Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Southerner's Response to Amendment 1

"On Tuesday, North Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment that defines marriage exclusively between a man and a woman, making North Carolina the 30th state to pass such a ban same-sex marriage." The Huffington Post
I am a Southerner. There, I said it.
I was born to native Arkansan parents in Southwest Arkansas where I spent the first 7 years of my life. I then moved across a county line into East Texas where I remained until I was 18. Then back over the county line to Southwest Arkansas and then deeper into Arkansas to the Ouachita Mountains for college. After college I moved to Dallas for a long stretch, then to Maryland for a year (right at the Mason Dixon line!), then to New Jersey and then New York, and finally to Florida where I live now; but my self-identity has always been pretty firmly "Arkansan" and most of my 45 years have been undeniably "Southern."
Now, what does any of that matter? Because I speak from lived experience when I say that the North Carolina electorate has recently continued the Southern legacy of fearing and hating the "Other."
Delicious food, good music, beautiful geography, and fine universities such as Duke, Vanderbilt, LSU, William & Mary, and Ole Miss are all part of what the South has given us. The South has also provided us with several presidents such as Bill Clinton, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, Jimmy Carter, James Madison, Andrew Johnson, Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, James Monroe, and George Washington (and that doesn't include those who came from Texas, Eisenhower and LBJ, or Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln). I'm a Southerner and proud of the good things the South has produced.
But there is another part of the Southern legacy, and that is fear and hatred of the "Other."
Of course not all people from "Dixie" are racist, sexist, homophobic, or intolerant of religious diversity; but sadly, many are and are very vocal about it. And against that backdrop, equality and justice suffered another defeat in the South yesterday.
Religion often provides the language and the platform for intolerance in the South. Slavery and Jim Crow were both accepted and promoted by "religious" people, and people continue to try to find their particular prejudice in ancient texts (the bible) and then use those texts as an excuse to not only cling to their hatreds but to act openly upon them. I say this not as a sociologist, political scientist, or historian but as a Southerner who heard the language, breathed the air, drank the water, and milled about in the community of intolerance. I know it not as an academic might, but as one who knows one's own heritage.

"Wait!" someone will call out to challenge me, "there is bigotry in the Northeast and in the West and all throughout the Midwest; the South doesn't hold a patent on prejudice." And that push back is fair enough, except I am speaking as a Southerner of a continuing Southern problem. I will let the natives of other areas speak to the social maladies of their regions. Yes, bigotry must be confronted all over; I'm starting with my "neck of the woods."
So, here I am a descendant of racists, misogynists, isolationists and fundamentalists. I am someone who experienced the heterosexism and homohatred of the rural South personally. I am a person who had to struggle against the prejudicial and anti-intellectual religious traditions of my family and geographic region to discover a more inclusive, compassionate, liberating, and justice seeking spirituality. And as such a person, I say that religiously accepted (and often promoted) intolerance of the "Other" is a long-standing problem in the South and we progressives from and in the South must continue to work for change.

Decency, justice, fairness, compassion, tolerance, and sanity all received a devastating blow yesterday. That same devastating blow has been delivered time and again in our history. James Adams said, "That the desires of the majority of the people are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority, is demonstrated by every page of the history of the whole world." But I also hasten to add: bi-racial marriage was once illegal in many states...that is now behind us. "Sodomy" laws preventing consenting adults from sharing intimacy in the privacy of their own homes were once on the books of many states...that is now behind us. Women were once excluded from the voting booth, child labor was once permitted, there was a time when people could be denied employment or housing because they were Jewish, and people could once be denied service because of their skin color. These atrocities are all a shameful and painful part of our past, a past we now would never allow to be repeated. The "isms" have not all been healed, but we no longer allow them, for the most part, to be legislated or declared "righteous."

Same-gender loving people are the current demonized "Other" in a culture that has always seemed to need demonized "Others." But things do change. And so we keep waiting, and working, and speaking up and reaching out and hoping even when there seems little reason for hope. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Being Southern is not an excuse for perpetuating oppression. We pledge the republic...ONE nation...INDIVISBLE, with liberty and justice for ALL. Remember? Until we live out the promise of our pledge, we cannot, we must not, and we will not give up.

No comments: