Saying Stupid Things

I find inspiration in a number of different places. One of these is the Internet, where any idiot with a keyboard and a screen can write whatever they want. Like me! When I look online for news, though, I generally try to find articles that look well researched and, ideally, share their references. Because you want to know whether someone's getting their information from The New York Times or Breitbart, the Associated Press or the Daily Caller, or the Journal of Psychiatric Research or Buzzfeed. Some sources are objectively better than others, but all should be examined with care.

Some bloggers don't appear to care, and they don't cite their sources, which tells you very little about whether their opinions are informed or not. One of my least favorite blogs—but which comes across my feed all too often—is that of a local Tulsa author who fashions himself a truth-teller of the highest sort. He believes in the importance of warning people about the horrible state of America today, the destruction of the American system by multiculturalism and political correctness, and how ill-prepared most of us are to face the coming apocalypse, which will apparently be brought about by Islam.

Yesterday, this author posted a blog on his site entitled "The Declaration of Independence/the American Flag are racist?" The claims he makes are pretty wild, but he does admit that he's "writing on the wild side." I won't link to his website because I don't want to give him any views, but I do want to break down his post because that's always fun. And because my country, the United States of America, gives me the right to do so under fair use.

It seems the world has turned upside down. Young people today are being fed a re-engineered view of history by racist people who call others the same. Even with a Black President in the White House, the blame is still placed on old white guys.

This is about how most of the author's blog posts begin: "America (read: the world) is falling apart because young people don't agree with me." He calls himself an old White guy, and he feels like too many people put the onus on him and on others in his in-group to correct the problems of the world. And he doesn't believe that's fair.

Let's agree that it's not fair to put the problems facing the world on any one person. All of us are to some extent responsible for our own actions. But it must also be true that some options are outside the realm of feasibility for certain individuals. A mother of three working a ten-hour-a-day, minimum wage job cannot solve her transportation problems by buying a Lamborghini. And, if you've got a basic understanding of psychology, sociology, or history, you also understand that our individual history, and the history of the family that we're born into, informs the kinds of options that are available to us.

So, for the author's sake, let's not blame White people for everything. Because surely that's unfair. But I wonder what racist, re-engineered history is being taught to young people. I was raised in the 1990s, and I was still learning that George Washington was such an honest man that, as a young lad of eight, he confessed to his father that he had cut a cherry tree from his orchard because "I cannot tell a lie." I was still learning that Christopher Columbus discovered America because, apparently, the natives who he called Indians didn't count. Lies My Teacher Told Me is a great book by James W. Loewen breaks down many myths that I was taught in school as historical fact.

If any history has been re-engineered, it's the history being taught in states like Texas, where fundamentalist Christians like Don McLeroy, a dentist from Bryan, Texas, have co-opted the educational system to promote an agenda that focuses on American exceptionalism and downplays the struggles of minority groups like Native Americans and Black people. A quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill—there are so many—says that "history is written by the victors." Nowhere is that more true than in Texas. In one glaring example, the new textbooks call African slaves "workers" and describe the slave trade as a migration. This is history re-engineered. And it's the history that this "old White man" appears to have learned.

Our colleges and our legislators seem to have forgotten the Civil War and the thousands of white men who died to free the slaves.

The author appears to have forgotten that the larger portion of the opposing army in the American Civil War was made up of White men. Men who were fighting to protect their "God-given right" to own people as property. It's also important to remember that roughly 10% of the Union army, who fought to end slavery, were African American men. Proportionally, this is about what one would expect with full participation. So I think it's fair to say that Black people fought for their own freedoms. White people helped, but they weren't doing it for them.

Luke 20:25 says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." And let's give Black people what's theirs too. They fought for their own rights, and they don't have any good reason to be grateful to the race that enslaved them. Especially after what followed during the Reconstruction Era.

The newly freed Black men and women found themselves without any way of making a living. Many were left homeless since "old White man" President Johnson and his Congress refused to agree to any Reconstruction plan that allowed for the redistribution of property to freed former slaves. Sharecropping was the only option many freed Black men and women were left with, and as an option, it was about as bad as slavery. This, despite all that they had been promised by the White commanders under whom they served. After over a century of discriminatory practices in voting, employment, and medicine, the Tuskegee Experiment, Jim Crow laws, and the present need for #BlackLivesMatter, I don't see how grateful Black people should be to White people.

Colleges and legislators that are able to look past their own feelings of "White guilt" and see the horrors that the Black community has suffered in this country have not forgotten anything. They are remembering.

Or the World Wars fought under the American flag so these yoyos could have the right to say stupid things.

I don't remember a single world war fought only under the American flag. Do you? Let's begin by ignoring the fact that the United States entered World War I in 1917, the penultimate year of the war. We'll focus on World War II, in which the United States played a more extended role.

How many flags actually contributed to the Allied fight in World War II? Too many for me to post here. Almost every country in the world played a role in the war. I'll focus on the Latin American Allied states:

Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Guatemala entered World War II in 1941 as a direct result of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry. Mexico and Brazil entered the war in 1942, as a result of attacks against them by Axis powers. Bolivia and Colombia joined the Allied forces in 1943. This is only a small fraction of the countries whose flags flew during the fight against the Axis powers.

One would expect that, among all of these, the biggest influence over the course of the war would have been had by the country with the most resources and the most sociopolitical power: the United States of America. After over a century of the United States' destabilizing influence on its southern neighbors, how could it not be the most powerful country on the American continent? Despite all this, the United States had the friendship and support of its Latin America partners, although its citizens often forget that Old Glory doesn't encompass the entire hemisphere.

Thanks to the influence of these Latin American countries, we all retain the right to say stupid things anytime we want. But don't we have the responsibility to be as informed as possible when we say anything? Rights don't exist in a vacuum; they carry with them corresponding duties, such as the duty to be respectful in public discourse and to exercise good judgment when we publish something on the Internet.

But not all of us do that 100% of the time. I can't say that I do. Sometimes, I am unequivocally a yoyo exercising his First Amendment right to free speech with abandon. Sometimes, I wait a day and rework the post I intended to publish because writing when I'm angry accomplishes very little.

In 2010 at Cinco de Mayo, Mexican students allegedly threatened violence because of shirts with Old Glory on them. School officials, consequently, suspended the right of other students to wear those shirts. Political correctness at its worst. “What’s wrong with these white people holding up American flags in Morgan hill??? Racist a–holes,” Gia Lee wrote.

Anyone who observes race relations in this country finds that there is a staunch disapproval of immigration on the Far Right. Disapproval is probably not a strong enough word. Suffice it to say that, being a Hispanic living in Oklahoma, I find a lot of people—mostly White, I'm afraid—who make assumptions about me given my ethnicity. My sister; who worked at a restaurant, speaks English fluently, and was raised in this country; encountered more than a few people who would rather she go back to Mexico than serve them water.

Neither of us have anyone in our families from Mexico. Our families are Colombian and Cuban. These White people want us to go "back" to somewhere we don't belong. It's the equivalent of someone going up to a White person and telling them to go back to England. Most White Americans aren't English (they're of German descent), and they don't have any family members from England.

So what's the author talking about? Cinco de Mayo at Live Oak Hill High School in Morgan Hill, California, was a source of tension. In previous years, fights had broken out among the Hispanic and White students because some Hispanic students had the gall to celebrate their Mexican heritage on the day of Mexico's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. As a show of protest, these White students took out their American flag shirts and bandanas and paraded around the school in the same spirit of trolling that proponents of #AllLivesMatter engage in.

The author appears to agree with Gia Lee, who is a random person that wrote a barely coherent tweet and has been quoted multiple times on various conservative blogs. But are the Mexican students and the administrators at Live Oak Hill High School racist against White people?

I'm gonna make a quick aside here and say that the United States Code, Title 36, Section 176 states:

The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
— http://www.usflag.org/uscode36.html#176

Patriotism or not, these people do not respect their flag by wrapping it around their heads as a bandana. Talk to anyone with even an iota of knowledge about how Old Glory should be handled, and they will tell you that.

The administrators of Live Oak Hill High School told the students to take the flag off or go home for the day. They told the students that they would not be disciplined further. The students chose to go home for the day and file a lawsuit against the school because, they argued, their right to be trolls was protected speech under the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Except that a school is not a public space, and administrators have the right to enact policy in order to protect the health and well-being of their student body. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case after the 9th District Court of Appeals declared that:

...’[C]onduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason—whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior—materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.’ Under Tinker, schools may prohibit speech that ‘might reasonably [lead] school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities,’ or that constitutes an ‘actual or nascent [interference] with the schools’ work or...collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone.’ As we have explained, ‘the First Amendment does not require school officials to wait until disruption actually occurs before they may act. In fact, they have a duty to prevent the occurrence of disturbances.’ Indeed, in the school context, ‘the level of disturbance required to justify official intervention is relatively lower in a public school than it might be on a street corner.’
— http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/02/27/11-17858.pdf

So who are the racists? The Mexicans celebrating their ethnic heritage? The administrators who didn't want any racially motivated fights breaking out on their campus? Or the students who wore American flags as articles of clothing in order to protest Cinco de Mayo? Maybe none of them are, and this whole thing was blown way out of proportion. Maybe we're making a mountain of a molehill.

The United States is such a great country because it has a system in place to deal with precisely these kinds of problems—where the protected right of one group (the Mexicans) to gather and celebrate in peace is interfered with by the protected right of another group (the White students) to protest Mexican heritage by being louder and more obnoxious. When the system works correctly, these problems are resolved in a civil way. We agree to disagree once the matter has been decided by the Supreme Court, but the Court's decision stands. As it was, and as it does.

It's possible to believe both that the United States is a great country and that the Supreme Court makes wrong decisions. If one believes that erring is an ineluctable part of being human, then it must follow that the Supreme Court, comprised of humans, occasionally gets decisions wrong. But conservatives like the author appear to believe that the judicial system is fundamentally flawed. That seems to contradict the conservative edict that the U.S. Constitution is an infallible document inspired by God and brought to us by the ineffably wise Founding Fathers.

Herein lies the problem. Americans have the freedom to say whatever they want, but they do not exist in a world where freedom from consequence can exist. We are held accountable by our actions and our motivations. When our actions are made in good faith and our motivations are pure, then the rights that we exercise deserve protection from the law. When our actions are intended to harm others, the rights of those we are attempting to hurt deserve greater protection. This was the case in Morgan Hill.

Really, are the Morgan Hill Hispanics, not American citizens? Did no one from that area fight and die for this country. The American way of life should not be disrespected like this. Who is the racist? Why did the school system cave in to the pressure?

I don't favor calling anyone a racist in this situation. That's an invective, and it's unhelpful. But it's clear, to me at least, that the White students were in the wrong. They were being belligerent, and the school system was within their rights to stop them. They didn't have to "cave in to the pressure." They simply had to act in good faith to protect their student body. They did so, and both the 9th District Court and the Supreme Court agreed.

The author may have reached a different conclusion had he read the 9th District Court's opinion on Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District. Maybe not. But an informed person looks this shit up rather than regurgitating what he read on a blog.

The situation in our country has deteriorated from there. In the last few days, the Declaration of Independence has come under attack as being racist a well. Louisiana lawmaker Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport), argued that America’s founding document was racist during debate on a bill requiring public school students in the state to recite the Declaration of Independence daily.
’For the Declaration of Independence only Caucasians (were) free,’ Norton, who is black, said Wednesday during the debate on the floor of the Louisiana House of Representatives. ‘And for you to bring a bill to require that our children will recite the Declaration of Independence I think it’s a little bit unfair.’

Oh, man. Louisiana representative Barbara Norton has been making the rounds on the conservative blogosphere these past few days. She's infamous for her statement that forcing kids in school to recite the Declaration of Independence in schools is "a little bit unfair."

What an inflamatory statement! "A little bit unfair"? Who does she think she is?!

Sarcasm aside, Norton has a point. When the Declaration of Independence was penned, Black people and women were not included in the umbrella term "men" as having been created equal. It makes sense for a Black woman to see Black children being forced to recite this document and find it appalling. In many ways, it is.

So many strawmen have been made of Norton's statement. The first three pages of a Google search using the words "Barbara Norton Declaration of Independence" lead to conservative news blogs talking about how awful and stupid Norton is for having said what seems obvious to those of us who the Founders would not have considered equal under God.

But aren’t black children in America free today? Free because of white men and women who gave their lives and aid during the fight for their freedom.

Are they? You tell me.

In all seriousness, racism is still ever-present in this country. Compare the rhetoric used against former President George W. Bush to the rhetoric used to disparage President Barack Obama. In language alone, it is very clear that the election of a Black man to the office of the presidency did not wipe away centuries of racism in this country.

I further object to the notion that Black children in America are free today because of the actions of White men and women. They are free because of the actions of a number of different individuals, of peoples from every race and creed, of men and women fighting together for what is good and just. The fact is that when one does not engage in White apologetics, one finds that White people have done far more to hurt Black people in this country than to help them.

As someone who identifies as a White Hispanic, I find this troubling. I don't feel guilty about the atrocities committed by my ancestors; I feel motivated to do right by the people they have historically harmed. I think that's a distinction that should not be ignored.

The principles of the Declaration of Independence were worth fighting for then and now. I’m an old white guy. I say when blacks in political office make the kind of statement she made, she is attacking the sacrifices white people gave, including their lives. That is racist.

Strawmen are great because, no matter what your opponent is saying, you can simply put words in their mouths and argue against those. It's easier than having a fair discussion, although it is significantly less helpful in improving the state of this nation.

Here's the strawman in this argument: Norton stated that having children recite the Declaration of Independence in schools is unfair to minority students because the latter were not considered equal under God when it was written. The author, and everyone else on the extreme right apparently, accused her of calling the Declaration of Independence a racist document and attacking the sacrifices that White people have made for her.

This doesn't answer the question of whether it's fair to force minority students to recite the Declaration of Independence or not. Is the Declaration of Independence a racist document? I'll address that later. Should students be forced to recite it at schools? That's an argument with a great deal more nuance that became ignored in all the outrage from the Perpetually Offended Right.

Let's look at the document, though, because the author suggests that the Declaration of Independence was worth fighting for both in 1776 and today. And I doubted the validity of that claim the moment I saw it. Let's look at the text of that legendary document:

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
— http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

Well, Great Britain has a queen at the moment, and I don't think that Queen Elizabeth II is that awful a despot. I mean, she's fine. She's got great hair for an old lady, and her dogs are adorable. But I don't really see how she's attempting to establish "an absolute Tyranny over these States." Let's see what these "Facts" are. Maybe those'll clear this matter up.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
— http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

This sounds more like the 114th Congress of the United States than the Queen of Great Britain.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
— http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

This is like when President George W. Bush established the Department of Homeland Security and signed the Patriot Act into law.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury
— http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

Guantanamo Bay's still open, and President Barack Obama's in his eighth year.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
— http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html
Thomas Jefferson: "You sure we should leave that stuff in about the 'merciless savages'?" George Washington: "Yeah, sure. Who could it hurt?" Alexander Hamilton: "Well, the natives for one." George Washington: "Meh. Who cares? They'll be either assimilated or exterminated by the time 1800 rolls around." Thomas Jefferson: "You sure?" George Washington: "We got this."

Thomas Jefferson: "You sure we should leave that stuff in about the 'merciless savages'?"
George Washington: "Yeah, sure. Who could it hurt?"
Alexander Hamilton: "Well, the natives for one."
George Washington: "Meh. Who cares? They'll be either assimilated or exterminated by the time 1800 rolls around."
Thomas Jefferson: "You sure?"
George Washington: "We got this."

I was a little surprised by this. It'd been a few years since I've examined the text of the Declaration of Independence, and I didn't remember that it labeled the Native Americans as "merciless savages" who only fight wars of attrition by killing women, children, and the infirm.

It's a racist statement. It's offensive to the Stockbridge Natives of Massachusetts and other New England tribes that fought in the American Revolutionary War alongside White soldiers, believed in the same rights and freedoms as the colonists, and bled the same blood for independence from the British yoke.

Stockbridge Chief Solomon Unhaunawwaunnett said, "If we are conquered our Lands go with yours, but if we are victorious we hope you will offer us our just Rights." In return for the support and friendship of Native American men like him, his people were thanked with centuries of torture, extermination, relocation, and cultural erasure.

And the author wants to perpetuate that failure on the part of the Founders by forcing minority students to repeat those words like some kind of nationalistic creed? No. Absolutely not. While some of the "Facts" of the Declaration of Independence might still be applicable today, and the document deserves to be studied by students learning American history, it is not appropriate to force students to repeat those words as if they believed in them. Especially not if they're Native Americans themselves.

Actions like these above bring dishonor to all those who served this country, be they White, Black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian American. Shame on you.

It's clear that the author has little to no idea what he's talking about. But he's posting his blog inside of an echo chamber, where only his opinion is heard and comments are moderated. I don't expect my own blog post to start a conversation because I've developed an unhealthy cynicism about many of my fellow Americans' willingness to abandon wrongheaded opinions for ones more representative of reality. Thankfully, I'm surrounded everyday by White people who are exceptional and magnanimous. They keep me hopeful that America will continue to grow into the nation that the Founders envisioned, even if they didn't have the tools—or the willingness—to put it into effect themselves.