Americans, specifically white Americans, have too little understanding of the Jim Crow South and the fierce moral courage black Americans showed in overcoming it. It is too much relegated to “Black History” rather than “American History.”
But of late Democrats, both politicians and pundits, have been doing an even greater disservice to our history. They have been cheapening the reality of Jim Crow in order to silence opposition to Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. Telling an audience that your opponents seek to institute a new Jim Crow is like telling them that your opponents seek to create a new Nazi Reich or accusing them of being rapists. It smears them so utterly and completely that no respectable person who bought it would want to be associated with them in any way.
How can observers objectively know if the assertion is true or not? If the answer is ambiguous, they might decide it’s wiser and safer to not take the risk. Easier to side with the cultural left than to end up finding out you’ve defended Jim Crow. I have an idea. Look back at the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 march in Selma and revise them in light of current events. If 1963 for black Americans were like 2015 for gay Hoosiers, the argument for the March on Washington would have been something like this:
Gay MLK: We must march on Washington!
Audience: Why? Are we denied the vote? Are we threatened with violence if we exercise or speak out for our rights? Are we denied entry into the nation’s top schools? Are we effectively barred from office or denied economic opportunity?
GMLK: No! We can vote freely, we work in the most successful corporations and those corporations are eager to side with us on controversial issues. Violence against us is strictly prohibited and we have amongst the highest per capita incomes.
Crowd: So why are we marching on D.C.? Are we refused service and accommodations?
GMLK: YES! Well, no. Well yes and no. We actually manage or own a lot of companies, including some of the most successful. We are served in every grocery store, restaurant and floral shop in Indiana. But in the rarest of circumstances, there are shop holders out there who refuse to do weddings! Of course, there are numerous other places that seek our business and sometimes even offer to serve us for free to make up for the refusal of others, but if we’re going to call attention to this injustice we cannot be distracted. We must march on Washington!
Would history have been made with such a march? Would 200,000 people have made the journey? Would 20?
It doesn’t take long in this exercise to realize that comparing the current RFRA controversy to the struggle against the injustices of the Jim Crow era is not only ridiculous, but offensive. It cheapens the courage and accomplishments of the heroes of that age.
If we “re-imagine” the 1965 Selma march, we see an even greater contrast. If Selma 1965 were like Indiana today, marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge would be the CEO of the most successful company in the world (and he would black) and well as several other powerful corporations, the President of the United States, every network news anchor, crowds of college kids, and the apparatus of the U.S. Justice Department.
Facing them as they come across would not be fire-hoses, billy clubs, police, tear gas, vigilante enforcers, and institutionalized violence, but a grandmotherly florist, a baker, a pizzeria owner eager to sell everyone pizzas so long as she’s not compelled to march, and a governor who would be confused as to which side of the bridge he’s supposed to be on. The only clubs would be in the hands of those marchers across the bridge.
In such a circumstance — no crack to the skull, no danger, no institutionalized violence — would John Lewis have become an iconic American hero?
Again it becomes clear that those seeking to smear opponents with shouts of “Jim Crow!”, “discrimination!” and “hate!” are either being willfully or unintentionally dishonest.
The cultural left has been in loud and relentless hysterics since the state of Indiana dared to join the majority of other states with Religious Freedom Restoration Act protections. Never mind that the RFRA doesn’t protect what many faithful thought it would nor does it “legalize” what the inconsolable left claimed it did. What matters is what we’ve learned from the reactions of the various participants.
The left learned that conservative politicians are afraid of being disliked. Sure they’ll stick to their guns at first, but if you can get the media outraged along with you, toss in a few words about “hate” and references to racism and bigotry, you’ve got a sure formula for convincing Republicans to “clarify” — because Republicans actually think that’s what you want. Then like jellyfish on the beach, you just watch them rot to pieces in the shining blaze of television news cameras.
The cultural left also learned they have the power to crush religious opponents. CEOs, even Walmart, sought to define mainstream religious people as bigots implicitly or explicitly, and just about all — Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims — are under the smear.
By defining “tolerant” as “willing to agree with my cultural, social, and moral views,” the cultural left has placed the reputation and character of virtually every religion in shambles. The media has proven very willing to oblige in the campaign.
Conservatives learned that what Scott Walker withstood in Wisconsin showed true grit. Whether they’ve learned anything else is, at this point, depressingly unclear.
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