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The Cosmetic Battles

My favorite television show is The West Wing. And one of my favorite exchanges in the entire series went something like this:

Leo McGarry (to Admiral Percy Fitzwallace, who is black): Hey Fitz…

Fitzwallace: Yeah.

McGarry: The President’s personal aide, they’re looking at a kid. You have any problem with a young black man waiting on the President?

Fitzwallace: I’m an old black man and I wait on the President.

McGarry: The kid’s gotta carry his bags…

Fitzwallace: Are you gonna pay him a decent wage?

McGarry: Yeah.

Fitzwallace: Gonna treat him with respect in the workplace?

McGarry: Yeah.

Fitzwallace: Then why the hell should I care?

McGarry: That’s what I thought.

Fitzwallace: I got some real, honest-to-God battles to fight, Leo. I don’t have time for the cosmetic ones.

That’s how I felt when I heard about this Roland Martin kerfuffle. Is the guy a dipshit? Of course. Is it worth the anger and agitation that some are trying to stir up? No.

Last week I read the New Yorker piece about the last days of Tyler Clementi. Clementi, you’ll recall, was the Rutgers freshman who killed himself after being spied on by his roommate while he was with another guy. The New Yorker article outlined the on-again, off-again homophobia of Clementi’s roommate Dharun Ravi and the steps that Ravi took to show off his intolerance of Clementi’s lifestyle. This included tweets that invited followers to spy on Clementi when Ravi knew a sexual rendezvous was going to occur.

It’s a painful read. You know the ending and you want to stop, you beg yourself to stop, but you can’t. It’s like watching a car wreck, only instead of steel and fiberglass, it’s souls and lives. You can’t change the ending, you can only witness it and hope never to see it again.

Harder still to read were the letters written by Tyler’s older brother James. James, who is also gay, compiled a series of notes to his departed kid brother, offering apologies for not being the confident and self-assured older brother Tyler needed. He apologizes for missing Tyler’s violin concerts in their youth. He apologizes for how the only context in which people know Tyler now is through his death. And he apologizes that nobody will get to know the proud and intelligent person Tyler would have been.

There isn’t enough time to give a damn about the Roland Martins of the world, not when there are James Clementis left behind by those who couldn’t hang on.

We don’t have time for the cosmetic battles. There are real, honest-to-God battles still left to win.