racism & homophobia in developing & advanced nations

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: December 06, 2016

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Submitted: December 06, 2016



I wrote this post about two months ago. I did not post it as it related to issues of racism and prejudice, and I wanted to be sure that my words were good, empowering & educational, not divisive. I think it is good and now I post it.

As I begin this writing today, I am wondering whether this would be a good blog or better to be part of this book that I’m writing. One of the challenges of writing a book for me, especially when it is on factual topics, is figuring out the most effective way to express my ideas and thinking. My way of looking at things in the world is fairly unique, and does not really fit so neatly into one specific subject. For example, I like to talk and think about racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, socialism, imperialism and many other issues, but at the same time I like the idea of blending ideological and theoretical thinking with real life experiences and conversations. I also like the idea of breaking new territory in the sense of looking at different ideologies and gleaning the best of each. For example, I am a democratic socialist, but I am equally committed to democratic ideals, I believe that effective leadership is important, but I also believe in the importance of empowering and respecting ordinary people. While I have often pushed a certain viewpoint with intensity, I am equally open to questioning and challenging aspects of any idea or action. From such conversations, can emerge a better society where we promote best aspects, while also saying no to certain ideas if they do not make sense.

This has been an interesting weekend in terms of conversations about racism. For me as a white person, a person whose ancestors all came from Europe, some of the situations that I have been dealing with, are a little bit interesting. On Friday night I had a heated conversation with an African American woman here in Sosua and on Saturday I had another heated conversation with a  Facebook friend who lives in South Africa. In both situations, I kind of seemed like the defensive white guy, but my thinking is that eliminating racism and all other forms of discrimination, as well as any elitism or privilege, requires all people to stand as equals in all conversations. It may feel a little bit uncomfortable for either person, but ultimately in order to develop honest and genuine improvement in the world, we all have to stand as equals.

One of the things that makes it easier for me to speak my truth, is because of my sexuality. No matter who I am talking with, I have an advantage through historical experiences of prejudice and violence that was meted out on gay people, that I have my own perspective on how prejudice feels, and an ability to think logically about that oppression, which then enables me to move towards rational ideas and strategies in thinking about all other relations between different groups of people.

The first conversation on Friday night with my new friend from Washington DC, was something that I have been noticing over the last few years, as various minorities move into more positions of leadership. As people gain their voices, they are often speaking up about issues that had been kept secret for a long time such as slavery and racism. But the problem is that as these voices become louder, they are often confused in their thinking, based on hurts and injustices that have been done to them or the group that they belong to. One of the advantages for me about being gay, is that for a long time, prejudice against gay people was tolerated and promoted by many. Changes have only occurred recently, and underneath the surface the prejudices still remain. Even in many countries today gay people are still being murdered, even by governments. Because of this ongoing questionable activity, it is worthwhile for me to be strategic, rather than loudly voiced in many situations. An advantage in operating this way, is that rather than voicing with emotion, there tends to be more analysis of why things are as they are, understanding the history of this discrimination, and strategising about the path to a future where freedom, decency & respect is enjoyed by everyone.

My friend from Washington DC  had passion about racism;  it was clearly evident that she also was very angry and upset about the history, and the ongoing wrongs to do with racism. It occurred to me that she is feeling very impacted by events of the past and the present.

I guess it is a fine line between neutrality, understanding, analysis versus anger, indignation and rage for decency.

I cannot understand how it must feel for black people living in the United States especially in certain states, to not know how safe they are in relation to the police, based largely on race. This has become such a powder keg this year in the US and understandably so. So many African American men have been killed by police, and in so many situations where the black guy was following police orders and not acting in any threatening way. To me, this indicates how damaged US society still remains. The US may have had a black president, and as a consequence there has been a rise of black middle class, but as the working class becomes poorer, the majority of black people are taken down on that journey. It looks to me, like the US never really dealt with its history of slavery. I think to be fair, that it is kind of like two cultures in clashing mode. Combined with fear based media which usually sensationalises events for the day, rather than developing thinking about these significant topics. Slavery may have ended more than a century ago, but there was a civil war to bring it about, so not all people of the US at the time had agreement to end slavery at all. Many of those white families from that time, will have continued to stay separated from black communities. Segregation continued in the south until the 1960s and it took many demonstrations and protests and legal actions to bring change, not that everyone agreed or approved of equality. It is a bit like change having occurred but not necessarily approved by everyone. There was a series called roots in the 1970s, recently remade, which was probably the most ground-breaking conversation that people in the US have had about the history of slavery. But at the end of the day, it still comes down to people and where they are living, and who they live near, and who goes to the same schools as their children, and whether they make an effort to interact with people different to themselves. As a group to generalise, I think a lot of white people are scared of black people. Many black people are angry about the past, and current situations of violence and different opportunities, and many white people are scared of that. There is a connection of violence to black people in the US. Violence is often connected to poverty and lack of opportunity. Violence is often connected to drugs and other crime. Drugs are often connected to groups who have had to deal with various trauma. The violence that was acted out onto slaves would have then often be passed from adults to children creating cycles of violence. Slavery & brutality made people tough. Only the tough survived.

But to understand racism in its full entirety, and to get to a position to analyse it in order to eliminate it, it is very useful to study European history, and all history for that matter.

At the time that slavery began, the mindset of people living in Europe was that they were a superior race, and that they had God given entitlement to rule other groups of people. Today a lot of people, will say such things as how could they be like that? Really, all that is saying is that persons anger and outrage that such a thing was allowed to happen. When people understand the mindset of that time, then they understand why such a thing was able to happen. Similarly, the racism that is still common in the south of the US is a bit similar. If you grow up in a family where people teach you that white people are better or more intelligent or anything else, it is quite likely that you will come to believe it too. Children so often will believe the ideas passed to them by their parents without even questioning. As education advances, schools have an opportunity to teach children history, helping them to understand why these events happened, to do it in a way where no one is portrayed as the villain, and where strategies emerge to break down all barriers.

The conversation with my Washington friend had a lot of righteous anger about how wrong racism is and I think being here in the Dominican Republic makes me see that in some ways, her point of view is skewed towards her own experience and Western privilege, even though she is black. Her experience living in the US is vastly different to the experience of Dominicans or Haitians. I respect that she experiences racism, but in her situation she is not experiencing economic hardship. However, a big group of African Americans do; there is as mentioned a big chunk of African Americans economically at the bottom of the heap in the US system. But even then, the US working poor still have far better situations than most people in the developing world.

I think one of the issues about pecking orders of injustice or discrimination or oppression or whatever else you want to call it, is that we all, or almost all, experience or identify with some group that gets taken advantage of by others. To me, understanding all these different identities that separate us off from each other, have the potential to truly transform our global society, simply by us all acknowledging them, being aware of them, talking about them, and envisioning a future where no forms of harm are permitted. She may be black but she comes from the US. She may be a woman but she is heterosexual. So all these different identities mesh together to create positions of entitlement or opportunity that others do not get to enjoy. For me I may be white but I am gay and I come from New Zealand. All these different positions or identities give us different places in a pecking order, it has potential to shake our loyalty or not to the current economic system of exploitation, which sees between two and 4 billion people living in poverty.

To me, the central issue that I felt as I spoke to my new friend was that while she was black, she was from the US. Over the years I have had many friends who come from the US, and as a group of entitled people in the world, you will not find any greater. It’s all about them! And there lies the challenge because in my experience of many Americans, their lives revolve highly around themselves. Coming from New Zealand, to me is a great privilege. We have advantage both culturally and economically as a western nation, we may not feel as wealthy or significant as Americans, but we are better educated and we see much more of how the world works than a lot of Americans to. When you live in an imperialist country, that engages in military activity with great regularity, brainwashing by media is essential to keeping the people from changing the situation.

The other incident over the weekend, involved a friend from South Africa who posted a message- meme on Facebook saying that black people were the supreme race. I challenged him on this post, and his response was a mixture of that most white people think the same about their own group, and that I was just being too sensitive. It is an awkward situation as a white person to be challenging this kind of message. But having been involved in many antiracism activities over the years, it actually fits in with my moral imperative to eliminate all forms of racism or discrimination. I know that there is a viewpoint by some that black people cannot be racist, because racism relates to power, and that black people are in a position of powerlessness. As the world shifts however and changes occur in different places, a more flexible way of viewing issues is called for. If some black people have experienced violence and mistreatment because of racism, they may feel benefit from asserting that they are the supreme race, the race of God’s choice. However, any advantage of this kind has to be seen in relation to damage that it may cause in preventing alliances between different groups. Such a statement is not going to build better partnership between black people and people of other colours. Any movements that seek to improve the world, need to be continually asserting the equity of all people. I explained to my friend that the message he was posting was pretty similar to messages made by apartheid South Africa that white people were supreme.

What this indicates to me once again, is how vital education is for ending all forms of racism and discrimination. If we do not understand the history of racism or any other issue, and we are mainly just responding to an incident or a group of incidents, it is easy to take an emotional response rather than seeing the situation with more logic and with the ability to strategise for effective change in transition.

As I often say to friends, whether a person is a billionaire and they are white, black, Jewish, Chinese, to me the ethnicity is not going to make it ok that they come from some minority. The world does not need billionaires while others struggle to survive. And this insight is very important at this time in our history. Obama has enjoyed 8 years allowing corporations to gain more wealth while average Americans lose more. Many people, especially a lot of black people & progressives, have a perception that they were in a better situation because their president was black, when in fact the money kept flowing to the rich. There was however, a new feeling of social safety, but poverty intensified as corporations continued on their rollercoaster journey.

Watch what happens when people who come from poverty or other lack of opportunity or power get some. Without good education about the history of capitalism and imperialism and all forms of mistreatment, such people are easy prey to become willing agents of maintaining and creating elites and hierarchies. They will often be one issue liberationists: gay people who support gay rights, black people who support black rights etc. They have a higher chance than usual to connect the dots and support effective policy for all who have been denied decency, and there is a good chance that they will support the rights of one or two other groups, but a commitment to fundamental change they will not possess. Without education about how the system exploits for the advantage of a minority, people coming from positions of disempowerment or poverty, will eagerly move into a new position of power and prestige. Those in the society who have established positions of stability and security and therefore best access to education, either remain conformed in their position of entitlement, or switch to realising that fundamental change is essential.

So, my concluding remarks about this topic would be that while my African American friend had relatedness to Haitians and many Dominicans based on ancestors being slaves, she does live in a different situation too. Like the people of Hispaniola, she experiences prejudice and discrimination based around racism. Similarly, being gay as a Westerner, I can be in situations where I too, can experience discrimination or danger, so I share similar challenges to gay people here on the island. But, she and I experience different situations to most of the people living here. Neither of us are in a situation where we struggle to find food for our families. Neither of us struggle to find money to buy medicine or to get good medical assistance. Both of us have received good education and had jobs that enabled us to save money. It may not have always been easy for either of us, and there can be no doubt that both of us worked hard to achieve our successes. Both of us would have experienced discrimination or fear of discrimination or rejection. But the point still remains that our conditions living in Western nations, has given us opportunities that are not available to most Haitians or Dominicans. So, there is a connection for her around racism, and for me around homophobia, with similar people here in these nations, but there are also dramatic and fundamental differences too. Having said that, our sense of connection based on these identities, enables us to strengthen our connection to the people living here, and to each other. The difference for the two of us compared to most people here, is the degree of opportunity and prosperity available to us. If we come from a place of true honesty and no deception, then we must realise, that nothing less than the total eradication of poverty across the planet is required to eliminate other issues like racism, seeing the connection of the poorest nations being mainly where African or African descent people live.

The poor and minority ethnicities love Rhianna and her wealth because she is one of them and rising or succeeding. Same with the Kardashians because again they have no background as coming from the elite and have ethnicity too. But this action is a sell out by people to their true improved situation for themselves, their families, their children and their communities. One person gets to own a 20 million $ house in Beverly Hills while everyone else struggles. The American dream. But everyone hopes that by staying loyal it might come to them too. It can come to everyone, but not on that scale, but wouldn’t it be better for everyone to live well, the world over? It is achievable, but to get there we have to select leaders who have that commitment.

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