(published by Life After Hate, 2/8/12)
When Arizona legislator Cecil Ash came to the microphone during a discussion of a proposed Latino-American holiday in his state last week nobody could have guessed what he was about to say. As reported by KPHO, the local CBS affiliate in Phoenix, he said he supported the idea and then continued with the following, “I just want them to assure me that when we do become in the minority you’ll have a day for us.”
When asked about it later Ash claimed that he was trying to bring some levity to what had been a serious debate, but he didn’t retract his statement. Instead, he further entrenched it by saying that he felt that it was appropriate and that if and when whites fell into the minority he was hopeful that there would be a holiday to celebrate white accomplishments.
Of course, nobody noted that we already celebrate Presidents’ Day, which was originally two celebrations for the February birthdays of Washington and Lincoln. We already celebrate Independence Day, which honors the history of the Revolutionary War brought on by our white founding fathers, many of whom owned slaves. We celebrate Columbus Day, to honor a man who “discovered” a land that was already inhabited. We celebrate Thanksgiving but make it more about the pilgrims than about their hosts. We celebrate Christmas and Easter, both Christian holidays, even though much of the country is inhabited by Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other believers, as well as pagans, atheists, and agnostics.
Aside from those major holidays every day is a holiday of sorts for the white majority in this country, because whites are generally free from discrimination (except those who practice alternative religions, who might be gay, differently-abled, or not part of the ruling class). White people can generally walk down the street without fear of being accosted by policemen for no apparent reason. How many white people are suspected of terrorism simply because of how they look? Not many, although most of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in this country were committed by white men against their own government. Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing come to mind.
The reason that there are gay pride parades, black history month, Cinco de Mayo, and others, is because the bulk of the calendar and the bulk of the world belong to the ruling class. It is to recognize with pride the contributions of minorities to the overall culture of our country. These celebrations give minorities a chance to share in some pride about contributions to the country.
When I was a child outright discrimination against African-Americans was still legal. In the southern states there were still segregated water fountains, restrooms, schools, and more. In the northern states black Americans were ostensibly welcomed, but were discriminated against in more subtle ways. Civil rights laws were eventually passed and things got somewhat better, but to believe that things are equal now–or even close–is to kid oneself. How many white people have lost possible jobs because of the color of their skin? How many have been profiled and questioned about why they were out walking in a certain neighborhood?
In my youth it was illegal for groups of two or more gay men to gather together in public. Those who dared to congregate in homosexual-friendly clubs risked raids and arrests. This is what caused the Stonewall Rebellion that started the modern gay rights movement. Now it is mostly illegal to discriminate against queer people, but that is the law, not the reality. How many straight people have lost jobs when it was discovered who their life partners were? How many straight people have had friends killed because those friends were straight?
The reality in this nation is that every day on the calendar, even those that do recognize minorities, is a celebration of white America. The country belongs to the mostly white, mostly straight, mostly male, and wealthy ruling class. What few holidays there are to celebrate diversity are tolerated, not embraced, and some of them are actively opposed–there are still many, many people who want to end the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
We need to get those who have not been a part of these celebrations to want to be part of them, and minorities should be part of theirs. Invite community leaders who are not on board with LGBT rights to the local pride parade so that they can see that they are not that much different than their queer counterparts. We all want love and family; we just have somewhat different views of what that means. Bring people like Cecil Ash to the Black History Month events or Cindo de Mayo celebration so that they can learn something of the African-American or Latino community and culture. Once a bridge is built traffic flows in both directions.
Despite Cecil Ash’s fear of falling into minority status, we do not need a holiday to celebrate Caucasian contributions to this country. We already have them and white history and white contributions are celebrated all the time. We need instead to end the need for minority holidays by honoring the initial promise of this country. We need to work to make all of our citizens equal. That would be something to celebrate and a holiday that all could enjoy.