Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shotgun 2013 - By Cici Kitten for Suddenly Fem

Back in the 19th century, the citizens of the newly formed United States of America began to think of westward expansion in terms of destiny.  Manifest destiny.  The idea was that the unexplored, uncivilized areas of the West “belonged” to the U.S. even before we actually claimed them or purchased them.

We see this expansion differently today.  We realize now that those lands were hardly unexplored.  They were owned and managed (and had been for centuries) by very civilized nations of Native Americans.  But that fact notwithstanding, there was at one time an American philosophy that our nation’s expansion was a part of our destiny. American citizens on the East Coast looked at the maps, saw the expanse of land leading to the Pacific Ocean, and believed that it was inevitable that our nation would populate that entire area.

And I think we’re witnessing something similar today.  An expansion in America.  It’s almost like an outbreak.  And try as they might, politicians, pundits, and preachers are unable to stop it.  And they always have been.  I’m talking about the recent outbreak of love and acceptance in America.  An outbreak that, despite many, many heartbreaking and bloody setbacks, in the past continues its march to fulfill its destiny.  The manifest destiny of love.

It’s happening all around us and it has been for over 100 years.
  Please, I’m not an idiot. I know that America’s history is stained with wars, hate crimes, injustices, and discrimination.  Those incidents have been well documented and are part of the historical record.  And there is no doubt that to some people and entire groups, those incidents have left permanent scars and negative repercussions.

But that doesn’t mean the concepts of love and acceptance haven’t been growing.  Any member of any minority might take issue with this.  Their people have suffered mightily.  But history shows, as each group endures, so are they accepted by mainstream society.  No one is saying that minorities are achieving complete and total equality.  But there are so many signs of progress.

In the recent presidential election, many commentators pointed to a Republican party that was out of touch with American values. The social message that Mitt Romney preached – holding a hard line against illegal immigrants and gay issues – may have appealed to old conservative white men (the Republican party’s longtime base).  But, the truth is, while old white men might still run America, they don’t have the stranglehold they once did.

With gay issues, the change is dramatic. A few years ago, gay marriage proposals were defeated in many states.  This past year, three states approved gay marriage by popular votes – Maine, Maryland and Washington.  (Minnesota rejected a statewide ban on gay marriage.)  These votes would have been unthinkable even just a few short years ago.

This past year, a sitting president spoke out for gay rights and gay marriage.  That would have been unthinkable a few years ago.  Openly gay politicians are now being elected.  Celebrities seem less cautious about coming out.  And hopefully… this acceptance will some day spread to the trans world as well.

When considering the progress of any minority. I always look back to history.  And our nation – though we may not think so – has quite a record of eventual acceptance.  (The key word being “eventual.”)

Minorities that journeyed here in the early 20th Century – the Ellis Island generation of Irish, Italian, German, Jewish, and Eastern European immigrants -- have all been fairly successful at integrating into our society.  In fact, these new populations and cultures contributed mightily to the rapid growth of American manufacturing, technology, and innovation in the 1900’s.

Some will argue that these groups had the same heritage (predominantly European) as the existing ruling class in America at the time.  And therefore they were more easily accepted.  And that’s probably true.  Other groups seeking equality – African, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern – must often battle prejudice based on their appearance, religious beliefs, and cultural differences. 

And yet, little by little, walls and barriers are falling.  I’m no sociologist, but I grew up in the 60’s and one needn’t be a sociologist to look around and see that there are more African-Americans, women, and Latinos in public office, in the media, in university faculty positions, on police forces, and, yes, in the Oval Office.

Is there a lot more work to be done. D’uh!  Of course there is!  And, honestly, the concept of true equality may never be achieved.  People always seem to find something to fight about – race, religion, philosophy, money, and of course… land.

And we’re back to manifest destiny.  The concept of manifest destiny ignored the rights and history of the Native Americans and their control of the land.  The concept caused wars, battles, shady dealings and land grabs that were anything but fair. All in the name of the inevitability of American expansion.

The manifest destiny of love should have less casualties.  Or perhaps more appropriate ones – casualties such as hate, discrimination, narrow-mindedness, and inequality.  On January  21st of this year, on Martin Luther King Day, President Obama became the first president to mention gay rights in an inauguration speech.  To me, the moment recalled King’s own sentiment that people should be judged, “…by the content of their character.” 

That same sentiment occurred to me again when watching Steven Spielberg’s film, “Lincoln.”  In the film, abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (as played by Tommy Lee Jones) is asked if all men are created equal or, rather, if they should be treated equally under the law.  The point is a fine line, but if Stevens says what’s in his heart, that all men are indeed created equal, his fellow representatives might be scared away from voting for the amendment to end slavery.  Stevens compromises for the good of the amendment and says that all men should be treated equally under the law.  His opponents scoff and try to goad him into revealing his true feelings.

Cleverly, Stevens looks around him and says that men surely cannot be created equal and as an example he uses – not the slaves or black people of America -- but, instead, the narrow-minded Congressmen around him., “…endowed by their creator with dim wits and impermeable to reason…”

Those “dim wits” are everywhere. And they’re not going away.  They didn’t go away in 1865.  Or 1965.  And they will not go away in 2013.  They cannot be eliminated.  But, as the American people have shown again and again, they can be – and usually are – overcome.  By reason.  By acceptance.  And by adherence to that one simple idea – despite what Tommy Lee Jones said – that all Americans are created equal. 

You’ll see those dim wits everywhere.  They’ll be in office.  Or on talk shows. And their comments will appear at the bottom of internet news reports or commentaries. They will tell you that Obama was wrong, that liberals are misguided, and that being gay or trans is a lifestyle choice.  And then they will tell you that because of all this change and acceptance, that America is going to hell in hand basket.

Well if that is true, I will willingly go along for the ride. Because if you’re telling me that, because of the concept of equality for all – the very concept on which our political system was based -- America is now going to hell in hand basket, then I have only one thing to say:

“I call shotgun!”

Take care out there.

Be safe. Be smart. Be sexy.


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