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Bigotry & Repression in “Religious” Guise

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Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis has become the face of resistance to the recent Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing marriage for same-sex couples on par with different-sex couples throughout the United States. Only hours after the Court’s ruling in June, Davis ordered her staff to stop issuing marriage licenses. Though she now faces a court order, through her lawyers she expressed her belief that granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples “irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience” because it goes against her religious beliefs. She stated that she fears going to Hell for violating “a central teaching” of the Bible if she were to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.

Davis, however, seems to practice a form of “cafeteria Christianity” by picking and choosing which of the “central teachings” she will follow. Possibly Davis chose to run for the job of issuing marriage licenses in her county since she has been issued four herself by divorcing three times: 1994, 2006, and then again in 2008. In addition, according to published accounts, Davis “gave birth to twins five months after divorcing her first husband. They were fathered by her third husband but adopted by her second.”

Some current Republican candidates for president have overlooked her hypocrisy by supporting Davis’s decision to defy the law of the land. For example, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee issued a statement backing her: “I spoke with Kim Davis this morning to offer my prayers and support. I let her know how proud I am of her for not abandoning her religious convictions and standing strong for religious liberty. She is showing more courage and humility than just about any federal office holder in Washington.”

In addition, speaking with the Huffington Post, Governor Bobby Jindal stated that: “I don’t think anyone should have to choose between following their conscience and religious beliefs and giving up their job and facing financial sanctions. I think it’s wrong to force Christian individuals or business owners….I think you should be able to keep your job and follow your conscience.”

“Religious Freedom” to Discriminate

A movement has gained support in State Houses around this nation, as exemplified through Indiana’s new ironically named “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” When it first passed the state legislature, the law permitted businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* people, and members of all other groups businesses considered opposed to its religious judgments and precepts.

So what can we infer from those religions that justify such discriminatory treatment of other human beings? On what sacred tenets would a clerk deny a marriage license to a same-sex couple; a baker refuse to bake a confectionery delight; a photographer refuse to preserve joyous moments; a caterer refuse the pleasures of delectable sustenance; a florist refuse the beauties from the garden; a jeweler refuse a band connecting human souls; a realtor refuse showing shelters signifying new chapters in one’s book of time; a shop owner refuse selling the common and special objects supporting and enhancing life; a restauranteur refuse anyone a time away from the kitchen; a spiritual advisor refuse to treat one’s neighbor as oneself?

More ultimate questions need to be raised as the world spins around, as individuals and nations since recorded history have attempted to explain the mysteries of life, as spiritual and religious consciousness first developed and carried down through the ages, as people have come to believe their way stood as the right way, the only way, with all others as simple pretenders, which could never achieve THE truth, the certainty, the correct and right connection with the deity or deities, and as individuals and entire nations raped, pillaged, enslaved, and exterminated any “others” believing differently.

In reality, all religious doctrine stems from uncertainty and conjecture, from multiple Gods, hybrid Gods and humans, to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the burning bush, to the covenant and the parting of the Red Sea, to the immaculate conception and resurrection, to Muhammad’s rising to heaven from the rock, to the golden tablets, all beginning with the human creation of God(s).

Resisters who defy authority for a higher purpose, such as people who engage in either violent or non-violent disobedience, do so with the clear understanding that they must accept responsibility for their actions. Mahatma Gandhi, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Miep Gies, Sojourner Truth and all the other brave conductors on the Underground Railroad, peace activists, conscientious objectors, security leakers like Daniel Ellsberg, they knew full well the consequences their actions could trigger, but they likewise understood and committed themselves to working for a greater cause and a greater truth than the laws they broke.

What kind of greater truth or good does discriminating against an entire class of people engender? What kind of greater truth or good does withholding a marriage license and the dream of a life together for a same-sex couple produce? What kind of greater truth or good does defying the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Supreme Court’s decision generate?

If one has problems with the Constitution or court case interpretations, under the rule of law, the Constitution itself provides options that people and their legislatures can take. However, if one can justify denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple on “religious” grounds, where does the slippery slope of justifying discrimination on the so-called grounds of “religious liberty” end, or does it ever end?

Our decision whether to serve same-sex couples connects to whether we choose to serve people of color, people of religious backgrounds other than our own, people whose first language is other than English, people born in countries outside the United States, people whose gender identities or expressions differ from what societies construct as “traditional,” people of another sex, and so on.

Some who oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples claim that this would undermine the sanctity of marriage, and possibly lead to the destruction of society, often using religious sanctions as their justification.

For example, responding to Vermont’s Civil Unions legislation in 2000, Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law reflected the opinion of a number of New England Cardinals and Bishops: “The Legislature of the State of Vermont, by passing the Civil Unions Bill, has attacked centuries of cultural and religious esteem for marriage between a man and a woman and has prepared the way for an attack on the well-being of society itself.”

Similarly, Robert Lewis Dabney, Professor of Theology at Union Seminary in Virginia, asserted: “What then, in the next place, will be the effect of this fundamental change when it shall be established? The obvious answer is, that it will destroy Christianity and civilization in America.”

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

Prior to 1967, a number of states within the U.S. prevented consenting adults from engaging in sexual activities, let along marriage, with anyone from another so-called “race.” In the case of Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), the Supreme Court of the United States, however, declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on adult consensual sexual activity and marriage throughout the U.S.

The plaintiffs in the case were Mildred Loving (born Mildred Deloris Jetter, a woman of African descent) and Richard Perry Loving (a man of white European descent), both residents of Virginia who married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia to evade Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Upon returning to Virginia, they were arrested and charged with violating the act. At the trial, the judge, Leon Bazile, used Biblical justifications to convict the couple:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”

Can we learn any lessons here? I say we can. Both then and now, opponents of social equity have claimed Biblical justifications to deny people rights granted under the rule of law. Anyone can believe anything they wish, whether others find those beliefs laudable or offensive. When, however, the expression of those beliefs denies other individuals or groups their full human and civil rights, a critical line has been crossed, for they have entered into the realm of oppression, and they must be confronted.

In actuality, I find the answer to the problem posed by Kim Davis very simple. If one does not approve of marriage for same-sex couples, simply don’t marriage someone of one’s own sex. If, however, one has license-granting authority, one must do so or accept responsibility for the consequences.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 3rd, 2015 at 11:37 am

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In Remembrance of the Nazi Invasion of Poland

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What follows is an address I presented to the residents of Krosno, Poland on Monday, 4 August 2014 as an introduction to a screening of a film my grandparents, Simon (Szymon) & Eva Mahler, took while visiting Simon’s family in 1932. This screening was projected out-of-doors on a building in Krosno’s Market Square, which was the actual site where the film was shot.

I would first like to thank the good people who organized this week’s events, and for their kindness, their friendship, and their generosity in inviting me to present tonight.

I remember the first day when my maternal grandfather, Szymon Mahler told me about his family in Krosno. One day, when I was very young, I sat upon Szymon’s knee. Looking down urgently, but with deep affection, he said to me, “Warren, you are named after my father, Wolf Mahler who ran a butcher shop [just one short block from where we are now] in Krosno, Poland. I lived in Krosno with my father, Wolf, and my mother, Bascha, and 13 brothers and sisters, and aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

Szymon talked about his family with pride, but as he hold me this, he seemed rather sad. I asked him if our relatives still lived in Poland, and he responded that his father, mother, and most of the remainder of his family were no longer alive. When I asked him how they had died, he told me that many of them had been killed by people called Nazis. 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.

Szymon left Krosno in 1912 bound for New York City, leaving most of his family behind. Already in the United States country was one brother named David Mahler. Szymon arrived in the United States on New Years’ Eve in a city filled with gleaming lights and frenetic activity, and with his own heart filled with hope for a new life.

Szymon returned to Krosno with my grandmother, Eva, in 1932 to a joyous homecoming. This was the first time he had seen his family since he left Poland. He took with him an early home movie camera to record the good people of Krosno on film. While in Poland, he promised that once back in the United States, he would try to earn enough money to send for his remaining family members who wished to come to the United States, but history was to thwart his plans. During that happy reunion, he had no way of knowing that this was to be the last time he would ever see most and those others he left behind alive. Just 7 years later, on 1 September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland.

Szymon heard the news sitting in the kitchen of his home in Brooklyn, New York. He was so infuriated, so frightened, and so incensed that he took the large radio from the table, lifted it above his head, and violently hurled it against a wall. He knew what this invasion meant. He knew it signaled the end of the Jewish population in Eastern Europe as he had known it. He knew it meant certain death for people he had grown up with, people he had loved, people who had loved him.

Szymon’s fears soon became real. He eventually learned from a brother who had eventually escaped into the woods with his wife and young son that his father, and a number of his siblings were killed by Nazi troops either on the streets of Krosno or up a small hill in the Jewish cemetery. Other friends and relatives were eventually loaded onto cattle cars and transported to Auschwitz and Balzec concentration camps. His mother, Bascha, had died in 1934 before the Nazi invasion.

Szymon never fully recovered from those days in 1939. My grandfather, Szymon, was a loving and caring father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He gave me so much: my enjoyment for taking long walks and sitting in quiet solitude, pride in my Jewish heritage, and most of all, my ability to love.

I want to tell you too that though tragedy befell the Jewish community in his homeland, some people undertook and are continuing to express acts of courage, kindness, and compassion. In the midst of danger, righteous rescuers came to the aid of those who were oppressed.

For example, Krosno farmers, Jakub and Zofia Gargasz who practiced the Seventh Day Adventist faith, risked their own lives to shelter from Nazi troops and to nurse back to health a Jewish woman, Henia Katz, and her daughter. A neighbor, though, betrayed them, and Jakub, Zofia, Henia, and her daughter were arrested and sentenced to death on 26 April 1944. At the trial, Zofia affirmed that she and her husband took this courageous action motivated by their religious faith.

Hans Frank, the governor of the occupied Central Polish government decided to commute the death sentences to incarceration in a concentration camp. Jakub and Zofia survived the concentration camp, which was liberated by the Allies. Henia and her daughter did not survive.

After the war, Jews no longer resided in Krosno. Subsequently, the Jewish cemetery fell into disarray. In 2002, local students from the “Olszówka” association, working under the energetic and compassionate leadership of Grzegorz Bożek — a local teacher and activist with the ecology organization “Workshop for All Beings” — restored the Jewish cemetery in Krosno. The Krosno Jewish Cemetery is now considered one of the best kept Jewish cemeteries in all of Poland because people care and because people want to ensure a brighter future.

I will close by invoking a central tenet of Jewish tradition, which is Tikkun Olam: meaning the transformation, healing, and repairing of the world so that it becomes a more just, peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place.

I hope you will all join with me to make the world a more peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place. And there is much we can do in this effort. As I travel around Poland, I see good people learning and caring about the Polish Jewish history, which, as we know is all of our history, not only Jews.

A number of issues, and one in particular, is still very troubling to me. It is the tradition in Poland of the image of Jews holding a coin hung on the walls of businesses or homes as symbols to bring wealth to those who own or enter the space. Some of the pictures contain the caption: “Żyd w sieni pieniadze w kieszeni” (“A Jew in the room, a coin in the pocket”). Either one day per week (usually on the Jewish sabbath between Friday at sunset and Saturday at sunset), or on January 1 of each year, the pictures’ owners hang the Jew upside down for a while to assure them greater wealth during the week or in the new year.

I hope you can understand how very offensive is this stereotype of the rich Jew and the Jew whose main concern is money and wealth.

So, in conclusion, as we look back over the unconscionable horrors of the Nazi era and what they did here, and also as we reflect back on the numerous acts of courage and rescue, I hope we will all go out into our lives and work for Tikkun Olam. Let us transform the world.

You can find the film my grandparents Simon and Eva Mahler took of the Jewish community of Krosno, Poland when they traveled there in 1932. This is the oldest film of Krosno, and the only film we know of projecting the Jewish Community. The Subcarpathian Museum of Krosno has uploaded the film onto their website:

http://www.muzeum.krosno.pl/

On the right side of the screen you will see blue bookmarks. Click onto “Film Krosno z 1932.”

Also, for background information, you can see my PowerPoint presentation about the Jews of Krosno, Poland at:

http://www.slideshare.net/wblumen/remembrance-rescue-and-recovery-going-home-to-poland

Please contact me if you have any questions.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 1st, 2015 at 9:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Narratives of Hate & Challenges to “Political Correctness”

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Donald Trump, at the Republican Party Presidential Candidates Debate, August, 6, 2015 argued:

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”

Trump certainly has been extremely toxic when referring to people coming into the United States from Mexico and in his representations of China, and of women.

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

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….”

Speaking to a crowd during his “Make America Great Again Rally” on August 25, 2015 in Dubuque, Iowa, Trump delivered a mocking impression of Asian business people in broken English, “They say, ‘We want deal!” to the laughter from his audience. His offensive comment came one day after he stressed that Chinese President Xi Jinping deserves a McDonald’s hamburger rather than a formal White House state dinner during his planned visit to the U.S.

Trump argued that children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants, whom Trump and later Jeb Bush pejoratively referred to as so-called “anchor babies,” should lose their citizenship status. Jeb exclamation mark asserted that “Frankly, it’s more Asian people” than Latino/a people who have these babies.

Trump’s misogynistic comments by now have become infamous. In an interview with Esquire in 1991, he quipped: “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of [expletive].”

Trump referred to Rosie O’Donnell as a “fat pig” and “animal,” and ranted against her on Entertainment Tonight:

“Rosie O’Donnell is disgusting—both inside and out. If you take a look at her, she’s a slob. How does she even get on television?… If I were running The View, I’d fire Rosie. I’d look her right in that fat, ugly face of hers and say, ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’ We’re all a little chubby but Rosie’s just worse than most of us. But it’s not the chubbiness—Rosie is a very unattractive person, both inside and out….”

After Fox Channel reporter, Megyn Kelly, asked Trump about his negative characterizations of women, Trump called Kelly “a bimbo” in a tweet, and during an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, implied that Kelly was having her period during the debate. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her…wherever….”

On Political Correctness:

Nicolle Wallace, a former spokesperson in the George W. Bush administration, heartedly supports the Bush era CIA agency’s “enhanced interrogation” (a.k.a. torture) techniques on suspected Al-Quaeda operatives. Wallace, a frequent guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” defended the policy on the show Tuesday, December 9, 2014 in fiery language.

“The notion that somehow this makes America less great is asinine and dangerous…. But the notion that what we do affects terrorists is a lie. It’s a lie perpetrated by political correctness and liberals, and it’s dangerous.”

Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas has organized a movement to call the fall holiday season what he believes it really is, the “Christmas Season,” and he asserts that businesses who display “Happy Holidays” greetings are simply stooping to “political correctness.”

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh argues that “Feminism is one of those issues, which has established itself in the political correctness hall of fame. As such, it is not fashionable to take issue with or poke fun at the philosophy, which underlies the movement.” He brands women’s rights activists as “feminazis.” In addition, he asserted that “Political Correctness, PC, is literally the law of the land on many campuses.”

The political Right coined the terms “political correctness,” “politically correct,” and “PC” as pejorative rhetorical ploys to intimidate, discredit, and outright dismiss the statements, policies, and actions of the progressive Left generally, and more specifically, to inhibit anyone from thinking critically and challenging societal inequalities. They did this not only to maintain their own privileged status, but more importantly, to roll back advancements progressives have made to ensure that our nation actually lives up to its promise and potential of becoming “a more perfect union.”

Conservatives originally deployed the terms in the 1990s as a reactionary backlash to the critical multicultural and social justice educational movements in our schools, and against attempts to promote sensitivity of the numerous cultural traditions that make up the fabric of our nation. These educational movements, with a foundation build on developing and enhancing critical consciousness of self and society, stood and continues to stand as a contradiction to the so-called “neoliberal” era of standardization, corporatization, globalization, privatization, and deregulation of the business, banking, and corporate sectors.

Bostick (quoted in Weinbaum) sums up this reactive stance: “Is anyone else nauseated by the deluge of cultural sensitivity to the exclusion of the majority in the country? The terms ‘multiculturalism,’ [and] ‘diversity’…should be eliminated from our vocabulary.” And Iowa Republican U.S. Representative Steve King refers to “political correctness” as “intellectual fascism.”

Jenkinson investigated instances of censorship and book banning across the U.S., and he found a number of reasons individuals and organizations cited when challenging school- and public library-based books and other curricular materials. Among the most-often used justification included: “Any assignments that encourage or teach critical thinking skills.”

A basic tenet in critical multiculturalism and social justice education is social reconstructionist or transformational education in which the educator’s role is to help prepare future citizens to reconstruct society to better serve the interests of all groups of people, and to transform society toward greater equity for all.

Those who automatically throw “political correctness” into the debate, however, often do so because they lack the facts, the specificities, or the nuances of any given topic under discussion. I proudly embrace the acronym “PC,” and I hope that I practice the skill of treating all people with Proper Courtesy. Other than that, I realize that when people use the terms “political correctness” or “politically correct” in their arguments, they have lost the debate because they either do not have the facts, or because they simply want to characterize people or entire nations in offensive and hateful 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), 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

August 28th, 2015 at 10:25 am

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Anti-Jewish Oppression & Theme of Powerful Manipulators

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In my extensive studies of anti-Jewish oppression (sometimes referred to as “anti-Semitism” or as “the Longest Hatred”), I have isolated a number of recurring themes that dominant groups have exploited to justify persecution of Jewish populations throughout the ages, including the following: 1. Killers of God; 2. Immature / Inadequate Religious Consciousness; 3. In Service of the Devil; 4. Christian Host Desecrators; 5. Ritual Murderers of Christian Children; 6. Feminized Males, Overbearing and Oversexed Females; 7. Poisoners of Drinking Wells and Transmitters of Disease; 8. Usurers; 9. Wanderers; 10. Clannish; 11. Sexually Perverse; 12. Alien “Race”; 13. Communists / Socialists; 14. Rich Capitalists; 15. Dominators of Countries; 16. Exploiters of the Oppressed.

Though all pernicious, one of the most perennial and resistant to change is the theme that Jews as a world community have surreptitiously accumulated inordinate power and wealth to manipulate and control the media, politicians, world economic systems, and the hearts and minds of populations on an international scale.

This came to the surface yet again in a comment by a reader of a recent editorial blog I wrote for the Huffington Post, which I titled “Rick Perry, Say ‘Bye Bye’,” dated 8/21/2015. In the article, I profile a demonstration against Perry in Iowa in 2011 due in part to how he exploited fear and hatred toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people for his own political ends in his appeal to a Christian Evangelical Republican Party base.

The reader, Pete Wagner, employed the tactic of blaming the media and a “Jewish fifth column,” to take responsibility away from Rick Perry for his own political demise in his past and current campaign for the White House. According to Wagner, in part:

“The truth is, we have an extremely powerful and manipulative media and jewish [sic] fifth column, which both have turned against Rick Perry a while back. They killed his 2012 chances and are still doing it. They feared him in a debate with Obama, and fear him and Hillary on the same stage. Their loathing of the man goes back to his tenure as governor, when Perry implemented tort reform (ended frivolous lawsuits), relaxed regulations, and generally started marching out of step with the establishment. What he did produced positive results in TX, economically and environmentally, where TX under Bush/Ann Richards TX was struggling in both areas….”

As an aside, I wonder whether Pete Wagner is related to the German composer, Richard Wagner, who himself was a perpetrator of anti-Jewish rhetoric. He published the brochure, Das Judentum in der Musik (“Jewry in Music”) in which he attacked Jewish influence on German culture in general, and on music in particular, especially against Jewish composers Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn, and Offenbach. Wagner described the Jews as “former cannibals, now trained to be business agents of society.”

To Pete Wagner’s assertion that Perry was good for Texas, another reader, a Texan, commented: Jackie Bell:

“Let us get real. They ‘feared’ Perry on stage in debate, because Perry is not intelligent enough to have learned debate skills. His presence at the podium in 2012, is still worthy of a good laugh. The ‘jewish fifth column’?? ‘Relaxed regulations’? ‘Economically and environmentally’ Perry has been a disaster, and his tort reform has made it almost impossible to sue anyone in business here, if you do not have ‘deep pockets’….”

While one could infinitely critique Perry’s impact on Texas politics and his overall leadership skills, my intent here is to illuminate in this instance that anti-Jewish discourse is alive and well not only in Europe, where we are witnessing increased incidents of harassment and violence, but in the United States as well. Pete Wagner’s diatribe harkens back throughout the ages to the trope of Jewish domination.

Though in actuality, Jews had little control over the conditions surrounding their lives in many European countries dating back to ancient Greece, the stereotype of Jews as obsessed with money and power with an interest in world domination persists well into the modern era. During the 19th century of the Common Era (CE), for example, the Rothchild family, represented in a number of pictorial depictions in caricature with Alphonse de Rothschild as an avaricious and cunning predator seizing the globe in his claw-like grasp became the quintessential symbol of a Jewish passion for world domination.

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

In actuality, no monolithic Jewish exists, and the world-wide Jewish population is very small and tremendously diverse. We comprise approximately 2.1% of the total US population. We fall all along the religious spectrum from Ultra-Orthodox to secular and atheist. We subscribe to the full continuum of political philosophies, from radical conservative to progressive, socialist, and communist. We inhabit all the socioeconomic classes from extreme poverty to upper owning class. With our small numbers, net accumulated wealth, and disparate political, religious, and socioeconomic class backgrounds, we simply do not have the cohesion nor the clout of which others have accused us.

In the final analysis, a stereotype is an oversimplified, preconceived, and standardized conception, opinion, affective attitude, judgment, or image of a person or group held in common by members of other groups. Originally referring to the process of making type from a metal mold in printing, social stereotypes can be viewed as molds of regular and invariable patterns of evaluation of others.

Stereotyping can and often does result of singling out individuals and groups as targets of hostility and violence, even though they may have little or nothing to do with the offenses for which they stand accused. This is referred to as scapegoating. With scapegoating, there is the tendency to view all members of the group as inferior and to assume that all members are alike in most respects. This attitude often leads to even further marginalization.

The origin of the scapegoat dates back to the Book of Leviticus (16:20-22). On the Day of Atonement, a live goat was selected by lot. The high priest placed both hands on the goat’s head, and confessed over it the sins of the people. In this way, the sins were symbolically transferred to the animal, which was then cast out into the wilderness. This process thus purged the people, for a time, of their feelings of guilt, shame, and fear.

When stereotyping occurs, people tend to overlook all other characteristics of the group. Individuals sometime use stereotypes to justify the subjugation of members of that group. In this sense, stereotypes conform to the literal meaning of the word “prejudice,” which is a prejudgment, derived from the Latin praejudicium.

Today we still live in a society that attempts to define and perpetuate lies about the real lives of Jewish people and of all minoritized peoples, and even proclaims that we do not have a right to exist, but exist we do, everywhere, in all walks of life.

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

August 23rd, 2015 at 1:44 pm

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Calls in Immigration Battles to Return to Days of Slavery

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Though President Abraham Lincoln’s historic Emancipation Proclamation ending the inhumane and terrifying institution of slavery in the United States went into effect on January 1, 1863, some politicians and media personalities would have us return to the shameful atrocities of the past.

Though the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees any person born within our borders citizenship (“birthright citizenship”), Donald Trump, in his quest as the Republican standard bearer for the White House proposed not only the erection of a 20-foot wall spanning the entire US southern border with Mexico, but this week argued that children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants, whom Trump and later Jeb Bush pejoratively referred to as so-called “anchor babies, should lose their citizenship status. He asserted that we must “keep families together” by throwing out of the country these children along with the remainder of their family members. Though the rhetoric around issues of immigration has long been divisive and contentious, I thought that Trump had brought it to a new low when during his announcement for the Presidency, Trump figuratively spit in the faces of minoritized “racial” groups, in particular Latinos and Latinas, during his off-scripted rambling speech:

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

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, as vicious and hateful are Trump, King, Nugent, and Gingrey in positioning themselves within the overall immigration debates, their rhetoric pales in comparison to current presidential candidate Ben Carson and conservative Iowa radio talk show host Jan Mickelson.

Carson stated as he walked along the Arizona and Mexico borders on August 19, 2015 that he would not rule out the use of military-style drone strikes to take out undocumented people attempting to surreptitiously enter the US. For Carson, assassinating people who are trying to build a better life for themselves and their families seems a reasonable and logical tactic. Though vitriolic and totally over the top in terms of strategies, when I heard Carson talking about this, while I was moved to anger, for a number of reasons I wasn’t particularly surprised since the Republican Party’s obsession with guns and other forms of weaponry has become a mainstay in its policy directives.

Though I find myself becoming increasing numb by the hyperbolic political rhetoric, I found myself completely stunned by statements of radio host Jan Mickelson on his recent comments about undocumented immigrants. I lived in Iowa for 9 years until two years ago, and I was well aware of Mickelson’s brand of venom. I even appeared on his program a number of years ago, somewhere around 2005 or 2006, when I answered his twisted questions over my contention that “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression” needed to be included as explicitly protected categories, along with “race,” “color,” “ethnicity,” “nationality,” “religion,” “disability,” “gender,” “socioeconomic class,” and others in Iowa school’s anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies.

Jan Mickelson floored me when I read the transcripts of his broadcast of August 17, 2015 in which he rejected the idea of deportation for undocumented immigrants. Instead, he would render them as the property of the state to do with as it wanted. He said he would follow the lead of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio who argued for the placement of immigrants into “tent cities” if they did not voluntarily leave the country by a set deadline. Argued Mickelson:

“If you are here without our permission, and we have given you two months to leave, and you’re still here, and we find that you’re still here after we’ve given you the deadline to leave, then you become property of the state of Iowa. And we have a job for you. And we start using compelled labor, the people who are here illegally would therefore be owned by the state and become an asset of the state rather than a liability, and we start inventing jobs for them to do.”

Following the host’s assertion, a caller said that it “sounds an awful lot like slavery,” to which Mickelson responded, “Well, what’s wrong with slavery.”

Mickelson referred to his hypothetical slaves as “new assets”: “Put up a tent village, we feed and water these new assets, we give them minimal shelter, minimal nutrition, and offer them the opportunity to work for the benefit of the taxpayers of the state of Iowa. All they have to do to avoid servitude is to leave.”

Sometimes, I simply can’t fathom what some people believe and say. Mickelson’s statements go far beyond his quest for ratings. They enter into the realm of pure hatred. His radio station would fire him immediately if his words had not resonated with a large segment of his listenership, which, unfortunately, they do.

Though I believe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his assertion that ““The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” I know as well that the arc often circles back upon itself seemingly erasing its forward trajectory before reaching its final resting place. Current immigration rhetoric harkens back to actions taken by European-heritage invaders that resulted in the genocidal slaughters of First Nation peoples in the “Americas,” to the Congressional refusals of permitting refugees entry to escape Nazi horrors during World War II, to the demonization and eventual incarceration into concentration camps of Japanese immigrants and birthright children into interior sectors of this country.

I choose not to heed with words of the bigoted, but rather to follow the words of scholar and activist Cornel West:

“You tell the truth. You sacrifice your popularity for integrity. There is a willingness to give your life back to the people given that, in the end, they basically gave it to you, because we are who we are because somebody loved us anyway.”

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

August 20th, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Rick Perry, Say “Bye Bye”

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Coming off his embarrassingly disastrous “oops” run for the presidency four years ago, Rick Perry announced this week that most staffers will no longer receive salaries due to much lower than expected financial donations in his current crawl to the highest office in the land. Political pundits view this as the beginning of the end for Perry in the crowded Republican Presidential sweepstakes. So Rick Perry, say bye bye. We hardly knew you following your divisive and exclusionary tactics last time around.

In the fall of 2011, as I watched from my home in Ames, Iowa the political TV ads of the candidates running in the all-important first-in-the-nation Republican Iowa Caucuses, a recurring theme emerged. In their attempts to appeal to the estimated 60 percent of Iowa Republican caucus goers who define themselves as Evangelical Christians, most of the candidates emphasized their “so-called Christian family values,” which, by the way, opposed marriage for same-sex couples and LGBT members in the U.S. military.

After both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made moving and heartfelt speeches in 2011 pressing for civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people internationally, Rick Perry responded:

“This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong. President Obama has again mistaken America’s tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles.”

Rick Perry double-downed his insults. In my capacity as associate professor at Iowa State University in Ames, I taught courses in multicultural education and also LGBT and queer studies. During the final week of classes during the fall semester in December 2011, I was reviewing with students the course material in anticipation for their final exam. Throughout the semester in our Queer Studies course, we had discussed the candidates’ positions on the issues. One student asked if we could take a few minutes for him to show former Texas governor Rick Perry’s newest TV ad titled “Strong.” Projected on the video screen, Perry looking intensely into the camera, wearing a tan leather coat like the men in the film “Brokeback Mountain,” sounds of composer Aaron Copeland (who, by the way, was an out gay man) streaming in the background, Perry said:

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pews every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.”

Visibly shaken, some students wiped tears from their eyes and cheeks. Others looked bewildered, mouths open, audible gasps escaping. I too felt shaken, attacked, saddened, overwhelmed by his sheer unapologetic and marginalizing tone, and by his blatantly dishonest and deceptive statements.

I learned that Perry was due to speak at a local Ames, Iowa café at a town hall meeting. I showed up to the event thirty minutes before his scheduled arrival giving me some time to talk with his supporters. Joining me was my friend and neighbor, an administrator at one of our local public schools.

We entered and joined three people at a small round table. We introduced ourselves, and I asked whether they supported Rick Perry. One of the women told us that she supported Perry “because he will restore to us the freedoms taken away by Barack Obama.” I asked her to tell us what were these freedoms taken away by Obama?

“Well, for one,” she forcefully asserted, “students can no longer pledge allegiance to the flag in schools.” I told her that this is simply not the case. I turned to my friend who mentioned that students are routinely led by their teachers in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the schools, K-12, unless they voluntarily opt out. “I disagree,” cried the supporter. “Well,” said my friend, “it’s a fact that students pledge the flag in the schools.”

So then I asked: “What other freedom has Obama taken away.” And she responded, “He took away students’ right to pray in the schools.” My neighbor responded that this too is simply not true. He told the woman that he sees students praying before taking exams. In his school, students organized a Bible Study Club where they read the Bible together, and sometimes pray. The administration allocates a quiet space for Muslim students to pray 5 times a day according to one of the foundational pillars of Islam. Students hold a prayer vigil each year before their end-of-the-year graduation.

I informed the woman that the courts have held constitutional the teaching of world religions in the public schools, but not the officially-sanctioned promotion of religion. Students are free to pray and to organize prayer sessions as they wish, and Obama has not taken away these rights.

“I disagree,” was her response. I asserted that this is not an issue to which one simply agrees or disagrees. This is an issue of fact versus misinformation. “You seem to be buying into the misinformation coming from some of the politicians, like Rick Perry.” I suggested that she might want to attend one of her local schools to see what is actually the case related to prayer and the pledge. She responded by arguing that she “had all the information she needed.”

By this time, the candidate had arrived and was mounting the stage. I had intended to ask him questions regarding his “Strong” TV ad, and I listened to his canned stump speech. When he seemed to come to a natural break in his remarks, I raised my hand. Being only a few short feet from the candidate, he looked me in the eyes, and continued his brief remarks. I then raised my hand again, he looked at me, turned, and departed the stage for the back door of the café, for he obviously had no intention of considering questions.

At this point, I realized that if I was going address my concern over his campaign ad, I had no option other than shouting. Though my intent in coming to this event was to engage in a reasonable give and take with the candidate, I cupped my hands around my mouth, and yelled “Why are you marginalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people! Why are you marginalizing non-Christians!,” which I repeated two or three times.

At this point, Perry supporters attempted to drown me out by shouting the candidate’s name in loud unison. One supporter yelled at me: “Hey, this is MY country. This is NOT your country.” Someone in the crowd accused me of being “religiously prejudiced” against Perry’s religious views.

After the event hit the news outlets, a local newspaper referred to me as “a heckler.” One of my students called me and explained: “Well, I guess the definition of a heckler is someone who asks a question that someone else doesn’t want to answer.” A man who read a news account emailed me that the “Founders were all Christians who had intended this as a Christian nation.” Seeing my name in the newspaper, he continued that “if I don’t like it here then I should move to Israel.”

I would now ask Perry in reference to his ad “Strong”: Is it a sign of strength to scapegoat others as the cause of the problems we face, and symbolically use their bodies as stepping stones to advance your political ends? Is it a sign of strength to disseminate misleading information, at best, and play on the fears of potential constituents so you can ascend to higher office?

I see that Jeffersonian wall becoming increasing a tattered and bullet-ridden curtain of separation between religion and government. Candidates don their Christian credentials like armor to repel potential attacks on their motivations and character.

Not so very long ago, a Democratic candidate for the presidency came under attack for his Catholic background, with declarations from his detractors that the Vatican will control the White House if John F. Kennedy were elected. Before his election, a group of Protestant leaders strategized ways to disrail his campaign. Four years ago, a group of Protestant leaders meet in Texas to defeat frontrunner Mitt Romney, a Mormon, whom they asserted did not take conservative enough stands on the issues. Well, at least they did not meet to prevent Catholic candidates, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, from winning. But I ask, is this real progress, especially since candidates’ religious beliefs very often determine, to a large extent, their eventual chances for government service?

On Our Democracy

Democracy demands an educated electorate. Democracy demands responsibility on the part of the electorate to critically examine our politicians so they can make truly informed decisions.

I observe a certain anti-intellectualism within current political discourse. How often do we hear politicians “accuse” other candidates or those serving in public office of being part of some so-called “elitest” intellectual establishment who are out of touch with “real” Americans. And what about the gendering of politics when we are told either that women don’t have the temperament to lead or when a politician calls an opponent’s manhood into questions by demanding them to “man up.”

During economic downturns, charismatic and not-so charismatic leaders attempt to exploit the fears of the public in their quests for power and control. Conservative political discourse centers on “F” words: Faith, Family, Freedom, and the Flag. This set of buzz words comprise the foundation on which politicians tell us we should decide who is truly worthy of our votes.

After careful and continuous vetting to plough through the reality from the show; the truth in their message from their appeals to fears and insecurities; their sincerity and ability to bring people together from their overt and covert attempts to divide; their talents and strengths from their bravado and performance; their attempts to maintain their integrity, their compassion, their humanity, and their empathy from their insincerity, manipulation, half-truths, and lies; their attempts to answer questions honestly rather than giving answers derived from polling data saying what they think we want to hear rather than what they actually believe, these are the things we need to consider when judging our candidates. We must rate them on the quality of their characters, on their policies, and how well we believe they will follow through on what they promise.

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

August 20th, 2015 at 8:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

A Tiered System of Justice, the Veil, & “Double Consciousness”

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A Tiered (Teared) System of Justice

Picture this: In our nation, as we see the decriminalization of marijuana in state after state, as the federal government has increasingly lowered the penalties for accumulating small amounts of pot, New York State still maintains a law criminalizing the sale of loose cigarettes. On July 17, 2014, a gaggle of police officers surrounded Eric Garner, a 43-year-old, 6’3” black man, for simply selling lose cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island, New York. One officer, Daniel Pantaleo, grabbed Garner from behind, pulled him to the ground, and locked him in a “chokehold” for 15-19 seconds as Garner yelled 11 times he could not breathe. Garner died on the spot. The grand jury called in the aftermath watched the incident, which was clearly recorded by an eye witness, and still, it refused to indict Pantaleo.

Picture this: Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman was driving her car on July 10, 2015 on a Texas street when Officer Brian Encinia ordered her to pull over in a routine traffic stop for allegedly failing to signal while changing lanes. After she stopped her vehicle at the side of the road, Officer Encinia ordered Bland to extinguish her cigarette. When she argued, Encinia ordered her out of the car, opened the driver-side door, and attempted to forcefully remove Bland from her car while he shouted: “I’m going to yank you out of here,” and “I’m going to drag you out of here.” The Officer then yelled “I will light you up!” while pointing a Taser gun at her. After Bland stepped out of her car, Encinia arrested her. Three days later, Bland was dead of an apparent though suspicious suicide.

Now picture this: In Ferguson, Missouri, a group of unarmed peaceful protestors joined in the streets on August 11, 2015 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, by Officer Darren Wilson. Though demonstrators remained peaceful, police arrested approximately 25, and one officer squired pepper spray into the crowd when people refused to leave the area. This came in spite of a statement by police spokesperson Shawn McGuire conceding that no shots had been fired, there were no burglaries, looting, or property damage, and there were no reported injuries to police or civilians.

In a related “picture this”: Also at the demonstration in Ferguson were members of the so-called “Oath Keepers,” a paramilitary right-wing antigovernment “patriot” militia whose mission stated on their website describes them as “a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ ”

Appearing on the streets and perched on roof tops of Ferguson, the Oath Keepers, composed of what appeared as mostly white men, carried military grade assault rifles, bulletproof vests, and camouflage gear. However, according to St. Louis Country Police spokesperson, Shawn McGuire, county police officers did not confront the Oath Keepers or ask them to leave the streets, even though police demanded this earlier of the peaceful demonstrators.

The Veil and “Double Consciousness”

“[African Americans are] born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world — a world which yields [them] no true self-consciousness, but only lets [them] see [themselves] through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

For DuBois, this “veil” concept can be taken three ways. First, it suggests the literal darker skin of black people, a physical delineation of separation from whiteness. Secondly, the veil suggests white people’s deficiency or inability in seeing African Americans as “true” U.S.-Americans. And lastly, the veil refers to black peoples’ difficulty under a racist system to see themselves apart from how white U.S.-Americans define and characterize them.

The veil hanging over African Americans, though, operates like a one-way mirror. They can easily see outward onto white America, and in this way, they develop a “double consciousness.” Though not in the truest sense “bicultural,” they acquire a realization of “otherness.” For emotional and often physical survival, they must learn how to operate in two societies, one black and one white. White people have no such veil wrapped around them, and the mirror makes it difficult for them to perceive the realities of African Americans.

This relative inability of white people to see through the veil was reflected in a Pew Research Study of 1000 people conducted between August 14-17 last year. It found profound racial divisions between African American and white people on attitudes surrounding the police killing of Michael Brown.

Among the study’s finding, fully 80% of African Americans compared to 39% of white people stated that the fatal shooting “raises important issues about race.” Conversely, 47% of white people versus 18% of African Americans believe that “race is getting more attention than it deserves.” In addition, 65% of African American and only 33% of white people believe the police response went “too far” in the aftermath of the incident.

Blauner wrote earlier of a United States in which there exists “two languages of race,” one spoken by black people (and by implication, other people of color), the other by white people. By “language,” he refers to a system of meaning attached to social reality, in this instance a “racial language” reflecting a view of the world. This echoes the conclusions of the Kerner Commission report released in 1968 in its study of urban unrest. It stated, in part, that the United States was moving toward two separate societies: one white and one black (though the report left it uncertain where other communities of color fit into this equation).

Many black people and other peoples of color see “race” and racism as salient and central to their reality. Many white people — excluding members of the more race-conscious extremists groups — consider “race” as a peripheral issue, and may even consider racism as a thing of the past, or as aberrations in contemporary U.S. society. Since the 1960s, many people of color have embraced and expanded the definition of “racism” to reflect contemporary realities, while many white people have not.

Although most white people are aware of what Batts terms “old fashioned racism” (taking such forms as enslavement, lynchings, cross burnings, definition of people of color as inferior to whites, legal segregation between the “races,” and others), many white people, asserts Batts, are either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge the many manifestations of “modern forms of racism” by whites. Batts lists these forms as dysfunctional rescuing, blaming the victim, avoidance of contact, denial of cultural differences, and denial of the political significance of differences.

Can we as a society cut through this vail and begin to know and understand those different from ourselves, to have the ability to walk in the shoes of another, to break down these “us” versus “them” notions that separate? First, we must abolish the denial systems that prevent many of us grasping our social privileges.

Depending on our many social identities, we are simultaneously granted certain societal privileges and socially marginalized based solely on these identities. Based on Peggy McIntosh’s pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can understand dominant group privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to members of dominant groups, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders.

This system of benefits confers dominance on certain social identity groups, for example in a U.S. context, males, white people, heterosexuals, those who present gender normatively, Christians, upper socioeconomic classes, temporarily able bodied people, people of a certain age range (young adults through the middle years), and U.S. born, while subordinating and denying these privilege to other groups, for example, females and intersex people, racially minoritized peoples, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people, those who do not hold to Christian beliefs, working class and poor people, people with disabilities, young and old people, and non-U.S. born. These systemic inequities are pervasive throughout the society. They are encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the very fabric of our social institutions, resulting in a stratified social order privileging dominant groups while restricting and disempowering subordinated group members.

Maybe one day, we white people may escape from our self-imposed hermetically sealed worlds that cut us off from the realities of our neighbors of color, a day when we become fluent in the multiple languages of “race.”

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

August 15th, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Donald Trump: The Bully at the Pulpit

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I find Donald Trump’s expanding lead in the polls among the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates disconcerting for many reasons, the most important being that his popularity seems founded not on the substance of this policy initiatives – of which he has generated very few – but, rather, on the style and tone of his arguments. Trump has conducted a campaign of attack, innuendo, name-calling, and downright and incessant racist and misogynistic bullying against anyone who even hints at challenging him. I would not find this so concerning if it had not resonated with a significant segment of the electorate.

In a 2014 National Civility Survey by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, with KRC Research, found that about 66% of U.S. citizens believe that we have “a major civility problem” in our country, and 70% believe that “civility has eroded over the past few years.”

So, what messages (or double messages) are we modeling as adults within the overall society to youth that seep into the schools, messages they may assimilate and manifest as bullying and harassing behaviors?

While studying a number of bullying prevention programs, I find that, while providing good overall theoretical and conceptual foundations and strategies for prevention and reduction of incidents, some crucial components are still missing. We must also discuss and examine the social and cultural contexts wherein bullying attitudes and behaviors often stem. We must find ways not only to understand but to actually engage in correcting these larger social and cultural contexts.

I contend that we must not view bullying and harassment as simply youth problems and behaviors, but rather, investigate the contexts in which bullying “trickles down” from the larger society and is reproduced within the schools. Young people, through the process of social learning, often acquire bullying and harassing attitudes and behaviors, and they also often learn the socially sanctioned targets for their aggressive behaviors.

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

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

As young people observe negative role modeling in the society, at home, in the media, at school, and other social sites, this can result in them taking on prejudicial judgments and aggressive or violent behaviors. Youth can learn behaviors, like verbal and physical aggression, by observing and imitating others even in the absence of behavioral reinforcements. Bandura found that young people can be highly influenced by observing adult behavior, and perceive that such behavior is acceptable, while freeing their own aggressive inhibitions. They are then more likely to behave aggressively in future situations.

Those who bully, therefore, often fulfill the social “function” of establishing and reinforcing the norms stemming from their environment. They often justify their behaviors by blaming the targets of their attacks, and emphasizing that they somehow deserve the aggression because they in some ways deviate from established societal standards.

In answering this question, I could provide an inexhaustible list, but I would like, instead, to discuss just a few in two primary realms — the electoral-political and corporate business, that might tend to go unnoticed because they have become so thoroughly incorporated into the social and cultural fabric and, thereby, tend to avoid scrutiny while seeming rather “normal,” or at least neutral.

What kinds of messages are we sending young people as politicians represent our President as “illegitimate” for allegedly not having been born in the United States, by characterizing the Affordable Health Care Act (which they refer to “Obamacare”) as left-wing European-style socialism that will result in government dependency, and where political posters depict Mr. Obama as a stereotypical African medicine man wearing virtually only a loin cloth and bones and feathers on his head, all serving as coded racist language and visuals to call into question the patriotism and “Americanism” of our biracial leader?

What kinds of messages are we sending young people as states and politicians forward and pass so-called “Anti-Sharia” laws to restrict Islamic law from supposedly taking hold over the United States, and our leaders protest the establishment of Islamic centers in places like New York City and Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and politicians attempt to equate President Obama with extremists who want nothing more than to wipe out the United States as we know it? And what about people like Baptist minister Robert Jeffress and others who define Mormonism as “a cult,” and conservative commentator Ann Coulter on the CNBC show “The Big Idea,” forthrightly asserting that everyone on earth should be Christian and that Jews need to be “perfected….It is better if we were all Christians,” and the current governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, in January 2011 announcing during his inauguration that “So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother”? In the final analysis, all of this promotes ignorance and fear against anyone who follows the tenets of Islam, Mormonism, and Judaism, while opposing Atheists and Agnostics, or for that matter, anyone who does not adhere to traditional forms of Christianity.

And what kinds of messages are we sending young people regarding how to handle conflict when the National Rifle Association (one of whose mottos is “Guns Save Lives”) owns our politicians who allow automatic and semi-automatic gun ownership to remain virtually unrestricted, where the camping and outdoors superstore, Cabela’s, handed out envelopes to the first 800 people over the age of 18 who lined up in front of its stores for a chance to win a Browning A-Bolt Medallion .300 WSM rifle with a Cabela’s 50th anniversary gun case worth $875, where Nations Truck Sales in Sanford, Florida offered each customer a brand spanking new assault rifle with the purchase of a truck. And the company, Holy Smoke Bullet Urns of Stockton, Alabama provides the “service” to your loved ones the ability to help you kill long after you have died. For the measly sum of only $1250, they can have you cremated with a pound of your ashes stuffed inside genuine bullets, resurrecting you as live ammunition. And what about the rising tide of gun clubs that offer its members the option of posing for holiday cards where youth and parents choose between grenade launchers, assault rifles, and AK-47s for display while sitting upon Santa’s lap?

And what kinds of messages are we sending young people as state after state and politician after politician attempt to pass punitive, dehumanizing, and, yes, racist anti-immigration measures, and where some states as well as national legislators endeavor to and actually pass, as in Iowa, laws mandating English as the “official” language, which has the effect of demonizing and marginalizing non-native born and non-English speakers?

And what kinds of messages are we sending young people with the ever-increasing incidents of police officers arresting and killing unarmed black and brown boys and men throughout our country?

What kinds of messages are we sending young people as we as a society promote and validate restaurant chains like Hooters and Twin Peaks (as well as Girlie Pancake House whose motto is “They’re Better Stacked”) where potential servers whose bodies fall outside the proverbial hour-glass shape with manifestly large breasts need not apply, and TV commercials that codify rigid socially-constructed gender roles where girls and women clean and cook and boys and men engage in dangerous activities, work outside the home, and “protect” the womenfolk? And what are the messages as state after state and politician after politician attempt to pass legislation restricting women’s rights to control their bodies, including needless and invasive inter-uterine ultrasound procedures, while also attempting to defund family planning and medical clinics like Planned Parenthood, which serve the health needs of women from all walks of life?

What kinds of messages are we sending young people when states and politicians are committed to continue in their attempts to pass Constitutional amendments limiting marriage to a union between one man and one woman, which was codified in the GOP 2012 Presidential Platform stating in part: “…we believe that marriage, the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard,” and where for many years the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” military policy forced lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* potential recruits and active personnel to lie about who they love and how they express their gender, and where some politicians are advocating going back to those oppressive days (official policy still restricts trans* people from joining the military); and where many school boards remain intransigent by refusing to enumerate “sexual identity” and “gender identity and expression” among protected categories in bullying prevention legislation; and where the Boy Scouts of America not too long ago forbad membership to gay, bisexual, and trans* scouts and scout leaders?

So I ask again, what kinds of messages are we really sending our youth, and do we truly understand our own complicity in the bullying we see in our schools? Unless and until we grapple with the ways in which our society promotes and gives justification to such bullying, we will never truly solve the problems.

For as Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein reminded us in one of the songs in their 1949 Broadway musical, “South Pacific”: “You’ve got to be taught/To hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught/From year to year/It’s got to be drummed/In your dear little ear/You’ve got to be carefully taught….”

Donald Trump, take note!

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

August 10th, 2015 at 3:22 pm

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White Supremacy & Devaluation of African [Heritage] Lives

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The philosophy and practice of white supremacy devalues all African and African heritage lives whether human or non-human animal. White supremacy links slavery in the “Americas” with the ongoing police murders of unarmed black people and to the murder of animals on the continent of Africa.

Primarily wealthy white people invade Africa, and then track, entice, snare, capture, kill, sometimes skin, and behead majestic and noble animals, some of which appear on the endangered species list, as trophies for their own personal ego fulfillment. These so-called “hunters” kill not for food, but rather, for sport. In so doing, they demolish complete blood and succession lines, and interrupt entire ecosystems placing species in peril. Surrounding their actions come their sense of entitlement from amassing the discretionary income to satisfy their desires for power over other forms of life. The world exists for them simply for the taking. They view other forms of life as cheap that do not matter, except to fulfill their pleasures.

Similarly, the institution of slavery in the “Americas” was built on a foundation of white supremacy. Primarily white people, backed by wealthy whites, invaded Africa, and then tracked, enticed, snared, and captured the proud people on the continent, chained and packed them like sardines into crowded ships’ cargo holds, and transported them across vast oceans to foreign shores stripping those who survived of their dignity, languages, cultures, families, and humanity. The kidnappers as well as the residents of these lands viewed the “cargo” as cheap lives that did not matter, except to fulfill their needs for unpaid labor and to satisfy their sadistic ego and sexual gratification. If the enslaved had the audacity to misbehave or to escape the reserve called “the plantation,” whites tracked, enticed, snared, captured and either returned them to the reserve where their so-called “masters” tortured them as examples to inhibit others from attempting escape, or they killed them.

Though whites did not need a rationalization for their terror, they justified their brutality on the newly-constructed “science” of “race.” Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), born Carl Linné, (whom we call today the “Father of Scientific Racism”), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, developed a system of scientific hierarchical classification. Within this taxonomy under the label Homo sapiens, (“Man”), he enumerated five categories based initially on place of origin and later on skin color: Europeanus, Asiaticus, Americanus, Monstrosus, and Africanus. Linnaeus asserted that each category was ruled by a different bodily fluid (Humors: “moistures”), represented by Blood (optimistic), Phlegm (sluggish), Cholor (yellow bile: prone to anger), Melancholy (black bile: prone to sadness).

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

The “founding fathers” of the United States took Linneaus’s constructions not only to reinscribe and revalidate the institution of slavery — many of these “founders” themselves enslaved large numbers of kidnapped Africans — but they also wrote into the U.S. Constitution the so-called “three-fifths clause” counting enslaved Africans as equivalent to three-fifths of a full human being for census purposes. As we can see, then, black lives certainly did not matter.

Though Congress passed on January 31, 1865 and the President signed into law on December 6, 1865 the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery, black lives continued not to matter relative to white lives through Reconstruction, the Jim Crow South, into the 20th century CE, and beyond as we have clearly witnessed in the current spate of murders of black people by police officers.

When we look side by side of pictures of white people standing with big smiles beneath black people they hanged and white people standing next to African animals they killed, we witness many similarities in what some white people perceive as “tropies.”

Black people in the United States coined in the 1960s the battle cries “Black is Beautiful” and “Black Power” as counter hegemonic narrative discourses in a nation that viewed black as ugly and where white people fought ruthlessly to preserve supremacy over black people. Recently black people coined the rallying cry “Black Lives Matter” in a country where historically black lives have not mattered much relative to white lives.

In the final analysis, we must see the senseless murder and devaluation of the lives of animals on the continent of Africa as directly linked with the enslavement, segregation, denial of rights, and murder of African heritage people in the United States, for all this attests to the white supremacist plundering of life continuing to this very day.

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

August 3rd, 2015 at 4:37 pm

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Attacks against Bernie Sanders Have Reached New Depths

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In the Bernieverse, there’s a whole lot of nationalism mixed up in the socialism. He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.”

Kevin Williamson, “Bernie’s Strange Brew of Nationalism and Socialism,” National Review

Though careful not to call Bernie Sanders “a Nazi” outright because of his Jewish heritage and past, Kevin Williamson, writing in the politically conservative National Review, more than implies that Sanders’ brand of protectionism favoring U.S.-American workers’ rights and jobs, when linked to this self-described socialist political philosophy amounts to his “strange brew of nationalism and socialism…leading a national-socialist movement,” which is a clear and obvious reference to the Nazi party.

Sanders has fought tirelessly for U.S. workers of all backgrounds against their corporate overlords throughout his political life. Williamson, however, not-so-subtly attempts to instill in the readers’ mind Sanders’ own brand of racist National Socialism by stating that Sanders has always been critical of trade policies “with brown people – Asians, Latin Americans,” but has remained virtually silent regarding U.S. trade deficits with countries like Sweden and Canada, demographically whiter countries further along the socialism scale. Williamson continues his accusations of Sanders’ racism, and by so doing, falsely positions conservatives as the true defenders of racial equality:

That the relative success of the Western European welfare states, and particularly of the Scandinavian states, is rooted in cultural and ethnic homogeneity is a longstanding conservative criticism of Bernie-style schemes to re-create the Danish model in New Jersey and Texas and Mississippi.”

To imply that Bernie Sanders’ style of Democratic Socialism even stands on the same side of the political spectrum as the National Socialism of the Nazi Party of Adolph Hitler shows not only a total misunderstanding of history and political theory, but more importantly, it underscores yet again the dog whistle politics of neo-conservatism. As a Jew myself, I find this extremely offensive!

By acknowledging Sanders’ Jewish background, and in deploying McCarthy-style propaganda scare tactics, Williamson taps into a longstanding anti-Semitic trope. According to Ellen Willis in her chapter titled “The Myth of the Powerful Jew”:

“The classic constituency for fascism is the conservative lower middle class, oppressed by the rich, threatened by the rebellious poor (particularly if the poor are foreign or another race); for this group Jews are a perfect target, since they represent the top and the bottom at once. Oppressed classes like the peasants in czarist Russia have traditionally directed their anger at the Jews just above them in the social hierarchy. Politically, the specter of the powerful Jew functions in much the same way as a foreign enemy: it invites warring classes, races, and political groups to submerge their conflicts and enjoy a heady sense of spurious unity.”

Even before the Cold War and the so-called “McCarthy Period” (named after Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy), individuals and groups on the political and theocratic Right have flung the term “Socialist” – which in the public imagination was once synonymous with “Jews” — from their metaphoric sling shots into the faces of their political opponents to discredit their characters and dismiss their political ideas and policies, and to sway the electorate toward a Conservative agenda. This continues to this very day.

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

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

In reality, Bernie Sanders’ notion of Democratic Socialism advocates for a governmental single-payer quality universal health care system, which includes safe and reasonably-priced prescription and over-the-counter drug therapies; demands that our country protects and enhances our Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid safety nets; advocates for the further nationalization of our parks, forests, mountains, rivers, streams, shores, and off-shore waters, rather than allocating increased corporate mining, drilling, and timber rights; advocates for free and quality education, not only through grade 12, but throughout higher education and after for everyone who desires and works to achieve their fullest potential; advocates for a government-sponsored program that guarantees our seniors a retirement system that ensures a high quality of life free from economic burdens; advocates for the rights of workers to organize and to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions; battles to eliminate workplace and larger societal inequalities based on race, nationality, citizenship status, age, sex, sexual identity, gender identity and expression, disability, socioeconomic standing, religion, and other social identities; works to ensure that everyone is guaranteed a comfortable and secure place to live; regulates a banking system that forecloses people’s homes through scurrilous business practices; supports effective governmental regulations on food producers to safeguard our food supply and protect against the maltreatment of animals, and on corporations, companies, and individuals to defend our environment; supports severe restrictions on the political process to prevent mammoth contributions by individuals and corporations to buy and own politicians to influence public policy, while locking out individuals and groups unable to amass large political funds; challenges a military industrial complex that marches to the beat of industry, and a prison industrial complex that perpetuates the racial and socioeconomic class inequities pervasive throughout the society; contests and advocates for effective restrictions on the so-called “free market” economic system that enables the creation and enhancement of mega monopolies, outsourcing of jobs, manufacture of defective products, and inhibition in the development of clean renewable energy technologies; fights for equal pay for equal work; and demands a true progressive tax structure where everyone pays their fair share, one that inhibits massive inequities in the overwhelming accumulation of wealth by the top 10 – 20% of the nation as is currently the case.

The findings of the third World Happiness Report, conducted by an international research team of economists, neuroscientists, and statisticians measured the well-being of residents throughout the world to assist in the development of public policy.

Researchers ranked their data results according to the countries indicating the “happiest” residents in descending order as follows: Leading the way was Switzerland holding the rank of number one, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland, The Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, and rounding out the top ten was Australia. These top countries have universal single-payer national health care systems, and restrictive gun control laws.

I am saddened, but definitely not surprised, that the United States did not make the upper cut, coming in at number 15 behind Mexico. Therefore, we might do well to look to these countries for some of their “Socialist” policies that sustain high levels of quality of life issues for their residents.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 22nd, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized