bookmark_borderJune, the month of exclusion and discrimination

June used to be a month that I looked forward to. It marked the beginning of summer, with flowers blooming, school ending for the year, and rain generally absent. Now, I dread the month of June, and it has nothing to do with the cold, windy, and wet weather that has been occurring recently.

June marks Pride Month, as well as Juneteenth. Two observances that acknowledge, honor, recognize, and celebrate certain politically favored groups of people, while excluding everyone else. Two observances that are popularly perceived as being all about equality, diversity, and inclusion, while in reality being about the exact opposite. June has become the month of conformity, exclusion, and discrimination.

To begin with, take the Pride flag. I don’t have a problem with the original version of this flag, with six stripes in the colors of the rainbow. But I have a problem with the version that is currently favored, the version that has become pervasive everywhere you look, especially during the month of June. This is the flag that, in addition to the rainbow stripes, includes a triangle of white, light blue, and pink to symbolize trans people, as well as stripes of black and brown to symbolize the experiences of LGBTQ+ people of color. This, to put it bluntly, is racist. Those who created this flag and those who choose to display it have chosen to give special recognition to black and brown people, while giving no equivalent recognition to white people. (One might point out that the color white does appear on the flag, but its intention is to symbolize trans people along with blue and pink, not to represent white people.) There is no justifiable reason for doing this. The rainbow flag already symbolized LGBTQ+ people of all races equally. There is nothing about a rainbow-striped flag that could be construed to only represent white people. Whoever is responsible for adding the black and brown stripes must have either interpreted the rainbow flag as only representing white people, which is false, or acknowledged that the rainbow flag already represents all races but decided that black and brown people deserve additional recognition while white people do not, which is racist. Either way, the Pride flag, as it is most commonly displayed today, is racially discriminatory.

The racist Pride flag is fitting, the perfect symbol for the intolerant attitudes that are so prevalent in our society. According to our society’s dominant ideology, some people deserve to be acknowledged, honored, included, represented, and celebrated, while others do not. Some people’s feelings, viewpoints, perspectives, and experiences matter, while other people’s do not. 

The past three years have been nothing short of traumatizing and soul-crushing for me as an autistic person who loves statues and history. For three years, people have intentionally destroyed everything in the world that makes my life worth living. They have inflicted horrific and indescribable pain, on purpose. They have set out to deliberately remove each and every work of public art that makes me feel included. And they have done so with unimaginable cruelty, violence, and brutality. Whether in the form of angry mobs, self-righteous public officials, or faceless bureaucracies, society has decided to physically alter the public spaces of cities and towns to ensure that people like me feel unwelcome and excluded. To ensure that people like me will never again have any possibility of feeling happiness, joy, or belonging.

And then, as if all this weren’t bad enough, society decided to characterize the events that I’ve just described as “hope” and “healing.”

Just like society has decided that it is not enough not to be racist, but that one must be actively anti-racist, society has not merely decided that I do not deserve to be acknowledged, honored, included, represented, or celebrated. Society has decided, if such things are even possible, that I deserve to be actively anti-acknowledged, actively anti-honored, actively anti-included, actively anti-represented, and actively anti-celebrated. 

I am not black. I am not gay, or trans, or queer. I am different. I have been different my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I have talked differently, walked differently, learned differently, and thought differently. I wore dresses, pigtails, and Mary Janes, while everyone else wore tight jeans and sweatshirts. I excelled at reading, writing, math, and memorizing facts, but wasn’t able to hold a conversation, hit a baseball with a bat, ride a bike, or tie my shoes, all things that my peers did effortlessly. People didn’t understand why I did the things I did, and I didn’t understand why they did the things they did, either. People didn’t like me. I had few friends and was bullied. Historical figures were the only thing that made my life worth living. The fact that statues of them existed in public places was the only thing that made me feel included, made me feel seen, and made me feel that life was worth living.

And then society decided to take that away. Society decided to spend time, money, and effort to destroy what made my life worth living. To ensure that I would never again feel welcomed or included when I set foot in a public place. 

There was never really a word for what made me different. It was just me being eccentric, or deviant, or weird, or messed-up. It was just another Marissa thing. Me doing or saying something that didn’t make sense. Me being completely quiet while the other kids told inside jokes and swapped stories. Me being unable to understand something that to others was obvious. I know now that the word is autism. But I didn’t know it then. Queer people, trans people, black people, indigenous people, Jewish people… all these groups have a word for what makes them different from the majority. When there is a word for what makes you different, it means that there are other people who share the same difference as you. It means you are not alone. Perhaps you might feel alienated or excluded in the larger society, but there is always a group of like people that you can return to, a community that will provide acceptance, empathy, belonging, and support. Not so for me. Even among my immediate family, I was judged, stigmatized, shamed, and criticized. I was different from them, and they didn’t understand me. In short, I have always been alone. 

For this reason, I have felt different and alone in a way that queer people and black people have never experienced. I have felt different and alone in a more profound sense than people who can easily put a label on their differences. And this was before society decided to destroy everything that made my life worth living. 

If society truly cared about diversity and inclusion, it would be going out of its way to acknowledge, honor, recognize, and celebrate me, not actively making me feel excluded. If society truly cared about diversity and inclusion, it would be raising funds, hiring artists, and making plans for the creation of additional Confederate statues and Christopher Columbus statues, not doing the utterly sickening and horrific things that it did to these statues.

Because Confederate statues and Columbus statues symbolize people who are different. They symbolize people like me. By erecting them in public spaces, our society was stating that people like me do, indeed, have a right to exist. But the death of George Floyd caused society to change its mind about that. Using some sick, warped version of logic that I will never fully comprehend, society decided that for the actions of Derek Chauvin, I deserve the death penalty. 

It is beyond hurtful that after three years of inflicting horrific and indescribable pain on me because I am different, after three years of telling me in the most brutal, cruel, and violent possible way that I don’t have the right to exist, society would go out of its way to celebrate gay people and black people. To think that this constitutes inclusion, and diversity, and treating everyone equally, demonstrates a complete lack of empathy. I understand that the tone of this blog post might be perceived as angry and negative, but I truly believe that Pride and Juneteenth are neither uplifting nor positive. They are examples of how our society acknowledges, honors, includes, and celebrates some people while excluding, humiliating, and viciously attacking others. Whenever I see that hideous black and brown rainbow flag, see a sign in a store window expressing solidarity with the LGBTQ or black community, or hear of a Pride or Juneteenth celebration, I am being told that I am not a person and that my feelings do not matter. 

I don’t have anything against queer people or trans people or black people. What I have a problem with is society’s inconsistency, hypocrisy, and intolerance. I believe in treating everyone equally. I believe that everyone should be included. By celebrating Pride and Juneteenth, after three years of brutally, cruelly, and violently telling me that I don’t deserve to be represented or included, society accomplishes the opposite of that. If queer people and trans people and black people are going to be accepted and celebrated, then I deserve to be accepted and celebrated as well. If the pain of queer people and trans people and black people is going to be acknowledged, then I deserve to have my pain acknowledged, too. 

bookmark_borderAre conservatives punishing companies for “speaking” on social issues?

I recently saw a newspaper headline about the decision by the state of Florida to revoke Disney’s special tax status. The headline made reference to conservatives’ practice of “punishing companies for speaking on social issues.”

I take issue with this word choice. I am a conservative who disagrees with Disney’s decision to publicly take a stand against the Florida law banning explicit sex education for children under fourth grade. Similarly, I found it morally wrong that so many companies issued statements publicly praising the George Floyd protests when they broke out two years ago.

Of course, I cannot speak for all conservatives, but speaking for myself, the reason these actions were upsetting is not because companies were “speaking on social issues.” It is because companies were taking a position on something that they should not be taking a position on. It is because instead of being neutral, companies chose to be biased. It is because instead of treating everyone equally, companies chose to discriminate.

By choosing to criticize the Florida law, Disney has decided that the (supposed) right of gay people to discuss their sexuality while at work is worthy of defending. By choosing to praise the BLM movement, companies have decided that (supposed) systemic racism against black people is a serious enough problem to speak out against. “Why would someone be upset by this?” you might be wondering. There is nothing wrong with supporting LGBTQ rights or anti-racism, after all. But the problem is that LGBTQ people and people of color are not the only people who have been wronged, harmed, or treated unjustly.

How about, to give just one example, people such as myself, whose hearts have been shattered and lives ruined by the destruction of the historical statues that make our lives worth living? How about Americans of Italian descent, or Americans of Confederate ancestry, whose heritage has been almost entirely obliterated from the national consciousness thanks to the BLM movement? 

By taking positions on issues of LGBTQ rights and black people’s rights, companies are saying that the rights of these groups matter, but not the rights of other groups and individuals. Companies are saying that the perspectives, experiences, and feelings of these groups matter, but not the perspectives, experiences, and feelings of others. Companies are saying that the struggles and problems faced by these groups are worthy of acknowledgement and empathy, but not the struggles and problems faced by others.

When I see a company expressing support for gay rights or for the BLM movement, while ignoring the pain inflicted by the destruction of historical figures, it hurts. It sends the message that my perspectives, my experiences, my feelings, and my pain do not matter. It sends the message that the company does not value me as a customer or as a human being.

So unless a company commits to expressing solidarity with every individual and every group that has gone through something difficult, the company should steer clear of expressing support for political causes. When a company expresses support for some causes but not others, that company is inherently expressing the belief that some causes matter while other causes do not. And that is discrimination, full stop.

Characterizing the conservative position as a desire to “punish companies for speaking on social issues” makes conservatives sound as if they are pro-censorship and anti-free-speech. It makes conservatives sound as if they want to silence those who disagree with them.

This is a deliberate mischaracterization of the conservative position, designed to make the conservative position appear illogical, hypocritical, and illegitimate.

I do not want companies to be silent rather than speaking out. I want companies to be neutral, rather than biased. I want companies to treat everyone equally, rather than demonstrating favoritism. I want companies to be inclusive, rather than discriminating against unpopular minorities who happen not to be politically favored. 

I do not believe that companies should be punished for “speaking on social issues.” I believe that companies should be punished for being biased and discriminatory.

bookmark_borderThoughts on discrimination and exclusion

The Boston Marathon is one week from today, and I do not plan to go. For many years, I enjoyed watching the runners cross the finish line on Boylston Street, as well as walking around in Boston on what was usually a beautiful spring day. Even though I’m not a diehard fan of long-distance running, the Marathon signaled the start of spring, and the atmosphere of excitement and joy in the city was difficult to top.

In 2020, there was no Marathon due to Covid. In 2021, the Marathon was held on Columbus Day, a day that has been wrongfully turned into Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Boston and some of its surrounding suburbs. The Boston Athletic Association, the organization that runs the Marathon, decided to apologize to indigenous people for holding the race on “their” day (which is actually Italian Americans’ day). To atone for this transgression, the BAA donated money to indigenous organizations and financed various events and art installations honoring indigenous people. Separately, competitors at the Marathon were required to have received the Covid vaccine. For the 2022 Marathon, the BAA has banned Russian athletes from competing due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At first glance, these decisions by the BAA may seem to have nothing in common. But recently, while pondering the Marathon and whether or not I should go, I had an epiphany: all of the things that make me angry and filled with moral outrage are things that are discriminatory or exclusionary in some way. And the above-mentioned decisions of the BAA all fall into this category. These policies are the reason why I will not be attending the Marathon this year, or perhaps ever. I don’t want to support an event that discriminates against Italian people, Russian people, and people who have opted against getting a particular medical procedure. One of my most basic beliefs is that everyone should be treated equally and everyone should be included.

Unfortunately, in my experience, discriminatory and exclusionary attitudes have become increasingly common and accepted in our society. An increasing number of cities, towns, and organizations have decided, like the BAA, to honor and celebrate indigenous people while ignoring Italian Americans. Like the BAA, companies and governments around the world have perpetrated blatant medical discrimination by enacting vaccine mandates. And now, Russian and Belarussian people are being excluded from athletic competitions and other areas of society because their president made a foreign policy decision that most people disagree with.

Additional examples are everywhere. Affirmative action, by its very nature, treats people differently based on race, which is the definition of racial discrimination. People who don’t like guns refer to those who do to as a “death cult” and ridicule them for allegedly “fetishizing” “killing machines.” Politicians mindlessly express support for “working families” while completely ignoring the fact that this rhetoric, and its corresponding policies such as child tax credits, paid parental leave, and many welfare programs, blatantly discriminate against people who do not have children. During the “Me Too” movement, people were lectured, “Yes, all women” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and exhorted to “believe all women.” Silly me, I thought that making generalizations about people based on their gender was sexist, and that people’s credibility should be evaluated without regard to their gender. And, although already mentioned above, it bears repeating that intolerant attitudes with regard to Covid safety measures have reached truly appalling levels of ugliness over the past year. People around the world have been subjected to vicious rhetoric, excluded from activities and public places, barred from employment, fined, and even banned from leaving their homes, all for declining a medical procedure that happens to be recommended by the medical establishment. 

The BLM movement and the “woke” ideology provide a myriad of examples of discrimination and exclusion. The reason why I hate this ideology is because it is the exact opposite of what it claims to be. The people who pontificate the most vociferously about diversity and inclusion are, in reality, actively working to undermine these values. An obvious example of this is the obliteration of Confederate statues, flags, holidays, historical markers, and place names. Deciding that only one side in a war is allowed to be honored is the antithesis of inclusion. The brutal destruction of monuments to any historical figure who is even remotely controversial has had the result of completely stripping our country’s statuary of its diversity. It is the antithesis of diversity to allow only the viewpoints of the majority to be reflected in public art. The vicious attacks on Christopher Columbus statues and Columbus Day are similarly discriminatory. Not only does the erasure of Columbus deprive the world of a remarkable historical figure; it also discriminates against Italian Americans.

The slogan “Black Lives Matter” is itself discriminatory. Why should only black people’s lives matter, while the lives of other races are ignored? The phrase “All Lives Matter” resonates with me. Every historical figure deserves to have his or her life memorialized and his or her story told. Every person should be honored, respected, and included, no matter their skin color, gender, age, religion, culture, sexual orientation, abilities, preferences, choices, experiences, or political beliefs. Enough with elevating groups that have allegedly been marginalized, while actively harming other groups and individuals. Enough with singling out certain groups to honor and celebrate, while trampling on everyone else. Instead of having special months and days for black people, indigenous people, Asian Americans, women, gay people, trans people, et cetera, let’s include everyone and treat everyone as equals. 

It is my belief that supporters of the “woke” ideology do not actually believe in diversity or inclusion. Instead, they simply believe in going along with whatever cause is popular and groveling at the feet of whatever group happens to be politically favored. I believe in diversity and inclusion. I believe that All Lives Matter, not just the lives of people who are politically favored.