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Showing posts with label #racism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #racism. Show all posts

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Blind spots: Judging yesterday by today's standards

I recently remembered a conversation I had with my daughter.  It reminded me of the need to be cautious in judging people by today's standards.  It was about two years ago and I was talking to my now 14 year old daughter about about something related to women's sports or something like that and I referred to college-age/young twenties women as 'girls'.  In talking with her, I had an epiphany.  It is most appropriate to refer to women over 18 as women, especially if they are no longer in high school.  At some some point in their childhood, it is appropriate to refer to female children as 'young lady/ladies' or 'young woman/women' also.  In any case, calling a woman 'girl' or 'little girl' can be considered demeaning of her, just as calling a man, 'boy' or little boy' would be.

You know, I really never thought about that particular item too much until my daughter was around 12.  It wasn't that I was trying to be disrespectful or demeaning, it's just what I had grown up with.  Heck, I've heard in many song a girlfriend or love interest referred to as 'little girl'.  Where I grew up nobody indicated that could be demeaning and perhaps few women felt comfortable complaining about it back in the day.  It was really only by chance in talking to my daughter that I realized that one day she would be a young adult and she wouldn't be 'girl' or 'little girl' anymore (and I wouldn't want her to be referred to as 'girl' anymore).  In essence, this was a blind spot.   This begs some questions: 
  • What are some 'blind spots' we have in society?
  • What causes or what is behind blind spots?    
  • Should we hold people responsible for unintentional blind spots?  That is, should we hold people of yesterday to today's standards?
It goes without saying that race has always been to one degree or another a blind spot in our society.  An interesting story.  In high school, I didn't remember the name of a classmate and a fellow student-athlete.  I called him the wrong name.  He said, "Don't worry, we all look alike.".  Not wanting to be a thought of as a jerk I let him know that race had nothing to do with it, that I just didn't remember his name and I grasped at the first name that seemed right to me.  I think he was giving me s**t as much as anything.  But, he did make a good point.   Often people have a hard time identifying that which they are not familiar with.  Growing up, I'd had few African American/black classmates.  So, I didn't have  enough exposure by high school to always recognize differences between people of that demographic as easily.  Maybe this was part to blame for my referring to my classmate by the wrong name?   Who can say for sure, but I'd be being dishonest if I said that wasn't a possibility.  It wouldn't have been intentionally insensitive, but still...  Ironically years later I had a friend in college who was born in Eritrea.  If she was an American, she'd be classified as an African American, but I digress.   Anyway, for much or most of her childhood she had seen very few blonde woman.  She confessed in a conversation that to her all blondes looked alike for a long time.  I thought it was mildly amusing.  But, it went to show me that 'blind spots' are universal, especially with regard to 'groups' you haven't been exposed to so much.

In my interaction with my daughter, I had realized that gender can be a blind spot.  Sometimes when talking about people of the opposite gender or even interacting with them, we can say things that are insensitive without necessarily even realizing it.   I was trying to relate to my daughter something about young women, probably sports but I don't remember.  But, as I mentioned previously, I referred to the group as 'girls'.   Now, part of it might have been that I recognized her as a girl and that teams or groups that she'd be associated with would be called girls (and I was trying to relate it to her) and part of it might have just been the culture I was raised in.   Now, gender blind spots just don't go one direction.   I have felt that men don't always talk about things that bother them and that can be taken as they don't care.  Sometimes, it is completely the opposite.  Sometimes, we compartmentalize things that are bothering us if we feel like there is nothing we can do about it at this time.

We have regional blind spots too.  We watched a film about John F. Kennedy.  Many of the kids in class had never heard a thick New England accent.  I remember vividly much of the class laughing at JFK on film when he first uttered the famous phrase, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".  I don't think those who laughed had contempt or malice in their heart for a fellow countryman, but instead were just totally caught off guard by the thick accent.  If you watch enough comedy specials you will probably run across people from different regions or locals who poke fun of those whom they grew up with.   While there is some truth to what they poke fun at, it is often a complete stereotyping.    Unfortunately, I think this bleeds into how we actually think about others. 

I could literally go on about instances of blind spots within our society and among groups, but I think you get the point.

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So, now that the idea of blind spots has been addressed, I think the next question to ask  is what leads to these 'blind spots'.   I will list what I believe some factors are in the creation of 'blind spots' (and some will sound familiar, I'm sure).  This list of factors isn't meant as an excuse for and a rationalizing of blind spots being okay, but more of a 'how we got there' explanation.   I believe everyone could make there own lists, but here is a list of factors I believe lead to blind spots. 
  • Lack of exposure to people that are different than us.
    • Unfortunately, sometimes you don't know what you don't know.   My friend in college I'm sure she wasn't trying to be racist or anything.  She just literally hadn't been exposed to so many blondes and as a result had a hard time distinguishing among them initially.
    • When we don't know about "others" from personal experience we go by what we've heard about them or what we've seen in a limited, often bias, setting.   If there is anything I understand about people is the need for some level of certainty.  Sometimes, this leads to taking whatever we can have or 'think we know' to fill in the gaps.  Unfortunately, often what we 'know' or 'figure' about others isn't necessarily consistent with reality.  
  • Those around us (or society) were not or seemed to not be fazed by that which bothers people today.  
    • In my case, I've heard men and sometimes even women talk about young adult women as 'girls'.  So, for me it made it seem like it was okay.  I've heard songs referred to an adult love interest as 'little girl' and little push back.  To me, I thought that reference was 'cringeworthy' but not necessarily that big of a deal.   
    • Growing up, a married woman was often rereferred to as "Mrs. <husband's full name>.   For example, if a woman's maiden name was Jane Thomas and her husband's name was John Smith, her married name  be referred to as Mrs. John Smith as opposed to Mrs. Jane Smith or however she wanted herself referred to as.  Today for much of society that seems dismissive of a married woman's individuality.  But, back when I was growing up that was common and from what I could tell largely accepted. 
    • Growing up I heard what we call African American or black people referred to as colored people or the other 'n' word.  But, growing up those references seemed common and heck two organizations are founded with those labels UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).  To older people--not of the demographic--who grew up with those labels being thrown around and even seemingly well accepted among the referenced group, referring to African American or black people as "Colored" or "Negro" was considered more normal and uncontroversial (at least from what I could tell).  To most people today, not only do the labels seem dated, but degrading.  However, back in the day they were more widely accepted.
  • Those closest to us modelled bad behavior for us.
    • If our parents and adults close to us privately--or not so privately--referred to a racial or ethnic group a certain way that wasn't necessarily complimentary, essentially they were condoning the slurs.
    • If those around us made a sexist references often enough, we might not because numb to them.  In other words, misogamy or misandry was normalized in such a way that we might not recognize it as such when we heard it.
    • In our earliest, most formative years, we are literary are influenced the most.  In other words, we are trained essentially to think and/or behave a certain way.   Unfortunately for many, the 'training' is on poor thinking and/or behavior.  Early training, especially if complemented by similar outside the home training, can be hard to easily overcome or as some say 'deprogram'.
  • Biases are not always blatantly obvious. 
    • Some things in our society were blatantly wrong from the beginning, such as slavery and the mistreatment of those enslaved, but were tolerated for too long.
    • Referring to African Americans as 'underprivileged' can seem like 'understanding the historical imbalances', but it can also unfairly stereotype many people who are doing just fine, thank you.
    • Using the term 'model minority' for people of Asian descent can sound complimentary, but can be insulting.  It obviously is insulting to those minorities who aren't of Asian descent.  However, it can be dismissive of the individual differences within the group and hold people of that group to an unreasonably high standard.
Those I believe are just some factors in why we have blind spots in today's society.  Over time, many things that were seen as acceptable, or at least weren't condemned as non-acceptable, have changed.  As our knowledge base has grown, as our appreciation for differences in others has grown.  As our understanding of what is 'fair' has grown and as our exposure to others and other cultures has grown, we've shed some of the 'old thinking' that we had.   Compared to 'yesterday', it can be argued that women seen as equals in importance.  In our society, minorities are treated in popular culture as equals (in a way that they hadn't been before), even if society at large still has a lot of worked to do on that.  Anyway, many standards today weren't always standards of yesteryear.  This begs the question, how should we judge people of yesteryear who are long gone or judge people who were still around relative to their thinking and behavior of the past?

It's easy to condemn others based on standards of today.  It can be the functional equivalent of being a 'Monday-morning' quarterback.   That is, some things with the societal mindset or understanding of today are completely obvious in a way that they weren't 'back in the day'.  Alternatively, some thinking/behaviors of yesteryear were wrong even back then and there was enough information back then to know.   That is, in applying the 'golden rule' test back then,  those things would have clearly failed it.  Anyway, it is important that we consider a few things before we condemn those of yesteryear by standards of today.  This is especially crucial when we consider that one day what seems 'normal' or 'acceptable' today could easily be considered 'condemnable' by the standards at some time in the distant (or not too distant future).  It is important to keep in mind the measure by which we judge others today could be the measure by which we are judged tomorrow.  That being said, here are some factors in judging 'yesterday' by today's standards.
  • Did the person have anyone in their life that firmly stood up and/or provided a strong counterbalance to the thinking/behavior they were taught?  
    • It is hard to model behavior/thinking that you never see or have never been taught. 
    • A weak counterbalance may not be respected, but instead be seen as weakness.
  • Was there a strong counter-movement to the prevailing wisdom?
    • Sometimes prevailing wisdom is so pervasive that there is little space for any other thinking to occupy.   I would imagine that this is an intentional feature of autocratic societies.  
    • Sometimes the counter-movement can be one person or just a few people if they have have a strong resolve and strong presence.  Martin Luther took on the Catholic church.  He was just one person, but he led a historical break from the Catholic church.
    • If there was no good prevailing movement to prevailing wisdom, there maybe little for young people of good character to hold onto.
  • Is there any context in which the behavior or thinking can be seen as anything other than breaking the golden rule?
    • Luke 6:31 says, "And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them and the Declaration of Independence tell us "All men are created equal..."
    • Most people, even back then I imagine would not have wanted to be slaves or to been treated as second class citizens.
    • So, the idea that slavery or Jim Crow could not be understood to be unfair or unjust, even back then, is seemingly ridiculous. 
  • Is there a possibility of an innocent misunderstanding?
    • Sometimes slights are tolerated by others for so long and seemingly accepted or "approved".  This can lead to the idea that the slight isn't really a slight, but showing appreciation or acceptance.  
    • In reality such slights are often overlooked by those not wanting to be accepted, those that are too polite to say otherwise and/or those not wanting to rock the boat.
  • Was the person in question ever subjected to an alternative point of view and how did they take it?  Do they seem contrite about their 'stinking' thinking/behavior of yesteryear.
    • If your upbringing leads to unintentional insensitivity, but you attempt to correct the poor behavior when you are made aware of the offensive nature to it, there will tend to be a lot more forgiveness.
    • When you continue the poor behavior even after it has been reinforced that behavior could be considered offensive, you are all but begging to be judged.
  • Objectively, if subjected to the same societal forces of the one we are judging, how would we respond?
    • Can we honestly say that we'd have been the 'voice of wisdom' in a sea of well established and protected ignorance?
    • It is easy to champion a cause today when it is widely accepted or blessed.  However,  would you have championed the same cause when there was a cost to do so and doing so wasn't as widely popular? 
  • Does the person(s) seem contrite about their immature thinking or behavior of their youth in yesteryear?  Are they attempting to atone for it?
    • If they have worked make adjustments to said thinking or behavior, it is easier not to condemn then in perpetuity.
    • People, especially those exposed to widespread ignorance in their youth, can do and say ignorant things.   The measure of a person can often be seen in how they mature.
    • This is not to condone or remove all consequences for youthful ignorance, but to allow that people can grow and change and to factor that in when judging it.  In fact, some of the worst 'sinners' can become 'saints' over time.
  • Does the person in question attempt to make excuses for our justify their poor behavior yesteryear?  
    • If so, it would appear they that they are more interested in their reputation than of how they treat others.
    • Sometimes the best thing to do is to own your ignorance and poor behavior of yesteryear rather than fight to explain it away.
I've always felt like people have the capacity for selfish and inconsiderate behavior.  However, I have also felt like people have the capacity to show their better nature.  Sometimes, all it takes is learning what their better nature would look like with regard to treating their fellow man/woman.  Of course, as we learn more and/or have had the luxury of time/history to clarify things, what seems obvious now as to what is our better nature, may not have been obvious historically.  It is important to recognize this as a reason for yesterday's not so perfect behavior/thinking, but not as an effort to fully escape culpability for such.   Ultimately, the question of whether we should judge harshly yesterday can be answered like this:  Should they have realized their bad thinking/behavior was bad with the information, influences and understanding of the golden rule we had at the time?  If so, it is completely fair to judge yesterday by today's standards.  If not, then judging yesterday by today's standards is a dangerous task that could come back and bite us in the ass if and when the standards of today are replaced and judged by the standards of tomorrow.

Just my thoughts for today,
Rich



I believe Mathew 7:1-2 gives us guidance and warning of judging others.  


This is not to say we should have no standards, but to realize that excessive judgement of others can come back and bite you.