In commemoration of Utah filing its brief late last night with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal, I am republishing this piece which was originally written during the Chick-fil-A controversy and published on another of my blogs, Beyond the Closet Door (now closed). I have updated certain aspects of the post to reflect contemporary events.
Recent events in Utah and around the country with respect to marriage equality remind me of a period of time in recent American history when a segment of our society that tried to assert what it believed to be its civil rights and dignity was brutally repressed, particularly in a certain section of the country.
I refer, of course, to African-Americans – which is certainly not what they were called back then.
Recently, I loaned our copy of The Help to my young teenage son to watch. He told me later that he enjoyed the movie but was appalled that black people were actually treated that way. I was dismayed, but not surprised I suppose, that he knew so little about what things were like “back then.”
My son has probably never even heard the word “nigger.” The thought that a black person was forced to use separation public washrooms, was expected to sit at the back of the bus, was expected to remember her place, was expected to accept second-class citizenship and (perhaps most of all) was expected not get “uppity” and aspire to being treated equally – all of this was beyond the pale of my son’s comprehension.
I gave him a very brief history of what it was like, what I remember watching on the news growing up in the 60’s. What I didn’t go into was the way segregation was viewed by society at large, particularly in the South. How in those days, sermons were preached in many pulpits about the propriety of keeping things “the way God intended them to be.” How those who were trying to change things were called “agitators” and were routinely intimidated, beaten or even murdered. How most people were simply part of the “silent majority” who didn’t commit acts of violence but who nevertheless – to one degree or another – agreed with those of their ilk who were committing acts of violence, whether government-sanctioned (e.g., police) or acts of vigilantism.
What I think he would have had the most trouble comprehending, however, is the concept that African-Americans were expected to just accept the order of things as dictated by the racist white majority. Blacks were expected to see themselves as inferior, because of course they were. No amount of “agitation” could change the religiously-sanctioned (and even promoted) view that blacks were inferior to whites and needed to be treated so. What really enraged certain segments of the white population in the South (as well as elsewhere in the country) was when blacks simply refused to accept this status-quo. How dare they be so uppity!
So, here we are in 2014, and the same thing is going on – only this time, it’s the gays that are being uppity. Certain segments of the population are perhaps willing - at least publicly - to accept the existence of homosexuals, but they are enraged that gays presume to aspire to the same degree of civic equality as heterosexuals. They insist that gays accept second-class status and are infuriated (or express other, varying degrees of indignation) when we refuse to do so.
To me, the Chick-fil-A thing, as well as Marriage Equality in Utah (and elsewhere) is all about Dignity. Vast swaths of our society expect us to accept their world-view, their beliefs about ourselves and their views as to what we are entitled in the way of civil rights. The fact that we refuse to do so makes some of them practically foam at the mouth, whereas others look on in cold, stoney silence.
I wonder, will my grandchildren, 40 years from now, express incredulity that a minority in our society was discriminated against, suffered acts of violence and was expected to know their place and keep it? Will they find it difficult to comprehend that religious organizations actively participated in this discrimination and fostered this intolerance and hate? Will they wonder why a majority of society simply accepted this situation as being part of the natural order of things?
I hope so.