Monday, August 23, 2010

Crosses Don't Represent Everyone

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against 12-foot-high cross displays honoring fallen members of the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP). The court ruled that the 13 crosses, most on public land each bearing the name and badge number of deceased officers, sent a religious message to motorists on the state’s highways. According to the opinion: “We hold that these memorials have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the State prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion.”

We agree that crosses in public places indicate who is on top of our religious hierarchy.

Consistent and Predictable - The Top Represents Everyone

In any hierarchy, the attributes and roles of higher people are acceptable and appropriate for all. As Christianity is on top of our religious hierarchy in the United States:

The exclusive use of crosses in military cemeteries or at places where several people died assumes that a Christian symbol is appropriate to memorialize people of any religion.

If a symbol for a non-Christian religion is used, we assume the person honored followed that particular religion.

If a Jewish symbol were used, we would assume the person to be Jewish, even though we might not assume everyone honored by a cross to be Christian.

Attributes associated with lower people are considered appropriate for only that group of people. Characteristics associated with the lower group of people are often assumed to be inappropriate, even disgusting, for the higher group of people.

If a Christian were memorialized with a Muslim symbol, his or her family would likely protest, even though the same people might think that crosses are fine for all, believing a cross to be a universal symbol.

The Top Represents Everyone - more examples in other hierarchies

In our gender hierarchy, what is appropriate for males is also appropriate for females, but not vice-versa.

Female servers in fancy restaurants wear tuxedo-style uniforms even though it is unacceptable in those restaurants for male servers to wear evening dresses. It’s fine for a woman to wear overalls or business suit with a necktie a man would wear, but how about a man in lace and bows? How many baby boys wear pink?

In our schools, we teach the history of our dominant group telling our children this represents American History.

The “American History” traditionally taught to every student centers around the stories of wealthy able-bodied white males, the military, and wars. There are “special” separate classes for people who want to learn about anyone else — “African American History,” “History of American Indians,” or “Women’s History. ” If we take “Hispanic American History,” we don’t expect to learn “Asian American History.”

Role Reversals Help to Uncover Hierarchies

Role reversals are effective tools for uncovering elusive hierarchies that go undetected behind our assumptions about what's normal and natural. The higher group takes on the role of the lower, while the lower group plays the part usually played by the higher. We imagine the same scene played over again, however this time with roles switched.

In the state of Utah, a Buddist symbol was used to represent the places where state troopers had fallen. Since Buddism is on top of the religious hierarchy in the United States, it is consider to represent everyone.