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O'Halloran, Thomas J., photographer
In this progressive and diverse community there have recently been incidents of public racism and homophobia. Mostly these incidents were met with jaw dropping shock because, well, we know better don’t we? But those who were targeted were attacked on a very deep level.

What can we do? We can’t muzzle homophobic white supremacists when they drive their trucks on to the ferry and speed around the island. Neither can we expurgate the minds of  our neighbours before they decide to spray the commons with their racist slurs. But there is something we can do, even if we are too shocked to respond at the time. We can examine the source of the phenomenon. 

Racism is not about the colour of one’s skin; anti-Semitism is not about where you pray;  and homophobia is not about who you love.  All of these are about our fundamental homelessness in a world that measures our worth by the things we own.

If we are valued by our degrees, positions, homes and cars – the blood running through our veins, the ideas in our minds, or our desire to survive have no worth. There is nothing like marketing to bring home this point, and nothing like consumerism to confirm it. It’s the impenetrable matter of our existence that keeps us falling towards fear and prejudice, and if left unchecked, to violence.

In a rabble column Amy Goodman points out that while (in the US), “law-abiding Muslims are forced to hide in their homes, and animal-rights activists are labelled as terrorists for undercover filming of abusive treatment at factory farms, right-wing hate groups are free to organize, parade, arm themselves to the hilt and murder with chilling regularity”.

Seumas Milne in the Guardian, reports far right parties in Europe are “set to win more than 20% of the vote – with Geert Wilders' Muslim-baiting Freedom party not far behind in the Netherlands. So is the virulently anti-Roma and anti-semitic Jobbik in Hungary, while the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece is on the way to winning its first Euro seats.”

After a decade of insecurity, unemployment and falling living standards, rather than voting for parties willing to take on the risk of tackling the uncertain small steps of rebuilding a just society, many vote for blame and hate as a way out.

Is this our fatal flaw? That we prefer to target those with less power rather than challenge our oppressors?  Even if we manage, through revolution, chaos and bloodshed, to remove them, they are soon replaced with new oppressors.

The cyclical rise and fall of empires is built on the labour of the masses.  First it exalts  then steals it through deceit and propaganda. Bigotry, racism, homophobia – are  the devices that keep us enslaved to systems of oppression because we have lost our capacity to imagine a way out.

In our families, communities, and congregations, we have learned how to care for one another, but there isn’t a military strategy, political party or an economic system that will bring this about globally. Every election, parliamentary act or corporate decision moves us closer to humanity or away from it, and every word and deed sits somewhere on the continuum of revering or exploiting life.

Social justice, that thankless, never finished, housekeeping task whose priorities change from minute to minute, IS the price of our freedom.

When an individual is attacked, ridiculed, bullied or demeaned because of who they are, it’s an attack against the dignity of life, against you and I, our children and grand-children, and we can’t afford to ignore it.


  1. Early on in the piece you write, We can examine the source of the phenomenon. - suggesting a single source. But then I am not clear what you take that single source to be. I'm not disagreeing; I just don't know what your remedy is because I'm not sure what the source(s) is/are.

    Social justice, that thankless, never finished, housekeeping task whose priorities change from minute to minute, IS the price of our freedom." Why would the priorities for social justice be in constant flux? Sounds really interesting, but again, I don't know what you mean.
    We should be able to agree what social justice is, I would think. And then work toward achieving it. We should start from "behind the veil of ignorance."

  2. The source is a personal one - to question where my own prejudices come from, when did I begin to have racist opinions. Also I believe it is related to the social source. What informed my opinions about my own race?

    Regarding the housekeeping quote - I should have said "working towards social justice" is a never finished task.

    What is social justice? The Centre for Social Justice says "fighting against inequalities in income, wealth and power".

  3. Unitarian Universalist perspective:

    “We are called upon to engage in the struggle for human betterment. We don’t know ahead of time if we’ll succeed. In fact, we will often fail. But when success does come, it is oh so sweet!” – Rev. Fred Cappuccino


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