Identity, shame, stigma, and intolerance

I have seen a great number of people in the past few years disavow being a part of a culture or community that they once enjoyed or identified with due to an influx of sexism, nationalism, or other intolerance. I feel like this is a mistake and will only serve to strengthen intolerance amongst the masses, and this is what I’d like to write about and discuss today.

Virtually every person alive on Earth has at least some groups with which they identify. This could be a certain interest or hobby, ranging from music to photography to hiking and beyond. This could be their gender, male, female, or other. This could be a favourite pastime, whether that is sports, video games, or visiting museums. This list could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs. There are the fanatical and obsessive – just search your favourite social media platform for “Game of Thrones” for some decent examples. There are the truly interested and passionate – one of my favourite examples of this is Lazy Game Reviews, a channel on YouTube with enjoyably thorough reviews of old games and computer systems. There are all kinds of people and all kinds of ways to enjoy being part of a group or having an identity that is shared with others. This is typically a very healthy and normal thing for us social creatures.

In the past few years, political discourse has moved towards the more extreme. This has pervaded everyday communication in a way that had not yet been seen in the Millennial generation. The Millennials, in my experience, are generally some of the most open-minded people; however, this leads to a darker side. Just as most Millennials are open-minded towards acceptance of so-called “non-traditional” lifestyles and viewpoints ranging from economics to sex to religion and beyond, some Millennials are open-minded towards violent rhetoric, nationalism, anarchy, and intolerance.

This has sent a great number of the first sort of Millennials running scared from groups and identities that they would otherwise enjoy, because they do not want to be seen as supportive of these views that they feel are regressive. Unfortunately, this may indeed backfire on the ones that want to see the regression stop; when the tolerant leave, the intolerant remain. Let us look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report on the horrific 2015 church massacre in Charleston, S.C. for an example. The summary: a young man who was raised to respect all people found a series of blogs and Web sites condemning a race, and was so moved by it that he committed a mass murder of that race. How did these blogs and Web sites, written specifically to influence young minds to become hateful and enraged to the point of violence, end up so highly ranked by a search engine?

One answer is that there are so many communities today overrun with people who legitimately believe in the hate and intolerance spread in such writings. This is in part due to the mass exodus of more tolerant people from those communities. As more people put shame and stigma on something as simple as playing video games – the media claims that video games somehow led sick and twisted Internet trolls to threaten rape and murder to women – less people want to admit to being gamers. This causes a vicious cycle, as the ones left stating they are gamers are the ones who are intolerant. This leads to a form of normalisation of the idea of intolerance amongst gamers; it’s no longer out of the ordinary to think that anyone who enjoys video games might also enjoy threatening or committing violence towards other groups in real life. Couple this with the fact that teenagers have loved, do love, and will continue to love playing video games. Teenagers also want desperately to fit in with groups, to feel a part of something bigger. If they feel that people who enjoy video games should also hate women, that is what they will begin to do.

This could apply to any number of groups. Many secular people in the United States look down at religious people as being “backwards” or “traditionalist”, when the truth of the matter is well over 60% of Catholics and Protestants support gay marriage and homosexuality. Many people view country music as regressive while attitudes, they are a-shifting. The stigma of being a gamer, or religious, or listening to country music comes not from any endemic intolerance, but from the tolerant people from these groups being too ashamed to admit their membership.

The most powerful statement that tolerant people can make in the groups they identify with is the very statement that they are tolerant and identify with said group. Don’t erase your group identities to avoid being identified as intolerant. Show your group identity and tolerance; say out loud that you respect all your fellow humans and enjoy what you enjoy. This is the true path towards acceptance and togetherness.

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