Remember anti miscegenation?
“Anti-miscegenation laws, also known as miscegenation laws, were laws that banned interracial marriage and sometimes interracial sex between whites and members of other races. In the United States, interracial marriage, cohabitation and sex have since 1863 been termed “miscegenation.” Contemporary usage of the term “miscegenation” is less frequent. In North America, laws against interracial marriage and interracial sex existed and were enforced in the Thirteen Colonies from the late seventeenth century onwards, and subsequently in several US states and US territories until 1967. Similar laws were also enforced in Nazi Germany, from 1935 until 1945, and in South Africa during the Apartheid era, from 1949 until 1985.“
The laws were mostly dissolved by 1967, which wasn’t that long ago, but some states continued to keep the laws on the books. South Carolina finally nixed them in 1998, “It took 103 years, but South Carolina has finally voted to remove a ban on interracial marriage from its state constitution.
Although it was not actively enforced, a clause added to the state’s constitution in 1895 prohibited ‘marriage of a white person with a Negro or mulatto or a person who shall have one-eighth or more of Negro blood'” (South Carolina removes ban on interracial marriage).
I thought of those discriminatory laws because I came across this article today about folks in the state I grew up in, “Religion, politics shape black views on gay issues — Ga. black lawmakers continually supportive of gay rights.” From the article:
There’s a typical response H. Alexander Robinson hears when he talks to some black people about gay rights.
“There are those in the community that continue to say the whole gay agenda is about special rights,” he said. “In lots of segments of the community, I feel like we’ve addressed that and moved on from that question. But I still feel like it’s being framed in that way by certain African-American ministers.”
Robinson, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said he and other gay activists are pitted against religious and political influences as they work to win support from black Americans.
This alignment of civil rights by race and sexuality is a difficult one, I think. On the one hand, there should be no comparison between oppressions, and on the other, we should be trying to find how they are interconnected and discover how they work in complementary ways to maintain oppression. How do the powers that be fragment the oppressed so that we don’t work together against oppression’s mechanics? One of the problems encountered though, with frequency, is just that: my oppression is different from yours – it’s not the same! Except, well, except oppression is oppression, with varying and fluctuating degrees of damage and severity, but overall, no one’s oppression should be tolerated–and that’s the crux of the matter that gets back-burnered.
I’m thinking of this topic today with some trepidation because I recall taking a Women’s Studies course as an undergrad on African American Women’s Issues. One of the biggest challenges the African American women in that room faced was voiced often — Do we sell out the push for our civil rights as a race by critiquing our male counterparts? The debate was voiced as one or the other: fight for your rights as a black person or demand fair treatment as women.
Many people in this upcoming election are going to have to face a similar issue — do we support civil rights for everyone or do we invest our efforts in our own oppression first and worry about the oppression of others when we are finally free? Isn’t that the kind of “us versus them” thinking that serves those in power first and foremost? If you keep the lesser groups isolated and defensive, they won’t work together, regardless of their shared oppressions, and strength in numbers isn’t found. The way to keep those “smaller” or “minority” groups isolated and insular is to emphasize just how different they all are and engage them in proving that “I’m not an immigrant,” “I’m not of African American descent,” “I’m not gay,” “I’m not poor,” “I don’t have a life-threatening illness,” “I’m not you,” etc.
It seems that the adage about the chain being as strong as its weakest link holds some weight here — I mean, what if only African Americans fought for civil rights back in the day? The notion that “I’m not gay, so these matters aren’t really my concern” is about as fruitful as white people claiming not to be invested in segregation laws or anti-miscegenation laws, until they finally are directly involved only because their rights are threatened. Everyone would be waiting on the sidelines for something to change or happen to them–and the hierarchical status quo would remain steadfastly the same. Infringement on anyone’s civil rights in America is every American’s issue, not just those who don’t get all of the perks of civil rights. Our constitution is only as strong as those who enforce it.
Which brings me to this recent tidbit: BarackObama.com just posted Michelle Obama’s June 23, 2008 speech to the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Council (below). In it, Michelle Obama implies that Barack Obama is for everyone’s right to marry and have the same rights as each other. But. Didn’t Obama come out and state that he only supports civil unions? In this video (click link), he actually stacks in a hierarchical order which laws for blacks should have been fought for first. I get the enticing logic of that thinking. But I don’t like the parallel that gays and lesbians should settle for a civil union first, with the implication that maybe, perhaps marriage is down the road. This thinking relies too much on the old notions of “separate but similar” (ultimately not “equal”) rights that finally serves to hurt people. Segregation laws were just such a “stepping stone” — these institutions bred lots of “you are other and less than me” mentalities that our country can’t overcome to this day. Affirmative Action? Everyone has an opinion on the matter and lots of hypocrisies and biases are voiced when you start asking around. The fabric of this society is riddled with hierarchical thinking, and as a good southern girl, it was woven into the spoken culture I grew up around. We just learned to tuck it away when around “those folks” or people who didn’t share our loyal “us first” mentality.
Remember “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” That policy tried to ride the fence of giving the GLBT community a hint of “belonging,” but it really opened the door to legalized witch hunts whenever someone didn’t like someone else who happened to be gay. Enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has dropped dramatically now that the U.S. Government is experiencing extreme difficulty recruiting people to fight this war. How convenient — the gov’t needs soldiers, and now they think gays and lesbians can kill with the best of them. Even four retired military officer bigwigs recently made that determination. Huh. So gay soldiers are cool now.
I’m concerned that there will be a lot of “separate but almost equal” ideology spun during this election (see article, “an appeal to individualism as the root of success and therefore contradicts the systemic nature of racial discrimination in United States society.”). An ideology that allows Obama to emphasize to a more conservative (or empowered) group that he is firmly against gay marriage, while he turns to more civil rights-oriented groups and claims to be in favor of “everyone having similar rights.” Hmm. Sounds familiar. You have to tailor your promises to lean a little left and a little right when riding the wave of political claims, I suspect, without make outright claims for or against anything. But whoever said politicians had to be straightforward and honest? I hope that he simply does the right thing, regardless of what he says to the assorted groups listening, by winning their votes, taking office and making good on his claims toward equality, something this country has great difficulty conceptualizing, let alone enacting.
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies; education and culture for their minds; and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” –M. L. King Jr.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” –Nelson Mandela
“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” –The Talmud
“The obscure we see eventually, the completely apparent takes longer.” –Edward R. Murrow
“Make the injustice visible.” –Mohandas K. Gandhi
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” –M. L. King Jr.
“Freedom is a good held in common with others and, while everyone is not benefiting from it, those who believe they are free will not be so.” –Miguel de Unamuno
“The middle class and working poor are told that what’s happening to them is the consequence of Adam Smith’s ‘Invisible Hand.’ This is a lie. What’s happening to them is the direct consequence of corporate activism, intellectual propaganda, the rise of a religious orthodoxy that in its hunger for government subsidies has made an idol of power, and a string of political decisions favoring the powerful and the privileged who bought the political system right out from under us.” — Bill Moyers, June 3, 2004
–Quotes taken from Equality and Illusions: Reflections on Human Oppression Work
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Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.