Please note that I’ve spent days on this post and it is a long one. I fervently believe that the topic warrants it and that no word is superfluous. I sincerely hope that you will take the time to read it and after doing so, come to the same conclusion. Blessings, love and thanks.
I raise this issue, not out of the blue. A Facebook post that I received last week provoked it. The post included a photo, a band of colors of the rainbow with the words, “I might lose friends for this, But I fully support Gay rights.” As, sad to say, it has become the norm, there were vile and unmentionable comments in response to the photo, not from friends of mine but from others who’d come before. Although I ‘liked’ the post immediately, I am ashamed to say that the same could not be said when it came to sharing it. No, the thought of doing that caused me to pause, and I feel guilty for doing so.. Although I don’t shy from complex social issues, I found myself considering the validity of the statement about losing friends. I knew exactly where my sympathies lay, I just didn’t know if I wanted to put it out there for others to judge — perhaps negatively and harshly. As I considered my reaction, I could not help thinking back to the world in which I was born and later grew up. In the end, I think that it was that history which made my response inevitable.
As a child growing up in the South, in New Orleans, Louisiana, I, like most blacks (back then, the operative word was ‘colored’ or ‘negro’) of the day experienced racism on a daily basis. The “n” word, which to this day, I find too vile to say outright, was accepted as an proper way to refer to blacks. At the time that I was born, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was a distant dream and ‘separate but equal’ reigned, or more accurately. separate but ‘unequal.’
There were separate bathrooms, schools, water fountains, blacks couldn’t sit at the local lunch counters alongside whites, and those blacks who could afford to travel, could not rely on being welcomed at any hotel, motel or eatery. The old Motel 6 tag line, “we’ll leave the light on for you” which may not have been operative in those days, still didn’t apply to blacks. More mind-boggling than that, I, like every other black child, could readily hear the first person accounts of the life that was racism and discrimination, at the very feet of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and those before them. They weren’t recounting history, they were detailing life as they knew it. To our parents, inequality was an unavoidable fact of life.
As a youth, I saw discrimination as a one-way street. It was ‘us’ against whites and it was as simple as that. However, life and, I hope, wisdom, opened my eyes to the truth of the matter. My world view widen considerably when I moved from New Orleans to Houston, Texas. There I found a dizzying array of people, from all nationalities, religions and walks of life, most of whom I’d had no previous knowledge of or contact with. Religiously, New Orleans was, and still is, a very Catholic city and for the first time, I was exposed to people from a multitude of religious denominations. It was all new and exciting. After getting my undergraduate degree in Houston, I attended law school at the University of Texas at Austin. Once again, I met a wealth of people from different national origins, races, religions and more.
All of this is not to say that my move from New Orleans immunized me from the inequality that was a part of society. The racial and ethnic slurs were there, and the discrimination, usually, more covert than overt. For once, I noticed that the discrimination was directed not only to blacks, but to all racial minorities and other classes of people deemed ‘different.’
After completing law school, the Texas Office of the Attorney General hired me in its General Litigation Division. I had no idea what type of work the division was responsible for, but that was inconsequential to me as I had more pressing matters to concern me — learning to litigate a case. Aside from my participation in a required ‘moot court’ class, I knew nothing about litigation, which is not a winning formula for a trial attorney, especially, one who was scheduled to second chair a jury trial the Monday after I’d officially passed the state bar.
So given the circumstances, all thoughts of being a lawyer with minimal, if any, trial involvement, flew out the window. I turned my attention to learning how to keep from making an absolute ass of myself in the courtroom. In doing so, I learned that those ‘general litigation’ cases that we handled largely involved the defense of the state and state officials from lawsuits alleging civil rights violations, that is, race, national origin and other forms of discrimination. I was flabbergasted and for a time, I felt like a sell out. In far too many cases, my job was defending, among others, white people accused of discriminating against blacks, or other races or classes of people. I felt like Alice waking up in wonderland, wondering how the hell I’d gotten there and how I was going to escape.
As is usually the case, God knew better than I, where I belonged? Within a very short time, I loved my practice and I was very good at it. My caseload involved cases ranging from, race, national origin, sex, age, religious preferences, reverse discrimination, sexual preferences, and anything that fit into that area. I held that job for over 14 years, and to this day, I can only remember one case in which I remain convinced that the Defendant clearly discriminated against a person based on the basis of the color of his skin. Because of a conflict, I’d gotten myself removed from the case, and because the court allowed inflammatory and irrelevant evidence before the jury, the plaintiff, a White male, lost while the State defendant prevailed. That is not to say that there were not legitimate cases involving intentional acts of discrimination towards racial minorities, but very few trial attorneys willingly opt to go to trial in the face of a potential losing case and such cases were settled as expeditiously as possible.
As I grew more and more knowledgeable about the cases, the law and the issues, I realized how often the words ‘discrimination’ and ‘inequality’ were bandied about. In many racial discrimination cases, if the plaintiff was of one race and the defendant another, the plaintiff screamed race or national origin discrimination. Let’s be clear, this was the case if the plaintiff was white and the defendant black, as well as vice verse. The race card won out over reason almost every time. In addition to learning to practice law as a litigator, these cases were invaluable to my way of seeing the world, and expanded my understanding of the current state of inequality and discrimination.
After the trip down memory lane, I was still ashamed of my response to the post. As has been the case since the beginning of 2014, I felt the weight of my word for 2014 pressing against me from all sides. Just in case, you either don’t read my little blog, or live under a rock, one of my two words for the year is “courage,” and indirectly, it’s’ companion ‘vulnerability.’ Each day, remain amazed to discover the extent to which this seven letter, two-syllable word influences so many of the issues that face me. The influences are large, as well as seemingly insignificant to anyone but me. For example, they ranged from opening up to someone about my true feelings, to divulging my newly found passion for painting and drawing, to acknowledging my fears or other negative emotions and recognizing, confronting and dealing with my very own feelings, and ‘courage’ is, more often than not, the common denominator. And so it is with this issue.
Without rehashing the post wherein I explained why I choose ‘courage’ as one of my words for 2014, I will state, not for the first or even the last time that the original definition of the word “courage” was “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart,” in sum, being vulnerable. In my experience, being vulnerable led to all of my fears, shame, insecurities and the rest taking over to the extent that I end up thinking, “Do I want to put myself out there for possible ridicule, rejection or much worse?” Having the courage to accept vulnerability meant that I’d take the risk, regardless of the potential consequences.
In that post, I vowed that:
“In 2014, I will continue the task of telling the story of who I am, but in a more open and honest way. I seek the courage to tell it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. In all honesty, I feel overwhelmed with fear, doubts about failure, and questions about my sanity, but every day I vow that I will imbue each interaction, each post, each encounter with the courage to be true to myself and others.”
With that said, I believe that “inequality” is not reserved for any one group of people, its’ application is far and wide. Inequality is defined as 1.a. The condition of being unequal, b. An instance of being unequal, and 2.a. Lack of equality, as of opportunity, treatment, or status, and b. Social or economic disparity: the growing inequality between rich and poor. I say “no” to unequal treatment of any person based on his/her race, national origin, sex, age, religion, and yes, sexual preference. In my opinion, we cannot espouse equitable treatment for one group of people and not for another. We can not pick and choose to deny a right that should be enjoyed by all people, whether we agree or condone them or their lifestyle.
In the face of widespread torture, institutional and other racism and discrimination, incarceration and even death, blacks and their supporters fought against inequality in the 50’s and 60’s. There is no doubt that their efforts yielded significant results. Nevertheless, the fight continues today because inequality and discrimination, in various forms, are still alive and well in this country. Granted, the fight as it exists today is incomparable to that fought by Blacks and their sympathizers 50+ years ago, but it still exists and there is far more to do.
Today, blacks are joined by many other groups of people in the fight against inequality and discrimination. Denying the right to equal treatment and freedom from discrimination to any free people, denigrates equality for all. Discrimination and inequality against gays, or others because of their sexual orientation or preference, is as reprehensible as that endured by blacks and other races or classes of people. I see no distinction, and I cannot condone it.
Just in case you wonder, last week, within five minutes of receiving the post, I hit the “share” button. I have never been interested in or concerned with who, if anyone, blocked me from their ‘friend’ list and that is not about to change. Besides, if my declaration prompts someone to block me, they weren’t a friend after all.
In closing, I sincerely appreciate you for taking your valuable time to read this lengthy, but I feel important, post.
All Will Be Well, ~ Julian of Norwich
Powerful post, Lydia. Your insights + professional background are fascinating. And I can tell this post was an act of courage for you — way to live out your word for 2014 🙂
Thank you Heidi, I truly appreciate your comments. Yes, you are right, it was an act of courage but one that I had to follow through on. Some things are too important to let slip by. I appreciate it that you took the tie to read my long post. I am forever grateful. Blessings, lydia