The state Appeals Court of New Jersey found in favour of a gay scout who had been excluded from the state’s boy scout association on the basis of his sexual orientation. This was later overturned by the Supreme Court in a majority opinion written by the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist who stated for the majority that if someone whose sexual orientation destabilizes the operation of an organization then that organization has a right to exclude him/her from the group. Ina minority opinion Justice John Paul Stevens ruled that the decision was a violation of civil rights and was discriminatory based on sexual orientation.
Brown vs Board of Education:
In the classic case, Brown vs Board of Education, the state court of Kansas ruled that a black child could remain in a black only school as long as the facilities were ‘separate but equal’. This compares quite well with the New Jersey case since the court was on the opposite side of equal rights. The decision by the Supreme Court was then totally opposite since it upheld the view that school segregation was unconstitutional according to the view that ‘all men were created equal’. This is also backed up in the Declaration of Independence.
Since time immemorial, Americans have denigrated blacks and other races within their society with racial stereotypes. The typical black male as depicted in the film, ‘Birth of a Nation’ by DW Griffith is a burly, rapacious brute only interested in lust and deflowering white women. Such stereotyping was extremely common in the Southern states and can be extremely dangerous, in fact the film was credited with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s especially in states like Georgia and Tennessee. The black “sammbo’ is only interested in raping and propagating his bloodlust according to the film and this undoubtedly led to random and wanton violence against able bodied black men. This culminated in the horrific lynching of Claude Neal in Florida in 1935 where stereotyping was undoubtedly responsible for the barbaric acts committed against Neal which were hardly human. One has to take this into account when discussing the New Jersey decision which focuses on the stereotypes imparted to homosexual persons who are deemed as being inhuman. This is also backed up in the Frederick Douglass narrative where the former slave goes into detail on the sufferings endured by his brethren in the South when he was a slave and the innate inhumanity of slavery as well as discrimination.
Women are often discriminated against at their place of work due to the fact that they are consistently stereotyped. According to typical opinion, a woman’s place is in the home to look after the house, cook her husband meals and take care of the children. This obviously creates a situation here those women who decide to go out and work are looked at with a certain amount of disdain and will be discriminated against. This happened in factories in the Second World War where the woman stereotype of home clashed with that where women were on the job of production for the country. The same thing continues to happen today as women who have infiltrated the professions such as law and medicine find themselves discriminated against due to stereotypes. And if these women are from different races, then their discrimination will be worse as they suffer it double, both racially and gender wise. Roosevelt Americanism attempted to strike down this deeply ingrained prejudice but unfortunately this did not have much of an effect on the conservative bias of the Supreme Court.
Stereotypes are intrinsically wrong as they create an image of a person which apart from being incorrect, may incite others to violence. Racial stereotypes remain the most harmful of all as can be seen in the case of the Jew Leo Frank who was lynched by a mob of men in Marietta, Georgia in 1916 due to the fact that it was assumed that he was guilty of the murder of the child Mary Phagan due to the stereotype inflicted on Jews, that of lustful, money minded, brutal rapists. Unfortunately America still has some stereotypes ingrained in its society and these will not go away easily as past history has taught us on a regular level. The New Jersey Gay Scout case is definitely a case in point.
Slavery was a horrible experience for Douglas in more ways than one. He was intrinsically affected by its inhumanity and arbitrary imposition of violence. In the rural fields of Maryland, the overseer was king and he could administer the whip at leisure.
The contrast with Douglass’s life in Baltimore could not be greater, Here at an early age, the slave learned to read and write and as he so rightly describes it, a whole window of opportunities was opened to him. Slaves were not allowed to read and write and this was often on the penalty of death so the munificence of Douglass’ new owners was rather surprising although one has to admit that slaves were better treated in the city than they were in the rural areas.
It is intriguing to note that Douglass’ new owner was quite open to such education for slaves, something which was not very common in those days especially in the South where these were treated very badly in most cases and on most plantations. However Douglass did benefit greatly from this instruction as in a few short years he managed to learn the basic rudiments of reading and writing which opened up new worlds and new vistas for him.
However after a few years, Douglass’ nightmare returned when he was inherited by his munificent owner’s brother who resolved to ‘break’ him using an overseer named Covey back in the rural areas. Experiencing daily whippings and other indignities, Douglass could not take it any longer and eventually resolved to escape which he did with success and after some years of adventure and narrow escapades.
Douglass’s experiences as a slave in the rural areas of Maryland were markedly different from those when he was in the city. Although Baltimore still operated a segregated society which was a stark contrast to Douglass’ later experiences in New Bedford, Massachussetts, some slave owners were rather more open to educating their charges than leaving them in the lurch. Naturally, the situation was not ideal but at least the experience served Douglass in good stead as he learnt to read and write, something which was of huge benefit to him personally but also to us who can to this day appreciate his writings.
Douglass’ later fame as an abolitionist and preacher in favour of the emancipation of slavery was largely built on his experiences in the swamps of Maryland and in the city of Baltimore. His autobiography remains a source of inspiration for many even today written with matter of fact directness and honest to goodness reality. It makes us think on the importance of treating our fellow brethren with dignity and not based on the colour of their skin. It is indeed a powerful narrative on all counts and is surely a must read for anyone interested in the slavery question and what came beyond.
One can also assess the difference between salve life in the rural areas and that in the cities. More often than not, life for a slave in the rural areas was one of hellish torment and almost unbearable work and brutality whilst life for the slave in a town or city was considerably better to bear, largely due to the fact that slaves could mingle with townspeople and other traders during their errands which also opened up new vistas of opportunities. Douglass recounts his experiences with a vivid capability to thrill and also puts us into the very colourful city life of the early United States.
All these cases indicate that the decision of the Supreme Court to allow the ban on the gay scout of New Jersey to go ahead was unconstitutional and went against his civil rights.
Merriman C J (2008); Frederick Douglass; Retrieved from: http://www.online-literature.com/frederick_douglass/
Douglass F edited by Andrews W, McFeeley S (1996); Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself; W W Norton
Bowles, M. (2011). A history of the United States since 1865. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education.
The Declaration of Independence
Lincoln The Gettysburg AddressThe Constitution of the United States of AmericaThe Federalist Papers, Number 10