Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

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

Patriotism & Nationalism Projected through “Ida”

without comments

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

I would like to make a distinction between two terms — terms that are often used interchangeably, but in actuality, while connected in some ways, stand as unique and separate from one another. 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 perceive many people in the category of “nationalism” failing to acknowledge the complexity of their nations’ histories, especially as it relates to the more negative and reprehensible actions and political concepts followed in the past.

For example, recently former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani questioned President Obama’s love of country. Guiliani believes that the United States is “the most exceptional country in the world,” but he “never felt that [coming] from [Obama]” even though the President announced the country’s exceptionality in front of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2013.

Similarly, since the release of the Polish film “Ida” in 2014, which garnered the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year, controversy has followed with some critics claiming that it projects the Polish people in a bad light. Some even assert that the film is anti-Polish.

The scene is the early 1960s in Soviet-dominated Poland as a young woman, Ida, is about to take her vows as a Catholic nun at the convent where she was abandoned as an infant and raised. She is visited by a previously unknown aunt, Wanda Gruz, who informed her that she is Jewish. Throughout the film, Ida and Wanda attempt to discover what happened to Ida’s mother Roza (Wanda’s sister), father Haim Lebenstein, and little brother during World War II. They eventually visit Wanda and Roza’s family farm, which is now “owned” by another family.

Under the condition that Wanda and Ida legally relinquish the property to the current occupant, the farmer admits that he killed the family and stole their land. He brought the infant Ida to live with the nuns since she was fair skinned and did not look Jewish. (One needs to have merely a basic knowledge of the Nazi persecution to understand that their anti-Jewish laws made it a criminal offense to aid Jews.) The farmer took Ida and Wanda to the site where he buried the family in the woods. Ida decides later to return to the convent.

Major criticism of the film centers on the notion that though some Poles did, in fact, rob and kill Jewish people before, during, and following the war, some current-day Poles would like to have seen, instead, a profile of Polish Catholic rescuers hiding and saving Jews, as some did during the war as well. This seems like arguing that instead of showing the brutality and barbarism in “Twelve Years a Slave,” the filmmakers should have concentrated on white people who served as conductors on the Underground Railroad. There is a time and place for all perspectives in film, but to deny the bad and the ugly distorts the truth.

I know personally the disparate and checkered history of Poland in terms of its Jewish population. While some, indeed, did serve among the righteous, many others were complicit in the Nazi horrors.

In my ancestral home of Krosno, farmers Jakub and Zofia Gargasz who practiced the Seventh Day Adventist faith, risked their own lives to shelter from Nazi troops and to nurse back to health a Jewish woman, Henia Katz, and her daughter. A neighbor, though, betrayed them, and Jakub, Zofia, Henia, and her daughter were arrested and sentenced to death on 26 April 1944. At the trial, Zofia affirmed that she and her husband took this courageous action motivated by their religious faith. Hans Frank, the governor of the occupied Central Polish government decided to commute the death sentences to incarceration in a concentration camp. Jakub and Zofia survived the camp, which was liberated by the Allies. Henia and her daughter did not survive.

I recently read my friend Alexander Białywłos-White’s book on my way to Krosno last summer where he was going to be speaking to the residents. From Krosno, he survived the Nazi horrors as a 16-year old on Oskar Schlinder’s “List.” While reading the book on the plane flight, I had a profound shock and surprise. On page 92 of his book, Holocaust Memoirs: Be a Mensch. A Father’s Legacy, he wrote:

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

As I read these words, chills stung my entire body because I knew that I am most certainly related to this “Trenczer.” My Krosno-born Great-Grandmother’s name was Bascha Trenczer. I informed Alexander about this, and he asked me to tell him what I know about the Trenczer’s of Krosno. He did not realize that Bascher, whom he knew, was a Trenczer.

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

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

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is still alive and well in Poland, but I see bright patches. Some Poles experience their homeland culture as diminished and currently not as rich and vibrant with so few Jews remaining in Poland, from approximately three million before the Nazi invasion to about only ten thousand today.

No Jews have resided in Krosno or in the surrounding Subcarpathian region of southeastern Poland since the 1940s. Since then, a dynamic tension has developed between those, especially in many of the older generations, who bask in the monoculturalism evidenced by the longstanding Polish Catholic cultural heritage. Others, though, many in the younger generations born after the war have dedicated themselves to stamp out the hatreds of the past, and have been determined to resurrect Jewish history and Jewish culture, which may make it safer and more welcoming for us one day to return in ever increasing numbers; for it is our home too!

Coming back to this concept of “exceptionalism,” I believe it represents a tired and dangerous myth that we are taught throughout the nations of the world as soon as we exit the womb. All countries have their strengths and weaknesses. This lie of “exceptionalism,” though, separates countries and their residents from people of other nations. Rather than envisioning a country as “exceptional,” I would have world leaders promote their countries and act as partners in an interdependent community of great nations.

We can liken history to rose bushes with many beautiful and fragrant blossoms in a wide array of colors and hues. Taken holistically, the bush represents one of the many natural splendors filling our world. If, however, we continually imagine the rose blossom without its thorns, each time we embrace the bloom by the stem, we will come away with bloodied and painfully throbbing hands. Rather than expressing our outrage against the truth tellers who remind us of the razor-sharp protrusions growing alongside the blossoms, we must venerate those perceptive and insightful among us who serve to guide us around the dangers to ensure we do not bloody ourselves again.

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

February 28th, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Open Letter to Giuliani on Characterizations of Obama

without comments

Dear Rudy,

I realize that you don’t know me, but I hope you won’t mind if I refer to you as “Rudy.” Anyway, I am writing to you because, frankly, you said some things about President Obama that confused me. I hope you can clarify some things.

During a private dinner held in New York City for possible GOP 2016 presidential contender, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, you said:

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

“I do not believe that the president loves America.”

So, Rudy, let’s break down your statement. When you say that “I do not believe that the president loves America,” what indication do you have or what criteria are you using? I really want to know.

If Obama truly did not love America, why then would he have worked so diligently for the betterment of the nation? Rudy, I realize your time is precious, so I will be brief in the list of Obama accomplishments because I could go on for volumes:

The Great Recession under the George W. Bush presidency cost our economy nearly 800,000 jobs per month when Obama took over the Oval Office. But by the end of his first year alone, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created and sustained 2.1 million jobs and stimulated the economy by 3.5%. In the single year of 2010, Obama supervised the establishment of more jobs than Bush did during his entire eight-year administration.

Obama pushed for the massive TARP financial and banking rescue plan, while at the same time pressuring and succeeding in having banks and others repay virtually all of the bail-out money plus interest.

During his administration, and under his direct guidance, he reduced redundancy and saved millions of tax dollars with an Executive Order calling for an audit of government contracts.

Because of Obama and the Democratic-led Congress, they passed and implemented the U.S. automobile industry rescue plan, which not only saved up to one-million jobs, but also reinstated this country leadership in automotive innovation.

He proudly signed the Democratic-sponsored Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, expanding the Making Home Affordable Program, helping millions of people avoid preventable home foreclosures. This bill also helped combat homelessness and stabilized the housing market by pumping in $2.2 billion.

He and the Democrats led efforts to provide tax credits for first-time home buyers, initiated increased lending to small business, saved as many as 300,000 education-related jobs with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and substantially increased our country’s energy independence.

In the area of international relations, Obama reaffirmed and strengthened our partnership in NATO, rejected Israel’s desire to attack Iran over its possible nuclear program, pushed for the passage of the Iran Sanctions Act, opened a dialogue with Cuba, and prohibited the use of torture in U.S. detention and interrogation policies.

And in Civil Rights, with Congressional Democrats, he advanced and signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which made it a federal crime to assault anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identities, pushed for and signed the Pentagon’s repeal of the prejudicial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy, appointed the first trans* Cabinet official, composed and signed an Executive Order establishing the White House Council on Women and Girls, signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act giving protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers, increased funding for the Violence against Women Act, appointed a Special Assistant for Disability Policy, established the White House Council of Native American Affairs, and enhanced Fair Housing Laws, among many other things.

So Rudy, I know you are not particularly thrilled by many of Obama’s accomplishments that I listed as well as many I left out, but I ask, which in particular do you reject?

“He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me.”

Well, Rudy, do you “love” everyone in the United States, those you know and those you don’t. Obama couldn’t love me since I’m fairly certain he doesn’t know I exist. You might be entirely correct that though he does know you, chances are that he, in fact, doesn’t love you, or even like you. I can’t, however, speak for the President. You will have to ask him yourself.

“He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

What does this mean? I’m sure Mr. Obama was not brought up like I was in my lower-middle class Jewish-American household. He most likely wasn’t bullied on a daily basis like me during the conservative 1950s as a gay and gender-transgressive child. Obama’s father wasn’t around to raise him. Though my father was part of my childhood, he was gone for weeks at a time on the road serving as a traveling salesman. I could even say that my sister, who was only 18-months younger, though we were “brought up” together, we certainly were not brought up the same.

And yes, Rudy, I’m pretty sure Obama wasn’t raised like you: a white, Christian, male with all the socially-conferred unearned privileges that engenders. Also, Mr. Obama’s father did not work for his brother’s mob-connected loan sharking business like your father, Harold Giuliani. You, however, were raised by a father who had spent six months in jail for robbing a milkman at gunpoint in 1934.

Did you ever think, though, that Mr. Obama entered politics to ensure equal opportunities and rights for all people regardless of social identities, and where and how they were raised?

Adding to your initial comments at the forum with Scott Walker, you added that:

“…with all our flaws we’re the most exceptional country in the world….I’ve never felt that from him.”

I would ask you, if Obama really did not believe the U.S. to be an exceptional country, why would he have announced that in front of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2013?:

“Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional, in part because we have shown a willingness to the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up, not only for our own interests, but for the interests of all.”

In the importance of full disclosure Rudy, I think this notion of “American exceptionalism” (also read as “American superiority”), is a tired and dangerous myth that we are taught as soon as we exit the womb. The U.S. has its strengths and weaknesses as do all other countries. This lie of “exceptionalism” separates our country and our residents from people of other nations by giving us the image of the “arrogant Americans,” which only engenders ridicule and scorn for us around the world. Rather than envisioning ourselves as “exceptional,” I would have our leaders promote us and act as partners in an interdependent community of great nations.

During a follow-up interview with the New York Times to answer criticism that your comments about Obama reflected a racist bias, you rejected the charge and stated, instead, that you were simply talking about Obama’s worldview that formed his upbringing.

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people….This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

“…he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people.”

So by this statement, are you saying, or at least implying, that anything you say to or about our biracial president, the first in the history of this country, could not, therefore, be considered racist? Are you implying that anything other than explicitly racist language could not be considered racist?

What about coded (“dog-whistle”) language, for example, “He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” What about the massive calls from members of the “Tea Party” for Mr. Obama to display his birth certificate before his election continuing long into his first term? What about the investigations into his time spent in Indonesia as a child? What about his roots in Africa through his birth father?

“This is socialism…”

Rudy, what do you mean by the term “socialism.” If you are referring to the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a.k.a. Obama Care), this is certainly not an example of socialism. The ACA is founded on a Capitalist base with private insurance companies benefiting by providing the policies. I had hoped that our country could have adopted more of a Canadian or European model of government-sponsored health care to ensure universal coverage, but the United States, being a right-of-center nation, would not accept this.

Rudy, even before the Cold War and the so-called “McCarthy Period” (named after Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy), individuals and groups on the political and theocratic Right have flung the term “Socialist” from their metaphoric sling shots into the faces of their political opponents to discredit their characters and dismiss their political ideas and policies, and to sway the electorate toward a conservative agenda. This continues to this very day as evidenced in many conservative commentators’ representations of President Obama and various progressive politicians.

As destructive and as freedom-killing as you and others on the Right would have us believe, Socialism involves “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole,” where each of us has a stake and advances in the success of our collective economy.

No country in the world today stands as a fully Socialist state, but rather, some of the most successful economies combine elements of Capitalism with Socialism to create greater degrees of equity and lesser disparities between the rich, the poor, and those on the continuum in between.

“…or possibly anti-colonialism.”

So why, Rudy, are you throwing the term “anti-colonialism” as an epithet? Are you not “anti-colonial yourself?” I realize that you mean this in terms of your disgust that Obama has attempted to disengage our troops and resources from the battles waging in Iraq and Afghanistan, but shouldn’t “anti-colonialism” serve as a guiding political principle and be viewed in a positive light? Wasn’t our nation founded on this very principle? If not, your title might have been “Colonial Mayor of New Amsterdam.” The rest of us would have been pledging our allegiance to the Queen of England, the nation of France, or Spain.

In conclusion Rudy, while you met head-on the enormous challenges brought by the horrendous and tragic events in New York City on September 11, 2001, and you helped bring the City back from seemingly insurmountable odds, you would do yourself and our nation, and even the Republic Party, a great service by simply resting on your accomplishments, reflecting on your failures and shortcomings, and retreat to the annuls of history.

Yours sincerely,

Warren J. Blumenfeld

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

February 21st, 2015 at 10:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

We Are “Carefully Taught” to Hate

without comments

Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein reminded us in one of the songs, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” in their 1949 Broadway musical, South Pacific that:

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught….

President Obama echoed this sentiment at the recent White House Countering Violent Extremism Summit when he said that “Children learn to hate.”

The developmental and educational psychologist, Albert Bandura, proposed that young people learn primarily through observation, and that one’s culture transmits social mores and what Bandura called “complex competencies” through social modeling. As he noted, the root meaning of the word “teach” is “to show.”

Society presents many role models along a continuum, from very positive and affirming to very negative, biased, aggressive, and destructive. Modeling, he asserted, encompasses more than concrete actions, which he referred to as “response mimicry,” but also involves abstract concepts, “abstract modeling,” such as following rules, taking on values and beliefs, making moral and ethical judgments.

As young people observe negative role modeling in their societies, at home, in the media, at school, and other social sites, this can result in them taking on prejudicial judgments and aggressive or violent behaviors. Youth can learn behaviors, like verbal and physical aggression, by observing and imitating others even in the absence of behavioral reinforcements.

Bandura found in his “Bobo Doll Experiments” that young people can be highly influenced by observing adult behavior, and perceive that such behavior is acceptable, while freeing their own aggressive inhibitions. They are then more likely to behave aggressively in future situations.

He devised this research experiment to determine whether adult modeling resulted in either aggressive or non-aggressive behaviors in young children. His participants included 36 boys and 36 girls, plus a “control group” of 24 members. The average age of the participants and control group members was 4-years-of-age.

An adult researcher took each individual participant into a room of “non-aggressive toys” (including crayons and tinker toys) and “aggressive toys” (wooden mallet and Bobo doll –a very large inflated figure in the form of a clown with sand at its base to keep it upright.) Once in the room, the children were each told that only the adult could play with the toys, and that the participants must watch.

For the control group, no adult was present, and the control group members could play with any toys of their choice.

For half of the participants, the adult played with tinker toys for one minute. Then for the next nine minutes, the adult attacked the Bobo doll with verbal insults, violently kicked and punched it, and whacked it over its head with the mallet. For the remaining half of the participants, the adult model played with tinker toys and ignored the Bobo doll for the entire 10-minute experiment.

Each participant was then taken individually into another playroom with toys: airplane, fire engine, doll set. To instill anger and frustration, the experimenter told each participant that they could play with toys in this room for short time only, and then the toys were reserved for other children.

Following this, the young participants were taken individually into a third room, and left alone for 20 minutes to play with aggressive toys (Bobo doll, wooden mallet, dart guns, tetherball with a face painted on it, and others) and non-aggressive toys (paper and crayons, tea set, dolls, a ball, cars, trucks, plastic farm animals). Experimenters observed each participant and control group member behind a one-way mirror, and they evaluated behaviors on measures of aggressive behavior.

Researchers discovered that participants who observed aggressive adult modeling were much more likely to exhibit physical and verbal aggressive behaviors when left alone in the third room, as opposed to children who were exposed to non-aggressive models or no model. The experiment proved that children can learn behaviors, like verbal and physical aggression, by observing and imitating others, even in absence of behavioral reinforcements.

I have learned many lessons in my studies of genocides perpetrated throughout the ages. Strong leaders whip up sentiments by employing dehumanizing stereotyping and scapegoating entire groups, while other citizens or entire nations either join in the attack, or condone the actions by often refusing to intervene. Everyone, not only the direct perpetrators of oppression, plays a vital role in the genocides.

On a micro level, this is also apparent, for example, in episodes of schoolyard, community-based, as well as electronic forms of bullying. According to the American Medical Association definition:

“Bullying is a specific type of aggression in which the behavior is intended to harm or disturb, the behavior occurs repeatedly over time, and there is an imbalance of power, with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one.”

When we talk about “violent extremism,” yes, we need to investigate groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boco Haram, Khorasan, al-Shabab, Hamas, Hesbollah, Aryan Brotherhood, Christian Identity, Ku Klux Klan, American Front, Aryan Republican Army, Citizens Councils, and the White Patriot Party among other. However, we need also to see violent extremism in other and less obvious guises in our own backyards.

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

February 19th, 2015 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Negotiating a Cessation of Persecution of LGBT People in Iran

without comments

Now that the repressive regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has finally left the scene since he was ineligible to run again in 2014, and the perceived more moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani has risen to power, an easing of tensions between the U.S. and Iran seems more possible, at least more so than at any time previously since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The Obama administration is currently engaged in critical negotiations with the Iranian government to limit that country’s capacity to manufacture and deliver nuclear weapons. In addition, Iranian jet fighters have joined with other countries, including the U.S., Jordan, and Egypt, to degrade and eventually destroy the terrorist group ISIS that has been relentlessly grabbing formally sovereign territories in the Middle East, and savagely raping and murdering citizens and foreign visitors throughout the region.

During this potential thaw in relations, I propose an additional agenda item to add to President Obama’s list of objectives with the Iranians. Let us not forget that since Iran’s revolution, which replaced the Shah with an orthodox theocracy, many segments of the population have experienced repression under Iranian Sharia law — of the many segments, in particular, include Iran’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) inhabitants.

Since 1979, some human rights activists estimated between 4000 – 6000 LGBT people have been executed in Iran. Same-sex sexuality between consenting partners in private is defined as a crime. Iranian law condemns men involved in sexual penetrative acts (sodomy or lavat) with the possibility of death, and so-called non-penetrative acts with flogging. After the fourth non-penetrative “offense,” the penalty is death.

Women convicted of engaging in same-sex sexuality (mosahegheh) may be made to undergo flogging with 50 lashes. And also, following the fourth conviction, they too are eligible for the death penalty (Articles 127, 129, 130).

Examples are many. Two gay Iranian teenagers, 18 and 17-years-old, were hung in the streets of Iran on July 19, 2005, in Edalat (Justice Square) in Mashbad, Iran. Reports of the widespread repression of homosexuals in Iran have been verified by Human Rights Watch and the Iranian Student News Agency.

Following the Islamic Revolution, trans* identity and expression were also classified as a crime. However, the government reclassified this in 1986 as “heterosexual” if the person undergoes gender confirmation (formerly known as “sex reassignment”) surgery. Today, Iran stands as the country performing the most gender confirmation surgeries in the world, second only to Thailand. Iranian trans* people, however, still suffer frequent harassment and persecution.

Repressive regimes around the world currently and throughout history have scapegoated, oppressed, and murdered LGBT people. The time has long since passed that we speak out against repression in all of its forms. Though I am not naïve enough to believe that we will soon witness general human and civil rights legislated and enacted in this authoritarian theocracy anytime soon, maybe we can now see, however, some progressive movement in the plight of LGBT people in Iran.

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

February 17th, 2015 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Acknowledging the Racism that Saturates Our Nation

without comments

“What parents have done for decades who have children of color, especially young men of color, is train them to be very careful when they have…an encounter with a police officer.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, ABC’s “This Week”

The Mayor added that “With Dante, very early on, we said, ‘Look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do. Don’t move suddenly. Don’t reach for your cellphone,’ because we knew, sadly, there’s a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”

This testimonial by Mayor de Blasio on December 7, 2014 was taken as a declaration of war, at least of words, a metaphorical Pearl Harbor of sorts, by a significant number of officers in the New York Police Department. Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association characterized the Mayor’s comments as “really hypocritical and moronic” proving he “doesn’t belong” in New York City. The majority of NYPD officers turned their backs in protest at events in which de Blasio spoke following his on-air comments.

But what was the fuss all about? The Mayor, who is white, and his wife Chirlane McCray, who is black, talked with their biracial 17-year-old son, Dante, about what he needs to remember if ever in the presence of a police officer.

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

Since the time white people first forcibly confiscated land from and committed genocide upon native peoples, and then kidnapped, enslaved, and transported Africans across the vast oceans to the “Americas,” some law enforcement officers as well as civilian white residents of the United States routinely profiled and targeted people of color for harassment, arrest, violence, and murder simply for walking down the street or later for driving cars while being black or brown.

Parents of color from all walks of life throughout the country engage with their sons and daughters 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 warn youth that if ever approached by police, walk toward them and never run away, keep hands out of your pockets in plain view, don’t raise your voice, always act in a polite manner, and never show anger or use derogatory language. Parents of these young people know full well the stigmata embedded into their sons and daughters by a racist society marking them as the expression of criminality, which perennially consigns them to the endangered species list.

This was openly and honestly confirmed recently by what might seem as the most unlikely of people. James B. Comey, a white man and a Republican, and current Director of Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a speech on the topic of race and policing at Georgetown University on February 12, 2015 acknowledged the bigotry both within law enforcement and the larger society, which “…isn’t epidemic in law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts.”

As an Irish American, Comey talked first about historical prejudice and stereotypes toward the Irish: “Law enforcement’s biased view of the Irish lives on in the nickname we still use for the vehicles we use to transport groups of prisoners. It is, after all, the ‘paddy wagon’.”

He continued by discussing the “hard truth” of other forms of racism:

“Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. In fact, we all, white and black, carry various biases around with us.”

Comey then referred to a song from the Broadway musical, Avenue Q: “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” a stanza which goes:

Look around and you will find
No one’s really color blind.
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.

Coincidently, as Comey was delivering his speech this week, students in my Social Diversity in Education course at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst took an online survey I assigned titled “The Implicit Bias Test.” It assesses individuals’ level of bias regarding a number of differing variables.

The overwhelming majority of students found the test extremely shocking, with some calling the bias test “biased.” One student took the section assessing perceptions of physical size, which showed that she had a strong preference for thin people over heavier people. She was so upset by her score that she refused to continue taking the remainder of the test, especially the section assessing racial bias.

Researchers Charles and Massey interviewed 3,924 undergraduate students at 28 selective colleges and universities on their perceptions of various racial and ethnic groups – 959 Asian-Americans, 998 whites, 1,051 African-Americans, and 916 Latino/a students. Results indicated that “black people are rated most negatively on traits that are consistent with American racial ideology. White, Latino, and Asian students are all likely to perceive blacks as violence-prone and poor. They also rate black people more negatively than themselves in traits like lazy, unintelligent, and preferring welfare dependence.”

These students represent the very types of people who eventually enter police training academies and take their place patrolling the streets. These are the very types of people who eventually enter the classrooms and teach our young people. These are the very types of people who eventually enter politics. These are our future and current leaders. These are also the types of people who are just like many of us in their attitudes and biases.

So, where did they (we) learn these attitudes. They most certainly did not invent or create these negative belief systems. Rather, we all are born into a society that teaches us these views. These systemic inequities are pervasive throughout the society. They are encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the fabric of our social institutions, resulting in a stratified social order privileging dominant groups while restricting and disempowering marginalized groups.

Other researchers, Artiles, Harry, Reschly, and Chinn, contend that “bias is more than the personal decisions and acts of individuals. Rather, bias against minorities should also be thought of in terms of historical residua that are layered in social structures and that may lead to various forms of institutional discrimination.”

By our challenging social institutions, we are taking a necessary step in reducing and one day eliminating cultural bias to ensure that these institutions work for everyone regardless of race and other social identities. But this is surely not enough.

Rather, racism represents a major societal problem: the systematic and hierarchical ideology of white superiority and white privilege. We much look into the mirror at ourselves as well as within our social institutions. Especially for us white people, we must come to consciousness of our social conditioning and the ways we have internalized notions of “race.”

Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray demonstrated good parenting in their talk with Dante by understanding the realities of “race” in the United States. Rather than condemning them, we all should give them praise. One way we as a nation can do this, first, is to acknowledge that racism has, in fact, saturated our nation since its inception. Once we do this, we can take steps to cure this destructive blight that threatens the very lives of people of color and the continued survival of the country 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-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

February 15th, 2015 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Violence against the “Other” as Systematic Blight on Our Society

without comments

Stability and peace in our land will not come from the barrel of a gun,

because peace without justice is an impossibility.”

Desmond Tutu

There is an old 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. Matt’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 remainder of us lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from these killers was quite clear: remain invisible by staying locked away in your suffocating and dank closets, and don’t ever come out.

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

Just recently, we witnessed the brutal police chokehold death of Eric Garner, the multiple-bullet police killings of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, the vigilante death of Travon Martin, the execution-style murders of three Muslim students in North Carolina — Deah Shaddy Barakat, a dental student, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha – the destruction by arson of a building at the Islamic Institute in Houston, Texas, and the spate of murders of primarily trans* women of color, including Jessie Hernandez, Alejandra Leos, Aniya Parker, Gizzy Fowler, and Kandy Hall to name only a few. And these are merely just a few of the most visible examples of this form of violence against unarmed members of stigmatized groups.

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

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

We are thus living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights. Metaphorically, oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue to roll over people.

Referring to Matthew Shepard’s shattered body, his uncle cried: “It’s like something you might see in war.” Yes, we are fighting a war: a war against ignorance, fear, and prejudice, which is literally killing people. And amidst this crisis, segments of our country perpetuate a process of collective denial by refusing to acknowledge the mere existence of this war in its attempts to silence the “Others.”

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

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

February 14th, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Pope Francis Smacks LGBTQ People on the Behind

without comments

Pope Francis weighed in on the controversial issue of corporal punishment during a recent weekly audience at the Vatican focusing on the topic of fatherhood. He asserted that parents need to be firm but reasonable when disciplining young people.

“One time, I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say, ‘I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them’,” Francis said. He added that the man’s remark was “beautiful.” “He knows the sense of dignity,” Francis continued. “He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.”

So I take from the Pope’s remarks that his intent was merely to smack LGBTQ people on the rump rather than punch us in the face when he stated at a Vatican conference on traditional marriage in November 2014 that marriage is between a man and a women and that “[t]his complementarity is at the root of marriage and family.” He added that this union between a man and a woman is “an anthropological fact…that cannot be qualified based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history.”

He also asserted: “Children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He amplified his message in front of more than 1,000 families in the Philippines during a recent trip when he warned that “[t]he family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.” These forces, he said, are attempting the “ideological colonization of the family.” Among other forces, this was also a reference to same-sex marriage.

The Pope took an additional swipe at our butts at another recent weekly Vatican audience when he gave his unqualified blessing to a Slovakian referendum outlawing same-sex unions and adoption rights for same-sex couples. He proclaimed: “I greet the pilgrims from Slovakia and, through them, I wish to express my appreciation to the entire Slovak church, encouraging everyone to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society.”

Well, at least I take it that the Pontiff won’t be smacking any gay priests on the behind any time soon, unless he has changed his initial position on the matter. As new Pope, at an impromptu news conference aboard his papal jet on July 29, 2013 while returning to the Vatican from Brazil after completing his first international trip where he spoke to millions celebrating “World Youth Day,” he told reporters: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

So El Papa considers denying LGBTQ people (his children) the rights of marriage and adoption; denying us the benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of legalized partnerships and families; this to him represents a smack on the behind saving us the indignity of a blow to the face. I can only imagine what he considers a Vatican action that may bloody our faces.

Well, I would say to Francis that corporal punishment of any kind represents an indignity to the target of the attack. No person has the right to hit another person literally or figuratively. Bullies hit others. Tyrants violate people’s bodily and emotional spaces. Oppressive regimes disrespect their citizens’ human and civil rights. Terrorists unjustifiably invade other countries’ territories.

Francis and the Church have indeed hit us. They have violated our bodily and emotional spaces. They have disrespected our human and civil rights, and they have unjustifiably invaded the territories of our lives and our families.

Many of us had real hopes with Pope Francis’s ascension to the highest position in the Catholic Church. He showed some signs of softening Church policies on the position of LGBTQ people in the Church. But unfortunately, the initial smoke and mirrors he erected, through his words and deeds, he as blown away and smashed.

I find it disappointing since Francis showed us some indication that he could take the Church out of the 17th Century where it has remained stuck for some time and carry it on the wings of a dove to at least the 19th if not the 20th or 21st century regarding the concerns of LGBTQ people. But alas, the dove has died as has the hope. All we have to look forward to from the Catholic Church are some very sore buttocks for at least the next millennium or so. But by then, humanity will overpopulate itself to extinction through the Church’s ban on contraception and denial of women’s reproductive freedoms.

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

February 12th, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trans* People Murdered for Truth Telling

without comments

Abolitionists jointed together to work for the immediate end to the institution of human slavery and the cessation of racial discrimination and segregation. They faced steep opposition from many quarters including a number of Christian denominations who asserted that sacred scripture not only condoned, but more importantly, mandated the practice of slavery.

Trans* Women:

Alejandra Leos, 41, fatally shot, Memphis, Tennessee.

Aniya Parker, 47, fatally shot, Los Angeles, California

Young people conducted a number of sit-in demonstrations at Southern lunch counters to end Jim Crow laws of segregated public facilities, to the abusive taunts of onlookers and crashing batons of local police. Demonstrators faced imprisonment and the imposition of permanent criminal records.

Ashley (Michelle) Sherman, 25, fatally shot, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Betty Skinner, 52, fatal severe head injuries, Cleveland, Ohio

Feminists formed a new wave in the fight for women’s suffrage against a high tide of obstructionism within a patriarchal system of male domination and misogyny, and an attitude that the enfranchisement of women would destroy Christianity and civilization itself.

Gizzy Fowler, 24, fatally shot, Nashville, Tennessee

Jennifer Laude, 26, Olongapo, Philippines

The Church convicted physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei on the charge of heresy by insisting that the Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than, as per Church teaching, that the Earth was the immovable center of the universe with the Sun revolving around the Earth. Galileo spent the remainder of his life under house arrest.

Kandy Hall, 40, fatal massive bodily trauma, Annapolis, Maryland

Brittany-Nicole Kidd-Stergis, 22, fatally shot, Cleveland, Ohio

Joan of Arc, the teenager who helped defeat the English in her native France, became one of the greatest war heroes in French history. In spite of this, she was tried by the Catholic Church on the charge of heresy in rejecting Church authority in preference for direct inspiration from God, and most importantly, by donning men’s clothing. Joan died by burning at the stake.

Mayang Prasetyo, 27, dismembered, Brisbane, Australia

Mia Henderson, 26, fatal severe trauma, Baltimore, Maryland

Alan Turing, one of the original creators of the computer, mathematician, logician, philosopher, and cryptanalyst, was largely responsible for cracking Nazi coded messages, which many believe shortened the war by two to four years, and he saved Great Britain. However, the British government chose to convict Turing on the charge of being a homosexual, and ordered him to undergo “chemical castration” by taking estrogen injections as an alternative to spending two years in prison. Turing took his life a few weeks before his 42nd birthday.

Tiffany Edwards, 28, fatally shot, Walnut Hills, Ohio

Michelle (Yasmin) Vash Payne, 33, fatally stabbed, Norfolk, Virginia

History is replete with groups and individuals facing colossal odds for simply expressing their truth, and for that, they were often forced to pay the ultimate price. Governments and powerful individuals have devised ways of silencing opposition for the purpose of maintaining and extending its control and domination. They commit genocide upon the true human liberators, the profits, the visionaries who advocate for a just and free world. These visionaries, who were persecuted in their own time, have achieved not only exoneration, but more importantly, have become venerated as the visionaries they truly are.

Ty Underwood, fatally shot, North Tyler, Texas

Sherman Edwards, 22, fatally shot, Louisville, Kentucky

Antonio Gramsci wrote about the concept of “cultural hegemony,” which describes the ways in which the dominant group successfully disseminates its social definitions of reality and its social visions in a manner accepted as “common sense,” as “normal,” and as “universal.” This hegemony maintains and expands the marginality of groups with differing identities or opposing views.

Jessie Hernandez, 16, unarmed, fatally shot by police, Denver, Colorado

Lamia Beard, 30, fatally shot, Norfolk, Virginia

Trans* people have exposed the truth regarding this fabrication we call “gender roles” as a social construction, one which our society ascribes to each of us as it assigns us a sex at birth. With the label “female,” society forces us to follow its “feminine script,” and with “male,” we are handed our “masculine” script to act out. As scripts are given to actors in a play, gender scripts also were written long before any of us entered the stage of life. In fact, they have little connection with our natures, beliefs, interests, and values.

Lamar Edwards, 20, fatally shot, Louisville, Kentucky

Rosa Riibut, 35, fatally beaten, Edmonton, Canada

According to social theorist Judith Butler, “The act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act, which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again.”

If we challenge the director by refusing to follow our lines, and when we tell the truth about this human lie about gender, the director (society) doles out harsh, often fatal punishments. Members of the trans* community often suffer the consequences of other truth tellers of the past. Nearly every two days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. The vast majority of murders are trans* women of color.

Taja De Jesus, 36, stabbed to death, San Francisco, California

Michelle Vash Payne, stabbed to death, Van Nuys, California

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 gender scripts. Most of us function as conscious or unconscious co-directors in this drama each time we enforce gender-role conformity onto others, and each time we relegate our critical consciousness by failing to rewrite or destroy the scripts in ways that operate integrally for us. Those who bully in society and filtered into the schools often fulfill the social “function” of establishing and reinforcing the socially constructed scripts handed to them when they entered the performance.

Deshawnda Sanchez, 21, fatally shot, Los Angeles, California

Yaz’min Shancez, 31, burned to death, Fort Myers, Florida

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.”

Zoraida Reyes, 28, choked to death, Anaheim, California

Çağla Joker, fatally shot, Istanbul, Turkey

 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 dominant groups, in the end everyone loses.

First, cissexist (transgender oppression) 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 trans* people, generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population, and, more specifically, limits family relationships.

Gypsie Gül, murdered, Istanbul, Turkey

Jacqui Cowdrey, 50, murdered, Worthing, England

Cissexism locks all people into rigid gender-based roles, which inhibits creativity and self-expression. It also prevents cisgender people from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by the trans* community, including theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, contributions in the arts and culture, to religion and spirituality, 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.

Mahadevi, 22, fatally pushed off a moving train, Bangalore, India

Marcela Duque, 46, stoned to death, Medellin, Colombia.

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 cissexism.

Mary Jo Añonuevo, 55, strangled and stabbed 33 times, Lucena City, Philippines

Sevda Basar, 29, fatally shot, Antep, Turkey

I believe we are all born into an environment polluted by cissexism (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 cissexist environment in which we live. Once we take sufficient steps to reduce this pollution, we will all breathe a lot easier.

With this in mind, each time we rewrite the scripts so as to give an honest and true performance of life, each time we work toward lifting the ban against our transcending the gender status quo by continually questioning and challenging standard conceptualization of gender, then will we begin as individuals and as a society to experience life to the fullest with our humanity and our integrity intact.

I am proud and thankful to the trans* community for courageously calling into question this social myth of gender, the boxes society places us into as it imposes upon us all our gender scripts. Trans* people have opened the boxes for all of us to ultimately obliterate the gender status quo of binary oppositions by demonstrating the visible ways, the options upon an enormous gender continuum, one that does not depend upon a sex assigned to us, a sex that is imposed and forced upon us by others. The trans* community has shown us the essential fluidity of gender.

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

Elizalber Oliveria de Mesquita, Paloma, Rayka Tomaz, Prince Joe, Toni Gretchen, Luana, Cristal, Thifani, Joice, Sarita, Juju, Raísa, Tatty, Rafaela, Alex Medeiros, Paulete, Camila Veronezi, Lu, Kitana, Sarita do Sopão, Andressa Pinheiro, Rose Maria, Vitória, Marciana, Nicole, Giovana Souza Silva, Mileide, Valquíria, Marcia Moraes, Paola, André Luiz Borges Rocha, Kellen Santorine, Mackelly Castro, Lele, Dennysi Brandão, Alisson Henrique da Silva, Karen Alanis, Cris, Bruna Lakiss, Gaivota dos Santos, Gélia Borghi, Sara, Aguinaldo Clãudio Colombelli, Flávia, Maicon, Letícia, Raquel, Adriana

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

February 11th, 2015 at 2:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Going Beyond Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Non-Discrimination Updates

without comments

After consistently refusing for the past 17 years to initiate protections in the workplace for its LGBT employees, Exxon Mobil Corporation finally announced that it will update its corporate policies to safeguard employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The company will now comply with President Obama’s historic amendment to executive order 11246 issued in July 2014 forbidding businesses receiving federal contracts from discriminating against LGBT people. Earlier, Obama amended Executive Order 11478 to include “gender identity” to other protected categories in the federal civilian workforce. During his presidency, Clinton amended this Executive Order to prohibit discrimination toward U.S. government employees based on sexual orientation.

This may be fine that Exxon Mobil Corp. has ever-so-reluctantly, though finally, added LGBT workplace protections. However, Exxon Mobil Corp. remains one of the primary environmental polluters in an industry that threatens the Earth and life as we know it. What good are workplace protections in a corporation and in an entire industry that has granted no such protections to our planet? The environment group, Sierra Club, charges Exxon Mobil Corp. with being one of the biggest polluters in the country. Even a cursory review of Exxon Mobile Corp.’s environmental record brings to light this corporation’s criminal policies.

Exxon Mobil Corp was ordered to pay approximately $2.3 million in fines following charges by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality that the company, through accidents and leaks, pumped approximately 4 million pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the environment from its Baton Rough oil refinery and chemical plant between 2008 and 2011.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General filed criminal charges in 2013 against Exxon Mobile Corp. for illegally unloading tens of thousands of gallons of toxic hydraulic fracturing waste at one of its drilling cites in 2010. Exxon Mobil Corp.’s subsidiary, XTO, removed a wastewater tank plug resulting in 57,000 gallons of polluted waste water deposited into the ground.

In New York, a U.S. court of appeals ordered Exxon Mobil Corp to pay damages in the amount of $105 million for contaminating New York City’s groundwater by dumping a toxic gasoline additive.

In addition, the U.S. Justice Department announced it has ordered the company to pay $6.1 million following the Environment Protection Agency’s assessment that Exxon Mobil Corp. has not adequately reduced the sulfur content from emissions in its refineries in Baytown and Beaumont, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Torrance, California.

And I hope we never forget the disastrous voyage in 1989 of the Exxon Valdez tanker that went aground in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska spilling literally hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil. This second largest oil spill in U.S. history resulted in the death of millions of land and sea animals and plants. It turned what was previously a pristine corner of the Earth into a nightmarish waste land. How very tragic it was watching helpless oil-drenched birds fighting valiantly but impossibly for their lives, and witnessing a seemingly endless sea covered with the lifeless corpses of fish and other sea creatures turned over on their sides.

Evidently, the fines and fees Exxon Mobil Corp. has had to pay does not seem to matter to the company since it hardly made a dent in the bottom line of this second of the world’s largest corporations. But how many more Exxon Valdez and British Petroleum 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 these corporations to place the health of the planet and by extension, 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 and their shareholders?

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 U.S. 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.

So while corporate and government non-discrimination policies provide a step forward, unless and until we enact stronger politics protecting our planet from discrimination and oppression, inevitably, no humans will survive to enjoy their civil and human rights.

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

January 31st, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

God Orders Us To Kill the Infidels

without comments

Oh my name it is nothin’

My age it means less

The country I come from

Is called the Midwest

I’s taught and brought up there

The laws to abide

And that land that I live in

Has God on its side.” (Bob Dylan)

The latest propaganda missile in the current political and theocratic Right’s Christian Crusade aimed at followers of Islam worldwide was detonated by Fox News commentator and radio host Todd Starnes who asserted that Jesus would love the film “American Sniper” and would graciously thank all the American snipers who assassinate “godless” Muslims and transport them to the “lake of fire.”

On his “American Dispatch” YouTube Broadcast, January 26, Starnes announced:

I’m no theologian, but I suspect Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire.’”

Oh the history books tell it

They tell is so well

The cavalries charged

The Indians fell

The cavalries charged

The Indians died

Oh the country was young

With God on its side.” (Bob Dylan)

From Belief to Certainty:

Religion is a human response in our attempt to answer the mysteries of life: How did we get here and what is our purpose within the cosmos? From belief in faith and mystery, many religions have taken to an arrogant certainty that they and only they have “the Truth” with a capital “T.”

Today we term the ancients’ and indigenous peoples’ explanations to the mysteries of life as “mythology” or “superstition.” The reality is that all religious doctrine stems from conjecture, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the Burning Bush, to the Covenant and the parting of the Red Sea, to the Immaculate Conception and Resurrection, to Muhammad’s rising to heaven from the Rock, to the Mormon Golden Tablets, all beginning with the human invention of God(s). 

“But now we got weapons,

Of the chemical dust.

If fire them we’re forced to,

Then fire them we must.

One push of the button

And a shot the world wide,

And you never ask questions

When God’s on your side.” (Bob Dylan)

Many of the more conservative religious denominations demonize free thinkers and critical thinkers because they cannot and will not allow themselves to be herded into pens of social conformity and convention as readily.

Though the enforcement tactics differ, this arrogant sense of certainty remains virtually the same from extreme fanatical religious-based political groups, to orthodox religious denominations within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I gave a lecture on the topic of homophobia (fear and hatred of LGBT people) at Pace University in New York City approximately six years ago. I talked about my own experiences as the target of harassment and abuse growing up gay and differently-gendered, and I addressed my book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price. In the book I argue that everyone, regardless of their actual sexuality and gender expression is hurt by homophobia and, therefore, it is in everyone’s self-interest to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate this very real and insidious form of oppression.

Following my presentation, two students came up to me — one young woman and one young man — to continue the discussion. The young woman began by telling me: “I’m really sad to hear about the abuse that you and others have received because you are gay or lesbian.

I am here to tell you that I have a way to prevent that from ever happening to you again. I believe that Jesus Christ can help you. If you ask Jesus and pray hard, Jesus will save you from your homosexual feelings and help you to achieve the life that is meant for you, in his service, as a happy and healthy heterosexual person. This will save you from the abuse you have suffered.”

My response: “So, let me see if I understand you: If I accept Jesus in my life and ask him to help me become heterosexual, then I won’t suffer from homophobia any longer? So, to be supported in society, I have to change who I am and conform to the dominant standards of society? So, for people like yourself to truly support me, I have to become like you? While I understand that you are offering me, in your mind, a gift, do you not understand how this in itself is a form of homophobia, a form of oppression? Do you not understand how this type of statement perpetuates oppression?”

She responded with surprise and claimed that she knew the “Truth,” and that if I accepted this, it could grant me salvation and happiness, but if rejected, it would result in continued earthly and eventual eternal torment.

We continued our dialogue for more than one hour, and we ended cordially. All the while, the young man had been closely looking on and listening to the young woman and my discussion. Then the young man spoke to me. He asked: “Professor Blumenfeld, you stated that you are a writer, that you had published a number of articles and books. Is this correct?

Yes,” I responded.

Okay, then,” he continued. “You know that in the writing process, the first draft is never really complete or isn’t any good.”

Yes, that’s often the case,” I agreed.

Okay, then after you have had some time for reflection and you write your second draft, this is an improvement over the first draft, but still, it can be improved. So after further reflection and writing, your third version is great. Now you can send it to your publisher.”

I said to him, “Oh no, please don’t tell me that this is a metaphor for religious texts.”

Yes, indeed,” he uttered. “The first draft is the Jewish Bible — not so good. The second draft is the Christian scriptures — somewhat better, but not much. But the best version, the third, is the Quran. The real Truth. The ultimate Truth. The only Truth.”

My response to this young man: “As we speak here, we are standing literally a few short blocks from the former World Trade Center towers. Utterances and understandings like yours and like the young woman I just spoke with, and by people of any faith, that there is one and only one ultimate religious Truth results in people taking it upon themselves, for example, to crash airplanes into buildings, or to invade others’ territories. Utterances like yours of people of any faith give people justification to kill in the name of their interpretation of ‘God.’

Why,” I argued, “cannot the young woman I just spoke with realize that her understanding of God, while valid and reliable for her, may simply not be valid and reliable for me or for you, too? And why cannot you realize that your understanding may be great for you, but not necessarily for me or for the Christian woman. How many deaths have to occur before we realize that there are many ways toward the truth, not one way for everyone when it comes to religion and spirituality?”


That was then. Though it transpired a number of years ago, this discussion comes back to my memory giving me an insight I previously had not known: That “truth” is what the dominant group declares to be “true.” “Knowledge” is anything the dominant group defines as “knowledge,” though “knowledge” itself is socially constructed and produced.

Throughout history, Jews and Muslims have killed each other, Christians and Muslims have killed each other, Christians and Jews have killed each other, Hindus and Muslims have killed each other, Catholics and Protestants have killed each other, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims have killed each other, many faith communities have killed Atheists and Agnostics, and on it goes.

Einstein said that insanity is doing something over and over again while expecting different results. The insanity of the world continues because human beings do not know their history, do not understand that we are doing something over and over again while expecting different results, namely, we are expecting peace to break out.

Individuals and entire nations continue to believe that their reality fits all, and that it is proper and right to force their beliefs onto others “with God on our side.” How many wars are we going to justify in the name of “God”: our “God” versus their so-called “false gods”? Someone said to me once that throughout the ages, more people have been killed in the name of religion than all the people who have ever died of all diseases combined. I don’t know whether this is actually the case, but I do think it highlights a vital point: we continually kill others and are killed by others over concepts we can never prove.

Religious texts — between disparate religions and between denominations within the same religion, as well as within a single text — on close examination, are paradoxical 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 Testaments when we attempt to answer the question, “Where do we go from here to ensure a just and equitable worldview?” I suggest the following:

James 2: 8-9: “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.”

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 coauthor of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

January 29th, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized