"This is America."
Last week I had to go to traffic court to pay a parking ticket (I'm human). When I got there, I handed my parking ticket to the clerks and sat down towards the middle of the court room.
[The officer initially asked me to sit in the back, but, I don't know, I must have had a Rosa Parks moment and I just couldn't do it. So I sat close to the back. Let's call it the middle back. He looked at me strangely, but I counted that as my own personal victory in the fight for justice.]
Anyway, back to the story at hand...
After I took my seat and waited for the clerk to process my paperwork, a young gentleman walked in. He had on jeans, a white t-shirt, short dreads and a multi-colored head covering.
Now, I loosely made the connection that he was probably associated with Rastafari and didn't think twice about it. When the officer saw he had on a "hat," he asked him to remove it. The gentleman respectfully questioned, "What if it's for religious reasons?" to which the officer responded, "Which religion?" The gentleman told him Rastafari and the officer had no problem with this response. He instructed the young man to take a seat and wait to be called. Simple, straightforward interaction.
However, it was the comments of a third party of the conversation that bothered me...
"This is America!"
While the young man was taking a seat (also towards the middle-back. I think he took note) one of the clerks mumbled (and technically not really mumbled because I could clearly hear her from where I was sitting), "I don't care. This is America. He should have to take [his head covering] off."
Now it was something about this statement that got my spirit stirring (my blood doesn't boil). Thinking back, I know I should have said something. I wasn't intimidated by her nor was she the clerk processing my paperwork, but I honestly was a bit baffled and thrown off by her statement and my mind blanked.
It made me even more uncomfortable that we were in a courtroom (albeit a traffic courtroom, but still) and she had no knowledge of basic constitutional rights. She didn't realize that her very "rebuttal" was in fact her own answer. She meant it as, "This is America so do as I say!" instead of realizing that America has natural laws to protect people of different cultural backgrounds and ideologies.
"No, this is America."
Too long have we let people hold hostage this statement that are un-American at their core. In this instance, we all know (well, maybe she didn't) that there is a constitutional right to religious freedom.
Rastafari is an officially recognized Afro-Caribbean religion with it's own set of customs and culture (see additional note at the end of post). This means you can lawfully respect their right to wear their cultural/ religious attire, even if they're not customs of your own.
Now, I'm about to speak to myself a bit since I mentioned I didn't respond to her comment directly...
It is our responsibility as educated, mindful Americans to correct these types of neo-fascist sentiments. These sentiments where someone who seems to be the "blue-blooded" American tries to define America, but contradicts the principles she holds.
I understand we, as Christian Americans, also battle how to operate under natural law with a spiritual perspective. Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time fighting battles against natural law instead of being representatives of spiritual law. Notice I said representing spiritual law.
In spiritual law we are told to show the fruits of the spirit (love, long-suffering etc.), "against which are no such law." In practicing this, it should be hard pressed for us to let statements like the clerk's slip from our lips. Statements that tote the privilege of our claimed Christianity in America in attempts to disparage people of differing faiths. Yes, there is a boldness we must find within ourselves to speak out about injustices, but we also must recognize that some battles aren't for us to fight.
In this case, I should have spoken up for that young man. Even though I'm not Rastafarian, I'm American and that means that I acknowledge and protect people's right to religious freedom.
This is America and we have to start speaking up for her.
| Blogpost art by Whitfield Lovell
| Note on Rastafari beliefs:
There have been educational debates around whether Rastafari is a religion or more of a 'spiritual way of life,' similar to the practices and customs of the Indigenous American people and other community-based and historical cultures. Both sides have great arguments, but this post is not to definitively side with one or the other. It is, however, meant to bring light to the protections people from all these walks of life--religious, spiritual and/or cultural--are entitled to.