How shall integrity face oppression?
August 11, 2013
W.E.B. Du Bois was an African American civil rights activist (1868-1963) and one of the co-founders of the NAACP. His written works as well as his spoken rhetoric were aimed at combating racism, and in particular combating discrimination against African Americans which was enacted in the reprehensible form of Jim Crow laws. Du Bois is perhaps best known for his work The Souls of Black Folk (1903), aimed at showcasing the intelligence of the black race, as well as explaining the double consciousness that African Americans experienced, being both American and Black. A prolific writer of over 30 books, within many of Du Bois’ volumes one finds an immense wealth of erudition and insight into the particular problems America faced – and to large extent still faces – in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In one of Du Bois’ lesser known works, The Black Flame Trilogy, he raises fundamental questions principally important to African Americans fighting discrimination and intolerance in the post-Reconstruction era. The work of historical fiction follows the life of one man, Manuel Mansart, from his birth to his death, and serves as a vivid example and reminder of the injustices that African Americans were forced to live through in this country. When surrounded by prejudice and bigotry Du Bois places vital questions into the mind of Mansart about how he is to live his life:
“How shall Integrity face Oppression? What shall Honesty do in the face of Deception; Decency in the face of Insult; Self-defense before Blows? How shall Desert and Accomplishment meet Despising, Detraction and Lies? What shall Virtue do to meet Brute Force?”
These deep-seated questions about how the oppressed is supposed to act when faced with extreme discrimination and even violence, are placed in the mind of the central character, Mansart. And although these questions were written over half a century ago, they do not belong to another time, they are indeed, timeless. Having complete respect for the intellect and place that Du Bois holds in American history and his impact upon the African-American conscious, I cannot help but draw a parallel to the struggles gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals face today not only in America, but across the globe. These exact same questions need to be asked and answered today by those of us who face persecution by governments, by churches, and by society simply for being who we are, who God made us to be.
While some smaller parts of the world, particularly Western Europe and certain areas of North America, have become ever more tolerant of gays and lesbians, protecting their human rights in law, we continue to witness horrific acts being committed against members of the LGBTQ community in other parts of the world. For example, the Russian Duma (Parliament) has announced that it might direct police officers to arrest openly gay athletes competing in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. The island nation of Jamaica continues to see mob attacks against gays and lesbians. Cameroon has seen an increase in the murders of gay men. Zimbabwe’s president openly calls for gays to be persecuted and “rot in jail”. In Russia and Georgia gay men are being beaten in the streets. In the case of Georgia, recent attacks against the LGBT community were led by Orthodox priests. And so as a community we must ask the same questions which faced Mansart: “How does integrity face oppression? What shall decent do in the face of insult? How shall accomplishment meet despising, detraction and lies? What shall virtue do to meet brute force?”
And while the sadistic attacks in Russia and Georgia and other parts of the world disturb us for their brutality, there are also more subtle attacks taking place. One Orthodox “pastor” from Texas recently wrote the following on his blog: “No matter what the cause might be (we can respectfully agree to disagree on that one for today’s purpose) we cannot go around the fact that some people are attracted to the same sex. In the same time, people are also attracted to things like stealing, committing adultery, coveting, lying etc.” How does a gay man or lesbian react when a priest tells him or her that their God given sexual orientation is the same as stealing or lying? What does decency act in the face of insult?
I wish that I had an answer to these important questions, I do not.
-Regretfully I have not always faced my own oppression and the oppression of others, with integrity, as I have caved to what I perceived was a stronger power;
-Regretfully I have not always been honest about my own sexuality when confronted, as I have caved to what I perceived was a stronger power;
-Regretfully I have not always acted with decency when witnessing the lies and insults against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, and I caved to what I perceived was a stronger power;
-Regretfully I have not always been virtuous when witnessing verbal brute force committed against my brothers and sisters who are part of the LGBTQ community, as I caved to what I perceived was a stronger power.
I would never give advice to gays and lesbians living under repressive regimes and in homes of intolerance, because I can’t even imagine the perilous circumstances under which they must live however, I can give them hope and support. But for those of us blessed to live in countries and societies with a fair amount of support and protection, we must be reminded that the stronger power is not always the truth. Yet every time that we fail to be open and honest about who we are, or who we love, or fail to stand up to the “stronger power” in the defense of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, we contribute to the oppression, deception, insults, lies and brute force. We are the ones that need to change in order to affect change.