Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

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

Trump’s Travel Bans in Context of U.S. “Racialized” Immigration Policies

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President Trump originally signed an executive order (Royal decree) that banned entry of residents from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, and suspended admittance of refugees from Syria. Recently, he reinstated a new ban on primarily Muslim countries with the addition of Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.

This thinly disguised continuation of his promised Muslim ban poses not only Constitutional issues, but also positions the United States across the world as a discriminatory nation acting contrary to its own ethical and moral standards by stigmatizing entire groups of people based on their country of origin and religious beliefs.

Politicians and most other residents of the United States alike, from every rung along the full political spectrum, generally agree on one issue: our immigration system is severely broken and needs fixing. Seemingly insurmountable gaps in political solutions to repair the system along with Congressional inaction to the point of blockage have brought the country to the point of crisis.

Though politicians and members of their constituencies argue immigration policy from seemingly infinite perspectives and sides, one point stands clear and definite: decisions as to who can enter this country and who can eventually gain citizenship status generally depends of issues of “race,” for U.S. immigration systems reflect and serve as the country’s official “racial” policies.

“Race”

Looking back on the historical emergence of the concept of “race,” critical race theorists remind us that this concept arose concurrently with the advent of European exploration as a justification for conquest and domination of the globe beginning in the 15th century of the Common Era (CE) and reaching its apex in the early 20th century CE.

Geneticists tell us that there is often more variability within a given so-called “race” than between “races,” and that there are no essential genetic markers linked specifically to “race.” They assert, therefore, that “race” is an historical, “scientific,” biological myth, an idea, and that any socially-conceived physical “racial” markers are fictional and are not concordant with what is beyond or below the surface of the body.

Though biologists and social scientists have proven unequivocally that the concept of “race” is socially constructed (produced, manufactured), however, this does not negate the very real consequences people face living in societies that maintain racist policies and practices on the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels.

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), born Carl Linné, (also know as the “Father of Scientific Racism”), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, developed a system of scientific hierarchical classification. Within this taxonomy under the label Homo sapiens, (“Man”), he enumerated five categories based initially on place of origin and later on skin color: Europeanus, Asiaticus, Americanus, Monstrosus, and Africanus. Linnaeus asserted that each category was ruled by a different bodily fluid (Humors: “moistures”), represented by Blood (optimistic), Phlegm (sluggish), Cholor (yellow bile: prone to anger), Melancholy (black bile: prone to sadness).

Linnaeus connected each human category to a respective Humor, thereby constructing the Linnaeus Taxonomy in descending order: Europeanus: sanguine (blood), pale, muscular, swift, clever, inventive, governed by laws; Asiaticus: melancholic, yellow, inflexible, severe, avaricious, dark-eyed, governed by opinions; Americanus (indigenous peoples in the Americas): choleric, copper-colored, straightforward, eager, combative, governed by customs; Monstrosus (dwarfs of the Alps, the Patagonian giant, the monorchid Hottentot): agile, fainthearted; Africanus: phlegmatic, black, slow, relaxed, negligent, governed by impulse.

The British psychologist, Francis Galton (1822-1911) — a cousin of Charles Darwin –was a founder of the “Eugenics” movement. In fact, Galton coined the term “eugenics” in 1883 from the Greek word meaning “well born.” Eugenicists attempted to improve qualities of a so-called “race” by controlling human breeding. Galton argued that genetic predisposition determined human behavior.

He proposed that the so-called “elites” in the British Isles were the most intelligent of all the peoples throughout the planet, while “[t]he average intellectual standard of the Negro race is some two grades below our own [Anglo-Saxons]. The Australian type is at least one grade below the African Negro…” and “The Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations.”

The U.S. writer, Madison Grant (1865-1937) codified a supposed “racialization” among European groups in his influential book, The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis for European History (1916), in which he argued that Europeans comprised four distinct races:

The “Nordics” of northwestern Europe sat atop his racial hierarchy, whom Grant considered as the natural rulers and administrators, which accounted for England’s “extraordinary ability to govern justly and firmly the lower races.” Next down the racial line fell the “Alpines” whom Grant referred to as “always and everywhere a race of peasants” with a tendency toward “democracy” although submissive to authority.

These he followed with the “Mediterraneans” of Southern and Eastern Europe, inferior to both the Nordics and the Alpines in “bodily stamina,” but superior in “the field of art.” Also, Grant considered the Mediterraneans superior to the Alpines in “intellectual attainments,” but far behind the Nordics “in literature and in scientific research and discovery.” On the bottom he placed the most inferior of all the European so-called “races”: the Jews.

Official Immigration and Naturalization Policy

The “American” colonies followed European perceptions of “race.” A 1705 Virginia statute, the “Act Concerning Servants and Slaves,” read:

“[N]o negroes, mulattos or Indians, Jew, Moor, Mahometan [Muslims], or other infidel, or such as are declared slaves by this act, shall, notwithstanding, purchase any christian (sic) white servant….”

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

Congress passed the first law specifically restricting or excluding immigrants based on “race” and nationality in 1882. In their attempts to eliminate entry of Chinese (and other Asian) workers who often competed for jobs with U.S. citizens, especially in the western United States, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to restrict their entry into the U.S. for a 10-year period, while denying citizenship to Chinese people already on these shores.

The Act also made it illegal for Chinese people to marry white or black U.S.-Americans. The Immigration Act of 1917 further prohibited immigration from Asian countries, in the terms of the law, the “barred zone,” including parts of China, India, Siam, Burma, Asiatic Russia, the Polynesian Islands, and parts of Afghanistan.

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

Between 1880 and 1920, in the range of 30-40 million immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe migrated to the United States, more than doubling the population.

Fearing a continued influx of immigrants, legislators in the United States Congress in 1924 enacted the Johnson-Reed [anti-] Immigration Act (“Origins Quota Act,” or “National Origins Act”) setting restrictive quotas of immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe, including those of the so-called “Hebrew race.”

Jews continued to be, even in the United States during the 1920s, constructed as nonwhite. The law, on the other hand, permitted large allotments of immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.

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

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

In the Supreme Court case, Takao Ozawa vs. United States, a Japanese man, Takao Ozawa filed for citizenship under the Naturalization Act of 1906, which allowed white persons and persons of African descent or African nativity to achieve naturalization status. Asians, however, were classified as an “unassimilateable race” and, therefore, not entitled to U.S. citizenship. Ozawa attempted to have Japanese people classified as “white” since he claimed he had the requisite white skin. The Supreme Court, in 1922, however, denied his claim and, therefore, his U.S. citizenship.

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

Following U.S. entry into World War II at the end of 1942, reflecting the tenuous status of Japanese Americans, some born in the United States, military officials uprooted and transported approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans to Internment (Concentration) Camps within several interior states far from the shores. Not until Ronald Reagan’s administration did the U.S. officially apologize to Japanese Americans and to pay reparations amounting to $20,000 to each survivor as part of the 1988 Civil Liberties Act.

Finally, in 1952, the McCarran-Walters Act overturned the “racially” discriminatory quotas of the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act. Framed as an amendment to the McCarran-Walters Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 removed “natural origins” as the basis of U.S. immigration legislation.

The 1965 law increased immigration from Asian and Latin American countries and religious backgrounds, permitted 170,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere (20,000 per each country), 120,000 from the Western Hemisphere, and accepted a total of 300,000 visas for entry into the country.

The 1965 Immigration Law, however, was certainly not the last we saw “race” used as a qualifying factor. The Arizona legislature passed and Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, which mandates that police officers stop and question people about their immigration status if they even suspect that they may be in this country illegally, and criminalizes undocumented workers who do not possess an “alien registration document.”

Other provisions allow citizens to file suits against government agencies that do not enforce the law, and it criminalizes employers who knowingly transport or hire undocumented workers. The law is currently on hold as it travels through the judicial process challenging its constitutionality.

“Ruthless Americanization”

Immigrants who enter the United States I believe to this day are pressured to assimilate into a monocultural Anglo-centric culture (thinly disguised as “the melting pot”), and to give up their native cultural identities. Referring to the newcomers at the beginning of the 20th century CE, one New York City teacher remarked: “[They] must be made to realize that in forsaking the land of their birth, they were also forsaking the customs and traditions of that land….”

An “Americanist” (assimilationist) movement was in full force with the concept of the so-called “melting pot” in which everyone was expected to conform to an Anglo-centric cultural standard with an obliteration of other cultural identities. President Theodore Roosevelt (1907) was an outspoken proponent of this concept:

“If the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself (sic) to us he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else….But this [equality] is predicated on the man’s (sic) becoming in very fact an American and nothing but an American….There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American but something else also, isn’t an American at all….We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we want to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house.”

Many members of immigrant groups oppose assimilation and embrace the concept of pluralism: the philosophy whereby one adheres to a prevailing monocultural norm in public while recognizing, retaining, and celebrating one’s distinctive and unique cultural traditions and practices in the private realm.

The term “Cultural Pluralism” was coined by Horace Kallen (1882-1974), a Jewish American of Polish and Latvian heritage who believed that ethnic groups have a “democratic right” to retain their cultures and to resist the “ruthless Americanization” being forced upon them by segments of the native white Anglo-Protestant population.

Social theorist Gunnar Myrdal traveled throughout the United States during the late 1940s examining U.S. society following World War II, and he discovered a grave contradiction or inconsistency, which he termed “an American dilemma.” He found a country founded on an overriding commitment to democracy, liberty, freedom, human dignity, and egalitarian values, coexisting alongside deep-seated patterns of racial discrimination, privileging white people, while subordinating peoples of color.

If we learn anything from our immigration legislative history, we can view the current debates as providing a great opportunity to pass comprehensive federal reform based not on “race,” nationality, ethnicity, religion, or other social identity categories, but rather, on humane principles of fairness, compassion, and equity.

Today, the United States stands as the most culturally and religiously diverse country in the world. This diversity poses great challenges and great opportunities. The way we meet these challenges will determine whether we remain on the abyss of our history or whether we can truly achieve our promise of becoming a shining beacon to the world.

For my PowerPoint, Immigration as “Racial” Policy, press here.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), 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

September 25th, 2017 at 5:08 pm

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Sports Professionals Stand Up for Patriotism by Taking a Knee

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

Former San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, joined by a growing chorus of other athletes, choose to speak up and stand up to systemic racism by remaining seated or down on one knee during the presentation of the Star-Spangled Banner, the U.S. national anthem, at professional football games and other sporting events.

At an after-game interview, Kaepernick asserted: “The message is that we have a lot of issues in this country that we need to deal with. We have a lot of people that are oppressed. We have a lot of people that aren’t treated equally, that aren’t given equal opportunities. Police brutality is a huge thing that needs to be addressed. There are a lot of issues that need to be talked about.”

He emphasized that he is not anti-American and that he loves his country, and, “I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better.”

Kaepernick continued his protests during the regular season and donated $1 million “to different organizations to help these communities and help these people.”

Though Kaepernick and the movement within the sports world has garnered increasing support, an intense backlash, including President Trump, has developed among those who accuse Kaepernick of disrespecting the flag and the country it represents. They also accuse him of misusing his celebrity.

Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, wrote his “Defense of Fort McHenry,” the lyrics to what would become the “Star-Spangled Banner,” after beholding British ships of the Royal Navy striking Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812. The large American flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, raised exultantly above the fort during the U.S. victory gave Key his inspiration.

Ironically, the poem was set to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a popular British drinking and womanizing song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society. The practice of playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events began during the 1918 U.S. baseball World Series during World War I at the first game between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox.

According to the New York Times, September 6, 1918,

“As the crowd of 10,274 spectators — the smallest that has witnessed the diamond classic in many years — stood up to take their afternoon yawn [7th inning stretch]…the band broke forth to the strains of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ The yawn was checked and heads were bared as the ball players turned quickly about and faced the music….First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.”

The idea quickly caught on and spread, even though the “Star-Spangled Banner” was not officially proclaimed, through a congressional resolution, as the U.S. National Anthem until March 4, 1931.

Today, the song’s first two verses kick off numerous events in addition to sports. Usually omitted, though, is the third verse, which some interpret as racist.

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, that the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion a home and a country shall leave us no more? Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, and the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave…” here has been interpreted as a not-so-vailed threat against mercenaries and Africans who were enslaved in the United States who joined the British after promises of freedom by the British if they fought with them.

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 by many other religious communities), and sing proudly the words and tune of this Star-Spangled Banner, Colin Kaepernick and the movement he has spawned has raised important questions concerning what it means to be patriotic and an active participant in our democratic process. In addition, it raises question about the proper place for the playing of our national anthem.

The 50 stars and 13 strips on our flag of red, white, and blue represent our collective image of the United States of American. In this regard, we can define “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.”

How many of these people who exaltedly display the flag actually take the time 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? How many of these people have actually read and truly comprehend the United States Constitution?

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?

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.

This is possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist, for 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.

A large number of U.S. residents proudly display American flags flying and rippling in our strong winds on poles or porches in front yards. But patriotism and true commitment to our democracy takes more, much more; for it demands of us all the needed time, effort, and commitment to critically investigate all aspects of the great gift we have been given in our representative form of government. Anything less would be to waste our enfranchisement, to silence our voices, and to slap the faces of all who have gone before to envision and protect our form of government.

Reading of the intensive backlash against primarily black professional sports players exercising their constitutionally-protected rights to protest brought back painful memories of witnessing the racial strife erupting like a volcano covering Boston and its suburbs with its flowing lava of bigotry during its history of mandatory bussing from 1974 – 1988 to achieve public school racial integration.

One photograph in particular captured the depth of racial prejudice in our city. In horrifyingly stark terms, a white man, enraged expression covering his face, gripped a long pole carrying the American flag as if he were wielding a sharp spear lunged toward a black man who was seized and held by another white man.

Symbolically, many people have grabbed and flung the flag as a weapon of intimidation to silence Kaepernick and others from reminding us of the racism that still continues to saturate our environment as the legacy of the original sin on which this country was founded.

Colin Kaepernich and all the others stand as true patriots by taking a knee because they sees things the way they are by attempting in their fashion to make them better. They embrace John F. Kennedy’s challenge by asking not what their country can do for them, but rather asking what they can do for their country, and reflecting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. words that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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 24th, 2017 at 3:03 pm

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Donald Trump Promotes Racism on a Regular Basis

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“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’ [loud applause] You know, some owner is gonna do that….[These owners are] friends of mine, many of them….They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”

Though I have never supported the game of football, I have always supported the Constitutional rights of its players, and attempts to make the game safer and less potentially physically damaging and deadly. Donald Trump’s attacks on primarily black NFL players like Colin Kaepernick and several others for asserting their First Amendment guarantees compels me to say with confidence and conviction that Donald Trump speaks and practices racism on a regular basis.

He spewed his latest toxic utterance of racist red meat in front of his overwhelmingly white conservative rally crowd on Friday, September 22 at Huntsville, in the former slave-practicing and Jim Crow-enforcing state of Alabama. Trump appeared at a rally in support of Luther Strange in the Republican primary to fill the Senate seat of his Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, whom the late great Senator Edward F. Kennedy referred to as a “throw-back to a shameful era” and as a “disgrace” for his reported racist remarks when he served as a U.S. attorney for the southern district of Alabama.

With all the natural disasters plaguing the planet — the numerous hurricanes and earthquakes ravaging millions of lives and destroying property well into the multiple billions of dollars — Trump chose to attack NFL players rather than talk about the pain and suffering of people lives and the efforts underway to offer aid and comfort.

It comes literally as no surprise by now to anyone that Donald Trump painted neo-Nazi racist and anti-Semitic white supremacists and KKK marchers in Charlottesville with a kinder and gentler brush than he did with law abiding black NFL players who demonstrated for a more just and equitable society.

On the same evening, Trump also criticized the newly instituted NFL rules compelling players to ease up on excessive tackling over concerns for brain concussions leading to life-long and often life-ending damage.

Hey Donald, I’d like to see you enter the field and experience professional football players tackling you unrestrained at high velocity speeds. I wonder what you would think then about the new procedures.

The day Donald J. Trump descended the escalator in his tower of gold, with head raised arrogantly forward as he held court at his press conference announcing his run for the presidency, he tossed down the bodies of Mexican people, as if they were juicy Trump steaks, as his initial stepping stones on his compassionless and brutal march to the White House.

“The US has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems. [Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”

Before his declared run, Donald Trump, arguably the most prominent of the so-called “birthers,” continually accused President Obama of illegitimacy as Commander in Chief by claiming he was born outside the United States, even well after the President released his official birth certificate. This along with Trump’s supposed investigations into Mr. Obama’s time spent in Indonesia as a child, and inquiries into his African roots on his father’s side coexist as not-so-veiled xenophobic and racist threats and insults.

Throughout the remainder of his jaunt to the White House up to today, he has stepped over the bodies of Muslims, Jews, all women, black people, Latinx people of all nations, activists in Black Lives Matter since they did not matter to him, people with disabilities, bodies that do not fulfill his rigid standards of feminine beauty, prisoners of war, Gold Star parents, women who have the audacity to fight to control their own bodies and their own lives, transgender people of all ages, couples in same-sex relationships, invading “alien” immigrants, dreamers, in fact, anyone and everyone who disagree with or criticizes him.

His appeals to “nationalism,” presented in the guise of “popularism,” feeds on people’s fears and prejudices. He has already rolled back many of the rights and protections minoritized peoples have tirelessly fought for over the decades: reproductive rights, transgender rights, voting rights, citizenship rights, anti-torture guarantees, rights of unreasonable search and seizure, rights of assembly, disability rights, freedom of religion, possibly soon marriage equality, and environmental protections of all kinds.

Recall, as well, his father Fred Trump and his refusal some years ago to rent Trump properties to black people, over which they were sued and eventually signed a consent decree.

I find myself in the unprecedented position of admiring and fully supporting NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell’s, eloquent statement rebuking Trump’s unjustified and divisive racist-laden comments:

“The NFL,” stated Goodell, “and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

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

September 23rd, 2017 at 7:23 pm

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Stigmata and the Killing of Minoritized Peoples

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Even with the increased visibility of specific police officers killing unarmed black and brown people, the wide-scale demonstrations of outrage and protest traveling throughout the country like those currently underway in St. Louis, and investigations by the Justice Department under the Obama administration into allegations of racial bias in policing, and while many law enforcement agencies are assessing procedures in an attempt to improve relations with the communities in which they are meant to serve, the killing continues.

Allegations of racism in the hiring practices, policies, and attitudes in police departments, however, represent in microcosm much larger forces evident in our country. We must not and cannot dismiss police killings of black and brown people as simply the actions of a few individuals or “bad cops,” for oppression exists on multiple levels in multiple forms.

These officers live in a society that subtly and not-so-subtly promotes intolerance, imposes stigma, and perpetuates violence. We must see these incidents as symptoms of larger systemic national problems.

Stigmata Imposed on the Body

Officials in 17th-century C.E. Puritan Boston coerced Hester Prynne into permanently affixing the stigma of the scarlet letter onto her garments to forever socially castigate her for her so-called “crime” of conceiving a daughter in an adulterous affair.

Stigmata include symbols, piercings, or brands used throughout recorded history to mark an outsider, offender, outcast, slave, or an animal.

Though Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter is a work of fiction, members of several minoritized communities continue to suffer the sting of metaphoric stigmata forced onto their skin, birth sex, sexual and gender identities and expressions, religious beliefs and affiliations, countries of origin and linguistic backgrounds, disabilities, ages, and many other areas of their identities.

Many overt forms of oppression are obvious when dominant groups tyrannize minoritized communities. Prime examples include the horrific treatment of people of color under the system of apartheid in South Africa and Black Africans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the mass slaughter of Jews and other stigmatized and marginalized groups in Nazi Germany, and the merciless killing of Muslims during the Christian “Crusades.”

Many forms of oppression and enforced stigmata (as well as dominant group privileges), however, are not as apparent, especially to members of dominant groups. Oppression in its fullest sense also refers to the structural or systemic constraints imposed on groups even within constitutional democracies like the United States.

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

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

Black parents from all walks of life throughout the country engage with their children in what they refer to as “the talk” once they reach the age of 13 or 14 instructing them how to respond with calm if ever confronted by police officers. Parents of these young people know full well the stigmata embedded into their children by a racist society marking them as the expression of criminality, which perennially consigns them to the endangered species list.

There is a long-standing tradition in our western states of ranchers killing a coyote and tying it to a fence to scare off other coyotes, and to keep them from coming out of their hiding places. That’s what Matthew Shepard’s killers did to him in 1998 outside Laramie, Wyoming.

Shepard’s convicted murderers, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, smashed his skull and tied him to a fence as if he were a lifeless scarecrow, where he was bound for over 18 hours in near freezing temperatures. The message to the rest of us LGBTQ people from these killers was quite clear: stay locked away in your suffocating and dank closets, and don’t ever come out.

Though 2016 marked the highest number of trans people killed in the United State with 27 known instances, with the vast majority being trans women of color, at the current rate, 2017 portends to be even worse. Murderers of trans people react in extreme and fanatical ways at the direction of the larger coercive societal battalions bent on destroying all signs of gender transgression in young and old alike in the maintenance of socially constructed gender norms, with stigmata imposed on all who transgress.

In these times of declining social mobility, and as the gap between the rich and the poor ever increases, dominant groups attempt to divide the dispossessed by pointing to scapegoats to blame. For example, vigilantes sometimes calling themselves members of the so-called “Minutemen” movement target and hunt down anyone suspected of being undocumented.

We are living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights. In this environment, the political, corporate, and theocratic right are waging a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years. One tactic they use is to inhibit the development of coalitions between marginalized groups.

To disengage and reverse stigmata once imposed can be difficult but certainly not impossible. Whenever white LGBT people, however, view black and Latinx people through the stigma of criminality, whenever heterosexual black and Latinx people view LGBT people through the stigmata of sin and abuse of youth, whenever we view Muslims through the stigma of terrorism, whenever any group views any other through lenses of stigmata, this horizontal stigmatization and oppression only further entrenches the vertical hierarchical power structures.

Metaphorically, oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue to roll over people. Let us, then, also work on dismantling all the many spokes in conquering all the many forms of stigmatized oppression in all their many forms.

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

An essential element of liberty is the freedom to define oneself!

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

September 16th, 2017 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Patriarchal Religious Justifications to Enforce Sexist Oppression

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After the Israeli Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue of mixed-sex prayer at the Western Wall, Jerusalem Chief Rabbi and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, attacked the Jewish Reform movement, which advocates for integrated prayer among the sexes, saying:

“They [the Reform Movement] are trying to sow sand [in our eyes] and say that [segregated prayer at the Kotel plaza] is something the extreme ultra-Orthodox have invented.”

The Chief Rabbi added an analogy during his weekly class:

“It’s like Holocaust deniers, it’s the same thing. They scream about Holocaust deniers in Iran, but they deny more than those who deny the Holocaust. All the [volumes of the Talmud] record that there was a women’s section and [a men’s section] in the Temple. Did we make this up?”

In her pioneer book, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, Suzanne Pharr describes a series of elements she finds common to the multiple forms of oppression. Such elements include what she refers to as a “defined norm” and a “lack of prior claim,” among many others.

Pharr explains a “defined norm” as “…a standard of rightness and often of righteousness wherein all others are judged in relation to it. This norm must be backed up with institutional power, economic power, and both institutional and individual violence.”

Another way “the defined norm manages to maintain its power and control…” and kept exclusive is by what Pharr refers to as the element or system of “lack of prior claim.”

This, according to Pharr, “…means that if you weren’t there when the original document [the Torah, the Christian Testaments, the Qur’an, national Constitutions, corporate founding documents, for example] was written, or when the organization was first created, then you have no right to inclusion….Those who seek their rights, who seek inclusion, who seek to control their own lives instead of having their lives controlled are the people who fall outside the norm….They are the Other.”

Most likely, sex-segregated prayer began in Judaism during the time of the First Temple under the reign of King Jehoshaphat. In addition, the three major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) list explicit scriptural imperatives between the sexes.

In Judaism, for example, Genesis 3:16: “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’.”

But as in Christianity and Islam as well, Jews pick selectively which scriptural texts they adhere to and which they ignore.

When the last time any Jew followed Exodus 21:15 & 17: “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death….And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”?

Or Exodus 21:2: “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.”

In Christianity: Ephesians 5:21: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 5:22: Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord. 5:23: For the man is the head of the woman, just as Christ also is the head of the church. Christ is, indeed, the Savior of the body. 5:24: but just as the church is subject to Christ, so must women be subject to their husbands in everything.”

In Islam, 4:34: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.”

In the original and unamended version of the U.S. Constitution, for example, since only European-heritage male land owners had the right to vote, all Others, including women and people of color (those outside the defined norm and who lacked prior claim) had to fight long and difficult battles against strong forces to gain access to the voting booth, often under the threat of and actual violence inflicted against them.

Some who continue to oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples assert that this is outside the defined norm, lacks prior claim, and would, therefore, undermine the sanctity of marriage possibly leading to the destruction of society using religious sanctions as their justification.

For example, responding to Vermont’s Civil Unions legislation in 2000, Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law expressed the opinion of a number of New England Cardinals and Bishops:

“The Legislature of the State of Vermont, by passing the Civil Unions Bill [countering the defined norm and lack of prior claim], has attacked centuries of cultural and religious esteem for marriage between a man and a woman and has prepared the way for an attack on the well-being of society itself [by these Others].”

Similarly, Robert Lewis Dabney, Professor of Theology at Union Seminary in Virginia, warned: “What then, in the next place, will be the effect of this fundamental change [countering a lack of prior claim] when it shall be established? The obvious answer is, that it will destroy Christianity and civilization in America [by these Others who are outside the defined norm].”

Cardinal Law and Professor Dabney engaged in similar dire predictions, but, and here is the key, they are referring to two different events – the Cardinal referred to marriage for same-sex couples, Dabney, who lived from 1820-1898, referred to women’s suffrage — but they forewarned similar consequences: the destruction of the family and civilization as we know it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints provides an example on the institutional level. LDS President, Brigham Young, instituted a policy on February 13, 1849, emanating from “divine revelation” and continuing until as recently as 1978 forbidding ordination of black men of African descent [outside the defined norm] from the ranks of LDS priesthood.

In addition, this policy prohibited black men and women of African descent from participating in the temple Endowment and sealings [lacking in prior claim], which the Church dictates as essential for the highest degree of salvation. The policy likewise restricted black people from attending or participating in temple marriages.

Young attributed this restriction to the so-called sin of Cain, Adam and Eve’s eldest son, who killed his brother Abel: “What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro? [lack of prior claim],” stated Young in 1849 following declaration of his restrictive policy. “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them [outside the defined norm, the Others] from the Priesthood.”

When patriarchal social and family structures converge with patriarchal religious systems, which reinforce strictly defined gender hierarchies of male domination, women and girl’s oppression and oppression of those who transgress sexuality- and gender-based boundaries became inevitable.

Polytheism and Monotheism

Many ancient and non-Western cultures – including, for example, Hindu, most Native American, Mayan, and Incan cultures – base their religions on polytheism (multiple deities). In general, these religious views seem to attribute similar characteristics to their gods. Particularly significant is the belief that the gods are actually created, and they age, give birth, and engage in sex. Some of these gods even have sexual relations with mortals.

They view the universe as continuous, ever-changing, and fluid. These spiritual views often lack rigid categories, particularly true of gender categories, which become mixed and often ambiguous and blurred. For example, some male gods give birth, while some female gods possess considerable power.

In contrast, monotheistic Abrahamic religions view the Supreme Being as without origin, for this deity was never born and will never die. This Being, viewed as perfect, exists completely independently from human beings and transcends the natural world.

In part, such a Being has no sexual desire, for sexual desire, as a kind of need, is incompatible with this concept of perfection. This accounts for the strict separation between the Creator and the created.

Just as the Creator is distinct from His creation, so too are divisions between the Earthly sexes in the form of strictly-defined gender roles. This distinction provides adherents to monotheistic religions a clear sense of their designated socially constructed roles: the guidelines they need to follow in relation to their God and to other human beings.

Whatever the intended purpose (which seems quite clear) of these texts and multiple  others throughout scriptures, individuals, institutions, and entire societies have taken them to justify and rationalize the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, and persecution of women and girls over the ages.

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

September 11th, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Why Conservatives Bury Their Heads in Toxic Sands of Climate 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.”

Native American proverb

“Only after the last corporate building has blown down,

only after the last corporate beachfront property has been washed away and submerged,

only after the last private insurance company has perished under the weight of natural disaster payouts,

only then will you cease denying the human causation in global climate change.”

Warren J. Blumenfeld

No, President Donald J. Trump is not personally responsible for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma!

Yes, hurricanes have most likely ravaged the planet since prehistoric times!

What we are experiencing with increasing frequency, however, is the unprecedented intensity and duration of our planet’s climatic conditions. For example, Hurricane Harvey dumped more rain on Texas alone than any past storm in the history of meteorological record keeping, and Irma remained a category 5 hurricane longer and, also, clocked the highest sustained winds of any Atlantic hurricane ever, caused, in large part, by extraordinarily high Atlantic water temperatures.

By examining Harvey and Irma, we are witnessing our future. Today, meteorologists use terms like “unprecedented” and “historic” in describing the component conditions of these two climatic events. Tomorrow, we will hear them defining similar storms as “normal.”

How many years into the future will it take for climate scientists to increase the ratings of hurricanes to “category 6” or “category 7,” which would indicate that these storms are 6 or 7 times as intense as those of category 1?

The Obama administration conducted an extensive study, its National Climate Assessment, which found conclusively that our global climate is, in fact, changing, and this is due primarily to human activity, in particular, to the burning of fossil fuels.

The Assessment investigated approximately 12,000 professional scientific journal papers on the topic of global climate change, and it discovered that in the articles expressing a position on global warming, fully 97% authenticated both the reality of global warming and the certainty that humans are the cause.

Additional studies report that we will be experiencing more category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and 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.

“Not knowing is bad. Not wishing to know is worse.”

Nigerian Proverb

What seems obvious to the scientific community seems like science fiction to many key politicians, including Donald Trump and members of his administration.

Trump pulled the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, severely gutted regulations on corporations and industries that seriously pollute our water, air, and ground, while reemphasizing fossil fuels and deemphasizing clean energy sources.

He chose to head the Department of Energy former Texas Governor, Rick Perry, who admitted he was unaware of the function of the department he was to administer, and who, in his infamous “oops” moment during his run for the presidency in 2012, actually forgot that this was one of the three federal agencies he intended to eliminate.

To “lead” the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump picked Scott Pruitt who contradicted reliable scientific evidence when he stated he doubts that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor of climate change:

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s [CO2] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

This aligns with Trump’s statement on the campaign trail calling climate change “a hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese, even though the EPA’s conclusion on its website states (before Trump had the agency delete it) that, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

In his brief time in office, Trump has declared war on the environment by proposing a substantial budgetary reduction of an estimated 24% and a staff cut of 20% to the EPA, consideration of lower automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards, relaxation of prohibitions against dumping toxins like coal ash into streams and rivers, reinstatement of the potentially environmentally damaging Dakota Access and Keystone oil pipelines, and increased coal mining, natural gas, crude and scale oil drilling.

In his recent wide-ranging executive order, he further reversed Obama-era environmental protections by reducing governmental regulations on the coal and oil industries that were intended to curb greenhouse gases. Specifically, Trump repealed Obama’s moratorium on coal mining on federal lands and on coal-fueled power plants, and advised federal agencies to “identify all regulations, all rules, all policies…that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence.”

Against mountains or irrefutable evidence to the contrary, the climate deniers, including Donald Trump and significant numbers of his Grand? Old Party are perpetrating a delusional fraud against volumes of reputable evidence to the contrary that if allowed to continue, will end in the extermination of all life on this planet (except, or course, cockroaches who seemingly survive almost anything).

So what major factors keep conservatives (who oppose conserving our environment) in perennial denial with their heads buried in the increasingly toxic sands?

Conservatives have a vested interest in denying the human-related causes of global climate change, since to do otherwise would impose a sort of narcissistic injury upon themselves that would challenge their entire political philosophy, and, also, the money in their political war chests given by corporate lobbyists.

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 regulations 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 so-called “free market” economics.

In truth, the conservative Republican battle cry, seemingly coined by Sarah Palin, of “drill baby drill,” unfortunately is what Trump is pushing, and ironically, as the Obama administration before him forwarded, resulting in significantly more domestic oil and gas production through “fracking” than under the George W. Bush administration. This, however, is simply unsustainable since, in the words of President Obama in 2012:

“But you and I both know that with only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices – not when we consume 20% of the world’s oil.”

A non-regulated privatized so-called “free-market” economic system lacking in environmental protections for our air, our water, our climate, our land, and our animals is tantamount to a social system absent of civil and human rights protections for our people.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking

we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

Warren J. Blumenfeld is associate professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. He 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 9th, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump Pays Huge Price for Maintaining as Island Entire of Himself

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No man is an island, entire of itself;

every man is a piece of the continent,

a part of the main…

…Any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind;

and therefore never send to know

for whom the bell tolls;

it tolls for thee.

John Dunne

This week, Donald Trump accepted a legislative plan offered by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to pay, in the same package, for a short-term down-payment on hurricane disaster relief and raise the debt ceiling to keep the government running for the next three months. He did this over strong objections from Republican Congressional leadership and others of his, alleged, own Party.

Trump likes more than anything to win — no matter what that looks like, no matter what the substance, no matter with whom he must link himself for even the slightest chance of appearing to come out ahead.

Donald Trump represents the metaphorical “island, entire of himself.” His loyalties lie entire of himself. His allegiances lie entire of himself. His commitments lie entire of himself and himself only over the interests of his country, and at times even over the interests of his family.

Yesterday, figuratively, strong allegations have and continue to swirl around the Capitol and Special Prosecutor’s committees that he or members of his staff and family colluded with foreign governments, in particular, with Russia to tip the recent presidential election in his favor. He may have sacrificed his eldest son and son-in-law over his compulsive need to win at any cost.

Yesterday he placed his cards with the Republican deck as his best chance to sit in the Oval Office. He rented a stateroom on the Republican’s U.S.S. Failed Policies, which has taken on water.

Yesterday and over the past difficult eight months, Congressional Republicans have failed to offer him a golden goose of a win legislatively on a sterling silver platter – failing at destroying the American Care Act (thank goodness), failing so far to release a supposed “tax reform” bill, thank goodness (a.k.a. “tax reduction” proposal, which if passed will substantially increase the federal deficit and grant enormous financial breaks to the already super rich), failing to release a proposal to repair and upgrade the country’s crumbling infrastructure, and failing to fix our desperately bankrupt immigration policies.

So today, he sided with the Democrats. While Schumer and Pelosi’s proposed plan will, most likely, prove good for the country, Trump cares not about its substance.

Let’s face the facts, Trump neither cares about nor understands the substance of any policies he supports (and opposes), and he certainly has no understanding of the workings of government writ large.

On the contrary – Donald Trump has gotten tired of not winning (which is very different to Trump from losing, which as we all know, he never does since everything he touches is always the best, the hugest, and most certainly, the first in the history of planet Earth (which he seldom visits since, like the White House, represents a “dump” to this superhero).

But Donald Trump has paid an irretrievably high (huge) price for maintaining as an island, entire of himself. He not only has sacrificed his family and his country while desperately searching for treasure and applause. On a personal level, Donald has forfeited his dignity, his integrity, his morality, his feeling of empathy, his sense of ethics – that important quality of knowing right from wrong and understanding the numerous points on the spectrum in between.

He is loyal to no one other than himself. He is willing to throw anyone under the proverbial bus, and to blame anyone other than himself for any perceived loss he encounters.

Yesterday he may have sided with Russia and with the Republicans. Today he may side with the Democrats. Tomorrow, oh tomorrow – who knows where and with whom he will cast his lot (read as “attempt to use” to prop up his narcissism).

His actions cannot be considered as “compromise,” nor as “the art of the deal.” No! Donald mindlessly functions only on self-interest — and family, acquaintances (since he most likely has no real friends), country, and humanity be damned!

For Donald:

Any person’s death barely interests me,

because I am far superior and above mere humankind;

and therefore I never need to know

for whom the bell tolls;

since it never tolls for me.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 7th, 2017 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Wall Separating Religion & Government Is a Tattered Ruin

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National Day of Prayer

President Donald J. Trump officially proclaimed Sunday, September 3, 2017 (traditionally the sabbath for most Christian denominations) as a National Day of Prayer to commemorate the devastation to life and property caused by Hurricane Harvey. The day before, while visiting with sufferers of the storm’s wrath, Trump said that “Tomorrow’s a very big day, so go to your church and pray and enjoy the day.”

Whatever happened to the alleged wall separating religion and government? While the courts have attempted to reinforce this partition, our presidents have continually attempted to tear it down.

Though Donald’s order created an ad hoc National Day of Prayer, in April 2010, Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District Court in Wisconsin ruled that the annual National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional by violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause. In her ruling, Judge Crabb stated:

“It goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.”

She added that no law prevents people in the United States from praying or from creating non-governmental days of prayer, concluding:

“I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it as a criticism of prayer or those who pray. That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination.”

Congress established The National Day of Prayer during the Cold War in 1952 (and added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, “In God We Trust” to U.S. coins during the Civil War, and to paper money in 1956).

In 1988, Congress set the annual National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May. President Obama, under whose presidency the court declared it unconstitutional chose to ignore the ruling by issuing a proclamation beginning:

“Throughout our Nation’s history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer.”

George W. Bush and other elected leaders have invoked their Christian faith as the foundation of their political ideology. While governor of Texas, Bush officially declared June 10, 2000 as “Jesus Day,” and he advised all Texans “to follow Christ’s example by performing good works in their communities and neighborhoods.”

Presidential Inaugurations

Six religious clergy offered prayers and Biblical readings January 20, 2017 atop the balcony of the U.S. Capitol interspersed by Donald Trump and Mike Pence placing their left hands on a stack of Bibles during their swearing-in ceremonies. And ending the festivities, sounds emanated from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Clergy invited to read and offer prayer at the inauguration included five Christians and one Jew: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York; Rev. Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelic Association; Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles; Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, pastor at Great Faith Ministries International Church in Detroit; Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Pastor Paula White, of the New Destiny Christian Center in Florida.

As I watched the proceedings on TV, I questioned whether I was viewing a presidential swearing-in or, rather, attending an evangelical tent revival as clergy invoked the name of Jesus at least eight times. Trump brought up “God” four times during his speech:

“…The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity’…We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God…And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again. Thank you, God Bless You, And God Bless America.”

Not wanting to exclude Muslins, he said in usual Trump fashion, “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 9, 2013, tapped the Rev. Louie Giglio of Atlanta’s Passion City Church to deliver the benediction during his second inauguration overlooking the Mall of the U.S. Capitol Building later that month. Less than 48 hours later with the controversy surrounding Giglio’s past statements about homosexuality, however, Giglio decided to withdraw from giving the address stating:

“It is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda a focal point of the inauguration.”

During his sermon, “In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality,” delivered a decade earlier, Giglio told his parishioners that being gay is a sinful “choice” and that gay people will be prevented from “entering the Kingdom of God.” The “only way out of a homosexual lifestyle … is through the healing power of Jesus,” he continued.

At his first inauguration, Barack Obama chose Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation. While Warren has been involved in some positive activities during his ministry, he has been a leading and outspoken opponent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. He worked as one of the chief lobbyists for the passage of Proposition 8 in California delegitimizing marriage for same-sex couples.

In his public statements, he likened marriage for same-sex couples to incestuous marriage between a brother and sister and to polygamy. In November 2012, Warren went further by telling CNN’s Piers Morgan that being gay is a bit like eating arsenic or “punching a guy in the nose.” In addition, Warren has called into question the concept of separation of religion and government, and he said that Obama has “intentionally infringed upon religious liberties” with his contraception mandates.
Obama’s choice of Giglio and Warren, even if they had not been divisive figures, by giving blatantly sectarian addresses at presidential inaugurals raises several critical issues.

If the U.S. truly stands as a country dedicated to the concept of the separation of religion and government, as articulated by the First Amendment, why then do presidential inaugurals include “invocations” (supplications or prayers to God), and “benedictions” (a short prayer asking for divine assistance, blessings, and guidance given usually at the close of religious services)? In fact, Warren invoked the name of Jesus during his invocation, and closed by reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

And I will go even further: Why indeed does the government require the practice at presidential and other “swearing in” ceremonies of the placement of hands upon the Bibles (composed of the Jewish Bible and the Christian Testaments) and a swearing to the name of “almighty God.” Furthermore, why do we hire chaplains to deliver prayers at the daily openings of Congressional sessions, all paid for by public tax dollars?

Before and during his presidency, Bush Jr. and other conservative Christian politicians consistently have called for voucher systems whereby students could choose to attend private parochial schools at public expense, and supported prayer in the public schools as well as at school sporting and other events. Some religious, governmental, and educational leaders also push for the teaching of Creationism (reframed as “Intelligent Design”) to explain the genesis of the world and all its inhabitants.

Since first erected, that Jeffersonian wall has suffered from increased battering and now barely stands as a worn and tattered ruin. Candidates and elected officials don their Christian credentials like armor to repel potential attacks on their motivations and character.

Many of our framers, the chief architects of the United States Constitution, most clearly did not have these measures in mind. James Madison, familiarly called the “Father of the Constitution,” was most responsible for the First Amendment along with Thomas Jefferson.

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 clause written into the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

Though nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does the phrase “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.

Jefferson held deep concerns over the possibility of erosion of First Amendment’s religious freedoms, as did Madison. In his “Letter to Edward Livingston,” July 10, 1822, Madison opined:

“Every new and successful example, therefore, or a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”

Madison argued against the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress, writing in his “Detached Memoranda,” circa 1820:

“The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes….The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles….”

Everyone in our country has the right to hold any, or no, religious beliefs as they consider appropriate to suit their lives. This is a basic constitutional right, and more importantly, a basic human right to which all are entitled. Many of the framers of the U.S. Constitution were aware of the dangers of entangling religion with governmental activities and public policy. In fact, though, how “separate” do religion and government now stand in the United States?

Rather than building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, we need, instead, to cement the wall between “ecclesiastical and civil matters…[so] that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press), co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense Publications), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge), 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 3rd, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

LGBTQ People Liable for Natural Catastrophes: The Total Eclipse of Reason

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The utter power and strength of the LGBTQ community allows us to control the course of hurricanes, floods, droughts, and pandemics, and thus, we get to determine who lives and who dies, who retains their treasured belongings and who gets wiped out and washed away. Well, that is if you believe total eclipse of reason on the theocratic right who hold us responsible for causing many of the greatest natural disasters of modern times.

The latest installment from the loony bin came from Pastor Kevin Swanson who argues that Hurricane Harvey was caused by Houston recently “having a very very pro-homosexual mayor,” and because of the city’s refusal to repent from its “sexual perversion.” According to Right Wing Watch, Swanson said on his radio program:

“Jesus sends the message home, unless Americans repent, unless Houston repents, unless New Orleans repents, they will all likewise perish. That is the message that the Lord Jesus Christ is sending home right now to America.”

Adding to Swanson’s list of factors bringing on the devastating storm, he attempted to position Christians as the victims in this drama by accusing Huston of “persecuting pastors and churches,” and he blamed the Texas state legislature for recently failing to pass a bill “that would have prevented cross-dressing men from using the women’s restrooms” because “they wanted to encourage the abomination of men attempting to dress like women and women attempting to dress like men.”

Swanson, a Colorado-based pastor and radio talk show host, asserted in 2015 that God gives HIV/AIDS to gay people as “retribution to their sexual habit.” This, he said, is a sign of God’s kindness because having the virus makes it more likely they will renounce their homosexuality, thereby saving them from eternal damnation.

But wait! Hurricane Harvey is only the most recent natural disaster attributed to LGBT people. In a 2016 column on the website shoebat.com in an article titled “Hurricane Matthew Is The Wrath Of God Poured Out On the Cities Of Orlando And Savannah For Supporting The Evil Sodomites.” This must be urgent since the initial letter in each word of the title is capitalized! The article stated:

“Florida is a nice place, but it unfortunately has become a lot like California, representing both the best and the worst that America has to offer. This is especially true in the area of homosexuality. While there are many conservative and religious Floridians, there are a tremendous amount of sodomites and immoral activity that takes place there.”

The author, Andrew Bieszad, argued that the hurricane that hit Florida and other points in the U.S. Southeast resulted from God’s wrath directed against the scheduled Pride Festivals (“sodomite pride parades”) in Orlando, Florida and Savanna, Georgia. Bieszad asserted that this particular hurricane has dramatically erupted in “unnatural” ways and “is unexplained by science,” and that:

“The word ‘Hurricane’ originally comes from the Taino Indians, a people who inhabited the Caribbean and parts of Florida when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century. The original word, ‘Huracan,’ was a god of evil in their pagan religion, and the natives thought that these storms were attacks from this evil diety. Interesting.”

In addition, Bieszad asserted that it was no mere coincidence that this hurricane holds the name “Matthew.” Saint Matthew is depicted as an angle in the Christian Bible, and angles are “the ones obedient to God [who] always play important roles in executing God’s will, both for aiding man in his struggle for righteousness and punishing him in accordance with God’s will.”

But Bieszad simply pulls from the looney bin scavenged before by so many others. For example, in May 1978, Anita Bryant, Florida Orange Juice queen and chief organizer of her so-called “Save Our Children” campaign to overturn a gay-rights ordinance of Dade County, called homosexuals “human garbage,” and blamed the drought then overtaking California on their sinful behavior. Ironically, however, just one day following the first openly-gay San Francisco City Supervisor, Harvey Milk’s November 8 election, and six months following Bryant’s claim, it started to rain.

In addition, others blamed the torrential winds, rain, and devastating flooding of hurricane Katrina in 2005 on LGBT people. Reverend John Haggee, evangelical pastor of a “mega-church” in Texas, was quoted in an interview in 2006 saying that “God caused Hurricane Katrina to wipe out New Orleans because it had a gay pride parade the week before and was filled with sexual sin.”

Televangelist Pat Robertson has most likely talked to God who told him of an upcoming calamity. After Orlando, Florida city officials in 1998 voted to fly rainbow flags high atop city lampposts during Disney World’s annual Gay Days events, Robertson issued a stern warning to the city:

“…I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you. … [A] condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It’ll bring about terrorist bombs, it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor.”

Following the horrific events of September 11, 2001, Robertson, along with his conspiratorial-theorist evangelical buddy, Jerry Falwell, reiterated past warnings. Falwell, with an air of righteousness, proclaimed on Roberson’s 700 Club on the Christian Broadcasting Network on September 13, 2001:

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen!’”

To this Robertson responded: “I totally concur.”

The cause for wide-spread and devastating health pandemics have also been laid at the feet of LGBT people. For example, Ronald Reagan, under whose presidency the AIDS pandemic was detected and spread, had not formally raised the issue until April 1, 1987 in a speech to a group of physicians in Philadelphia — a full seven years after the onset of AIDS in the United States.

During his first year in office, Reagan spoke flippantly of AIDS when he inferred that “maybe the Lord brought down the plague because illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”

When AIDS was perceived by many as a disease of primarily gay and bisexual men, Pat Buchanan, who served as Reagan’s Chief of Communications between 1985-1987, was quite outspoken, referring to AIDS as nature’s “awful retribution,” and saying it did not deserve a thorough and compassionate response.

Writing in 1986, Buchanan claimed: “The poor homosexuals — they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution.” Also, back in 1983, Buchanan demanded that New York City Mayor Ed Koch and New York Governor Mario Cuomo cancel the Gay Pride Parade or else “be held personally responsible for the spread of the AIDS plague.” And later: “With 80,000 dead of AIDS, our promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide.”

In 2007, Falwell extended the blame: “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” 

Some even fault gays for ultimately bringing about the total destruction of human life. In his annual “State of the World” address at the Vatican delivered to diplomats from 179 countries, Pope Benedict XVI, on January 9, 2012, released a dire warning stating that marriage for same-sex couples “undermine the family, threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”

The pontiff stated earlier on December 22, 2008 at a Christmas address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, likening saving humanity from homosexual and gender-variant behaviors to saving the rain forest from destruction:

“[The Church] should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed….The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”

The Pope warned that humans must “listen to the language of creation” and understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behavior outside heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God’s work.”

If there is any lesson to learn from the spate of natural disasters hitting the globe, we as a collective human species, and not God(s), have the power to destroy or to save our planet if we stand resolute in reversing our destructive and senseless use of fossil fuels, and to commit ourselves to invest our resources and energy into renewable clean energy sources.

Rather than blaming LGBT people, we must embrace science to save humanity from itself.

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

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

August 31st, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Rejecting “the Master’s Tools” by Restricting Free Speech

without comments

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Amendment 1: Constitution of the United States of America

During the 1960s, when I was an undergraduate student and member of the Students for a Democratic Society organization at San José State University, the university administration, under direction from then Governor Ronald Reagan, rejected our requests to bring to campus a few members of the Black Panther Party from Oakland to give a presentation, using the assertion that their presence could possibly turn violent.

We resisted the administration’s attempts to silence the group and deny them their constitutional First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, and we brought them to the campus to join us in an unofficial educational rally, which drew hundreds of students, and, incidentally, no violence.

In 1979, the ACLU took up and won the cause of defending the right of a neo-Nazi group to march legally through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago with many Holocaust survivors in residence. A compromise agreed upon in the court changed the venue from Skokie to Federal Plaza in Downtown Chicago.

As a tenured professor at Iowa State University, the largest paper in the state, The Des Moines Register, published my Letter to the Editor questioning why our land-grant tax-supported public university displays a large Christian cross extending virtually from floor to ceiling, and crosses carved into both sides of the “benches,” in the “Chapel” within our Student Union. I concluded my letter by asking whether we should retire officially-sanctioned religious systems from a public university.

In the following days, other readers demanded my immediate dismissal; one published my salary stating it was a waste of valuable tax dollars; while another wrote that I should be forced onto a large piece of ice and floated out to sea. My department chair supported my freedom of speech, though the President of the University rejected the idea of taking the crosses from the space.

For the past twenty-plus years, I have traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe giving presentations on several topics focusing on social justice. About a decade ago, I was to deliver an address on the issue of homophobia at a university in eastern New Mexico. Before I arrived, university organizers notified me that a certain local conservative Christian minister had threatened to bring his congregation en mass to shut down my appearance.

Though the university refused to cancel the event, extra security details had been activated. In the end, the minister failed to carry out his threat, and possibly many more students attend my address over the increased publicity.

Fred Phelps and his followers trek around the country protesting funerals of soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual) claiming that these deaths resulted from God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Church members wield signage stating, for example, “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Phelps is also notorious for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a cruel and ruthless homophobic assault.

The judicial process began when Albert Snyder, of York, Pennsylvania successfully won a law suit against Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, and his followers for picketing the 2006 funeral of Snyder’s son, 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in a vehicle rollover accident in Iraq. At the lower court trial, the jury awarded Snyder $11 million, which the court eventually reduced to $5 million.

Later, on March 26, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Snyder was unjustified in suing Phelps and company. The court also ordered Snyder to cover Phelps’s court costs in the amount of $16,510.

Snyder appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which handed down its ruling by determining that the protestors’ actions were within the scope of protected speech covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and were not circumscribed by issues of privacy and religious rights of the mourners.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Audre Lorde

Yes, Fred Phelps and company, while certainly vile and inhumane, were within their rights of free speech.

Until and unless we as a society, and until and unless the judiciary develops clear and consistent demarcation lines between “free speech” and “hate speech,” the court had no other option than to rule as it did. The demarcations may never be developed due to the enormity in constructing the boundaries.

Neo-Nazis had a right to speak in Chicago. Fred and family had a right as well to demonstrate at my university, Iowa State University, about seven years ago on the premise that the university was “supporting its fags” by establishing an Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Student Services,” and demonstrating in front of the Jewish Museum in Des Moines over their allegation that “the Jews killed the Lord.”

We certainly don’t have to support their disgusting rhetoric, but they have a right to speak. We and they also have the right to peacefully protest – “…the right of the people peaceably to assemble….”

We must ask ourselves, then, several specific and larger general critical questions:

While the organizing committee for Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade banned OUTVETS, an LGBT military veterans group, and other LGBT groups over the years, should the organizers of Charlotte, North Carolina’s recent Pride parade have denied a group of Trump supporters, “Deplorables Pride,” a float permit, and should parade celebrants have shouted down group members when they attempted to speak on the street during the parade?

Should the administration of the University of California at Berkeley have cancelled Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter’s planned addresses? And while most students engaged in legally-protected peaceful protests, was it appropriate for some protestors to contribute to violence in opposing the appearance of these controversial speakers – most notably at the university serving as the epicenter of the “Free Speech Movement” during the early 1960s?

We must also ask ourselves, if not on a university campus than where can we engage in controversial topics and ensure the rights of others all along the spectrum to pose their ideas?

As a queer person and as a Jew whose Polish family the Nazis decimated during the Holocaust, I am acutely aware of the long history of the many means dominant groups have employed to silence us. They have killed us; attempted to define us; endeavored to change or convert us; expelled us from countries and from institutions; censored, banned, confiscated, and burned our books, diaries, literature, and papers; deleted or distorted our histories in official accounts; denied us the ability to raise our voices and to speak out.

Are we not, then, merely using the “master’s tools” against those who ideas we find different and abhorrent from our own as the “master” used these tools against us?

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

August 28th, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized