We can’t surrender the mantle of the civil rights movement by discriminating against the next guy
By Wendell P. Simpson
ABOVE POTO: Whoopi Goldberg, center, is surrounded by reporters as she joins a demonstration in front of the Mormon Temple in New York to speak out against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for its role in the passage of California's anti-gay Proposition 8, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008.
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Seventy years ago, Black people started a civil rights movement that would irrevocably change the world.
America had just vanquished a great evil, delivering Europe from the horrors of the Third Reich and obliterating Japan's malevolent hopes of an Asian empire in the terrible, all-consuming flash of a split atom. Flush with victory and boiling over with hubris and notions of invincibility and moral ascendancy, the United States strode atop the new order as the self-proclaimed beacon of the 'free world.'
But it was a sham, for back home, in dark corners where the Broadway lights never shone and newsreel camera shutters never clicked, in segregated ghettoes as stark, hopeless and deprived as any erected by the Nazis in Warsaw, across the rural South in swampy bucolic parishes where degenerate Jim Crow couched its loathing and bigotry in religious absurdities, and strange fruit hung like moss from the branches of Georgia trees, American apartheid was firmly entrenched.
Ours was a country reticent of change and disinclined to confront its own glaring hypocrisies; but Black folk, with 350 years of sweat equity already in the bank, and who'd just sent their best to spill blood so that millions on the other side of the world could be free from fascism, looked back at their sacrifices and demanded a share of the victor's spoils.
And so they mobilized, organized, marched, boycotted, protested and sat-in, and bore the scars of a violently resolute determination to keep them in some 'place', all the while embracing non-violence as the strategy of liberation—and never, ever wavered in their demand for justice, universal suffrage and inclusion for ALL Americans.
Inclusion was the movement's hallmark, its unwavering conviction, its loving legacy—and it didn't come with caveat, condition or postscript.
And that's why it becomes especially egregious whenever Black folk advocate against the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens to become full participants.
In the recent aftermath of the Roland Martin tweeting incident in which the CNN contributor was temporarily suspended for allegedly slandering gays, and the repeal of Proposition 8, the California referendum overturning the state's same sex marriage law, social networking sites saw some African American critics—many of whom should have known better—parroting the conservative mantra in denouncing the so-called 'gay agenda' they claim undermines our values. On the website of one well-known Black scholar, the hate that poured forth was so vociferous as to be palpable.
What this observer wants to know is, when did Black folk become so fascist?
While it is an established fact that Black people tend to be socially conservative, the civil rights movement sought to overturn conventional assumptions and the entrenchment of a segregated status quo in favor of a more ecumenical social and political ideal. Many Black folk resent having the rights of gay and lesbian people tied into our own, but the fact is, we do not exist in a vacuum of circumstances.
Said Dr, Martin Luther King: "We are challenged to rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. Because of our involvement in humanity we must be concerned about every human being."
Clearly, the Dream wasn't about getting to the mountaintop, then blocking the path of those who climbed behind. Our struggle was intended to inspire—and it did. The women's movement, the fight for access by the disabled, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa—all emerged from the well spring of the Black struggle in America.
And while we've learned to take for granted those monumental gains minority people have made since those halcyon days of the struggle, we can't afford to be any less vigilant. Across an America that has become increasingly hostile and less influential in world affairs, we see the erosion of so many of those hard fought gains at the hands of reactionary conservative who want to turn the clock back: The Supreme Court has scrapped Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act removing federal scrutiny of voter districts with a history of voter fraud and discrimination; Kelo v. London threatens ALL private property rights; Southern school districts have resolved to rewrite history by removing references to and Jim Crow from students' textbooks; and other school districts in the South and Southwestern parts of the country are banning books. This is the beginning of the erasure of truth.
Richard Pryor once quipped, "Why can't gay people get married? They have every right to be as miserable as the rest of us." In his irreverent humor, Pryor put his imprint on the touchstone issue: the right of Americans to be protected from ostracization and discrimination, and more importantly, from the biases of any so-called mainstream maxim. Gay and lesbian Americans constitute a significant minority in a country where interpretations of the law are rendered according to zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.
Well, the times are hard, right now and people are looking for a scapegoat, and, despite the ascension of Obama, we Black folk continue to maintain a tenuous enough hold on our own rights, on our freedom and on our economic largess. Advocating for the deconstruction of the rights of others is the first step toward losing our own. Do we want to be the harbingers of our own demise?
Because this is how it started with the Nazis: first, they rounded up the communists, then the labor unions, then the Jews, then the Gypsies and Slavics. In the end, Germany became a state in utter ruin, reduced to rubble and forever marked.
We can't allow our religious beliefs, our blind fear or our ignorance of those who differ from us to undermine our constitutional obligations to uphold the rights of our fellows—even if we do not agree with how they live. And those who sacrificed before us did not march and die and run the gauntlet of the hate, the police dogs and the fire hoses so that we beneficiaries could raise a brand new form of discrimination and exclusion. The rights of one group rest squarely on the shoulders of the next—this is the price that equality and fairness extracts.
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