Flowers: Ranking bigotry only diminishes the pain that it causes

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Northeast Philadelphia Police Detectives Nick McReynolds, left, and Thomas Walsh, center, look over the many headstones that were vandalized in the Mount Carmel cemetery.

AFTER I WROTE about what I see as anti-Catholic bigotry in community opposition to the Villanova bridge, with its so-called "ostentatious" crosses, I received several emails that took me to task for equating "civic dispute" with a hate crime. These writers criticized me for even suggesting that someone who doesn't want crosses "shoved down" her throat is acting with the same sort of animus that fuels the destruction of Jewish headstones.

While I still believe the good people of Radnor might not be honest in their push against the bridge, I'm willing to admit their distasteful actions are not the same as vandalism.

But I do have to admit we're very selective these days in the sort of things we call bigotry or, rather, the things we'll raise to the level of "let's hold a rally!!"

A friend of mine reminded me of incidents a few years ago when statues at Catholic churches in New Jersey were vandalized. The hands were sliced off a Virgin Mary statue in one case. Stained-glass windows were shattered in another. My friend asked me whether I'd gone to the rally to protest anti-Catholic or anti-Christian bigotry. I hadn't. Neither had he, because it never happened.

And that's my point. There were no protests. There were no front-page, above-the-fold, full-color photos. It was a quiet sound bite, before the weather report.

The people who emailed me about my ridiculous conflation of Jewish or Muslim fear and Catholic upset would see no problem with this. They expressed little sympathy for my anger at what I perceived to be prejudice, because they couldn't see it themselves.

Which shows me that in this era of heightened sensitivity, we have a troubling tendency to minimize the sensitivities of those who supposedly have a privileged existence. As one man who identified himself as gay wrote, "the church is not a victim. It victimizes."

I usually ignore that hyperbole. I generally expect it from certain quarters (like the fellow in the liquor store who recognized me and said, "Shut up about being Catholic, Christine Flowers. Boo, hiss, you hate gays." I told him, holding a pre-packaged pina colada mix, "No, but I do hate stereotypes").

And yet, with this increasing crescendo of anti-President Trump rhetoric that equates his rise with the rise of hate crimes, I'm troubled by the unwillingness to treat all forms of bigotry with the same passion, the same concern.

I don't doubt that certain communities feel threatened. I am horrified by the hate crime perpetrated against an Indian man in Kansas, brutally slain because of the color of his skin. If I am to rank hatred, that "Trumps" vandalized headstones and crude comments about "shoving crosses down throats."

But we don't want to rank hatred. We don't want to tell one group that their fears are more justified than others. We don't want to say that kicking over headstones in a Jewish graveyard is less horrible than killing a man because of his ethnicity, but more horrible than slicing the hands off the Virgin Mary.

Since when did America become a place where some victims are more valuable than others? Was it when we started approving hate-crime legislation? Was that when we started calculating pain based on skin color, the name we gave to God or the bathroom we chose to enter?

I get that we are in a period of flux, of anxiety, of passions and prejudice. But bigotry is bigotry, and I'm tired of being told I belong to a group that is allowed to feel threatened only when society deigns to call it "reasonable."

You should be, too.

Christine Flowers is a lawyer

cflowers1961@gmail.com

@flowerlady61