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Malala Yousafzai & Classroom Attendance

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We don’t learn the importance of anything until it is snatched from our hands.”

Malala Yousafzai, “The Daily Show,” October 8, 2013

Malala Yousafzai, the courageous and tireless champion for the rights of women and girls throughout the world to access quality education, has never swerved from her message even after the Taliban in her Pakistani town hijacked her school bus and pummeled bullets into her skull critically wounding her at the young age of 14.

The “it” to which this remarkable young woman refers in her quote above denotes not her life per se, as one might expect, but rather, represents “education” in the formal as well as the informal sense. Today Malala’s resolve shines ever brighter as she knows full well the consequences of fighting brutal patriarchal oppression. More importantly, though, she recognizes that women’s equality and their very lives depend upon and demand educational access and equity. Malala quite deservedly was chosen as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize of 2014.

Malala’s remarkable story ruminates in my mind as I contemplate the process with students in my undergraduate Educational Psychology course. I tried as best I could – given the enormous size of this course of over 300 students, sitting in fixed-seated arranged rows, who were to take on-line and in-class “objective” quizzes and examinations, and where 10% of the course grade was allotted to mere classroom attendance – to connect my educational philosophy with the realities and limitations arising from the organization of the course. The most I could possibly hope for amounted to mere reform as opposed to true transformational change.

My reform efforts included suspending taking attendance, previously recorded by students’ use of an in-class electronic clicker (iClicker) system; encouraging students to form and work in out-of-class study groups for a deeper and fuller understanding and appreciation of the course material; granting students the option of joining with one other class member in working within cooperative partnerships to take all in-class examinations; and the suspension of classroom monitors who had in semesters past circulated throughout the room during examinations to inhibit cheating behaviors. I actually gave students the option of taking examinations outside the classroom in a quieter place anywhere they chose.

The primary change I made was in the pedagogic underpinnings of the course. Previously, students were to read basically a chapter per week in the course textbook. Past instructors created a PowerPoint from a rudimentary template of each chapter provided by the textbook publisher, and they stood in front of the students reading from these PowerPoints. Since instructors chose not to upload these presentations onto the course on-line Moodle system, often students sat rather rigidly at their fixed desks taking notes.

For me to maintain any semblance of personal and professional integrity, I simply could not, no, would not abide by this “banking system” of education. I, therefore, informed students they were to take more responsibility in their learning, possibly somewhat more than in any of their other courses. I prepared PowerPoints, actually much more extensive, deeper, and broader than some past instructors’ presentations, and I uploaded these onto our online system for students to view and use. I suggested to students that during their reading of the chapters and the PowerPoints, they were to write down all questions and bring these to my attention for class discussion.

I then organized our in-class sessions as if they were small seminar-like critical discussions. I selected some of the most important concepts from the individual chapters, explained them in some detail, supplemented these with examples and situations that connected to and amplified them, and facilitated in-class conversations.

Soon after I implemented this procedure, I received emailed compliments from a number of students. Some representative examples include:

“I just wanted to let you know how I have enjoyed your lectures that are not the mundane traditional Powerpoint-based lectures”; “I feel like I have incentive to come to your class in the hopes of learning something new as I find you to be a very compelling teacher”; “I want to tell you that I think you are a great professor, and you have made me think A LOT about my education this semester. Thank you for that”; “I wanted to thank you for having such an interesting class today!”; “Thank you so much for treating us like adults!”

So Why Relatively Small Attendance Rates?

As soon as I ceased taking roll, most students no longer attended class sessions. I sent out an email message asking students why many do not come to class. Their responses include:

“Since you are not going to go over your PowerPoints in depth in class, and because you post them online, there’s no reason for me to come to class”; “I learn better on my own, and I only come to classes when it is required”; “The tests usually only cover the textbook and the PowerPoints, so I don’t need to attend the classes.”

Recently, a student came to class to turn in an extra credit assignment: a large poster graphic of an educational psychology concept. When I asked the student to bring it back at the next class session because I would not be going to my office following class, and the poster might get damaged if I took it to another university where I was invited that evening as a guest speaker. At this point, the student smiled and said, “Sure, no problem,” and then immediately turned around and walked quickly out the door. I simply could not grasp why a student would came to class only to give me an extra credit assignment, and then leave just as class was to begin.

“No Child Left Behind” or “No Child Left Untested”

While there have always been familial and social pressures to perform academically, and while some people have always attempted to get or attain something with the least energy expenditure, I would ask what effects has our age of “No Child Left Behind,” an age of standardization, corporatization, globalization, privatization, and deregulation of the business, banking, and corporate sectors have on learning?

Policy makers initially instituted standardized curriculum and testing to gauge students’ progress, but this policy, unfortunately, has metastasized into benchmarks for student advancement through the levels of education, for teacher accountability, as well as criteria for school funding from the government.

According to the so-called “Allocation Theory” of education, schooling has turned into a status competition, which confers success on some and failure on others. Our schools have morphed into assembly-line factories transforming students into workers, and then sorting these workers into jobs commanded by industry and business. In so doing, educational institutions legitimize and maintain the social order (read as the status quo). Schools drive individuals to fill certain roles or positions in society, which are not always based on the individuals’ talents or interests.

Of course, having the skills to obtain a good job is extremely important. I do not debate that. I must ask, however, where has the love of learning for the sake of learning gone in some of our students? Oh, we see a brilliant flame of inquisitiveness in young children, but typically by the age of seven, or eight, or nine, it seems to wane. By middle and then senior high, the flame often flickers. Often when students enter university, for some, time has since past for us to assist them in rekindling any remaining embers. For some, though, the fire remains, and for others, I believe it is never too late to reignite that spark that can ultimately shine brightly once again.

Will students as individuals and we as a country have to be threatened with our education being taken from us to understand the value of learning for the sake of learning, and learning for the sake of knowing ourselves and our world at a deeper level, rather than simply finding a well-paying job?

We would do well to learn the remarkable lessons taught to us by my teacher and my hero: Malala Yousafzai.

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).

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 12th, 2014 at 12:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Satire as Libel & Resistance to Anti-Racism Efforts

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Recently, a Zimbabwe American of European heritage contacted me to ask whether I actually believed what I was quoted as saying in an article currently going viral titled “Zimbabwe Announces Ambitious Plans for a Final Solution to White Racism” appearing on the online site “Diversity Chronical” dated April 18, 2014. The article focuses on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s, “announced plans” for a “Holocaust” against all white people in his country. According to the article, at his announcement Mugabe forcefully asserted:

“All through history, whites have done nothing but exploit other races. Whites are an oppressive, abusive, dishonest, criminal, and evil race as they themselves admit! We have decided, therefore, to exterminate every white man, woman, and child in Zimbabwe. We will purify our Black African nation of the disease of whiteness. I will show them no mercy. I will show them a new definition of pain. I will finally deliver justice to our people!”

The assembled 10,000 Zimbabwe citizens and African leaders reportedly rose to their feet in “thunderous applause” as Mugabe added:

“We will show no mercy even to white children. We will grab the suckling baby from its mother’s breast and break its neck. We will beat the mother to death with the baby’s corpse. I will rip the babies from the wombs of white women and strangle them with my bare hands….It will be a beautiful genocide against an evil race!”

“What!?,” I heard myself saying. I had known that Mugabe enacted a number of Draconian policies in his country, formerly known as Rhodesia, since ascending to power in 1980 first as Prime Minister and later as President. Some people have accused him of racism toward white people, of “redistributing” land formerly owned by white farmers, and enacting harsh policies against LGBT people. Though what I knew of Mugabe, I hadn’t read about this supposed “Holocaust” again white Zimbabweans as so openly expressed. As I read these words, the horror my Polish family suffered at the hands of Nazi forces in my ancestral town of Krosno returned to me in stark unrestrained terror.

But then I asked myself, why had this Zimbabwe American contacted me? Maybe further in the article, the reporter quoted something I may have written specifically on my research on the German Holocaust or some other area in my published articles or books on social justice. I continued reading until I came to my supposed quote:

“Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, a writer with the Huffington Post noted that ‘I used to think we could slowly kill off the white race, through immigration, through intermarriage and miscegenation. I now realize I was wrong. It just isn’t happening fast enough. If present trends continue, whites won’t be a minority in all of their own nations until around 2050 or so perhaps. While I do acknowledge that the problem could eventually be solved that way, it just isn’t fast enough for me. The Holocaust against whites also has the added benefit of punishing whites for their crimes; this is about justice. Every white person is guilty. There are no exceptions.’”

#$%@#&^%$*%!#@$^%. I was utterly speechless! Angry! Frustrated! Enraged! I would never, had never stated or written anything even close to this! My heart beat so rapidly I thought it might puncture my chest and smash into my computer screen. How dare they fabricate, yes fabricate, this and attribute it to me, virtually using the language of neo-Nazi white racist extremists, though, in this instance substituting “people of color” for “white”? With my family connection to the atrocities during the German Holocaust, and aa a human being, I felt offended, betrayed, and paradoxically, silenced, for this quote betrayed and violated all that I had known, written, and worked for throughout my life.

After I had some time to regain a semblance of composure, I got back to the Zimbabwe American who had initially contacted me assuring her that these we not, in fact, my words but rather, a complete fabrication. Like her, I too felt shocked and angry.

On October 1, 2014, the day I read the article, I wrote in the “Comments” section online following the article:

“The quote referenced to me is a complete and total FABRICATION. I NEVER said or wrote this. I am offended that you referenced it to me and did not do your homework! Please DELETE this quote. Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld.” I also contacted the publisher of Diversity Chronicle demanding them to delete my quote, and I threatened a lawsuit if this were not done immediately. That was 6 days ago and my quote remains.

I read through the numerous other comments following the article, which provoked very strong mixed reactions from diatribes against Mugabe to what can only be viewed as white racist rants. Though the article read as bona fide journalism, if one does not search the journal’s main page “Disclaimer” asserting that “The original content on this blog is largely satirical….My name is Erik Thorson. I created this blog for my own personal amusement,” or read the few comments bringing this to light following the article, there would be no way of knowing this.

Some readers referred to Mugabe as a “sociopath,” a “Mentally Sick and Depraved man on his last leg,” “a moron,” “an idiot,” “stupid,” and many other negative characterizations.

On the other hand, many of the comments exposed readers’ xenophobic and chauvinistic prejudicial beliefs.

One blogger commented: “He has already been allowing and condoning the slaughter of White farmers and business owners. The press remains quiet. We whites should all leave and make the West White and let the Blacks have Africa. Down the tubes they will go. I’m sick of White guilt.”

According to another: “All I can say he’s forgetting that the black man was walking around in rags before the white man came, the stupid ape. Claims to have brains but hes ran that country into the dirt, so I ask you, big brains?”

And from what can be seen as an alleged white freedom fighter: “lots of whites also fought for black freedom. why i think now. this is worst than the apartheid years the blacks went thru. de klerk gave this country away without a fight. but i will with plenty other whites stand together and start fighting back. viva white freedom viva. time to fight back.”

Satire” has been defined as “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.” Nowhere in this definition, however, do we see spreading false rumors, defamation of character, attributing to others — primarily those who have nothing what-so-ever to do with the “story” allegedly reported — something they never have stated, no, something they diametrically oppose!

Knowing the article is satirical but responding nonetheless: “…Even though this is satire, there is more truth to it than most people realise, people in other countries have no idea about the white genocide that is currently going on here.”

This latter quote may, in fact, be true. In that case, write a “straight” story exposing Mugabe’s genocide. But, why, on the other hand, did the article’s author, apparently Erik Thorson, use me to introduce this fictitious quote, which I allegedly wrote on the Huffington Post?

For a number of years and continuing today, I have been proud to have written editorial blogs for a few online sites, including the Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and Tikkun Daily. Since 2011, HP has published approximately 140 of my commentaries. In many of these I focus on issues of “race” and racism, most notably by exposing white privilege and the history of white racism in the Americas, how U.S. immigration policy has historically rested on racist policies, and how racism continues to plague our nation. As a historian and educator, my goal has always been to remind us of our past, and to work to dismantle all the hierarchical systems that grant power to the few at the expense of the many. The words attributed to me on Diversity Chronicle run counter to what I have worked for throughout my life.

Resistance to challenges of dominant group privilege specifically and to issues of social justice more generally comes in many forms along a spectrum from disbelief, denial, stretching the truth, fabrication, and downright lies, slander, libel, harassment, physical attack, and even more violent backlash. Resistance may also surface in the guise of satire.

The resistance anti-racism activists continually experience, while venomous and blaming in tone, is nonetheless predictable in that these tactics have been employed time after time against individuals, groups, and communities that have challenged oppression and dominant hegemonic discourses.

Dominant groups try to intimidate minoritized communities and incite fear within the larger population in its attempts to silence opposition and to prevent minoritized groups from engaging in the decision-making process that affects the course of their lives, and even to name and define the terms of their existence. In this way, dominant groups attempt to reposition themselves as the victims.

Being anti-racist is NOT being anti-white. Working against white supremacy is NOT working against white people. Rather, it is attempting to share privilege with all people of every socially constructed identity. As a white person, I am not working to ensure that white people suffer from racial profiling, or receive tougher penalties in the judicial system, or are punished more harshly in the schools, or suffer the consequences of lower educational outcomes, higher unemployment, greater health issues and higher mortality rates, and higher rates of incarceration, or are “red lined” into certain neighborhoods on account of their “race” as people of color currently experience. Instead, we are working to end these discriminatory practices for everyone by looking at and challenging the systematic social inequities.

As a public person who adds my voice to the market place of ideas, I have come to accept the reality that I will be challenged and even verbally attacked by people who oppose what I say, what I write, and what I stand for. But no one, NO ONE, has the right to attribute to me what I not only have not stated or written, but more importantly, what run contrary to what I believe and how I live my life. This goes way beyond satire, for it has crossed a line into defamation of my character. It is libel plain and simple.

Postscript: Within one hour of my posting this commentary and circulating it extensively on a number of facebook sites, Diversity Chronicle publisher, Eric Thorson, contacted me stating he “decided” to delete the paragraph with the fabricated quote he attributed to me, which existed in the article since it was posted April 18, 2014, over 6 months ago.  I am considering taking legal action.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 7th, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Finally College Centers Meeting Needs of Underserved Students

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Imagine this: Today is your first day at college. You have been looking forward to this day ever since you could remember. Excited about living away from home for the first time with the expectation of experiencing new people and new adventures, your feelings are tinged, however, with a nagging and constant anxiety from which you can’t seem to escape. For quite some time, you have held a secret deep within the recesses of your soul. Here at your new college home environment, you don’t yet know whom you can trust.

Can you tell your dormitory roommate, and if you do tell, what will happen to you? Will your roommate tell others? Will you be thrown out of your room, or even worse, will you have to leave school? And what if your parents find out? Will they disown you? Will they cut you off financially forcing you to drop out of school? And what about your prospective professors and classmates? If they find out, how will they react? And how will this possibly affect your chances for future employment?

Does your school have any resources and support systems for you? What if anything does your school have available to make your transition to college less worrisome and more accommodating? Overall, what will campus life hold for you?

For you have had heterosexual feelings and your gender identity matched your sex assigned at birth (cisgender) even before you entered puberty, but because you live in a hometown and a larger society that doesn’t understand or even rejects your emerging sexuality and gender identity, you hide away in a closet of denial and dread fearing to come out into the light of day. Now you have a chance to make a new start in your home away from home.

These are the reasons why you decided to attend this particular college campus in this particular state. Back when you were researching possible campuses to attend, you came across an online article focusing on an action taken by the Texas House of Representatives, proposed by Republican State Representative Wayne Christian, which in 2011 passed precedent-setting legislation by a margin of 110 to 24 requiring all public colleges and universities in that state with a student center on “alternative” sexuality to provide equal funding and resources to establish and maintain so-called “Family and Traditional Values Centers” as well (to promote heterosexuality and straight marriage).

According to Rep. Christian’s amendment to the Texas budget for higher education:

“…It is the intent of the Legislature that an institution of higher education shall use an amount of appropriated funds to support a family and traditional values center for students of the institution that is not less than any amount of appropriated funds used by the institution to support a gender and sexuality center or other center for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or other gender identity issues.”

Representative Wayne Christian admitted that he would rather have seen the existing “alternative” sexuality centers defunded and, therefore eliminated, but decided that the bill had a better chance of passage by proposing the funding of so-called “Family and Traditional Values Centers.” He said the new Centers could now sponsor programs promoting chastity and marriage between one man and one woman.

Wow, it’s about time for the mandating of these Centers, don’t you think? These Centers on publicly supported institutions of higher education could now even sponsor programming for heterosexual and cisgender students to find and meet one another, to invite to their campuses heterosexual and cisgender scholars to present information on the heterosexual and cisgender experience, and help to un-diversify the curriculum by assisting those educators who so choose to include critical issues in heterosexual and cisgender studies, which now only comprise 99% of the curriculum. They can also establish Heterosexual and Cisgender Speakers Bureaus and train heterosexual and cisgender students to talk about their experiences in classrooms on request in order to counter the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the fear, and the ignorance surrounding their lives.

Because of the new Family and Traditional Values Centers that have emerged throughout the state of Texas (which has the potential to trigger similar Centers throughout the nation), possibly we will see greater understanding of heterosexual and cisgender lifestyles. With this understanding, we might find fewer and fewer young people having to live in a closet of fear, fewer hate crimes targeting people simply because they are heterosexual and cisgender resulting in injury and premature death, and greater chances for students to concentrate more on academics rather than on physical and emotional safety concerns due to their emerging heterosexual and cisgender identities. We might also find as a result closer family relationships, greater chances for career success, and overall, a new generation experiencing greater feelings of self-esteem and developing positive identities at earlier ages than ever before. These Center will give students the needed support and guidance when “coming out” heterosexual and cisgender. What a great and needed service these Family and Traditional Values will provide!

Oh yes, Texas certainly is on the (political) right track! Other states need to take note, or they will be left behind this new and exciting trend that will have far reaching implications, I suppose. And since we already have October set aside as “LGBT History Month,” I would imagine it’s not very far in the future that someone in the Texas legislature will propose the setting aside of a month, maybe December, dedicated to HSC (Heterosexual, Straight, & Cisgender) History Month. However, if that were to happen, the legislature would have to vote first to decertify the full year each and every year as HSC History and Pride Year as it currently stands.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 4th, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Happy LGBT History Month

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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

October is LGBT History Month. It originated when, in 1994, Rodney Wilson, a high school teacher in Missouri, had the idea that a month was needed dedicated to commemorate and teach this history since it has been perennially excluded in the schools. He worked with other teachers and community leaders, and they chose October since public schools are in session, and National Coming Out Day already fell on October 11.

I see this only as a beginning since lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, (LGBTIQ) history is all our history and, therefore, needs to be taught and studied all year every year. Why do I feel this way?

A few years ago, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender 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 he 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, LGBTIQ 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 LGBTIQ 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 LGBTIQ 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 LGBTIQ 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 LGBTIQ, 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). LGBTIQ 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 LGBTIQ, questioning youth, and allies, 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 LGBTIQ 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 this 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 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 LGBTIQ PowerPoint presentation, go to my blog site at: www.warrenblumenfeld.com. On the right side, click onto “Slide Presentations,” which will take you to LGBTIQ History parts 1 and 2. Enjoy!

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 1st, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Clean Potable Water a Human Right, Even in Detroit

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Over 60,000 people in New York’s Central Park and millions more around our planet were treated to the eclectic sounds of world-class performers at the third Global Citizens Festival on Saturday, September 27. Performers included Jay Z, Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood, The Roots, Tiesto, No Doubt, Sting, and Alicia Keys.

The organization Global Citizen, whose goal is to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide by 2030, sponsored the event to highlight the issue of extreme poverty, which continues to affect an estimated 1.2 billion people, and to empower individuals and the world community to take concrete actions to end this scourge. Specifically, Global Citizen urges people to contact world leaders to focus on issues of providing vaccines, education, and sanitation to all the world’s citizens.

Internationally, more people have mobile phones than have clean potable water and sanitation facilities. An estimated 3.4 million people die each year of diseases caused by lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation infrastructures. This shortage kills people around the world at a rate equal to the crashing of a jumbo jet every four hours. This lack of clean water and vaccinations significantly lowers a person’s chances for quality education keeping them in extreme poverty, and the vicious cycle continues.

Part of the Global Citizen Manifesto reads:

I believe that 1 BILLION PEOPLE continuing to live extreme poverty is an affront to our COMMON HUMANITY AND DIGNITY. That it is unfair, unjust and unnecessary.”

These words, “unfair,” “unjust,” and “unnecessary” have particular resonance for me as I leaned that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes recently refused to prevent city officials in Detroit, Michigan from shutting off water to customers who cannot afford to pay the skyrocketing costs of services, which have increased rapidly since the city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy last year. Monthly charges for water and sewer services in Detroit average $70.67 per household. In his ruling, Rhodes asserted that people do not have a fundamental right to water services. Since the shutoffs over the summer, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets.

In the wealthy suburbs circling Detroit, though, residents fill their enormous residential and country club swimming pools and artificial lakes around their pristine golf courses, as people in the inner city desperately lack water for drinking or bathing. And the tremendous income gaps ever expand within the U.S. and internationally.

Unfair

While city officials have negotiated long-term payment schedules for some customers they rated “delinquent” on past payments, a number of resides, often through no fault of their own, simply do not have the funds needed, having regularly to choose between putting food on the table for their children or paying for clean water. No one should have to make this choice!

Unjust

By shutting off the valves, city officials have consigned residents to increased rates of disease, dehydration, and lowered chances of escaping poverty. When children and adults are deprived of the basics to sustain life, their health suffers, which greatly impacts their educational and overall life opportunities.

Unnecessary

Our nation must redirect its priorities directly to serve its people through infrastructure improvements so cities like Detroit do not have to solve these problems in isolation resulting in forced terminations of clean and potable water. President Obama has urged Congress since he entered office to release the funding to upgrade our crumbling sewer systems, roads, bridges, and power grids, which as they currently exist, have put our nation at increased risk. Unfortunately, Congress seems unwilling to get to work, which stands in stark contrast to the vast number of our residents who live below the poverty line, and who often work multiple jobs still barely getting by.

I personally abide by the entire Global Citizen Manifesto, especially this section:

THE WORLD’S POOR ARE LEADING THIS PROGRESS FOR THEMSELVES, but they can’t finish the job without the rest of us. I am committed to changing the systems and policies that keep people poor.”

We all can and must end this worldwide unfair, unjust, and unnecessary travesty of extreme poverty. This reminds me of a TV commercial I watched last night for pistachios when Steven Colbert, seated beside an American Bald Eagle perched above, declares: “The pistachio: it’s just like our politics. When the two sides are divided, that’s when the nuts come out!”

On issues of poverty and for the sake of humanity, we all must work on the same side.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-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 29th, 2014 at 8:07 pm

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Dangerous Values at Values Voters Summit

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I perceive so many issues and so much material to critique from the recent so-called Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. that I find it difficult where precisely to focus.

I could talk about the cast of characters invited to present to the largely older, white, conservative Christian confab audience, with such notables ranging from current and former elected political officials including Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rich Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huchabee, and David Dewhurst, to ultra conservative media pundits such as Erick Erickson (Editor-in-Chief of Red States) and Glenn Beck, to heads of far-right organizations like Gary Bauer (Pres., American Values) and Kelly Shackelford (Pres. & CEO, Liberty Institute).

I could center my comments on the “intellectual” and historical bloopers made by a number of the presenters. For example, Ted Cruz lambasted U.S. officials talking with Iranian leaders:

“This week the government of Iran is sitting down with the United States government, swilling chardonnay in New York City to discuss what [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu rightly describes as an historic mistake…setting the stage for Iran to acquire nuclear weapon capability.”

Cruz, like Pres. George W. Bush before him, shows his utter ignorance of Muslims and their cultures, in Cruz’s case, by his ignorance on their ban of the intake of alcoholic beverages.

And then there was half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin who promised to bring “truth” to “1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Well, does Palin plan to stand on a soap box in the plaza near the Willard Hotel to shout her truth, since that’s what she will find at that address? Or does she hope to see Russia from there? If, however, she meant to reference the White House, most elementary school students know it rests at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

What I consider the most offensive, hateful, and bigoted comment to the assembled gathering at the Summit came from finally-retiring Representative Michelle Bachmann, who declared war on all of Islam first by asserting that there is no such thing as a “moderate” Muslin, then warning,

“Yes, Mr. President, it is about Islam….And I believe if you have an evil of an order of this magnitude, you take it seriously. You declare war on it, you don’t dance around it. Just like the Islamic State has declared war on the United States of America.”

Bachmann assaulted the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which she asserted created “a smaller, diminished, less-powerful United States.”

Bachmann’s perspective on Islam is as accurate as if we viewed so-called “white supremacist” and neo-Nazi groups as representing true Christendom. What groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Khorasan, al-Shabab, Hamas, Hesbollah, plus Aryan Brotherhood, Christian Identity, Ku Klux Klan, American Front, Aryan Republican Army, Citizens Councils, White Patriot Party, and so many more all have in common is their hateful extremism in the guise of religion and religious freedom.

According to its website:

Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.”

The Summit’s chief organizing sponsor from its inauguration has been Family Research Council (FRC) Action, the legislative arm of the Family Research Council. James Dobson, founder of the group Focus on the Family in 1977, created the Family Research Council in 1981, which has developed into a major influential theocratic right organization campaigning for so-called “traditional family values” as FRC sees it. In the face of Internal Revenue Service investigations of FRC’s overt lobbying activities, FRC administratively separated from FOF in 1992 to become an independent organization. Gary Bauer took over the helm as first president until 2003 when Tony Perkins succeeded him.

Though the term “Christian Right” has been used to represent this movement, I, on the other hand, find this terminology inaccurate and misleading. A good number of well-intentioned conservative Christians do not abide by many of the extreme stances taken by movement leaders – leaders who seem bent on hijacking the purpose and intent of Jesus’s message. While a number of leaders and organizations within this movement bristle against the notion of a large centralized government, paradoxically, they seem to work toward the imposition of a powerful theocratic government in their image. Moreover, “Christianity” cannot be viewed as monolithic since numerous denominations subscribe to disparate interpretations of scripture. Therefore, I use the term “theocratic right” to represent this ultra conservative movement.

I see the Values Voters Summit more as a train wreck than as a summit, a crew of hate-inspired politicians who sank to the lowest level of their “base” (a term I use here with multiple definitions) by stereotyping and scapegoating, and by further marginalizing those among us with little economic, social, and political power and those who require basic services from government to survive. In this vein, Ted Cruz promised during his diatribe at the Summit:

“In 2017, with a Republican president in office, we’re going to sign legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.”

Attendees at the conference voted in a presidential straw poll placing Ted Cruz on top with 25%, former neurosurgeon and author Ben Carson in second place with 20%, and rounding out in third place was Mike Huckabee, and Rich Santorum in fourth.

Using the definition of “values” as “Core beliefs that guide and motivate attitudes and actions,” what the drivers on the train wreck preached in Washington, D.C. poses grave dangers by further dividing an already divided nation, by broadening the wide gaps between the haves and have-nots, and by perpetuating the targeting of those they brand as “other,” since many in this crew already hold influential platforms and represent a formidable constituency.

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

 

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 28th, 2014 at 9:39 pm

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Partial Reversal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Only a Beginning

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The United States Congress, in February 2011, passed and President Obama signed historic bipartisan legislation to rescind the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy enacted in 1993 mandating that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who join the ranks of the armed forces maintain complete silence regarding their sexual identities. Over the years, the military dishonorably discharged an estimated 14,000 service members on the so-called “charge” of being “homosexual” under this policy. On September 20, 2011 the policy reversal went into effect, but it did not go far enough. Military policy continues to restrict trans* and intersex people from joining.

Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, last May, however, raised the possibility that a part of the remaining restrictions may soon fall when he stated that the ban on trans* soldiers “continually should be reviewed.” He did not, though, talk about opening the injunction on intersex people.

His comment came after a study released by the Palm Center reporting that approximately 15,000 trans* people are currently secretly serving in the armed forces, and an additional 130,000 or more trans* veterans reside in the larger population. Some of our nation’s allies, like Canada and Great Britain, openly admit trans* service members.

As our troops are currently stretched thin throughout the world’s conflict areas, the former U.S. ban on LGB recruits and continuing prohibition on trans* and intersex people only exacerbates the problem and discredits our country by eliminating entire classes of people whose only desire is to contribute to the defense of their nation.

The policy in 2011 partially ended an era of blatant stereotyping, scapegoating, and marginalization of LGB people. It opened a new epoch in which LGB service members can serve their country proudly with honesty and with a deep sense of integrity. In addition, now a formerly excluded group of talented and committed students can join ROTC programs, and a new cohort of active service members will receive the benefits of educational and career enhancement opportunities. This policy must now extend to trans* and intersex individuals as well.

They will enter into a social institution that often works to prevent genocidal slaughters anywhere throughout the world, and engage in humanitarian and peace keeping efforts – from disaster relief to cooling a number of the world’s “hot spots.”

As I have followed the debates over the years, I have been constantly struck by the arguments favoring maintenance of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy, ranging from fears over the “predatory nature of homosexuals” in bunks and showers, to “homosexuals” crumbling under the pressure of combat, to the medicalization and supposed “unnaturalness” of trans* and intersex people, to LGBTI service members placing themselves in compromising situations in which they will be forced to divulge critical defense secrets to foreign governments. I give credit to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and intersex people for maintaining a willingness to join the military following scurrilous and libelous depictions.

While stated military goals may promote the notion of providing global security and protecting and defending the homeland, we must maintain and extend our focused and continued attention and critique, however, on the overriding abuses of maintaining a military that engages in unjustified incursions into other lands controlled by an industrial complex that promotes corporate interests.

In this regard, history is replete with not-so-illustrious examples of U.S. policy abuses enacted and enforced by the military establishment — from the extermination, forced relocation, and land confiscation of native peoples on this continent, to the unjustified and contrived war with Mexico, to the racist-inspired incarceration of Japanese Americans in the interior U.S. during World War II, to governmental destabilization efforts and military incursions into such places as Vietnam and Laos, Chile, El Salvador, Panama, the Philippians, and throughout the Middle East.

During the past decade, we have lost thousands of our brave warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the current military defense budget of approximately 768 billion dollars seriously drains our treasury and increases our national debt.

Looking over the history of humanity, it is apparent that tyranny, at times, could only be countered through the raising of arms. On numerous occasions, however, diplomacy has been successful, and at other times, it should have been used more extensively before rushing to war.

I, therefore, find it unacceptable when one’s patriotism and one’s love of country is called into question when one advocates for peaceful means of conflict resolution, for it is also an act of patriotism to work to keep our troops out of harm’s way, and to work to create conditions and understanding that ultimately make war less likely.

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

While the partial reversal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” reforms while not fully eliminating a discriminatory policy, it in no way addresses the intense interconnections between the U.S. military and corporate interests and the promotion of U.S. capitalist hegemony worldwide.

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).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 24th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

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Environmental Justice & the “Science” of Denial

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 “Only after the last tree has been cut down,
only after the last river has been poisoned,
only after the last fish has been caught,
only then will you learn that you cannot eat money
.”
— Cree Proverb

The White House recently released its National Climate Assessment reporting that our global climate is, in fact, changing, and this is due primarily to human activity, in particular, the burning of fossil fuels. The Assessment investigated approximately 12,000 professional scientific journal papers on the topic of global climate change, and discovered that in the articles expressing a position on global warming, fully 97 percent authenticated both the reality of global warming and the certainty that humans are the cause.

Additional studies released since the White House report signed the beginning of the depletion and ultimate total collapse of glaciers in Antarctica, which can continue to raise worldwide sea levels an additional 4 feet. This depletion is now irreversible.

What seems clear to the scientific community seems like science fiction to many key politicians, including Lamar Smith (R-TX), paradoxically the Chair of the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Science, Space, and Technology who has been a perennial skeptic of human-produced climate change. He stated on the floor of the House:

“We now know that prominent scientists were so determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming that they worked together to hide contradictory temperature data.”

He quoted no sources, and his accusations were later proven false.

Previous Chair of the Committee, Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) asserted that he does not have concerns about global warming, but, rather, he is “really more fearful of freezing,” even though “I don’t have any science to prove that.” He went even further by stating that he did not “think we can control what God controls.”

Many on the anti-science political and theocratic Right (mis)quote scripture to justify human exploitation of the planet. For example, Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, questioned Barack Obama’s “theology” in an Ohio campaign stop, February 18, 2012, by asserting that Obama believes in “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”

The next day, when asked to explain his remarks on the CBS news program “Face the Nation” by moderator Bob Schieffer, Santorum responded that he was referring to “the radical environmentalists,” and by implication, placed Obama in this category. Santorum attacked the notion that “man is here to serve the Earth,” which he argued “is a phony ideal.” While Santorum conceded “that man is here to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth,” he was emphatic that “we’re not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside-down.”

In yet another ill-conceived and executed Christian crusade, Santorum, with his publicly expressed literal biblical perspective, conjures up such passages as Genesis 1:26, which states:

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”

And Genesis 1:28: “God blessed [humans] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’”

Also, Genesis 9: “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.’”

And Santorum is certainly not alone among his Republican colleagues and electorate. A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, in their 2008 study “A Deeper Partisan Divide over Global Warming,” found that while 58 percent of respondents who identified as Democrats and 50 percent of Independents believe that global warming is mostly caused by human activity, only 27 percent of Republicans believed this.

Among Democrats, those with higher educational levels, 75 percent with college degrees compared with 52 percent with less education, expressed the view that solid evidence has shown human activity largely as the cause of global warming. Opposed to the Democrats, however, educational levels of Republicans resulted in an inverse relationship in trusting the scientific evidence with only 19 percent of Republican college graduates compared with 31 percent with less education believing in the human connection to climate change.

Pew’s updated report in 2013 found that overall 67% of U.S. residents believe global warming is happening, but only 25% of Tea Party Republicans believe this.

How many more British Petroleum and Exxon Valdez oil spills, polluted and poisoned waterways and skies, dead lakes, clear cut forests, mine disasters, mutilated and scorched Earth, nuclear power plant accidents and meltdowns, toxic dumps and landfills, trash littered landscapes, extinct animal and plant species, encroachments on land masses by increasingly raising oceans and seas, and how many more unprecedented global climatic fluctuations will it take for the anti-science Republican party to put the health of the planet and by extension of the health of all Earth’s inhabitants on the front burner, if you will, of policy priorities over the unquenchable lust for profits by corporate executives?

For a party claiming to stand as “pro-family,” what kind of legacy and what kind or future are they really bequeathing to our youth? For a party that claims to promote political conservatism and “traditional values,” what is more traditional and valuable than conserving and thus sustaining the Earth’s resources responsibly and equitably?

While differing marginally on specific issues, many Republicans march in lock-step to the drummer of conservative political and corporate dogma centering on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatizing governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanently incorporating across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, advancing market driven and unfettered “free market” economics.

I ask, though, how “free” are we now as mining, oil, and lumber companies lobby to exploit the land, and as legislators grant corporations enormous tax breaks and subsidies? How “free” will we be if conservative Republicans succeed in abolishing the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Protection Agency, the US Department of Education, the US Department of Commerce, and other governmental agencies? How “free” will we be if conservative Republicans succeed in the US Congress with their threats to privatize our national parks, and to loosen environmental and consumer protections of all kinds?

In truth, the conservative Republican battle cry, seemingly coined by Sarah Palin, of “drill baby drill,” unfortunately is what the Obama administration has forwarded, resulting in significantly more domestic oil production than under the George W. Bush administration. This, however, is simply unsustainable since the US currently consumes approximately 20-25 percent of the oil produced worldwide, though we hold in the range of only 2 percent of planetary oil reserves.

Webster’s dictionary defines “Oppression” as a noun meaning “the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power” on the individual/interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels. Human treatment of the environment certainly falls under this definition. As opposed to “oppression,” I define “social justice” as the concept that local, national, and global communities functioning where everyone has equal access to and equitable distribution of the rights, benefits, privileges, and resources, and where everyone can live freely unencumbered by social constructions of hierarchical positions of domination and subordination.”

This concluding phrase is of prime importance, for when humans place themselves into “hierarchical positions of domination and subordination,” environmental degradation inevitably results. This is no different in a US context from other hierarchies of power and privilege: White people over People of Color, men over women, rich over working class and poor, heterosexuals over homosexuals and bisexuals, cisgender people over transgender people, able-bodied people over people with disabilities, native-born English speakers over immigrant linguistic minorities, adults of a certain age over youth and over seniors, Christians over member of all other religious and spiritual communities as well as over non-believers, and the spokes on the oppression wheel continue to trample over people and over our environment.

A non-regulated privatized so-called “free-market” economic system lacking in environmental protections is tantamount to a social system deficient of civil and human rights protections for minoritized peoples.

If people wish to quote scripture, they would do well to heed biblical warnings, such as Isaiah 24: 4-6:

“The earth dries up and withers, the world languished and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth lies under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statues, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.”

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 21st, 2014 at 10:43 pm

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Vice President Steps into the Stereotype Muck of Callous Jewish Moneylender

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“The pound of flesh which I demand of him is deerely bought, ’tis mine, and I will have it.”

Shylock, in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

The character of Shylock in Shakespeare’s 1596 play symbolizes the image of the cheap, unscrupulous, ruthless, and obsessed Jewish moneylender who manipulates, controls, and ultimately destroys individuals and entire nations.

Vice President Joe Biden stepped into the stereotype muck at a press conference September 16 as he commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation. He recounted a story of his son Beau’s experience. While serving in Iraq, Beau met with military service members who needed legal assistance because of financial problems they faced back home.

That’s one of the things that he finds was most in need when he was over there in Iraq for a year,” Joe Biden said. “That people would come to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being … I mean these Shylocks who took advantage of, um, these women and men while overseas.”

Though the Vice President later apologized for his “poor choice of words,” he is certainly not alone in living in a society, or more accurately, a world saturated with these representations of Jews, images that have been encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the fabric of our institutions and social systems.

A Jewish student in my Multicultural Foundations in Schools and Society course expressed to me in private a few years ago that since he came to our Midwestern university campus, he has gone into a “religious closet.” To avoid marginalization by his peers, he tells them that he was raised Methodist because he has often heard other students express cruel anti-Jewish sentiments regarding Hitler and the German Holocaust as well as every-day expressions such as “Don’t Jew me down” (translated as “Don’t cheat me like a Jew”) and “That’s so Jewish” (like “That’s so gay”), both intense put-downs.

Thumbnail Sketch Origins of Jews as Deceitful Usurers

Soon following Jesus’ crucifixion by the Romans, the myth developed that Jews were responsible for his death. Though the Jews did not make the decision to kill Jesus, nor did they have the power to carry out the death sentence, Judas became the Jewish archetype of evil and deception by supposedly accepting a handful of gold coins by the Pharisee for his betrayal.

In early times, Jews were part of an agricultural economy, but rulers and resident mobs eventually pushed them out through forced expulsions, confiscation of their land, and unfairly high taxes. Jews then entered the trade occupations becoming merchants and shop keepers, peddlers, money-lenders, and tax-collectors — occupations needed in the developing economies but sometimes prohibited to Christians by the Christian Churches.

The landed classes, peasants, and serfs often blamed Jews for the problems of the feudal system. Jews soon became scapegoated by involuntarily serving as the buffers for the landed classes who carried the real power. Rich landowners encouraged the scapegoating of Jews to take the blame off themselves for the economic plight of the serfs.

Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican scholar born in1225 C. E., advanced so-called “natural law,” a morality system based on human constraints. He believed, and echoed in the High Middle Ages, that usury (the lending of money for profit) was contrary to “natural law,” and, therefore, was unjust and forbidden for Christians. Therefore, a pattern emerged: Jews were invited into a region to fill gaps in the economy. They were blamed for the problems of the economic system. Then they were expelled or massacred. The stereotype of Jews as money-lovers, cheap, and miserly was codified.

During the 1200s, the Church saw Jews as a challenge to its power, since by not converting to Christianity, Jews symbolized the idea of religious freedom. The Church, therefore, confined Jews to designated areas within the town and countryside. Pope Innocent III enacted laws to isolate Jews from Christians, arguing that Jews had corrupted and reversed the “natural order” with their unscrupulous use of money and power, and that the “free Christian” had essentially become the servant of a Jewish master.

In 1478, Church leaders commenced the Spanish Inquisition. By 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella drove the last Jews from Spain and Portugal, since Jews were no longer needed for the economic roles they once filled. Christopher Columbus, who set sail at this time, changed his intended port of departure because it was severely congested with Jews fleeing Spain. Much of the funding for his voyage the Spanish monarchy confiscated from Jews.

In a number of European countries, Jews continued to be forced to reside in designated and extremely overcrowded sites. Often, Bishops prohibited Jews from living among Christians. These areas would come to be called “ghettos.” The word ghetto has its derivation in the Italian word gietto, which the artillery foundry was called located in the district of Venice, Italy dating to the year 1516 where Jews were forced to live.

The Protestant Reformation resulted in a schism in Christianity around 1517. Catholic and Protestant leaders, however, agreed on one issue: the Jews. Reformer, Martin Luther, published a book in 1526 called, On the Jews and Their Lies, which some have called the first work of modern anti-Semitism.

He recommended: “First, their synagogues should be set on fire, and whatever is left should be burned in dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a stone or cinder of it.”

Jewish prayer books, he advised, should be destroyed and rabbis forbidden to preach. The homes of Jews should likewise be “smashed and destroyed” and their residents “put under one roof or in a stable like gypsies, to teach them they are not master in our land.” He also suggested Jewish banishment from roads and markets, and seizure of their property. Then these “poisonous envenomed worms should be drafted into forced labor. The young and strong Jews and Jewesses should be given the flail, the ax, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and the spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses.”

Between 1648-1655, after suffering the distress of expulsion from Western Europe, Jews traveled to Eastern European countries such as Austria and Poland. Here they filled many of the same roles they had earlier occupied in Western Europe. Others viewed Jews as hated tax collectors, as the oppressor, but in actuality they were once again filling the involuntary role of “buffer” between serfs and nobility.

The 18th-century Philosopher, Voltaire, advocated equal rights and freedom of religion during the Enlightenment. Like most prominent philosophers at the time, however, Voltaire argued that Judaism was incompatible with the principles of human reason and progress.

“The Jews are nothing more than an ignorant, barbarian people, who combine the foulest greed with a terrible superstition and an uncompromising hatred of all the peoples who tolerate them and at whose cost they even enrich themselves…[T]he Jews are cowardly and lecherous, greedy, and miserly.”

In the United States during the Civil War, in December 1862, Major General Ulysses S. Grant unfairly accused Jews of plotting to illegally engage in the cotton trade, and ordered all Jews expelled from the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky, then under the control of the Union forces. This action repeated the European forced expulsions of Jews. President Abraham Lincoln had the good sense to reverse this order, which was, up to that time, the most egregious single anti-Semitic action ever taken by a high U.S. government official.

Though in actuality, Jews had little control over the conditions surrounding their lives in many European countries, the stereotype of Jews as obsessed with money and power with an interest in world domination persisted into the modern era. The Rothchild family, caricatured in numerous publications at the end of the 19th century, symbolized a Jewish passion for world economic and political domination.

Change was in the air in Russia in the late 19th century. Early Socialist thinkers, like Karl Marx, wrote of the oppression of the workers, and called for revolution to break their chains. Many of these same writers, however, were vehemently anti-Semitic. Karl Marx, for example, who himself was grandson of a rabbi, and son of Christian converts, in his 1844 essay “On the Jewish Question,” wrote:

What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money… Money is the universal and self-sufficient value of all things. It has, therefore, deprived the whole world, both the human world and nature, of their own proper value.”

Originally appearing under the reign of Czar Nicholas II around 1895 in Russia, then distributed in various translations throughout the world, the infamous booklet Protocols (Minutes) of the Elders of Zion 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. It comprised 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 and Jewish financial systems.

In the 1930s, U. S. Father Charles E. Coughlin, Irish-Catholic priest, anti-Semite, and anti-Communist, used his radio broadcasts to warn that the Jews were out to destroy the U.S. economy, and he defended Hitler’s treatment of the Jews as warranted in the fight against Communism.

So paradoxically, we saw contradictory representations of Jews depicted both as super rich and powerful Capitalists controlling worldwide financial systems, and as conspiratorial Communists bent on overthrowing the Capitalist system.

During the 1980s-1990s in the United States, the “JAP” (or Jewish American Princess) “jokes” swept college campuses throughout the country. Though some students saw these as innocuous, in fact, they represented young Jewish women as immature, spoiled, greedy, selfish, sexually frigid, and dependent, usually on their doting fathers. In actuality, these so-called “jokes” were and continue to be thinly disguised general modern stereotypical representations of Jews and the Jewish religion as rich, self-absorbed, clannish, bloodsucking, and immature and/or lacking in religious consciousness.

Unfortunately, once created, stereotypes remain difficult to dismantle, as the Vice President clearly demonstrated.

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).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 18th, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Porous Paper “Wall of Separation” in the U.S.

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In what only can be seen as a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clauses, and the unmasking of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between Church and State (religion and government)” as the lie that it has been throughout the history of this country, the United States Air Force refused to reenlist a technical sergeant who has more than 10 years of service because he scratched out “So help me God” on his reenlistment contract.

According to his lawyer, Monica Miller with the American Humanist Association, “He was told he had to swear to those words, or else he would have to leave the Air Force.” The sergeant, based at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada whose name has been withheld, has until his current term of service ends in November 2014 to sign the form, including the religious oath. Section 5.6 of the enlistment/reenlistment form, the “Active Duty Oath of Enlistment,” reads as follows:

I, (state your full name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Monica Miller asserts that challenges to Air Force policy are of its own making. Before last fall, the enlistment oath included the parenthetical sentence, “(Airmen may omit the words ‘So help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.”). The Air Force, however, deleted this sentence in the newest updated version. The matter now is currently under review by the Department of Defense.

According to the wording of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” two separate clauses or concepts relate specifically to religion: the “Establishment Clause” and the “Free Exercise Clause.” The first forbids government from passing any laws or enforcing any policies that establish an official religion or favoring any religion over others. The second clause restricts government from trampling on the rights of individuals to practice the religion or non-religion of their choice.

Contrary to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s contention that “freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion,” the Constitution of the United States, and expanded by numerous court decisions throughout our history, does, in fact, grant the right of freedom of as well as freedom from religion. Perry uttered his attitude when signing the so-called “Merry Christmas” bill into law that permits schools in his state to display religious symbols around campus.

A Little History

Virginia was one of the first states following the Revolutionary War to address the issue of religion and government when Thomas Jefferson, who held deist beliefs, drafted “An Act for the Establishment of Religious Freedom” in 1777. Jefferson’s proposal passed into law in 1786 in Virginia. Then, constitutional framers such as Jefferson and Madison negotiated a compromise with Protestant sectarians, which led to the clauses written into the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Though nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does the phrase “wall of separation of church and state” appear, it was originally drawn from a letter President Thomas Jefferson sent on January 1, 1802 to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptists Association. In a previous letter to Jefferson, the Baptists, who were then a minority denomination, expressed their extreme concerns that the First Amendment, by expressly granting “the free exercise of religion,” implied that this freedom, granted by government, is therefore an alienable right since what the government gives, the government likewise can withdraw.

“Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals….But sir, our constitution of government is not specific….[T]herefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights” (Danbury Baptist Association, 1801).

Jefferson had his own concerns over the potential erosion of religious liberties granted in the First Amendment, which he expressed in a letter to fellow co-signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush:

“[T]he clause of the Constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians and Congregationalists” (Jefferson, 1800).

So with the current case against the Air Force, and in countless other instances — from “In God We Trust” on our currency, “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, religious invocations at Presidential and other government inaugurations and ceremonies, chaplains reciting religious invocations at Congressional gatherings, publicly funded religious decorations and celebrations at government building in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country, an official publicly funded Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn, “…and God Bless the United States of American” ending virtually all Presidential and other elected officials’ speeches — do we really have a “wall of separation” and freedom from religion in the United States.

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).

 

 

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

September 15th, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized