Roy Exum: We ‘Othered’ Americans

Monday, December 2, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’d venture to say I am as well-read as most, this after a lifetime as a writer who reads incessantly because so many things fascinate me, but I had never heard of an ‘othered’ American until last week. We live in a world that has become so categorized and compartmentalized we have gone far beyond those that contain a dash - African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Anglo-Americans and such. We now have become a nation that includes transsexuals, our noble Veterans of Foreign Wars, those who are “recovering,” hundreds of different religious tribes, liberals so far left they are “snowflakes,” and conservatives so far right they are shamefully termed as “Republitards.”

I believe we have fallen prey to those who insist we each must be tagged in some zany way that diminishes the fact we are each so marvelously multi-dimensional. Here’s this beautiful new building that is so classy, its lines elegant, and as I praise its creation I am told, “Yeah, but the guy’s a liberal.” Please, what does that have to do with his building ability? I liked it far better when we were, quite simply, Americans, all on the same team. I don’t care if you went to Harvard, if your brother’s in jail, if you are HIV, if your mother is from Cuba, if Trump is your uncle, or you grew up in Jersey. We are all so different that’s the very reason we are alike. Please!

Imagine my dismay to learn the annual Christmas Parade in the northwest Tennessee town of Troy has just been cancelled because one proposed float wanted to extend love and holiday wishes on behalf of the “othered” among us. I visited Troy once many years ago in a statewide effort to raise money for the American Cancer Society and it is a great little town of about 1,700 good people. Troy is about 100 miles upstream from Memphis as the Mississippi River flows and sits right below our state line with Kentucky.

It was there last week when Mayor Deanna Chappell announced that this year’s Christmas Parade would be cancelled. It was said they didn’t have enough volunteers, and that the Obion County’s Central High School’s winter formal was on the same night (Dec. 14). But what is now notoriously alleged is the real reason is that when word spread there was going to be a “Love Is Love” float in the parade, a lot of Troy’s “love” got up and left. The float, you see, was for the “othered.”

Dwight Title, a 47-year-old, at first had the idea of buying an antique tractor to ride in the 30th anniversary parade but you need to understand more about Dwight. He’s lived in Troy all of his life. He is invited to local schools to talk about alternative career choices, the importance of trade schools and the like. Yet he is also well-known for handing out his business cards to area folks so, if they ever decide … you know, that life is no longer worth living, if they feel bullied or disenfranchised, or just need a quiet, kind voice to stop their hand from trembling, he comes quickly.

After reading 1 John, 4:7-8 (which says 'let us love one another for love is God.') in his Bible study, he told his wife he wanted to build a float that would “tell everybody we love them.” Since the Tittles’ have a son who is an open homosexual, town gossip soon erupted to include some “hidden agenda” that the LQBTQ+ crowd was going to have a float in the parade. Tittle says, “no, not at all … this is for anyone who feels othered … people of color, the handicapped, the mentally challenged. This is for all people. If you feel different, or feel not exactly what you believe society thinks is normal, then that’s what we are here for. You can contact us. You can reach out to somebody you see on the float … or ride the float with us. Come help us build the float! Jesus wants us to love one another.

“The float will have Scripture written on it. It is all about loving people. You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t have to accept their lifestyle,” said Dwight, “but you can still love a fellow human being. We have people who feel shunned, different …ostracized for identifying as LGBTQ … We’ll have a rainbow sign, with different colored hand prints, but we aren’t passing our pamphlets or promoting anything except that God says we should love everyone, including those who are ‘othered.’”

On the town’s Facebook page there are death threats. One on Facebook urged townspeople to pelt the float with 2.5-inch jawbreakers. Another said the float should be bombed. Mayor Chappell, who taught Tittle in the fourth grade, has gotten threats and heard about some who want to throw rotten tomatoes, this from people who have actually lived in the same town and enjoyed  a friendship with Dwight for nearly 50 years! Are you kidding me? Then there is the Town Manager in Union City, some 10 miles away where the town’s Christmas Parade is this weekend. He told Tittle, “I see no problem, and we welcome you guys to parade with us.”

The best illustration of an ‘othered’? That would be Tittle himself in the last three weeks. “I guess I’m really shocked that this has turned out to be what it has. I don’t want to be the reason that all the support and love and fun that comes out of the Christmas parade is cancelled,” he told one reporter but then added, “At the same time, you know I’m also, like, just be honest with me. If we’re the reason that you’ve decided to cancel this, tell us.”

He wants to know not for spite, but to be a catalyst that will change his hometown’s thinking if need be.

The float, which was being assembled over the Thanksgiving weekend, will not say “LGBTQ+” or “Pride.” There will be no chants or messages of anything other than to love each other. “I knew I might get a few random people that we would have to explain what our goal was …. but that it would never blow up” and attracted a zealous national news media.

Jerrod Hamlin, a business owner in Troy, is visibly upset and told a reporter he is moving his business to another west Tennessee town and Troy City Alderman Bryant Cruce reacted accordingly: “There is no place for this anywhere, much less the town of Troy … when we met several weeks ago there was concern over lack of involvement … but (the float threats) adds a whole another huge layer on this thing.”

Mayor Chappell has indicated there are some active conversations seeking solutions from townspeople but with the national media (USA Today and others) swooping in, Troy is getting a lot of attention that no one wanted. One read, “They think Jesus wants them attacking someone for saying love each other? They don't actually read the Bible, do they?”

Another: “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

Another: “It's not Christ-like at all: Christ Himself accepted all.”

Another: “ ... some suggested pelting its occupants with jawbreakers or tomatoes as a result …  You stay classy, Tennessee.”

Another: “The U.S. has returned to being a laughing stock around the world. Bigoted and backward states, also the most poorly educated and least prosperous states, such as Tennessee, are simply too ridiculous for words. Try listening to how idiotic you sound!”

Another: “Good grief – Charlie Brown”

* * *

YES, YOU CAN JOIN THE ‘OTHERED’ FAN CLUB WITH ME

It’s about a seven-hour trek to Troy, but this is one of those crazy instances where I search my soul to see if I qualify to ride the float with the ‘othered.’ I think the fact I take psychotropic medicine to manage my depression may work for a “mental illness” pass, and the fact I battle infections may get me in on an “unwanted” clause, and maybe because my right elbow has been gone as long as it has would get me a seat in the “disabled” section. I’ve been turned down by so many girls for dates I am a certified “reject.” Lord only knows, I’ve been accused of being a “racist” so many times by other racists that maybe the ticket-takers would accept some old clippings as proof …, man, give me time and I can come up with such a convincing list I’ll be qualified as “othered” in no time.

Moreover, let me give you this one. You too can qualify. Think about it: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Right? I’ve got no idea where we are each listed or in what column of The Great Book” at the Pearly Gates but each of our names is there. That makes all of us an “othered,” in a very Godly way, and by heaven’s virtue alone any can ride in the Troy Tennessee Town Christmas Parade and sing carols to celebrate Christ’s birth.

But wouldn’t it be better, and more fun, to climb aboard the “Love Is Love” float and claim to be “an American?” That’ll get you a ride anytime and, please … will you sit next to me?

* * *

1 JOHN 4:7-8 –"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

royexum@aol.com


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