Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We Don't Need No Thought Control

Another Brick in the Wall - Richard Cheese (mp3)

This week, California passed a law that requires the LGBT community be positively represented in future history textbooks in public schools. It also, according to news reports, “bans materials that reflect negatively on gays.”


I remember adults in the late 1980s talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t remember which adults, but I know they were white, and I know they were members of my church and friends of my parents and neighbors, and I know they were less than exhilarated about the man getting his own federal holiday.

“He was a serial adulterer,” they’d say.
“He was a Commie,” they’d say. “A real member of the Communist party!”
“He had bastard children and wouldn’t acknowledge or support them,” they’d say.

As a sheltered, naive Southern teenager, I can’t say for sure what I thought of Martin Luther King, Jr., or his significance, or what he did for our country. In hindsight, I must acknowledge a failure to grasp the gravitas of his place in our nation’s history. I knew he was important, but not, like, THAT important.

A lot of white people felt threatened by the holiday. Like acknowledging MLK’s greatness was just another way of telling them they were bad people, their parents were bad people. Their reaction was defensive. Not an excuse, but an explanation. In hindsight, I wish I had somehow realized the truth sooner.

It’s taken decades of experience and wisdom to get beyond the racism I witnessed or overheard as a kid. Most of it was relatively mild, lingering in my experiences like cigarette smoke in a hotel room. One could reasonably argue that I'll spend the rest of my life without ever fully getting past it all. I wonder if any laws could have prevented or further restricted this pollution from my mind, this reminder of who we are and who we aren’t, of black and white and different and better.

Somehow the racist mutterings around me never quite penetrated my circle of closest friends. Having a circle that included representation by several minorities didn't hurt.... but none of my friends were gay. Or, at least, I didn’t know it if they were.

Homosexuality wasn’t obvious to me in the '80s. I didn’t have a “gay-dar” as a kid. The first time I ever remember fully realizing there were actual gay people walking and living around me -- not just singing rock songs or taking homoerotic photographs, but actually going to school with us and stuff -- was 1985.

At the same time I was introduced to Lamar Latrell on the big screen, Rock Hudson died of AIDS, and it totally freaked out my mom and her friends, because suddenly this cat over whom they had drooled in their younger years is discovered to be, as the nomenclature went, “a sissy.” But that year was just the first big brick. Plenty of bricks had to fall, and the fell gradually through high school and into college.

The more comfortable I became with my own sexuality, the less homosexuality frightened me, the less it felt like some problem. The more I saw friends from childhood and high school come out, the more I felt convinced it wasn’t some fashion statement or attempt at rebellion and instead a long-overdue disclosure of their real being.

As a kid, homophobia was the Godzooky to racism’s Godzilla. Gay culture was still very hushed and hidden around me, and I don’t know if people felt threatened by it the way they were in the 90s and this past decade.

I provide my past experience and weaknesses to this because it seems only fair to do so. That I believe gays should have the right to marry, that I believe Gay Is The New Black in American prejudicial fashion, that I believe an overwhelming majority of gay Americans are expressing their natural inclination and not a lifestyle choice, none of these clears me from a lifetime of living in relative cluelessness and surrounded by -- sometimes sharing in -- prejudicial notions.

This California law, requiring positive examples of LGBT people in history and forbidding negative ones, is a frightening attempt at thought control, and there’s no other way of putting it.

I recently wrote about Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, an absolutely fabulous book for high school kids to read, for both its historical information and its compelling story. If our state had passed a law similar to California’s, and if this law was about the Japanese rather than homosexuals, would we be able to read this book, a book that is frank and fair about Japanese both good and bad, both soldier and citizen, a book that identifies many horrific acts yet also acknowledges their culture and humanity?

I would find such a law horrifying if it protected and promoted Christians, or the Japanese, or penguins. It is no less bad or dangerous for having the LGBT community at heart.

Or, to put it another way, as a friend quoted on Facebook: “Propoganda must not investigate the truth objectively... it must present only that aspect of truth which is favorable to its own side.”

When your actions reflect the words of some dude named Adolf, it’s probably a bad idea.


cinderkeys said...

Well put.

Bob said...

Is this law suggesting that in the past gays, lesbians etc have been negatively represented in textbooks? I don't think that's true. Sexuality only enters history texts perhaps as passing mention of some scandal a la Clinton/lewinsky. What will we read in these new texts? "meriwether Lewis, a likely homosexual, led the first expedition to the Pacific?"

Billy said...

@Bob -- Agreed. I got an interesting comment on FB from a conservative-leaning friend of mine who put it this way: "Problem I have with this is that it is so pointed toward the category people are in, that it may likely eclipse the actual accomplishments. What is more important? The category, or the accomplishment, and which part will we teach with the most vigor? Yes, Tchaikovsky was gay, but it is certainly the least important part of his impact. Hard to be blind to the differences in people if they are continually part of a persistent awareness effort. Not sure it treats people equally."

P.S. I didn't know Tchaikovsky was gay. Next they'll tell me the Scissor Sisters are, too.

Danny McCloskey said...

I really like how your comments focused on your personal experiences growing up under the decisions and morals of someone other than yourself. Where gays misrepresented in history? Maybe not, but certainly most villians and victims had more than a hint of their collective slips showing....Doctor Smith in 'Lost in Space' pops to mind.
Past history was chronicled for the masses in large part, by straight, white European males. I do not think that these gentlemen had plans to stuff down anything not in their scope of vision, I do, however, feel they left out anything that did not fit into their own community way back home. Those pieces that were 'left out' tended to be moved aside and not offered any challenges to the existing belief system(s).
It is a big wall but recently there seem to be a lot of bricks being taken out. The wall is not down, but it is getting a lot weaker. Keep on kickin'!
Danny McCloskey

BeckEye said...

Any time we're told that only x, y and z is allowed in the history books, that's a problem. Good luck, future generations, with that whole "doomed to repeat our past mistakes" thing.