American Owned

You’ll see the signs still in some places.  Most of the time, “American Owned” hanging on a convenience store window or hotel means one thing: “We’re white.”  It’s racism, plain and simple, and carries the implication that someone who isn’t white can’t possibly be American.

About 10 years ago, on election day, I went to my favorite restaurant.  The shop owner, a Vietnamese man, was in the process of becoming a citizen while legally operating his business.  He came over, but rather than ask if I wanted my “usual,” he asked if I voted yet.  When I said I hadn’t, he firmly told me that he would not be serving me until I had done so.  At first, I thought he was joking and explained that I would vote, just not before eating! He insisted.  He told me about the process he was going through to become a citizen and that I, as a citizen, have a responsibility to America to go and discharge my citizenship duties. He said, “I can’t vote, but I can get people who can to do so.” Clearly, this man wanted to vote, and I know (he is now a very proud citizen) that he proudly votes in every election.

I left, voted, and came back later. I got a free meal for it.

When I think of people coming to America, I always think of this man. He worked harder than most people I know. Hard work is American, right? He ran a successful business in the free market, by providing what people wanted for a price they would pay. That’s American, right? He is more patriotic than most. That’s American, right? He recognized the good about America. That’s American, right? He’s exactly the kind of person that makes America into America. I don’t know what his religions was, but I do know that he didn’t look white. And, in my mind’s eye, I can see a competitor hanging a sign that says, “American Owned” in the window when the competitor cannot compete on the basis of a superior product at a superior value.

In WWII, we saw the enemy of the Japanese. Heck, we saw the enemy of the Japanese-American. We locked Japanese into internment camps. This was while we were fighting the Nazis who were sure that race mattered. Apparently, it didn’t just matter to them.

During WWII, the 100th Infantry was made up of Japanese Americans, fighting two wars: the war against the Axis and the war for recognition as full Americans. By all accounts, they fought hard and incredibly bravely. TWENTY ONE of the members of this battalion received the Medal of Honor during WWII. TWENTY ONE! This is the highest possible military honor in the United States. It’s awarded for the often dismissed phrase, valor “above and beyond the call of duty.” To put in perspective how high of an honor this award represents, a four-star general will salute a private, even if in civilian clothing, who is wearing the medal. I know a white veteran who was in Italy while the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a part of the 100th, was also there. I can assure you that nobody will insult a Japanese American in his presence without finding out the full story of what our fellow Americans did there.

But there’s more to this story. Those 21 medals? 20 were not awarded until 2000, because these men were ignored – due to race, according to the commission investigating in 1998 – despite tremendous valor deserving of the award. It took us 50+ years to recognize the heroes of the 100th. Of course there’s other awards, too, that many were deserving of.  The 442nd is, for the size and length of service, the most decorated unit in US military history.

But, in WWII, these brave men were the enemy. They had the skin color of our declared enemy. They weren’t Americans, they were the enemy. They weren’t “us.”

Of course Japanese-Americans weren’t the only ones treated this way. We did it to blacks and Asians (and still do). And today, it’s popular to treat Hispanic Americans and Muslim Americans the same way.  For instance, what could be more American than singing the American Anthem? Apparently you are not to do that dressed as anything but a western European:

Sebastien, the boy in the above video, is as American as anyone else. He’s a citizen, born in Texas. Yet, he was attacked online for being “Mexican” and non-American. Fortunately, the San Antonio Spurs basketball team responded in the perfect way: they asked him to come back and sing again.

Yet, a positive response by a sports team doesn’t erase racism. It’s still here.

We saw that again with the Miss America Pageant when an Indian-American woman won. Among the racist tweets and statements were many that assumed Nina was an Arab Muslim, a common mistake made by racists. Apparently, in their America, a Muslim or an Arab couldn’t represent America. After all, Muslim Arabs are terrorists, and so are people who look like them. And thus they are the Japanese of the 21st century.

It’s time to stop this cycle of hate. No, it’s not about whether she was Arab or Indian. She’s American. That’s what this needs to be about. And whether she believes in Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Athiesm, or something else, she’s still an American. We’re a diverse country. With Muslims. That aren’t terrorists.

And, lest you think this attitude towards Muslims by an American is a new, liberal idea, check out this article by the Huffington Post. The founding fathers knew Muslims existed – they weren’t as stupid as some think. And they built a country that was supposed to recognize them as full Americans.

Not everyone wants that America, though. And rather than claim to be destroying the foundational principles of America, those who don’t want it hide behind the flag and patriotism, claiming they want “Americans” to represent America, when what they really mean is only white Christian people should represent America. Their “patriotism” needs to be called out as the bigotry that it is.

Soldiers, Voters, and Cross-Dressers

Just recently, the US has opened up military combat roles to women.  However, we’ve already had women in combat roles, well before the 21st century.  No, I’m not talking about the women who were honored for finding themselves in combat while performing a supposedly non-combative job (these women were every bit as brave as any man who signed up for a combat role).  No, in every conflict the USA (and likely others) have been involved in, women soldiers were on the front lines.

Civil War Memorial on the side of the Colorado Capitol Building.  Taken by self.

Civil War Memorial on the side of the Colorado Capitol Building. Taken by self.

For instance, in the Civil War, at least several hundred – perhaps well over 1,000 – women served on either side of the battle lines.  No, not just as nurses or such (although the only woman to have received the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor in the US, was a surgeon; she is also one of only eight civilians to receive the Medal of Honor – she dedicated her life after the war to woman’s rights, as even after receiving the Medal of Honor and being a prisoner of war, she was unable to vote).

A Washington Post article describes a book and research on the Civil War.  Unlike Mary Edwards Walker, these women dressed and acted as men during the war – in fact, they enlisted as men, using male names, wearing male clothes, and, in most cases, going undetected (unless injured or, in some cases, having a child).

Albert Cashier, likely a FTM transsexual who served in the US Military during the Civil War.

Albert Cashier, likely a FTM transsexual who served in the US Military during the Civil War.

The reasons for this were varied – some, such as Albert Cachier (referred to as Jennie Hodgers in the Washington Post article) would likely be classified as transsexual today, although it’s hard to apply modern labels to historical figures.  Albert worked as a man following the war and was eventually committed to a mental institution (for non-trans related reasons).  At that mental institution, he was discovered to be female (referring here to sex, not gender) and forced to wear dresses.  He turned the dresses into pants.

Other reasons for presenting as a man during the war included a desire for independence, greater rights, better pay (war pay was quite good compared to what many workers made, and certainly better than what women made), love (to enlist with a significant other), patriotism, or revenge (often to take revenge for the death of a loved one or family member).  Voting was a particularly possible reason as well.  Of course the reasons given by the military for this were less noble – typically homosexuality (then considered a very grave moral sin) or prostitution.  A good woman didn’t enlist in the army, after all.

Ironically, just as in the civil war, cross dressing today in the military is grounds for discharge.  While gays and lesbians may serve openly, being found out to be a cross dresser or trans person in the US military is grounds for a discharge under mental health reasons.  In fact, even having had sex reassignment surgery or being intersexed is reason to be discharged (or not admitted).  Apparently, sex organs matter in combat, at least in the eyes of the USA military.  Maybe some of this is related to the idea that only men can possibly fight in combat roles, an idea the USA had until recently, at least officially.

Not all other countries see things that way.  For example, during WWII, women bomber pilots fought for the Allies.  No, I’m not just talking about the women who ferried planes around the world, sometimes at great risk to themselves.  I’m talking about women who had bombs loaded on their planes and flew into combat with the bombs, to drop them on the enemy.  The Russian Night Witches flew some of the oldest and worst planes in the Russian air force, but successfully performed their missions.  Incredibly successfully, in fact.  They flew a dozen or more missions each during an average night (owing to the planes limited payload capacity), and most pilots flew over 1,000 missions.  Very few suffered casualties, but not because it wasn’t dangerous, but because of their outstanding tactics and flying skills.

And, today, many US allies allow not only women in all roles, but also allow trans people to openly serve.  For instance, Canada not only allows open service, but even covers SRS (sex reassignment surgery) under the military health plan (and allows time off for surgery).  Israel just enlisted their first known trans service member.

It is probably time for two things: First, we need to fully recognize that not only did women provide essential support, often at great cost to themselves and their families (just as men did) during times of war, but performed as men do in military – as soldiers.  Second, we need to finish the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell in the USA.  What matters is a soldier’s ability to perform their job, not their sex organs (or their surgical status).  Let them serve openly as who they are – they are fighting for all of our rights to do the same, after all.

Spikes in Divorce – Same Sex Marriage?

One of the talking points of right-wing commentators is that same-sex marriage will both increase the divorce rate and lower the marriage rate.  Essentially, the argument is that same-sex marriage will soil the word and institution of marriage so badly, that straight people will not want to be in marriage anymore.

The CDC keeps statistics of marriage and divorce.  There is some caveats with this data, and there are slightly different versions of it, so the numbers very slightly.  However, they don’t vary enough to change the conclusions from anything I’m saying, and I have normalized for missing states (not every state reports the data every year).

Historical USA Divorce RateWhat you can see in the chart to the left is interesting.  While there are some data oddities (the drop right around year 2000 is due to data gathering differences), the trend is clear – the divorce rate is not sky-rocketing as a result of gay marriage being legal in several states.  Instead it’s flat or maybe slightly down over the last few decades.

I’ll define the terms “divorce rate” and “divorce rate” briefly – they simply are “how many marriages were there that year per 100,000 people living in the USA” and “how many divorces were there that year per 100,000 people living in the USA.”  As you can see, in the 80s and 90s, there was nearly one divorce for every two marriages, although it’s dropped a bit down since then.

What this chart doesn’t show is 1946 (my data source for that time period didn’t break it down by year) – there was a massive spike in divorce following WWII, one that rivals the modern 1980 spike.  Why?  Nobody really knows, but the two biggest theories are (1) it was hard to get divorced when you were in the army (and likewise hard to divorce someone who was in the army) and (2) the war put a tremendous strain on young families.  The divorce rate in 1946 was 4.3 divorces per 1,000 population, versus 2.0 divorces per 1,000 people in 1940 and 2.6 divorces per 1,000 people in 1950.  In fact, 1946 had more divorce than every year from 2002 onward on a per-capita basis (when compared to marriage rate, 1946 also saw a very high marriage rate – but the divorce rate was still much higher than the previous and following year, even on a per 1,000 marriage basis).  So war is bad for marriage.  One wonders how US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are reflected in the above graph – would our divorce rate be lower if we didn’t go to war (sometimes I wonder how the right wing reconciles their definitions of pro-life and pro-family with their support for going to war).  So here’s similar data from the CDC (but different scale, so not directly comparable) about divorce in the USA that shows, clearly, the spike:

From http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/mvsr/supp/mv32_03s.pdf

From http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/mvsr/supp/mv32_03s.pdf – data from 1920 to 1980

The other spike was gay marriage being legalized.

Okay, no it wasn’t.  At the end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s, there was a massive change to USA divorce law: the no-fault divorce became legal nearly everywhere.  In 1969, California instituted no-fault divorce.  In 1977, the 9th state changed their law to allow no-fault divorce.  In 1983, all but one state (South Dakota) did likewise (South Dakota did so in 1985).  Before this change, you had to legally prove, essentially, guilt of one spouse in an adversarial trial.  One spouse would attempt to prove guilt, while the other could defend against the claims.  And the claims had to be something tangible, not simply “we don’t get along” or “I’m not in love with her.”  It had to be something like abandonment or adultery (but not rape of the wife – up until 1982, there were still states that did not recognize that a husband could rape his wife, as she supposedly consented to any sex her husband ever could want when she said “I do”).  No fault divorce let one obtain a divorce without proving to a court that your spouse did something wrong.  Obviously, that made it easier for a divorce to occur when only one spouse wanted to get divorced (since now there was no defense against divorce to force the court to keep the marriage intact legally).

Who was divorcing in 1980?  They were married a median (not mean) of 6.8 years.  That means (no pun intended) that 1/2 of people divorcing were married less than 6.8 years, 1/2 more than 6.8 years.  It meant that 1/2 got married either before or after 1973.  The median age of women divorcing was 30.3 and the median age of men was 32.9.  In other words, the median birth year was 1947 (men) or 1949 (women).  Of course 1/2 of divorcees were born before then, 1/2 after.  In other words, these were the kids on Leave it to Beaver.  They weren’t pro-gay people!  In fact, if we calculate things, we find out that this group now has a median age of 64 (women) or 66 (men).  Do you know what is interesting about that?  According to Gallop, only 41% of 65+ year olds believe gay marriage should be legal, while only 46% of 50-64 year olds do.  Going back to 1996, 30-49 year olds (our median ages for those who divorced in 1980 would have been 47 and 49 in 1996), showed only 30% believing it should be legal.  In comparison  today, 70% of 18-29 year olds think gay marriage should be legal and 53% of 30-49 year olds.

So, this group that divorced more frequently than people today is also more anti-gay.

If we look at 1975, with a divorce rate nearly as high as 1980, we see the median length of a marriage at time of divorce was 6.5 years.  In 1968 (1975 minus 6.5), the median age of marriage was 21.5 (woman) and 23.6 (man) which put their age at time of divorce at roughly 28 and 30 years old in 1975.  That puts their age of birth at 1945 (women) and 1947 (men).  Maybe this is less the age of Beaver and more the age of Wally Cleaver.  Regardless, this group too still holds a significantly more anti-gay viewpoint than the children of the 80s and 90s (ironically these are children, often, of divorce!).

Anti-gay attitude doesn’t seem to make marriages more successful.  One would think things like communication and compromise do.  But of course promoting those things isn’t nearly as important as being anti-gay for “pro-family” organizations.  Should any pro-family organization want my advice, here it is:

  • War is bad for marriage.  We better be darn sure the war is worth it because even just war like WWII (Gallop says 9 out of 10 Americans believe WWII was just) has tremendous consequences for marriage.
  • Being anti-gay doesn’t seem to correlate to having successful marriages, if history is any example
  • Maybe the Leave it to Beaver family wasn’t quite as perfect as we remember.  It certainly didn’t prepare people for lasting marriage (children of the 70s and 80s are doing better at staying with their spouse).
  • There probably were a lot of unhappy marriages before no-fault divorce.  Rather than attacking these laws (such as by so-called Covenant Marriages which roll-back no-fault divorce laws), maybe we should figure out why so many people are unhappy enough with their marriage to want a divorce

Now, I don’t want anyone to think any of the above is any sort of criticism of people who have divorced.  It’s not intended that way.  I recognize that there are lots of reasons why people divorce, and I can’t imagine anyone divorcing without substantial thought and a broken heart.  So I recognize that divorce is not a moral failure.  That is why I’m opposed to the covenant marriage movement.

Again, what do all of these statistics show?  They show marriage is complex.  It’s affected by lots of things (such as no-fault divorce laws and WWII).  But one thing that isn’t seen in any of the statistics: the institution of marriage is not particularly any worse off today than it was when Reagan was president, nor is legal recognition of same-sex marriage creating any apparent impact upon our divorce rates (the same can be said for marriage rates, too, but that’s a different post).