Last week was cause for celebration in my house.
Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected a legal challenge to Obamacare. The President declared affordable healthcare “here to stay.” Because my husband and I both work with impoverished populations, we’ve seen firsthand what the Affordable Care Act can mean.
Friday morning, I stumbled out of my bedroom in pajamas and disheveled hair to announce “MARRIAGE EQUALITY!” punctuated by my fist in the air. I hadn’t realized how badly I needed to hear that our country can do something good, something meaningful, something that proves we’re not a lost cause, until I couldn’t keep back my tears over breakfast.
I can only imagine what that moment meant for the people who had just been granted the right I’ve enjoyed for over twenty years now.
Later that day, I watched the first black president of the United States deliver the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney: minister, senator, and activist shot to death by a white supremacist along with eight others at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I expected it to be a mournful hour. And it was, knowing what is lost from our world, knowing that the tide of racism never stops. But the president’s eulogy reminded me of what was good in the world. I remembered the power of the black church over the last four hundred years. I remembered the courage and defiance of black activists and white allies. I remembered that history sometimes leaps forward in blazes of light after the darkness of struggle.
After all the violence of this year, I can’t help but feel that as a nation, we are on the cusp of a series of jumps forward. Through the courageous and relentless work of activists, injustice in the United States has spread from the attention of the world to – finally! – the attention of the every day American. Race, sex, and gender politics are, at last, front page news here in the United States. Americans are now seeing what the rest of the world has known about us for years, that systemic discrimination, oppression and bigotry are our great national tragedy, one we must, after four centuries, look in the face without flinching before we can move forward.
On Saturday, Bree Newsome did what we all wish we had done. Tired of the circular debate over the Confederate flag, she climbed a flag pole outside the South Carolina State House and took the damned thing down herself. Arrested and charged with “defacing a monument,” Newsome emailed the following statement:
We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. We can’t continue like this another day…it’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.
Over the weekend, Bob Englehart’s cartoon depicting the Confederate flag being removed was modified by an anonymous cartoonist to add the LGBT pride flag going up in its place.
The cartoon went viral. It became a simple, visual statement of the victories of the week.
But here’s the thing. In the last week, six predominantly black churches have burned in five Southern states. Investigators suspect arson involved in at least three, but – let’s be serious, now – most of us outside the South know that six burned black churches in a week would be a coincidence bordering on the impossible.
We who are working for justice have to remember that just because South Carolina takes down the Confederate flag doesn’t magically take racism away. In fact, such victories often only serve to inflame racism. Folks, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
We also can’t forget that where gay rights have gained enormous ground over the last decade, those in the margins – people, for example, who are bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and above all, LGBTQIA people of color – are still shouting to be heard, recognized, and even included in the movement.
After the marriage equality ruling broke on Friday, conservatives in my social media feeds seemed quiet for the most part (as long as I avoided the “comments” sections of news stories, those cesspools of ignorance). Most of my conservative friends didn’t comment, and if they did, their comments were brief and vague. However, given three days to regroup, hate is back on the menu. Only this time, it’s extra spicy.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Ruby Bridges has been on my mind. Ruby, in her iconic first grade photo, flanked by U.S. Marshalls on the steps of an all-white school following desegregation.
She’s so small. Did she know she would become a hero? A symbol? Certainly, when Bree Newsome climbed the flag pole on Saturday, she knew she’d become a hero. She chose the spotlight, even chose her arrest. But Ruby? I think not. As an adult, Ruby Bridges Hall remembers her mother being pressured into sending her daughter to William Frantz Elementary School. She remembers not understanding why people yelled at her, threatened her, and why she sat in a classroom all by herself for all of first grade.
Sometimes our heroes don’t choose their status. History, rude and uninvited, thrusts heroism upon them.
In this historical moment, I see many in the LGBTQIA community as reluctant heroes. Yes, so many are outspoken. So many continue to take to the streets, to make themselves heard, to fight for their very existence. This is their victory. They are the ones who have done the hard work. But so many simply want to live their lives out quietly, peacefully, happily. The way I do. They don’t choose to be heroes or figureheads or, God forbid, martyrs, but so many will become just that.
It’s ugly. It’s unfair.
So, by all means, celebrate. Keep the focus where it belongs. Stay loud, stay strong.
But never think we are done.