I have been seeing this line of reasoning more and more lately, when someone says you are being bigoted when you chastise or condemn that person’s bigotry. In the United States, we celebrate our rights to believe the way we want to believe and support the same of another citizen who believes the exact opposite and shouts his beliefs to anyone who will listen. While this statement is easy to make, it is harder to follow.
In the past several years, I have seen our country become more polarized. I have seen people who claim constitutional rights, while at the same time denigrating the rights of others. What they are actually saying is “my rights are more important than yours.” In our country, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot tout freedom of religion, then want to deny rights to someone who does not believe in the same religion.
However, our rights as citizens should not tread on the rights of other citizens. This is especially true when a group of people says that another group should not have the same rights as we have because they are different. This right is more paramount in our country as we are an amalgamation of different kinds of people. Americans can trace roots to a multitude of countries, ethnic groups, religions and races. We have people who have different sexual orientations and some who realize later in life, that their outward body does not match their inner make-up.
Yet, while different, we all have some common traits. We are imperfect humans with our own gifts, dreams, needs, frailties and biases. But, make no mistake, we all carry our biases learned from those who taught us. We guard against them getting in the way of fair dealing with others, but they do come out. Our biases do show the ugly side of ourselves from time to time.
Getting back to my question in the title, are we being bigoted when we chastise someone else’s bigotry? Here are a few comments to facilitate discussion, as I would love to hear your thoughts. First, we cannot tolerate bigotry in this country when it impacts other people. If your beliefs are espoused to cause action through your words or deeds and they harm or impede the rights of others, then those words and actions should not be condoned. So, when a minister uses the power of the pulpit to inflame bigotry and exclusion, then these words should be admonished.
When people say I am not going to serve these kinds of people because they are different, then those actions should be highlighted. When people purposefully use labels or name-calling to denigrate another person’s argument, then the name-callers’ labeling can be criticized.
Second, we cannot tolerate governance that limits the rights of citizens or gives extra rights to citizens at the expense of others. We need to call into question laws that label, demean and deny the exercise of one’s rights, again provided they are not being harmful to others. We are on unstable ground denying the right of same-sex couples to marry if they so choose, for example.
As you review each of these comments, note my attempt to speak against the words and actions of someone being bigoted. If we focus on the words and actions and less on the person, we stand on taller ground. In essence, you are saying, you have the right to say these words, but I do not agree with them and must say so. With that said, I am positive I have violated that covenant and said something derogatory about the speaker or doer of the bigotry.
You have the right to be bigoted, provided you are not harming the rights of other people. You have the right to your own opinions, but I have the right to mine. I have the right to say I disagree with your words or actions. I have the right to vote with my feet and not shop at your store, if you advocate not selling products and services to people you believe are different from you. Provided I focus on your actions and words and not you as an individual.
Could I be accused of being a bigot because I am less tolerant of the actions and words of bigots trying to trample on the rights of others? Yes. But, if I focus on the words and actions, I feel better about my position. However, in the bigger scheme of things, if we do not shine a light on bigotry and hatred, then we are far worse off. If we remain silent, then we have condoned the bigotry as acceptable. What are your thoughts?