Updated: Nov 21, 2019
It shouldn't be an issue that we have a Black president. Gay marriage shouldn't be an issue. And women being funny shouldn't be an issue.
~ Ari Graynor
As a straight, elderly, White, well-educated, Christian woman, one would think that Supreme Court decisions regarding who could buy a wedding cake and where would not be on my newsfeed. It is. As someone more interested in education, climate change, and agriculture, one would think I would only focus on news that was about education or the environment or food, maybe gardening. I am. So why would I be concerned about where one gets to buy a wedding cake? Well, here’s a snapshot: By 2008, the International Organization for Migration estimated that there were about 20 million people who had been displaced by extreme weather events, predominantly drought and cyclones. They predict there will be from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050. Yes, I know we have a difficult time conceptualizing 20 days from now, so think of it in terms of children and grandchildren. In 2050, my children will be in their 70’s, my grandchildren will be in their 40’s. Will they be part of this migration? Will they endure weather extremes? How many times will they have had to move? Where will they go? When they get there, will they be able to buy a wedding cake? These things concern me.
Not all those people are going to just suddenly jump up and move. Some will be migrating like maybe tomorrow. Then another group will migrate the next day or the next month, and eventually all those little migrations will add up and that will result in a pretty big horde of people. For example, if we split the difference and say 50,000,000 people are going to migrate somewhere in the next 33 years, then that’s about 14,000,000 people each year. New York City only has 8,000,000 people now. So we’re talking about a fairly significant size. This would be noticeable. I mean it would kind of be like oh say the current immigration problem Europe is experiencing. So what might happen if 14,000,000 people starting shifting their place of residence? The people already in a location might suddenly feel cramped if a group almost twice the size of the population of New York City came walking toward their town. They might get snarky. Of course New Yorkers have a reputation for coping with just about everything so maybe they wouldn’t notice. Maybe no one would even notice if New Yorkers were snarky. Who knows? It still worries me. What if one of those people migrating to New York were my granddaughter and the reaction was something like say a Muslim ban? That’s just conjecture. Who would do such a thing? But what if they did and they did it to my granddaughter? That concerns me.
Fortunately, some of the people won’t cross borders. They’ll stay within their own countries and probably within their own states. They may only leave temporarily like when Katrina hit. There were about 1 million people displaced on the Gulf Coast after Katrina and about half of those were in New Orleans. A year later, many of those people had returned, but after a decade New Orleans is still almost 100,000 people less than it was pre-Katrina. About 80% of it’s population returned. That leaves 20% that didn’t. 20% of 450,000 isn’t too many for a country to absorb, but what about 20% of 14,000,000? All I’m saying is these people will be migrating because of some weather event, so there’s a high likelihood the receiving location isn’t going to know them. They’re going to be different from the people in the place where they go in some way. Foreign.They’ll be foreigners. Even if they are migrating within their own country, the receiving location population may not have much in common with them. I’m from the Southwest. It took a long time to understand Southerners. My children live on the West Coast and in the Northeast. I don’t understand the people in either of those regions. We’re different. They’re different. We speak the same language, kind of, but differently. And that’s o.k. We’re not going to live next door to each other. Yet, anyway. After all 14,000,000 can crowd even the most spacious geographic location so we may be up close and personal. This is concerning.
But that’s not all. A report by the World Bank Group broadens the definition of climate change migration to include vulnerable areas and people. This might be due to poverty, an unstable economy or political environment, conflict and changes in labor opportunities from circumstances previously cited. They also consider the effects of higher temperatures, increased precipitation and sea level rise. Their numbers are stated as percentage of population and not easily translated for this short essay, but they still emphasize that there is going to be a sizable population moving across and throughout the globe due to weather extremes and circumstances directly connected to those extremes. The importance of mentioning them is because it is THE WORLD BANK and they recognize that not all migration is going to be from disaster nor will all migration result in permanent displacement; however, some portions of this mass migration might be invisible as it could present itself as people fleeing armed confrontation or something more benign like a change in work opportunities. Still related to climate change, but subtle.
I mention this because we typically feel a little sympathy for those who are displaced due to hurricanes and floods, even fires. Our reaction to Harvey in Houston was nothing less than spectacular, but what happens when someone has lost her job and needs to move as a result of conflict, heat, drought, or sea level rise? These are usually the circumstances in which we think or say out loud, “Well, you should have seen that coming and prepared for it.” We’re going to see them as different and we aren’t going to feel any sympathy or empathy. Have you ever had a conversation with someone from New Orleans? Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely adore the people I’ve met from N.O., but you have to admit they are different. If you’re old enough, you also have to admit that not everyone who vacated New Orleans was met with welcome arms and those who decided not to go back to New Orleans frequently had assimilation challenges in the new location. Some people in receiving locations didn’t quite understand the trauma these people had endured not to mention the loss of their rich and extensive culture that they were grieving.
In April 2017, The New York Times Magazine had an article on climate “displacement” providing evidence that not all countries or regions will be initially impacted equally. I say initially because this is a global situation and ultimately we’re all going to be experiencing some pretty severe weather. Just this year, the United States had three hurricanes and the news stopped reporting all the floods and fires that weren’t above a certain level of awesomeness. What all this data tells me is that the weather is changing, that people are moving within and outside of their homelands, that people in the Southern Hemisphere will be moving first and that those in the Northern Hemisphere who have historically been the ones contributing the most pollution to the environment resulting in climate change are going to be on the receiving end— unless, of course, they say no, they would rather not let people who are not like them, who are different from them in some way, buy their wedding cakes.
As an educator, I want to tell the people in the Northern Hemisphere that the people in the Southern Hemisphere need a place to go, but I have lived decades in the South and I completely understand the concept of (and have personally experienced) being from the wrong side of the tracks. Apparently, the Equator is now the tracks and if you are in the South, that’s the wrong side. As an educator, I would also like to speak to the people of the Northern Hemisphere about how these are human beings and if we could take the time to get to know them, then we would learn that they are very much like us and we can easily figure out how to get along. On the other hand, I remember the problems we experienced with integrating our school systems: M to M transfers, bussing, magnet schools and more. Most kids today would be baffled by all the hoo-ha back then. We’ve done a pretty good job with the middle class kids. We haven’t done such a sterling job with the poor and the rich. That dichotomy really encapsulates climate migration— the poor of the Southern Hemisphere traveling by foot if necessary to the rich Northern Hemisphere. The middle class of either hemisphere has dwindled to an insignificant number.
Just like the desecration decades ago and underfunding most recently of poor neighborhood schools, the response to the “poor” kids is less than kind and comments are frequently barbaric. Integration here still isn’t exactly a success socio-economically speaking. We have quite a long way to go in fully assimilating with our own countrymen up and down the ladder of success. With time, I’m sure we would get there, but therein lies the problem. Like the guys who wanted to buy a wedding cake, we can’t wait forever. The wait and see approach is what people who are privileged tell the people who are oppressed so they don’t have to think about what people who look like them are doing to the human beings who are “different” in some way.
The “just wait” argument is historic. Here in my adopted state of Virginia, we have Vinegar Hill, a neighborhood of predominantly Black owned businesses that the White authorities razed. Given that Blacks were not allowed to shop at White establishments, going in and tearing down the businesses where Blacks shopped was an abomination. I’m sure there were people who wanted Blacks to stop complaining and recognize that they were free to shop at other places and that if they could just wait, love would win the day and everyone would sell to them because after all, money is green and it doesn’t matter the color of the person spending it. So if you are a different color regardless of the color of your money, you need to wait. There is ample evidence of discrimination against religious groups. It’s too easy to cite all the discrimination against Jews. I think most of us understand where that can go. It is every bit as relevant to cite discrimination based on denomination. Catholics and Protestants are both Christians. However, Catholics discriminate against Protestants and vice versa as in the case of a Protestant bookstore owner who wouldn’t sell to a Catholic woman— in 2016. And yes, she probably could have gone to another bookstore that would sell to her. She might even be able to get all her Catholic friends and relatives and start a chain of bookstores. She and all her friends and relatives might even sit around wishing Protestants would love them so the Protestants would sell their Bibles to them. That may not happen for a very long time and meanwhile, the woman needed a Bible.
Love will win the day, but sometimes it needs someone to step in like a very caring Mother and tell those who are acting in a loveless way that their behavior is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated any more. At the risk of comparing our government to a “nanny,” that caring mother would be our laws and legislation, rules and regulations, representatives, elected officials, and law officers. These people and processes and policies are supposed to protect us from discrimination, from bullies. We cringe from taking political action and wince when others do because those of us who are not being discriminated against are always advising those who are being discriminated against to give it time, to wait it out, to love the person or people and one day, it will all work itself out, which is a lazy, cowardly thing to say. The truth is, we don’t want to be troubled or have our minds discomforted or be inconvenienced by recognizing the problem and knowing that if we really do consider that person to be a human being and don’t want to think of ourselves as inhumane, we have to take action.
We all understand that people who work with the public do so with the understanding that they serve the public— every member of the public. Yes, Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- the federal law which prohibits discrimination by private businesses (places of public accommodation) only prevents businesses from refusing service based on race, color, religion, or national origin, but proposing that it is somehow acceptable for anyone to discriminate against someone because “they” aren’t covered by the 14th Amendment is vile.
I don’t see women mentioned in the 14th Amendment. Well, as a woman, I’m part of the public; therefore, even though LGBTQ are not specifically mentioned, they’re part of the public, too. To deny a gay couple the right to buy a wedding cake from your establishment because your religious beliefs are so tenuous that you believe God would send you to Hell for doing so is an indication of your bigotry, prejudice and a lack of understanding of your religion, especially if you call yourself a Christian. You are the same person who would have denied selling a wedding cake to a Black couple or a Black/White couple or a Native American/Asian couple or a Jewish couple or a Jewish/Muslim couple. We had to pass an amendment to the Constitution to prevent you from discriminating against others and now you would discriminate against anyone not specifically listed in that Amendment. We could try to love you into changing your mind, educate you, wait on you indefinitely, but we just don’t have the time to waste anymore. There are going to be 14,000,000 people migrating every year due to climate change. We need to gear up and be willing to open our hearts to these people. We need to learn about them and teach them about us. These extremes weather events are not a drill and we need to get down to business and start working together. We need to start baking wedding cakes.
The couple bringing the lawsuit just wanted to get married. They wanted a cake and they wanted to eat their cake at their wedding reception and they didn’t want to wait until a bigot was ready to sell it to them before doing so. Well, there are going to be more of these incidents. Climate change is real. It is impacting millions of people every day. They are migrating and we need to be ready and willing to sell them wedding cakes when they arrive. I can’t force someone to love people who are different from them so I’ll just have to make do with working to pass laws that prevent bigots from discriminating against anyone until those bigots realize how wonderful, how very much the same, and how incredibly human all people are. And if we’re lucky, they will choose us to sell to them our wedding cakes.