Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

You cannot argue your way out of being racist

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I am shocked but not surprised by the racist stupidity of Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in the US state of Louisiana, and his attempt to justify it.

The initial abuse of power was his denial of a marriage licence to Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay, a mixed race couple (she is identified as White, he is Black). Bardwell’s justification for this breach of human rights (Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically says that ‘race’ should not be a limitation on the right to marry and found a family) is that he has witnessed that mixed-race relationships do not last and that mixed-race children have difficulty fitting in to either race community. But you have to ask yourself why this may be the case; isn’t it because of boneheads like Bardwell who see race before they see they person?

I’ve heard it said that homosexual relationships often don’t last too, and, therefore, homosexual marriage is a Bad Thing. And I think I see the link here. Society puts pressure on those in what it sees as non-standard relationships, because, if our society is anxious about anything, it is sex. The pressure under which it is perceived mixed-race or homosexual relationships fail is not to do with the nature of the relationship, but the little, sniping intolerances in society. Also, note that this perception of failure is never made relative to failure in ‘standard’ relationships: some mixed-race relationships fail, ergo there is a problem with mixed-race relationships!

Now for the justification, Bardwell starts with the oldest racist get-out card: I have Black friends. Bardwell plays this card straight-up, adding that he allows them to use his bathroom when they visit! Having friends who are people of colour doesn’t prevent you from being racist any more than being married stops a man from abusing his wife.

Bardwell also tells us that he is a fair man as he refuses to license any mixed-race marriages; it’s equal-opportunities racism! Apparently, he asks couples on the phone before they come to get their licence whether they are mixed race. I only wish people started responding “No, we’re both human”!

The last line of Bardwell’s defence is that he did not prevent the couple from getting married, but simply said that he would not sign their licence. Here I can see parallels with the British registrar who refused to perform civil partnerships. In both cases, the person in a position of authority refuses to allow certain ‘non-standard’ relationships to be legally recognised on their watch, and the get-out is that someone else can do them. If your conscience prevents you from performing a certain part of job which can be reasonably expected of you (it is not dangerous, degrading or totally unreasonable), you should not be in that job.

I’d just like to mention Macon D’s article on this same subject, particularly for his comment that the profound counterexample of Bardwell’s concern for mixed-race children, Barack Obama, was visiting Louisiana at the time.

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

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