Local View: Won't conform? Expect disrespect, discrimination

Though I agree that empathy is needed in discussions involving conflict or discomfort, there's a more important lesson to be learned when it comes to the two ways of dealing with powerful emotional responses involving discrimination.

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Denfeld’s 1947 boys basketball team is the only Denfeld basketball team to win a state title. The team’s head coach was Lloyd Holm. Team members were Rudy Monson, Larry Tessier, Paul Nace, Kenneth Sunnarborg, Eugene Norlander, Howard Tucker, Tony Skull, Jerry Walczak, Bruce Budge, Keith Stolen and student manager Bob Scott.

Though I agree that empathy is needed in discussions involving conflict or discomfort, there's a more important lesson to be learned when it comes to the two ways of dealing with powerful emotional responses involving discrimination.

Gary Burt

The first way is to blame others and the second is to report our emotional responses to others.

As soon as a person blames his or her emotional response on someone or something else, that person gives up personal power to that outside influence. Rather than change themselves, what the blaming person inevitably will try to do is change what is outside of himself or herself. Empathy then may be ineffective - because the only person we can change is ourselves.

It's when we report our responses to others that empathy can be an important factor.


With regard to the recent debate in Duluth over the school district withdrawing "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" from classroom instruction, students who respond negatively to the use of the n-word and then take offense personally are giving power over themselves to those books.

What happens in the real world when the n-word is spoken by a real person? Again, if one takes it personally, one gives power over himself or herself to someone or something outside of themself.

This is what being a victim is all about: the giving up of our power to be affected emotionally to something outside of ourselves. When that happens, we also can give up our power to decide how we'll respond.

In his book, "Emotionally Free," David Viscott wrote: "Accepting responsibility for your (emotional) reactions to events diminishes the blame you can place on others. It also empowers you to change and move on. After all, in the words of the Swahili saying, 'It isn't what name others call you but what name you respond to that determines who you are.'"

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make us feel inferior without our consent."

Taking the n-word personally (or any "negative" event for that matter) gives consent to be affected by something outside of ourselves.

I write all of this knowing what it means to be discriminated against. In fifth grade, back in 1958, I did something opposite from what all the "important" boys in my class wanted to do. For my nonconformity, I was given the nickname "girlie-girl" and was treated as an outcast for the next year and a half. This also led to my being harassed until the end of high school by some of the bullies in my school. I never felt totally safe until I went to college. I gave a lot of power to that name for too many years.

As a white boy in a school of white kids, what I finally came to understand was that I was discriminated against because I didn't conform to the important boy's "rules." I challenged the "pecking order," and so I was seen as different from the prevailing norm, which, even for those fifth-grade boys, and at that time, was the patriarchal-male system - the patriarchal-male system as defined by Anne Wilson-Schaef in her book, "When Society Becomes An Addict." For most of us, the "rules" and the system are learned early.


When the norm one lives under is the patriarchal-male system, all minorities (women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, and others) and those who don't conform are discriminated against, not because of their gender, gender affiliation, race, or the color of their skin. They are discriminated against because they are different from the patriarchal males in power. They do not think, look, or act like patriarchal males so are automatically seen and treated as second-class citizens and not valued or trusted.

It's very easy to assume the discrimination is based on one's gender, gender affiliation, race, or the color of one's skin until one realizes that everyone who is different, everyone who doesn't conform and doesn't defer to those in power, is treated with the same disrespect. The less we conform, the more we are isolated, disrespected, and discriminated against.

The patriarchal male system is based on having power over others rather than sharing power with others. In other cultures or countries, patriarchal males don't have to be white. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a patriarchal male, as are Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the leaders of ISIS. Their primary goal, maybe their only goal, is to control everyone and everything around them while assuming they don't need to control themselves at all.

For that reason, President Donald Trump also is a patriarchal male.


Gary Burt of Marble is a writer and musician.

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