Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

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

Clean Potable Water a Human Right, Even in Detroit

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Over 60,000 people in New York’s Central Park and millions more around our planet were treated to the eclectic sounds of world-class performers at the third Global Citizens Festival on Saturday, September 27. Performers included Jay Z, Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood, The Roots, Tiesto, No Doubt, Sting, and Alicia Keys.

The organization Global Citizen, whose goal is to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide by 2030, sponsored the event to highlight the issue of extreme poverty, which continues to affect an estimated 1.2 billion people, and to empower individuals and the world community to take concrete actions to end this scourge. Specifically, Global Citizen urges people to contact world leaders to focus on issues of providing vaccines, education, and sanitation to all the world’s citizens.

Internationally, more people have mobile phones than have clean potable water and sanitation facilities. An estimated 3.4 million people die each year of diseases caused by lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation infrastructures. This shortage kills people around the world at a rate equal to the crashing of a jumbo jet every four hours. This lack of clean water and vaccinations significantly lowers a person’s chances for quality education keeping them in extreme poverty, and the vicious cycle continues.

Part of the Global Citizen Manifesto reads:

I believe that 1 BILLION PEOPLE continuing to live extreme poverty is an affront to our COMMON HUMANITY AND DIGNITY. That it is unfair, unjust and unnecessary.”

These words, “unfair,” “unjust,” and “unnecessary” have particular resonance for me as I leaned that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes recently refused to prevent city officials in Detroit, Michigan from shutting off water to customers who cannot afford to pay the skyrocketing costs of services, which have increased rapidly since the city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy last year. Monthly charges for water and sewer services in Detroit average $70.67 per household. In his ruling, Rhodes asserted that people do not have a fundamental right to water services. Since the shutoffs over the summer, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets.

In the wealthy suburbs circling Detroit, though, residents fill their enormous residential and country club swimming pools and artificial lakes around their pristine golf courses, as people in the inner city desperately lack water for drinking or bathing. And the tremendous income gaps ever expand within the U.S. and internationally.

Unfair

While city officials have negotiated long-term payment schedules for some customers they rated “delinquent” on past payments, a number of resides, often through no fault of their own, simply do not have the funds needed, having regularly to choose between putting food on the table for their children or paying for clean water. No one should have to make this choice!

Unjust

By shutting off the valves, city officials have consigned residents to increased rates of disease, dehydration, and lowered chances of escaping poverty. When children and adults are deprived of the basics to sustain life, their health suffers, which greatly impacts their educational and overall life opportunities.

Unnecessary

Our nation must redirect its priorities directly to serve its people through infrastructure improvements so cities like Detroit do not have to solve these problems in isolation resulting in forced terminations of clean and potable water. President Obama has urged Congress since he entered office to release the funding to upgrade our crumbling sewer systems, roads, bridges, and power grids, which as they currently exist, have put our nation at increased risk. Unfortunately, Congress seems unwilling to get to work, which stands in stark contrast to the vast number of our residents who live below the poverty line, and who often work multiple jobs still barely getting by.

I personally abide by the entire Global Citizen Manifesto, especially this section:

THE WORLD’S POOR ARE LEADING THIS PROGRESS FOR THEMSELVES, but they can’t finish the job without the rest of us. I am committed to changing the systems and policies that keep people poor.”

We all can and must end this worldwide unfair, unjust, and unnecessary travesty of extreme poverty. This reminds me of a TV commercial I watched last night for pistachios when Steven Colbert, seated beside an American Bald Eagle perched above, declares: “The pistachio: it’s just like our politics. When the two sides are divided, that’s when the nuts come out!”

On issues of poverty and for the sake of humanity, we all must work on the same side.

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

September 29th, 2014 at 8:07 pm

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Dangerous Values at Values Voters Summit

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I perceive so many issues and so much material to critique from the recent so-called Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. that I find it difficult where precisely to focus.

I could talk about the cast of characters invited to present to the largely older, white, conservative Christian confab audience, with such notables ranging from current and former elected political officials including Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rich Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huchabee, and David Dewhurst, to ultra conservative media pundits such as Erick Erickson (Editor-in-Chief of Red States) and Glenn Beck, to heads of far-right organizations like Gary Bauer (Pres., American Values) and Kelly Shackelford (Pres. & CEO, Liberty Institute).

I could center my comments on the “intellectual” and historical bloopers made by a number of the presenters. For example, Ted Cruz lambasted U.S. officials talking with Iranian leaders:

“This week the government of Iran is sitting down with the United States government, swilling chardonnay in New York City to discuss what [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu rightly describes as an historic mistake…setting the stage for Iran to acquire nuclear weapon capability.”

Cruz, like Pres. George W. Bush before him, shows his utter ignorance of Muslims and their cultures, in Cruz’s case, by his ignorance on their ban of the intake of alcoholic beverages.

And then there was half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin who promised to bring “truth” to “1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Well, does Palin plan to stand on a soap box in the plaza near the Willard Hotel to shout her truth, since that’s what she will find at that address? Or does she hope to see Russia from there? If, however, she meant to reference the White House, most elementary school students know it rests at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

What I consider the most offensive, hateful, and bigoted comment to the assembled gathering at the Summit came from finally-retiring Representative Michelle Bachmann, who declared war on all of Islam first by asserting that there is no such thing as a “moderate” Muslin, then warning,

“Yes, Mr. President, it is about Islam….And I believe if you have an evil of an order of this magnitude, you take it seriously. You declare war on it, you don’t dance around it. Just like the Islamic State has declared war on the United States of America.”

Bachmann assaulted the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which she asserted created “a smaller, diminished, less-powerful United States.”

Bachmann’s perspective on Islam is as accurate as if we viewed so-called “white supremacist” and neo-Nazi groups as representing true Christendom. What groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Khorasan, al-Shabab, Hamas, Hesbollah, plus Aryan Brotherhood, Christian Identity, Ku Klux Klan, American Front, Aryan Republican Army, Citizens Councils, White Patriot Party, and so many more all have in common is their hateful extremism in the guise of religion and religious freedom.

According to its website:

Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.”

The Summit’s chief organizing sponsor from its inauguration has been Family Research Council (FRC) Action, the legislative arm of the Family Research Council. James Dobson, founder of the group Focus on the Family in 1977, created the Family Research Council in 1981, which has developed into a major influential theocratic right organization campaigning for so-called “traditional family values” as FRC sees it. In the face of Internal Revenue Service investigations of FRC’s overt lobbying activities, FRC administratively separated from FOF in 1992 to become an independent organization. Gary Bauer took over the helm as first president until 2003 when Tony Perkins succeeded him.

Though the term “Christian Right” has been used to represent this movement, I, on the other hand, find this terminology inaccurate and misleading. A good number of well-intentioned conservative Christians do not abide by many of the extreme stances taken by movement leaders – leaders who seem bent on hijacking the purpose and intent of Jesus’s message. While a number of leaders and organizations within this movement bristle against the notion of a large centralized government, paradoxically, they seem to work toward the imposition of a powerful theocratic government in their image. Moreover, “Christianity” cannot be viewed as monolithic since numerous denominations subscribe to disparate interpretations of scripture. Therefore, I use the term “theocratic right” to represent this ultra conservative movement.

I see the Values Voters Summit more as a train wreck than as a summit, a crew of hate-inspired politicians who sank to the lowest level of their “base” (a term I use here with multiple definitions) by stereotyping and scapegoating, and by further marginalizing those among us with little economic, social, and political power and those who require basic services from government to survive. In this vein, Ted Cruz promised during his diatribe at the Summit:

“In 2017, with a Republican president in office, we’re going to sign legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.”

Attendees at the conference voted in a presidential straw poll placing Ted Cruz on top with 25%, former neurosurgeon and author Ben Carson in second place with 20%, and rounding out in third place was Mike Huckabee, and Rich Santorum in fourth.

Using the definition of “values” as “Core beliefs that guide and motivate attitudes and actions,” what the drivers on the train wreck preached in Washington, D.C. poses grave dangers by further dividing an already divided nation, by broadening the wide gaps between the haves and have-nots, and by perpetuating the targeting of those they brand as “other,” since many in this crew already hold influential platforms and represent a formidable constituency.

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

September 28th, 2014 at 9:39 pm

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Partial Reversal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Only a Beginning

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The United States Congress, in February 2011, passed and President Obama signed historic bipartisan legislation to rescind the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy enacted in 1993 mandating that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who join the ranks of the armed forces maintain complete silence regarding their sexual identities. Over the years, the military dishonorably discharged an estimated 14,000 service members on the so-called “charge” of being “homosexual” under this policy. On September 20, 2011 the policy reversal went into effect, but it did not go far enough. Military policy continues to restrict trans* and intersex people from joining.

Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, last May, however, raised the possibility that a part of the remaining restrictions may soon fall when he stated that the ban on trans* soldiers “continually should be reviewed.” He did not, though, talk about opening the injunction on intersex people.

His comment came after a study released by the Palm Center reporting that approximately 15,000 trans* people are currently secretly serving in the armed forces, and an additional 130,000 or more trans* veterans reside in the larger population. Some of our nation’s allies, like Canada and Great Britain, openly admit trans* service members.

As our troops are currently stretched thin throughout the world’s conflict areas, the former U.S. ban on LGB recruits and continuing prohibition on trans* and intersex people only exacerbates the problem and discredits our country by eliminating entire classes of people whose only desire is to contribute to the defense of their nation.

The policy in 2011 partially ended an era of blatant stereotyping, scapegoating, and marginalization of LGB people. It opened a new epoch in which LGB service members can serve their country proudly with honesty and with a deep sense of integrity. In addition, now a formerly excluded group of talented and committed students can join ROTC programs, and a new cohort of active service members will receive the benefits of educational and career enhancement opportunities. This policy must now extend to trans* and intersex individuals as well.

They will enter into a social institution that often works to prevent genocidal slaughters anywhere throughout the world, and engage in humanitarian and peace keeping efforts – from disaster relief to cooling a number of the world’s “hot spots.”

As I have followed the debates over the years, I have been constantly struck by the arguments favoring maintenance of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy, ranging from fears over the “predatory nature of homosexuals” in bunks and showers, to “homosexuals” crumbling under the pressure of combat, to the medicalization and supposed “unnaturalness” of trans* and intersex people, to LGBTI service members placing themselves in compromising situations in which they will be forced to divulge critical defense secrets to foreign governments. I give credit to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and intersex people for maintaining a willingness to join the military following scurrilous and libelous depictions.

While stated military goals may promote the notion of providing global security and protecting and defending the homeland, we must maintain and extend our focused and continued attention and critique, however, on the overriding abuses of maintaining a military that engages in unjustified incursions into other lands controlled by an industrial complex that promotes corporate interests.

In this regard, history is replete with not-so-illustrious examples of U.S. policy abuses enacted and enforced by the military establishment — from the extermination, forced relocation, and land confiscation of native peoples on this continent, to the unjustified and contrived war with Mexico, to the racist-inspired incarceration of Japanese Americans in the interior U.S. during World War II, to governmental destabilization efforts and military incursions into such places as Vietnam and Laos, Chile, El Salvador, Panama, the Philippians, and throughout the Middle East.

During the past decade, we have lost thousands of our brave warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the current military defense budget of approximately 768 billion dollars seriously drains our treasury and increases our national debt.

Looking over the history of humanity, it is apparent that tyranny, at times, could only be countered through the raising of arms. On numerous occasions, however, diplomacy has been successful, and at other times, it should have been used more extensively before rushing to war.

I, therefore, find it unacceptable when one’s patriotism and one’s love of country is called into question when one advocates for peaceful means of conflict resolution, for it is also an act of patriotism to work to keep our troops out of harm’s way, and to work to create conditions and understanding that ultimately make war less likely.

I contend that individuals and groups that stand up and put their lives on the line to defend the country from very real threats are true patriots. But true patriots are also those who speak out, stand up, and challenge our governmental leaders, those who put their lives on the line by actively advocating for justice, freedom, and liberty through peaceful means: the diplomats and the mediators; those working in conflict resolution; the activists dedicated to preventing wars and to bringing existing wars to diplomatic resolution once they have begun; the individuals of conscience who refuse to give over their minds, their souls, and their bodies to armed conflict; the practitioners of non-violent resistance in the face of tyranny and oppression; the anti-war activists who strive to educate their peers, their citizenry, and, yes, their governmental leaders about the perils of unjustified and unjust armed conflict and invasions into lands not their own in advance of appropriate attempts at diplomatic means of resolving conflict.

While the partial reversal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” reforms while not fully eliminating a discriminatory policy, it in no way addresses the intense interconnections between the U.S. military and corporate interests and the promotion of U.S. capitalist hegemony worldwide.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 24th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

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Environmental Justice & the “Science” of Denial

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 “Only after the last tree has been cut down,
only after the last river has been poisoned,
only after the last fish has been caught,
only then will you learn that you cannot eat money
.”
— Cree Proverb

The White House recently released its National Climate Assessment reporting that our global climate is, in fact, changing, and this is due primarily to human activity, in particular, the burning of fossil fuels. The Assessment investigated approximately 12,000 professional scientific journal papers on the topic of global climate change, and discovered that in the articles expressing a position on global warming, fully 97 percent authenticated both the reality of global warming and the certainty that humans are the cause.

Additional studies released since the White House report signed the beginning of the depletion and ultimate total collapse of glaciers in Antarctica, which can continue to raise worldwide sea levels an additional 4 feet. This depletion is now irreversible.

What seems clear to the scientific community seems like science fiction to many key politicians, including Lamar Smith (R-TX), paradoxically the Chair of the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Science, Space, and Technology who has been a perennial skeptic of human-produced climate change. He stated on the floor of the House:

“We now know that prominent scientists were so determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming that they worked together to hide contradictory temperature data.”

He quoted no sources, and his accusations were later proven false.

Previous Chair of the Committee, Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) asserted that he does not have concerns about global warming, but, rather, he is “really more fearful of freezing,” even though “I don’t have any science to prove that.” He went even further by stating that he did not “think we can control what God controls.”

Many on the anti-science political and theocratic Right (mis)quote scripture to justify human exploitation of the planet. For example, Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, questioned Barack Obama’s “theology” in an Ohio campaign stop, February 18, 2012, by asserting that Obama believes in “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”

The next day, when asked to explain his remarks on the CBS news program “Face the Nation” by moderator Bob Schieffer, Santorum responded that he was referring to “the radical environmentalists,” and by implication, placed Obama in this category. Santorum attacked the notion that “man is here to serve the Earth,” which he argued “is a phony ideal.” While Santorum conceded “that man is here to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth,” he was emphatic that “we’re not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside-down.”

In yet another ill-conceived and executed Christian crusade, Santorum, with his publicly expressed literal biblical perspective, conjures up such passages as Genesis 1:26, which states:

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”

And Genesis 1:28: “God blessed [humans] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’”

Also, Genesis 9: “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.’”

And Santorum is certainly not alone among his Republican colleagues and electorate. A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, in their 2008 study “A Deeper Partisan Divide over Global Warming,” found that while 58 percent of respondents who identified as Democrats and 50 percent of Independents believe that global warming is mostly caused by human activity, only 27 percent of Republicans believed this.

Among Democrats, those with higher educational levels, 75 percent with college degrees compared with 52 percent with less education, expressed the view that solid evidence has shown human activity largely as the cause of global warming. Opposed to the Democrats, however, educational levels of Republicans resulted in an inverse relationship in trusting the scientific evidence with only 19 percent of Republican college graduates compared with 31 percent with less education believing in the human connection to climate change.

Pew’s updated report in 2013 found that overall 67% of U.S. residents believe global warming is happening, but only 25% of Tea Party Republicans believe this.

How many more British Petroleum and Exxon Valdez oil spills, polluted and poisoned waterways and skies, dead lakes, clear cut forests, mine disasters, mutilated and scorched Earth, nuclear power plant accidents and meltdowns, toxic dumps and landfills, trash littered landscapes, extinct animal and plant species, encroachments on land masses by increasingly raising oceans and seas, and how many more unprecedented global climatic fluctuations will it take for the anti-science Republican party to put the health of the planet and by extension of the health of all Earth’s inhabitants on the front burner, if you will, of policy priorities over the unquenchable lust for profits by corporate executives?

For a party claiming to stand as “pro-family,” what kind of legacy and what kind or future are they really bequeathing to our youth? For a party that claims to promote political conservatism and “traditional values,” what is more traditional and valuable than conserving and thus sustaining the Earth’s resources responsibly and equitably?

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

I ask, though, how “free” are we now as mining, oil, and lumber companies lobby to exploit the land, and as legislators grant corporations enormous tax breaks and subsidies? How “free” will we be if conservative Republicans succeed in abolishing the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Protection Agency, the US Department of Education, the US Department of Commerce, and other governmental agencies? How “free” will we be if conservative Republicans succeed in the US Congress with their threats to privatize our national parks, and to loosen environmental and consumer protections of all kinds?

In truth, the conservative Republican battle cry, seemingly coined by Sarah Palin, of “drill baby drill,” unfortunately is what the Obama administration has forwarded, resulting in significantly more domestic oil production than under the George W. Bush administration. This, however, is simply unsustainable since the US currently consumes approximately 20-25 percent of the oil produced worldwide, though we hold in the range of only 2 percent of planetary oil reserves.

Webster’s dictionary defines “Oppression” as a noun meaning “the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power” on the individual/interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels. Human treatment of the environment certainly falls under this definition. As opposed to “oppression,” I define “social justice” as the concept that local, national, and global communities functioning where everyone has equal access to and equitable distribution of the rights, benefits, privileges, and resources, and where everyone can live freely unencumbered by social constructions of hierarchical positions of domination and subordination.”

This concluding phrase is of prime importance, for when humans place themselves into “hierarchical positions of domination and subordination,” environmental degradation inevitably results. This is no different in a US context from other hierarchies of power and privilege: White people over People of Color, men over women, rich over working class and poor, heterosexuals over homosexuals and bisexuals, cisgender people over transgender people, able-bodied people over people with disabilities, native-born English speakers over immigrant linguistic minorities, adults of a certain age over youth and over seniors, Christians over member of all other religious and spiritual communities as well as over non-believers, and the spokes on the oppression wheel continue to trample over people and over our environment.

A non-regulated privatized so-called “free-market” economic system lacking in environmental protections is tantamount to a social system deficient of civil and human rights protections for minoritized peoples.

If people wish to quote scripture, they would do well to heed biblical warnings, such as Isaiah 24: 4-6:

“The earth dries up and withers, the world languished and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth lies under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statues, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.”

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 21st, 2014 at 10:43 pm

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Vice President Steps into the Stereotype Muck of Callous Jewish Moneylender

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“The pound of flesh which I demand of him is deerely bought, ’tis mine, and I will have it.”

Shylock, in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

The character of Shylock in Shakespeare’s 1596 play symbolizes the image of the cheap, unscrupulous, ruthless, and obsessed Jewish moneylender who manipulates, controls, and ultimately destroys individuals and entire nations.

Vice President Joe Biden stepped into the stereotype muck at a press conference September 16 as he commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation. He recounted a story of his son Beau’s experience. While serving in Iraq, Beau met with military service members who needed legal assistance because of financial problems they faced back home.

That’s one of the things that he finds was most in need when he was over there in Iraq for a year,” Joe Biden said. “That people would come to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being … I mean these Shylocks who took advantage of, um, these women and men while overseas.”

Though the Vice President later apologized for his “poor choice of words,” he is certainly not alone in living in a society, or more accurately, a world saturated with these representations of Jews, images that have been encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the fabric of our institutions and social systems.

A Jewish student in my Multicultural Foundations in Schools and Society course expressed to me in private a few years ago that since he came to our Midwestern university campus, he has gone into a “religious closet.” To avoid marginalization by his peers, he tells them that he was raised Methodist because he has often heard other students express cruel anti-Jewish sentiments regarding Hitler and the German Holocaust as well as every-day expressions such as “Don’t Jew me down” (translated as “Don’t cheat me like a Jew”) and “That’s so Jewish” (like “That’s so gay”), both intense put-downs.

Thumbnail Sketch Origins of Jews as Deceitful Usurers

Soon following Jesus’ crucifixion by the Romans, the myth developed that Jews were responsible for his death. Though the Jews did not make the decision to kill Jesus, nor did they have the power to carry out the death sentence, Judas became the Jewish archetype of evil and deception by supposedly accepting a handful of gold coins by the Pharisee for his betrayal.

In early times, Jews were part of an agricultural economy, but rulers and resident mobs eventually pushed them out through forced expulsions, confiscation of their land, and unfairly high taxes. Jews then entered the trade occupations becoming merchants and shop keepers, peddlers, money-lenders, and tax-collectors — occupations needed in the developing economies but sometimes prohibited to Christians by the Christian Churches.

The landed classes, peasants, and serfs often blamed Jews for the problems of the feudal system. Jews soon became scapegoated by involuntarily serving as the buffers for the landed classes who carried the real power. Rich landowners encouraged the scapegoating of Jews to take the blame off themselves for the economic plight of the serfs.

Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican scholar born in1225 C. E., advanced so-called “natural law,” a morality system based on human constraints. He believed, and echoed in the High Middle Ages, that usury (the lending of money for profit) was contrary to “natural law,” and, therefore, was unjust and forbidden for Christians. Therefore, a pattern emerged: Jews were invited into a region to fill gaps in the economy. They were blamed for the problems of the economic system. Then they were expelled or massacred. The stereotype of Jews as money-lovers, cheap, and miserly was codified.

During the 1200s, the Church saw Jews as a challenge to its power, since by not converting to Christianity, Jews symbolized the idea of religious freedom. The Church, therefore, confined Jews to designated areas within the town and countryside. Pope Innocent III enacted laws to isolate Jews from Christians, arguing that Jews had corrupted and reversed the “natural order” with their unscrupulous use of money and power, and that the “free Christian” had essentially become the servant of a Jewish master.

In 1478, Church leaders commenced the Spanish Inquisition. By 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella drove the last Jews from Spain and Portugal, since Jews were no longer needed for the economic roles they once filled. Christopher Columbus, who set sail at this time, changed his intended port of departure because it was severely congested with Jews fleeing Spain. Much of the funding for his voyage the Spanish monarchy confiscated from Jews.

In a number of European countries, Jews continued to be forced to reside in designated and extremely overcrowded sites. Often, Bishops prohibited Jews from living among Christians. These areas would come to be called “ghettos.” The word ghetto has its derivation in the Italian word gietto, which the artillery foundry was called located in the district of Venice, Italy dating to the year 1516 where Jews were forced to live.

The Protestant Reformation resulted in a schism in Christianity around 1517. Catholic and Protestant leaders, however, agreed on one issue: the Jews. Reformer, Martin Luther, published a book in 1526 called, On the Jews and Their Lies, which some have called the first work of modern anti-Semitism.

He recommended: “First, their synagogues should be set on fire, and whatever is left should be burned in dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a stone or cinder of it.”

Jewish prayer books, he advised, should be destroyed and rabbis forbidden to preach. The homes of Jews should likewise be “smashed and destroyed” and their residents “put under one roof or in a stable like gypsies, to teach them they are not master in our land.” He also suggested Jewish banishment from roads and markets, and seizure of their property. Then these “poisonous envenomed worms should be drafted into forced labor. The young and strong Jews and Jewesses should be given the flail, the ax, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and the spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses.”

Between 1648-1655, after suffering the distress of expulsion from Western Europe, Jews traveled to Eastern European countries such as Austria and Poland. Here they filled many of the same roles they had earlier occupied in Western Europe. Others viewed Jews as hated tax collectors, as the oppressor, but in actuality they were once again filling the involuntary role of “buffer” between serfs and nobility.

The 18th-century Philosopher, Voltaire, advocated equal rights and freedom of religion during the Enlightenment. Like most prominent philosophers at the time, however, Voltaire argued that Judaism was incompatible with the principles of human reason and progress.

“The Jews are nothing more than an ignorant, barbarian people, who combine the foulest greed with a terrible superstition and an uncompromising hatred of all the peoples who tolerate them and at whose cost they even enrich themselves…[T]he Jews are cowardly and lecherous, greedy, and miserly.”

In the United States during the Civil War, in December 1862, Major General Ulysses S. Grant unfairly accused Jews of plotting to illegally engage in the cotton trade, and ordered all Jews expelled from the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky, then under the control of the Union forces. This action repeated the European forced expulsions of Jews. President Abraham Lincoln had the good sense to reverse this order, which was, up to that time, the most egregious single anti-Semitic action ever taken by a high U.S. government official.

Though in actuality, Jews had little control over the conditions surrounding their lives in many European countries, the stereotype of Jews as obsessed with money and power with an interest in world domination persisted into the modern era. The Rothchild family, caricatured in numerous publications at the end of the 19th century, symbolized a Jewish passion for world economic and political domination.

Change was in the air in Russia in the late 19th century. Early Socialist thinkers, like Karl Marx, wrote of the oppression of the workers, and called for revolution to break their chains. Many of these same writers, however, were vehemently anti-Semitic. Karl Marx, for example, who himself was grandson of a rabbi, and son of Christian converts, in his 1844 essay “On the Jewish Question,” wrote:

What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money… Money is the universal and self-sufficient value of all things. It has, therefore, deprived the whole world, both the human world and nature, of their own proper value.”

Originally appearing under the reign of Czar Nicholas II around 1895 in Russia, then distributed in various translations throughout the world, the infamous booklet Protocols (Minutes) of the Elders of Zion circulated throughout Russia in 1905. An unknown writer who worked for the Russian secret police in Paris wrote this work to influence the policies of Czar Nicholas II regarding Jews. It comprised the alleged minutes of a supposed conference where rabbis plotted how Jews would overtake and dominate the world. During the Russian Revolution in 1917, Czarist forces widely distributed the Protocols to incite the populous against the so-called “Jewish revolution,” and to convince those who favored a revolution that Jews were actually plotting to impose a Jewish government and Jewish financial systems.

In the 1930s, U. S. Father Charles E. Coughlin, Irish-Catholic priest, anti-Semite, and anti-Communist, used his radio broadcasts to warn that the Jews were out to destroy the U.S. economy, and he defended Hitler’s treatment of the Jews as warranted in the fight against Communism.

So paradoxically, we saw contradictory representations of Jews depicted both as super rich and powerful Capitalists controlling worldwide financial systems, and as conspiratorial Communists bent on overthrowing the Capitalist system.

During the 1980s-1990s in the United States, the “JAP” (or Jewish American Princess) “jokes” swept college campuses throughout the country. Though some students saw these as innocuous, in fact, they represented young Jewish women as immature, spoiled, greedy, selfish, sexually frigid, and dependent, usually on their doting fathers. In actuality, these so-called “jokes” were and continue to be thinly disguised general modern stereotypical representations of Jews and the Jewish religion as rich, self-absorbed, clannish, bloodsucking, and immature and/or lacking in religious consciousness.

Unfortunately, once created, stereotypes remain difficult to dismantle, as the Vice President clearly demonstrated.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 18th, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Porous Paper “Wall of Separation” in the U.S.

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In what only can be seen as a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clauses, and the unmasking of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between Church and State (religion and government)” as the lie that it has been throughout the history of this country, the United States Air Force refused to reenlist a technical sergeant who has more than 10 years of service because he scratched out “So help me God” on his reenlistment contract.

According to his lawyer, Monica Miller with the American Humanist Association, “He was told he had to swear to those words, or else he would have to leave the Air Force.” The sergeant, based at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada whose name has been withheld, has until his current term of service ends in November 2014 to sign the form, including the religious oath. Section 5.6 of the enlistment/reenlistment form, the “Active Duty Oath of Enlistment,” reads as follows:

I, (state your full name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Monica Miller asserts that challenges to Air Force policy are of its own making. Before last fall, the enlistment oath included the parenthetical sentence, “(Airmen may omit the words ‘So help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.”). The Air Force, however, deleted this sentence in the newest updated version. The matter now is currently under review by the Department of Defense.

According to the wording of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” two separate clauses or concepts relate specifically to religion: the “Establishment Clause” and the “Free Exercise Clause.” The first forbids government from passing any laws or enforcing any policies that establish an official religion or favoring any religion over others. The second clause restricts government from trampling on the rights of individuals to practice the religion or non-religion of their choice.

Contrary to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s contention that “freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion,” the Constitution of the United States, and expanded by numerous court decisions throughout our history, does, in fact, grant the right of freedom of as well as freedom from religion. Perry uttered his attitude when signing the so-called “Merry Christmas” bill into law that permits schools in his state to display religious symbols around campus.

A Little History

Virginia was one of the first states following the Revolutionary War to address the issue of religion and government when Thomas Jefferson, who held deist beliefs, drafted “An Act for the Establishment of Religious Freedom” in 1777. Jefferson’s proposal passed into law in 1786 in Virginia. Then, constitutional framers such as Jefferson and Madison negotiated a compromise with Protestant sectarians, which led to the clauses written into the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Though nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does the phrase “wall of separation of church and state” appear, it was originally drawn from a letter President Thomas Jefferson sent on January 1, 1802 to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptists Association. In a previous letter to Jefferson, the Baptists, who were then a minority denomination, expressed their extreme concerns that the First Amendment, by expressly granting “the free exercise of religion,” implied that this freedom, granted by government, is therefore an alienable right since what the government gives, the government likewise can withdraw.

“Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals….But sir, our constitution of government is not specific….[T]herefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights” (Danbury Baptist Association, 1801).

Jefferson had his own concerns over the potential erosion of religious liberties granted in the First Amendment, which he expressed in a letter to fellow co-signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush:

“[T]he clause of the Constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians and Congregationalists” (Jefferson, 1800).

So with the current case against the Air Force, and in countless other instances — from “In God We Trust” on our currency, “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, religious invocations at Presidential and other government inaugurations and ceremonies, chaplains reciting religious invocations at Congressional gatherings, publicly funded religious decorations and celebrations at government building in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country, an official publicly funded Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn, “…and God Bless the United States of American” ending virtually all Presidential and other elected officials’ speeches — do we really have a “wall of separation” and freedom from religion in the United States.

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

 

 

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 15th, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Why I Will Not Pledge My Allegiance (to Any Flag)

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Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” Albert Eisenstein

Originally published in the September 8, 1892 issue of The Youth’s Companion, a widely circulated children’s magazine, the Baptist minister, Francis Bellamy, wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the voyage and arrival of Christopher Columbus to what would later be called “the Americas.” At Bellamy’s urging, Congress and President Benjamin Harrison passed a proclamation fashioning the public school flag ceremony as the centerpiece of Columbus Day tributes (Presidential Proclamation 335) with the Pledge first recited in public schools on Columbus Day, October 12, 1892.

Suggested originally around 1948 by Louis A. Bowman, an Illinois Attorney and Chaplain for the Illinois Society for the Sons of the American Revolution, the idea of adding the two words, “under God,” gained popularity by 1951 when the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic Fraternal Service Organization, passed a resolution to lobby the President, Vice President, and Congress to make “under God” a universal and permanent addition to the Pledge.

This (Christian) theocratic imposition, which passed Congress and signed into law by President Dwight David Eisenhower, found itself officially inserted into the Pledge on June 14, 1954 (Flag Day), and also printed onto currency, “In God We Trust,” in 1957 during the formative years of the so-called “Cold War” as a reaction to the “Godless” Communist Soviet Union. (“In God We Trust” was minted on U.S. coins by the Department of the Treasury in 1864 during the period of the U.S. Civil War.)

This past May, the American Humanist Association, a progressive group, surveyed 1,000 U.S. adult citizens regarding what they felt about “under God” in the pledge after reading the following statement:

“For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase ‘under God.’ During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase ‘one nation indivisible’ was changed to read ‘one nation, under God, indivisible.’ Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.”

After reading this brief account, 34% of respondents said they felt “under God” should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. This included the vast majority of atheists, 41% of non-Christians, and even 21% of Christians said “under God” should be taken out of the Pledge.

I find it highly problematic that the Supreme Judicial Court in my home state of Massachusetts ruled on May 9 this year that “under God” in the Pledge does not discriminate against atheists. The court asserted that while the wording may contain a “religious tinge” (what?!), it reflects patriotic practice rather than religion. Also, since it is voluntary, the Pledge, with “under God,” may continue to be recited daily in public schools.

I have long refused to stand at attention, place my hand over my heart, take off head coverings, and recite the Pledge.

“I pledge allegiance…”

…no I don’t since to do so amounts to nothing more than a hollow gesture of talking some sort of talk. As I was taught in English classes to avoid the passive “to be” verb, likewise “to pledge” amounts to a passive and shallow form of (non)action…

“…to the flag…”

…a mere piece of cloth, and like the words of a pledge, represents merely a symbol, which can signify nothing beyond the threads, the dyes, and the stitches holding it together…

“…of the United States of America…”

…and for all those with insufficient background knowledge of its history, its multiple cultures, its people, and its relationships to other countries of the world, what are they pledging allegiance to?…

“…and to the republic for which it stands…”

…yes, a government in which citizens have the right to vote for elected officials representing them, which is a concept and an empowering reality when enacted and carried out. However, we have a history and a legacy in this country that has denied and continues to deny, by law and by practice, this right as we currently are witnessing in parts of our country, for example, in North Carolina, Florida, and other states in their “voter suppression” statutes.

“…one nation…”

Yes, indeed, a single nation. But let us never forget that this nation, this E Pluribus Unum (“from many, one”) came the diversity from the entire world: the traditions, the languages, the cultures, the religions, the belief systems, the totality of the human experience, which must be acknowledged, supported, cherished, valued, and nurtured never again compelled to melt away into a Eurocentric, Protestant and oligarchically-dominated, patriarchal, racist, classist, adultist, heterosexist, cissexist, ableist, ethnocentric stew of ruthlessly mandated conformity…

“…under God…”

But what ever happened to that grand U.S. vision of a wall separating religion and government, more commonly known as a “separation of Church and state,” even though primarily Christian houses of worship take “church” as their titled designation? “Under God” certainly has much more than a “religious tinge.”

“…indivisible…”

…yes, possibly in the sense of commitment to make this “a more perfect union,” but with this experiment we call “The United States of America,” the process, our democratic process, is bound to be messy, with divisions and fractures inevitable, but hopefully with mechanisms and systems continually expanding that encourage diversity of thought and identity while maintaining the process of perennial change and progress…

“…with liberty…”

…though defined in many ways depending on the individual who defines it, I see “liberty” as individuals’ inherent right to define, to identity, to name themselves, to develop and maintain their sense of agency and subjectivity without others defining or controlling them. I ask us to access whether we as a society have truly reached that point.

“…and justice for all.”

Yes, all. Not only some – of certain socially dominant groups. I wonder whether this overriding notion of “rugged individualism,” with all this talk of “personal responsibility” coming from certain quarters on the political Right, amounts to double speak meaning, instead, that we need not maintain any of the safety nets put in place to assist our most vulnerable residents.

On the other hand, for in the words of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

To ask (read as “compel,” though the Supreme Court ruled that schools cannot mandate) young people, some just entering public school, to stand head uncovered (Christian tradition signifying respect) with right hand (“right” in many cultures, most notably in the history of the Catholic church, standing for good, for righteousness, for a shield against the evil inherent on the “left” – the side of the Devil – as in “sinister” from the French) over the heart (the “love” organ) to recite words, some of which many young people neither understand nor can pronounce – “indivisible” for example – which were originally recited to commemorate the leader, Christopher Columbus, of ruthless imperialist conquerors, smacks of jingoistic indoctrination at a time before young people’s cognitive and intellectual developmental facilities have reached a stage of heightened critical consciousness.

My intent here is to distinguish between two terms — terms that are often used interchangeably, but in actuality, while connected in some ways, are unique and distinct. The terms are “Patriot” and “Nationalist” with their corresponding concepts of “Patriotic” and “Nationalistic.”

A “Patriot” according to my copy of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary is:

  1. “a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests,” and
  2. “a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights against presumed interference by the federal government.”

A “Nationalist,” according to my dictionary is 1. “a person who has devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation,” and 2. “a person who has [and here we see the crucial difference] excessive patriotism or chauvinism, which is a zealous and aggressive patriotism or enthusiasm for military glory, a biased devotion to any group, attitude, or cause.”

I often wonder how many people who vehemently advocate for the recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance” and adamantly affix and raise U.S. flags to porches and house lawns as they exaltedly wave them atop their speeding cars and pickup trucks, how many of these people take the time actually to vote in local and national elections? How many of them volunteer to remove litter from parks or serve meals at soup kitchens? How many of them write letters to the editors of local and national media, and stay current on issues, laws, and policies affecting their communities and their nation? And how many of them truly understand the histories, the peoples, the governmental and economic systems, the traditions, the languages – for that matter, the actual locations – of many other countries across the planet in contexts other than having to learn about these nations when international tensions arise?

Rather than conducting an exercise in thought control, this act of adult and institutional infractions upon our youngest citizens to circumvent the development of a critical interrogation of the status quo, let us instead awaken a culture of critical consciousness in the development and enhancement within us all of deep inquiry as lifelong learners about our country (along the entire spectrum from the inspired vision undergirding this great nation to the gashes and ruptures along the way), about the relationship between our country and other countries across this orb we know as “Earth,” to ever challenge, to engage, to work toward the advancement of the ideal on which our country rests, to eventually become that magnificent tapestry of individual threads of unlimited beauty and, yes, liberty and justice for all. Aside from words, let us fertilize the dream to fruition.

After weighing the facts, after making an informed decision, after determining whether reciting the Pledge of Allegiance has merit for you as an individual, and if you believe saying it is in line with your views and attitudes, go for it! But how informed are 5 and 6 and 7 year-olds in our schools when their teachers encourage them to stand at attention and recite the Pledge? Oh sure, a student or a parent or guardian can have the student opt out of standing with their classmates in front of the flag in recitation. However, this opting out is very intimidating for the person who chooses to do so. They often face subtle and even overt pressures.

As we all have the freedom to pray and observe or not observe religious practices within our private spaces, so too, we have the freedom to pledge our allegiance to our country. I am questioning whether public spaces, such as schools and massive sporting venues, are, in fact, appropriate spaces.

The United States stands as a creative and noble concept, a vibrant idea, a vital and enduring vision, a process and progression toward, but it does not yet attain nor yet reach that concept, that idea, that vision. It is, rather, a work in process. Yes, our country has come far in working for liberty and justice for its residents, but we still have far to go. And this is possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist, for the patriot understands and witnesses the divide, the gap between the reality and the promise and potential. The nationalist on the other hand is often unaware or does not acknowledge that a gap exists between the potential and the reality.

This month, the U.S. commemorated the bicentennial anniversary of our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” I also refuse to sing this at sporting events, symphony concerts, and other public events again while standing, head uncovered, right hand placed over the heart…, but that’s fodder for another commentary.

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

September 14th, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Violence & Xenophobia Face South Asian & Middle Eastern Communities in U.S.

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One day following the commemoration of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the organization, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), released its report on the conditions of South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities in the United States. Researchers collected data between January 2011 through April 2014 documenting incidents on two levels: hate violence and xenophobic rhetoric by political figures.

The report titled “Under Suspicion, Under Attack” found an increase in the volume and force of hate violence, and also a greater intensity in xenophobic expressions by political leaders since its last report released in 2010. The new report documents over 160 hate-related violent attacks and political expressions against these communities with the vast majority against Muslims.

Researcher characterize the chilly climate surrounding members of these communities emphasized by profiling and surveillance by agencies of law enforcement, and “the growth of an Islamophobia ‘industry’ that demonizes Muslims via the Internet and media, xenophobic political speech, and hate violence, among other elements.” Overall during the period under investigation, one hate crime was perpetrated on average every 3.5 days.

Looking back to the 2008 presidential election, we all routinely witnessed Islamic xenophobia. Members of the political Right challenged and spread rumors regarding Barack Obama’s cultural, social, and religious background, political philosophies, U.S. birth status, and patriotism. Insinuations flew about his supposed Islamic background connected to his alleged Marxist and Fascist (which is a contradiction) political influences.

Opponents referred to him as “Barack Hussein Obama” – with emphasis on “Hussein” — in their attempts to connect him not only to the Muslim faith, but also to the former ruler of Iraq. In actuality, his middle name is indeed “Hussein,” which in Arabic translates to “good” or “beautiful.” Furthermore, since this country was founded on the notion of freedom of religion, whichever religious or non-religious background any candidate, or any individual, follows should in no way disqualify or call into question their credentials.

“Xenophobia” has been defined as “an unreasonable fear and hatred of foreigners or strangers or that which is foreign of strange,” and Islamophobia can be defined as prejudice and discrimination toward the religion of Islam and Muslims who follow its teachings and practices. Like racism and sexism, for example, xenophobia and Islamophobia comprise much more than fears, for they are taught and often learned attitudes and behaviors, and, therefore, falls under the category of oppression.

Two months following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing military officials to operate “military areas” as “exclusion zones,” from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” This order justified the exclusion and forced relocation of all people of Japanese ancestry from the entire Pacific coast into concentration campus in the interior U.S. Though the country was at war with Germany and Italy as well, and though no single case of suspected Japanese American espionage activity was ever proven, the government stripped an estimated 110,000 Japanese U.S.-American citizens of their constitutional protections and their property, and transported them long distances.

It was not until 1988 when Congress passed legislation apologizing and providing monetary reparations to Japanese Americans for this tragic chapter in U.S. history. The legislation confirmed that the actions taken by our government were founded on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Fast forward to the horrendous events of September 11, 2001. A national poll found that 31% of U.S. residents asserted that our government should incarcerate Arab Americas in concentration camps as we did with Japanese Americans during World War II.

I wonder whether we have learned anything from our history? To stereotype and scapegoat all people of South Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds for the events of 9/11 is as invalid as blaming all Christians for the despicable actions perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who was a devout Christian.

I am continually reminded by Santayana’s warning: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

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

September 12th, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

LGBT Youth & the Tyranny of Christian “Conversion Therapy”

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“The role of religion is paradoxical. It makes and unmakes prejudice. While the creeds of the great religions are universalistic, all stressing brotherhood (sic), the practices of these creeds are frequently divisive and brutal.” (Gordon Allport, p.444)

Living on a conservative Christian mission in Florida with his Southern Baptist minister parents, Samuel Brinton lied about his emerging feeling for other boys as a pre-teen because he feared his parents’ reactions. After acknowledging that he was attracted to his best friend Dale when he was 12, Samuel’s father told him he had AIDS, and repeatedly punched, burned, electroshocked, and inserted needles into his fingers to “cure” him. Eventually, Samuel felt forced to lie by telling his parents that he was actually heterosexual.

His parents sent him to a “religious therapist” who told Samuel that “I want you to know that you’re gay, and all gay people have AIDS,” and then placed pictures of men dying of AIDS before him. However, soon after arriving at Kansas State University, Samuel “came out” to his parents again, who told him he would not be welcomed home and threatened him if he returned. But he turned his life around. Following graduation, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 2010, Samuel Brinton was chosen as the top LGBT activist in the U.S. by Campus Pride, a national organization working for the rights of LGBT college and university students.

At age 14, Lyn Duff came out to her parents as lesbian. Not being able to accept this revelation, Lyn’s mother whisked her immediately and involuntarily to Rivendell Psychiatric Center in West Jordon, Utah where she was forced to undergo so-called “conversion therapy” to cure her from what doctors at the facility termed “gender identity disorder” and “clinical depression.” Though Rivendell was not officially aligned with the Church of Latter Day Saints, Lyn remembers that on numerous occasions throughout her six-month incarceration, Mormon missionaries visited her, and her “therapy” was highly religious in tone.

This so-called “conversion therapy” really amounted to “aversion” techniques including watching women same-sex pornography while being forced to smell ammonia, being subjected to hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, and solitary confinement. Staff also imposed so-called “behavior modification” by requiring Lyn to wear dresses, and forced punishments of cutting the lawn with a small pair of scissors and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush. After being locked up for 168 days, Lyn somehow escaped Rivendell, and went to San Francisco where she lived on the streets and in safe houses.

She eventually connected with a local journalist, an attorney, Legal Services for Children, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and she fought and won in the courts a legal emancipation from her mother. A lesbian couple adopted her when was 15, and today Lyn Duff serves as a successful activist and journalist for the Pacific News Service and for KPFA radio’s Flashpoints.

Many of the more extreme Christian Right groups and religious ministries push what they refer to as “Christian therapy” for the purpose of, as they phrase it, removing people from the “deviant homosexual lifestyle.” It is important that parents, social workers, and other mental health professionals know that these so-called “therapies” go by such names as the X-Gay religious ministries, Exodus International, Homosexual Anonymous (a cynical co-optation of 12-Step program method of recovery), PFOX (Parents, Families, and Friends of X-Gays and Lesbians (an obvious rip-off of the LGBT allies support network PFLAG — Parents, Families, and Friends of Gays and Lesbians), and so-called “conversion therapy” (a.k.a. “reparative” and “reorientation” therapy), which promise conversion to heterosexuality if the person has the requisite motivation to change.

These tyrannical and bogus “therapies” have been harshly condemned by reputable psychiatric organizations. For example, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution, August 14, 1997, which read in part:

“Whereas societal ignorance and prejudice about same-gender sexual orientation put some gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning individuals at risk for presenting for ‘conversion’ treatment due to family or social coercion and/or lack of information…. Whereas some mental health professionals advocate treatments of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental disorder…. Therefore be it resolved that the American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation.”

In addition, the APA, in 2008, passed a resolution, “Transgender, Gender Identity, & Gender Expression” opposing “all public and private discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity and expression and urges the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies.”

California in August 2012 became the first state, followed soon after by New Jersey, to outlaw the practice of “conversion therapies” for people under the age of 18 after reviewing reports of the destructive nature of these alleged therapies. A number of other states are currently considering similar legislation.

While his state was holding hearings on the issue, a young man testified in front of the New Jersey Senate Health Committee on March 18, 2013:

“My name is Jacob Rudolph. I am an LGBT teen. I am not broken. I am not confused. I do not need to be fixed.

Jacob Rudolph, Lyn Duff, Samuel Brinton, and many other young people have cut to the very heart of the issue by showing us all that the problem does not reside within those of us whose sexuality and gender identity and expression differs from the majority, but rather, rests within a society, including a (hopefully) shrinking minority of religious denominations that adhere to a circumscribed view of human diversity.

Returning to Gordon Allport’s opening quote referring to the paradoxical role of religion to make and unmask prejudice, likewise, religious texts — between disparate religions and between denominations of the same religion, as well as within a single text — on close examination, stand paradoxically and even contradictory. Moreover, individuals and entire denominations often interpret identical scriptural passages very differently, and they also emphasize and adhere to some readings while disregarding and even dismissing others. One particular passage seems to stand out in the Christian Bible when we attempt to answer the question, “Where do we go from here to ensure a just and equitable worldview?” I suggest the following:

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2: 8-9)

For a comprehensive investigation, see: Conservative Christian Beliefs and Sexual Orientation in Social Work: Privilege, Oppression, and the Pursuit of Human Rights, edited by Adrienne B. Dessel and Rebecca M. Bolen, Council on Social Work Education, 2014.

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

September 8th, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Many Ways We All Lose in a Heterosexist Environment

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“I find it paradoxical that we live in a society where love of difference makes one the same, while love of sameness makes one different.”

I cannot help thinking about something Frederick Douglass, who escaped enslavement and worked for the cause of liberation, once said when he described the dehumanizing effects of slavery not on those enslaved alone, but also on white slavers whose position to slavery corrupted their humanity. While the social conditions of Douglass’s time were very different from today, nonetheless, I believe Douglass’s words hold meaning by analogy: “No [person] can put a chain about the ankle of [another person] without at last finding the other end fastened about [their] own neck.”

Though it cannot be denied that oppression serves the interests of dominant group members, eventually it will backfire and the chain will take hold of them. Therefore, I have come to understand that within the numerous forms of oppression, members of targeted (sometimes called “minoritized”) groups are oppressed, while on many levels, members of the dominant or agent groups are hurt. Although the effects of oppression differ qualitatively for specific targeted and agent groups, in the end everyone loses.

This is true as well within the social oppression called “heterosexism,” which I define as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on heterosexuals. It includes the institutionalization of a heterosexual norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be heterosexual thereby privileging heterosexuals and heterosexuality, and excluding the needs, concerns, cultures, and life experiences of people who do not define as heterosexual or gender normative. In truth, heterosexism is pervasive throughout the society, and each of us, irrespective of sexual or gender identity and expression, stands at risk of its harmful effects.

First, heterosexist conditioning compromises the integrity of people by pressuring them to treat others badly, which are actions contrary to their basic humanity. It inhibits one’s ability to form close, intimate relationships with members of one’s own sex, generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population, and, more specifically, limits family relationships.

Heterosexism locks all people into rigid gender-based roles, which inhibit creativity and self-expression. It often is used to stigmatize, silence, and, on occasion, target people who are perceived or defined by others as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, but who are, in actuality, heterosexual.

In addition, heterosexism is one cause of premature sexual involvement, which increases the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Young people, of all sexual identities, are often pressured to become heterosexually active to prove to themselves and others that they are “normal.”

Societal heterosexism prevents some LGBT people from developing an authentic self-identity, and adds to the pressure to marry someone of another sex, which in turn places undue stress and oftentimes trauma on themselves as well as their spouses and children.

Heterosexism, combined with sexphobia or erotophobia (fear and revulsion of sex) results in the elimination of discussions of the lives and sexuality of LGBT people as part of school-based sex education programs, keeping vital information from all students. Such a lack of information can kill people in the age of HIV/AIDS. And heterosexism (along with racism, sexism, classism, sexphobia) inhibits a unified and effective governmental and societal response the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

With all the truly important issues facing the world, heterosexism diverts energy and attention from more constructive endeavors. It also prevents heterosexuals from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by LGBT people, including theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, contributions in the arts and culture, to religion, to education, to family life, indeed, to all facets of society. Ultimately, it inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. Therefore, we are all diminished when any one of us is demeaned.

The meaning is quite clear: When any group of people is targeted for oppression, it is ultimately everyone’s concern. We all, therefore, have a self interest in actively working to dismantle all the many forms of oppression, including heterosexism.

I believe we are all born into an environment polluted by heterosexism (one among many forms of oppression), which falls upon us like acid rain. For some people, spirits are tarnished to the core, others are marred on the surface, and no one is completely protected. Therefore, we all have a responsibility, indeed an opportunity, to join together as allies to construct protective shelters from the corrosive effects of prejudice and discrimination while working to clean up the heterosexist environment in which we live. Once we take sufficient steps to reduce this pollution, we will all breathe a lot easier.

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

September 4th, 2014 at 1:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized