I’ve been contemplating an entry like this for a long time. Now the National Organization for Marriage has given me the perfect excuse by making hay out of Reverend Keith Ratliff’s resignation from the NAACP over their recent endorsement of marriage equality.
Here’s what Mr. Ratliff is reported to have said according to the NOM’s Facebook page:
There is not a parallel between the homosexual community and the struggles of African-Americans in our country. I haven’t seen any signs on any restrooms that say ‘For Homosexuals Only.’ Homosexuals do not have to sit on the back of the bus, as African-Americans had to.
Now I don’t want to get anything wrong here, because on the one hand, Mr. Ratliff is 100% correct. There never has been a segregation between straight people and queer people in this country. We are the invisible minority. We can pass for a member of the majority if necessary; and, besides, without trying to hide ourselves, we usually don’t get picked out of a crowd as being any different.
Gay is not the new black.
I also want to point out that holding a competition between who’s the most discriminated against is a dangerous and futile business; the last thing I’m trying to do today is argue that queer people suffer from more discrimination than African Americans. Since the groups overlap, collectively speaking, queer African Americans take the trophy on this one, I think.
But I firmly believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which I do not throw around flippantly, but with the greatest reverence. As I made my first steps to being out at a Christian college, these words moved me more profoundly than anything else I’d ever read up to that point in my life. They shape my life still today:
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
Excerpt thanks to the UPenn website. See the rest of it here.
Although Dr. King was speaking within the context of the Civil Rights Movement, this same principle of “an inescapable network of mutuality” holds true in broader terms, as well – even in Dr. King’s own life. In 1968 before his assassination, he was working on organizing the Poor People’s Campaign to turn the spotlight on Americans of all backgrounds who were being shut out from the American Dream.
In one way or another, all discrimination, all injustice is interconnected.
I don’t echo Dr. King on this because it’s simply a memorable phrase. I think there’s something more to this. If, as minorities of one sort or another, all we do is fight for our own inclusion in the dominant society of our day without also trying to reform it, then we are no better than our oppressors. If all we’re doing is looking out for our own selves without trying to help others along the way, then that’s a sad commentary on the state of our outlook on existence.
Here’s what Kim Randle and I had to say in a newspaper article we wrote together back in 2009:
We need a communitarian commitment to one another — to understand one another, to learn from one another, to value and cherish our neighbors. A meaningful communitarian approach means valuing all of our neighbors and actively affirming our equality. This means white people need to stand up and demand justice for racial minorities. This means men need to demand equal opportunity for women. This means that heterosexual people need to demand integration of LGBT peers into our community.
There is not just one injustice that should rile the community that deserves our attention. Because of the fallen world and inherent evil we live in, we must strive continually to rectify all of our societal wrongs. This means that we should be angry about all injustice, all wrong, all prejudice, all hate and all marginalization. What makes us angry about race should also make us angry about homophobia, sexism, child sex trafficking, xenophobia and more.
So, in short Rev. Ratliff, I humbly submit to you my firm belief that injustice does not exist in isolation. Although I don’t know your own journey – I respect it. I respect you for the challenges that you face.
To the NAACP, thank you. Thank you for recognizing that the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. hold true today. That injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Thank you for recognizing that although my own story is different than yours, we can still fight for one another.
Let’s keep working, let’s keep fighting.