The ‘New’ Civil and Human Rights Movement in America?

“If you are going to hold someone down, you’re going to have to hold onto the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own system of repression.” – Toni Morrison (Author)

James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard

James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard

“What’s the difference between dragging a black man behind a truck in Jasper, Texas, and beating a white boy to death in Wyoming because he’s gay?” – Nikki Giovanni (Poet, Educator, Activist)

From a legal point of view, the new civil rights movement means “equal rights = equal protection”. From a moral point of view, this new movement for marriage equality is about human rights and dignity, something that can’t be legislated or taught to people who in the latter 20th century and today don’t seem to understand what that means. Some of us still don’t understand what the black and women’s rights struggles in previous centuries really mean for humanity either. (I’ll give us a couple of clues: progress and evolution.)

About the violation of human rights and dignity: As a female human being with brown skin and of African ancestry, I have encountered a fairly limited amount of discrimination and abuse, so I don’t consider myself an expert on the matter. And race seems a silly concept to me considering what history and science is proving about our origins and why we generally look and behave the way we do. However, learning about the open discrimnation and segregation my mother and her grandparents faced before I was born has prepared me for the worst, while I hoped for the best in human behavior.

This is why I’m ashamed to see the display of hateful behavior from groups organized to prevent others from their pursuit of happiness, legislating morality through propositions, narrowminded biblical interpretations, and outright discrimination, intimidation and abuse through withdrawal of basic civil and human rights. When you deny someone their rights, you deny your own. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, many organizations in the south that weren’t the Ku Klux Klan, concerned citizen groups, used similar tactics to oppress the minority they viewed as a threat to their way of life. What these citizen groups didn’t see? That they were repressing themselves by denying the rights and dignity of other citizens based on illogical and irrational assumptions about humanity based on physical appearance and the oppressive legacy of slavery.

I don’t question the intentions of these new citizen groups and initiatives that oppose the new civil and human rights movement – which includes the legalization of same sex unions and stronger penalties for hate crimes motivated by differences in race and sexual orientation.  Citizens have a right to peaceably assemble, as well as petition their government if they believe a law must be written or changed. What I question is the lack of understanding that we are all human beings with desires and dreams of happiness. Regardless of race and religion, color and creed – despite all our perceived differences – I’m surprised and disappointed we overlook our similarities as human beings. Not all of us have the same goals to meet individual contentment, yet some of us (straight and gay) have the same desires and dreams in our pursuit of happiness – finding a soul mate, a life partner, someone to build a family with if that is what they choose. I’m fairly certain that in 1998, like an older black man from Texas, all a young white man from Wyoming wanted was to live in peace without threats to his freedom and life from the terror of bigotry.

Some who aren’t violent still hold these bigoted views and wish to revoke civil rights in the new century and millennium, although it is disguised as a moral complaint against a new minority – gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered.  There are many, including African-Americans, who justify discrimination and abuse by belief and faith in particular biblical principles, without regard to other principles promoted in that same good book—compassion and love. Many justify the revocation of rights of citizens and human beings by a lack of understanding or empathy.

There is no justification for injustice. When any peaceful human being’s liberty and life are threatened, intolerance and bigotry are never justifiable behaviors. Never. Just because you’re not gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered doesn’t mean hateful propositions presented by “concerned citizens” and upheld by courts shouldn’t matter to you.  As one human rights leader once said, “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”*

How many more people have to be denied civil rights, taken against their will, tortured and/or killed because they’re different before we realize this and protest?

-Danna Williams, in response to Proposition 8 in California and Proposition 2 in Texas, and a recent California Supreme Court ruling upholding the ban on same sex marriage.

*Martin Luther King, Jr.

New poetry, prose and short fiction coming soon… I had to vent.

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Flowers for Mom: “How to Care for African Violets”

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How to Care for African Violets

You loved flowering plants, Mama,
but never had a green thumb.
Your thumb was fleshy pink underneath sepia,
darker than your official retirement gift:
a solid oak wall clock—and softer.

After your last day at work
you put the potted plant gift
on the kitchen windowsill—
the shade ceremoniously drawn at half-mast
to welcome the rising sun.

When company would come
you’d set the blooming plant on the tallest table
in the living room.
The brilliant violet petals and wooly waxen leaves
would glow under artificial light.

On special family occasions,
your brown hands delivered the flower plant
to the dining room table.
You’d ask my sister or me
to gently open the window blinds.

My sister and I gladly obliged,
eager to see you, beautiful in the light—
even as your petals fell and
your leaves bent with acceptance
of the end of your season.

(for P.A.W.)

Audio: How to Care for African Violets by Danna Williams

“How to Care for African Violets” © 2009 by Danna Williams; from Sense, a collection of previously published and unpublished poems.