I've tried not to write this post, but it refuses to go away quietly. My absolute elation on Tuesday night gave way very quickly to shock and sorrow, and over the next couple of days -- as story after story spilled across the airwaves and teh internets about the historical importance of this election and the message it sends to the world about the dream of American democracy and the culmination of our national Civil Rights struggle -- I got angry. I had almost talked myself down for the hundredth time when I woke up this morning and read this.
I reference this post on CNN in which 18-year-old Solomon Brown explains his vote to write discrimination into the California State Constitution thusly:
The war in Iraq and the economy were the main issues Brown, 18, a first-time voter, said he considered in choosing a president. But when the time came to vote on the "one man and one woman" issue, he followed his moral beliefs and voted in support of California's Proposition 8. He said he isn't at all surprised that many voters did the same.
"They did that because of religion," Brown said of voters. "They wanted change for the country but weren't going to change their religion."
He had no qualms about voting for Obama, either, and adds that his choice wasn't related to race. But he worries what moral beliefs will be taught in coming years.
"I don't want a man and a man to be married," Brown said. "When I have kids, I don't want them to see that."
Still, he says he doesn't hate gay people and has several gay friends. He emphasizes that he dislikes the fact that people are gay, but not the individuals themselves.
"I can't be prejudiced against them, with me being an African-American," Brown said. "That would be hypocritical in my eyes."
Against the backdrop of the election of Barack Obama -- the mixed-race child of a single mother born in the immediate aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement -- we have Arizona, California, Florida and Arkansas writing discrimination into their Constitutions and being heavily supported in that effort by black voters, and I'm angry.
Civil Rights in this country did not come easily, and did not come without hard work and risk and often loss of life on the part of people who were not black. It was not accomplished in a racial vacuum. It was not accomplished by black people alone against the larger society. White students rode those Freedom buses and sat at those lunch counters alongside black students. White women defied their husbands and their communities to drive black citizens during the bus boycotts and work with black women to create the integrated YWCA. White men defied the Klan to fight for black voting rights.
Men, women and children who were not black stood up and said that wrong is wrong, even if the wrong wasn't being done directly to them. They understood. as I understand, that discrimination and marginalization of any group of Americans is bad for all Americans, and bad for humanity at large. They understood that the circumstances of your birth should not be a limiting factor in your right to be a free and equal partner in this country.What I would like to say to young Mr. Solomon Brown is "you're welcome." Thanks to people you never knew, you grew up not having to live in fear for your life if you looked a white woman in the eye. You didn't have to drink from a water fountain marked "Colored" or sit at the back of the bus unless you wanted to. You never had to sit in the Colored section at the diner, if you were even allowed in. Thanks to people who were not black and did not have to fight for your Civil Rights, you can even fall in love and marry outside of your race in a "non-traditional marriage" if you choose to do so, without fear of reprisal or worry that you and your bride will be murdered for it.
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner weren't so lucky. Matthew Shepard and Harvey Milk weren't so lucky.
Homosexuals are the last minority in America who can be legally discriminated against in hiring and housing. We are the last minority in America who can be openly ridiculed and for whom there are no standards of political correctness or protection from hate crimes. We are the last minority who are not allowed to be legally married or adopt children. On television and in movies we are the new Steppin' Fetchit and Amos 'n Andy. Gay is the new Nigger.
What I would like to tell Mr. Solomon Brown is that I'm proud of the work that was done by people like me to tear down the walls of legally sanctioned discrimination, and point out that he owes to people like me the very fact that he was able to exercise that hard-won freedom and the power of his vote to rebuild that wall and put people like me behind it.
If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were to give his "I Have a Dream" speech today -- that awe-inspiring speech which included these wonderful passages -- it might end something like this [editing mine]:
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Unless you're gay.
I suppose I could have summed up all of this with these few words ...
Fuck you, Solomon Brown.