Saturday, October 17, 2009

'The Worst Person in the World?' - Certainly one of the worst in Louisiana

I live in the South, specifically the Hillbilly Triangle (the Kentucky-North Carolina-Tennessee-Virginia border, more specifically the Tri-Cities of TN), and I have some awareness of the local cultural attitudes. I read frequent protestations online, from right-wing Southern circles, about how racism is no more prevalent in the South than anywhere else even if one hears more low-class honesty about it in some parts of society. I find this has both true and false elements.

The true elements are pretty basic: people are people and human beings are naturally flawed. The rest of the nation is not magically free from racism. Economic segregation has largely kept urban black and Hispanic populations in their ghettoes despite the civil rights movement. Racial violence turned formerly middle-class black suburbs like Watts into extensions of the ghetto during the civil rights era and its aftermath. The reason that racial violence was such a major problem outside the South in the years following the heyday of the civil rights era is simple: in the absence of legal segregation the federal government never forced the same desegregation on the urban North to the same degree it forced such action in the South. Whether one approves or disapproves of the forcible action to reverse legal segregation or the lack of forcible action to reverse economic segregation, it led to unequal integration of society. Southern society often is more integrated than Northern as a result.

Many people, however, confuse lack of segregation with lack of racism. Economic segregation in the North does not automatically imply more racism anymore than greater forced integration in the South automatically implies less. The fact that integration was forced, in fact, contributes to resentments that create new racists.

I've now gone three paragraphs without leading into my main topic, which is something I've been trying to cut down, but for those of you have have borne with me I'm going to start making my real point: a justice of the peace would not be allowed to continue to deny marriage licenses to interracial couples for two and a half years in California.

I don't know if everyone has read about Keith Bardwell or not. If your home page is or includes a news aggregator, odds are that you have. If you haven't, I'll briefly recap: he is a Louisiana justice-of-the-peace who will likely soon be facing a civil rights charge from the US Justice Department for refusing to grant a marriage license to an interracial couple. If you have, you know the man is pretty despicable and his defense of his actions is pretty lame.

"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell told the Associated Press on Thursday. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

Now, I shouldn't have to dissect this for most of my readers. It speaks for itself. I will anyway, because it pisses me off and because I am a pedantic geek even when not pissed off.

Justice-of-the-peace Bardwell is not a racist. He's just an anti-misceganist. Of course, the concept of miscegany is a racist concept itself. Subscribing to belief in the concept and opposing it is racist and there isn't a nice way to say it. A statement like Bardwell's is self-condemnation of not only racism, but also a total failure to understand racism. While it may or may not be a tribute to Bardwell's open-mindedness and racial toleration that he does not have a 'Coloured' toilet installed in his home, it is certainly proof of his ignorance of even simple good manners that he believes we should be impressed with him because of it.

Bardwell is also either less than totally honest or less than totally intelligent when he claims he didn't do anything wrong.

"I've been a justice of the peace for 34 years and I don't think I've mistreated anybody," Bardwell said. "I've made some mistakes, but you have too. I didn't tell this couple they couldn't get married. I just told them I wouldn't do it."

If he had granted a license but not performed the ceremony, this would be correct. The problem is that he refused them a marriage license. Now, someone of strong libertarian leanings can and should be outraged that the US government requires people to pay for licenses to get married. It's also certainly a legitimate (if incorrect, in my view) libertarian argument to say that the justice-of-the-peace is not forced to marry a couple if he disapproves, as long as he grants them the license to get married. However, denying a marriage license is explicitly telling a couple they cannot be married even if Bardwell knows or believes someone else will grant that permission. That's what the license is: permission to get married.

It's hard to decide whether Bardwell is stupid or whether he thinks we are. Either way, there is a real problem.

This is not a partisan issue, thankfully. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal has called for Bardwell's firing. I'm no fan of Governor Jindal's, but he clearly understands racism when he sees it. He is certainly doing the right thing here.

Partisan issue or not, it is certainly an issue that should have Americans angry.

The real problem, however, is not Bardwell himself. Bardwell speculates that for the two and a half years he has been denying interracial couples permission to marry he has denied about four couples' licenses. Only one couple has complained? No one in the clerk's office has question these denials? That says something about racial attitudes in Lousiana that can't totally be ignored or wiped away. If this were an isolated incident, then one could say it said nothing about anyone but Bardwell. It's not. It's happened three times before and went by without comment. That suggests a larger problem.

I don't think it's terribly radical to say that Governor Jindal should be calling for an audit of peace court records in Bardwell's corner of the state and not just Bardwel''s firing.


Marie said...

The Hillbilly Triangle? You are a racist for even saying that. Would you call an area of the SW the Beaner Square? The use of "hillbilly" is as racist and derogatory as any other slur.

Anonymous said...

Marie, being southern is not a race. And, fyi, sociologists and psychologists alike point out that a racist's first defence is to call other people racist. So, you're pretty much textbook. There are certain realities in life. And one of those realities is, many people in the southern United States still have a problem with black people, and other minorities, such as gays.
Take a look in the mirror. Some "rednecks" wear the term with pride, because they stand beside their beliefs without hesitation. You should ask yourself why you find the term hillbilly offensive. Is it because you know in your heart racism is wrong? Society has become too politically correct. Sometimes, you need to call a spade a space. It is DIFFERENT to discriminate against a group of people because of their skin colour, or sexual orientation- something they can't help.. than it is to have a problem with people who knowingly choose to treat members of different social or ethnic groups poorly. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Chris Richards said...

Technically I would think it would be more 'classist' than racist. For it to be racist then it would have to be specific to white people (which it mostly is, though amusingly nearly every language has some equivalent to the word for the same rural stereotype) and apply equally as a slur across the board to all white people. Which it does not.

'White trash' might be a more broadly racist term than 'hillbilly', but it tends to be primarily classist as well. People tend to be very choosy about when it should offend them as well. A black conservative was very offended by a white Democratic congressman allegedly calling a Republican candidate for his seat 'white trash' but had no trouble using the word to describe me because my manner of communication raised his elitist hackles.

If you want to be offended or consider me racist, that's fine. It's certainly theoretically possible for me to have a set prejudice against my own race. There are occasional black white supremacists and Jewish anti-Semites, I suppose I could be white and dislike white people. I don't think that's the case, and 'the Hillbilly Triangle' is a local name rather than one of my invention, but suit yourself.

Chris Richards said...


I don't know if I would necessarily call Marie racist off the cuff. I don't know her or her race and wouldn't make an assumption about her prejudices because of an outburst of political correctness.

I do appreciate it, and I certainly do not believe in political correctness. I do believe in being as polite as possible in making a point, but I don't believe in being insincerely polite to avoid offending every person who might be listening to me speak or reading my blog.

Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with the article. The couple have a RIGHT to get that license. There is NO basis to deny a RIGHT in this country. Period. Having said that, it may be said also that hate-crimes, of murder, and just about any other crime-against-humanity are committed by humans TO other humans for reasons that are simply excuses, for something that is opinion, NOT fact. All will suffer in this world, and no one likes that, and children of interacial marriage can be guaranteed, unfortunately still at this point in history, to harvest a bitter crop, unasked for, from this world. They will suffer from the very fact that this judge HAS this mindset. He does not see that he is part of what he identifies as a problem for these children. Very ironic. We are ALL Homo Sapiens. If there WERE a TRUE genetic difference, the offspring would be sterile, as with donkeys and horses making mules, which do not produce. All may not like it, but frankly, we are ALL in the SAME family and we "mix" and produce fruitful offspring. go ahead and JUDGE THAT. If you think that you can sit in the mercy seat of justice, and can discern and dispense true knowledge of the hearts of others I will pray that the Lord have mercy on YOU. We all marry and take chances on the way the world will treat our little ones, and we do the best we can to prepare them for it. Some do better and some do worse and who are YOU to qualify THAT decision???? It is NO one's business in that area, but the PARENTS, your Honor. NOT YOU. And by the way, you supply the negative part of your argument with your own action. That is circular logic and is not legitimate logic, esp for a legal proof. You have revealed a fatal basic flaw in your law ethics,which can (and probably will---hopefully)provide the evidence to force your resignation.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is, I have had pretty much the same thing said to me at my job. I was told it was a sin against God for me to marry outside my race. I'm Asian American and my now husband is White. Our children seem to be pretty well adjusted and our marriage is entering our 9th year. It just goes to show that racism is still alive and can happen anywhere. I happen to live in TN by the way and the woman who made the comment quit some time ago otherwise I would have left my job.

Chris Richards said...

'I happen to live in TN by the way and the woman who made the comment quit some time ago otherwise I would have left my job.'

Oh, I couldn't tell you all the 'sins against God' my partner and I have heard catalogued by acquaintances... who appear to have no problem with their own sins against God or that my partner and I 'live in sin.'Apparently, living in sin is fine as long as you are a white man and a white woman.

I find a lot of it amusing and a lot of it disturbing and mostly it just pisses my partner off as she is much less easy going than I am.

Anonymous said...

Well, let's just have a look here, shall we?

Hillbilly Triangle puts down what would have been parts of three "border states" during the War of Northern Aggression. So calling out the original poster as racist for identifying a geographic section of the country makes no sense. Marie may want justice for the whites in that area, or the blacks, or the Hispanics, or the Asians; that's not made clear.

She's right about one thing, though: it's as derogatory as any other slur. Is it done deliberately? Why not think of it as merely lazy or thoughtless, instead of malicious?

Anonymous, though, needs a mirror too. It's not limited to the "southern United States" to "still have a problem with black people, and other minorities, such as gays." Look at California's Proposition 8, for example.
California's usually lumped in with the "progressive" North when speaking of geographic regions regarding matters of discrimination -- but maybe it shouldn't be.

Maybe we all ought to get over ourselves and stop looking for cause to be insulted in every possible detail.

--The Other Sarah, sent here by Southern Beale's link

Chris Richards said...

'Is it done deliberately? Why not think of it as merely lazy or thoughtless, instead of malicious?'

I chose the phrase deliberately, yes, so if one wishes to call it malice they certainly have /some/ room to do so.

'Look at California's Proposition 8, for example.
California's usually lumped in with the "progressive" North when speaking of geographic regions regarding matters of discrimination -- but maybe it shouldn't be.'

And, in the case of this example, minority 'values voters' helped successfully pass a ballot initiative removing a portion of the population's constitutional rights. So one finds prejudice everywhere.

That said, racism is frequently socially tolerated in the South in a manner in which it is not elsewhere. In California there is a social pressure to be 'tolerant' that is not always present in Tennessee.

As Southern Beale noted, the Louisiana state AG didn't legally advise Bardwell to follow the law. He warned him he'd get in trouble if he got caught and then kept his mouth shut.