This was passed around the internet for the past few days. It's a picture of a 1960 lunch counter sit-in at a Woolworth's in Greensboro, NC.


I like this picture a lot (and this one, with the bespectacled fellow and that "Well, I guess this is what's gonna happen now" look on his face). The customers have that look on their faces that combines excessive confidence and pure terror in the way that only 19 year old kids can pull off. The most interesting thing about it, though, is that the employee behind the Whites Only lunch counter is also black. That's curious, since on the scale of intimate social contact one would think that having someone handle your food ranks above sitting next to a fully clothed stranger on adjacent stools.

When I first saw this picture and learned about this period in our history (or more accurately, learned it formally and from someone who wasn't using the N-word regularly) I thought that racism was about believing that another race is inferior. Like most people I got (slightly) wiser with age and eventually figured out that racism is about keeping someone else beneath you on the social ladder. You know, that Gene Hackman line from Mississippi Burning ("If you ain't better than a nigger, son, who are you better than?") If you actually thought black people were dirty savages you wouldn't eat anything they handed you. But of course it has nothing to do with that. You're fine being served food because servility implies social inferiority. And you don't want to sit next to them simply because it implies equality.

It's pretty simple, then, to understand these last-ditch efforts on the part of hayseed legislatures to legislate discrimination based on sexual orientation. Very few of them are stupid enough to believe the excuses that they put forth as their motives. To maintain my faith in humanity I have to believe that some of them understand that these laws aren't going to stand up in court anyway and this is all a big waste of time. It helps, though, to understand it for what it is: a desperation move by a group of people who are no longer socially relevant to assert their superiority, and to codify the idea that they are Better Than someone who is in some way different.

In a couple of decades they will look just as pathetic to us in hindsight as the knuckle-dragging segregationists do to us today. Then again I'm starting to think that some of us look back on them as heroes. Let's not spoil the ending for them.