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A Letter to My Silent White Brothers & Sisters

A letter to my silent white brothers and sisters.
 
To my white brothers and sisters who have denied racial policing, racial profiling, and categorized the Black Lives Matter movement as a terrorist/fringe group: thank you for letting me know where you stand.
 
To my white brothers and sisters who have stayed silent, content with the status quo, and to those good, honest, men and women of integrity in blue who do not denounce their fellow officer’s transgressions while we’ve watched black- and brown-skinned people die at the hands of those sworn to uphold the law: shame on you.
 
I’m so tired of my silent white brothers and sisters who have remained silent while black lives have been ended at the hands of officers. Sure, they’ll express moral outrage about a lion shot in Zimbabwe or a gorilla shot in a zoo, but then I observe many of them as they try to justify another black life lost at the hand of an officer. “Well uh, he shouldn’t have moved his leg left!” Or “Well he shouldn’t have been selling CDs in front of the store!” It’s pathetic and insulting.
 
Then there are those who don’t want us to see race, those of my silent white brothers and sisters who want us all to “just get along.” The problem is “getting along” falls disproportionately on black- and brown-skinned peoples. It’s always OUR burden to “get along” when my silent white brothers and sisters, you hold all the keys and access to power! It’s always on us to be more like you. My silent white brothers and sisters, you don’t even try to consider our perspective.
 
And don’t dare mention privilege. That sends folks into a conniption. But in a moment of truth, ask yourself, “would I like to be treated like a Black American?” I doubt any of my silent white brothers and sisters would sign up for that life. And that speaks volumes.
 
I am so tired of having to plead MY humanness, MY basic right to not live in fear, MY right to equal treatment before the law. Silent white brothers and sisters, if you don’t get it by now, you are apart of the problem. Admit it, you just don’t care. And because you don’t care, what happened in Dallas last night is only a harbinger of things to come. Until you start to care, those disillusioned people whose lives are treated as less than will tragically combat violence with violence. Just watch.
 
The tragedy in Dallas yesterday was not unforeseeable. This is the result of much talk and little action. This is what happens when you have a group of disaffected and disenfranchised persons whose cries for help go unheeded. People lash out. Violently. And we slowly march down a path of violence & bloodshed and the destruction of already precarious communities. This path is unsustainable and we must not only denounce the violence against police, but also the brutality with which brown- and black-skinned persons are subjected to at said police hands.
 
But there’s a way we can bridge gaps, and heal communities: it starts with my silent white brothers and sisters.
 
When motivated, your silent majority can move mountains and change the arc of history:
 
We fought a Civil War because my silent white brothers and sisters opposed a policy of infinite servitude.
 
We said separate but equal is inherently unequal because my silent white brothers and sisters made it so.
 
We desegregated schools because my silent white brothers and sisters made it so.
 
We buried Jim Crow because my silent white brothers and sisters made it so.
 
We allowed interracial marriage because my silent white brothers and sisters made it so.
 
We ushered in a new area of civil rights acts (housing, voting, employment, and schools) to ensure that every brown- and black-skinned citizen of this country would enjoy all the promises guaranteed to him or her under the Constitution because my silent white brothers and sisters made it so.
 
My silent white brothers and sisters we are calling on you once more to help stem the tide of police violence against brown- and black-skinned Americans. We cannot do this without you.
 
If you have been silent thus far, consider this your official notice. This problem can only be solved when my silent white brothers and sisters decide to address it.
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“Do you think they’ll have a Black Friday sale on White Privilege?”

It’s becoming increasingly hard to resist the temptation to be an angry black man. All my life I’ve tried to straddle the line between objective fairness and Black homerism. This past week pushed my sensibilities to the limit. Tuesday was one of the most emotionally draining days of my life. What started Monday night, as an annoyance, ended Tuesday as full-blown disappointment. As people I respect, intelligent people, classmates, long-time friends, and other weighed in on the aftermath of the Darren Wilson grand jury announcement, many – dare I say too many? – were quick to point to the conclusion of the grand jury as evidence that no crime was committed. Proof, these folks said, that our justice system works!

 

But did the justice system work in this instance? There are a lot of questions about Attorney General Robert McCullouch, and whether he possessed the requisite credentials to properly try this case before the grand jury. I can’t escape the feeling that he should have recused himself – he having a well-documented, chummy relationship with local law enforcement, including serving as president of a local organization that fundraises for officers in Missouri and Illinois – from a situation that was bound to raise eyebrows no matter the outcome. What has become of prosecutorial ethics? During the press conference, McCulloch did everything he could to discredit witnesses who did not support the grand jury’s conclusion.

 

Yes we’ve made great strides in our attempts to become a post-racial America, however, it’s clear we still have a long road to hoe before we can celebrate equality before the law. The facts don’t lie: Black men (and other racial minority groups) are targeted by the criminal justice system. Black, Latino, and Asian Americans make up 26% of the general population, yet they represent 58% of the prison population. Black Americans are particularly susceptible to prison time. In Christopher Stone’s 1999 study Race, Crime, and the Administration of Justice: A summary of the Available Facts, Stone notes the prevalence of Black faces behind prison walls. Nationally, Black Americans accounted for fewer than half of the arrests for violent crimes, but they accounted for about 60% of prison admissions. A 2007 study conducted by Yale University College of Law concluded that Black defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white. Furthermore, killers of white victims are treated more severely than people who kill minorities when it comes to deciding what charges to bring.

 

Given the history of racial antagonism in Ferguson and McCulloch’s cozy relationship with local police, one can’t help but question the process and the evidence presented to the grand jury. Furthermore, the relationship between Ferguson’s largely Black community and its nearly all-white police force, is strained to say the least. According to Newsweek:

A recent report by the legal defense nonprofit ArchCity Defenders found that 86 percent of vehicle stops in Ferguson involved a black driver, although just 67 percent of the city’s 21,203 residents are black. These traffic violations, which sometimes lead to weeks in jail, are an enormous burden on the black community. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases—“about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household,” the report said. Fines and court fees are Ferguson’s second largest revenue source.

“We’re just used to raise revenue,” said Patricia Bynes, a Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson Township. “On traffic day in these little municipalities, you usually find a white judge in the courtroom, white prosecutor, and you find lines of black people lined up around the corner that have been charged with these tickets.”

This constant low-level harassment of the black community has become the main point of contact between most black residents and the criminal justice system. And it always comes with the threat of violence. As multiple news reports since the Brown shooting have revealed, police in North County too often use excessive force against the black community.

Though the facts remain unclear, it appears Brown’s deadly confrontation with Officer Wilson began as a jaywalking stop. McCulloch isn’t involved in traffic stops, but the people of North County see the Brown shooting and the excessive traffic tickets as part of the same oppressive system. “To me, this is all police brutality, this is all excessive force, this is all racial profiling,” said Bynes.

 

When I speak of White Privilege, I talk about the unspoken advantages and lens through which many of my white brothers and sisters view the world. Often it’s due to ignorance and lack of exposure, other times it’s willful ignorance of the facts. White Privilege is real, and Michael Brown’s death allows us to reexamine how it shapes inter-racial interactions and how it challenges some of our deeply held beliefs about our country and justice system. Ferguson can not be analyzed in a vacuum. It must be viewed through the lens of 400 years of history, oppression, persecution, and fear-mongering. It should be understood through the eyes of a Black American citizen living in Ferguson, under the auspices of police practices that are suspect at best, and at worst, a blatant example of racial profiling. If a Black person is upset at the loss of life and the perceived lack of justice, you should be empathetic to their plight, understanding that it’s the latest in a line of slights, and perceived injustices. Those people deserve to at least have their viewpoints respected. Understand the end of slavery didn’t suddenly usher in an era of economic and political justice, it was merely the beginning of a fight for equality that continues today, and our broken justice system is proof of that; what happened in Ferguson is proof of that. The murder of Michael Brown was not the start of racial tension in Ferguson, Missouri, it was merely the spark that triggered the ire of a community at loggerheads with its police force. Those folks who are looting, burning buildings, and using civil disobedience to protest what they see as an injustice have apparently come to a conclusion: marches and rallies only get you so far, the political & economic justice they seek must be taken.

 

Its been a couple of days since the announcement, and I am still angry, still teetering between hopelessness, numbness, and the small space that separates each. But I am naturally an optimist, nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems. And that’s why I’ve chosen to be a lawyer, so I can impact people, and my community in positive ways, using mechanisms that bring people together, with justice as the overriding principle. I’ll leave you with the words of hope, and encouragement that Professor Myles Lynk left with me last Tuesday night:

[A]s law students now and as lawyers to be, you should engage with your communities as a public citizen to improve:  the substantive law, access by all to the legal system, the administration of justice, and the quality of legal services. As a volunteer lawyer or an elected official or in a professional career as a criminal prosecutor or a criminal defense lawyer, you should work to help bridge the gap that often exists between minority communities and the majority-white police departments that police them. Does the community feel it is being served by the police, or being contained by them? There is so much that you as a lawyer will be able to do. We do not have the time or the luxury to be depressed or dispirited by what has happened. We are lawyers. “We Can Handle It!” What we need to do is help the communities and the individuals who cannot.

 

I love you all, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

JW

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Being a “Black Contrarian” & The Marcus Smart Example

After the recent outcry over the fraternity “MLK Black Party” that took place several weeks ago & my subsequent blog which you can see here, I received the usual praise, primarily from White folks, & the usual criticism, primarily from Black folks. Let me be clear: I am no race-baiter, I am no opportunist, I am nothing; but with your help, your input, your ingenuity, we can not only sustain, but improve & enjoy more successful race relations. I am only an individual with a desire to bridge gaps, create understanding, & build a better community. We live in the greatest country, in the greatest time, with great opportunity as well as great privilege. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, & those of their ilk, I am not.

I write to open minds, shed stereotypes, & ignite discussion. Imagine my surprise when successful, intelligent Blacks whom I admire, chastise me for being too real, hitting too close to home & holding my community accountable. Often times I am labeled a Black Republican because of my contrarian views, contrasted with those within the Black community. However, even I am guilty of taking the “Black position” (see my thoughts on Justice Clarence Thomas). Even though I am a Black-American, that is only one aspect of who I am. I am an individual, & I’ve learned that I respect those who exercise freedom of thought, & do not fall into the trap of taking a position simply due to their racial makeup, their nationality, or their socio-economic status.

It is never my intent to disempower anyone. That being said, from a kid who lived in the projects growing up, I have lived a blessed life. It’s easy for me to sit from my perch & talk down to folks about what they’re doing wrong & how they could be better. It’s easy for me to talk about opportunity when I’ve been blessed with so many, some that many of my young Black brothers & sisters can only dream of. I’ve traveled, I’m cultured, I know which fork to use at a formal dinner, how to set a table & what to say & how to dress for any social situation. I sit where I am because the community has embraced me, supported me, & encouraged me. I am cognizant of all these blessings, & I take none of them for granted. However, the underlying principles of my life, the things that have made me successful, things like personal responsibility, accountability, perseverance & integrity are the principles on which my personal success is built. These are foundational elements, & we should exalt them, not disregard or downplay them. We, as a Black community, spend too much time being victims, & encouraging others to settle into the victimhood mentality, & this is one of my greatest sources of frustration with my Black community. We can never make progress if the conversation is consistently about who to blame & how we can escape accountability; this is the mindset I am fighting against.

When I talk to my Black family about accountability & the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, I am often met with resistance. Instead, we focus on past wrongs & blame others for our shortcomings as mothers, fathers, & citizens. We can no longer live like this. This is the victimhood mentality that has paralyzed our community & stunted our political, social, & intellectual growth. We have to identify the people & the issues that are stunting our growth and address them head on. We cannot expect the Jay-Zs, the Kanyes, the Sharptons, et. al. to fight those fights for us. Those folks espouse the philosophy of NEW SLAVERY, a mentality that values materialistic conquests & the perpetuation of a victimhood mindset. We need a narrowly focused effort that unifies & educates the family, in the home. Strong homes, make stronger citizens, make great communities. Instead, we have young men & women who idolize the aforementioned celebrities & value a lifestyle that is shortsighted & unrealistic.

The Marcus Smart situation is a prime example where personal responsibility & accountability should be at the forefront of our minds. (In case you haven’t seen it, see the clip here. The fan who was shoved allegedly hurled that racial epithet toward Smart. What the fan said doesn’t matter, Smart shouldn’t have put his hands on him.) Sadly, the majority of my Black brothers & sisters have shown support for Smart & his actions Saturday night. Let me be clear: support for the young man’s actions is misdirected, misguided, & only empowers his sense of entitlement & lawlessness. He has to learn to conduct himself with the aplomb expected of a (potential) professional athlete. Going into a rage & assaulting a person because they dropped that racial epithet is never the appropriate response. Can I knock someone out at my firm because they drop that word? On the street? Anywhere? For those who support Smart’s actions, tell me the logical conclusion of his rage every time some drops that word to disparage him?

By all means this young man has a bright future ahead of him, yet, without accountability he will never have an opportunity to see the NBA riches he covets. The correct response isn’t support for his actions, but constructive criticism for his lack of self-control. We need to distinguish him as a person from his actions Saturday night; condemning him for one should not be confused with condemning him for the other, & this is what we have failed to do as a Black community. Smart was forced to apologize; he should be. He was suspended for three games; it’s warranted. Don’t undermine the disciplinary process by telling the young man his actions were acceptable Saturday night, it gives mixed messages & more importantly, the wrong message. The young man has a history of tantrums, hopefully this is the wakeup call that helps him toe the line.

The praise from my White colleagues about the blogs I’ve written often make me uncomfortable. Sometimes I ask myself, am I a conduit through which they can voice an opinion they wouldn’t say aloud? This troubles me.

To my White friends & family, I urge you to be cautious in your words. Your experience is not the Black experience; your hasty disregard for your Black brothers & sisters story undermines the relationship we need to build. That relationship can be built if we listen & are receptive to what they have to say. To say that slavery does not affect you, to say that you haven’t struggled, to say that your experience is not worthy of my time, is to silence that person’s story. You’ll never understand being the only black person in a corporate meeting, or being the only kid in your class who is Black, or being told you can’t get into a Scottsdale club because your jeans are too baggy or you’re wearing Jordans, or whatever creative euphemism the doorman gives you that night. I would also caution you about your insistence that racism is nonexistent (it is very much alive & well), & the idea that it only exists in Black folks’ minds. Consider this: poverty is cyclical, & for a family, especially a family whose ancestors were firmly rooted in Jim Crow, slavery, & inequality, the cycle continues to this very day. This is not just Black families, but many white families as well. Once we understand the cyclical nature of poverty, it becomes abundantly clear why access & inequality still exist. In many places, we are living with the “badges & incidents” of slavery from decades past. Hell, inequality is written into our Constitution (check out that whole 3/5ths thing).

The sheer bigotry & vitriol for President Obama is enough to make even the most optimistic Black American suspicious of the political process & the true motives of the Right. Our history is littered with injustice (for a graphic recount of the lynchings & sheer terror Black Americans experienced, particularly Black women, go here), & when we turn on the news & see George Zimmerman go free (in some cases lauded as a hero) for the death of Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis or Kimani Gray or Ervin Jefferson, or Timothy Stansbury Jr., or Sean Bell, or Victor Steen, (Start the video at 1:00 to see footage from the patrol car of Victor being run over by the officer), or Oscar Grant or even Emmett Till, how can we believe in a fair & just system? Compare that to Casey Anthony. How many of you have been stopped & frisked by NYPD because you fit a stereotype? When you say things like “get over it,” or “stop complaining,” not only is it insulting, it’s infuriating. Don’t cursorily dismiss any Black person’s situation, frustrations, & social misgivings. There is an abundance of evidence that lends credence to the thought that Black folks don’t get a fair shot in this country, even if one has made it to the White House. This is not meant to reinforce White guilt, this is meant to raise awareness; be cautious before you dismiss our story.

If you’ve made it this far, I’ve probably pissed you off, or maybe you agree with what I said. The point is I want to challenge your assumptions, have the discussion, shed stereotypes & promote understanding. We each have an important role to play in the discussion on race, we can contribute to it, or we can detract from it, but it is long past due for us to address it respectfully in the spirit of unity, brotherhood, & greater comprehension.

I love you all, & there’s nothing you can do about it.

JW

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To the Gentleman grilling hot dogs at the Phoenix Open on Saturday: Why?

The weekend of the Super Bowl & the Phoenix Open here in Arizona is the ultimate socialite’s dream. Sports, drinks, people, & the Who’s Who of Arizona can all be seen walking the greens at the TPC Scottsdale on Saturday afternoon. I have enjoyed the tradition for many years, & this year was no different. After the usual drinks with family & friends we headed out for a great afternoon of socializing, more drinks, & a little golf. However, this year, something happened to me that I hadn’t experienced before at TPC. Let’s talk a bit.

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Some background is necessary; Speaking to a white gentleman at the Open, I made small talk, asking him how he got such a cushy job grilling at the most beautiful course in Arizona, on the best weekend of the year. As we talked, he mentioned something that caused me some consternation. Out of nowhere, he mentioned Obama. He said, with an air of sarcasm, that he didn’t need to work, & that Obama would provide jobs for everyone. Stunned, I said nothing. He went on to say that he doesn’t worry about anything because Obama would pay for everything, because, well he already does. I could only respond with, “is that right?” To which his response was, simply “Yep.” I took my hotdog & slunk away, unable to mount a response or truly grasp the underlying meaning of his words. To the man at the hot dog cart near the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale, I have some questions: Why? Why do you feel the need to accost a stranger at a golf tournament about our Nation’s first Black (see: multiracial) President? Do you approach your white customers & complain about Bush or Reagan or Clinton policies? How does a conversation about grilling & hot dogs turn into one about your disdain for the President? Is it because of your deep-seated racial beliefs that you felt it was necessary to project said beliefs onto me? I just can’t shake the feeling that your frustration with Barack Hussein Obama is tied to his Blackness, & that manifested itself in the words you spoke yesterday to Joel Demitrius White III. (This is also further evidence of why many in our community think that much of the opposition to Obama is because of his race, over pleas that objections to him are in spite of it.) I hate using race as the basis for assuming disparate treatment, but in this situation, I am left with no other choice to assume the worst. In any event, I need to say today, what I failed to say yesterday: your behavior was boorish, inappropriate & wrong; your conduct displayed a level of bigotry & ignorance not readily apparent to many, but necessary to identify & discuss. I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d approach a white person & project my disdain for — insert any of the 43 white presidents we’ve had — onto them. I am not a stand-in for your criticism of the President because I am not him, we simply happen to share a similar racial makeup; it’s critically important you don’t confuse that point. Let’s be clear, I won’t use this space to silence you, ask you to not serve hot dogs at the Open next year, make personal attacks or condemn you as a person. I don’t want to engage in race-baiting & turn this into a case of Black Victimization, because I simply don’t believe those things are conducive to a healthy conversation about race. It’s your actions that gave rise to these words, & we should never confuse the actions of a person with that person’s otherwise moral character. I want to use this space to say to you if your words yesterday are indicative of your true feelings about a group of people you work with, go to church with, serve at a weekend golf tournament, & share a community with, then you are wrong, & you should reassess your thoughts, conscious & otherwise.

I can’t stress this enough: there can’t be true discussion about race if we simply condemn those people who share non-mainstream views to silence. That is not how a healthy discussion is coordinated, & we can’t continue those practices. We punt on racial issues in this country so much & so often, in the hopes that we can drown them out & relegate those beliefs to the sidelines. Let me be among the first to say that we have to go for it on 4th down, & that attempt can only be successful with a healthy, well-rounded, robust dialogue.

I hope you all reblog, repost, retweet, & share this enough times in the hopes that this man sees that what he did was inappropriate. While I dropped the ball on Saturday, I want to use this space to have that conversation. As always, I write from a place of love, unity, & understanding, with the goal of forming a more perfect community.

I love you all, & there’s nothing you can do about it.

JW

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TKE, ASU, Jarrett Maupin, & The “MLK Black Party”

Many of you have reached out to me to gauge my temperature on the recent “MLK Black Party” hosted by the Tau Kappa Epsilon (“TKE”) fraternity. My reaction is quite simple: I have none. I am not hurt, bothered, offended, belittled, nor disturbed by the photos, the caricatures, the overwhelming publicity, or the idea that some white kids in Tempe, Arizona think tennis shoes, grills, & jerseys represent the Black community. Why am I not offended? For the same reason Richard Sherman screaming into a microphone on national TV does not bother me: it doesn’t represent me. I won’t allow, in fact refuse, to allow it to represent me, my brand, or my family. Let’s talk a little bit.

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I find it incredibly disappointing that we feel we must employ our local Black leaders to speak out on this issue. Jarrett Maupin, a man I’ve known since high school, felt the need to speak out on this issue to the local media, even going as far as to call for the expulsion of those who attended the party. Said, Mr. Maupin, “TKE has a problem with African-American students…They have a problem with black people as a race, and there’s no room for that in what [ASU President Michael] Crow has called ‘The New American University.'” Mr. Maupin further added that if he didn’t receive a meeting with Dr. Crow, he would call for a boycott of the Sun Devil athletic program & its efforts to generate donations to remodel the football stadium.

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This is wrong for two reasons: first, by Mr. Maupin speaking out, there’s a sense of ownership on behalf of the Black community of the kind of “culture” on display at the TKE event, & second, the call for these young men & women to be expelled from school is not only violative of their speech rights, but counterproductive to the type of full-bodied, productive dialogue Dr. King would’ve encouraged. Was this party in poor-taste? Absolutely. However, punishing protected, but non-mainstream speech only serves to push the folks who share those views away from the discussion table. To Mr. Maupin, & those who support his agenda, I would politely remind them that those same speech & assembly protections they readily obstruct allowed Dr. King to promote his message of equality through peaceful protest. To stand on the shoulders of a giant such as Dr. King, & to use the tools he used for anything other than constructive dialogue is an insult to his cause, to our cause. To those supporters of Mr. Maupin & his ilk, I warn you to tread carefully.

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The way to promote cultural sensitivity is through dialogue, not condemnation. More importantly, there must be an intra-Black community dialogue about the Black Americans who profit from this type of depiction of us as a people. It hard not to think of Black folks as watermelon-loving caricatures when that’s largely how we portray ourselves. We have got to start talking to one another about how we talk, act, & dress. We’ve got to raise the bar, our standards & our expectations. Entitlement, the lack of strong male leadership, & the deterioration of the two-parent home have left Black communities across this country in shambles. Calling for the expulsion of some kids having a frat-house party won’t fix that, & in fact only further serves the purpose reinforcing the victimhood mentality that is so pervasive in the Black community. Instead of being victims, let’s be proactive & attack these problems at the root & have discussions on socially acceptable behavior within our Black communities. We have to stop holding those outside of our Black community to higher standards than we expect of ourselves. These discussions must take place first at home, from parent to child, & that is something we have to address as a Black community.

I write to my community, the community of all races, in the sprit of love, unity, & greater understanding. We must all understand & accept the collectivist narrative that we are in this together. We will fail & succeed together. We must strive to achieve greater understanding together. However, before we can achieve any of these idealistic goals, we must first be accountable as individuals; there must be self-reflection & we have to ask ourselves are we apart of the problem or the solution? When leadership speaks out to silence those disagreeable viewpoints the conversation is prematurely blunted & the argument is circular, only to surface again in few weeks time. As Dr. King eloquently stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” Let’s stand together as a community & have that discussion so that we can shed light on the race issue in America that has been trapped in the darkness for so long.

I love you all, & there’s nothing you can do about it.

JW

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2014: A time to reflect & a time to renew

As the previous year draws to a close & we firmly entrench ourselves in the new year, we are often asked to make resolutions about the new year & reflect on the old year.  I don’t plan to make any grandiose revelations or impress you with any astute observations, I’m not intelligent enough for that. I will however state that I think it’s as good a time as any to make an effort to improve yourself. For 2014, I am adopting the motto of “plus one.” I pledge to do one more than I said I would in everything I do. That means one more hour in the books, one more mile on the treadmill (MAYBE?), one more lunch with an old friend, one more smile. 

Plus one, the power of one; That’s my resolution for 2014.

I love you all, & there’s nothing you can do about it.

JW

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Making Sense of the Relationship Between Government, (Gay) Marriage, and Law

Family, I want to share with you a brief history of my evolution on a hot-button topic, gay marriage.

Flashback some years ago and I, as a Christian man, believed that while we shouldn’t allow homosexuals to get married; we should allow the same benefits accorded a married couple, albeit under a different title such as a civil union. Today, I realize given the role marriage has played in our tradition, case-law, and our own deeply held personal views, this view simply doesn’t go far enough. Everyone deserves equal rights; we can’t call some folks married and say other folks have a civil union because just the difference in name alone suggests discrepant treatment of gays. It’s eerily similar to Jim Crow “separate but equal,” and as the Supreme Court noted in Brown v. Board of Education, “separate but equal is inherently unequal.” So what’s the best solution, the best compromise that will be respecting of everyone’s rights? Reform the tax code, verbiage, and subsequent statutory law to get the government to recognize all partnerships, respect the gay community’s right to love, and respect traditional marriage. A heavy lift, but certainly within the realm possibility for our great nation.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: the gay agenda. I have said and will continue to say that the gay community has pursued the wrong goal. Instead of fighting for the right to get married, the gay community should’ve focused their efforts on rights instead of a title; by fighting for marriage, gays subverted the real issue of rights. As a result of demanding the right to marry, and nothing else, they have taken the biblical concept of marriage and offended folks who typically hold a traditional concept of marriage. This has resulted in pushback against the gay community from not just the conservative wing of the country, but a fair amount of moderates as well. Let me be clear: Marriage is a biblical concept, steeped in centuries of our country’s tradition and jurisprudence, it was strategic error to pursue the right to marry; emphasis should instead be placed on rights. By granting gays the right to marry we are infringing on those who prioritize traditional values and in some respects we’re back to square one because we’ve compromised one group’s set of beliefs for another’s. However, by no fault of their own, the gay community has been pigeonholed into this fight for marriage because the law recognizes and privileges nothing else short of marriage. Here’s where it gets complicated: because marriage has religious connotations and is protected within religious organizations by the 1st Amendment, and because states provide licenses that recognize marriage (which trigger  rights/responsibilities/etc.) we have gotten into this predicament by using each of these elements to mean the same thing, when in fact they are different. From my limited knowledge, most gay couples do not want official church sanctioned recognition of marriage, they simply want the rights associate with the granting of the marriage license. This is why government involvement is crucial to securing rights for gay men and women.

So how do we respect traditional marriage while acknowledging the right of gays to have their relationships recognized? Reform the law. Instead of asking who’s married, the government should be asking who is in committed partnerships, and basing rights, responsibilities, burdens, and privileges on this basis, as opposed to using marriage, and the traditional religious notions it infers, as the determinative factor. This way gays get the rights the seek, and we respect those who value  marriage in its traditional and historical sense. Give marriage back to the church and respect that tradition, while still maintaining an interest in the partnerships that adults consent to. The difficulty lies in changing attitudes about gay relationships and disentangling the role of traditional marriage from our culture and custom from our jurisprudence. However, difficult as the task may be, it’s within our capabilities and it is our responsibility to seek justice for those on whom this burden bears the heaviest, and the constitution declares no less than equality for all.

I want my gay brothers and sisters to enjoy the same rights, privileges, responsibilities, and burdens of citizenship that I, as a heterosexual man, enjoy. Federalism concerns aside, its important that this mandate of equality come from the judicial branch, as states have consistently shown their inability to recognize partnerships between gays and lesbians. Why? Because when it comes to this sensitive topic, a fundamental issue like the ability to engage in a consensual relationship with another adult should be respected as such. Securing it as a federal right would set the baseline for all states to follow and our principles and values as a nation demand no less. What I’m suggesting allows us to be respecting of all rights, while granting our gay brethren a measure of basic respect. While our history is littered with examples of where we’ve fallen short of the ideal of equality, we nonetheless should continue to strive for fairness.

Big thanks to Arizona State Law Professor Charles Calleros for his guidance and wisdom to help me compose this post. (Although he helped me formulate my ideas for this article, this in no way is to be taken as an endorsement of his thoughts).

I love you all, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Blessings.

JW

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