I try to stay away from politics in my blogs. There’s a certain amount of political opinion in my book, but I have attempted to keep posts on my site entirely about disability—which is a political issue, but I like to let people just hear my stories and form their own opinions.
However, I’m having some thoughts about discriminatory attitudes. So here we go. Pour yourself a cuppa. This will be an essay, not really a blog. Feel free to share on social media.
Ableism and ageism have nipped at my heels a lot. Ableism from the time I was three-and-a-half and emerged from the polio hospital with crutches and paralysis, and ageism, well, since the first time someone thought I was ten years older than I was because I used a cane, and then later, when people thought I was “too young” to use a disabled person parking place. Gender discrimination has reared its head in my own experience as well, given I’m a woman (mostly with regard to work and being expected to accept lower pay or, though rarely, not being given the authority I needed to get a job done), although not to the extent that my gay and lesbian friends have had to put up with. I haven’t been strapped with the heinous yoke of racism, although I was told at one time that my spirituality was a threat to my Jewish boyfriend (I was a student of Sufism; now I separate the Judaic religion from Jewish ancestry or ethnicity but for some, as they were for me at that time, they are one and the same).
But. I’ve been discriminatory myself in my past, and I see that my possible prejudices may still be tagging along like toilet paper stuck to my shoe.
I cringe at this memory: As a pre-schooler in a very white small town, I thought there was something wrong with the skin of the first black person I met, and adults laughed when I sincerely said that maybe the lady needed a bar of soap. I had never seen a person who was not Anglo. In high school, I liked the black kids and did not consider myself prejudiced, but my discrimination was more subtle than I realized. There were few black students, but one of them saved me from being trampled at a rally, and I loved to dance with the boys at school dances, although I felt a little self-conscious when it came to slow dances. (What if someone thought we were dating?) I was still bound by the narrow-mindedness of my mother, who thought different races should not marry. Of course you wouldn’t date, so that you wouldn’t fall in love.
And there was a fellow in high school who was “effeminate” by our teenage masculinity standards; I believe I probably participated in making fun of him, though never to his face. I was so myopic. Kids had made fun of me in grammar school, and all through my life, for the way I walked. How could I not see that thinking my fellow classmate’s personality and physical traits were unsavory was the same as the mean way I was treated? Well, I just didn’t. I was young, and men having feminine traits was considered “just wrong” by the society I was a part of. (I apologized for this not long ago to my close friend who’s gay. For all the people who treated him that way.)
By the time I was a freshman in college, I was deeply steeped in concern over racial discrimination. I knew that young black men were sent to the front lines in Vietnam. I was still a member of my childhood church, which would not let blacks hold the priesthood in 1967. When I asked church elders about this and told them I thought the church’s reasoning was biased and faulty (that blacks were descendants of Cain and that they held “the curse of Cain, for slaying his brother, Abel,” which sounded pretty fishy to me)—I was told that they also questioned this and were uncomfortable with the doctrine. So, I disavowed the church the next day. In one semester, I had a roommate who’d never sat with a black girl at a table (I naively caused this to happen and my friend later said, “Francine, she was so NICE!”), and the next year, a roommate who cried when Dr. Martin Luther King was shot. I did not know at the time how significant he was, but soon learned. (And yes, I know he was a womanizer. I have been very sorry to learn this of late. It seems that with fame and power come myriad temptations, for just about everyone.)
Around age twenty-one, I finally realized I had a prejudice against gay men. I had finally learned that sometimes men were attracted to men, and thought “Ew!??” I didn’t think this about lesbians, so I don’t know how I managed to carry this conflicted mindset, but I did. But then I met a gay guy and started spending social time with him and our mutal friends. He was bright and funny and I think a little leery of what I thought of him. I probably had met gay men before but didn’t know it. I realized it was just none of my business who people were attracted to, and it also helped that I read somewhere that about ten percent of all human populations tend to be attracted to the same sex. A decade or so later, I realized that there were a couple of women I felt attracted to, myself, though I have always been heterosexual. (I was invited, once, to have sex with a woman I loved but was not attracted to, and it didn’t work out.) It finally dawned on me that sexual feelings are fluid. Again, it’s none of my business who people are attracted to.
It has been freeing to enjoy people for who they are and not for whomever I used to think they should be.
In my forties, I started doing genealogical research and was appalled to learn that my great-great-great grandmother on my dad’s side had owned slaves. My face flushed with shame and I cried. I was partially relieved to learn that she had gone to court to win them back in a lawsuit, which kept their families from being separated. After the Civil War she helped them buy their own homes, and some of them named children after her. I can only hope that she was kind and benevolent. When I visited the Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, SC, last year, the imagery and narratives caused me deep anguish, knowing that my ancestors had played a part in this. I took the opportunity to apologize to the lovely people running the exhibit. I think they were embarrassed by my tearful admission, but I just felt I had to apologize; the contributions we make to civil rights groups just didn’t seem personal enough.
I recently joined Showing Up for Racial Justice. This is a charity run by Anglo people who want to do something about the way people of color are treated or mistreated in the US. Although we contribute to other similar organizations, W. Kamau Bell said in his memoir that he recommends this group for white people because, face it, when white people show up in a group of black people, black people don’t feel they can be honest. We inhibit the conversation because of the ancestors of our society, the hidden or blatant judgments whites have about blacks, and the lack of trust that is engrained after 250 years of slavery. I get it.
Now I find that I am exploring my own ageism. This came up because on my Facebook page, two of my cousins got into a heated discussion about race and immigration. (If you care to know, my opinion is that legal immigration is a great idea, but exceptions in at the least, processing, need to be made for asylum seekers, and what is going on in the detention centers at our southern borders currently is despicable.) I had posted that I feel that Kamala Harris presented best in the Democratic debates. I feel she has the strength, mental acuity, humor and preparedness that it takes to be a president. I know she’s not perfect; no candidate is. We have a year to go till the primaries, so we’ll see who pulls ahead, but in November, 2020, I will vote for anyone who is backed by the Democratic party. (I think Donald Trump is the enemy of democracy and is hell-bent on being the first dictator of the United States.)
Some people were dismayed that I posted that I think Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are too old for the position. This is not because I don’t value the wisdom of older adults. I’m seventy-one, and I have learned a lot in this life and hope that I have attained a modicum of wisdom. (I know I will not be fully cooked until I die. Old age is a great time to keep learning, especially since we usually have time for study.)
But here’s the thing. Elders are great historians and teachers. They absolutely have learned a thing or two and make trusted advisors. They can be consulted about history, especially, and this is often a big clue to what the future will hold since, yes, sorry, history does tend to repeat itself. Some outcomes are predictable and this helps us make wise decisions. On the other hand, to illustrate why I don’t think a 79-year-old man would make a good president, I said to my women’s club last night, “If I told you guys I was going to run for president, you’d say to me, ‘Are you SURE you want to do that?’” No one would think it was a good idea, even though I am pretty bright and organized. Because it’s a job requiring a great deal of physical and mental stamina, very long hours, fast adaptation and thinking, and these are not the qualities of a person in their 70’s or 80’s, or especially one close to his 90’s, which these men would be if they were elected to two terms.
I believe that Franklin D. Roosevelt was a pretty darn good president. I am very aware, as a polio survivor, that what he accomplished was incredible. It is hard enough to have a normal daily life with paralysis. Would I recommend that a physically or mentally disabled person run for president? Probably not, depending on the severity of the condition. If he or she were in their 40’s, maybe. But I know from experience that it would be tough. Would I vote for that person if they were the most qualified person running? Yes, I would.
As to gender discrimination, I admit that I have long thought that most women are better organized than most men. They have had more experience juggling career and family and running households, and juggling world cultural and historical issues with those of budget and administrative and political relationships are not that far removed. So, call me a sexist, but I think it’s time that women had a crack at the presidency.
I love men and rarely feel disrespected by the men I come in contact with, but it’s possible I’ve got a narrow frame of reference because I’m selective about who I hang out with. I love my husband. He is very focused, he has great understanding of history and politics, he’s fairly compassionate, has a good sense of humor, he’s great at achieving a long-term goal and he works ridiculously hard. But could he handle the many irons in the fire of a presidency? I strongly doubt it and wouldn’t want to find out.
So, I have some attitudes that might be considered ageist, ableist or gender-discriminatory. I may have some creepy racist stuff going on in the back of my psyche someplace (I don’t like the governments of China, Russia, North Korea, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Philippines and this makes me suspicious of anyone who chooses to remain living in those countries, but, a lot of them can’t leave. I may be forgetting other countries belonging in that list. I think they all share a dangerous autocratic trend. But look who we elected in the country that used to be the world leader!)
Mental and physical disabilities don’t mean that those of us who have them (and just about everyone will have a disability eventually) cannot lead contributory lives… but we need to assess what is realistic. But overall? There’s no reason why people cannot take on any work or relationship, or be granted the opportunity to try, or be assumed innocent, or be assumed to be an equal with a contribution to make, as long as they have the skill set and capability. I knew I could not be a waitress or a dancer, and even being an architect or real estate agent would have been really difficult physically for me. That’s me being discriminating and realistic; it’s not the same as discrimination coming from the outside.
I invite everyone to take a look at what we may have trailing along behind us.
Fantastic and so honest. The guilt I feel for unconsciously having the benefits of white privilege at the expense of other races. Though I have worked against all these prejudices in the situations I have been in, I feel I have been so ineffective because of my cowardice when dealing with those who are so aggressive against what I see as Christ’s call to “love the least of these”. Because of the prejudice and bullying I received for who I am, I have been afraid to confront.
I replied to you privately but I will say here that we each can only do what feels appropriate to us at the time. And kindness is always needed. I don’t so much confront (especially strangers) as ask why people feel as they do. And try to engage a conversation rather than tell them what I think they should think or feel. Most people are doing the best they can. It’s just that some people don’t have a very good “best.” Francine