On Bigotry & Ignorance – Jessi Kneeland


I was homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, and racist in ways in which would shock you.

For those who learn my work these days, you may assume I grew up with a liberal household in a various neighborhood that cultivated my progressive values, however in fact it was the precise reverse.

I come from a right-wing household, my hometown was virtually all conservative/spiritual white people, and the range in my highschool amounted to 1 woman who was out as bisexual.

I grew up with an entire lack of variety and publicity. As a substitute there was simply ignorance and small-town patriotism, and a imprecise sense that “we” the hard-working poor white people of upstate NY have been the oppressed People whose stolen tax cash paid for free-loading welfare people to have infants whereas unlawful immigrants stole our jobs.

I’m not pleased with this a part of my historical past, however I realized what I realized.

There was loads of lip service paid to ideas like “not seeing coloration,” and “judging everybody primarily based on their advantage and habits, not the colour of their pores and skin,” however there was additionally a fuck-ton of homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and racism that I took without any consideration (having by no means met anybody in any of these classes) as fact.

In seventh grade I realized that my good friend’s older sister was a lesbian, and was horrified. I didn’t contemplate myself homophobic or something (similar to how dangerous guys in motion pictures by no means suppose they’re the dangerous guys lol) however I discovered this truth disgusting and improper. I keep in mind vividly the day I rotated in refrain, and informed my good friend “I don’t agree together with your sister’s life-style, as a result of it’s unnatural.”

The reminiscence is particularly embarrassing and sharp in my thoughts, as a result of that very same expensive good friend of mine went on up to now girls.

Years later, I did too.

I’m very uncomfortable telling you this, however I’ve determined to for 2 causes:

  1. I’ve labored very arduous to root out this ignorant bullshit I realized rising up, and

  2. I need to take away the stigma to admitting shit like this as a result of (as you’ll see) bigotry and ignorance aren’t linked to morality the way in which we’ve been taught they’re.

See the factor is, once you’ve by no means met an individual from a gaggle which is culturally labeled as “different,” and also you hear a bunch of dangerous issues about that group of individuals, it’s very simple to be bigoted. Ignorance is hard like that.

In spite of everything, if a lot of the white individuals you already know are moderately sensible and funky, and also you’ve by no means met a Black individual however you see them displayed as silly, lazy, and violent on television and within the information, nicely… your racism received’t even really feel bigoted.

That is my historical past.

I met a Black individual for the primary time once I was fourteen years previous, and I keep in mind being shocked at how cool, and good, and regular he was. He was flamboyant and humorous and sensible; he made me chuckle whereas we rehearsed a play, and I went residence that day with my actuality turned fully the other way up.

Black males have been presupposed to be harmful and scary, I believed. In the event that they might be like this dude, then what the fuck was everybody speaking about?

This was the primary glitch within the matrix, the primary time I spotted actuality didn’t line up with what I’d been taught, and that what I’d been taught wasn’t simply inaccurate, it was fucked up. Wanting again it was additionally the start of my realization that publicity is a strong antidote to ignorance.

Through the years I sought out publicity within the wider world as a lot as I might. I studied overseas for six months in highschool, and found that most individuals in Chile are simply common, cool individuals. One among my finest associates got here out as homosexual at eighteen, and I immediately realized homosexual persons are simply common cool individuals too.

I moved to NYC and met individuals of all walks of life, and my partitions of ignorance toppled with each new expertise. My Thai roommates? Homosexual and transgender classmates? Appearing faculty associates from all around the world? Health associates from completely different religions and races and backgrounds?

All cool. All regular.

The extra I traveled and met individuals, the extra my inner -isms and -phobias dissolved. Publicity (paired with the ferocious self-reflection I introduced to those experiences) blew my thoughts vast open—and these are nonetheless two instruments I contemplate fairly rattling unbeatable in relation to bigotry born of ignorance.

Ultimately, I began utilizing publicity and self-examination extra consciously to deal with the deep layers of internalized bigotry I used to be actively dedicated to uprooting.

Once I started my journey to physique positivity and fats acceptance I spotted I didn’t have many fats associates, and my stereotypes about them have been born of ignorance, so I began following, listening to, and studying the tales and books of fats people.

Once I found transphobic resistance to gender non-conforming people I adopted dozens of gender-non-conforming people, purchased their books, and linked to their tales. With publicity got here a blooming of compassion and empathy, and the belief that I had all the time been jealous of their “freedom” to precise their gender otherwise, due to my very own complicated and uncomfortable relationship to my gender.

There’s an thought on the market that if an individual is racist, homophobic, transphobic, or xenophobic, they should be an inherently “dangerous individual,” with no coronary heart and a fucked up ethical compass… however I hope you’ll see from all my clear (and mortifying) story-telling thus far that nothing might be farther from the reality.

It’s the traditional Maya Angelou quote:

“Do one of the best you possibly can till you already know higher. Then when you already know higher, do higher.”

I didn’t notice I used to be being bigoted till I met individuals from the “othered” teams and realized that they weren’t so “different” in any case, and the stereotypes I had realized didn’t maintain up.

But when I had stayed in my hometown and never been uncovered to something on my travels and in NYC, odds are fairly good that I might nonetheless be bigoted as fuck. Not as a result of I’m a foul one that is morally corrupt with a coronary heart filled with hate, however as a result of… that’s simply what I realized.

This attitude provides me lots of endurance and compassion when planting seeds in dialog with people whose bigotry additionally comes from ignorance. They’re not dangerous or hateful individuals, they simply… don’t see the reality but. (Word that I’m speaking about ignorance, not willful hate.)

Additionally, if I had found my very own bigotry and gone down a shame-spiral of feeling like a “dangerous individual”, I’d by no means have performed the brave work of letting my whole actuality crumble round me as I looked for the reality. Letting go of ignorance is horrifying, and we people merely don’t do courageous shit and step up into one of the best components of who we are able to turn out to be after we’re slowed down by disgrace.

In fact the opposite possibility could be to disregard, deny, and shove down any bigotry I found inside myself, as a substitute of acknowledging its existence, in order to guard my ego and id as a “good individual.”

If we wish to have the ability to do the necessary work of liberation and anti-oppression work inside ourselves and in our communities, we have to do away with the concept all of the -isms and -phobias are an ethical judgement on somebody’s inherent character.

In spite of everything, if bigotry is all the time an indictment of somebody’s ethical character, then there would have been no hope for me, there could be no hope for you, and there would positive as hell be no hope for anybody else.

I’ve labored very arduous to uproot all of the bigotry I discovered inside myself, however there are countless layers, and the work will undoubtedly proceed perpetually.

Personally I’m dedicated to doing that work, not as a result of I’m an excellent one that cares about different individuals, however as a result of I worth Reality above all else. And bigotry is by no means the Reality.

I ponder how this essay will land with you. Will you choose me for my historical past and suppose much less of me? Will you rejoice my development and evolution and discover consolation and hope in it, or will you suppose me a fraud?

Will you separate your self from my story and say to your self “I’m glad I used to be by no means ignorant like that,” or will you let me maintain up the mirror so you possibly can see some areas during which you have got been, or are at the moment nonetheless, sitting in ignorance?

Even in the event you grew up with liberal mother and father and a various neighborhood, you have got undoubtedly realized some issues that are rooted in bigotry, ignorance, and lack of publicity. All of us have.

What if, as a substitute of judging your self for judging different individuals (or suppressing these ideas to take care of an id as a “good individual,”) you merely acknowledged, named, and handled what you discovered inside your self?

What if as a substitute of letting these ideas or beliefs imply one thing about you, you acknowledged that your bigotry is born of a scarcity of publicity and connection, and went about immersing your self within the voices, pictures, instructing, and tales of the precise individuals, cultures, races, or existence which you end up judging? And what if as a substitute of writing off or attacking these in your life whose bigotry you condemn, you set about holding them accountable to their highest values, and exposing them to the reality?

This is true liberation work.

It doesn’t occur by calling out and canceling individuals on social media, it occurs by trying inside your self and having each compassion and accountability for what you uncover there, after which approaching the individuals round you with that very same compassion and accountability as you each search and unfold the Reality.

Yours in liberation,


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