It is amazing how a single exchange in a conversation can change your life.
A teacher saying “good job” about a project you worked your butt off on, a stranger screaming a racial epithet on a subway, or that special someone saying “I do.” Each of these examples must conjure up something similar in your memories, and you can trace how that one exchange has been a part of directing you to where you are today.
If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be spending most of my days helping Syrian refugees to make a life for themselves in America… I admit with all due humility that I wouldn’t have been too too surprised, but I would not have believed it if someone predicted the draconian extremes that the American give would try to go to harm these people–let alone succeed in any of them.
In the eight months I’ve been doing this work, I frequently recall a conversation I had theee years ago. I was serving my first year on the PTA of my children’s K-3 school, and I was the PTA’s representative on the School Leadership Team (SLT).
PTA members (not just me) expressed concerns over the school partnering with Chick-Fil-A on fundraisers. Our school district is mostly liberal, and many parents did not want any school activities to be associated with a company whose president was openly hostile toward the LGBT community.
When I brought this up as an agenda item at the SLT meeting, a parent member said, “We don’t want to upset any of our families who share those (CFA’s president’s) beliefs.”
My response may have seemed knee-jerk, but it was not. I carefully considered any possible reactions before I said, “So we don’t want to upset bigots and homophobes?”
Hands flew up with a chorus of “Whoa!” and “There’s no need for insults!”
I did my best to keep my cool as I fired back with, “I am not insulting anyone. I’m just calling it like it is.”
Never Give Up. Never Surrender.
If the words “bigot,” “racist,” “sexist,” or homophobe hurt someone’s feelings, that does not make that person a victim. The sting of those words is not the same as the stabbing pain that the word “nigger” causes a black person, “chink” for an Asian, “fag” for a gay person, “bitch” for a woman, or “wetback” for a Mexican. The bigot may deeply believe that the hurt they feel is equivalent, but people of conscience must not allow this belief to persist.
One’s religious beliefs do not justify bigotry, nor does one’s anger at a minority group’s perceived unfair advantages.
Sexism, racism, and homophobia are forms of violence. We must call this violence out when we see it, we must persist in labeling it as violence, and we must not allow the perpetrators to turn things around on us.
We don’t have to use words like “bigot.” There are many ways of attempting to reason with these people, and I applaud those who are able to do so peacefully and lovingly, even when things get ugly. But if we feel the need to point things out so bluntly, we must do so confident in our moral authority.
Many vulnerable humans depend on it.