"Nobody's free until everybody's free."—Fannie Lou Hamer
Last week the Friend of a Facebook Friend posted this in response to mention of the Target boycott:
“Why boycott for a single error in judgment? When the CEO admits it was a mistake and publicly announce changes to better vette candidates before making donations? I don't understand this modern knee jerk reaction to boycott? All your [sic] doing is affecting the local store sales. And all that is doing is reducing the hours of the hourly employees at location, making it harder for them to make a living.”
While I was trying to formulate a response appropriate to the Facebook format, I heard about Tyler Clementi’s suicide. And Oak Marshall’s rescinded homecoming crown. And saw Anderson Cooper interview the reptilian twit Andrew Shirvell, an A.D.A. for the state of Michigan, about his online harassment of openly gay U of M student council leader Chris Armstrong.
Insert deep breath here.
By the time Sweetie and I touched base about Jender’s invitation to contribute to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign I was pretty well beat down by the news of the day. I didn’t fault Sweetie’s cynicism at all as she hissed,
“Really, Dan? When does it get better?”
So, Friend of Friend, I’d like to say this about that:
I wish I could describe for you what it feels like to live in a world where alliance with those who would see me dead can be seen by a nice, reasonable man such as yourself as nothing more than “an error in judgment.”
Where people who call for “death and violence to gay people” [Human Rights Campaign] claim the moniker Christian without challenge or irony.
Every time the TV heads talk about what they like to call gay marriage and I like to call my life I am reminded that my right to live and love are in question. That I move unharmed through the world only through the power of a patchwork grace: the laws of my Commonwealth but not my nation; the goodwill of my neighbors and not the consensus of my culture. Every day the debate about my right to be underscores my expendability, my vulnerability, my lack of value.
Friend of friend, imagine your culture discussing your worth and dignity as if it were a question.
I wish I could describe how it feels to live in a society where my rights are open for debate and diminution in order to appease the religious zeal of others. In which the condemnation of someone else’s clergy has more real impact on my life than my own minister’s blessing.
I wish I could explain the psychic strength it takes to withstand this insidious attack day-in and day-out. How the constant condemnation of those that hate me, and even the apparently fair-and-balanced examination—Is it acceptable? Or is it perverse?—of my way of love, carries the stink of shame. How some days, when the death-toll is high and the good news sparse, I can forget that it is not my shame. It is the shame of those who imagine that any human has greater value than any other.
Those are the days I think of Fannie Lou Hamer.
Mrs. Hamer was born a sharecropper to the children of slaves. She was sterilized against her will and terrorized and beaten for her work in the Civil Rights movement.
I think of the degradation heaped upon her, the shame and humiliation, the theft of her labor and progeny, the denial of her humanity, the injury to her body and soul.
Then I think of her legacy and her courage and her voice for justice. I think of her clarity of purpose and her refusal to accept second-class citizenship or compromise her tactics. I remember that human dignity is something that cannot be stolen.
I take a deep breath and I take a stand.
If you knew me, you would know that my decision to boycott Target was anything but “knee-jerk.” Careful readers of these pages will recall that I once went three years without new underpants because Target did not have my size and I could not think of anywhere else to shop. So it is with a heavy heart and great trepidation that I walk away from the big box.
It is not lost on me that I am forced every day, by virtue of our corporate culture and the hatred ranged against me, to do business with those who would agree to disagree with me about my rights to equality and existence. My hands are not clean and I know that.
It was the example of my straight allies that brought me to this anything but jerky decision. Their unquestioned devotion to the cause of my equality—“Target, you are dead to me!” charged the incomparable Jaz Tupelo—was both balm to my broken heart and call to arms.
Even this day Jender is curled under the metaphorical comforters with a pumpkin latte (or perhaps a single malt scotch) trying to heal her heart from the loss of five gay youth in the last few weeks. Not to mention the upholding of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the indignity of DOMA and the use of anti-miscegenation laws to ensure that our right to marry remains conscribed only to those areas of the nation where our neighbors can tolerate it.
Friend of Friend,
I wish I could explain how it feels to give voice to this outrage and be met with bleeding heart pity from those who love me, my friends and friends of friends. We’re going to stumble under this onslaught, Jender and Sweetie and the queers and me. We’re going to hit hard times, and how are you going to help?
It helps to hear affirmation from our fellows during these times of healing, sure it does. Bring on the love, oh, I’m so sorry you have to face this discrimination and pain, blah blah blah.
You know what helps me even more? A good beat-down in my name.
Live up to Jaz’s example. Don’t make me explain why you should be mad. Explain it to someone else so I don’t have to. Don’t ask me to lighten up or let it go or live and let live. Don’t tell me that the right to marry can be approximated by purchasing life insurance (true story, different Friend of Friend.) Don’t ask me to agree to disagree whether I should be dead for being me. Don’t ask me to lay down my hard-earned cash in a place content to call it an error in judgment when they crawl into bed with homophobes.
We’re under attack and some days I’m inclined to think you’re part of the “we” or you’re part of the “attack.”
To your other points, Friend of Friend:
If my tri-annual panty purchase is all that stands between my local Target and insolvency, the economy is worse off than I thought. Perhaps we’d better all start planning for the zombie apocalypse.
I’m inclined to think that my dollars are of greater benefit to my neighbors if I shop locally. I’m somewhat abashed that it’s taken this national hue and cry to motivate me out of my Target stupor and force me to live my values.
But that takes us to the realm of economic philosophy. On that score, I am willing chalk up our difference of opinion to the great diversity of thought and belief that makes our nation strong.
Read more about it!
Fannie Lou Hamer