People say they remember Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, but it’s celebrated more as a historical event than the call-to-arms that is should be.

I’ve always had a Unified Theory of Discrimination. Be it race, gender, sexuality, ability, mental illness, the principles of discrimination and the weapons for fighting it are similar, even if the flavour is different. I read The Female Eunuch twelve years ago and went on a feminist studies binge, amazed at how generalisable the problems were to racism (yes, I know about the discussions about racism in the feminist movement. That’s for another day).

The news today is full of the commemoration. Tributes to Dr King’s courage, erudition, elocution and delivery spill over as everyone trips over themselves to say how great he was. Yet, like Mandela, we threw this man in prison.

MLK’s speech should be extrapolated to cover all types of discrimination, but do not think the battle is done or won. The commemoration should make us take stock, rather than celebrate.

Me first. I’ll admit, until I worked with LGBT clients I had no idea what difficulty they faced in everyday life. I thought, yeah, lifestyle choice, good on ya, mate. I had one gay Muslim friend with whom I discussed literature and food and philosophy. He bludgeoned his way through life with a fantastic wit and incandescent intelligence. Libidinous as hell, too. Yet he was not out to his parents. That should have told me something, but…well, it didn’t. I wasn’t homophobic, I was homoignorant. That is not enough. The more I see, the more I think we have a duty to learn and teach about the members of society we know little about. Timendi causa est nescire (The true cause of fear is ignorance).

Something else. I’m left-handed. In Western Nigeria I was spanked, called names, refused entry for offering payment with the left hand, and generally vilified because I have mixed brain dominance. This state of affairs raced into absurdity when my mother took me to the doctor to have me “medically changed” to right handedness. I am not kidding or exaggerating; that’s the extent of the ignorant, superstitious bullshit I had to live with. Luckily the doctor laughed her out of the consulting room.

I’m in a developed world, but it’s still designed for the right handed person. Don’t believe me? Pick up a random pencil or pen in your left hand and try to read the writing on the shaft. Yeah.

Jokes aside, on this day that harkens back to 28/08/1963 ask yourself:

How egalitarian is my society?

How many ‘I have a dream’ speeches are going on right now that I am ignoring?

Have I educated myself at least in a cursory way on how (insert minority here) feels discriminated against?

Do I recognise that discrimination has subjective and objective components?

Do I recognise that (shock!horror!) I might be part of the problem?

Do I recognise that I might be part of the solution?

Why does discrimination matter?

When you’ve done that, try this:

  1. Pick one unfamiliar term from the list below, Google it, and learn some shit.
  2. Pick one real life friend and talk to them about it.

That would be a start.

Ablist, heteronormative, ageism, dalit, osu, logocism, rayah, affirmative action, reverse racism, glass ceiling, transphobia, cisgender, honour killing, corrective rape, labelling theory, stigma, Jim Crow, antiziganism, cultural assimilation, microinequity and Allport’s Scale.

© 2013


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