To me, equality requires understanding, then acceptance. There’s something innate in human nature that causes us to look at those who are different from us with initial suspicion. However, if one engages with those who are different, understanding can ensue. If one doesn’t engage, then those differences remain the basis of rejection.
My time in India brought clarity to me. Through the lens of my American value system, India is a series of contradictions. Things to both accept and reject.
India is the largest democracy in the world; that’s good. The people I have met have been warm, kind and gentle without exception. its diversity is beyond measure; India is an amalgam of 300 kingdoms, each with its own language. Wave upon wave of outside influences have swept over the country, mostly in the form of invading regimes who left their imprints in turn. This extreme form of diversity requires acceptance of others in order to maintain peace. That’s good.
Yet, India has many things about it that I can’t easily accept. Poverty is widespread and wealth is concentrated in the hands of the very few. The caste system, while going away, isn’t gone. The poor have little prospect of joining the burgeoning middle class. The infrastructure is poor, which means disease afflicts the poor disproportionately and adds to their hardship.
My love of India required me first to try to understand its complexity and contradictions to my moral code. And that led me to acceptance. Were I to judge India only on the “bad” I’d be writing off sooooo much about it that’s good.
America is engaged in a transformation, again. Just like past waves of immigration, our population is changing and diversifying. Our moral code is changing. In five decades we’ve gone from police raids of gay bars as if being gay was illegal, to legal equality in every respect.
What made this possible? My suspicion is that as gays have slowly emerged into public life over those decades, others have engaged them. Which has caused understanding. And ultimately acceptance. Any negative predisposition I might have had – perhaps as instilled in me by elders or society – has surely been overcome by knowing people like Gary, Wayne, Amy and Gerrie. Simply outstanding people being who they are, and for which they couldn’t be anything else.
There is so much work left on equality. Let’s start by engaging those who are different from us. Which surely will lead to something positive.