The Consistency of Discrimination

Discrimination is a remarkably consistent phenomenon.

In the area of racial discrimination, history shows that blacks were tolerated as long as they stayed “in their place.” Because of the assumed second-class citizenship of African-Americans, whites felt justified in treating them as such, even though many said they “loved” their “nigras.”‘ Nobody, however, wanted an “uppity” Negro; blacks couldn’t hide who they were by virtue of the color of their skin, so they had no choice but to learn how to survive and “stay in their place.”

For gays and lesbians, and indeed people of the LGBT community in general, there has been, again, a feeling that “they” are all right as long as they stay in their place. In the black church, that “place” has historically been in the role of musician – either choir director or accompanist or both. People in these positions might be noticeably gay, but no person in the church would say anything; they were “in their place,” and therefore, tolerable.

But let a member of the LGBT community try to step out of that prescriptive place, and, say, try to work as Director of Christian Education, or perhaps as a Sunday School teacher, deep protest, borne out of deep bias against gays and lesbians, would rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of scriptural righteousness. All of a sudden, “what was right was wrong,” meaning, it was all right for a gay person to be an amazing musician, but it was blasphemous and unconscionable that a person might want to do anything else.

Women in the black church have always had their “place.” Though the majority of membership of most churches tends to be female, the church is still a bastion of male supremacy…and so a woman might be a “deaconess” or she might be relegated to teaching Sunday School or changing the flowers on the altar, but preaching and being a pastor was a no-no. Such a woman had …stepped out of her place.

Older people have their “place.” Employers, too many of them, will look at a person’s age and without even thinking about it, discard him or her as a viable new employee. Old people are OK if they (we!) stay in their place, and their place, apparently, is out of sight, out of mind. Age discrimination is rampant, but we really don’t want to talk about it.

As the comments, commentaries and conversations have escalated since President Obama made his statement in support of gay marriage, I began to think about how successful discrimination depends not only upon the beliefs and determination of another’s status of those who oppress but upon acceptance of that relegation on the part of the oppressed. Discrimination is rather cowardly; it bullies people, but the bullying stops or abates when those being bullied say “enough.”

In the instance of African-Americans and women, the discrimination and relegation to the “back of the bus” has eased up some because people in those groups have pushed back. They have refused to stay “in their place.”  Women and members of the LGBT community, I think, learned much about how to push back against discrimination by watching African-Americans fight for their rights and thus, the feminist and womanist movements changed the lives of women, and the movement for LGBT rights is changing not only the lives of people of that community but also lives of people who have nestled in and taken comfort in their ability to discriminate.

Stepping out of one’s “place”  is risky and painful; power concedes nothing without a struggle and the power that has always been fights against the power that is fighting “to be.” But once someone realizes that the place someone else has relegated to him or her is not all there is and does not have to be permanent if one realizes his or her own worth, in spite of what the common opinion is, the mere urge for a new life and a new reality creates a power that cannot be stopped.

I am guilty of being an idealist; I wish we as humans did not have the capacity to discriminate against each other so easily, but discrimination is not going to end. Perhaps, though, if we understand how consistent are the principles that feed discriminatory behavior, there might be less of it as time goes on, leaving room for people to be who God created them to be, without all the drama.

A candid observation…

 

The President and his Evolution

Much has been made of President Obama’s “evolution” as concerns his belief that same-sex marriages ought to be allowed.

What is the big deal? All of us have evolved when it comes to this issue.

We grew up, even same-gender loving people, in a society where homosexuality was nearly universally decried as the most horrible thing in the world. We grew up where in a time where families either kept the reality of a homosexual child a secret, or where families disowned their own children when their homosexuality was revealed.

We grew up during a time where some of our parents were homosexual but didn’t dare mention or admit it.

Ours was a time where homosexual individuals kept their sexuality a secret, many marrying and having children, not daring to “come out.”  People in the highest places were rumored to be gay, but nobody dared admit it publicly.

We grew up in a time where it was not unusual to hear homosexuals referred to as “fags” or worse. Bullying of gay people was accepted and generally ignored. Ours was a time when even the youngest children, who realized they were gay, chose to live lives of quiet desperation rather than lose friends and family.

And we grew up in a time when religion participated in the cover-up.

The quiet and steady persistence of gay individuals, pushing for their right to exist as full-fledged Americans, with all of the liberties and rights accorded to American citizens, has brought us to this day. The LGBT community, in spite of being deeply hurt and discriminated against, pushed against the Goliath called homophobia, and brought an awareness to our society that our society had long run from. And as they have pushed, Americans have “evolved” in their thinking.

There was a time when the killing of gay people was not really a big thing, and the suicides of gays was not much talked about. There was only moderate outrage over the murder of Matthew Shepard. It was OK to discriminate against gays in employment; openly gay children were kept out of camps, out of school activities …and nobody said a thing. Many churches have been unflinching in their hatred of gays (though they will not say it’s hatred), reminding gay individuals that they, according to the Bible, are an “abomination”  to God.

Some people participated fully in the horrific treatment of gays, and others were silent. They were “evolving.” They were considering not only their own beliefs, but how their lives would be impacted if they stepped up and said something to the effect that such treatment of fellow human being was, well, just wrong.

And now, those who have “evolved” – and that would be all of us – are speaking up and speaking out.

President Obama, I believe, did the right thing by stating his support of gay marriage. He did not say he was making if a federal policy; he is leaving the decision of whether or not a state will allow gay marriage up to the states – but he was absolutely right in what he did. He is a public servant, not a pastor. He is bound to live by and follow the U.S. Constitution and our other illustrious documents, which say that “all men are created equal.”  Those words have been at the base of getting rights for African-Americans, women, and other groups who have been discriminated against by government. Government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people and for the people,” and the president did exactly as he should have as the highest ranking and most powerful public servant in this country, and the most powerful man in the world.

In our history, too many presidents have been mum on issues of discrimination – racial, sexual and otherwise. They have been politicians par excellence, and have put the desire for votes above and ahead of their duty to make life more equitable and bearable for all Americans.

This president has stepped up. What he did was morally right. What he said does not, will not and should not change one’s theology; theological beliefs come from a different source, as well they should. But what he said has made a group of people who have too long been discriminated against feel their validity and value as Americans is finally being recognized.

This is “change.” Some can believe in it, and some cannot, but that’s the nature of change.

A candid observation.

Wikipedia: LGBT is an initialism that collectively refers to the “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender” community.

President Obama: Courageous Up to a Point

Whether or not one agrees with the work President Barack Obama has done overall, there is one stand-out quality that he seems to have: the courage it takes to be a leader.

From the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Obama has taken on one Goliath after another. Many thought (and still think) that his push for affordable health care for the vast majority of Americans via the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a game-changer, an act of political suicide.

Then there were the bail-outs of the big banks and the auto industry. It is hard to understand why big business says the president has worked against them when these bail-outs really helped…big business, so much so that the president earned the ire of Liberals like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, as well as others, who said he did not do and has not done enough for the poor.

There was the decision to go after and kill Osama Bin Laden in one of the riskiest moves one might imagine. There was no guarantee that that mission was going to be successful. Had it failed, his career as president would have been over, and even in light of its success, he has drawn criticism for “politicizing” it during this campaign. Still, the courage it took to make that decision and to stand by it is notable.

Now, he has come out in support of gay marriage. It is yet another decision that took courage not  because there is anything wrong with gay marriage but because angry Conservatives, including Tea Party members, are going to use it to skewer him in this upcoming presidential campaign.

The president has worked to fulfill the promises he made during the 2008 campaign, in spite of bitter opposition from the Republicans and an outburst of opposition from the American public as the Affordable Health Care Act became law. He has tackled the economy and done, it seems, the best he could, given the opposition, and has held the line – his line- even as he has nervously watched the unemployment rate hover between horrible and disastrous. Every day, it seems, there has been yet another decision of monumental proportion, and he has taken those decisions on and acted decisively.

The only area in which the president has not shown much courage is in the area of race, racial politics, and racism as an American reality. It seems like, feels like, the president is afraid to talk about it or even mention it, for fear of certain criticism that he is playing the race card. Anything he says and/or does as an African-American is carefully scrutinized, with people ready to accuse him of showing partiality to one race over another, and Mr. Obama, it seems, has caved into the pressure of not bringing that Trojan Horse into the middle of the nation’s woes.

Consider what felt like a fairly innocent and rancor-free statement that the president issued in the height of the attention that was paid to the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. All the president said was that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. Duh. That’s an innocuous statement, and yet people waiting to see even the slightest hint of

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

favoritism toward African-Americans jumped all over him.

It is a shame that the courageous president cannot be courageous when it comes to race; the political capital he would spend were he to delve into and address matters of race would far exceed that he spent even on getting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed.  And …it’s a shame, because African-Americans are still the lowest on the American totem pole in areas including education, health care, poverty and unemployment. Surely, there is much to do and much to say.

Ironically, white presidents could address issues of race without spending as much political capital as Mr. Obama would. President Eisenhower showed courage when he ordered that segregation in public places had to end, and President Harry Truman likewise showed courage when he ordered that the United States military had to be integrated.

Mr. Obama could never get away with making a decision that would even appear to help black, brown or poor people too much. He would be seen as biased.

So it’s sad that this president, who has shown such chutzpah in all these other areas, has been loth to step into the swirling waters of institutional and structural racism.

It’s too bad, because he has shown that he is tougher than nails…and it is significant that not even this man of courage, who knows racism first hand, cannot brave this Goliath.

A candid observation …