Two of the most divisive civil rights issues in the USA today are immigrants and GLBT persons. The two groups may seem radically different on the surface, but take another look.
In reality and in metaphor, both GLBT persons and immigrants live in the borderland, a place defined more by not-belonging than anything else. Both are seen as semi-persons when a person is one who takes ownership of full human rights as given, and lives so fully out in the sunshine as to be average, normative, commonplace.Thomas Sowell, the prominent rightwing African American political economist at Stanford's Hoover Institution, wrote on this election day that bans on gay marriage aren't about persons but rather about behavior.
Both, regardless of talent, potential, merit, or contribution, are deliberately fenced out by the dominant culture’s blanket appraisal of difference.
Jim Gilchrist and the radical anti-immigrant Minutemen say, similarly, that they aren't focused on persons either, but rather on behavior.
In exactly the way that the Minutemen claim not to be racists, Sowell claims not to be heterosexist.
Both arguments are sheer sophistry.
Let's penetrate the fog.
Is it truly pure coincidence, then, that in both cases, their targets just so happen to comprise only one category of people instead of all people?
If the concern is the behavior "gay marriage," as Sowell claims, then isn't it a fact--despite Sowell's obscenely propagandistic hypothetical that two heterosexual men might marry "to make a point"--that only one authentic, reality-based category of persons is targeted? Yes, of course it's a fact. So then, is that fact a pure coincidence? No. The behavior "gay marriage" is intrinsic to the persons involved. It can't be separated from the persons, by definition: Gay marriage can't happen between heterosexuals or it isn't gay.
If the concern is law-breaking, as Gilchrist and the Minutemen claim, law-breaking also includes rape, murder, robbery, kidnapping, battery, child-abandonment, and drunk driving. Therefore, we should expect to see those who are moved to outrage by lawbreaking be equally focused on all crimes. Actually, we should expect to see far greater focus on the most serious crimes, like rape, murder, and kidnapping. Since we don't, we must ask whether it is truly just a coincidence that their focus is only on poor, brown people from south of the border. No, of course not. In this case, although the behavior can be separated from the person--others can and do enter the country illegally--Gilchrist isn't manning the Alaskan border snaring Russians.
Sowell argues that all law targets behavior, and that some behavior ought to be forbidden. That's true. And then he commits his second sophistry, by equating gay marriage with polygamy and pedophilia. In what precise sense can a marriage between two consenting adults be analogous to polygamy or pedophilia? He'd like us to gambol like little lambs after his demagogue's implication, but let's not. The truth is that, by definition, there is no comparison.
Sowell's third sophistry says more about his resolute bigotry than about anything else. He writes:
"Despite heavy television advertising in California for 'gay marriage,' showing blacks being set upon by police dogs during civil right marches, and implying that homosexuals face the same discrimination today, the analogy is completely false.
Blacks had to sit in the back of the bus because they were black. They were doing exactly what white people were doing-- riding a bus. That is what made it racial discrimination."
Really? OK, let's check. Let's make a couple of word changes and see what happens to Sowell's logic:
Homosexuals have to do without marriage because they are homosexuals. They want to do exactly what heterosexuals do--get married. That is what makes it heterosexist discrimination.
In Gilchrist's case and Sowell's, their outrage is in fact focused exclusively on a specific kind of person, making each man's target not behavior after all, but a single category of people, of perceived offenders.
And everyone knows it.
It's sad that both men try to delude us with dishonest argument, but when one of them is an accomplished scholar, it's also a dis-grace--a falling out of that state of grace that is conferred by intellectual integrity and openness of spirit.
The result, in both cases, if sometimes in different ways and degrees, is brutalization of both target and gunner. What's often overlooked, though, is that those who create or sustain injustice, like Sowell and Gilchrist, are often damaged more severely by their bigotry than their targets are. Without in any way minimizing that kind of dire deprivation--I wouldn't dare--it's not all about jobs and economic security: Would you rather be César Chávez or Tom Tancredo? Would you rather be Rosa Parks or Phyllis Shlafly? Would you rather be Harvey Milk or Dan White?
Not just the nation but all of us everywhere urgently need for bigger and better reasons the energy it takes to fence people out for unjust reasons. I believe that that energy was meant for, and is essential for, true, global, planetary, soul-and-body nourishment. When it’s diverted and perverted, everyone is starved. Not just those in the borderlands.