On the subject of … isms

On the subject of isms, phobias, and … others(ism)?

Xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, racism, class-ism, elitism … are they really different?

Some of my acquaintances, co-workers and associates seem to think so.

I, like much of the human race, have been subjected to a number of “isms.” Racism is a theme that pops up frequently in my life, as does sexism. I believe I have experienced elitism, and class-ism, as well as xenophobia.

I know that I encounter racism here in America on a regular basis. I encountered it also in Italy – where, by the way – it is much more blatant, but far less frequent. It appears to be more effortless in America, and more of a thought-out, deliberate process in Italy. I suspect it is our long and gloried history of slavery, but that is another discussion.

I recall once when a lawyer friend of mine, who is brilliant, black, female and well-endowed, complained about opposing (white male) counsel treating her disrespectfully. She labeled it racism, while I labeled it sexism. We pondered it, but couldn’t really see the difference in how the two are conveyed.

On yet another occasion, I was discussing homophobia with a white, gay male co-worker. Of course, the issue of racism came up. However, he made it a point to tell me that homophobia was different from racism. I wasn’t sure I agreed, but conceded to his singular experience of homophobia, and his reference to black, gay males who made it a point to tell him that they were “black first, and gay second.”

Some time ago, I attended a workshop with a white, female friend of mine. The workshop was designed to create awareness around racist practices, and to begin discarding those practices and healing from them. At the end of the workshop, my friend spoke about racism, and sexism, stating that “sexism is different.”

Very recently, I wrote about the elitism of some in the San Francisco Bay Area. An acquaintance who is white and female, sent me a private message on Facebook in response to my blog. In it, she admitted to experiencing the elitism and snobbery of those in Marin County, but pointed out that I have a “double whammy” of dealing with elitism and racism.

I’ve heard the “double whammy” label before. It’s usually referencing the racism and sexism minority women have to deal with, rather than elitism and racism. I suppose that I could argue that I now have a “triple whammy” to deal with, or on some occasions, a “quadruple whammy” depending on whether or not I’m in the U.S. or abroad.

How are the “isms” different?

Well … they are about different categories of people, i.e., African Americans vs. Latinos vs. Asians vs. women vs. homosexuals vs. people from other countries vs. religion vs. economic status vs….?. Of course, a Latin American female, who is poor, under-educated, gay and a recent immigrant could face a number of isms and phobias. A recent white, male European may face only one. A white, Muslim American female could face three.

It seems that the only one who doesn’t face any “ism” in this country, is a white, financially comfortable male. Of course, some of the white males accuse others of “reverse discrimination.” But, that’s not really an “ism” and that it exists at all is open to question. Again, that’s another discussion.

So the categories are labels that some well-to-do white males have created and used, and are used by everyone else to categorize, label, and create divisions and differences.

And, most of us have bought into these labels and categories, and are convinced that they somehow make us different.

Does it feel different?

If someone is abused and called a “nigger,” does it feel different from being abused and called a “conniving slut?”

If someone is abused and called a “dirty faggot,” does it feel different from being abused and called a “towel-head terrorist?”

Does being called a “bean eater” feel different from being called “poor, white trash?”

Does “I hate you because you’re a woman” feel different from “I hate you because you’re black?”

If someone can explain how the impact is different, I’d love to hear from you.

Right now, at this very moment, I believe that the impact is the same. I believe that all of the “isms” are designed to make you feel smaller, convince you that you are somehow less, provide an excuse to discriminate against you and treat you badly. I believe that they are designed to disenfranchise you, to separate you and make you believe that it’s “us vs. them.” And sadly, I believe that those who cling to the belief that they are different, need to take a long, hard look at their own “isms” and insistence on clinging to what they believe is some thin sliver of privilege.

I believe that abuse, discrimination, bias and prejudice all feel the same to the recipient, no matter its label.

There is no difference.



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