by Roxanne Tellier
Earlier this month a meme starting going around that made a lot of people feel uncomfortable. The meme asked people to acknowledge that overcoming inherent bias, prejudice, and all the ‘isms’ was an ongoing thing, and that we are all ‘works in progress.’
I’m so tired of those that virtue signal, with various #NotAllWhatever hashtags. To hear these paragons of wounded nobility talk, they are the ‘exception that proves the rule,‘ because they’ve always treated women well, and never failed to give anyone of any creed or colour whom they’ve encountered, the same pure and unadulterated dignity, respect and opportunities as those that look just like them.
I rather think that anyone who COULD claim such innocence, is unlikely to ever do so.
As quickly as the meme travelled thru the internet webs, it just as quickly disappeared, which is an interesting commentary on how society is struggling with what those on the political right are calling ‘cancel culture.’
Times change. People change. All of this foofaraw over Pepe le Pew and six Dr Seuss books going out of print is an acknowledgment that what was acceptable in the past is now, upon reflection, not the sort of inherent prejudices we want our kids to accept with their juice and Goldfish crackers. The images that march from books and TV screens to parade across the blank slate of children’s minds form the basis of how they will think of the world when they are adults.
Being of French descent, Pepe’s presence in the cartoons we watched was a pleasant surprise. The kids programs available in the fifties were overall white and bland, so hearing someone who had an accent like my family’s was comforting. But upon reflection, while being included allowed me to feel part of a larger culture, the image of a scheming, lascivious, old lounge lizard who refused to take ‘No’ for an answer wasn’t really a positive symbol of what it meant to have a French heritage.
It’s not ‘inclusive’ if the only time you see your families in a drawing or story is when they are being portrayed in a negative or stereotypical fashion. Asians don’t have bright yellow skin; people of colour don’t belong in zoos with monkeys. But there was a time when it was acceptable to say and portray minorities in that fashion.
Inclusion is critical in making children feel safe and respected. It was only fairly recently that children of colour could easily find pretty dolls that reflected their skin tones. Although there had been some European doll companies that manufactured black dolls, most were caricatures based on the perception of those who might never see a person of colour in their entire life.
In the 1890s, Carl Bergner of Germany made a three-faced doll “with one face a crying Black child and the other two, happier white faces.” The National Negro Doll Company was founded in 1911 by American entrepreneur Richard Henry Body “after he tried to purchase dolls for his children but could find none that were not gross caricatures of African Americans.”
Prejudices, stereotypes, caricatures. With very few people of colour around me in my early years, I saw nothing wrong with having a Golliwog doll, and reading books like Little Black Sambo.
Mattel released “Christie,” the first Black Barbie, in 1969, but didn’t officially release an “African-American Barbie” or “Latina Barbie,” until 1980.
Fitting in, being accepted, looking and acting like everyone else, enjoying the same kind of foods – when I was growing up, minority children didn’t often get to feel automatically included, just as they were.
But times change, and people change, hopefully in a positive evolution. The discrimination of the past, the things that ‘everyone says’ or ‘everyone did’ may now look offensive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you were a bigot when you said or did those things at the time. But it does if you continue to use terms that are cruel and offensive after society evolves and develops new language and terminology to reflect more inclusive views.
Much of the confusion over changes to our established culture is due to the Overton Window, also known as the window of discourse. The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time.
“The Overton Window is a model for understanding how ideas in society change over time and influence politics. The core concept is that politicians are limited in what policy ideas they can support — they generally only pursue policies that are widely accepted throughout society as legitimate policy options. These policies lie inside the Overton Window. Other policy ideas exist, but politicians risk losing popular support if they champion these ideas. These policies lie outside the Overton Window.
But the Overton Window can both shift and expand, either increasing or shrinking the number of ideas politicians can support without unduly risking their electoral support. Sometimes politicians can move the Overton Window themselves by courageously endorsing a policy lying outside the window, but this is rare. More often, the window moves based on a much more complex and dynamic phenomenon, one that is not easily controlled from on high: the slow evolution of societal values and norms.” Mackinac Center for Public Policy, mackinac.org
As what is deemed acceptable changes in our society, we may find that views we held previously are no longer appropriate. This means we have to rethink our own attitudes, and question how we came to those conclusions in the first place. Explanations – not excuses – for why we thought the way we did, when we didn’t know what we know now.
People are tribal, at heart. We want our children to do well, our family to succeed, our ‘team’ to win. In a world where there are nearly 8 billion souls looking to get thru the day, it’s just easier if you know who is on your side, when the chips are down, and we like our clues to be shorthand.
My team must be the ‘good’ team, while the other side is, in our minds, framed as the competitors, and an impediment to our team getting what we feel it deserves. By definition, they are the ‘bad’ team.
Tribalism is at the core of every prejudice and bias known to man. Couple that with our brain’s need to categorize all the information thrown at it, and you’ll see how prejudicial attitudes tend to harden as we get older – with more contact with people that we feel confirm our initial gut dislike of the ways of the ‘other,’ we build a wall that keeps ‘our kind’ in, and ‘their kind’ out.
Have you ever heard someone rail against the actions of another person who was preventing them from getting what they desired? Rather than realize that everyone works their own agenda, the righteously outraged loser of the situation will tend to categorize their opponents acts as archetypal of all people who are of the same race/colour/creed. They’ll come up with ‘facts’ supporting their right to denigrate ALL people from different geographic regions/ people of colour/Muslims because they’ve been thwarted from something they want, by one ‘representative’ of the group
When I was a young woman, there was an explicit bias against women in the work force. Older women had it especially bad, as they were often deemed of least value, and paid accordingly.
Good women didn’t ‘work,’ we were told, even when we could see with our own eyes that women never stopped working, whether it was in the home, in the field, or at a job, or sometimes, in all three. In many societies, it was ‘women’s work’ that literally kept the family unit alive.
And since women were not making the rules, or dictating policies, women who worked, willingly or unwillingly, had a long, slow stretch of years in which to slowly become a valued part of the workforce – as long as they would work for less than a man.
Times change. People change. There are now slightly more women on the planet than men. New statistics project that the United States will become ‘minority white’ in 2045, but only by a tiny percentage, since whites will continue to comprise 49.7% of the population. But the majority 51.3% is split up amongst Hispanics (24.6%,) blacks (13.1%,) Asians (7.9%,) and multiracial populations (3.8%.)
In other words, even the minorities are likely to be jockeying for position, while the previous white majority is already seething at ‘only’ comprising .3 per cent points less than half. And that is still 24 years away.
It almost seems to prove that those who, through a miracle of birth, were born exactly to the specifications their country demanded, have no intention of ever being treated …
… the way they’ve treated those born without those same gifts.
A friend sent this link to me last week – lots of interesting ideas to mull over!