Friday, June 26, 2015

Equal Dignity in the Eyes of the Law

From Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion
The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.

Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

White Terrorists

There is a cynical but accurate American saying: "The Constitution guarantees freedom of the press for those who have one." While the Internet may have theoretically democratized the spread of information, a small number of media sources still have an overwhelming influence on public opinion. Those commercial media stay alive by satisfying their advertisers, who are interested in selling a product. Truth in broadcasting is one of many techniques for attracting and keeping an audience for the ads.

In that light, it is pleasing to see the New York Times Magazine's recent editorial about white terrorists.

The piece is too long to quote in its entirety, but I recommend the whole thing. The author, Brit Bennett, starts with some personal musings on the Klan, the Confederacy, and the history of white terrorism, that is, terrorism perpetrated by white people. To read the papers, you'd think this was an oxymoron, or an impossibility, white terrorism. In the news, white terrorists are "troubled," "mentally ill," "alienated," they are referred to as "gunmen" or "shooters." Because they are one of "us," we differentiate their motives, their past, their thoughts and emotions; but when terrorists are foreign or dark-skinned they are easily depicted without empathy, their motives are characterized as evil or hateful, and we are done with it. White people have freedom of the press, because they have one.

Ms. Bennett says it better than me -- I am jumping into the middle of her magnificent essay.
This is the privilege of whiteness: While a terrorist may be white, his violence is never based in his whiteness. A white terrorist has unique, complicated motives that we will never comprehend. He can be a disturbed loner or a monster. He is either mentally ill or pure evil. The white terrorist exists solely as a dyad of extremes: Either he is humanized to the point of sympathy or he is so monstrous that he almost becomes mythological. Either way, he is never indicative of anything larger about whiteness, nor is he ever a garden-variety racist. He represents nothing but himself. A white terrorist is anything that frames him as an anomaly and separates him from the long, storied history of white terrorism.

I’m always struck by this hesitance not only to name white terrorism but to name whiteness itself during acts of racial violence. In a recent New York Times article on the history of lynching, the victims are repeatedly described as black. Not once, however, are the violent actors described as they are: white. Instead, the white lynch mobs are simply described as “a group of men” or “a mob.” In an article about racial violence, this erasure of whiteness is absurd. The race of the victims is relevant, but somehow the race of the killers is incidental. If we’re willing to admit that race is a reason blacks were lynched, why are we unwilling to admit that race is a reason whites lynched them? In his remarks following the Charleston shooting, President Obama mentioned whiteness only once — in a quotation from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. intended to encourage interracial harmony. Obama vaguely acknowledged that “this is not the first time that black churches have been attacked” but declined to state who has attacked these churches. His passive language echoes this strange vagueness, a reluctance to even name white terrorism, as if black churches have been attacked by some disembodied force, not real people motivated by a racist ideology whose roots stretch past the founding of this country. White Terrorism Is as Old as America
The recent killings in South Carolina were so reprehensible that no one can ignore them. A white man murdered innocent black people while they were praying, out of hatred for their race. Yet somehow white society is blameless.

Bennett's analysis of the tacit bias in reporting of terrorist acts perpetrated by whites is articulate and she makes an excellent point. When a black or Muslim person commits an act of violence, the media report their race as an explanatory fact and the criminal's group absorbs some of the blame for his act. But when a white person does it, we focus on the race of the victims as an explanatory fact.