Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

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

Invading, Raping, Kidnapping, Enslaving, Killing African Lives

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The Trump administration’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed an Obama-era ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia by sports hunters. Following a concerted outcry against lifting the ban, Trump temporarily placed it on hold.

Primarily wealthy white people invade Africa, and then track, entice, snare, capture, kill, sometimes skin, and behead majestic and noble animals, some already appearing on the endangered species list, as trophies for their personal ego fulfillment.

These so-called “hunters” kill not for food, but rather, for sport. In so doing, they demolish complete blood and succession lines, and interrupt entire ecosystems placing species in peril. Surrounding their actions come their sense of entitlement from amassing the discretionary income to satisfy their desires for power over other forms of life. The world exists for them simply for the taking. They view other forms of life as cheap that do not matter, except to fulfill their pleasures.

The philosophy and practice of white supremacy devalues all African and African heritage lives whether human or non-human. White supremacy links slavery in the “Americas” with the ongoing police murders of unarmed black people and to the murder of animals on the continent of Africa.

The institution of slavery in the “Americas” was built on a foundation of white supremacy. Primarily white people, backed by wealthy whites, invaded Africa, and then tracked, enticed, snared, and captured the proud people on the continent, chained and packed them like sardines into crowded ships’ cargo holds, and transported them across vast oceans to foreign shores stripping those who survived of their dignity, languages, cultures, families, and humanity.

The kidnappers as well as the Euro-heritage residents of the “Americas” viewed the “cargo” as cheap lives that did not matter, except to fulfill their needs for unpaid labor and to satisfy their sadistic ego and sexual gratification. If the enslaved had the audacity to misbehave or to escape the reserve called “the plantation,” whites tracked, enticed, snared, captured, and either returned them to the reserve where their so-called “masters” tortured them as examples to inhibit others from “misbehaving,” or they killed them.

Though whites did not need a rationalization for their terror, they justified their brutality on the newly-constructed “science” of “race.” Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), born Carl Linné, (whom we call today 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 constructed his 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.

The “founding fathers” of the United States took Linneaus’s constructions not only to reinscribe and revalidate the institution of slavery — many of these “founders” themselves enslaved large numbers of kidnapped Africans — but they also wrote into the U.S. Constitution the so-called “three-fifths clause” counting enslaved Africans as equivalent to three-fifths of a full human being for census purposes. As we can see, then, black lives certainly did not matter.

Though Congress passed on January 31, 1865 and the President signed into law on December 6, 1865 the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery, black lives continued not to matter relative to white lives through Reconstruction, the Jim Crow South, into the 20th century CE, and beyond as we have clearly witnessed in the current spate of killings of black people by police officers.

Black people in the United States coined in the 1960s the battle cries “Black is Beautiful” and “Black Power” as counter hegemonic narrative discourses in a nation that viewed black as ugly and where white people fought ruthlessly to preserve supremacy over black people. Recently black people coined the rallying cry “Black Lives Matter” in a country where historically black lives have not mattered much relative to white lives.

In the final analysis, we must see the senseless murder and devaluation of the lives of animals on the continent of Africa as directly linked with the enslavement, segregation, denial of rights, and murder of African heritage people in the United States, for all this attests to the white supremacist plundering of life continuing to this very day.

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

November 17th, 2017 at 8:58 am

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The Fourth Estate as Antidote for the Fourth Reich

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“Hi, this is Bernie Bernstein. I’m a reporter for the Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5000 and $7000 dollars. We will not be fully investigating these claims; however, we will make a written report. I can be reached by email at albernstein@washingtonpost.com, thank you.”

This specious Robocall injected into the Alabama senatorial campaign is offensive and provocative on countless levels. The caller, by portraying himself (?) as a New York Jew with full-throated accent who represents an “Eastern elitist” newspaper, the Washington Post – the paper that broke the Judge Roy Moore sexual predator scandal – attempts to divert the focus away from the controversy swirling around Moore to the so-called “fake news” run by Jews to control the flow of information, which they hope will control the minds of good “upstanding” (read as Christian) Americans.

The Washington Post issued a statement asserting, in part:

“The call’s description of our reporting methods bears no relationship to reality. We are shocked and appalled that anyone would stoop to this level to discredit real journalism.”

Looking back over the course of the last presidential campaign, Donald Trump expressed similar sentiments to those of Moore in his West Palm Beach, Florida rally speech on October 13, 2016:

“The Washington establishment and the financial and media corporations that fund it exist for only one reason: to protect and enrich itself….For those who control the levers of power in Washington, and for the global special interests…[i]t’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities….This is a conspiracy against you, the American people, and we cannot let this happen or continue. This is our moment of reckoning as a society and as a civilization itself.”

Donald Trump and his misogynist predatory compatriot Roy Moore may not have a general grasp of history, but they certainly understand how to use the propaganda of fascism to sway public opinion in the tactics of Divert-Divide-and-Conquer by lifting the sentiments and words virtually verbatim from the notorious Protocols (Minutes) of a Meeting of the Learned Elders of Zion.

The Protocols was a fabricated antisemitic text dating from 1903 that was widely distributed by Russian Czarist forces to turn public opinion against a so-called “Jewish Revolution” for the purpose of convincing the populace that Jews were plotting to impose a conspiratorial international Jewish government.

It is the alleged minutes of a late 19th-century meeting where Jewish leaders planned to subvert the minds, morals, and cultures of non-Jews by controlling politicians, the press, and world economies for world domination. The Protocols was translated into many languages and circulated throughout the world.

In fact, the raging antisemite, Henry Ford, the U.S. automotive pioneer, argued that Jews controlled world leaders, international finance, and the media. He had the Protocols translated into English in 1927, and published in his newspaper, The Dearborn (Michigan) Independent, thereby introducing it to a large U.S. audience.

Beginning in 1920, Ford chronicled what he considered the “Jewish menace” in his paper. Every week for the next 91 issues, Ford exposed some sort of Jewish evil. The most popular and virulent of his articles he chose to reprint into four volumes titled The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem.

Adolph Hitler bestowed on Henry Ford the highest award given to a non-German, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938. Following WWII at the Nuremberg Trials, Baldur von Shirach, leader of Hitler Youth, stated that Hitler had become “Jew-wise” by reading Henry Ford’s writings about the Jews.

Though Jews had little control over their lives in many European countries, the stereotype that they are obsessed with money and power, that they control politicians, the media, and banking systems, and they are interested in world domination persists into the modern era.

During his Florida speech, Donald Trump succeeded in having his anti-Semitic leitmotiv heard, since, amongst many of his ardent supporters, the racist white supremacist so-called “alt-right” received it loud and clear.

The white nationalist website, The Right Stuff, celebrated Trump’s Florida speech. Lawrence Murray wrote an article affirming that “somehow Trump manages to channel Goebbels and ‘Detroit Republicanism’ all at the same time.”

Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister for Propaganda and Public Education, wrote and spoke continually of an alleged “Jewish conspiracy” to undermine German culture and civilization itself. Speaking at the September 1935 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, for example, Goebbels connected Bolshevism with international Jewry. He warned Nazi party members of a supposed international Jewish conspiracy to snuff out western civilization.

Goebbels headed efforts to purge all Jews and other so-called “un-German” influences from Nazi German cultural institutions. He and other Nazi leaders blamed Jews for starting WWII by controlling politicians, the media, and world finances for their own ends.

In his article, Lawrence Murray concluded that Trump’s speech was “almost unprecedented in its militancy and vitriol for the luegenpresse (Nazi term meaning “lying press”) and the brahmins.” Murray also designated the speech as “88% woke.” (White supremacists use 88 as an abbreviation of “Heil Hitler” since “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.) He added: “Can you picture the shvitzing (“extreme sweating” in Yiddish) that must be going on in some circles right now? I can, and it’s glorious.”

Former Ku Klux Klan leader and current racist radio host, David Duke, added his praise of Donald Trump’s “incredible speech” on his radio show:

“Donald Trump had an incredible speech last night in West Palm Beach, maybe the strongest, most all out speech concerning the war that is being waged against us and the war that is being waged by the oligarchs who control the international banks and the globalists….These Jewish supremacists and these Jewish radicals who have been dominating international banking, the financing of politics and leaders, bribing them in effect, the people who have controlled the media, the people who have controlled the political apparatus in so many countries, who have controlled much of the academia, much of the discourse, they’re crazy….They’re willing to risk World War III for their political objectives in the Middle East, in Israel, and elsewhere.”

Donald Trump and Roy Moore blew from this same anti-media and antisemitic dog whistle, which they transformed into an amplified bull horn as a cynical diversionary tactic to pump up their base and to shelter themselves from the bright lights of media scrutiny.

Trump and Moore will ultimately fail, however, because the U.S. today has something the Nazi regime never permitted, a free press. Thus, our Fourth Estate will prevent the imposition of the Fourth Reich.

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

November 16th, 2017 at 9:11 am

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Concerning White Supremacist March in Warsaw, Poland

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One day, when I was very young, I sat upon my maternal grandfather Simon Mahler’s knee. Looking down urgently, but with deep affection, he said to me, “Varn” (he always called me “Varn” through his distinctive Polish accent), you are named after my father, Wolf Mahler. I lived in Krosno, Poland with my father, Wolf, and my mother, Bascha, and 13 brothers and sisters, and aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

Simon talked about our family with pride, but as he told me this, he seemed rather sad. I asked him if our relatives still lived in Poland, and he responded that his mother had died of a heart attack in 1934, and his father and most of the remainder of his family were no longer alive. When I asked him how they had died, he told me that they had all been killed by people called “Nazis.” I questioned him why the Nazis killed our family, and he responded, “Because they were Jews.”

Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

We eventually learned from a brother who had eventually escaped into the woods with his wife and young son that Nazi soldiers murdered many members of our family either on the streets of Krosno or up a small hill near the Jewish cemetery. The Nazis murdered my great-grandfather, Wolf, in the Krosno ghetto. Other friends and relatives the Nazis eventually loaded onto cattle cars and transported them to Auschwitz and Balzec concentration camps.

Virtually no Jews have resided in Krosno or in the surrounding Subcarpathian region of southeastern Poland since the early 1940s. Since then, a dynamic inter-generational tension has developed. There are those, especially of the older generations, who bask in the monoculturalism (cultural homogeneity) evidenced by the longstanding Polish Catholic cultural heritage. Then there are others, many in the younger generations born during the past few decades, who yearn for an earlier time in Polish history, one in which many traditions enriched the overall national cultural landscape.

Jews have for centuries contributed much to Polish culture and society. Jews were an integral part of what it meant to be Polish. Unfortunately, from a height of over 3 million before the Holocaust, only an estimated 10-20 thousand Jews still live in Poland today.

So when I watched and read accounts of Polish residents marching on their 99th annual Independence Day throughout the streets of Warsaw on November 11 with upwards of 60,000 people shouting chants and carrying Nazi and white supremacist paraphernalia, where some marchers called for a “white Europe” and an “Islamic Holocaust,” of course I was deeply concerned, but not particularly surprised.

The Foreign Minister from Poland’s rightwing so-called “Law and Justice Party” said following the march that the day had been “a great celebration of Poles, differing in their views, but united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland.”

A woman on a Facebook group serving Jewish descendants of the Nazi Holocaust asked participants the following question: “Do you think most Poles are anti-Semites?”

I personally hate questions that imply a binary response of “yes” or “no” because the world doesn’t work that way, and because in most instances, the truth falls along a vast continuum. Therefore, I pose a more nuanced answer.

First, to be perfectly clear, the rising tide of fascism demonstrated in Poland represents a larger movement gaining hold throughout Europe and the United States. We have long since passed the point where it is merely hyperbole to compare the rise and control of the Nazis in the 1920s and 1930s to the rise and possible take-over of fascism throughout Western democracies and in some other countries around the world.

In both Nazi Germany and today, strong leaders whipped up dehumanizing stereotypes of groups they “othered,” resulting in the scapegoating of already-marginalized groups of people to blame for causing past problems and posing clear and present dangers to the state.

Having traveled throughout Poland six times, most recently this past June, to conduct genealogy and Holocaust research, I have met several individuals, and have made some deep personal friendships. Each time I visit Poland and other countries throughout Eastern, Central, and Western Europe, I am again reminded of two key issues of which I became consciousness several years ago.

This socially constructed notion we call “race” with its inextricably linked privileges and restrictions based on individuals’ assigned “race” must be seen, first, in the contexts of place and time, and secondly, it needs to be charted along a wide continuum, and not viewed as polar opposites.

In this regard, though I can never truly know on a personal level the “racialized” experiences of those currently constructed in the United States as “people of color,” having studied about and traveling within Eastern Europe, including Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, I can now at least begin to understand the “racialized” (yes, “racialized”) experiences of being a Jew in Eastern Europe, from the feeling that I am seen as an “odd curiosity” and as “exotic” at best, to the occasional offensive and stereotypical iconography, to the rude comments, to the hesitation of some to shake my hand believing I and all Jews were fathered by the Devil, and more.

As historically constructed, “whiteness” and “Christian” are inextricably linked in Poland, for to be considered “white,” one must be born Christian of European descent, and in Poland, Roman Catholic. To be considered “non-white” in Poland is to be “non-Christian” of any national heritage. As historian Karen Brodkin explains, Jews were constructed as “non-white” in the United States as well until after World War II by the dominant white Protestant majority over a series of factors.

In Europe, by the late 19th century CE, Judaism had come to be defined 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 socially 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 as once believed by some Christian leaders, therefore, could no longer be a solution to “the Jewish question.”

In European society, according to social theorist and author Sander Gilman (in Thandeka), Jews were thought of as the “white Negroes”: “In the eyes of the non-Jew who defined them in Western [European] society the Jews became the blacks.” Thandeka adds that “the male Jew and the male African were conceived of as equivalent threats to the white race.”

I truly value and honor the good Polish Christians who have taken on the important task of resurrecting, maintaining, and promoting Jewish culture in present-day Poland. I know many of these good people personally: those who are working at the historical museums throughout Poland and are researching and teaching about the rich Jewish-Polish culture to new generations.

The Rzeszow Klezmer Band, composed totally of Polish Christian performers, travel throughout Poland reintroducing Jewish Klezmer music to the people. Several inspiring and empathetic Polish educators now incorporate the contributions of Jews in school, museum, and community programming and in their curriculum.

The Catholic Church has since admitted regret for many of its past actions and words of former Popes. The Rev. Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, was honored by Jewish leaders around the world for his work in saving large numbers of Jews during the German Holocaust. As Pope, he convened the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which authorized the declaration Nostra Aetate and approved in 1965 under Pope Paul VI.

An article in the document, while certainly not going far enough, stated: “True, authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today.” Moreover, the Church “deplores the hatred, persecutions and displays of antisemitism directed against the Jews at any time and from any source.”

Frankly, however, while I see some real and positive changes occurring in Poland in terms of Polish people’s relationships with Jewish people, and I have hope for an even brighter future, at times I do not feel safe emotionally and physically in Poland and in other countries of Eastern Europe.

Poland now finds itself at a crossroads of sorts, where long-standing official policies, church teachings, and personal belief systems conspire in the exclusion of Jews, while a still relatively small but growing segment of the population genuinely desires to welcome Jews back into the cultural, political, and social life of the country.

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-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

November 13th, 2017 at 3:45 pm

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Moore “Religious” Defenses of Bigotry and Oppression

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“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

Jim Ziegler, Alabama state auditor, in the Washington Examiner

“The allegations against Roy Moore are not true, not true at all….[My brother is being persecuted] like Jesus Christ was.”

Jerry Moore told CNN

Religion and its perversely distorted interpretations by individuals, groups, and full denominations throughout the ages have been devoted to justifying the most unimaginable and extreme forms of oppression against other human beings and against our environment.

We see not only so-called “religious” covers used to defend Judge Roy Moore against allegations of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s, but Moore himself rationalized breaking his oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on religious grounds by invoking Biblical texts when he imposed a large stone slab of the Ten Commandments on the publicly-owned courthouse grounds, and when he urged all Alabama judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to ensure marriage equality for same-sex couples.

I find it more (pun intended) than ironic that Moore justified his opposition to marriage equality by supposedly defending children from “an inherent evil” by calling for the seizure of the children of gay and lesbian people and sending the parents to prison. He argued that children must not be “raised in unnatural families that contradict the created order.”

Moore and his supporters (colluders), however, speak as only the latest crusaders from the perennial crop blasting their bigotry and oppression from a distorted religious megaphone. For example, Hans Fiene, in his recent editorial, “When the Saints of First Baptist Church Were Murdered, God Was Answering Their Prayers,” in the conservative, The Federalist, he asserted that the victims of the church shooting are now righteous martyrs of God in virtually similar terms as radical Jihadist terrorist martyrs:

“Sometimes, God’s will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil….Just like those who put Christ to death, and just like those who have brought violence to believers in every generation, this man only succeeded in being the means through which God delivered his children from this evil world into an eternity of righteousness and peace.”

Another Alabaman, Robert Bentley, in his first address after taking the oath of office for Alabama Governor in January 2011, argued, “So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.” Bentley was later charged with engaging in an adulterous affair with a female staffer. He was later forced to resign before impeachment proceedings after being charged with two counts of violating state campaign laws.

The issue of slavery became a lightning rod in the 1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention, and in May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention (on a pro-slavery plank. They asserted that to be a “good Christian,” one had to support the institution of slavery, and could not join the ranks of the abolitionists.

The doctrine of “manifest destiny” embraced a belief in American Anglo-Saxon superiority. “This continent,” a congressman declared, “was intended by Providence as a vast theatre on which to work out the grand experiment of Republican government, under the auspices of the Anglo-Saxon race.”

Robert Lewis Dabney, Professor of Theology at Union Seminary in Virginia, argued: “What then, in the next place, will be the effect of this fundamental change when it shall be established? The obvious answer is, that it will destroy Christianity and civilization in America.” Dabney, who lived from 1820-1898, in his dire warnings referred to women’s suffrage. Dabney used religious arguments to maintain patriarchal domination, privilege, and power over the rights of all women.

Let us look at another parallel case, the issue of prohibiting individuals from different “races” from engaging in sexual relations (miscegenation). The state of Virginia in 1958 arrested and tried a white man and black women for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, its so-called “Racial Integrity Act” of 1924.

The plaintiffs in the case were Mildred Loving (born Mildred Deloris Jetter, a woman of African descent) and Richard Perry Loving (a man of white European descent), both residents of Virginia who married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia to evade Virginia’s restrictive statute. Upon returning to Virginia, police stormed their home and bedroom, arrested, and charged them with violating the law. At their trial, the judge convicted and sentenced them each to one year imprisonment, but suspended their sentences on the condition that the couple leaves the state of Virginia for a period of 25 years. At the trial, the judge, Leon Bazile, used Biblical justifications for his verdict.

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”

Regarding its stands on women in the Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, at their 1998 session, declared that a wife should “submit herself graciously” to her husband’s guidance, and the denomination has since removed women from top executive posts. According to the 1998 resolution: “…The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ….[She] has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.” Later, in 2000, the SBC declared that women should no longer serve as pastors.

In 2010, the  SBC passed its “Resolution on Homosexuality and the United States Military,” which stated in part: “RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention…affirm the Bible’s declaration that homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered and sinful, and we also affirm the Bible’s promise of forgiveness, change, and eternal life to all sinners (including those engaged in homosexual sin) who repent of sin and trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).”

Alexis de Tocqueville, French political scientist and diplomat, who traveled across the United States for nine months between 1831-1832 conducting research for his epic work, Democracy in America (1840). He was astounded to find a certain paradox: on one hand, he observed that the United States promoted itself around the world as a country separating “church and state,” where religious freedom and tolerance were among its defining tenets, but on the other hand, he witnessed that:

“There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”

He answered this apparent contradiction by proposing that in this country with no officially-sanctioned governmental religion, denominations were compelled to compete with one another and promote themselves to attract and keep parishioners, thereby making religion even stronger.

While the government was not supporting Christian denominations and churches, per se, religion to Tocqueville should be considered as the first of their political institutions since he observed the enormous influence churches had on the political process. Though he favored U.S. style democracy, he found its major limitation to be in its stifling of independent thought and independent beliefs.

I want to be very clear that Christianity comprises many sects and denominations in places throughout the world, and, therefore, Christianity cannot be understood as monolithic, for people adhere to or diverge from a strict interpretation of scriptures depending on their denomination and personal beliefs. Some denominations have been welcoming and have been on the forefront of progressive social change efforts.

In addition, anyone can believe anything they wish, whether others find those beliefs laudable or offensive. When, however, the expression of those beliefs denies other individuals or groups their full human and civil rights, a critical line has been crossed, for they have entered the realm of oppression.

We are seeing individuals and entire denominations framing themselves as the true victims whenever we challenge their religious justifications in their attempts to perpetuate their already pervasive Christian hegemony and social privileges, and their characterizations of others.

My critique, however, does not amount to a simple theocratic disagreement. This is not a “disagreement” at all! It speaks to issues of power and control; it goes to who has the power to define “the other,” and who has the power and control to define “the self”: the individual and members of social groups, or rather, the Church with a capital “C.”

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-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

November 11th, 2017 at 1:31 pm

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A Historical Reflection of the Early Years in the Age of AIDS

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As a young gay person growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I was virtually alone. My only true friends were my dog Lady, my parakeets, and tropical fish. I owned three fish tanks, a 20 gallon my father made for me, which contained most of my adult tropical fish, an 8 gallon I used to raise the baby fish, and a 5 gallon I used as an infirmary for sick fish.

Not only did the fish ease my loneliness growing up different, but they also taught me much about life itself. I learned fairly soon after taking up my hobby how to determine the sex of the fish. It was a quite simple observational  procedure: the females had rounded lower fins while the males had elongated lower fins.

I would sit and observe life in the tanks for hours. I was about 9 years old, and one day I asked my mother why some of the male fish were tickling the others with their lower fins? She smiled coyly and said that they were “making love” with the females just like men make love with women. I guess she was just waiting for my questions to begin telling me her version of the facts of life. She continued, “A man lies next to a woman and puts his penis into her vagina, and the two of them make a baby. Fish do the same thing. That’s why you have so many baby fish swimming around in your baby aquarium.”

“But if that’s true,” I countered, “how come some of the females only like to swim around with other females and fight off the males when they get too close, and how come some of the males tickle other males with their lower fins?”

Caught a bit off guard, she responded, “Well, that’s because the females are good friends and might not want to make love as much as the males, but they do sometimes, and the males aren’t making love with each other; they’re just playing.”

Years later, I leaned they weren’t “just playing,” and the females weren’t “just good friends.” Transferring this knowledge to humans, I learned that some people fall in love with others of the same sex. Unfortunately, my mother’s homophobic conditioning, coupled with a lack of positive lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) images and role models in my life kept me locked inside my closet, of rather coffin, for a number of years.

So how do we create change in a homophobic environment? How do we swim against the strong current of invisibility and bigotry to reach the safe cove of positive identity development and societal appreciation and support?

One way is simple, but for many of us, not so easy: whenever possible we can come out of the closet of denial and fear to family, co-workers, peers, acquaintances, bank tellers, cabdrivers, shop keepers, anyone, everywhere. Though we now have a special day set aside, National Coming Out Day, which many of us celebrate, we can make every day of our lives a special day.

People have said to me, “I’m not going to come out to people. I don’t need everyone to know about my sex life.” This statement, I’m afraid, reflects an extremely limited view of sexual identity. For me, being gay or queer is a whole lot more than with whom I have sex. My sexual identity determines the very way I view the world. Within a homophobic society, my sexual identity frames my reality.

I’m reminded of the poignant words of Harry Hay, one of the founders of the Mattachine Society — an organization established first in Los Angeles during the 1950s – and the Radical Faeries – a queer spiritual movement.

Hay believed that we possess a special “gay sensibility” giving us a unique vision, a creative spirit that, if allowed to thrive unimpeded, can bestow remarkable benefits on society. Unfortunately, because of the homophobic environment in which most of us are forced to live, he concluded,

“We pulled the ugly green frog skin of heterosexual conformity over us, and that’s how we got through high school with a full set of teeth. We know how to live through their eyes. We can always play their games, but are we denying ourselves by doing this? If you’re going to carry the skin of conformity over you, you are going to suppress the beautiful prince or princess within you.”

And in his book The Gay Mystique, Peter Fisher states of men, but this is true of women as well,

“Every time a homosexual denies the validity of his feelings or restrains himself from expressing them, he does a small hurt to himself. He turns his energies inward and suppresses his own vitality. The effect may be scarcely noticeable: joy may be a little less keen, happiness slightly subdued; he may simply feel a little run-down, a little less tall. Over the years, these tiny denials have a cumulative effect.”

For those who stubbornly adhere to the theory that same-sex attractions and gender non-conformity as abnormalities, I would respond with a reference to the theories of biologist Julian Huxley who pointed out that no negative trait (and as we know, in biology a negative trait is one that does not reproduce itself) ever appears in a given species millennia after millennia unless it in some way serves the survival of the species. “Survival of the species,” that phrase is key. We are on this planet for a reason.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, in my home state of Massachusetts, we waged a hard and often bitter fight for the passage of an LGBT state-wide civil rights law, similar to the precedent-setting law passed in Wisconsin. Throughout those years, we had concrete and inspirational support from visionaries of times past and present, marginalized people who worked throughout their lives to ensure a just and free society.

These included German and British emancipation pioneers in the struggle for LGBT rights over a century ago; leaders from the Women’s Suffrage, Reproductive Freedoms, and Labor movements, and those who during past generations refused to accept the status quo – people challenging racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual inequalities; people standing up to protect the rights of  women to control their own bodies; people advocating for the health and working conditions of farm workers, coal miners, seniors, people with disabilities, young people, and poor people; those fighting to halt the genocide of indigenous peoples; the exploitation of workers in developing nations; the advancing encroachment of a nuclear winter; the gradual and irreversible destruction of our planet.

As Harry Hay aptly recalled, throughout history we have functioned “as messengers and interceders, shamans of both genders, priestesses and priests, image makers and prophets, poets and playwrights, healers and nurturers, teachers, and preachers, tinkers and tinkerers, searchers and researchers, and always almost all of them were visionaries.”

If this is true, as I believe it to be, I ask then, “Why are we still marginalized in some sectors of our society and throughout the world?” We are the teachers, guidance counselors, day care workers, parents – and still they attempt to prevent us from having contact with the youth or our nation.

We are the social workers psychologists, workers at homeless shelters, and rape crisis centers – and still they blame us for the breakup of what they call the “traditional family.”

The reality is that we are holding up this culture. If all the LGBT people suddenly left the helping professions, this country would literally crumble. If all the LGBT people had had sat back and waited for our government in Washington and the states to set a unified and effective HIV/AIDS policy, we now would be well on our way to virtual extinction.

And why, you may ask, was the governmental response to HIV/AIDS so meager? According to Randy Shilts in his book An the Band Played On:

“No one cared because it was homosexuals who were dying. Nobody came out and said it was all right for gays to drop dead; it was just that homosexuals didn’t seem to warrant the kind of urgent concern another set of victims would engender….Scientists didn’t care because there was little glory, fame, and funding to be had in this field….Nobody at the National Cancer Institute seemed to be in much of a hurry. The new syndrome clearly was a very low priority, even as it was becoming clear to more and more people that it threatened calamity.”

In the face of this threat, we didn’t just sit back. We mobilized. The women’s health-care empowerment movement predates AIDS, as recorded in the ground-breaking work, Our Bodies, Our Selves. By the time the effects of HIV were first felt, a grassroots network of medical, social, political, and informational organizations had already been put in place. Some of us, who under other circumstances would probably not have engaged in political organizing, were spurred into activism by the crisis.

LGBT and heterosexual people were in the forefront of a coordinated effort to provide care and support for people with HIV/AIDS. Existing LGBT community service centers expanded their services, while new centers were established dedicated to serving the needs of people HIV/AIDS: people of all races, socioeconomic classes, sexual and gender identities, and their loved ones.

These centers, sometimes referred to as AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs), provide counseling, education, medical consultation and advocacy, legal and financial assistance, and guidance through the dizzying maze of local and national agencies. Volunteer “buddies” assist people with HIV/AIDS. And trained volunteers staff telephone hotlines to answer questions and refer people to local and national agencies.

In addition, we must not overlook an irony. LGBT people developed safer sex strategies and educational campaign and remain some of the leaders in prevention efforts. Just think about it: LGBT people teach heterosexual people how to decrease their risks of infection during sexual activity.

As important as all of these initial organizing efforts were, some of us realized that that we could do so much more to directly confront the crisis. We charged the government with being unconcerned with the epidemic because the majority of HIV-related cases existed in what we called “The 4-H Club”: Homosexuals, Haitians, Heroin users, and people with Hemophilia – most of whom our society considered as disposables. We also faulted the very system on which U.S.-American medicine was based, and we declared that clinical drug trials and drug distribution procedures as then constructed were inhumane.

Subsequently, by 1986, militant groups known as ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) organized under the banner “Silence = Death.”

“We are a nonpartisan group of diverse individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis,” and so begins another  meeting of ACT UP chapters throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia. Updating 1960s-style movement strategies, ACT UP groups continue to challenge what we still often regard as an intransigent government, arrogant medical establishment, greedy pharmaceutical and insurance industries, and a frightened and apathetic populous. We also are fighting against the internalized oppression within our own communities.

A new era dawned March 24, 1987 when a handful of furious and committed AIDS activists staged a sit-in at rush hour on Wall Street in protest of what they saw as foot-dragging by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in withholding approval of promising HIV drugs, and price gauging by pharmaceutical companies: in particular Burroughs-Wellcome, which charged up to $13,000 per year for its antiviral, AZT: a drug, by the way, developed at public expense, and the Illinois-based Lyphomed Corporation for its pricing of pentamidine, a prophylaxis for pneumocystis carinii pneumonia.

The following October, over half a million people descended on Washington, DC as part of the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Out of the March grew a unique coalition concerned with a number of progressive issues, but focused on AIDS. A new umbrella organization called ACT NOW (AIDS Coalition To Network, Organize, and Win) oversees communications and plans actions on a national scale.

Based on a philosophy of direct, non-violent action, ACT UP members conducted highly visible demonstration often involving acts of civil disobedience in which participants often place themselves at risk for arrest. Dramatic and creative visuals are often used to garner media and public attention.

ACT UP’s agenda included pushing for greater access to experimental drugs and a streamlining of the drug trials process; decentralized drug trial processes in which subjects and their physicians determine cooperatively the most appropriate trial drug treatment; ensuring that third-party payers cover the costs of drugs once medical consensus has been reached rather than waiting for the FDA to conclude its paper chase; an end to inhumane placebo trials; expanded informed consent to guarantee all drug trial subjects the right to results, even preliminary, from trials in which their participation has made possible.

They also argued that People with AIDS (PWA) must be represented on the Institutional Review Boards of every HIV/AIDS drug trial; allowing concurrent prophylactic treatment to anyone participating in drug trials; fair pricing of drugs by the pharmaceutical companies, and access to their books to justify the prices they charge; treatment for drug addiction on demand; and of enormous concern, universal access to health care.

In addition, they pushed for national anti-discrimination laws in terms of HIV status and sexual identity; protecting against mandatory HIV testing and quarantining; insurance and social security benefit protections; job and housing protections; freedom of immigration; and treatment for all incarcerated persons.

This agenda was controversial and, indeed, ACT UP and its tactics were often criticized, even from within the ranks of the larger LGBT community. ACT UP, however, lists a number of victories to its credit, though history will have to be the final judge of its ultimate effectiveness.

When looking back over the history of HIV, one thing seems certain. LGBT people have been in the forefront of organizing since physicians first recognized the syndrome. We are there now working on the frontlines and we will continue to be there giving our knowledge, our compassion, our funds, and our muscle until HIV no longer poses a significant threat to the health of anyone on this planet. Also, I can tell you with great certainty, in areas of health outside HIV, our leadership, creativity, and commitment will help this country survive into the next century.

So, if you find yourself beginning to pull that ugly green frog skin of conformity over your head, look into the mirror and scrub it away. In so doing, you will be pushing the boundaries ever further from the center. Your vision can create a new tomorrow, a safer and more just tomorrow, a tomorrow where we will see the end to the list of names on the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a tomorrow that is truly better and more equitable than today.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

November 5th, 2017 at 8:59 am

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Republicans Doing Same Thing Over & Over Again Expecting Different Results

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“[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Pope Francis, in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, asserted his firm demand that the problems of massive structural income and wealth inequality between peoples of the world must be met with swift and appropriate measures “by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation.” If we do not meet this crisis, he continued, we will not be able as humans to solve any of the world’s major problems.

The Pope was particularly critical of unfettered Capitalist economies in his unusually descriptive remarks at a sermon delivered in Bolivia in the summer of 2013 in which he quoted Saint Basil the Great:

“[B]ehind all this pain, death, and destruction, there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called ‘the dung of the devil. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk [with pollution resulting in climate change] our common home.”

Well, the Republicans are at it over again serving up the dung of the devil by obsessively shoveling up their so-called “trickle-down,” or more formally referred to as “supply-side,” economics in the latest incarnation of their tax reform plan, which President Trump hinted amounts to essentially a tax reduction, especially for corporations and super rich individuals and families.

As theory has it, by lowering corporate tax rates, business will have more capital to invest in its operations. This will supposedly create more jobs, which, in turn, will place more money into the pockets of consumers. As they spend more, overall economic growth will rise substantially, thereby generating more tax revenues to fill government coffers, which will steadily decrease the deficit. Then everyone will live happily ever-after chasing rainbows and unicorns while singing “Kumbaya.”

In economic and political discussions and strategies within many democracies around the globe, the battle lines have clearly solidified over competing ideologies separating not only individuals, but also differentiating entire political parties regarding the structure and purpose of government.

One argument rests on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, a bisexual British economist who theorized that economic growth and reduced unemployment can be supported through governmental fiscal policies, including spending to stimulate the economy, adjusting interest rates, and enacting certain regulations on market economics.

Another and competing philosophy has come to be known as “neoliberalism,” which centers 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 regulation over the private sector; privatization of governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanent incorporation of across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, market driven and unfettered “free market” economics.

Noted economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, argued, however, that “trickle-down” economics has been tried and has failed several times over the span of U.S. history, and most notably under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. Galbraith stated that it was once referred to as “horse and sparrow theory” in the 1890s. He wrote about David Stockman, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, 1981-1985, under the Reagan administration:

“Mr. David Stockman has said that supply-side economics was merely a cover for the trickle-down approach to economic policy — what an older and less elegant generation called the horse-and-sparrow theory: ‘If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.'”

Well, possibly the Pope got it wrong since the horse is most certainly not the devil.

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-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

October 27th, 2017 at 4:41 pm

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How Society Treats Youth Stands as a Litmus Test

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I believe one of the litmus tests by which a society can be judged is the ways it treats its young people, for this opens a window projecting how that society operates generally.

I was sickened and enraged when I heard about 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez killed by his mother and her boyfriend because they believed the boy was gay. He was taken to the hospital after being beaten so badly he lost consciousness and didn’t wake up, but not before living a tortured existence for years.

At the murder trial, Gabriel’s siblings testified that he was forced to eat cat feces, spoiled food, and when he got sick from eating it, his own vomit. He was also bound and forced into a box for extended periods, pepper sprayed, and beaten daily. The boy’s blood was found on a baseball bat, wooden club, computer cord, and on deep gashes in walls.

In Gabriel’s case, several forms of social oppression came together in extreme ways resulting in his death, primarily heterosexism and adultism, the latter defined by John Bell as “behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement.”

Within an adultist society, adults construct the rules, with little or no input from youth, which they force young people to follow. Even the terminology our society employs to refer to youth betrays a hierarchical power dynamic. For example, we refer to young people as “kids,” a term originally applying to young goats. By referring to youth as farm animals provides adults cover in controlling and maintaining unlimited power over humans. (We must treat and respect animals better than we do as well.)

Of course, parents and other adults have the inherent responsibility of protecting young people from harming themselves and being harmed by others, and of teaching them how to live and function in society within our ever-changing global community. In Freudian terms, we must develop a balance between the individual’s unrestrained instinctual drives and restraints (repression) on these drives in the service of maintaining society (civilization), and to sustain the life of the individual.

We as a society, nonetheless, must set a line demarcating protection from control, teaching from oppression, minimal and fundamental repression from what Herbert Marcuse terms “surplus repression” (that which goes over and beyond what is necessary for the protection of the individual and the smooth functioning of society, and enters into the realm of domination, control, and oppression).

Adultism and heterosexism, individually and in combination, operate as a continuum from subtle to extreme, from adults ignoring or neglecting young people, to statements like “Children should be seen and not heard,” “You’re too young to do that,” and “Just grow up,” to “You’re stupid,” and “You’re ugly,” to “When you are living in my house, you follow my rules,” to circumscribed or qualified love, to corporal punishment, and eviction from one’s home, to sexual and other violent assaultive actions, to murder.

We must not dismiss the brutal killing of Gabriel Fernandez simply as representing an extreme and isolated incident devoid from larger systemic forms of oppression. While possibly not as high profile, similar types of child neglect, abuse, and abandonment are reported every day. Unfortunately, the actions perpetrated by adults against this 8-year-old have become virtually inevitable in our society, which deprives youth of their basic civil and human rights only somewhat less than we deprive these rights from convicted prison inmates.

This litmus test our society continues to fail.

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-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

October 25th, 2017 at 11:14 pm

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Donald Needs to Understand the Difference between Intent and Impact

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Possibly I am simply naïve, but I will give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt that he had only good intentions when contacting Myeshia Johnson, the Gold Star widow of Sgt. La David Johnson killed in Niger, West Africa in an apparent ambush attack by fighters affiliated with ISIS.

Unfortunately, the impact of the President’s phone call further inflamed Ms. Johnson’s grief and deepened her pain when he reportedly said of her husband that “he must have known what he signed up for,” and then did not remember the Sargent’s name.

Myeshia Johnson, who spoke to ABC’s “Good Morning America” stated:

“It made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it.”

But rather than apologize for any misunderstanding he may have caused, he doubled and tripled down in his denials of stating what Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL) heard and Myeshia Johnson confirmed Trump saying. Instead, he labeled the Congresswoman “wacky,” and in a tweet, virtually called Ms. Johnson a liar:

“I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!”

Who has not caused someone pain or anger when stating something or undertaking an action for the best of intentions? How many of us have chosen to apologize under these circumstances? How many of us have become defensive either denying the accusations or attacking the individual for “misunderstanding” or of being “too sensitive”?

Donald Trump’s alleged good intentions gone sour was, indeed, not the only one with national, or even international implications.

Each year, the committee charged with deciding the site for the national Special Olympics Games chooses a different venue. Several years ago, while I served as Associate Professor at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, the committee honored us by choosing our beautiful campus with its state-of-the-art facilities to host the games.

Excited anticipation filled the air months leading up what was to be a massive multi-day event bringing together thousands of special athletes, coaches, family, and friends, along with the international media. Ground crews and volunteers helped to spruce up the campus, signs were posted directing people to the events, and telecommunication trucks spotted the campus feeding directly to news and sports outlets.

Student managers and reporters of the campus newspaper, The Daily, worked diligently to produce a detailed brochure for guests to our town providing a campus map and listing places of interest in the Ames area, including hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, houses of worship, and other vital information.

The day prior to the Games, student volunteers distributed the freshly printed colorful brochure throughout campus and around town. Unfortunately, however, no one seemed to have caught an enormous and what would be referred to by some as an ignorant and unconscionable mistake. Blazing in large bold letters on the cover of the brochure, which was meant for participants and observers at a Special Olympics Games was the title: “AMES FOR DUMMIES.”

When questioned, everyone involved in the project claimed they never thought or imagined that the title would offend anyone. When it was brought to their attention, however, they understood their mistake, and all made a formal and, with some, tearful apology.

Though controversy focusing on our university and on the Games swirled briefly for a day or so, the appropriate manner by which the students responded quickly and decidedly soon brought full attention back to the Special Olympiads and on the festivities.

So Donald, you would do well to take the lead of the students at Iowa State University who, by their actions after their good intentions impacted people in hurtful ways, threw cool water on the flames they unintentionally ignited. You, Donald, seem to make a habit of pouring gasoline on the fires you ignite by your words and actions.

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

October 23rd, 2017 at 7:14 pm

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Professional Football, Hyper-Masculinity, and Nationalism

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I have been thinking about the controversy swirling around the National Football League as a growing number of players are “taking a knee” to highlight the deplorable treatment of people of color in our nation, and in particular, the deadly police actions taken against unarmed black and brown men.

Team owners and most NFL fans expect professional football players to personify at least two inextricably-linked qualities: demonstrated hyper-masculinity and chauvinistic nationalism.

As football players, for them to raise to the ranks of professional-grade, they must exhibit enormous strength, agility, and unquestioned discipline in following orders and operating as a well-functioning unit. Though this holds for most team sports, the obligation of hyper-masculinity is particularly heightened for the gladiators of the football coliseums of today, as it is for the nation’s military service members of all genders.

Thus, this likening of professional football athletes with military personnel, plus the fact that U.S.-style football, while having its roots in British rugby-football and other forms, has diverged significantly to become a new “American” invention. The clearly hyper-masculine and nationalist imperatives have, until the unbridled patriotic actions of Colin Kaepernick, stood as unquestioned and unwritten commandments.

Kaepernick, by detaching the formerly inextricably-linked connections between hyper-masculinity and chauvinistic nationalism, has challenged not only the definition of nationalist pride and love of country, but also undermined and exposed the social construction and ultimately unattainable notion of hyper-masculinity.

Fundamentally, Colin Kaepernick has literally and figuratively demonstrated the difference between the concept of “nationalism” and “patriotism.”

The 50 stars and 13 strips on our flag of red, white, and blue represent a collective image of the United States of America. In this regard, Merriam Webster defines “patriotism” as: “a love for or devotion to one’s country,” and “nationalism” as: “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups. ”

While the United States is a beautiful nation founded on a noble concept, a vibrant idea, and a vital and enduring vision, as a country, it remains still a work in process progressing toward but not yet attaining and not yet reaching that concept, that idea, and that vision.

Possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist is that the patriot understands and witnesses the divide and the gap between the reality and the promise of their country and its people. The nationalist, though, is often not aware that a gap even exists between the potential and the reality.

A true patriot is a person who, indeed, loves their country (though not necessarily viewing it as “exceptional”), but also one who sees the way things are, and one who attempts to make change for the better. A patriot also views other countries with respect and admiration, as valued members of an interconnected and interdependent world community.

By refusing to stand, place one’s hand over one’s heart, remove hats and other apparel from the head (an inherently Christian tradition going against the covering of the head in many other religious communities), and sing proudly the words and tune of this Star-Spangled Banner, Colin Kaepernick and the movement he has spawned have raised important questions concerning what it means to be patriotic and an active participant in our democratic process. In addition, they also raise key questions about the proper place for the playing of our national anthem.

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

October 21st, 2017 at 2:53 pm

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Imagining a World Liberated from All Deadly Spokes on the Oppression Wheel

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“There can be no justice without peace, and there can be no peace without justice.”

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King is but one of literally countless social justice worriers, known and unrecognized throughout the ages across our remarkable planet. They have placed their values and their very lives on the line to ensure a better, more peaceful, and equitable world for themselves and their descendants, a world highlighted by a more level playing field between people of every identity and background, and one where a safety net catches people who have hit tough times and people with limited abilities to meet their needs.

Because of their courageous dedication to the concept of fairness and justice in the relationship between the individual and the state and between states, in their devotion to obliterating the barriers of social mobility by working actively for equality of opportunity and economic justice, they have given us so much. But as we know, the struggle for social justice is ongoing, for the journey must continue before we collectively reach our ultimate destination.

Though the concept of “social justice” has been defined several ways, according to Lee Anne Bell, social justice is the “equal participation of all social groups to mutually shape society to meet their needs.” She asserts that social justice comprises both a process and a goal: “The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs.”

We can visualize “oppression,” and its attendant dominant group privileges, as comprising a metaphorical wheel with the numerous spokes each representing the various systemic forms oppression takes. These include ableism, adultism, ageism, biphobia, chauvinism, cissexism, classism, environmental degradation and exploitation, ethnocentrism, heterosexism, jingoism, linguicism, looksism, religious oppression, sexism, xenophobia, and more.

In the university courses I teach on issues of social justice, I ask students to imagine a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression. What would such a world be like? How might that world affect you as an individual and as a member of a group?

Some students’ faces brighten, some seem stunned and surprised, while others tend to outright reject the notion that humanity can or will ever attain a liberated oppression-free world.

Following a lively and engaging class discussion, I present a case study of a specific form of oppression that once gripped Christian- (and primarily Catholic-) majority dominated nations like a steel vice, but especially since around the middle of the 19th century, the pressure of that religious vice has greatly (though certainly not completely) declined in its impact on sociopolitical policy implications and on the lives of individuals most at risk.

The form of oppression I address is that directed against left-handed people, which I and my co-author, Diane Raymond, outline in our book (first edition 1988, updated 1993) Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life.

Left-Handedness: 

Estimates suggest that one in ten people is left handed. In fact, this number probably holds true for all places during all times. This means that there are approximately 32 million left-handed people within the United States today alone.

Left-handed people have existed throughout the ages in all cultures, in all races, in all social classes, and in every country. Even the earliest cave drawings show left-handed figures.

Though it may seem obvious, it is not always easy to determine who is left handed. Some people, for example, use different hands for different activities. Former President Gerald Ford used his left hand to write while sitting, and his right hand to write on chalkboards while standing. Some people can successfully manage with either hand.

In fact, it is probably true that most people are not exclusively right or left handed. Many people, though, define their handedness in terms of whichever hand they use most, especially in writing. Nevertheless, people in general exhibit a great variety of hand skills covering a broad continuum between exclusive left to exclusive right handedness.

Though you might not think your friend or mother or classmate is all that different because they are left handed, such tolerance or support has not always been the case. In fact, for centuries, left-handed people were viewed with scorn and even, at times, with fear.

People often justified this disparagement with references to religious texts such as the Bibles, both the Jewish Bible and Christian Testaments, though primarily the Christian Testaments, which consider “the left” as the domain of the Devil, whereas “the right” as the domain of God. For this reason, Jesus told his followers to “not let they left hand know what they right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3).

Jesus also described God’s process for separating good from evil in the Last Judgment: “…the King [shall] say unto them on His right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world….’ Then shall He say unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels….’” (Matthew 25:32-41).

Early Christians applied these categories so strictly that they even held that the saints, while still infants, were so holy that they would not suckle from the left breasts of their mothers.

Not only do the Bibles condemn left handedness, but so did several ancient societies. The ancient Greeks and Romans shared this attitude as well. For example, the philosopher Pythagoras argued that left-handedness was synonymous with “dissolution” and evil, and Aristotle described good as “what is on the right, above, and in front, and bad what is on the left, below, and behind.”

The Romans further reinforced these beliefs by standardizing the right-handed handshake, and in Western countries, alphabets favor right-handed people in being written from left to right. Hebrew and Arabic, written from right to left, also favored right-handed people when, in ancient times, writing was often done on stone tablets.

Later, in the Middle Ages, left-handed people were sometimes accused of being witches sorcerers, or as fathered by the Devil. The present-day wedding custom of joining right hands and placing the gold ring on the third finger of the left hand began with the superstition that doing so would absorb the evil inherent in the left hand.

Even our terminology reflects anti-left-hand bigotry. Words like “sinister” (“left” in Latin) and “gauche” (“left” in French) suggest a moral evil or physical awkwardness associated with left-handedness. Their opposites, however, “dexter” (“right” in Latin) and “droit” (“right” in French) mean “skillful,” “artful,” “clever,” “correct,” “adroit,” or “lawful.”

In fact, the English word “left” comes from the old Dutch word, “lyft,” meaning “weak” or “broken,” whereas “right” derives from an Anglo-Saxon word, “riht,” meaning “straight,” “erect,” or “just.”

The term “ambidextrous” literally means “being right-handed on both sides.” Phrases like “left-handed compliment” are insults to left-handed people.

It is difficult to determine precisely why a little more strength in one hand over the other has been used as the basis of wide-scale persecution of a group of human begins. Some people argue that the preference for right-handedness began with the military. If all soldiers were right-handed, they would all pass to the right of their enemy, keeping the enemy on their left side, where they held their shields thereby enabling them to maintain a uniform defensive posture.

This practice extended to rules of the road, except in countries such as England, where they drive on the left side of the road. But even there, the practice was established from a right-handed preference. Knights on horseback would keep their opponents to their right with their lances when jousting.

What “righties” usually take for granted often involves awkward adjustments for “lefties.” Most tools and utensils and most packaging of products are designed for the ease of right-handed people. These include scissors, power saws, corkscrews, sewing machines, and even gum wrappers. Left-handed pilots have not been allowed to sit on the right side of the cockpit to reach the controls in the center, even though to do so would make it easier for them.

And writing from left to right accommodates right-handed people, while forcing left-handed people to make difficult adjustments.

Stereotypes have circulated about hand-handed people as willful and stubborn. Some people even incorrectly believe that left-handed people are at greater risk of committing criminal offenses.

This all brings to light the realities of right-hand privilege, which includes unearned advantages bestowed on right-handed people that often are invisible to those who have them.

Why does this matter anyway? Well, it matters to some who believe that left-handedness is intrinsically evil or unnatural. This attitude has led many theorists to propose tactics for changing an exhibited hand preference. They have urged parents to encourage young people to emphasize their right hands, especially in writing.

In some schools, teachers have tied young students’ left hands and arms behind their backs, or made them sit on their left hands to promote use of the right hand. This treatment often resulted in emotional outbursts, speech impairments such as stuttering, reading problems, and other learning disabilities. Some left-handed people have tried to conceal their hand orientation and to “pass” as right-handed to fit in and to avoid social sanctions.

Over the years, activists have fought society to make physical accommodations to left-handed people and to reject all prejudices that prevent full support for them. More recently, some individuals have created organizations to ensure rights for left-handed people.

In fact, the left-handed artist, Michelangelo stuck it to the Catholic Church for its anti-left-hand condemnations. When he painted his famous ceiling in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, he portrayed God giving life to Adam through Adam’s left hand.

As other minoritized groups, left-hand social movement activists cite examples of famous members of their group throughout history including Alexander the Great, Judy Garland, Gerald Ford, Marilyn Monroe, Ben Franklin, King George VI, Jimi Hendrix, Babe Ruth, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Lefty Gomez, Henry Wallace, Queen Victoria, Barack Obama, and many others.

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

October 20th, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized