Tag Archives: civil rights

Marriage Equality: Please Vote No in MN this November

No, wait, make that plain old equality. It’s just in the guise of marriage equality for now.

Minnesota, my state, is voting on a constitutional amendment this November to define marriage as between one man and one woman. There are a lot of ads out there. A lot of billboards, yard signs, you name it. Vote Yes! Vote No! All over the place.

I have to admit I smile every time I see a “vote no” bumper sticker. I smile even more when it’s a Catholic “vote no” sticker because that says to me that at least some religious people understand and potentially value secular government. Or maybe they just don’t want to treat a particular group of people as second class citizens.

I am not happy that we’re voting on this amendment. In Minnesota only heterosexual couples are allowed to marry one another right now. Basically what that means is we’re voting on an amendment that would more or less reaffirm the current laws. Do you have any idea what a tremendous waste of time that is?

This also means we’ll be voting on whether or not we want the past to rule the present and the future. To elaborate on that: by putting a constitutional amendment up to popular vote today we’re basically saying the current popular values, if those values are in favor of the amendment, should rule the future generations no matter the values of future generations. If the amendment is voted down it just means people today have no say on the nature of marriage tomorrow.

Could you imagine if prohibition had never been repealed? If that value from the past had stuck with us? We’d be living under a world decided far too heavily by past generations. One of the issues I have with this amendment (and I have many) is that it is a blatant attempt to prevent future generations from making up their own minds about their values. An amendment to the constitution should not be so value-based as this. Allowing women to vote was a good amendment because it brought more equality into the world. Prohibition was a bad amendment, not just because it drove production and distribution of alcohol underground, but because it was an attempt to impose one groups’ values on an entire country.

Beyond that I would like to share what Mayor Cory Booker from New Jersey has to say about marriage equality:

We should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote to be subject to the sentiments, the passions of the day. No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and sentiments of the majority. This is a fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for.

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Rhetoric Should Be Used Sparingly and Honestly

I like the ultimate point being made in this opinion piece: that “the rights [we] take for granted are only valid if [we] fight to give those same rights to others.” Although I could nitpick and say “give” is the wrong word to use.*

In fact, I really like the author’s point, that’s why I’m so disappointed in his beginning, which is full of exaggerated rhetoric.

I will never look suspicious to you. Even if I have a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers on…in fact, that is what I wore yesterday…I still will never look suspicious. No matter how much the hoodie covers my face or how baggie my jeans are, I will never look out of place to you.  I will never watch a taxi cab pass me by to pick someone else up. I will never witness someone clutch their purse tightly against their body as they walk by me.  I won’t have to worry about a police car following me for two miles, so they can “run my plates.”  I will never have to pay before I eat. And I certainly will never get “stopped and frisked.”  I will never look suspicious to you, because of one thing and one thing only.  The color of my skin.  I am white.

He’s apparently so delusional that he doesn’t realize that a white man walking around in a hooded sweatshirt (imagine hood up, not down) is suspicious, especially if he tries to hide his face. To a woman, it is extremely suspicious – it has “potential rapist” written all over it. To many others it would be extremely suspicious. Even a teen-aged white boy would look suspicious.

The difference is that a white boy in a hooded sweatshirt wouldn’t face the same kind of  suspicion. It is unlikely that any white person, with the exception perhaps of homeless teens, will ever face a situation in which someone is so suspicious of them that unprovoked violence ensues. In one sense the author is right when he says, “White people, you will never look suspicious like Trayvon Martin!” And yes, he is right that it is because Trayvon was black.

But it does no one any favors to exaggerate. Exaggerating makes people look discreditable. Exaggerating and saying white people never look suspicious, even when wearing a hoodie and jeans and white sneakers, just makes you look like you’re trying to vilify white people. Doing such risks alienating a significant group of people who might otherwise be allies against racism.

It is more honorable and credible to admit that yes, teenaged white boys will look suspicious when dressed in a hoodie with the hood up, but they will not likely ever face the threat of violence because of it. It is more credible and honorable to point out that suspicions faced by black and white teens is very different – the former is more likely to be suspected of dangerous or violent crime while the latter is more likely to be suspected of vandalism. And thus the former is more likely to be faced with dangerous, suspicious people while the latter is likely to be faced with nothing of the sort.

I think honesty is extremely important in cases like this. Tragedies like this. It does only a disservice to exaggerate claims. Does racism exist? Very much so. Is it a major part of what happened in Trayvon’s case? Yes. Do we need to wake up (again) and try to change that? Yes. Does it help to lie and say white people never look suspicious? Not at all.

It is far more illustrative to point out the difference in the type of suspicion faced, than to try to force the situation into opposite type terms – as in one is seen as suspicious while the other never is. By pointing out the differences without denying the truth, we can highlight the actual effects of racism. And by so highlighting, maybe we can figure out better ways of combating it.

*If we fight to ensure those rights belong to everyone equally, without question. They are not my rights to give, I can only help to empower others, enforce equality, and make sure everyone is invested with equal rights.

**That’s right, I used the word hooligan.

***That’s so f***ed up. Seriously. Such blatant racism just flabbergasts me. All racism is disgusting, but it amazes me that people still get away with such blatant demonstrations of it. What the heck is wrong with us?

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