Friday, November 21, 2008

What about the Walls? Confronting Obstinate Prejudice

I haven’t posted today until now because I am frankly rather worn out. Downhearted.

Part of it is, I’m sure, the sense of weariness many of us feel now that the elections are over. So much rode on them. We’re relieved. And we’re also tired, with that good sense of weariness that comes from long struggle and a goal achieved.

And, as I’ve stated before, there’s that mix of elation at the election results, and dismay at what happened in my own state with the adoption initiative, and in California, Florida, and Arizona. And that’s where I continue to feel pulled down.

When you’ve struggled long and hard for the right to live honorably (according to your lights), peaceably, and decently, it’s hard not to feel torn down by voter initiatives designed to target you—specifically, as a class of people. As a despised group of citizens.

I do sometimes grow weary of fighting, and I have to let myself admit that and feel the weariness. Let it wash over me while I watch the lambent golden light of late fall catch bronze, yellow, and red leaves to fire in the evening sun. While I remember a hymn we used to sing in chapel in college, in which we asked God to cause us to come to the rivers, to cause us to drink from the rivers, to cause us to live at the rivers.

Two specific things have me despondent now. One is an exchange that has been going on for some time now between another blogger and me on the discussion café at the National Catholic Reporter website. I may have mentioned in a previous posting that this blogger accused me of spreading falsehoods, when I first posted information about hate speech at Palin rallies on that blog.

He cited the Secret Service, and informed me that they had announced there was no hate speech at Palin rallies. Later, when the Secret Service released information after Obama was elected about just how fierce the hate speech was at those rallies, and how threats against Obama’s life had spiked after Palin began to stir hate, I posted this information to the blogger. Before I did so, a friend had also posted this information to the blogger.

Only to have him ignore it, and try to turn the subject to mythical reports that Palin has been verbally attacked by gay activists, and reports that gay activists are now inciting hate by protesting proposition 8. I have to admit, I’m undone by such a response—by the ungraciousness of someone who cannot admit when (s)he has been wrong, by the inversion of the discussion such that those noting he was disseminating wrong information are themselves the wrongdoers.

What this says to me is that there are people affiliated with movements of faith in our nation who will simply deny that red is red, and will persist in trying to paint red green, no matter what evidence stares them in the face. The blogger in question cavalierly dismisses all studies showing that reparative therapy to change people’s sexual orientation is damaging and unsuccessful.

He wants to hold the long-discarded theory of homosexuality as a psychological aberration. He will hear nothing of hate speech at Palin rallies. He is focused solely on what he believes are credible reports of gay mobs rampaging and threatening people of faith.

I realize I will never change this man’s mind. I don’t really want to do that. I want simply to set the record straight, when he spreads disinformation. And that’s where I feel defeated: despite his repeated protests that he lives for nothing but the truth, he will not even admit that his own source for information about hate speech at Palin rallies, the Secret Service, contradicts his beliefs.

When religion has such toxic presence in people’s lives, and in our culture through the many citizens that hold onto destructive myths in the face of abundant evidence contradicting those myths, I don’t quite know what to do. The election of Obama, along with the various anti-gay initiatives, says to me that, even if we feel we have made some progress, we still have a long way to go in our culture.

There are still people willing to cling to malicious beliefs that target one group of citizens—that target me—no matter how much evidence to the contrary challenges their malicious beliefs. These groups will continue to try to force faith communities to dance to their tune. They have disproportionate influence on the churches. The churches are, in too many respects, enemies rather than allies of a group of citizens who are subject to baffling prejudice in our society, and to outright violence.

The other catalyst for my depression right now is the article by Tara Wall to which I linked yesterday. Wall’s argument that black civil rights are bona fide, and gay rights are bogus, truly doesn’t deserve consideration. It roils with prejudice. It is a broadside attack on the gay community.

Wall flatly denies that marriage is a civil right—flying in the face of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, which regards marriage as a fundamental human right, and in the face of the Supreme Court decision in California that reiterates that marriage is a civil right. She speaks as if all African Americans and all African-American religious leaders are resolute in opposing gay rights—ignoring the abundant evidence that many African Americans think differently than she does about these issues, and that many African-American religious leaders have spoken out in favor of gay rights, including the right to marry.

Again, what to do with such stubborn prejudice? And with the malicious attempt to depict all gay people as privileged racists who have no understanding of the struggle of people of color for civil rights? What to make of this ugly attempt of a woman of color who, one would hope, understands what it feels like to be demeaned and lied about, to discount gay suffering and play it against black suffering—rather than deploring unmerited imposed suffering wherever it occurs?

When I do a bit of research about Wall, I begin to understand. She is Director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Administration of Children and Families. A Bush appointee—an appointee of our current president George W. Bush. She was formerly Senior Advisor and Director of Outreach Communications for the Republican National Committee (RNC). Her bio at the website of the Office of Public Affairs states,

The Outreach Communications team worked to bring a compassionate conservative message into every community and to ensure that specialty and mainstream press were informed of the RNC’s coalition efforts, President Bush’s record of achievement and how the Administration’s policies empower people of color (

I read that, and I feel like my paternal grandmother whenever she heard news that she couldn’t quite believe, and which she wanted to discount. She would wave her fingers dismissively and exclaim, “Ah, pshaw.” Compassionate conservatism for people of color, and a Republican coalition with people of color: pshaw. You don’t say.

I do understand the dynamics here. I have met Tara Walls before. There are people within any marginal community who know how to market themselves for the culture that has power and perks to hand out—and who are willing to do so even when that culture despises them. There are, after all, gay Republicans, the Log Cabin set. And there were even some German Jews who welcomed Hitler when he rose to power.

But saying these folks exist doesn’t mean I know what to make of them. Pshaw. There they are, chumming up to the very people least inclined to care about them, people obviously eager to use them, but not to embrace them as equals. Curling up with poisonous snakes and expecting not to be bitten.

But understanding the dynamics that produce such folks still doesn’t help me know what to do with the disinformation they are willing to spread in the name of the ideology they serve, or the damage they are willing to do to hurting human beings in the name of that ideology. Understanding doesn’t help me deal with the way these people bandy about the name of God, and use God as a weapon to bash others with.

So, I end this week tired, downhearted, wondering what to make of walls of prejudice that just don’t seem to tumble. Wondering how to carry on when those walls close in. Wondering how much more struggle is on the horizon for the gay citizens of this nation, even after an election that brought many of us considerable joy.