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Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Self-righteous Americans

Rachel Maddow had a guest on tonight, a Ugandan member of congress who is pushing a bill for life imprisonment and in some cases execution for homosexuality. She suggested he might even find himself up before an international criminal court as a result. We also frequently see American media and politicians excoriating Iran (never Saudi Arabia or other U.S. allies!) for their treatment of women.

Now obviously I completely support the rights of women and gays and lesbians. But I'm also not a self-righteous American who has forgotten that it was well within my lifetime that the U.S. had plenty of sins along all those lines itself. I think I've written before how, when I first became politically active, one of the battles raging was the right of unmarried women to obtain birth control. Around that same time, Bill Baird was arrested several times for distributing birth control information (to emphasize, we're not talking about performing abortions, or distributing information about abortion, we're talking about birth control). Not until 1972, after I had graduated from college, did the Supreme Court rule that the right to privacy guaranteed access to birth control.

And this whole subject was brought home to me again the other day, when Kamela Harris was finally pronounced the newly-elected Attorney General of California. Harris, who is Black, was born in 1964 (I was almost out of high school at the time), and, according to her acceptance speech, she was part of the first class to integrate the Berkeley school system (which didn't happen until 1968, so she may have been exaggerating slightly, but not much).

So while I have a lot of strong opinions, one thing I try not to be is self-righteous, particularly when it comes to lecturing other countries about how they should structure their society. Because I know that, not that this country has achieved anything close to perfection in terms of human rights (far, far from it), but that it wasn't that long ago that we were far, far worse.

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