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What is Stigma?

Posted on May 6, 2015 in Accountability Bigots Stigma

The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came.

Umberto Eco

square874Let me start out by stating that I do not believe in “self-stigma”: I believe in guilt, shame, and despair but labeling these as “self-stigma” cheapens the meaning of stigma. There may or may not be a motive behind the invention of this term, but the result is that it implies that the people who are the principal victims of stigma are in a conspiracy — or confederacy if you prefer — against themselves.

To further explain what stigma is and isn’t, let me use a parallel that was laid out to me by a friend who was explaining certain terms used to describe race relations. White people often accuse African Americans of being racist, too. African Americans dispute this. My friend — an African American woman — acknowledged that African Americans often hold deeply seated racial and ethnic prejudices. But this isn’t racism because racism requires another element: power. White Americans are in a position to make their racial prejudices inflict suffering on the lives of African Americans. Witness, for example, the unwritten DWB (“Driving While Black”) policies of certain police departments including “America’s safest city” (for white people) Irvine, California. The policy is enforced when a black person drives through the city of Irvine. Because of their skin color, they are assumed to be up to no good and pulled over for some minor infraction. The result is that they are made to feel unwelcome in this college town. That is a ~comparatively~ “mild” example, but American history is rife with other exemplars up to the present day.

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