a medical summary for fifteen seconds to explain to them what’s wrong. She already knows what is wrong; she came to him in hopes of addressing it.
A smart doctor will set the computer down, see a human being before him (or her) and make human eye contact. Then, rather than chastise the patient for her mistakes, the wise healer will establish trust and confidence.
Current surfers and ripple riders
Certainly, there are some cases where expertise and knowledge are of value, and we should not second guess all authority. But, in other cases, such as when a cop hassles a person just because he can, or when the popular school jock expects deference, or when some random guest at the party sees fit to mansplain to you “girls,” why hip to waist ratio is so crucial for a cis man seeking a lover.
Today, a phenomenon we call cancel culture or calling out, is changing how and why we interrupt authority. However, in most cases, we are still non-confrontational smooth sailors and non-boat rockers. We are tacitly content to avoid uncomfortable currents and waves that actually do ripple through our private lives often to our own detriment.
The internet, with its ease and cruelty of anonymity, changed how we interact with strangers. But, the result of that is whole ship wrecks of some lives, while bullies of means and influence sail on unscathed.
To rock the boat the right way, we need discipline, non-violence, reason and righteousness, We need, as John Lewis said, “to be doing the work of the Almighty.”
We now think of racism and sexism, because they are very real and a part of every human experience. But, as real as they are, they are a secondary part of our human nature that stems from feeling excluded. The first part of our human nature is that we are, in fact, human beings, of one race, and in nine out of ten cases, our belonging and connection to others is what we seek.
We are truly injured when we are denied choice or voice. So, too, is the person who seemingly benefits from elevating himself as above us. I am not trying to say that the persons who have all the yachts and private jets are not older, whiter, richer, and more male than not. I am trying to say that they too, live in an unbalanced world where their fear is overinflated by the threat of losing all they possess. Their fear, however unfounded is real and drives inequality.
Boo hoo. You may sarcastically cry for those poor, victimized pale penis people, but, after a good laugh, we still have work to do.
Which is worse, racism or sexism?
As a topic, I have noticed that racism has more than ten times more articles, (on Medium, anyway), then sexism.
I also noticed, that as big as the Women’s March became, it paled next to the Black Lives Matter movement. Both, (and many more) movements are founded by women. It is simply true, that until you get the oppressors, especially the ones who see no problem, on your side, the discrimination will continue.
In my mind inequality is THE problem, and not a contest between whether sexism, or racism is worse. Yet, I have often wondered why we see such discrepancy.
After years of research and reflection, too, I think it has to do with familiarity. We each are thrust, every single human life, into a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. We have a mother, a lover, a daughter, a teacher, a friend, a sister, etc. But with racism, we are segregated.
We see the “other” as a non-belonging outsider.
This unfamiliarity with the other who by all rights should be front and center in any human family — just as the word suggests — creates discomfort and discord.
Whether men and women really know one another better than whites know Blacks is debatable, but what is not debatable is that in most every life, some male loves or loved some female and the result was family belonging. In most every life, some mother gave birth to a son or daughter, and that person, however imperfectly, is included.
This is not the case with race.
With white supremacy, enforced segregation is evident. When there is an exception to the rule, we make a sitcom out of it, and find all the humor we can wring out of such wacky family arrangements.
Having largely separate music, art, comedy, clothing, food, and more makes us less familiar, and therefore, much more wary, of scary new things.
The problem, of course, is just as in the rest of nature, we need diversity. We need biodiversity for planets to exist, and we need ethnic and cultural diversity for societies to thrive.
Remember before LGBTQ+ was an everyday reality? When I was a small child the word “gay” or “lesbian” was whispered, at best, and sneered at, at worst.
We teased the prissy boy, and although I didn’t know why, we disapproved of his mannerisms. What seemed like an overnight change, actually took centuries. Now, if we are conscientious at all, we feel shame for ridiculing the sensitive boy, or fat girl, or differently abled people.
Now, as a more inclusive society reveal to the world, that yes, in fact, we all know and love someone who is not cis or heterosexual. We even grant them to right to marry and have their own families.
And, it is in the family, that real familiarity is born.
All in the family
This family inclusion, although happening slowly, is still rare with “interracial mixing.” We read about why even Black men are not attracted to Black women, and whether Black women are better off choosing a well-off white guy. Every level of internalized racism, from light to dark complexion-ism to full-on white supremacy is revealed if we look beneath our comfort level.
We suffer on every rung trying to place ourselves on these constantly unstable ladders of hierarchy.
We forget to wonder often enough, if we can’t just abandon the ladders and try ever-expanding circles of compassion, instead.
It takes a man child to raze a global village
Remember the prissy boy my cohorts and I teased when I was a stupid kid? I know now that the reason a “girly boy” was disapproved of is based in misogyny. A boy who acted like a girl, non-tough, or non-violent, is often bitterly shamed. Even as adults, women are told to be more manly. Rather than having men who rule the world learning to become more womanly, and thereby, well rounded, diplomatic, and versatile. We still have sexists who worship the “strongman” style of dictatorship. Leaders such as Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel, and others, (who may competently oversee a pandemic, for example) are not emulated enough.
Authoritarian dictators like Putin, Bolsonaro, Kim Jong Un and more, are still held in high regard in nations where patriarchy remains un-smashed, and in fact, it is thriving.
When looked at in terms of human death and suffering, leaders who use pandemics or other crisis to expand their powers, abolish term limits, and lift safety measures, are a danger to an entire globe. We see this when Donald Trump tries to enrich his cronies and lift regulations that ensure our clean air and water, or when he denies climate injustice to the point where he endangers more people through inaction, corruption, or outright polluting.
Sex and race, or rather, the injustices burdening people of color, women and children, are multiplied and heaped upon the most vulnerable people who least contribute to emissions, profiteering, and abuse.
When such an authoritarian is questioned, a temper tantrum worthy of a man-child could result, and historically, the village may be razed before people realize what’s happened. Thankfully, Nero, Leopold and Hitler, et all, were not real men when real power — righteousness — arose.
Yet, today, fear-mongering among desperate authoritarians is evident. In the USA, an election year means everyone has to search hard to find the best choice among the noise.
The color “people”
In more egalitarian nations, it has been shown, women and girls with education and choice contribute more wholly, and more effectively than those under the thumb of patriarchy. It is no accident that most women and girls restricted by such sexism, are females of color.
In authoritarian locales, people who raise voices decrying classism, caste, sexism, homophobia, and racism tend to be silenced. Which makes it all the more critical that in those places where freedom is still found, good people stand up. When a righteous cause is overwhelmed by might crushing what is right, it does not matter your sex, or color, you need to be present.
I think illogical theories of ultimate authority are easy to twist into uneven, layers of society who justify evil by citing good.
Once one subscribes to a theory of an ultimate authority, it is an easy leap for those enthralled with the “truth” to find every vile excuse for their atrocities. Racism and sexism continue, then, to be justified on religious grounds which probably pisses off any and all deities to no end.
Do you think it makes God mad when you ignore a gorgeous field of purple flowers? Me too, but in addition to the color purple, I also think God hates it when we don’t see the colors of people.
And people, includes female people of each and every nuance.
Religion, does, however, condemn the arrogance of human authority, and we should credit it for this. In the Christian Bible, such hubris is condemned, most succinctly in Proverb 16:18, “Pride leads to destruction and arrogance to downfall.” In every case of such scripture they are not talking about gay pride, or grrrl power, but an assumed certainty — authority in other words — about knowing better than anyone else does.
What I take from this seeming contradiction is that religion is not the problem. How people wield religion is a problem. Religion, far from being the cause of all human suffering, is like sex, money, or drugs, it can be used for good purpose, or for destructive goals.
Connection is sacred
The air, the water, the trees, the oceans, the molecules that we are, the DNA that we share, the systems that support and sustain all life, and the emergent quality we call love all connect us.
Even in an unprecedented, messy, painful, election year!
That said, I would emphasize that love is not an extension of our conscious intellect. It is more basic, original, and primitive than that. Charles Darwin, for example, recognized and studied animal emotions and behavior in depth.
Despite the facts and despite our modern knowledge of biology, we still treat the natural world, and the beasts and plants within it, as possessions.
Our broken relationships with nature, and our neglect of our sacred stewardship unleashes everything from zoonotic pandemics to climate injustice, and even the climate crisis itself. Much has been written on this already, but the link between how we treat or mistreat one another is very much aligned with our greatest miseries, and their resolution.
As we become anti-racists and anti-sexists, our inner resilience and planetary resurrection is possible in our firmly established belonging.
Once we all agree that human beings are animals capable of love just like mother grizzlies or baby cheetahs, we can better understand our complete belonging to one another. Once we see that humankind, far from being superior to other life forms, is wholly dependent upon a higher, natural wisdom, we can begin to see our sacred connection.
Until then, be very careful with your choice, and with your voice. To obliterate inequality, we have to work hard, and believe in one another.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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Photo credit: By Christyl Rivers, All hep cats are beautiful, Portland 2020