Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hidden Figures, not so hidden prejudice

I saw the movie Hidden Figures last weekend.  Truly inspiring.  It reminds me that HIStory is the version of what happened in the past through a male perspective.  Perhaps one day, the complete stories might be told - or at least a HERstory version.

Anyway, the movie reminds us that it wasn't that long ago that there were colored only toilets, water fountains, areas on the bus, and even schools.  Not long ago that being black in America automatically relegated you to limited opportunity and a limited shot at achieving the American Dream, regardless of your abilities or work ethic or ambition.

But the movie also reminds us that despite such obstacles, the women depicted in the movie persevered.  They fought the silent battle that occurred in black households all across our nation, sometimes by sacrificing their goals for those of their children, sometimes by being the first to accomplish something and then suffering the consequences of being the first, sometimes by ignoring the ignorant whose only yard stick was skin color, and resisting the temptation to fight fire with fire by condemning all white people for the actions of some.

Now that the two terms of the first black president has ended, we are experiencing a backlash to the progress that was just beginning in the 1960's and which culminated in Obama's election. A backlash against a man of decency, insight, and vision who, by being the first, is subject to all the nastiness that assailed all those who broke the color barrier.  We hear coded phrases bandied about in the media, and by some of our elected officials about making America great again, phrases that underlie a desire to return to a time when minorities knew their place, and laws were created and enforced to maintain that status quo.  Of course, we have progressed as a society in that today, a much smaller percentage of white people believe in white supremacy as a natural rule of law, but have not progressed so far that a similar call to prejudice cannot be whipped up against those with a different religion, or culture, or sexual preference.

Does it matter that those of us with one or more grandparents who were born outside of the United States are descendants of a wave of immigration during the early 21st century which faced open prejudice from the "native" American families of the time, who themselves could only trace their heritage as Americans five or six generations at most considering that before 1776 America was not even a country?  Does it matter that President Trump himself is the child of an immigrant mother (Mary Anne MacLeod was born in Scotland), and immigrant paternal grandparents (both born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, now Germany)?  Good thing for President Trump that his grandparents came to America in 1902 and not 1942.  I would imagine they would have been treated in a much different manner considering Germany was not considered a friendly nation at that point in time.  Similarly, does it matter that two of Donald Trump's three wives are immigrants which means that 4 of his 5 children are first generation Americans?

Did it not dawn on those who lapped up Trump's association with the "birther" conspiracy, that questioning Obama's birth nation only gained traction because he was black.  I would imagine that some who thought it was a legitimate question to ask do not think they are racist, but when Obama's GOP opponent in 2008 was, in fact, not born in the United States, it sure seemed like racism in action.

That is, in fact, the problem with racism and prejudice.  When it is overt, like lynching a black man accused of a crime without a trial, it is easy to spot and condemn.  But when it is covert or subliminal, when it festers just below the surface, and needs just a bit of a nudge to spring forth, that is when it can be used effectively by those who wish to inflame our passions in the battle of us versus them. The danger is that "them" can be defined any which way.  Germans and Japs.  Commies.  Gooks.  Fags. Ragheads.  First we dehumanize, then we break out the pitchforks.

There is trouble brewing in America when a bill called the First Amendment Defense Act, as innocuous sounding as one could imagine, is introduced in the United States House of Representative (HR 2802), and that similarly worded bills have been proposed in almost 1 out of 3 states houses.

Make no mistake, these are attempts as obscene as the Jim Crow laws of the deep South, which legitimized racial discrimination except in this case it would "prevent the federal government from taking action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage".

In effect these bills would legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community, making it possible to deny jobs, housing, business services, health benefits, pretty much anything one might seek in a free society, to people who believe that, in America, they should have the right to marry the person they love.

Be wary, fellow citizens!



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