For news junkies like me, last week was an embarrassment of riches.
least, in terms of the quantity of major news stories. Not the quality
of their contribution to our national discourse. While I understand
that compelling news usually involves conflict of some sort, the only
thing last week's headlines accomplished was to reinforce long-standing
divisions in our society.
Take the George Zimmerman
trial, (please!), that got under way in Florida, reminding us all of the
bitter racial divide that ricocheted across the country last year. When a
black teenager was shot to death by a white community patrol volunteer,
the distrust, resentment, and disdain simmering at low boil across our
national consciousness soon frothed anew from Maine to Hawaii. We can
all remember how polarized our nation quickly became as blacks closed
ranks around the deceased teenager and his family, while whites were
baffled by the media's vilification of Zimmerman. It was dismal and ugly.
began heating up again last week with the cross-examination of the
witness, a surly young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin as
he encountered Zimmerman that fateful night. It seems many blacks held
their breath apprehensively as Rachel Jeantel mumbled her way through
two days of petulance on the witness stand. Whites, meanwhile, found
her credibility significantly tarnished by, among other things, her
admission that she can't even read the
hand-written account she purportedly wrote of the evening's events.
out, she'd asked a friend of hers to write it out for her, while she
dictated it, and her friend happened to write it out longhand in
cursive, which Jeantel had never learned. The lie this admission
exposed, combined with Jeantel's ambivalence about using the derogatory
term "cracker," plus questionable ways lead attorneys for both the
prosecution and defense are conducting their questioning, have made for
hollow judicial theater so far. About the only truth we've learned is
that both races have pretty much picked up where they left off while
this case has dragged its way into the courthouse for the past year.
That ain't a good thing.
week's second major headline came Tuesday, when the Supreme Court
announced a verdict regarding the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Depending
on one's perspective, the Supremes either upended decades of civil
rights advancements, according to liberals, or returned 10th Amendment
rights back to the states as they run their elections, according to
conservatives. Once again, battle lines appeared to be drawn based on
race, since the Voting Rights Act was created to make sure blacks were
not discriminated against at the ballot box.
it is hard for anybody to prove that times have not changed, and that
people of all races are able to vote freely now all over the country.
And to the extent that our laws need to change with the times,
conservatives were cheered by the SCOTUS ruling that now allows, for
example, things like photo identification to be mandatory in states like
Texas, whose attorney general announced the state's implementation of
its voter ID law the same day as the court's ruling.
of laws changing with the times, how SCOTUS was able to cheer
conservatives on Tuesday disappeared in a tidal wave of angst the very next day with two rulings regarding gay marriage.
Even though SCOTUS did not flat-out rule that gay marriage is the law of
the land, which various legal experts feared could have been one
possible outcome between the two cases, we're now living in a country
where gay marriage is no longer ignorable or implausible. Your state
still may not allow gay marriage, but the more conventional an idea gay
marriage becomes - or at least, the more non-threatening it becomes -
what's to stop this tide of change from slowly redefining matrimony
even in politically conservative parts of the country?
least our nation's reaction to Wednesday's SCOTUS rulings is not the
stale, bitter racial acrimony that pelted our consciousness on the first
two days of the week. Indeed, in demonstrations during arguments
before the court earlier this year, people of many races and ethnicities
were picketing against gay marriage, a fact that the mainstream press
tried to gloss over. Reuben Diaz, a Democratic state senator from New
York City, brought 32 bus loads of heterosexual marriage supporters to
one of the main rallies.
Also last Tuesday, the
filibuster-that-wasn't took center stage as midnight loomed over the
Texas state capitol in Austin, as Republicans tried to silence liberal
state senator Wendy Davis during her marathon filibuster of a pro-life
bill. While many journalists and pundits have been flat-out wrong in
their assessment of the night's events, crediting the unusually boisterous crowd in the chamber's gallery for disrupting the vote, the
publicity has helped keep international attention focused on this
conservative state, where today, the second special session called by
our governor got underway. Briefly, at least. State legislators voted
to take a Fourth of July holiday and reconvene next week.
there's the leftover relish from two Friday's ago. Popular chef Paula
Deen's marketing empire continued to unravel after news emerged that
she'd admitted to having used the "N"-word earlier in her life. It
hasn't been the black community calling for corporations to divest
themselves of her merchandise and endorsements, however, but the corporate
entities themselves. It's political correctness run amok, even
though the general public isn't calling for it. I've never seen her on TV, and
barely knew who she is and how much of a following she's amassed on
cable TV's foodie shows. But the fact that corporate sponsors are
dumping her in droves seems to be highlighting a new exasperation with
the public's tolerance of political correctness, even among many blacks,
whom Deen's advertisers have hoped to appease by their knee-jerk firing
After all, how many 60-year-old-plus people
from Georgia have never used that objectionable word in their lifetime?
As I understand it, Deen was answering questions posed to her during a
deposition in relation to a lawsuit regarding workplace bias in one of
her businesses, and she was asked if she'd ever used the term. But how
germane was that question to the case at hand? In hindsight, Deen
probably realizes it was a loaded question, and she should have demanded
that it be re-worded to reflect a timeframe more pertinent to
the case. As it is, corporate America, having become paranoid of
anything about which any political subset of our society might complain,
can't realize that they're the ones making this story so potent. And
it's not Deen whom the public is castigating, but her (former) corporate
Both Jesse Jackson and Jimmy Carter, of all
people, have come out in her defense, but corporate sponsors kept
defecting in what could become a mockery of the civil rights these
companies think they're defending. It's not as though Deen is either
advocating the use of that despicable word, or professing to continue using
it today. There's also the unresolved reality of blacks themselves
being able to deploy that word against other blacks with relative
impunity, which creates an uneasy double-standard nobody really wants to
So much news, reflecting so many complexities, promising so few resolutions.
Isn't it amazing how the world's largest economy and most influential society can find cohesion and camaraderie so elusive?