Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Stench of Racism Fills the Air

Like so many else, I was outraged at the verdict that freed George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin.  Though the verdict itself was a heartbreak for all of us who believed that an innocent, unarmed teenager was gunned down by a racial-profiling vigilante and was not punished, I was not surprised at the outcome given Florida’s gun laws and that a second degree murder or manslaughter case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 
I was also not surprised (but angry nonetheless) that the prosecution gave a less than robust performance in an effort to at least send Zimmerman up the river for manslaughter.  They failed to effectively poke holes in Zimmerman’s story that his using a handgun was in self-defense and that his life was truly in danger.  I’ll never believe it.

But what infuriated me most was the reaction to the verdict that brought out racists who hide behind the anonymity of a keyboard to spew their vitriol all over the blogosphere, social media and elsewhere.  You see, Zimmerman was perfectly justified, in their view, not because he “stood his ground” or that his life was somehow in danger at the hands of an unarmed 17 year-old.  They rejoiced at the acquittal because Trayvon deserved it. 
After all, he was a young black male, wearing a hoodie that fateful evening and seemed suspicious.  They say he was a drug addict because he had previously smoked marijuana; that burglar tools were once found on him along with possessing stolen women’s jewelry.  And that he was a thug.

Translation: Trayvon was black so he must have been guilty of something.  Blame the victim; it’s his fault for appearing “suspicious.” Why are the liberals anguishing over this incident when there is so much black-on-black crime, they reason.  It’s pathetic.
The racists also chomped at the bit to vilify their favorite targets:  Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama.  They’re the villains here, not the white-Hispanic George Zimmerman.  

Then there is Trayvon’s phone pal Rachel Jeantel, whom TIME columnist Joe Klein described as one who stoked “every white racist’s fantasy about the limitations of black people.”
Racism has reared its ugly head once again, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away soon while other forms of bigotry have changed course. 

We have witnessed homophobia lessening over time though it is still dangerously out there.  People have gradually evolved towards acceptance of LGBT folks even on same-sex marriage, the ultimate frontier.  
As an increasing number of LGBT people come out, they become the faces of gay rather than some abstract image. More people now than ever before, according to surveys, know at least one LGBT individual personally.  Family members, co-workers, neighbors, friends—all see LGBT folks in a different light and it’s usually positive. 
Racism is another matter.  You can’t come out as “black” to change ingrained perceptions.  

America has a long, sad history of racism.  With the election of our first African-American president, we all were duped into thinking our country had finally moved forward.  Wrong!  Instead, the opposite occurred.  We took a giant leap backward.

During the 2008 campaign we saw these racists climbing out from under their rocks.  It didn’t improve much in 2012.  “Socialist,” they yelled.  “Terrorist.”  They assumed that Mr. Obama would be taking their money and handing it over to black America.  The obdurate opposition to the Affordable Care Act is based on the same misinformation and prejudice-laden rage: white folks will have to cough over more of their hard earned money so that black people can get health care.

The nauseating endless quest to have the president prove he was born in the U.S. is yet another example.  The constant belittling him over everything—refusing to give him his due credit and blaming him for all of the world’s ills—is largely race-based.  The so-called “patriots” who supposedly love our country would rather it fall into an economic abyss than to make compromises as a component of governance. 
In short, the racists strive to defeat the president at every turn no matter the issue.  They want to ensure that the U.S. should never again make the mistake of electing a black president.  Of course, not all of the opponents of the president are racists but all the racists are opponents of the president.

The Supreme Court’s ruling that gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act is more evidence of racism.  Immediately, several states moved to toughen their voting laws to make sure blacks and other minorities are disenfranchised. The House Republicans’ removal of the Food Stamps program from the Farm Bill is a further example because to them, only blacks receive the aid. 
Then the trial of George Zimmerman reinforced all the racists fears including the liberal media, the bleeding hearts who ignore crimes committed by African-Americans, you name it.  In the age of online anonymity, they surface and freely say what they truly believe.

Folks, we are moving backward, and the stench of racism is suffocating all of us.  Perhaps Washington Post columnist and MSNBC commentator Jonathan Capehart summed it up best in a tweet related to the aftermath of the verdict:  “Reading these letters is like walking through a sewer with no shoes.”
Racism is not going away.  It’s going to take a new generation of color-blind children to grow up and reverse the course.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Spotlighters Brings 'Fiddler' to Life

Ken Stanek Photography
Tevye, the central character in Fiddler on the Roof, must pull a milk cart by himself because his horse is lame.  In doing so, he slowly, pedantically drags it through Anatevka, a small village in Czarist Russia in 1905.  This struggle, this effort becomes a metaphor for Tevye, who seems to have the world’s weight on his shoulders, and in his world, he does.
At the brink of poverty, Tevye, a religious Jew who frequently refers to the “Good Book” and believes that God, for some reason, tries to give him a hard time.  He battles to feed, clothe and house his wife and five daughters.   His three oldest girls eschew deeply ingrained Jewish traditions to which he so desperately tries to cling.  

Instead, they prefer to pursue lives of their own fueled by changing social mores.  He must also match wits with his sharp-tongued wife of 25 years Golde.    And on top of that, Tevye and his family as well as the other Jews in Anatevka face constant anti-Semitism and intimidation from Russia’s Czar.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Monday, July 08, 2013

'Rainbow' Themes on Display at FPCT

Steve Ferguson (L.) and Rasheed Green in Hoya Saxa Photo: Ken Stanek
The 32nd annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival started off on the right foot with Rich Espey’s The Rainbow Plays currently running at the Fells Point Corner Theatre.  Mr. Espey, a Baltimore-area resident, is a three-time winner of the Carol Weinberg Award for best play at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival for Fifty-Fifty, Hope’s Arbor, and Following Sarah.
In The Rainbow Plays, under the strong direction of Lisa Davidson who is making her Baltimore directing debut, six distinct mini-plays, each about 10 minutes long representing the different themes contained in the rainbow or gay pride flag are presented.  A seventh play attempts to sum it all up with a humorous, clever, rap-dominated performance.  As in the case of that flag, The Rainbow Plays consist of a tapestry of discrete stories, with the only common thread woven throughout is that they are gay- or lesbian-related.

The rainbow flag, which originally had eight colors and now contains six, was designed by the artist Gilbert Baker in 1978 as a positive alternative to the pink triangle used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals.  Some theorize he was inspired by the death of Judy Garland of “Over the Rainbow” fame—an iconic gay anthem—which occurred just a few days before the Stonewall uprisings in June 1969.  Mr. Baker recently told a Chicago television station: “The rainbow came to mind almost instantly as an obvious expression of diversity and acceptance.”

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide

Saturday, July 06, 2013

One Giant Leap for Equality

The incredibly historic rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) on marriage equality remind me of another improbable feat. As Neil Armstrong said upon setting foot on the lunar surface, “One small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind.”  Before the 1960’s nobody thought we could land a man on the moon but we did on July 20, 1969.  We are now approaching the 44th anniversary of that astounding occasion.
The SCOTUS decisions similarly could not have been predicted just a few years ago given what the Court has wrought over the years including Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, and just the day before the marriage rulings were handed down, the lamentable decision on the Voting Rights Act.

I always thought that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA would collapse under litigation based on the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.  And some lower courts saw it the same way.  Yet, SCOTUS with its conservative tilt and conservative Chief Justice, seemed like the time was not quite right to make bold progressive rulings in arguably the most significant civil rights issue in decades.
Bold they weren’t in the case of Proposition 8 in California. Rather than ruling that same-sex couples everywhere in the U.S. have the fundamental right to marry, the Court punted.  The case went back to the lower court because those who appealed that decision to strike down Prop 8 lacked the legal standing.   This meant that same-sex couples in California regained their right to marry. 

As for Section 3 of DOMA, SCOTUS decided by a vote of 5-4 that the federal government must recognize the lawful nuptials of same-sex couples, thus conferring over 1,100 rights, benefits and responsibilities.  That decision applies only to the 13 states (including California) and D.C. where such marriages are valid.
President Obama, arguing that DOMA was unconstitutional, refused to defend it in court and later filed a brief that attacked DOMA on the merits.  The administration is currently taking steps to broaden the benefits of the SCOTUS ruling by moving swiftly to revise regulations so that same-sex couples in states where marriage equality does not exist, can tie the knot in any of the other 14 jurisdictions and receive federal benefits and protections.  

Moreover, the entire DOMA could eventually be scuttled as Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) immediately re-introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the upper chamber.  It would repeal DOMA and require the U.S. federal government to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages regardless of what state the couple lives in. The number of co-sponsors has increased sharply from 17 just two years ago to 40 presently.
An identical bill was introduced into the House by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (D-NY) with the support of 160 co-sponsors, including at least two Republicans.  Alas, this measure will not advance soon as the tea party caucus continues to dominate the GOP-controlled House, and they are not ready to drop DOMA.

The Republicans can’t help themselves.  All that post-election talk about “expanding their tent” evaporated into thin air and not just in terms of their attitudes towards women and immigration reform.  They continue to maintain an anti-gay posture and seem to be stuck in that mire while the rest of the country is moving forward.  House Speaker Boehner and others denounced the SCOTUS decisions proving that the GOP is still enmeshed in and controlled by base politics. 
While the SCOTUS rulings do not have wide applications, what did come down justified the celebrations.  For one thing, the Court could have gone the other route and upheld Prop 8 and DOMA.  That would have been a significant setback for marriage equality advocates, and positive change would be perhaps a generation away.  But this Court, albeit narrowly, handed down decisions that should pave the way for favorable outcomes in the near future.

Emboldened by the SCOTUS rulings especially on DOMA and a surge in public support for marriage equality in recent years, advocates in several states are seeking to overturn existing bans to same-sex marriage via their legislatures or at the ballot box.  Furthermore, it is almost guaranteed that there will be a wave in lawsuits in the non-equality states based on violation of the equal protection clause and the precedent established in the SCOTUS majority opinion. 
Going into the last week of the Pride month of June, many folks were optimistic even hopeful about the Court’s rulings but cautious considering the make-up of the Court.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had written the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas exactly ten years before that ruling de-criminalized sodomy, was considered the “swing” vote.   But many viewed him as unpredictable based on his stated concern during the oral arguments phase last March about venturing into “unchartered waters.”

Nevertheless, as was the case with the Apollo mission, SCOTUS defied the odds and doubts and came through when few imagined it possible say, four years ago.  And because of the now favorable possibilities, this was indeed one giant leap for equality and the beginning of a new frontier.