Thoughts About Discrimination
Happy Labor Day, folks!
My mother suggested today’s topic, which is simply this: discrimination. Who faces it, what can we do about it, and why are we still having to talk about it in 2015?
Look. Most of us have faced some form of discrimination in our lives. Some face far more than others, including African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT individuals, and the disabled. Women are often discriminated against in subtle ways, even in the United States, even when able-bodied; straight men sometimes get discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity, creed, or religion.
It is a rare individual indeed who’s faced no discrimination whatsoever in this life.
So why is it that politicians make so much hay pointing one group against another group? Do we not understand that every single one of us is likely to be discriminated against for one reason or another before we die?
Again, some of us face this discrimination every day. One of my earliest friends, an African-American viola player in high school, used to tell me that when she’d show up at auditions, conductors would give her a surprised look. (This quickly went away, as she was a very fine player.) Another of my friends, who is Japanese-American and disabled, has faced so much discrimination in her life, it would be harder for her to find a day where she didn’t deal with any discrimination than the reverse.
I, too, have faced discrimination. I’m disabled — I walk with a cane and wear braces on my hands on bad days due to carpal tunnel syndrome, and these two issues are very hard to camouflage. Plus, I’m not a small woman by any stretch of the imagination; as I’ve told people in the past, people come in all shapes and sizes, and my size is definitely curvier than most.
This might be one reason I have a great deal of sympathy for those currently facing overt and systematic discrimination. (Though just being human should do it, many people cannot put themselves in someone else’s shoes unless they’ve actually been there.) I think people should be judged on what they say, what they do, rather than what they look like or whether or not they need a wheelchair to get around.
And lest you think discrimination is a newfangled idea, it isn’t.
Most of us know about Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. He fought hard for civil rights, for labor unions, and for the dignity of the individual. But did you know other groups of United States citizens have been systematically discriminated against in the past?
My grandmother was of Irish descent, and grew up in Chicago. She told me about the signs she used to see, when she looked for employment in her teens — “No Irish Need Apply.”
And before the Irish were discriminated against, the Italians were discriminated against. Then the Poles. The Finns. The Swedes. The Norwegians. And on, and on…for some reason, the newcomers to the U.S. always seem to see this.
Then, usually, it settles down.
(Why it hasn’t settled down for African-Americans, Latinos, GLBT individuals, or the disabled is something I can’t answer. But I digress.)
All I know is this. We have to do our best every single day. Whether we’re gay, straight, bisexual, gender-fluid, Christian, Wiccan, Buddhist…whether we’re able-bodied or disabled…no matter what the color of our skin, the content of our character matters far, far more — just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said.
I urge you to become acquainted with people of different backgrounds. Get past your personal prejudices. Try to see others as individuals. And see where common ground might be found.
Who knows? You might just make a new friend.