Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

Social Justice, Intersections in Forms of Social Oppression, Bullying Prevention

Stigmata and the Killing of Minoritized Peoples

without comments

Even with the increased visibility of specific police officers killing unarmed black and brown people, the wide-scale demonstrations of outrage and protest traveling throughout the country like those currently underway in St. Louis, and investigations by the Justice Department under the Obama administration into allegations of racial bias in policing, and while many law enforcement agencies are assessing procedures in an attempt to improve relations with the communities in which they are meant to serve, the killing continues.

Allegations of racism in the hiring practices, policies, and attitudes in police departments, however, represent in microcosm much larger forces evident in our country. We must not and cannot dismiss police killings of black and brown people as simply the actions of a few individuals or “bad cops,” for oppression exists on multiple levels in multiple forms.

These officers live in a society that subtly and not-so-subtly promotes intolerance, imposes stigma, and perpetuates violence. We must see these incidents as symptoms of larger systemic national problems.

Stigmata Imposed on the Body

Officials in 17th-century C.E. Puritan Boston coerced Hester Prynne into permanently affixing the stigma of the scarlet letter onto her garments to forever socially castigate her for her so-called “crime” of conceiving a daughter in an adulterous affair.

Stigmata include symbols, piercings, or brands used throughout recorded history to mark an outsider, offender, outcast, slave, or an animal.

Though Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter is a work of fiction, members of several minoritized communities continue to suffer the sting of metaphoric stigmata forced onto their skin, birth sex, sexual and gender identities and expressions, religious beliefs and affiliations, countries of origin and linguistic backgrounds, disabilities, ages, and many other areas of their identities.

Many overt forms of oppression are obvious when dominant groups tyrannize minoritized communities. Prime examples include the horrific treatment of people of color under the system of apartheid in South Africa and Black Africans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the mass slaughter of Jews and other stigmatized and marginalized groups in Nazi Germany, and the merciless killing of Muslims during the Christian “Crusades.”

Many forms of oppression and enforced stigmata (as well as dominant group privileges), however, are not as apparent, especially to members of dominant groups. Oppression in its fullest sense also refers to the structural or systemic constraints imposed on groups even within constitutional democracies like the United States.

Stigmatized groups live with the constant fear of random and unprovoked systematic violence directed against them simply because their social identities. The intent of this xenophobic (fear and hatred of anyone of anything seeming “foreign”) violence is to harm, humiliate, and destroy the “Other” for the purpose of maintaining hierarchical power dynamics and attendant privileges of the dominant group over minoritized groups.

For example, on February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader in Sanford, Florida, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin was walking on the sidewalk talking on a cell phone to his girlfriend and carrying a can of ice tea and a small bag of Skittles when Zimmerman confronted and shot him, and then he claimed self-defense. By most reports, Martin’s “crime” was walking while being black in a predominantly white gated community visiting family and friends. His stigmata included his black skin and his youth while wearing a “hoody.”

Black parents from all walks of life throughout the country engage with their children in what they refer to as “the talk” once they reach the age of 13 or 14 instructing them how to respond with calm if ever confronted by police officers. Parents of these young people know full well the stigmata embedded into their children by a racist society marking them as the expression of criminality, which perennially consigns them to the endangered species list.

There is a long-standing tradition in our western states of ranchers killing a coyote and tying it to a fence to scare off other coyotes, and to keep them from coming out of their hiding places. That’s what Matthew Shepard’s killers did to him in 1998 outside Laramie, Wyoming.

Shepard’s convicted murderers, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, smashed his skull and tied him to a fence as if he were a lifeless scarecrow, where he was bound for over 18 hours in near freezing temperatures. The message to the rest of us LGBTQ people from these killers was quite clear: stay locked away in your suffocating and dank closets, and don’t ever come out.

Though 2016 marked the highest number of trans people killed in the United State with 27 known instances, with the vast majority being trans women of color, at the current rate, 2017 portends to be even worse. Murderers of trans people react in extreme and fanatical ways at the direction of the larger coercive societal battalions bent on destroying all signs of gender transgression in young and old alike in the maintenance of socially constructed gender norms, with stigmata imposed on all who transgress.

In these times of declining social mobility, and as the gap between the rich and the poor ever increases, dominant groups attempt to divide the dispossessed by pointing to scapegoats to blame. For example, vigilantes sometimes calling themselves members of the so-called “Minutemen” movement target and hunt down anyone suspected of being undocumented.

We are living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights. In this environment, the political, corporate, and theocratic right are waging a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years. One tactic they use is to inhibit the development of coalitions between marginalized groups.

To disengage and reverse stigmata once imposed can be difficult but certainly not impossible. Whenever white LGBT people, however, view black and Latinx people through the stigma of criminality, whenever heterosexual black and Latinx people view LGBT people through the stigmata of sin and abuse of youth, whenever we view Muslims through the stigma of terrorism, whenever any group views any other through lenses of stigmata, this horizontal stigmatization and oppression only further entrenches the vertical hierarchical power structures.

Metaphorically, oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue to roll over people. Let us, then, also work on dismantling all the many spokes in conquering all the many forms of stigmatized oppression in all their many forms.

In the final analysis, whenever anyone of us is diminished, we are all demeaned, when anyone or any group remains institutionally and socially stigmatized, marginalized, excluded, or disenfranchised, when violence comes down upon any of us, the possibility for authentic community cannot be realized unless and until we become involved, to challenge, to question, and to act in truly transformational ways.

An essential element of liberty is the freedom to define oneself!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 16th, 2017 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Patriarchal Religious Justifications to Enforce Sexist Oppression

without comments

After the Israeli Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue of mixed-sex prayer at the Western Wall, Jerusalem Chief Rabbi and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, attacked the Jewish Reform movement, which advocates for integrated prayer among the sexes, saying:

“They [the Reform Movement] are trying to sow sand [in our eyes] and say that [segregated prayer at the Kotel plaza] is something the extreme ultra-Orthodox have invented.”

The Chief Rabbi added an analogy during his weekly class:

“It’s like Holocaust deniers, it’s the same thing. They scream about Holocaust deniers in Iran, but they deny more than those who deny the Holocaust. All the [volumes of the Talmud] record that there was a women’s section and [a men’s section] in the Temple. Did we make this up?”

In her pioneer book, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, Suzanne Pharr describes a series of elements she finds common to the multiple forms of oppression. Such elements include what she refers to as a “defined norm” and a “lack of prior claim,” among many others.

Pharr explains a “defined norm” as “…a standard of rightness and often of righteousness wherein all others are judged in relation to it. This norm must be backed up with institutional power, economic power, and both institutional and individual violence.”

Another way “the defined norm manages to maintain its power and control…” and kept exclusive is by what Pharr refers to as the element or system of “lack of prior claim.”

This, according to Pharr, “…means that if you weren’t there when the original document [the Torah, the Christian Testaments, the Qur’an, national Constitutions, corporate founding documents, for example] was written, or when the organization was first created, then you have no right to inclusion….Those who seek their rights, who seek inclusion, who seek to control their own lives instead of having their lives controlled are the people who fall outside the norm….They are the Other.”

Most likely, sex-segregated prayer began in Judaism during the time of the First Temple under the reign of King Jehoshaphat. In addition, the three major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) list explicit scriptural imperatives between the sexes.

In Judaism, for example, Genesis 3:16: “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’.”

But as in Christianity and Islam as well, Jews pick selectively which scriptural texts they adhere to and which they ignore.

When the last time any Jew followed Exodus 21:15 & 17: “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death….And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”?

Or Exodus 21:2: “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.”

In Christianity: Ephesians 5:21: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 5:22: Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord. 5:23: For the man is the head of the woman, just as Christ also is the head of the church. Christ is, indeed, the Savior of the body. 5:24: but just as the church is subject to Christ, so must women be subject to their husbands in everything.”

In Islam, 4:34: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.”

In the original and unamended version of the U.S. Constitution, for example, since only European-heritage male land owners had the right to vote, all Others, including women and people of color (those outside the defined norm and who lacked prior claim) had to fight long and difficult battles against strong forces to gain access to the voting booth, often under the threat of and actual violence inflicted against them.

Some who continue to oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples assert that this is outside the defined norm, lacks prior claim, and would, therefore, undermine the sanctity of marriage possibly leading to the destruction of society using religious sanctions as their justification.

For example, responding to Vermont’s Civil Unions legislation in 2000, Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law expressed the opinion of a number of New England Cardinals and Bishops:

“The Legislature of the State of Vermont, by passing the Civil Unions Bill [countering the defined norm and lack of prior claim], has attacked centuries of cultural and religious esteem for marriage between a man and a woman and has prepared the way for an attack on the well-being of society itself [by these Others].”

Similarly, Robert Lewis Dabney, Professor of Theology at Union Seminary in Virginia, warned: “What then, in the next place, will be the effect of this fundamental change [countering a lack of prior claim] when it shall be established? The obvious answer is, that it will destroy Christianity and civilization in America [by these Others who are outside the defined norm].”

Cardinal Law and Professor Dabney engaged in similar dire predictions, but, and here is the key, they are referring to two different events – the Cardinal referred to marriage for same-sex couples, Dabney, who lived from 1820-1898, referred to women’s suffrage — but they forewarned similar consequences: the destruction of the family and civilization as we know it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints provides an example on the institutional level. LDS President, Brigham Young, instituted a policy on February 13, 1849, emanating from “divine revelation” and continuing until as recently as 1978 forbidding ordination of black men of African descent [outside the defined norm] from the ranks of LDS priesthood.

In addition, this policy prohibited black men and women of African descent from participating in the temple Endowment and sealings [lacking in prior claim], which the Church dictates as essential for the highest degree of salvation. The policy likewise restricted black people from attending or participating in temple marriages.

Young attributed this restriction to the so-called sin of Cain, Adam and Eve’s eldest son, who killed his brother Abel: “What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro? [lack of prior claim],” stated Young in 1849 following declaration of his restrictive policy. “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them [outside the defined norm, the Others] from the Priesthood.”

When patriarchal social and family structures converge with patriarchal religious systems, which reinforce strictly defined gender hierarchies of male domination, women and girl’s oppression and oppression of those who transgress sexuality- and gender-based boundaries became inevitable.

Polytheism and Monotheism

Many ancient and non-Western cultures – including, for example, Hindu, most Native American, Mayan, and Incan cultures – base their religions on polytheism (multiple deities). In general, these religious views seem to attribute similar characteristics to their gods. Particularly significant is the belief that the gods are actually created, and they age, give birth, and engage in sex. Some of these gods even have sexual relations with mortals.

They view the universe as continuous, ever-changing, and fluid. These spiritual views often lack rigid categories, particularly true of gender categories, which become mixed and often ambiguous and blurred. For example, some male gods give birth, while some female gods possess considerable power.

In contrast, monotheistic Abrahamic religions view the Supreme Being as without origin, for this deity was never born and will never die. This Being, viewed as perfect, exists completely independently from human beings and transcends the natural world.

In part, such a Being has no sexual desire, for sexual desire, as a kind of need, is incompatible with this concept of perfection. This accounts for the strict separation between the Creator and the created.

Just as the Creator is distinct from His creation, so too are divisions between the Earthly sexes in the form of strictly-defined gender roles. This distinction provides adherents to monotheistic religions a clear sense of their designated socially constructed roles: the guidelines they need to follow in relation to their God and to other human beings.

Whatever the intended purpose (which seems quite clear) of these texts and multiple  others throughout scriptures, individuals, institutions, and entire societies have taken them to justify and rationalize the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, and persecution of women and girls over the ages.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 11th, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Why Conservatives Bury Their Heads in Toxic Sands of Climate Denial

without comments

“Only after the last tree has been cut down,

only after the last river has been poisoned,

only after the last fish has been caught,

only then will you learn that you cannot eat money.”

Native American proverb

“Only after the last corporate building has blown down,

only after the last corporate beachfront property has been washed away and submerged,

only after the last private insurance company has perished under the weight of natural disaster payouts,

only then will you cease denying the human causation in global climate change.”

Warren J. Blumenfeld

No, President Donald J. Trump is not personally responsible for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma!

Yes, hurricanes have most likely ravaged the planet since prehistoric times!

What we are experiencing with increasing frequency, however, is the unprecedented intensity and duration of our planet’s climatic conditions. For example, Hurricane Harvey dumped more rain on Texas alone than any past storm in the history of meteorological record keeping, and Irma remained a category 5 hurricane longer and, also, clocked the highest sustained winds of any Atlantic hurricane ever, caused, in large part, by extraordinarily high Atlantic water temperatures.

By examining Harvey and Irma, we are witnessing our future. Today, meteorologists use terms like “unprecedented” and “historic” in describing the component conditions of these two climatic events. Tomorrow, we will hear them defining similar storms as “normal.”

How many years into the future will it take for climate scientists to increase the ratings of hurricanes to “category 6” or “category 7,” which would indicate that these storms are 6 or 7 times as intense as those of category 1?

The Obama administration conducted an extensive study, its National Climate Assessment, which found conclusively that our global climate is, in fact, changing, and this is due primarily to human activity, in particular, to the burning of fossil fuels.

The Assessment investigated approximately 12,000 professional scientific journal papers on the topic of global climate change, and it discovered that in the articles expressing a position on global warming, fully 97% authenticated both the reality of global warming and the certainty that humans are the cause.

Additional studies report that we will be experiencing more category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and the beginning of the depletion and ultimate total collapse of glaciers in Antarctica, which can continue to raise worldwide sea levels an additional 4 feet. This depletion is now irreversible.

“Not knowing is bad. Not wishing to know is worse.”

Nigerian Proverb

What seems obvious to the scientific community seems like science fiction to many key politicians, including Donald Trump and members of his administration.

Trump pulled the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, severely gutted regulations on corporations and industries that seriously pollute our water, air, and ground, while reemphasizing fossil fuels and deemphasizing clean energy sources.

He chose to head the Department of Energy former Texas Governor, Rick Perry, who admitted he was unaware of the function of the department he was to administer, and who, in his infamous “oops” moment during his run for the presidency in 2012, actually forgot that this was one of the three federal agencies he intended to eliminate.

To “lead” the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump picked Scott Pruitt who contradicted reliable scientific evidence when he stated he doubts that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor of climate change:

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s [CO2] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

This aligns with Trump’s statement on the campaign trail calling climate change “a hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese, even though the EPA’s conclusion on its website states (before Trump had the agency delete it) that, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

In his brief time in office, Trump has declared war on the environment by proposing a substantial budgetary reduction of an estimated 24% and a staff cut of 20% to the EPA, consideration of lower automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, relaxation of prohibitions against dumping toxins like coal ash into streams and rivers, reinstatement of the potentially environmentally damaging Dakota Access and Keystone oil pipelines, and increased coal mining, natural gas, crude and scale oil drilling.

In his recent wide-ranging executive order, he further reversed Obama-era environmental protections by reducing governmental regulations on the coal and oil industries that were intended to curb greenhouse gases. Specifically, Trump repealed Obama’s moratorium on coal mining on federal lands and on coal-fueled power plants, and advised federal agencies to “identify all regulations, all rules, all policies…that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence.”

Against mountains or irrefutable evidence to the contrary, the climate deniers, including Donald Trump and significant numbers of his Grand? Old Party are perpetrating a delusional fraud against volumes of reputable evidence to the contrary that if allowed to continue, will end in the extermination of all life on this planet (except, or course, cockroaches who seemingly survive almost anything).

So what major factors keep conservatives (who oppose conserving our environment) in perennial denial with their heads buried in the increasingly toxic sands?

Conservatives have a vested interest in denying the human-related causes of global climate change, since to do otherwise would impose a sort of narcissistic injury upon themselves that would challenge their entire political philosophy, and, also, the money in their political war chests given by corporate lobbyists.

While differing marginally on specific issues, many Republicans march in lock-step to the drummer of conservative political and corporate dogma centering on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulations over the private sector; privatizing governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanently incorporating across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, advancing market driven and unfettered so-called “free market” economics.

In truth, the conservative Republican battle cry, seemingly coined by Sarah Palin, of “drill baby drill,” unfortunately is what Trump is pushing, and ironically, as the Obama administration before him forwarded, resulting in significantly more domestic oil and gas production through “fracking” than under the George W. Bush administration. This, however, is simply unsustainable since, in the words of President Obama in 2012:

“But you and I both know that with only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices – not when we consume 20% of the world’s oil.”

A non-regulated privatized so-called “free-market” economic system lacking in environmental protections for our air, our water, our climate, our land, and our animals is tantamount to a social system absent of civil and human rights protections for our people.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking

we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

Warren J. Blumenfeld is associate professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. He is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 9th, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump Pays Huge Price for Maintaining as Island Entire of Himself

without comments

No man is an island, entire of itself;

every man is a piece of the continent,

a part of the main…

…Any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind;

and therefore never send to know

for whom the bell tolls;

it tolls for thee.

John Dunne

This week, Donald Trump accepted a legislative plan offered by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to pay, in the same package, for a short-term down-payment on hurricane disaster relief and raise the debt ceiling to keep the government running for the next three months. He did this over strong objections from Republican Congressional leadership and others of his, alleged, own Party.

Trump likes more than anything to win — no matter what that looks like, no matter what the substance, no matter with whom he must link himself for even the slightest chance of appearing to come out ahead.

Donald Trump represents the metaphorical “island, entire of himself.” His loyalties lie entire of himself. His allegiances lie entire of himself. His commitments lie entire of himself and himself only over the interests of his country, and at times even over the interests of his family.

Yesterday, figuratively, strong allegations have and continue to swirl around the Capitol and Special Prosecutor’s committees that he or members of his staff and family colluded with foreign governments, in particular, with Russia to tip the recent presidential election in his favor. He may have sacrificed his eldest son and son-in-law over his compulsive need to win at any cost.

Yesterday he placed his cards with the Republican deck as his best chance to sit in the Oval Office. He rented a stateroom on the Republican’s U.S.S. Failed Policies, which has taken on water.

Yesterday and over the past difficult eight months, Congressional Republicans have failed to offer him a golden goose of a win legislatively on a sterling silver platter – failing at destroying the American Care Act (thank goodness), failing so far to release a supposed “tax reform” bill, thank goodness (a.k.a. “tax reduction” proposal, which if passed will substantially increase the federal deficit and grant enormous financial breaks to the already super rich), failing to release a proposal to repair and upgrade the country’s crumbling infrastructure, and failing to fix our desperately bankrupt immigration policies.

So today, he sided with the Democrats. While Schumer and Pelosi’s proposed plan will, most likely, prove good for the country, Trump cares not about its substance.

Let’s face the facts, Trump neither cares about nor understands the substance of any policies he supports (and opposes), and he certainly has no understanding of the workings of government writ large.

On the contrary – Donald Trump has gotten tired of not winning (which is very different to Trump from losing, which as we all know, he never does since everything he touches is always the best, the hugest, and most certainly, the first in the history of planet Earth (which he seldom visits since, like the White House, represents a “dump” to this superhero).

But Donald Trump has paid an irretrievably high (huge) price for maintaining as an island, entire of himself. He not only has sacrificed his family and his country while desperately searching for treasure and applause. On a personal level, Donald has forfeited his dignity, his integrity, his morality, his feeling of empathy, his sense of ethics – that important quality of knowing right from wrong and understanding the numerous points on the spectrum in between.

He is loyal to no one other than himself. He is willing to throw anyone under the proverbial bus, and to blame anyone other than himself for any perceived loss he encounters.

Yesterday he may have sided with Russia and with the Republicans. Today he may side with the Democrats. Tomorrow, oh tomorrow – who knows where and with whom he will cast his lot (read as “attempt to use” to prop up his narcissism).

His actions cannot be considered as “compromise,” nor as “the art of the deal.” No! Donald mindlessly functions only on self-interest — and family, acquaintances (since he most likely has no real friends), country, and humanity be damned!

For Donald:

Any person’s death barely interests me,

because I am far superior and above mere humankind;

and therefore I never need to know

for whom the bell tolls;

since it never tolls for me.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), Editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 7th, 2017 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Wall Separating Religion & Government Is a Tattered Ruin

without comments

National Day of Prayer

President Donald J. Trump officially proclaimed Sunday, September 3, 2017 (traditionally the sabbath for most Christian denominations) as a National Day of Prayer to commemorate the devastation to life and property caused by Hurricane Harvey. The day before, while visiting with sufferers of the storm’s wrath, Trump said that “Tomorrow’s a very big day, so go to your church and pray and enjoy the day.”

Whatever happened to the alleged wall separating religion and government? While the courts have attempted to reinforce this partition, our presidents have continually attempted to tear it down.

Though Donald’s order created an ad hoc National Day of Prayer, in April 2010, Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District Court in Wisconsin ruled that the annual National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional by violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause. In her ruling, Judge Crabb stated:

“It goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.”

She added that no law prevents people in the United States from praying or from creating non-governmental days of prayer, concluding:

“I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it as a criticism of prayer or those who pray. That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination.”

Congress established The National Day of Prayer during the Cold War in 1952 (and added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, “In God We Trust” to U.S. coins during the Civil War, and to paper money in 1956).

In 1988, Congress set the annual National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May. President Obama, under whose presidency the court declared it unconstitutional chose to ignore the ruling by issuing a proclamation beginning:

“Throughout our Nation’s history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer.”

George W. Bush and other elected leaders have invoked their Christian faith as the foundation of their political ideology. While governor of Texas, Bush officially declared June 10, 2000 as “Jesus Day,” and he advised all Texans “to follow Christ’s example by performing good works in their communities and neighborhoods.”

Presidential Inaugurations

Six religious clergy offered prayers and Biblical readings January 20, 2017 atop the balcony of the U.S. Capitol interspersed by Donald Trump and Mike Pence placing their left hands on a stack of Bibles during their swearing-in ceremonies. And ending the festivities, sounds emanated from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Clergy invited to read and offer prayer at the inauguration included five Christians and one Jew: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York; Rev. Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelic Association; Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles; Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, pastor at Great Faith Ministries International Church in Detroit; Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Pastor Paula White, of the New Destiny Christian Center in Florida.

As I watched the proceedings on TV, I questioned whether I was viewing a presidential swearing-in or, rather, attending an evangelical tent revival as clergy invoked the name of Jesus at least eight times. Trump brought up “God” four times during his speech:

“…The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity’…We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God…And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again. Thank you, God Bless You, And God Bless America.”

Not wanting to exclude Muslins, he said in usual Trump fashion, “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 9, 2013, tapped the Rev. Louie Giglio of Atlanta’s Passion City Church to deliver the benediction during his second inauguration overlooking the Mall of the U.S. Capitol Building later that month. Less than 48 hours later with the controversy surrounding Giglio’s past statements about homosexuality, however, Giglio decided to withdraw from giving the address stating:

“It is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda a focal point of the inauguration.”

During his sermon, “In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality,” delivered a decade earlier, Giglio told his parishioners that being gay is a sinful “choice” and that gay people will be prevented from “entering the Kingdom of God.” The “only way out of a homosexual lifestyle … is through the healing power of Jesus,” he continued.

At his first inauguration, Barack Obama chose Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation. While Warren has been involved in some positive activities during his ministry, he has been a leading and outspoken opponent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. He worked as one of the chief lobbyists for the passage of Proposition 8 in California delegitimizing marriage for same-sex couples.

In his public statements, he likened marriage for same-sex couples to incestuous marriage between a brother and sister and to polygamy. In November 2012, Warren went further by telling CNN’s Piers Morgan that being gay is a bit like eating arsenic or “punching a guy in the nose.” In addition, Warren has called into question the concept of separation of religion and government, and he said that Obama has “intentionally infringed upon religious liberties” with his contraception mandates.
Obama’s choice of Giglio and Warren, even if they had not been divisive figures, by giving blatantly sectarian addresses at presidential inaugurals raises several critical issues.

If the U.S. truly stands as a country dedicated to the concept of the separation of religion and government, as articulated by the First Amendment, why then do presidential inaugurals include “invocations” (supplications or prayers to God), and “benedictions” (a short prayer asking for divine assistance, blessings, and guidance given usually at the close of religious services)? In fact, Warren invoked the name of Jesus during his invocation, and closed by reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

And I will go even further: Why indeed does the government require the practice at presidential and other “swearing in” ceremonies of the placement of hands upon the Bibles (composed of the Jewish Bible and the Christian Testaments) and a swearing to the name of “almighty God.” Furthermore, why do we hire chaplains to deliver prayers at the daily openings of Congressional sessions, all paid for by public tax dollars?

Before and during his presidency, Bush Jr. and other conservative Christian politicians consistently have called for voucher systems whereby students could choose to attend private parochial schools at public expense, and supported prayer in the public schools as well as at school sporting and other events. Some religious, governmental, and educational leaders also push for the teaching of Creationism (reframed as “Intelligent Design”) to explain the genesis of the world and all its inhabitants.

Since first erected, that Jeffersonian wall has suffered from increased battering and now barely stands as a worn and tattered ruin. Candidates and elected officials don their Christian credentials like armor to repel potential attacks on their motivations and character.

Many of our framers, the chief architects of the United States Constitution, most clearly did not have these measures in mind. James Madison, familiarly called the “Father of the Constitution,” was most responsible for the First Amendment along with Thomas Jefferson.

Virginia was one of the first states following the Revolutionary War to address the issue of religion and government when Thomas Jefferson, who held deist beliefs, drafted “An Act for the Establishment of Religious Freedom” in 1777. Jefferson’s proposal passed into law in 1786 in Virginia.

Then, constitutional framers such as Jefferson and Madison negotiated a compromise with Protestant sectarians, which led to the clause written into the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

Though nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does the phrase “separation of church and state” appear, it was originally drawn from a letter President Thomas Jefferson sent on January 1, 1802 to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptists Association.

Jefferson held deep concerns over the possibility of erosion of First Amendment’s religious freedoms, as did Madison. In his “Letter to Edward Livingston,” July 10, 1822, Madison opined:

“Every new and successful example, therefore, or a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”

Madison argued against the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress, writing in his “Detached Memoranda,” circa 1820:

“The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes….The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles….”

Everyone in our country has the right to hold any, or no, religious beliefs as they consider appropriate to suit their lives. This is a basic constitutional right, and more importantly, a basic human right to which all are entitled. Many of the framers of the U.S. Constitution were aware of the dangers of entangling religion with governmental activities and public policy. In fact, though, how “separate” do religion and government now stand in the United States?

Rather than building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, we need, instead, to cement the wall between “ecclesiastical and civil matters…[so] that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press), co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense Publications), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge), editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 3rd, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

LGBTQ People Liable for Natural Catastrophes: The Total Eclipse of Reason

without comments

The utter power and strength of the LGBTQ community allows us to control the course of hurricanes, floods, droughts, and pandemics, and thus, we get to determine who lives and who dies, who retains their treasured belongings and who gets wiped out and washed away. Well, that is if you believe total eclipse of reason on the theocratic right who hold us responsible for causing many of the greatest natural disasters of modern times.

The latest installment from the loony bin came from Pastor Kevin Swanson who argues that Hurricane Harvey was caused by Houston recently “having a very very pro-homosexual mayor,” and because of the city’s refusal to repent from its “sexual perversion.” According to Right Wing Watch, Swanson said on his radio program:

“Jesus sends the message home, unless Americans repent, unless Houston repents, unless New Orleans repents, they will all likewise perish. That is the message that the Lord Jesus Christ is sending home right now to America.”

Adding to Swanson’s list of factors bringing on the devastating storm, he attempted to position Christians as the victims in this drama by accusing Huston of “persecuting pastors and churches,” and he blamed the Texas state legislature for recently failing to pass a bill “that would have prevented cross-dressing men from using the women’s restrooms” because “they wanted to encourage the abomination of men attempting to dress like women and women attempting to dress like men.”

Swanson, a Colorado-based pastor and radio talk show host, asserted in 2015 that God gives HIV/AIDS to gay people as “retribution to their sexual habit.” This, he said, is a sign of God’s kindness because having the virus makes it more likely they will renounce their homosexuality, thereby saving them from eternal damnation.

But wait! Hurricane Harvey is only the most recent natural disaster attributed to LGBT people. In a 2016 column on the website shoebat.com in an article titled “Hurricane Matthew Is The Wrath Of God Poured Out On the Cities Of Orlando And Savannah For Supporting The Evil Sodomites.” This must be urgent since the initial letter in each word of the title is capitalized! The article stated:

“Florida is a nice place, but it unfortunately has become a lot like California, representing both the best and the worst that America has to offer. This is especially true in the area of homosexuality. While there are many conservative and religious Floridians, there are a tremendous amount of sodomites and immoral activity that takes place there.”

The author, Andrew Bieszad, argued that the hurricane that hit Florida and other points in the U.S. Southeast resulted from God’s wrath directed against the scheduled Pride Festivals (“sodomite pride parades”) in Orlando, Florida and Savanna, Georgia. Bieszad asserted that this particular hurricane has dramatically erupted in “unnatural” ways and “is unexplained by science,” and that:

“The word ‘Hurricane’ originally comes from the Taino Indians, a people who inhabited the Caribbean and parts of Florida when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century. The original word, ‘Huracan,’ was a god of evil in their pagan religion, and the natives thought that these storms were attacks from this evil diety. Interesting.”

In addition, Bieszad asserted that it was no mere coincidence that this hurricane holds the name “Matthew.” Saint Matthew is depicted as an angle in the Christian Bible, and angles are “the ones obedient to God [who] always play important roles in executing God’s will, both for aiding man in his struggle for righteousness and punishing him in accordance with God’s will.”

But Bieszad simply pulls from the looney bin scavenged before by so many others. For example, in May 1978, Anita Bryant, Florida Orange Juice queen and chief organizer of her so-called “Save Our Children” campaign to overturn a gay-rights ordinance of Dade County, called homosexuals “human garbage,” and blamed the drought then overtaking California on their sinful behavior. Ironically, however, just one day following the first openly-gay San Francisco City Supervisor, Harvey Milk’s November 8 election, and six months following Bryant’s claim, it started to rain.

In addition, others blamed the torrential winds, rain, and devastating flooding of hurricane Katrina in 2005 on LGBT people. Reverend John Haggee, evangelical pastor of a “mega-church” in Texas, was quoted in an interview in 2006 saying that “God caused Hurricane Katrina to wipe out New Orleans because it had a gay pride parade the week before and was filled with sexual sin.”

Televangelist Pat Robertson has most likely talked to God who told him of an upcoming calamity. After Orlando, Florida city officials in 1998 voted to fly rainbow flags high atop city lampposts during Disney World’s annual Gay Days events, Robertson issued a stern warning to the city:

“…I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you. … [A] condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It’ll bring about terrorist bombs, it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor.”

Following the horrific events of September 11, 2001, Robertson, along with his conspiratorial-theorist evangelical buddy, Jerry Falwell, reiterated past warnings. Falwell, with an air of righteousness, proclaimed on Roberson’s 700 Club on the Christian Broadcasting Network on September 13, 2001:

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen!’”

To this Robertson responded: “I totally concur.”

The cause for wide-spread and devastating health pandemics have also been laid at the feet of LGBT people. For example, Ronald Reagan, under whose presidency the AIDS pandemic was detected and spread, had not formally raised the issue until April 1, 1987 in a speech to a group of physicians in Philadelphia — a full seven years after the onset of AIDS in the United States.

During his first year in office, Reagan spoke flippantly of AIDS when he inferred that “maybe the Lord brought down the plague because illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”

When AIDS was perceived by many as a disease of primarily gay and bisexual men, Pat Buchanan, who served as Reagan’s Chief of Communications between 1985-1987, was quite outspoken, referring to AIDS as nature’s “awful retribution,” and saying it did not deserve a thorough and compassionate response.

Writing in 1986, Buchanan claimed: “The poor homosexuals — they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution.” Also, back in 1983, Buchanan demanded that New York City Mayor Ed Koch and New York Governor Mario Cuomo cancel the Gay Pride Parade or else “be held personally responsible for the spread of the AIDS plague.” And later: “With 80,000 dead of AIDS, our promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide.”

In 2007, Falwell extended the blame: “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” 

Some even fault gays for ultimately bringing about the total destruction of human life. In his annual “State of the World” address at the Vatican delivered to diplomats from 179 countries, Pope Benedict XVI, on January 9, 2012, released a dire warning stating that marriage for same-sex couples “undermine the family, threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”

The pontiff stated earlier on December 22, 2008 at a Christmas address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, likening saving humanity from homosexual and gender-variant behaviors to saving the rain forest from destruction:

“[The Church] should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed….The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”

The Pope warned that humans must “listen to the language of creation” and understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behavior outside heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work.”

If there is any lesson to learn from the spate of natural disasters hitting the globe, we as a collective human species, and not God(s), have the power to destroy or to save our planet if we stand resolute in reversing our destructive and senseless use of fossil fuels, and to commit ourselves to invest our resources and energy into renewable clean energy sources.

Rather than blaming LGBT people, we must embrace science to save humanity from itself.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Permission to forward, print, or publish: warrenblumenfeld@gmail.com

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 31st, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Rejecting “the Master’s Tools” by Restricting Free Speech

without comments

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Amendment 1: Constitution of the United States of America

During the 1960s, when I was an undergraduate student and member of the Students for a Democratic Society organization at San José State University, the university administration, under direction from then Governor Ronald Reagan, rejected our requests to bring to campus a few members of the Black Panther Party from Oakland to give a presentation, using the assertion that their presence could possibly turn violent.

We resisted the administration’s attempts to silence the group and deny them their constitutional First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, and we brought them to the campus to join us in an unofficial educational rally, which drew hundreds of students, and, incidentally, no violence.

In 1979, the ACLU took up and won the cause of defending the right of a neo-Nazi group to march legally through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago with many Holocaust survivors in residence. A compromise agreed upon in the court changed the venue from Skokie to Federal Plaza in Downtown Chicago.

As a tenured professor at Iowa State University, the largest paper in the state, The Des Moines Register, published my Letter to the Editor questioning why our land-grant tax-supported public university displays a large Christian cross extending virtually from floor to ceiling, and crosses carved into both sides of the “benches,” in the “Chapel” within our Student Union. I concluded my letter by asking whether we should retire officially-sanctioned religious systems from a public university.

In the following days, other readers demanded my immediate dismissal; one published my salary stating it was a waste of valuable tax dollars; while another wrote that I should be forced onto a large piece of ice and floated out to sea. My department chair supported my freedom of speech, though the President of the University rejected the idea of taking the crosses from the space.

For the past twenty-plus years, I have traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe giving presentations on several topics focusing on social justice. About a decade ago, I was to deliver an address on the issue of homophobia at a university in eastern New Mexico. Before I arrived, university organizers notified me that a certain local conservative Christian minister had threatened to bring his congregation en mass to shut down my appearance.

Though the university refused to cancel the event, extra security details had been activated. In the end, the minister failed to carry out his threat, and possibly many more students attend my address over the increased publicity.

Fred Phelps and his followers trek around the country protesting funerals of soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual) claiming that these deaths resulted from God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Church members wield signage stating, for example, “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Phelps is also notorious for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a cruel and ruthless homophobic assault.

The judicial process began when Albert Snyder, of York, Pennsylvania successfully won a law suit against Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, and his followers for picketing the 2006 funeral of Snyder’s son, 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in a vehicle rollover accident in Iraq. At the lower court trial, the jury awarded Snyder $11 million, which the court eventually reduced to $5 million.

Later, on March 26, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Snyder was unjustified in suing Phelps and company. The court also ordered Snyder to cover Phelps’s court costs in the amount of $16,510.

Snyder appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which handed down its ruling by determining that the protestors’ actions were within the scope of protected speech covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and were not circumscribed by issues of privacy and religious rights of the mourners.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Audre Lorde

Yes, Fred Phelps and company, while certainly vile and inhumane, were within their rights of free speech.

Until and unless we as a society, and until and unless the judiciary develops clear and consistent demarcation lines between “free speech” and “hate speech,” the court had no other option than to rule as it did. The demarcations may never be developed due to the enormity in constructing the boundaries.

Neo-Nazis had a right to speak in Chicago. Fred and family had a right as well to demonstrate at my university, Iowa State University, about seven years ago on the premise that the university was “supporting its fags” by establishing an Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Student Services,” and demonstrating in front of the Jewish Museum in Des Moines over their allegation that “the Jews killed the Lord.”

We certainly don’t have to support their disgusting rhetoric, but they have a right to speak. We and they also have the right to peacefully protest – “…the right of the people peaceably to assemble….”

We must ask ourselves, then, several specific and larger general critical questions:

While the organizing committee for Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade banned OUTVETS, an LGBT military veterans group, and other LGBT groups over the years, should the organizers of Charlotte, North Carolina’s recent Pride parade have denied a group of Trump supporters, “Deplorables Pride,” a float permit, and should parade celebrants have shouted down group members when they attempted to speak on the street during the parade?

Should the administration of the University of California at Berkeley have cancelled Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter’s planned addresses? And while most students engaged in legally-protected peaceful protests, was it appropriate for some protestors to contribute to violence in opposing the appearance of these controversial speakers – most notably at the university serving as the epicenter of the “Free Speech Movement” during the early 1960s?

We must also ask ourselves, if not on a university campus than where can we engage in controversial topics and ensure the rights of others all along the spectrum to pose their ideas?

As a queer person and as a Jew whose Polish family the Nazis decimated during the Holocaust, I am acutely aware of the long history of the many means dominant groups have employed to silence us. They have killed us; attempted to define us; endeavored to change or convert us; expelled us from countries and from institutions; censored, banned, confiscated, and burned our books, diaries, literature, and papers; deleted or distorted our histories in official accounts; denied us the ability to raise our voices and to speak out.

Are we not, then, merely using the “master’s tools” against those who ideas we find different and abhorrent from our own as the “master” used these tools against us?

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 28th, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

First Donald Came For…

without comments

First Donald Trump and his father, the real estate tycoon, came for black people in their refusal to rent to them, over which the Trumps were sued and had to sign a consent decree, and most Republicans failed to speak out.

Then Donald, in his role as chief birther, came for President Obama in questioning the legitimacy of our first black president, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald, after descending the elevator in his golden tower, came for Mexicans by branding them as criminals and rapists, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for Muslims by calling for a national registry to chart their movement for those already in the United States, and a ban against entry for those abroad, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for Black Lives Matter by referring to them as an anti-police group, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Than Donald came for the basic health insurance that many people need to stay alive without proposing a reasonable alternative plan, while offering massive tax breaks to the super rich, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for a reporter with a disability in a mock spasmodic shaking of his body, and most Republicans failed to speak out.

Then Donald came for a certified war hero followed by a Gold Star family, and most Republicans failed to speak out.

Then Donald came for the United States government itself by selecting several unqualified members to his cabinet, some of whom he placed in these powerful positions to abolish the very government departments they were hired to administer; by refusing to hire people for key positions, especially diplomats in the Department of State; and by debasing the office of the presidency in his words, temperament, and utter lack of experience, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for leaders of our country’s longstanding allies, while heaping praise on autocratic and kleptocratic dictators whose interests go against those of the United States, and most Republicans failed to speak out.

Then Donald came for Jews in his ceremonial speech commemorating the Holocaust, while never once mentioning Jews and antisemitism, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for LGBT people and others who do not identify as conservative Christian evangelicals in his attendance at several “Christian Prayer Vigils” and appearances at conservative right-wing Christian conferences and universities like Liberty University, with calls to “Make America Great Again,” but giving the subliminal dog-whistle message of making (keeping) America white and ultra-conservative Protestant again, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for a reasoned response to crime in his near obsessive calls for “law and order” involving draconian (and possibly unconstitutional) measures of roundup, torture, surveillance, and incarceration, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for the voting rights of people of color, students, and elders by failing to investigate national and local voter suppression efforts, but, rather, by establishing a commission to reverse the fact that his Democratic challenger garnered approximately 3 million more popular votes than himself, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for the environment by pulling out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and by severely gutting regulations on corporations and industries that seriously pollute our water, air, and ground, while reemphasizing fossil fuels and deemphasizing clean energy sources, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for transgender people by banning them from serving their country in the military and from entering the public facilities in their schools that most closely align with their gender identities, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Throughout it all, Donald came for the free press in referring to them as the dishonest and corrupt media who broadcast “fake news” as a means of whipping up the baseness of his base, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for officials investigating likely Russian attempts to influence our elections and any possible collusion by the Trump campaign, and most Republicans failed to speak out (colluded).

Then Donald came for social justice advocates by labeling them as anti-police and anti-American while declining to fully repudiate white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and most Republicans failed to speak out.

Throughout much of Donald’s life, he came for women whom he “felt” attractive in inappropriate and abusive ways as reflected in the numerous charges of sexual harassment lodged against him, and in his admission to grabbing women by their genitals against their will, and most Republicans failed to speak out.

And Donald came for other women he hated by body-shaming them and accusing one of having “blood coming from her…whatever,” and by calling for women who have abortions to be punished, and most Republicans failed to speak out.

And Donald has continually come for the truth by perpetrating countless but verifiable lies, and most Republicans failed to speak out.

Then Donald came for Republicans, including members of his own cabinet, who in any way disappointed or challenged him, but by then, there were very few good Republicans left who had not previously enabled, empowered, or colluded with him to speak out.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 23rd, 2017 at 11:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

White Supremacy and Jews as Racialized Other

without comments

Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!”

The estimated 1500 neo-Nazi white supremacists blared out this disgusting chant as they marched with their Tiki Torches in hand through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia in protest of the scheduled removal of a statue commemorating Civil War General Robert E. Lee. This march was reminiscent of similar events held throughout Germany, and in particular, in Nuremberg during the Nazi era.

So why do self-described “white supremacists” target Jews, many who appear “white”? The answer, stemming from a long and complex history, is quite simple: Though Jewish people are members of every so-called “race,” even Jews of European heritage (Ashkenazim) have been and still continue to be “racially” othered by some dominant Christian European-heritage communities in some quarters.

For this reason, members of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups engage in religious, ethnic, and racial bigotry against all groups they consider non-white, including Jews. In other words, anti-Jewish prejudice and discrimination (a.k.a. anti-Semitism) is a form of racism.

The Racialization of Jews

Looking back on the historical emergence of the concept of “race,” critical race theorists remind us that this concept arose concurrently with the advent of European exploration as a justification for conquest and domination of the globe beginning in the 15th century of the Common Era (CE) and reaching its apex in the early 20th century CE.

Biologists and geneticists tell us that there is often more variability within a given so-called “race” than between “races,” and that there are no essential genetic markers linked specifically to “race.” They assert, therefore, that “race” is an historical, “scientific,” biological myth, an idea, and that any socially-conceived physical “racial” markers are fictional and are not concordant with what is beyond or below the surface of the body.

Though biologists and social scientists have proven unequivocally that the concept of “race” is socially constructed (produced, manufactured), however, this does not negate the very real consequences people face living in societies that maintain racist policies and practices on the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels.

For millennia, some Christian theologians distinguished Jews as different from and inferior to Christians on religious grounds. A number of passages within the Christian Testaments were used to give justification for persecuting Jews. For example, Matthew 27:24-25, and in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16:

“[T]he Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God’s will and enemies of their fellow man….All this time they have been making up the full measure of their guilt, and now retribution has overtaken the good of all.”

They also often equated Jews to the Devil:

“And Jesus said: ‘If God were your father, you would love me…[but] your father is the devil and you choose to carry out your father’s desires’” (John 8:44). “The Jews…are Satan’s synagogue” (Revelation 2:9). “I will make those of Satan’s synagogue, who claim to be Jews but are lying frauds, come and fall down at your feet” (Revelation 3:9).

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), born Carl Linné, (also know as the “Father of Scientific Racism”), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, developed a system of scientific hierarchical classification. Within this taxonomy under the label Homo sapiens, (“Man”), he enumerated five categories based initially on place of origin and later on skin color: Europeanus, Asiaticus, Americanus, Monstrosus, and Africanus.

Linnaeus asserted that each category was ruled by a different bodily fluid (Humors: “moistures”), represented by Blood (optimistic), Phlegm (sluggish), Cholor (yellow bile: prone to anger), Melancholy (black bile: prone to sadness).

Linnaeus connected each human category to a respective humor, thereby constructing the Linnaeus Taxonomy in descending order: Europeanus: sanguine (blood), pale, muscular, swift, clever, inventive, governed by laws; Asiaticus: melancholic, yellow, inflexible, severe, avaricious, dark-eyed, governed by opinions; Americanus (indigenous peoples in the Americas): choleric, copper-colored, straightforward, eager, combative, governed by customs; Monstrosus (dwarfs of the Alps, the Patagonian giant, the monorchid Hottentot): agile, fainthearted; Africanus: phlegmatic, black, slow, relaxed, negligent, governed by impulse.

Later, although Charles Darwin himself did not assert this, some of Darwin’s successors,  referred to as “Social Darwinists,” hypothesized that Jews no longer were simply a separate religious, ethnic, or political group, but rather, like black Africans and other groups (including homosexuals), Jews were throwbacks to earlier stages of religious and human development. Social Darwinists forwarded a so-called “racial” hierarchy placing “Aryans” on the top, black Africans at the lower end, and other “races” (including Jews) at various points in between.

In Europe, by the late 19th century CE, Judaism had come to be viewed by the scientific community as a distinct “racial” type, with essential immutable biological characteristics — a trend that increased markedly into the early 20th century CE.

Once seen as largely a religious, ethnic, or political group, Jews were increasingly constructed as members of a “mixed race” (a so-called “mongrel” or “bastard race”), a people who had crossed racial barriers by interbreeding with black Africans during the Jewish Diaspora. If Jews were evil, as thought by many, this evilness was genetic and could not be purged or cured. Jews converting to Christianity, therefore, could no longer solve “the Jewish question.”

The British psychologist, Francis Galton (1822-1911) — a cousin of Charles Darwin –was a founder of the “Eugenics” movement. In fact, Galton coined the term “eugenics” in 1883 from the Greek word meaning “well born.” Eugenicists attempted to improve qualities of a so-called “race” by controlling human breeding.

Galton argued that genetic predisposition determined human behavior. He proposed that the so-called “elites” in the British Isles were the most intelligent of all the peoples throughout the planet, while “[t]he average intellectual standard of the Negro race is some two grades below our own [Anglo-Saxons]. The Australian type is at least one grade below the African Negro…” and “The Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations.”

Galton asserted that Jews were of a lower racial form, and that they could be easily recognizable by their appearance. He also talked about a supposed cold and calculating “Jewish gaze.”

The U.S. writer, Madison Grant (1865-1937) codified this supposed “racialization” of the Jews in his influential book, The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis for European History (1916), in which he argued that Europeans comprised four distinct races: The “Nordics” of northwestern Europe sat atop his racial hierarchy, whom Grant considered as the natural rulers and administrators, which accounted for England’s “extraordinary ability to govern justly and firmly the lower races.”

Next down the racial line fell the “Alpines” whom Grant referred to as “always and everywhere a race of peasants” with a tendency toward “democracy” although submissive to authority. These he followed with the “Mediterraneans” of Southern and Eastern Europe, inferior to both the Nordics and the Alpines in “bodily stamina,” but superior in “the field of art.” Also, Grant considered the Mediterraneans superior to the Alpines in “intellectual attainments,” but far behind the Nordics “in literature and in scientific research and discovery.”

On the very bottom he placed the most inferior of all the European so-called “races”: the Jews. Referring specifically to the Polish Jew, Grant asserted that

“…the Polish Jews, whose dwarf stature, peculiar mentality and ruthless concentration on self-interest…[present themselves in] swarms.”

Analogous to the notion in the United States that “one drop” of “black African blood” makes a person black, according to Grant, the mixture of any of the European races and a Jew is a Jew.

By the end of the 19th century CE, the popular image of the “Jewish type” (portrayed invariably as the Jewish male), according to Sander Gilman in his book The Jew’s Body, “consisted of a hooked nose, curling nasal folds (ali nasi), thick prominent lips, receding forehead and chin, large ears, curly black hair, dark skin, stooped shoulders, [weak flat feet, deflated rump,] and piercing, cunning eyes.” In addition, the gaze of the Jew was said to be pathological, searing, cunning, cold, and piercing.

An offshoot of Eugenics was phrenology: the study of the skull emphasizing that its size and shape determined mental abilities and character. Phrenologist practitioners held that a specific section of the “Jewish” or “Hebrew” brain was “abnormally” developed causing Jews to be highly interested in money.

As we know, the Nazis contrived “racial” arguments as a philosophical cornerstone as justification for their persecutions of Jews, as well as most people of color and people with disabilities. Jews and others they considered descendants from inferior “racial stands.” Nazi leadership argued vehemently that Jews were polluting the so-called “Aryan race.” They forced Jews to wear the yellow Star of David as a signifying marker, since to the Nazis, yellow represented a sign of “race pollution.”

This sentiment extended far beyond the borders of the Third Reich. For example, in 1939, the United States Congress refused to pass the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which if enacted would have permitted entry to the United States of 20,000 children from Eastern Europe, many of whom were Jewish, over existing quotas. Laura Delano Houghteling, cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and wife of the U.S. Commissioner of Immigration sternly warned:

“20,000 charming children would all too soon, grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”

Once constructed as the “Other” in European society, Jews and “Jewishness” — while certainly not fully embraced by the ruling elite as “one of their own” — became a sort of “middle” status, “standing somewhere between the dominant position of the White majority and the marginal position of People of Color.” And this change in Jewish ethnoracial assignment has occurred only within the last 70 or so years.

“Race” then must be seen constructed not as a binary with “white” on one side and “people of color” on the other, but rather as a continuum. Except by extremists on the racist right, Ashkenazim are primarily constructed in the U.S. today on the “white” side of the line upon this continuum, and we definitely have white privilege vis-a-vis “people of color.”

I would argue, however, that we do not have the degree and extent of white privilege in many sections of this country as white mainline Protestants. In fact, in some countries, for example, in Eastern Europe still today, we are not constructed as “white.” Obviously, so-called white supremacists and neo-Nazis believe this as well.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 21st, 2017 at 9:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump & Confederacy Enthusiasts Fail to Heed Lee and Davis’ Warnings

without comments

While Donald J. Trump either lost or has refused to refer to his moral compass ever since the early years of his life, if he simply studied U.S. history he would have known how to respond to the violent racist and anti-Semitic white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville before, during, and following their deadly march and rally.

And if the violent racist and anti-Semitic white supremacists and neo-Nazis had read their history, they would never have come to Charlottesville to protest the removal of Confederate monuments, nor would they ever have carried Confederate battle flags!

An estimated 1500 members of the racist right descended on this small liberal university community for the expressed purpose of voicing their opposition to the planned removal of a 26-foot statue atop a massive stone pedestal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in a park once named for him. The statue of Lee riding his horse and holding a hat in hand was erected in 1924, long after the Civil War during the Jim Crow era in Virginia.

The Charlottesville City Council voted in April of this year to remove and sell the memorial statue, and to change the name of Lee Park to Emancipation Park. A circuit court judge issued a six-month injunction before going the plan can go into effect.

The actions by the Charlottesville City Council follow a growing trend by other municipalities to take down symbols of the Confederacy, and either sell them or donate them to historical museums.

The dissolution of these objects, however, has served as a rallying cry, a cause célèbre, in the movement for white identity politics collectively coming to be known as “white grievance politics”: white people, on the micro level, (primarily men and boys) who claim their rights and power have been weakened by a growing emphasis on multiculturalism and diversity, and internationally on the macro level, the notion that “the West” is under assault which has resulted in a diminution of power and status by the “non-Western” world. Members of the movement position themselves as the victims of an (undocumented and mythological) unfair and biased redistribution of resources and power.

In the U.S., members are demanding the continued display of Confederate monuments and other symbols, such as the Confederate battle flag, arguing “tradition” since these are a part of their “heritage,” and they represent an era of American history.

These emblems and personalities do, in fact, represent an era of American history, an era of war over the right to continue the enslavement of other human beings, one in which many Southerners believed they had the “God” given right to torture, work to death, separate families, rape, and otherwise abuse others for their own economic, social, and cultural benefit.

Most certainly, these monuments and symbols represent “tradition,” but a tradition worth remembering only as one of the leading shameful eras in our national story, and not as one to romanticize or admire.

Under the guise of preserving “tradition,” proponents of keeping Confederate symbolism fail to realize that most of the monuments were erected well after the Civil War toward the end of the 19th– and into the 20th-century. Southerners imposed these monuments primarily as weapons of intimidation against black people in the Jim Crow South during what has come to know as the “Redemption Period.”

One of their own heroes, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, would been outraged by their efforts and tactics if he were alive today. Following the Confederate surrender to Union forces, Lee hoped for a reunified country with the enmities of war put aside and given up. He understood that the symbols of the war, if continued to be displayed, would prevent the emotional and physical healing truly necessary to unite this exhausted and traumatized nation.

He wanted no monuments erected, no flags flown, and no other symbols to the Confederacy displayed. In his book, “Personal Reminiscences and Letters,” Lee included a letter he sent in 1864 to the Gettysburg Identification Meeting Committee asserting that the Confederate flag should be retired and put away due to the strong feelings it evokes.

“I think it wisest not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis followed Lee’s lead when in his The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, he wrote:

“My pride is that that flag shall not set between contending brothers; and that, when it shall no longer be the common flag of the country, it shall be folded up and laid away like a vesture no longer used.”

In his biography, The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and His Decision That Changed American History, author Jonathan Horn wrote that when Lee became president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia in 1865, he received several offers for memorials, but he refused them all since he felt they would “anger the victorious Federals.”

As Lee wrote in a 1866 letter:

“As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated; my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; & of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”

Lee also turned down a proposal to erect a monument to Stonewall Jackson arguing that it would be unreasonable to ask families of Confederate veterans for money to build a monument when they hardly have enough money to feed their families, as Horn explained.

Horn added that Lee requested that he did not wish to be buried in his Confederate uniform. Following his request, no former Confederate soldiers dressed in their uniforms, and no Confederate battle flags flew during his 1870 funeral procession.

Lee thought instead of putting a lot of time and money into memorializing the Confederate Generals,

“All I think that can now be done, is to aid our noble & generous women in their efforts to protect the graves & mark the last resting places of those who have fallen, & wait for better times,” as he wrote in 1866.

At his impromptu “press conference” this week, Donald Trump talked about the issue of taking down historical monuments:

“So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee,” Trump said. “I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

While we all must question and challenge all of our seriously flawed founders and other national leaders, and, yes, come to an eventual collective decision whether to retain monuments to such notables as Washington, Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson who engaged in slavery, and in Jackson’s case, in the genocide of First Nations people, they would not today be charged with treason and sedition against the United States as would members of the Confederacy.

Not many people are arguing for the erection of impressive statues, for example, in the image of the infamous Revolutionary War traitor, Benedict Arnold. In truth, leading Confederacy figures triggered more tattering of the nation and death than Arnold could have even imagined.

I am proud of the committed and courageous anti-fascist activists who came out to counter the pure and undisguised hatred of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and throughout the nation. I grieve the tragic loss of Heather Heyer, 32, a courageous freedom fighter, whose life was tragically taken as she stood up for her principles of social justice for all people. I also grieve the death of two state troopers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke M.M. Bates, who would have turned 41 in just a few days, in a crash of their helicopter as they observed the demonstrations from above.

If significantly more Germans stood up to Nazis early and often like Virginians and people throughout the country stood and continue to stand up to the neo-Nazis white supremacist purveyors of hate, my Jewish family would not have been killed, and the world would have been spared a deadly and horrific war that killed tens of millions more.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 16th, 2017 at 5:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized