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Self-Examination and Discrimintation

June 14, 2012

            I’ve been reflecting recently on what got me into my current line of work.  And I pinpointed it to one book. I mean, sure, I’ve grown up surrounded with cultures different than my own, whether I was an American growing up in Canada, or surrounded by a diverse immigrant population due to my mother’s work at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. But no matter how diverse your background is, I hypothesize that there is always going to be a group of people that are viewed as the ‘other’.  For me, that group was rednecks.

As a member of the middle-class, formally educated sector of society, I grew up feeling it was entirely permissible for me to look down on the rural working class.  From various sources of influence, I gathered that these people were opposite to me in every way.  They vote Republican or Conservative, they don’t bother to get nice furniture, they’re uneducated, they’re in favor of crazy things like no gun control; the list goes on and on.  Of course, I did not recognize my intolerance as classism.  I had great respect, almost reverence, for that noble ‘proletariat’, who was going to lead the revolution, and take down ‘the man’.  All other forms of racism, sexism, or any other kind of ‘ism’ were impermissible for me, except for this one. And I would argue that for many who had a similar upbringing, that of the middle-class liberal, this is the group that it is common to hear pejorative remarks about.

And then I read the book Deer Hunting with Jesus, by Joe Bageant.  This book was written by a man who grew up in Winchester, Virginia, among the working class of America.  He was the only one in his community who went to university (he describes it as a ‘fluke’), and he went on to become a well-respected journalist.  In Deer Hunting with Jesus, Bageant returns to his home town, and writes about both the mind-set of his childhood and his mind-set now as a middle-class liberal.  The result is a poignant exploration of two main issues: 1. an explanation of why the Left completely misunderstands the working class of America, and why the Right has achieved such success, and 2. an exploration of the issues facing the working class of America today.  I had a lot of my ideals challenged by this book, and I was forced to re-examine myself critically. Essentially, what this book forced on me was a paradigm shift.

I’ll give one example. As a pacifist, a liberal, and a Canadian (kind of), I am in favor of gun control.  As Eddie Izzard says, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But I think the gun helps, you know?” But what I failed to take into account is that for a whole culture of people, rural people, hunting is a pretty essential rite of passage.  A boy going out with his father for the first time, being trusted with a rifle, to bring home a deer for dinner, that is an activity that is held by deep reverence by many people. For anyone reading this that grew up hunting, this is probably a no-brainer, and yet I had never considered that aspect of gun culture.  How insulting it would be to be told that you can’t handle a gun, that it needs to be controlled by an external force, when your family took gun safety so seriously.  Now, I am still in favor of gun control; in Canada there are many people who have rifles under the gun control laws, and much fewer people who have handguns and semi-automatic weapons.  All good things.  But like I said, I do understand why the Left and the Right so vastly misinterpret each other when it comes to this issue.

So how does this apply to my work today?  Well, that paradigm shift has probably been one of the most significant in my life.  My realization that I had been actively discriminating against a group of people, and that I had not seen anything wrong with that, affected me deeply.  Ever since, I have been constantly on the look-out for any signs of wrongful discrimination within myself, and above all, education about people that I do not understand.  It was for this reason that I originally sought out working with Muslims.  I knew next to nothing about Islam, and the reasons behind the animosity between the Islamic world and the Western world.  As it tends to happen when you bother to talk to the people you are apprehensive about, I discovered many warm and caring individuals, who are trying, just like me, to do good in the world.

And so I raise the challenged to anyone reading this.  Who are you discriminating against? It may be hard to pinpoint.  Self-examination is often a challenging and painful activity.  But I am thankful that I went through that process, and I hope that I will continue to keep myself in check.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Suzanne permalink
    June 14, 2012 10:58 am

    a great reminder to ask questions before settling in comfortably with our judgements!

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