On Lynching…

We think we’re post-racial and that lynching is a thing of the past.

But that’s because we don’t understand what lynching is.

Yes, one is “lynched” if and when one is hung by a rope around one’s neck. We all know that.

But lynching is a little more than that. According to definitions, a lynching occurs if one is murdered by mob rule without legal sanction. That murder may be in the form of a hanging, but doesn’t have to be. It can be a shooting, or a stabbing, or a brutal beating. Emmet Till was lynched, being beaten to death and thrown into a river. James Byrd was murdered by three men and dragged along a road by a pick-up truck .  Matthew Shepard was beaten to death …

Those are lynchings. It still goes on, these murders by mob violence, with governments and law enforcement still looking the other way. The death of 17-year old Kendrick Johnson feels like a present-day lynching, which would have gone ignored had it not been for his parents and community who refused to stop trying to find out what really happened to him.  It feels a lynching..

I would say that in this country, while technically lynching does not have legal sanction, one of its horrible identifying marks is that DOES have  and that it has been, in fact,  sanctioned and supported by the law. Had it not been for Ida B Wells Barnett and the people who worked with her, one has to wonder if we would still be seeing bodies hanging from trees.

There were anti-lynching bills introduced to the United States Congress in  the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, but there was never a law.   Filibusters, primarily by Southern lawmakers, prevented that. The legislature, charged to make laws to protect American citizens, didn’t do its job. Congress apologized for that in 2005.

One might argue that lynching doesn’t happen anymore. Some might naively offer that there is no more mob violence,  But mobs (sometimes only two or three can make up a mob) still produce acts of domestic terrorism on individuals, be they black, gay, or despised for any number of other reasons, and mass incarceration seems like mob violence of the most vile sort, a systemically violent experience again supported by the legislative and judicial branches of government.

When I was in middle school, a fellow student said that one cannot legislate morality. True.  We were talking about lynching and how it was wrong, and this student, a white female, protested that there was nothing that could be done.

On some levels, perhaps she has a point. Laws cannot produce compassionate individuals.

But the murder, demonization and decimation of human beings, American citizens, ought to stir up outrage enough that laws are passed that say this nation believes in the human rights of all people, not just people overseas.  Lynching still happens, and it is unconscionable.

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.