Tag Archives: U.S. Constitution

Tyranny of the Majority: Correcting the Narrative

Know why diversity’s so important? It’s about more than just adding another feminine, Black, or gay face at the table, you know.

There are those proverbs that talk about the victor having the spoils, and about history being the victor’s nonobjective story — HIStory. And there was an African proverb I ran across yesterday that read: Until the lion has a chance to tell its story, the hunter will be glorified.

My purpose here isn’t to shade victory. It is survival of the fittest out this mug. Our very existence is predicated on the theory that only the strong survive. What I mean to suggest, then, is that one of the privileges of winning, nay, the best privilege of winning is controlling the narrative. And thus, controlling, massaging, and/or revising the truth. Because “the truth” and one’s perception of it aren’t always the same.

Take 3 recent examples: President Obama vs. Religious Freedom, Roland Martin sticking his foot in his mouth on behalf of “real bruhs,” and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals kicking discrimination in the nuts by clipping Proposition H8’s wings.

In the middle of January, the Health and Human Services Department mandated that, under President Obama’s Healthcare Affordability Act, all employers and organizations who provide healthcare insurance must also cover contraceptive care, aka birth control pills, for example, as part of that package. The phony furor that’s erupted over the last week has to do with religious organizations (particularly the Catholic church) being “forced” to indirectly participate in a practice to which it is principally opposed — the prevention of pregnancy.

As a result, the airwaves are awash with characterizations of the Obama Administration as anti-religion, anti-First Amendment, anti-freedom, and anti-American! If I jumped the gun on the last two, I merely jumped the gun. I suspect this phase of the game will show its pasty face sooner or later. There’s no harm in being ready for it.

At any rate, Rachel Maddow was excellent last night in providing a different perspective on this issue: the woman’s perspective — based in real female behavior, and not religious proscriptions for female behavior. Maddow pointed out that something like 99% of women who have sex use birth control. And something like 98% of Catholic women use birth control. Moreover, nearly 6 in 10 Catholics recently polled agreed that “all employers should be required to provide their employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost. ”

What this says to me is that churches might want women to bear litters of children like they did a century ago. But seeing as though Mrs. Duggar appears to be the only sista signed up for baby factory duty, then the HHS decision doesn’t, in fact, trample on religious “freedom.” Instead, it protects reproductive freedom from religious dictates that aren’t based in reality. Granted, this probably wasn’t the fight to pick in an election year because it requires some critical analysis, and we know Americans aren’t very comfortable with nuance and context. It was a ballsy move though. And the right one.

Also not based in reality are Roland Martin’s attempts to clean up his uncompromisingly lame joke (at best) and homophobic (at worst) tweets from Superbowl Sunday. Martin tweeted that “real bruhs” wouldn’t rush to H&M to buy some underroos based on an advertisement featuring a half-naked David Beckham. The implication here is that “real bruhs” are heterosexual men, and thus, gay men (who might also not be interested in buying men’s underwear just because a presumably attractive man is wearing them, might I add) aren’t “real” men. I had the pleasure of meeting a woman a few months ago who recently penned a piece on this issue that hits the nail squarely on its head. Take a look: An Open Letter to Roland Martin by Ms. Samantha Master.

Only from within the bubble of majority privilege and story-telling can one not see the danger of advocating that “real bruhs” should “smack the ish” out of he who exhibits what Roland Martin has arbitrarily decided is unacceptable “real” man behavior. Folks were right to call Martin out for his remarks. And, just to be messy, can a brother wearing a paisley Ascot really talk shit about what is and isn’t considered manly?

I mean, really. Find a fucking seat, dude.

Finally, yesterday the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a considerable blow to a 21st century tyranny of the majority when it declared California’s ban on same-sex marriage (known as Proposition 8) un-fucking-constitutional. Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote the opinion, asserting that Prop 8:

…serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.

In America, we’ve ascribed to the institution of marriage more than religious and cultural traditions. The special bond between individuals in the modern world is socially recognized and legitimized by the tradition of marriage. In the modern world, sure you still sit in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. But quiet as it’s kept, love, marriage, and baby carriage are all a toss-up as to which comes first. It appears “traditional” marriage had begun to change course well before Adam and Steve decided to make it official.

The prevailing narrative is that society is based in the tradition of one man, one woman “marriage.” And defining “marriage” as something other than that destroys the bedrock foundation of society. This is preposterous. Yes, preposterous. I would argue that the foundations of society are its various incarnations of family and cooperation. “Tribal” and “civilized” societies alike have toyed with what family looks like — polygamous, nuclear, extended, polyamorous. But what they’ve had in common is the notion that whether I’m your only wife or your third of three wives, my commitment is to helping our family prosper; my commitment is to raising well-adjusted children with diverse perspectives and unique stories who will grow into productive members of a global society, and pass on a legacy of respect for difference, and optimism for cooperation — based on the values we, as human beings, share.

When Civil Rights legislation hung in the balance during the 1950s and 60s, the overwhelming majority opposed equality then too. The ratio was something like 3 to 1. This is the exact same fight … because I know you know Civil Rights aren’t synonymous with Black people rights…I don’t have to tell you that, right? The majority was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

As a Black woman with a gorgeous girlfriend whom I plan to marry, I’m grateful for “activist” judges who understand that just because many people agree doesn’t mean they’re all “right.” I’m grateful that judicial activism exists to rescue us from a tyranny of the majority. As Maddow put it, speaking about the contraception issue, ” I realize that a lot of 60-something male pundits look at this issue and think, ‘hmm…bad politics for the democrats on the catholic side.’ There is another way to look at it.”

That’s what I mean by correcting the narrative.

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History Lessons

I’ve been off the grid a bit lately, as a sista needs to be Dr. Moniquealicia sooner rather than later.  To that end, I’ve been diligently studying for my comprehensive exams — reading and re-reading the philosphies that were critical to the creation of the United States, and its government.

There are a couple of things that stand out:

1.  In my adult life, I’ve been ambivalent about the place America holds in the annals of world history.  At worst, I’ve been completely resistant to the idea that the United States of America is “the greatest idea in the last 500 years” — I saw an author discussing this concept a couple of years ago, and I immediately balked at the audacity of such an assertion.  The United States?  With all its issues?  Nah.

And then I gave heed to my favorite anecdote:  I shan’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  In time, I began to see the United States for what it was on paper, and how it has endeavored to bring idealism into fruition.  And ol’ Mo got all soffe on the U.S. of A.

On that freezing Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, I definitely grabbed one of those little American flags and walked around with it shamelessly.  I bought hook, line, and sinker Barack Obama’s common refrain, “in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”  It’s all the more impressive, however, given United States history, that Barack Hussein Obama’s story did happen.  You may fault or credit (depending on your politics) white guilt, the on again/off again romance shared between young people and politics,  or the sheer absurdity of Black people during the ’08 campaign (My President is Black/My Lambo’s blue, and I’ll be gotdamn if my rims aint too… #sigh).  Invariably, no matter your opinions about why Obama happened, the fact remains that the free and fair election of Barack Hussein Obama did happen.  And in the grand scheme of things, it was pretty cool and I was pretty proud to be American on Election and Inauguration Day.

However, what’s happened in the wake of Obama’s election is made clearer to me by way of a little Constitutional and Founding Fathers context.  Which brings me to…

2.  I believe the debates, disagreements, and compromises which preceded the creation of the Constitution are the scabs we continue to pick at.  Central government vs. state’s rights, Republican vs. Democratic representation, to address or ignore the slavery problem, and indeed the Black problem.  What are the authorities and limitations of the separation of powers?  What about the strength and influence of factions, and the rationales behind political ideologies that are led either by cooperation or individualism — public vs. private?

For example, during the Federal Convention of 1787, the Framers debated who should elect the national Executive (the President).  Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts proposed that the national executive should be a single person chosen by the national legislature.  New York’s Gouverneur Morris disagreed, stating that the “public at large” should have the last say.  It was Roger Sherman (of the Sherman/Connecticut Compromise, responsible for the bicameral U.S. legislature) who charged that the sense of the nation would be better expressed by the legislature because the people at large would never be sufficiently informed enough to make a wise decision.

The people would never be sufficiently informed.  One could get all up in arms over Sherman’s lack of faith in our political aptitude.  But would one really be just in doing so?  I bet if you took a poll of average cats on the street, 3 in 5 couldn’t tell you who is Secretary of State, or the name of one of their state’s Senators, or the names of the candidates running for President in 2012.  I’m not judging the average cat, as life requires us to multitask, and knowing who Rick Santorum is simply doesn’t put food on your table or coins in your pocket.  Thus, being politically astute isn’t at the top of our task lists.  To be sure, there’s no shame in not knowing.  But not knowing and waltzing your ignorant ass into a voting booth and picking the guy with the most interesting name is a problem.  And Americans are audacious like that.  We don’t have to know, yet we feel entitled still to our say.

And finally,

3.  The state’s rights/slavery issue remains a hot one in American political life.  However, it’s a little different now.  The Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson debates hinged on how the governed should be governed, and on Jefferson’s insistence that the common man (agrarians — farmers, the middle- and lower-middle class) refused to be ruled by aristocratic, oligarchic  government in America too.  The colonists wouldn’t win the American Revolution only to be subjected to the American version of British authority.

The Anti-Federalists had legitimate concerns about the Constitution and the prospect of national power being concentrated in the financial and industrial centers in the northeast.  However, what undercuts their argument and also undercuts the nobility of the Founding Fathers’ intentions is their disservice to the issue of slavery.  Staughton Lynd said that in time, slavery will be recognized as “one of the two or three distinctive themes of the American experience.”  Indeed, the Framers knew better; they knew it was impossible to juxtapose the institution of slavery with the Lockean concepts of natural rights and revolution.  So they looked the other way, unwilling and incapable of reconciling slavery with their “ingrained capitalistic attitudes.”  In other words, there was money to be made and the inhumanity of slavery hadn’t yet pierced the framers’ consciences enough to choose doing the right thing over stacking paper.  Does this concept sound familiar in any way?  Because it should.

Governing within the ever-present specter of competing interests, and the pursuit of capital and prosperity has been a feature of American politics since the beginning.  It’s been interesting to see how these matters played out over the centuries, and how politicians have re-worked the Framers’ intentions to suit their contemporaneous political needs.  Folks are gleefully inclined to hearkening back to the days of yore, misunderstanding and misinterpreting the Constitution and the contexts within which decisions were made.  For example, modern state’s rights conservatives aren’t echoing the same sentiments the Jeffersonian state’s rights crowd did in the 18th century.  The former feels less noble, more insidious, and more divisive.  They are the SAY NO TO GOVERNMENT crowd…unless, of course, government is handing out checks to stimulate growth in a local economy, or to clean up natural disasters.  In those cases, the state has the “right” pick and choose when they say no to government.

In sum, suffice it to say that American history lives and breathes and creeps up on us more frequently than we realize.  Perhaps our lawmakers would be well-served by revisiting it from time to time, instead of making shit up as they go along.