Saturday, August 19, 2017

Ever more just, every day

Some version of this likely is going on my syllabi this fall.

As a fiftysomething Southern white man, I am inevitably associated, by history and current events alike, with the most toxic elements of American society, including the fascists now literally on the march across our nation. Because my silence in the face of such horrors might imply complicity, and because merely cutting-and-pasting our university’s anti-discrimination policies would not be personal enough or strong enough, I hereby affirm to all my students, and to their friends, families and loved ones, that I abhor white supremacy, racism, sexism, nativism and misogyny, and that I work daily to be a mentor, friend, advocate and ally for all my students, including women; people of color; students who are queer, lesbian, gay, bi, trans, undecided, intersex and asexual; immigrants and the children of immigrants, including the undocumented; and people of all religious faiths and of no religious faith at all. Dr. Cornel West reminds us, "Justice is what love looks like in public." I pledge my support as we work to make our classroom, campus, community and nation ever more just, every day.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

New sale: "The Devil's Whatever" will be in The Book of Magic, ed. Gardner Dozois (Bantam, 2018)

I just sold a new novelette, "The Devil's Whatever," to Gardner Dozois for his upcoming Book of Magic anthology, which I believe will be a 2018 Bantam hardover with new work from Eleanor Arnason, Elizabeth Bear, John Crowley, Kate Elliott, Matthew Hughes, Megan Lindholm, Garth Nix, K.J. Parker, Rachel Pollack, Tim Powers, Ysabeau Wilce and Liz Williams, among others. I'm honored to be included. 
"The Devil's Whatever" is my third Pearleen Sunday story, after "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions" (2007) and "The Dragaman's Bride" (2009); it also is a sequel to "Beluthahatchie" (1997), the first story I wrote at Clarion West 1994. All three of those earlier stories likewise were bought by Gardner Dozois, whose encouragement has been invaluable to me, these past 20-plus years.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Man Against Myth by Barrows Dunham (1947)

On my groaning bookcases devoted to pseudoscience, urban legends and folklore in general, a battered first-edition hardcover, without dust jacket, has sat for years, since I blindly retrieved it from a library giveaway table: Man Against Myth by Barrows Dunham (Boston: Little, Brown, 1947).

I could use a higher-res cover image.
I finally plucked it off the shelf, at random, and read it. Dunham devotes a chapter apiece to 10 common beliefs that he argues are not only erroneous, but active obstacles to social progress. After I read the book, I learned the author became a cause celebre a few years later, when he refused to testify before the Un-American Activities Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was fired by Temple University, where he had been on faculty, and prosecuted for contempt of Congress; though acquitted, he did not teach again for many years. 

Here are Dunham’s chapter titles, listing the beliefs he seeks to rebut:
1. That you can’t change human nature.
2. That the rich are fit and the poor unfit.
3. That there are superior and inferior races.
4. That there are two sides to every question.
5. That thinking makes it so.
6. That you cannot mix art and politics.
7. That you have to look out for yourself.
8. That all problems are merely verbal.
9. That words will never hurt me.
10. That you cannot be [both] free and safe.

(Originally posted on Facebook, Aug. 4, 2017. Bud Schultz's 2012 photo of Dunham is here.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Piggie Park defense

(This is re-posted from my Facebook page, where many comments can be found.)

As I graduated from an all-white South Carolina private academy that my parents helped found in defiance of school integration, I have much to atone for on Martin Luther King Day, as on every day. Today I am thinking about the Piggie Park defense, an old Palmetto State tactic that some Christians are attempting to revive in the 21st century, as a weapon against queer people.
My first-edition copy of Bessinger's self-published 2001 book.
Piggie Park is a Columbia-area barbecue chain whose founder, the late Maurice Bessinger, refused to serve black people. Spurned customers filed suit in federal court in the year of my birth, 1964. The case, Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court on the narrow but important point of attorney’s fees. The larger point Bessinger had tried to make didn’t even reach the Supremes, having been a loser in the first round. To serve barbecue to black people, Bessinger argued, would violate his Christian beliefs; therefore, he argued, civil-rights legislation trampled his First Amendment religious freedoms.

The late William Price Fox, my undergraduate creative-writing professor at the University of South Carolina, loved telling this story, and always claimed the judge’s response to Bessinger’s argument was, “’Tain’t good enough, Maurice,” a sentence I sadly am forced to concede cannot be found in the published federal opinion. Fox was, however, vividly and accurately paraphrasing what the opinion does say, which is this:
Undoubtedly defendant Bessinger has a constitutional right to espouse the religious beliefs of his own choosing, however, he does not have the absolute right to exercise and practice such beliefs in utter disregard of the clear constitutional rights of other citizens. This court refuses to lend credence or support to his position that he has a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of the Negro race in his business establishments upon the ground that to do so would violate his sacred religious beliefs.
Let us fast-forward now to the 21st century, when the Piggie Park defense is being (pardon the pun) trotted out again by the “Preserve Freedom, Prevent Coercion” statement. The 80-plus “prominent religious and thought leaders” who have signed this – almost all of them men, among them Franklin Graham and the archbishop of Baltimore – argue that all civil-rights protections for queer people are inherently unconstitutional because Jesus. That’s a paraphrase, of course – one I hope Fox would appreciate – but hey, read the statement yourself, if you have the stomach. Then re-read Judge Simons’s opinion I quoted above, from 1966. Substitute for “Bessinger” any bigot du jour, and substitute for “members of the Negro race” the phrase “queer people.” That’s the best rebuttal to Graham et al, and it was written a half-century ago. You might mention that, the next time you run into the archbishop of Baltimore in the 7-Eleven, or into Franklin Graham at some inauguration or other.

It’s getting toward lunchtime as I type this, and I must confess, at the risk of my queer-allied soul, that if you set a plate of Piggie Park barbecue in front of me right now, I gladly would eat it. But I never again will swallow the Piggie Park defense, no matter what sauce you put on it. I’ve had my fill of that already.