Mark Chambers is what’s wrong with Alabama.
Every week — sometimes, every day in a week — I get messages from people from all around this state, and from people who no longer live in this state, telling me essentially the same thing: Alabama has a lot of good people, and it has many fine qualities, but there is an undertone of hostility and hate for anyone who is the slightest bit different that really gives Alabama a black eye.
Mark Chambers is that undertone.
Although, “undertone” seems to suggest that the hostility and hate is subdued, and that’s certainly not the case in many instances. And in particular with Chambers.
Because Chambers is the mayor of Carbon Hill — a once-upon-a-time mining town in northwest Alabama, with a population of around 2,000 people and dwindling — and he is now famous in one of the two ways Alabama residents become famous.
Chambers said something ignorant and awful, and the national media picked up the local media stories of the ignorant Alabamian saying hateful things about good people. (His other option for fame in this state was being a great athlete, but sadly they have not yet started awarding pro contracts for saying dumb stuff. But, boy, once they do ….)
Chambers posted on Facebook — a phrase that is quickly replacing the old redneck standy, “Hey, y’all, watch this …” — saying that we needed to “kill off” the socialists, “baby killers,” and homosexuals. This was his idea for fixing “society.”
I feel fairly confident that some really bad stuff would have to go down before America would ever turned to Chambers to get his thoughts on how to fix things, but still, his comments — and his refusal to really apologize for them (he said he was sorry they became public) and his refusal to resign — shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Because this is real life.
And Chambers is in a position of authority. He is the leader of his small town. His words matter.
No matter how dumb his comments might be — and they’re so dumb that I’d consider paying to watch him wrestle with the actual definition of “socialism” when applied to things like Medicare or public schools — he can’t simply be written off. Because as mayor, the people who have supported him will have a natural tendency to defend him, to see things from his point of view, to go on Facebook and agree with him.
Which is exactly what happened. Several people from Carbon Hill came rushing to Chambers’ defense, and they agreed with his general sentiment.
Let me explain the danger there.
There are, without a doubt, gay kids who live in Carbon Hill. And we know from statistics that LGBTQ people, particularly in their teens, struggle the most with depression and suicidal thoughts. That group experiences the highest rates of suicide in the country.
And now, here’s the mayor, joined by his supporters, advocating for those kids to be “killed off.”
How do you think that sits?
How do you think the other kids in town — the ones who might be inclined to bully the gay kid or the transgender teen — will take it? As encouragement? As an OK from the mayor to attack those kids who are different?
That’s the harm of a Mark Chambers.
And the problem with Alabama is that we have a whole lot of people just like him — people who never think two feet past themselves, who never consider the harm their words can do, who simply can’t just treat everyone with dignity and respect.
This has long been Alabama’s most glaring problem — our inability to accept anyone who is even slightly different than the white, straight, Christian norm. Along with our tendency to act so holier than thou as we whip the slave, bomb the church, refuse to bake the cake, blow up the abortion clinic or simply turn our backs on kids who, more than anything else on earth, just need love.
Mark Chambers and the people like him are our problem.