Shell game

The United States of Bigotry — that’s us.

The nation was founded on bigotry: the Second Continental Congress refused to adopt Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 until anti-slavery language was removed; and one war and eleven years later the Constitutional Convention declared a Negro to be three-fifths of a person for census-taking purposes — and for voting, zero-fifths. Our growing nation spent most of its first century internalizing these injustices. When after stealing entire lifetimes from one generation after another we finally got around to trying to fix the problem, it was too late: bigotry was in our DNA and couldn’t be purged without civil war and several more generations of discrimination and institutionalized racism.

Yesterday we elected to our highest office a man who, apart from being the best person for the job, is incidentally a member of that oppressed racial group, and it would appear we finally closed the door on that particular flavor of bigotry — though the job won’t be done until we nail a bunch of boards across that door, shove a chair under the doorknob, and stand permanently to one side with a raised baseball bat. However, in the very same instant we opened the door to a new kind of bigotry as three states outlawed gay marriage — and this after a presidential campaign in which one candidate scored political points by calling the other a Muslim. It’s as if bigotry can’t be ended, it can only be shifted from here to there like some sort of hateful shell game.

In California, where you might least expect a gay-marriage ban to succeed, where did its electoral support come from? In a stunning, epic, historic stroke of irony, exit polls show it came from the very demographic that was motivated by bigotry to turn out in greater numbers than ever before: black voters, who in their (justifiable) eagerness to overcome a legacy of discrimination passed the baton to a whole new class of victims.

Update (7 Nov 2008): My friend Bart points out that this exit polling result is being blown out of proportion to its reliability and may itself be the cause of further bigotry — perish the thought! See “War of the Words: Fear and Hate Behind Proposition 8” on Skepticblog.

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