OUR -ISMS ... AN OVERVIEW
Dee Chadwick
02 Feb 2020
The –isms used to express our biases ... all the way through to our bigotries and discriminations. Despite The 2010 Equality Act, which in theory protects from discrimination because of such as: age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability; there remain many who discriminate against others.

MY CHILDHOOD BACKGROUND

I consider myself to be open and accepting, but I wonder if that is totally true? I guess that is for others to say. We are all influenced by our earlier years -

Putting the my views into context –

I was born and brought up in an area which was almost totally white, apart from one Indian family living on my avenue – a family I loved to visit, sample their food and listen to stories of their home country. Not a single non-white face on all primary or secondary school photos. Yes, I did have friends who were from other European countries and trips into Manchester as a youngster must have meant that I was surrounded by a more diverse cross section of humanity. My grandfather lived with us and was very much loved and respected as were elderly neighbours for whom I would ‘run errands’. I guess that my main bias was a typically 50’s, 60’s one when it came to sexism. The men were the wage earners and the women largely home makers. Again, there was one exception which saw a man down the road being the stay at homer. Hands were held up in horror if anyone divorced and the concept of same sex relationships was unheard of by me, unspoken of by my parents.

Over the years, university, followed by many moves around this gradually diversifying country of ours plus trips to other countries led to an opening of my eyes and also my mind. Whilst accepting that I have my biases, as do we all; I sincerely hope that they do not stray beyond this to become dislike, hatred, bigotry, discrimination.

I have always been curious – some would say nosey! I love to find out how things work. Gadgets, systems, whatever. I recently had the locks upgraded on my doors and the young man doing this patiently explained what a 5 lever lock was and even showed me how it worked as I knelt next to him on my hall floor! I have also always been similarly fascinated by how people work. Different cultures, ages, abilities, genders. How these differences affect people as individuals, as for me, it is the individual that is important. This applied whether I was working children or adults personally or professionally. I have always been very wary of affixing labels. For me, no label in isolation was an exact fit as the personality, upbringing, beliefs of each individual client, each pupil, each person with whom I interacted has a huge impact on the person as a whole. The problems formed a current, hopefully temporary, part of that whole person.

Sadly, I feel many tend to write off a whole group, nationality, culture, colour of people because of their dislike, hatred of just a few. A few that they may possibly have interacted with, but also a few that they could have only read about, seen on the news, been biased against by their peers. A hatred through ignorance of the actual targets of their very strongly held views.

We see far too many examples of such hatred in the media. The hatred labelled as racism tending to be the main culprit.

WHAT OF THOSE –ISMS?

I am sure that there are more that I haven’t included or that I am not yet aware of. Language is always evolving. As new words make their way into common usage, chances are that other –isms will be included when groups of people consider themselves to be looked down on, down trodden, treated in an inferior way, picked on, discriminated against. It seems however that not all –isms are negative. I checked out animalism as I know of people who dislike animals and wondered if they came under a banner of animalism? I was surprised to find that the definition of the word offered a whole range of meanings including religious worship of animals; a preoccupation with or motivation by physical or carnal appetites rather than spiritual or intellectual forces. So ...a whole different ball game to the one I had expected! Lesson re-learned – never assume, always check.

What of those words being introduced, sometimes words spun to be used in a different context, as with ‘gay’, ‘sick’. The current spinning seems to be around the word ‘woke’ and its use around racism.. I quote from The Guardian.com - ‘Like “politically correct” before it, the word “woke” has come to connote the opposite of what it means. Technically, going by the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition, woke means “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”, but today we are more likely to see it being used as a stick with which to beat people who aspire to such values, often wielded by those who don’t recognise how un-woke they are, or are proud of the fact.’ I admit to a continuing confusion around its use and intended meaning!

Other -isms that are currently used include racism, sexism (a future blog), ageism (also a future blog), classism  and colourism/colorism. The first two are often heard, with people being accused of being racist, sexist and sometimes both. Dislike can well up into that deeply felt, loudly expressed hatred against particular groups of people.

What of colourism - I will keep to my British way of spelling as my checker will probably amend anyway.  Am I alone in not having heard this, along with classism, bandied around in the media? Having said that, maybe it needs to be used more frequently as so many people who are accused of racism are seemingly bigoted against all black people, or even all people of colour? No matter what their race, creed, nationality.

I wonder can the word apply to Chinese, Japanese, mainly young women, who use strong, harmful chemicals in an effort to lighten, in fact, to whiten the colour of their skin? Or is this in a response to a racism that they feel is applied to them by white people? That they consider it may lessen if they feel that they conform to a perceived standard of beauty, measured by the colour of their skin. I simply do not know about this one. On the flip side, it does seem odd though that so many white people spend money on tanning in one form or another in order to take away some of their whiteness.

It is felt that colourism originated in USA, when the black slaves worked long, hard hours out in the heat of the sun. Those chosen to be domestic slaves and work inside apparently tended to have somewhat lighter coloured skin. Also, having a paler skin tone was one of the reasons for being chosen to work in the house. This lighter skin colour was then maintained as away from the glare of the sun for long periods. Sometimes black skins were further lightened by consensual or non-consensual sex between the slaves and the white slave owners and the production of bi-racial offspring. I have included a link to a very interesting article about colourism. It goes into much greater depth than I can in this piece and describes colourism in the USA and beyond, as of 2015. I quote from their reporting of a doll test of 2010 ‘When asked to pick the “dumb” child approximately 76% of white children picked the two darkest tones and 50% of black children also picked the two darkest tones. When asked to pick the “mean” child, 57% of black children picked the two darkest tone dolls along with 66% of the white children. When asked to pick the child whom they would want as a classmate 40% of black children picked the lightest skin tones along with 89% of the white children. Finally, when asked to pick the “ugly” child, 54% of white children chose the darkest two tones with, 32% choosing the middle tones. When black children were asked, 41% chose the two darkest toned dolls.’   Much food for thought.

I have become woman on a mission, seeking out further –isms that may have slipped under my radar. I hadn’t realised that there is supposedly a word/words for those who discriminate against, show a lack of understanding for those with mental health issues. They apparently can be thought of as showing ‘mentalism’ or ‘sanism’. For whatever reason, these do not sit easily with me. Maybe because I have struggled with mental health issues and had thrown at me that I am mad, mental, by people I thought cared about me. Is this feeling of mine akin to one that others feel if on the receiving end of racism, colourism?

BATTLE OF THE –ISMS

I sometimes watch ‘The Pledge’ on Sky News. A programme which sees a mix of younger/older panellists of different hues holding brief discussions on current topics. Offence is easily taken if a perceived ‘racist’ word is used. A word that the speaker assures was NOT intended as being racist. It takes me back many years to my counselling course. I happened to be by the door when our guest, social worker, speaker arrived. I welcomed her and asked if she would like a coffee – checking whether she wanted black or white. I was amazed when the tutor drew me aside as soon as I had handed over said coffee, with a smile. She had gone straight to him and reported me as being racist. Call me naive, but have black and white ceased to exist simply as colours. Though I can find ‘The Pledge’ far from an easy watch, I do watch as it is a way to hear how others feel that their personal past, the history of their predecessors affects their thought processes and opinions around those –isms. Pasts that have been adversely affected largely by white ruling classes. Feelings run deeply and are still strongly affected by history.

Many of us base our opinions of others on ‘our lived experiences’. Sadly, we are then viewing the world from a limited and biased view point, especially if we haven’t had the opportunity to travel, and to do so with an open mind. Having said that, I spoke to someone recently who said that they had been on holiday to Spain. They love Spain. However, they avoid certain times as there are too many older Brits over-wintering there, and they avoid the places that ‘locals’ hang out as they don’t like the Spanish. So a big difference between travel to broaden our horizons and experiences and going on holiday to grab a bit of sun! I wonder on how many occasions they had actually communicated with some of said ‘locals’ and whether they continue to try to avoid we older folk when back home? I have a feeling that many holiday makers are the same, though still considering themselves to be well travelled. Travelling as simply a matter of air miles covered.

It appears to be far easier to rely on your own ‘lived experiences’ than to put in a bit of effort to get to know about other cultures, their beliefs, their values.  To get to know those from different age groups, sexual orientations, general approaches to life. So, our biases grow and develop. This at a time when this shared planet of ours needs as much support as we can give – a time to pull together rather than pull apart and divide along the lines of our various –isms.

I would be really interested to hear your thoughts and feelings – from wherever you are reading my particular thoughts and feelings. Do add a comment, or drop me a line via my web site.

Podcast:

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