Achieving Marriage Equality is Not a Mic Drop Moment

This is such an important time in history. June 26th symbolized one very important step for lesbian and gay couples in our country with the SCOTUS ruling on Marriage Equality. There is no longer such a thing as gay marriage in the U.S.- it’s just marriage folks!

As we celebrate and revel in this time, it's also important to recognize that it's one step among other critical steps that are needed to achieve equality in our nation.

 But what do we mean by “equality?” The term equality is being used a little fast and loose for my taste. This is an important point: the work is not done and when we say “Yay equality,” remember it’s not being used in an inclusive way.

 I read an article in Mother Jones this week that highlighted a number of truths about transgender women of color that made my stomach drop. Seven transgender women of color were murdered in the first two months of this year. LGBTQ people are 41% more likely to attempt suicide. Transgender women who survive hate attacks are 6 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with police than other lesbian, gay, or bisexual survivors. Are these truths impacted by the ability to get married? Sadly, not really. In the long run, the best we can hope for is maybe.

 As we celebrate LGBTQ rights, let’s remember (and for some- realize for the first time) that trans women of color have a lot more to worry about than marriage. The people who are the furthest from experiencing true equality are the ones who are suffering the most, and marriage equality does not change the truth that homelessness, access to healthcare, employment discrimination, and the threat of physical violence are pressing everyday issues that are a long way from being resolved.  We must solve them if we can ever claim to have achieved LGBT equality.

 Change is happening, but let’s not mistake this day to assert that change has happened. Change is not about one piece of legislation or a SCOTUS ruling. Civil Rights is about achieving change within the context of laws and policy, and social change is often the work of challenging bias and bigotry in interpersonal relations. 

 Real change is about untangling a system of laws and policies in addition to the work of battling all the conscious and unconscious ways our thoughts, behaviors, and values as a nation support bias and bigotry of all kinds. Last week nine people were murdered because of racial hate despite the fact that the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. It was not a mic drop moment for equality then, and we do not have a mic drop moment now.

 I’m writing this not to dull the brightness of the rainbow we’re all posting on Facebook, but rather to remind us of the work that should continue. The work must continue. Don’t drop the protest signs, flip them over and continue the work.




Ben Affleck is A Lot Like Other White Folks

By now you may have heard that Ben Affleck participated in a TV show that explored his ancestry. He learned some really important lessons about his heritage. His mom for example, was a Freedom Rider. How cool is that? Very. He also learned that one of his relatives owned slaves and we probably agree that that truth is not so cool.

According to the news and his statement, Ben Affleck tried to lobby the show to not share the information about his slave-owning ancestry in the episode. Is it really a shock that a white American has an ancestor that owned slaves?  Would it be a stretch to believe that an African American has an ancestor who was likely enslaved? No.

There are a few of points I want to address. Firstly, white people have regularly edited racial history to suit a modern narrative about race. It is common for some folks to share information about their heritage, but seldom do people share information about their slave-owning past. I can actually say I have never spoken to anyone who admitted their relatives were slave owners. And think about it, who wants to be associated with the brutality of an economic system that treated Black people in the United States as objects or work animals? Only psychos.

For a very long time, slavery was legal and it is the economic system that led the path for “making America great.” Think about it- free labor (or super cheap labor) for 300 years. White people- all white people- benefited from that system in one way or another, for all those years, and that brings me to the second point.

 Many white people are uncomfortable with talking about slavery because then they have to admit they received an unfair start to life. Whites received something denied to others because race. A white person today did not ask for that benefit, but that benefit was given for the first time hundreds of years ago all the same. Ben Affleck is a brand. He’s the working class guy from Boston who worked his way up to stardom (with Matt Damon,) he won an Oscar and became famous. How does it play morally or intellectually to reconcile the truth that Ben Affleck, like all white people, received an unfair advantage that slavery provided for him? Not good, in many ways but not all.

 Ben Affleck really is like most people because he and lot of other white people edit out that history from “their story.” Most of us do not have a TV show tracking our heritage, but in life- most of us edit out the grimy parts that don’t jibe with the narrative that is our racial truth. I don’t fault him for that.

In the years I have facilitated discussions about race I have never had a discussion with a white person about their slave-owning roots. Race and racism isn't talked about and slavery is most certainly not talked about. 

I’m disappointed Ben Affleck’s episode had that detail edited out because white people who want racial justice are hurt by not being reminded that they too have slave owner roots. Slavery isn't just a part of life for enslaved Africans, it was a part of life of all Americans including the people who owned and benefited from the system.

For every down side to racism (even today,) there is an up side. For every person who was being oppressed there was a person being lifted higher. For every dollar that was saved on not paying for labor, there was a dollar accruing interest somewhere. And I haven’t begun to address the social and psychological damage and advantages that relate very directly to the legacy of slavery. Isn't it time we start highlighting it and naming it. When we do, white people will be better able to comprehend our racist legacy in the U.S. and maybe we all can heal from it.

Ben Affleck missed an opportunity to create the kind of change I believe would make his mama, the Freedom Rider, proud and maybe even make it safer for other white folks to acknowledge their own histories. 



On OU and Innocence Lost

I’m not sure what else there is to add to what has already been discussed about the fraternity N-word-laden chant, school dismissal, and subsequent apologies of the guys from the SAE fraternity at OU.
Instead, I’ll just say what was in my heart the moment I heard about the incident. I mourned for the students at OU. The students who truly believed that racism was a thing of the past like a relic to be found in the museum or within the pages of an outdated textbook. I mourn for the students who believed that hate only took the shape of what a stereotyped bigot looks like on TV- the scary sort with pointed hoods.
For so many students this moment was the end of innocence. Since the I Have A Dream Speech of MLK on the Washington Mall, adults everywhere proclaimed the war against racism was won. When President Obama was elected President, the first time around, many screamed “free at last,” forgetting that same song was sung decades before- and it wasn't quite true.
Many college students bought into the hype without realizing that all those assertions of freedom and equality were hope-filled, not filled with reflections of reality. Sadly, many college campuses are not what they appear to be in the brochure. They are, instead, reflections of what the world really is like, except with dining halls and meal cards. Campuses are microcosms of society not Shangri-la.
When I heard about the wound inflected by SAE's racist chat, I was sad for the students who were stunned. The truth is out. Bigotry exists in others and it lives within us- even though we are inclined to think not. Now is the time to create change and continue the work to make our MLK hopes- a dream come true.

Though your innocence was lost OH student you have a new charge: challenge bias and hate when you see it, shed light on the truth about inequality, and work diligently for a future that lives up to the school brochure. You did not deserve the hate spewed in that awful video, and it's time for all of us to get to work.