I’m a serial discriminator. White, millennial, college-educated. I should know better, right? I’m fairly progressive and pride myself on the open mind I hold towards those who are different from me. It’s been hard work to cultivate within myself a posture of acceptance and inclusion towards others, no matter how odd, but I’ve done it! And I’m proud of myself. I mean it. I’m good.
Plop me down at a dinner table next to a gay Jew or a black, breastfeeding mom with socialist leanings, or even an Evangelical preacher with a thick southern accent and a Bible in hand and I’ll have great night. I’ll talk politely and say the right things and I’m sure we’ll all be edified by each other’s company and it will be great. I’m liberal like that, and my zone of acceptance is pretty damn big and there’s room for everybody.
As long as you smell good.
See, I have this problem with people who smell bad. I understand, intellectually, that everybody has a right to smell however they’d like, and I know some people don’t even have a choice about how they smell. And that’s all well and good. I know the theories behind smell-patterns and how your culture influences your smell and how your upbringing influences your smell and how if you were raised by two moms you probably smell better, generally, than if you had been raised by two dads or foster parents. I’m familiar with the politics of scent, the power plays behind cologne choice and the long-standing debate between those on different sides of the aisle concerning appropriate perfume usage. I have to confess; I’m not even that great in the smell department myself. I mean, on a good day I’m wearing deodorant and I don’t stink, but that’s usually as good as it gets. I wore some special cologne on Valentines Day and my girlfriend barely noticed, which kind of made me cynical about the whole commercialized scent racket and also hopeless about my prospects for success in the scent department. If anybody should have sympathy towards those with exotic scent preferences or tragic scent needs, it should be me. I’m liberal, after all. Educated.
But I don’t. And I’m not sorry about it. If you’re in a room with me and you smell bad, I’m going to judge you. Probably shoot you a nasty glance or too. If you pass me in a restaurant or walking down an airplane aisle and I get a bad whiff, that’s it. I’m pissed and we’re not going to be friends. That’s just the way it is. And it’s justified.
You see I have rights. I am an American citizen and, as stated by the Constitution of the United States, I own the air around my face. It’s mine, and you can’t infringe on it. Smell however you’d like in the privacy of your own home, but once you step out that door and into my airspace, your choice becomes my problem. And that is not okay.
I know this all sounds tongue and cheek. Like I’m writing a satire or something, to make fun of the lawmakers in my state who just asked permission to legalize discrimination against gay people. But it’s not! I’m being serious. I, Austin Thomas, white, young, educated, progressive, have a discrimination problem. If we are strangers and I cross paths with you and you stink, I’m going to judge you and think nasty thoughts about you, and it’s always going to be like that. It’s natural, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. Everybody has his or her thing.
There’s a difference though, between me, and the people in my state trying to legalize discrimination. I recognize my problem as just that, a problem. My judgment of other peoples scent choices is hypocritical, and doesn’t lead to anything good. This, it has in common with all other types of discrimination. It’s justifiable and maybe people can hear about it and see where I’m coming from, maybe people can even relate. My campaign against stink isn’t all that evil and it is natural and (morally motivated or not) it doesn’t make me a bad person.
But it is wrong.
I don’t agree with my governor on much. Probably not even the specifics of the gay issue. But she made me proud Wednesday, because she said no to discrimination. She did something right. You see this isn’t a discussion about morals or religion or lifestyle choice or something. This isn’t a discussion about rights, freedom, God. This discussion that we’re all having right now, all across the nation, is about community. The kind of community we have right now and the kind we’d like to have in a couple years. The kind of neighbors we are now, and the kind of neighborhoods we’d like to build.
I’d like to build neighborhoods where people are different and they are loved. I understand that this is optimistic and probably naive, and I understand that this means I will probably have to live next to some people who smell bad and maybe even some Republicans. If I’m being honest, that doesn’t sound appealing to me. But it does sound right, and it does sound good. I’d life for our country to build neighborhoods instead of walls, to build honest communities instead of camps. And I’d like, as a confessed serial discriminator and non-apologetic liberal, to say thank you to my Republican Governor for reminding me of that. For taking a step in that direction. Maybe I’ll be that brave. Someday.
WATCH: Luis Cortes, President of Esperanza, on Immigration and Discrimination