We Americans may have dark moments in our history, but we always move forward
“As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.” “I believe my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty.” These are inspiring words. At first glance, they seem uplifting and motivational. Until you look at their context. Adolf Hitler, one of history’s most heinous arbiters of genocide and mass murder against most notably the Jews, but also any other minority population in Germany, uttered these words. These were dark times and we appropriately look back on them with disgust, but humanity moved forward.
Here in America, we have had our own brushes with the dark side of history. As colonists and settlers, we populated the North American continent and created the world’s first nation based on democracy and freedom. At the same time, we slaughtered thousands of innocent natives and justified it with grand slogans like “Manifest Destiny” and dismissed the inhuman treatment as unimportant because these people were “uncivilized” and not Christians. And although Native Americans still aren’t exactly treated in all fairness by our government and our people, as a culture we have rejected this attitude towards them and we have moved forward.
As the concept of freedom and equality began to evolve in the 1800s many began to notice a discrepancy in which Americans actually had freedom and equality. Attitudes began to change on the notion of slavery and the contradiction between it and the American ideal of freedom. There were some that defended it, so much so that it caused a bloody civil war. We look back with disgust and see our ancestors use a book meant to teach humanity how to love and care for one another to justify hate and cruelty. Preachers adamantly argued that God condoned slavery by selecting stand-alone quotes to use as propaganda to justify their personal views. Many used Ephesians 6:5 and said “slaves obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”. We look back now with shame because we have moved forward.
Vestiges of this attitude remained in the middle of last century. Americans, and increasingly the world, watched as attitudes towards segregation in the South began to change. We watched in horror as police viciously released dogs and turned water hoses on peaceful protesters. We look back in disgust at a powerful political figure who spewed hate at his 1963 inaugural speech for governor of Alabama. Governor George Wallace unashamedly said, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” We look back as a people and are saddened not only by one of our leaders preaching this hate, but also at the waves of cheers by the populace that embraced it. But America moved forward and got better.
We are now at another turning point in our history when the idea of freedom and equality are in question. Now we are beginning to take a hard look at the treatment of gays and lesbians in our society and their unequal treatment under the law. There are some who will say that this isn’t the same and this isn’t as extreme as the examples I have given from our history. In response to that I would like to provide a few recent incidents relating to this situation. In 2003, recent candidate Rick Santorum equated homosexuals to those that practice bestiality. In 2010, Clint McCance, a school board member for the Midland district in western Arkansas, said “Seriously they want me to wear purplebecause five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide” (sic) Now, in 2012, Pastor Charles Worley of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C. preached to reponses of “Amen” saying, “I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers…build a great big large fence, 50 or a hundred mile long. Put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. And you know what? In a few years they will die out.” Our children and grandchildren will look back on statements like this the same way we look back at other dark sides of history – with disgust and shame. Of this we should have no doubt, because as always, America and its people move forward.
(James Jackson writes his “progressive viewpoint” column each Friday. His columns are submitted as an opinion editorial and are not meant to represent an official view of The Sun-Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)