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Smear the Queer

When my children were in late grammar school -- around the fourth or fifth grade, I don't recall -- I was shocked when they told me that they and the rest of the kids their age had been playing a rousing game of "smear the queer."  The objective was to "smear" -- knock down and pile onto -- one individual who was designated as the "queer."  They took turns being the queer.  I remember trying, not too well, to explain to them that, while such a game might be harmless in itself, the name really was not suitable.  What I was trying to tell them was that words mean things and that we need to be careful how we apply those words -- we never know who might be listening and who might take our words seriously.

The Sons of Ham

My sensitivity to the use of pejorative words to describe people comes from one sermon I heard preached in a Baptist church in my home town in south Mississippi.   The time was the early 1960's, during the beginning of the civil rights movement, a time that was viewed with great fear in my home town.  Fear?  Because the "niggers" were getting out of their place.

Remember the story of Noah and the flood?  All about the ark, the animals going in two-by-two?  the great rain?  whole world flooded?  Fine, but do you remember the rest of the story?  Read Genesis 9:20 - 27.  Here is the story in capsule form, just as I heard it preached in Mississippi in the early 1960's.

It seems that after the flood waters had receded and Noah, his wife and sons were busy populating the earth, Noah planted a vineyard.  He harvested the grapes and made wine and drank too much.  Noah lay down and went to sleep, naked, on his bed.  One of his sons, Ham, also called Canaan, came in and saw his father naked, something that was strictly forbidden in Jewish law.  When he told the other two sons, they put an animal skin over themselves, walked backwards into the tent, and covered their father.  When Noah awoke and learned what had happened, he cursed Ham, who would forever be ". . . the lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers."

Now, tradition says that Ham's descendants migrated into Africa where they became the black races.  Because Noah pronounced a curse from God on Ham, then Ham's descendants are also cursed to be servants and slaves.  And, because Ham's descendants are black Africans . . .   Well, you get the picture.

This is serious

This may sound like a cute Bible story that no one takes seriously.   It is not.  This story was preached from many pulpits across the South for generations and the "curse of Ham" was a fundamental justification for slavery and, following the end of slavery, continued genocidal crimes against African-Americans.  

The logic is simple.  If you can prove that one person or a group of people is fundamentally and irreversibly inferior to another group, then, it is a simple matter to justify whatever it takes to "keep them in their place."   Slavery, lynching, murder, denial of basic human rights.  Whatever.  It is justified because, after all, "those people" are lower than the rest of us.

Think of the words

Just think of the words we use to describe other people:  kyke, hunkie, spic, greaser, bean-eater, Chink, gook, slope-head, Mick, Dago, wop, guinea, nigger, spook, spade, hillbilly, cracker.  And we use these words for only one reason:  To degrade the object of the word.  You see, if we admitted that the hillbilly or the dago or the nigger is just another human being, with the same dreams, hopes, and fears as each of us -- and with the same right to pursue those dreams, hopes, and fears -- then we must recognize that that hillbilly, dago, or nigger just might be better at something than we are.  And we can't have that.

And now

A few weeks ago, a young man, a homosexual, was beaten severely and left to die, tied to a fence post in Wyoming.  Yesterday, I watched a TV talk show featuring Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women and Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council .  Her position was that hate speech has horrible consequence and that most of the hate speech we here today emanates from the likes of Bauer, James Dobson, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Rush Limbaugh, Gordon Liddy, and other icons of the right-wing.  Bauer was "incensed" at the implications that anything that he said denouncing the "homosexual agenda" could have remotely been the cause of the heinous crime in Wyoming.

I watched about five minutes of this charade before I had to leave the room.  The self-righteousness of Bauer and his ilk is stupefying.  What we have here -- Bauer, Dobson, Limbaugh, and the like -- is the same thing that I heard preached from that pulpit in Mississippi.  It's the same thing I heard from Southern politicians, speaking from the platform of a flat-bed truck in the red clay and pine forests of south Mississippi, raving against the "niggers," the "outside agitators," the "damn Yankees."  Only today they all wear expensive suits, red power ties, and speak in measured, soothing voices.  And they fool lots of people.

Bauer, Robertson, Dobson, and the rest of their crowd can put on all the innocent airs they wish and can draw the cloak of respectability as tightly as they can around themselves but it will change nothing.  When you preach from the pulpit that homosexuals are cursed by God and it's right here in the Bible and they have a secret agenda to convert all your sweet precious children to homosexuality; when you preach, as I have heard preached, that "the idea that women should be paid the same as men is a lie sent from the Devil;"  when you denounce single mothers as sluts and whores; when you denounce the public schools as centers of "humanism," "radical feminism," and "devil worship" (Pat Robertson); when you . . . . . . why should you be surprised when some nut case decides to smear the queer?

Words have meaning. Words are intended to move people.  When you use words, you are responsible for the consequences.  Don't hold your breath for the religious right to accept responsibility for anything.  When I was a college student in Alabama in the 1960's, George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and proclaimed "Segregation yesterday, segregation today, and segregation forever."  And four little black girls died in church one Sunday morning from a bomb set by the Ku Klux Klan.  Two days later, a Klansman, the night watchman at the place where I worked, told me that the Klan did that to support old George.  Today, they know better than to shout "nigger" and quote George Wallace.  Instead, they use code words.  

Nothing has changed.  They just wear expensive suits instead of bedsheets with eyeholes.

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