Thursday, February 27, 2014

Separate and Subvert

Groucho Marx once said that he would never want to belong to a club that would have him for a member. I often think of that, because besides being a funny quote, it speaks to the power of choice. We choose what we join and where we shop, who we hang out with and how we entertain ourselves. And there is a huge wealth of stores, arenas, clubs, pubs, and hubs where we can find like-minded individuals, shedding ducats freely.

Of course, I live near a great big city. If I wanted a cup of coffee, I could stroll right past the shop that says, "We Do Not Serve Pagans," to the Starbucks on the corner. But what if I lived in a small town with only one coffee shop, and it said, "We Do Not Serve Pagans?" Then, must admit, I become pissed. Knowing me, I go inside, order a triple mocha java latte grande frappachino with extra whipped cream, and when the steaming confection is placed before me, I say, "Drink it yourself. I'm a Pagan."

 Then again, if it's a small town they probably already know I'm a Pagan, so they wouldn't serve me anyway.

What baffles me is why someone would build a business, knowing full well they were going to turn patrons away. The whole point of a business is to make money, preferably fat fistfuls of it. But if you, out of religious belief, refuse to serve certain customers, you not only lose that custom, but you also lose the custom of anyone who thinks you're a bigoted moron. Depending upon where you are, that could be a lot of people. You are betting that the customers who think like you do are going to throw a lot of business your way. What if they can't? Not everyone is made of money, even though they pray to become rich.

 We long ago left "separate but equal" in the dust, recognizing a failed social construct when we saw it. What we haven't left behind is the staggering pride that allows some people to create a "sinful" Other, and then justify their unwillingness to serve this Other by using "freedom of religion" as an excuse. The state of Arizona dodged the bullet of widespread disdain, but not because of the will of its citizenry. What would have happened if the Super Bowl had not been slated to be played in Arizona next year? And what about all the nests of morons in other states who might feel that their god is demanding that they get some laws in place so they don't have to lodge gay people in their B&Bs? This pathetic and embarrassing search for legislation has just begun, I fear.

 But all is not lost, even if you live in a state where such laws get passed. Extending this sermon just one anecdote more, I hereby give some free advice to people who might face discrimination. Mind you, I feel it essential that the law protects everyone. Everyone. In exactly the same way. Still, if you're up against discrimination, remember this little tale from blogger Annie:

 I am old enough to remember the day when the municipal swimming pool in my home town was integrated. I've told this story before, so I'm not going to bore you with details again. (My mother let me go swimming; she said the pool would be less crowded, and it was.)

 Fast forward almost exactly 15 years from that date. Another hot summer. I was a legislative assistant working for the local state representative. A young African American man came into the legislator's office and begged a favor. There was a swimming pool, sitting drained and nearly forgotten, in a neighborhood of town where most of the African American people lived. The citizen wondered if there was any way to get that pool up and running again. You see, kids in that neighborhood had to take the bus to the big municipal pool, and that pool was getting old and very crowded. It would be nice to have the little neighborhood pool open for the local tots.

 The legislator got a grant from the state, and at the beginning of the next summer, the separate and unequal swimming pool was re-opened. Of course anyone can use it, but it is primarily used by the African American kids in the surrounding neighborhood. And they love it.

 My friends, go where you are welcome. Spend your money where you are welcome. If you cannot possibly avoid the bigots, that's one thing. But if you can put them out of business, marginalize them, basically do without them, do it! Separate might not be equal, and it sure isn't optimal, but it can be effective.

 I'll practice what I preach. Arizona is still on my bucket list, but guess what? It just fell below Eastern Europe. Before this week it was right up there with Nova Scotia. I'd rather not visit a place that doesn't want some of its best citizens as members.

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