The clip wasn’t a parody, let’s make that clear.
Most of the people who were shocked were either too young to have been alive in the 1960s, or too young to remember that time. At the time blatantly racist beliefs were considered not just a legitimate opinion to hold, but was largely accepted as reasonable interpretation of reality. Now, there were always people who thought those beliefs were wrong, but they were still very much in the minority when this particular show was recorded.
That minority was growing. Over the next many years more and more people came to the conclusion that not only were those racist beliefs factually incorrect, but that adhering to them was seen as immoral. A tipping point was reached, and there was a wave in which a number of conservative pundits and opinion columnists and such found themselves being dropped by mainstream news organizations.
And they freaked out a bit.
The freak out is understandable. For example, a particular columnist got fired by the New York Times, I think it was, after writing a column criticizing busing (where students were bused to schools further from their neighborhood in order to try to achieve racial balance in public schools). And it wasn’t the criticism of bussing itself that got him fired, it was the fact that one of the reasons he said desegregation of schools was bad was because the white students would be held back by the Black and Latino students because the latter were obviously less intelligent. It was an assertion the columnist had made many times in editorials before this one, so you can understand why he thought it was still a legitimate argument.
The expectations of polite society had shifted around him, and he had failed to keep up. A year earlier, it was still socially acceptable to believe white people were inherently mentally superior to people of other ethnicities. You could express that belief in print and in person and still be welcome at people’s parties and so forth. Many might disagree with him a year or more earlier, but they still viewed it as a topic upon which reasonable people could disagree. And then, you couldn’t any longer.
Racism didn’t end. What changes was how blatantly racist someone could be and still get accepted in polite society.
Plenty of conservatives adapted. They figured out ways to continue making arguments for their positions using euphemisms and dog whistles. Maybe even a small number saw the light, somewhat, and recognized that systemic social and economic biases were what caused the disparities they saw between the races. But it was almost certainly an extremely small number.
I bring this long anecdote up to set some context to a much more recent hot topic. Changing social norms of what expressions of bigotry are considered acceptable isn’t something new. It is an ongoing thing. And while it is a gradual thing, these tipping point moments can catch some privileged people by surprise. It seems sudden and even disconcerting to them, in part because they usually go through much of live in a bubble of privilege.
And to clarify, I don’t mean that only rich people live in these bubbles. Privilege takes many forms. One of those forms is that people who disagree often don’t feel safe (physically, socially, financially) to express their disagreement. People who stand up for themselves or challenge certain kinds of comments in various social or work situations are perceived as “making waves” or “creating unnecessary conflict” and “not being a team player.” So, speaking up when a co-worker makes a misogynist or homophobic or transphobic joke carries a risk of everything from not being considered for promotion to being let go.
So people who are offended, feel attacked, or otherwise disagree with the sentiments—whether expressed explicitly or implied—learn to laugh nervously and change the topic, or otherwise not rock the boat. This perpetuates the mistaken belief of the bigot that what they said is perfectly reasonable. Some people laughed, right?
And it isn’t just the workplace where these bubbles happen.
The bubbles can insulate people holding those bigoted views right up until that tipping point is reached.
The recent flurries of pushback from the bigots has been to try to appeal to free speech and to bemoan so-called cancel culture. There are two problems here: you can’t make a free speech argument when you are specifically trying to silence your critics. And marginalized people have been “canceled”—losing jobs, entire careers—for years. When I mentioned above about losing one’s job for speaking up? That’s something that happens to women, people of color, queer people, trans people, and so forth all the time.
The reason these guys are upset is because it’s happening to them instead of to us. More of us feel we can speak up about other people’s bigotry, and we are. They were perfectly happy to live in the bubble and watch others miss out on promotions, lose their jobs, sometimes get driven out of neighborhoods, et cetera. But suddenly some people are actually subjecting them to (in most cases) mild consequences, and suddenly they think they are the victims.
No. They have been the privileged aggressors acting like jerks to other people. It’s not that suddenly people are offended by things that used to be just fine. Those those were always offensive. All that’s happened is that far fewer people are willing to give these jerks a free pass.
‟Speech without consequence isn’t free, it’s privilege. And more and more, we are using free expression and digital tools to fight back against harassment that has always been there—but for which it’s never been the harassers’ problem to deal with.
And if these hypersensitive men can’t deal with responses to their abusive behavior online, maybe the Internet isn’t for them.”
Laws have frequently been used to target minorities and marginalized people who are not doing what most people would think of as criminal activity. When writing about the origins of Pride Month, I often mention that before the early-to-mid-seventies it was illegal for a woman to wear pants in public. This seems crazy to most people now, and it sometimes came as a shock to people back then, but there it was.
Other laws sound more reasonable until you understand how they were actually applied. For example, in 1968 the Nixon campaign committee came up with the idea of the War on Drugs as a way to target two groups which opposed all of Nixon’s priorities: black people and those opposed to the Vietnam War. Many years after the fact, Nixon domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, explained it:
“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Long before that loitering laws were used to harass anyone that the powers that be found undesirable. Loitering was usually defined as “a person simply being in a public place for no apparent reason.” In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that loitering ordinances and vagrancy ordinances were unconstitutional for two reason: they were so vague that a common citizens couldn’t be sure what behavior constituted the crime, and police were able to arbitrarily enforce it on people who were poor, members of minorities, and so forth.
Historically, the laws were almost always used to target minorities.
The Supreme Court ruling led many jurisdictions to replace the ordinances with so-called “loitering plus” laws. These were ordinances supposedly didn’t make simply being in a public place a crime, but rather being in public for various nefarious purposes. And one of the most popular in the late 80s and 90s were so-called “drug loitering” laws. These laws allowed police to demand ID and to perform personal searches on anyone who was in public and behaving in a way that made the cop suspect that maybe they might possibly be trying to buy or sell illegal drugs. Common activities that could get you arrested under these laws were such horrible criminal acts as: looking at the cars driving by on the roadway, waving at someone, appearing to be trying to make contact with other pedestrians on the sidewalk.
And the sad thing is that even though people tried to appeal these laws to the Supreme Court, it hasn’t accepted such a case for review in decades.
The City of Seattle passed one of these laws back in the 90s. I donated money to a campaign that tried to appeal the low through the courts. When that didn’t get anywhere, I donated money and even volunteered to phone back for a campaign that tried to get an initiative on the ballot to repeal the law. We didn’t succeed.
Year after year people brought forward evidence that both the drug loitering ordinance and the prostitution loitering ordinance were disproportionately used to target black people and gender-non-conforming people, the laws stayed on the books. A few years ago a new city attorney was elected he ceased prosecutions on the two laws precisely for those reasons, but it didn’t really solve the problem, because the next city attorney could just start filing the charges again, and cops would know they could start harassing people in the name of those laws again.
Finally, the laws have been repealed: Seattle City Council Repeals Loitering Laws – The council has voted to repeal two loitering ordinances, which they say had racist origins and disproportionately targeted minorities.
This is a direct result of the Black Lives Matter protests still going on in the city. So we’ve made a teensy bit of progress!
There are many other problems to address. The biggest problem is that virtually all politicians and most common people believe that myth that police forces protect the public from crime. Statistically, they don’t. Of the most common categories of property crime (burglary, larceny, auto theft), only between 13% to 22% of those reported result in an arrest. And those percentages have been so low, that by best estimates, less than 29% of burglaries and larceny are even reported—that means fewer than 4% of such crimes are ever solved!. Heck, fewer the 70% of car thefts are reported to police!
Only abut 38% of rape cases reported to police are cleared (and a laughably even tinier percentage result in any conviction). And since only 25%-40% of sexual assaults are even reported to the police, again we’re looking at fewer than 10% leading to an arrest. Only about 60% of murders are ever solved.
Meanwhile, through abuse of asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies steal far more from the people in their communities that all the burglaries and other robbery categories combined!
There are many reasons for this. One is that in most police departments across the country, the units tasks with investigating robberies and sexual assaults get the lowest budgets, and for various reasons even then, they are the departments most likely to be understaffed (as in, fewer officers actually working in those divisions than is budgeted for).
And then there are the cultural issues. K.L. Williams is a former police chief who now runs the Institute of Justice and Accountability, trying to reform police training (among other things). He sums up the police culture problem this way: about 15% of officers will do the right thing no matter what. And approximately 15% percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70% could go either way depending on whom they are working with.
At first glance that might not seem too bad—only 15% of cops are abusing their authority, right? But with 70% willing to look the other way and even cover up for the bad cops, that means that it’s 85% of cops who are bad, nut merely 15%. And surveys of cops have shown that a clear majority of cops admit that most of the colleagues routinely look the other way and often help cover up misconduct by other cops.
It’s just just that systemic racism, homophobia, and misogyny leads policing to victimize, rather than protect, minorities and marginalized people—those things combined with police attitudes about the public in general and anyone they perceive as being worth even less than the public means that queer (especially gender-non-conforming) and trans people have been oppressed, harassed, and abused by police forever. And as the article above explains, race, perceived ethnicity (not always the same thing), and perceived immigration status simply amplify that.
Which brings us full circle back to the trans women of color who threw the first bunches, the first bricks, the first shot glasses, that started the Stonewall Riots.
If you have time to read the post and the comments, it’s worth the time. John moderated the comments for two days before closing them, so it probably won’t be traumatic; but he does let people who remain polite and don’t repeat falsehoods about trans people say a few things that might be a bit upsetting.
I’m going to steal one bit from the middle of John’s piece:
“Understanding one’s own sexism, or racism, or homophobia, or transphobia, isn’t about reaching some plateau and getting to stop. You have to keep working at it.
“Which can be fucking tiring, you know? Now I get why so many people who were 20 or 30 years older than I was would tell me proudly that they marched with MLK or protested in the 60s: Because it was a way of saying “here’s my resume, I’m on the side of angels.” But the 60s were the 60s, and now is now. The fight’s not the same and sooner or later, generationally speaking, there’s always something to trip over.”
John is much kinder to the transphobes he is talking about than I find myself able to be. And I think he might be being kinder than they deserve. Let me explain: some years ago, I was blessed to take part in the birth of the child of two of my best friends. I was in the room when my godchild was born (after a long labor where we were taking turns who was supporting the mom). There is something that happens in your brain/heart when you hold a newborn baby after going through the birthing process. There’s a part of me that said, “I will walk through fire for this kid. I will slay dragons for this kid.”
Some years later, my godchild told us all that we had been using the wrong pronouns. And that their old name was now a dead name. It wasn’t easy to learn the new pronouns and name. Similarly, my sister’s youngest child informed us a year or so ago that we had been using the wrong pronouns, and that they had a new name.
I don’t think I’ve ever dead-named either my godchild or my nibling in person, but I know I have used the wrong pronouns more than once. Forgetting to use the correct pronoun or slippin on a name is tripping over trans issues.On the other hand, saying that trans women are not really women, repeating lies about trans people, claiming that trans people are threats, denying trans people health care, denying trans people rights? That isn’t tripping over trans issues. That’s erasing. That’s threatening. That’s attacking. That’s harming.
If you believe those things about trans people? That makes you one of the dragons that my godchild and my nibling (and every other trans person out there) needs to be protected from.
Before I get further, let me get a couple of disclaimers out of the way: I have considered myself an ex-Baptist and an ex-Christian for a long time, so some people will want to dismiss anything I say on these topics out of hand. On the other hand, I learned my deep sense of social justice from that church and more specifically their holy book. I was the kind of nerd who read the Bible, on my own, cover-to-cover more than once (and had rather large swaths of it memorized). I have often said I didn’t leave the church, the church drove me (a gay man) away.
One of the big problems I had, again and again, was the many times that teachers and leaders in the church would insist that god’s love and mercy were unconditional—and then they would lay out a whole bunch of conditions that one must meet to earn that love. At first they said you had to believe in him order to get his love and mercy. And don’t forget obey him, or you won’t receive his love. And obey him in the right way, not the way other churches say to do it, or you won’t receive his love. And ignore these parts of the holy book, but these other parts you must interpret exactly as we say, or you won’t receive his love.
That’s an awful lot of conditions one must meet to qualify for supposedly unconditional divine love.
It’s not just unconditional divine love that the fundamentalist evangelicals don’t understand. They have a similar misapprehension of civil rights. Tony Perkins heads to Fox News to defend Trump administration’s latest attack on trans rights. This takes a little bit to unpack. If you missed the news this weekend, the New York Times got hold of a memo from the department of Health and Human Services that outlines how the government could erase all trans rights: ‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration. More details became available quickly thereafter: The Trump Administration Wants to Define Gender as Biological Sex at Birth.
An important clue in this memo is the assertion that previous definitions of sex “allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them.”
Tony Perkins mention above is the leader of the Family Research Council, an evangelical fundamentalist hate group that spends all its time an energy not on helping families, but rather on attacking gay rights and transgender rights and so forth. And he has made a very similar argument for years: gay, lesbian, and trans people don’t deserve civil rights protections.
Which means he doesn’t understand what a civil right is: rights aren’t deserved. You have them because you exist, period. They aren’t privileges. The Declaration of Independence referred to rights as “inalienable”—they can’t be transferred or removed. We can argue about what is or isn’t a right, but not who has them. Everyone has them. The moment you argue that some categories of people shouldn’t have their rights protected, well, that’s taking you a very long way down the fascist road.
And it isn’t something that Christians should be fighting for. They are commanded to love everyone, including their enemies. And as the Sermon on the Mount makes clear, love isn’t just about warm fuzzy feelings, it’s action. Love means lifting people up. Love means standing up for people. Love means doing good for people who disagree with you. Love means not just taking care of your own, but taking care of everyone who needs help.
Perkins and his ilk justify their opposition to the rights of transgender people by frequently making the claim that the Bible clear says that there are only two genders. It is true that the Bible frequently refers to two genders, but none of those references say that those two are the only possibilities, nor does it give a definition of those genders. While some portions make a big deal about what sorts of behaviors are appropriate for one gender or the other, other passages contradict those notions. And there there are a few places where the text asserts very insistently that gender is unimportant. Such as:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
—Galatians 3:28, Holy Bible, King James Version
Which seems to back the notion that god’s love really is unconditional, so maybe his so-called followers should stop trying to enforce divisions.
Note: The title comes from the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, #2 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal
I decided not to make this news the topic of my Weekend Update because I couldn’t find any confirmation of those triumphant announcements. Only one of the news sites I checked even mentioned the fact that, technically, the group could miss their appointment, they could even call and cancel, but if they arrived at the office at 4:59pm with thousands of signed petitions, the state would have to accept them and begin the process of verifying signatures. And some of the folks involved in the push for the initiative have played fast and loose with the rules before.
Anyway, I finally did find confirmation: Election Rarity: No Initiatives Qualify For November Statewide Ballot In Washington. So they didn’t show up at 4:59 with petitions. No one did, even though about 30 different initiatives were filed this time. There’s more good news besides the fact that for a second year in a row the anti-trans people were unable to get enough signatures to even turn them in and attempt to qualify. I’ll come back to that.
As late as Thursday morning, the anti-trans folks were sending out money-beg emails to their supporters in which they claimed they had more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but they still needed to fundraise because those evil queers and their nefarious allies were preparing to challenge the signatures. I just want to clarify that we were prepared to do more than challenge signatures. Evidence had already come forward that some of the signature gatherers were circulating two versions of the petitions that didn’t conform to the law: they didn’t have the official approved ballot title on the top (instead having a misleading one), and others didn’t contain the full text of the law on the back. Those of us following this case knew that, and the organization leading the Decline to Sign campaign (and preparing to run a No on I-1552 campaign if it made the ballot), had lawyers standing at the ready to raise that issue, among others. Signatures on petitions that don’t meet the legal criteria aren’t supposed to be counted, right?
Anyway, they didn’t have enough signatures, and so decided not to turn them in: WASHINGTON STATE: Haters Fail To Submit Signatures To Place Transgender Rights Repeal On Ballot and Transgender bathroom rule won’t be on fall ballot; group seeking rollback fails to get enough signatures. So that’s good news, for now. This is the second time this has happened. They claim to have collected more signatures this year than last. Because they were prompter to get filed and so forth this year, they had more time to collect the signatures. This time around a lot more Republican politicians and former politicians came out urger voters not to sign, though some waited until awfully late to do so.
But the other bit of good news is that none of the other initiatives filed on other topics turned in signatures, either. Some of them were quite worrisome. I’m very happy that perennial anti-tax, anti-gay, anti-well-anything-decent initiative filer Tim Eyman had a bunch of his usual garbage filed as of January and he was fundraising as usual right up until March, when the state Attorney General filed a lawsuit against him and one of his paid signature gathering groups for campaign finance violations including money laundering and Eyman diverting a lot of funds for his personal use: AG sues Tim Eyman for $2M, says he profited from campaigns. Suddenly, all of his fundraising efforts shifted to begging supporters for money to pay his legal fees: Eyman cries for contributions to counter AG’s ‘stunning witch hunt’.
The guy’s full-time job for a couple of decades has been running these shitty initiatives. He’s been having fewer and fewer successes as time has gone by, and previous disclosures have found a shrinking pool of people willing to donate. The bulk of the money coming into the campaigns and into his so-called political action committee has been coming from a single anti-tax crank millionaire for a while, now. And given the lies, distortions, and evasions he has engaged in over the years in the campaigns, it’s really a wonder he wasn’t charged with something sooner.
In the midst of so much anxiety-inducing news around the world, we need to remember to take the victories that we do get. Even if they’re only in the smaller battles just now.