Saturday, February 24, 2007

Comparing Minorities

Being in a minority ain’t easy. Nearly every religion, nationality, and race has been persecuted at one time or another, depending on where and when they lived. But the three minorities who have consistently had the worst time of it throughout history are almost surely blacks, Jews, and homosexuals. In a "My People Have Suffered Most" contest, it would be a pretty close match. In overall western culture, the Jews of course have the definite edge: they’ve been harassed and persecuted and hounded for more than two thousand years, culminating in the incomprehensible horrors of the years between 1933 and 1945.

The general large-scale suffering of blacks is relatively recent, mostly starting when the first slave boats started plying their trade between Africa and the New World. Their persecution, even in the deep south of the U.S., very rarely included the types of mass pogroms Jews have suffered over the years. And blacks as a minority were spared the atrocities of WWII.

Which brings us to the homosexuals. Persecution of homosexuals pretty much goes back at least as far as persecution of the Jews, though it was always on an "individual" basis. Gays were regularly put to death for being gay, but seldom if ever in large numbers at any given time with the exception of World War II, during which more than 100,000 homosexuals died alongside the six million Jews in the concentration camps.

Gays, however, have always had one very distinct "advantage" over strongly ethnicised Jews and 99.5 percent of all blacks: You can’t readily pick homosexuals out of a still photograph. The ability to be able to hide, to pretend to be something they were not, has always spared individual gays and lesbians, but at a terrible price in their dignity and self image.

And, in turn, both Jews and blacks have one huge advantage over gays and lesbians: every Jewish child, every black child, is born and raised by those exactly like him or her. They have a priceless built-in network of comfort and protection not afforded gays who, from the instant they realize that they are not like Mom and Dad and Cousin Bill and Great Grandpa Oaks, know they are alone in their families.

A Jewish child called a "Kike", or a black child called a "nigger" or any child of any racial, religious or ethnic minority suffering the epithets hurled against their minority, can run home to the arms of Mommy and Daddy, who will comfort them and assure them that they are loved.

A gay child taunted by calls of "Faggot" or "Queer" has no such option. He or she has no one and nowhere to turn for comfort, for reassurance, for understanding.

I will never forget a popular TV show of the 60s..."The White Shadow," I think it was called, about a high school basketball team. At one point, daring bravely to go where no TV show had gone before, they did a story in which a new kid joined the team, and everyone began to whisper that the kid might possibly know... "one of those."

The coach, stalwart role model for American youth that he was, called the team together to crush the rumors. He began his speech with these truly dumbfounding words: "I’ve never met a homosexual, but…". Right, coach; nobody here but us chickens. I switched channels, and never watched the show again.

Things are slowly getting better for all minorities, largely through the incredibly simple fact of exposure of one group to the other. I grew up in an insular world: Aunt Jemima and Stepp’n Fetchit, and the Gold Dust Twins, of pickanninies and nigger-baby licorice candy. I wasn’t racist...I simply never thought of those things as being insulting and degrading because the way things were was simply the way things were. Blacks never mixed socially with whites; Jews kept a very, very low profile and seldom if ever mentioned their religion to non-Jews. Gays simply hid, gathered whenever and wherever they could , and prayed that no one would ever discover their "shameful" secret.

Stupidity, hatred, intolerance, and bigotry are still very much alive and well, and show not the slightest indication that they will be disappearing any time soon. But at least now people recognize them when they see them. And that’s progress.

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