Over 30 years ago I was a hairdresser in Los Angeles. I became close friends with one of the ladies I worked with. In one of our early conversations, I was told she had a 10 year old son whose father was African-American. She explained to me that they lived in a black section of L.A. where he would not be ostracized because he was of “mixed-race”.
We discussed racism in the United States, and although we lived in an area of the United States that was less obvious about it, it still existed. She believed in more laws, forcing races to co-mingle, and learn tolerance and eventually respect for each other. I told her that laws don’t work. Attitudes can only be changed through education and the passage of time.
Time has proven that I was right. With each new generation there is evidence of less racism. It definitely exists, and still in the hearts of too many Americans, but things have changed. Of course, it also depends on where you live in the U.S. I live in the Reno area of northern Nevada. There used to be another name for Reno. It was called “The Mississippi of the West”. I’ve lived here for almost 27 years, and I still see evidence of that name. I have a brother-in-law in Georgia. He and his friends are so bad they could be KKK members. It will take more time than I will be around to witness in many areas of the country, for prejudice to disappear.
The great prejudice today is homophobia. Why are so many men and women afraid of gays and lesbians? What threat do they pose. They’re a non-violent group who simply want to be allowed to live the same lives as heterosexuals, and have the same rights.
There is a story I read earlier today that made me think of all of this. Ashley Broadway, and Heather Mack have been together for 15 years. Together they have a young son, Carson, and another child on the way. Ms. Mack is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The couple is legally married, having said their vows in Washington, D.C. last November.
Ms. Broadway cared for their son while Ms. Mack was deployed in the middle east, and previously moved with her to each deployment. Now, at Fort Bragg, she decided she would like to become more familiar with other spouses who shared many of the same challenges she faces. She applied for membership in the “Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses”. She was denied membership. Their reason, she did not possess a military ID card. The military still operates under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, and does not recognize same sex marriage.
When the commanding officer of the base was asked to intervene, he said there was little he could do because it was a private organization, not a military one.
Ms. Broadway believes it’s because she is a lesbian.
Racism and Homophobia have much in common. Prejudice against both groups is often subtle, sometimes blatant, but never entirely hidden. So much of both are the result of fear, distrust, and a lack of understanding. I feel fortunate to have grown up in Los Angeles. When my mother finally allowed me to leave Catholic high school, and attend public school for my last two years, I had the advantage of making friends of all races, creeds, and colors. My life has been enriched by those youthful experiences. But it’s not possible to convince those that hold hatred so tightly. I feel a great deal of empathy for people like Ms. Broadway, a school teacher by trade, but, as she said, “I wonder if it would be best if I focus on a group that would value me”.
She’s right. Why give yourself to anyone who doesn’t value you for being the unique person you are?
By James Turnage