Inevitably, in conversations with friends, acquaintances or folks I meet here and there, when conversation turns to racism, someone will almost always say something along the lines of:

“I’m so sick and tired of hearing about how black people were put in slavery. That was 150 years ago. They’ve had plenty of time to get their things together. That can’t be blamed on today’s society.”

Recently, something similar was said by a friend. We were discussing black face and he asked if the reaction people have to black face would be the same as if someone dressed in “white face.”

“No, it wouldn’t be the same, because black people didn’t enslave, brutalize, rape and kill millions of white people for centuries,” I countered.

“That was 150 years ago,” my friend rebutted. “I’m so tired of hearing how black people were put in slavery.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “that was 150 years ago, topped by another 100 years of oppressive Jim Crow laws.”

For most people, 150 years does sound like a long time. The thing is, it’s not an accurate assessment of history. It’s been only about 50 years, less than one human lifetime, since black Americans were finally given full equality under the law. There are people still living today who can vividly remember segregated schoolhouses, buses, water fountains, theaters, restaurants and rail cars. Depending on age, some of these people are either my generation’s parents or grandparents.

Take my grandfather, for instance. Born in 1928, he’s still alive today. And, he was born early enough to be able, if he wanted, to hear recollections from his grandfather, born in 1879, the year Reconstruction ended, and whose father and uncles served in the Confederate Army. In 2013, I — at 27 years old and with my grandfather at 85 — have a near-direct, living connection to an event that took place a century-and-a-half ago. (Interestingly, my great-great grandfather died just 14 years before I was born.)

History, however distant it may feel now, is never really so far away or out of our touch.

And, the oppression of black Americans didn’t end in 1865. That oppressive history is one my grandfather was alive to witness — a history he’s imparted to me.

“Grandpa, when you were growing up, did you ever know anyone in the Ku Klux Klan?” I asked at one Christmas gathering.

He responded, saying nobody ever really knew who they were. They weren’t public, he said.

“I never really did care for them much,” Grandpa said. “They did a whole lot of hurt and caused a whole lot of pain to a lot people who didn’t deserve it.”

History, however distant it may feel now, is never really so far away or out of our touch.

In our fast-paced, modern world, perhaps it’s easy to forget that change, indeed, does often take quite a long time. Sometimes, that change is hampered by a history so completely outside of our human control that it creates deep, complex problems with very few easy or quick solutions.

Lisa Wade, Ph.D., is an associate professor and chair of the Sociology Department at Occidental College. Via her Sociological Images Tumblr, Wade recently pointed to images she originally shared back in 2008 from blogger Jeff Fecke at Alas A Blog.

They got me thinking about history and its affects on us today.

In 1860, this is what cotton production looked like in the U.S.:

This map of the “black belt” (I’ll leave it to you to pick up the obvious connection between “cotton” and “black belt”) is one I’ve seen plenty times before in my studies of southern history.

And, this, is that same map, overlayed on top of 2008 presidential election results by county:

History, however distant it may feel now, is never really so far away or out of our touch.

And, in this particular example, history goes much, much deeper — much, much further into the distant past.

Why, one might ask, did the black belt take this form? What first gave shape to it? What was the first cause that gave rise to a slave-based, agricultural society that left an indelible mark on American politics a century-and-a-half later?

The ancient North American coast line, 65 million years ago:

Fecke explains:

Along the ancient coastline, life thrived, as usually does. It especially thrived in the delta region, the Bay of Tennessee, if you will. Here life reproduced, ate, excreted, lived, and died. On the shallow ocean floor, organic debris settled, slowly building a rich layer of nutritious debris. Eventually, the debris would rise as the sea departed, becoming a thick, rich layer of soil that ran from Louisiana to South Carolina.

65 million years later, European settlers in America would discover this soil, which was perfect for growing cotton.

Shortly after that, Europeans would enslave an entire race. Hundreds of years after that, the Civil War ended that slavery. Many former slaves stayed right where they were born, where generations of their kin before them had lived and died, not always because of choice, but because of harsh Jim Crow laws, forced prison labor systems, restrictions on movement and voting and other laws that were as oppressive as possible, short of now-illegal enslavement. And, only mere decades after that, their children and children’s children would leave an impact in electoral politics, patterned in an eerily similar way as the black belt.

And, there we have it: modern U.S. politics, 65 million years in the making. Another reminder that history, however distant it may feel now, is never really so far away or out of our touch.

So, you’re tired of hearing about slavery? Too bad. The effects of slavery are ever-present, even today — in our politics, in our economy, in every aspect of our culture. We’ve got a long, long way to go before that stain on our history is made clean. Fortunately, for all of us, I don’t think it will take 65 million years.

You’ve got to be freaking kidding me. After eight years of the Bush Administration and its biggest expansion of federal government and executive branch power in all of American history, the folks at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Counsel want to push this? Bonkers. Looney. Lost marbles. Crazy (like so far past going off the deep end it is unimaginable) is the only thing that can describe it.

From Liberty Counsel’s email blast today:

The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency

Revealing Barack Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution…and How to Stop Him. President Obama must be stopped. Ken Blackwell and Ken Klukowski show how to do it in The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency, a new No. 1 best-selling book.

The Constitution is on the side of the American people. It’s time to take America back! The Blueprint is available from Liberty Counsel for a gift of $30 or more.

Where the hell were these batshit crazy loons when Bush and his cronies were taking the Constitution and ripping it to shreds?

I’m telling you: The right wing agenda is evil, insidious and pernicious. Nothing more. Nothing less. (Although the words “sick” and “twisted” come to mind, too.)


Audio: Matt Comer on ‘Line of Fire’

Below is audio from my appearance on Dr. Michael Brown’s “Line of Fire” radio show on Thursday, July 23, 2009.

You can also listen at Brown’s website. For background, read “On the edge: Religious militancy in the Queen City.”

Hour One

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Hour Two

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The cover to a 6-disc DVD set of an anti-gay lecture series delivered by Dr. Michael L. Brown in February 2007.

The cover to a 6-disc DVD set of an anti-gay lecture series delivered by Dr. Michael L. Brown in February 2007.

How thin of a line exists between violent word and thought, and violent action and deed? That’s a question answered plenty of times before, from Christian Crusades and Inquisitions of ages past to the modern day of radical Islamic terrorism. But, it is a question yet to be answered in Charlotte, N.C., where I believe there is a potentially dangerous and violent threat ramping up its efforts to counter the annual LGBT event, Pride Charlotte.

In times of great social change, there are often two opposing extremes: One path seeks to change society through violent and militant means. The other seeks change in the spirit of non-violence, a practice of living — in thought, word and deed — modeled most famously by Jesus Christ, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In Charlotte, it seems some religious leaders have chosen the former path, preaching and teaching with violent and militant theology and rhetoric, painting the social conflict over LGBT equality as a “battle” and a “war.”

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Equality North Carolina Executive Director Ian Palmquist blasts N.C. state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam for taking too much time to worry about marriage when there are so many other pressing issues on the table:

The 2009 legislative session has just begun and our state faces huge challenges: rising unemployment, a growing budget shortfall, crumbling infrastructure, and a broken mental health system, to name a few.

So what does NC House Republican Leader Paul Stam spend his time worrying about? Creating jobs? Repairing bridges? Helping those who’ve lost everything in the downturn?

Nope. He’s too busy making sure that my partner and I don’t have-and will never have-any rights or recognition in this state.

Yep, within the first hours of the session, Stam made clear that writing anti-gay discrimination into North Carolina’s constitution was a top priority for him this session.

He doesn’t have real ideas or solutions for dealing with the huge problems we’ve got, but he has a plan to “save” marriage. (He hasn’t managed to explain how letting more loving, committed couples participate in the institution of marriage will damage it in any way, but never mind that.)

What Stam and his cronies don’t like to talk about is that their proposal isn’t just about denying equal access to marriage for same-sex couples. It’s about denying absolutely any sort of recognition or protection for those couples.

No civil union. No domestic partnership. No joint health insurance.

Read the rest at NC Policy Watch.

To those who doubt that Obama will be an ally to the LGBT community (at one time including myself), the new White House website’s (which I’m told was updated at 12:01 p.m.) section on Civil Rights includes an entirely special focus on “Support for the LGBT Community.”

See the screengrab and click to enlarge after the jump…

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Jim Burroway of took the time to transcribe an NPR conversation with U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) yesterday.

His appearance coincided with the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. On the show, Lewis discussed his experiences in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

In case you are unaware (shame if you are), Lewis chaired the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee from 1963 to 1966 and participated in the famous Freedom Rides through the South. To this day he bears the marks of a bloody attack on the riders in Montgomery in 1961.

Read the transcript after the jump…

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Confirming their own fears

Raleigh’s News & Observer published an insightful column Sunday:

Every argument against gay marriage is rooted in prejudice. There is no compelling state interest that should trump the gay community’s demand for equal rights.

Opponents of same-sex marriage offer two lines of attack.

The first is religious. The Bible (and the Quran), they say, casts homosexuality as a sin. That’s true. But the Bible also suggests that the world is 6,000 years old and offers scores of rules we blithely ignore. I don’t believe anyone wants to start executing adulterers (Leviticus 20:10).

If most believers followed the Bible literally, their rejection of homosexuality would truly reflect their faith. Instead, they cite its prohibition because it confirms their prejudices and fears.

Writer Peder Zane should be proud, but I should add he missed another great insight near the end of his piece:

The second line of attack involves the slippery slope. If we approve gay marriage, opponents say, then everything will be permissible.

Warren expressed this rationale in a December interview with the Web site

“I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage [as being between a man and a woman],” he explained. “I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.”

In fairness, his appeal to 5,000 years of history is not without weight. Social structures do not arise and endure willy-nilly but because they satisfy basic societal needs. They also change over time as they conflict with evolving needs and sensibilities.

A commenter called him out:

The author of this article and the editor who approved are both clueless! The argument that it’s the way we have always done done it was used to justify slavery and has been used to suppress womens rights and now to suppress the rights of people who are born gay. It seems there is an element of society which needs to define it self by what it can offer but buy what it wants to deny others. Shame on you!


An Inside Look…DADT

dadtWow, it appears the submarine force is representing! I didn’t think the topic of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) would be discussed among submariners and boy am I surprised. Steven Hall, a former submarine commanding officer, came out and is working on a film about DADT.

On the blog “The Stupid Shall Be Punished” Joel Kennedy, former submarine officer, discusses Gays In The Military and says that he is torn on the issue. I can understand why he is, but I am not. I served 10 years in the military on three different submarines and I believe that it can and will work.

Let’s discuss the current situation and see how it is working now.

I served under DADT and as a gay sailor and struggled a bit. Why? It was not because my hormones were continuously raging and I was after my heterosexual comrades. In fact, it was just the opposite. I could not disclose the events surrounding times spent with a other, things as simple as chatting on the phone or going to dinner. I could never let them really know me and that meant I had to keep them at a distance concerning the most intimate part of my life; the person I loved. While they talked about their girlfriends and wives, I could only shake my head in agreement and pretend that I would one day get married to a women. BLAH!

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The Christian Action League of North Carolina‘s executive director, Mark Creech, a regular criticizee of my blogging here at, is making much ado about nothing.

He’s trotted out a scare tactic for local churches, urging them to “protect themselves” from legal challenges of gay activists. What’s so unfortunate is that he considers long-time, much loved church members a threat:

A church refuses to consider a homosexual man for an advertised job as organist. The daughter of the head deacon and a member of the church since childhood demands to use the sanctuary for her lesbian commitment ceremony, but the church says no. These are just two of a myriad of situations that could lead to drawn out legal battles unless church leaders take precautions.

“I’ve thought for some time that the Christian Action League should provide some information concerning what churches needed to do to protect themselves from gay activism,” Creech says in the latest article posted at the group’s website. “It is important that they make sure they are prepared for such a threat and that they have what they need in place to protect themselves legally, especially as the political climate becomes more hostile to organizations of faith.”

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