Dear Rachel Maddow: Last Week Was Not a Civil Rights Victory for All People


Dearest Rachel...


It's me, Betsy. I am writing to say congratulations to you and all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans. It has been a great week for all our LBGT brethren. Sadly, it is a little less so for those whose complexion is black or brown. Who am I kidding? It has been an awful week for America as a whole. Once again, we have done as we did since the day of our founding — we denied our brothers and sisters equal rights. I hope you understand that while I too think anytime rights are afforded to an individual or group it is a good time, a time to celebrate, this time I cannot. Indeed, I do not see a day when I will reflect on the Supreme Court's rulings and be ready, willing, and able to rejoice.

Affirmative Action lost. The inalienable right to cast a ballot for your Representatives is gone. It was not that either of these laws, in practice, ever brought about equality, but a girl can dream. I had hope. Now, I do not. Today, with my heart broken, I can only reflect on the old adage: if my brother is poor or in pain then so too am I. John Donne spoke for me when he said, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

I am unsure if you are with me Rachel. I listened to your review of the week and felt confused. Therefore I ask. On Thursday, June 27, 2013, you spoke of the angst yourself. You recounted the woe millions of California voters expressed on election night 2008. First, there was elation, the first black man was elected President of the United States. It seemed we had arrived. It was as you exclaimed, a "civil rights milestone." People took to the streets and danced. Corks were popped. Confetti fell from sky-high windows. Then, as more ballots were tallied, a dark realization set in. In California, marriages once declared legal would not be going forward. As you stated, "That whiplash moment, that California, alone, experienced the night 
President Obama was first elected" was devastating. Perhaps, the man in the video clip you played this Thursday evening said it best for the LBGT community.

"In 2008, when we elected the first African-American 
president, it was a glorious day, but later that night it was a horrible night when the returns for Prop 8 came in saying that we were going to be 
treated as second-class citizens, and we just could not fathom being 
treated like that anymore."

Therein lies the difference Rachel, one of many that I see. People of color can fathom being treated like scum. Of course, persons in the LBGT community can too. That said, the two experiences are not one. The color of our skin cannot be camouflaged. Sexual orientation is perhaps but a subtle "clue." In other words, Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgenders come out of the closet. Blacks and Browns are more likely to be invited into the [water] closet to clean the mess white persons' leave behind. Caucasians can be so cruel, as can those of a certain socio-economic "class."

Thus, I ask: Do we celebrate our own victories and ignore the victimization of others? 'Tis true, we can delight in one while decrying the other. It is the imbalance I bemoan. I too, as the millions of others did, expressed elation for the decisions that brought good fortune to the LBGT community. I also cried and cried tears of distress. For me, the long history of struggles is barely equivalent. I am forlorn and again befuddled as I reflect on your review of the week.

Oh Rachel, after the aforementioned clip you said,  "Now, this week, we are essentially having the mirror image of that [2008] moment, 
thanks to the Supreme Court."  Really? Seriously? Rachel, for me, what occurred in this, the last week of June is not the image in reverse. The decision on the Voting Rights Act is, as you also stated in the next sentence, "a sledgehammer to the cornerstone of American civil rights law." However, sadly, it has not elicited a similar response. With the race related rulings, we heard silence or worse: endorsement for the now "Supremely" sanctioned divide.

Conservatives did not object. Liberals barely said a word. States shouted, but in glee. Loss of affirmative action and voting rights? It is though the country as one said, "Oh, well." Gay rights, on the other hand, brought out the best in people. Beginning years ago, Dick Cheney, made it known that he supports gay marriage. The Democratic elite, such as the former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "came out" with her own declarative statement. Legislators within the Grand Ole Party chimed in. They, too, were there to support gay marriage. The reactions to racism are not as strong as we think they might be. I think of your own response Rachel and, "Wow!"

I was not surprised that white families, the wealthy and powerful did not take up the banner. Here in Florida, when the elderly and well-established citizens were purged from voting rolls few voices were heard. Certainly, individual states did not complain. Eliminate the black and brown vote? That works well for Republican governors. Measures were and are already underway. The "new prejudice"  persists and is supported. Black and brown persons are not. Their second-class citizenship is the accepted standard. Their "forgiveness is just expected."

Equality? First-class citizenship? Rarely. Barely. Quite the contrary.

Oh, there are the few who appear to have "made it." We might look to President Obama, General Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey, or even Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. I wonder. Put any of these in casual clothes, without the accoutrement of an office and might they be stopped and frisked, arrested for Driving-While-Black, or conceivably denied their right to vote? Oh, Rachel, for me there is a glaring difference between the fights for rights.

Do you remember the words of the author, John Howard Griffin, a white man who only occupied a darker skin for a time? I do. "The Negro is treated not even as a second-class citizen but as a tenth-class one." Granted, times have changed since Griffin penned his words in 1964. Then racism was overt. Today, it is covert and sanctioned by the highest court in the land. What is it they say Rachel? "The more things change, the more they remain the same." That is likely true for those who are born black, brown, or on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

Oh, I heard the calls. Beginning in 2008 white citizens proclaimed that we lived in a post-racial society. Black Americans, on the other hand, knew we did not. Indeed, in 2011 Researchers affirmed for those whose complexion is dark in color, life is hard. Only two years ago, Black Americans said that it is actually worse than it was a score earlier. As of this week, with the Supreme Court rulings on Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act, surely it is no better. The court's action is a clear step backwards. In reality, it is a slap in the face or a whip lashing in the back.

Class and color affords access and is the genesis for our attitudes. I recall the "Roots" of African-American History and the historical origins of homosexual expression. The former was borne out of enslavement while the later was an outgrowth of greater freedom in society and the workplace.

Rachel, was it Janis Joplin who said it so well? "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. Nothing don't mean nothing, honey, if it ain't free." I wonder, are we to presume that Blacks are now free? There is little left for them to lose. I reflect on self-identity.

You might recall the original Doll Experiment or the more recent 2009 repeat of the research. The results were the same. In the "Doll Test," four plastic, diaper-clad dolls, identical in every respect except for color determine racial perception and preferences amongst children. Regardless of the decade, black children between the ages of three and seven, responded in-kind. Almost all of the children readily identified the race of the dolls. Even the young see color. When asked which they preferred, the majority selected the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. Indeed, the consensus was that black dolls were "bad." White dolls are far better. That is what we teach and affirm through Supreme Court rulings. 

Bigotry is common, all too common, as are expressions of it. Therein lie the similarities between the Gay Rights and Black Civil Rights Movements. Nonetheless, the contrast is stark. As millions noted, the realization of Gay Rights came quickly. The Civil Rights Movement, on the other hand, is riddled with detours, deterrents, disillusionment, and disinvestment. Discrimination never realizes deliverance. After centuries of sanctioned enslavement, The Emancipation Proclamation, gave way to a failed Reconstruction and another ruling, Plessy v. Ferguson. the landmark Supreme Court decision that held that racial segregation was constitutional. We had the Brown v. Board of Education decision and The Great Society legislation. Future rulings resulted in their ultimate demise. The Regents of the University of California v. Bakke and Parents v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson returned the dictum: white is again right.

We saw the Voting Rights Act come into being only to be threatened at every turn. Today, well that "right" is lost and Dick Cheney's endorsement of the "more civil union [sic]" is nowhere to be found. This essential democratic right is again, and again denied. We might guess who might be coming to dinner, but we must know that even if it were the first Black American President, he may not be welcome.

Indeed, Rachel as we celebrate the rights awarded to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, let us also ask ourselves what is the State of the Union? What if Barack Obama were born today? Eighteen years from now, will a young Barack have the opportunity to attend a college, and were he to run for President, would he himself be allowed to vote? What bell will toll in the next score, and will it toll for thee?

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