Talking About Bigotry

Since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, a lot of privileged people in the United States (and globally) have started having conversations about police brutality and bigotry that they haven’t had before. Within the last month, even as the Supreme Court established a precedent that protected LGBTQ+ people from workplace discrimination, the Trump Administration rolled back healthcare protections for those same folks. Combined with the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, these last two months have been devastating for minorities.

These problems are not new; they’re just suddenly newsworthy. LGBTQ+ folks have always faced discrimination, as have the poor and racial minorities. As those with privilege start to recognize the scope of these problems, I think it’s appropriate to reevaluate the language that we use to talk about discrimination.

As someone pointed out to me recently, the phrases we use to discuss discrimination and bigotry tend to place the onus on the victim. For example, we might say that someone is “fired for being black,” or was “not hired for being visibly gay,” rather than saying that “their boss was racist” or “the hiring manager was homophobic.” The identity and characteristics of the person being discriminated against are singled out as the cause of bigoted outcomes, rather than the bigotry of the other actor. In fact, a person being black or gay doesn’t lead to discrimination: bigotry does.

This isn’t to say that anyone that uses these phrases is victim blaming. This is how I tend to phrase this sentiment as well. It’s extremely common in the United States to use this framing. However, I think this needs to change. Although it’s a subtle nuance of the conversation, I think this framing tends to put too much blame on the victims of bigotry and not on its perpetrators. As a privileged person, it is my duty to attempt to make the world better for those with less power; this might be one way to start.