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

Posts tagged ‘racism’

Walk a Mile in their Moccasins

What does the name of Washington, DC’s football team and the 30-mile ridge along the Allegheny Mountains stretching from western Maryland into Pennsylvania have in common?  The names are considered by some to be offensive. For decades, Native Americans, with respect to “Redskins”, and African-Americans, with respect to “Negro” Mountain, have sought to rid the region of these lingering relics of a bygone era. Recognizing that each group’s separate efforts have resulted in little to no success, Cortland Milloy, a columnist for the Washington Post, called for African-Americans and Native Americans to pool their resources to create a stronger voice, one more likely to be heeded. Http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-29/local/36612601_1_offensive-names-washington-redskins-mount-davis.

On another front, Julian Bond and others are trying to forge “a national constituency for civil rights” that includes all Americans standing together to level the playing field for all Americans in our ongoing momentous struggle against inequality and injustice.  After all, as Mr. Bond says, “[lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights are civil rights” worthy of inclusion in our “historic struggle for civil rights” and justice. A critical mass having the power to cut short a politician’s career or detrimentally affect the finances of a reluctant team owner has a better chance of educating the more callous among us and effecting change.

To speak in one voice, however, requires identifying with another’s feelings. Because intolerance is an equal opportunity victimizer, targeting a wide range of characteristics, including race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual preference, age and disability, almost all of us have had the “slings and arrows” of intolerance leveled directly at us. One would think empathy would come easy. Yet, it is still in short supply where intolerance is concerned.

We feign a failure to notice. We stand apart as if we are safe while the “other” is victimized – a “better him than me” mentality. We defend our prejudices by blaming the “other’s” thin-skin. We may even participate in offensive rituals to mask our own fear of being targeted or to pump ourselves up into believing that we are better than “them”. Even if we can say with all certainty that we are not bigots, racists or homophobes, who among us can say we have not laughed at an ethnic joke or said something stereotypically stupid?

Yet, we seethe when vitriol is leveled against us, and are blithely unaware when vitriol spews from us.  Now is the time to walk a mile in their moccasins. Now is the time to feel someone else’s pain. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on this the 50th anniversary of his historic March on Washington – “No one is free [of injustice and intolerance] until everyone is free [of injustice and tolerance]”.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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/

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.

Homophobia and discrimination have no place in scouting

In 1948, Alfred Kinsey sent shock waves through the heterosexual world when he proclaimed that one in every ten men is gay. See, http://www.gallup.com/poll/6961/what-percentage-population-gay.aspx. The percentage may be off, but the concept is not. Heterosexual and homosexual adults and children walk together through life, inexorably intertwined in school, work and social activities. We mix and mingle and yet, for the most part, we are unaware of sexual orientation. For the homophobic, rather than scare, this reality should console.

No doubt, there are evil homosexuals and heterosexuals who populate our lives and the lives of our children. As parents (both homosexual and heterosexual), we must be vigilant to keep our children safe from them. However, the “them” are not evil because of their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts of America’s latest proposal to change its discriminatory rules on gay participation suggests the opposite. The proposal would allow openly gay youth to participate in scouting and would prohibit openly gay adults from participating as scout leaders. At best, the proposal evidences BSA’s lack of confidence in its own programs. At worst, the proposal is blatantly homophobic, discriminatory and inconsistent in its moral teaching.

The new policy is based on the bizarre notion that when gay boys enter adulthood they suddenly become predators and abusers merely because of their sexual orientation. What is even more bizarre if possible is that the Boy Scouts of America, whose mission is to instill “lifetime values”, develop “ethical character” and teach “citizenship, service and leadership”, is making the proposal. Http://www.scouting.org/. The organization apparently believes that gay scouts will mature into predators and abusers notwithstanding years of immersion in the BSA’s character-building programs.

Since no credible evidence exists to support the theory that gay adults are predators as a result of their sexual orientation, the policy is blatantly homophobic and discriminatory. The BSA’s own experience provides some proof of the inaccuracy of this theory. As Kinsey told us, from the founding of the BSA on February 8, 1910, some percentage of youth participants (now over 2.7 million) and adult volunteers (now over 1 million) were and are gay whether or not the BSA permitted their participation. Consequently, for over a century the BSA’s gay adult volunteers at the very least have met the organization’s requirements and functioned in accordance with its stated policies.

By requiring tolerance with respect to only a portion of the gay population, BSA takes a morally incoherent position that cannot withstand logic. Such an indefensible position, however, is not new to the BSA. Until the late 1940’s, rather than prohibiting racial segregation in scouting, the BSA required segregation for those African American boys living in states having segregated schools. As a result, in those jurisdictions the BSA mandated “colored only” troops having facilities and programs inferior to those of their white counterparts and whose African American boys were often not allowed to wear scout uniforms.  Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Boy_Scouts_of_America and http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/african-americans-boy-scout-movement.

Intolerance and discrimination are not “ethical” or a “lifetime value” in America. It is time for the BSA leadership to get in step with the reality of their organization. Homosexual and heterosexual men have been teaching and training homosexual and heterosexual boys since the day the BSA was founded, and will continue to do so whether or not its leadership finally does what is right.

See, http://wapo.st/14z1rdn and http://www.kansascity.com/2013/04/22/4196737/boy-scouts-latest-misstep.html

Photo courtesy of: http://www.glaad.org/blog/president-obama-announces-opposition-boy-scouts-ban-gay-scouts-and-scout-leaders

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

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