Hashtags, Labels and Bias – We Are Not Talking to One Another

Druid. Pagan. Polytheist. Animist. Germanic-Celt. Member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. North Texas resident. Institutional Researcher. Cincinnati Reds fan. Podcaster. Blogger. Unaffiliated voter. Database Administrator. Information Technology Specialist. Amateur MLB Researcher. Caucasian. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Short. Diabetic. Friend. Just me.

All of those words describe me. And yet, these are not a complete depiction of me either. There are plenty of other descriptives that could be used to denote who I am. Jerk. Asshole. Arrogant. Ill-tempered. Dismissive. Too Emotional. Not emotional enough. Flippant. Irreverent. Leader. Follower. Its really a matter of who you talk to, and what interactions that they may have had with me.

A long time back (and I mean a really long ways back – the late 1980s), I had taken my first steps on the Pagan Path that has helped me learn about myself and how I connect with my environment and others – I found myself at the doorsteps of a local (well, as local as the wider DFW area can get) Wiccan group. I had started my year-and-a-day lessons, and was given a paper to write. Looking back, it wasn’t really the hardest thing to do, but it sure was a royal pain in the ass to write.

The objective was simple. Write fifty things that detail why you are good or things you are good at doing. Then, write out fifty things that are bad about you or that you are bad at. Then, write two paragraphs comparing and contrasting the two lists. I found out later in college classes, that this is a Psychology exercise called “Positive/Negative Mirror”. I cam away from the exercise with two tangible thoughts. First, it was easy to write the bad things about myself, I am my own worst critic. And secondly, many of the same traits showed up in both lists. It was merely a matter of perspective of how I viewed each point.

For a kid in his early twenties, it was an eye-opening moment. I had never really considered the world from someone else’s eyes. Here I was being confronted with seeing myself from a vantage point other than my own.

I have talked quite a bit about labels in the past. The truth be told, labels are not just easy methods of classifying things. Labels can also be utilized to place a negative stigma on others as well. For instance, descriptives such as the infamous racial slur known as “the ‘n’ word” in “polite” society brings extra descriptives such as lazy, freeloader, welfare-cheat, an d ne’er-do-well to mind. Those are descriptives that have been added to that particular word, which are meant to bring a negative perception to mind.

Back in the day, a Pagan or a Polytheist were terms that had people equating those folks with Satanists. And to be honest, Satanists were often thought of being individuals that looked like Anton Szandor LaVey – and had the friendliness and slimy charm of a used-car salesman. Over time, the Pagan community has managed to get much of our moedern, “polite” society to understand how neither of those terms are equated with Satanism. And while Satanists still get lumped in under the comical portrayal of LaVey and what seems to be 1950s and 1960s horror movie schlock…many of the Satanists I have met are quite intelligent people, who are just like any other person I have met. Their understanding of belief, and their view of the world around them is vastly different from my own – and we will likely never come to an agreement on where middle-ground is located in spiritual discussions, but they sure seem like everyday folks to me.

Lately, modern society has been forced back into a discussion of racism, replete with all the labels and stereotypes associated with it. Both sides of the #blacklivesmatter argument have utilized these labels and stereotypes to further attention to their respective sides of the conversation. Which really isn’t a conversation. A conversation happens when people make their point, and then shut up and listen to the other side of the issue make their counter-point. After that, a discussion usually happens that defines where middle ground is located, and the conversation continues as solution-based points are brought about to resolve the issue. Over the past two years, the #blacklivesmatter side shouts their points over and over again. Their opposition shouts back their retort, over and over again. Both sides “hear” what is being stated by the other, but instead of listening, comprehending, and finding mutual points of discussion – they both react by shouting their points louder, as if volume is going to provide a solution. What results from that is a buildup of frustration.

When I am writing complex SQL code, I sometimes get frustrated when the system returns no data for what I had requested. I am known to fling my pen across my office, as I get frustrated. So, I can relate to what happens when people get frustrated, thinking that their points are not being heard or dismissed out of hand. Frustration usually leads to some kind of outburst or out-of-the-ordinary behavior. Sadly, that includes physical violence. I am sure many of my pens could file assault charges on me. So I understand the outbursts, even violent ones. I understand the reasoning, but I do not agree with the methodology.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  —Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Martin Luther King, Jr., Clayborne Carson, 2010 (256 pages), page 74, ISBN 0-8070-0069-8.

Dr. King understood how violence never solves an issue. It certainly can bring light to an otherwise ignored issue, but it will never provide the solution. Only honest, open dialogue can do that. And this includes listening, which in my opinion, very few people seem to be willing to do.

But…where do we go from here?? I have said it before…damned if I really know. When it comes to the notation of institutional racism, I agree. It occurs. And as a Caucasian male, there’s a degree of “privilege” (I hate that term by the way) that I am afforded. But there’s also a measure of religious bias associated in the system as well, and as a Pagan, there’s a degree of negative bias that I experience from it as well. I may not completely understand the bias that exists against a black person, but I can certainly grok it from the perspective of being in a minority religion. So, the only way that I can see anything changing as we head forward, is that we begin pressing our politicians and law-makers on every level to execute the laws fairly and evenly. That means ditching the stereotypes when applying the laws to citizens. That means ditching the concepts of stereotyping through profiling that law enforcement has utilized in applying our existing laws. It means changing the system to a manner of performance that we all believed it should be: where all are created equal, and thus treated equally under the measure of the law.

Now, I’m no politician. Nor am I a law enforcement officer. I’m a statistics guy working for a small junior college in northern Texas along the Oklahoma border. Like any person, I have biases. In my job, I have to set those biases aside when reporting data. I have to adhere to a position of neutrality, even when I am not neutral on an issue that I am being asked to explore from a data perspective. I could let my bias slip into my work, so as to affect the judgment of the people utilizing that data. But that’s unethical. Its also not what I am paid to do. To paraphrase Kevin Bacon’s statement in the movie “A Few Good Men”, I represent the data I am working with, without bias or prejudice. perhaps, we need to remind law enforcement officials, and politicians at every level that they represent their communities without bias or prejudice. And where bias and prejudice becomes a factor in their judgment process in upholding or making the laws that govern this country – perhaps they need to do the ethical thing, and remove themselves from the entire process. And as for the people that have decided to move their protest from peaceable demonstration to outright violence…perhaps, you are doing more harm to your cause than help. Frustration is understandable. Violent reaction, on the other hand, is not.

Two pence…

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3 thoughts on “Hashtags, Labels and Bias – We Are Not Talking to One Another

  1. I think a great many of your blog posts would make great material for your podcast. You express many great things which people need to hear and contemplate. But not everyone reads. You can reach more people by recording these thoughts and giving them in a format that people can listen to while driving their car or put their earbuds in and listen while they walk, work or whatever.

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