Even to me, it seems like gay people are everywhere these days. You can’t swing a cat (not that you should, not you should) without hitting one. It’s not that homosexuality is occurring more frequently these days, it’s just that more and more individuals have chosen not to live in the closet, regardless of where on the spectrum they might be. And if you include the L’s, the B’s, the T’s, and the Q’s, you don’t even need a cat.
(As an aside, can the divinely creative community that brought us everything from the rainbow flag to the AIDS quilt please create an acronym or confiscate a word to describe and include all of us before our identifier becomes as long as a phone number?)
Now I suppose some might question my reference to a “gay spectrum,” but anyone who knows me and at least one other gay man knows there is, in fact, a spectrum. (Unless the other one is Brother Boy, who arguably has the most extreme case of “homosexuality” ever recorded. Bar none.) Given that being gay is part sensibility and part sexuality, those with—shall we say—milder cases can operate in the world without setting off anyone’s gaydar, while some of us (my peeps!) get clocked as a do-funny before we even open our mouths and remove all doubt.
Having grown up in the segregated South, where LGBTQ folks were closeted, and black people “knew their place,” I tend to wonder about another spectrum that has to do with deep seated and sometimes unrecognized attitudes about race. So I consulted my old friend Miss Merriam Webster to see if she could shed some light on the actual meanings of the words being bandied about.
First of all, Miss Merriam told me that the word “racism” was not in use prior to the early 20th Century. Gee, we didn’t even a word for it during the years of slavery. But what about some of those words?
So let’s consider Schulyer who works in Human Resources and is charged with sorting through job resumes. He comes across names that look Latino or Asian or African American, and he chooses not to push that resume forward because that applicant might not be a good “fit” and might even bring some conflict into the workplace. That’s his bias affecting his decision making, and that would be accurately described as “prejudiced.”
If that bias is further backed up with intolerance or even hatred of the applicant’s group, that moves his action over to a display of “bigotry”—which makes him a bigot. Going another step down, if Schulyer’s rejection is predicated on his belief in the superiority of one race over another and he will seek a qualified candidate from the better one, that is racism—making him a racist.
And then the next step, whereby Schulyer actually is advocating for this superiority. In that case, he is, in fact, a supremacist. He need not be a card carrying member of the KKK or any other hate group to fall into this category.
But in the end, regardless of where he falls on the spectrum, Schulyer’s action systematically excludes a candidate for consideration based on his own feelings about race. This is but one example of how this problem manifests itself every single day.
So while politicians try to peg each other on where another politician falls on the spectrum, the majority of folks (white folks, that is) continue to process through a generations long bombardment of racial stereotyping and profiling that has been delivered through movies, television and family dinners.
It seeps out even on the progressive side of the equation, where people claim to know better. “Electability” is an example of code in that conversation. And claiming to “just not like” a candidate is a lazy way to diminish a qualified person without revealing any bias.
Stealing a line from my publisher, some folks are so “woke” they can’t sleep at night, but parroting anybody’s talking points isn’t a substitute for self reflection. And that goes for the conservatives as well.
Miss Merriam did caution me that “when discussing concepts like racism, therefore, it is prudent to recognize that quoting from a dictionary is unlikely to either mollify or persuade the person with whom on is arguing.”
To which I replied, “Not a worry, Miss Merriam, we’re not having an argument. We’re having a conversation.”
Or are we?