Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

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

Professional Football, Hyper-Masculinity, and Nationalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 21st, 2017 at 2:53 pm

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

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

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Left-Handedness: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 20th, 2017 at 5:30 pm

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Trans People Forced to Wear Shoes that Callous and Bruise

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When asked by Jane Schmidt, student coordinator of the Gay/Straight Alliance at Waverly High School in Waverly, Iowa on November 30, 2011 “Why can’t same-sex couples get married [throughout the United States]?” Ultra-conservative U.S. Representative from Minnesota, Michelle Bachmann, responded that gay and lesbian people should have “no special rights” to marry people of the same sex, insisting that “the laws are you marry a person of the opposite sex.”

She continued: “They can get married, but they abide by the same law as everyone else. They can marry a man if they’re a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they’re a man.”

In this discussion, Bachmann exhibits a basic misunderstanding between the terms “Equal” and “Equitable.”

I like to use my friend Vernon Wall’s metaphor to differentiate between the terms: “Equal” is providing everyone with a pair of shoes. “Equitable,” though, is providing everyone with a pair of shoes that fit them.

In her argument, Bachmann is saying that we all are being provided with a pair of shoes, and she is indeed correct. If you happen, for example, to wear a size 10 men’s or women’s shoe, and you are given a pair of size 10 shoes, all is possibly fine and fair if the shoes fit comfortably and you like the style and shade.

However, how fine and fair is it for those who do not wear a size 10 shoe at all?  Though we can equally attempt to fit into these shoes, when we struggle to walk, we either inadvertently step out of the shoes and possibly fall, or we develop bruised and battered feet.

Let’s look at the following analogy to Bachmann’s argument. Prior to 1967, nine states within the U.S. prevented consenting adults from engaging in sexual activities, let along marriage, with anyone from another so-called “race.”

One could argue that these laws treated everyone equally: White adults could have consensual sex with and marry other white people, but they could not have sex with or marry people of any other so-called “race.” Black adults could have consensual sex with and marry other black people, but they could not have sex with or marry people of any other so-called “race,” and so on.

In the case of Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), the Supreme Court of the United States, however, disagreed with the above scenarios codified in law, ruling against equality and in favor of equity. They declared the state of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act” of 1924, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on adult consensual sexual activity and marriage throughout the U.S.

The plaintiffs in the case were Mildred Loving (born Mildred Deloris Jetter, a woman of African descent) and Richard Perry Loving (a man of white European descent), both residents of Virginia who married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia to evade Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act.” Upon returning to Virginia, they were arrested and charged with violating the act. Police entered their home and arrested them while they slept in their bed.

At their trial, they were convicted and sentenced to one year imprisonment with a suspended sentence of 25 years on the condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. At the trial, the judge, Leon Bazile, used “religious” justifications to convict the couple:

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

In the case of marriage equality and interracial marriage, religious justifications were sited to deny people the right to shoes that fit.

Can we learn any lessons here? I say we can.

Opponents of providing equitable treatment to transgender people, for example, argue that everyone must only use the restrooms of those of the sex that was assigned to them at birth. They claim that current laws are treating people “equally.” By doing so, they are forcing trans people to walk with seriously calloused and bruised feet.

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

October 19th, 2017 at 5:04 pm

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Catholic Church Coconspirators in Harassment & Violence Toward Trans People

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So now a Catholic priest, wearing a flowing floor-length gown and a not-so in-vogue bonnet as he swings his flaming scented purse around his brightly-colored window glass festooned house followed by little boys similarly attired refused first communion to a 9-year-old girl because she wished to wear a suit.

“She has a love for suits and wears them often,” wrote Chris Mansell, the young girl, Cady’s, mother. “Since there wasn’t initially a dress code given for the event, we assumed she could wear a suit. We went all out and made a weekend out of finding her the perfect outfit…one that makes her feel beautiful and confident.”

Rather than buckling to Church pressure, Cady choose instead to skip the communion, and her mother pulled her from her Catholic school. A triple-snap to Cady and Chris!

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

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

Far prior to this statement, Joan of Arc, the teenager who helped defeat the English in her native France, became one of the greatest war heroes in French history. Despite this, the Roman Catholic Church tried and convicted Joan on the charge of heresy in rejecting Church authority in preference for direct inspiration from God, but most importantly, by donning men’s clothing. Joan died by burning at the stake at the hands of the Church.

Pope Francis, the so-called “progressive” Pope, further trashed trans people recently in a speech to the Pontifical Academy for Life’s general assembly in which he labeled gender confirmation surgery as “manipulation” and a “choice.”

“The biological and psychical manipulation of sexual difference, which biomedical technology allows us to perceive as completely available to free choice — which it is not! — thus risks dismantling the source of energy that nurtures the alliance between man and woman and which renders it creative and fruitful.”

In an April 2016 letter focusing on marriage and the family titled Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis sternly warned against gender confirmation procedures when he stressed that “conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.”

Later, in a meeting with Bishops during his pilgrimage to Poland in July 2016, Francis talked about current times in which, “We are living a moment of annihilation of man as image of God.” Francis referenced Pope Benedict XVI, his still-living predecessor, who branded these times as “the epoch of sin against God the Creator.”

Frances took this occasion to inflict another tirade against trans people when he warned: “Today, in schools they are teaching this to children – to children! – that everyone can choose their gender.” He condemned this on what he cited as “ideological colonizing” backed by “very influential countries,” which he did not name. One such “colonization,” he said – “I’ll say it clearly with its first and last name – is gender.”

A key factor in the development of orthodox Catholic ethics since the 13th century is the concept of “Natural Law,” which includes a set of standards the Church has inferred follow an ordering of nature.

Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican scholar born in 1225 was an early exponent of “natural law,” which asserts that morality is based on certain constraints of human nature. Aquinas believed that same-sex sexuality (and any sexual act not intended specifically for procreation, including masturbation) and gender non-conformity are vices against nature, which violate the will of God.

Thus, the Church has concluded that expressions of gender non-conformity and of homosexuality, plus many forms of heterosexual sexual behavior are “gravely and intrinsically immoral” or “gravely and intrinsically disordered” as clearly stated in the Catholic Catechism 2357.

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

Dominican Brother Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, in his book The Myth of the Gay Gene, elaborates on this theme:

“The Church teaches that as embodied spiritual creatures, human beings were created male and female so that in the complementarity of the sexes, they can reflect the inner unity of the Creator. This was recognized and confirmed by the Lord Jesus who instituted the sacrament of marriage to celebrate the divine plan of the loving and life-giving union of men and women.”

This is the same denomination that convicted physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei on the charge of heresy by insisting that the Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than, as per Church teaching, the Earth was the immovable center of the universe with the Sun revolving around the Earth. The Church forced Galileo to spend the remainder of his life into the 16th century under house arrest. It took the Church under Pope Paul II approximately 350 years to finally admit they got it wrong.

Last week, the Vatican’s Pontifical Gregorian University co-sponsored a conference in Rome, the Child Dignity in the Digital World Congress, on the issue of keeping children safe online and protecting them from sexual abuse and exploitation. Pope Francis attended the forum, and he endorsed the 13-point resolution, the Declaration of Rome, that the technology, child safety, health, and theological experts agreed upon at the gathering for keeping children safe online.

Well, since all of Pope Francis’s lambasts against trans identities and same-sex sexuality go out over the internet and onto social media platforms, under any definition of the term, Pope Francis himself falls under the category of a “cyberbully.” I brand this as “Orthodoxy Theology Hypocrisy!”

Pope Francis, in his relatively short time serving as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church has talked about inclusion and acceptance of diversity thereby, at least in his words, hopes to take the Church out of the 17th Century where it has remained stuck for some time and carry it on the wings of a dove to at least the 19th if not the 20th or 21st century regarding the concerns of LGBTQ people.

But alas, the dove has died as has the hope. His policies on topics of trans identities and same-sex sexuality have remained unchanged. Even more troubling, the Pope has further tightened Church restrictions on trans identities.

When religious leaders preach their damaging interpretations of their sacred texts on issues of same-sex relationships or identities and gender non-conformity within and outside their respective houses of worship, they must be held accountable and responsible for aiding and abetting those who target and harass, bully, physically assault, and murder people perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans.

Nearly every two – three days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. Most of these murders are of trans women of color.

Ultimately as well, religious leaders and entire denominations must be held accountable as accomplices and coconspirators in the suicides of those who are the targets of these abusive actions, and who grow up in a religious denomination and larger society that teaches them to deny, to hide, and to hate themselves.

Will it take another 350 years for the Catholic Church to finally admit they got it wrong?

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 16th, 2017 at 9:05 pm

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Ronald Reagan Coconspirator-In-Chief to Genocide

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Ronald Reagan is not the model politician and leader that most Republicans worship today. The real Ronald Reagan forwarded policies that enormously increased the wealth gap between the very rich and the remainder of the population. He expanded the rate of people living in poverty with his doublespeak “trickle down” economics. He illegally and surreptitiously sold arms to Iran and furtively redirected the profits to fascist Central American dictators to fund and equip their death gangs of thugs.

And most of all, the ungodly Ronald Reagan functioned as the Coconspirator-In-Chief in the deaths of people infected with HIV during the early years of what became a pandemic under his so-called “watch.” Ronald Reagan should have been charged and convicted of genocidal murder, rather than seen as the much-venerated pseudo-saint who he has been anointed by the conservative Republican Party.

Whenever I hear tributes of praise to this mythological figure coming from Republican stalwarts, what comes to my mind instead is a stunningly poignant quote from Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, his stage play covering the early years of AIDS in the United States:

“We’re living through war, but where they’re living it’s peace time, and we’re all in the same country.”

As I hear these words reverberating in my mind, images escape from my stored memory into consciousness of the excruciatingly long seven years into his presidency until Ronald Reagan, under whose presidency the AIDS pandemic first came to light, finally and officially publicly acknowledged the existence of the crisis. The one and only time he publicly spoke of AIDS before 1987, except to address a few reporters questions, was in his first year in office when he inferred that “maybe the Lord brought down the plague because illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”

I recalled the vicious characterization by Pat Buchanan, Reagan’s Chief of “Communications,” who spoke for many by calling AIDS nature’s “awful retribution” that did not deserve a thorough and compassionate response, and later said:

“With 80,000 dead of AIDS, our promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide.”

Uninformed and prejudicial statements coming from the White House and the halls of Congress, from the State Houses, and yes, from some houses of worship during those trying times only encouraged the ceaseless bigotry and discriminatory actions against people with HIV, including against Ryan White, a young HIV-positive boy with hemophilia who posed virtually no risk to his classmates, but his middle school administrators expelled him from school nonetheless; all of this while the AIDS Project patchwork quilt expanded exponentially day-by-day.   

This week I recalled the day a close friend of mine, a young man of 23, disclosed to me that he tested HIV-positive and that early signs of disease had already begun to appear. I was extremely upset. Soon after he told me, I needed to clear my head, and I took a walk around my neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As I traveled around Harvard Square with the shoppers dashing in and out of the stores and the students carrying books through Harvard Yard, I felt as though I were venturing through an absurdist dream where out-of-sync parallel realities collided. (Yes, indeed, Larry Kramer, you nailed it! We were at war, and for many reasons, we still are.)

Since in those early years, HIV/AIDS affected most visibly what some called the “4H Club” – Homosexuals, Haitians, Intravenous Heroin Drug Users, and People with Hemophilia – all but the latter considered as “disposables” at that time, governmental and many social institutions refused to take wide-scale action.

One can reasonably argue that if the majority of people with HIV/AIDS initially had been middle-class, white, suburban heterosexual males, rather than gay and bisexual males, trans people, people of color, working-class people, sex workers, and drug users, we would have immediately seen massive mobilizations to defeat the virus.

During those awful years, my pain eventually rose to anger turning to rage, a rage finally given expression by a grassroots peoples’ empowerment movement. The direct-action group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) formed in New York City in 1986 largely by young activists. A network of local chapters quickly grew in over 120 cities throughout the world.

I contributed my efforts to the Boston chapter. Though independently developed and run, the network connected efforts under the theme “Silence = Death” beneath an inverted pink triangle (turning upside down the insignia the Nazis forced men accused of homosexuality to wear in German concentration camps.) We reclaimed the pink triangle, signifying the ultimate stigmata of oppression, and turned it into a symbol of empowerment to lift people out of lethargy and denial and as a call to action to counter the crisis.

We in ACT UP conducted highly visible demonstrations, often involving acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in which we on occasion placed ourselves at risk for arrest and even injury. ACT UP/New York, for example, staged a “sit-in” on Wall Street in 1987 during rush hour to protest price gouging by pharmaceutical companies, particularly Burroughs-Wellcome’s high cost of AZT (an antiviral drug).

Other actions included a national protest in 1988, which effectively closed down the Food and Drug Administration offices in Bethesda, Maryland; a 1990 action in which over 1000 people stormed the National Institutes of Health (NIH), also in Bethesda, Maryland, demanding wide-scale improvements including extended access to government-sponsored HIV clinical trials.

In 1991, demonstrators staged a disruption of CBS and PBS evening news broadcasts to protest coverage of the Persian Gulf War and negligence in covering the AIDS pandemic; followed closely by a “Day of Desperation” demonstration at Grand Central Station; and visible actions at most of the annual International Conferences on AIDS including, most notably, the VI Conference held in San Francisco in 1990.

We not only challenged traditional means of scientific knowledge dissemination, but more importantly, questioned the very mechanisms by which scientists conducted research, and, therefore, we helped redefine the very meanings of “science.”

AIDS activists — including members of direct-action groups like ACT UP, people with AIDS, AIDS educators, journalists and writers, workers in AIDS service organizations, and others — won important victories on a number of fronts, including assisting people become active participants in their own medical treatments, having greater input into drug trial protocols, expanding access to drug trials, and expediting approval for drug therapies. In addition, Community Advisory Boards now hold pharmaceutical companies more accountable for the prices they charge.

I am so very grateful to my comrades in ACT UP for the endless lessons they taught me during our times together. They showed me by example that anger, no matter how righteous, when unrestrained often turns into mistakes and deep regrets when acted out. (Oh, how I learned that one!) On the other hand, they proved that anger coupled with reason and a network of like-minded individuals giving expression to that anger sets the stage for unbounded possibilities.

I have heard some people refer to our current era as one in which HIV/AIDS and the discrimination surrounding it no longer pose major physical and social barriers. Unfortunately, nothing can be further from the truth even though much has improved since those terrible early years. Infection rates throughout the world still continue to rise, millions still can’t afford the constellation of drug therapies needed to keep them alive, and ignorance and prejudice remain as major impediments.

Though he could have been a major force in leading the efforts to contain a crisis, Ronald Reagan failed miserably by commission and omission, and for that he must be held accountable for the deaths of thousands of people during his years as Derelict and Criminal Commander-In-Chief on the war on HIV.

On the other hand, joining together with the remarkable, dedicated, steadfast comrades of ACT UP made real for me Margaret Mead’s insightful and stirring statement:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 16th, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Donald J. Trump Has the Power to End All Life on Our Planet, Don’t Let Him!

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“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

Voltaire

I was born in May 1947, less than two years after the close of the second World War and toward the beginning of what has come to be known as the Cold War.

Throughout my years in elementary school, the country held regular air raid drills. At the sound of the shrill tones from the booming sirens screaming their warning of imminent attack, we were taught by our teachers to immediately walk toward the center of a building with the least number of windows, find a desk or table under which we were to duck and bend to the floor, and then to grab both hands together and place them over our head as protection from falling debris.

We rehearsed these “duck and cover” drills regularly in our classrooms, and most of us actually thought at our young ages that we could survive a nuclear attack if we crouched directly beneath our protective school desks and placed our hands in just the correct manner. Well, at least I thought so until during one of the drills, a student began laughing at the absurdity of the situation. He then shouted to his classmates, “That’s right class. Let’s all bend down, place our heads between our legs, and kiss our ass goodbye!” His words have haunted me ever since.

In my 70 years on this planet, I have twice feared for my life and the lives of all humanity because of the words and actions of world leaders who risked nuclear annihilation.

The first involved the direct and potentially catastrophic showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. These two superpowers came close to nuclear war following a failed attempt by the U.S. to overthrow the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, which prompted Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to reach a secret agreement with Castro for the installation of Soviet missiles on the island to deter another U.S. invasion.

At a time when people were rapidly constructing fallout shelters in their backyards and stocking them with emergency supplies, routine U.S. aerial intelligence in September 1962 clearly showed the construction of numerous Soviet missile sites in Cuba and the discovery of an arms buildup, which included Soviet IL-28 bombers plus medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles.

Surrounded by his top military advisers and the support from the Organization of American States, Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba. The same day Kennedy sent a message to Khrushchev declaring that the U.S. would not allow offensive weapons to be delivered to the island nation, and that all strategic weapons already in Cuba must be immediately returned to the Soviet Union. The Joint Chiefs of Staff increased our nation’s military readiness status of DEFCON 3 as U.S. naval forces began to implement the quarantine. They also planned for a possible military strike on Cuba.

Following days of tense negotiations going back and forth between the White House and the Kremlin, with several charges and counter charges, plans and counter plans, and the frayed nerves of the world’s people, Khrushchev agreed to the removal of all Soviet missiles from Cuba under the direct supervision of the United Nation, with the guaranteed assurance that the United States would not attack Cuba. In addition, the Soviets demanded that the U.S. dismantle and remove its Jupiter missiles from its bases in Turkey.

A nuclear Holocaust was averted.

I fear that we are once again on the verge of another possible nuclear showdown with increasing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and the U.S. and Iran. The difference between today and the early 1960s are many. But for me, it comes down to a difference in leadership between that of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Donald John Trump.

Though there are some similarities between the two in that both were given the name “John,” both were legendary womanizers, and both were born into families headed by fathers rich materially but bankrupt morally and ethically in the ways they conducted affairs of business.

On the other hand, JFK felt an insatiable hunger and thirst for knowledge. He was an avid reader with a sharp and quick mind. He consumed knowledge the way Trump consumes and spits out wives. Kennedy was a scholar of history, and he fully comprehended the workings of government and, in particular, the awesome responsibilities and duties required of any President of the United States. Before taking an action, he conferred with his trusted advisors, weighed all options, and after thoughtful reflection, came to a decision.

Yes, Kennedy certainly made mistakes, the most consequential being his committing troops and resources into Indochina. Kennedy was generally, however, measured in his public comments, and he relied on his administration’s abilities at diplomatic means to settle international and domestic conflict.

John Kennedy demonstrated a certain stability in character, brilliance of mind, focus in action, and a deep sense of commitment to the notion that to those to whom much is given, much is expected.

What can I say about Donald Trump that the majority of thoughtful people don’t already understand? Trump has no love or need for knowledge or preparation, he has no apparent understanding of history or of science, and even less use for either. This President, rather, operates purely on emotion and instinct. He shoots from the mouth, and thrives on chaos, disarray, and perpetual infighting among his staff and advisors, whom he discounts when they attempt to give him counsel.

He is unstable in character, ignorant in mind, unfocused in action, which he alters from one minute to the next and after talking with each person he meets. Though his campaign slogans were “America First” and “Make America Great Again,” in truth he operates on the assumption of me, Donald Trump first and foremost, by making Donald Trump even richer and more powerful, again.

We, the people of the United States, find ourselves at a critical juncture in our collective history, one in which we must choose among various routes going forward.

One category of options refers to the possible ways of standing with a President who was elected by a minority of the electorate, a President who has clearly demonstrated in words and actions his total temperamental and intellectual incapacity to handle the enormous power and responsibility he has been granted over the lives of all living things upon our beautiful and increasingly interdependent planet.

Other choices, though, center on how we may (or must) resist so we will alter the course this President has chartered toward our figurative and literal destruction as a nation and as a species.

Donald Trump seems incapable of understand the enormous power at his command. His Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, allegedly referred to him as “a f*****g moron” following a July 2017 meeting at the Pentagon in which top military leaders briefed Trump on U.S. readiness around the world. At that meeting, Trump was reported to have asked his advisors for a tenfold increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal, and asked that since we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?

“Enabling” is the term given to those who fail to act against and collude with those who engage in the maltreatment and hurtful decisions that impact themselves and others.

How long will it take for Trump’s supporters to finally realize they have been duped by this con-artist who sold them his snake-oil-of-a-campaign of little value, which can have disastrous consequences? How much longer can Trump’s enablers understand that they are hurting the country and sacrificing their own integrity and sense of dignity for the mere promise of some small political gains?

Unfortunately, it is apparent that Trump’s Cabinet lacks the spine to invoke the 25th Amendment, Section 4, which requires a simple majority vote of the Cabinet plus the Vice President to remove the President from office. In addition, Republicans in the House of Representatives lack the will and courage to impeach, and Republican Senators lack the will and courage to convict this President of the clear and present danger he poses to the very foundations of our democratic institutions.

The U.S. dropped “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” on Japan in 1945, killing initially an estimated 200,000 souls and injuring countless more. Donald J. Trump has already resigned from the human race. Don’t allow him to take us all down with him.

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

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 13th, 2017 at 10:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump Attempts to Colonize Anyone Who Gets in His Way

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The Oxford Dictionary defines the verb “to colonize” as the process of appropriating a place or domain to establish political and economic control. Throughout history, nations have invaded not only their neighbors’ lands, but also territories clear across the globe for their own use. During the practice, the dominant nation attempts to colonize not only indigenous peoples’ domains (territorial imperialism), but also their minds, their customs, in fact, their very way of life (cultural imperialism). The result is what historian Joel Spring terms “cultural genocide.”

Theorist and researcher Iris Marion Young states that “[c]ultural imperialism [one of her “five faces” of oppression] involves the universalization of a dominant group’s experiences and culture, and its establishment as the norm.” Dominant groups project and transmit their beliefs, values, and perspectives (through hegemonic discourses) thereby rendering subordinated groups virtually invisible while simultaneously constructing stereotypes about these groups.

As an example of both territorial and cultural imperialism, white Christian European Americans colonized indigenous peoples through many means: confiscation of land, forced relocation, undermining of their languages, cultures, and identities, forced conversion to Christianity, and the establishment of Christian day schools and off-reservation boarding schools far away from their people.

The first off-reservation Indian boarding school was established in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1879 and run primarily by white Christian teachers, administered by Richard Pratt, a former cavalry commander in the Indian Territories. At the school, Indian children were stripped of their culture: males’ hair was cut short, they were all forced to wear Western-style clothing, they had to take on a Western name, they were prohibited from conversing in their native languages and English was compulsory, all their cultural and spiritual symbols were destroyed, and Christianity was imposed.

Between 1879 and 1905, 25 Indian boarding schools operated throughout the United States. As Pratt related to a Baptist audience regarding his theory of education: “[We must immerse] Indians in our civilization, and when we get them under, [hold] them there until they are thoroughly soaked.” And, “We must kill the Indian in him to save the man.”

In countries with a historical legacy of colonization, and even in those without this history, members of dominant groups have accumulated unearned privileges not accorded to others. Though the official terms “colonization,” “colonizer,” and “colonized” may have changed somewhat, nowhere in the world, including our own country, have we experienced a truly post-colonial society. The imperialism remains, though possibly in less visible forms.

One form it has taken centers on the way some members of dominant groups, with their sense of entitlement, take it upon themselves to lecture minoritized people when and how they should or should not speak out against the marginalization, degradation, discrimination, and oppression they face. Dominant groups simply don’t want to understand or be reminded about the privileges they have simply because of their dominant identities. They don’t want to acknowledge the reality of social inequality.

I am continually reminded of the certainty of cultural imperialism virtually every time Donald Trump opens his mouth or Tweets his latest attack or tirade. In his latest divisive diatribe, Trump and many white politicians and pundits unquestionably believe they have the right to dictate the proper time, place, and manner for black athletes to lodge any complaints, even though Trump has referred to their concerns as misguided and illegitimate.

Though Donald Trump took an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” he and his (Stepford) Vice President have attempted to translate the actions of athletes’ taking a knee from demonstrating their constitutional First Amendment right into a treasonous hatred of God, military, and country.

Yes, partially Trump has taken on the NFL to divert attention from his failed policies and increasingly failed presidency, and to energize his ever-shrinking base. Living a life of privilege, though, Trump feels entitled to establish his culture, his beliefs, his actions as the norm, appropriating and colonizing anyone who get in his way.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 9th, 2017 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump Magnifies His Declared Assault on Trans People & Women

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In a memo sent from his newly named “Department of Anything-But-Justice” to US attorneys, department heads, and federal agencies, Trump’s Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, reversed an Obama-era policy that protected trans employees from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Session made clear that his department would no longer interpret gender protections in Title VII to include gender identity and expression.

In a related breaking story, Session also delivered his ruling that will severely limit the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate for contraception when it goes against employers’ religious or moral beliefs. Included in the memo, Sessions ordered officials to:

“…effective immediately, incorporate the interpretative guidance in litigation strategy and arguments, operations, grant administration, and all other aspects of the Department’s work, keeping in mind the President’s declaration that ‘[i]t shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom’.”

Since Trump’s inauguration, the White House website has removed reference to LGBT issues and policies from the previous administration, and reversed an Obama-era executive order permitting trans students to use school facilities most closely aligning with their gender identities.

Recently, as the Trump administration promoted its “American Heroes Week,” the alleged Commander-in-Chief let it be known in a torrential three-tweet series that he does not include trans people in the category of “American Heroes,” especially those currently and previously serving in the U.S. military.

“After consideration with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow…… ….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming….. ….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”

Trump’s official policy-by-tweet contradicts Department of Defense new regulations released June 30, 2016 under Defense Secretary Ash Carter permitting trans people to join and openly serve their country. At that time, the United States added its name to an ever-increasing list of 19 other nations welcoming trans people into their military ranks, with the Netherlands as the first as far back as 1973. A sampling of others include Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, and Spain.

A Rand Study fully debunks the Lier-in-Chief’s assertion of some sort of burdensome “tremendous medical costs” expended on trans servicemembers. Of the Pentagon’s annual military health care budget of $6.28 billion, an estimated relatively minuscule $2.4 – 8.4 million accounts for transition-related health care costs.

In addition, Rand found that merely 25 – 130 active-component trans military personnel have deployment restrictions due to transition-related medical treatments. In comparison, 50,000 active-duty soldiers in one single branch, the Army, cannot deploy for medical and other reasons.

It should be crystal clear to everyone that Trump’s motive in declaring war on an entire category of people has nothing to do with concerns over improving military readiness, or ending discrimination in schools and in the workplace. It has nothing to do with health care costs. It has nothing to do with some alleged and unspecific “disruption,” and it certainly has nothing to do with “religious freedom.”

Trump’s actions are intended to harden his appeal of the base feelings with his base of support by targeting scapegoats for his failed policies and increasingly failed presidency.

The origin of the scapegoat dates to the Book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible (16:20-22). On the Day of Atonement, a live goat was selected by lottery. The high priest placed both hands on the goat’s head and confessed over it the sins of the people. In this way, the sins were symbolically transferred to the animal, which was then cast out into the wilderness. This process thus purged the people, for a time, of their feelings of guilt.

Researchers have proposed several conditions necessary for specific people or groups to be singled out as scapegoats in contemporary society. They found first, that prejudice and negative stereotyping must already exist against the particular group(s) before the scapegoating commences. Also, the group(s) in question must appear to be too weak to fight back successfully when attacked. In addition, the society must already sanction the scapegoating through its own institutional structures.

Trump’s not-so-surprising assaults on trans people has the heavy thump print of Vice President Pence who, in his first congressional campaign in 2000, argued for public funding of so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ people. On his website at the time, his disdain for same-sex attractions and sexuality stands out:

“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Pence opposes marriage equality and LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, and helped to pass the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration law allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The state was forced to amend the law after experiencing serious political and financial push back.

Donald Trump, by choosing Mike Pence, has added LGBTQ people to his already extensive list of scapegoated “Others,” which include Mexicans and all Central and South American-heritage people, Muslims, people with disabilities, all women, and NFL players and coaches taking a knee in solidarity with groups like Black Lives Matter protesting police attacks on black and brown people. By choosing Mike Pence, Trump has double-downed in his attempts to divide and conquer the electorate by instilling fear in promising the bigoted the “freedom” to discriminate to the fullest extent of the law without the threat of prosecution.

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

The Trump administration’s latest assault on trans people will prove to be a total failure by limiting the rights of trans people in the schools and in the workplace, and in limiting the service by talented and committed people who would have joined the ranks of the military, many who held or could have potentially held critical positions, for example, as language interpreters and other military specialists.

We must all stand up and be counted against the scurrilous attacks perpetrated by the Trump administration. We must not permit the policymakers, the majority presumably heterosexual and largely cisgender male, to dictate policy over whether trans employees and students are protected against discrimination and whether trans servicemembers are granted permission openly to serve their country. This makes about as much sense as allowing men to determine whether women get the vote or whether women maintain control over their reproductive freedoms.

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

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 6th, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Change the Looney Nonsensical Firearms Policies

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So after suffering the effects of yet another mass shooting in our country, this time in Las Vegas, Nevada where currently over 50 people have died and approximately 500 others were wounded, let’s look at the firearms laws in the state of Nevada.

  • No permit required to purchase a firearm;
  • No gun registration required;
  • No gun owners’ license required;
  • No permit required to carry concealed long guns;
  • No laws restricting the sale and ownership of assault weapons;
  • No restrictions on the capacity of firearms magazines
  • No restriction on the number of firearms an individual may own!

The suspected shooter had with him over 10 firearms at the time of his attack on a crowd attending an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas.

After each incident of mass shootings, we hear the obligatory “I send my thoughts and prayers to the survivors and to the loved ones of those who have died” coming from politicians and other officials. Well, I hate to break it to you, but “thoughts and prayers” simply aren’t cutting it! They aren’t helping to reduce the chances of another incident tomorrow or next week or next year.

Each time I hear of another incident of gun violence in a long and tragic chain, I think back to the very first thing that caught my eye as I entered the grounds of the Ames, Iowa Republican Party Presidential Straw Poll in the summer of 2011. Three young children, I would guess between the ages of 4 -7, sporting day-glow orange baseball caps with “NRA” imprinted atop, and round stickers on their small T-shirts announcing “GUNS SAVE LIVES.”

But, really, do these “guns save lives”? Do laws expanding gun possession, concealed or not, actually “save lives”? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun-related violence has reached epidemic proportions in our country by snuffing out the lives of upwards of 30,000+ people and wounding many more annually. On average, guns end the lives of more than 80 people in the United States every day.  Each year, gun violence affects over 100,000 people in some way. Many of the guns used in these killings reach military level weapons power, guns which currently remain legal. Today in the United States, there are 88.8 firearms per 100 people.

Of the increasing number mass murders in the United States since 1982, most of the shooters obtained their weapons legally. Demographically, the shooters in all but a very few case involved males, usually white, with an average age of 35 years.

Should any limits be placed on the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”?

We seem somehow only to spout the second clause in that sentence while forgetting the first, especially the term “well-regulated”!

I propose that we reevaluate the political Right’s obsession with the so-called “freedom” to bear arms because it is not only “criminals who kill people” as Second Amendment advocates claim. Therefore,

  • We must ban and criminalize the possession of automatic and semi-automatic weapons!
  • We must close loopholes such as buying a weapon at a gun show!
  • We must ban the purchase of firearms and ammunition on the internet because some people are still doing this legally!
  • We must increase the waiting period and make background checks more rigorous and effective!
  • We must limit the number of firearms any individual can own!
  • We must limit the number of bullets any firearm clip can hold!
  • We must ban and criminalize the purchase and possession of armor piercing bullets, and also hollow-tip bullets!
  • We must rethink the “logic” of permitting concealed weapons, especially in places like houses of worship, colleges, bars, restaurants, and political rallies!
  • We must interface all data bases monitoring firearm ownership to assess the firearm-owning population more accurately and effectively!

To be perfectly honest, though, I want the Second Amendment repealed! It is an Amendment for goodness sake. It is not some sort of divinely-inspired mandate from a superior being well beyond our comprehension. It was created, rather, by our intelligent but flawed “founding fathers” who probably did not want totally unlimited and unrestricted rights to bear arms.

Even if they did advocate for unrestricted firearms ownership, these are the same men who owned slaves, committed genocide against and expelled native peoples, withheld enfranchisement from women, engaged in and killed one another in duels, and so on. Actually, I’m really surprised the National Rifle Association hasn’t advocated for the return of lethal dueling matches. Maybe that’s next on their agenda. (Go see the Broadway show “Hamilton” to see how that turned out!)

As we all know, in the current political climate, the chances for comprehensive common sense gun control in the United States is only a pipe dream as long as the National Rifle Association controls Congress and state legislatures, for if they did not, we would have seen effective laws passed years ago resulting in countless lives saved.

Nevertheless, this utter stupidity in our system of firearms laws must end. Enough is enough is enough is enough already! Actually, it is far past that time.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 2nd, 2017 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Donald Trump and The Bad Samaritan

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Shortly following their high school graduation in Southern California, two 18-year-old young men, best friends since childhood, drove to a casino just crossing the Nevada line where they intended to play video games before returning home the next day.

After engaging in the games for a while, one of the friends, Jeremy Strohmeyer, walked toward the restrooms. Seeing that he entered the Women’s room, the other young man, David Cash, walked in to see what Jeremy was doing. He noticed that Jeremy was playfully throwing wadded paper towels at a young black girl, who seemed at first to have enjoyed the attention.

But then the scene turned violent. Strohmeyer grabbed 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson, placed his hand over her mouth, and spirited her into a toilet stall as Cash watched by the sinks. He entered an adjacent stall and mounted the toilet edge allowing him to peer down as he saw Jeremy continuing to muffle the girl’s screams and hearing as he warned Sherrice to keep quiet or he would kill her.

Not wanting to get involved, Cash returned to playing video games. He did not attempt to stop his friend from attacking the young girl. He did not seek help or call law enforcement officials. He calmly played games and waited the 20 minutes it took for Jeremy to return. David asked Jeremy what had happened.

“I killed her,” Jeremy asserted with a certain serenity in his tone on that summer evening in 1997. Soon thereafter, the two friends coolly entered nearby casinos where they enjoyed mechanical rides and continued to play video games until it was time for them to return home.

With the assistance of the video security system implanted at the casino, Strohmeyer was eventually caught, tried, and convicted to life imprisonment for rape and murder. Cash on the other hand, was never indicted because inaction was not a crime in Nevada at the time.

In reaction to the case and the lack of charges against Cash, Richard Perkins, Speaker of the Nevada Assembly, sponsored the Sherrice Iverson bill requiring Nevadans to notify law enforcement if they witness violent acts committed against a child. The law took effect in 1999, and a similar measure passed in California one year later.

Questioned on a CBS “60 Minutes” segment, “The Bad Samaritan,” in 1999 that if given a chance, would he do things differently, Cash said, “I don’t feel there is much I could have done differently.” Asked a similar question during an interview on a Los Angeles radio station, Cash gave a similar reply and added:

“How much am I supposed to sit down and cry about this?…The simple fact remains that I did not know this little girl. I do not know starving children in Panama. I do not know people dying of disease in Egypt.”

The Long Beach Press-Telegram quoted Cash as saying that he wanted to sell his story to the media. One movie company already had offered him $21,000, he added. “I’m no idiot,” he declared. “I’ll (expletive) get my money out of this.”

Though I have studied the Holocaust and other genocides, until I discovered this case, I always had the gnawing and seemingly unanswerable question pulling at me, “How could these incidents have taken place throughout the ages”?

David Cash taught me that mass murders happen on the macro level when people on the individual and collective level let them happen, when witnesses — so-called “bystanders” — do little or nothing to intervene. When people either allow their fear or reluctance to “get involved” to supersede their empathy.

Empathy, that special and majestic human quality, has always been a vital life force of our humanness. As we understand in psychology, unless there is developmental delay, infants demonstrate the rudimentary beginnings of empathy whenever they recognize that another is upset, and they show signs of being upset themselves. Very early in their lives, infants develop the capacity to crawl in the diapers of others even though their own diapers don’t need changing.

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

Through it all, that precious life-affirming flame of empathy can wither and flicker. For some, it dies entirely. And as the blaze recedes, the bullies, the demagogues, the tyrants take over filling the void where our humanness once prevailed. And then we have lost something very precious.

David Cash represents the termination of empathy on the individual micro level, resulting not only in the possibly preventable rape and murder of a young girl, but the death of his own soul. And when the demise of empathy comes to powerful leaders, the consequences, on the macro level, become exponentially deeper, toxic, and tragic.

The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, comes from the same mold that produced David Cash. In addition to their obvious narcissistic sociopathic personality structures, their lack of empathy overrides their beliefs and actions.

Our President carelessly blamed the mayor of London for being incompetent after a terrorist attack on his city. He accused the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico for playing politics and being ungrateful, and the Puerto Rican people for being lazy and expecting everything to be done for them on their “bankrupt” island after a “500 year” storm virtually shut them down as people cling desperately to life.

He mocked a disabled reporter, took the rights of trans students to use bathrooms most closely aligning with their gender identities, demonized Latinx people, Muslims, and women, ridiculed Gold Star parents who sacrificed so much while Donald Trump sits on his gold-plated toilet as he attempts to take away affordable health care insurance from an estimated 20 million low income people.

Quite frankly, I find few differences between the attitudes and actions of David Cash and Donald J. Trump. Though the Trumps and Cashes are more numerous than we can even imagine, empathy has always been an antidote to the poison of inaction, of prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, and scapegoating, and to bullies and demagogues who take power and control.

Empathy is the life force of our humanness, and ultimately to our recovery during the current crisis of leadership in our country.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 1st, 2017 at 6:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized