Let’s stop treating everyone the same

“It’s hard when people claim to treat you as a person, but their concept of “person” is so centered on the Caucasian experience … But I’m NOT white. My race is a significant part of my personhood. It affects how I experience things, including jokes about Asians.”

I’d never thought about this aspect of “colour blindness” before I read the above quote in an Empathize This cartoon (see below) created by an anonymous Asian American woman and published on Upworthy. By not acknowledging a person of colour’s race and seeing them as “just another person”, I’m actually ignoring an essential part of who they are, an identity that does impact their life every day, whether I like it or not. As a white guy, my default perception of a “person’s” life experience is white, and so treating a person of colour like my default person is essentially whitewashing them and erasing a part of them that I cannot fully empathise with, no matter how hard I try.

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This cartoon has been especially topical this month, as February is Black History Month in the USA. Today, the general history we learn has still been recorded and is still retold from a white man’s perspective, even when discussing key elements in the black liberation struggle during apartheid and slavery in the USA. It would be easy for a white man like me to ignore the reality that the oppression of the past still impacts the lives of black people today, in terms of income, opportunities and tacit prejudice that I take for granted as simply the way the world works.

I don’t want to detract from that conversation about black heritage, but I do believe that this “blindness” to someone’s individual personhood is not just a racial problem. It also applies to unconscious discrimination of women, people who identify as LGBTQ, and people with disabilities.

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As an amputee, I’m aware of how others often behave thoughtlessly and insensitively to people with disabilities. Sometimes I’ll arrive at an event I’ve been invited to, only to realise there are activities I can’t take part in, toilets I can’t access, or a large staircase in my way. I try to be as independent as possible, and I don’t mind climbing steps on my hands and stumps, but I still need someone to carry my wheelchair. I often find such situations humiliating, even though most people are more than willing to help. More importantly,  different people with other disabilities may not be able to manage this well.

How can someone make circumstances like these easier for me and other people with disabilities? Obviously, it is not always possible to remove every obstacle in the way, and I would hate to live such a limited life that I only go to places that are easy for me to navigate. It means a great deal to me, however, when someone has already considered beforehand all the challenges I might face and given some thought to how they can help, without me needing to ask for it. I am incredibly grateful when someone has given my disability some thought and come up with a plan.

In my experience, people are more conscious of being sensitive to those with disabilities than to people who identify as LGBTQ. As a gay man, I often feel uncomfortable about the way others joke about LGBTQ matters and offer opinions that are clearly not based on any knowledge or understanding of someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bi or trans. I tense up every time someone in my office or in the mall mocks a colleague or friend with that throwaway line, “That’s so gay.” It makes me feel worthless, scorned and shamed, even though it isn’t being directed at me personally.

Of course we all want people to see beyond our differences – our disability, race, and sexual identity – to the essence of who we are. I’m only just beginning to understand, however, that our differences are not merely optional adjectives attached to the periphery of our being – they are inherent to that very same essence we want others to know of ourselves. It’s time we realised that respect and equality is not about overlooking our differences, but about acknowledging and honouring those differences in one another.

Below is the full comic that inspired this post, but check out others created by members of minority groups on Empathize This.

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LGBT History Month 2017

This month is LGBT History Month in the UK. The idea of the month is to reflect on the history of the LGBT community and also think about how the community may evolve from here. The guys over at Carvaka thought it would be a good idea (and I agree by the way!) to produce an infographic to celebrate all that is great about the LGBT community to mark the month. The graphic lists some of the community’s most successful people, which include Giorgio Armani, Peter Thiel, David Geffen, Megan Ellison and Elton John.

To show just how far the community has come in securing equal marital rights for its members, the infographic shows all of the countries in the world where same-sex marriage is now fully recognised. However, there is still much work to do, particularly in Russia, the Middle East and much of Africa where prejudice is still common. Some interesting stats are also included, such as that 1.7% of the UK population identify as being part of the LGBT community, but this number rises to 3.3% when people aged 17-24 are analysed. This disparity points to a lost generation of older LGBT people who could never bring themselves to come out; it is through initiatives such as LGBT History Month that these people are encouraged to be who they really are without fear of prejudice or ridicule.

I hope you enjoy this infographic and during the month of February reflect on from whence the community has come, all that is great about it and how it might develop into the future. Happy LGBT History Month!

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A gay homophobe

I am gay and I used to be a homophobe. I never voiced it and I never targeted it outwardly at anyone, but I used to resent flamboyant gay men, because they made it look so easy to be themselves and not care what anyone thought of them. Although I identified with them very strongly, I did not allow myself to express that part of myself. My greatest desire was to fit in and be accepted by the mainstream, so I tried to stifle any mannerisms and preferences that might give me away as gay.

That’s so gay

Cards Against Humanity | Calculating every mannerism so as not to suggest homosexuality

This card from the game Cards Against Humanity sums up 15 years of my life

My internalised homophobia was taken to ridiculous lengths. I refused to admit listening to (and enjoying) music by artists like Adam Lambert, Village People, Scissor Sisters and the Pet Shop Boys, who were all obviously associated with LGBT themes. I was careful not to dress too well and faked an ineptitude for fashion.

Even spending time with other gay people was a risk, because my natural proclivities seemed to be magnified in their company and I always feared I would set their gaydar buzzing. Most of the time it seemed my efforts were unsuccessful, as I still got picked out as gay.

Not alone

Now that I am out of the closet, my obsessions with Katy Perry, Glee and Kylie Minogue are common knowledge, but I am still struggling to undo the legacy of prejudices I developed out of fear of myself. I am sure that I am not the only one.

I am strongly opposed to homophobia and I believe that everyone should be free to embrace who they are without fear of judgment or harassment. Rejecting a personal trait within yourself can only lead to you rejecting it in others. Isn’t life difficult enough as it is, without us persecuting ourselves and those like us?