I am an idealist and a realist all at once, or at least I strive to be both, even though they seem contradictory. A few people commented on my post yesterday, Pale Blue Dot, in which I suggested that in celebration of Pride Month that “I think we should show random acts of kindness.” The comments showed very clearly an old debate in all struggles for equality. Whether we should be “accommodationists” or “activists” is a debate that dates back throughout all equality struggles. The most famous is probably that of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois in their struggles dealing with the black community in the late 19th and 20th century. And this is precisely what I want to discuss in this post, and why I have such a strong belief in the ethics of reciprocity. First let show you my example of Washington and Dubois, then I will quickly discuss women’s liberation, and GLBT liberation movements.
Accommodationists vs. ActivistsBooker T. Washington was born a slave in 1856. His philosophy was one of “accommodation” in which “Negroes” accepted the idea of white supremacy and legalized discrimination. In 1895, Washington gave what later came to be known as the Atlanta Compromise speech before the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. His address was one of the most important and influential speeches in American history, guiding African-American resistance to white discrimination and establishing Washington as one of the leading black spokesmen in America. Washington’s speech stressed accommodation rather than resistance to the racist order under which Southern African Americans lived.He used the following story in his speech that day:
A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: “Water, water. We die of thirst.” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time, the signal, “Water, send us water!” went up from the distressed vessel. And was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A third and fourth signal for water was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.In his “Atlanta Compromise Address,” he urges white America to help “Negroes” acquire employment and gain knowledge in agricultural and technological fields. In return, “Negroes” would give up their struggle for social equality and voting rights. His belief was that hard work, useful education, and the acquisition of land might earn civil rights. Many supported his plan; it was the more peaceful approach to helping African Americans and required no concession to equality. White philanthropists donated money and made it possible for Washington to found the Tuskegee Institute where African Americans were taught a useful trade.
W.E.B. DuBois was born a free man and was educated at Harvard University. Like Washington, he agreed that “Negroes” needed to become economically independent and better their place in the world. On the other hand, DuBois was outraged at racial injustice and inequality. He demanded that African Americans be given the right to vote, equal rights, and more educational opportunities. He wanted to reform education to meet the needs and interests of all African American students. In the “Declaration of the Principles of the Niagara Movement” he and other Black intellectuals outline a list of demands-mainly social equality. This movement led to the organization of the N.A.A.C.P. (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
Eventually, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the United States led to a mixture of both of these approaches along with Thoreau’s ideas of civil disobedience and Gandhi's ideas of non-violence to achieve their goals. The women’s rights movement had a similar conflict. The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 formulated the demand for women's suffrage in the United States of America and after the American Civil War (1861–1865) agitation for the cause became more prominent. In 1869 the proposed Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave the vote to black men, caused controversy as women's suffrage campaigners such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton refused to endorse the amendment, as it did not give the vote to women. Others, such as Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe however argued that if black men were enfranchised, women would achieve their goal. The conflict caused two organizations to emerge, the National Woman Suffrage Association, which campaigned for women's suffrage at a federal level as well as for married women to be given property rights, and the American Woman Suffrage Association, which aimed to secure women's suffrage through state legislation.
In the past, especially with my posts about Stonewall, I have talked about the early split between the conservative groups such as The Mattachine Society which tried to work with the system in the US during the 1950s and 1960s and later the Gay Liberation Front, which was more visible during the 1970s than many people actually preferred to be, but for the GLF to succeed they had no choice but to use the “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” tactics. Though The Mattachine Society was replaced by the Gay Liberation Front there still continues to be a debate about how we should go about equality. Should we work with the system at hand (the current government), or should we be more active and use the “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” tactics? President Obama made many promises to the GLBT community, however, he has been slow to actually push through those promises.
I live in a highly Republican/Christian Right state which is highly homophobic. How do I deal with this? Sometimes you have to turn the other cheek. You have to show them through actions, not protests that we are just like everyone else. I tend to believe in the Booker T. Washington approach of casting our buckets where we are. We have to work with what we have. Does that mean that we shouldn’t occasionally fight back? HELL NO, but still the same to gain enough allies to fight back. Just as I wouldn’t go into a redneck honky-tonk and announce alone, “I’m here, I’m queer, fucking get used to it” instead I would make sure that I had a large support group with me and just be myself. We are who we are, and we shouldn’t change that for other people. I can camp it up when I have been drinking but that is not really the real me, it’s just the me without many inhibitions. But I attempt to always be true to myself.
My Ideal SolutionI know that far too many people in this world do not follow my ethical ideals of reciprocity. I am by no means always successful, but I strive for it everyday. I strive to follow what we have been taught of as the Golden Rule. Some may mock me for my belief in “love thine enemies,” “turn the other cheek,” or my oft quoted belief in “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
Every major religion and philosophy has the ethics of reciprocity as their cornerstone. An early example of the Golden Rule that reflects the Ancient Egyptian concept of Maat appears in the story of The Eloquent Peasant which is dated to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1650 BCE): "Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do." An example from a Late Period (c. 664 BC – 323 BCE) papyrus: "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another." Plato quoted Socrates as stating "One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him." Confucius stated "Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." The ethics of reciprocity are evident in several different forms in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Luke 6:31 says: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” In Muhammad’s The Farewell Sermon, he stated “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.” Zoroaster, the founder of the Persian religion Zoroastrianism, probably summed it up most succinctly in his belief in “good word, good deeds, and good thoughts.”
Just think about this, if everyone followed the tenements of the Golden Rule, there would be no war, there would be not inequality, no discrimination, no sexism, no homophobia, no religious strife, etc. We would live in a world of unlimited freedom, peace, and prosperity. Why do we not all follow the Golden Rule? Greed and human nature are the answer to that. Until we decide to become better people and live by example, we will not achieve this ideal goal. I don’t expect everyone to follow this advice, but if we realized what could be achieved though this, then we show others how humanity and grow and evolve into a utopian society of unlimited freedom, peace, and prosperity. I realize that there is no such thing as a Utopia, and I doubt there ever will be, but I can still have hope and faith in humanity to become a better species and to treat all of mankind as you would like to be treated.