Author of Adam and Steve, a novel about reexamining your prejudices

Posts tagged ‘prejudice’

The back-firing of the “George Zimmerman” Defense

For the most part, those macho white males who love their guns and their right to carry and use them whenever and wherever they please enacted in over 30 states “Stand Your Ground” laws. These laws permit individuals to defend themselves with deadly force when they feel threatened, an extraordinarily subjective standard affected by, among other things, prejudice, intolerance and racial profiling. Even in New York City where minorities make up more than half the population and racial profiling abounds, carrying a gun is a white man’s sport. The NYPD stops African-Americans and Latinos 84% of the time, although they comprise only 54% of the population. Of those stops, the NYPD is more likely to discover a weapon on one of 49 whites as compared to one of 93 African-Americans. SeeStop and Frisk and the Urgent Need for Meaningful Reforms, issued by the Office of Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate for the City of New York, 2013.

Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a jury acquitted George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, of murdering Trayvon Martin, an African-American youth. In doing so, the jury defined the parameters of the threat necessary to kill with impunity.  Although Zimmerman stalked Martin, Martin apparently caused his own death when he stood his ground and, although unarmed,  confronted an armed Zimmerman. A fight ensued with Martin overpowering the beefier and more out of shape Zimmerman. Zimmerman, more frightened of Martin than Martin was of Zimmerman, was then free to fatally shoot the teenager. See, http://wapo.st/18mnWVo.

The defense protested that race was not an issue. Yet, it was. Like so many Americans, including law enforcement professionals and wannabes, George Zimmerman racially profiled his target. A tall and strapping African-American youth walked before him after dark in a residential neighborhood, with hood covering his head. In Zimmerman’s world, he needed nothing more in order to fear the teenager.  Nonetheless, more could have been present. Because Zimmerman carried a gun, he might have had a heightened sense of paranoia – definitely not something George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin needed on that dark, Florida street. See, Notre Dame Study referred to in: Study: Carrying a gun can make you more paranoid, http://smrt.io/GJWRYk.

We have heard a myriad of calls for calm directed at our African-American community, a community with the right to be angry. Because of racial profiling, one of their and our own was killed. Yet we have heard nothing directed at our non-African American community cautioning that the “Stand Your Ground” laws do not grant free rein to harass, hurt and kill those different from themselves.

Thanks to that Florida jury, we are all fair game to the possible unintended consequences of the Zimmerman verdict. To the victim of profiling, remember Trayvon Martin. The danger to your life from a man following you is very real. If you stand your ground and kill the stalker with your concealed weapon, Zimmerman’s jury may have handed you a tried and true defense.  To the woman who has always felt that chill of fear walking a dark street with a man too close behind, you might now have the right to stand your ground and take his life, making him the next victim of the “George Zimmerman” defense.  The white man’s hard-fought for right to carry and use firearms may very well have just backfired.

TrayvonMartinHooded

Image of Trayvon Martin courtesy of: http://trayvonmartinfoundation.org/about/

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Paula Deen and the N word.

Paula Deen

Image courtesy of: http://tmz.me/11d4GWR

Paula Deen’s, “Yes, of course,” to the question, “Have you ever used the N word yourself?” exhibits the crudeness and cockiness of Paula Deen’s racism.  Because of her words, the Food Network, Wal-Mart, Smithfield Foods, and Caesars Entertainment have dumped Ms. Deen, as her many followers extol her virtues and forgive her improprieties, and her many detractors abhor her remarks.

Her apologists do not blame Ms. Deen. Rather, they blame history. Apparently, Ms. Deen’s racism is understandable in light of her Southern upbringing. We are to believe the hackneyed stereotypes that Southerners are too ignorant, stupid or racist to appreciate or care about the use of the N word and other slurs, racist and anti-Semitic jokes and a life time of inappropriate and hateful language.

Southerners, as a whole, are not stupid, ignorant nor racist. Many cringe at Ms. Deen’s words and attitude. They understand the brutal legacy of dehumanizing a race of people for financial gain. They know that slavery and treason to uphold slavery was not the South’s finest hour, and they take no pride in that chapter of American history.

Ms. Deen tearfully denies her racism. However, her offered explanations do not provide the exoneration she seeks.

  • It does not matter that Ms. Deen may love like a “son by another father”, Hollis Johnson, a man “black as that board”. Her words remain racist and intolerant.
  • It does not matter that Ms. Deen’s great-grandfather committed suicide at the end of the Civil War when he lost his son and slaves and had to work his plantation himself. History cannot alter today’s intolerance.
  • It does not matter that Ms. Deen transfers the blame for her situation to unidentified people who envy what she has accomplished. Her infantile attempt to shirk responsibility does not absolve her of culpability.
  • It does not matter that Ms. Deen is part of that enormous group of people who have said something for which they are sorry. Her sins are not justified by the sins of others.

The fashioning of Ms. Deen as an American cliché does not help her cause. She is of an age and worldly enough to know the hurt of racial slurs and intolerant language heightened by a callous attitude. She knows or should know better. Ms. Deen will now face the consequences of her folksy self-judgment – “I is what I is, and I’m not changing.”

See, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PL02LMD8Gw, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKWCJUxXJ6E, http://www.uproxx.com/tv/2013/06/video-of-paula-deen-making-insensitive-racial-comments-surfaces/ and http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/06/paula-deen-racial.php.

Dr. Carson – you know better.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition [of marriage]”, so said Baltimore’s renowned neurosurgeon, Benjamin Carson on Fox News. Dr. Carson apologized for his “not the best choice of words,” by explaining what he meant. He said, “no group of individuals, whoever they are, whatever their belief systems, gets to change traditional definitions.” The doctor was wrong on two counts.

First, far too many people unfairly and indefensibly equate homosexuality with pedophilia or bestiality, and then use that equation as a scare tactic to limit the rights of homosexuals. Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, has nothing to do with sexual predatory behavior. Sexual predators, whether towards children or animals, can be either homosexual or heterosexual. As we are all too well aware, a sexual predator may even have taken a vow of celibacy. There is simply no statistic that evidences sexual predatory behavior as being more prevalent in homosexuals. In fact, the statistics prove otherwise. In 1995 when homophobia was far more rampant than it is today, local child protection service agencies identified 126,000 children who were victims of either substantiated or indicated sexual abuse, of whom, 75% were girls. http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims.

Second, although many states have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, their definition isn’t sacrosanct. Contrary to Dr. Carson’s belief, the Supreme Court is one group of individuals who can and did change the traditional definition of marriage. Not long ago a significant number of states in these United States defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman of the same race. In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court found unconstitutional all  laws barring interracial marriage. In the time it took to write its opinion, the Court changed the traditional definition of marriage forever.

The Supreme Court based its expanded definition of marriage on the legal principle that “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.” The Court used the word “man” to identify the beneficiary of the right of marriage. If the Court meant to limit the right to males only, then gays are surely within the benefitted group. Of course, the Court meant no such thing. Rather, the Court assured that the civil right to marry benefitted all mankind. The Court could have confirmed Dr. Carson’s traditional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, albeit without regard to race, but chose not to.

Dr. Carson is too smart and too old not to understand that our traditional definition of marriage was born of injustice. Over time, we change definitions to include the rights of the disenfranchised, whether, for example, they be women or African-Americans.  Our willingness to expand those benefitting from our civil rights is what makes America great and unique among the countries of the world.

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Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson. Photo courtesy of: http://www.biography.com/people/ben-carson-475422

“Illegals” and “Illegal aliens” – Words of Shame

English: Statue of Liberty Gaeilge: Dealbh na ...

Statue of Liberty – Estatua de la Libertad  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other than Native Americans, we are a country of immigrants who left their homelands, their possessions, their families and friends, their culture and all they considered familiar in the hope of finding the American Dream. We continue  to have a rich and diverse society because of our immigrants who come to us today for much the same reason.

Although we take pride in our country’s uniqueness created by the diverse cultures living together within our borders, we treat our Latino immigrants with disdain and contempt. We won’t acknowledge the sacrifice they’ve made to brave a new world. Rather, when Latino immigrants arrive in the United States, they’re met with a growing antagonism, prejudice, distrust and, in some parts of our country, rage at their presence which follows them and their families for generations – well after they’ve become citizens who have had their own children born and raised in the United States.

An Associated Press-Univision Poll found that our Latino immigrants and Latino or Hispanic Americans are the most discriminated minority in the United States. See, http://bo.st/13c8TJZ.

Immigration is no longer popular, and Latino immigration is openly unaccepted. There is no better proof than that we label our Latino immigrants “illegals” or “illegal aliens”, two terms that criminalize them whether or not they’ve done anything criminal.  We call them “wetbacks” as if the people making a perilous trip to find a better life are ignoble rather than heroic.

When our government’s immigration policy fosters distrust, we assure that our prejudices are passed to our children, geometrically increasing our intolerance. We cannot expect otherwise when, for example, Arizona legalizes racial profiling in its “show me your papers” law, by allowing the police to question citizenship while enforcing other laws. www.nbcnews.com/id/49077650/ns/us_news/.

This is not the America I want to leave to my grandchildren, whose great grandparents were immigrants themselves. Fortunately, they came to the United States when we were still proud of “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Recognizing that Emma Lazarus had poetically and simply stated an American core value, we inscribed her words on a plaque inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.  It’s time we rediscover the true meaning of that noble statue and apply it to all our “huddled masses” equally.

See, http://bo.st/13c8TJZ   and http://www.latinoopinion.com/category/prejudice-and-discrimination/.

It’s the right time for VAWA

Although women comprise 51% of the electorate, they’ve been a strangely silent majority. That silence may have lulled some of our misogynistic politicians to ignore the cardinal rule of elective politics.  Vote against 51% of the electorate and it’s very likely you won’t remain in office. Republican Senators, at least with respect to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), got the message. With their Democratic counterparts, they overwhelmingly passed the reauthorization sending it to the House. What the House Republicans will do is anyone’s guess. 

VAWA was comprehensive legislation enacted in 1994 to counteract the growing violence against women in our country. It provided for, among other things, the strengthening of penalties for sex offenders; training VAWA evil of police, prosecutors and judges; establishing of the National Domestic Violence Hotline; providing legal relief for battered immigrant women; and protecting Native American women who very much-needed protecting since one Native American woman in three had been a victim of sexual violence, and she had a ten times greater chance of being murdered. (http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-violence-women-20130213,0,3781667.story). See, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/vawa factsheet.pdf

By everyone’s standards, VAWA was a huge success. Intimate partner violence declined by 67%; homicides of females decreased by 35%; reporting of domestic violence significantly increased; and all states strengthened their domestic violence laws.  http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/vawa factsheet.pdf.  Notwithstanding the impressive outcomes, in 2011 VAWA expired and Congress, as it has with other much-needed legislation, wouldn’t act in a bipartisan way to reauthorize VAWA. Conservative Republicans identified three provisions each concerning minority women that they couldn’t support.

 Women’s health and safety are at stake. Consequently, VAWA is not the legislation for Republican Congressmen to vote their prejudices. Rather, VAWA presents the perfect opportunity for them to show they care about every woman, especially since being tolerant and compassionate to battered women shouldn’t be all that difficult. As Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said “a victim is a victim is a victim – and violence is violence.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/senate-votes-to-reauthorize-violence-against-women-act/2013/02/12/ddb2487e-752c-11e2-95e4-6148e45d7adb_story.html

It’s a no-brainer. Ending violence against women should be universally supported at least in the eyes of that 51%. Republican Congressmen take note. Voting your intolerance could shorten your career immeasurably.

Obesity – Fair Game

I get it. Rex Reed didn’t like the movie Identity Thief starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. Although Mr. Reed believes the movie is far from an Academy award-winning production, that doesn’t give him license to trash Ms. McCarthy, not based on her performance, but rather on her size.  We learn from Mr. Reed that Ms. McCarthy is “tractor-sized”, a “female hippo”, and “a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success.”

Photo courtesy of: http://blog.nola.com/davidcuthbert/2008/01/tennessee_idol_contest_new_at.html

Mr. Reed’s comments are small-minded and intolerant, but not surprising. Unlike most other forms of prejudice, the obese intolerant blame the obese for their condition and the resulting humiliation, embarrassment and inequality they suffer at the hands of the intolerant.  That little turnabout permits the intolerant to express their prejudice with impunity, as Mr. Reed did. For the most part, the intolerant may be right. There’s no federal law punishing weight-based discrimination and only a handful of state legislatures have seen fit to enact such laws.  http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/what_we_do.aspx?id=206.  Without legal prohibitions, the intelligence and talents of the obese, which are unaffected by body type, go untapped. A full 16% of the employers questioned admitted that obesity is “an absolute bar to employment”. http://nyti.ms/WErAT3.

There’s little to stop the weight discrimination and obese intolerance that flows from the bigot who feels justified in his bigotry. Stereotypically, from an early age and out of the mouths of elementary school children, the obese are accused of being “dirty”, “lazy”, “ugly”, “stupid”, and “sloppy”.  http://nyti.ms/WErAT3. That’s how early this intolerance starts.

Since obesity cannot be hidden, the obese are obvious targets for the ostracism, humiliation, despair and, at times, violence that follows them throughout their lives.  Such visceral disregard seems strange given that over 50% of our population is overweight (which may include Mr. Reed) and 18% are obese. See, http://nyti.ms/WErAT3

As a society, we cannot afford to lose the inherent abilities of over 18% of our population. The time has come to “separate our weight from our worth” (Kelsey Rae Eller, http://bit.ly/WVI3Sc).  If we succeed in making that separation, then we not only free the obese to maximize their potential, but free ourselves from our unworthy intolerance. In that regard, Mr. Reed would benefit from tuning in to Ms. McCarthy’s acclaimed television show, Mike and Molly. There he’ll see that the overweight can, for example, be caring, loving, intelligent and talented, maybe even more so than Mr. Reed.

Image courtesy of: http://www.mynjattorneys.com/employmentlaw/

There Ought To Be A Law

Here’s the thing.  At best the bigot is a thief, at worst, his thievery is murder, plain and simple. The bigot is much like the common crook, only worse – so much worse. The common crook steals property. Maybe he’ll use it to buy a loaf of bread or a much needed fix.  The bigot, however, steals significantly more than property.  The bigot steals human dignity. Once stolen, the bigot has no use for it at all. A purely gratuitous taking.

I’m not talking about hate crimes, for which we have laws.  I’m talking about your run-of-the-mill this is America, and I’m free to spew anything I damn well please intolerance, whether it’s directed at a racial, religious or ethnic group, a gender or a sexual orientation. Make no mistake, intolerance is invidious and meant, from the first uttered intolerant word, to bring a person down, to make that person feel less about themselves and to instill fear and shame.  At the same time, the bigot gets the benefit of the equal and opposite reaction.  The bigot experiences an undeserved high, puffing and strutting, because he has the power to make someone feel small.  That power, in and of itself, makes him, by his own standards, better than “those people”.

Bring all of this foolishness into the schoolyard, and the bigot inflicts pain on impressionable children who will carry the scars of intolerance for the rest of their lives. It stands to reason that if a child is told often enough that he is worthless, that child will believe his worthlessness. This is not rocket science.  Not many children can withstand the bigot’s ugly “truth”.  For why would anyone say such hateful things, except if they were true.

When a gay, lesbian or transgender child can no longer cope in this world,  find sanctuary in this world, carve his own place in this world or merely survive in this world, then the bigot has become a murderer, a killer of spirit, if not a killer of life.  For that, there ought to be a law.

image curtesy of: http://unshaned.wordpress.com

Someone Close to me Must be Gay.

This is a caption I know this is going to sound like a sermon,  so I beg your foregiveness first.  But I am so tired of people assuming that someone close to me, like my son or daughter, must be gay, just because I’ve written a novel about marriage equality.  Why make that assumption? Do we really need to experience first hand or damn near close to first hand, the pain of inequality and intolerance, before we can understand the harm they cause, much less before we affirmately speak out?

The pain of inequality and intolerance cross all human boundaries.  Many groups and individuals have felt that pain at different times and under different circumstances.  We shouldn’t need to be close to someone in the targeted group to understand and be compassionate. Intolerance is just plain wrong, and nobody should be made to suffer its pain. As Americans, we should know this viscerally.

But even if the appearance of our better self is only triggered by the pain of knowing someone well who is suffering, then rest assured each of us knows such a person.  It might be our daughter, mother, wife or sister experiencing sexual harrassment or unequal treatment; our African-American, Muslim or Jewish friend or family member experiencing the hatred caused by prejudice; or our grandparent or great uncle or aunt manueving the uncharted waters of age discrimination at a time in their lives when they may be least able to handle the pain. In fact, if you think about it, you, personally, may have felt the sting of intolerance at the office or in your home.  Are you too heavy, too blond, too “gay”?  Simply, people hate for many reasons, and we are not ammune from them all.

Inequality and mistreatment are general concepts. They follow naturally from prejudice and intolerance.  It’s unnecessary to experience first hand the suffering they cause, because intolerance of someone else is truly “but for the grace of God go I”.  It’s just right to care about intolerance and the mistreatment of others.  Do what’s right.  Don’t wait for the pain of intolerance to hit home, because it’s hitting someone’s home, if not yours.

Adam and Steve

Kate is apprehensive about meeting her son Joey for the first time in thirteen years-the first time Adam&Stevesince she gave birth to him and relinquished custody to the father, Michael Shaw. She’s invited to Michael’s home where he lives with his husband, Stuart Shaw, a restaurant manager. Kate feels a bit uncomfortable, and this turns to shock when she discovers naked pictures of Joey on Stuart’s phone.

Thinking her son is in danger from a pedophile stepfather, she and her husband, Larry, sue for custody of Joey. For Stuart, the possible loss of his stepson culminates a lifetime of victimization by homophobes, whether it be his mother, classmate, employer, the average man in a bar letting loose after a hard day’s work, or the judge who decides his family’s fate. Michael and Stuart must discover who took the pictures in order to prove Stuart didn’t do anything to endanger his stepson and to regain custody of Joey. Stuart refuses to be a victim and demands to be heard, but that could change his destiny.

A novel of legal intrigue, Adam and Steve explores the timely subjects of marriage equality, child custody, prejudice against homosexuality, and gay marriage laws as Michael and Stuart face a difficult struggle to maintain their family.

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