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.