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Human Rights Lesson from the Murder of Trayvon Martin.

March 30, 2012 By: jaysays Category: Featured, Thought of the Gay

While there may be much debate around the circumstances involved in the murder of Trayvon Martin, one thing is now for certain: Racism is still alive and well in the United States.  One has to look no further than comments on news articles relating to the murder or online forums to find such fabulous tidbits as this:

But really, who is surprised? Go ahead and pick an article or forum for yourself and I’m sure you will find similar commentary.

The right-wing majority in this county has been waging war against any non-white, non-christian, non-heterosexual, non-cisgendermale person since the birth of the United States.  Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgender People, Women and more have been wrongfully imprisoned, brutalized and made to fear what will happen if they rock the boat.  In spite of this commonality, those oppressed by the system are entirely failing to unite.

I originally believed this was the result of having been ostracized into our own communities for so long, that joining forces was something else to fear.  Will the Latinos push forward without meWill the “LGB” sell out the “T” againWill Black men stand-up for the ERA?

One anti-human rights organization recognizes that uniting our voices would put a crushing end to their ability to continue to degrade, belittle and intimidate our communities. Recently released Court Documents illustrate that the National Organization for Marriage [NOM] (a voice in opposition to marriage equality), has a TWENTY MILLION DOLLAR plan to make sure the “gays and blacks” remain divided.  According to NOM’s $20 Million Strategy for Victory:

The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks – two key democratic constituencies. We aim to find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; to develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; and to provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party.

Sadly, even before NOM’s $20 million budget, the plan has been successful.  In fact, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s youngest daughter lit a torch at her father’s tomb to kick off an anti-human rights campaign to prevent marriage equality for LGBT people in 2005.  The purpose was to dehumanize LGBT people so that “human rights” and “civil rights” would not be associated with the apparently “inhuman” gays.  Sound familiar?

I Am Man- Withers

I Am Man - Withers

Of course, Coretta Scott King and many of Dr. King’s children disagree, invoking the teachings of Dr. King to show the need for equality and “tolerance” of LGBT people.

But a similar battle plays out between women, Latino groups and labor unions.  Perhaps the most glaringly obvious division is marked annually with the Cesar E. Chavez March for Justice.  Cesar Chavez was a labor leader and civil rights activist who fought for better working conditions for farm workers.  He, along with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association.  After his death, he became an icon for the Latino community.  While city streets and statewide holidays rightfully celebrate Chavez’s work, Dolores Huerta is all but ignored in spite of her significant contribution.

Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed.  You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.  You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.  You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. — Cesar Chavez

Currently, a similar wedge exists between Latino Community leaders and the LGBT community.  In fact, the founder of the San Antonio Cesar E. Chavez March for Justice, Jaime P. Martinez, is alleged to have provided no assistance in fighting for hate crimes charges against the murderer of his son, Troy Martinez Clattenburg , in spite of his position as a civil rights leader in the Latino Community.

It is not enough for us to claim to support human rights when the rights we purport to support are not across the board.  Gay rights, Transgender Rights, Immigrant Rights, Worker’s Rights, Women’s Rights, etc., should be based solely on our status as human beings.   As Hillary Clinton said in recognition of Human Rights Day:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. And with the declaration, it was made clear that rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people. It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, governments are bound to protect them.

Demand for Dan Ramos’ Resignation Escalating – Protestors Hit the Fund Raisers

March 18, 2011 By: jaysays Category: Discrimination, Headline

David Trevino stifles his anger long enough to smile for the camera.
David Trevino stifles his anger long enough to smile for the camera.

Yesterday evening, about 2 dozen lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, along with their allies, stood in front of the Granada Homes building where the “Proud Democrats” were hosting a fund raiser for the Bexar County Democratic Party (“BCDP”).  Dan Ramos has previously announced that he would attend the event; however, he did not show up and organizers claim he was not invited.  It seems though, that in Bexar County, there is no reason to be proud of being a democrat under Ramos’ leadership.

The Chair of the BCDP, Dan Ramos, recently made numerous disparaging remarks about LGBT people, disabled people and the plight of the African American Community in their quest to obtain equal representation under the law.  Since that time, a vast majority of the BCDP’s Executive Committee and Steering Committee have been demanding his resignation as Chair claiming his comments violated the rules of the party and were outside the scope of the Democratic Platform, which states:

We believe in and support the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies against members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

But Dan Ramos isn’t listening to the Board or the people of Bexar County and beyond.  In a press conference early yesterday morning, he refused to resign and reiterated his position that gay people are like, “white termites who have infiltrated the party much like termites infiltrate your house.”

Last night’s protestors were met mostly with support by those attending the fund raiser; however, a few people stood up against our plea for Dan Ramos’ resignation.  In fact, the President of the organization, Jose “Joe” Gallagos, came out to tell the protestors that it was our fault so few people showed up at the fund raiser – (Hey Joe, it couldn’t possibly be because the people don’t want to give money to homophobia and racism, though, could it?

Perhaps most surprising was an accusation from an African American attendee.  She was furious with the protestors as she walked up claiming that those that want Dan Ramos removed are “the whites.”  Yet one of Dan Ramos’ choice comments in his tirade was, “I go back to an old very well-used slogan: blacks wanted to get their way because they were black.”  While I find the comment terribly offensive and degrading to the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin, Rosa Parks, and many more heroes of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, the sentiment wasn’t echoed by this objector as one would expect.

Another objector was a resident of Granada Homes (which serves as a retirement community and Banquet Hall).  She wasn’t upset that we were calling for Dan Ramos’ resignation, but instead felt we were blocking the doorway (which we were not).  However, we started talking with the lady a bit about Mr. Ramos’ disparaging remarks against the disabled people – particularly kids born with Polio legs and not being able to kill them or sweep them under the rug.  This struck a chord with the lady and she told us her own story of being taunted for being Hispanic by a fellow resident who claimed, “You Hispanics are nothing but the dirt under my feet.”  We explained that we felt as angry as she does about the comments made by Dan Ramos and she departed with a bit more understanding of us.

One supporter immediately made me think of Will Phillips, who once said, “My generation is the change they fear the most.”  Bobby, who appeared to be no more than 14 years old, and his friend were walking by the protest and noted our signs.  They stopped, inquired and joined us for a short time.  Bobby, a resident of Ft. Worth, Texas, was in town with family and was offended when he learned of Dan Ramos’ comments.  I asked Bobby what made him stop and join us.  In his social studies class in school, Bobby had wanted to take a poll of students about how they felt about Gay Rights.  His teacher felt the subject would meet with parental disapproval and refused to allow Bobby to do the project.  Bobby noted how “upset” he was that he couldn’t even ask questions of his peers about the issue, and decided he should stand with us to denounce Dan Ramos.

Dan Ramos’ comments don’t just reflect on Dan Ramos (although that’s the message the BCDP is desperately trying to relay to the public).  Rather, they reflect on the BCDP as a whole.  The BCDP is desperately seeking money to pay off the near $200,000 debt owed to the county after a nasty embezzlement charge, yet their only official spokesperson is making horrible accusations and disparaging remarks against a large part of the democratic base.  So I ask you dear readers – would you give money to an organization that is spewing hate?  I believe the answer is no – and neither will I.

Stupid Things People Say About Gays: They are termites, like Nazis and Teabaggers

March 13, 2011 By: jaysays Category: Stupid Things People Say About Gays

Dan Ramos, the Chair of Bexar County Democrats, representing the Democratic Party in the City of San Antonio, Texas and surrounding areas,  recently went on a racist and homophobic tirade:

[Gays] are all connected to the gay Democratic Party, the so-called Stonewall Democrats. Just like termites they managed to get some of their people in key positions.  … I liken them to the Tea Party — the Tea Party and the f—ing Nazi Party — because they’re 90 percent white, blue-eyed, and Anglo, and I don’t give a f— who knows that. Just like the blacks … they’re American, but you can’t get your way just because you’re black.

The degradation by Mr. Ramos of the LGBT community is so far off the mark that it almost goes without my typical ranting; however, I can’t resist.

Gays are like the Nazi Party: This couldn’t possibly be further from the truth.  Perhaps the largest indicator of how factually incorrect this is lies in the history of a symbol that has been representative of the gay community for decades – the pink triangle.   This symbol was originally sewn or pinned to the shirts of gay men during the occupation by Nazi Germany.  They were courted off, along with other non-Aryan, non-Christian, non-white folk to camps, where they were pushed into “showers” along side many others.  hundreds of thousands of gay men and lesbians were murdered by the Nazi Party.  Therefore, it seems logical that the gays couldn’t possible be “like the Nazi Party” any more so than Jewish people could be “like the Nazi Party.”

90 Percent [of gays are] White, Blue-eyed, and Anglo:  I’d love to know where Mr. Ramos found this statistic.  In my  household, only 50% of the gays are white, Anglo and blue eyed.  In my closest circle of friends, that drops significantly – to roughly 1 out of 10.

You Can’t Get Your Way Just Because You’re Black:  Putting this phrase into the context used by Mr. Ramos, it’s evident that he’s referring to the fact that LGBT people are struggling for rights such as marriage equality and prevention of work place and public sector discrimination.  In so making the comparison, he belittled not only the struggles of the LGBT community, but also the struggles of the African American community in fighting for their civil rights, desegregating society and struggling to be seen as whole citizens of the United States.

Sadly, in spite of the fact that the attack was directed mostly toward the members of the San Antonio Stonewall Democrats, the organization has not released a statement and has chosen to remain silent on the issue at this time (perhaps because May is an important election time for the group?).   Thankfully, not all LGBT organizations in San Antonio are remaining silent.  The Direct Action Network of San Antonio has recently launched a campaign to join with the state’s Chair of the Democratic Party to demand the resignation of Mr. Ramos.  You can find a petition here.

NOTE: For more of the column, Stupid Things People Say About Gays, click here.

LGBT Lessons for Straight People: Don’t Come Here if You Have HIV

November 01, 2009 By: geekgirl Category: Featured, LGBT Lessons for Straight People

Gay EducationTake a moment to imagine this: You are a U.S. citizen, a hardworking productive citizen whose job requires travel to foreign countries. You are HIV positive. It doesn’t matter how you contracted HIV. Your gender, race, age and socio-economic class don’t matter. You are HIV positive. You take your medications, you know how the illness is transmitted. You are healthy otherwise. You don’t have tuberculosis or any other casually transmitted disease.

And no other country in the world will let you in. Never mind that the country that won’t let you has plenty of its own citizens with HIV, the incidence of HIV is rising and they cannot get the disease under control in their own country.

Does this make any sense to anyone?

Yet, since 1987, the United States has had a ban on allowing foreign travelers into the country that have HIV. The ban started with Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) and led to one of the most restrictive and controversial travel bans in history. Scientists and health organizations continued to argue that the policy made no sense. HIV is transmitted only through the exchange of bodily fluids, as opposed to an illness like tuberculosis or H1N1 that can be caught through surfaces and coughing.

President Obama just recently lifted this travel restriction and already we are seeing the right wing criticize him. Perhaps they should have paid attention when President Obama thanked President Bush for beginning this reform in the year 2008. That’s right folks. We have President George W. Bush to thank. Furthermore, we do not have President Clinton to thank. Don’t believe me? Let’s have a little history lesson, brought to you by The Society for Historians of Foreign Relations or SHAFR.org.

In 1988, the World Health Organization argued that restrictive travel and immigration policies directed at people with HIV were irrational and without public health justification. In 1990, when U.S. immigration officials barred HIV-positive foreigners en route to the International AIDS Conference in San Francisco, over 70 organizations of many nationalities, including the International Red Cross, the British Medical Association, and the European Parliament, boycotted the meeting.

In January 1991, the Centers for Disease Control called for the removal of HIV and all medical conditions other than active tuberculosis from the exclusions list. But the proposal triggered outrage among Christian conservatives who orchestrated a mass mailing campaign opposing the removal of the HIV-provision. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Representative William Dannemeyer (R-CA) and sixty-six fellow Republicans signed a public letter opposing the CDC recommendations. Finally, the Public Health Service argued that because Congress adopted the HIV travel ban in the 1987 Helms Amendment, only Congress could invalidate the HIV exclusion. In March 1993, President Bill Clinton signed legislation codifying the exclusion of HIV-positive aliens, thus violating a campaign promise.

For the next 15 years, the United States had one of the most restrictive policies on the immigration and travel of HIV-positive people in the world. It compelled all non-citizens to attest that they were HIV-negative before being admitted to the United States for any reason – despite the obvious impossibility of enforcing this provision. At the same time, non-citizens living long-term in the United States were denied permanent resident categorization solely on basis of their HIV-positive status. The U.S. government clung to policies suffused with the ignorance and bias toward HIV-positive people illustrated at the earliest stages of the AIDS pandemic. It disregarded the fact that for almost 25 years, it has been common medical knowledge that one cannot contract or transmit HIV casually. AIDS activists asserted that the HIV bar dissuaded immigrants unsure of their HIV status from getting tested; prompted HIV-positive immigrants not to seek to medical treatment until they had full-blown AIDS; and caused HIV-positive people seeking visas to lie on their applications and then enter the U.S. without their medications – situations posing exactly the threats to public health the 1987 ban aimed to prevent.

On July 17, 2008, roughly two weeks after the death of Jesse Helms – the champion of the HIV ban, the Senate voted 80 to 16 to repeal the exclusion. The repeal passed the House by a vote of 308 to 116 shortly thereafter. On July 30, Bush signed the PEPFAR legislation spending $50 billion over the next five years to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in developing nations.

Jesse Helms is well known for his bigoted attitudes toward blacks and the LGBT community. It is interesting that two weeks after his death, this issue was addressed? This just goes to show how much influence one man can have. It also reveals, yet again, how right wing religious conservatives are unable or unwilling to comprehend science. How ironic and dangerously sad is it that these are the same people who refuse to teach their children that condoms prevent the spread of STDs and pregnancy?

Surely the only motivation to keep this ban was prejudice, discrimination and ignorance. Thank you Presidents Bush and Obama for doing the right thing.

jaysays.com contributor geekgirlgeekgirl: Jude is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.

LGBT Lessons for Straight People: The Endangered White Male Species

October 21, 2009 By: geekgirl Category: Featured, iQreport, LGBT Lessons for Straight People

Gay EducationIf you are like me, you can always think of a great comeback to an offensive comment. One day later.

This last week was a whirlwind for me. One week past the National Equality March and I’m still processing everything that I experienced and felt. I felt so prepared to take on the world with such powerful words given to me by the speakers, with such energy and friendliness from everyone that I met.

So imagine my surprise when I was caught off guard by a man seated next to me on an airplane. It was fairly clear that he was relatively conservative. We kept the conversation light and delicately danced around controversial topics, as often happens in real life. A part of me had been longing for real life conversations. Because on the Internet, it is so easy to be rude. I often find myself thinking, would you say that to a person’s face?

Now it was my turn to wonder what I would say to a person’s face.  As the flight was close to its end, my fellow passenger stated that he was worried about his son’s ability to find a job after finishing college. Well, who wouldn’t be with the current economy? My son is in college and I said “I hear ya.”

He continued “Yea, I’m worried because there are all these special groups that want protection. Sexual orientation, Latinos. I worry about my normal white male species disappearing.”

I could see by his facial expression that my face already revealed my feelings. The tension rose. My mind went in several directions in those few seconds. Do I stay silent? Silence implies agreement. As a person who does not like conflict, who was raised to be polite and not start arguments, I wanted to fight that urge. My emotions wanted to oversimplify this person into a bigot and put him down. There’s a lot of indignation in the world these days. The media and the blogosphere thrive on it. It’s easy to be irate. I get irate all the time. There is a lot to be irate about.

This was in real life. What would I say to a person’s face? After all, here I am a self-proclaimed LGBT ally and supporter of human rights for all people. I, of all people, should have been able to remain clear headed and have the perfect persuasive response.  The right words that would open this man’s mind and heart in just 30 seconds.

I blurted out something like “I don’t care about a person’s race, sexual orientation, religion or politics when I hire employees. I want them to work hard, be honest and decent. We are all human. If your son can do that he will be fine.”

Awkwardly, I half smiled and left the plane. Was this man part of the “movable middle”? Did I make him think? Or did I lose that one and only chance that many people will give you? Did I anger him?   Will he be quiet, yet still have those feelings? I’m all for getting people to stop saying hurtful words. Knowing it is unacceptable is the first step to ending the cycle of bigotry and discrimination, but if children are still taught discrimination at home, it won’t really end.

So what did I think of a day later that felt like the perfect comeback? Not an answer but a question. A question asked in all sincerity. Because really, we should want to know the answer. It’s a question that all of us should ask ourselves. We find civilized discourse, honest reflections and soul searching to be boring and weak. Yet, they are the essential keys to changing another person. To changing ourselves. I don’t know how I affected this man because I didn’t ask him a question. I made a statement with a tone that said “This is final” and I missed my chance to know if I could make a difference. After all, I was not in any danger of physical harm.

I wish I had asked  “And how do you think you would feel if your son were Latino or gay? I’m serious, I would really like to know.”

Is this response perfect? I don’t know. But it is open and sincere. Without defensiveness.  Given in the hopes of letting someone feel safe enough to change before my eyes.

If you have arrived at this website by accident, if you don’t like gay people, or any other group, take a moment to ask yourself how you would feel if it were you.  Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can be quite the wake up call. Take a moment to be human. Take the next moment to realize that we are all human. Then watch your understanding unfold before your eyes.

Next time, I’ll be ready. After all, now I am hoping you are the stranger next to me that strikes up a conversation.

jaysays.com contributor geekgirlgeekgirl: Jude is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.

Louisiana Judge Refuses to Preside Over Interracial Marriage

October 15, 2009 By: jaysays Category: Featured, Marriage Equality

ourmarriageAccording to an article in the Huffington Post, a Justice of the Peace in Hammond, Louisiana has denied an interracial couple their right to marry.  The Justice claims he is not a racist, but is concerned for the future offspring of the children.

I’m continually struck by the number of people that claim not to be racist or bigots while practicing racist or bigoted things.  Apparently, they know that being a racist or a bigot is wrong, and they are on the side of right — right?


As a Justice of the Peace, he should be aware that interracial marriage is not illegal anymore – having been deemed unconstitutional 40 years ago.  This particular instance hits home after this weekends National Equality March wherein I briefly interviewed an straight, interracial couple, the Newmans (pictured) about why they are marching.

Racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance and other biases  can and do exist in our society, but they must not exist under the law.  To allow an employee of the government who is paid by the taxes of the “free” people of the United States (or in this case, a state in the United States) to use his/her own personal beliefs to decide matters governed by civil law is abhorrent.  If he doesn’t agree with interracial marriage, he needs to find a new job – perhaps Grand Master of the Ku Klux Klan?

Being Gay in the WASP’s Nest – A Covert Minority View

August 19, 2009 By: jaysays Category: Commentary, Featured, Thought of the Gay

waspAt some point I have to face it, no matter how hard it is for me to accept.  I can deny it all I want and make jokes with my friends about the fact that I’m not a white man, but I am – even though I think I’d make a good Latino (well, except I don’t like guacamole).  Having spent my entire life as a white man and often being perceived to be your standard WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant), there are certain privileges that have been bestowed upon me.  I will never truly understand what it would have been like to have grown up a black woman.  All I can do in that regard is try to understand and try to put myself in their shoes.  It’s the best I know to do.

Though I’ll never know what it’s like to be a black woman, I’ll also never know what it’s like to actually be a WASP, particularly a heterosexual one.  In spite of the fact that observers may think the person they see before them is a member of the majority, I know that I’m not.  That shadow looms over me in most every situation.  I find myself wondering whether or not someone will attack me or treat me differently once they find out I’m a queer.  I find myself anticipating the gay jokes, the snide remarks or the outright repugnant label of “fag.”

Because of this, I sometimes want to introduce myself to newcomers by stating, “My name is Jay and I’m a queer.”  That would get it out of the way and I’d no longer be concerned, right? Then I try to put myself in that black woman’s shoes.  She doesn’t have a choice in the matter – people know right away she’s a black woman and I think how lucky she is not to have to wait to find out her fate in these matters.  She’ll be able to know her friends from her enemies right away.  She won’t have to be worried about the outcome any longer.  But if that were the case for me, maybe I wouldn’t get to see for myself how people really feel.

In order to truly appreciate being a covert minority, a bit of my family story is necessary.  I’m lucky to have a very unique group of siblings (a biker, a red-neck and me, the queen).  It’s given me ample time to learn the politics behind their group of friends.  The bikers, with there “I don’t give a damn, let’s ride” attitude and the rednecks with the “I’m macho and have boots” sort of life, generally speaking of course.

One night, after going out with friends, I called up my redneck brother and asked if he’d like to meet for a late-night weekend breakfast.  He agreed and said he was inviting some of his friends to join us.  My best friend, a short but very feisty lesbian, tagged along with me.  Apparently though, my brother invited the entire redneck bar to come. I sat, cornered in a booth next to my best friend and a herd of cowboy hats and tight jeans, watching as several drunk cow-folk laughed and joked about things foreign to me.

Eventually, it happened.  A good friend of my brother decides to tell a story about some “faggot” at the bar, apparently unaware that his friend’s brother, sitting only feet away, was [and is] a “faggot.”  Being a covert minority, these sorts of things happen a lot so I responded in my typical way, silent observation.  I like to know what is going to be said before I speak up.  As he continued my brother intervened and asked, “Jay, do you want to tell him or should I?”

I turned to his friend and said, “I’m one of those faggots and my friend here is a dyke.”  He responded simply by saying “ok” and continuing his story.  At that very moment, he became irrelevant to me and I began gauging the faces of those surrounding us.  For the most part, no eyes met mine.  They remained diverted by feigned interest in the story about the “faggot.”  One young lady was different though.  She watched me as closely as I watched her as he progressed with his story.  We had a brilliant, but silent conversation.  I watched as she toyed with the idea of saying something, but what?  I answered with a smile, and her eyes glistened with tears.

That was one of the many moments I wished I would have introduced myself as a queer.  Perhaps that’s the answer to why we have to “announce” our sexual orientation – we just can’t stand the anticipation.

I’d rather be black than gay because when you’re black you don’t have to tell your mother.  – Charles Pierce, 1980

At some point I have to face it, no matter how hard it is for me to accept.  I can deny it all I want and make jokes with my friends about the fact that I’m not a white man, but I am – even though I think I’d make a good Latino (well, except I don’t like guacamole).  Having spent my entire life as a white man and often being perceived to be your standard WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant), there are certain privileges that have been bestowed upon me.

Considering Modern Day Racism

May 16, 2009 By: jaysays Category: Commentary, Thought of the Gay

Hate Crime - RacismI’ve spent the last several days in Mississippi, mostly speaking to elderly white people.  During my youth, I spent a substantial amount of time in Arkansas and Tennessee, also surrounded mostly by white people.  In fact, the town I was in only had one “colored” person, whose mother was white and father was black.  According to the locals in the town, her mother was an anti-abortionist who was raped by a black man, thus they tolerated her presence.  I quickly befriended her as I believed her to be my soul mate, a fellow outcast.

One of the things that has slipped my mind over the years about this area of the southern United States is the common usage of the word “colored” to refer to persons of African American decent.  The phrase was so common in my youth, I never knew it was improper.  Thankfully, when I was 14 years old and had moved away from the solid south, I found out the hard way that one should not use the word to refer to someone of African American decent. During discussions in a English class I brought up the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” as one of my favorite novels.  While discussing it, I used the word “colored.”  A young lady in my class jumped from her seat and screamed, “Why not just call us what we are, we are ‘black.'”  I was stunned to learn that the word was improper and even more stunned to learn that I was a racist!

This trip reminded me of that incident as I have heard it used repeatedly.  The first person to say it to me, an elderly white man, received a very cold glare to which he responded, “Not that I have any problem with colored people.”

The next time I overheard the word on this trip was from another elderly white man; however, he was not speaking directly to me.  He said something to the effect of, “There was this colored girl who was at the table [roulette] with a man who had his head crunched down like this [gesture] and they were up over $4 million dollars playing the dice – putting $5,000 on every single number!”  I noted the vocal tone and paused.  He did not say the word with malice, but instead was seemingly just trying to vividly describe the scene – was he aware that the word “colored” is offensive? I may have imagined the exchange my mother and I had.  In my head, she gave me the “don’t do it” look.  However, later when I mentioned the incident, she seemed unfazed by the use of the word colored.  I asked if she thought the offensiveness of the word stemmed from its use during segregation.  She agreed that it would be a valid association, but as “white people” we don’t know the answers and asking seems like picking scabs of the past – or is it a path to healing the wounds?

One thing I found so intriguing about the use of the word colored in Mississippi was that no one seemed to whisper the word or look over their shoulders to see who may overhear.  It was as if the word had similar meaning as saying “African American” or “Caucasian” – merely descriptive.  In both cases, there were black people within ear shot of the word, yet no-one nearby even bat an eye – other than myself.

I’ve often made inquiries to relatives still living in the South about racism.  One told me that racism against black people in the South has changed dramatically since the “Mexicans” have moved in.  White people and black people both hate the “Mexicans.”  This was very shocking to me having been mostly raised in South Texas (with the exception of the time spent in Arkansas where I learned the word “colored”).  I had never even realized that racism existed against “Mexicans” until I moved to Arkansas. Another relative attempted to rationalize racism saying, “If you lived here you would understand why white people and black people don’t get along.”

The fact is, I don’t understand and likely never will understand.  I decided to ask my twitter friends this question, “What U.S. State first comes to mind when you hear the word “racism?”  The answers weren’t all that surprising and included things like “any southern states” [Dr_Jared] and “Alabama, Mississippi, Utah, Idaho, South Carolina” [janewishon] – but one person surprised me and said, “California. (But I live here, and see it.)” [mactavish]

California, renowned as one of the most liberal states in the U.S. – prior to the Proposition 8 debacle at least.

It was then I realized that racism, like every other social injustice, knows no boundaries.  I also realized that racism does have regional implications – for example, it may be culturally acceptable in Mississippi to use the word “colored” while in other parts of the country it is, at minimal, frowned upon.

White Jury in White Town Finds White Kids Not Guilty of Bias Crime

May 06, 2009 By: jaysays Category: Hate Crimes

Hate Crime - RacismIn spite of the overwhelming evidence against them, an all-white jury found Derrick Donchak, 19, and Brandon Piekarsky, 17, not guilty of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and ethnic intimidation for the death of Luis Ramirez.  Details of the crime flooded the news media including this story by CNN [Town struggles with fallout from immigrant’s fatal beating – CNN.com] which stated:

Blows had struck the 25-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant with such force that they left a clotted, bruised impression of Jesus Christ on the skin of his chest from the religious medal he wore.

According to eye witnesses and investigative reports, the teens lured Ramirez into a fight using racial epitaphs which led prosecutors to label the murder a “hate crime.”

Ramirez was walking with an unidentified young girl at the time.   According to witness Eileen Burke, as the white kids beat Ramirez, they yelled to the girl:

You effin bitch, tell your effin Mexican friends get the eff out of Shenandoah or you’re gonna be laying effin next to him.

Considering the above statement obviously was intended to cause terror amongst a group, not an individual, and was overheard by an eye witness who witnessed the second part of the brutal beating of Mr. Ramirez, the only reason an all-white jury would find the white kids innocent would be: they want the “effin Mexicans” gone too.

A kick to the head resulted in Mr. Ramirez going into convulsions.  The injuries ultimately caused his death.

Are you Unaware of your Bias or Prejudice – Take an IAT

March 14, 2009 By: jaysays Category: Commentary, Thought of the Gay

Implicit Association Tests (“IAT”) are experimental and intended to measure the automatic association between mental concepts.  In it’s experiment Harvard has designed several IAT’s which measure one’s automatic response to things such as Homosexuality, Race, Gender, Weapons, Weight, Disability and other such categories.

For example, I took the IAT to measure my automatic response as to whether I prefer heterosexual people or homosexual people.  According to the results, I have a “moderate automatic preference for gay people.”  This is proof I’m heterophobic; however, such bias is conditioned upon prior treatment by heterosexuals and safety concerns.

Perhaps not suprisingly I was in the minority 6% of people [as of today].  28% of servey takers showed a strong automatic preference for heterosexuals , with 25% reporting a moderate automatic preference for heterosexuals.  Overall 68% of those taking the IAT had slight to strong automatic preference for heterosexuals with 16% showing a slight to strong automatic preference for homosexuals.  17% indicated they had no automatic preference of either heterosexuals or homosexuals.

Next I’ll be taking the IAT regarding race to find out if I have an automatic preference toward one particular race.

The IAT takes approximately ten minutes and requires that you eliminate distractions as results are largely based upon response time.  To take the test, please visit Project Implicit’s website.  I encourage you to share your experience with me either via the comments or by way of the contact page.