Sunday, March 29, 2015

I'm about to piss everyone off--my take on bigotry esp in regards to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

What's going on in Indiana makes me enormously sad. Most of the time, as a lesbian, I feel safe, accepted and loved by the people in my life. 

It's when something like RFRA comes around that I'm made aware that I'm living in a bubble.

It's uncomfortable. Uncomfortable for me because I now see in the clear light of day what people will do when allowed to let their prejudices run free. 

The ugly rider of RFRA is that you can exclude anyone from your business and call it "religious freedom".

So blatant. Shocking to see how thin the veneer of civility was--all some people needed was a little permission to act on their intolerances.

We have laws in place against this kind of behavior because it keeps the peace. But it doesn't change people. I would love it if we didn't need laws to promote civility and tolerance. Apparently the thirst to express intolerance is so great that a whole state needed a law to make it so (and how many other states will be emboldened to take similar measures--that remains to be seen).

All I want is for there to be an acknowledgement that RFRA really isn't about God or even religion. RFRA is a license to act out on one of the ugliest human impulses--the impulse to separate out and dominate people unlike ourselves because of differences in beliefs, practices and innate qualities. 

Why? Because there are people who are terrified of losing their little place of privilege in a vast, unruly universe.

We all think we are good people until our behavior shows otherwise.

A couple years ago I was eating dinner with the family of a good friend in their home--this friend is someone who I believe loves and cares about me. During the dinner banter his daughter quipped how something was "so gay". I shot her a look and she got very quiet. I don't know if anyone else heard what she said but the banter just kept on. I took note. It shocked me. It also made me very sad.

We think we are so cool and inclusive to have a friend unlike ourselves until our biases show. 

I don't say these things because I am enlightened. I say these things because I know I am biased.

When I was in my early 30s, I moved to San Diego. I had lived most of my life in Northern California and was moving down the state to follow my partner. It was a big deal for me at the time--I was leaving my family and everything familiar. Still, I was willing to try something new so south I went.

The exhausting twelve-hour drive south in the suspension-free diesel truck killed my body--by the time we arrived I was a physical wreck running on fumes.

As we pulled up to our new home as the sun was setting. In my fatigue and emotional fragility I noticed one thing that I had never thought of until that moment.

We had moved into a predominantly non-white neighborhood.

The neighbors, the stores, and all the signs showed me loud and clear that I wasn't living in middle class San Jose any longer.

For the first time in my life I was going to live in a place where most people didn't look like me. The realization was unsettling because up until that moment I thought I was color blind.

I was the nice, liberal, white, lesbian who read all the right books and thought I "got it" when we discussed white privilege. Apparently not.

Although I came to it unconsciously, my idea of diversity meant adding non-whites to a pool that was already very white and would continue to be mostly white.

Up until that time I never could have imagined that I could share anything in common with people that I saw as hateful and bigoted, but I was blind to a bias that only needed a moment of vulnerability to show itself. 

Here is the thing. Everyone has biases--biases that remain largely unchallenged but affect how decisions get made and others get treated.

I don't think I've transcended my bias--I'm just aware it has an influence that I need to actively question.

We think we are good people--not hateful and certainly not bigots but then again, we start to get uncomfortable when some of our perceptions of normal get shook up.

Just because you have a lesbian friend at work, that doesn't mean every other thought you have about gays will be negated. And for those people who never spend any time with gays or anyone who falls outside their cultural norm, there are even fewer challenges to those biases.

Recently I read this remark made by Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference:

“So now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that”

The headlines read that RGB was calling for an all female SCOTUS. I heard something different. It is still such a radical and upsetting idea that women can serve as Supreme Court justices that the idea that the entire court would be comprised of women tells us that don't view the talent pool in such an unbiased fashion. Who would represent men? some will ask yet we unquestioningly expect that a predominantly male court would be less biased towards their own interests.

If the talent pool was actually based on talent and ability, things would look a lot different. We could expect that the right people for the job might all be women, or all black or a combination not comprised in any of the pat diversity objectives that show "progress".

When we try to influence diversity we go for "improved" results. We aren't very hopeful that we can effect much change so we'll just improve the same broken old machine guaranteeing we stay sort of comfortably the same.

Same until it's not the same.


When I see things like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, what I see is an acknowledgement that there is a statistically significant amount of people who don't even want modest improvements. They would prefer to change the physical world so it more closely aligns to their biases-- a desperate last attempt to retain an outdated model.

But things are changing. The more you fight change, the more painful change is.

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