Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

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

Immigration Laws as Official “Racial” Policy

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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 Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and other prior occupants of the White House, in addition to select members and committees of Congress have suggested possible solutions to the current standoff, change seems impossible this year, even as growing numbers of people attempt to enter the country to reunite with family members or to escape violence and poverty abroad.

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

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

Between 1880 and 1920, in the range of 30-40 million immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe migrated to the United States, more than doubling the population. Fearing a continued influx of immigrants, legislators in the 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 120,000 Japanese Americans to Internment (Concentration) Camps within a number of 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.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 9th, 2014 at 10:19 pm

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Mercy over Vengeance: Israeli Jews and Palestinians

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“I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.”

Thus, Dennis Shepard, speaking for himself and his wife Judy during a gut-wrenching and terribly emotional court-room speech to one of his son Matthew’s convicted murders, Aaron McKinney, 22, spared both McKinney and his accomplice, Russell Henderson, 21, of the death penalty. As he spoke, his voice often breaking as he wiped tears streaming down his cheeks, the sound of weeping throughout the courtroom, including both men and women in the jury box, Dennis Shepard called his 21-year old son his hero, and talked of Matthew’s special gift for reaching out and helping others.

McKinney and Henderson beat, tortured, and left Matthew for dead tied to a wooden fence near Laramie, Wyoming on the chilly night of October 6, 1998. Surrounded by his loving family and friends, Matthew died six days later in hospital succumbing to severe head and brain injuries.

“Every time you celebrate Christmas,” Dennis Shepard added, “a birthday, or the Fourth of July, remember that Matthew isn’t. Every time that you wake up in that prison cell, remember that you had the opportunity and the ability to stop your actions that night. You robbed me of something very precious, and I will never forgive you for that.”

That day in October, the healing began, not only for the Shepards, the McKinneys, and the Hendersons, but also for Laramie, for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* community, and for a grieving nation.

The Shepard’s resolve in taking the moral high ground serves as a testament to the power of love over hate and vengeance. Though they may never fully forgive Matthew’s attackers, they take comfort in their actions in stopping any further killing as a result of their tragedy.

Now, in the wake of the vicious murders of three Israeli Jewish youth — Naftali Frankel, 16, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gilad Shaar, 16 — police have arrested six other Israeli Jewish teens for allegedly abducting 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and burning his body beyond recognition in what appears as a revenge killing. Also, according to video accounts, three Israeli police officers beat 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khieder, second cousin of slain Mohammed Abu Khdeir, into unconsciousness with several punches and kicks to the head. Tensions continue to mount with both sides, Israeli Jews and Palestinians throughout the region, lobbing bombs into each other’s territories.

From what we know, both Mohammed Abu Khdeir and Tariq Abu Khieder had absolutely no involvement in the murders of the three Israeli youth, but were apparently at the wrong place at the wrong time. The attacks on them stand as a deep and permanent stain on the state of Israel, and as morally reprehensible actions.

Rather than a time of revenge, continued racist madness, and a heightened march toward war, let the murders and beating of all these young men demonstrate that Jews and Palestinians alike love their children and grieve their loss. Let their love and grief connect these two peoples and allow us all to see these tragedies as “the time to start the healing process.” Let us use this time as a detour out from the perennial cycle of violence and mistrust. Let us use this time to at last negotiate an end to the occupation of vanquished territories. Let us use this time to agree to a sustainable coexistence – a possible “Two-State Solution.” Let all these senseless murders and surrounding violence serve as a catalyst to bring people together at last. Let us all show the world that we love our children far more than we hate our enemies as Matthew Shepard’s parents loved their son far more than they hated his killers.

They showed mercy, and today they live in peace with their decision. They have established the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue the work of stopping violence and hate, bullying and harassment of anyone who appears different. And they are reaching out to those who perpetrate the violence.

Their example has the potential to bring peace to a place far from Wyoming. Though many may believe my thoughts and words naïve and a pipe dream when considering the enormity of historical animosities in the region, maybe we can use a bit more naivety among the principles in the conflict since little else has shown promise in extricating us from the abyss between the people in the area, people who each claim God as their shining light giving them dominion over the land.

Show the world that these young people, and the countless others killed before them, have not died in vain. Let the healing begin.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 8th, 2014 at 9:27 pm

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“Can We Forgive You?”: A Manifesto

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Though I have contemplated writing this for many years, I have continually put it off because it represents thoughts and feelings I never really wanted to make visible. I believed that if I relegated them to the recesses of my consciousness, over time, they would simply evaporate sparing me the task of putting pen to paper (or more appropriately, key strokes to computer screen). But no matter how hard I have tried to let go of the pain and hurt, nonetheless, these thoughts and feelings keep resurfacing. Maybe now if I write them down, I can let go.

It began for me back in 1987 when I first learned that one of my favorite writers and personalities had died in France at the relatively young age of 63. James Baldwin, essayist, novelist, poet, playwright, activist, hero to many including myself, expatriated to France where he lived much of his later life. He was attracted to the cultural and political progressivism of the Left Bank, where he could escape the pressures of Jim Crow racism and the enormity of heterosexism in the United States, and where his creative energy could soar. His numerous works directly tackled issues of race, sexuality, and socioeconomic class with an unflinching and inescapable honesty, and with a clear indictment of the corrupt systems of power that dominated his native land.

Reading and listening to multiple obituaries on the day Baldwin died, I distinctly remember a particular reporter recounting an anecdote in Baldwin’s life that has stayed with me and has given me permission to feel my own similar feelings ever since. Sometime in Baldwin’s life, a white news reporter apparently asked him the question, “What do Negros want from white people?” Without hesitation, Baldwin responded, “You ask the wrong question, which should not be what we want from you, but rather, the question should be, ‘Can we forgive you?’”

I clearly understand that the ways people of color experience racism are very different from the ways queer people experience heterosexism and cissexism. Nonetheless, Baldwin’s rejoinder to the white reporter hit me like a pitcher of ice water to the face waking me and releasing the anger I had attempted to stuff inside when I was growing up during the late 1940s through the 1960s as a differently-gendered gay boy then man residing in a hostile country. Emanating from my bowels and rising to the surface gushed forth from me so many questions inspired by James Baldwin, questions in which the term “you” refers to systems of power, domination, and privilege.

Can we forgive you, the psychiatric profession, for the atrocities, the colonization, the “professional” malpractice, the defining, the so-called theories of causation, and attempts to change us that you have perpetrated over the preceding centuries in the name of “science,” the biological and psychological pathologizing of sexual and gender transgressive people? Can we forgive you for the so-called “Eugenics Movement” of the mid-nineteenth century CE though psychiatry into the twentieth century and still continuing today in some circles with the medical and psychological professions proposing and addressing, in starkly medical terms, our alleged “deficiencies,” “abnormalities,” and “mental disorders”? And can we forgive you mid last century for the involuntary hospitalizations, the electroshock therapy “treatments,” and, yes, the lobotomies?

Can we forgive you, the religious institutions, for defining us as “inherently disordered,” as “contrary to God’s will,” as “sinners,” as “perverts,” as “heretics,” as “Godless,” as “deceived” and “depraved,” as a “corrupting force on civilization and on the family,” and as “contrary to the laws of nature”? Can we forgive you for your abusive “religious counseling” to remove us from the so-called “evil gay lifestyle”? Can we forgive you for your bogus and dangerous “reparative therapy”? Can we forgive you for the defrocking, excommunications, purging, and banishments? Can we forgive you for turning our loved ones against us, and for making us internalize your lies?

Can we forgive you for firing us from government service, from the private sector workforce, from the teaching professions, from serving as foster and adoptive parents, from having contact with young people over your stereotyped fears of our alleged “predatory nature” and “agendas” to “recruit young people into our deviant lifestyles”?

Can we forgive you, law enforcement, for the tapping of our phones, the entrapment, surveillance, incarceration, the ruined careers and reputations, and the social rejection?

Can we forgive you for refusing to rent or sell us housing in your neighborhoods or evicting us once your “suspicions” have been raised over who we are, often resulting in our ghettoization and segregation?

Can we forgive you for denying us service in your businesses, for restricting our access to loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes, from attending the funerals and receiving inheritances from our life partners, basically for limiting us from all the benefits and responsibilities our heterosexual counterparts have been routinely accorded?

Can we forgive you for denying us our history, our literature, our historical personalities, our voices, our subjectivity and our agency in the schools and in the larger society keeping our collective past from us and making us believe that we have been and continue to be alone?

Can we forgive you for the bullying in the schools and in the larger society, for the harassment, the threats, the intimidation, the social isolation, the violence, the injuries and mutilations, the murders, the suicides caused by our internalizing your negative representations of us, the family rejections and abandonment, and the qualified, conditional, circumscribed, and withheld love?

Can we forgive you, nations throughout the world, for your utter neglect and lack of compassion at the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS pandemic due to your misguided insinuation that “it was just a bunch of faggots” affected? Can we forgive you for the grief we experienced attending so many funerals in part caused by your inaction?

Can we forgive you for quarantining us to second-class citizenship status by banning us from serving in the military because of your superstitions of our supposed “predatory nature in bunks and showers,” your concerns that we will “crumble under the pressure of combat,” and your apprehensions whether we will place ourselves in compromising situations where we will be forced to divulge critical defense secrets to foreign governments?

Can we forgive you, the political operatives, who used our bodies as stepping stones for your ascension to power by scapegoating us as the cause of the problems that plague our nation?

Can we forgive you for accusing us of “playing the victim card” whenever we challenged the ways you treated us, as some may be doing right now? I will tell you directly that I am playing at nothing, and that I am no victim. I am resilient! I am one of the survivors who has spent a lifetime working to relegate your treatment of us to the trash heaps of history and to turn your denial into conscious action.

I realize that a number of states during the past ten years are now “allowing” same-sex couples to marry. I realize that a number of religious organizations have at least begun to “accept” us into their congregations, and some are now performing ceremonies for same-sex couples. I realize that the U.S. government has reversed its ban on gay, lesbian, and bisexual people openly entering the military (though the ban remains on trans* service members), and now provides some of the rights granted to heterosexual couples to same-sex couples as well. I also realize that our media and larger social visibility has increased, and that many good people have come to our aid and have provided continued and welcomed support.

But for many others, how dare you “tolerate” or even “accept” us? “Acceptance” implies there is something to accept, as if a superior being deigned to regard an inferior being. This feels extremely condescending and patronizing. It seems very nobless oblige.

I understand that we as a society have come a long way even from the time I was a young person, and we still have far to travel. What can never be forgotten, however, is that as racism is white peoples’ (my) problem and obligation to eliminate, heterosexism is a heterosexual problem, and cissexism is a cisgender problem. The dominant group has the responsibility to dismantle the forms of oppression that bestow upon itself the multiple array of unearned privileges not accorded to those outside, who are often viewed as the “other.”

One day, maybe, we can truly and fully forgive you, but I can never forget.

_________________________

I want to thank Michael Benitez, Philip Clark, Cameron Conaway, Steven Dansky, Adrienne Dessel, Michael Kozuch, Daniel Mahler, and Ronni Sanlo for their brilliant and insightful suggested editorial changes and additions to this essay.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 7th, 2014 at 10:54 pm

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Open Letter to Walmart on Camp Dachau Gate Poster

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Dear Walmart,

It’s me, Warren.

I noticed you have been marketing on your website a black and white picture suitable for framing. For the bargain price of only $52.25, your loyal customers can now purchase a poster-size photograph of the front gate of Camp Dachau in Bavaria, Germany with its (in)famous inscription Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Will Set You Free), which you declare “would make a great addition to your home or office.”

So let me try to understand your psychology here. Are you employing the behavioral technique of negative reinforcement? Possibly, if we see the Dachau gate hanging in our bedroom when we first rise in the morning, we will be truly grateful to have the job we go to work to perform instead of the toil Jews and others were forced to carry out at Camp Dachau. Is that what we are supposed to take away from this? Or if we see the poster hanging in our work space, maybe we will more fully adhere to the Protestant work ethic by laboring as hard as we can right now, so we will be financially set in retirement one day? So, are you attempting to emphasize deferred gratification?

You do know don’t you that Camp Dachau was not like the Jewish camps in upstate New York? To have the opportunity of escaping the hot and crowded city and spend the summer at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel near Liberty, New York, for example, people had to work throughout the year. In this sense, work set them free to vacation. The opposite (well, actually the lie) was the case at Camp Dachau. If you were not aware, Grossinger’s was a vacation spot, whereas Dachau was a concentration camp.

At Grossinger’s, guests may have concentrated on improving their Bridge or Mahjong game, or on losing some weight playing sports, swimming, and hiking. At Camp Dachau, there were no “guests.” Nazis (you might remember them) forced people from their homes onto transport trains where many did not survive the trip. At the camp, guards “concentrated” them, thousands upon thousands, into over-packed filthy disease-laden barracks. Oh yes, Walmart, they too lost weight – actually all of their body fat and much of their muscle mass, until they either starved, worked to death, or were shot.

Hey, maybe you would like to find some pictures of the skeletal corpses to hang in your stores in the pharmacy section above your diet aid products. Or, I’m sure you can also locate pictures of Nazi S.S. officers publically humiliating orthodox Jewish men by plucking out their whiskers to the laughing German onlookers. You can hang these posters in your shaving products sections.

Hey, I know. Maybe the Nazis took photographs of the 2100 Jews, including my family members, forced to dig a mass grave in Krosno, Poland before they shot them. You can tack that poster above your garden supplies in your stores.

But no, it just occurred to me! Writing down this letter, I now realize your true motives for selling Camp Dachau. You want to emphasize that much of the merchandise you purchase comes from overseas companies that employ virtual or even actual slave labor, at salaries far below people’s basic needs, and sold in your stores by a woefully underpaid and exploited workforce. Wow, I now get it!

So, Walmart, I have a suggestion for you. Rather than making us guess your motives for selling the poster of a Nazi concentration camp gate, just come out and honestly confide to the public your true business practices. Honesty is always the best (business) policy!

Sincerely,

Warren

P.S. Hey, Walmart, maybe you actually took my suggestion because I noticed on your website that you are no longer selling your Arbeit Macht Frei poster. Too many negative comments sent your way? Or did you “sell out”?

P.P.S. I’ve noticed that Amazon is still selling the Poster on its website, so: Dear Amazon, It’s me Warren….

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 4th, 2014 at 10:42 pm

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Stars & Stripes as Symbols of Pride & Weapons of Hate

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The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They’re flying ‘em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees.”

Woody Guthrie, Deportees

I am struck this week by the juxtaposition of images: one where soccer (football) fans exaltedly and with a sense of pride lifted and feverishly waved the Stars and Strips to cheer on their team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup playoffs in Brazil, the other where U.S. citizens wrathfully and with a sense of scorn lifted and viciously waved those same Stars and Strips to protest and banish Homeland Security bureau buses carrying migrant children and families in Murrietta, California from entering a Border Patrol processing center in their community. Eventually, protesters forced the three busses to turn around and drive back to the Border Patrol facility in San Diego.

People on the busses had undergone long and brutal, often deadly, journeys through hot and barren deserts fleeing from crime and poverty in their Central American countries only to experience the cruel lie that Emma Lazarus’s call to “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddles masses yearning to breathe free” does not apply to people with brown or black skin.

Watching the protesters on my television screen brought back painful memories of witnessing the racial strife erupting like a volcano covering Boston and its suburbs with its 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.

Though raising and standing behind the very same flag, the drastic difference between the cheering fans and the jeering protesters represents a difference between “patriotism” and “nationalism” — with the corresponding concepts of “patriotic” and “nationalistic” — terms sometimes used interchangeably, but terms that are actually unique and distinct.

A definition of “patriotism”: a love for or devotion to one’s country, and a definition of “nationalism”: loyalty and devotion to a nation;especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

While the United States is a beautiful nation holding a noble concept, a vibrant idea, a vital and enduring vision, as a country, it remains still a work in process progressing toward but not yet attaining, not yet reaching that concept, that idea, that vision. And this is possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist, for the patriot understands and witnesses the divide, the gap between the reality and the promise of their country and its people. The nationalist, though, is often not aware that a gap even exists between the potential and the reality.

I interpret a true patriot to be 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.

My vision of a patriot is one who embraces 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. A patriot, indeed, sees things the way they are and tries to make them better. A nationalist…. I will leave it to you to complete the final sentence.

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

July 2nd, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Patriarchy, Religion, & the Supreme Court

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The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.”

Justice Samuel Alito, in the majority opinion, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

We can add “Justice” Samuel Alito, “Justice” Anthony Kennedy, “Justice” John Roberts, “Justice” Clarence Thomas, and last, but certainly not least, “Justice” Antonin Scalia to the oxymoron list since this Supreme Court decision amounted to anything but justice. The five men voting in the majority denied the rights of women, most particularly working-class women employees at “closely-held” (family owned with a limited number of shareholders) for-profit corporations, which actually includes most U.S. corporations, control over their reproductive freedoms generally extended to women at other companies.

The case involved the owning families of the national chain of craft stores, Hobby Lobby, plus a Christian bookstore chain, and Conestoga, a Mennonite family owned woodworking company who claimed and won the argument that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, an in particular, a few specific contraceptive devises covered by health insurance companies, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 stating that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion….” The decision follows former presidential candidate Willard Mitt Romney’s assertion that “Corporations are people my friend,” and clearly shows that million- and billion-dollar corporate families certainly exist more humanly (they are more of a person) and have more rights than workers.

When patriarchal social and economic systems of male domination attempt to keep women pregnant and taking care of children, they can restrict their entry, or at least their level and time of entry, into the workplace, and ensure women’s dependence on men economically and emotionally. As women produce more and more children, expanding numbers of little consumers emerge to contribute to the Capitalist system ever increasing profits for owners of business and industry. The patriarchal imperative to control women’s bodies amounts to imperatives to control women’s minds and life choices.

And 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. The universe is seen as continuous, ever-changing, and fluid. These religious 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 (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) 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.

Since the United States is majority Christian in all its many sects and denominations, and all five men voting in the Supreme Court majority follow some form of Christianity, I have extracted just a few of the many examples of what the Christian Testaments say about women. (As an aside, if one shops at Hobby Lobby, when checking out at the cash register, one often sees for sale a small tin of candy called “Testamints.” Really, no joke.)

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.

1 Timothy 2:11: A woman must be a learner, listening quietly and with due submission…. 2:13: For Adam was created first, and Eve afterwards. 2:14: and it was not Adam who was deceived; it was the woman who, yielding to deception, fell into sin. 2:15: Yet she will be saved through motherhood – if only women continue in faith, love, and holiness, with a sober mind.

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.

Sexism

As I ponder the Supreme Court’s ruling, I reflect on the term “sexism,” which I define as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on males. It is prejudice and discrimination based on sex, especially against females and intersex people, and is founded on a patriarchal structure of male dominance promoted through individual, institutional, social, and cultural systems.

Throughout history, examples abound of male domination over the rights and lives of women and girls: Men denied women the vote until women fought hard and demanded the rights of political enfranchisement, though women in some nations today still are restricted from voting; strictly enforced gender-based social roles mandated without choice that women’s only option was to remain in the home to undertake cleaning and childcare duties; women were and continue to be by far the primary target of harassment, abuse, physical assault, and rape by men and boys; women were and remain locked out of many professions; rules in the United States once required women teachers to relinquish their jobs after marriage; in fact, the institution of marriage itself was structured on a foundation of male domination with men serving as the so-called “head of the household” and taking on sole ownership of all property. In other words, men have constructed women and girls as second-class and even third-class citizens, but certainly not as victims, because through it all, women and girls as a group have challenged the inequities and have pushed back against patriarchal constraints.

The U.S. Department of Labor has found that women overall make approximately 77 cents compared to $1.00 by white men. Looking at women of color, the findings are even lower: Asian American women, 74 cents; African American women, 67 cents; and Latinas, 56 cents.

Though many people of all sexes are fully aware of the continuing existence of sexism and male privilege, and they are working tirelessly for its eradication, many others, however, fail to perceive its harmful effects on themselves and others. This apparent invisibility of sexism and male privilege in many “Western” countries, in fact, not only fortifies but, indeed, strengthens this form of oppression and privilege by perpetuating patriarchal power and control in such a way as to avoid detection.

I have heard some people refer to our current times as a “post-Feminist” era, where sexism and male privilege no longer impose major social barriers. They are referring to “Feminism,” which can be defined as the cultural, political, economic, and civil rights movement for the advancement of equality and equity between the sexes.

For me this brings to mind a cleaver and I believe insightful bumper sticker produced by the National Association for Women: “I’ll be Post-Feminist in the Post-Patriarchy.” Unfortunately, however, as we see in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, patriarchy is still alive and fully functioning.

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), and editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 1st, 2014 at 2:11 am

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Stonewall: A Brief Reflection Back & Look Forward

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The histories of minoritized sexual and gender people are filled with incredible pain and enormous pride, of overwhelming repression and victorious rejoicing, of stifling invisibility and dazzling illumination. Throughout the ages, same-sex love and relationships and gender non-conformity have been called many things: from “sins,” “sicknesses,” and “crimes” to “orientations,” “identities,” and even “gifts from God.”

During our own times, at approximately one-twenty on the morning of June 28, 1969, New York City Police officers conducted a routine raid on the Stonewall Inn bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village on the charge that the owners had been selling alcohol without a license. Feeling they had been harassed far too long, people challenged police officers on this morning lasting with varying intensity over the next five nights by flinging bottles, rocks, bricks, trash cans, and parking meters used at battering rams.

In reality, even before these historic events at the Stonewall Inn, a little-known action preceded Stonewall by nearly three years, and should more likely be considered as the founding event for the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, trans*, and intersex (LGBATI) movement. In August 1966, at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, in what is known as the Tenderloin District in San Francisco, trans* people and gay sex workers joined in fighting police harassment and oppression. Police, conducting one of their numerous raids, entered Compton’s, and began physically harassing the clientele. This time, however, people fought back by hurling coffee at the officers and heaving cups, dishes, and trays around the cafeteria. Police retreated outside as customers smashed windows. Over the course of the next night, people gathered to picket the cafeteria, which refused to allow trans* people back inside.

Out of the ashes of Compton’s Cafeteria and the Stonewall Inn came a number of militant groups organized primarily by young people in their teens and early twenties. One of the first was the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). GLF was not a formalized organization per se, but rather it consisted of a series of small groups across the U.S. and other countries. Members held meetings in people’s living rooms, basements in houses of worship, and storefronts. They insisted on the freedom to explore new ways of living as part of a radical program of social transformation. GLF adopted a set of principles emphasizing coalition-building with other disenfranchised groups — feminists, minoritized ethnicities, people of color, working-class people, young people, elders, people with disabilities —as a means of dismantling the economic and social structures they considered inherently oppressive.

I was an early member of GLF DC. For the men, we came to consciousness how we had been stifled as males growing up in a culture that taught us to hate the feminine within – that taught us that if we were to be considered worthy, we must be athletic, independent, assertive, domineering, and competitive. Most of all, we rejected the idea that, to truly be men, we must bury our emotions deep within the recesses of our souls.

It soon became apparent, however, that ideological differences among GLF members were to significant for all to remain in one organization. Some formed a new organization called the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA): a non-violent militant organization working for the civil rights of LGBT people often through direct actions. The organization took its logo from the Greek letter Lambda, a symbol for wavelength in quantum physics suggesting dynamism.

While some women remained in GLF and GAA, many considered their issues and concerns different from those of men. Many separated and formed groups and created publications along feminist principles. They argued that the fight against sexism required all women to band together to challenge male privilege and heterosexual institutions. Others who separated included, for example, trans* activists who founded the group STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), which offered shelter and support to homeless youth.

Reflecting Back & Looking Forward

As we approach the 45th anniversary commemoration of the Stonewall Inn-surrection, I reflect back to where we have come and look forward to imagine where we might go in the not-to-distant years to come.

Post-World War II America signaled the beginning of “Cold War” and a swing back to political and social conservatism. On the floor of the U.S. Senate the brash Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin sternly warned that Communists corrupt the minds and homosexuals corrupt the bodies of good Americans, and he proceeded to have them officially banned from government service. During this era, police frequently raided LGBATI bars, which were usually Mafia owned, the U.S. Postal Service raided our organizations and even published the names of their mailing lists in local newspapers, and people lost their jobs. We were often involuntarily committed to mental institutions. Some were forced to undergo painful and damaging electro-shock therapy, and some were lobotomized.

In 1951 a new group formed in Los Angeles for the purpose of unifying primarily gay and bisexual men. The Mattachine Society took its name from Les Societes Mattachines, a theater company of unmarried men who, in 13th-14th-century France and Spain, dressed as women and performed songs and spiritual rites for the citizenry.

One of the founders, Harry Hay, believed that gay and bisexual men must join with other minoritized groups in defeating Capitalism, which was the root cause of their oppression. Soon other Mattachine chapters formed throughout the country, and by 1953 a struggle over leadership took the organization in a more conservative direction. By this time, members of the growing movement adapted the self-descriptive term “homophile,” (“love of same”) preferring it over the rather clinical and sex-focused term “homosexual.”

In San Francisco by 1955, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon formed a lesbian organization calling it the Daughters of Bilitis. They took the name from the 1894 poem, “Song of Bilitis” by Pierre Louys in which Bilitis is a lesbian poet who lived with Sappho in ancient Greece on the isle of Lesbos. Soon other chapter are formed around the country, and they published The Ladder serving as a link and resource for lesbians. The group’s stated purpose was to educate what they referred to as “the variant” to “understand herself and make her adjustment to society” by leading public discussions, and “advocating a mode of behavior and dress acceptable to society,” which they hoped would shatter negative myths and lead to the elimination of prejudicial laws.

Though the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis increased, somewhat, homophile visibility, their membership was relatively small, for these were extremely conservative times. Adding to the chill was President Dwight Eisenhower who issued Executive Order 10450, excluding those who engage in so-called “sexual perversion” from obtaining government jobs.Even in this climate, a coalition of groups, including chapters of Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society, sponsored a public demonstration in front of the White House on October 23, 1965 to protest the federal government official policy of “discrimination and hostility against its homosexual American citizens.” In addition, they sponsored an “Annual Reminder” on July 4, 1966 – 1969 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia as a visibility action.

During the 1960s, the country underwent tumultuous social change as growing numbers of people began to challenge basic underlying assumptions concerning authority and relationships of power. Sparked by the homophile movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and from the growing gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, and feminist movements, the first officially recognized college student group organized as the Student Homophile League at Columbia University in 1967 in New York City, followed closely by groups at MIT, Stanford, Cornell, and others. Today, literally thousands exist.

The decade of the 1970s was nearly at an end when a New York doctor discovered a patient with a number of unexplained maladies including an extremely rare form of cancer and pneumonia. By the end of 1980, at least fifty patients had been identified —the overwhelming majority being gay and bisexual men. Not knowing what else to call this constellation of diseases, medical researchers initially gave it the name “Gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID), but soon changed it to “Acquired immune deficiency syndrome” (AIDS) following objections from young gay activists who argued against naming a syndrome of unknown origin after an already stigmatized group.

LGBATI people were on the forefront of a coordinated effort to provide care and support for people with HIV/AIDS. Existing gay and lesbian community centers expanded services, while establishing new centers dedicated to serving the needs of people with AIDS and their loved ones.

To fight governmental and societal inaction, in 1986, the direct-action group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) formed in New York City largely by young activists. A network of local chapters quickly grew in over 120 cities throughout the world. ACT UP groups, based on a philosophy of direct, grass-roots actions, conducted highly visible demonstrations, often involving acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in which participants on occasion placed themselves at risk for arrest and even injury. AIDS activists, which primarily included young people, not only challenged traditional ways that scientific knowledge was disseminated, but more importantly, questioned the very mechanisms by which scientific inquiry was conducted, and they have even redefined the meanings of “science.” They won important victories on a number of fronts, including assisting people in becoming active participants in their own medical treatments, having greater input into drug trial designs, expanding access to drug trials, and expediting approval for certain drug therapies. In addition, Community Advisory Boards now hold pharmaceutical companies more accountable for the prices they charge.

While many activists focused primarily on HIV/AIDS, organizing around non-AIDS-specific concerns also continued. A new generation of LGBATI youth activists came of age a decade into the AIDS crisis. Activists began to reject many of the mainstream movement’s more assimilationist strategies, which emphasized a commitment to electoral politics and claims that we were “just like everyone else.” Queer nationals, as many called themselves, reclaimed the word “queer” — turning a term of oppression into one of empowerment by proudly asserting their difference, and by rejecting assimilationist strategies. They chose the term “queer” as one of inclusion, and encompassed LGBATI people and even heterosexual allies who supported liberation and the limiting societal notions of “normalcy.”

Using direct-action, confrontational strategies similar to those of ACT UP in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the Gay Liberation Front, Gay Activists Alliance, and Feminist organizations of the early 1970s, the group Queer Nation formed in New York City in 1990 with independent chapters soon appearing in local communities around the country, including college and university campuses, and in other countries. Organizing under the motto, “We’re here. We’re queer. We’re fabulous. Get used to it!,” Queer Nation members stressed “queer visibility” and an end to heterosexual privilege and heterosexism.

Another significant component of the emergence of queer nationalism is academic scholarship that has channeled major theoretical labor into issues of identity, sexuality, and corporeality on college and university campuses. What has come to be referred to as “Queer Theory,” “Gender Theory,” and “Queer Studies,” has since had enormous impact in the “academy.”

Queer theory is founded on the notion that “identities” are not fixed and are instead socially rather than biologically determined. Queer theorists insist that identities comprise many and varied elements, and that it is inaccurate and misleading to collectively categorize people on the basis of one single element (for example, as “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “heterosexual,” or as “woman,” “man,” and others).

A variety of theorists argue that the notion of “gender” is a concept that is taught and learned and sustained in the service of maintaining positions of domination and subordination. Not only are the categorical man/woman, heterosexual/homosexual and bisexual, and gender conforming/gender non-conforming binary frames inaccurate and constraining for the complexities and diversity of human bodies and lives, but also they leave no space for intersex people–the estimated one in 2000 people born with either indeterminate or combined male and female sexed bodies–and trans* people. In the case of gender, the binary imperatives actually lock all people into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit creativity and self-expression, and therefore, we all have an interest in challenging and eventually obliterating the binaries.

Trans* people are increasingly coming out of another closet in large numbers. Many include young people emerging from a new generation of activists who are on the cutting edge in the movement for equality and pride. They are making the links between trans* oppression, heterosexism, and sexism. The increased visibility and activism of trans* activists has had the effect of shaking up traditionally dichotomous notions of gender and sexuality. They are creating a vision of social transformation as opposed to mere reform by contesting and exploding conventional gender constructions, most notably the limiting and destructive binary conceptualizations and definitions of “masculinity” and “femininity.”

Youth are transforming and revolutionizing the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities related not only to sexuality and gender identity categorizations and hierarchies, but they are also making links in the various types of oppression, and are forming coalitions with other marginalized groups. They are dreaming their dreams, sharing their ideas and visions, and organizing to ensure a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression, and along their journey, they are inventing new ways of relating and being in the world. Their stories, experiences, and activism have great potential to bring us to a future where people across the gender and sexuality spectrums will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender and sexuality. It is a future in which all the disparate varieties of sexuality and gender expression will live and prosper in us all.

For my LGBTQ History PowerPoints, go to www.warrenblumenfeld.com. On the right side column, press “Slide Presentations,” which will take you to the PowerPoints.

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

June 28th, 2014 at 11:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Republican Party Can Learn from al-Maliki’s Mistakes

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Currently serving his second term as Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki took office leading his Shiite Muslim-dominated Dawa Party in 2006. His rise to prominence began as a political dissenter protesting the policies and tactics of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime in the late 1970s and sored after he was forced to flee a death sentence to live in exile for 24 years. While abroad, he became the principal leader of the Dawa opposition, while cultivating relationships with Iranian and Syrian officials for assistance in toppling Saddam and his Sunni Muslim-controlled Ba’ath Party.

Since ascending to the chief position of Prime Minister, al-Maliki has crafted a nearly exclusively Shiite-dominated administration, which has had the effect of marginalizing and stoking dissent and creating an ever-increasing insurgency among the Sunni Muslim and Kurdish minorities. In recent weeks, a virtual civil war has broken out across the country, particularly in the northern and western regions of Iraq, led by the Sunni-controlled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an offshoot of Al Qaeda.

Numerous observers and actors alike in the conflict blame al-Maliki’s refusal to form a coalition government, composed of multiple sectors and factions within the country, for the ongoing existential crisis.

The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the chief Shia religious figure in Iraq, said that political parties must establish a government “that enjoys broad national acceptance [and] that reverses past mistakes,” a not-so-subtle reference to al-Maliki’s unwavering sectarianism.

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary weighed in: “There’s no question that not enough has been done by the government, including the prime minister, to govern inclusively, and that that has contributed to the situation and the crisis that we have today in Iraq.” He hoped the people of Iraq will “impress upon [their leaders] the absolute necessity of rejecting sectarian governance.”

By comparison, the Republican Party in the U.S. seems to follow a similar failed restrictive and divisive sectarian partisan approach as does the al-Maliki government.

Multiculturalism and the Republican Party

I went to the Iowa State website and…I typed in “multicultural,” and it came back to me, at the time, 59 different multicultural groups listed to operate on campus at Iowa State. It started with Asians and it ended with Zeitgeist, so from A to Z, and most of them were victims’ groups, victimology, people that feel sorry for themselves, and they’re out there recruiting our young people to be part of the group that feels sorry for themselves. (Rep. Steve King, R-IA)

There’s only one race here, it’s the American race. And the only way you accomplish that is through assimilation. That is what our immigration laws are designed to promote, and that is precisely what illegal immigration undermines. (Rep. Tom McClintock, R-CA)

Regardless how Representatives King and McClintock distort the concept and the reality of multiculturalism, the United States embodies one of the most diverse nations on this planet. Multiculturalism represents the valuing of diversity in terms of customs and cultures, ways of knowing, and ways of viewing the world, where the nation works for the true attainment of “cultural pluralism,” a term coined by the Jewish immigrant and sociologist of Polish and Latvian heritage, Horace Kallen, to challenge the image of the so-called “melting pot,” which he considered inherently undemocratic. Kallen envisioned a United States in the image of a great symphony orchestra, not sounding in unison (the mythical “melting pot”), but rather, one in which all the disparate cultures play in harmony and retain their unique and distinctive tones and timbres.

In 2012, President Barack Obama won a second term as President of the United States collecting 332 to former Governor Willard Mitt Romney’s 206 Electoral College votes, while garnering 62,157,012 votes to Ramney’s 58,805,092. In fact, the Republican Party has only carried the popular vote in presidential elections twice, 1988 and 2004, in the last 24 years.

Though Romney pulled in nearly 60 percent of the white vote, a voting demographic that has steadily declined relative to the overall electorate since 1992, fully 45 percent of President Obama’s total came from minoritized communities carrying 93 percent of African Americans, 73 percent of Asian Americans, and 71 percent of Latino/as. In addition, since the election year of 1964, more women than men have voted, and President Obama garnered 55 percent of the women’s vote this time around. Young people between the ages of 18 to 29 made up nearly one-fifth of the total votes cast in this election, with Obama carrying 60 percent to Romney’s 38 percent.

Since their recent defeat, GOP political leaders, including Republican National Committee Chair, Reince Priebus, have licked their wounds. Some are now asserting that the Party must reach out to diverse cultural and social groups and place new faces at the forefront to ensure the Party does not land on the endangered species list. Names like Cuban American U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Indian American Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) have surfaced as possible candidates to attract additional demographic groups, traditional Democratic Party constituencies, into their currently small and restrictive tent.

For the Republicans to have any future, however, they are fooling themselves if they think that by merely presenting diverse faces or changing their rhetoric alone will lead them to victory. To remain viable, the GOP must articulate a diversity of thought and a diversity of policies to give people something to vote for, something to embrace, something that makes peoples’ lives better, rather than rehashing the failed policies of the past. They must let go of their nostalgia for the “good ol’ days” of Ronald Reagan, which were in actuality not so great, and enter the current political era.

The late Dr. Derrick Bell of New York University Law School advanced the theory of “interest convergence,” meaning that white people will support racial justice only when they understand and see something in it for themselves, when there is a “convergence” between the interests of white people and racial justice. Bell asserted that the Supreme Court ended the longstanding policy in 1954 of “separate but equal” in Brown v. Board of Education because it wanted to present to the world, and in particular, to the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, a United States that supported civil and human rights.

So, when the Republican Party realizes its interests to follow the expressed wishes of the majority of the electorate, maybe then the GOP will join with the Democrats to craft and pass comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform; maintain and strengthen legislation to guarantee affordable universal health care; secure Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment insurance; restore and expand the food stamps program; expand free and reduced school lunch programs and improve food quality in these programs, and ensure other vital safety nets; eliminate the pay equity gap between men and women in the workplace, and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA); end and reverse all current and past attempts at voter suppression of minoritized groups, young people, elders, and working class voters; ensure reproductive freedoms for all women; work for marriage equality at the national and local levels; support bullying prevention campaigns; increase national funding for public schools; help to reduce costs and expand opportunities for people to attend college and enroll in job training programs, and enlarge government guaranteed grants and loan options at lower interest rates; initiate and maintain equitable tax policy where the rich and super rich pay their fair share; restore and expand the Voting Rights Act; reverse the provisions imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the “Citizens United” case, and place equitable restrictions on campaign contributions and financing; pass a jobs bill that puts people back to work to repair our ageing and crumbling infrastructure; pass common sense gun control laws; tighten regulations on Wall Street and our banking systems to limit the risks of future meltdowns; increase environmental anti-pollution standards, invest significantly more in renewable and clean energy research and sources, and work vigorously to eliminate the nation’s use of fossil fuels; increase funding for military veterans’ health programs and for U.S. embassy security; ensure the “strict wall of separation” between religion and government; and the list goes on.

If the Republican Party does not provide leadership and vision to attract an increasingly diverse electorate, and join in legislative coalitions, it will ultimately go the way of the dinosaurs, Edsel automobiles, Kodak cameras, and numerous political parties, including the U.S. Whigs, the Know-Nothings, and inevitably al-Maliki’s Prime Ministry, and enter oblivion.

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

June 21st, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

International LGBT Rights: The Canaries in the Mine Shaft

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It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished.”

In her historic speech at the United Nations gathering in Geneva, Switzerland on International Human Rights Day, 6 December 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton affirmed the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) people of every nation who deserve respect and protection under the law. In her speech she also promised that “Wherever you live and whatever your circumstances…please know that you are not alone.”

Overview

Unfortunately, however, individuals, social institutions, and governments do not universally share her sentiments, to which even a cursory summary of international conditions under which LGBT people often live will testify. I have long thought that LGBT people metaphorically can be seen as representing the “canary in the mine shaft” since in places where individuals, institutions, and entire societies marginalize, commit violence against, and where they deny basic human rights to LGBT people, other social groups face similar if not worse adverse treatment as well.

Today approximately 80 countries worldwide criminalize same-sex relations and gender non-conformity, from India to Kenya, from Uganda to Kuwait, from Russia to Papua New Guinea, and many places in between, as well as in some states within the United States as late as 2003.

In June 2013, the Russian Parliament passed and President Vladimir Putin signed its “anti-homosexual propaganda” law specifically targeting “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors,” including public discussions, events that “promote” LGBT rights, such as Pride Marches, and public displays of affection by same-sex couples that children might see or hear.

Lithuania’s Seimas (Parliament) in 2009 passed a nationwide law prohibiting the media and schools from distributing public information that has an adverse effect on the mental, physical, or intellectual health and moral development of young people, including the dissemination of information that promotes violence, suicide, and homosexuality, and specifically, that “agitates for homosexual, bisexual relations, or polygamy.”

In Moldova, the Balti city legislature ratified a law against “gay propaganda” in 2013. One year before, the Hungarian far-right political party, Jobbik, submitted an anti-gay propaganda bill to the country’s parliament. The bill would have banned “promotion of sexual deviation” targeting LGBT people as well as banning “pedophilic behavior.” Also in 2012, a police commission in Budapest turned down a request to allow an annual LGBT Pride march.

On 20 June 2011, six members of the Ukrainian Parliament from all the major political parties introduced a draft law (a bill), No. 8711 titled “On Introduction of Changes to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine (regarding protection of children’s rights on the safe information sphere).” The draft law restricted basic human and civil rights of LGBT people, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. This bill, if it had passed, would have made it a criminal offence to promote “propaganda of homosexualizm” by distributing information and the use of public broadcasting. Violation of Ukraine’s criminal code carries penalties ranging from a fine to 5 years imprisonment.

On 20 May 2012, organizers of the first scheduled Pride march planned for Ukraine in the capital city Kiev were forced to cancel the event over safety concerns as an estimated 500 neo-Nazi nationalists threatened to disrupt the proceedings. A group of masked thugs savagely attacked activist and organizer Svyatoslav Sheremet of the group Gay Forum of Ukraine, following a media briefing regarding the march’s cancellation called just before it was due to start. Also, the previous day, vandals destroyed a photo exhibit that showcased the lives of LGBT families in Ukraine under the former Soviet Republic. This came shortly following the seventh consecutive prohibition by Russian authorities of Moscow Pride activities.

Uganda enacted its Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014 carrying penalties as high as life imprisonment, and also provisions for Uganda citizens engaging in same-sex relations outside Uganda to be extradited back for prosecution. The law includes harsh penalties for individuals, companies, media outlets, and other organizations that support LGBT rights, or those who do not turn in suspected LGBT people to the police. Since the law went into effect, LGBT people have been arrested, their offices raided, and attacked by mobs.

In Iran, the current Islamic Penal Code criminalizes mutually consensual same-sex relations, with punishments ranging from 100 lashes for consensual sexual relations between women (Article 239) to the death penalty for consensual sexual relations between men (Article 234). In addition, the Code criminalizes other acts between members of the same sex, including touching and intimate kissing, punishable by up to 74 lashes (Article 237). Since Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, human rights organizations estimate upwards of 4000 men accused of same-sex relations executed by government officials.

The Trans Murder Monitoring Project keeps records of homicides of trans* people worldwide. Its March 2013 update reported a total of 1,123 known murders of trans* people in 57 countries from January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2012. The highest number of reported cases came from Central and South America, which accounted for 77% of the total. In the United States alone, the FBI reported in 2012 that of the 5,790 victims of hate-related crimes that year, 19.6%, or approximately 1,134, comprised victims of sexual orientation bias.

Senator Edward Markey Taking the Initiative

I was honored to have been asked to participate in a roundtable discussion with other professional and grassroots community activists and educators working in the area of LGBT health issues and human rights, where my U.S. Senator Edward Markey (a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) briefed us on a groundbreaking and forward-thinking initiative he introduced in the Senate. The bill titled the International Human Rights Defense Act (S.2472) already holds 24 co-sponsors.

The bill, when passed, creates a dedicated on-going high-level position within the U.S. Department of State. According to the description of the bill handed out at the briefing, the act directs the Department of State to:

  • Make preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against the LGBT community a foreign policy priority and devise a global strategy to achieve those goals.
  • Coordinate efforts to promote international LGBT human rights with local advocacy groups, governments, multilateral organizations, and the private sector.
  • Create the position of “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Peoples” in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which will be responsible for all inter-bureau and inter-agency coordination of the United States government’s efforts to defend human rights for the LGBT community internationally.
  • Continue to include a section on LGBT international human rights in the annual State Department Report on Human Rights.

The bill has already garnered support from numerous organizations, including Amnesty International, Council for Global Equality, American Jewish World Service, National Center for Transgender Equality, MassEquality, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Advocates for Youth, and others.

Throughout the roundtable discussion and briefing, Sen. Markey addressed our questions, and recorded our suggestions to consider in forwarding the bill’s eventual enactment. The Senator stated that he is hopeful, even confident, that the legislation will earn bipartisan support and that a concurrent resolution will ultimately emanate from the House of Representatives.

Throughout President Barack Obama’s administration, we have seen progress to assure the civil rights of LGBT people on multiple fronts. Both the president and vice president have “come out” in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court killed the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in its 2013 United States v. Windsor ruling. The measure, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, permitted states to deny acceptance of marriages for same-sex couple in other states. The U.S. Internal Revenue service ruled in 2013 that same-sex couples may now file joint income tax forms if legally married, even if they move to a state that does not recognize marriage equality. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission mandated that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of gender identity, which would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination.

The California legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in 2011, SB48, the first in the nation statute requiring the state Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other educational materials in social studies courses that include contributions of LGBT people. California in 2012 followed shortly after by New Jersey, outlawed therapists to practice so-called “reparative therapy” to “cure” homosexuality.

Yes, we still have far to travel to assure full human and civil rights of LGBT people, and people of all social identities in the United States and in many if not most countries across our planet. Thanks, however, to the pioneering legislation introduced by Senator Markey and the co-sponsors, who have set a high international moral imperative, the potential for the advancement of full citizen rights of LGBT people, where no more canaries choke on gas fumes in mine shafts will become a reality.

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

 

 

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

June 15th, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Acceptance Contingent on Conversion: The Politics of Religion

without comments

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

I often travel around the United States and internationally presenting talks on numerous issues of social justice. A few years back, I gave a talk on the topic of heterosexism and cissexism at Pace University in New York City. I talked about my own experiences as the target of harassment and abuse growing up gay and differently gendered, and I discussed the thesis of my book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price. In the book I argue that everyone, regardless of one’s actual sexuality identity and gender identity and expression are hurt by sexuality and gender oppression, and, therefore, it is in everyone’s self-interest to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate these very real and insidious forms of oppression.

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

“I am here to tell you,” she continued, “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 your gender behavior, and He can help you to achieve the life that is meant for you, in his service, as a happy and healthy heterosexual. This will save you from the abuse you have suffered.”

I looked deeply into her eyes and inquired: “So, let me see if I understand you: If I accept Jesus in my life and ask him to help me become heterosexual and traditionally gendered, then I won’t suffer from the abuse 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 accept and support me, I have to become like you?”

“This is what I am hearing you saying. While I understand that you are offering me, in your mind, a gift, do you not see how this in itself is a form of heterosexism and cissexism? Do you not see how this perpetuates oppression?”

She responded with surprise and claimed that she knew the “truth,” and that if I accepted “Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior,” He could grant me salvation and happiness, but if I continued to reject “the Lord,” this would result in continued earthly and eventual eternal torment.

This young woman’s words brought to mind something one of the students in my Multicultural Foundations in Schools and Society course wrote on his final essay for our course:

“[A]s a Christian I am called to not be tolerant. I am not called to be violent, but am called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). When I look through all of the information I have been given in my life….I come to the conclusion that America was founded as a Christian nation….Separation of church and state was created to keep the state out of changing the church, not to keep the church out of the state” (undergraduate male pre-service teacher education university student).

The young woman and I at Pace university continued our dialogue for more than one hour, and we ended cordially. I thanked her for dialoguing with me, and she exited the auditorium with a smile.

All the while, the young man who had initially walked up to me at the close of my presentation had been closely looking on and listening to the young woman and my discussion. The young man then 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 very good.”

“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, “Possibly, but I think I know where your analogy is taking us. Please don’t tell me that this is a metaphor for religious texts.”

“Yes, indeed,” he said with a smile. “The first draft is the Hebrew 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.”

I responded to the young man: “As we speak, we are standing a mere few 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, that there is only way, this results in people taking it upon themselves, for example, to crash airplanes into buildings. 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 and for the Christian woman? How many must we humans kill 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 this occurred 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 truth to be. “Knowledge” is anything the dominant group defines as “knowledge,” though “knowledge” itself is socially constructed and produced.

How many wars are we going to justify in the name of “God,” our “God” versus their so-called “false god(s)”?

Someone once said to me 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 believe this to be the case, but I do think it highlights a vital point, that we continually kill others and others attempt to kill us over concepts that no one can ever prove.

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 the killing persists.

In psychology, we have the notion 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.”

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

 

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

June 15th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized