But aren’t you being a bigot when you chastise my bigotry?

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?

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4 thoughts on “But aren’t you being a bigot when you chastise my bigotry?

  1. Calling attention to others’ bigotry does not make one a bigot, as it does not infringe upon anyone’s right to say whatever they want to say or do what they want to do. To “disagree” with homosexuality or this or that is not always bigotry, though it could be deemed judgmental and misguided. A person may still choose to treat the person with whom he disagrees as an equal human being. I happen to think that anyone who voted for George W. Bush the second time is an idiot on some level, but I would never seek to deny him his rights or think he is less worthy than I am. Some of my best friends are people with whom I disagree on nearly everything.

    A bigot is someone who practices hatred and intolerance in words and deeds. To recognize an action or comment as bigoted is not bigotry. People who make this accusation also think that if they suffer negative consequences as a result of their bigotry, their freedom of speech has been denied. It isn’t surprising that these folks have great deficits in logical thinking and in their grasp of what constitutes free speech. They have a right to be ignorant, and to say ignorant things, but we are also free to let them know that we think they are ignorant. When they cross the line into denying goods, services or jobs to those against whom they are prejudiced, they are breaking the laws of the land and of common decency. That’s my two cents:)

    • Amaya, many thanks for your far more than two cents. I like how you framed the topic better than I did. I do not disagree at all with your over arching theme. I also agree that people have a right to believe a certain way, but their beliefs do not make them necessarily bigoted, unless they go beyond and deny the rights of others who feel differently. I do feel if we focus on the words and actions, then we stand on higher ground with our criticism. I also agree that at some point it is very hard to divorce the bigoted words and actions from the bigot him or herself. I must confess, I initially answered the title question “maybe” rather than “yes” but felt by saying the latter it would promote more discussion.

      But, at the end of the day, it is incumbent upon us citizens to shine a spotlight on bigotry. Otherwise, people will know less that this type of verbiage or action should not be tolerated. Many thanks my friend, BTG

      • I enjoyed thinking about your question and my opinion of the answer. I brought it up last night with my family at dinner and had an interesting discussion. The consensus was that this reaction on the part of the bigot is merely deflection and defensiveness. You make a good point that we should focus our attention on the actions and words of the person, and try not to make ad hominem attacks against their character. If we truly believe in equality and tolerance, we should treat all people with respect and practice compassion even for those with whom we disagree.

      • Thanks. I am glad it was used for table discussion. It is not ironic in dealing with some strident legislators who are prone to name-calling, I try my best to remain civil and focus on the issues. I showed one of my series of email exchanges with one name-caller to an attorney advocate for children and he said it seems like the roles were reversed as I was placating the legislator. I must confess, it is hard at times, to let the names slide off and focus on the issues. Thanks again for your well worded and grounded thoughts.

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