Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

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

Pat Buchanan’s “Great White Hype”

without comments

In Pat Buchanan’s editorial, “The Great White Hope,” the ultra-conservative columnist and former communications director of Present Reagan laments the demise of the white man, and specifically the middle-aged and working-class white man, whom he portrays as the victim of our changing times whose plight includes raising rates of suicide, death, and addiction, and stagnant wages.

Buchanan pines for those (very pre-Obama) halcyon days when:

“In the popular culture of the ’40s and ’50s, white men were role models. They were the detectives and cops who ran down gangsters and the heroes who won World War II on the battlefields of Europe and in the islands of the Pacific. They were doctors, journalists, lawyers, architects and clergy…our skilled workers and craftsmen….They were the Founding Fathers…and the statesmen….Lincoln and every president had been a white male. Middle-class white males were the great inventors…[and] the great capitalists….All the great captains of America’s wars were white males.”

I can imagine Buchanan seeing through his nostalgic mind’s eye the television shows from his youth: “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed show,” and “Leave it to Beaver,” all reflecting the mainstream popular image of the U.S.-American family as white, middle class, with a nice home in the suburbs, and all the family members accepting their assigned raced and gendered scripts.

Take “Father Knows Best,” of which the program’s title is very telling. The Anderson family lived in the generic hometown of Springfield, though we never learn the state. The family profile ran something like this: Betty Anderson – affectionately called “Princess” a by her doting parents – was the eldest child who was smart, pretty, fairly emotional, rarely if ever getting into trouble, always looking out for her younger brother and sister.

Bud (James Jr.) Anderson, possessed the “boy-next-door” good looks, was wisecracking, irresponsible, rarely emotional, independent, and frequently worked on his car while wearing a greasy T-shirt.

Cathy the youngest, whom her parents affectionately called “Kitten,” exhibited many emotions, and was a bit of a “tomboy” in an endearing sort of way. She was very dependent on her parents and older siblings for support.

Jim Anderson, the visible head of the family, was very wise, forthright, and moral. He was seen often reading the newspaper over his morning orange juice and eggs cooked by his wife before heading out to his professional career work.

Margaret Anderson, emotional but steady and nurturing, portrayed a housewife who was most often seen tidying up the living room and in the kitchen fixing meals for the family. In the late afternoons, she waited expectantly by the door to share her family’s joys and deflect their trials and sorrows as they returned home from work and school.

Television commercials at the time showed white women ruthlessly attacking scuff marks and disheartening wax buildup on kitchen floors, and ugly smelly toilet-bowl grime. And who can forget that terrifying “ring around the collar.”

White (and only white) men, on the other hand, were pictured in total control, viewed, for example, seated behind the wheel of their “luxurious Oldsmobiles,” with their adoring “better halves” by their side. Or they were “looking smart” and “being smart” after shaving with Gillette, with the obligatory sexy young white woman feeling their smooth strong faces. Or they were tackling one another and working up a real sweat in the (all white) manly sport of football, after which they cooled down with a cold refreshing Budweiser.

Coming back to the present, Pat Buchanan asked and answered his own question: “But what explains the social disaster of white Middle America?

He first addressed the issue of white people’s stagnant wages even as they (white people) are “at or near full employment.” For this, he laid full blame on the “scores of millions of third-world immigrants [I didn’t realize anyone still uses the term “third world”], here legally and illegally, who depress U.S. wages…” and on former U.S. jobs shipped overseas “under the label of ‘globalization’.”

Well, I can understand how Buchanan and anyone continuing to plunge their heads in the cultural well of ‘40s and ‘50s whitewashed U.S. culture would place blame on immigrants (by implication, of color) and the “third world” for the problems of white people. In the world of “Father Knows Best,” we saw virtually no people of color. By extension, I ask, how many people of color did Buchanan see throughout his youth and continuing today other than the cooks and maids serving white people, the road construction workers and gardeners in white neighborhood, and the laundry and dry cleaners?

Buchanan also blames the white man’s decline on plunging marriage rates and the increase of white babies born “out of wedlock”:

“Where a wife and children give meaning to a man’s life, and to his labors, single white men are not only being left behind by the new economy, they are becoming alienated from society.”

Well, how dare those pesky women enter the workplace at greater numbers and become financially independent from men? How dare women demand equal pay for equal work, quality health care and child care, paid family leave, and other benefits to support them as workers, with or without children? And how dare those radical homosexuals and bisexuals demanding marriage equality, and those transgender people demanding to use the bathrooms most closely aligned to their gender identities rather than simply what was assigned to them on their birth certificates?

To Mr. Buchanan, this liberal-inspired push for “multiculturalism” has thoroughly skewed traditional racial, cultural, and gender dynamics for the worse by marginalizing white people and white culture (whatever that means).

“The world has been turned upside-down for white children. In our schools the history books have been rewritten and old heroes blotted out, as their statues are taken down and their flags are put away.”

In Buchanan’s estimation, books have even bashed our great heroic icon, Christopher Columbus:

“Children are being taught that America was ‘discovered’ by genocidal white racists, who murdered the native peoples of color, enslaved Africans to do the labor they refused to do, then went out and brutalized and colonized indigenous peoples all over the world.”

Well duh, Mr. Buchanan. What do you find historically inaccurate about this? Rather than address this question, he attacked measures enacted to improve the chances for success of traditionally minoritized communities:

“Since affirmative action for black Americans began in the 1960s, it has been broadened to encompass women, Hispanics, Native Americans, the handicapped, indeed, almost 70 percent of the nation.”

And because of affirmative action and the increasing emphasis on “diversity,” Buchanan asked whether white working class people “have become the expendables of our multicultural regime? He answered:

“White males, now down to 31 percent of the population, have become the only Americans against whom it is not only permissible, but commendable, to discriminate.”

Due to the current plight of white workers and the anger they feel for all the reason he enumerated, Buchanan explained why Donald Trump has captured the imagination of so many white people. He also used a similar explanation to justify why “militant anti-government groups (read, neo-nationalist fascist groups) attract white males?”

Divide and Conquer Strategy:

Buchanan, the perennial flame thrower, has always displayed a lack of subtly in his argumentation. Again, I find it quite apparent that he has stereotyped minoritized peoples for the purpose of scapegoating them for the problems that plague our nation, though, in fact, minoritized people suffer from these problems rather than serving as the cause.

Buchanan and others blame poverty within our communities and low achievement in our schools on the “cultures” of those suffering from the inequities. This “cultural deficit model” detracts from our interrogating and truly addressing the enormous structural inequities within the country. So-called “social issues” become wedges to attract people to a particular candidate or political party. In the final analysis, though, when middle and working class people vote for these candidates, they essentially vote against their own economic self-interests.

This country, even during colonial times, functioned as an affirmative-action-for-white-people nation, though labeled in different terms. Take one example, following WWII, according to historian Karen Brodkin:

“The G. I. Bill of Rights, as The 1944 Serviceman’s Readjustment Act was known, is arguably the most massive affirmative action program in American history….I call it affirmative action because it was aimed at and disproportionately helped male, Euro-origin GIs….[Benefits] were decidedly not extended to African Americans or to women of any race. Theoretically they were available to all veterans; in practice women and black veterans did not get anywhere near their share.”

The resistance from Buchanan and many others, while venomous and blaming in tone, is nonetheless predictable in that these tactics have been deployed time after time against individuals, groups, and communities that have challenged oppression and dominant hegemonic discourses.

I truly hope that Buchanan merely represents the last vestiges of a dying world order that has consistently resisted the equitable distribution of opportunities and resources for all the world’s peoples, for I see minoritized people and our allies joining together in greater numbers than ever before to push the boundaries and unwilling to accept the repressive status quo. Most exciting of all is the fact that people of the younger generations are leading the way.

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

May 29th, 2016 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“[You] Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks.”: Projection & Systems of Oppression

without comments

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote these stirring words in the Declaration of Independence, but Jefferson and many of the very men who signed onto the final draft somehow rationalized or denied to themselves the unfathomable contradiction that they enslaved, owned, raised, and sold human beings.

Like many of these “founders,” during the history of the world, a great number of our leaders betrayed their words through their actions.

In the not-to-distant past alone, so-called “family values” politicians and religious leaders who vocally and rigorously championed conservative social issues, such as opposition to sex outside marriage, women’s reproductive freedoms, and LGBT equality, were found literally with their pants down publicly exposing their engorged … hypocrisy.

For example, Minister Jim Baker, Praise the Lord (PTL) founder and creator of the Christian fundamentalist theme park, Heritage USA, paid hush money to a female church secretary to cover up their sexual affair. Prosecutors later convicted Baker of embezzling $158. million from his parishioners.

And who will forget the tearful confession televised over the airwaves of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart when reports surfaced of him paying a number of women for sex? By the way, Swaggart fiercely condemned Jim Baker just a few years earlier for engaging in sexual affairs outside of marriage.

U.S. Senator, Republican Larry Craig of Idaho, a legislator with a very long anti-LGBT voting record in both the House and Senate, pleaded guilty to a charge in 2007 of lewd conduct after an undercover police officer arrested him for soliciting sex in a Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport men’s restroom. During his career, the far-Right American Family Association and Family Research Council heaped praise onto Craig for his consistent conservative voting record.

An interesting note is that a cofounder of the Family Research Council, George Rekers, was exposed by the media when he returned home from Europe with a young “male escort” whom he found on the website Rentboy.com. The young man claimed that Rekers paid him to perform nude body rubs on a daily basis. Rekers is a retired professor from the University of South Carolina and a Baptist minister.

Other recent conservative paragons of virtue who fell off their lofty conservative “family values” perches include Senator John Ensign (R-NV) who engaged in a sexual affair with the wife of his chief of staff, and Senator David Vitter (R-LA), who was discovered to have been a client of female sex workers in the District of Columbia and in Louisiana.

Recently Kenneth Star, the prosecutor tasked with delving into charges of alleged sexual transgressions by President Bill Clinton, which led to his eventual impeachment, is the same Kenneth Star who had his own presidency of Baylor University stripped from him for purportedly failing to take action against members of Baylor’s football team for allegedly engaging in sexual assault of female students.

And now we watch as Donald Trump, the Republican Party candidate for the presidency, walks a tight rope of contradictions. Though he bases his run for the White House on building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out undocumented immigrants, to deport those already here, and to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., in fact, Trump hired undocumented Polish workers at less-than standard wages and under horrendous working conditions to construct his Trump Towers in New York City. In addition, Trump argued his opposed to the Supreme Court’s judgment last summer legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States, preferring rather to allow individual states to decide. He asserted that he is in favor of “traditional marriage,” which must be true if one defines “traditional” as a man engaging in numerous extra-marital affairs and marrying three times to three different women.

Some tout their supposed beliefs simply for expediency by pandering for expected gain and advancement. Others, however, who attempt to juggle the contradictions, may have convinced themselves that they actually believe the policies they espouse, even though they have great difficulty upholding these due to their libidinal or economic default settings. In the latter instance, individuals often voice unwavering commitment to their values to shield themselves from unwanted desires and impulses while attributing these to others thereby shifting the blame from themselves onto others. In psychological parlance, this is referred to as “projection.”

For example, in our current national controversy over supporting trans* people entry into the restroom corresponding to their gender identity or forcing them into facilities listed on their birth certificates, some opponents of trans* inclusion project their own impulses of entering intimate spaces of another sex to fulfill erotic or prurient desires. In actuality, there are virtually no instances of transwomen or transmen assaulting anyone when they entered restrooms. Trans* people, however, often remain at risk for assault by cisgender people.

A few years back primarily heterosexual men vehemently opposed openly gay and bisexual men from entry into the military. We heard as the primary argument that by allowing these men access to bunks and showers, this would place heterosexual men at risk for assault and undermine troop cohesion. I contend, rather, that in many instances, the mechanism of projection was in operation within the heterosexual men in order to protect themselves from their own desires to bunk and shower in the women’s quarters. Again, gay and bisexual men are those who stand at greater risk for assault.

Many who adhere to strict fundamentalist religions often oppose the more progressives denominations, as well as women’s equality, women’s reproductive rights, homosexuality and bisexuality, trans* identities and expressions, atheism, agnosticism, divorce, unmarried people living together, and the list goes possibly as a repressed envy since others enjoy greater degrees of freedom and more options by not accepting rigid religious dogma.

Psychologist George Weinberg raised an interesting concept within the overarching system of heteronormativity and heterosexism, which he termed “existence without vicarious immortality.” Simply stated, in the public imagination, LGBT people are generally seen as people who either do not or cannot bear children. Though, in fact, this is often not the case, the very idea of persons without children awakens in some people a fear of death, often unconscious, since offspring provide a continuation of the family line and gene pool of individual members. Therefore, for some people, any reminder of their own mortality can emerge as threatening to the ego, and this fear can transform into prejudice.

So in the final analysis, in addition to our investigating the political, religious, social, and economic systems that construct, maintain, and enhance issues of control and domination over others and over the environment, we must add to this the psychological dimensions, which keep these systems firmly in place. I believe we must especially keep this in mind as we attempt to vet our political candidates and religious leaders.

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

May 28th, 2016 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Doublespeak of Republican’s “Freedom”

without comments

As I read about the presidential candidates’ stated views, and as I watch the televised debates, I see the battle lines clearly drawn over competing ideologies separating not only individual candidates, but also differentiating political parties in the United States and also throughout the world concerning the structure and purpose of government.

One argument rests on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, a 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 placement of 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.

These tenets taken together, claim those who favor neoliberal ideas, will ensure the continual growth of the economy while protecting individual autonomy, liberty, and freedom.

Neoliberalism rests on the foundation of “meritocracy”: the notion that individuals are basically born onto a relatively level playing field, and that success or failure depends on the individual’s personal merit, motivation, intelligence, ambition, and abilities. Those who are, however, born or enter into difficult circumstances can choose to “pull themselves up by their boot straps,” and they can rise to the heights that their abilities and merit can take them. People, therefore, possess “personal responsibility” for their life’s course, and the government should not give them “stuff.”

I can remember back to the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign and the CNN-Tea Party-sponsored Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Florida. (The former Congressional “Tea-Party Caucus” has since changed its name to the Congressional “Freedom Caucus.”) The debate facilitator, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, asked then presidential candidate Ron Paul the hypothetical question of what we as a society should do in the case of a 30-year-old man who chooses not to purchase health insurance and later develops a serious life-threatening disease. Before Paul had a chance to answer Blitzer’s question, a number of audience members shouted “Let him die. Let him die.”

During this current presidential election cycle, the lines seem clearly demarcated with the Republicans generally taking more of a neoliberal stance and the Democrats taking more of the Keynesian policies. Though the neoliberal battle cry of “liberty” and “freedom” through “personal responsibility” sounds wonderful on the surface, what are the costs of this alleged “liberty” and “freedom”?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the upper 10% of families controls approximately 75% percent of the accumulated wealth in 2013 and 85 percent of the stocks and bonds, when the wealth gap between white families and families of color is enormous with the mean net worth of white families standing at $679,000, Latino/a families at $112,000, and black families at $95,000, and the Right’s agenda will only increase this enormous imbalance?

And how “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when before the Affordable Healthcare Act, 50 million people in our country went uninsured and their only form of health care was the hospital emergency room, which the remainder of the population paid because our government will not provide a single-payer health care system, but instead, we all must accept the exorbitant profit-motive insurance premium rates of private health care insurers?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when governmental entitlement programs are cut or privatized, thereby eliminating the safety net support systems from our elders, our young people, people with disabilities, people who have suffered hard times, and others struggling to provide life’s basics?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the rights of women to control their bodies have increasingly and incessantly come under attack, and when doctors and others are intimidated and even killed at family planning clinics?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* people are still denied their basic human and civil rights in many states that are accorded to heterosexual and cisgender people on a daily basis in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and when they are vilified, scapegoated, attacked, and murdered, or when affirmative action programs to improve the chances of people of color and women are branded as nothing more than “reverse discrimination,” and steps are taken to abolish these strategies without replacing them with acceptable alternatives? I ask, when will the political Right take the Black Lives Matter Movement seriously?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when conservative politicians push for school vouchers to funnel public money into parochial institutions at the expense of public education, when forces are gathering to reintroduce prayer into the public schools? And how “free” are we as the political and theocratic right tear down the wall separating religion from entering into the affairs of government and push legislation based on their notions of “morality”?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when politicians and business owners attempt to co-opt and decertify labor unions and eliminate collective bargaining?

How “free” are we as the National Rifle Association claims in its literature that “GUNS SAVE LIVES,” or when people can own and use assault rifles, and carry concealed firearms into bars, political rallies, and college and university campuses, and when the NRA and its many supporters fight to dismantle governmental regulations further on weapons ownership and use?

How “free” are we as college and university tuition increases and governmental student assistance programs dry up, and students are left with gigantic debts following graduation or are pushed out entirely from the institutions of higher learning?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nations when the Right passes legislation to build walls, to deport, and to further restrict immigration and social and educational services to young people, and breaks up families?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when some presidential candidates promise to abolish the Consumer Protection Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Education, and other governmental agencies, as the U.S. Congress threatens to privatize our national parks, and to loosen environmental and consumer protections of all kinds, and when mining, oil, and lumber companies lobby to exploit the land further, and when they are granted enormous tax breaks and subsidies?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when residents of the U.S., who represent approximately 5 percent of the world’s population, according to the Sierra Club’s Dave Tilford, “…uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper. Our per capita use of energy, metals, minerals, forest products, fish, grains, meat, and even fresh water dwarfs that of people living in the developing world”? And in spite of this, some on the Right are calling for further deregulation of environmental standards.

How “free” are we when we deny the youth of our nation their basic civil rights to make many of their own decisions in the guise of “protecting them”?

We must not, therefore, let the promises of neoliberalism’s “freedom” seduce us into inaction, because I find that singer and songwriter, Kris Kristofferson’s, words in his legendary song, Me and Bobby McGee, hold true when he says that: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

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

May 26th, 2016 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Empathy as Antidote to Bullies and Demagogues

without comments

As former Utah Republican Senator, Bob Bennett, lay dying at George Washington University Hospital in his battle with pancreatic cancer and then partial paralysis from a stroke, he called his wife Joyce and son Jim over to his bed to express his last wish. Quietly and with a slight slur in his voice he said:

“Are there any Muslims in the hospital? I’d love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump.”

Earlier when he was in better health, as he moved through an airport traveling home from Washington, D. C. to Utah for Christmas, Bennett walked up to a woman wearing a hijab telling her he was glad she was in the United States, and apologized on behalf of the Republican Party, especially for Trump’s call to temporarily ban all Muslims from traveling to this country.

Possibly for Bennett, his connection with members of minoritized and often vilified religious groups stemmed from his own Mormon background. For Bennett to slip on the shoes of Muslim Americans may have been a fairly close fit since his faith too has come under constant attack since its founder, Joseph Smith, introduced Mormonism and the Latter Day Saints Movement in the early 19th century C.E. During the Republican presidential primaries in 2012, for example, members of his own Party referred to Mitt Romney’s Mormonism as “a cult,” a belief inspired by the Devil, and something un-Christian.

Bob Bennett made visible the noble and all-to-rarely expressed notion of deep and profound empathy. In the truest sense, “empathy” has been defined as the symbolic ability to step into another person’s shoes and stroll down the streets of another’s neighborhood without actually traveling. Though Bennett walked in comparable shoes down his own neighborhood streets, his courageous actions were no less laudable and certainly no less empathetic. He related to and connected with the feelings and experiences of Muslim Americans across his own parallel feelings and experiences.

But what about for people who claim never to have experienced incidents of marginalization, of feelings of being, looking, or thinking differently from others in certain contexts in their lives? Would they find the empathy hill steeper and more difficult to climb?  I believe not!

As we understand in psychology, unless there is some kind of developmental delay, infants demonstrate the rudimentary beginnings of empathy whenever they recognize that another is upset and they show signs of being upset themselves. Very early in their lives, infants develop the capacity to crawl in the diapers of others even though their own diapers don’t need changing.

Though I recognize empathy as a human condition, I also understand that through the process of socialization, others often teach us to inhibit our empathetic natures with messages like “Don’t cry,” “You’re too sensitive,” “Mind your own business,” “It’s not your concern.” We learn the stereotypes of the individuals and groups our society has “minoritized” and “othered.” We learn who to scapegoat for the problems within our neighborhoods, states, nations, world.

Through it all, that precious life-affirming flame of empathy can wither and flicker. For some, it dies entirely. And as the blaze recedes, the bullies, the demagogues, the tyrants take over filling the void where our humanness once prevailed. And then we have lost something very precious, but I believe something that is not irretrievable, not irrevocable.

As an educator, I present material in all my classes from multiple perspectives and multiple identities. For example, in October, I ask students to research Native American Indian viewpoints of Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day and compare and contrast these with what they learned during their elementary and high school years; to travel through the month of December in the shoes of a non-Christian who does not celebrate Christmas and does not view Jesus as the anointed son of God; to write in a journal the feelings, emotions, and thoughts when simply imagining walking through the campus and home to family while holding hands and displaying mild forms of public affection with someone of the same sex; imagining themselves as a trans* person having to use the bathroom of the sex assigned to them at birth; walking down the main street of town as a fully-grown 4’6” adult or as someone with a consuming burn scare across the face and scalp; and being approached by police officers as a 16th-year-old unarmed African American male who is simply hanging out with friends.

I have learned many lessons in my studies of genocides on the macro level and bullying on the micro level perpetrated throughout the ages. Strong leaders whip up sentiments by employing dehumanizing stereotypes and scapegoating entire groups, while other people or entire nations turn away, often refusing to intervene. Everyone, not only the direct perpetrators of oppression, plays a vital role in the atrocities.

Empathy, however, has always been an antidote to the poison of prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, and scapegoating, and to bullies and demagogues who take power and control. Empathy is the life force of our humanness, and Bob Bennett, for one, led his life by example.

May Bob rest in peace as we resurrect the empathy in us all.

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

May 23rd, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Contraception & Little Sisters Carrying a Big Stick

without comments

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States decided to take the unprecedented step of asking both sides in Zubik v. Burwell to provide further arguments to assist the lower court in arriving at a reasonable compromise. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns and the defendants in the case, sued the federal government to reverse its mandate of providing contraceptives in employee insurance health plans, which the Little Sisters argued violates their freedom to follow the tenets of their religion.

My point here is not to discuss the merits of the case, per se, but rather I want to raise some critical questions concerning how best to protect young people, establish and preserve strong families and communities, aid individuals and families to rise from poverty, and ensure the preservation of humanity from its efforts to self-destruct.

First, though I don’t agree in any way with the Catholic Church’s position on women’s reproductive freedoms and women’s rights (not) to control their own bodies, I at least understand their perspective on abortion. And though I also understand where the Church is coming from on its stands opposing contraception, public school-based sexuality education, homosexuality, and gender-nonconformity, I find these staggeringly irrational and, quite frankly, abusive.

Calling itself the “Little Sisters of the Poor,” the order focuses its attention on aiding elderly poor people, a very noble and extremely honorable and needed service in a country with a shrinking middle class and increasing working class and poor. I value Pope Francis’s outspoken criticisms of unbridled Capitalism, the ever-increasing gulf in wealth between the rich and poor, and what he termed the “idolatry of money.”

We as a society can do much if we joined together to challenge the ideology of unrestrained greed and “free market” economics, and if we acted more communally. We can also assist individuals and families by providing them with accurate and age-appropriate information and tools by which they can make informed and empowered decisions regarding family planning.

The Catholic Church position opposing contraception consigns many into conceiving unwanted and unaffordable offspring, thereby increasing the risks in the continuing cycle of perpetual poverty, dissolution of the family unit, or worse: abuse or abandonment of youth, which can and does occur in families of all economic backgrounds.

In addition, the Church opposes the teaching of sexuality education in the schools that discuss condoms, birth control pills, and other forms of contraception, in addition to education regarding HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases. In opposing honest, accurate, and age-appropriate sexuality education, the Church is sticking its head in the proverbial sand by implying that young people are either not yet sexual or will not soon become so, and by giving the impression that students would be better served by mistakenly impregnating, carrying an unwanted pregnancy, or by contracting a serious infection. This is child abuse plain and simple! And with approximately 7 billion people already inhabiting this planet, many who suffer abject poverty, the Church and its policies increasingly raise the chances of us overpopulating ourselves to extinction.

The Church remains in the 11th century with its stands on same-sex sexuality and gender non-conformity. Regarding same-sex sexuality, according to the Roman Catholic Church Catechism 2357:

“Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are gravely disordered. They are contrary to natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of love [i.e., children]. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

“Gravely disordered” in this passage refers to acting on same-sex desires with another person while not necessarily applying to the person or people involved: the tired old “we hate the sin but love the sinner” slight-of-hand.

For individuals within the Church who cannot or will not change to heterosexual expression, the Church tolerates them if they are able and willing to scale the unreasonable and inhumane heights of the Catholic ramparts by following Roman Catholic Church Catechism 2359:

“Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

But if the Church values families so highly, why then did Catholic Charities of Rockford, Illinois — an adoption and foster care agency that receives state funding – figuratively dump the babies out with the bathwater by shutting its doors in 2011 rather than place any young people in the guardianship of LGBT people or in same-sex headed households as the state mandated according to Illinois’s equal rights policies.

In addition, why then did the Vatican hierarchy recently fence-off Alex Salinas, a 21-year-old transman from Cadiz, Spain, by informing him that it had denied his request to become the godparent of his nephew because being transgender is incongruent with Catholic teaching. According to the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its doctrine-enforcing agency:

Transgender status “reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sexuality. Therefore it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother.”

The Vatican asserted that there is “no discrimination toward [Salinas], but only the recognition of an objective lack of the requirements, which by their nature are necessary to assume the ecclesial responsibility of being a godfather” – the dishonest “we’re not prejudiced, but…” [non]reasoning.  But then again, religion is not based on reason.

So the questions remain, if the Little Sisters and the Catholic Church as an institution are really “of the poor,” how can they square their policies with truly serving poor people? How can they reconcile their precepts with their attempts to make the world a better place?

I hope, on the other hand, that Pope Francis can truly usher in a new era of the Church. It’s the only thing that can save the Church 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), 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

May 17th, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

North Carolina and the Specter of the Predatory “Other”

without comments

“Give yourself over to absolute pleasure. Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh – erotic nightmares beyond any measure, and sensual daydreams to treasure forever. Can’t you just see it? Don’t dream it, be it.”

Dr. Frank-N-Furter, The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show

Think back to the vision of the “sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania,” the cannibalistic-murderer-mad-scientist obsessed with constructing the perfect Adonis to submit to Frank’s erotic pleasures. Served up as his next delightfully tasty prey, enter the young and naïve Brad and Janet at his doorstep for an adventure they will never forget, that is, if they live to tell the tale.

And who can forgot those conniving gay men who con-cock-ted the elaborate conspiracy to commit sex acts on heterosexual men by joining the ranks of the military, with all those hard bodies to pick from in the bunks and showers while just waiting for them to drop the soap?

In addition, we must still remain on guard to protect our fine white innocent womenfolk from the sexual pursuits of those wild savage black men and swarthy eagle-beaked Jewish men who want nothing more than to seduce and carry them away to their lairs of sin.

And we must stand forever vigilant in protecting our impressionable children from the exploits of the Jews and the homosexuals. We certainly can’t allow Jews access to our infant boys since they continue inflicting forced circumcision onto them in order to recruit them into their distorted cult-of-a-religion. Likewise, homosexuals need to entice and recruit our children into their disgusting and deviant lifestyle since they are incapable of producing their own.  And don’t forget how the Jews kidnapped and drained the precious blood from our lovely virginal Christian male infants to use in the making of their sacred matzah, and to symbolically re-crucify our Lord.

Lest we don’t forget those disease-laden bisexual vectors of infection into the general (read “heterosexual”) population, and the devil-inflicted people with disabilities who are fixed on immobilizing the able bodied in angry retribution for their suffering.

As we can see, a crucial point in the psychology of scapegoating is the representation of minoritized “Others” as violent predators resolved to ensnare, torture, and devour primarily women and children of the dominant group. And when demagogues play on people’s fears and prejudices by invoking these images for their own political, social, and economic gains, the result in more instances than not amounts to loss of civil and human rights, harassment, violence, and at times, death of the “other.”

By passing House Bill 2, its notorious so-called “transgender no bathroom” bill, which Governor McCrory signed into law, the North Carolina legislature has played with fire by further stigmatizing and misdefining the state’s trans* residents. Some North Carolina proponents of the bill are calling transwomen “men in women’s clothing” (heard as “wolves in sheep’s clothing”), and the law effectively prohibits trans* and intersex people from going into the restroom facility matching their gender identities.

The “sex” designation typed onto many trans* and intersex peoples’ official records assigned to them at birth simply do not accurately and integrally reflect their actual gender identities. They had no power or control at the time of their birth to list the category that most closely matched their actual gender identities, and many laws today make it extremely difficult and expensive to permit any changes. This law, with the addition of those proposed in other states, will further marginalize and intimidate trans* and intersex people. But trans* and intersex people have exposed the utter falsehood of a binary gender system fully dependent on the sex assigned by others to us at birth.

Members of the trans* community often suffer the consequences of other truth tellers of the past. Nearly every two days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. The vast majority of murders are of trans* women of color.

With chills and moist eyes of pride, I listened as Attorney General Loretta Lynch defended the federal government’s challenge to North Carolina’s House Bill 2 as discriminatory and illegal.

“Instead of turning away from our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past. It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains, and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference. We have moved beyond those dark days, but not without pain and suffering and an ongoing fight to keep moving forward. Let us write a different story this time.”

Trans* and intersex visionaries, who are persecuted in their own time, will one day be perceived as the prophetic truth tellers they definitely are. Until that day, the harassment, the marginalization, the fear, the violence, the murders, and yes, the demagoguery and hate- and fear-inspired legislation must end. It is up to us all to work toward this on a daily basis.

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

May 10th, 2016 at 10:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

John Kasich’s Anachronistic Traveling Show

without comments

Who some political pundits call the most moderate of the current crop of GOP presidential candidates, Governor John Kasich of Ohio appears the least bent on calling others in the race demeaning names or impugning their characters. From what I could tell initially, he might have been someone I could have sat down with and amicably discussed politics over a cup of coffee in a local diner. But the more I listen to him and actually try to comprehend what he is saying, the more anachronistic and downright ignorant I find his statements.

I see Kasich as the incarnation of the legendary literary character, Rip Van Winkel, who fell asleep for 20 years after drinking homemade moonshine. The only difference with Kasich is that rather than slumbering through the U.S.-American Revolutionary War against the British, as did Van Winkel, Kasich snoozed through the second half of the last century, and, unfortunately, he hasn’t yet quite regained his full faculties and senses.

“Coeds” and Sexual Assault:

While campaigning in the New York State primary, a female student audience member asked Kasich what he would do to make her “feel safer and more secure regarding sexual violence, harassment, and rape” if he became President.

He started out fine by arguing for the need of confidential reporting of sexual assaults and access to evidence-gathering equipment. Then he stuck his foot into it by referring to female students as “coeds,” and then continuing: “I’d also give you one bit of advice. Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol.”

While most people should not attend “parties where there’s a lot of alcohol” for a number of reasons, to single out young women specifically, the governor patronized them at best. Quite a few prominent women’s groups and other advocates rounded criticized the Governor for his “blame the victim” rhetoric.

And his use of the term “coeds” to refer to female students at predominately coeducational institutions is as outdated and misogynistic as the terms “man” and “mankind” to refer to all people and humanity. Actually, everyone would be considered a “coed” where people of all sexes were in contact.

Earlier while campaigning in Virginia, Kasich talked about the people who worked for him in his Ohio race for the governor’s office, and he later issued an apology after stating that “…many women, who left their kitchens to go out and go door-to-door and to put yard signs up for me….”

I can imagine the scene going through Kasich’s mind as he uttered those words. Upon the black-and-white small-screen television, Ward Cleaver comes home from work driving his 1957 Ford into the driveway. Upon opening the front door, Ward beholds his wife, June, bedecked in pearls, sensible heals, and a stylish dress of the day as she happily vacuums the living room wall-to-wall carpet. Beaver and his brother Wally are upstairs in Wally’s room hashing out plans to avoid their father’s guilt-laden disappointment after they contributed to the “boyish” mischief they engaged in within their all-white suburban cookie-cutter neighborhood.

Jesus Predated Pesach, Really?:

While also campaigning through New York, Kasich toured a Matzah factory in Brooklyn, flanked by Orthodox Jews. Holding a box of the Passover matzah, Kasich choked on his foot by stating:

“The great link between the blood that was put above the lampposts,” [actually, it was doorposts], “the blood of the lamb, because Jesus Christ is known as the lamb of God. It’s his blood, we believe….”

I consider Kasich bringing up Jesus in a kosher Jewish factory as not merely an error in misreading his intended audience as well as something utterly insensitive and offensive, but historically inaccurate. The Great Pesach (Passover) of the Jewish people from the bonds of slavery in Egypt occurred around the year 2450 on the Jewish calendar, over 1300 years before Jesus was even a twinkle in the Christian God’s eye. In fact, Jesus celebrated the Passover Seder as his “last supper.” The blood painted above the doorposts to spare children from G*d’s wrath had no connection to Jesus.

Hey, LGBTs, “Get Over It”:

When interviewed about his perspective on the recent spate of anti-LGBT laws passing across the nation in states like North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kasich told LGBT people basically to chill:

“If you feel as though somebody is doing something wrong against you, can you just, for a second, get over it, you know, because this thing will settle down.”

For anyone who faces discrimination, Kasich’s solution is simple: snap your fingers and relax. So whenever a trans* person is confronted with legal action for entering a restroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity, for example, simply push open the restroom door of the facility that matches, instead, the gender assigned on your birth certificate, reenter the closet of denial and fear, and risk ridicule, harassment, assault, injury, or death. So simple!

Hard Working Latina Maids:

To his increasingly growing list of groups Kasich has offended, add Latino/a people. During a campaign stop in California, Kasich attempted to gear his comments toward Latino/a voters when he related an anecdote about a maid who conscientiously cleaned his hotel room:

“A lot of them do jobs that they’re willing to do, and that’s why in the hotel you leave a little tip.”

While possibly well-intentioned, forwarding this one personal reference of Latino/a people carries his story into the domain of being patronizing and of stereotyping members of many varied ethnicities. But, hey, like Ward Cleaver, this could possibly be the virtual extent of his interaction with members of communities outside of his own sphere of frequent contact.

Zzzzzzzzzzz…

Instead of opening his mouth further, I have a simple solution for Kasich: I think it best if you close your eyes and go back to sleep. We will wake you after the election.

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

April 20th, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Democratize the Electoral System!

without comments

The principle of “one person, one vote” rings out upon the U.S.-American landscape as an essential and central unifying element of our great democracy, but one which, unfortunately, merely resounds as an ideal rather than as the reality.

In the early years of our country during Colonial times, eligible voters involved only wealthy land owners, primarily white men. Because the framers of our Constitution could not agree on national voting standards, the individual states decided. Most states, though, continued to grant voting rights primarily to the landed gentry. In fact, during the election of our first President, George Washington, approximately only six percent of the total population of the new nation was eligible to vote. Eventually, white men of a certain age were granted the vote regardless of their ownership of property.

Former enslaved peoples were granted citizenship in 1868 under the14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, though only males could vote. The 15th Amendment passed in 1870 granting suffrage to males regardless of “race” on the federal and state levels. This did not extend to Native Americans since the federal government defined them in oxymoronic terms of “domestic foreigners.” In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act barring people of Chinese ancestry from becoming naturalized citizens, thereby excluding them from voting.

So-called “Jim Crow” measures enacted by a number of states placed enormous roadblocks in the way of African Americans registering to vote in the form violent intimidation, voting taxes, and literacy tests. In some places, African Americans were not allowed to register unless they determined the exact number of grains of rice or beans in a large container.

After many years of fierce and prolonged battles, women won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, though other groups faced continued restrictions, including Asian Americans and Native Americans.

The Supreme Court of the United States advanced voting rights in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) by ruling that state legislatures must redistrict so that congressional districts contain roughly equal represented populations, with continued redistricting as needed after censuses. State lawmakers to this day stack the odds in their favor and against the electorate be gerrymandering districts.

The 24th Amendment passed in 1964 outlawing poll taxes as a condition for voting, and the next year in 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act forbidding states from implementing discriminatory restrictions on voting, including a provision requiring legislators in states with a history of discrimination against minoritized voters to get federal permission before changing their voting procedures. The 26th Amendment followed in 1971 lowering the voting age to 18, won primarily by young people who rightly argued that if the federal government could draft them into military service where they could possibly lose their lives in foreign wars, they most assuredly must also have the right to choose their leaders. Still to this day, residents of some U.S. territories, though granted U.S. citizenship, do not have the right to vote in some important elections.

Democracy in the election process suffered a serious setback when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a vote of 5-4 in 2010 in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Since the First Amendment prohibits the national government from curbing independent political expenditures of nonprofit corporation, the ruling has extended this to for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other organizations. The result of this decision has been the almost unlimited corporate funding funneling into the election process to disproportionally effect elections.

The Anti-Democratic Electoral System

Even with all the advances in the U.S. electoral process over the years, “one person, one vote” stands merely as a distant mirage completely out of reach of the electorate. Just some of the seemingly endless array of obstructions in the democratic voting process, we witnessed the resent stripping of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, state voter suppression laws, the state presidential caucus systems, the ways major political parties determine delegates to their conventions, and the Electoral College system.

Voting Rights Act Gutted:

The Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, by a 5-4 ruling in 2013, eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Following the decision, Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who sided with the minority, warned that the 1965 act was still needed, and the ruling was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” In the aftermath of this decision, primarily Republican lawmakers in states throughout the nation have imposed measures to inhibit racially minoritized and younger people, who traditionally cast ballots for Democratic Party candidates, from voting. Though very little voter fraud has been uncovered, tactics include reducing the number of polling stations, decreasing the amount of days open for voting, requiring voters to present certain often-difficult-to-obtain forms of photo identification, and other measures.

The Problematic Delegate Selection System:

The state presidential caucus system by its very nature is inherently undemocratic. The amount of time necessary (up to 3 or 4 hours) during a specific block of time during the day makes it possible for only a limited percentage of the electorate, primarily Party activists, to participate. In addition, by having to position oneself (to caucus) at specific locations within a large room or in various rooms depending on the candidate one supports eliminates issues of confidentiality and privacy in the election process.

The manner in which the state primaries and other delegate-selection systems function restrict a true democratic process. A candidate may receive a given proportion of votes compared to other candidates of a political party, but fail to receive that proportion of delegates who will cast their votes for that candidate at the Party’s presidential convention. This inequitable distribution is heightened by the Democratic Party’s so-called “super delegates” composed of primarily state elected officials and other leaders who vote their own particular preferences rather than following the will of the people in their states. On the Republican side, Party officials in a state like Colorado chose delegates to the Presidential Convention without that state’s electorate ever casting a vote.

I suggest changes to the current primary system:

  1. Abolish the state caucus system.
  2. Establish regional primaries, for example, one for the Southern states, another for the Eastern, Midwestern, Pacific Northwestern, Southwestern, etc. Rotate the sequence of regional primaries each Presidential election cycle.
  3. Residents of U.S. territories that are not currently granted the right to vote in national elections must have that right.
  4. Eliminate the delegate selection process altogether. Each candidate will receive a running total of votes, which that candidate receives in regional primaries. Following the last regional primary, the candidate of each political party with the most total number of votes (whether a majority or plurality) will become that Party’s presidential nominee.
  5. The Party nominee will have the right to choose a Vice Presidential running mate.
  6. Reinstate and enhance the Voting Rights Act.
  7. Increase the number of voting days from one day to one week.
  8. Increase the number of polling stations.
  9. Eliminate the spate of voter suppression laws.
  10. Allow same-day voter registration.
  11. Eliminate the inequitable system of gerrymandering, which could possibly come about through U.S. Justice Department monitors or high court mandates.
  12. Reverse Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

To further ensure a more democratic “one person, one vote” system, we must finally and fully scrap the undemocratic Electoral College system, which can and at times does elevate the runner-up in terms of cast votes to the presidency, as evidenced by the selection (not election) of George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000.

To view my PowerPoint presentation, “Immigration as ‘Racial’ Policy,” click here.

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

April 16th, 2016 at 10:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

“Religious Freedom” Laws Permit “Freedom to Discriminate”

without comments

Through arduous and highly contested debates, the framers of our great Constitution endeavored to strike a prudent balance of powers, not only between the three branches of the federal government, but they also endeavored to lay the blue print for a system that would grant to the states that which they did not specifically accord to the centralized national government. Numerous Constitutional amendments and judicial decisions over the years have increasingly fine-tuned this system in ways and over issues the original framers could not have even imagined.

Over our history, individuals and entire political parties have broadcast clarion calls delivered from soap boxes and mountain tops to newspaper editorial pages for increased rights of the states to decide issues they see fit, even when these contrast significantly from Congressional legislation and judicial decisions.

Political operatives have cried “states’ rights” often utilizing so-called “religious” justifications over issues of slavery, interracial marriage, racial segregation, women’s enfranchisement and the rights of women to control their bodies, public schooling, rights to education and other services for people with disabilities, immigration status, voting rights, and many other areas of public policy.

“States Rights” and “Religious Beliefs” have long served as the allied battle cry as well for state legislators to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) people the rights and privileges summarily granted to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Today, no national laws require all states to protect residents from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, counseling, and other areas based on sexual identity and gender identity and expression.

Currently only 22 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have passed non-discrimination laws in housing, for example, protecting people’s rights based on sexual orientation, and 19 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, on the basis of gender identity and expression.

States that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.   Prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity   Prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation only   Does not factor sexual orientation or gender identity.

An expanding movement gaining support in State Houses around this nation, as exemplified through Mississippi’s new “religious freedom” law, permits individuals and institutions to refuse service based on their “religious beliefs” to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* people and members of all other groups they consider nonconformists to their judgments and precepts. And North Carolina’s HB 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, includes a section that prohibits trans* people the ability to enter a restroom facility that conforms to their gender identity and expression, but differs from the sex assigned to them on their birth certificate.

“States Rights” on Foundation of “Religious Freedom”

For the purpose of situating the most recent incarnation of the “states’ rights” based on “religious freedom” argument to deny LGBT people their civil and human rights, I include a representative sample of significant “leaders” who employed these arguments to promote their own oppressive agendas.

On Slavery and Race:

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy: “[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”

Judge Leon M. Bazile, in convicting Richard Perry Loving (a white man) & Mildred Delores Jeeter (a black woman) for marrying in Virginia in 1958 for violating that state’s
“Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, 1924”:  “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.”

On Jews:

Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (1526): “…For us Christians they stand as a terrifying example of God’s wrath….These poisonous envenomed worms should be drafted into forced labor. The young and strong Jews and Jewesses should be given the flail, the ax, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and the spindle and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses. As a last resort, they should simply be kicked out for all time.”

Adolph Hitler in his book Mein Kampf: “Today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord” (p. 65).

On Women:

Robert Lewis Dabney, U.S. Christian theologian, Southern Presbyterian pastor, on women’s suffrage: “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…There is a Satanic ingenuity in these Radical measures which secures the infection of the reluctant dissentients as surely as of the hot advocates….Radical women will vote, and vote wrong.…What those influences will be may be learned by every one who reverences the Christian Scriptures, from this fact, that the theory of “Women’s Rights” is sheer infidelity.”

Reverend Pat Robertson: “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

On Trans* Identities:

The Catholic Vatican hierarchy recently fenced off Alex Salinas, a 21-year-old transman from Cadiz, Spain, by informing him that it had denied his request to become the godparent of his nephew because being transgender is incongruent with Catholic teaching.

According to the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its doctrine-enforcing agency: Transgender status “reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sexuality. Therefore it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother.”

Anti-LGBT Equality under the Law:

So what can we infer from those religions that justify such discriminatory treatment of other human beings? In terms of LGBT equality, I simply cannot comprehend the clear and undeniable contradiction between a religion’s expressed claims, in various forms, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and how it is better to give than to receive, combined for example, with a baker’s refusal to bake a confectionery delight; a photographer’s refusal to preserve joyous moments; a caterer’s refusal to cook the pleasures of delectable sustenance; a florist’s refusal to arrange the beauties from the garden; a jeweler’s refusal of a band connecting human souls; a realtor’s refusal to show shelters signifying new chapters in one’s book of time, or a landlord’s refusal to rent; a shop owner’s refusal to sell the common and special objects supporting and enhancing life; a restauranteur’s refusal to serve anyone a time away from the kitchen, an employer’s refusal to hire a fully qualified and committed employee, all these based solely on peoples social identities.

Therefore, we must see the “states’ rights” argument for what it really is: “States Rights to Discriminate.” And we must challenge the long-standing and deeply-held biases within some denominations that employ “religious” justifications that allow them the “religious freedom” to oppress.

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

April 6th, 2016 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Terrorism in Depriving Self-Definition

without comments

An essential element of liberty is the freedom to define oneself.”

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld

Though I do not quote myself often in my writing, as I have been reflecting on the concepts of “terrorism” and of “violence,” I believe my quote aptly serves as a foundation for my argument that we must expand and provide a more nuanced understanding of these terms.

Terrorism has been described generally as the use of violence, or the threat of violence, to accomplish a political, religious, or ideological purpose. The World Health Organization defines violence rather broadly as:

“…the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

“Power” in this sense can situate itself on physical power, but it can also include the power of dominant authority figures and social institutions to impose physical as well as emotional and even coercive power onto individuals and groups of lower social rank – the “psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

“Identity”:

According to Erik Erikson, preeminent developmental psychologist, individuals possess an innate drive for identity, an inborn lifetime quest to know who they are, which powers their personality development. Anita Woolfolk defines identity as “…the organization of the individual’s drives, abilities, beliefs, and history into a consistent image of self. It involves deliberate choices and decisions, particularly about work, values, ideology, and commitments to people and ideas.”

Foundational to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is his belief that throughout life, individuals progress through a series of eight discrete periods or stages, during which they confront tasks that they must successfully negotiate and resolve in order to advance to the next stage. Healthy development at any one stage rests on meeting the challenges posed by the tasks at previous stages.

During the late pre-teen years through early 20s, young people experience their greatest and most concentrated timeframe of identity development in which they strive to answer the questions: Who am I now? Who was I before? Who will I become?

“Hegemony”:

Antonio Gramsci was a leader in the Italian Community Party in the early 20th century, as well as political theorist, politician, and linguist whom the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini imprisoned for his outspoken advocacy of human and civil liberties. At his trial in 1926, the chief prosecutor argued:

“For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning.”

While serving his sentence, he wrote more than 30 notebooks between 1927 and 1935 constituting over 3000 pages of history and analysis together known as the Prison Notebooks. In these writings, he stressed the imperative for workers’ education founded upon the strong bedrock of history and understanding of social relations, and the origin and function of ideas. Gramsci’s health deteriorated dramatically while incarcerated, and he died in 1937 at the age of 46.

Gramsci advanced the concept of “cultural hegemony,” which describes the ways in which the dominant group successfully disseminates its social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as “common sense,” as “normal,” and as “universal.” This hegemony maintains the marginality of other groups with different or opposing views.

“Discourse”:

French philosopher, Michel Foucault, discussed how hegemony advances through what he termed “discourses,” which include the ideas, written expressions, theoretical foundations, and language of the dominant culture. These the dominant group implants within networks of social and political control, described by Foucault as “regimes of truth,” which function to legitimize what can be said, who has the authority to speak and be heard, and what is authorized as true or as the truth.

To “Other” and To “Minoritize”:

Add to all this what poet, novelist, and anthropologist Nathaniel Mackey discusses as the process of “othering,” which is something people do. Therefore, “to other” must  seen as a verb, an action. An “other” is someone or a group of someones acted upon. Likewise, “to minoritize” is also something people do through the methods of defining, stereotyping, and scapegoating them.

The dominant group, therefore, exerts power and control by attempting to define the “other” in order of depriving people of their agency and subjectivity to prevent them from achieving their fullest development in terms of their identities and making empowering decisions in their lives. In echoes of the Fascist prosecutor at Gramsci’s trial, this is to “stop the brain from functioning.” In the final analysis, when dominant groups attempt to define the “other,” they attempt to control the “others’” bodies for the purpose of controlling their minds.

But what happens to these “others” in their process of identity development?

I argue that the concepts of “terrorism” and “violence” constitute more than the cruel and repressive actions of individuals or groups upon others. It involves an overarching system of differentials of social power and privilege by dominant groups over subordinated groups based on ascribed social identities and reinforced by unequal social group status. And, according to political scientist, Iris Marion Young, this is not merely the case in societies ruled by coercive or tyrannical leaders, but it occurs within the day-to-day practices of contemporary democratic societies such as the United States.

“Terror” and “Violence” on LGBT Bodies and Minds:

I assert that all “othered” and “minoritized” individuals and communities experience hegemonic/discursive forms of “terror” and “violence” from dominant groups. For the purposes of this commentary, I focus on organized religious terror on LGBT people. Since I center my discussion on primarily a United States context, I concentration largely on conservative Christian denominations.

I single out conservative Christian denominations specifically in a United States on the basis of their Christian privilege. Stemming from Peggy McIntosh’s pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can, by analogy, understand Christian privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to Christians, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders. This system of benefits confers dominance on Christians while subordinating members of other faith communities as well as non-believers.

Terrorism & Violence as Official Policy:

While a number of Christian denominations have and are currently defending the rights, sexuality, identities, and expressions of LGBT people, and are openly welcoming them into their congregations, and some into the ranks of their clergy, a number of the more conservative denominations have released official statements, doctrines, and policies in opposition, specifically to their sexualities. I include some selective examples used to define the “other” in terms of their sexualities:

Catholic Catechism, 1997: #2357: “…tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law….”

Southern Baptist Convention, 2010 “Resolution on Homosexuality and the United States Military”: “RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention…affirm the Bible’s declaration that homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered and sinful….”

Evangelical Covenant Church, “Resolution on Sexuality” adopted 1996: “…Evangelical Covenant Church resolution to care for persons involved in sexual sins such as adultery, homosexual behavior, and promiscuity compassionately recognizing the potential of these sins to take the form of addiction.”

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Handbook of Instructions: “Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel.”

Related to trans* identities, the Catholic Vatican hierarchy recently fenced off Alex Salinas, a 21-year-old transman from Cadiz, Spain, by informing him that it had denied his request to become the godparent of his nephew because being transgender is incongruent with Catholic teaching. According to the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its doctrine-enforcing agency:

Transgender status “reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sexuality. Therefore it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother.”

Nearly every two days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. The vast majority of murders are of trans* women of color.

Am I Practicing “Religious Bigotry”?

In discussion forums where I have argued that some conservative religious doctrines on same-sex sexuality and trans* identities constitute forms of terrorism and violence, sometime people have accused me of attempting to intimidate and silence Christians who hold to the statements I listed above. They accused me of making them abandon any beliefs on the topic that disagree with my own.

My answer is that anyone can believe anything they wish, including that homosexuality and transgender identities and expressions allegedly go against “God’s plan” and that anyone who engages in same-sex sexuality and/or anyone who defines as trans* are “sinners,” “sodomites,” “perverts,” or any of the numerous other epithets they lodge, and that we will go to Hell unless we “repent.” Sure, believe what they will. They can also believe that Jews and blacks, for example, are inferior forms of life.

Beliefs are one’s rights to hold. However, the expression of those beliefs onto an individual or group of individuals is a form of terrorism, especially when intended to deny LGBT people (or Jews or blacks, among many other groups) their human and civil rights, their subjectivity, and their identities. In so doing, they are exerting power and control by attempting to define the “other.”

With religious rights come responsibilities, and with actions come reactions. When religious leaders preach their damaging interpretations of their sacred texts on issues of same-sex relationships or identities and gender non-conformity within and outside their respective houses of worship, they must be held accountable and responsible for aiding and abetting those who target and harass, bully, physically assault, and murder people perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans*. In addition, they must be held accountable as accomplices in the suicides of those who are the targets of these abusive actions, and who grow up in a religious denomination and larger society that teaches them to deny, to hide, and to hate themselves.

Therefore, we have a right, no, an obligation to counter this destructive and, yes, oppressive discourse with all the voices, the energy, the unity, the intelligence, and all the love of which we are capable.

So, in response to the accusation that I am practicing “religious bigotry” by challenging conservative doctrine on same-sex sexuality and gender non-conformity, I assert that this is not merely a “disagreement.” No, this is not a “disagreement” at all! It has to do with 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 a social identity group, 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), 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

April 2nd, 2016 at 11:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized