On May 9th, 2012, President Barack Obama, the first Black President of the United States, did something extraordinary. The day after North Carolina voted bigotry into its state constitution, President Obama spoke out against bigotry and discrimination when he expressed his personal support for same sex marriage. I will be honest and say that it has taken me this long to figure out what I wanted to say about the situation. The President’s remarks were a statement that is, arguably, the most significant statement of civil rights made by a President since the Emancipation Proclamation. All of America, but the Black community in particular, should have heaved a collective sigh of relief that anyone of our presidents finally had the courage to stand for the principles of equal protection expressed in the Constitution…not just in theory, but in practice.
The Black community should have been so very proud that Barack Obama had the courage of his convictions to speak out against discrimination in a way that no other president ever had before. I was thrilled because this was a stance I had called on every person to take over two years ago. Many didn’t bother to parse the President’s comments for their real impact on current policy, which is minimal. Instead, there was a visceral reaction based in fear and bigotry. What made this reaction so sad and infuriating was that, for some, their bigoted discrimination is wrapped in the Bible and tied with a bow of “Christianity” that Christ wouldn’t recognize.
I am underwhelmed and disappointed by the hypocrisy of those in the Black Community who do not support Marriage Equality. The history of Black folks in America is long, complicated and full of painful injustices. The Constitution had its infamous “Three-fifths Compromise” that was good for everyone, except Black people. The Dred Scott decision was handed down by the US Supreme Court in 1857 showing cowardice and a political cravenness that would make the Roberts Court jealous. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, offered hope that America would finally deliver on the promise of the ideals set out in the Declaration of Independence. But that hope was snatched away with the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896.
If you aren’t aware, Plessy created the doctrine of “Separate, but Equal.” Plessy was also the legal foundation for Jim Crow Segregation, which stood until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. It wasn’t until 1967, with the Loving v. Virginia decision, which ended race-based impediments to legal marriage that Blacks could truly marry whoever they wanted. The fight for equality, regardless of race, is by no means over. The history of civil rights fights in America casts a long and impressive shadow. The Black Community has a long tradition of standing up for what is right and just. Abolitionists who fought slavery in the 19th Century were also active members of the Women’s Suffragist movement. There was a moral consistency in that position. There was recognition that the expansion of rights enhances the concepts of liberty and justice for every American. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said, “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The new Black community must remember the recent and present suffering that comes from discrimination. The new Black community, like the old Black community, must stand on the right side of history and fight for equality wherever discrimination exists. It’s not too late to evolve and follow the fine example set by President Obama. The old Black community stood for justice, the new Black community must never stand for hypocrisy.