14 June 2008


Listening to the citizens of Jasper Texas recount how their town dealt with and continues to deal with the brutal murder of James Byrd 10 years ago, I was reminded of the distaste that people expressed for Obama as a black candidate and Clinton as a female candidate. The complaints generally followed the straw man suggestion that people were only supporting those candidates because of their minority representation in political office and not because of any political or leadership merits. What some failed to see was what the rise of qualified minority candidates represents how our country has changed. It should first be assumed that they are qualified considering that they have held strong support while in office. To say that it would be notable and noble to have a black or female president presupposes their qualifications and emphasizes instead that it would be notable to have the United States voting public finally accept such a leader. This ignores the question of whether viable minority candidates have been available before, but also ignores the fact that countries with more inequal treatment of women and minorities have had leaders from those groups. Cause won't easily be found, so I'd instead emphasize the result: this country finally has a social environment that accepts such a leader.

While listening to the Jasper story, I wondered why when it happened it couldn't have been passed off as simply the act of a few, hateful individuals that did not represent the town as a whole. Outliers. But considering that, I had to think that the citizens must have feared that somehow their town tacitly allowed such individuals to act. The killers weren't psychotic or depraved, just bigoted with the attitude that perhaps their actions wouldn't be judged too harshly. The fact that they could even act in such extreme ways suggests that--whether true or not--their society failed to put up walls against such behavior.

So, thinking now that our country as a whole can get this far, with Obama and Clinton, I think that a great deal of the bigotry and ignorance that might not allow such a situation is being push further into the fringes. One Jasper woman in the NPR story told of how she would often use the word "nigger" around her house. After the crime and after reconciliation meetings, her daughter finally confronted her and demanded she stop using that word. The woman admitted that only her daughter's demand could have opened her eyes to her own bigotry. The crime pushed her daughter to finally confront the environment of bigotry that can make violence more accessible.

[ posted by sstrader on 14 June 2008 at 1:40:48 PM in Culture & Society ]