“I’m Not Racist,” and Other Unhelpful Qualifiers

Every time an event takes place that challenges traditional ideas about how people behave, people clamor to make their feelings known. There are some who are happy that times are a’changin’ and that a greater level of inclusion is taking place. Of course, there are people who don’t like what is being presented as progress and want to voice their feelings about it. Often, the people in the later category voice their opinions with the intent of being civil, yet honest. Also, they usually fail. They are taken aback at the response of folks who call them names such as “bigot,” “racist,” and others. I can image that is a bit frustrating. So today, I want to help! We’ll discuss just how to not appear ignorant and bigoted unaware of how the words hurt others. Because we just KNOW that you really don’t want to hurt anybody. So let’s make a deal.  If you can discuss your feelings without using these phrases, then you aren’t a bigot, racist, and homo/trans/whateverthehell phobic. Okay? Great. Let’s get started. “I’m just being honest” Well thank you for your honesty! Here’s the thing though: your desire to be honest about your feelings doesn’t absolve you from entertaining and encouraging discriminatory ideas toward groups of people. Yes, we know that people love honesty. Baring your heart and feelings for your fans on the interwebs is a way to draw people to you. However, if what you’re baring is hurtful and unfounded bigotry, then, well, you’re still a bigot. But thanks for being honest about it (even thought, we probably already knew you were all of those things)! “I’m just saying” Again, we appreciate your willingness to tell us what is on your heart. And we get it; announcing the infamous “I’m just saying” is a way to state what is believed to be obvious without disrespectful intentions. There’s a problem with that though. You said it, and words actually mean things. Yes, they do. So, even though you’re “just saying,” if what you said is incorrect, inappropriate, or otherwise hurtful, it doesn’t matter what your intent was.  Even thought you are “just saying,” you actually said it, in real life. And if what you just said is negative, then people will take it upon themselves to just say how awful your words are. The universe heard you, and it will respond in the form of countless backlash tweets and screams. Maybe if what you’re going to say is disrespectful and rude, you shouldn’t say it at all. #justsayin “I have freedom of speech.” Yes, you do! Congratulations on passing a Civics exam that nobody was giving in the first place! But there’s a problem with you pulling the “freedom of speech” card when others criticize what you say. People often fail to realize that other people have freedom of speech as well. If you use your freedom to tell the world your opinion, then other people can give their opinion about your opinion, and so on and so forth. It’s like pong with words. Basically, freedom of speech means that the government can’t lock up for criticizing it. But many people take that famous line in the Bill of Right to mean that a citizen can say whatever they want and not suffer consequences for it. No, no, no. *waves Dikembe Mutombo finger* You can lose ALL OF THE THINGS by voicing your opinion, especially if your opinions injure the reputation and earning ability of others. Just ask Ducky Dynasty and Justine Sacco. Go ahead and yell, “fire” in a movie theatre, and someone get killed in stampede to get out. If you are discovered, you’ll get a call. And shortly after, you’ll great arrested.

“Saying whatever you want without consequences? Not in my house!” (owned by Geico)

“Why do we have to know about it?” (and its variants) This little dandy of a phrase is often used when issues of sexuality pop up. And let’s be honest; sex is always a taboo topic in American culture. We watch more porn than anyone else in the world; we just don’t want to discuss it. It’ll take a sec to flesh this one out, so strap in. Here’s why this phrase doesn’t make any sense. People who are straight don’t hide their sexuality at all. And don’t think of sexuality as something that all of those other folks with “alternative lifestyles” have and straight folks don’t. Sexuality is way more than just insertions and body fluids. It’s emotions, connections, and relationships. People in traditional relationships (and i use the term “traditional” loosely because there have been all types of sexual and romantic configuration since forever) display and even flaunt their sexual preferences all of the time. And I don’t mean talking about favorite positions and locations. I’m talking about real basic stuff. Do you post pictures on Facebook of your opposite sex significant other? If you’re married, do you wear a wedding ring? Do you discuss if someone of the opposite sex is cute/sexy/hot? Do you express your desire for an opposite sex romantic partner? Is there a picture on your desk of your significant other/spouse? Do you talk about your husband/wife freely? Do you walk down the street holding hands? You have children, and discuss them freely? If you do any of these things, then you are broadcasting your sexuality. And honestly, you’re broadcasting it a lot more freely a bunch of people who are around you, since open demonstration of same-sex/transgender relationships is still taboo.  So…since we’ve cleared that up, the only reason that logically exists for you wanting people to keep quiet is that you think something is deviant or wrong about it. Your personal preference doesn’t translate to someone else should be censored. “It’s a distraction.” It certainly can be. African-Americans staging a sit-in at a Woolworth certainly drew attention. Feminists marching are definitely is a sight to see. But what is this actually a distraction of? In most cases, the distraction is the disruption of discriminatory actions. But guess what? Sometimes a distraction is a good thing, especially if it’s a distraction that calls attention to unfair treatment. And imagine how the people who are enduring the unfair treatment feel? They tend to welcome the “distraction” from the norm, which is them being mistreated. One of my new favorite blogs to read is The Colored Boy. When discussing the situation with Michael Sam, the defensive end that announced he was gay before entering the NFL draft, he had this to say about whether or not Sam would be a distraction:  “Would it be acceptable to question these professionals, hypothetically, if working with rapists, child neglecters, dropouts, alcoholics, abusers, addicts, heartbreakers, men with underbites, convicts, liars, men unable to keep their dicks in their pants and men who collect children like sneakers affects their ability to perform the job which they are handsomely paid to do? Because there are tons of those in the NFL and NBA. They are easily identifiable, actual proven (and occasionally convicted) men of poor character that can be discussed with certainty rather than hypotheticals.” “This is just how I was raised.” This can be challenging for folks. We’re all raised around certain ideas about people and activities. However, just because you were raised that way doesn’t mean that it’s the right way to think. Slave owners were raised that way. People were raised that way in Nazi Germany and in the Jim Crow South. Yes, you were raised to think that way, and the way you were raised to think is very (insert word ending with “-ist” or “-phobic” here). Now, should you be willing to learn a bit more about how people navigate the world and the challenges that come with it, then your upbringing won’t be held against you. However, the fact that you were raised to think such things doesn’t absolve you from being wrong. Your mother and father were wrong, too. “I’m not being racist/homophobic/sexist” This is a tough one for people. Folks tend to equate being racist/homophobic/whateverthehell else with having mean intentions. It’s this idea that if you aren’t wearing a white hood and burning crosses in someone’s front yard, then you can’t be racist. Or that since you aren’t punch gay people in the face, you aren’t homophobic. Put on your big word hat for a second, because we have to use a few of them. Being discriminatory has less to do with emotional intent and more with what societal structures you support. It doesn’t matter if you have a black friend, if you support the criminal justice system as it is, then you’re being racist. It doesn’t matter if you always treat your gay Uncle Mark well (and if you are working to see that his rights are denied, then you should question if you’re treating him “well”). That’s the core of what all those “-ist” and “-ism” words mean, institutional realities that privilege one group while legally and socially denying and oppressing another. You don’t have to be a snarling, evil menace to say and do things that harm others. We know that you are a nice person. You’re also being racist. Or sexist. Or something else.

We know you don't twist your mustache and think of evil plots like this guy, but you can still be very racist.

We know you don’t twist your mustache and think of evil plots like this guy, but you can still be very racist. (owned by fan pop).

“It’s not just my opinion, I’m being biblical about it.” Tricky, and understandably so. Who can tell someone what to believe, right? Well, with this one there are some other things to consider. First, biblical is a really, REALLY bad word to use when describing Christian viewpoints. It assumes that there is only one correct reading of the texts that are in the Bible and that simply is not the case (I say more about that here).  It’s biblical to love and care for your neighbor. It’s also biblical to kill the children of your enemies. Be careful with how you use that word. Matter of fact, just don’t use it at all. Also, it would be one thing if you were just expressing a personal belief. However, the second you start advocating for laws that impact the lives of folks that believe differently than you, you can’t fall back on the idea that you are simply exercising your beliefs. There are other people who believe that God thinks differently. Why do your beliefs get priority in the public sphere? So there we have it. Think about your stances again. Can you express them without using these phrases? If so, then maybe you’re in the clear. But even if you can somehow get around using these phrases, if you hold to certain ideas about people, clever wording doesn’t matter. Being clever with wording doesn’t excuse us from treating people with dignity.