Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Southern Comfort


Folks, I've just about had it. Like many of you, I am about ready to throw in the towel. While I love the country I grew up in, America has become a place I no longer recognize. And at the same time, there is a certain darkness I feel in the pit of my soul. I have this dark sense that America has always been this way. Maybe you have to get to be a certain age to see the world and America for what it really is. The good, the bad, and the downright shameful.

Some of you will read this piece as an attack on the entirety of the South. While I paint with a wide brush, it is absolutely not that. I know many good southerners that are as outraged and embarrassed as I am that the region continues to earn the criticism. It is a statistical fact that certain states have lower IQs, lower test scores, higher obesity rates, and a lower age of life expectancy; certain parts of the country put less emphasis on education and more of an emphasis on religion. These are the same states. These are states that have ignorant policies, policy makers, and people that I could have never known truly existed. Some of these states even establish laws allowing teachers in a public school setting to teach from the bible. A Christian bible. In a public school. In a secular society founded on equality and the separation of church and state. In 2016. I live in one of these places. I am surrounded by them.

I have just about had it with the conservative movement's religious tyranny. The so called 'religious freedom’ bills and laws sweeping the country are nothing more than a legislative license to hate, to discriminate, and to deny equal rights to certain Americans in favor of other white heterosexual conservative Christian Americans. But more to the point, these laws are about restoring their comfort. Southern Comfort. Why in 2016 are we writing laws catering to people's comfort? Why are we willing to perpetuate then ameliorate their deepest fears?

Here's the deal: If you have white skin color and you feel uncomfortable standing next to or providing services to someone of dark skin color, you are a racist. This is true whether you like the sound of that or not. And to me, it truly doesn't matter. You are allowed to be a racist; there's no law against your thoughts and feelings. If you are uncomfortable being around a Muslim, and believe all of them to be terrorists, you are at best ignorant, but in most cases, you are a hateful bigot. That's all there is to it. You have no right to deny people equal rights because they're different than you. If you are heterosexual, and you feel uncomfortable providing service in your public business to a same-sex couple, too fucking bad. Move to Saudi Arabia where they have the Sha'ria law that you claim to fear (but in your actions desire). Just don't pull that shit here. I am so sick of it. So is the rest of America and the world that watches our every move. (You remember, that whole Internet and TV thing right?) America used to be the example. The shining beacon of hope; of freedom and equality. That ship has long since sailed. And it carried the Statue of Liberty back with it. Or at least it should have.

Shame on you America. Shame on you, some of whom are my friends, who believe these hateful laws are righteous, and thus support them. You voted these horrible people into office, you lobby them relentlessly in favor of these discriminatory laws, and you rally behind them when they appear. You don’t even try to hide it. In fact, you are proud of this.

On a daily basis, I hear that people are worried about Muslim Americans becoming radicalized in mosques. (See yesterday's news on the Pastor-made and TN State Rep. distributed DVD "Mosques Exposed!”) However, rarely do I hear a very real threat to our nation discussed: White Christian Americans that have been radicalized in their churches by hateful bigoted pastors. And therein lies the nugget of Southern Comfort. Go on and take a sip. Hatred and bigotry fueled by ignorance and fear is being dressed up in it’s Sunday best as ‘religious freedom’ laws. It starts in the home, the church, and the schools. Just like any other form of hatred.

So today I address a strong and clear message to the people and legislators of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee: take a deep breath! Sit back in your pew and get ready to go to church: You are not entitled to nor guaranteed personal comfort in the United States of America. I will say that again. It is that important: YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO NOR GUARANTEED PERSONAL COMFORT IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. There it is, you heard right. Now give it a moment to sink in. You do not get to pass laws that make you comfortable. You do not deserve them. And if those laws happen to impinge on another citizens’ equal rights in any way, shape, or form, those laws are unconstitutional and morally wrong.

I have many friends who have gotten married to people of a different faith, or, as much as I hate to speak in terms like this, have married outside of their race. Not so long ago, this was illegal in America. It was this way in many states that now surround my home and as we all know, it is still frowned upon. ‘Interracial couples’ are discriminated against every day in America. It is insidious. But the fact that this discrimination existed anywhere in the United States (and does to this day) is sickening. If you have the very hint of a conscience, you are sickened as well.

Let's look at some of the news coming out of Tennessee and other Southern states this week alone. Make no mistake, no matter what they call it, the 'religious freedoms’ being sought by conservatives are nothing more than hate and discrimination laws against non-Christians, non-whites, and non-heterosexuals. The essence of these laws is: if you make me uncomfortable by your very existence, I don’t have to provide you services, medical or otherwise. Let us not forget the long and sustained war that right-wing conservatives have been waging against women's rights to have domain over their own bodies. But those fights never go away in a patriarchal religious society like America is desperately trying to emulate. Ask Saudi Arabia.

Many people in the south don't seem to understand the meaning of racism and bigotry. When I bring those words up, I tend to hear phrases like 'reverse racism' and 'white minority’. And of course, I hear the endless stories about Christian persecution in America. Those are the richest tales of all. Christians being persecuted for praying somewhere in public, somewhere in our secular country, somewhere children are playing whom should not be exposed to one religion preferentially, or any religion at all for that matter. That's kind of how this country was made. Without religion.

During my first few years in Nashville, I witnessed so much hypocrisy; moral vacancy combined with self-righteous religion shaming. I tried my best to keep my mouth shut so that I could find more work. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Nashville’s not-so-secret ‘dirty little secret’. And no, it is not talked about on the hit ABC series of the same name. You see, countless non-Christian people move to Nashville every year. They are atheists, Muslims, Jews, and other. Here’s a spoiler alert: they don't always get the warm and welcoming southern hospitality that is advertised on the brochures. But, if they say the right buzz words (see ‘anointed’, ‘blessed’, ‘I’ll pray for you’, and ‘bless her heart’), if they put on the right cross (the bigger and shinier the better), and if they network at the right church (I think you get my pointe without naming that particular church), then they will gain access to all the opportunities Nashville has to offer. They join the club.

I recall someone making an off-handed comment one night to the effect of: ‘the bigger the cross the bigger the liar’. While I didn't exactly know what they meant at the time, it didn't take too long to figure it out. Without the slightest bit of hesitation, I can report that over the last eight years, the more someone talked about their faith, their church, their god, their Christianity and yes indeed, the larger their cross was, the more likely they were to screw me over in a business deal.  In fact, and I never told this story, I was once 'fired' from producing a record for a ‘christian’ client when, after digging around on Google, they discovered I ‘was not a Christian’ and, now this is a direct quote: “He's not a Christian, so how can we know what his moral character is? We wouldn't be comfortable working with someone like that.” How does one even respond to that nonsense? I came to know myself, the atheist Jew, to be considerably more of a christian than most 'christians' I encountered in the Bible Belt. There was a far worse episode I experienced in the music business a few years after that involving a relatively famous award-winning producer who made his name and reputation in the Christian music world. Today is not the day to tell that story.

Having been born into this fair skin color, and outside from looking a little bit Jewish with this here nose, I can never know how it feels to LOOK LIKE a person of color in America. However I do know how it feels to be treated like one. I am never quiet anymore about being a Jew or being an atheist. I know that when people encounter me visually, especially in the Bible belt, they see a white Christian male. This mistake has led to many awkward conversations with much comfort, privilege, and racist comments on their part. Comments that never pass unchecked when spoken aloud in front of me. But they are there. Even among people I know personally who have black friends, gay friends, or Muslim friends. However, they feel comfortable exposing their racism and bigotry to me in private because they assume that I share it; that I am one of them. Little do they know at the time that I am what I like to call ‘invisible black’. They generally make that mistake exactly one time with me.

If it seems I keep returning to the time when I first arrived in Nashville, there is a big reason. I worried so much what people might think about my being a Jew or an atheist. Because in the Bible Belt, people equate religion with morality. However, most atheists/secular folks I encounter are more morally grounded than people of faith I know, certainly in business. Not that I was ever good at playing this little game, but at this point, I just don't care anymore. I stand up for what is right, regardless of who is being discriminated against. That is the essence of believing in America: believing that ALL people regardless of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, beliefs or lack of beliefs, are entitled to the same basic human rights. The people who read my writing and hate me will hate me no matter what I say. The people who love me will love me no matter what I say. And the people who listen to my work will respect me on the merit of that work.

In New York City, as I often explain, there are two types of people: good and bad. That’s it. People on the whole are judged based on their character and substance. This is the polar opposite of the south, where people are judged on their skin color, their religion, and their position in society. A 'self-whitegeous' place where ‘religious freedom’ hate laws keep flying through conservative state legislatures. I can not and I will not sit on the sidelines while Muslims, refugees, gay people, transgender people, atheists, people of color, or any other non-white non-Christians get discriminated against. The whole notion of a secular society creating laws favoring one religion over another; creating laws making it legal to discriminate against people based on race, religion, or sexual orientation; creating laws that essentially provide comfort for people of one faith at the expense of other people's rights is as unfathomable as it is disgraceful.

Returning to the main point: Southern comfort. It has no place in the United States of America. There is a reason the Civil War was fought. However, it ended a long time ago and people need to start acting like it. The time has come for people to stop coming to the aid of the Confederacy. The time has come for people to stop embracing bigotry. The time has come for people to stop enabling ‘justified discrimination’ against their fellow citizens. As I say to my most evangelical friends: No one will force you to have a homosexual relationship. No one will force you to kneel and pray before Allah. No one will force you to have an abortion. And no one can force you to not hate other people. That is your right. But America, you need to get yourself in check. You do NOT have the right to deny other Americans their unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Tennessee. Shame on you.

I have never been more ashamed to be a taxpayer and resident of Tennessee. And that is saying A LOT!!! (remember the 'no gays allowed' signs after marriage equality passed the Supreme Court or the 'no Muslim zones' at gun stores, or the many pastors and 'Christians' who protested a Muslim house of worship being built in Murfreesboro or the 'Patriots' who lined President Obama's highway route from the Nashville airport with confederate flags and openly threatened to assassinate him?) Shame on you, supporters of this disgusting bill of bigotry. Shame on you conservatives who have spent the better part of my life trying to turn the United States of America into a radical religious state governed by Christian Sha'ria Law. Shame on ANYONE living in TN who considers themselves a Christian or an American and can look at themselves in the mirror and support this bill. While at the same time they talk all day about the dangers of Muslims living among us. Shame on all of you. This is a dark day for Tennessee and a dark time for America.