Saturday, February 11, 2012

RACE, SEXUALITY & EVANGELICAL ANDROGYNY


Recently, I was accused by the leader of a factious, Christian group of heading up The Gay Posse, an insult that was punishment for my effective defense of someone wrongly accused of a crime. I was a little confused at first about the accusation. But over time it became obvious why he called me gay. Because he was too politically correct to call me nigger.

Blasphemy laws in religious communities have changed, directly reflecting the blasphemy laws of wider culture. It's no longer popular to level racial slurs at people you dislike unless you do it discreetly within a forum that shuns the sensibilities of the wider world. However, that's not necessarily because of personal persuasion (or conviction as they say).

It's often because it's legally actionable. 

While the LGBT community has slowly developed a nice, fat portfolio of civil rights victories over the last three decades, it's still popular to indicate ultimate disgust for a person or organization by expressions of an aggressive homophobia. 

Yet very few people take into account the obvious parallels between the two groups (African-Americans & the LGBT community). In the last century alone Civil Rights activists and legislation for both groups...
  • have been identified as progressive, anti-family, anti-Biblical, un-American, and Communist...
  • have been isolated, marginalized, and persecuted (often in the name of a religious purity or orthodoxy)
  • have made gains against popular, governmental policy because of the advocacy of little people who often risked life and limb (in that order) to change public opinion, only turning the tide once they evoked societal rage through the sacrifice of their limbs and lives (and many times accidentally. Many weren't planning to be martyrs for any sort of cause. Rosa Parks wasn't primarily making a statement. She simply wanted to stay seated because her feet were tired)
People have asked me How can you say such things? That's sacrilegious.

Ah, but sacrilege is relative to blasphemy laws.

Being raised in Europe from ages 5-18, these sorts of things never bothered me because they rarely came up. As a resident of Europe, I was simply considered as an American. In American communities abroad I was considered an ambassador. As a result, my conscience wasn't formatted racially but nationally so that I ...
  • spoke German and lived within a German framework whenever appropriate
  • spoke Romanian and put on the east-bloc yoke whenever appropriate to understand my communist-oppressed brothers and sisters
  • lived in compatible fashion with my British brothers and sisters in Oxfordshire, England, toning down despised and egoistically American customs for four years in order to live at peace (I lived in England during the Cruise Missile Crisis)
  • understood enough French, Italian, Hungarian or whatever other language necessary to present myself as amiable (sometimes in order to get what I wanted, hahaha, but you get my point)
With this sort of orientation, living abroad found me oftentimes in conflict with fewer Europeans & more Americans who thought it unnecessary to learn another language or to give up American customs when it grated against native sensibilities or to venture abroad when we needed to stick together

Oh, and you guessed it: many of these sorts held to religious persuasions that might have worked, say, in New Mexico, Georgia, or Connecticut, but that suspiciously rang empty in Mehlingen, Germany or in Lechlade, England or in Satu Mare, Romania or in Calais, France. But true to form, those unwarranted sensibilities drew a deep ravine between those Americans and the native so that not only was the native politically suspect but s/he was also...
  • ignorant so that the native had little or nothing of value to offer except strategic resources
  • volitionally anti-democratic & anti-Christian so that any sort of friendship was considered expedient at best and terminal at worst
The overwhelming number of Americans were generally respectful and liberal in outlook (or ambivalent), but the oppositional ones typically had strange apocalyptic frameworks for filtering the souls of anyone who didn't fit the religious & political template. 

So back to my observation about the racial minority & LGBT community: unless we're not accessing the same news, the facts are open for verification. While the racial condition is considered genetic and the LGBT condition is considered to be within the realm of theoretical genetics, both groups have received similar humiliating treatment, worst of them all being the formative spiritual idea that both are under some sort of curse. 

People tell me If I were Black, I would be offended at being associated with homosexuals. Well, I supposed that's just nice for them (it's just like those sorts of people to believe that whatever they imagine in their redeemed minds must be "inescapably" true in hardcore reality).

But they never ask me if I'm offended by the zealously religious who cite additional restrictions (as laid out in the Bible, even) about...

  • who I can and cannot marry (should or should not have married in my case)
  • how I am or am not designed (I am designed racially for subjugation)
  • what I am or am not likely to do in my life (I am not likely to do anything of value unless it falls within or under the framework of a revisionist history, because if it doesn't then I will be revised out of history)
They think I should actually prefer this sort of benevolent treatment than associate with that other godless horde. 

Maybe I should. 

But I don't. 

And maybe they have no idea what they would do or think were they Black.


I find three things difficult to speak about with self-consciously world-viewish people who think in these sorts of formulae:
  • The first is politics. Politics is gaming, I think, and the seriousness that people take the game off the board and into the Great Beyond is surreal to me. When Clinton first was elected President, a number of people on my college campus wore black to protest. The professor of my Materials & Methods class took the first few minutes of class that morning to address the mood. One student cited Clinton as supporting the killing of fetuses. But Bill Clinton wasn't even President yet. Weren't fetuses already being killed? How was he now responsible and the current President not? Oh, because the current President didn't believe in abortion (oh, the power of redemptive abstraction). That's what makes him innocent and Clinton guilty, and I would know that were I taking the political game as seriously as I should be taking it. 
  • The second is emerging (emergent) Christianity. As if Christianity were like an erection in danger of going flat. Christianity has survived approximately 2013 years and will no doubt last the next 2013 years with the longevity of a cockroach and without the futuristic branding techniques of chubby apologists and innovative marketeers who collaborate in their ecclesio-cubicles or sit on not-for-profit think-tanks that turn a profit to convince us that Christianity is in danger of extinction if we don't purchase their line of commercial goods that will somehow magically foul the efforts of Antichrist himself from emerging. 
  • Last of all is race. I don't think that people who aren't Black should tell me what it's like to be one (and neither should I tell people who are Hispanic or Armenian what it's really like to be one). I also don't think that people who aren't Black should think my thoughts are so far off from their own because of something as surface as my skin color (Nah, but, Lawd, wese Negros has sucha speshals ways o' thinkin...). If any sort of minority is self-conscious in a dominant culture context, I can assure you that it's not skin color that primarily makes them uncomfortable.
It's deeper than that: it's history (enter the revisionists). It's the fact that my New England-educated mother (born and raised in Alabama) was subject to Jim Crow and found it difficult to watch her boys embrace German culture without wincing because we weren't wincing. It's my Philadelphia-born father warning me the week before I came to the U.S. on my own in 1991 that I wasn't going to find it easy living in America as I had found it living in Europe (and I unknowingly was going right into the bowels of the bastion of fundamentalism!). I took the advice compliantly though cryptic it was. It's his sigh at my response because I wasn't sighing. 

Yesterday at my office I introduced my student, CVR recording artist Gabrielle Solair, to Marcela Gomez, The Hispanic Marketing Group founder and CEO. Both women are Colombian. I sat down and listened to them talk for over an hour in pointed, blunt, no-holds-barred Colombian fashion. 

Gabrielle, turning 17 this weekend, finally found someone who spoke to that part of her heritage that for almost seventeen years had been written off to be culturally embarrassing and rebellious, suppressed and refined by the Southern hospitality on her mother's side, and despised and shunned on her father's nationalistic pro-Colombian side. 

While their conversation disparaged the male dominance of American culture (I made sure to keep my mouth shut because... well... I'm male) and analyzed the quirks of American Caucasian women (I made sure to keep my mouth shut because... well... my wife is Caucasian), what a beautiful thing it was to watch understanding morph to a new level. 

What's uncomfortably painful to religiously conscientious minorities in dominant-culture congregations is that while our congregations battle the political issues of the day in Sunday School lessons, sermons, and extra-curricular activities (like book groups), we don't want to be affiliated with Jim Crow tactics used on our people just a few short years ago (or for some Hispanics, tactics currently being used on their people). 

I'll tell you why. Because the majority of minorities don't believe these sorts of political issues initially to be an issue of ethics when it comes to who we are (or who the opposition is like)...

We believe it to be unmistakably an ontological issue. We believe that our existence (in general) in said congregations is largely seen to be an awkward embarrassment and a misfortune on two fronts:
  • a misfortune that racial lines of demarcation and solidarity weren't upheld in the larger culture to make relationships easier to maintain. I hear this echoed in the laments of Well, back in our day... or When I was young... (Oh, I've read what it was like back in the day... my parents and grandparents have told me what it was like back in the day).
  • a misfortune that the presence of racial minorities in dominant-culture congregations is easier dealt with by minimizing distinctions to the point of ignoring or erasing them: that is to say, amplifying the distinction disproportionately to the attention it deserves and thereby unintentionally making minorities targets of special treatment (at one church I attended, no one ever looked at me... until each summer vacation Bible school when I was sought after to play some Black missionary or African convert.)
I believe the same for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters. I don't believe the attitudes or means with which many Christian communities view and deal with LGBT persons are initially borne of righteous indignation. They are borne of disgust, first and foremost, because what the LGBT community sexually represents isn't culturally palatable (I attended a fundamentalist college where I was always hounded for my dating, engagement, and eventual marriage of a white woman. While people leveraged the Bible to convince me of my error, they largely cited how it wasn't acceptable in American culture unless I moved to some places up North or out West, how my children would be confused, and how I wouldn't find a church that would accept me). 

I also believe it to spring from the same ontological attitude of believing it would be easier were the LGBT person to be at the least visibly marked for special treatment and at the worst socially segregated so as to make life easier for both groups (because then there would be clear-cut rules). In the case of the minority and LGBT person, the religious community doesn't initially begin its thoughts about them with acknowledgement of their relationship to each of us as fellow human beings who were created in the image of God. No, they are the enemy. They are the reason our kids listen to gangsta rap. They are the reason our kids have sex at younger and younger ages. They are the reason marriage is falling apart. They are the reason for the War on Terror. They are the scapegoat, so heap it all on them. They are the sacrificial lambs, and it's better that they take all cultural blame than the rest of us.

So if the religious community wants to characterize the homosexual as confused at the least or rebellious at the worst, it should assume that many minorities fall within the same camp. We have no idea what our congregations think about our people groups, our history, or our presence in their congregations save that they tolerate us (and what a glorious, fat diamond they shall get in their crown for such a risk). 

What a mixed message. 

The Christian idea that man is made in God's image is deliciously tantalizing to millions of us. Until we realize that it's application is qualified by factors many of us cannot control or do not understand. I can't and I won't agree with the religiously ideological treatment of homosexuals because...
  • I simultaneously find myself rationalizing the lynching of my great-grandfather for having a child with my German great-grandmother (American race laws forbade it). 
  • I find myself rationalizing the shutting up of my German grandmother in the psych ward in Somerset County, Pennsylvania to live out the rest of her days because she had a bi-racial child (Children obey your parents). 
  • I find myself rationalizing the deportment of Hispanic children born in this country. 
  • I find myself being understanding of all the Black, Mexican, and Polish jokes that were a part of my Christian fundamentalist and evangelical experience. 
So someone is going to have to come up with a better apologetic for describing the difference between my racial history and the history of behavioral minorities like the LGBT community... because it all sounds androgynous to me.

While I think the leader of that small band of factious Christian believers should be honest with what he really wants to say to me, I don't think that will help much. If unbelievers are worthy of eternal damnation, then a little terminal damnation isn't going to hurt them much. 

Especially if the unbeliever is gay. 

Or a nigger!

Friday, February 10, 2012

ROMAN & ALAINA WOOD: "LAST FOREST IN THE CITY"


Every once in a while I hear an album that sucks me into a vortex of hyperfocus, contrary to my signature ADD. That's what happened when I was introduced to bards like Joni Mitchell, U2, and Sufjan Stevens. Roman and Alaina's LAST FOREST IN THE CITY did the same for me.


The couple's album story debuted in 2011 in a Jerusalem bomb shelter. Having known Seattle native Roman since 2004 and Canadian beauty Alaina since 2009, I was struck by the forest pun: their last name is Wood.


LAST FOREST IN THE CITY is about the effects of industrial development on the intact, inner-city family. An instrumental merge of R & B, folk, and Indie elements, Roman and Alaina trace the emotional spectrum of a family in transition. Children of divorced parents themselves, their lyrics emanate from a genius born of affliction. Check out the Jerusalem Post's article on the couple's album: 

http://www.jpost.com/ArtsAndCulture/Music/Article.aspx?id=251009


And take a few minutes to listen. My absolute favorites are tracks 4 & 5.

http://romanandalaina.bandcamp.com/album/last-forest-in-the-city

Monday, February 6, 2012

ADVOCATE: TENNESSEE IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE RIGHTS COALITION



Advocates are underrated. Each of us had an effective advocate those first few, critical years of our lives. We each should still have someone who "watches our back" as it were. 







I was going through old mail on Super Bowl Sunday and saw that I missed an opportunity to donate towards the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) for their 2011 end-of-the-year donation drive. 

I sat down to read their newsletter, a summary of their efforts for one year. There they are helping people from nationalities as various as there are colors. The TIRRC is the American father or mother who makes sure they have shelter, food, and water. And that they are protected from the injustices of principled pedantry, scientifically-manufactured doctrine, and collective prejudice.

I was stunned when I finished reading. Stunned that I had done nothing this past year to contribute to the cause other than to read their emails and listen to a few NPR specials.

*

"The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has worked to develop immigrant leadership, build the capacity of its immigrant-led member organizations, help immigrant community members understand and engage in the civic process, and educate the public about policies that would better promote integration of new immigrants and facilitate their full participation in US society. In just a few years TIRRC has grown from a grassroots network of community leaders into one of the most diverse and effective coalitions of its kind, a model for emerging immigrant rights organizations in the Southeast and throughout the United States. TIRRC conducts its work through four major program areas:

Base Building / Leadership Development
TIRRC aims to empower immigrant and refugee communities by organizing around common issues, providing training and technical assistance for emerging and established immigrant-led organizations, and developing immigrant leaders capable of sustaining a growing movement and effecting real change.

Grassroots Civic Engagement / Policy Change
Engaging immigrants and refugees in the civic process is one of TIRRC's core missions. TIRRC strives to help immigrants and their new communities use their voices to defeat anti-immigrant legislation and pass proactive, pro-integration legislation at the local, state and federal levels.

Defense of Civil Rights / Civil Liberties
TIRRC educates immigrants and refugees about their rights and subsequently, increases the capacity of immigrant-led organizations to address abuses.

Public Awareness / Ally Building
Educating the public about the contributions of immigrants and building relationships with key constituencies in order to shift momentum around the immigration debate and build broad public support for pro-integration policies are also key TIRRC initiatives.

Key recent accomplishments include the following:

Defeat of the “English-only” referendum
TIRRC contributed substantially to the defeat of the "English-Only" referendum, upholding Nashville’s image as a welcoming, world-class city. As part of a two-year effort, TIRRC conducted a media campaign in response to Nashville’s proposed “English-only” ordinance in the city council, drawing attention to the personal testimonies of Somali, Sudanese, and Kurdish refugees and helping public figures understand the negative impact such a policy would have on all immigrants and refugees in Nashville. In all, TIRRC mobilized more than 10,000 New American voters and helped lead the largest city-wide coalition in history.

Mobilization/ Engagement of New American Voters
TIRRC has engaged thousands of new American voters in the civic process and raised the profile of the immigrant vote. To date, TIRRC has registered more than 5,000 new Americans and contacted over 20,000 as part of two successful voter registration and get-out-the vote campaigns.

Welcoming Tennessee Initiative
Conceived and implemented by TIRRC,  the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative (WTI) has produced a measurable shift in public opinion on the subject of immigration: As a result of WTI more Tennesseans are engaged in dialogue about immigration, informed about its positive effects, and motivated to stand up to intolerance and challenge punitive and mean-spirited legislation.

Southeast Immigrants Rights Network
TIRRC co-founded the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, and as a direct result, emerged as a model and mentor for immigrant rights organizations forming in “new destination” states. TIRRC held three successful annual conferences, building the organizing and leadership capacity of over thirty organizations in the region.

Education for Immigrant Children
TIRRC was instrumental in securing funding for educating immigrant children through advocating for and helping to pass a bill to increase statewide funding for English language learner (ELL) programs in public schools by $30 million. As a result, ELL student-teacher ratios were reduced from 50:1 to 30:1.

Establishing Better Access to Drivers Licenses for Immigrants
TIRRC increased access to driver licenses for new immigrants. TIRRC's campaign to increase the number of language translations available for Tennessee’s written driver’s license test was successful; The organization secured a commitment from the state Department of Safety to provide translations in Chinese and Arabic in early 2009, supplementing Spanish, Japanese, and Korean."