Most atheists that I know started out with religion or religious overtures, and they fixed that when they realized how crazy religious belief really is. They recognized that you can find in religion the same sort of social controls that have been used by other oppressive organizations throughout history, and they got the fuck out of there, bringing their mind along with them. And congratulations! You’ve figured out that the biggest scams in human histories are scams. People deserve to be recognized for their cognitive functions sorting themselves out. But one victory doesn’t often win a war, and a lot of people seem to think that coming to one solution gives them all the solutions, especially when it comes to interacting with other groups of humans.
That’s just not true. I’m going to admit something right now. I’m a straight, white guy with a middle-class upbringing. I am also, irrevocably racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and probably a host of other -ists and -phobics that you can toss at me. I’m like this because I’m a product of a society that is also racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and all the others. I’ve been taught a certain view of normalcy, and as a result, I act with mannerisms that reflect this certain view. It’s not an attempt to insult; I’m not consciously discriminatory. But it’s still there.
It used to be that whenever I heard that my behaviour was inappropriate, I brushed it off. I’m an ally, I’d think. I’m the sort of guy who stands out there when there’s real racism/sexism et. al going on. Why are they bothering me about a couple words?! What I’d lost track of was the fact that I don’t get to determine what “real” homophobia/ableism et. al is. I don’t have that ability. I was making a privileged assumption that I can see these things from the outside, define them, and live in a world where I’ve made a nice little line in the sand, labelled it racism, and then skirt with it as I see fit. I forgot to seek the approval of those who’d be impacted by my assertions to affirm they are true. I’d forgotten what being a skeptic means – asking questions and challenging my perceptions to find the truth.
I got to this point, and once I read some pretty powerful writings on the subject by a blogger who I am proud to consider a friend, I realized that I was still doing it wrong. Yes, I can still share in “off colour” joking with my friends, from time to time, because my friends and I consent with each other that we will poke fun at our various differences. We have consented to being less than politically correct together. But when we’re not in that consented environment, I have encouraged them to watch their behaviour. It’s as simple as using different words, or asking why you act in a certain way. Why did I lock my door when that Native-Canadian walked by? I didn’t even notice I was doing it until it was done. Why did I call that “queer”? Why did I say that Prime Minister Harper’s newest law was “retarded”? There’s reasons why. Because I’ve been taught certain stereotypes, because I’ve heard other people use the word, and because I wanted to express how something was stupid but I used a word that has nothing to do with stupid. I can challenge these assumptions as wrong, as made acceptable only because I am a product of a world where these assumptions and stereotypes are still subconsciously acceptable.
I can’t tell you what you’re doing wrong, other white privileged guys, but I can tell you who can. Look up some awesome bloggers like Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, the Crommunist, and Natalie Reed (oh look to your left, I think most of ‘em are over there!). As members of these groups, they are qualified to let you know what’s right and what’s wrong. The most important thing I can tell you is that you’re probably fucking this up somewhere. You’re probably acting in a way that screws with diversity without even knowing it. And if your response to reading that is “But…I’m an ally!” or “But…I have a gay/black/trans/female/mentally disabled/otherwise minority friend!”, then you need to step back and take off your skeptic/humanist label. You need to recognize that you’re not questioning your own assertions until you ascertain with proof that it’s true.
Benjamin Stonier lives in Nova Scotia and you should follow him on Twitter as @veritasknight