Jeff Rothenbach: Compassion in the Struggle for Equality

Jeff Rothenbach What’s worse–being black or being gay? At least you don’t have to tell your parents you’re black. I heard this joke some twenty years ago, and it still resonates with me. It was brought to mind again this week when I read a particular op-ed piece in the LA Times this past Saturday. Jasmyne Cannick wrote a very biting criticism of the opponents of proposition 8.

At one point, she says, “…I don’t see why the right to marry should be a priority for me or other black people.” Even though I don’t have children, I still voted on the proposition involving parental notification for teenage girls seeking abortions. I also vote on bonds involving schools. Part of the election process involves voting on issues that might not affect you directly or personally. But hopefully, one votes with thought, reason and compassion.

Her theme seems to be that gays are so much better off than blacks, that we should shut up and accept this defeat. Maybe after the gay community has been stripped of its rights and oppressed for centuries, then we will deserve to have someone stand up for us in our fight for equality. Are we supposed to apologize for the fact that we start from different places, and strive for different goals? While it is often debated that James Buchanan might have been gay, there is no debating that Barack Obama is black. How easy would it be to elect an openly gay man or woman to the White House?

If Ikea decided to make a commercial where a black couple goes shopping for furniture, would this become a news story of its own? Would there be places in this country where the ad could not run? Would it eventually be relegated to youtube?

If an African-American person ran naked and screaming into the street, would the police escort him or her back into the house of the serial killer they were trying to escape, so those two could work out their “little tiff?”

Could we pass laws restricting the marriages of blacks? Oh, yeah. We used to have those, but the Supreme Court struck them down over forty years ago.

I realize that this sounds very slanted in the other direction. So let me do the thing that Ms Cannick didn’t do. I will step outside of myself for a moment and acknowledge that both groups have difficulties. Both groups face discrimination and inequality.

And the areas of inequality are not the same. Jews are not facing problems of higher unemployment rates, and Blacks were not sent to concentration camps. Gays are not facing issues around immigration status, and Latinos are not fighting for the right to marry. We all live in this big world, where sometimes we get so caught up in our little corner of the world, that we forget about everyone else. Each person and each group has some dream, some goal. And while your goal might not be the same as my goal, if it doesn’t do me any harm, I will try to help you reach yours. In return, I hope you will help me to reach mine. That’s all part of us living together and sharing this world.

The bottom line is this: I realize that there are other groups that struggle for things that I already enjoy, and have things that I struggle for. I only wish Ms Cannick could open her eyes and her heart, to make that same realization.

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