Alabama, on Monday, celebrated the birthday of a man who wasn’t born here, didn’t really live here, didn’t seem to be particularly fond of this state and did absolutely nothing for it. This man was also a traitor to the United States, having led a group of insurgents against it in a war and then, after being captured like a true coward — in disguise and sneaking away — refused to repent for his actions.
That is the legacy of Jefferson Davis, the first president of the Confederacy, born in Kentucky, resident of Mississippi, Tennessee and the Virginia prison system.
You might be wondering why, then, that Alabama would have any interest in honoring such a man.
There is no grander objective. There is no more thoughtful reasoning.
Alabama celebrates Jefferson Davis’ birthday — the last state to do so, by the way — because it’s a way to put a thumb in the eye of the uppity Black people who had the gall to demand — and push the federal government to assure — that Alabama provided them equal rights.
Monday’s celebration of Davis’ birthday is nothing more than a reminder to the Black citizens of this state of the way many white Alabamians truly feel about them.
It has nothing to do with history. Nothing to do with honor or country or respect.
Because if it were truly about any of those things, there are about 10,000 American soldiers who were born and raised in this state, who served this country honorably, and who sacrificed their lives dying for all men to be treated equally, and we could honor any one of them with this holiday and be better for it.
We could also honor any one of the many famed scientists, Civil Rights leaders, doctors or even sports icons.
But we don’t, and we won’t.
Because a certain faction of Alabamians is quite comfortable with cruelty. With putting “those people” in their place.
And those people can be minorities of any sort — Blacks, LGBTQ people, the disabled, the poor, the Hispanics, the non-Christians.
Alabama conservatives do not tolerate different. Period.
And in many cases, they seem to take a measure of satisfaction in their intolerant cruelty. Hell, in many cases, they issue press releases to announce their cruelty to the world.
They did it when they chased Hispanics out of the state with the nation’s most drastic anti-immigrant bill — a bill that in part preyed upon scared children to accomplish the goal of pushing immigrants away. They did it with their confederate monuments protection bills, which would have made it a crime to even verbally disparage a monument.
And they’ve done it most recently with the anti-transgender bills, one of which — a bill banning transgender kids from playing public school sports — actually passed and was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. They issued press releases proclaiming that girls’ sports had been protected.
That’s absurd, of course. Girls’ sports were never in any danger. But transgender kids, who hold one of the highest rates of suicides among children, very much are.
Sports at the K-12 public school levels are designed to help foster growth among kids — all kids — and while winning and success are obviously goals, those goals are secondary to serving the betterment of the kids who participate. The reason we have those sports is because study after study have shown them to be particularly good at helping kids develop social skills, interact with a variety of other children and build self-esteem.
All of those things would be particularly awesome for a group of kids with a high rate of suicide.
But our state leaders — elected by a majority of state voters — didn’t give a damn about any of that.
Meanwhile, out in Utah — another Republican stronghold — another governor had a very different take. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, after announcing he would veto a similar bill in that state, said he wanted, first and foremost, to protect kids. To make sure ALL kids were safe. To make sure that, in the interest of cheap political points, he didn’t further harm an already at-risk group of kids.
“I think that there’s still much that we can do to protect women’s sports and also to send a message to trans kids that there’s a place for them and that they belong and that they know that,” Cox said during a news conference, at times holding back tears. “And it’s really important to me that they know that.
“These kids … they’re just trying to stay alive. There’s a reason none of them are playing sports. I just think there’s a better way. And I hope that there will be enough grace in our state to find a better solution.”
Cox made his decision after meeting with a group of trans kids and listening to their stories, and the stories from their parents. Alabama lawmakers had those same opportunities. In fact, many kids and their parents showed up to speak at meetings and attempted to get one-on-one meetings with Alabama Republican lawmakers. Their voices couldn’t seem to rise above the political talking points.
Meanwhile, in Utah ….
“Look, I don’t understand all of this,” Cox said. “But I’m trying to understand more. I’m trying to listen and learn. And again, trying to help kids figure out who they are and to keep them alive.”
That sort of an attitude — one that places love and decency and respect for all other humans above petty insecurities and personal misgivings — mostly isn’t present in Alabama. Not among the ruling majority. Not among the majority of voters that would demand such a response from your elected leaders.
Why do you take such joy from the pain inflicted by a statue or a holiday honoring a slave owner? Why is it so easy to stoke your hatred for the Hispanic men and women who travel here seeking a better life? Why was hurting kids such a winning political strategy?
Why does cruelty always seem to be the choice?