Saturday, December 16, 2017

"When the Music Is Low and the Whiskey Is in the Glass": The Difference Southern History Makes in Seeing that Masterpiece Cake Is Piggie Park Redivivus

Tom Lee, "Song from a Birmingham Church," at The Bitter Southerner:

The 16th Street Church bombing was no isolated incident. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had written from his cell in the Birmingham jail five months earlier, "There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation." King's rejoinder to his pastoral brethren that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" fell largely on deaf ears. Like the others, the 16th Street bombing went nearly 50 years uninvestigated and unprosecuted. 
Until a lawyer named Doug Jones came along, doing what he thought was his job as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. And the man who killed Denise, Cynthia, Carole, and Addie Mae went — finally — to prison. 
It feels right somehow that the man who convicted the killer of those girls, whose very graves cried out for justice, will head to Washington from the Heart of Dixie as a United States Senator. If one could push past the charlatans and clown cars of the past six months, it would be enough to make one weep, late at night, when the music is low and the whiskey is in the glass. 
Respectfully, however, that is white history and not a small plea for white absolution. 
History is a wiregrass mob of whites massacring seven unarmed blacks who came to vote at the Barbour County courthouse in 1874. And history is Doug Jones winning Barbour County, half black and half white, peacefully polled, with 3,680 votes. 
History is beatings on the marches from Selma to Montgomery, administered upon government orders, specifically and brutally, to keep black folks from voting. And history is African-American women taking yesterday to social media, proudly displaying their “I VOTED” stickers. 
History is Bull Connor and German shepherds, firebombs, and firehoses in Birmingham. And history is Jones winning Jefferson County, where the Magic City sits, by 38 points. 
The Sunday has come and the Sunday has gone

And I can't do much more than to sing you a song

I'll sing it so softly, it'll do no one wrong

And the choirs keep singing of freedom 
Addie Mae Collins. 
Denise McNair. 
Cynthia Wesley. 
Carole Robertson. 
We didn’t hear about them on the news Tuesday night. We heard about pedophilia, and Donald Trump, and the 2018 midterms. But if you wanted to know why last night happened, you shouldn’t have watched the news in the first place. 
The answer, dear reader, lies neither in our stars nor our politics, but in ourselves, our history, and those four little girls, dead all these years, judging us from their graves.

Ernest Dumas, "Silly acts, good law," at Arkansas Times

On its basic level, Masterpiece Cakeshop is the latest in an ancient line of disputes over using religion and spiritual texts as a pretext for exercising individual prejudices. The same book of Leviticus that says you should kill men who sleep together also instructs you never to violate God's laws against eating pork, shellfish, catfish, salmon or tuna — or apparently to sell them. 
Favorable biblical references to slavery and segregation and unfavorable ones to antithetical religions were once claimed as First Amendment grounds to discriminate. Now there is an Internet war among clerics over whether the Bible forbids same-sex marriage when it makes two references to matrimony as matching a man and a woman. That must mean it forbids all other marriages. 
But wait, what about all those favorable biblical references to having many wives and concubines, not just one? 
Back in 1968, the Supreme Court held that a South Carolina barbecue joint could not refuse to serve black customers on religious grounds (he claimed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "contravenes the will of God"). "Patently frivolous," the court said of his claim. 
So the cakeshop owner says baking is a form of art and that his First Amendment right to express only ideas that match his sacred beliefs exceeds a couple's right to be treated equally. Is poor Anthony Kennedy up to writing again that this is patently frivolous?

Compare what Ernie Dumas has to say about the Masterpiece Cake case and how patently frivolous it is — how patently frivolous it is in the very same way as Piggie Park was patently frivolous — with the commentary of all those folks who find this case "complex," with "both sides" having such weight, such ponderous points to make. Note Ernie Dumas' (and Tom Lee's) roots in Southern culture, Southern history, Southern politics. 

Note the difference it makes that some of us lived through the struggles over basic civil rights in our part of the country in the 1950s and 1960s, and remember them — the anguish, the pain, the brutality, the I-vow-I-will-never-let-us-return-to-this-again of those struggles. Note how that perspective marks our thought, the thought of some of us who walked through that anguish and vowed not to let our nation walk us through it again, about the patently frivolous claims of Masterpiece Cake, which are Piggie Park in new clothes. 

Same old Piggie Park frivolity dressed up in a new garish outfit in the hope that no one will notice that what's underneath the old gauds is the same old same old raw prejudice, the same old hatred of a minority group, the same intent to clothe arguments about discrimination in threadbare religious clothes.

The people now claiming to find such meat and such weight in the arguments on both sides of the Masterpiece Cake case are an embarrassment to me. They have to know better.

And it's an embarrassment that those to whom they are giving cover in this case are likely to prevail, in great part, because the people hearing this case and the people offering cover to Jack Phillips don't want to hear about and don't intend to talk about race — and how Masterpiece Cake is Piggie Park redivivus. And how deeply entrenched racism remains in our society.

And how discrimination against LGBTQ folks on religious grounds is no less malodorous than is discrimination against people of color on religious grounds — and it's sinful and dangerous in the extreme for our society to walk backwards with these arguments, in this era of Donald Trump and out-of-the-closet white nationalism.

And as what just happened with the white vote in the state of Alabama shows us all over again (and as yet another study shows us all over again), some of us, including many white Southerners, do not intend to wake from the nightmare of this history, but are intent in every way possible to impose this nightmare on the whole nation. And to say that we have done something holy in doing so . . . .

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