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Old 03-07-2013, 08:55 AM   #6
Location: Massachusetts
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 3,183
Re: The Great Non-Issue

Brilliant essay, Matthew. Thanks for writing it.

There are so many aspects of this that are worthy of discussion, and I'm glad they are being discussed. As Michael Franti said, "If you want to chase away the vampires, you simply guide them into the light". I think that is particularly important in the many places where blatant bigotry is no longer in fashion, but full equality hasn't been realized. In terms of progress to equality, it feels like we're all in danger of lying down and taking a nap five feet from the finish line. That's the objective of the "not ready" contingent: those who feel like they've had quite enough of this "change" stuff foisted on them, dammitall. Enough is enough.

The mix that produces this attitude is as follows: start from a position of unacknowledged privilege, and then dose liberally with the curse of subjectivity. Used to be, heterosexuals in the United States never, ever had to deal with gays if they didn't want to, and if they did, it was on their own terms. Heterosexuals never "had to see" gay people holding hands in public, never "had to listen" to gay coworkers talking about their partners/same-sex spouses, never "had to know" that this or that public figure was gay. Meanwhile, if they wanted to, they could go into a "gay bar" and treat the people in it like a freak show. If anyone gave them the stink-eye or suggested they should leave, the reaction was shock and outrage at the blatant bigotry of it all.

All of this, of course, is a matter of privilege: when one category of people can do things that another category are not allowed to, that's what privilege is. But in a society that prides itself on its egalitarian principles, it's very hard to acknowledge one's privileged position. In the United States, most of those who are privileged grow up with no awareness that they are so -- and privilege plus lack of awareness equals entitlement. If you're not aware of your privileges as privileges, of course you resent it when they're threatened. And, of course you react - sometimes violently, sometimes with latent bigotry come front and center, and sometimes in a milder form of resentment, foot-dragging, complaining about "them" being pushy or whiny or "forcing their lifestyle on everyone". You say you're not ready. Yes, sure, in principle we should all be equal...but haven't we come so far already? (five feet from that finish line...we're so tired, can't we take a nap?) Everyone has to compromise sometime. Why do you have to have everything right now?

James Baldwin gave me the answer to that question. In a talk I heard him give years ago, he addressed the "we're not ready" complaint as follows (and I'm paraphrasing): all right. How long do you want? You've had my whole life. You had my father's whole life, and his father's whole life before him. You've had a long, long time. You've had all the time that I've had on this planet. Not ready? Not yet? Give me a date. Don't ask me to go away so you can have your nap and wake up when you feel like changing.

I'm happy and proud to live in a state where so many of the changes have already been made. I don't know if we're really over the finish line here, but I do know that if a gay person were refused full services in any public accommodation, you wouldn't hear any hue and cry that we "weren't ready".
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