Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

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

Reflections on a Pre-Stonewall Queer Life

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I travel around the United States and to other country giving presentation and workshops on university and high school campuses and at professional conventions on topics around social justice issues.

Recently, after I spoke about the topic of heterosexism at an east coast university, a student asked me what my undergraduate LGBT student group was like. “Was there much resistance from the administration and from other students?” she inquired. More questions followed: “Did the women and men work well together?” “Were bisexuals and trans people welcomed?” “Was the group’s focus political or mainly social?” “Was there a separate ‘coming out’ group for new members?” “What kinds of campus activities did your group sponsor?”

As she asked me these questions, my head began to whirl with visions of my undergraduate years. I stopped long enough to inform her that I graduated with my B.A. degree on June 13, 1969 – 15 days before the momentous Stonewall rebellion, an event generally credited with sparking the modern movement for LGBT liberation and equality.

Though I later learned that some universities like Cornell, Stanford, and Columbia had officially recognized LGBT student groups before 1969, as a graduating senior, the concept of an “out” person, let alone an organized, above-ground student organization was not even in my range of possibilities.

Heterosexism in the Cold War

I was born during the height of the Cold War era directly following World War II, a time when any sort of human difference was held suspect. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, a young and brash senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, loudly proclaimed that “Communists corrupt the minds, and homosexuals corrupt the bodies” of good, upstanding Americans, and he proceeded to purge suspected Communists and homosexuals from government service.

When I was only two years old, my parents suspected that I might be gay, or to use the terminology of the day, “homosexual.” Shy, withdrawn, I preferred to spend most of my time alone. Later, on the playground at school, children called me names like “sissy,” “fairy,” pansy,” and little girl” with an incredible vehemence and malice that I did not understand.

My parents sent me to a child psychologist in 1951 with I was only four years old until I reached my 13th birthday with the expressed purpose of making sure that I did not grow up “homosexual.” Each session at the psychologist’s office, I took off my coat and placed it on the hook behind the door, and for the next 50 minutes, the psychologist and I built model airplanes, cars, and trains – so-called age-appropriate “boy-type toys.” It was obvious that the psychologist confused issues of gender with sexuality believing that one could prevent homosexuality by imposing “masculine” behaviors.

During high school in the early 1960s, I had very few friends and never dated. It was not that I did not wish to date, but I wanted to date some of the other boys, but I could not even talk about this at the time, for the concept of high school Gay/Straight Alliance was still many in the future. In high school, the topic of homosexuality rarely surfaced officially in the classroom, and then only in a negative context.

I graduated high school in 1965 with the hope that college life would somehow be better for me. I hoped that people would be more open-minded, less conforming, more accepting of difference.

Something Was Missing

To a great extent, things were better. In college, I demonstrated my opposition to the war in Vietnam with others. I worked to reduce racism on campus, and I helped plan environmental ecology teach-ins. Nevertheless, there was still something missing for me. I knew I was gay, but I had no outlet of support through which I could express my feelings. As far as I knew, there were no openly LGBT people, no support groups, no organizations, and no classes or library materials that did anything more than tell me that homosexuality was “abnormal” and that I needed to change.

In 1967, I finally decided to see a therapist in the campus counseling center, and I began what for me was a very difficult coming out process. And then during my first year of graduate school in 1970, I experienced a turning point in my life. In my campus newspaper, The Spartan Daily, at San José State University, I saw the headline in bog bold letters: “GAY LIBERATION FRONT DENIED CAMPUS RECOGNITION.” The article stated that the chancellor of the California State University system, Glenn Dumke, under then Governor Ronald Reagan’s direction, had denied recognition to the campus chapter of Gay Liberation Front.

In the ruling, Dumke stated that “The effect of recognition…of the Gay Liberation Front could conceivably to be endorse or to promote homosexual behavior, to attract homosexuals to the campus, and to expose minors to homosexual advocacy and practices” and “…belief that the proposed Front created too great a risk for students – a risk which might lead students to engage in illegal homosexual behavior.”

Curiosity and Fear

This was the first I had heard of such a group, and the first time I had heard about other LGBT people on my campus. I called the coordinator of the group, and she invited me to the next meeting. Since the chancellor did not permit group members to hold meetings on our campus, they met at a little diner on a small side street a few blocks off campus. Unfortunately, this only confirmed my fears of the underground nature of LGBT life. As I approached the door to enter the meeting, I felt as if I were a member of the French resistance during the Nazi occupation.

Upon entering, I saw around 15 people. I recognized one man from my chemistry class, but the others were strangers. I saw a near even mix of men and women, which made me feel a bit easier. In my mind, I had envisioned 50 men waiting to pounce on me as I entered, but I soon discovered that they were all good people who were concerned about me. They invited me to their homes, and before too long, I relaxed in their presence.

I left San José in 1971 to work for a progressive educational journal, EdCentric, at the National Student Association in Washington, DC. Within a few month after arriving, I founded and became the first director of the National Gay Student Center, a national clearinghouse working  to connect and exchange information between the newly emerging network of LGBT campus organizations within the US.

One year after leaving San José, I read that students at Sacramento State University, represented by the student government, sued the chancellor in Sacramento County Superior Court and won the case forcing the university officially to recognize their group. The court upheld the students’ First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association by affirming their contention that “…to justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable grounds to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced; there must be reasonable ground to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent.”

I had the opportunity to talk with Marty Rogers, one of the founding members of the LGBT group at Sacramento State University, who described how the denial of recognition and eventual court battle was instrumental in the group’s organizing success:

“Being denied recognition, being decreed invisible, reactivated in most group members other similar and painful incidents in their lives. The difference this time was that there was mutual support — from the campus newspaper and from the student government. Two faculty members openly acknowledged their homosexuality through letters to the Acting College President and the campus newspaper—they insisted on being seen. For once, homosexuals were not running and hiding. Publicly announcing one’s homosexuality, an issue which had not really been confronted previously, became an actuality as a result of the denial of recognition.”

Fortified by this precedent-setting case, other campus groups throughout the country have waged and won similar battles.

Hope for the Future

A few years ago, I boarded a subway train car on the Green Line in Boston bound for Boston University where I was scheduled to present a workshop on LGBT history at an annual Northeast LGBT student conference. Also entering the car were four young male students en route to the conference, one whom I remembered from a workshop I had given the previous day.

Once on board, they sat two by two in rows directly in front of me. After a few moments of animated talk and without apparent concern or self-consciousness, one of them reached out his hand and gently stroked the hair of the young man seated next  to him. The other man welcomed and accepted the gesture.

Witnessing this scene, I thought about how far LGBT people had come from the time I attended college as an undergraduate. Tears came to my eyes as I thought back to the pain of coming out of a closet of denial and fear. I saw before me memories of the hard and often frightening work so many of us have been doing to ensure a safer environment for young people to be able to display seemingly simple acts of affection for someone of their own sex, acts which different-sex couples routinely take for granted.

Through my travels to college and university campuses, I come away with the definite sense that conditions remain somewhat difficult for some LGBT and questioning young people today, though we have made some progress. Support systems in many places have been set firmly in place on campuses, and students today appear more self-assured and exhibit a certain joyous and feisty rebellion not seen only a decade or so ago.

Therefore, I realize that though school is still not a particularly “queer” place to be, it is a great deal better than ever before. In solidarity, then, we need to keep up the struggle.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm

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Ferguson, MO & Beyond Heroes, Holidays, Food, & Festivals

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[African Americans are] born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world — a world which yields [them] no true self-consciousness, but only lets [them] see [themselves] through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

For DuBois, this “veil” concept can be taken three ways. First, it suggests the literal darker skin of black people, a physical delineation of separation from whiteness. Secondly, the veil suggests white people’s deficiency or inability in seeing African Americans as “true” U.S.-Americans. And lastly, the veil refers to black peoples’ difficulty under a racist system to see themselves apart from how white U.S.-Americans define and characterize them.

The veil hanging over African Americans, though, operates like a one-way mirror. They can easily see outward onto white America, and in this way, they develop a “double consciousness.” Though not in the truest sense “bicultural,” they acquire a realization of “otherness.” For emotional and often physical survival, they must learn how to operate in two societies, one black and one white. White people have no such veil wrapped around them, and the mirror makes it difficult for them to perceive the realities of African Americans.

This relative inability of white people to see through the veil was reflected in a Pew Research Study of 1000 people conducted between August 14-17. It found profound racial divisions between African American and white people on attitudes surrounding the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teen in Ferguson, Missouri this summer on August 9th.

Among the study’s finding, fully 80% of African Americans compared to 39% of white people stated that the fatal shooting “raises important issues about race.” Conversely, 47% of white people versus 18% of African Americans believe that “race is getting more attention than it deserves.” In addition, 65% of African American and only 33% of white people believe the police response went “too far” in the aftermath of the incident.

Blauner wrote earlier of a United States in which there exists “two languages of race,” one spoken by black people (and by implication, other people of color), the other by white people. By “language,” he refers to a system of meaning attached to social reality, in this instance a “racial language” reflecting a view of the world. This echoes the conclusions of the Kerner Commission report released in 1968 in its study of urban unrest. It stated, in part, that the United States was moving toward two separate societies: one white and one black (though the report left it uncertain where other communities of color fit into this equation).

Many black people and other peoples of color see “race” and racism as salient and central to their reality. Many white people — excluding members of the more race-conscious extremists groups — consider “race” as a peripheral issue, and may even consider racism as a thing of the past, or as aberrations in contemporary U.S. society. Since the 1960s, many people of color have embraced and expanded the definition of “racism” to reflect contemporary realities, while many white people have not.

Although most white people are aware of what Batts terms “old fashioned racism” (taking such forms as enslavement, lynchings, cross burnings, definition of people of color as inferior to whites, legal segregation between the “races,” and others), many white people, asserts Batts, are either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge the many manifestations of “modern forms of racism” by whites. Batts lists these forms as dysfunctional rescuing, blaming the victim, avoidance of contact, denial of cultural differences, and denial of the political significance of differences.

Can we as a society cut through this vail and begin to know and understand those different from ourselves, to have the ability to walk in the shoes of another, to break down these “us” versus “them” notions that separate? First, we must abolish the denial systems that prevent many of us grasping our social privileges.

Depending on our many social identities, we are simultaneously granted certain societal privileges and socially marginalized based solely on these identities. Based on Peggy McIntosh’s pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can understand dominant group privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to members of dominant groups, 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 certain social identity groups, for example in a U.S. context, males, white people, heterosexuals, Christians, upper socioeconomic classes, temporarily able bodied people, people of a certain age range (young adults through the middle years), and U.S. born, while subordinating and denying these privilege to other groups, for example, females and intersex people, racially minoritized peoples, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people, those who do not hold to Christian beliefs, working class and poor people, people with disabilities, young and old people, and non-U.S. born. These systemic inequities are pervasive throughout the society. They are encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the very fabric of our social institutions, resulting in a stratified social order privileging dominant groups while restricting and disempowering subordinated group members.

Another strategy in demolishing the veil is to embrace the notion of critical multiculturalism in our schools and larger society. We must go beyond simply teaching and learning the “feel good” concepts of multiculturalism such as the heroes, the holidays, the food, and the festivals of other cultures. For example, white youth increasingly embrace rap music and hip-hop culture. If it ends here, however, they develop a one-dimensional perspective of the African American experience.

A foundational element in critical multiculturalism includes education for social justice in which the educator’s role is to help prepare future citizens to reconstruct society to better serve the interests of all groups of people, and to transform society toward greater equity for all. The goal is to prepare students in critical skills to analyze institutional and societal inequalities in their own life circumstances and in the lives of others, and to develop skills in taking actions to transform society.

The critical multicultural educational process is not always comfortable and not always neat, but it provides a space for everyone to be heard, to reflect, to engage in critical dialogue, and to enter into a space of understanding, though not always agreement of views and cultures different from one’s own.

Sonia Nieto likens critical multiculturalism to a great tapestry:

“A tapestry is a hand-woven textile. When examined from the back, it may simply appear to be a motley group of threads. But when reversed, the threads work together to depict a picture of structure and beauty. A tapestry also symbolizes, through its knots, broken threads and seeming jumble of colors and patterns on the back, the tensions, conflicts, and dilemmas that a society needs to work out.”

Maybe one day, we white people may escape from our self-imposed hermetically sealed worlds that cut us off from the realities of our neighbors of color, a day when we become fluent in the multiple languages of “race.”

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 22nd, 2014 at 7:36 pm

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Letter to Pope Francis on Obliterating the Gender Scripts

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Dear Pope Francis, Your Holiness,

Word is out that you are intending to travel to the United States in September 2015 to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where you will speak at that city’s commemoration of World Family Day. Your arrival here has sparked excitement by United States Catholics and non-Catholics alike who have been encouraged by your efforts to reform and to heal the Church from past policies and actions that have had the effort of turning people away from what has been viewed by many as misinterpretations of scripture and as a massive covering over of sexual abuses.

As a non-Catholic myself, I hope during your talk in Philadelphia you will discuss an inclusive concept of “family” by acknowledging diversity in terms of human sexuality, gender expression, and the multidimensional varieties of human relationships. Unfortunately, your predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in my estimation, failed in this regard.

For example, in January 2011, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a New Year’s speech to diplomats from approximately 180 countries, declaring that marriage for same-sex couples “threatens human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” and in 2008, during Benedict’s end-of-the-year Vatican address, he asserted that humanity needs to “listen to the language of creation” to realize the intended roles of man and woman. He warned of the “blurring” of the natural distinctions between males and females, and called for humanity to protect itself from self-destruction. The Pope compared behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work.”

Though extreme in his language and tone, Pope Benedict XVI promotes what most of us have been very consciously and carefully taught throughout our lives. Gender roles (sometimes called “sex role”) include the set of socially-defined roles and behaviors assigned to the sex we are assigned at birth. This can and does vary from culture to culture. Our society recognizes basically two distinct gender roles. One is the “masculine,” having the qualities and characteristics attributed to males. The other is the “feminine,” having the qualities and characteristics attributed to females. A third gender role, rarely condoned in our society, at least for those assigned “male” at birth, is “androgyny” combining assumed male (andro) and female (gyne) qualities.

A fairly simple way to remember the differences between “sex” and “gender” is to consider “sex” as a noun and “gender” as a verb (a repeated action). According to social theorist Judith Butler in her 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, “The act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act, which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again.”

This all conjures up images of the Hollywood movie “The Truman Show” starring Jim Carrey in the lead role as Truman Burbank. The film documents a man who for most of his life remains unaware that he lives within a human-made artificial set of a reality television show, broadcast 24 hours a day to billions of people around the world. The show’s executive producer and director, Christof, placed Truman at birth in the fictitious town of Seahaven, and he manipulates every aspect of his life. (I will leave it up to you to analyze why the director of this farce has been given the name “Christof.”)

To dissuade Truman from exploring past the limits of the constructed set, Christof pretends to kill Truman’s father in a fabricated storm to teach him to fear the water. In addition, actors playing the part of TV news reporters warn of the dangers of travel, and promote the benefits of staying home. However, stemming from some unforeseen glitches in the scenery and unexplained and habitual coincidences in the placement of the actors around him, Truman becomes suspicions until he discovers the truth about the artificiality, manipulation, and control Christof has perpetrated on him for the past 30 years. Truman eventually outwitted Christof and escaped the fabricated set.

Pope Benedict XVI, with his immense power to influence and impact literally billions of people worldwide served as an extreme and fanatical example of a director in the larger coercive societal battalions bent on destroying all signs of gender transgressions in young and old alike, and in the maintenance of gender scripts. Most of us function as conscious and unconscious co-directors in this drama each time we enforce gender conformity onto others, and each time we relegate our critical consciousness by failing to rewrite or destroy the scripts in ways that operate integrally for us.

Those who bully often fulfill the social “function” of establishing and reinforcing the socially-constructed scripts handed them when they entered the play of life. Imagine you are a young person on the elementary school playground. There you see a young person assigned “female” at birth who wears her hair short and cropped. She wears jeans and a T-shirt, and plays rough and tumble games with the boys. She loves to climb trees, and comes home with torn and dirty clothing. Up to a certain age, this may be taken as “acceptable” within her gender script as currently written. However, as she ages, possibly by the time she reaches her teen years, her peers and adults direct her to “grow out of this stage,” and label her with various terms.

Originally, when she was younger, people may have called her one of the most common labels, “tomboy,” but as she ages, others more often begin calling her “dyke” or “lezzy,” regardless of her actual emerging sexual identity. Basically, because others perceive her as not conforming to her “feminine” gender role, they call her sexuality into question. In so doing, they attempt to ensure that she performs her role as written. In actuality, this direction functions as the basis in the establishment and maintenance of a patriarchal system of domination, control, and oppression.

Now imagine you are standing on that same elementary schoolyard. You witness a young person assigned “male” at birth who likes to jump rope with the girls, and who prefers not to join in sports activities with the boys. Recently he began learning to play the violin, and he wants one day to perform in a symphony orchestra. When other students call him names like “sissy, “fag,” “momma’s boy,” and “queer” because they perceive him as not reciting his gender script properly, he often cries and isolates from other students. Again, because he does not conform to his expected “masculine” gender role, his peers and adults taunt, harass, and abuse him equating the ways he expresses his gender by questioning his assumed sexuality. In so doing, they are attempting to ensure that he conforms to his requisite gender script, which is the basis of sexism and the operative apparatus maintaining a patriarchal system of male domination.

Pope Francis, I ask that you please teach in your ministry that we must relegate certain words (in all their linguistic variations, languages, and dialects) related to human sexuality and gender expression to the trash heaps of history, words that marginalize, stereotype, separate, limit, and justify oppression, words like “Born Out of Wedlock,” “Illegitimate Child,” “Bastard,” “Artificial Insemination,” “‘Normal’ or ‘Natural’ Sexuality & Gender Identity and Expression,” “Regular Guy,” “‘Alternative’ Sexuality & Gender Identity,” “Red Blooded American,” “Trying to ‘Pass’ as Another Sex,” “Homosexual,” “Homosexual Lifestyle,” “Alternative Lifestyle,” “Gay Agenda,” “Homosexual Choice,” “Chosen Lifestyle,” “Fence Sitters” (bisexuals), “Hermaphrodite” (rather “Intersex”), “Just Confused,” “Just a Stage You’re Going Through,” “You’re Too Young to Know,” “They’re Just Rebelling,” “We Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner,” “Old Maid,” “Maiden Name,” “Confirmed Bachelor,” “None of Those People Are Here,” “Pre-Marital Sex,” “Losing Your Virginity” (rather “Sexual Debut”), “Pre-op” & “Post-op,” “Sexual Reassignment Surgery” (rather “Gender Confirmation”), “Grow Some Balls,” “Man Up,” “Wimp,” “Tomboy,” “Straight Acting,” “Sexual Preference” (rather “Sexual Identity”), “Same-Sex Marriage/“Same-Gender Marriage”/“Gay Marriage” (instead: “Marriage for Same-Sex Couples”), “Act Like a Lady,” “Act Like a Gentleman,” “Speak Man to Man,” “Girly Girl,” “That’s so Gay,” and I could continue ad infinitum. (Please forgive me for all those I left out.)

Each time we rewrite the scripts to give an honest and true performance of life, each time we work toward lifting the ban against our transcending and obliterating the gender status quo by continually questioning and challenging standard conceptualization of gender, only then will we begin as individuals and as a world community to experience what Truman experienced after he lifted himself from the manufactured dome of artificiality. He felt the warmth and brightness of a true sun, and the coolness and wetness of actual rain.

Pope Francis, you too possess immense power to influence and impact literally billions of people worldwide. I hope that you continue to use this power for good in bringing people together and in healing.

Human diversity is a true gift as evidenced by the fact that “families” come in a great variety of packages, with differing shapes and sizes, colors, and wrappings. If, however, we still need to cling to a common definition of “family,” I would remind us of one offered by singers/songwriters, Ron Romanovsky and Paul Phillips, who tell us that “The definition’s plain for anyone to see. Love is all it takes to make a family.”

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 of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 15th, 2014 at 3:25 pm

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Stigmatization & Violence as Social Control: Making the Connections

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Officials in 17th-century Puritan Boston coerced Hester Prynne into permanently affixing the stigma of the scarlet letter onto her garments to forever socially castigate her for her so-called “crime” of conceiving a daughter in an adulterous affair. Stigmata include symbols, piercings, or brands used throughout recorded history to mark an outsider, offender, outcast, one who is enslaved, and others.

Though Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter is a work of fiction, members of several minoritized communities continue to suffer the sting of metaphoric stigmata through their skin color, hair texture, facial features, sex assigned at birth, sexual and gender identities and expressions, religious beliefs and affiliations, countries of origin and linguistic backgrounds, disabilities, ages, and so on.

1999, Amadou Diallo, 23; 2000, Patrick Dorismond, 26; 2003, Ousmane Zongo, 24; 2004, Tim Stansbury, 19; 2006, Sean Bill, 23; 2009, Oscar Grant, 23; 2012, Stephon Watts, 15; 2014, Eric Garner, 43; 2014, Michael Brown, 18.

This list stands as a black of brown parent’s worst fear. It includes the names of innocent unarmed black people, primarily boys and men, killed at the hands of police officers for virtually no other reason than the color of their skin.

Many white parents often dread engaging with their children in “the talk,” you know, the one about the so-called “birds and bees.” The trepidation they feel compels them sometimes to put it off as long as possible or never to bring it up at all. While this version of “the talk” may also engender anxiety in black and brown parents, they must not only broach, but delve deeply into another form of “the talk” with their children, and in particular with their sons, that most white parents never have to consider.

Since the time white people first forcibly kidnapped, enslaved, and transported Africans across the vast oceans to the Americas, some law enforcement officers as well as civilian white residents of the United States routinely profiled and targeted black and brown boys and men for harassment, arrest, violence, and murder simply for walking down the street or later driving in cars while being black or brown.

Black and brown parents from all walks of life throughout the country engage with their sons in what they refer to as “the talk” once their sons reach the age of 13 or 14 instructing them how to respond with calm if ever confronted by police officers. Parents warn youth that if ever approached by police, walk toward them and never run away, keep hands out of your pockets in plain view, don’t raise your voice, always act in a polite manner, and never show anger or use derogatory language. Parents of these young men know full well the stigmata embedded into their sons by a racist society marking them as the expression of criminality, which perennially consigns them to the endangered species list.

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

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

In the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, 32-year-old Iraqi American Shaima Alawadi appears to have been the victim of a brutal hate-inspired murder in her San Diego, California home. On March 24, 2012, Alawadi’s eldest daughter, Fatima al-Himidi, found Aalwadi “drowning in her own blood,” beaten with a tire iron. A note near Alawadi bloodied body read, “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”

We witnessed the brutal attacks on Rodney King in Los Angeles, the barbarous slaying of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas, the fierce rape and murder of Cherise Iverson, a 7-year-old girl in a Las Vegas casino bathroom, the police chokehold death of 43-year-old Eric Garner, and the recent multiple-bullet police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. And these are simply just a few of the most visible examples of this form of stigmatized violence.

We must not and cannot dismiss these incidents as simply the actions of a few individuals or “bad cops,” for oppression exists on multiple levels in multiple forms. The killers live in a society that subtly and not-so-subtly promotes intolerance, imposes stigmata, and perpetuates violence. These incidents must be seen as symptoms of larger systemic national problems.

We are living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights. Metaphorically, oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue to roll over people. Let us, then, also work on dismantling all the many spokes in conquering all the many forms of stigmatized oppression in all their many forms.

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

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 of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 13th, 2014 at 10:58 pm

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Krosno Journal 2014

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 Introduction to the Krosno, Journal, 2014

My material grandfather, Simon (Szymon) Mahler, was born in Krosno, Poland in 1896, and he immigrated to the United States in 1912. I have had a lifelong desire to travel back to Krosno to learn about my relatives’ lives during the turn of the last century up until their tragic deaths following Germany’s invasion in 1939. I have visited Krosno now five times since first traveling there in 2008. I was in Krosno most recently during late July through early August 2014 where I was invited to give a presentation during a week of workshops and performances organized by a group of local teachers who are working to educate residents of the contributions and histories of former Jewish people who once lived in the town. Since the end of World War II, virtually no Jewish people live in southeastern Poland.

What follows is the journal of my recent trip.

Krosno Journal 1

Hello Wonderful Family and Friends,

I arrived here in Krosno, Poland yesterday after being awake for 28 hours. My friend Iza Jedkiniac, an English teacher in a Krosno high school, picked me up at the airport, and we had a good time in Rzeszow where we had lunch. We then drove to Krosno about 50 miles south. For dinner at a café in Market Square, I met with some friends and with Alexander Białywłos-White, the man on Schindler’s list from Krosno, with whom I have been in contact for the past 5 years. He is here with his wife and son. His son is a professor in Chicago, and Alexander and his wife live in Scottsdale, Arizona. Alexander is 91 and a retired physician whose mind is extremely sharp. He remembers everything. He’s wonderful. He looks like an older version of Billy Chrystal, which he told me a lot of people have mentioned as well.

He told me he remembers the Mahlers since one of Simon’s brother’s was in his grade school class. Also, he and his family sometimes shopped at Mahler’s butcher shop just a few short blocks from where he lived in the Jewish quarter. He, of course, doesn’t remember Simon since he was born after Simon moved to the U.S. Alexander was very fortunate to have been picked by Schindler, and he is the only one of his large extended family to survive. Reading his book on the plane flight coming over here, I had a profound shock and surprise.

On page 92 of his war-time memoir, Be a Mensch: A Father’s Legacy, he writes: “The story of my own cousin, Malka Fruhman, is perhaps typical of the fearful treachery of those days, when it seemed that qualities like trust ceased to have meaning. A friend promised to hide Malka, but this ‘friend’ instead turned Malka over to the Gestapo, who shot her without compunction. Many years later, Malka’s brother told me that Malka’s boyfriend, a man named Trenczer, located the traitorous friend in Krosno after the war, and avenged my cousin’s death.”

As I read these words, I got chills because I knew that I am most certainly related to this “Trenczer.” My great-grandmother’s name was Bascha Trenczer who married my great-grandfather, Wolf Mahler. I informed Alexander about this, and he asked me to tell him what I know about the Trenczer’s of Krosno. He did not realize that Bascher, whom he knew, was a Trenczer. I am trying to find out who was the Trenczer who “avenged his cousin’s death.”

I asked Alexander to tell me more about this story. Evidently, Malka’s boyfriend, our Trenczer relative, was in the Polish army and fled east following the Nazi invasion. After the war, he investigated Malka’s death, and he found the women who betrayed Malka. He shot a bullet in her head. As someone who is totally opposed to the death penalty, I surprised myself when I felt a sense of righteous relief upon hearing how he “avenged [Alexander’s] cousin’s death.”

I said good night to Alexander, and told him I would see him in two days for his guided tour of Jewish Krosno.

The next day, after having a 10-hour sleep, I met my friend Kasia Krepulec-Nowak for lunch. She works at the Subcarpathian Museum here in Krosno. We first met in 2008 when I went to the Museum to donate the film my grandparents, Simon Mahler and Eva Schoenwetter (“Nice Weather” in German) Mahler, made during their visit in Krosno in 1932. Kasia invited me to present the film to Krosno residents at the Museum in 2011. Though the museum auditorium held only 125 seats, over 600 people showed up. Unfortunately, we had to turn away about 500 people. Since that time, Kasia and I have become good friends, and I spend as much time as I can with her and her wonderful husband Matt and son Antony, who is now six-years-old.

We met at a café for hours today catching up on our lives. After lunch we sat in a park and talked about my Krosno family, her family, politics in the U.S. and Poland, and we laughed and hugged.

I told her of my recent move back home to western Massachusetts after teaching at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa as an associate professor in the School of Education for the past nine years. She caught me up on the doings of her family, and expressed her excitement about her upcoming move into a new apartment in Krosno.

Tomorrow we are meeting in the town center where Alexander will give us a guided town of Krosno from his perspective growing up here before and during the Nazi invasion.

Talk to you soon,

Love, Warren

Krosno Journal 2

Hello Again Wonderful Family and Friends,

Since I contacted you last, much has happened here in Poland. First, I walked around Krosno with Alexander Białywłos-White, the man on Schindler’s list from Krosno, for a number of hours. He pointed out the buildings and areas around town where he remembered the people and event in his life before and during World War II.

He showed us where he and his family and other Jews lived. He pointed out the building where the Blumenfeld’s lived (yes, in addition to Mahler relatives, I might also have Blumenfeld relatives from Krosno). “The Blumenfeld’s,” he told me, “were rather odd. The father when he prayed davened (rocked back and forth) in a very strange way by twisting his arms and exhibiting a weird expression on his face as if he were distasteful of what G*d was telling him.” The son, who was Alexander’s age, also waved his hands and arms around as if he were pulling a string from the sky. “I never understood what he was doing,” said Alexander.

“I remember your great-grandfather Wolf at his butcher shop and also, since we were both some of the last of the Krosno Jews not to be shot in the forest by Nazis or deported right away to the concentration camps,” Alexander told me.

The Nazi placed the remaining Krosno Jews, about 600, in a small ghetto area, where my great-grandfather died. I investigated and found the death certificate the Nazis wrote for Wolf where it lists as the cause of death “diabetes,” which I learned is a code word for either “starvation” or a “bullet.”

Since his liberation by allied forces, Alexander has come back to Krosno 3 or 4 times with his wife and son, and they have generally been welcomed back enthusiastically by Polish residents. However, he returned immediately following his release to locate possible family members who might also have survived. He walked to the house once owned by his parents where he grew up, but Polish people soon confiscated it once the Nazis evicted Alexander and his relatives. Talking then with the current residents, one angrily quipped to Alexander: “Oh, we thought you would be dead by now and the Nazis had made you into soap.” He knew that Krosno was no longer his home.

Following Alexander’s remarkable guided tour of Krosno, Kasia and I walk to a beautiful park where we sat and discussed the morning’s events. While seated, air raid sirens blared loudly, and I immediately thought of taking shelter since a tornado was imminent. (This was one of the many downsides of living in Iowa for nine years.)

Evidently, every year on 1 August at 17.00 (5:00 p.m.), sirens sound as a reminder to commemorate the exact day and time of the start of the Warsaw uprising in 1944 where Polish citizens rose against the German occupiers conducting increased covert and overt acts of resistance. This occurred one year following the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which signaled mass Jewish resistance to Nazi tyranny. Everyone in the park that day stood for a moment of silence, some praying, others frozen where they stood. It was quite moving for me to witness.

Krosno Journal 3

The next day, I joined Kasia, her husband Matt, and six-year-old son Antony for a tour of the Krosno Glass Museum located above and beneath the ancient Market Square, which was the Jewish quarter of the town. (Krosno is known for its glass products and is unofficially called “Glass City.”)

Following our tour, we traveled to the nearby town of Rymanov where we visited the natural subterranean mineral springs where people go to improve their health. While there, we had a choice of drinking three different versions of the mineral water. I chose a glass from one of the options, and Kasia chose another. Each glass costs 40 groszy (or about 13 cents). Mine was so salty and rancid tasking, I felt nauseous, but Kasia’s was even more nauseating. Knowing it was supposed to be healthy, we drank it down, and for a half hour, Matt continually laughed at us. He was wise enough not to purchase a glass for himself. What’s even worse, Kasia has been coming here all of her life, and has consumed a glass of this stuff each time she visits the springs. Yucko!

The next day, Sunday, Kasia and family took me to visit Kasia’s native town of Sanok, a beautiful village about one hour northeast of Krosno rather high in the Carpathian Mountains. We spent about four hours at the Sanok Galician Village Museum, a recreation (either original structures were moved there or new structures were built) to simulate a turn-of-the-century typical Polish village, which included a postal office, a bakery, a number of churches (Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), family residences, and a portrait gallery. Included also was an Inn owned by a Jewish family, replete with the original furniture, two kitchens to maintain kashrut, challah coverings, a mezuzah on the right side of the front door, and other treasures.

One of the tour guide, an elderly man with a long grey beard, dressed the part of a Jewish resident of the town, and when we got to the Jewish Inn, he guided us through the house. (He later told us that he is not Jewish, but rather was told when he was hired to look like a Jew and to study Polish Jewish history and customs.) During his talk, Kasia’s face became very stern as she looked at me. Because I do not understand Polish, throughout our tour, Kasia had been translating for me. I asked her why she seemed to have turned so visibly troubled all of a sudden. She said, “Maybe I should not tell you because what the guide said is so mean and stereotypical.”

“You know that after that introduction, you have to tell me,” I responded. Well, evidently the guide said as we stood before a closed door in the Inn that this little room is set aside for people who are drunk to “sleep it off.” He said that the Jewish owner probably walked around the town and dragged in drunks who had passed out, and he placed them in this room so he could charge them for a night at the Inn when they awoke the next morning so he could make more money. This was an obvious reference to the conniving Jew who is always looking for ways to make money.

Realizing his distasteful remarks as he looked at Kasia and then at me, he said to her that he didn’t mean to be offensive. He took us next door to a house that was still undergoing renovation where the public was not yet permitted to enter.

This was a former Jewish house that was taken apart from a local town and reconstructed here at the museum site. He gave us a private detailed tour of the house in his attempt to make amends.

This incident, unfortunately, represents the apparent tensions being played out in Poland, the same tensions I first witnessed in January 2011 when I traveled for the second time to Poland with my wonderful, magnificent, brilliant, and of course, very cute cousins Gary Tishkoff and Bert Cohen.

When we first arrived in Poland, after checking into our hotel in Krakow, Gary, Bert, and I explored the area around the hotel. Within one block, we found disturbing graffiti spray painted on an apartment building, which was obviously anti-Jewish in tone, especially the words spelled out in English “Hitler Rules,” and the words “Jebac Żydów” (which we later learned means “Fuck the Jews”), and a Star of David enclosed within a circle, written in red and later spray painted over in black.

During our bus ride to Krosno, we engaged in some very intense discussions including what we were feeling as Jews in Poland. A young Polish man seated in front of us named Pawel asked if he could join in our conversation. He provided us with a very interesting and informative snapshot of contemporary Polish/Jewish relations.

He informed us that while Polish anti-Jewish attitudes most certainly endure in the larger Polish society, many Poles see that their homeland culture has been diminished, and that it is not as rich and vibrant with so few Jews remaining in Poland, from approximately three million before the Nazi invasion to about only ten thousand today. Pawel explained to us that while this graffiti has a very complicated explanation (coming somewhat from a sports team rivalry), it can be seen as a visible example of the tensions currently underway in Polish society in coming to terms with its past and how it moves forward.

Many young people of the current generation like himself are working to ensure a brighter future for Jews in Poland. Pawel, who stated that he is not Jewish himself, worked for a few years at the Jewish Museum in Krakow because he is motivated to learn as much as he can about Polish Jewish history and culture.

No Jews have resided in Krosno or in the surrounding Subcarpathian region of southeastern Poland since the 1940s. Since then, a dynamic tension has developed between those, especially many of the older generations, who bask in the monoculturalism evidenced by the longstanding Polish Catholic cultural heritage. Others, though, composed of many in the younger generations born during the past few decades, yearn for an earlier time in Polish history, one where many cultural traditions mingled and enriched the overall national culture.

That day in Sanok with Kasia and her family, as we were exiting the Village, we came upon a souvenir stand, where Kasia bought Antony a little gift. I scanned the displays, and I saw something that most enrages me each time I visit Poland. I bought one to have when I teach about the continued negative representation of Polish Jews, which I hope is merely a remnant of the past. I asked the attendant why they carries this object, and she said, “Because people still continue to buy them.”

On my last day in Krosno when there in 2011, I walked casually around the town. On one of the main streets, I recognized a small jewelry shop where I had purchased an amber pendent for my mother in 2008. This time I went into the shop to look for an amber ring for myself. (Poland is renowned for its silver and amber jewelry.) As I perused the glass cabinet at the back of the store I looked upward and saw a picture hanging on the wall of what appeared to be a Hassidic Jew.

Taking me by complete surprise, I asked the owner, “Is that a Jew?” He responded, “Yes, it is.” The young women employee standing beside him, with a broad smile suddenly appearing on her face, looking my way said, “Yes, money, money,” rubbing together the thumb and index finger of her right hand. I then noticed in the picture that the Jewish man held a large coin in his right hand.

I bought the ring, but I left the shop with a tense uneasiness in my stomach. That evening at dinner, I asked my friend Kasia, a Polish native, what this image in the shop meant. She expressed to me what I had anticipated, that the image represented and exemplified the stereotypical notion of the “rich Jew.” I later learned that one can find similar pictures in non-Jewish Polish homes, banks, businesses large and small, work offices, and studios as supposed “good luck” symbols to bring wealth to those who own and enter the space. Some of the pictures contain the caption: “Żyd w sieni pieniadze w kieszeni” (“A Jew in the room, a coin in the pocket”). Either one day per week (usually on the Jewish sabbath between Friday at sunset and Saturday at sunset), or on January 1 of each year, the pictures’ owners hang the Jew upside down for a while to symbolically empty the pouch of gold coins to assure them greater wealth during the week or in the new year.

Ever since that day I first noticed the Jew hanging on the wall of the jewelry shop, a gnawing sensation has overtaken my consciousness because I failed to speak up to the shop owner. While back in Krosno this past October 2013, I walked into the shop and expressed to the owner, while I donned a rather friendly though assertive tone, that I considered the picture to be offensive to myself as a Jew. “Oh no,” he replied, “Not offensive. My Jew is my talisman bringing me money.” At this point he removed the picture from its hanging spot, and turning it upside down, placed his hand beneath to symbolically catch the coins pouring from the Jews leather pouch.

I repeated my initial statement, though he simply smiled and actually laughed at me. Though I knew he would probably never understand, at least in the short term, I walked from the shop with my head held erect, with my dignity and integrity fully intact, an ease coming over my soul once again.

Controversy is swirling in the United States around a long-overdue public debate whether to change the name of the Washington Redskins football franchise. On one side, some news outlets, like the San Francisco Chronicle,have announced they will no longer use the word “Redskins” when referring to the team. Recently, the D.C. City Council voted overwhelmingly to change what the original form of the resolution termed as the team’s “racist and derogatory” moniker.

The few Jews who currently reside in Poland comprise a virtually invisible minority to most Poles, and while literally millions of First Nations people inhabit the United States today, they as a group remain largely invisible to most other U.S.-Americans. The image of the rich Jew in Poland and the brave savage “Redskins” in football and “Braves” in baseball, and countless others sports teams, were constructed through a historically revisionist and romanticized lens, back to some fairy-tale time and place where the Pole treated the Jew as an equal and respected member of Polish society, and where the European “settler” (a.k.a. “invader”) broke bread in some mythological first Thanksgiving, which set up conditions for peaceful coexistence and trade up to this very day.

I believe this so-called “honoring,” taking “pride” in, and “respecting” Native Americans by the cultural descendants of those who engaged in forced evacuations, deculturalization, and genocide of native peoples, and those hanging pictures of Jews in places where Jews had been shunned, scapegoated, and slaughtered previously strikes me as hypocrisy at best, and more like justification for further colonization and misappropriation of cultural symbols, in addition to racist stereotyping.

As a genuine step in the direction of truly honoring and respecting other people, the cultural imperialism must end.

Krosno Journal 4

Tonight, Monday, I introduced and screened Simon and Eva’s film of Krosno’s Jewish community, which they took with an early home movie camera on their visit here in 1932. What follows is the text of my introductory remarks, which my friend Iza Jedkiniac simultaneously translated for the audience:

Krosno, Poland

Monday, 4 August 2014

I would first like to thank the good people who organized this week’s events, and for their kindness, their friendship, and their generosity.

I remember the first day when my maternal grandfather, Szymon Mahler told me about his family in Krosno. One day, when I was very young, I sat upon Szymon’s knee. Looking down urgently, but with deep affection, he said to me, “Warren, you are named after my father, Wolf Mahler who ran a butcher shop on [name of street] in Krosno, Poland. I lived in Krosno with my father, Wolf, and my mother, Bascha, and 13 brothers and sisters, and aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

Szymon talked about his family with pride, but as he hold me this, he seemed rather sad. I asked him if our relatives still lived in Poland, and he responded that his father, mother, and most of the remainder of his family were no longer alive. When I asked him how they had died, he told me that many of them had 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.

Szymon left Krosno in 1912 bound for New York City, leaving most of his family behind. Already in the United States country was one brother named David Mahler. Szymon arrived in the United States on New Years’ Eve in a city filled with gleaming lights and frenetic activity, and with his own heart filled with hope for a new life.

Szymon returned to Krosno with my grandmother, Eva, in 1932 to a joyous homecoming. This was the first time he had seen his family since he left Poland. He took with him an early home movie camera to record the good people of Krosno on film. While in Poland, he promised that once back in the United States, he would try to earn enough money to send for his remaining family members who wished to come to the United States, but history was to thwart his plans. During that happy reunion, he had no way of knowing that this was to be the last time he would ever see most and those others he left behind alive. Just 7 years later, on 1 September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland.

Szymon heard the news sitting in the kitchen of his home in Brooklyn, New York. He was so infuriated, so frightened, and so incensed that he took the large radio from the table, lifted it above his head, and violently hurled it against a wall. He knew what this invasion meant. He knew it signaled the end of the Jewish population in Eastern Europe as he had known it. He knew it meant certain death for people he had grown up with, people he had loved, people who had loved him.

Szymon’s fears soon became real. He eventually learned from a brother who had eventually escaped into the woods with his wife and young son that his father, and a number of his siblings were killed by Nazi troops either on the streets of Krosno or up a small hill in the Jewish cemetery. Wolf later died in the Krosno Ghetto. Other friends and relatives were eventually loaded onto cattle cars and transported to Auschwitz and Balzec concentration camps. His mother, Bascha, had died in 1934 before the Nazi invasion.

Szymon never fully recovered from those days in 1939. My grandfather, Szymon, was a loving and caring father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He gave me so much: my enjoyment for taking long walks and sitting in quiet solitude, pride in my Jewish heritage, and most of all, my ability to love.

I want to tell you too that though tragedy befell the Jewish community in his homeland, some people undertook and are continuing to express acts of courage, kindness, and compassion. In the midst of danger, righteous rescuers came to the aid of those who were oppressed.

For example, Krosno farmers, Jakub and Zofia Gargasz who practiced the Seventh Day Adventist faith, risked their own lives to shelter from Nazi troops and to nurse back to health a Jewish woman, Henia Katz, and her daughter. A neighbor, though, betrayed them, and Jakub, Zofia, Henia, and her daughter were arrested and sentenced to death on 26 April 1944. At the trial, Zofia affirmed that she and her husband took this courageous action motivated by their religious faith.

Hans Frank, the governor of the occupied Central Polish government decided to commute the death sentences to incarceration in a concentration camp. Jakub and Zofia survived the concentration camp, which was liberated by the Allies. Henia and her daughter did not survive.

After the war, Jews no longer resided in Krosno. Subsequently, the Jewish cemetery fell into disarray. In 2002, local students from the “Olszówka” association, working under the energetic and compassionate leadership of Grzegorz Bożek — a local teacher and activist with the ecology organization “Workshop for All Beings” — restored the Jewish cemetery in Krosno. The Krosno Jewish Cemetery is now considered one of the best kept Jewish cemeteries in all of Poland because people care and because people want to ensure a brighter future.

I will close by invoking a notion of Jewish tradition, which is Tikkun Olam: meaning the transformation, healing, and repairing of the world so that it becomes a more just, peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place.

I hope you will all join with me to make the world a more peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place. And there is much we can do in this effort. As I travel around Poland, I see good people learning and caring about their Polish Jewish history, which, as we know is all of our history, not only Jews.

A number of issues, and one in particular, is still very troubling to me. It is the tradition in Poland of the image of Jews holding a coin hung on the walls of businesses or homes as symbols to bring wealth to those who won and enter the space. Some of the pictures contain the caption: “Żyd w sieni pieniadze w kieszeni” (“A Jew in the room, a coin in the pocket”). Either one day per week (usually on the Jewish sabbath between Friday at sunset and Saturday at sunset), or on January 1 of each year, the pictures’ owners hang the Jew upside down for a while to assure them greater wealth during the week or in the new year.

I hope you can understand how very offensive is this stereotype of the rich Jew and the Jew whose main concern is money and wealth.

So, in conclusion, as we look back over the unconscionable horrors of the Nazi era and what they did here, and also as we reflect back on the numerous acts of courage and rescue, I hope we will all go out into our lives and work for Tikkun Olam. Let us transform the world.

Thank you. And now, here is our film.

Krosno Journal 5

Monday night, 4 August, was a glorious night for me in Krosno. At 21.00 (9:00 p.m.) we screened Simon and Eva’s 1932 film of our mischpucha (family) and other residents of Krosno. The organizers of the event had the great idea of projecting the film upon a building facing Krosno’s Market Square, the same Square shown throughout the film: the same Square Simon and his 13 sisters and brothers, parents Wolf and Bascha, aunts, uncles, and cousins walked and worked literally thousands of times; the same Square they passed many happy times; but also the same square Nazi soldiers later marched in unison for display for their leader, Adolph Hitler, looking on reviewing the troops; where Hitler and Mussolini met to plan strategy to invade the Soviets on their eastern front;  the same Square where Jews were ordered to meet for separation into two groups, one to work and live in the Krosno Ghetto, the other to be taken into surrounding woods for murder and a mass grave. This was the site for our film.

To my surprise and pleasure, I would estimate at least 250 people sat on wooden benches or stood around the Square to participate in the screening. Throughout the film I heard audience members laughing with surprise of recognition when they saw familiar sights projected in times past, sights which were all around us.

I opened the evening by giving my prepared introduction translated by my friend Iza Jedkiniac. Our film was followed by a film made by Justyna Luczaj, a Polish documentary filmmaker, focusing on the Nazi obsession with “racial” classifications. The filmmaker was given access to newly released documents showing how Nazi “doctors” determined “Aryan blood” from among the local Polish population, and how they “determined” Jewish inferior “racial” strands within human communities. The filmmaker interviewed a number of the remaining residents who were classified as “Aryan” and the procedures the Nazis undertook in separating them out from others within their local communities. These residents also remembered the horrors wrought on their Jewish neighbors and recounted the torturous treatment they suffered.

Though I had read about the “scientific” experiments the Nazi undertook, it was quite moving to witness the experiences of people right here in southeast Poland. They could have been some of the same people sitting here watching the film with us.

Unfortunately, during the middle of the screening, a man who was apparently drunk, walked to the front of the audience near where the film screened on the building wall, and loudly cursed obscenities. In addition, Kasia translated for me that he screamed: “Six million Poles were killed by the Nazis but only three million Polish Jews. Don’t let the Jews rule you!” He finally departed as some of the audience members tried to lead him away.

Following the film, a young man approached me to thank me for helping to educate the local population on their own history. He told me that he is from Krosno, but he works in Warsaw giving “walking tours” of the city, in which he includes a discussion of Jewish sites and places of historical interest. We both agreed that Polish Jewish history IS Polish history.

We are now Facebook friends, and we will continue discussions of our work. I might go to Warsaw in the not-too-distant future to learn from his wealth of background on the topic and to contribute what I can.

The next day, Tuesday, Iza drove me the 34 kilometers (I don’t know how far that is in miles) to a site I had not been familiar with (sorry for my dangling preposition). Apparently, Hitler had constructed an enormous bunker large enough for a 10+ car train to enter at the outskirts of Krosno for use during his preparations and invasion of the Soviet Union. The bunker is hundreds of meters long, constructed with two-meter thick concrete walls, and in addition to rising approximate two stories, also goes underground two additional stories.

Entering it is quite overwhelming to realize that the Nazis put so much work and resources into this structure that sheltered one of the most infamous men in the history of the world. On interior walls, pictures are hung of Hitler and other Nazi high officials meeting with Mussolini in planning sessions, and Hitler standing in a plush train car within the bunker.

I find it amazing and completing unsettling whenever I walk upon a place where this tyrant once walked.

Oh well, I’m writing from my hotel room waiting for my wonderful cousins, Abby and Conrad Myers to join me in Krosno today. I’m looking forward to showing them around the town and meeting up later with Kasia from the local Subcarpathian Museum of Krosno, who is an expert on local history. I’ll let you know what we see today.

Until next time,

Love,

Warren

Krosno Journal 6

 Here, on my last full day in Krosno, my cousin Abby Mahler Myers and her husband Conrad arrived in Krosno from Warsaw where Conrad had been conducting some business meetings. They registered at the same hotel as mine. Since Abby and Conrad had been living in Hamburg for the past year, and since they were relatively close, I invited them to join me in Krosno. I promised to show them around the landmarks of importance to the Mahler family, and to introduce them to my friend Kasia, who arranged to meet with us in Market Square during the afternoon.

Upon seeing Abby and Conrad in the hotel restaurant, I was immediately struck with the significance of our meeting here in our ancestral town, a town Simon had infrequently talked about with us because of the pain it brought up in him, for he had tragically lost so many family members.

Abby, Conrad, and I embraced, and I saw the expression on Abby’s face, one that I imagine now in retrospect was, indeed, the very same expression upon my face on my first trip to Krosno. I recall back in 2008 feeling as if I were in a trance, or some sort of parallel reality from that of my daily life. I had dreamt one day of traveling to Poland, but until I actually stepped on Polish soil, the reality of making the journey sunk in only months later. While here, I walked through the streets of Krosno seemingly using parts of my brain, over the estimated 10% we humans use in the course of our day, where my senses were hyper activated, hyper sensitive to all I saw, smelled, heard, touched, and tasted. I additionally intuited that Wolf was leading me around by the hand on a journey of his life in a town I had only heard about. I stepped out of my hotel not knowing where I was heading, but somehow I made a direct line toward Market Square, which Simon later recorded on film, a Square located only one short block from the Mahler residence and butcher shop. That first day I found the Square, I sat on a bench for nearly an hour, tears occasionally and silently streaming from my eyes.

Yes, this sense of simultaneous hyper reality and distorted unreality I saw evident on Abby face here in the hotel restaurant and lasting and intensifying for the remainder of our day touring the streets and personal landmarks of our town.

We loaded into their rental car and parked very close to Market Square. Abby’s eyes widened as we entered the Square with a childlike “wow” coming from her lips. I guided them around the Square pointing our significant landmarks: the place where Simon shot much of his film; the apartment where the Mahler’s lived and the same wooden entry door they open into the building;  the steps they ascended, and the front door of their apartment would have been. (Since the second floor on which they lived was gutted by fire after the war and subsequently rebuilt, this new renovation is not identical to how it appeared when they resided here.)

Leaving the building and walking left onto the sidewalk and another left around the corner, we came to the courtyard of their building in which the entire Krosno family patiently posed for Simon’s camera. Directly across the courtyard originally stood their three-story synagogue. Though pictures of the building exist, unfortunately, we see only the top of the synagogue in our family film. The structure was destroyed by fire following the war, and a small building was built in its place.

Kasia told me an interesting story about the synagogue. On the day Nazi storm troopers barged into the building and forcefully extracted Krosno’s Rabbi Fuehrer, the Rabbi placed a curse on the building.

To this day, no businesses that have rented the building have lasted more than two years, eventually having to close. I have traveled to Krosno five times thus far, and on each occasion, I witnessed a different business inhabiting the building.

We then walked the few blocks to where the Nazi set up Krosno’s small Jewish ghetto, squeezing approximately 600 people into four small three-story buildings. Kasia found documentation to suggest that the Nazis murdered Wolf here in 1941.

I took my cousins next down the small hill, across the bridge over the River Wislok, up a short hill through a plush and green children’s town park, which was used by the Nazis to march, torture, murder, and bury in a mass grave approximately 2100 Jewish residents. Hearing the laughing and playing of the young children today masks but can never extinguish and heal the past horrors.

We stopped and looked up as a mother placed her young son, who appeared to be about 3 years old, on what looked like a state board positioned on a track hanging from the tall trees approximately 15 feet from the ground. The mother tethered the boy to the board, and gently pushed the boy out on the track, where he came to a complete stop half-way held in suspension. His mother and people from below yelled commands for him to grab a nearby rope to pull himself forward as he tried to lunge his body simultaneously to propel the board and himself forward. Undeterred and seemingly unafraid, at least less afraid then his mother suspended on a ledge of the tree appeared to be, the boy patiently pulled the rope and positioned his body forward, and gradually but very slowly, rolled himself to the tree ledge ahead. At this point, onlookers gave the boy an enthusiastic cheer and applause bringing out a big small of accomplishment on his face.

Once through the park, we walked two blocks to Krosno’s Jewish cemetery. Though the front gate was padlocked and opened by city officials upon request, I knew of a segment of the plaster wall that had collapsed over time. I guided Abby and Conrad through my not-so-secret entrance beyond the sheltering trees and bushes into a vast cemetery, with a number of headstones in various positions and conditions. On some, the Hebrew writing could be clearly read, while on others, time had left in various states of legibility.

Conrad walked throughout the space until he reached a concrete slab signifying a recently-discovered mass grave. Kasia has some reasons to believe that Wolf may have been buried there. Abby seemed visibly uneasy, though I would not term it as “upset,” but more curious as to who may be resting here and the circumstances of their deaths.

Kasia informed us that the cemetery only contains a fraction of the original headstones since Krosno residents plundered the space and stole a number of the stones for the purpose of conducting repairs on their homes. They continued doing this until town officials banned the practice.

I have been thinking more about my mortality since my mother’s passing last year. I am now in THE senior generation in my immediate family. I’ve long thought about where I will be buried, and I know for certain I don’t want to lie with my parents in Henderson, Nevada. I don’t like deserts! I could be buried near Simon and Eva in Southern California, but though I feel connected to my grandparents, the thought of spending eternity in California doesn’t thrill me. I’ve been thinking of burial in my ancestral town, in the old Jewish cemetery of Krosno. I’ve talked with Kasia, and she thinks this is a good idea. In my now five trips to Krosno, I’ve felt closer to the land, the culture, and the people. I’ve always felt connected with my Polish mischpucha. Kasia said she would look into the procedures I need to go through.

Since time was passing quickly before our meeting with Kasia, we left the Jewish cemetery, and waited just a few minutes to Market Square when Kasia showed up. She apologized for being late (only 5 minutes) because was at her new apartment repairing old wooden furniture with varnish. She said the fumes got her high, as she giggled with a naughty look on her face. I introduced her to Abby and Conrad, and we sat at an outdoor café on the Square for coffee and tea. I had a double espresso, after which I too felt high.

Kasia welcomed them to Krosno, and gave a brief history of the area. At university, she specialized in history and European studies. She has worked at the Subcarpathian Museum of Krosno for the past ten years. After drinking our legal drugs (caffeine) we walked around the Square and on the street the Mahler’s lived and worked. Kasia filled in the blanks of my knowledge as it applied to the former Jewish quarter of the town.

Kasia took us on a private tour of the Museum, which originally served as the residence of the Bishop of Poland. In the basement, as we began the tour, the Museum is fortunate to have a piece of the original stone and mortar wall surrounding Medieval Krosno. We observed fragments of tools and utensils from the Stone Age, to miniature models of Krosno as it may have appeared during the 13th through the 17th and into the 18th centuries C.E., including the changes that took place in burial rights and customs during varying time frames.

The Subcarpathian Museum of Krosno boasts the largest collection of original kerosene lamps, including over 8000 examples from the earliest to the era of electric lighting.

Little Known Fact: well, at least I didn’t know this. Sometime in the mid-19th century, famers on the outskirts of Krosno discovered a sticky black substance oozing from the ground. Not knowing what it was or what to do with it, they came up with the idea of schmiering it on wood planks as a preservative. Someone discovered that it burned, and used it instead of candles to light their home. It didn’t work out very well because a black substance, carbon, accumulated on the ceiling. They devised a way to separate out a clear liquid, which they called “kerosene,” and used it in the newly invented kerosene oil lamps. So essentially, people from the Krosno region of Poland invented uses for petroleum-based products, and the rest is the history of global warming.

Actually, Hitler chose to invade Krosno as soon as he entered Poland to capture the nearby air field and the extensive oil fields.

Kasia led us through a few other exhibits, including oil paintings by famous Polish artists, a very small display of silver Jewish religious articles, which included Hanukkah Menorahs, Shabbat candelabras, and doorway mezuzahs, and posters from past Museum special exhibitions.

Since Kasia’s husband, Matt, was to pick her up relatively soon at this point, we retreated back to the café we had frequented earlier. As we were drinking another hit of legal drugs, a man approached our table, with a friendly and eager expression on his face. The man knew Kasia, and though he could not speak much English, rapidly spoke in Polish, which Kasia translated for us, about how much he had gotten out of my presentation two days earlier. He said he was now excited to learn more about the former Jewish community of his town, and the next thing he said touched me at such a deep level that I could not hold back the deep well of tears erupting from my eyes.

“Now because of your film,” he said excitedly, “I now see my Market Square through Simon Mahler’s eyes.” Abby too let go of the emotions this generous and kind man brought up in her.

The man then talked about a priest he knows that once lived in Krosno as a young man, though he now lives in Ohio at the age of 93. During the Nazi occupation, as a 15-year-old boy, he served as a currier for the local partisan underground resistance fighters. During one of his runs, members of the Gestapo caught him carrying a message, and quickly arrested him. During hours of interrogation and torture, he never betrayed his comrades.

The Nazis eventually transported him to Krakow, and placed him in their so-called “racial studies” to determine whether he manifested an “Aryan” background, as depicted in the film that followed our Mahler film in the Square. Nazis ultimately sent him to Bergan-Beltzin concentration camp. Sometime after the camp was liberated, he immigrated to the United States where he became a priest. He has scheduled to return for a visit to Krosno early next year.

As the man was talking with us at our table, the divisions I had been discussing with Abby and Conrad throughout the day literally surfaced, the generational divisions with many in the older generations clinging to the prejudices of the past toward the Jews with their desire to maintain the monoculture of contemporary Poland, coming in conflict with the desire of many in the younger generations to resurrect a more multicultural environment, reflected by the cultural and social contributions of past Polish Jewish communities. In front of us we engaged with a man whose passion for learning about people different from himself mingled with recurrent sounds of “Yid, you yids” expelled by the man seated alone at a table directly behind Abby. Though I would rather she did not have to experience this directly, she was aware of what I had been relating to her ever since I first traveled to Poland. Actually, the previous two days while she and Conrad traveled around Warsaw, they witnessed the “Jew with coin” iconography I had discussed.

This brings up a point that first came to mind on my initial trip to Poland: as one who is currently in my homeland as “white” – though this has only been the case since the end of WWII (see Karen Brodkin’s book, How Jews became White and What This Says about Race in America), I can never truly know the “racialized” experiences of those currently constructed in the United States as “people of color” (blacks, Latin@s, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans). I can now at least begin to understand the “racialized” (yes, “racialized” and NOT merely prejudices of others based on our “othered” religious beliefs) experiences of being a Jew in Eastern Europe, from the iconography, to the comments, to the hesitation of some to shake my hand believing I have been fathered by the Devil, to the feeling that I am seen as an “odd curiosity” at best. To be quite frank, while I see real changes occurring in Poland in terms of Polish people’s relationships with Jewish people, and I have hope for an even better future, at times I don’t feel safe here, emotionally or physically.

When the man left our discussion saying he hoped we would all meet again soon, Abby called her mother, my aunt Roberta (Bobbie), wife of my mother’s brother, Jack Mahler, who died a few years ago. It was so nice to hear her warm voice coming from the phone speaker as we all listened. Abby handed the phone to her new best friend Kasia as Bobbie expressed her gratitude for all Kasia has done for our family over the years. I have expressed many times my gratitude to Kasia for helping to bring our relatives who had been taken from this world too soon home to a joyous reunion.

Kasia’s emotions spilled over as she thanked Bobbie for her kind words. This scene brought together previously separate parts of my life into a unified and continuous whole, and Abby and I too wept with gratitude.

Bobbie then reminded me of a story my mother, Blanche, had relayed to me in parts over the years. Evidently, another of Simon’s brothers, Fischel Mahler, came over to the United States. During the German occupation of Krosno, he, his wife, and two young children apparently escaped into the surrounding woods. They somehow made their way under the cover of darkness over a period of time to the Baltic Sea where they booked passage for New York City, where they lived for a time with Simon and Eva. They soon moved to Chicago for a few years and eventually settled in Israel.

Following the war, Fischel traveled back to Krosno where he searched for any surviving relatives. He discovered that his eldest brother whose name we don’t remember (I had previously and apparently incorrectly thought that David was the eldest) was sent with his wife to Siberia when he refused to join the Soviet army. Fischel found him there with his wife and two adult children who became physicians. I now have a desire verging on need to find any remaining members of this segment of our family.

We said good bye to auntie, and Kasia readied herself to leave us as Matt showed up. Though we spoke words to one another as we stood, our silent embraces and eye contact through the moisture clouding our sight spoke more than the sounds we uttered. We understood the significance of the day, the poignancy of our relationships, and the impact we experienced here that will follow us I am sure for many years.

I took Abby and Conrad to my favorite Krosno restaurant, Buda (meaning “hut”), and over a delightful meal of many delectable courses, we reflected on the events of the day.

After a relatively sleepless night for all of us, we traveled to Krakow where I caught the train to Vienna, where I will stay for two days with my friend Pawel, his wife Belinda, and son Femmie. Abby and Conrad explored the old town ancient center of Krakow before traveling back to Hamburg.

The end, but certainly not the conclusion, of a magical journey.

Warren

For my Poland PowerPoint, of my 2011 visit and presentation in Krosno, Poland, go to:

http://www.warrenblumenfeld.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/KrosnoHome.pdf

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 11th, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

My Research Is My Therapy

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While contemplating the topic and eventual focus of my doctoral dissertation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I was having difficulty deciding since so many potential directions and questions excited me. Knowing me as well as she did, my major professor offered me some guidance.

The seemingly simple but deeply profound words she uttered placed, for me, the scope of my eventual research into poignant and profound prospective driving my research agenda to this very day.

“Your research is your therapy,” she told me. Though framed as a declarative statement, she was posing in these words what I understood as a number of underlying questions. By implication, what I heard her saying was, “There are many potential directions and research questions for you to investigate. What directions and questions will challenge you to change and to grow, not merely as a researcher, not merely intellectually and academically, but also, and very importantly, personally, spiritually, ethically, emotionally, psychologically?”

I listened to my professor’s words, “Your research is your therapy,” and as I did, the bottlenecks in my mind unclogged and tears welled in my eyes. Visions of my childhood swirled in my memories settling upon a five-year-old self seated upon my maternal grandfather, Simon (Szymon) Mahler’s, lap in our cramped Bronxville, New York apartment.

Looking down urgently but with deep affection, Simon said to me: “Varn,” (he pronounced my name “Varn” through his distinctive Polish accent), “your parents named you after my father, your great-grandfather, Wolf Mahler.” I asked where Wolf was, and Simon told me that Wolf, along with my great-grandmother Bascha and most of my grandfather’s thirteen brothers and sisters were killed by people called “Nazis.” In stunned amazement, I asked why the Nazis killed them, and he responded, “Because they were Jews.” Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

I later learned that the Nazis shot many of my Polish relatives and dumped them in a mass grave in Krosno, and eventually shipped others to Auschwitz and Belzec concentration camps where they murdered them. Hitler and other Nazis rationalized their methods in resolving the “Jewish question” by deploying “racial” arguments in their claims that Jews descended from inferior “racial” stock, and therefore, they must exterminate Jews en mass to prevent genetic and social contamination to so-called “Aryans.”

Before leaving my major professor’s office that day, I understood the question I needed to investigate in my dissertation to challenge myself to change and to grow. Up until that time, I had studied and began the journey in my white identity development process. For me, however, and for so many other progressive European-heritage Jews, underlying paradoxical questions remained, questions that seemed to act as roadblocks in our full acknowledgment and acceptance of the unearned privileges accorded to us as European-heritage people in the historically, socially, and politically racialized and racist context of the United States.

While I and other European-heritage Jews clearly understand that we have been accorded white privilege vis-à-vis minoritized racial communities, we also understand the history and legacy of anti-Jewish persecution and, yes, how dominant groups have racialized us as well. Foundational, gnawing, and for me, unanswered questions remained: “Do European-heritage Jews, in fact, have the privileges accorded to, say, mainline white Protestants and other white people in the United States?” And even more fundamental: “How can we Jews have white privilege when dominant groups justified the murder of our mishpucha (our families) for not being “white”? In other words, “What IS my race?”

I positioned this latter question as a major foundational piece in my qualitative doctoral dissertation. I interviewed an intergenerational sample of European-heritage Jews asking them to define their “race.” The results not only advanced the extant literature base somewhat in the area of race theory and identity development, but for me, and more importantly, advanced my understanding of my whiteness.

I now realize that even before my doctoral work, even before I came to consciousness of this, my research was, in fact, my therapy, for it had challenged and continually challenges me to change and to grow.

I have since gone on to investigate issues of internalized oppression; youth bullying and the larger social contexts that actually promote these behaviors in the schools; how heterosexism and other forms of oppression not only oppress members of minoritized groups but also, on many levels, hurt members of dominant groups. I also research issues of campus climate for LGBT people and the implications of cyberbullying on LGBT youth; Christian privilege and religious oppression; the overrepresentation of African American students in special education programs; how schools reproduce the inequities stemming from the larger society; and other issues too numerous to list here. As you can see, I need lots and lots of research therapy since research never truly and conclusively answers our questions, but rather, raises further and ultimately deeper and larger questions.

In addition, I understand the term “RESEARCH” as representing an acronym, and not merely a noun, but, rather, a verb – an action.

As an acronym, for me:

The initial letter, “R,” represents Resolve: to have the resolve, the conviction to follow our passions where they may lead in addressing questions of meaning and importance to us.

The first “E” stands for Empathy: to have the capacity to walk in the shoes of our research participants to accord them their voice in areas where they may have been denied their sense of agency and their sense of subjectivity previously.

S” exemplifies the Search in research: to go to the greatest lengths and the greatest heights in attempting to reveal the truth no matter how uncomfortable that truth, or more correctly, those multiple truths might be.

The second “E” characterizes being Earnest, being ourselves, finding our true core in terms of our values, our goals, our purposes not only within the research process and realm, but in our lives, which when revealed, will enhance our research and our overall life outcomes.

“A” embodies Action, for research is not by any means a passive endeavor left to others alone to engage. No matter what our role across the spectrum – research assistant, associate researcher, senior researcher — our work adds to and challenges, encourages, and ultimately empowers future researchers to continue where we concluded.

The second “R” signifies the “Realization” that we must understand “knowledge” not as indicating a singular unitary creation, but, rather, we must understand it in its numerous and plural forms, as “knowledges,” by investigating questions from multiple perspectives, viewpoints, and understandings dependent on the overlapping and intersecting subjectivities and epistemologies represented by our research participants and by the audiences for our work.

“C” denotes “Creativity”: our work connects to the extant literature base, comparing and contrasting with what has gone before, and ultimately advancing the discourse in our chosen field and to all of humanity.

And “H” symbolizes our “Humility,” because while we may contribute a piece to what our society and our world constructs as the accumulation of knowledges, many have gone before us to pave the paths on which we walk, and others one day will walk on the sections of those paths we have paved.

So, again, I have found my research to constitute a form of therapy in which I situate my passions, and to aid me in how I make meaning of the world.

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

July 28th, 2014 at 12:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Forceful Penetration as Terror Tactic in Immigration Debate

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“Listen, if you’re 14, 15, 16, 17 years old, and you’re coming from a country that’s gang-infested — particularly with MS-13 types, that is the most aggressive of all the street gangs — when you have those types coming across the border, they’re not children at that point. These kids have been brought up in a culture of thievery, a culture of murder, of rape. And now we are going to infuse them into the American culture. It’s just ludicrous.”

Florida Republican Representative Rich Nugent

Rich Nugent does not stand alone in his dire warnings of the dangers children and other migrants will impose on the citizens of the United States if allowed to enter and remain. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican Representative, warns of grave public health threats as well. In a July 7, 2014, letter Gingrey wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“As a physician for over 30 years, I am well aware of the dangers infectious diseases pose. In fact, infectious diseases remain in the top 10 causes of death in the United States. …Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.”

Well, “as a physician for over 30 years,” he should know that Ebola is not only extraordinarily difficult to spread, but that it also does not occur in Central America. According to the World Health Organization, Ebola has only been discovered in humans living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Unfortunately, the absence of facts has never seemed to get in the way of anti-immigration activists. Nugent and Gingrey join a long list in their rhetoric of horror, hysteria, hyperbole, and hypocrisy throughout the immigration battles of the United States.

Narratives of Hate

In 1790, the newly constituted United States Congress passed the Naturalization Act, which excluded all nonwhites from citizenship, including Asians, enslaved Africans, and Native Americans, the later whom they defined in oxymoronic terms as “domestic foreigners,” even though they had inhabited this land for an estimated 35,000 years. The Congress did not grant Native Americans rights of citizenship until 1924 with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, though Asians continued to be denied naturalized citizenship status.

Within the United States in the 19th century, the public directed negative sentiments against a number of ethnic groups, including the Irish. For example, according to a young Theodore Roosevelt in the 1880:

“The average Catholic Irishman of the first generation, as represented in the [New York State] Assembly [is a] low, venal, corrupt, and unintelligent brute.”

And in Harper’s Weekly a few years earlier:

“Irishmen…have so behaved themselves that nearly seventy-five per cent of our criminals and paupers are Irish; that fully seventy-five per cent of the crimes of violence committed among us are the work of Irishmen; that the system of universal suffrage in large cities has fallen into discredit through the incapacity of the Irish for self-government.”

The U.S. Congress passed its first law specifically restricting or excluding immigrants on the basis of “race” and nationality in 1882. In their attempts to eliminate entry of Chinese (and other Asian) workers who often competed for jobs with U.S. citizens, especially in the western United States, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to restrict their entry into the U.S. for a 10 year period, while denying citizenship to Chinese people already on these shores. The Act also made it illegal for Chinese people to marry white or black U.S.-Americans. The Immigration Act of 1917 further prohibited immigration from Asian countries, in the terms of the law, the “barred zone,” including parts of China, India, Siam, Burma, Asiatic Russia, the Polynesian Islands, and parts of Afghanistan.

A Butte, Montana editorial in 1870 represents the exclusionist sentiments toward Chinese people held by many U.S. citizens:

“The Chinaman’s life is not our life, his religion is not our religion. His habits, superstitions, and modes of life are disgusting. He is a parasite, floating across the Pacific and thence penetrating into the interior towns and cities, there to settle down for a brief space and absorb the substance of those with whom he comes into competition. His one object is to make all the money and return again to his native land dead or alive….Let him go hence. He belongs not in Butte.”

And in 1893, also in Butte, Montana, “The Chinaman is no more a citizen than a coyote is a citizen, and never can be.”

The so-called “Gentleman’s Agreement” between the U.S. and the Emperor of Japan of 1907, in an attempt to reduce tensions between the two countries, passed expressly to decrease immigration of Japanese workers into the U.S.

Between 1880 and 1920, in the range of 30-40 million immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe migrated to the United States, more than doubling the population. Fearing a continued influx of immigrants, legislators in the U.S. Congress in 1924 enacted the Johnson-Reed [anti-] Immigration Act (a.k.a. Origins Quota Act, or National Origins Act) setting restrictive quotas of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe (groups viewed as representing Europe’s lower “races”), including Jews (the later referred to as members of the so-called “Hebrew race”). The law, however, permitted large allocations of immigrants from Great Britain and Germany. In addition, the law included a clause prohibiting entry of “aliens ineligible to citizenship,” which was veiled language referring to Japanese and other Asians dating back to the Naturalization Act of 1790 restricting citizenship to only “white” people and affirmed by a 1922 United States Supreme Court ruling (Takao Ozawa v United States) in which Takao Ozawa, a Japanese immigrant, was denied the right to become a naturalized citizen because he “clearly” was “not Caucasian.”

This law, in addition to previous statutes (1882 against the Chinese, 1907 against the Japanese) halted further immigration from Asia, and excluded blacks of African descent from entering the United States.

It is important to note that during this time, Jewish ethno-racial assignment was constructed as “Asian.” According to Sander Gilman: “Jews were called Asiatic and Mongoloid, as well as primitive, tribal, Oriental.” Immigration laws were changed in 1924 in response to the influx of these undesirable “Asiatic elements.”

In 1939, the United States Congress refused to pass the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which if enacted would have permitted entry to the United States of 20,000 children from Eastern Europe, many of whom were Jewish, over existing quotas. Laura Delano Houghteling, cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and wife of the U.S. Commissioner of Immigration sternly warned: “20,000 charming children would all too soon, grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”

[Not a] Conclusion

Rather than characterizing immigration and migration issues as humanitarian concerns, the anti-immigration activists connect the narratives representing immigrants and migrants to our borders to the language of disease, crime, drugs, alien and lower forms of culture and life, of invading hoards, of barbarians at the gates who if allowed to enter will destroy the glorious civilization we have established among the lesser nations of the Earth. On a more basic and personal level, the rhetoric of invasion of our boarders taps into psychological fears, or more accurately, of terrors of losing control of our spaces: our country, our workplaces, and more basically, our private places in which “aliens” forcefully penetrate our personal space around our bodies, into our orifices, and down to the smallest cellular level.

Look at the few examples I presented among the seemingly bottomless pool from which I could have drawn. We see how the anti-immigration activists represent the assumed invaders as “those types,” “domestic foreigners,” “low, venal, corrupt, unintelligent brutes,” “criminals,” “paupers,” “incapable of self-government,” who are “not of our life or religion,” who bring with them “habits, superstitions, and disgusting modes of life,” who are “ugly adults,” and who are “no more than a coyote.”

The dialectic of invasion, of violation of personal space, comes through with these “parasites,” who are “penetrating into the interior towns and cities,” and who “absorb the substance of those with whom [they] come.” They are “gang-infested,” bringing “thievery,” “murder,” “rape,” who “infuse infectious diseases,” “deadly viruses,” “swine flu,” “dengue fever,” “Ebola,” “tuberculosis.” Essentially, they are represented as vectors of contamination of the body politic and the material body.

Since the anti-immigration movement represents immigrants and migrants as subhuman creatures, it could take as its battle cry the catchy slogan from the Terminex Pest Exterminator TV commercial:

“Not Here! Not Now! Not in my house!”

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

July 26th, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Front Door, Back Door, Economic Chasm: Not a PBS Series

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In scenes reminiscent of the PBS series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” and “Downton Abbey,” a luxury condominium complex in New York City’s Upper West Side, according to an agreement reached between the developers and City government, when completed, will contain a door for use by wealthy residents only, and a separate door for lower-income tenants. In exchange for permission to build a bigger and taller building, the developers have agreed to include 55 affordable rent-regulated units.

Residents living in these more “affordable” apartments within high-end complexes throughout the City are usually restricted from availing themselves of amenities granted to wealthy occupants, including swimming pools, gyms, and tennis and basketball courts. Since traditionally in New York City the majority of renters and buyers paying market rates for housing are white and the majority of tenants living in rent-regulated units are people of color, these sorts of “agreements” promote legalized segregation based on skin color and the color of money.

No matter how utterly offensive we may consider this arrangement, it does not even begin to represent the enormous economic gap and segregation of communities in the United States today. While economic disparities plague all nations across the planet, nowhere are these disparities more extreme than in the United States. No other problem affects the security and the very survival of our nation and other nations across our ever-shrinking planet more than the income and resource gap between the rich and the poor.

From the time of our birth and throughout our lives, we are told and continually retold the tale of meritocracy. The story goes something like this: For those of us living in the United States, it matters not from which station of life we came. We each have been born into a system that guarantees us equal and equitable access of opportunity. Success is ours through hard work, study, and ambition, and by deferring gratification for later in life. Those who do not achieve success must accept personal responsibility. Maybe they did not try hard enough. Maybe they failed to scale any barriers that could have been placed in their way because they did not have the will, the fortitude, the intelligence, the character, or because they simply made bad choices.

Though this narrative stands as the foundation on which this country was constructed, many of us see it for the lie and the fabrication that it is. This ruling class tool, this form of hegemony serves the purpose of mitigating challenges to the inherent and inevitable inequities in “free market” Capitalism, and, therefore, not only perpetuates, but expands the ever-increasing gulf within the socioeconomic class structure.

In the United States, the top one percent of the population has accumulated an estimated 34.6 percent of the wealth, the next 9 percent an estimated 38.5 percent, and the remaining 90 percent of the nation a combined accumulation of only 26.9 percent.

In 2012, 46.5 million people (15.0 percent) in the United States lived below the poverty line, with 16.1 million (21.8 percent) children under the age of 18. Approximately 49.0 million lived in food insecure households (available food depleted before the end of the month), including 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.

The compensation of corporate CEOs has risen an astounding 725% between 1978 and 2011 while the average workers’ salaries have increased a mere 5.7% over the same period. Today’s official national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour equals $3.00 less accounting for inflation compared to the minimum wage in 1968.

The top financial rewards went to only 400 people increasing their income between 1992 and 2007 by 392% while their average tax rate fell by 37%. These same 400 people accumulated more wealth than the lower 50% of the U.S. population combined.

A few individual families own 20, or 30, or 40, or more fast food franchises while paying their workers less than a living wage, as 26% of fast food employees are parents raising children, and 68% are the major wage earners for their families, and many of our people go hungry as Congress fights to eliminate the food stamp and school lunch safety nets. In reality, a McDonald’s employee must work the equivalent of 930 years to match the salary that the CEO makes in a single year.

Some families have the privilege of purchasing two, or three, or four, or five, or even six homes that they occasionally visit depending on their current mood like the rest of us choose which pair of underwear to don for the day, and many of our people, including youth, go homeless.

Ultimately, no one really wins when millions of people have been shut out of the economy. No one wins when people don’t have the money to spend on the goods and services in the stores owned and managed by the rich. No one wins when the upper 10 percent own approximately 73 percent of the nation’s wealth, and only 85 of the wealthiest individuals own the equivalent of the lowest 3.5 billion (with a “B”) people in the world. If this continues unabated, nationwide and worldwide economic disaster and political upheaval will inevitably ensue.

Returning to the example of the two-tiered (multi-tiered) New York City condominium structure, what we are witnessing is a postmodern version of the high-walled city center of Medieval times protecting the nobility from peasants and marauding bands, and the 20th-century gated communities meant to keep out thieves and bandits. These hermetically-sealed containers, nonetheless, eventually imprison 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), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

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

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

July 24th, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Intent & Impact of Giants Hiring David Tyree

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“This will be the beginning of our country sliding toward, it’s a strong word, but anarchy. How can marriage be marriage for  thousands of years and now all the sudden because a minority, an influential minority, has a push or agenda … and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country.”

David Tyree, to the National Organization for Marriage, 2011

David Tyree, former NFL wide receiver for the New York Giants, is probably most renowned for his amazing “helmet catch” in 2007 to continue the ultimately decisive game-winning surge against the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLI by the close score of 17 – 14. In 2011, though, he announced that he would gladly trade his phenomenal catch in exchange for a law outlawing marriage for same-sex couples.

Tyree, who is married, a father of four children, and a devout Christian asserted that homosexuality and marriage for same-sex couples defies God: “I don’t agree with it [gay marriage] because God doesn’t agree with it. As a Christian, I don’t agree. Society may be changing but God is not.”

He also claimed in a series of Tweets in 2011 that homosexuality is not inborn: “…there are many former homosexual men & women in this country & no scientific data to support the claim of being born gay” and that he has met “former homosexuals.”

Well, Mr. Tyree, if you don’t “agree” with marriage for same-sex couples, don’t marry someone of the same sex. Simple! If you think having attractions for others of the same sex and acting on this is a choice, well, don’t choose it yourself. Period, the end! Can we move on now?

Not really. So, why should we care one way or the other what David Tyree believes on the issue of sexuality or on marriage for same-sex couples? He certainly has the right to believe whatever he wants to believe and to worship the God of his choice, though if having same-sex attractions and acting on those attractions is also a choice, he would rather us not chose this. Well, at the very least, he would not want our government to choose to grant legal status to our relationships within the institution of marriage.

Others maintain views similar to Tyree’s, as evidenced recently when the former Super Bowl winning coach and current sports analyst for NBC, Tony Dungy, stated that he would not have picked Michael Sam, the first “out” gay athlete to play in the NFL, in the draft because it could be a distraction, even though Sam has the talent to play in the major leagues. Later, Dungy tried to clarify his assertions.

But, again, why should we care about Tyree’s views? There are a number of reasons, one being his influence as a sports hero on the beliefs and attitudes of the many people, young and old, who look up to him as a role model. I would like here to concentrate, however, on Tyree’s new position as Director of Player Development for the New York Giants football franchise. Giants coach Tom Coughlin described the position:

“Player engagement has become extremely important in any franchise. It is the working relationship with the players to aid them in their continuing education, their development as young men, the opportunities in the business world and in networking in the city that they happen to be playing in. It is there to help instruct them, make them aware of the issues and the problems that exist out in the community and the world to try to keep them focused on their job and not fall into trouble.”

To answer the question I posed above, this is one of the reasons why we should care about Tyree’s views. The message his hiring sends is one of intolerance for any gay or bisexual team member who might be thinking about “coming out” publicly as did Michael Sam.

When a part of the job is “to aid [team members] in their continuing education, their development as young men, the opportunities in the business world and in networking in the city,” how will Tyree’s understanding of human sexuality advance his ability to follow through on this portion of his job description? Will he simply punt, or will he attempt to impose or to pass on his views? Will team members who support gay and bisexual peers and marriage for same-sex couples trust or accept Tyree’s “aid”?

New York state codified marriage equality on July 24, 2011. Rather than anarchy breaking out, the heavens did not open, lightning bolts did not destroy humankind, the earth did not open swallowing all into its bowels. Actually, for one thing, business revenues increased markedly. In fact, as reported in a 2012 study, the law generated $259 million in economic impact in New York City alone in just one year.

According to Mayor Bloomberg a year following the legislation:

“Marriage equality has made our City more open, inclusive and free – and it has also helped to create jobs and support our economy. New York has always been a great place to get married and since the passage of the Marriage Equality Act, we’re welcoming more and more couples, their families and friends from around the country and the world.”

Coach Coughlin also stated that “[Tyree's] ability to function on many, many levels is extremely attractive. Anyone who’s ever spent time with him or heard him speak publicly knows the quality of his work. We thought he was the best guy for the job.”

And Giants general manager Jerry Reese added: “We do our due diligence on everybody we try to hire around here. No. 1, he was qualified for the job, and we think he’s a terrific fit for us. We’re happy to have him on board.”

This statement leads me to believe that Giants officials knew of Tyree’s past statements. By doing its due diligence, the Giants organization is piling on a whole bunch of dodo into the emerging controversy, even though a Giants spokesperson went on the defensive by announcing that Tyree was expressing personal views that did not represent the beliefs of the organization.

Well, Giants officials, you cannot hide behind “Tyree was expressing his personal views” when he has authority over team players. You cannot hide behind “his views do not represent the beliefs of the organization” when you supposedly did your due diligence. Your hiring of Tyree supports his views implicitly and by association.

We must distinguish two apparently separate but interrelated concepts: “intent” and “impact.” Your intent in hiring Tyree may not have been to condone or promote his beliefs, but his ascension to this position has the impact of doing the opposite. How often do we hear, “Well, I didn’t intend to insult you”? This defense does not assuage the offensive and insulting words or actions. It does not mitigate your complicity. You simply cannot position yourself as some sort of mythical “innocent bystander.”

This brings to mind civil rights activist Eldridge Cleaver’s call to action: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

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

July 23rd, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Renaissance Cheapness of Life Like Today?

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During this summer, I have had some time to catch up on some pleasurable reading and, I must admit, binge watching of three TV series.

“The Borgias,” an Italian Renaissance-era Showtime series, in which the Spanish-born Cardinal Rodrigo Lanzol y de Borja (Italianized “Borgia”), through ruthless ambition, deceit, and criminal activity, rises to the Papacy as Alexander VI on August 11, 1492 until his death on August 18, 1503. At the time of his ascension, he was married with a number of children. After becoming Pope, he continued having sexual relations with his collection of mistresses, and he eventually elevated his offspring to high posts.

The HBO series “Game of Thrones,” located within what could be considered as a Renaissance timeframe in terms of technological development, weaponry, and garment styles in the backdrop of the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos toward the conclusion of a decade-long summer, meshes a number of plot lines, most notably ones in which members of numerous noble houses engage in civil war for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. The series investigates issues of power, social hierarchy, religion and spirituality, loyalty and betrayal, virtue and corruption, war and rebellion, crime, murder, and punishment.

“Elizabeth I,” a two-part TV miniseries appearing originally on British Channel 4, staring Helen Mirren, covers the final 24 years of Queen Elizabeth I in her nearly 45-year reign as Queer regent of England and Ireland (November 17, 1558 – March 24, 1603). Elizabeth’s time on the throne covered a period of enormous tensions and transitions as governments consolidated power through plots and conspiracies, alliances, war, and confiscation of territories. It was also a period of great religious upheavals.

What I found so unsettling and utterly disturbing connecting these series was the absolute lack of value placed on human life. People killed each other with as much deliberation as they would in squashing a fly on their bedroom wall.

The viewer witnesses in each of these series competing rulers claiming the same expanses of land, while confidently declaring these had been ordained to them by (the) god(s). Very often we are spectators to kidnappings, torture, and slaughter of youth, of genocide, fratricide, and infanticide. We see war, looting, the showing of no mercy, bodily mutilation, claims to the spoils, appropriation of territories, attacks on civilian transports, use of citizens as shields and as fodder for weapons arsenals resulting in massive civilian casualties.

In one series, “The Borgias,” the Pope’s army led by his son, Juan, destroyed underground tunnels to penetrate the enclave of its enemy, Caterina Sforza.

Throughout all the series, we see the training of troops for eventual battle with rebels or separatists waging civil war, countries or kingdoms fighting wars of colonization, or nations waging clandestine proxy wars by equipping separatists in nations they intend to dominate. Usually, other nations stand back looking on without intervening to stop the carnage.

While the notion of forming treaties or alliances surfaces on occasion, rarely do we witness peace negotiations, and when we do, key players break agreements at will.

While during the Renaissance, art and technologies advanced, rulers and others still considered human life as cheap, where competing religious views laid claim to The truth. I’m relieved, though, to know that we now live in times of civility, where we value human life and others’ beliefs so much more. The scenes depicted in these series could never occur today in real life, could they?

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

July 22nd, 2014 at 10:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized