I recently read a post on social media that was offered as an abuttal to the ‘All Lives Matter’ statement. It used the house on fire analogy, which is basically this: in a street of many houses one house is on fire. All the houses matter but only the one on fire matters right now.
I do not agree with this analogy. The premise it uses is that only one house is on fire and that this house is the one that represents racism towards black people. It seems to me, however, that there are many houses on fire. Houses that represent prejudice towards people who are disabled, of a different religion, gender, sexual orientation, or race, are also burning.
My own experience of prejudice is the result of my being physically disabled. I actually did not know that there was anything different about myself until my mother took me to school for my very first day of attendance. One of the first things that I learnt then was that not all children are the same and I was very different to most of my schoolmates. During the 1960’s and 1970’s I was aware that within the education system children who were physically disabled were also presumed to be mentally impaired as well. Within mainstream schools of the day they were seen as underachievers and marginalised accordingly. This was not the result of a conscious bias on the part of the teachers at the schools I attended; it was, and is, a product of society itself.
Social structures within most civilisations have been built upon defining what is seen as the norm, usually the dominant traits with a given population. Appearance is a common first point of definition. Those who fit the norm, who have the desired body shape, skin, hair, and eye colour, are accepted, those who do not are often marginalised. The disabled have a long history that goes back to the beginning of civilisation in which they are consistently marginalised in this fashion. They have frequently been the victims of active persecution. This social trend continues into the present simply because the prejudice that inspires it also does.
The House on Fire analogy is also discriminatory in that it claims only one of many houses is on fire. It is making a distinction in favour of a single group despite the evidence that other houses occupied by other groups are also on fire.
The Equality Act of 2010 lists eight protected characteristics that have been found to be subject to both prejudice and discriminatory practices, and they are:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
All lives matter is an inclusive statement that expresses the egalitarian ideal that all people, irrespective of any other characteristic, should experience an equality of treatment and opportunity within society. This model of social inclusion will only be achieved if prejudice is challenged on a broad front. It is a curious trait of human nature, however, that people who feel themselves to be marginalised often marginalise others. This has been the experience of the disabled, even though their protected characteristic is the only one that can and does include any or most of the other seven.