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‘Why does our society need to have someone to discriminate against?’

The tragedy of the rising number of suicides of young gay people has brought national attention to the issue of both bullying and homophobia in the United States. Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project,” a series of user-generated videos reassuring gay youths that life becomes exponentially better after the trauma of high school, has exploded from a simple YouTube project to a full-fledged national campaign. But beyond the confines of teenage bullying, some have vocally addressed a need for the national conversation to go a step further. Richard Kim, senior editor of The Nation, argued:

When faced with something so painful and complicated as gay teen suicide, it’s easier to go down the familiar path, to invoke the wrath of law and order, to create scapegoats out of child bullies who ape the denials and anxieties of adults, to blame it on technology or to pare down homophobia into a social menace called ‘anti-gay bullying’ and then confine it to the borders of the schoolyard.

It’s tougher, more uncertain work creating a world that loves queer kids, that wants them to live and thrive.

Similarly, on last week’s episode of Need to Know, Jon Meacham delivered a video essay on the “culture of anti-gay hate” in America invoking the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and anti-gay remarks by politicians. He compared today’s intolerance of gays to that of blatant racial discrimination of the Jim Crow era. One reader commented on this comparison:

The article assumes that we are past the ‘Jim Crow’ era. That is false … ‘Jim Crow’ has gone underground. It isn’t so overt as it was in the past. Today, instead of clearly calling it out by race, we have put the burden on the legal system … While the laws look like they are for everyone, we have selective enforcement allowing segregation to thrive.

I think that the real question is: ‘Why does our society need to have someone to discriminate against?’ We have done it to blacks. We have done it to Mexican Americans and Native Americans. We did it to the Japanese Americans in WWII. We have done it to homosexuals. Today, many towns are enacting laws keeping some people from living within their borders. How can we move past discrimination at all?

What do you think? How does a society manage to move past a seemingly endless cycle of discrimination? Weigh in at the comments below.



  • Coti_luttrell

    In essence, one word would suffice: EVOLVE.

    It is seen on a cellular level, the fight for survival. The need to eradicate that which is different to ensure the survival of self. However, with humans’ expansive capabilities that ‘self’ is defined in multifaceted ways: skin color, height, weight, sexuality, developmental and mental aptitude, economic standing, class separation, gender, religion, nationality, and the list goes on. And it will continue to go on.

    In some ways it is a competition and the competitive spirt which causes this mentality of hate to survive. One must be better, the best if at all possible, and for some, at all costs. The very basis of this mentality encourages people to step on others, put them down, lift themselves up and at the cost of what? Without teaching from a young age diversity and its wonders, its absolute beauty, people simply want the comfort of the same all around them.

    It saddens me when such mentality not only stifles our youth, and consequently our society as a whole, but that it leads to the feelings of worthlessness in all those children who are not valued by their peers, their authority figures, their churches and most definitely by the body of elected officials meant to govern them. It is a very complex web put into place by us and we will all suffer for it. The only blessing to come of this is perhaps having this blatant disregard for human life be brought to the forefront of people’s minds.

    I cannot help but feel in this day and age, technology is both a hindrance and a help. There is a widespread movement going on in the LGBT community that I hope all minorities can learn from. When people are in a minority that is being discriminated against, the most important tool in saving lives and lifting them up is for them not to feel alone. Connection of the human spirit is so important. At the same time, there is widespread hatred all around the internet and our daily lives too. Bullying in person is horrendous and everyone knows the internet gives people who would otherwise not open their mouths the tool to do so both for negative purposes and for positive ones.

    I am a strong supporter of civil rights for everyone. And I am very hopeful the LGBT community will achieve the rights they are entitled to. In fact, I’d like to see them take those rights, demand them, not ask or wait for them. Every minority in this country has certain inalienable rights and there will always be another group down the road having to fight for them. It is definitely a race for survival.

    For me the only sign of true evolution of mankind will come when we embrace our differences, support each other, respect one another. We must get beyond the cellular level. I have said it before, but it can’t be said enough. I wish that we had less in common with amoebas than we do. Fear of the unknown, preservation of self, these instincts cannot flourish if the cost comes at the lives of others, most disturbingly our own children. If that is not an obvious sign those old epithets of survival are out-dated I don’t know what is. Our children should not die before we do and when they are our survival as a whole species is at stake. It is just that serious to me.

  • mark

    As an initial matter, I hesitate to frame the question so broadly. Discrimination comes in many forms, some of which are desirable. Brianna Lee’s note actually emphasizes two completely different forms of discrimination.

    The first form of discrimination pertains to the schoolyard bullying cases. I think this kind of discrimination falls into the whole “in-group”–”out-group” psychology that many people have. Many people feel a need to belong to a group, and they fulfill that need by ridiculing others. For example, students who bully homosexual kids can feel like they belong to the “straight” group. Thus, the emphasis on this form of discrimination isn’t really about any one specific trait. The students aren’t bullying the homosexual kids because being gay is bad (although, in order to bully the homosexual kids, this will necessarily be the message that the bullies convey). If the homosexual kids exhibited some other different trait, such as being ginger, they would likely get bullied too. The whole point of this bullying is for the bully to identify a minority group so that the bully can belong to the majority group.

    The second form relates to society’s need for discrimination as a practical matter.
    For example, when Boeing hires people to design planes, we want Boeing to hire people who are good at engineering. This hiring preference discriminates against those who are bad at engineering. Nevertheless, most people would find this form of discrimination to be desirable because the trait being discriminated against relates directly to one’s ability to perform the job.

    Of course, there are many instances where this line of reasoning is misapplied. For example, the military justifies “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the grounds that soldiers will be less effective if they know that they are fighting with and relying on homosexuals. Here, discrimination is not justified because there is no strong relationship between the trait being discriminated against (sexual preference) and the legitimate outcome (a more effective military).

    However, in between these two extremes lie the murkier situations where the justifiability of discrimination is unclear. For example, civil rights activists are divided over whether affirmative action is justified.

    In this form of discrimination, I think the relevant question should not be “why does it exist?” but “where do we draw the line?”

  • weightloss and fatloss

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  • nobody

    You know I was voting today and thought of very similar explanations as you in this reply. Very well put together. The question I would ask you is this? If we don’t have to struggle, which I am thinking is in our genes, how will we evolve? There is depression and apathy when we are not struggling. We, as a species, don’t achieve without desire and struggle. So in saying that, how do we place cooperation and peace and “sameness” together. For I cannot envision cooperation at this point due to the “sameness” issue. Appreciation of diversity takes so much learning…stepping outside of ourselves and stop demanding the “sameness” in all. This society has moved further along, however that same society always finds another group to pick on. Right now, I struggle with the idea that without another step in evolution, it is inevitable that one group will “win” over another. Very depressing thought indeed.