Point of View Columns

Why the Juneteenth Holiday is a Clear and Present Danger

It should go without saying, but in these days and times it must be said, the establishment of the Juneteenth federal holiday is a good and great thing. It is good because every time that this nation inches towards full recognition of the humanity of Black Americans, there remains a possibility that the aspirations set forth in its origins might actually become a reality in someone’s lifetime.

It is great because President Biden continues to demonstrate that he is not taking the Black vote/support for granted – something that too many other white (and Black) Democrats have not been able to do on a regular basis. While it is true that systemic racism in its many hydra-headed forms continue to exist, it is also true that symbolism can inspire hope and in turn hope can inspire action and action can create change.

Of course there will never be enough outrage that some Republicans will wish to visit on this country, several of the more egregious mouth breathers like Ron Johnson and Ted (Cancun) Cruz have decided that, upon President Biden signing the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday, it would be a good time to mount a full-throated attack on critical race theory and defend America against attacks on systemic racism.

As it turns out, critical race theory is an academic area of study tracing the continuum of racism in the American legal system. Johnson, Cruz, et. al. have interpreted CRT as an attack on America, American values and apple pie. And they want to ban the teaching of CRT anywhere. And in fanning these fake claims of outrage they have inflamed the hearts and minds of far too many white Americans.

According to Cruz and Johnson and their cohorts, teaching the fact that eight of the first ten presidents of the United States were slaveholders is an attack on American traditions. The fact that emancipation did not end systemic racism in this country should also not be taught at any level – whether K-12 or in colleges and universities (the recent controversy regarding the denial of tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones by the University of North Carolina is only one outrage).

Indeed, even #45 chimed in claiming that CRT would teach American children to hate this country. Of course this presumes that teaching children to hate racism, to hate slavery, to hate the inhumane treatment of any human beings means that children will hate America.

Clearly the battle to clear, or corral, white supremacy and white supremacist theory (or WST) has been an ongoing struggle. There are too many adherents who believe that the truth about America and race would diminish this country not realizing that virtually every country has an historical past that sheds little honor on that country.

Consider the treatment of serfs, commoners and peasants in England and France for centuries or the intentional starvation of the Irish by the British or the Inquisition in Spain or the naked decadence accompanying the fall of the Roman Empire and the Greek city states. These are all immense national flaws that have been overcome to some significant extent by the citizens and institutions of those countries. Clearly the British and the French and the Greeks and the Italians and the Spanish can handle truth and move on towards making their respective countries better.

Clearly Cruz and Johnson and #45 and so many more don’t believe that the American people can handle the truth and move on to being a better country. And they are doing everything within their power to make this belief the truth.

And it would such a sad commentary on this country if they are right.

And that is why, for too many people, the Juneteenth Holiday, however symbolic, is a clear and present danger to the twin myths of white supremacy and American exceptionalism.

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Point of View Columns

Playing with Fire

Last week, someone named Pamela Geller was directly responsible for organizing a “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. As was her clear intention, the contest provoked a furious reaction from the national and international Muslim community. Two gunmen actually showed up planning to kill the attendees and participants and the two gunmen were shot and killed. And Pamela Geller’s perversion of the concept of freedom of speech was certainly a contributing factor to these two deaths.

Indeed, Ms. Geller’s actions were so blatantly and transparently provocative that one must wonder if her true goal, her secret hope, was that the gunmen would actually kill some of the attendees and participants in Garland thereby proving her “point” that followers of Islam are less worthy than believers in other religions. There is no question that horrific and despicable conduct has taken place by individuals and groups who claim to be Muslims. That truth does not permit Ms. Geller, or anyone else, to conclude that Islam is evil or that all Muslims are worthy of contempt and disrespect.

The story of humanity tells us that many great crimes have been carried out in the name of one religion or another. The Bible tells us how the Israelites slew countless Philistines. In India Muslims have slaughtered Hindus and Hindus have slaughtered Muslims. And the history of Christianity is literally written in blood flowing from the Crusades to the Inquisition to countless pogroms and genocidal horrors in Europe, Africa, North America, South America and Asia.

Yet, most sane and rational people do not choose to condemn Catholicism because of all the Muslims that were killed during the Crusades. We still respect Judaism and Protestantism despite the crimes committed in their name. Why Ms. Geller has gone on this weird and contemptible decades-long tirade against Islam is a question that only she may be able to answer during her sad and lonely and infrequent moments of self-reflection.

What must also be pointed out is that freedom of speech as a concept is not unlimited and without restraint. Not should one not falsely yell “Fire” in a theater, defaming someone or threatening a crime can result in real legal consequences.

But putting aside strictly legal considerations, there are also basic standards of conduct between humans that include respect and the notion that insulting, shaming or intentionally offending another person is not useful behavior and typically is not conduct that is honored or condoned. Acceptable behavior does not usually include behavior that is intended to provoke and outrage.

Which brings us to the raging controversy regarding as to whether cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad should be protected as free speech. If the question is answered in a vacuum, it would probably be answered in the affirmative.

But we do not live in a vacuum. We live on the Planet Earth with three billion other people and if one knows that these cartoons enrage some followers of Islam to the point of committing murder and mayhem, then what is the point? I am not clear that drawing and publishing cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad that are known to provoke and outrage large numbers of people is worth men, women and children dying.

To repeatedly draw and publish these cartoons seems to be unnecessarily provocative and unworthy of any artist. And, of course, people like Pamela Geller will cover themselves with the fig leaf of freedom speech which does little to hide her naked aggression and hate.

And this is what happens when any freedom, including freedom of speech is abused in the extreme – people die, people suffer and then people hate some more.

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