“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Schopen
CLIFF DUNN – Editor
I have always been an admirer of the struggle for African- American civil rights. I remember watching “Roots” with my mom in 1977, cramped in front of our small TV set, in our apartment in Sunrise. The experience of Alex Haley’s ancestors—and all of those who suffered the harrowing trip of the Middle Passage from Africa to slavery in America—made me emotional then, and it does now.
I can only imagine the sense of injustice that many modern African-Americans (both those alive today, and those who preceded them in recent generations) experienced to be doubly-done-dirty: For the fate of their ancestors, brought here in shackles in large measure because of the color of their skin (there wasn’t a widescale slave trade for white Scandinavians in the mid-1600s, for example), and for the subsequent discrimination and relegation to second-class status they lived through after earning their national freedom.
The indignities of Jim Crow America (which was as alive and well in the liberal northeast of my birth as it was in the deep south of Old Dixie) were incalculable, and had many fathers.
I also can understand the discomfort for many African-Americans when a comparison is made between the centuries-long fight for civil rights and the modern struggle for LGBT rights. I don’t want to rehash the arguments— that you can’t choose the color of your skin (no smarmy remarks about Michael Jackson are necessary), while the nature/ nurture causes of sexual identity remain subject to interpretation—because that smacks of moral relativism: Human rights isn’t a zero-sum game, where one group’s comforts and security are enjoyed at the expense of another’s.
It is an American trait to feel outrage at injustice (often colored by one’s innerpolitical- voice, which regulates your sympathy level for the plight of say, Cuban refugees over Haitian ones, or your choice to support a boycott of South Africa, but not Cuba), and to help someone who is down. (This was the “John Wayne”- dynamic which shaped America’s post- WWII foreign policy, under which we would rebuild and help prosper those nations that had taken a righteous “lickin’” at our hands, once they had admitted their wrong actions, and recognized our official Bad Assedness, much like the “Duke” did after a bar fight in a western saloon.)
I think that Mitt Romney has trouble finding that sense of outrage toward injustice. Don’t misread me: I think he cares about right and wrong, and I think he was on the side of right last week when he reaffirmed a position he first stated in 1994: “I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts, regardless of their sexual orientation,”
Romney said during his failed U.S. Senate run against Ted Kennedy. At the time, he added that he supports “the right of the Boy Scouts of America to decide what it wants to do on that issue” (which is also an Americanized spin on liberty). Gov. Romney can take pride in beating President Obama to the punch on this one. Gay kids need all the allies and support they can get.
But I think that his laudatory sympathy and sense of fair play for the plight of children and teenagers doesn’t translate into “big picture” empathy for those gay Americans who want ALL their civil rights NOW, thank you. After President Obama endorsed marriage equality in May, Romney reiterated “I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name. My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the like are appropriate, but that the others are not.” Oh really?
My own sense of outrage—to say nothing of my gorge—begins to rise when I ask myself “Who the hell does Romney think he is, telling me what he thinks is good for the future of my—or your—loving relationships?” I get it, Mitt: The descendant of polygamists must toe a special line when it comes to the “M” word. But it seems like that should be his problem, not mine.
A little-recalled footnote in the history of African-American civil rights is the so-called “Atlanta Compromise,” an 1895 agreement struck between African- American leaders and Southern white politicians. It called for Southern blacks to work for substandard weekly wages, and to submit to white political rule. Although Southern whites would guarantee that blacks would receive basic education and due process under the law, blacks would not be allowed to “agitate” for equality, integration, or justice, they would not ask for the right to vote, they would tolerate segregation and discrimination, and they would not retaliate against racist behavior and violence.
The primary architect of the compromise (on behalf of African- Americans) was Booker T. Washington, President of the Tuskegee Institute and a national black leader. Later, other prominent African-Americans, including W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter, saw the compromise for what it was, and believed that American blacks must take their own futures in hand (the fruit of their vision was the NAACP). It wasn’t until after Booker T. Washington’s death in 1915, that black support for his accommodational second-class citizenship shifted to an allegiance for activism. But what might modern civil rights look like today if Washington’s compromise had prevailed? How will LGBT rights look four years from now if we accommodate Romney and his “vision?”