Black Woman Blogging

One black woman's views on race, gender, politics, family, life and the world.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Support Gay Marriage for Bayard Rustin

"We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers . . . ."

Bayard Rustin

Black History Month is drawing to a close. I had the pleasure of watching a documentary on the LOGO network entitled “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin.” I must admit, I knew little about Rustin, and much of what I knew about him I learned from the HBO movie “Boycott.” He is my hero, and if you’re black in America, he should be yours. He should be why you support gay civil rights, and gay marriage in particular.

Rustin was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington and brought the teachings of non-violence to Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. He was a Quaker who stood up for the rights of Japanese Americans during the Internment; he was at one time a Communist, I understand. And he was openly and unabashedly gay. Later in life he stated that the battle for gay civil rights was the next major civil rights battle.

Rustin was unwilling to let his sexuality and politics get in the way of the Civil Rights Movement and took a back seat when they threatened to divert attention toward him to the detriment of the aims of the movement. In other words, he made the achievement of civil rights for African Americans more important than his own identity. We as African Americans owe him; we owe him big. We stand on the shoulders of an African American gay Quaker communist intellectual.

I know that the wave of Obamaudacity that brought black folks out to the polls in the last presidential election also brought out a black wave that, although not completely responsible, was complicit in the passage of Proposition 8 in California. I wish Rustin had lived to see this and to make the same morally and logically undefeatable arguments for gay civil rights as he did for black civil rights. I just don’t get how a people who had to fight for civil rights would support the denial of the same civil rights – the right to marry, to serve in the military, you name it – to another group based solely on who they are.

I get that African Americans don’t like it when the movement for gay civil rights is compared to the movement for racial civil rights because of the implicit equalization of race to sexuality and because of a deeply embedded Christian disapproval of homosexuality. I get that. But if you take the Christianity and sexuality of the equation, which you should when you’re talking about the government’s right to limit the rights of others, what remains is the concept that, either by support or acquiescence, we are allowing the government to treat people unequally for being who they are without harm to anyone else. And, more often than not, we use our Christian faith as a justification for the government being able to do so. That’s a dangerous combination in my book, if you ask me. We’ve not “overcome” that much that we as African Americans are far from the risk of being “that” group of people treated unequally by the government for being who we are. That’s just not a power I’m willing to give to the government because they government can, has, and will, if allowed, use that same power against me.

To me, this is a classic example of black folks needing to learn what to “render unto Caesar.” Gay marriage isn’t about gays or marriage or faith – it’s about the government telling a group of people they can’t do something simply because of who they are. Gay marriage isn’t really about “marriage,” if you think of it in the religious sense, because no church is going to be forced to marry gay people because we limit the power of the government to tell churches and people of faith what they have to do. Since marriage is no longer solely a religious matter but a civil one since we let the government get in the business of licensing it and allowing for civil marriages, the government should not be allowed to keep marriage licenses from gays any more than it can keep business licenses from gays. And for those who argue that gay marriage is going to weaken the institution of marriage, here’s a newsflash: Marriage in America is already FUBAR (if you’ve served in the military, you know what that means – the “BAR” part means “beyond all recognition”; I’ll let you figure out the rest). We let murderers, rapists, and sexual predators behind bars get married in America. We let people who aren't here legally get married to those who are. We used to let thirteen year-olds get married in America. Hell, we let Charlie Sheen get married. We don’t have many limitations on who can get married – we don’t screen for compatibility, immigration status, genetic mutations, maturity, ability to support children, nothing. Any idiot can get married in America, as long as he or she isn’t gay. And many do.

As a matter of limiting government intrusion into the private lives and rights of citizens, I have a problem with the idea that a Christian majority can dictate the rights of a minority through the ballot box. I don’t think that my rights or anyone’s rights in American should be determined by a religious majority – that’s what the Constitution was intended to protect against: the tyranny of the majority. Because if and when we get a Muslim majority in America, I ain’t giving up my alcohol, my pork Ancho Chile burritos from Qdoba, and my faith. The problem is that Christians in American have a hard time visualizing the possibility of not being in the majority or how the imposition of their faith through government might oppress a minority. But African American Christians ought to know better because we know that even Christianity was used by white Americans to justify the government’s acquiescence in slavery.

If you’re black in America, you don’t have to like gay people. You don’t have to let them get married in your churches. But to say that they shouldn’t have the same rights as we do just because they’re gay? That’s just civil rights hypocrisy. Were Bayard Rustin alive, I would dare any African American to tell this man who sacrificed for our rights that his rights should be less than the very ones he achieved for us.

So when we African Americans sit at the front of a bus, file that EEOC complaint, drink from any damned fountain we want, and cast that vote at the polls unmolested, we stand not only on the shoulders of Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Thurgood Marshall, Dr. King, A. Phillip Randolph, Rev. Abernathy, Rev. Jackson, John Lewis and many nameless, faceless people who marched and died on our behalves, but on the shoulders of Bayard Rustin, too. Before you try to deny someone else’s civil rights, remember where your own civil rights came from.

Now, go on and be that “angelic troublemaker” Rustin spoke of.

For more on “Brother Outside: The Life of Bayard Rustin,” visit

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My 2007 Honda: A Monument to Toyota's Problems

If any Toyota executives say they didn’t know about Toyota’s sudden acceleration defects until 2008 or later, they’re lying. I have a 2007 Honda Accord that is a monument to Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems in 2007 and my experience in attempting to buy a Toyota Camry that year.

In the fall of 2007, I was shopping around for a car because I promised the one I had to my nephew. He was having trouble getting to work, and I didn’t want him to lose his job. My sister gave him and his wife her car after I had made my promise, so I thought I was off the hook, and happily so -- my car was a 1998 Honda Accord, it ran like a charm, and it had been long paid for. My nephew, not to be deterred, held me to my promise. So there I was, looking for a new car to replace the 1998 Honda I had promised to my nephew. Hey, your word is your bond.

I looked at used Hondas and Toyotas, searched for the elusive used Prius, and decided that since this was probably the last or next-to-last car that I was ever going to buy (my sister’s Honda was over twenty years old when she gave it to my nephew and niece-in-law, and it’s still running, so I was easily expecting a twenty-year run for any vehicle I bought), I’d buy a new one. I test drove the new Accord, couldn’t afford (or rather, was unwilling to pay the premium for) the new Prius, and then test drove the new Camry. For the money, the Camry seemed like a great bargain. The car salesman, who worked at Elk Grove Toyota, extolled Toyota’s commitment to quality and service. I was almost hooked.

Until I ran a Google search with the terms “Toyota Camry Quality Reviews.”

Up popped postings on car bulletin boards about sudden acceleration issues with the Camry and Toyota’s trucks. The people who posted about their Camrys stated concerns with whether the problem was really a stuck gas pedal problem, a floor mat problem, or an electrical problem. Needless to say, I was very concerned.

I went back to the Elk Grove Toyota dealership and asked the salesman about the online reports about sudden acceleration. His response was something on the order of “Aw, man!,” as in, “Aw, man! She found out about the problem.” He tried to fast talk his way around it, telling me that Toyota had fixed the floor mats and gas pedals and that I had nothing to worry about. I asked him why he didn’t tell me about the problem during my test drive the day before. He had nothing to say. And if I could find that information on the Internet, surely Toyota’s executives knew about it. The salesman in Elk Grove surely did.

I bought my 2007 Honda Accord across the street at the Honda dealership. And, quite frankly, I had no business buying a Toyota to begin with. This car is my fourth Honda – my sister, the same sister who gave away her twenty year-old Honda Accord, had given me her first car, a 1981 Honda Prelude, in the early nineties after it had been given back to her from my other sister. The car lasted for a total of sixteen years, had survived an accident, and would have lasted longer had I not hit a curb on a freeway onramp and taken out the undercarriage. I then bought a 1996 Honda Accord, which was totaled by a moving van that came to move me, and I replaced that with the 1998 Honda Accord that I gave to my nephew. I’ve never had a problem with Hondas – they’re reliable, easy to maintain, and can withstand a great degree of abuse and neglect. The only other vehicle I would ever even consider buying is a Benz, and that’s just for the quality of the ride, not the quality of the vehicle.

But that 2007 Honda Accord that sits in my garage? That car is a monument to Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems as far back as September of 2007. So if any of Toyota’s executives say they didn’t know about sudden acceleration issues until 2008 or 2009, they’re lying, period.

And when I see a Toyota behind me in traffic, I change lanes. I'm not trying to be a victim.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Constitution Is Not A Menu

Just when we think we’ve plumbed the depths of Sarah Palin’s stupidity, she shows us she’s far more stupid than we could have ever imagined.

Like when she said the nation needs a commander-in-chief, not a law professor, as president. Or when she bemoaned the fact that the underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had had his Miranda rights read to him and had the opportunity to “lawyer up.”

I wish Ms. Palin had been as much of a barracuda in the civics classroom as she was on the basketball court or in beauty pageants.

You see, the U.S. Constitution, to my knowledge, is not a menu. You don’t get to order up the parts you like and leave out the ones you don’t. And it applies to everyone on U.S. soil, no matter how they got here. Why? Because the Constitution acts as a limitation on the powers of government to curtail the liberties and rights of the people in this country, no matter how they got here, even if they intended to bomb a few people during their stay. The principles embodied in the Constitution are not to be compromised in order to achieve an of-the-moment outcome. The reason that they are enduring and define us as a nation and as a people is because they are not easily compromised.

As an African American and an attorney, I am more keenly focused on the Constitution and its limits on government power than most because, to put it bluntly, my people have usually been on the stinky end of the stick when it comes to constitutional rights. We were defined as three-fifths of a person in the original document; we were “compromised” by the Hayes-Tilden compromise into Jim Crow, 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments be damned; and we gave full life to the civil liberties promised by the document thanks to the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans know what happens when a tyrannical majority can treat the Constitution as a menu and order up only the parts it likes.

And no, Ms. Palin, you don’t get to jerryrig the judicial system to get the results you want. Regardless of whether terrorists are tried in federal courts or military tribunals, the government doesn’t get to forum shop to get the outcome it wants. I’m sure if Ms. Palin had her way, the presumption of innocence unique to the American judicial system would go by the wayside for terrorists because it “gets in the way.” It is the very Constitution she would subvert that makes sure that we don’t compromise process or principles. What would be the point of having a Constitution if the very processes and principles we have held dear as a nation, albeit somewhat inconsistently, for more than 200 years could be compromised anytime the majority perceived a threat? What kind of nation would we be?

A nation that would order “some First Amendment, but only for Christians, with a heaping side of Second Amendment, hold the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments, please . . . . “

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This I Cannot Believe

For the record, I respect Mormon missionaries. Any young person who would give up one-and-one-half to two years of his or her young life to go door-to-door and share his or her faith and testimony gets my respect. I can’t think of much else that is more laudable. I may not agree with the Mormon church's stance on political issues, but I respect that young people of their faith go on missions.

For the record, I tend to attract certain types of people and things: Dogs (the four-legged canine kind and, when I was single, the two-legged pretty boy non-monogamous kind); elderly people on public transit (don’t know why, but they sit next to me and tell me their life stories); children (if you don’t want me to know what’s going on in your household, don’t tell your children because if they’re around me, they’re probably going to spill their guts to me; again, don’t know why, but they just do), and Mormon missionaries.

In light of these facts, I invited two young Mormon missionaries into my living room last Saturday to listen to them share their testimony and speak of their faith. Because they are young women and pretty conspicuous in their conservative dress and name tags, I tend to feel protective of them just because I would want someone looking out for my daughters if they were going door-to-door -- that is, if I had daughters. I can’t help it. Regardless, I’m the kind of person who will stop and take time to listen to just about anyone (or any canine, for that matter) trying to communicate with me. I can’t help it.

In sharing their testimony and faith, they asked me to read some scripture from the Book of Mormon (I already own a copy, a gift from a friend who is Mormon) and pray as to whether the idea of Joseph Smith as a prophet was true to me. They also informed me that Mormons believe that not only has Jesus Christ returned on occasion since the Resurrection and Ascension, but that he has come to the United States.

That’s where they lost me.

I asked BMNB, who is a Baptist (National Baptist, not Southern Baptist – he’s asked me to make that clear to anyone I speak to about his denomination), whether Baptists believe it is possible that Joseph Smith is a prophet and the Book of Mormon his testimony.

“Uh, no.”

I asked him whether Baptists believe that Jesus Christ has returned since the Resurrection and Ascension and, in particular, to the U.S.


And then it made sense to me: If Jesus Christ had returned to the United States, black folks would have known about it.

Black folks in America are, in my opinion, the most Jesus-loving people on the planet. It is that love of Christ that kept us –well, most of us -- from armed insurrection and outright violence during slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, if you ask me. I read a statistic that said that African Americans have the highest rates of regular church attendance in the United States – about 70 percent – as compared to a just over 50 percent rate for whites. This might explain why most black folks are profoundly unimpressed with Taylor Swift. On any given Sunday in any black Baptist, Pentecostal, COGIC or AME church in this country, there’s some 15 year-old who is singing a solo and raising the roof in a song of praise to rival the likes of Whitney, Mariah, and the Clark Sisters combined. Nobody sings a song of praise like black folks, in my opinion. And yet, we are a people who can write and sing a most salacious and misogynistic rap song, win a Grammy for it, and then give “all honor and glory to Jesus Christ” for winning the Grammy without a hint of irony. That is how ingrained the love of Christ is in most of our lives.

So, if Jesus Christ had returned to the United States, black folks would have known about it. If He had returned during slavery when most of us were illiterate, we would have composed a song about it and handed it down through the generations. If He had come back in more contemporary times, Langston Hughes would have written a poem about it, August Wilson AND Tyler Perry would have written a play about it, Smokey Robinson would have written a song about it, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama would have sung about it, and Stevie Wonder would have lead a movement to make the date of His return a national holiday. African Americans spend too disproportionate an amount of time in praise and worship of Jesus Christ to have been overlooked upon His return to the United States. This I cannot believe. Mind you, He would have been overwhelmed by us, what with folks wanting to praise him interminably (“Jesus, I just have to thank you for getting me up today and making sure my car started and getting me to work and making sure I had a job to go to and . . . . ) and, for those “problem children” among us, wanting to ask him for stupid stuff (“Jesus, do you think you could let a brother hold $20 until next Tuesday? You know I’ll pay you back. Well, actually, it’s all yours anyway, but you understand what a brother’s tryin’ to say . . .”), but He would not have ignored us. This I cannot believe.

And stories of our encounters with Jesus would have been handed down through the generations. Families with members who had encountered Jesus would have been revered. I could go on and on. But I just can’t wrap my brain around the concept that Jesus would have come to the United States and not said “boo” to black folks. This I cannot believe.

Now, I just have to find a way to tell those nice Mormon missionary young women next week . . . .

Labels: , , , ,