Sunday, February 9, 2014

Niggers, Jews, and queers

The vast majority of Americans would be offended by any of the terms listed above, but they were fairly common epithets when I was in high school. If they somehow manage to surface today (and Paula Deen using the word “nigger” is a recent example), they usually generate a great deal of controversy.

Although the terms themselves have largely faded away, the attitudes behind them have not. They simply have gotten more subtle. In order to see how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go, it’s instructive to look at each of the categories separately.

1. Niggers.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 removed all previous voting restrictions that had been imposed on black people, but the United States Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in June of 2013. Almost immediately, a number of states passed voter ID laws, which were designed specifically to disenfranchise black voters, who are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. Mitt Romney only captured 17% of non white voters (blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans) in 2012, and he received no votes at all in 59 districts in Philadelphia.

The most common justification for voter ID laws is that they prevent voter fraud, which is an utterly false contention. Roughly a year ago, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley spent over $1,000,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to prove voter fraud in her state. The final count of fraudulent votes, not surprisingly, turned out to be absolutely ZERO.

In order to counter the voter ID laws (which were written by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council) President Obama recently nominated former NAACP official Debo Adegbile to take over the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Although the 14th amendment was adopted in 1868, it took nearly 100 years after that for the Voting Rights Act to get passed, and it was a difficult struggle to get to that point.

Although there were countless brave men and women who have helped the cause over the years since 1868, it was almost exactly 54 years ago that 4 brave college freshmen staged a non-violent event that brought national attention to racial inequality.

On February 1, 1960, four African-American freshmen at North Caroline Agricultural and Technical State University sat at a white-only lunch counter inside a Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworths store. In less that a week’s time, the original 4 students had grown to 1400, and by the end of the month, blacks and whites were eating together at lunch counters.

Eight years after the Greensboro sit-in, the Federal Government passed the Fair Housing Act. Although progress HAS been made, a recent study in Baltimore shows that there still needs to be a lot of improvement.

Surprisingly, that ancient event in South Carolina still hasn’t resonated with some of our present day Americans. A restaurant owner in Enid, Oklahoma named Gary James has gone on record as stating that he will not serve “niggers, faggots or poor people” at his restaurant.

He’s not alone in his sentiments, but I’ll expand on the discussion of service for gay people later in this article.

2. Jews

Anti Semitism was fairly rampant in the 1940’s, and famed aviator Charles Lindbergh made his anti-Jews views publicly known. In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941, Lindbergh told his audience that Jews were one of the principal forces attempting to lead the United States into the European war, but he also laid blame on FDR and the British.

Starting in the spring of 1920, industrialist Henry Ford published a series of 91 articles in his personal newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, where he chronicled stories about what he called the “Jewish Menace”. Some of the more popular articles were later reprinted into four volumes that were titled the “International Jew”. Adolf Hitler had a picture of Henry Ford in his office in Berlin, and several of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials admitted that the “International Jew” made a deep impression on them.

Since 9/11, Muslims have come under increasing attack in our country, which would lead you to assume that they would be the most prominent victims of hate crimes. Surprisingly, that’s not true. According to the FBI, 63% of the religious hate crimes committed in 2011 were against Jews, while only 12% of those crimes were against Muslims.

A recent article in the New York Times by a Jewish columnist details how he rediscovered his Jewish faith as he got older, but his article also highlights the importance of being respectful to ALL religions.

3. Gays

Protection of same sex couples in America has expanded rapidly in the last couple of years. As of January, 2014, 17 states now allow same sex marriages, but not all states are as enlightened as those 17. In order to cloak their bigotry towards gay people, lawmakers in at least some of the remaining 33 states have covered up their hatred with a mantle of religion.

Two bills currently making their way through the Arizona legislature would, among other things, allow business owners not to serve gay people because homosexuality violates their religious beliefs. One of those bills, HB2153, was approved by a House panel in the Arizona legislature on February 4. On February 12, the House of Representatives in Kansas approved a bill that would allow individuals, groups, or businesses to refuse to provide goods, services, accommodations, or employment to gays or lesbians.

The folks who are most opposed to rights for homosexuals also tend to be the same folks who are very protective of their 2nd amendment rights, ignoring the fact that people with different sexual orientations also have rights, as do the folks who believe that all of us have a right to live in a society that is relatively free of gun violence. By no small coincidence, Mitt Romney carried both Arizona and Kansas in the 2012 Presidential campaign.

In 29 states, it’s still legal for restaurants to refuse to serve people because of their sexual orientation, and I live in one of them.

The Federal Government has a long of record of protection a variety of minorities, starting with protection against discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some states later added protection for discrimination based on sexual orientation

As of June of 2012, less than half of all states have legal protection on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, As a result, it’s perfectly legal in a number of states to fire employees strictly because of their sexual orientation, which is exactly as illogical as firing them because they had blue eyes.

At the Federal level, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was passed by the Senate on November 7, 2013, and referred to the House of Representatives on November 12, where it is currently stalled.

It’s unlikely that discrimination based on skin color, religion or sexual orientation is going to go away at any time in the near future.

The vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party, Mary Helen Sears, recently stated that she wants all gays purged from the GOP because she believes that homosexuality is a perversion created by Satan. She also happens to believe that Communist college professors were indoctrinating young people, and that Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory gave rise to Hitler’s Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Russia. She is now a candidate for a seat on the Republican National Committee.

Although boycotting businesses that do not share our views on the topics above may make us feel good, it’s not going to change their attitudes. We stopped buying Papa John’s pizza a while back due to John Schnatter’s disdain for his employees, as well as his support of the Koch brothers. He couldn’t care less.

The only logical course of action against the Stone Age attitudes of our fellow Americans is to get at least a little more active politically. Preventing people with narrow minded ideas from getting elected, regardless of their party, is the only logical approach to the matter, since actual facts will do little to sway them.

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