Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Do the discriminated against discriminate?

Dear C and Dr. B;

Issues of racism and discrimination are all over the news. Right now, Black Lives Matter is at the top of the list and people are getting fired and called out for anything that implies a personal racist attitude. Before that, the #MeToo movement went after men for discrimination and abuse against women. 

I think that all of this is important; no one should ever be oppressed or disadvantaged due solely to skin color or gender. But something bugs me – any time a movement gains prominence and national sympathy, it seems like they start doing a lot of discriminating of their own. White America has become a generalization that implies privilege, even when those white Americans are being abused and oppressed themselves. If you point this out to a member of BLM, they dismiss it because they have been oppressed on a much greater scale, and okay, that may be true, but it doesn’t mean the other stuff doesn’t matter. I’ve also seen #MeToo supporters who are hostile to men in general because they’ve taken so much crap from men in the past. A lot of people who have been discriminated against end up making blanket assumptions and discriminate against others in just the same way. So, how is that any different? Is it okay because they are historically “justified”?

C says: We all discriminate – it’s a natural tendency and not inherently a bad one. One must discriminate in order to make any choices at all. But discrimination can become a very destructive tool in the hands of those who seek personal gain and power over others. 

It’s not really surprising that any group that has been long oppressed is going to take a dim view of those who oppose them. Conflicts between large factions tend to turn both sides’ attitude into one of Us versus Them. So, yeah – people who are discriminated against can make blanket assumptions the same as anyone else. Having a just cause doesn’t make the oppressed saints; they make assumptions like everyone else. An example – I’m a white American, and to many people of color, that makes me “one of them”: an entitled person who makes more money and is given more opportunities and preferential treatment by the law. In a sense they are right – I am unlikely to be beaten to death by the cops on a routine traffic stop. But I am pretty much the opposite of privileged and entitled. I’m from a poor family with no connections, and I grew up in a town where the only Black family was extremely wealthy, the father was a famous doctor, and the daughter was very popular in school. I very much felt at the at the bottom of the social pecking order. But how is a total stranger supposed to know that? It’s not a logical assumption to make. And therein lies the crux of the problem – most of the members of opposing factions don’t know each other.  Few of them have ever spoken with the people they are screaming at. My opinion? If you want to make a difference, being kinder and less judgmental toward the people you encounter in your own life will go a lot further than jumping on a bandwagon at a rally and pointing fingers.

 Dr. B says: Humans learn by the role modeling they are exposed to. What we experience is what we know and it predicts what we shall do, even if our goal is to do something else. Creating new behavior patterns takes learning new skills and practicing them constantly with attention and active intent.

Humans are territorial by nature and we create pecking orders. Fractionation within any group is inevitable, it just depends on the size of the group. There are 200 words in the BLM charter that have been called out as anti-Semitic. But despite some antisemitism within BLM, I do know that those who identify as Jews can still support it. The threat that comes from widespread general racism within the culture is more dangerous than that from a small faction within a larger group. If we all band together now, given the current momentum of BLM, we can make a difference toward racism in the larger population. The racism within smaller groups can be dealt with later.  

There is no homogeneity to the term/label of Judaism, nor with the terms Black or Asian. I heard an “Asian” girl who spoke about how angry the term Asian made her because “Asian” represents 3/4 of the human race and spans multiple continents, over a billion people, and hundreds of languages and cultures. This made it a completely meaningless term. Judaism is similar because it represents nearly every European and Middle Eastern community that has ever existed. The entire religion uses the same book but the cultures within the religion are all different and each interpret that book uniquely. If examined, all labels are this way.  

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