Double standards about bigotry are unacceptable

I AM NOT a woman and I am not gay, but this has never stopped me from campaigning for and promoting women’s and/or gay rights.

In fact, it is more powerful if people who are not considered to be part of designated groups stand up for the rights of those groups.

But I also believe you cannot choose which human rights you wish to support and which make you feel uncomfortable.

The people who think they can choose which human rights they want to support, as if they are taking them from a supermarket shelf, do not understand what it means to support human rights.

You cannot claim to be non-sexist, and be racist at the same time. You cannot claim to be non-xenophobic but be anti-gay. You cannot claim to be a humanist yet discriminate against certain people based on their religion, race, age, sexual preference or other identity markers.

Supporting human rights in its entirety has nothing to do with whether or not you support the constitution - which is expected of all - but it is about doing what is right.

Too often conservative people hide behind religion and tradition.

But I have never believed one should blindly follow a religion even if it makes you do things that go against your grain. So it is not enough for people to try to hide their conservatism within a religious framework. Even if they followed no religion at all, they would probably still hold those views.

The same goes for tradition. I have never believed in following tradition, cultural or whatever, blindly. Too many bad things have been done in the name of tradition.

Just ask anyone in the rural areas.

The sad thing is these issues are not discussed on a daily basis but only surface when a celebrity is involved, as happened last Sunday when TV personality Somizi Mhlongo stormed out of the Grace Bible Church in Soweto after a visiting cleric, Bishop Dag Heward-Mills from Ghana, made remarks claiming it was “unnatural” to be homosexual.

While the pastor’s anti-gay remarks upset Mhlongo - and the church later half-apologised - the pastor also earlier made sexist remarks against women which appear not to have offended the TV star, or not enough to make him want to walk out of the service.

It would appear Mhlongo, who is gay, is more upset by anti-gay remarks than remarks against women. This is the point I am trying to get across: you should not only get upset about anti-gay remarks and behaviour if you are gay, these should be as upsetting to those who are straight.

Getting upset about anti-women comments and behaviour should not be reserved for women.

Men should also get upset and do something about it.

Until we reach a situation where we realise unfair discrimination is bad, irrespective of who is being discriminated against, we will continue to have discrimination.

There is, of course, fair discrimination, which is meant to address imbalances and inequities of the past, but that’s another story.

I’m sure most of us have been in situations where everyone looked and sounded alike and the conversation quickly degenerated into comments about people who were “different”, whether these were women, gays, whites or blacks.

And I am sure most of us tolerated these conversations for fear of upsetting the people who were part of the conversation.

I have been guilty of doing that. A few years ago I was at a function attended by mainly white people and someone started talking about how blacks cannot and should not play rugby because “rugby belongs to us”. Instead of confronting the speaker and possibly upsetting everyone at the function, I just walked away.

I have often thought about whether I did the right thing and whether I betrayed my non-racial principles by not standing up to a racist who was possibly in the company of many other racists.

I would probably have been man handled, but it might have been worth it if it meant I was defending my non-racial principles.

Before joining in conversations about people perceived to be different to you, or cheering those who make comments against others (like the people at Grace Bible Church last Sunday), please think about how you would feel if those comments were made about you or those you loved.

The sad thing is all of us probably interact at some point in our lives, some more than others, with people who are perceived to be different to us and we survive those interactions. Yet we think nothing about acting against or commenting negatively about those people when they are not around or when we are surrounded by seemingly like-minded people.

Unfair discrimination on any basis is wrong. If you oppose racism, you should oppose sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and whatever other -isms and phobia that have been manufactured to create divisions between people.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 28 January 2017)