Tag Archives: United States

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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MLK Day

I chose this photo because I love the intensity in MLK's eyes. He'd seen the promised land; he was born for this work.

As we know, the good old 1950s and 60s weren’t so good for Black folks.  Somebody needed to do something, and it had to be done in a way that would rally national support for kicking Jim Crow in the nuts.

By the way, ever wondered who this cat, Crow, was? I thought so.

His name was Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a.k.a “Daddy,” a.k.a. “T.D,” an actor and comedian living in New York. One day, Rice came across a crippled, slavish-looking Black dude who was singing and dancing to this song:

“Come listen all you galls and boys,
I’m going to sing a little song,
My name is Jim Crow.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow.”

Later, in 1828, Rice appeared on stage in blackface makeup as “Jim Crow,” an exaggerated version of the guy he saw on the street. The act became so successful that within a few years, the “Jim Crow” character was a staple in minstrel shows across the country.

So that’s how it started.

The “Jim Crow” south, however, was a different motherfucker altogether. It’s synonymous with the second most degrading part of Black American history — where folks were “free,” but were they though? I mean, really. Pools got drained if little brown toes were dipped in them. Pools … drained. Cats were superstars, and weren’t allowed to enter the front doors of their venues. Not that they needed some obscure entrance because of their stardom; they weren’t allowed in the front door. Did Dorothy Dandridge really have to pee in a Dixie cup? Was that just a rumor…cause she was so fly…that woulda been terrible… or maybe it’s most degrading. One could certainly make the argument.

At any rate, Jim Crow laws were the manifestation of separate but absolutely unequal with respect to racial integration. Blacks on one side, whites on the other … and never the twain shall meet. We know equality doesn’t work that way. The culture and psychology of white supremacy that made slavery an institution had been inculcated; it was part of us.  There would be no possibility for separate and equal when nearly every aspect of American life reinforced the idea that Blacks were, in every way that mattered socially, inferior to whites. The psychology of equality, and thus, any real concept of equality, was absent like shit as black codes spread like wildfire across the country.

For this reason, it won’t matter at all that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first woman to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. What matters is that she did. And she did that day. In fact, I’m not even sure Ms. Parks was about that protest life like that. But I imagine it was the kind of emotion like that embodied in the following photo that swelled pride in Ms. Parks’ chest, and lit her lil flame:


Not that she’s a man, of course. But that she was mankind, human being — one who gets tired, who needs to sit, and who’s value is as much as anyone else’s.

What’s beautiful about Dr. King rising to this occasion, and to the kind of timeless influence and acclaim that earned him a spot on the National Mall, is his unwavering faith in the righteousness of Civil Rights. He believed that the freedom to live out one’s boundless human potential is a gift that isn’t man-made. And neither is it a gift that man, in his arbitrary determinations of human worth, gets to take away. Dr. King was able to wrest control of national attention.  He provided a mirror big enough for the world to see us, and for America to see itself — to see clearly that the Americans who frequented high society functions in New York were the same Americans bussin’ brothas upside the head in Birmingham.  There wasn’t a rug anywhere big enough to hide that much dirt.  We had a race problem, and let’s be honest, the world had a race problem.  The difference was that the U.S. defended dignity everywhere except under its own nose.  We had a race problem, and needed to be shamed into dealing with it.  But if the ends justify the means, well then…

That notwithstanding, for as much as the militant side of me is militant as fuck

….I can acknowledge that freedom, equality and all of that are universal values. They are God-given and people can find common ground there. I also can accept that you have to give folks a chance. Offer ’em a Billy Martin* and hope they see the light get it right. Perhaps the upside to such an act of benevolence is that, remember, the myths aren’t true. So one can be sure that when he or she does need to pull the race card, shit’s warranted it. Think “teachable moments.”

Sometimes there are excellent exceptions, and folks see the light get it right without much persuasion. The MLK monument on the Mall is one of those times. No matter his nuances, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great American. His life changed the course of this country, and probably the course of history.  The Civil Rights Movement was a force of good for the world.  That’s not to say, of course, someone else might have done it if Dr. King hadn’t, or that he didn’t have an enormous supporting cast helping along the way. What can be said, however, is that Dr. King stepped into the spotlight and wore the responsibility like no one else. He knew the risks, saw the storm, and walked toward it.  I salute that. Moreover, Dr. King’s effigy on the National Mall, among such American luminaries as Lincoln and FDR, makes the statement that we, as a country, salute that kind of courage.

I’m happy to have this day to reflect on how a single life can make such a profound impact on the world.  To be sure, the monument to Dr. King is symbolic of progress, which is, lest we forget, a quality of American history we can all be proud of.


The Debt Ceiling: Manufactured Chaos

Ideology:  a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture; b: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture; c: the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program.  In other words, one’s personal and/or political ideology is defined by her beliefs about what she thinks will allow society to function better.

In recent years, politicians and pundits have cautioned us against reverting to our respective ideological corners, and refusing to engage in compromise.  They say that no one wins when we are incapable of working together for the collective good, and I tend to agree with this assertion.  Where these same people err, however, is in affirming the idea that the ends of each ideological spectrum are equally detrimental to the continued prosperity of “the American people.”

The debt ceiling “crisis” which looms over the American economy like a dark and foreboding cloud represents clearly the ideological divide that has the American political system stuck in neutral, and slipping steadily into reverse.  But this chasm isn’t “new.”  It started roughly 30 yeas ago with  the Reagan administration (which raised the debt ceiling, by the way, more than a dozen times without having to check its conservatism at the door).  Reagan and his neoconservative progeny relentlessly imposed on the populace the idea that government was big and bad and pretty unnecessary.  Inevitably, government would drain you of your freedoms — all of them.   In their view, the government and those who were of the government would raise your taxes year after year and you would have nothing to show for it.  Government would destroy your ability to achieve the American dream.

Indeed, with expansive government control, you’d be unfairly subjected to a public school system, a national postal service, an ambulance or fire truck should you ever have the need, an agency that ensures your burgers don’t routinely come with lettuce, tomatoes, and e.coli.  It provides for an environmental protection agency which ensures that Business X can’t dump its toxic waste where you fish, and a national infrastructure that isn’t bursting at the seems, or crumbling beneath the surface…actually, scratch that one.  But, you understand the point.  Obviously, this is merely a minor difference in perspective.

Except that it isn’t minor at all.  As the Pew Racial Wealth Gap Study recently pointed out, the economic policies largely championed by anti-government lawmakers in the last 25 years have severely affected the livelihoods of Americans who have been well-served by the “intrusive” hand of government.  Because without it, persons of those groups remained both separate and perpetually unequal.  And here is where the current ideological divide got its start:  it was in the audacity of minorities to want to be equal, to want access to opportunity.

But for folks, granting access to the outsiders resulted in their own loss.  They misinterpreted Civil Rights as minority rights or Black rights or poor rights or women’s rights — namely, everyone’s rights except for theirs.  It was terrifying for the powers-that-be to acquiesce to the persistent erosion of their own power — driven by “big government.”

Enter 2011 party politics, and the debt ceiling debate.  There is no real debate, no real crisis of which to speak.  Congressional Republicans are holding up a routine practice for the sole purpose of political posturing — so that they can finally cut government spending (which is a legitimate issue) by gutting programs designed to aid the nation’s most vulnerable, and its middle class alike.  Indeed, one side of the aisle still believes in expanding the opportunity to achieve the American dream; on the other side, if you don’t already have it, or plan to inherit it, then you shit outta luck.

And sadly, poor or middle class people concerned with “runaway government passing on debt to their children and grandchildren” have bought into a narrative that serves no one’s interests, unless they are wealthy ones.  Make no mistake about it, this is class warfare.  The problem is that many Americans unfortunately are disillusioned about which class they actually are in.

In the last few days, I learned about the current Governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue.  North Carolina has traditionally been a politically divided state, sometimes led by a Democratic Governor, but legislatively controlled by Republicans.  In this ruinous Tea Party era, Governor Perdue has vetoed Republican bills that seek to roll back protections on abortion, off-shore oil drilling, jury awards in medical malpractice suits, environmental restrictions, and bills which give businesses more freedom to deny benefits to unemployed workers.  Now, because her state legislature is Republican, nearly all Governor Perdue’s vetoes have been overturned.  But her purpose in vetoing these bills hasn’t been to win.  No, Governor Perdue wants to go on record having made a clear distinction about where she stood when North Carolina made a U-turn on progress.

I suspect that if no deal is reached in the debt ceiling debacle, and the country’s economy plummets into default, at least I’ll know where my President stood.  And who stood against him.

Pay.  Attention.