Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Day The Justice Put Love Asunder

We who live in Louisiana occasionally must cringe in humiliation at the bad behavior of some of our fellow Louisianans. Surely you remember the Jena Six, the story of the six black students who allegedly beat up a white student in 2006, resulting in one of the black kids being convicted and sentenced to a possible 20 years in prison. A similar attack on a black student by whites a week earlier had resulted in only a suspension from school. The Jena Six incident started when white kids hung nooses from a tree in the school courtyard, a perceived threat to the black kids. Welcome to Louisiana.

Now comes word that we have further reason to hang our heads in shame in Louisiana, due to the ridiculous rantings of one Keith Bardwell, a Tangipahoa Parish justice of the peace who decided to play God and refuse to marry Beth Humphries and Terence McKay because he’s black and she’s white. “I've had countless numbers of people that was born in that situation, and that they claim that the blacks or the whites didn't accept the children," Bardwell told CBS 'Early Show's' Harry Smith. "And I didn't want to put the children in that position."

If haven’t yet seen Bardwell defending his decision, watch this Associated Press report:

I often tell people that having lived through the 1960s and now into this new century, I believe racism is more widespread and threatening today than it was in the days of the civil rights movement. Some people disagree with my assessment ,but I firmly believe it. How many Keith Bardwells still lurk out there and never emerge until they do something blatantly stupid like this? It makes one wonder: Are civil rights strides necessarily permanent? Do landmark legal decisions change ideology or simply change the way the country does business? Consider the case of Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple whose struggles challenged the U.S. Constitution and ultimately encouraged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down state laws that denied interracial couples the right to marry in this country. Here is an ABC news report from 1967:

The Lovings unknowingly changed the course of love and marriage in this country, and had it not been them, it would likely have been another interracial couple who made it happen. But cultural change and altering the hearts and minds of status-quo prone Americans does not come quickly. It would take fully 30 years until America in majority supported interracial marriage, according to polls from Gallup. Watch this quick statistical recap:

Some might say the problem is really generational, and men and women with mindsets similar to Bardwell’s are dying off. They would argue that the evidence from polls like the one you just watched suggest that the youngest generation supports equality. Unfortunately, the same could be said of the youngest generation in the 1960s, but age tends to narrow the thinking of many people, and if we asked those same people who were 18-29 in 1967 their opinions of interracial marriage today, I wonder if many of them would opt for the tradition of “marrying your own kind.”

At least interracial couples have the strength of the law on their sides. Now, if we can only move the culture along to a point when Mike and Sam or Barb and Sue can legally marry. As I said, cultural change comes slowly. But I have faith that it is coming.

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