When I was about 10 years old, I loved collecting stickers. I picked up free stickers from every place I could. Ski swaps with my family, fairs at school, DJ booths outside of concert and event halls, pretty much any place that had stickers was a place to which I was drawn. Most of the stickers ended up on school notebooks and other paper materials that were long ago recycled and forgotten; but one sticker survived. Through junior high, high school, and college; through 3 new houses and few years in storage; through water damage and dust; there is one sticker that I have kept and cherished. It isn’t fancy or brightly colored and it doesn’t bear the logo of any of my favorite companies or hobbies. It is simple. Black words on a white background. Plain and straightforward. It shares a statement that fuels many of my dreams and passions. It states: “Nobody’s Born a Bigot.”
Although I cannot– despite many hours spent digging through the recesses of my mind– remember where I got the sticker when I was 10 years old, I can remember frantically looking through a dictionary to find what the word “bigot” meant. Upon reading the definition, and subsequently searching for synonyms and example sentences, I decided that this sticker was important and it thus needed an important place to be stuck. Notebooks and folders were no place for a sticker with this much importance. It needed to be displayed loud and proud; so I stuck it above the mirror on my favorite antique armoire where I looked every morning as I got ready.
Over the years, as I came to realize a passion for social justice and a desire to make a difference in my global community, the simple statement on that sticker became the basis for my outlook on the world around me. It gave me a sense of positive hope as I studied and read about the often disturbing histories of the ways prejudice and hate have formed the societies of our world. Despite the fact that humankind allows itself to be driven by fear and hate in almost every society in both the past and present, I find hope and truth in the idea that no one is bigoted by their very nature. Bigotry is something that is taught, learned, developed, and shared. It is not something that is innate; and as such, it can be undone just as it was made; through time.
Although my primary focus and area of study when it comes to prejudice and bigotry is race and ethnicity, I have recently had my attention drawn towards the prejudices shown to those who are considered “different” because of metal health diagnoses. Additionally, through personal study and political movements, I have also been drawn to focus on the prejudices shown to people of the LGBT community. Thrown together into groups that the general population or assumed “norm” societies determine as a means to separate and categorize anyone who falls outside of the rigid guidelines of “acceptible” society, people are far too often dehumanized, teased, rejected, and otherwise stripped of some of their most basic human rights. Although the unequal treatment and injustices differ according to the prejudice factor used to separate people, one fact remains the same; they are all human, and deserve to be treated as such, in every respect.
I do not wish to compare the hardships of race inequality to sexual identity inequality or mental health inequalities because they are not the same and cannot truly be measured one against the other. However, as they are all forms of societal bred prejudices, they must all be looked at as societal problems.
My way of addressing societies issues with bigotry, is to write about the things that matter to me; the things I recognize as being unjust; the things I believe need to change; the things I believe can change; and most especially, the things I believe I can help change. As of yet, I am no great writer and my voice, my call for change, hasn’t been heard far or wide. But, there are many people out there with more to say than me, and many more with better ways of saying it, and making more people hear it.
Cinema, I think, is one of the most powerful means for planting the seed of change in our present society. Filmmakers, Screenwriters, Actors, Producers, and basically anyone in the film industry can make their opinions known to millions of people in a way that those people actively seek after. One of the most recent, and best example I can think of as showing the power of the film industry to share opinions, is the movie The Imitation Game. It was a fabulous movie in its acting, cinematography, directing, story, and writing; but what made it truly worthwhile for me, was the profoundly humanizing way it confronted issues of prejudice that were prominent in the time which the movie was set as well as continuing today; namely sexual identity, and mental health diagnoses.
While the film is largely meant to focus on the incredible contribution that Alan Turing and his associates made to ending WWII by cracking the infamous German Enigma, I was pleasantly surprised by the way the film boldly addressed the hardships faced by Turing– and many others of his time and continuing today– for being gay as well as being identified as having asperger syndrome or other mental health related social differences. The film plunged boldly into, what some may call, the “political sphere,” and pointedly denounced the unjust treatment of Turing and others with similar experiences due to their societal “defects.”
Both the marked display of the harsh treatments and punishments that Turing endured in his life as depicted by the film, and the printed statements about inequality at the end of the film, give credit to the social justice voices of all those involved in the making of the film. They took their medium of film and used it to broadly share and voice their opinions about an issue of bigotry that needs to be addressed by society. Through their work, a seed of change has been planted for many viewers of the film; and much like the wind, those people are likely to pick up and spread that seed, and change will be enacted.
It was the spreading seeds of fear and hate that caused bigotry to first spring up in society. It is the teaching and learning, the imitation, of that same fear and hate that has caused and continues to cause wars, divisions, violence, and the dehumanization of people all over the world. It is the spreading of the seed of change, the seed of equality, that can break the cycle of bigotry. It is those who share their voices, through whatever means they can, and call for justice and love that will truly make the change.
Everyone is guilty of bigotry in some sense or another. Judging our fellow man has become the societal standard. But breaking that standard, and actively working against the imitation of hate that society has taught us, and forging a new path, and seeking to treat all humans as equals, no matter the differences between us; that is what will lead us back to our natural state. The state in which we were born; the state in which Nobody is Born a Bigot.