Friday, June 26, 2015

Today in America

The Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, where nine were murdered, is located on Calhoun Street. John C. Calhoun was a staunch champion of the succession movement that resulted in the Civil War. He stated that slavery was not a necessary evil but “positive good.” I'm not sure why the response to the particular murder of nine church goers has been the removal, or attempted removal of a single, but potent symbol--the Confederate flag--from statehouses across the South and Walmart. It is extraordinary that this didn't happen right after the Emancipation Proclamation. Thousands of Germans suffered and died for the sake of the Reich but as far as I know there is no public nostalgia for Nazi imagery. It would be unrealistic, this late in the game, to remove all references to the Confederacy from the South. For any African American person with a knowledge of history though it must be like if I had to contend with living at the intersection of Goebbels Street and Himmler Avenue. Still, the recent cry to eliminate the flag of the Confederacy seems an insultingly small gesture towards reparation. For the nine lives lost we'll finally get around to removing a symbol of hatred we've displayed for over a century too long.

Obama had to do some major back peddling with regard to his apt observation about small town Americans,who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy for people who aren't like them.” Many on the left believed that the first African American president would be a giant leap forward towards eradicating racism in America but in many ways I believe the result has been the opposite, bringing white American fears to a head and creating an impediment to more enlightened attitudes about people of color and sane gun controls.

My own single foray into the deep South included a visit to the Holly Springs Mississippi Historical Museum. Our docent, a retired history teacher, apologized that there was inadequate representation of the black community. One exhibit had a hand written display card which alluded to the equal rights movement but included the phrase “colored people.” The top floor of the museum is dedicated to local education and has local high school class pictures dating back to the 1920s. Class pictures from the white high school. A separate wall has a couple of 1960s photos from the all black high school.

I guess this is what's to be expected for the most part in the South but it is surprising how pervasive racism still is, even where one would least expect it. African American comedian W. Kamau Bell lives in Berkeley. His wife, who is white, was sitting in a cafe with three white girlfriends and a gaggle of small children. Bell arrived and showed the group a book he had just purchased. A restaurant employee assumed he was trying to sell something and told him to “scram.”

Despite the incessant shrill rhetoric of Christian wingnuts, the Pew Foundation polls report that the number of Americans who identify as Christians has markedly decreased. Perhaps this is in reaction to religion being evoked repeatedly as a rationale for hatred and discrimination. Here on the left coast many of my peers use the term “Christian” only pejoratively and synonymously with narrow mindedness. In the wake of Emmanuel AME slaughter, the survivors of the slain offered forgiveness to the murderer and prayed for the redemption of his soul. While membership is decreasing, Christianity remains our nation's top banana religion. I hope the compassion and spirit of the Gospel that imbue the grieving congregants of Emmanuel AME is an inspiration to adherents of all faiths and the faithless as well.

As we are being reminded yet again of a chasm that should have closed generations ago, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to affirm the right of marriage equality. The Christian right is going full throttle strident about the prospect of gay weddings. But generations from now it will be inconceivable that LGBT people had ever been denied this right. However, in 2008 Obama said that he was opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds. I suspect that Obama's personal and religious beliefs were more moderate than this would indicate but as recently as this, one supported equal marriage at the risk of political suicide.

Why has the cause of gay equality progressed in the country so much more swiftly than racial equality? Because perhaps, for appearances, LGBT people are different from the majority only in the bedroom. There is of course a long history of hatred and persecution but discrimination for reason of sexual orientation has never been as institutionalized like discrimination against people of color. There are, to my knowledge, no monuments honoring proponents of the enslavement of gay people.

Even given this remarkable triumph, I know too that while LGBT Americans are at last free, like the rest of us, to fall in love and marry, there still will be bullying and discrimination to contend with. It may be heretical to say this but perhaps racial tensions will subside when Obama completes his term. Unless of course Ben Carson wins in which case we'll have way more than a racist backlash to worry about.

The Supreme Court makes me feel, for the first time in a while, proud to be an American. This sensitive, compassionate, and fair decision gives me hope that common sense is not dead and perhaps, despite setbacks we are indeed on the road to justice for all.

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