On bigotry, tolerance and the First Amendment

I think it’s time we cleared some things up.

What is a bigot?

From the dictionary:

1) A person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

2) A person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)

If I don’t agree with homosexuality, but don’t wish all gay people to be put to death, am I still a bigot?


Now, some people, lately, have been deeply offended by people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” What if I were to say, to some of these people “You know, I don’t think all Christians should be put to death, and it’s not like I hate all of them (love the sinner and hate the sin), but… practicing Christianity is exactly like fucking a dog.” That might offend some people, no?

Not only that, but it wasn’t just me saying it. It was members of Congress, people with talk shows, people with reality shows. Instead of calling me ridiculous and hateful, some people said “Well, she shouldn’t have put it that way, but it’s not like she’s wrong. I know I feel a little sick whenever I see these ‘Christians’ walking into church.” or “How can you say that’s bigoted! It’s not like she said Christian people should be put to death! She said that practicing Christianity was like fucking a dog! Why are they so touchy, jeez.”

Now, obviously I do not believe that. But if I did, of course I would be a bigot, as would all those other people.

What if I don’t think my dislike of gay people is unfair? What if I think it is warranted?

That’s too bad.

I’m not a bigot, I just don’t like [insert category of people here] or think they are all [insert random characteristic here]?

Then what is a bigot? Let’s go back to that definition up there.

But a bigot or a racist is a bad person, and I am a good person. How can this be? Isn’t it just as bad for you to call me a bigot as it is for me to say I don’t like gay people?

By and large, we all think we are good people. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to examine our own personal views ever, and think about whether or not they might be problematic. It also doesn’t mean that we can’t have views that are wrong or prejudicial.

For example: Although I’m a “tolerant” person and a big ol liberal, born-again Christians used to make me feel very nervous, because in my head I was thinking “You hate people like me and the people I care about, and you are going to be judgmental of us and probably really mean and scary.” I also didn’t really know any growing up–people I knew were mostly Catholic or Jewish or Agnostic-ish. It was a prejudice I had, and it was something I had to examine and rethink. I now have several friends who are Protestant or born-again, and they’re great people who aren’t prejudiced at all towards me or people I care about. In fact, they’re all just as in favor of gay rights and other progressive issues as I am.

Having a bigoted opinion didn’t make me a “bad person.” But refusing to rethink it and change it would have, however, made me an asshole. Stop being so afraid of being labeled a “bad person” or a “bigot” or a “racist” that you don’t want to think about the prejudices you do hold.

What if homosexuality is against my religion? Am I still a bigot then?

Are there some religions or sects you might say are sexist? I think there are. Were the people who used the bible to defend slavery racist? I would say they were. Do/did those people very much believe there are/were following the tenets of their religion? Sure! Does that make their beliefs any less racist or sexist? Nope. So yeah, you’re still a bigot. Even if you’re “just following orders.”

How am I supposed to know if my opinion is bigoted?

Is your opinion about a large group of people with whom you are not acquainted? That’s a pretty big clue.

What if it’s just my opinion? Aren’t I entitled to my opinion? How can I be a bigot if it’s just my opinion?

You are absolutely entitled to your opinion. You can have all the opinions you like. However, bigotry is, in fact, just an opinion. For instance, if I were to say “I think Christians are all stupid,” it would be an opinion, but it would be a bigoted opinion.

Not all opinions have equal weight, either. Not liking someone’s sexual orientation is not the same thing as not liking cilantro.

When you have an “opinion” about a large group of people you don’t know (ie: Thinking black people are lazy), you are not only bigoted, you are also delusional. Why? Because you do not have psychic powers, and it is not even possible for you to know every single person in that group.

Don’t you have to respect my opinion?

No, you don’t have to respect mine, either.

Is my employer allowed to terminate my employment based on something I say? Isn’t that a violation of my right to free speech?

More than likely not. I am employed as a writer. If my employer decided they didn’t like what I was writing, they would be within their rights to fire me and hire someone they did like. If I were representing a certain company, like Phil Robertson is, in effect, representing A&E, and I said something that represented that brand poorly, they would be able to fire me. If I spoke to my employers inappropriately, they could fire me. If I sexually harassed a fellow employee and made them feel uncomfortable, they could fire me.

If you criticize my opinion, or say something I’ve said is bigoted or prejudiced, aren’t you violating my free speech?

No. Just as you are allowed to have an opinion, I am allowed to have an opinion about your opinion.

Aren’t all opinions equal?


If I own a company and support something you find offensive, and you boycott my company because of that, aren’t you violating my right to free speech?

No, I don’t have to buy your product to begin with. There is no law requiring me to.

If I have a television show, and you are a sponsor of that television show, and I say something that may offend people who buy your product, and you then pull your sponsorship, aren’t you violating my right to free speech?

No, there is no law that anyone must sponsor anything. If there were such a law, we would all have our own television shows.

So what does freedom of speech mean anyway?

It means you cannot be thrown in jail for voicing an opinion. It does not mean you can shout “fire” in a crowded building or send someone a death threat. It does not mean that everyone has to accept your opinion, or never have an opinion on your opinion, or that voicing that opinion can never have any consequences.

Why is it OK for black people to use the N-word, but not OK for me to? It’s not fair!

Let’s look at this another way. If I were to say “Gosh, I feel like I look hideous today” that would be one thing. I would be allowed to say that about myself. If you were to say “Robyn, you are hideous” that would be an insult.  Clear?

Also, it’s weird to want to be able to insult people without them thinking you’re a jerk. If you want to insult people, you have to accept the consequences. You can use slurs all you like, but you cannot have control over someone’s reaction to them.

Isn’t “cracker” just as bad?

Nope. It just doesn’t quite come with the same backlog of awful history. If you think about this for more than five minutes, you will understand.

I’m a man and I’m starting to feel oppressed these days!

What you are experiencing is not oppression, it’s equality. Instead of being at the top by your lonesome, you’re now down here with the rest of us. It only feels like oppression because you’re used to being the ones at the top. In order for us to be equal, you have to lose some of your privilege.

Hey, me too! I’m a Christian and I feel super oppressed! There’s no prayer in school anymore, they’re teaching evolution instead of creationism, people are allowed to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and gay people are allowed to get married even though my religion says that’s wrong! What’s up with that? Isn’t this a violation of my freedom of religion?

Although Christianity is the majority religion in this country, it is not the official religion–anymore than Islam, Judaism or Buddhism could be. You have the right to be Christian all you like. You do not have the right to demand that other people be Christian, participate in Christian prayer or observe the rules of your religion regarding who they choose to marry or whether or not they take birth control. You don’t even have the official right to tell other Christians how to practice their religion.

Well, the Christian religion says it’s wrong to kill people too, it’s in the Ten Commandments. Should we just allow everyone to murder whoever they like?

No, that’s stupid. Pretty much all societies, Christian or otherwise, have rules about that kind of thing.

Why is it OK to have black pride or gay pride but not OK to have white pride or straight pride?

Because no one was ever systemically oppressing you for being white, so your pride is not a radical act of defiance in the face of that. Now, there are people who advocate “white pride,” and I would encourage you to take a look at them and see if that’s a club you want to join.

Why are you people always talking about “privilege?” I’ve had a hard life, and don’t feel like I’m privileged! Who are you to tell me I’m privileged?

For the record, we don’t just talk about how you are privileged, we talk about how we are privileged as well. By recognizing that I have certain unearned privileges–as a result of being born white, well-off, able bodied, etc.–and knowing what those privileges are and what they mean, I can understand what not having them means to other people.

Having unearned privileges doesn’t mean that you have a charmed life and that you got everything you ever wanted. It means that, because of something that you can’t help, you have an advantage that someone else didn’t have. It’s not terribly hard to understand.

The Republicans were abolitionists, and the Southern Democrats were in favor of slavery and Jim Crow. Doesn’t that mean that the progressives now are the real racists? And how can they “take credit” for all these social justice movements when it wasn’t always Democrats pushing them? Why don’t we ever give social conservatives any credit for social justice movements?

Because the current incarnation of the Democrat and Republican parties have changed throughout the years, due to a variety of factors– most significantly due to Nixon’s Southern Strategy and Falwell’s Religious Right. It’s a lot easier to look at our history through the lens of Progressives vs. Conservatives rather than Democrats vs. Republicans–at least, if you want it to make sense.

Conservatives are conservatives because they seek to maintain the status quo. This changes throughout the years–a social conservative now would be far different from a social conservative in the 1800s. Why? Because progressives changed what the status quo was. When conservatives “win,” nothing changes, so it’s usually less historically significant.

With every social justice movement–women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights–you have the people that want things to change. Those people are progressives. Then, you have the people who say “We’re happy with the way things are! Don’t change them! We’re not ready!” and those people are conservatives.

If I have a business, and I don’t want to serve gay people, isn’t that my right as a business owner?

No, it’s not. Because other people’s right to not be discriminated against supersedes your right to discriminate against them.

Why can’t you be tolerant of my intolerance?

Because that is fucking stupid, and you know it as well as I do.