Look back, to slavery, to suffrage, to integration and one thing is clear. Fashions in bigotry come and go. The right thing lasts.
Maybe it’s just me, but I see a failure to buy into the term “normal” when it comes to the human condition. I see failures in how some people build frameworks around “normal” for which the purpose is exclusion — and that has implications for civil rights movements.
Quite a number of the “us” in our broader, western societies draw circles around our “me,” defining oneself as “normal.” Then as an extension from that personal self-defined “normal” that’s found as one’s circle of “me,” I see many having a tendency to draw a slightly larger circle around that “me” that is only slightly larger than oneself, and declaring that slightly larger circle as what is “normal.”
Outside of that small circle of normal is where “different” is found, which sometimes is expressed as “abnormal” or “deviant, “bizarre,” “freakish,” and “aberrant.”
When those in our society — when even we ourselves — draw small circles of normal around ourselves, those “different” spaces outside the small circles of normal is where the unequal is found. Where unequal is found, so is, othering, harassment, and discrimination.
To be sure, we all discriminate. If we make purchases based on a preference for cabbage over lettuce, or cherries over grapes, we engage in discrimination. If we prefer potential partners based on a preference for those with long hair over those with short hair, or those who are taller than ourselves over those who shorter than ourselves, we engage in discrimination. Discrimination is part of life.
Yet in the marketplace of society, not all discrimination is legal. A business can discriminate in hiring someone based on their skills and qualifications, but, for example, it’s not legal to discriminate in hiring someone because of a someone’s ethnicity, sex, or disability status. In the United States, we have protected classes — small islands in the sea of “different.” These are islands that society has created to protect certain groups of people who’ve been discriminated against for reasons not involving their skills or qualifications.
And of course, one can be discriminated against not just for identifying as a member of a protected class, but for being perceived as a member of a protected class. For example, a dark-haired caucasian woman may be perceived as Latina is she has a deep tan; a man on crutches for a sprained knee may be perceived as disabled — one can be discriminated not just because of how one identifies oneself, but how others perceive one to be identified — with all of the requisite perceived negatives that of being a member of a particular protected minority class.
In the marketplace of society, the diversity is the model we use we create the legal framework for those small islands of protected classes. With great effort, freedom, equality, and justice for minority groups is won, and protected classes are carved out, based on the simple concept that people should be judged by their character, and not by factors such as ethnicity, gender, disability, or veteran’s status.
In the United States, we’ve seen in the creation of these protected classes a low, consistent movement for more expansive language. We didn’t create islands of protections just for African-Americans at the exclusion of Asian Americans, but saw laws wrote to protect on the basis of race and ethnicity. We didn’t create islands of protections for the those in wheelchairs to the exclusion of those with depression (or other mental health conditions), but created protections on the basis of disability.
We in the United States have slowly moved to legally limit how “different” is used to discriminate against people when the discrimination isn’t based on the character of individuals. But again, it’s taken great effort to protect the “different” in society.
The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.
For the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community civil rights movement of the United States, we’re now seeking to create islands of protections not just for gay people, but create protections on the basis of sexual orientation — which creates protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, and heterosexual people. We’re now seeking to create islands of protections not just for transsexuals, but on the basis of gender identity and expression — which creates protections for transsexual, cross-dressing, genderqueer, agender, people, as well as for effeminate males and masculine women. We, as a civil rights movement, seek to create the largest islands of protection for our community members, because, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. stated:
Unless man is committed to the belief that all mankind are his brothers, then he labors in vain and hypocritically in the vineyards of equality.
Drawing small circles of normal gets in the way of creating the largest islands of protections that advantage those who are deemed “different” or “abnormal”; the drawing small circles of normal around ourselves is a way to look for differences that is inconsistent with seeing all of humanity as our siblings in humankind — our siblings that deserve freedom, equality, and justice.
In other words, drawing small circles of normal is the wrong thing; creating large islands of protections for minority populations that are treated as unequal with others in broader society for reasons other that personal character is the right thing — and the right thing will last.