Politics isn't always pretty. In fact, it can get downright nasty. When you work on issues that directly affect people's lives, it's easy for passion to overcome politeness. That said, there are some lines you just don't cross.
Recently, on Tallahassee radio station WFLA, Florida Family Policy Council president John Stemberger crossed one of the most basic lines we have: racism. In an interview about the recent court rulings overturning our state's ban on same-sex marriage, he said:
Marriage is a unique institution that does many, many things that are productive, so you want to encourage marriage. In the inner city right now we see what happens when marriage is gone. You have almost a barbarian society. It's a very simple society. When marriage is gone, bad things happen in society.
Listen to the interview as posted by Equality Florida:
As a 25-year Floridian, a mother and a black woman, his comments hit home. When Mr. Stemberger says "the inner city," he isn't talking about a neighborhood in Tallahassee or Miami, or in even in his own city of Orlando. He's talking about communities of color. "Marriage is gone" can only mean the "barbarians" he was referring to include all the single mothers and their children in those communities. The "inner city" euphemism has been around so long that it hardly needs to be explained, but it demands to be acknowledged.
There is simply no excuse for such a racist statement. This is true of anyone, but especially coming from a public figure like John Stemberger. He isn't a grassroots activist shouting epithets at a rally; he's the face of a political organization. He's a lawyer, a lobbyist and a political leader -- all professions that depend on the power of the spoken word. He knew exactly what he was saying, which makes it that much more offensive coming from someone who regularly talks about the importance of "traditional values" and "civil society."
Well, Mr. Stemberger, my values and my understanding of a civil society mean supporting all families, not just those that meet your narrow definition of "traditional." My values also include the expectation of an apology for an insult. Last week you called millions of Floridians, among them thousands of single mothers and their children, both "simple" and "barbarians." It was racist and reckless. Systemic racism like this, and the oppressive/biased attitudes that people like you hold, perpetuate the cycle of poverty, the prison pipeline and sometimes -- as we see in this week's awful news from Ferguson, Missouri -- brutal violence.
Your comments reveal an ugly attitude that, if ignored, reinforces a culture of racism that, we see today, leads to horrific consequences. I cannot let that stand. For all families living in all communities -- in the inner city or anywhere else -- we will not accept racism in words or in action.
We're waiting on your public apology.
Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks serves as the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. NBJC's mission is to end racism and homophobia. As America's leading national black LGBT civil rights organization focused on federal public policy, NBJC has accepted the charge to lead black families in strengthening the bonds and bridging the gaps between the movements for racial justice and LGBT equality. For more information about NBJC, visit nbjc.org.