Caution – this is a rant in response to the recent racial problems and the “southern pride” movement and how it intersects with racial bullying. I was asked by a friend after black churches started being burned, “What is wrong with people?! Have we lost our minds? We have made SO MUCH progress… It’s 2015! How do we stop this? Jennifer, it’s time for a nationwide anti-bullying rally!!!!!”
My friend is right racism is a form of bullying. It’s about dehumanizing people and about gaining access to resources through social inclusion and exclusion. And this is so ingrained that people who benefit from this inclusion and exclusion don’t even realize how privileged they are and they don’t connect their support of things like the confederate flag to the systemized violence being done to communities of color that is a result of formal policies designed to keep certain people out of the economy so that more resources are given to the privileged group. And this is justified through racist language and values.
The way to stop it is the same way we need to stop any bully whether they are kid bullies or sexist bullies or racist bullies or religious bullies. We have to stand up to them and let them know their bullying is not ok and a) we aren’t afraid of them despite their use of violence to get enforce their power and privilege.
We do this by doing the very thing they don’t want us to do. Draw Muhammad day is a form of defiance against religious bullies. Gays being openly gay is a form of defiance against religious bullies. The black panthers was/is a form of defiance against race bullies. It’s interesting how often religion is used to dehumanize and exclude people isn’t it.
The 2nd thing is we need to make it clear that a bully’s dehumanizing attitudes towards other people isn’t acceptable at all – ever by anyone. The people to do that are the people least effected. People who would normally be seen as allies of the bully or members of their “in-group.”
People not being excluded or bullied have to stop siding with bullies when they dehumanize people. This is very hard to do because our in-group identities are so closely tied to the rhetoric our group uses to mark themselves. But it is necessary to create a more humane world for everyone.
For example: people who aren’t racist but who view the confederate flag as a statement of southern pride that has nothing to do with racism, need to realize that they are giving cover to people who do use the flag to promote not just racism, but violent racism! If they don’t want the flag associated with violent racism, the solution isn’t to convince people currently being killed by people using the flag that the flag doesn’t mean violent racism. The solution is to stop violent racists from killing people!
With sexism it is men who have to stop tolerating other men being sexist around them. They have to actively stop their friends being openly sexist in their presence and not let it slide. Good men need to educate themselves on the harm sexist language, even in private, causes women so that they can speak out. When they do this, it changes the cultural norm. This is the role of an ally.
With racism, whites have to tell other whites to stop being racist around them and to stop supporting racists through their language and affiliations (the same way men have to speak out on behalf of women). We have to change the cultural norm.
People who are bullies don’t even realize they are bullying or doing anything wrong because they are so rarely called out on it. People are burning churches because they think they are doing the right thing and they think they are doing the right thing because everyone around them agrees with them and they are never told – hey – that’s not ok. And when they are told that – they find ways to justify not changing.
Black Lives Matter
Bullying starts with language and attitudes. While we can’t stop some people from being violent, we can use social pressure to make it clear that dehumanizing any human for any reason is not ok. This is a necessary first step because it is through dehumanization that violence becomes acceptable. We can be violent against people who don’t matter because they are less then human. It is much harder to justify violence when we respect people as fully human.
The people who complain about PC police don’t understand – it’s not about free speech, it’s about changing cultural norms so that people aren’t dehumanized because dehumanization is the first step in victimization.
People who respond to #BlackLivesMatters with #AllLivesMatter need to understand, yes, you are technically correct. However, we don’t have a problem with people understanding white lives matter. It is clear that white lives matter. The problem is that the dehumanization of black bodies is so ingrained in our culture and in our policing that we have to say black lives matter to remind people that black lives matter as much as everyone else’s lives. #BlackLivesMatters is a way of fighting back against racist and dehumanizing language directed against black lives. Language that not only perpetuates the systemic racism in our country, but that makes us look away when black lives are taken from us. Saying all lives matters ignores the very real dehumanizing verbal assault that needs to be fought. You don’t tell a child who is being bullied that all kids matter so we aren’t going to help you. You tell them that THEY matter and you are going to help them because they matter. Every time someone says all lives matter they are telling black people – I’m not going to be ally or help you because I don’t care enough about you to care that you are being dehumanized. In fact, I can’t even see it happening, so why are you complaining. It makes me sick to my stomach every time I see an All Lives Matters meme.
While we have definitely made progress in some areas, our problems with societal support for the worst of the bullies among us continues. We need to stop tolerating them.