Category Archives: Civil Rights

Keep Quiet and Stop Violating My First Amendment Rights

Certain people of a certain generation–my generation frankly–seem to have had it up to here with the “rules changing.” I hear it. The sighs, the expletives, the tongue clicking, the venting:

You can’t say anything to anyone about anything anymore. If you do, you get accused of triggering someone, being bigoted, or not checking your damn privilege. Well, privilege THIS!

man-covering-ears

I know, sweethearts. It’s hard having to be so careful not to offend someone. It’s stifling to be so PC. I get it. When we were kids, back in the eighties, the seventies, the sixties and earlier, political correctness wasn’t even a thing. I am well-versed in the Good Old Days Sing-Along, which goes a little something like this (in the key of tone-deaf):

Things weren’t always fair in our day, but you knew what to call everyone. (Waves index finger in air.) You knew who was a boy or a girl and if you didn’t, that was the fault of the person you were looking at. Maybe they should have dressed differently or gotten a better haircut. (Pounds fist on table, nods agreement with self.)

People could take a joke back then too. You could make fun of anyone you wanted for any reason you wanted: their accents, their weight, how they walked, the sound of their last names. And race? You could say what you wanted about the Blacks, the Hispanics, the Indians and the Asians. No one meant anything by it and all the minorities were fine, unless they had anger issues. (And only the Blacks had those!) No one went around calling you a racist for it!

Nowadays, everyone’s so goddamn sensitive. Everyone’s a SNOWFLAKE. 

Whew. Now that that’s out of our system. Here’s a newsflash: As much as it sucks to be called out for racism, misgendering, and heterosexism, it’s even worse to be the recipient of those things. It’s the difference between someone questioning the motivation of what you SAID and someone reinforcing society’s denigration of what you ARE.

The attacking “ism”—be it racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, cis-ism (because it is an attack, whether it’s intended as one or not; that’s how it feels)–is likely rooted in years, decades, centuries of habit. Which is why it feels normal. Which is why, when challenged, it feels like a cruel affront.

Male chauvinism, for example, was the way of the world since the beginning of humanity. Women were the second sex, the weaker sex, the fragile, and yet the toxically seductive, blame-worthy, (how-dare-she-let-me-get-her pregnant??) sex. And, if you were a guy, it was cool. What was the issue? Nothing! Until those uppity females began clamoring for rights. Why would they DO that? The roles had been clear. Women took care of the kids, the household, the animals, the men, their needs, their whims, their laundry, their messes. And men did the important stuff. Sheesh! What did chicks ever have to complain about? Everything was so easy before. Now you can’t even say anything nice about their body parts without being labeled a misogynist!

Think about it. Let’s say Person A is a member of a dominant group and Person B is a member of a marginalized group. Now suppose person A says something about B’s marginalized group that offends B. If B sucks it up and doesn’t tell A, A can keep going about his life, none the wiser and A is just fine. Status quo, right?

Maybe, but for B’s people, the status quo has been causing collective injury for decades. When people like B “let it go,” they’re not really letting anything go, they’re swallowing anger at being negated and disrespected. They’re usually experiencing guilt and remorse over not standing up for their group too. This leads to feelings of shame, as Person B internalizes a bit of the negativity and disrespect Person A has helped to spread around.

If, Person B decides to confront Person A, A might be annoyed at B, annoyed at the situation, or possibly just embarrassed, leading to temporary discomfort around people in B’s group. On the other hand, B must be prepared for A’s defensiveness in the form of further insults, or the denial of B’s right to feel offended for something so small. That’s often the response when the once-voiceless find their voices. Like I said in the title: Keep quiet and stop violating my First Amendment rights!!

To be fair, it is possible that Person B’s standing up for herself could go well. Person A might see where Person B is coming from and accept the criticism with an open mind. Then Person B feels heard, Person A learns something new, and the world becomes a teeny-tiny bit better. (Of course, Person B may still be pretty exhausted and just a little resentful that this lesson still, in 2017, needs to be taught.)

Personally, I think about this jockeying for position a lot. I know both sides from experience, being both an A and a B. I am Biracial: Black and White. Jewish. Female, cis-het. I have never known poverty. The A in me has taken things for granted that the B in me never can.

In any case, things are changing. These days, Person B is working up her courage to speak out more and more. She’s got more advocates, more allies as it were. And Person A has no choice but to listen and, when possible, accommodate. Is the process easy? Is it seamless?

No, my dears it is not. Person A, all too often grows frustrated with his own inability to remember the new rules and blames—what?—the new rules. Person A remembers when he did not have to be careful, when Person B just swallowed whatever feelings she had about equality and left well enough alone. When America was just this Great, effing country where everyone lived together in peace. And, as long as you were like A—the right gender, color, orientation, accent and religion—all you had to do to get ahead was work hard.

I know not all A’s feel this way. In fact, most I know are aware that, back when America was Great, it was only really “great” for the A’s among us. B’s generally had to work twice as hard to get half as far. Or, if possible, work twice as hard to be taken for an A (by staying closeted, for example, dropping the “stein” from a last name, or simply writing under the name of “George”).

But now, with many barriers to opportunity lifted, Person B can pull even and gain the rewards of her hard work. To many a Person A, who has always taken his elevated status for granted, Person B’s rise feels like an unfair loss.

Equality is sometimes, very, very hard to share. If you achieve it, my standing diminishes. We’ve all known this since kindergarten: sharing is by nature a zero-sum game. If I give you some of my candy, I’ll have less for myself. I might tell you to stop asking for some. It is my right to have all the candy I’ve always had. Find your own, only please don’t be loud about it. (And please, please, try not to kneel.)

But in the long run, if I share, if you flourish, the peace it reaps, the increased strength of our bond is always well worth the trouble.

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What LGBT Workplace Rights, #RealWomen and #BlackLivesMatter Have in Common

??????????????????????????????????????#BlackLivesMatter. LGBTQ Workplace Rights. The #RealWomen, body-positive movement. None of these happen to be dominating today’s news headlines, but the above triangle of issues are on my mind today, connected by a fragile but significant thread.

First, #BlackLivesMatter. I believe that people are starting to get it. Well, maybe not Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who thinks #BlackLivesMatter should be a hate group, as if asking for an acknowledgement of full membership in the human race means you want to kick everyone else out.

I am talking about important people, like Bernie Sanders who voiced a clear, if chastened and well-schooled about-face at the first Democratic Debate.

I’m talking about the outrage I see on social media from many non-blacks in response to racial injustice.

What people are starting to get is that responding “All Lives Matter” when someone mentions that #BlackLivesMatter, is dismissive and entirely invalidating. No one is arguing that black lives matter more than anyone else’s. Furthermore, #BlackLivesMatter is not the opposite of #BlueLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter is not, repeat NOT, an anti-police movement.

The only word implied but not stated in the hashtag is “too.” As in “Black lives matter too.” Black lives should matter just as much as everyone else’s. But sadly, in this country—all over the world, in fact—they simply don’t.

That’s based on piles of evidence, available in the in police reports, medical records, the news stories of blacks who have been brutalized and then left for hours before anyone called for help . Countless photographs of young African victims of war, photos of small, dark children that do not go viral.

I am not pointing a finger in any one direction. Just as police—of all ethnicities—are more likely to pull the trigger if the face of a suspect is black, I am aware that there is plenty of black on black violence all over the world. Sad to say, there are blacks for whom #blacklivesmatter less. I’m not going to get into the history of why this is, only that it must change, and thanks to the BLM movement, it is starting to. Only through (verbally) aggressive insistence—by blacks and non-black allies—will the status quo loosen up a bit.

Next, let’s look at Workplace Rights for the LGBTQ community—the recent winning of which made it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on orientation or gender identity. First of all, how is it possible that Workplace Rights didn’t exist until this past summer? That until the EEOC’s July ruling (that expanded the interpretation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to cover LGBT people), if you were lesbian, for example, and placed a photograph of you and the love of your life on your desk, you could have been legally terminated? What was the objection to Workplace Rights, exactly? Mainly, opponents believed that members of the LGBTQ community shouldn’t have preferential treatment. As though straight, cis-gendered people suffer a loss of some kind when a LGBTQ person is treated fairly.

Finally, the #RealWomen body-positive movement—whose goal is for every woman, cis or trans, regardless of shape or size to walk, run and yes—dance, if she pleases—through this world without shame or criticism. I know, I know. The objections to this movement are often shrouded in concerns for health. The notion of a size-24 woman out for a walk or a run or in a dance class in peace or being photographed looking happy (instead of moping in a “before” picture) is claimed to “promote obesity,” and put those women at risk of serious health consequences. Trust me, allowing a woman to have a good day, participate in life and celebrate her own unique beauty, free of judgment, will not contribute to a health epidemic.

Another objection is that the movement implies that thin women are not “real” women. As if thin women are discriminated against in department stores, in restaurants or on airplanes. Again, I know, “skinny-shaming” is a thing. But so is thin-privilege.  As a reasonably thin woman myself, I have both been skinny-shamed, as well as unwittingly benefited from the preferential treatment non-overweight women receive in this country. I can say from experience that it is easy to bounce back from the suggestion that your single digit dress size disqualifies you from being a “real woman” when your body-type is celebrated by the media as “normal” and healthy.

So, here’s my question for opponents of all three of these movements, those who believe there is a risk to acknowledging the full humanity of blacks, members of the LGBTQ community and larger women—my question for those who express outrage against the movements to support these groups themselves:

Are you standing up for someone who needs standing up for?

If not, it’s okay to sit down for now and listen.

Loving Day Re-post: Why I Believe Marriage Equality = Common Sense

In honor of Loving Day, June 12th, 2015, I am reposting this piece from three years ago. Great progress has been made since then. Gay marriage is now legal in thirty-seven states! But the fight for marriage equality is not yet over. There are still bans in place in thirteen states, as well as a number of organizations and individuals who cite religious beliefs to justify their right to discriminate (just as they once did against interracial unions).

TulipsAs fewer and fewer eyebrows are raised by interracial marriages, I look forward to the day where same-sex marriages elicit the same ho-hum reactions. A marriage is a marriage. Love has no room for bigotry.

So here’s the repost:

I am glad to say that by now—nearly a week after Valentine’s Day, 2012, the day  “The Loving Story” aired on HBO—interracial marriage is more accepted in this country than ever.  According to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, about one out of every seven new marriages in the U.S. is interracial.  (Which you can read about in this link from GOOD Magazine.)  On that note, I believe it’s time to extend marriage rights to same sex couples.

As the child of a very long and happy interracial marriage, I know that it is possible for two people to have a loving, lasting bond even if there are societal barriers to “their kind” of union.

I believe that a marriage between two people of different races is no less a marriage than one between two people of the same race.

I believe that a marriage between two people of the same sex is no less a marriage than one between two people of different sexes.

If you love and wish to marry someone of a different race, and I love and wish to marry someone of my same race, I do not believe that your marriage in any way undermines my marriage.

If I love and wish to marry someone of a different gender and you love and wish to marry someone of your own gender, I do not believe that your marriage in any way undermines my marriage.

But what about the children?  One reason people used to give (and still give) for opposing interracial marriage was the children.   As in: Think of the children!  Won’t they have issues?  Well, yes we do have issues, just as every other group or combination of groups has issues.  We are also teachers, doctors, lawyers, dancers, writers, husbands, wives, same-sex partners, parents … and—oh yeah—the U.S. president.  We’re doing OK.   As are children of same-sex parents, last I checked.

What about that business about undermining the sanctity of marriage in general? 

I believe that if one couple’s inter-sex marriage is undermined by another couple’s same-sex marriage, then the first marriage wasn’t particularly strong to begin with.  Same-sex marriages don’t undermine marriage any more than same-race marriages do.

What undermines marriage is marrying someone because your publicist told you to.   What undermines marriage is doing it for reality show ratings.  What undermines marriage is infidelity.  What undermines marriage is denigrating other peoples’ marriages when you are supplementing your marriage with extramarital partners.  What undermines marriage is going into it while keeping your options open.  What undermines marriage is violence.

My parents—a black man and a white, Jewish woman—got married in Chicago, Illinois in 1950, eight years before Richard and Mildred Loving wed.  At the time, interracial marriage was illegal in over thirty states.  My parents were married for forty-five years when my father died.  In four and a half decades, their interracial marriage did not threaten the sanctity of anyone’s same-race marriage.   Not even a little bit.

I think it is time to acknowledge that marriage is a loving, committed relationship between two people who love and commit to one another.