Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Voices of regression

  Shut your eyes.

  Listen to the verbiage that has descended upon a citizenry whose forward, albeit gradual, movement toward mutual equality and parity was reversed — and annulled — by fear; insistence on racial hierarchy, and ignorance.

  The Alabama voices of society’s social and political regression are speaking loudly and clearly, signaling an intent to (1) renew and enforce a pecking order among Alabama residents, (2) insulate the majority population from the acknowledgment of truth, and (3) perpetuate the toxic myths that have replaced empirical history (the latter admittedly redundant but analytically warranted).

  The voices are regressive because they presage and articulate a reality that is morally worse than the state’s environment during the last 35-40 years, when Voices of Progress were frequently heard.

  Back then, public school marching bands, football teams, and cheerleading squads were de facto integrated, fulsomely so. A statewide committee met regularly to plan a constitutional convention to reform Alabama’s archaic constitution. An African American jurist sat on the Alabama Supreme Court.

  Elected school boards, trained classroom educators, and education administrators relied on subject-matter expertise and experience to define classroom curricula (in much the same way that trained athletic coaches rely on their expertise to define offenses, defenses, and player rosters).

  Twenty years ago, Alabama had a Republican governor who successfully pushed legislation to lower taxes on its poorest citizens. Believe it or not, he actually established the Black Belt Action Committee to facilitate public and private support for that economically depressed, predominantly African American section of the state.

  And 17 years ago, the Alabama Legislature — the body that now provides symphonic accompaniment for Voices of Regression — passed a resolution apologizing for slavery “as a wrong committed upon millions of Black Americans.” The resolution, less important for its apology than its acknowledgments, was signed by the same Republican governor.

  Among other things, it acknowledged that the ancestors of slaves “are the beneficiaries of such wrongs, including, but not limited to, segregation under Jim Crow, housing discrimination, discrimination in education, and other ills inflicted upon Black people.”

  In today’s reality, your ears will hear almost no Voices of Progress in Alabama. In this state today, an anti-intellectual mindset has confined reason and common sense in an analytical straitjacket.

  An American president has opened the floodgates of pent-up prejudices and provided contemporary validation for epithets and amoral descriptions aimed at other humans. All of these developments have given powerful microphones to Voices of Regression that reside in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our state government.

  The following three exemplars are not exhaustive.

  One Voice of Regression is censorship, in the form of book banning by local school boards and micro-management of public libraries by state government. Braggarts of affinity for small government now insist on limiting and controlling the books we read, limiting the availability of books at our libraries, and dictating their location in those libraries.

  Henry Louis Gates is right: “Censorship is to knowledge as lynching is to justice.” Withholding an array of perspectives and opinions is a death knell to critical thought and intelligent decision-making. And from a practical point of view, focusing on books in an era when children’s appetites for sexually explicit material are satiated by YouTube and social media is tantamount to trimming shrubbery with a pair of scissors.

  Another such voice is the Alabama Legislature’s unthoughtful and frankly backward cancellation of the selection process for the Board of Trustees of the Alabama Department of Archives & History (ADAH), America’s first publicly funded, independent state archives agency. That Board is self-perpetuating, a successful administrative paradigm in effect for over 120 years. Its governance, comprised of individuals learned and experienced in, and passionately dedicated to, historical documentation and preservation, has successfully managed its operations. ADAH’s impressive exhibits, its sought-after programs, and its overall maintenance have edified children and adults alike, while providing useful platforms for authors, intellectuals, and history makers to share their stories with the public, free of charge. ADAH’s Museum of Alabama is a masterful exhibition of Alabama’s quite intriguing history.

  But because one legislator objected to one ADAH program on the history of the LGBTQ community – a program that he did not attend – future boards of trustees are likely to consist of appointments by politicians bent on imposing their personal preferences for ADAH’s programmatic inventory, and worse, their personal opinions on what constitutes history. It is an altogether sad and ruinous development.

  A third Voice of Regression is actually a scream emanating from the Alabama Supreme Court.

  Its decision declaring that frozen embryos are children, entitled to a cause of action for wrongful death, is (1) a distortion of controlling jurisprudence, (2) an unthoughtful consideration of legal implications, (3) a cruel prohibition on childbearing for families, and, (4) in the words of a dissenting justice, a substitution of judicial “social and economic beliefs for the judgment of legislative bodies.” The latter wrongdoing is precisely why the Alabama Legislature and the governor acted so promptly to enact laws addressing in vitro fertilization.

  Regardless of the specific provisions, the legislative action discredited the Supreme Court’s unsupported and unprecedented legal decision, which, in contravention of the separation of powers, expressly relied in material part, on religious doctrine.

  As long as Voices of Regression shriek from Alabama’s halls of official governance, progress will be stymied. These acts imperil our forward movement. By the time we open our shut eyes, we may not remember where we’ve been or know where we are.

  About the author: Vanzetta Penn McPherson retired from her merit appointment as a United States Magistrate Judge in 2006 after nearly 15 years on the bench. A graduate of Columbia Law School, she is a member of the New York and Alabama bars and maintained a private practice in Montgomery for 16 years, focused on constitutional and employment litigation in federal courts. Upon retiring, Judge McPherson wrote a bi-monthly column for The Montgomery Advertiser for 12 years. She is a past president of the Alabama Lawyers Association and alumna of Leadership Alabama and Leadership Alabama.

  This article was published by Alabama Reflector.

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