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My Research Is My Therapy

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While contemplating the topic and eventual focus of my doctoral dissertation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, I was having difficulty deciding since so many potential directions and questions excited me. Knowing me as well as she did, my major professor offered me some guidance.

The seemingly simple but deeply profound words she uttered placed, for me, the scope of my eventual research into poignant and profound prospective driving my research agenda to this very day.

“Your research is your therapy,” she told me. Though framed as a declarative statement, she was posing in these words what I understood as a number of underlying questions. By implication, what I heard her saying was, “There are many potential directions and research questions for you to investigate. What directions and questions will challenge you to change and to grow, not merely as a researcher, not merely intellectually and academically, but also, and very importantly, personally, spiritually, ethically, emotionally, psychologically?”

I listened to my professor’s words, “Your research is your therapy,” and as I did, the bottlenecks in my mind unclogged and tears welled in my eyes. Visions of my childhood swirled in my memories settling upon a five-year-old self seated upon my maternal grandfather, Simon (Szymon) Mahler’s, lap in our cramped Bronxville, New York apartment.

Looking down urgently but with deep affection, Simon said to me: “Varn,” (he pronounced my name “Varn” through his distinctive Polish accent), “your parents named you after my father, your great-grandfather, Wolf Mahler.” I asked where Wolf was, and Simon told me that Wolf, along with my great-grandmother Bascha and most of my grandfather’s thirteen brothers and sisters were killed by people called “Nazis.” In stunned amazement, I asked why the Nazis killed them, and he responded, “Because they were Jews.” Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

I later learned that the Nazis shot many of my Polish relatives and dumped them in a mass grave in Krosno, and eventually shipped others to Auschwitz and Belzec concentration camps where they murdered them. Hitler and other Nazis rationalized their methods in resolving the “Jewish question” by deploying “racial” arguments in their claims that Jews descended from inferior “racial” stock, and therefore, they must exterminate Jews en mass to prevent genetic and social contamination to so-called “Aryans.”

Before leaving my major professor’s office that day, I understood the question I needed to investigate in my dissertation to challenge myself to change and to grow. Up until that time, I had studied and began the journey in my white identity development process. For me, however, and for so many other progressive European-heritage Jews, underlying paradoxical questions remained, questions that seemed to act as roadblocks in our full acknowledgment and acceptance of the unearned privileges accorded to us as European-heritage people in the historically, socially, and politically racialized and racist context of the United States.

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. Foundational, gnawing, and for me, unanswered questions remained: “Do European-heritage Jews, in fact, have the privileges accorded to, say, mainline white Protestants and other white people in the United States?” And even more fundamental: “How can we Jews have white privilege when dominant groups justified the murder of our mishpucha (our families) for not being “white”? In other words, “What IS my race?”

I positioned this latter question as a major foundational piece in my qualitative doctoral dissertation. I interviewed an intergenerational sample of European-heritage Jews asking them to define their “race.” The results not only advanced the extant literature base somewhat in the area of race theory and identity development, but for me, and more importantly, advanced my understanding of my whiteness.

I now realize that even before my doctoral work, even before I came to consciousness of this, my research was, in fact, my therapy, for it had challenged and continually challenges me to change and to grow.

I have since gone on to investigate issues of internalized oppression; youth bullying and the larger social contexts that actually promote these behaviors in the schools; how heterosexism and other forms of oppression not only oppress members of minoritized groups but also, on many levels, hurt members of dominant groups. I also research issues of campus climate for LGBT people and the implications of cyberbullying on LGBT youth; Christian privilege and religious oppression; the overrepresentation of African American students in special education programs; how schools reproduce the inequities stemming from the larger society; and other issues too numerous to list here. As you can see, I need lots and lots of research therapy since research never truly and conclusively answers our questions, but rather, raises further and ultimately deeper and larger questions.

In addition, I understand the term “RESEARCH” as representing an acronym, and not merely a noun, but, rather, a verb – an action.

As an acronym, for me:

The initial letter, “R,” represents Resolve: to have the resolve, the conviction to follow our passions where they may lead in addressing questions of meaning and importance to us.

The first “E” stands for Empathy: to have the capacity to walk in the shoes of our research participants to accord them their voice in areas where they may have been denied their sense of agency and their sense of subjectivity previously.

S” exemplifies the Search in research: to go to the greatest lengths and the greatest heights in attempting to reveal the truth no matter how uncomfortable that truth, or more correctly, those multiple truths might be.

The second “E” characterizes being Earnest, being ourselves, finding our true core in terms of our values, our goals, our purposes not only within the research process and realm, but in our lives, which when revealed, will enhance our research and our overall life outcomes.

“A” embodies Action, for research is not by any means a passive endeavor left to others alone to engage. No matter what our role across the spectrum – research assistant, associate researcher, senior researcher — our work adds to and challenges, encourages, and ultimately empowers future researchers to continue where we concluded.

The second “R” signifies the “Realization” that we must understand “knowledge” not as indicating a singular unitary creation, but, rather, we must understand it in its numerous and plural forms, as “knowledges,” by investigating questions from multiple perspectives, viewpoints, and understandings dependent on the overlapping and intersecting subjectivities and epistemologies represented by our research participants and by the audiences for our work.

“C” denotes “Creativity”: our work connects to the extant literature base, comparing and contrasting with what has gone before, and ultimately advancing the discourse in our chosen field and to all of humanity.

And “H” symbolizes our “Humility,” because while we may contribute a piece to what our society and our world constructs as the accumulation of knowledges, many have gone before us to pave the paths on which we walk, and others one day will walk on the sections of those paths we have paved.

So, again, I have found my research to constitute a form of therapy in which I situate my passions, and to aid me in how I make meaning of the world.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 28th, 2014 at 12:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Forceful Penetration as Terror Tactic in Immigration Debate

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“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.”

Florida Republican Representative Rich Nugent

Rich Nugent does not stand alone in his dire warnings of the dangers children and other migrants will impose on the citizens of the United States if allowed to enter and remain. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican Representative, warns of grave public health threats as well. 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.”

Well, “as a physician for over 30 years,” he should know that Ebola is not only extraordinarily difficult to spread, but that it also does not occur in Central America. According to the World Health Organization, Ebola has only been discovered in humans living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Unfortunately, the absence of facts has never seemed to get in the way of anti-immigration activists. 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 losing control of our spaces: our country, our workplaces, and more basically, our private places in which “aliens” forcefully penetrate our personal space around our bodies, into our orifices, and down to the smallest cellular level.

Look at the few examples I presented among the seemingly bottomless pool from which I could have drawn. We see how the anti-immigration activists represent the assumed invaders as “those types,” “domestic foreigners,” “low, venal, corrupt, unintelligent brutes,” “criminals,” “paupers,” “incapable of self-government,” who are “not of our life or religion,” who bring with them “habits, superstitions, and disgusting modes of life,” who are “ugly adults,” and who are “no more than a coyote.”

The dialectic of invasion, of violation of personal space, comes through with these “parasites,” who are “penetrating into the interior towns and cities,” and who “absorb the substance of those with whom [they] come.” They are “gang-infested,” bringing “thievery,” “murder,” “rape,” who “infuse infectious diseases,” “deadly viruses,” “swine flu,” “dengue fever,” “Ebola,” “tuberculosis.” Essentially, they are represented as vectors of contamination of the body politic and the material body.

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!”

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 26th, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Front Door, Back Door, Economic Chasm: Not a PBS Series

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In scenes reminiscent of the PBS series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” and “Downton Abbey,” a luxury condominium complex in New York City’s Upper West Side, according to an agreement reached between the developers and City government, when completed, will contain a door for use by wealthy residents only, and a separate door for lower-income tenants. In exchange for permission to build a bigger and taller building, the developers have agreed to include 55 affordable rent-regulated units.

Residents living in these more “affordable” apartments within high-end complexes throughout the City are usually restricted from availing themselves of amenities granted to wealthy occupants, including swimming pools, gyms, and tennis and basketball courts. Since traditionally in New York City the majority of renters and buyers paying market rates for housing are white and the majority of tenants living in rent-regulated units are people of color, these sorts of “agreements” promote legalized segregation based on skin color and the color of money.

No matter how utterly offensive we may consider this arrangement, it does not even begin to represent the enormous economic gap and segregation of communities in the United States today. While economic disparities plague all nations across the planet, nowhere are these disparities more extreme than in the United States. No other problem affects the security and the very survival of our nation and other nations across our ever-shrinking planet more than the income and resource gap between the rich and the poor.

From the time of our birth and throughout our lives, we are told and continually retold the tale of meritocracy. The story goes something like this: For those of us living in the United States, it matters not from which station of life we came. We each have been born into a system that guarantees us equal and equitable access of opportunity. Success is ours through hard work, study, and ambition, and by deferring gratification for later in life. Those who do not achieve success must accept personal responsibility. Maybe they did not try hard enough. Maybe they failed to scale any barriers that could have been placed in their way because they did not have the will, the fortitude, the intelligence, the character, or because they simply made bad choices.

Though this narrative stands as the foundation on which this country was constructed, many of us see it for the lie and the fabrication that it is. This ruling class tool, this form of hegemony serves the purpose of mitigating challenges to the inherent and inevitable inequities in “free market” Capitalism, and, therefore, not only perpetuates, but expands the ever-increasing gulf within the socioeconomic class structure.

In the United States, the top one percent of the population has accumulated an estimated 34.6 percent of the wealth, the next 9 percent an estimated 38.5 percent, and the remaining 90 percent of the nation a combined accumulation of only 26.9 percent.

In 2012, 46.5 million people (15.0 percent) in the United States lived below the poverty line, with 16.1 million (21.8 percent) children under the age of 18. Approximately 49.0 million lived in food insecure households (available food depleted before the end of the month), including 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.

The compensation of corporate CEOs has risen an astounding 725% between 1978 and 2011 while the average workers’ salaries have increased a mere 5.7% over the same period. Today’s official national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour equals $3.00 less accounting for inflation compared to the minimum wage in 1968.

The top financial rewards went to only 400 people increasing their income between 1992 and 2007 by 392% while their average tax rate fell by 37%. These same 400 people accumulated more wealth than the lower 50% of the U.S. population combined.

A few individual families own 20, or 30, or 40, or more fast food franchises while paying their workers less than a living wage, as 26% of fast food employees are parents raising children, and 68% are the major wage earners for their families, and many of our people go hungry as Congress fights to eliminate the food stamp and school lunch safety nets. In reality, a McDonald’s employee must work the equivalent of 930 years to match the salary that the CEO makes in a single year.

Some families have the privilege of purchasing two, or three, or four, or five, or even six homes that they occasionally visit depending on their current mood like the rest of us choose which pair of underwear to don for the day, and many of our people, including youth, go homeless.

Ultimately, no one really wins when millions of people have been shut out of the economy. No one wins when people don’t have the money to spend on the goods and services in the stores owned and managed by the rich. No one wins when the upper 10 percent own approximately 73 percent of the nation’s wealth, and only 85 of the wealthiest individuals own the equivalent of the lowest 3.5 billion (with a “B”) people in the world. If this continues unabated, nationwide and worldwide economic disaster and political upheaval will inevitably ensue.

Returning to the example of the two-tiered (multi-tiered) New York City condominium structure, what we are witnessing is a postmodern version of the high-walled city center of Medieval times protecting the nobility from peasants and marauding bands, and the 20th-century gated communities meant to keep out thieves and bandits. These hermetically-sealed containers, nonetheless, eventually imprison us all.

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

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

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 24th, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Intent & Impact of Giants Hiring David Tyree

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“This will be the beginning of our country sliding toward, it’s a strong word, but anarchy. How can marriage be marriage for  thousands of years and now all the sudden because a minority, an influential minority, has a push or agenda … and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country.”

David Tyree, to the National Organization for Marriage, 2011

David Tyree, former NFL wide receiver for the New York Giants, is probably most renowned for his amazing “helmet catch” in 2007 to continue the ultimately decisive game-winning surge against the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLI by the close score of 17 – 14. In 2011, though, he announced that he would gladly trade his phenomenal catch in exchange for a law outlawing marriage for same-sex couples.

Tyree, who is married, a father of four children, and a devout Christian asserted that homosexuality and marriage for same-sex couples defies God: “I don’t agree with it [gay marriage] because God doesn’t agree with it. As a Christian, I don’t agree. Society may be changing but God is not.”

He also claimed in a series of Tweets in 2011 that homosexuality is not inborn: “…there are many former homosexual men & women in this country & no scientific data to support the claim of being born gay” and that he has met “former homosexuals.”

Well, Mr. Tyree, if you don’t “agree” with marriage for same-sex couples, don’t marry someone of the same sex. Simple! If you think having attractions for others of the same sex and acting on this is a choice, well, don’t choose it yourself. Period, the end! Can we move on now?

Not really. So, why should we care one way or the other what David Tyree believes on the issue of sexuality or on marriage for same-sex couples? He certainly has the right to believe whatever he wants to believe and to worship the God of his choice, though if having same-sex attractions and acting on those attractions is also a choice, he would rather us not chose this. Well, at the very least, he would not want our government to choose to grant legal status to our relationships within the institution of marriage.

Others maintain views similar to Tyree’s, as evidenced recently when the former Super Bowl winning coach and current sports analyst for NBC, Tony Dungy, stated that he would not have picked Michael Sam, the first “out” gay athlete to play in the NFL, in the draft because it could be a distraction, even though Sam has the talent to play in the major leagues. Later, Dungy tried to clarify his assertions.

But, again, why should we care about Tyree’s views? There are a number of reasons, one being his influence as a sports hero on the beliefs and attitudes of the many people, young and old, who look up to him as a role model. I would like here to concentrate, however, on Tyree’s new position as Director of Player Development for the New York Giants football franchise. Giants coach Tom Coughlin described the position:

“Player engagement has become extremely important in any franchise. It is the working relationship with the players to aid them in their continuing education, their development as young men, the opportunities in the business world and in networking in the city that they happen to be playing in. It is there to help instruct them, make them aware of the issues and the problems that exist out in the community and the world to try to keep them focused on their job and not fall into trouble.”

To answer the question I posed above, this is one of the reasons why we should care about Tyree’s views. The message his hiring sends is one of intolerance for any gay or bisexual team member who might be thinking about “coming out” publicly as did Michael Sam.

When a part of the job is “to aid [team members] in their continuing education, their development as young men, the opportunities in the business world and in networking in the city,” how will Tyree’s understanding of human sexuality advance his ability to follow through on this portion of his job description? Will he simply punt, or will he attempt to impose or to pass on his views? Will team members who support gay and bisexual peers and marriage for same-sex couples trust or accept Tyree’s “aid”?

New York state codified marriage equality on July 24, 2011. Rather than anarchy breaking out, the heavens did not open, lightning bolts did not destroy humankind, the earth did not open swallowing all into its bowels. Actually, for one thing, business revenues increased markedly. In fact, as reported in a 2012 study, the law generated $259 million in economic impact in New York City alone in just one year.

According to Mayor Bloomberg a year following the legislation:

“Marriage equality has made our City more open, inclusive and free – and it has also helped to create jobs and support our economy. New York has always been a great place to get married and since the passage of the Marriage Equality Act, we’re welcoming more and more couples, their families and friends from around the country and the world.”

Coach Coughlin also stated that “[Tyree's] ability to function on many, many levels is extremely attractive. Anyone who’s ever spent time with him or heard him speak publicly knows the quality of his work. We thought he was the best guy for the job.”

And Giants general manager Jerry Reese added: “We do our due diligence on everybody we try to hire around here. No. 1, he was qualified for the job, and we think he’s a terrific fit for us. We’re happy to have him on board.”

This statement leads me to believe that Giants officials knew of Tyree’s past statements. By doing its due diligence, the Giants organization is piling on a whole bunch of dodo into the emerging controversy, even though a Giants spokesperson went on the defensive by announcing that Tyree was expressing personal views that did not represent the beliefs of the organization.

Well, Giants officials, you cannot hide behind “Tyree was expressing his personal views” when he has authority over team players. You cannot hide behind “his views do not represent the beliefs of the organization” when you supposedly did your due diligence. Your hiring of Tyree supports his views implicitly and by association.

We must distinguish two apparently separate but interrelated concepts: “intent” and “impact.” Your intent in hiring Tyree may not have been to condone or promote his beliefs, but his ascension to this position has the impact of doing the opposite. How often do we hear, “Well, I didn’t intend to insult you”? This defense does not assuage the offensive and insulting words or actions. It does not mitigate your complicity. You simply cannot position yourself as some sort of mythical “innocent bystander.”

This brings to mind civil rights activist Eldridge Cleaver’s call to action: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

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 23rd, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Renaissance Cheapness of Life Like Today?

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During this summer, I have had some time to catch up on some pleasurable reading and, I must admit, binge watching of three TV series.

“The Borgias,” an Italian Renaissance-era Showtime series, in which the Spanish-born Cardinal Rodrigo Lanzol y de Borja (Italianized “Borgia”), through ruthless ambition, deceit, and criminal activity, rises to the Papacy as Alexander VI on August 11, 1492 until his death on August 18, 1503. At the time of his ascension, he was married with a number of children. After becoming Pope, he continued having sexual relations with his collection of mistresses, and he eventually elevated his offspring to high posts.

The HBO series “Game of Thrones,” located within what could be considered as a Renaissance timeframe in terms of technological development, weaponry, and garment styles in the backdrop of the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos toward the conclusion of a decade-long summer, meshes a number of plot lines, most notably ones in which members of numerous noble houses engage in civil war for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. The series investigates issues of power, social hierarchy, religion and spirituality, loyalty and betrayal, virtue and corruption, war and rebellion, crime, murder, and punishment.

“Elizabeth I,” a two-part TV miniseries appearing originally on British Channel 4, staring Helen Mirren, covers the final 24 years of Queen Elizabeth I in her nearly 45-year reign as Queer regent of England and Ireland (November 17, 1558 – March 24, 1603). Elizabeth’s time on the throne covered a period of enormous tensions and transitions as governments consolidated power through plots and conspiracies, alliances, war, and confiscation of territories. It was also a period of great religious upheavals.

What I found so unsettling and utterly disturbing connecting these series was the absolute lack of value placed on human life. People killed each other with as much deliberation as they would in squashing a fly on their bedroom wall.

The viewer witnesses in each of these series competing rulers claiming the same expanses of land, while confidently declaring these had been ordained to them by (the) god(s). Very often we are spectators to kidnappings, torture, and slaughter of youth, of genocide, fratricide, and infanticide. We see war, looting, the showing of no mercy, bodily mutilation, claims to the spoils, appropriation of territories, attacks on civilian transports, use of citizens as shields and as fodder for weapons arsenals resulting in massive civilian casualties.

In one series, “The Borgias,” the Pope’s army led by his son, Juan, destroyed underground tunnels to penetrate the enclave of its enemy, Caterina Sforza.

Throughout all the series, we see the training of troops for eventual battle with rebels or separatists waging civil war, countries or kingdoms fighting wars of colonization, or nations waging clandestine proxy wars by equipping separatists in nations they intend to dominate. Usually, other nations stand back looking on without intervening to stop the carnage.

While the notion of forming treaties or alliances surfaces on occasion, rarely do we witness peace negotiations, and when we do, key players break agreements at will.

While during the Renaissance, art and technologies advanced, rulers and others still considered human life as cheap, where competing religious views laid claim to The truth. I’m relieved, though, to know that we now live in times of civility, where we value human life and others’ beliefs so much more. The scenes depicted in these series could never occur today in real life, could they?

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

July 22nd, 2014 at 10:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“What If They Gave a War and Nobody Came?”: The Israeli and Palestinian Conflict

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I keep hearing in the press and in popular discourse about the “two sides” in the Middle East conflict, with the sides being the Palestinians and the Israelis. I understand that there are indeed a number of “sides,” but I believe that the Palestinian people and the Israeli people are generally on the same side.

I do not see the two opposing sides being the Palestinian people versus the Israeli people. Rather, the opposing sides represent many of the leaders verses the peace loving Israelis and Palestinians who truly want to live in harmony with one another.

Many of the Israeli leaders desire to maintain and expand current borders and territories and to impose harsh penalties (for example the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza) upon the Palestinian people, which has resulted in a great humanitarian crisis, while the Palestinian leaders, primarily members of Hamas, vow to destroy the Jews, fire rockets on Israeli civilians, and are committed to forcing all Jews into the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, those who want peace are being held hostage by their leaders.

I visited Jerusalem last year, and I talked with Israelis and Palestinians who truly desire peace, who truly desire an era in which they can live alongside one another in trust and in harmony, but they are feeling that the continuing politics of hate and fear, war, and division are preventing this peaceful coexistence.

I believe now is the time — actually, it has been the time for decades now — to consider new forms of leadership, not only in the Middle East, but around the world. We need to get away from the leaders who demonize the other, who use fear and threat and engagement of war as tools for their own maintenance of power. We need leaders who are interested in negotiating without a laundry list of preconceived inflexible conditions. We need to get away from the language of hate for the “other”: “Islamic Terrorists,” “Zionist Oppressors,” “Faces of Evil,” etc.

I see Barack Obama setting the bar higher, and setting a great example of what leadership can be. As we all know, during the U.S. presidential campaign, he asserted that he would negotiate with leaders throughout the world, “anytime, anywhere,” to make a start at real engagement and for a new relationship. As we also know, Mr. Obama was roundly criticized for his so-called naiveté, not simply by conservative Republicans, but also from members of his own party, some of whom consider themselves politically progressive.

And herein lies the challenge, the risk, and the danger for leaders who reach out to the so-called “other side” or to their so-called “enemies.” A number of our great world leaders were not only criticized by members of their own ranks, but some were tragically assassinated by their own people for their courage to negotiate and reach out in the name of peace. These great leaders include Mahatma Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin, Malcolm X, and the list goes on.

I am a “child of the ’60s,” and I will always remember one of the phrases we promoted during the height of the Vietnam War. It went: “WHAT IF THEY GAVE A WAR, AND NOBODY CAME.” Well, what if world political “leaders” continue to engage in the politics of fear, who demonize the “other,” who call for and enact war on their so-called “enemies”? And what if nobody came?

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

July 21st, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Silence = Violence = Death: A Call for LGBT Curricular Infusion

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Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity as acknowledged in various documents, such as the U.S. Declaration of Independence, constitutions of South Africa and the United States, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. It affirms our need to prepare students for their responsibilities in an interdependent world. It recognizes the role schools can play in developing the attitudes and values necessary for a democratic society. It values cultural differences and affirms the pluralism that students, their communities, and teachers reflect. It challenges all forms of discrimination in schools and society through the promotion of democratic principles of social justice….

National Association for Multicultural Education, emphasis added

A few years ago, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Alliance at a private Boston-area university asked me to give a presentation on LGBT history at one of its weekly meetings. During my introductory remarks, in passing, I used the term “Stonewall,” when a young man raised his hand and asked me, “What is a ‘Stonewall?’”

I explained that the Stonewall Inn is a small bar located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in New York City where, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, during a routine police raid, patrons fought back. This event, I continued, is generally credited with igniting the modern movement for LGBT liberation and equality.

The young man thanked me and stated that he is a first-year college student, and although he is gay, he had never heard about Stonewall or anything else associated with LGBT history while in high school. As he said this, I thought to myself that though we have made progress over the years, conditions remain very difficult for LGBT and questioning youth today, because school is still not a very “queer” place to be.

In my own high school years during the 1960s, LGBT topics rarely surfaced, and then only in a negative context. Once my health education teacher talked about the technique of electro-shock treatment for “homosexuals” to alter their sexual desires. In senior English class, the teacher stated that “even though Andre Gide was a homosexual, he was a good author in spite of it.” These references (within the overarching Heterosexual Studies curriculum at my high school), forced me to hide deeper into myself, thereby further damaging my self-esteem and identity.

I consider, therefore, the half-truths, the misinformation, the deletions, the omissions, the distortions, and the overall censorship of LGBT history, literature, and culture in the schools as a form of violence.

I am seeing increasingly an emphasis within the schools on issues related to bullying and harassment prevention. Current prevention strategies include investigation of issues of abuse and unequal power relationships, issues of school climate and school culture, and how these issues within the larger society are reproduced in the schools, among other concerns. Often missing from these strategies, however, are multicultural curricular infusion. Unfortunately, still today educators require courage to counter opposing forces, for example, the current attacks on Ethnic Studies programs currently underway in states like Arizona.

Throughout the United States, under the battle cry of “preserving traditional American family values,” conservative and theocratic forces are attempting to prevent multicultural curricula from being instituted in the schools. On the elementary school level related to LGBTQ issues, they are targeting books like And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, a lovely true story about two male penguins in the New York City Central Park Zoo raising a baby penguin; also, King and King, by Linda de Haan, about a king meeting his mate, another king. Not so long ago, the Right went after Daddy’s Roommate written and illustrated by Michael Willhoit, about a young boy who spends time with his father and father’s life partner, Frank, following the parents’ divorce, and Gloria Goes to Gay Pride by Lesléa Newman, with illustrations by Russell Crocker, a portrait of young Gloria who lives with her two mommies: Mama Rose, a mechanic, and Mama Grace, a nurse.

For LGBT violence- and suicide-prevention strategies to have any chance of success, in addition to the establishment and maintenance of campus “Gay/Straight Alliance” groups, on-going staff development, written and enforced anti-discrimination policies, and support services, schools must incorporate and imbed into the curriculum across the academic disciplines and at every level of the educational process, multicultural perspectives, including LGBT, age appropriately from pre-school through university graduate-level programs and courses, from the social sciences and humanities, through the natural sciences and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). LGBT experiences stand as integral strands in the overall multicultural rainbow, and everyone has a right to information that clarifies and explains our stories.

I was encouraged to see one state, California, leading the way. The California legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in 2011, SB48, the first in the nation statute requiring the state Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other educational materials in social studies courses that include contributions of LGBT people.

For LGBT and questioning youth, this information can underscore the fact that their feelings and desires are in no way unique, and that others like themselves lead happy and productive lives. This in turn can spare them years of needless alienation, denial, and suffering. For heterosexual students, this can provide the basis for appreciation of human diversity and help to interrupt the chain of bullying and harassment toward LGBT people, for in truth, very few real-life families resemble the mythical “Brady Bunch,” the Andersons in “Father Knows Best,” or the Huxtables of “The Cosby Show.”

No matter how loudly organizers on the political and theocratic Right protest that his is merely a “bedroom issue,” we know that the bedroom is but one of the many places where we write our stories. Therefore, while each October (National LGBT History Month) is a good time to begin the classroom discussions, I ask that our full stories be told throughout the year. For what is true in AIDS education holds true for our history as well: “Silence = Death.”

For my two-part LGBTQ PowerPoint presentation, go to my blog site at: www.warrenblumenfeld.com. On the right side, click onto “Slide Presentations,” which will take you to LGBTQ History parts 1 and 2. Enjoy!

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 16th, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Immigration Laws as Official “Racial” Policy

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

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

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

“Race”

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

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

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

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

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

The British psychologist, Francis Galton (1822-1911) — a cousin of Charles Darwin –was a founder of the “Eugenics” movement. In fact, Galton coined the term “eugenics” in 1883 from the Greek word meaning “well born.” Eugenicists attempted to improve qualities of a so-called “race” by controlling human breeding. Galton argued that genetic predisposition determined human behavior. He proposed that the so-called “elites” in the British Isles were the most intelligent of all the peoples throughout the planet, while “[t]he average intellectual standard of the Negro race is some two grades below our own [Anglo-Saxons]. The Australian type is at least one grade below the African Negro…” and “The Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations.”

The U.S. writer, Madison Grant (1865-1937) codified a supposed “racialization” among European groups in his influential book, The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis for European History (1916), in which he argued that Europeans comprised four distinct races: The “Nordics” of northwestern Europe sat atop his racial hierarchy, whom Grant considered as the natural rulers and administrators, which accounted for England’s “extraordinary ability to govern justly and firmly the lower races.” Next down the racial line fell the “Alpines” whom Grant referred to as “always and everywhere a race of peasants” with a tendency toward “democracy” although submissive to authority. These he followed with the “Mediterraneans” of Southern and Eastern Europe, inferior to both the Nordics and the Alpines in “bodily stamina,” but superior in “the field of art.” Also, Grant considered the Mediterraneans superior to the Alpines in “intellectual attainments,” but far behind the Nordics “in literature and in scientific research and discovery.” On the bottom he placed the most inferior of all the European so-called “races”: the Jews.

Official Immigration and Naturalization Policy

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

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

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

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

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

Between 1880 and 1920, in the range of 30-40 million immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe migrated to the United States, more than doubling the population. Fearing a continued influx of immigrants, legislators in the United States Congress in 1924 enacted the Johnson-Reed [anti-] Immigration Act (“Origins Quota Act,” or “National Origins Act”) setting restrictive quotas of immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe, including those of the so-called “Hebrew race.” Jews continued to be, even in the United States during the 1920s, constructed as nonwhite. The law, on the other hand, permitted large allotments of immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.

This law, in addition to previous statutes (1882 against the Chinese, 1907 against the Japanese) halted further immigration from Asia, and excluded blacks of African descent from entering the United States. It is interesting to note that during this time, Jewish ethno-racial assignment was constructed as “Asian.” According to Sander Gilman: “Jews were called Asiatic and Mongoloid, as well as primitive, tribal, Oriental.” Immigration laws were changed in 1924 in response to the influx of these undesirable “Asiatic elements.”

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

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

Following U.S. entry into World War II at the end of 1942, reflecting the tenuous status of Japanese Americans, some born in the United States, military officials uprooted and transported approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans to Internment (Concentration) Camps within a number of interior states far from the shores. Not until Ronald Reagan’s administration did the U.S. officially apologize to Japanese Americans and to pay reparations amounting to $20,000 to each survivor as part of the 1988 Civil Liberties Act.

Finally, in 1952, the McCarran-Walters Act overturned the “racially” discriminatory quotas of the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act. Framed as an amendment to the McCarran-Walters Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 removed “natural origins” as the basis of U.S. immigration legislation. The 1965 law increased immigration from Asian and Latin American countries and religious backgrounds, permitted 170,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere (20,000 per each country), 120,000 from the Western Hemisphere, and accepted a total of 300,000 visas for entry into the country.

The 1965 Immigration Law, however, was certainly not the last we saw “race” used as a qualifying factor. The Arizona legislature passed and Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070, which mandates that police officers stop and question people about their immigration status if they even suspect that they may be in this country illegally, and criminalizes undocumented workers who do not possess an “alien registration document.” Other provisions allow citizens to file suits against government agencies that do not enforce the law, and it criminalizes employers who knowingly transport or hire undocumented workers. The law is currently on hold as it travels through the judicial process challenging its constitutionality.

“Ruthless Americanization”

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

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

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

Many members of immigrant groups oppose assimilation and embrace the concept of pluralism: the philosophy whereby one adheres to a prevailing monocultural norm in public while recognizing, retaining, and celebrating one’s distinctive and unique cultural traditions and practices in the private realm. The term “Cultural Pluralism” was coined by Horace Kallen (1882-1974), a Jewish American of Polish and Latvian heritage who believed that ethnic groups have a “democratic right” to retain their cultures and to resist the “ruthless Americanization” being forced upon them by segments of the native white Anglo-Protestant population.

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

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

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

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 9th, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Mercy over Vengeance: Israeli Jews and Palestinians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 8th, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“Can We Forgive You?”: A Manifesto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________

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

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

July 7th, 2014 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized