Hey everyone! This is a follow-up to last week's post Wake Up and Smell the Real World, where I'm going to try and clarify a few things that were discussed in the comment thread.
First of all, I urge you to read these very interesting posts - the first one about about the movie business, and how film students, even film students who were not male, not able-bodied and not white found themselves caught up in responding to headshots of potential actors a certain way. Then there's this response, which isolates the fact that when you try to point out other people's unconscious prejudice, you're often accused of prejudice yourself.
As both these posts point out, the warped view of the world we're all presented with near-constantly by the media mixed with human instinct to 'type' other people according to difference means that none of us - NONE OF US - is free of unconscious prejudice. Imma say that again. NONE OF US. I'd put sparklers around that if I could. This is important.
I freely admit that I'm not free of prejudice. That's not a big admission to make because NONE OF US are. What matters is to be aware of this fact, and willing, when you have a response to something, to examine it and be honest about where that response comes from.
Let me elaborate. What is the usual reaction among your friends and family if you hint that something they have said or assumed may spring from prejudice? Any suggestion that they are not perfectly liberal, prejudice free, shiny-bright and unbiased? I bet it's defensiveness and anger. 'I'm not a racist/sexist/ableist/homophobe!' they cry, their brains filled with images of Neo-Nazis, evil, sweaty monsters, and vile, chuckling villains. 'How can you SAY that about me?' They don't listen to what you've actually said. They only react to in order to repudiate it.
Anger and defensiveness are a really good warning sign - because people only get angry and defensive when they have something to defend. That 'something' is their own image of themselves, the comfy assumptions that allow them to walk through the world feeling content with who they are. They know they're a good person, not a hateful, chuckling Neo-Nazi. Therefore they cannot be a racist/sexist/ableist/homophobic.
Except that they probably are.
I am. Every prejudice that those angry, defensive people have? I have too. They lurk there in the back of my mind, pretending that they're 'instinct' or 'common-sense' or 'realism' when actually, they are just bigotry.
That doesn't make me a horrible, hateful, chuckling Neo-Nazi. It just makes me not perfect. That's all. A work in progress. A person who is willing to be honest with themselves and the world.
And in admitting that, I become a far more able to recognise and reject prejudice than I ever was when I was striding through the world in my insulated bubble of I'm-A-Good-Person ignorance, refusing to admit that my actions could *possibly* be influenced by evolutionary imperatives to reject those who are different, and centuries of religious and secular bigotry, and a mass media who refuse to represent the world as it really is.
The moment you let go of that image of yourself as a perfect, shiny-bright Good Person who couldn't possibly harbour prejudice, is the moment you will begin truly working AGAINST prejudice. Honesty is the key. Honesty is the thing that allows you to confront your own ingrained assumptions about other people and then put them aside so that you can act, as much as possible, as if you were NOT prejudiced.
Try it. Go ahead. It doesn't hurt, I promise. Take a deep breath, and then say, out loud: "I am not perfect. I am flawed. I have ingrained prejudices. I will do my best to recognise and overcome them."
Doesn't it feel like a weight off your chest? To admit to yourself that you don't have to be perfect, that it's OKAY to have nasty, knee-jerk reactions to things, sometimes, so long as you're willing to make sure no one else suffers as a result?
Now that we've gone there, I link you to this post, which was prompted by the original Wake Up and Smell the Real World post, and which in turn prompted THIS post.
And the reason that response post is crucial? Is that as a creative person who tries to embrace diversity and who writes about a lot of characters who have experiences and come from backgrounds nothing like mine, I'm going to make mistakes. I'm going to write characters or create plots or situations that rub people up the wrong way. Some of those reactions will come from people who've put up with bigotry all their lives and who are just godammned sick of tripping over everyone else's privilege. And they're unlikely to give a flying pamplemoose about my ongoing project to kick bigotry in the behind. They're just going to say 'YOU SUCK' and walk away.
And that's OK. That's really the whole point of this post. It's not anyone else's job to educate me, or give me a pat on the head for trying really hard.
The correct response to having someone notice the fact that, despite my endeavors, I'm still flawed and unconsciously prejudiced, is NOT to flee back into the I'm-A-Good-Person bubble, claim that the ones telling me I suck are horrible, nasty, ungrateful and prejudiced themselves, and say sulkily: 'Fine! I'll just write about straight, white, able-bodied people from now on and THEN YOU'LL BE SORRY!.
Nor is it to curl into a ball on the floor, weeping, and bash my head repeatedly on the tiles chanting: "I am a terrible, horrible, no-good bigot who should be flayed UNTIL SHE IS SORRY!"
It's to listen to what other people have said, acknowledge that those reactions to my work are valid and true and real, and then decide if I can learn from them. Don't get me wrong. It is hard. But it's necessary. Because, I'm coming to realise, it's not enough for writers (or actors or artists or politicians or firemen or teachers or dog-walkers or CEOs) to write the change that they want to see in the world.
We have to BE the change we want to see in the world, and keep on being it, even knowing that we'll never be perfect - only better than we were before.
OK, I've been rambling on for a while here, so let's sum up. In order to fight prejudice in our day to day lives, we must:
- Step out of the I-Am-A-Good-Person bubble and admit that we are imperfect and flawed and prejudiced, like the rest of the world
- Be honest with ourselves when we say or do something as a result of prejudice
- Accept that fighting against prejudice is our own responsibility and our own choice and that no one owes us gratitude or enlightenment as a result
- Allow other people to tell us when we mess up without dismissing what they feel or fleeing back into the IAAGP bubble again, or trying to drink bleach because we STILL aren't perfect
- Rinse. Repeat.