Tag Archives: discrimination

Do We Have To Make Racists Comfortable?

No sooner did an African American take the oath of office as the President of the United States than racists (and those who tolerate them) began slathering on the euphemisms and buzz words for making opposition to him credible.  Remember the e-mails that made the rounds? The ones with “bones in noses” and “watermelons on the White House lawn?” And the response, “We were only joking.”

Obama racist cartoon

Those who found this cartoon amusing are racists. Purely and simply racist. Those who took these people seriously are enablers .. consider CNN’s “debate” about whether this obnoxious drivel was “Racist or Satirical.”  There’s no debate here. The cartoon is clearly, obviously, evidently racism.  How do we know this? A black man as a “savage.” A black man as a “witch doctor.”   Enough people were indignant about this offensive cartoon that its advocates slunk off to find more fodder for their e-mail lists.

However, the obvious racists are relatively easy to deal with – and even easier to shun.  Those “dens of lone wolves,” the Internet’s dark corners of hate and intolerance can be monitored, the “patriots” can be watched, and the hate-mongers prosecuted.  It’s the enablers of institutionalized and personal racism who seem more problematic.  Perhaps we’ll be able to move forward if we shatter some persistent myths.

The Myth of Two Sides

In the current cable news template, there must be “two sides” to an issue.  Let’s revert to the day someone at CNN decided to produce a segment on that 2009 cartoon.  Yes, they decided, the cartoon was, indeed, racist, but why was the question posed at all?  Well, gee, it could, it might, it may look in some circles, … like racism, but it could also be political criticism… Really?  No, to anyone with any sensitivity, or an IQ above cauliflower, it was racism.   Moving along the continuum from “we’re just joking” we get to “can’t you take a joke?”  Other presidents have had horrible cartoons drawn and published about them, why are we so sensitive about a black president?   For the near-veggies who might read this: It’s because he is a black man, and black men have been vilified for centuries in this part of the world for being “savage,” and “wild,” and “emotional,” and “lustful,” and … we could keep going here, but that would only serve to raise blood pressure.  So, let’s get to the point: Racist and ethnic jokes aren’t funny. Except to racists.  But, but, but… African Americans (and blondes and Poles) do it? That still doesn’t make it right.  The ‘everybody does it’ response is usually the province of immature adolescents trying to explain their misbehavior to the parents.  We should be a bit more mature.

The Myth of the Mirrors

Another myth which should hit the skids is the banal “speaking out about racism is divisive.”   Well, obviously, yes.  As well it should be. Who wants to be lumped into the same category with racists?

Remember the Twitter Fit from the Right when the President commented on the murder of Trayvon Martin?   The  Right echoed George Zimmerman’s whining about the President “rushing to judgment,” and said the President’s comment “pitted American against American.” [Hill]  It’s “race-baiting” to talk about race?

“…the allegation is that simply talking about race in America makes you a racist. It is, as Boehlert called it, “a very odd brand of projection” that’s “very weird and complicated,” but that’s where the roles of endless repetition and cognitive closure come in. They naturalize and normalize what would otherwise clearly be both arbitrary and bizarre.” [Salon]

If we boiled the “endless repetition and cognitive closure” down to its essentials what comes out is – If you talk about racial issues in ways that make racists uncomfortable, i.e. it makes people confront their own racism, it must be ‘race-baiting.’   When this message moves inextricably closer to its inevitable extension we can no longer speak of a whole host of topics which cause conservatives to squirm.

We can’t have a national discussion about institutional racism in employment, housing, or health care outcomes because … we’d be “divisive.”

We can’t have a national discussion about voting rights and the African American community, and other communities of color, because … we’d be ‘divisive.’

We can’t have a national civil debate about the social costs of mass incarceration of African Americans and other people of color, because … we’d be ‘divisive.’

And, Heaven Help Us, we can’t have a discussion about policing in America because … we’d be ‘divisive.” Worse still, we’d be “race-baiting,” as asserted by the Louisville, Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police.  [Full letter here]

The Myth of A Non-Partisan World

I think I’m going to gag at the very next assertion that what we need in this country is “healing,” and “bipartisanship.”  There never was, and never will be, a harmonic idyllic session of any democratically elected ruling body gracefully gliding over issues and points of disagreement with elegance and aplomb.  And yet, this is the standard by which some of the Chattering Classes measure the effectiveness of legislators and legislation. “The bill had bi-partisan support,” as if that automatically made the bill any better law.  Yes, politics is the art of the possible. And, yes, pragmatism usually makes more progress than strident partisanship.  However, there are some points at which we should agree, and one of the prime ones in American life is that racism is wrong.

The racists are aware of this. Why else would they be quick to tell us that they were only joking, or that they are merely being satirical? Why else would they begin obnoxious expressions with “I’m not racist, but…?” Why else would they whine so loudly if it’s suggested their own brand of projection is nothing more than an attempt to ‘normalize’ what is patently arbitrary and downright bizarre?

Sometimes wrong is just wrong.   We can debate the finer points of trade agreements, international arms agreements, educational policy, health care insurance needs, and so many other topics, but this is 2015 and we should no longer have to make racists comfortable and racism tolerable. Nor do we need to tolerate its symbols.

CSA battle flag

The Stars and Bars, isn’t a Redneck Flag —  unless the aforementioned Redneck is a racist. It isn’t a symbol of southern heritage – unless that heritage is hate.

NASCAR, yes NASCAR, got the message back in 2005:

“NASCAR has a policy that prevents use of the Stars and Bars or other controversial subjects on any car, uniform, licensed product or track facility under its control, but that doesn’t stop hard-line rebel fans from displaying it.

“We recognize that the Confederate flag is an important issue for a lot of people and as our fan base grows, we are doing what we can to break down its use and be more in the mainstream,” said Ramsey Poston, NASCAR director of corporate communications.” [LA Times]

Mainstream America doesn’t sport the traitorous Stars and Bars, the battle flag of a revolt, the cornerstone of which was the preservation of the Peculiar Institution, as expressed by the CSA vice-president when speaking about their new CSA constitution:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. [Applause.] This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” [Alexander Stephens,  March 21, 1861]

Lee surrenders Is there any good reason why we have to tolerate the display of a flag which was truly and historically divisive – physically, philosophically, and morally divisive?  It did divide us – dividing us between those who thought chattel slavery and all its horrible implications was a physical, philosophical, and moral good, from those who believed chattel slavery was a cancer in the body politic and a moral catastrophe.  It took four bloody years, but the Good Guys won.  Someone made a picture of it.

So, if reading this post made you “uncomfortable” I’m not the least bit sorry.  I think there’s a better use for my capacity for sympathy and sorrow – for the victims of that heinous act of domestic terrorism by a horrid racist in South Carolina.

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Filed under conservatism, Hate Crimes, Human Rights, media, Obama, Politics, racism

SB 192 Nevada Dodged A Bullet

Rainbow Flag 2In the last session of the Assembled Wisdom several members of the Nevada Republican Party introduced SB 192 which “Enacts the Nevada Preservation of Religious Freedom Act to prohibit governmental entities from substantially burdening the exercise of religion. (BDR 3-477).”   Those twho originally sponsored this bill included: Cegavske, Hutchison, Hammond, Hardy, Denis, Ford, Goicoechea, Gustavson, Jones, Kieckhefer, Kihuen, Parks, Roberson, Segerblom, Settelmeyer, Smith, Woodhouse, Fiore, Duncan, Hardy, Grady, Hambrick, Hickey, Kirkpatrick, Kirner, Oscarson, Stewart, and Woodbury.

The bill got a vote in the State Senate and passed 14-7 with Atkinson, Ford, Manendo, Parks, Smith, Woodhouse, and Spearman voting in opposition.  The testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 13, 2013 was instructive — especially so in view of the comments made by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as she vetoed the Arizona version.

Members of the committee asked those testifying in favor of the bill to provide an example of a person in the state of Nevada who had had their religious liberties violated by the current framework of non-discrimination statutes.  As close as the members got to an answer came from a representative from the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“You have asked about specific incidents in Nevada to which this bill is a response. I am not aware of any violations of the kind detailed in Exhibit E that have occurred in Nevada. We may not know when rights violations like this occur because those who consult attorneys might be told they have no legal recourse. ”  [Schultz pdf]

In short, NO. There hadn’t been any actual problems, but ‘gee whiz maybe there might be someone out there who got told by a lawyer that discriminating against people probably wouldn’t fly‘ or sometime in the future somewhere on the horizon, or something….  Not to put too fine a point to it but the EPPC was one of the initial think tanks established for the Culture Warriors, and one especially associated with highlighting what its sponsors saw as a plague of secular humanism (whatever that might be).  They are pleased to continue following this path.

Not surprisingly, between the mid 1980s and 2001 the group was funded by all the usual suspects — the Castle Rock Foundation, the Scaifes, the Koch Brothers, the Olin Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation.  [SW]  [NVProg] The anti-gay refrain commonly associated with conservative think tanks of the sort supported by the bed rock foundations emerged during the hearing when, unable to provide any concrete examples of anti-religious discrimination in the state a spokesperson for the Church State Council described the proposed legislation as “pro-active” — to prevent alleged instances of religious ‘discrimination’ prior to their occurrence.  [Reinach, pdf]

One organization could provide examples of how the proposed statute could be a problem for Nevadans, it just wasn’t on the proponent’s side of the argument.   Elisa Cafferata, speaking on behalf of the Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, observed:

“I am not an attorney, and I have learned not to argue about what the law means, especially with a Committee made almost entirely of attorneys. I would just point out that the proponents of this bill could not point out any specific examples of violations in Nevada law that this bill would correct. Unfortunately, I read every day of situations in which people assert their religious rights to deny women access to health care. There are dozens of cases around the Country. We know of cases in Nevada where pharmacists have refused to provide women with birth control. We can give you hundreds of examples.”

Jane Heenan, of Gender Justice Nevada, was even more specific:

“There was an incident at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in 2010 in which a transgender person went to change the driver’s license gender marker. The person brought a letter from a doctor, which was a requirement at that time. The DMV staff member decided it was not appropriate for the person to change the gender marker and asked questions such as, “What does God think about your behavior?” and ultimately refused to perform the service. That is one example of many I could provide.”  [Heenan pdf]

Any questions?  Those holding anti-contraception and anti-gay beliefs would find some solace under the provisions of SB 192 if they foisted those tenets of faith on others.   A compromise amendment [R pdf] to SB 192 came before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 12, 2013, and assured that “non-discrimination” wouldn’t become “discrimination” the committee added its “do pass” recommendation. [NVLeg pdf]

State Senators Cegavske and Hutchinson testified (pdf) in the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s May 17th (2013) hearing on SB 192, noting: “The key provision of S.B. 192 (R1) is found in section 8 of the bill. Specifically, section 8 prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless the governmental entity demonstrates that burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that governmental interest.”

Interesting.  Note that there would have been two tests here. First, the government can’t “substantially burden” a person from (not filling a contraceptive prescription or not letting a person change the gender marker on a driver’s license) and further the burden must be commensurate with a “compelling” governmental interest — whatever that might be — and further the “burden” must be the “least restrictive means.”

No one contended at any point that religious freedom wasn’t a wonderful thing, however the implications, and actual target of the legislation was summarized quickly by the representative for the Nevada ACLU (pdf): “We are talking about language that says a religious motivation gets the greatest deference that the courts and the government could give, even though it may affect someone else whose rights do not get that same kind of deference.”

The bill went no further.  Nevada avoided the sort of publicity recently accorded the Arizona legislature over S1062.   However, before we sit back and relax enjoying the pleasant delusion that the Culture Warriors have been shamed into silence — this legislation will not be the end of the matter.

Women’s Health

There are those who devoutly hold that women are vessels, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:7″ — A bit of proof-texting is all that is necessary to bundle up a bit of Scripture to prove a woman’s subjugation to male authority, none of which goes very far towards explaining Paul’s admonition in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Texts notwithstanding, the underlying attitudes towards women’s health and the use of prescription contraceptives, aren’t so much scriptural as cultural.  As long as masculinity as defined in some unfortunate quarters by fertility women are at risk of being forced to carry to term pregnancies which can be both physically and emotionally damaging.

Gender Discrimination

I am truly sorry for those whose personal bubble is a protective device shielding them from that which they find uncomfortable in others.   Only about 3.8% of the U.S. population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. [Abt]  If two men holding hands in the park make a person “uncomfortable,” the real problem is in the eyes of the beholder, not the two fellows having a nice afternoon with a picnic lunch.    If a person is confusing a wedding ceremony with a marriage contract, that’s a matter of personal conflict; one that should not be transformed into the denial of inheritance,  access to social services, or any other legally available rights awarded to married couples.

What the law cannot protect us from is seeing what we don’t want to acknowledge.   The law can no more prevent us from seeing the men at the picnic table any more than it can prevent us from witnessing children being handed school lunches only to have the meal tossed away for non-payment.  The law can’t prevent us from seeing the deterioration of school playground equipment, nor can it prevent us from observing a transgender person in a shopping mall.   Our level of comfort is subject to our own very individual tastes and concerns.   And, our level of comfort is in no small measure a function of the level of our fears.

If a person is made more uncomfortable by the sight of a gay or lesbian couple than by the sight of humiliated children, deteriorating playgrounds, struggling retailers, an alcoholic left ignored and untreated in a doorway, or children left to play indoors on a sunny day because there is the prospect of gun fire in the neighborhood — then perhaps there is room for the reconsideration of our priorities? Not to mention the kind of life our faith is supposed to nurture.

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Filed under Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Politics