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KKK Posing as Victim of “Cultural Genocide

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For literally decades, calls have gone out by civil and human rights advocates to remove of the battle flag of the Confederacy from public sites like state capitol grounds and other government buildings. This movement gained enormous momentum recently following the brutal racist murders of nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown, South Carolina by an avowed white supremacist.

On his Facebook page, the 21-year-old gunman posed for pictures wearing a military-style jacket with insignia patches of flags of apartheid South Africa and white ruled Rhodesia (today known as Zimbabwe). In another picture, he waved a Confederate battle flag, and in another, he stood holding a burning American flag. In addition, he wore a T-shirt with the number 88 printed on the front, he had 88 Facebook friends, and he scribbled that number in the South Carolina sand. “H” is the 8th letter of the alphabet, and in white supremacist circles, “88” symbolizes “Heil Hitler.”

To their credit, a number of conservative political leaders in positions of power have finally called for the flag’s dismantling. During a recent press conference, South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley asserted:

“Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will to say it is time to remove the flag from our capitol grounds. This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”

Republican Alabama Governor Robert Bentley ordered that all four Confederate flags must go from the Confederate memorial at the state capitol in Montgomery. And Mississippi state House of Representatives Speaker, Philip Gunn, called for a change in that state’s official flag by deleting the Confederate flag symbol that has adorned the flag’s corner since 1894. Said Gunn:

“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us. As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”

In addition, Georgia officials ordered the redesign of current state license plates by expunging the two Confederate battle flags boldly stamped in clear view.

Though of no real surprise, not all individuals and groups call for the flag to go. Most on this side of the debate use the argument that the flag does not represent racism and white supremacy, per se, but rather, represents Southern pride and Southern history more generally. For example, the so-called Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) Pelham, North Carolina chapter recently reserved the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse to hold a rally in support of maintaining the Confederate flag for public display at that site.

According to the Grand Titan (which sounds ominous to me) of the KKK chapter, James Spears, the purpose of the rally is to protest “the Confederate flag being took (sic) down for all the wrong reasons. It’s part of white people’s culture.”

Of particular interest (a.k.a. here as absurdity, irrationality, outlandishness, and lunacy), the arguments put forward by the group include that removing the flag is tantamount to committing “cultural genocide.” On its website, which includes the Confederate flag, the group demands: “Say No to Cultural Genocide….[M]ost groups out there and especially white people are to [sic] cowardly to stand up for their heritage.”

By positioning themselves as the victims in this drama, the white supremacists have misappropriated the terminology of actions they have historical perpetrated upon others.

“Cultural Genocide”

Joel Spring discusses the concept of “cultural genocide” defined as “the attempt to destroy other cultures” through forced acquiescence and assimilation to majority rule of cultural and religious standards. This cultural genocide works through the process of “deculturalization,” which Spring describes as “the educational process of destroying a people’s culture and replacing it with a new culture.”

Dominant European-heritage groups have committed cultural genocide upon minoritized peoples since the first white person landed on these shores. Later, for example, 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. During this time, 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 the destruction of other cultural identities.

Theodore Roosevelt 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….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.”

Another example of “cultural genocide” and “deculturalization” can be exposed in the case of Christian European American domination over Native American Indians, whom European Americans viewed as “uncivilized,” “godless heathens,” “barbarians,” and “devil worshipers.” So until the 1960s, a pattern emerged (what some social scientists termed the “immigrant analogy”) in which white ethnic groups initially migrated to cities, assimilated into the dominant Anglo culture, and achieved a certain degree of upward mobility. They oftentimes, therefore, relinquished their cultural identities for the promise of social and economic success.

Many of these same social scientists assumed that people of color (then called “minorities” or “racial minorities”) would follow this model. However, they did not fully comprehend the profound saliency of “race” and racism in the United States, the ethnic consciousness of some groups, and their desire to retain their cultural heritage.

By the late 1960s, communities of color, as well as some white ethnic groups—predominantly from working-class backgrounds—and women in a new wave of the feminist movement, reacted against this ruthless “Americanization” process and the “melting pot” and demanded rather the creation of a “patchwork quilt” or “salad bowl” in which each group—while joining with other groups—would, nonetheless, retain its unique cultural traditions and identities.

Later joined by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans* activists, advocates for youth and the elderly, people with disabilities, and working class people, a push was underway to “decenter” the standard school curriculum and teach from multiple (multicultural) perspectives. The multicultural movement was founded on the principle that multiple voices and multiple perspectives must be represented in order to ensure a well rounded education for all students, and to aid in the identity development process so essential to young people.

Back to KKK

So I ask the KKK, how exactly do you define, as you term it, “white people’s culture”?

Let’s be clear here: the Confederate battle flag no more represents white Southern culture anymore than the swastika flag represents Gentile German culture. What these flags do have in common, though, is that they both symbolize Christian white supremacy, terrorism, treason, separation, exclusion, enslavement, murder, and in the United States, yes, cross burnings.

The Confederate flag exemplifies an economic system built literally on the backs and the blood of enslaved African peoples. It epitomizes a brief, ignoble, and tragic period in time, and not Southern culture in its nuanced enormity.

Not flown much in the South following the Civil War, many conservative politicians and others reimposed the Confederate flag during the early 1960s in reaction to the civil and human rights initiatives then sweeping the country to end Jim Crow segregation and to improve the mistreatment of people of color throughout the country.

The Confederate flag does not represent pride, but rather, it symbolizes the worse aspects of humanity’s inhumanity: actions committed by individuals and groups like the KKK itself. White supremacists’ attempts to transform themselves in the public imagination from perpetrator of terrorism to innocent victim smacks not only as hollow and disengenuous, but moreso, it shows the group’s utter contempt for the intelligence of the people across our nation.

If anyone desires a flag representing Southern culture, choose symbols that have positively impacted people of all social identities, the proud and positive contributions the people of the South (not only white people) have made to the overall betterment and unity of the United States and the world.

If, however, the KKK and other white supremacist groups percist in addressing issues of “cultural genocide,” they need to educate themselves regarding the lived experiences of African Americans, most of whose ancestors were stolen from their families, their cultures, their homelands and dumped in chains into cargo holds aboard ships; exported like lumber or grain; and if they survived the voyage, forced to stand naked on foreign shores in all types of weather conditions, examined, and sold to the highest bidder like beasts of burden to perform gruilling and hazardous unpaid labor; forbidded to learn to read or attain any level of educaton outside their required plantation tasks; coerced to relinquish their language and all their cultural traditions; made to take on the language and religion of their abusers; separated from their parents, children, and partners; tortured; and killed.

Because of this horrific legacy, many African Americans do not know from which of the African nations their ancestors came. Many do not know of their familial origins because of white supremacy! And in spite of it all, with the physical and emotional scares still lingering in the descendents of enslaved peoples of the Americas, and with bodies straight and heads lifted, as individuals joining in a mighty and glorious chorus sounding together demanding, Enough is enough! The flag must come down as a symbolic step in finally and truly dismantling the white supremacy that has plague this land ever since Europeans first set sail.

The U.S. Civil War has long since ended! Though the Southern states made a galient effort to maintain their economic system built on the institution of slavery, the Confederacy lost the war. The South must finally move on!

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 1st, 2015 at 9:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

God(s), Same-Sex Marriage, and the Colossal Joke

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God/Gods’s Mixed Messages?

Since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled marriage for same-sex couples constitutional in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, most of the major religious denominations throughout the country have since issued statements in response to this historic and wide-ranging decision. As there are numerous religions and denominations within each, we find also numerous and very disparate responses along a continuum: from very progressive and supportive to extremely conservative and oppositional.

Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of world history recognizes that many if not most conflicts between peoples and nations have centered on different (though not necessarily opposing) religious perspectives and viewpoints.

So I find the enormously contrasting responses to the Supreme Court not particularly surprising. But my primary question centers on this: “If all religious denominations truly believe they have been touched by, are privy to, and are following the will and word of the True (with a capital “T”) God(s), how can they come away with such varied and often contradictory perspectives?

Possibly God(s) give mixed messages. Let’s look at a few examples of religious statements on the Supreme Court ruling regarding marriage for same-sex couples, presented in part:

Opposing

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America:

“In response to the decisions announced today [June 26, 2015] by the United States Supreme Court with reference to the issue of legal recognition of same sex marriage, we reiterate the historical position of the Jewish faith, enunciated unequivocally in our Bible, Talmud and Codes, which forbids homosexual relationships and condemns the institutionalization of such relationships as marriages. Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable. At the same time, we note that Judaism teaches respect for others and we condemn discrimination against individuals…”

Catholic Conference of Bishops

“Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable….The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the ‘integral ecology’ that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children….”

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“The Court’s decision does not alter the Lord’s doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice.”

Southern Baptist Convention, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

“I am a conscientious dissenter from this ruling handed down by the Court today, believing, along with millions of others, that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman and that it is improper for the Court to redefine an institution it did not invent in the first place. I believe this action of finding some illusory Fourteenth Amendment right to same-sex marriage will have wide-ranging and perilous consequences for the stability of families and for freedom of religion.” President Russell Moore.

Islamic View

 “Gay marriage is totally prohibited in Islam as well as in all the divine religions. Gay marriage is an atrocious and obscene act which belongs to unsound nature. Islam teaches that believers should neither do the obscene acts nor in any way indulge in their propagation.” Muhammad Muhammad Abu Laylah

In fact, all predominately Muslim countries except Turkey criminalize same-sex sexuality.

* * * * *

At this point, I would like to mention that Catholics, Southern Baptists, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, and Orthodox Muslims have clashed and engaged in warfare, some for millennia. However, by these conservative denominations of the three major Abrahamic religions joining in unity on the issue of same-sex sexuality and marriage, this indicates that agreement is possible.

In bringing these former and continuing battlefield enemies together, I therefore nominate the U.S. LGBT community for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, an award well deserved for converting competing and conflicting parties into allies and for reducing tensions that have traditionally separated them.

Supportive

 Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

 “Though the Supreme Court ruling this morning changed the law of the land, there is still progress to be made in changing the hearts and minds of evangelicals who disagree with civil marriage equality. This progress can only be made when compassionate, respectful dialogue is encouraged within communities of faith.”

Central Conference of American Rabbis 

“As Jews, we believe we are all formed in God’s image. This compels us to extend and recognize the same rights to everyone in our community, including individuals who identify as straight, gay, lesbian, or transgender. For many years, Reform Judaism rabbis have called for equal rights for all members of our communities, and we see today’s Supreme Court decision on marriage equality as a huge moral victory for the United States.” Steve Fox, chief executive.

New Ways Ministries (Catholic Organization)

“New Ways Ministry rejoices with millions of U.S. Catholics that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples! On this historic day, we pray in thanksgiving that justice and mercy have prevailed and that the prayers and efforts of so many have combined to move our nation one step closer to fairness and equality for all.”

Muslims for Progressive Values

“We endorse the human and civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) individuals. We affirm our commitment to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and we support full equality and inclusion of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, in society and in the Muslim community.”

Does God/Do the Gods Change His/Her/Their Mind(s)

Not only have we witnessed the mixed messages, but in addition, we have seen how God(s) change his/her/their mind(s). Let’s take two specific examples looking specifically at two Christian denominations:

The Southern Baptist Convention

The issue of slavery became a lightning rod in the 1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention, and in May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on a pro-slavery plank. They asserted that to be a “good Christian,” one had to support the institution of slavery, and could not join the ranks of the abolitionists.

Well, either by divine intervention or due to political pressure, 150 years later in June 1995, the SBC reversed its position and officially apologized to African Americans for its support and collusion with the institution of slavery (regarding it now as an “original sin”), and also apologizing for its support of “Jim Crow” laws and its rejection of civil rights initiatives of the 1950s and 1960s.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Then LDS president, Brigham Young, instituted a policy on February 13, 1849, emanating from “divine revelation” and continuing until as recently as 1978 forbidding ordination of black men of African descent from the ranks of LDS priesthood. In addition, this policy prohibited black men and women of African descent from participating in the temple Endowment and Sealings, which the Church demands as essential for the highest degree of salvation. The policy likewise restricted black people from attending or participating in temple marriages.

Young attributed this restriction to the sin of Cain, Adam and Eve’s eldest son, who killed his brother Abel: “What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro?” stated Young in 1849 following declaration of his restrictive policy. “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.”

While making a speech to the Utah Territorial Legislature in 1852, Young further asserted: “Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain]…in him cannot hold the Priesthood, and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before, I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it.”

Joseph Fielding Smith, Tenth Prophet and President of the LDS Church wrote in 1935 that, “Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness, he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures….” And in 1963 he asserted: “Such a change [in our policy] can come about only through divine revelation, and no one can predict when a divine revelation will occur.”

It seems that the Twelfth LDS Church president, Spencer W. Kimball, who served from 1973 to his death in 1985, was touched with such a “divine revelation” and, therefore, reversed the ban, referring to it as “the long-promised day” by allowing people of African descent full membership rights in the denomination.

What Are We To Conclude?

So, to reiterate, I ask: How can individuals and denominations who all claim to know the True God/Gods while apparently praying to the same God(s) be touched in such different ways and have such differing visions of divine will? Does God/Do the Gods send us mixed and often contradictory messages? Does God/Do the Gods change his/her/their mind(s) from time to time?

By even asking these questions, I’m most likely making a primal mistake by using reason and logic in matters religious, which by its very nature can never be proven. “Faith” is by definition believing in deities and precepts that can never be empirically validated. On the other hand, possibly our divine creations have played a colossal joke on humanity laughing at us all the while.

Happy Pride!

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

June 29th, 2015 at 5:34 pm

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Marriage Equality but One Paving Stone on Path toward Social Justice

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I have mixed emotions as I write these words on this truly historic day when the Supreme Court granted marriage equality to same-sex couples nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges, thereby striking down bans in the remaining 14 states.

On one level, I am ecstatic that our love and our relationships now hold the same legal status as different sex couples with all the economic privileges, benefits, and responsibilities, as well as enhanced claims of non-birth partners in the raising of children. Especially for upcoming generations, most will not have to live with the extreme levels of scorn and the second-class legal status, which so many of us endured.

It was good to hear President Barack Obama – who has advanced LGBT equality more than any other president – say today in his congratulatory White House remarks that “Love Is Love,” something we have long held and expressed. He said the Supreme Court ruling was the “consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, who talked to parents. Of parents who loved their children no matter what. Folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts and stayed strong and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.”

And this is only one reason why I support the courage of trans and immigration activist Jennicet Gutiérrez, who interrupted Obama’s speech two days prior at the White House Wednesday, June 24 in commemoration of LGBT Pride Month. Gutiérrez is a founding member of FAMILIA TQLM created to advocate for LGBTQ immigrants, which the group argues are largely excluded from immigration debates. And immigration issues, which Gutiérrez “brought to the highest level of public discourse,” as we within the AIDS activist movement phrased it back in the 1980s, and many other issues highlight an entire other side of emotions emerging within me on this historic day because we as a nation have yet many more paving stones to lay on the path toward social justice.

For example, following Obama’s Rose Garden remarks on marriage equality, he boarded a plane to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was to give a eulogy at the funeral of murdered pastor, civil rights advocate, and South Carolina state Senator Clementa Pickney, who was gunned down along with 8 others by a lone white supremacist terrorist while attending a Bible study group at Pinkney’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Reformist/Assimilationist Focus

In our current so-called “neoliberal” age, emphasis is placed on privatization, global capital, reduced governmental oversight and deregulation of the corporate sector, attacks on labor organizing, and competition. We are living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights. In this environment, we are witnessing a cultural war waged by the political, corporate, and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years.

Looking back over the years, as LGBT visibility has increased, as our place within the culture has become somewhat more assured, much certainly has been gained, but also, something very precious has diminished. That early excitement, that desire  — though by no means the ability — to fully restructure the culture, as distinguished from our mere reform, seems now to lay dormant in some sectors of our communities.

Within at least some segments of the movement, I perceive four main themes as the major focus. These Ms are: 1. Marriage Equality, 2. Military Inclusion, 3. Media Visibility, and 4. Making Money.

Marriage Equality:

The Supreme Court has placed us now above the symbolic line of demarcation granting us the estimated 1300 privileges and benefits of marriage previously accessible only to different-sex married couples. With our ascension over the demarcation line, though, we find the deeply entrenched hierarchy of privilege remaining intact on the basis of relationship status! Why should couples in legally-recognized relationships collect the government-granted array of economic and social benefits at the exclusion of those who either cannot or will not meet prescribed requirements? We must now continue the fight to abolish the line itself, forever, and as a society, provide these benefits to all, regardless of relationship status.

Military Inclusion

Due to the dedication and hard work by individuals and organizations over the previous decades who have been successful in lobbying government officials to repeal the highly discriminatory and offensive so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) military policy, now lesbian, gay, and bisexual people can serve their nation openly. This reversal stands to benefit the country by providing a greater pool of committed and talented individuals whose chief intent is to serve and protect their nation with pride. Existing medical and conduct regulations, however, still prohibit many individuals along the trans* spectrum from enlisting.

While stated military goals may promote the notion of providing global security and protecting and defending the homeland, we must maintain and extend our focused and continued attention and critique, however, on the overriding abuses of maintaining a military that engages in unjustified incursions into other lands controlled by an industrial complex that promotes corporate interests. The U.S. government has officially estimated the 2015 military budget alone at $598.5 billion dollars comprising 54% of total U.S. governmental discretionary expenditures.

In addition, I believe we must challenge the extraordinary wide income gap in the United States that offers few options for reasonable employment for young and older workers alike, making military service one of a limited number of options for employment and advancement.

We must work to address the largest income and asset gap of all other so-called “developed” nations, in which the top one percent of the population has accumulated an estimated 34.6% of the wealth, the next 9% an estimated 38.5%, and the remaining 90 percent of the nation a combined accumulation of only 26.9%.

Within this environment, politicians, working on behalf of corporate backers, continue to provide massive tax breaks for exceedingly wealthy individuals and to corporations. In addition, they blame and drive to decertify labor unions, end government entitlement programs designed to offer a safety net to the country’s most economically vulnerable, and attempt to privatize everything from Medicare to national parks all in the paradoxical name of “free enterprise.” Within this environment, corporate bosses, through their mouth pieces in government, divert educational institutions to the private sector to accommodate the needs of business.

Media Visibility

Today, we see more lesbian and gay people, and occasionally bisexual and trans characters on television, in films, fiction and non-fiction materials, magazines, commercials, and ads. These characterizations, though on occasion representing minoritized races and ethnicities, comprise largely white and middle- to upper-class people. While the majority today would be considered by many as “positive” representations for the most part, which may more fully and accurately represent some of our lives relative to the rather sad and miserable or violently threatening characterizations presented previously, the majority depict the upwardly mobile, socially assimilated character who poses little overt challenge to the status quo, those who function rather successfully in the competitive corporate world, those who shop for a dishwasher or go on an expensive vacation with their heterosexual friends and relatives.

While many benefits accrue with these representations, such as providing better role models for our youth, helping to overcome many of the stereotypes and reducing prejudices, the Capitalist system seems to have employed these images of “we are just like you” in its attempts to coopt critique and possible challenge to that very system.

In our communities, the “Pride” marches of the past have morphed into parades and festivals funded on a base of major corporate sponsorship, and capitalist consumption. Parade contingents now include large canvas banners affixed with familiar logos of national and local banks, and insurance, soft drink and beer, and real estate companies. Ironically, some of these same companies not so long ago refused to hire “out” members of our communities, but seeing how our business will improve their economic bottom line, we are now happily welcomed. We can now buy almost everything with the rainbow flag. I call this consumerism “the tchotchketization of a movement” (“tchotchke” in Yiddish means knick knacks, small objects, etc.).

Making Money

While possibly the exception, and certainly not necessarily the rule, some of us at least are now “out” at work with few or no real consequences to our job security. Others now ascend the corporate ladder with relative ease, and own exclusive vacation homes in the Florida Keys, Panama, or Tuscany to “get away from it all.” We gentrify older urban neighborhoods, and spruce up city landscapes with the newest decorative trends.

I ask, however, are we actually contributing to the ever widening income gap that has overtaken our country? And what about the folks and entire communities we dislocate as we gentrify entire neighborhoods?

More often than not, these individuals include white gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women who conform fairly closely to traditional conceptualizations of gender expression, as cisgender.  Lesbians, bisexual women, and trans people within an overriding sexist and cissexist society, statistically earn less than their cismale counterparts, and individuals who present along the transgender spectrum continue to find less freedom of expression, and, therefore, far less job security.

A Call to Further and Wider Action

While the “4 Ms” are all laudable goals, I believe that if we are going to achieve a truly equitable society, we must reach higher, wider, and broader. As important as these goals may be, I hope we do not envision them as the final resting place over the rainbow. If we do rest here, after having been seduced by promises of achieving some degree of credibility and respectability, I fear we will have become part of the very problems that so many of us have fought so tirelessly to eradicate.

I do remain hopeful, however. The increasing visibility and recognition of trans* people today has shaken traditionally dichotomous notions of gender, and in turn, other stifling kinds of binaries, which are the very cornerstones for the entrenchment keeping our society from moving forward. Their stories and experiences have great potential to bring us back into the future  — a future in which anyone on the gender spectrum everywhere will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender. It is a future in which the “feminine” and “masculine”— as well as all the qualities on the continuum in between — can live and prosper in us all.

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

Until and unless we can join in coalition with other groups, I consider that the possibility for achieving a genuine sense of community and a genuine sense of equity will be unattainable. I believe also that sexual and relational attractions and gender identities and expressions alone are not sufficient to connect a community, and by extension, a movement for progressive social change, and that we must, therefore, look beyond ourselves and base a community and a movement not simply on social identities, but also on shared ideals and values among individuals from disparate social identities, with like minds, political philosophies, and strategies for achieving their objectives.

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

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

June 26th, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Women & People of Color Soon on U.S. Paper Currency?

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In most nations, important and strong figures adorn the coins and currency bills of exchange, from nobility, to political leaders, to national and cultural icons. Investigating these personalities can often serve as a litmus test identifying a given country’s power structures, values, priorities, and beliefs. Even in our era of plastic, currency personages can serve as ubiquitous, pocket-sized, and portable role models for contemporary and upcoming generations.

So in the history of the United States, where are the women and people of color? If our litmus test is accurate, it confirms that the nation was founded and maintained on a sexist and racist patriarchal underpinning, one that overtly inhibits the aspirations, opportunities, and ambitions of women, girls, and all people of color. On printed and minted currency, we find only a very few examples of women achieving this place of honor and vicarious immortality, and even far fewer people of color of any gender.

Coins

Women, expressed or as the allegorical “every woman,” cover a few on-going and commemorative coins including:

One of the most identifiable is the 1860-1945, Winged Liberty Head dime. Also minted were the Alabama quarter depicting Helen Keller on the reverse side in 2003, Sacagawea on the dollar coin from 1999 to the present, and Susan B. Anthony on the dollar coin from 1979-1981. The first woman to appear on a U.S. coin was Queen Isabella of Spain on one side and an “every woman” on the other signifying women’s productivity on a commemorative quarter given at the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Other short-term commemorative coins included a Eunice Kennedy Shriver silver dollar in 1995; Virginia Dare, with her mother Eleanor Dare, on the Roanoke Island, North Carolina half dollar in 1937; and the Girl Scouts USA Centennial one dollar coin minted in 2013.

Currency Bills

Women’s appearance on our bills represents the classifications of “rare” and “temporary.” The bronze Statue of Freedom by Thomas Crawford, the female figure atop the U.S. Capitol Dome, was introduced in 1862 on the five-dollar bill; between 1886-1891, Martha Washington emerged on the one dollar silver certificate; the 1896 two dollar silver bank note included a group of three women and two children; the 1863 ten cent fractional currency boasts a female bust; for use only in a U.S. military establishment, issued in 1954, an allegorical woman can be found on both sides of a five-cent military payment certificate.

Change in the Air?

An apparent movement has been set in motion. A grassroots non-for-profit group calling itself “Women on 20s” initiated a campaign and petition to choose a woman to replace Andrew Jackson on the 20 dollar bill. The winner of their online poll of 15 candidates is the abolitionist civil rights worker, Harriot Tubman. Eleanor Roosevelt came in second, Rosa Parks third, and Wilma Mankiller fourth. Other nominees included Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Patsy Mink, Shirley Chisholm, Francis Perkins, Sojourner Truth, Clara Barton, and Margaret Sanger. The petition went to President Obama in May for his action.

Since the year 2020 marks the 100 year commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution granting women the vote, petition organizers argue that the time has long-since come for women to grace our currency, especially our paper bills.

They chose to fire Andrew Jackson for a number of reasons. During the early years of the new republic, with its increasing population and desire for land, political leaders, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, advocated that Native American Indian lands should be obtained through treaties and purchase. Later, however, when he inhabited the White House as the country’s 7th President, Andrew Jackson argued that white settlers (actually, land thieves) had a “right” to confiscate Indian land. Though he proposed a combination of treaties and an exchange or trade of land, he maintained that whites had a right to claim any Indian lands that were not under cultivation. Jackson recognized as the only legitimate claims for Indian lands those on which they grew crops or made other “improvements.”

The Indian Removal Act of May 28, 1830 authorized President Jackson to confiscate Indian land east of the Mississippi River, “relocate” its inhabitants, and exchange their former land with territory west of the River. The infamous “Trail of Tears” during Jackson’s presidency attests to the forced evacuation and redeployment of entire Indian nations in which many died of cholera, exposure to the elements, contaminated food, and other environmental hazards.

In addition, though Jackson founded the Democratic Party and brought greater popular control to government, as a farmer, his wealth increased enormously through his enslavement of Africans, and he gave the lash to any who attempted escape.

To the consternation of many in “Women on 20s” and others, U.S. Treasure Secretary, Jack Lew, announced recently that a prominent woman would be placed on the less circulated 10 dollar bill, sharing the cover with its current occupant, Alexander Hamilton, an abolitionist. Lew asserted that he chose the 10 dollar bill since it was the next in line to undergo a design change.

My Suggested Options

If we soon find more women and people of color on our currency, will this actually represent real changes in the status of women and people of color, or will this facelift simply mask the sexist and racist inequities rampant throughout our society?

Rather than replacing or adding others with the portraits on existing denominations of printed currency, I have a plan that will extend our litmus test to represent conditions as they actually exist within the hierarchy of our sexist and racist patriarchal system that is our economy. I propose new denominations representing the 2013 earnings of a number of demographic groups compared with white men doing the same work:

A white woman will now appear on the new 78 cents bill

A black man will now appear on the new 75 cents bill

A Latino man will now appear on the new 67 cents bill

A black woman will now appear on the new 64 cents bill

A Latina woman will now appear on the new 54 cents bill

I maintain that this blueprint will give greater visibility to non-traditional currency honorees while reflecting the true economic inequities plaguing our land. So, let the nomination process for candidates commence!

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 22nd, 2015 at 10:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

NRA’s Strategy of Blaming the Victims

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I typically find pride in my ability to find words to express what I am thinking and feeling on a given topic. After reading the reaction from Charles L. Cotton, a board member of the National Rifle Association, however, responding to the terrorist act perpetrated against worshipers at a Bible study group at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by a deranged racist ending in the fatal shooting of 9 good people, I fell speechless, enraged, and emotionally overwhelmed. I had to absorb, attempt to grasp, and reflect upon Cotton’s statement.

In my life, when I have felt emotionally overloaded and blocked, I find a way to process my feelings by taking on some kind of simple physical activity, one I can perform that gives me immediate gratification like mowing the lawn or performing housework. This time, I reached under the kitchen sink for the spray bottle of floor cleaner, gathered a cloth, kneeled to my knees, and scrubbed my kitchen and living room floors as my little doggies licked my face with their soggy kisses. I then mowed both the front and back lawns, ate my lunch, and took a long and deep early afternoon nap.

After watching a silly mindless movie on TV, I felt ready to formulate a response of sorts to Cotton’s blaming the deaths at “Mother Emanuel” Church on its pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who lost his life during the massacre. Cotton, with an unimaginable insensitivity, effrontery, and sheer chutzpa, accused Rev. Pinckney of bringing the tragedy upon himself in his capacity as a sitting South Carolina state representative by voting against a bill, which if passed, would have permitted the carrying of concealed weapons into houses of worship. According to Cotton:

“Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

The bill, voted in the South Carolina legislature in 2011, if passed, would have permitted gun owners to carry weapons into restaurants, day-care centers, and houses of worship. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Thad Viers (R), said that expanding the locations that one can bring a concealed weapon serves as an effective way to reduce crime: “It puts criminals on the defense. Criminals don’t know if you’re carrying or not.”

I’m not making this up, for as ridiculous at it might sound, some legislators objected that the proposed law did not go far enough. Ed Kelleher, president of the powerful gun lobbying group, GrassRoots South Carolina, argued that the bill “violates the constitutional rights of gun owners” because it allows only adult residents of the state of South Carolina to carry concealed weapons, and not younger people or out-of-state visitors.

“While the bill might make it better for people in South Carolina, it’s going to be a lot worse for others, including those visiting us. We depend on tourism here, and this has a chilling effect on that.”

The progressive organization, ThinkProgress, summarized recent gun laws in the state of South Carolina: a 2006 law mandates that pro-gun laws shall not be rescinded during a state of emergency such as a hurricane; a 2008 law permits legislators and visitors to the State House in Columbia to maintain their weapons in their vehicles while parked on the grounds; a 2009 law allows people who have obtained a concealed weapons permit to possess guns in their cars while dropping children off at school.

Charles L. Cotton gave his “remedy” to what could have prevented the tragedy at Emanuel AME Church. In like fashion, Wayne LaPierre, Executive VP of the National Rifle Association, gave his assessment following the murders of 26 innocents, including 20 young children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Then he called on Congress to “put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.”

So while LaPierre by implication blames the massacre at Sandy Hook on school officials for not having armed guards, Cotton places direct blame on the murdered pastor for his own death and the death of nine others.

This strategy of blaming the victim is often used to reverse and thus deflect the argument by skewing the actual power dynamics and thereby attempting to misappropriate responsibility for the oppression from the dominant group and to those who are, in fact, most negatively impacted by the oppression. In terms of the gun-control debate, by blaming the victims, weapons become a solution rather than one of the problems. Unrestricted and unlimited amounts of weapons then are perceived as unremarkable or “normal,” as a guaranteed Constitutional “freedom.” When anyone poses a challenge or attempts to restrict this “freedom,” those in the dominant group brand them as “subversive,” as “un-American,” as “socialists,” as “politically correct,” as “wimps.”

The technique of attempting to turn the tables by situating the victims of gun violence as holding the responsibility for this violence both denies and deflects the reality of the utter domination of the gun lobby and the massive amounts of power they have to control elected officials.

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

But do these “guns save lives”? Do laws expanding gun possession, concealed or not, actually “save lives”? These laws certainly have not worked in South Carolina, which is ranked 9th highest of the states in firearm murders.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun-related violence has reached epidemic proportions in our country by snuffing out the lives of upwards of 30,000+ people and wounding many more annually. On average, guns end the lives of more than 80 people in the United States every day. Each year, gun violence affects over 100,000 people in some way. Many of the guns used in these killings reach military level weapons power, guns which currently remain legal. Today in the United States, there are 88.8 firearms per 100 people.

Of the estimated 68+ mass murders in the United States since 1982, most of the shooters obtained their weapons legally. Demographically, the shooters in all but one case involved males, usually white, with an average age of 35 years.

Should any limits be placed on the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”? We seem somehow only to remember the second clause in that sentence while forgetting the first, especially the term “well-regulated”!

I propose that we reevaluate the political right’s obsession with the so-called “freedom” to bear arms because it is not only “criminals who kill people” as Second Amendment advocates claim. We must ban and criminalize the possession of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and close loop holes such as buying a weapon at a gun show. We must increase the waiting period and make background checks more rigorous and effective. Furthermore, we need to limit the number of guns any individual can own, and also limit the number of bullets any gun clip can hold. We must rethink the “logic” of permitting concealed weapons, especially in places like houses of worship, colleges, bars, restaurants, and political rallies. Moreover, all data bases monitoring gun ownership must interface to assess the gun owning population more accurately and effectively.

I also believe that even our flawed “founding fathers” did not want unlimited and unrestricted rights to bear arms. Even if they did advocate for unrestricted gun ownership, these are the same men who owned slaves, committed genocide against and expelled native peoples, withheld enfranchisement from women, engaged in and killed one another in duels, and so on. Actually, I’m really surprised the NRA hasn’t advocated for the return of lethal dueling matches. Maybe that’s next on their agenda.

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

Nevertheless, this insanity in our system of gun laws must end. Enough is enough!

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

June 21st, 2015 at 3:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Terrorism in Charleston: It’s About Racism Stupid!

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While all available evidence points to Dylann Storm Roof’s racist motives in his admitted mass murder of 9 worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday evening, June 17, in Charleston, South Carolina, still, a number of conservative Republican politicians frame the tragedy as either something we can never truly understand, or primarily as an attack on Christians, Christianity, and religious liberty.

According to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley: “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

Well, Governor Haley, I believe that in most instances of terrorism directed against houses of worship in the United States, the attackers’ motives were crystal clear: white supremacism!

A bomb ripped apart the 16th Street Baptist Church, a historically African American church, in 1963 just before Sunday morning services killing 4 young black girls and injuring many others. The Church also served as a meeting place for area civil rights leaders in a city with “one of the strongest and most violent chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.” An avowed neo-Nazi murdered three people in a pair of shootings at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and at Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement center. A 40-year-old white supremacist killed six people and wounded 4 others at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012.

A number of Republican political leaders went further than Governor Haley in speculating on the motives of the 21-year-old Charleston terrorist. For example, former Pennsylvania Senator and recurring Republican Party presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, connected the tragedy to an ongoing attack in this country on religious liberty: “You talk about the importance of prayer in this time, and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation.”

Current South Carolina Senator and presidential candidate, Lindsey Graham, distrusts those who claim that the shooter’s actions should be defined as a “hate crime.” Graham speculated that other motives beside “race” must be considered: “There are real people who are organized out there to kill people in religion and based on race, this guy’s just whacked out. But it’s 2015. There are people out there looking for Christians to kill them.”

Fox News TV host Steve Doocy expressed surprise and shock that some describe the church murders as a “hate crime.” Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, appearing on Doocy’s show, seemed perplexed over the shooter’s motivations: “We have no idea what’s in his mind. Maybe he hates Christian churches. Maybe he hates black churches, or he’s gonna go find another one. Who knows?”

Well, if these politicians stopped long enough to extract their heads from the sandy depths from where they self-stuck them, ask themselves some important questions, and look at the statements and facts as we know them, they will understand the pattern of racism that emerges regarding the shooter’s motives and purposes.

What are the possible reasons why this young man drove approximately 2 hours from his home in Columbia, South Carolina to this particular house of worship carrying with him the pistol he purchased?

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has a historic and proud tradition as the oldest AME church in the south, referred to as “Mother Emanuel.” Founded in 1816, some individual or group burned the Church down in 1822 as a suspected meeting place for individuals planning a revolt against slavery. People continued to worship in other locations until they rebuilt their church. In 1834, the white legislature outlawed all black churches, and congregants worshiped in secret until 1865 when they officially reorganized their Church under the name “Emanuel.”

John Mullins, a high school friend, said that the admitted shooter “had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say, strong conservative beliefs. He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that.” A friend from Middle School, Joseph Meek, Jr., said that the shooter told him a few weeks ago that “…blacks were taking over the world. Someone needed to do something about it for the white race.” And Dalton Tyler, who knew the shooter for about a year, stated: “He said he was planning for about six months to do something crazy. He was big into segregation and other stuff. He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”

On his Facebook page, the young gunman is seen wearing a military-style jacket with insignia patches of flags of apartheid South Africa and white ruled Rhodesia (today known as Zimbabwe). In another picture, he is seen waving a Confederate flag, and in another, he is standing holding a burning American flag. In addition, he posed for pictures wearing a T-shirt with the number 88 printed on the front, he had 88 Facebook friends, and he scribbled that number in the South Carolina sand. “H” is the 8th letter in the alphabet, and in white supremacist circles, “88” is code for “Heil Hitler.”

According to one of the murder’s family members: “He apparently told people that he was involved in groups, racist groups.” The shooter reportedly told one of the survivors of his massacre in order for her to report the incident first hand, in glaringly stereotypical racist terms, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” He told one of the police officers following his capture in Shelby, North Carolina that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him,” but that he still “had to go through with his mission.”

Later, police officials found his racist manifesto on his internet page, including this section:

“N**gers are stupid and violent. At the same time they have the capacity to be very slick. Black people view everything through a racial lense [sic]….I wish with a passion that n**gers were treated terribly throughout history by Whites, that every White person had an ancestor who owned slaves, that segregation was an evil, an oppressive institution, and so on.”

All indications present in stark and glaring terms that his “mission” was not to kill Christians, per se. Rather, he was bent on killing black people, period! To spin this tragedy as anti-Christian, or even as just the actions of one “mentally ill” young man, and not to see it as anything but a demented hate-filled domestic terrorist who grew up in a racism-saturated community, state (which still to this day flies the flag of the Confederacy on its capital grounds), and country who fought a battle to maintain white supremacy by killing unarmed black people would be to inflict even greater pain and insult upon the memory of the good and caring souls who were taken from us too soon, upon their families, and upon all people of color of this nation.

Most white supremacist organizations, including Neo-Nazis and the KKK, claim to base their philosophy and tactics on Christian theology in “defending” the so-called white “race.” These groups do not commit their hate crimes to defeat Christianity, but rather they represent extremist outliers of Christianity who misrepresent Christian teachings. According to the leader of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who rejects the label “hate group” to represent their organization, “[W]e’re a Christian organization.” And Adolph Hitler, many of these groups’ “spiritual” leader, in his 1925 book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), in addition to “racial” justifications, he also forwarded Christian religious arguments for his eventual genocidal slaughter of the Jewish people:

“Today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

So I ask these Republican politicians, as well as those of had first-hand knowledge of the mind of this mass murderer, to pick up your heads, brush off the sand, take a deep breath, and enter the conversation that must take place if we are ever to begin a healing process as a nation from the deep and tragic depths of white supremacy on which our country was conceived, our “original sin” if you wish to frame it in Biblical terms.

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 19th, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump Joins Narratives of Hate over Immigration Battles

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The gigantic cover banner headline, “CLOWN RUNS FOR PREZ,” appeared on the New York Daily News the morning following real estate mogul Donald Trump’s announced run for the office of the presidency. While apt in many ways, I would not represent Trump this way since clowns traditionally never speak. And as we know all too well, “silence” has never been a descriptor of Donald Trump. Such words I would use for Trump include adjectives like “narcissistic,” “egotistical, “xenophobic,” and “racist.”

While some others in contention for the White House on the Republican side understand that their chances hinge on attracting a more diverse segment of the electorate in addition to older white people, Trump figuratively spit in the faces of minoritized “racial” groups, in particular Latinos and Latinas, during his off-scripted rambling announcement speech:

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

Trump eventually enlarged his dehumanizing representations to include people in all of Latin America.

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

Trump echoes other politicians who also currently demonize immigrants coming from our southern borders. According to Iowa Republican Representative Steve King:

There are kids that were brought into this country by their parents unknowing they were breaking the law…[and] they weren’t all brought in by their parents. For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert….”

And Florida Republican Representative Rich Nugent:

“Listen, if you’re 14, 15, 16, 17 years old, and you’re coming from a country that’s gang-infested — particularly with MS-13 types, that is the most aggressive of all the street gangs — when you have those types coming across the border, they’re not children at that point. These kids have been brought up in a culture of thievery, a culture of murder, of rape. And now we are going to infuse them into the American culture. It’s just ludicrous.”

And, of course, we cannot exclude Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican Representative, who warns of grave public health threats. In a July 7, 2014, letter Gingrey wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

As a physician for over 30 years, I am well aware of the dangers infectious diseases pose. In fact, infectious diseases remain in the top 10 causes of death in the United States….Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.”

Unfortunately, Trump, King, Nugent, and Gingrey join a long list in their rhetoric of horror, hysteria, hyperbole, and hypocrisy throughout the immigration battles of the United States.

Narratives of Hate

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.

Within the United States in the 19th century, the public directed negative sentiments against a number of ethnic groups, including the Irish. For example, according to a young Theodore Roosevelt in the 1880:

The average Catholic Irishman of the first generation, as represented in the [New York State] Assembly [is a] low, venal, corrupt, and unintelligent brute.”

And in Harper’s Weekly a few years earlier:

Irishmen…have so behaved themselves that nearly seventy-five per cent of our criminals and paupers are Irish; that fully seventy-five per cent of the crimes of violence committed among us are the work of Irishmen; that the system of universal suffrage in large cities has fallen into discredit through the incapacity of the Irish for self-government.”

The U.S. Congress passed its 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.

A Butte, Montana editorial in 1870 represents the exclusionist sentiments toward Chinese people held by many U.S. citizens:

The Chinaman’s life is not our life, his religion is not our religion. His habits, superstitions, and modes of life are disgusting. He is a parasite, floating across the Pacific and thence penetrating into the interior towns and cities, there to settle down for a brief space and absorb the substance of those with whom he comes into competition. His one object is to make all the money and return again to his native land dead or alive….Let him go hence. He belongs not in Butte.”

And in 1893, also in Butte, Montana, “The Chinaman is no more a citizen than a coyote is a citizen, and never can be.”

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 U.S. Congress in 1924 enacted the Johnson-Reed [anti-]Immigration Act (a.k.a. Origins Quota Act, or National Origins Act) setting restrictive quotas of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe (groups viewed as representing Europe’s lower “races”), including Jews (the later referred to as members of the so-called “Hebrew race”). The law, however, permitted large allocations of immigrants from Great Britain and Germany. In addition, the law included a clause prohibiting entry of “aliens ineligible to citizenship,” which was veiled language referring to Japanese and other Asians dating back to the Naturalization Act of 1790 restricting citizenship to only “white” people and affirmed by a 1922 United States Supreme Court ruling (Takao Ozawa v United States) in which Takao Ozawa, a Japanese immigrant, was denied the right to become a naturalized citizen because he “clearly” was “not Caucasian.”

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 important 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 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.”

[Not a] Conclusion

Rather than characterizing immigration and migration issues as humanitarian concerns, the anti-immigration activists connect the narratives representing immigrants and migrants to our borders to the language of disease, crime, drugs, alien and lower forms of culture and life, of invading hoards, of barbarians at the gates who if allowed to enter will destroy the glorious civilization we have established among the lesser nations of the Earth. On a more basic and personal level, the rhetoric of invasion of our boarders taps into psychological fears, or more accurately, of terrors of infection: our country, our workplaces, and more basically, our private places in which “aliens” forcefully penetrate our personal spaces around our bodies, into our orifices, and down to the smallest cellular level.

Since the anti-immigration movement represents immigrants and migrants as subhuman creatures, it could take as its battle cry the catchy slogan from the Terminex Pest Exterminator TV commercial:

“Not Here! Not Now! Not in my house!”

To view and download my “Immigration as ‘Racial’ Policy” PowerPoint presentation, click here.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

June 17th, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Revolution v. Reform: Moving beyond Conservative Assimilationist “4 Ms” of the LGB Movement

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Coming up on June 28, 2015: The 46th Anniversary of the Stonewall Inn-surrection

Introduction to a Cautionary Critique

President Barack Obama took a move on Tuesday, May 9, 2012 in an interview with ABC TV “Good Morning America” host, Robin Roberts, when he “came out” for marriage equality asserting that “Same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

Back in December 2010, President Barack Obama supported the concept of “Civil Unions” for same-sex couples, and while he said his position was still “evolving,” he was not yet on board with full marriage equality.

This “evolving” (devolving?) position seems to contradict a survey bearing then Illinois State Senate Candidate Barack Obama’s signature in 1996 in which he claims that he “favor[s] legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” The administration explained this discrepancy by stating that the survey was “actually filled out by someone else.”

Interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” (Sunday, May 6, 2012), Vice President Joseph Biden expressed himself as “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex couples having the same rights as heterosexual couples.

Shortly after Biden announced his position, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said via Twitter that “What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS’s position.”

A few years, I watched breaking news of the New York state senate, following the House of Representatives’ lead, passage of a bill legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. I reflected on how momentum is certainly building in the fight for marriage equality. Within hours, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo proudly signed the bill into law. With New York’s entry into the mix of then five other states (today 37 total states and D.C.), the number of potential same-sex couples who qualify for a marriage license vastly outnumber those who cannot.

TV cameras then focused on the crowd, which spontaneously organized at the historic Stonewall Inn in New York’s West Village upon notification of the legislators’ action. One reveler interviewed on camera stated that she showed up “to be a part of history.” Also, some of the nation’s leading economists estimated the potential for enormous revenue increases to New York’s businesses because of the expected surge in marriages conducted in the state as a result of this legislation.

For me, though, watching the news accounts brought to the surface a full array of emotions from subdued optimism to discomfort and concern.

There are moments in history when conditions come together to create the impetus for great social change. Many historians and activists place the beginning of the modern movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality at the Stonewall Inn, a small bar frequented by trans* people, lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, students, and others of all races located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

At approximately one-twenty on the morning of June 28, 1969, New York City Police officers conducted a routine raid on the bar 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 LGBT movement. In August 1966, at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, in what is known as the Tenderloin District in San Francisco, trans people and gay hustlers 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, people, primarily young, formed a number of militant groups. One of the first was the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). GLF was not a formalized organization per se, but rather a series of small groups across the U.S. and other countries. GLF meetings took place in people’s living rooms, basements in houses of worship, and storefronts. Members insisted on the freedom to explore new ways of living as part of a radical project of social transformation.

GLF adopted a set of principles emphasizing coalition-building with other disenfranchised groups — women, minoritized racial and ethnic groups, working-class people, young people, elders, people with disabilities — as a means of dismantling the economic and social structures they considered inherently oppressive.

During the early 1970s, I was an active member of GLF in Washington D.C. We held early meetings at Grace Church, the Washington Free Clinic in Georgetown, and All Souls Church on 16th Street, and we rented a brownstone on S Street in Northwest D.C. for the establishment of a GLF living collective. Meetings provided a space for us to come together and put into practice what feminists had taught us—that the “personal is the political.”

We laughed and we cried together. We shared our ideas and our most intimate secrets. We dreamed our dreams and laid our plans for a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression, and as we went along, invented new ways of relating. For the men, we came to consciousness of 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, competitive, and that we must bury our emotions deep within the recesses of our souls.

My discomfort in watching the joyous reactions to the President’s support for marriage equality and the celebration of revelers outside the Stonewall Inn at the passage of a statewide bill legalizing marriage for same-sex couples stems from my understanding and experience as a political activist and as a student of history, an understanding of the Stonewall rebellion as representing an impetus for revolutionary change within an overridingly oppressive social structure, as opposed to mere reform, accommodation, or assimilation.

When we consider the phrase, “Keep your eyes on the prize,” I now wonder what we consider precisely as the prizes, the goals, that we are working toward?  Are we working under the vision of Stonewall of “a radical project of social transformation” and “dismantling the economic and social structures they considered inherently oppressive?”  Or are we working to reform the current social system in order to assimilate?  Or none of the above?  I am sure each of us will have a different answer.

Looking back over the years, as our visibility has increased, as our place within the culture has become somewhat more assured, much certainly has been gained, but also, something very precious has been lost. That early excitement, that desire  — though by no means the ability — to fully restructure the culture, as distinguished from our mere reform, seems now to lay dormant in many sectors of our communities.

In our current so-called “neoliberal” age, emphasis is placed on privatization, global capital, reduced governmental oversight and deregulation of the corporate sector, attacks on labor organizing, and competition. We are living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights. In this environment, we are witnessing a cultural war waged by the political, corporate, and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years.

Within this environment, however, I perceive four main themes as the major focus of the larger lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) movement, what I am calling the “4 Ms” of the mainstream LGB movement.

I do not include here trans* identities because, firstly, I cannot discern a “mainstream” trans* movement, and secondly, the 4 Ms in their current LGB mainstream construction exclude trans* people. According to my colleague, Chase Catalano, “The silencing of trans* experiences often reminds me of how folks in leather, drag queens, and dykes on bikes were viewed with contempt when they wanted to be included in the early Pride events for being too contentious (folks didn’t want ‘those people’ getting the media attention from the ‘normal people’).”

The four themes of the LGB movement comprise an assimilationist/reformist rather than a revolutionary impetus. These Ms are: 1. Marriage Equality, 2. Military Inclusion, 3. Media Visibility, and 4. Making Money.

  1. Marriage Equality

Now in 37 states and the District of Columbia, we have soared above the symbolic line of demarcation granting us the estimated 1300 privileges and benefits of marriage previously accessible only to different-sex married couples. We can now wear our gold bands proudly on our left hands with all the benefits of publically-sanctioned recognition of our relationships including tax breaks, inheritance guarantees, adoption of partners’ children, insurance benefits, and others. We can register at department stores hoping our families and friends will buy us our favorite flatware and dishes, monogramed sheets and pillow cases, and large screen TVs.

With our ascension over the demarcation line, though, we find the deeply entrenched hierarchy of privilege remaining intact on the basis of relationship status! Why should couples in legally recognized relationships collect the government-granted array of economic and social benefits at the exclusion of those who either cannot or will not meet prescribed requirements? Why, for example, can an individual who marries an employee of a company providing health insurance qualify for inclusion of similar health insurance, while an unemployed single person who has searched in vain for a job, or an individual who works for a company not offering health insurance remain in the ranks of the estimated 50 million U.S. residents with no health insurance? Why, for that matter, does this nation link health insurance either to employment or to out-of-pocket monthly expenditures?

Rather than fighting so hard to rise beyond that line privileging those above and limiting those below, we need to work to abolish the line itself, forever, and as a society, provide these benefits to all, regardless of relationship status. For example, we must consider access to quality healthcare not as a privilege for those who have the means, but as a basic human right for all.

  1. Military Inclusion

Due to the dedication and hard work by individuals and organizations over the previous decades who have been successful in lobbying government officials to repeal the highly discriminatory and offensive so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) military policy, now lesbian, gay, and bisexual people can serve their nation openly. This reversal stands to benefit the country by providing a greater pool of committed and talented individuals whose chief intent is to serve and protect their nation with pride. Existing medical and conduct regulations, however, still prohibit many individuals along the trans* spectrum from enlisting.

As I have followed the debates over the years, I have been constantly struck by the arguments favoring maintenance of the DADT policy, ranging from fears over the “predatory nature of the homosexual” in bunks and showers, to homosexuals crumbling under the pressure of combat, to these service members placing themselves in compromising situations in which they will be forced to divulge critical defense secrets to foreign governments. I give credit to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people for maintaining a willingness to join the military following such scurrilous and libelous depictions.

While stated military goals may promote the notion of providing global security and protecting and defending the homeland, we must maintain and extend our focused and continued attention and critique, however, on the overriding abuses of maintaining a military that engages in unjustified incursions into other lands controlled by an industrial complex that promotes corporate interests. The U.S. government has officially estimated the 2015 military budget alone at $598.5 billion dollars comprising 54% of total U.S. governmental discretionary expenditures.

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

Looking over the history of humanity, it is apparent that tyranny, at times, could only be countered through the raising of arms. On numerous occasions, however, diplomacy has been successful, and at other times, it should have been used more extensively before rushing to war. I, therefore, find it unacceptable when one’s patriotism and one’s love of country is called into question when one advocates for peaceful means of conflict resolution, for it is also an act of patriotism to work to keep our troops out of harm’s way, and to work to create conditions and understanding that ultimately make war less likely.

In addition, I believe we must challenge the extraordinary wide income gap in the United States that offers few options for reasonable employment for young and older workers alike, making military service one of a limited number of options for employment and advancement.

We must work to address the largest income and asset gap of all other so-called “developed” nations, in which the top one percent of the population has accumulated an estimated 34.6% of the wealth, the next 9% an estimated 38.5%, and the remaining 90 percent of the nation a combined accumulation of only 26.9%.

Within this environment, politicians, working on behalf of corporate backers, continue to provide massive tax breaks for exceedingly wealthy individuals and to corporations. In addition, they blame and drive to decertify labor unions, end government entitlement programs designed to offer a safety net to the country’s most economically vulnerable, and attempt to privatize everything from Medicare to national parks all in the paradoxical name of “free enterprise.” Within this environment, corporate bosses, through their mouth pieces in government, divert educational institutions to the private sector to accommodate the needs of business.

  1. Media Visibility

Today, we see more lesbian and gay people, and occasionally bisexual and transgender characters on television, in films, fiction and non-fiction written materials, magazines, commercials, and ads. From the pages of slick magazines, Melissa Ethridge and her (now former) partner, sporting broad smiles and holding hands, display chic Cartier bracelets on their wrists; a male couple with a young girl and a yellow Labrador Retriever smile as they are all seated on the floor beside their Ikea couch, a lesbian couple learning American Sign Language in advance of their adoption of a young deaf girl in an ad for Wells Fargo Bank, Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. Then there are shows like “Glee,” “Modern Family,” “Will and Grace,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Ugly Betty,” “Desperate Housewives, ” “Project Runway,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “Looking,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How To Get Away with Murder,” “Scandal,” “Shameless,” “Empire,” “The Fosters,” “Transparent,” and movies like Brokeback MountainThe Kids are Alright, The Single Man, The Imitation Game. These represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of recent examples of media visibility.

These characterizations, though on occasion representing minoritized races and ethnicities, comprise largely white and middle- to upper-class people. While the majority today would be considered by many as “positive” representations for the most part, which may more fully and accurately represent some of our lives relative to the rather sad and miserable or violently threatening characterizations presented previously, the majority depict the upwardly mobile, socially assimilated character who poses little overt challenge to the status quo, those who function rather successfully in the competitive corporate world, those who shop for a dishwasher or go on an expensive vacation with their heterosexual friends and relatives.

While many benefits accrue with these representations, such as providing better role models for our youth, helping to overcome many of the stereotypes and reducing prejudices, the Capitalist system seems to have employed these images of “we are just like you” in its attempts to coopt critique and possible challenge to that very system.

To provide an additional example of this project of cooptation: A few years back, I entered my university classroom and was about to introduce that day’s lesson when my eye caught a large poster pined to the bulletin board displaying a tightly clenched raised fist, reminiscent of the iconic Black Power symbol popularized in the 1960s. Above the image read the words in large capital letters, “JOIN THE FIGHT.”

Encouraged by the sight, I walked over to the poster hoping to find some indication of resurgent social activism. To my dismay and utter aversion, however, appearing in smaller letters, the poster advertised “The Fighting Burrito,” a local fast food campus hang out. The profit motive transformed this iconic symbol into a sales pitch for burritos, tacos, carbonated drinks, and nachos.

In our communities, the “Pride” marches of the past have morphed into parades and festivals funded on a base of major corporate sponsorship, and capitalist consumption. Parade contingents now include large canvas banners affixed with familiar logos of national and local banks, and insurance, soft drink and beer, and real estate companies. Ironically, some of these same companies not so long ago refused to hire “out” members of our communities, but seeing how our business will improve their economic bottom line, we are now happily welcomed.

Along the parade routes and at rally sites, companies and individuals display and sell their wares, from internet and phone company subscriptions to rainbow colored everything imaginable: from t-shirts to teething rings, and from towels to toilet seat covers. Merchants and artisans borrow the pink triangle — the Nazi patch gay men were forced to wear on their clothing when incarcerated in concentration camps — to fashion glimmering pink Rhinestone jewelry worn as glamorous fashion accessories.

I call this consumerism “the tchotchetization of a movement” (“tchotchke” in Yiddish means knick knacks, small objects, etc.).

Originally, the pink triangle, this symbol of ultimate oppression of gay men in Nazi concentration camps, in the 1970s our communities deployed as a mark of solidarity, in the AIDS activist movement of the 1980s and 1990s, as an emblem of resistance in mobilizing against the intransigence of governmental and societal inaction, and today often as simply as an accoutrement of vanity as a fashion accessory.

  1. Making Money

While possibly the exception, and certainly not necessarily the rule, some of us at least are now “out” at work with few or no real consequences to our job security. Others now ascend the corporate ladder with relative ease, and own exclusive vacation homes in the Florida Keys, Panama, or Tuscany to “get away from it all.” We gentrify older urban neighborhoods, and spruce up city landscapes with the newest decorative trends.

I ask, however, are we actually contributing to the ever widening income gap that has overtaken our country? And what about the folks and entire communities we dislocate as we gentrify entire neighborhoods?

More often than not, these individuals include white gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women who conform fairly closely to traditional conceptualizations of gender expression, as cisgender.  Lesbians and bisexual women, as women within an overriding sexist society, statistically earn less than their male counterparts, and individuals who present along the transgender spectrum continue to find less freedom of expression, and, therefore, far less job security.

A Call to Further and Wider Action

While the “4 Ms” are all somewhat laudable goals, I believe that if we are going to achieve a truly equitable society, we must reach higher, wider, and broader. As important as these goals may be, I hope we do not envision them as the final resting place over the rainbow.

If we do rest here, after having been seduced by promises of achieving some degree of credibility and respectability, I fear we will have become part of the very problems that so many of us have fought so tirelessly to eradicate.

I do remain hopeful, however. The increasing visibility and recognition of trans* people today has shaken traditionally dichotomous notions of gender, and in turn, other stifling kinds of binaries, which are the very cornerstones for the entrenchment keeping our society from moving forward. Their stories and experiences have great potential to bring us back into the future  — a future in which anyone on the gender spectrum everywhere will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender. It is a future in which the “feminine” and “masculine”— as well as all the qualities on the continuum in between — can live and prosper in us all.

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

Until and unless we can join in coalition with other groups, I consider that the possibility for achieving a genuine sense of community and a genuine sense of equity will be unattainable. I believe also that sexual and relational attractions and gender identities and expressions alone are not sufficient to connect a community, and by extension, a movement for progressive social change, and that we must, therefore, look beyond ourselves and base a community and a movement not simply on social identities, but also on shared ideals and values among individuals from disparate social identities, with like minds, political philosophies, and strategies for achieving their objectives.

Let us revel in our past victories, for we have fought tirelessly for them. But let us not dwell here because we have further to go to ensure a truly just and equitable society and world. In the final analysis, whenever anyone is diminished, we are all demeaned, when anyone or any group remains institutionally and socially marginalized, excluded, or disenfranchised from primary rights and benefits, the possibility for authentic community cannot be realized unless and until we become involved, to challenge, to question, and to act in truly transformational ways.

I hope, therefore, that we can reignite the revolutionary and transformational flame of what was Stonewall.

——————————————————————————————————————

I want to thank Chase Catalano, Bradley Freihoffer, Paul Gorski, Joseph Henderson, Nana Osei-Kofi, and Samuel Pottebaum for their 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), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press.)

 

Permission granted to forward, post, or publish this commentary: warrenblumenfeld@gmail.com

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

June 13th, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

To Evangelicals: “Can We Forgive You?”

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I noticed with interest and, quite frankly, surprise an article headline on the front page of The New York Times dated Tuesday, June 8, 2015, which stated: “Evangelicals Open Door to Debate on Gay Rights.” Laurie Goodstein, the author, covers an apparent emerging trend, which she summarizes in paragraph 5:

“As acceptance of same-sex marriage has swept the country and as the Supreme Court prepares to release a landmark decision on the issue, a wide variety of evangelical churches, colleges and ministries are having the kinds of frank discussions about homosexuality that many of them say they had never had before.”

The article goes on to state that evangelical institutions are attempting to navigate a middle terrain between staying “true” to their previously stated positions on issues around homosexuality while simultaneously attempting not to alienate especially younger congregants who increasingly support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. This latter point cuts right (no pun intended) to the core of the questions of “Why this?” and “Why now?” We can look for the answer in the work of Dr. Derrick Bell and his pioneering work in critical race theory.

The late Dr. Bell of New York University Law School forwarded the theory of “interest convergence,” meaning that white people will support racial justice only when they understand and see that there is something in it for them, 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 presented 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.

In like fashion, I posit that evangelicals and other conservative Christians, as they see more and more people supporting and more states passing civil and human rights protections based on sexual and gender identity and expression, and more and more people are leaving those religious institutions that have not caught up as welcoming congregations, evangelicals seemed to have “evolved” somewhat from dictating policies to at least debating varying perspectives. Whether they will eventually soften their stands is another matter.

As I read the article, something arose in me that I have contemplated writing for many years, though 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 tried to let go of the pain and hurt, nonetheless, these thoughts and feelings keep resurfacing. Possibly now if I write them down, I can let them 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.

So while I understand that evangelical institutions need to go through their processes and hopefully evolve to a more progressive view on LGBT civil and human rights, I continually ask myself:

Can we forgive you 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,” as “contrary to the laws of nature,” and that our relationships “will tear down the very fabric of society”? Can we forgive you for your insulting and repugnant mantra “We love the sinner but hate the sin”? Can we forgive you in your efforts to deny me and members of my community the rights of self-definition and self-determination, and to deny us our integrity and our humanity by attempting to prevent us from maintaining our subjectivity, our agency, and our voice?

Can we forgive you as you so arrogantly tell us why and how we have come to our same-sex attractions and our gender identities and expressions, and that it is a “choice” that we can change? Can we forgive you for your abusive “religious counseling” to remove us from the so-called “gay lifestyle”? Can we forgive you for your bogus and dangerous “reparative” or “conversion 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 using our bodies as stepping stones for your own ambitions and political (yes, political) advancement? Can we forgive you in your endeavors to deny me and members of my community the rights granted under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution to equal protection under the law, and in particular the right to marry the person of our choice, to serve our country openly in the military, to equal protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, insurance, inheritance, and to pursue happiness as we see fit? Can we forgive you in your efforts to legislate us into second-class citizenship and codify your so-called “values” into law and attempt to deny us entry into the institutions of our choice? Can we forgive you in your efforts to prevent me and members of my community from gaining our rightful place in our society?

When religious leaders preach their damaging interpretations of their sacred texts on issues of same-sex relationships or identities and gender non-conformity within and outside their respective houses of worship, they must be held accountable and responsible for aiding and abetting those who target and harass, bully, physically assault, and murder people perceived as LGBT. In addition, they must be held accountable as accomplices in the suicides of those who are the targets of these abusive actions.

We are seeing individuals and entire denominations framing themselves as the true victims whenever we challenge their religious justifications in their attempts to perpetuate their already pervasive Christian hegemony and social privileges, and their characterizations of others. Some proponents of the newest wave of so-called “Restoration of Religious Freedom Acts” characterize those who protest against these unnecessary and sham statutes as “religiously intolerant” and as “religious bigots.”

In the final analysis, our challenge remains in no way “religious intolerance” or “religious bigotry,” but rather, it amounts to our standing up to correct a devastating social injustice. It is not “religious prejudice” to challenge offensive, demeaning, degrading, marginalizing, persecution-resulting, violence-provoking, suicide-inducing characterizations of us.

So, to all of you who wish to debate the issues, go ahead. I personally, however, refuse to debate my existence on religious grounds ever again with anyone, since there is no “debate,” for to quote Rene Descartes, “I think therefore I am,” period, the end.

Possibly in the future we may see some real change in some of the more conservative religious institutions around the country. For me, though, I would like to see genuine support, nurturance, celebration of difference, and not mere “tolerance” or “acceptance,” which 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.

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 12th, 2015 at 8:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

In-Between “Racialized” Category of European-Heritage Jews

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Sometimes I don’t know which side of the wall I’m on. Wladylaw Szpilman, The Pianist

On numerous occasions, I have attended the annual National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s “Creating Change” conference, bringing together grass-roots activists from throughout North America as well as other countries around the world. At one of the conferences in the early 1990s, I was a participant in a well-attended workshop titled “Activists of Color/White Activists Dialogue” facilitated by two highly-respected activists: a woman of color and a white Christian man.

When the workshop began, the woman outlined the agenda for the next one-and-one-half hours: the workshop would concentrate on the concepts of “race” and dialogue across racial divides, and include two separate panels of participant volunteers: one composed of four people of color, the other of four white people. Panel members were to each, in turn, answer four questions put to them by the facilitators, first the people of color panelists followed by the white people panelists. The questions were: 1. “What do you love about being your racial identity?” 2. “What has been difficult for you growing up this racial identity?” 3. “What do you never want to hear said again about or seen done to people of your racial identity group?,” and 4. “How can people of other racial groups support you and be your allies?”

As she explained the intended focus and agenda, great confusion came over me: Should I volunteer? Well, maybe, but I really can’t because I’m not sure if either of the categories on which the panels are organized include me. I know for certain that I am not eligible to volunteer for the “persons of color” panel. But, also, I feel as if I somehow don’t belong on the “white persons” panel either. Maybe I should just listen to the panelists, which I did.

But, what caused my bewilderment? What got in my way of self-defining as “white”? From where was this feeling of not-belonging on either panel, or my feeling of in-betweenness coming? Thinking back, I came to realize that it stems, I believe, from both personal and collective experience.

On the personal level, one day, when I was very young child, I sat upon my maternal grandfather Simon (Szymon) Mahler’s knee. Looking down urgently but with deep affection, he said to me through his distinctive Polish accent, “Varn, you are named after my father, your great-grandfather, Wolf Mahler. I lived in Krosno, Poland with my father, Wolf, and my mother, Bascha Trencher Mahler, and 13 brothers and sisters, and aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

Simon talked about our mishpocheh (family) with pride, but as he told me this, he revealed an obvious sadness on his face. I asked him if our family still lived in Poland, and he responded that his father and most of the remainder of his family were no longer alive. When I asked him how they died, he told me that they had all been killed by people called “Nazis” except his mother, Bascha, who died of a heart attack in 1934. I questioned him why the Nazis killed our family, and he responded, “Because they were Jews.” Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

Looking back to 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 and rationale 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 discursively constructed—an historical, “scientific,” biological myth, an idea—and that any socially-conceived physical “racial” markers are fictive 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.

In Europe, by the late 19th century CE, Judaism had come to be viewed by the scientific community as a distinct “racial” type, with essential immutable biological characteristics — a trend that increased markedly into the early 20th century CE. Once seen as largely a religious, ethnic, or political group, Jews were increasingly interpolated as members of a “mixed race” (a so-called “mongrel” or “bastard race”), a people who had crossed racial barriers by interbreeding with black Africans during the Jewish Diaspora. If Jews were evil as thought by many, this evilness was genetic and could not be purged or cured. Jews converting to Christianity as once believed by some Christian leaders, therefore, could no longer be a solution to “the Jewish question.”

In European society, according to social theorist and author Sander Gilman, Jews of Central and Eastern European descent (Ashkenazim) were thought of as the “white Negroes.” By the end of the 19th century CE, the popular image of the “Jewish type” (portrayed invariably as the Jewish male), according to Sander Gilman in his book The Jew’s Body, “consisted of a hooked nose, curling nasal folds (ali nasi), thick prominent lips, receding forehead and chin, large ears, curly black hair, dark skin, stooped shoulders, [weak flat feet, deflated rump,] and piercing, cunning eyes.” In addition, the gaze of the Jew was said to be pathological, searing, cunning, cold, and piercing.

The U.S. writer, Madison Grant (1865-1937) codified this supposed “racialization” of the Jews 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.

The Nazi’s accepted and advanced the “scientific” view that European-heritage Jews, in fact, all Jews of every so-called “race,” constitute a separate and lower “race” as justification for extermination as if we were vermin. The Nazis asserted that Jews polluted the so-called “Aryan race,” and they ordered Jews to wear yellow Star of David patches on their outer clothing to signify “race pollution.” In Adolph Hitler’s 1925 book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), in addition to “racial” justifications, he also forwarded religious arguments for his eventual genocidal treatment of Jewish people: “Today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

Following Hitler’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, Nazi troops isolated all 2071 Jewish residents of my ancestral town of Krosno into a strictly demarcated area of the town, frequently took large number into the surrounding woods where they forced them to dig their own mass grave until Nazis shot them. Eventually, troops ordered those who remained in the town to board packed and virtually airless train cars for shipment to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Belzec concentrations where virtually all perished. None of my Krosno relatives survived. I have since returned to Krosno many times to recover the missing pieces of the jig saw history of my ancestral past.

So for me, anyway, it seemed to have taken somewhat longer than, for example, many European-heritage Christians to come to an acceptance that by dint of my skin color, hair texture, facial features, and most importantly, my European genealogy, U.S. society grants me a host of privileges denied those constructed as “persons of color.” My initial and continuing questions for years arose as, “In European society, my mishpocheh, in fact, all Jews then and in many areas still today, were and are still not considered ‘white.’ If this is so, if the Nazis ruthlessly murdered my Polish and also my Hungarian family because they were not white, then how can I have white privilege?”

Once constructed as the “Other” in European society, Jews and “Jewishness” — while certainly not fully embraced by the ruling elite as “one of their own” — became a sort of “middle” status, according to Biale, Galchinsky, and Heschel, “standing somewhere between the dominant position of the White majority and the marginal position of People of Color.” And this change in Jewish ethnoracial assignment has occurred only within the last 70 or so years.

While I and other European-heritage Jews clearly understand that we have been accorded white privilege vis-à-vis minoritized “racial” communities, we also understand the history and legacy of anti-Jewish persecution and, yes, how dominant groups have racialized us as well. And I believe at this point in history, individual Jews would answer the question, “What is my race?” in very different ways.

I have my own opinion on this question. I draw my conclusion by looking both where U.S.-American Jews are currently constructed on the ethnoracial continuum, and recalling the historical cycle of anti-Jewish prejudice. Though we can never fully quantify privilege, by discarding the bifurcated polar perspective while charting privilege along a continuum taking into account context and identity intersectionalities, I believe we will come to a fuller and deeper awareness of issues of power and privilege, marginalization, and oppression as we work toward a more socially just society and world.

“Race” then must be seen constructed not as a binary with “white” on one side and “people of color” on the other, but rather as a continuum. Ashkenazim are primarily constructed in the U.S. today on the “white” side of the line upon this continuum, and we definitely have white privilege vis-a-vis “people of color.” I would argue, however, that we do not have the degree and extent of white privilege in many sections of this country as white mainline Protestants. In fact, in some countries, for example, in Eastern Europe still today, we are not constructed as “white.” Obviously, so-called white supremacists believe this as well.

With these lingering questions, with the occasional acts of anti-Jewish violence, with the continued categorization of Jews as “racially inferior” and as so-called “mud people” (along with people of color) by extremist white racist groups, and possibly because I continue to carry a collective memory of persecution, I chose, therefore, to plot our current placement as “off-white” on the U.S.-American ethnoracial scale as it is currently constructed.

This commentary is extracted from a larger essay appearing as:

Blumenfeld, W. J. (2015). Inside and outside: How being an Ashkenazi Jew illuminates and complicates the binary of racial privilege. In Everyday white people confront racial & social injustice: 15 stories, E. Moore Jr., M. W. Penick-Parks, & A. Michael, Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, pp. 129-139.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

June 12th, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized