Thursday, March 18, 2004

The Incredible Denseness of Bigotry

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription) by Shelby Steele once again shows the incredible mental gymnastics conservatives will go through to be bigots without accepting the title. Steele's thesis is that while gays and supporters of same-sex marriage (SSM) want to frame this issue as a matter of civil rights, the reality is that this is just a "bait and switch" by those damnably clever homos.

So, dressing gay marriage in a suit of civil rights has become the standard way of selling it to the broader public. Here is an extremely awkward issue having to do with the compatibility of homosexuality and the institution of marriage. But once this issue is buttoned into a suit of civil rights, neither homosexuality nor marriage need be discussed. Suddenly only equity and fairness matter. And this turns gay marriage into an ersatz civil rights struggle so that dissenters are seen as Neanderthals standing in the schoolhouse door, fighting off equality itself. Yet all this civil rights camouflage is, finally, a bait-and-switch: When you agree to support fairness, you end up supporting gay marriage.
It seems that Steele has almost talked himself into believing. But have no fear, he recovers his senses and slips easily back into the comfortable, easy soft bigotry of those who know they are right - just because they know.

But gay marriage is simply not a civil rights issue. It is not a struggle for freedom. It is a struggle of already free people for complete social acceptance and the sense of normalcy that follows thereof -- a struggle for the eradication of the homosexual stigma. Marriage is a goal because, once open to gays, it would establish the fundamental innocuousness of homosexuality itself. Marriage can say like nothing else that sexual orientation is an utterly neutral human characteristic, like eye-color. Thus, it can go far in diffusing the homosexual stigma.
But it seems that besides his comfortable, easychair bigotry, Shelby Steele has a problem with history, with placing events in their appropriate order on the timeline. He starts by stating that geneticists have found that race - as we speak of it - is basically a social construct based on physical features that are dictated by an extremely small part of our genome. In other words, we are more alike than we are different. No problem; that's all very true. But then he transposes that knowledge, only recently gained, into the era of civil rights. Ascribing motivation to those who fought that noble battle based on scientific knowledge that wouldn't be discovered for another forty years.

The civil rights movement argued that it was precisely the utter innocuousness of racial difference that made segregation an injustice. Racism was evil because it projected a profound difference where there was none -- white supremacy, black inferiority -- for the sole purpose of exploiting blacks.
If I remember my history, the arguments for civil rights did not rest on a genetic understanding of how shallow the differences are between the races. Rather they rested on the fundamental argument that regardless of our differences, we are all human beings and deserve the respect and yes, the fairness, of an equal application of the rights and privileges of the law. As an African-American scholar he should be better acquainted with this part of history than to make such an error.

Today, gays and the supporters of SSM make precisely that argument; we are all human beings, we all have the right to be treated equally and fairly under the laws of our wonderful country. Gay rights supporters, women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and all the other minorities who look to the laws of this country for fairness and equality want, Shelby Steele's accusations of a "bait-and-switch" notwithstanding, not special rights, but equal rights.

NOTE: The DMC are still a bunch of homophobic bigots.

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