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In America, racism is worse than homophobia

July 31, 2015

Duluth-lynching-postcard

Conservative writer Kevin Williamson accused Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of ‘leading a nationalist-socialist movement’ a la Adolf Hitler. In a sharp response, Damon Linker critiques Williamson for making him feel “manipulated, even duped” by the analogy. Linker goes on to accuse the right of massive hyperbole in the wake of the Obergefell gay marriage decision:

Unlike Dred Scott, Obergefell and same-sex marriage enslave no one. Moreover, whereas upholding the rights of slave owners led to immediate and total loss of liberty for large numbers of human beings…

Unlike with the consequences of Roe, no one can plausibly claim that a person is killed as a result of exercising the right proclaimed by Obergefell. That would seem to render the comparison somewhat lacking in cogency…

The Gestapo? You’ve got to be kidding. Let me know when the secret police begins pounding on your door, and I will pledge my life, fortune, and sacred honor to prevent you from being sent to a concentration camp for your traditionalist Christian beliefs. But until that time, please get a grip.

These are great points. But I’m curious why Damon Linker didn’t apply this line of reasoning to same-sex marriage proponents who analogized to racism. As I’ve noted before, racism in America is much more than an abstract dislike of black people or anti-miscegenation laws. American racism was “two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy.” Racism was almost 4,000 lynchings between 1877 and 1950.

In case you’ve forgotten, here is what a lynching looks like:

Persons was chained down, had a large quantity of gasoline poured over him, and set alight. The leader of the group had asked Rappel’s mother if she wanted to light it; she declined, but said she “wished Persons to suffer the tortures he dealt to his victim”. Persons was reportedly calm and casual, and made no sound except for a “faint pig squeal” when set alight. Members of the mob tried to help women who could not see get a better view, but they failed because of the sheer numbers. A newspaper described the moment of the lighting: “A crowd of some 5,000 men, women and children cheered gloatingly as the match was applied.”

Homophobia was and is real. Gay Americans have suffered. But how many were lynched for being gay? How many years of slavery did they experience? Can you show me where the federal government plundered gay wealth? In what ways, exactly, are homophobia ‘like’ racism? The fact is they are not alike. Only by washing away the gruesome details can you compare them.

For some reason, the Damon Linkers of the world didn’t apply their rhetorical gifts to examine the racism-homophobia analogy. Linker’s type of analysis–rich in historical detail and specificity–could have and should have been used. Where was Linker then?

Instead we all participated in a long-standing American tradition: using black suffering as a tool to further our own goals. How many black Americans were asked whether they were okay with the analogy? How many black Christians were? Rather than solemnly noting the horrors of American racism and treading carefully, the black experience was discounted and trivialized.

To paraphrase Linker: Racism? You’ve got to be kidding. Let me know when American homophobia results in slavery, lynchings and mass incarceration. But until that time, please get a grip.

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