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Jews as Racialized Other as Reflected in the Kansas Murders

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We are learning from news accounts that the alleged shooter in the murders of three people at two separate Jewish sites, a community center and a retirement village in Overland Park, Kansas just one day before the Jewish Passover, was inspired by hate.

According to Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass, “This was a hate crime.” The federal government can now prosecute the suspected perpetrator, Frazier Glenn Miller (a.k.a. Frazier Glenn Cross), 73-years old, on hate-crime charges.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Miller as a former grand-dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a founding member of the White Patriot Party, a white supremacist group. Miller has posted approximately 12000 times on Vanguard News Network whose slogan is “No Jews, Just Right.”

So why did a self-described “white supremacist” target apparent white people at Jewish community centers? The answer is quite simple: Though Jewish people are members of every so-called “race,” even Jews of European heritage (Ashkenazim) have been and still continue to be “racially” othered by dominant Christian European-heritage communities in some quarters. For this reason, I argue that the federal and state prosecutors charge Miller with first-degree premeditated murder stemming from his religious, ethnic, and racial bigotry, even though it appears that he mistakenly targeted people who were not themselves Jewish. Anti-Jewish prejudice (a.k.a. anti-Semitism) is a form of racism.

The “Racialization” of Jews

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.

For millennia, some Christian theologians distinguished Jews as different from and inferior to Christians on religious grounds. A number of passages within the Christian Testaments were used to give justification for persecuting Jews. For example, Matthew 27:24-25, and in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16:

[T]he Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God’s will and enemies of their fellow man….All this time they have been making up the full measure of their guilt, and now retribution has overtaken the good of all.

They also often equated Jews to the Devil:

And Jesus said: “If God were your father, you would love me…[but] your father is the devil and you choose to carry out your father’s desires” (John 8:44). The Jews…are Satan’s synagogue (Revelation 2:9). I will make those of Satan’s synagogue, who claim to be Jews but are lying frauds, come and fall down at your feet (Revelation 3:9).

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.

Later, although Charles Darwin himself did not assert this, some of Darwin’s successors,  referred to as “Social Darwinists,” hypothesized that Jews no longer were simply a separate religious, ethnic, or political group, but rather they extended the idea that like black Africans and other groups (including homosexuals), Jews were throwbacks to earlier stages of religious and human development. They forwarded a so-called “racial” hierarchy placing “Aryans” on the top, black Africans at the lower end, and other “races” (including Jews) at various points in between.

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

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.”  Galton asserted that Jews were of a lower racial form, and that they could be easily recognizable by their appearance (apparently, though, not by Frazier Glenn Miller in Kansas). He also talked about a supposed cold and calculating “Jewish gaze.”

The U.S. writer, Madison Grant (1865-1937) codified this supposed “racialization” of the Jews in his influential book, The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis for European History (1916), in which he argued that Europeans comprised four distinct races: The “Nordics” of northwestern Europe sat atop his racial hierarchy, whom Grant considered as the natural rulers and administrators, which accounted for England’s “extraordinary ability to govern justly and firmly the lower races” (p. 207). 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 (p. 227). 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” (p. 229).  On the bottom he placed the most inferior of all the European so-called “races”: the Jews.

Referring specifically to the Polish Jew, Grant asserted that “…the Polish Jews, whose dwarf stature, peculiar mentality and ruthless concentration on self-interest…” (p. 16), present themselves in “swarms” (p. 63). Analogous to the notion in the United States that “one drop” of “black African blood” makes a person black, according to Grant, the mixture of any of the European races and a Jew is a Jew.

By the end of the 19th century CE, the popular image of the “Jewish type” (portrayed invariably as the Jewish male), according to Sander Gilman in his book The Jew’s Body, “consisted of a hooked nose, curling nasal folds (ali nasi), thick prominent lips, receding forehead and chin, large ears, curly black hair, dark skin, stooped shoulders, [weak flat feet, deflated rump,] and piercing, cunning eyes” (p. 18). In addition, the gaze of the Jew was said to be pathological, searing, cunning, cold, and piercing.

An offshoot of Eugenics was phrenology: the study of the skull emphasizing that its size and shape determined mental abilities and character. Phrenologist practitioners held that a specific section of the “Jewish” or “Hebrew” brain was “abnormally” developed causing Jews to be highly interested in money.

As we know, the Nazis used contrived “racial” arguments as a philosophical cornerstone for justification of their persecutions of Jews, as well as most people of color and people with disabilities. Jews and others they considered descendants from inferior “racial stands.” Nazi leadership argued vehemently that Jews were polluting the so-called “Aryan race.” They forced Jews to wear the yellow Star of David as a signifying marker, since to the Nazis, yellow represented a sign of “race pollution.”

This sentiment extended far beyond the borders of the Third Reich. For example, 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.”

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

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

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

April 14th, 2014 at 8:22 pm

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Calling Out Oppression & the Kansas Jewish Community Murders

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In response to my recent editorial blog titled “Westboro Baptist Church: They’re Baaaaach!,” for the Good Men Project, a reader responded with the following question: “There are only a tiny handful of people who participate [in the Westboro Baptist Church protests]. Why does the GMP [Good Men Project] give them so much airtime while ignoring loons of other stripes? That’s a great question!”

I would remind the reader that the Good Men Project publishes news and editorials on individuals and groups focusing on an extraordinarily wide-range of issues and concerns, and we do not single out the WBC.

I do agree with the reader that, “There are only a tiny handful of people who participate.” The underlying assumption I hear the reader voicing is: “Since there are such a tiny handful of people who participate in these offensive demonstrations, the media, including GMP, should simply ignore them rather than give them the publicity they crave.”

I have heard this criticism many times in the past. I truly believe, though, that this relatively small band of fanatical terrorists would continue to travel around the country inflicting their brand of pain whether or not the media covered them.

They would continue to picket the funerals of fallen soldiers of all apparent or stated sexual identities because WBC believes these deaths are God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. And WBC would continue to cause enormous pain whether or not the media were present.

They would continue to picket the funerals of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* people (LGBT), and their supporters, and they most likely still would have picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a brutal homophobic assault. And WBC would continue to cause enormous pain whether or not the media were present.

They would continue to picket university campuses that support their LGBT students, staff, faculty, and administrators, and WBC would still most likely schedule to come to my campus, the University of Massachusetts, to protest Derrick Gordon, a sophomore starter on our men’s basketball team, for being the first athlete in Division 1 men’s college basketball to come of the closet as gay. And WBC would continue to cause enormous pain whether or not the media were present.

They would continue to picket Jewish museums, synagogues, community centers, nursing homes, and schools like the very one my young cousin attends because WBC believes, as they state on their obscene website, that “…the Jews… arrested, falsely accused, prosecuted and then sentenced [Jesus] to death…” And WBC would continue to cause enormous pain whether or not the media were present.

We may never know the actual number of other people this small band of “loons” influences, but I don’t believe it was mere coincidence that the vicious hate-inspired murders at two separate Jewish sites, a community center and a retirement home resulting in at least three deaths, took place in Overland Park, Kansas, the home state of the Westboro Baptist Church!

Ignoring oppression does nothing to eliminate oppression! Ignoring oppression is an act of collusion with the oppressors. On the other hand, I subscribe to the words of the great Margaret Mead who said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

This is fully in keeping with the Jewish notion of Tikkun Olam: the transformation, healing, and repairing of the world so that it becomes a more just, peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place. One way to achieve this is to call out and stand up to oppression. In the spectrum from occasional microaggressions to full-blown genocide, there is no such thing as an “innocent bystander.”

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

April 13th, 2014 at 10:40 pm

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Westboro Baptist Church: They’re Baaaaack!

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Westboro Baptist Church

Fred Phelps, until his death in March this year, and his Westboro Baptist Church, composed mainly of family members, travel around the country protesting funerals of fallen soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual) claiming that these deaths are God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Phelps is also notorious for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a brutal homophobic assault.

Issues of common decency and respect for human dignity suffered a serious setback in 2011 when the United States Supreme Court in Synder v. Phelps ruled 8 to 1 that Albert Snyder of York, Pennsylvania was unjustified in suing Fred Phelps and his followers for picketing the 2006 funeral of Snyder’s son, 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in a vehicle rollover accident in Iraq. The court also ordered Snyder to cover Phelps’s court costs in the amount of $16,510 handed down earlier by the Court of Appeals of the Fourth Circuit.

I wrote an editorial (“Work for Tikkun Olam”) appearing in our local community newspaper, the Ames [Iowa] Tribune, when I served as Associate Professor at Iowa State University after I heard that toward the end of July 2009, members of the Westboro Baptist Church were to travel to Iowa to hold protest rallies at three sites: Waukee’s Jewish Historical Society, Iowa State University Campus in Ames, and Marshalltown at Marshalltown Community Theater, which was then performing the play “The Laramie Project” profiling the life and murder of Matthew Shepard.

On their website, GodHatesFags.com, Phelps made yet another ironic and perverse connection, here linking his own version of homophobia with anti-Jewish oppression. Phelps and company directed their protests against “…the Jews…[who] arrested, falsely accused, prosecuted and then sentenced [Jesus] to death…” and because “God hates Iowa” for being “the first to begin giving $ to little [homosexual] perverts for no other reason than they brag about being little perverts.”

Following the publication of my editorial, Margie Phelps, one of Fred’s daughters, contacted me by email writing:

“Hello Professor. Glad to see we got your attention with our upcoming good fig hunt in Iowa.  You approached the issue with a veil on your heart, blind eyes, a hard heart, stopped up ears, and full of guile – because that’s how you – and all the rest of the apostate, reprobate Jews – roll.  God did that.  His righteous judgments are wonderful!

Here is your own personal copy of the letter to the editor forwarded today.  Enjoy!  And share! PS  Shall we put you down as one of the naughty figs?  You are definitely not sounding or acting like a good fig.  I’m just sayin’.”

Phelps’s use of the word “fig” in this context comes from Jeremiah 24:1 in which two baskets of figs – one containing the good figs while the other contained the bad figs – were “set before the temple of the LORD.” Evidently I am one of the bad rotting figs to Phelps.

The editorial she submitted to the Ames Tribune, which they did not publish, asserted in part:

“Letter to the editor: How the Jews have taught people all over the world to be proud sinners in God’s face is by double-talking voo doo bull crap like Warren Blumenfeld’s 7/17 column. You think if you fill the air with puffy vain words you can change the standard of God.  Get real! The reason Jews belong in the same category as homosexuals is because they’re both vile sinners before God — period.  See jewskilledjesus.com for the facts.  There is not a group of people more sodomy-enabling in this world than the apostate reprobate Jews….”

Phelps and family, in their own distorted way, continue the centuries-old linkage of the many clear and stunning connections between historical stereotypical representations and oppression against Jewish people and lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans* people (LGBTs).

They’re Baaaaack!

If anyone pondered whether the “Church” would continue to spread its brand of venom after the demise of its founder, wonder no more. Though giving no specific date, the flock plans to march and picket my current institution, the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, to protest what I and many others consider as the brave, courageous, and groundbreaking announcement of Derrick Gordon, a sophomore starter on our men’s basketball team, when he came out as the first gay athlete in Division I men’s college basketball.

A number of my students have expressed to me that they are in the planning stages of a counter demonstration.

Students also organized and staged a very well-attended rally when members of the Westboro Baptist Church descended upon Iowa State University. Though some community members opposed the idea when they argued that such a rally would simply play into the hands of Church members’ desire for publicity and heighted visibility, for the student organizers and for those of us who were there, it provided a wonderful opportunity to show our support for social justice and appreciation for human diversity, to maintain a clear and resounding voice in the face of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and xenophobia. We showed in our numbers and in our exuberance that bigotry in any and all of its forms has no shelter on our campus, in our community, and in our state — not here; not now; not anywhere.

Dan Olweus, international researcher and bullying prevention specialist, enumerates the distinctive and often overlapping roles enacted in bullying: the person or persons who perpetrate bullying; the active followers; those who passively support, condone, or collude in the aggression; the onlookers (sometimes referred to as “bystanders”); the possible defenders; those who actually defend the targets of aggression; and those who are exposed and attacked.

Each day we all are called on to make small and larger choices and to take actions. Which side are we on? This question brings to mind the civil rights activist Eldridge Cleaver’s call to action: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Today as in the past, no truer words were ever uttered, for in the spectrum from occasional microaggressions to full-blown genocide, there is no such thing as an “innocent bystander.”

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

April 11th, 2014 at 2:59 pm

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The Upside Down Wonderland of Racism

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“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing

would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise,

what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

― Alice in Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I have been imagining Lewis Carol’s nonsensical upside down world of Wonderland where right is wrong and good is bad, and where characters shrink, grow, and disappear quicker than a wink of an eye, where the Mad Hatter sings “a happy unbirthday to you,” and the Cheshire Cat correctly reminds us that “We’re all mad here.”

This strange world resounds now in political discourse as those of us who work to dismantle racism and white privilege in our country find ourselves labeled as the “racists” whenever we raise issues of race, racism, and white privilege while the deniers pose as the true defenders of equality.

I will give two cases in point. Following the 2012 presidential election, I published an editorial blog on the Huffington Post titled “’Interest Convergence’ and the Republican Party” in which I referred to voting block statistics derived from polling station exit results in which I stated:

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

My thesis was that in order for the Republican Party to have any chance of winning national elections, it would have to change not only its rhetoric but its policies to attract more people of color, women, and younger voters.

Soon following my posting, Tim Lubinus, Global & Regional Ministries Director of the Cornerstone Church (affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention) in Ames, Iowa wrote an editorial titled “An Example of the Neo-Racism on the Left, Surfaced Today in Iowa,” November 13, 2012 in which the author stated:

“Dr. Blumenfeld, let’s join together and become a ‘colorblind’ nation by stopping this naive neo-racist categorization and counting of people based on a few race categories. Instead of endorsing and quoting politicians who seek to divide us based on race, we should expose and condemn this behavior.”

To Lubinus, my mention of the demographic of “race” constituted in itself an act of racism.

Another example hit recently following an article I wrote defending the White Privilege Conference against attacks that it “openly promotes hatred against white people, especially white males.”

In my article, I stated that the resistance we have seen and are continually experiencing to the White Privilege Conference, 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. I continued by arguing that 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.

Following my posting, Lee Fox wrote on the Ayn Rand in Education Facebook page that: “Here we see Warren reveal his hate filled, racist heart….yay…”

Hey Alice, am I in Wonderland where my exposing racism makes me racist? Well, Lee Fox thinks so: “You are the one using race to judge others, Warren. You are no better than Al Sharpton or David Duke or Jesse Jackson or Robert Byrd or any other vile racist attempting to prove that, somehow, their racism is good and moral and desirable.”

Actually, by Fox placing me in the same company as Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, while I am truly underserving of such an honor, I am proud nonetheless!

So if I understand Fox, anyone who talks about race, anyone who challenges the socially constructed racial hierarchy that still functions in the United States with whites having greater social privilege and power vis-a-vis people of color, and anyone who challenges white privilege is in his upside world “a racist”?

It would make it easier for Fox and Lubinus if we rather just pretend that racism no longer exists, to mindlessly accept the false notion that racism once was manifest in the United States but no longer poses a problem. This is, to use a couple of metaphors, asking those of us who understand the realities of “race” and social privilege in the United States to stick our heads in the sand, or to never lift the rug under which racism is continually swept.

How do we defeat racism? Lubinus offers a way: “Let’s join Martin Luther King, Jr. who said almost fifty years ago: ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’”

Well, yes, Tim, that was Dr. King’s “dream,” at least one of his dreams, but certainly not his reality then nor the reality today. While you, Tim, directly assert and Lee implies that we all “join together and become a ‘colorblind’ nation,” you assume that race has become unimportant, that white privilege is a fiction, that we don’t see “race” anymore, and that racism (i.e., prejudice along with social power to enact oppression by white people over people of color) is a thing of the past.

Is the United States now a “colorblind” society? Or even more importantly, should the United States be a “colorblind/race-blind” society? The very notion of “race-blindness” is deeply problematic.

Though when we tell another that “I don’t see your race; I just see you as a human being,” may seem as a righteous statement, what are we really telling the person, and how may this come across: “I discount a part of you that I may not want to address,” and “I will not see you in your multiple identities.” Also, “I don’t truly appreciate the saliency that ‘race’ has on the lives of people.” This has the tendency of erasing the person’s background and historical legacy, and hides the continuing hierarchical and systemic positionalities among white people and racially minoritized people.

In their book Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society, the authors show how the concept of “colorblindness/race-blindness” attempts to deny and further entrench hierarchical and deeply rooted systemic racial inequities and privileges accorded to white people that permeate throughout our society.

We must as a nation get beyond this false and counterproductive notion of “colorblindness/race-blindness” and confront head-on our past history and current realities of racism and white privilege and transcend, to use Mica Pollock’s term, “colormuteness” by engaging in honest and open conversations on the impact and legacy of race relations in our country.

Until and unless we fully resolve this collective denial of the very real racism and other longstanding forms of oppression continuing to permeate and saturate our nation, we will remain forever in the upside down world of Wonderland without any chance of coming home.

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

April 6th, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

White Privilege (Conference), Resistance, & the Struggle for Truth & Liberation

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“Educators in social justice schools and universities talk to students about race regularly, even incorporating it into their daily curriculum, regardless of course subject. Now, thanks to radical teacher training programs and Common Core recommended texts and other aligned resources, the white privilege guilt-trip is rapidly spreading.” Danette Clark, EAGnews.org, 3/30/14

Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. founded the White Privilege Conference (WPC) in 1999 to examine “challenging concepts of privilege and oppression and offer solutions…to work toward a more equitable world.” Now more than 2500 students, educators, and other civil and human rights activists attend the conference annually.

As stated by an educator commenting on WPC 7: “The most powerful message that continues to reverberate through my head and heart is that of looking at the future and eliminating systems of oppression through the lens of possibility and hope.”

I regularly participate and present workshops at the White Privilege Conference as it has traveled to various sites around the country. The theme of this year’s conference was “Building Relationships! Strengthening Communities! Seeking Justice!” According to the conference website: “WPC is a conference designed to examine issues of privilege beyond skin color. WPC is open to everyone and invites diverse perspectives to provide a comprehensive look at issues of privilege including: race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, etc. — the ways we all experience some form of privilege, and how we’re all affected by that privilege.”

Resistance to WPC specifically and issues around social justice more generally comes in many forms along a spectrum from disbelief, denial, stretching the truth, fabrication, and downright lies and slander, to harassment, physical attack, and even more violent backlash.

Among the printed attacks on this year’s conference, in addition to the quote above, is a blog by the Council of Conservative Citizens, 3/30/14, which states in part: “Each year radical leftists hold a ‘White Privilege’ conference to demonize white people. The event openly promotes hatred against white people, especially white males.”

Alongside the article, they include a cartoon depicting a blond man tied and hammered to a cross, a sign hanging around his neck announcing “WHITE HETEROSEXUAL CHRISTIAN MALE,” as three apparent men of color dressed in ancient Roman garb gaze from below, one is Barack Obama lifting high a golden grail demanding “FINISH HIM OFF ERIC” to a menacing Eric Holder dressed in military uniform pointing a long sharp spear inches from the crucified man’s groin.

The resistance we have seen and are continually experiencing to the White Privilege Conference, 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.

Dominant Group Privilege

Among the definitions of “privilege” is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”

Peggy McIntosh’s (1988) has become universally acknowledged as the preeminent scholar and social activist investigating dominant group privilege, in particular white and male, which she asserts constitutes a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to white people and to males, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders. This system of benefits confers dominance on white people and males while subordinating people of color and females.

These systemic inequities are pervasive throughout the society. They are encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the fabric of our social institutions, resulting in a stratified social order privileging dominant groups while restricting and disempowering marginalized groups. In keeping with McIntosh’s inventory outlining the manifestations of white and male privilege, authors have developed parallel lists summarizing overarching examples and forms of dominant privilege including Christian, heterosexual, age-related, economic, physical and mental ability, and others.

With its relative invisibility, privilege has been rarely analyzed nor scrutinized, neither interrogated nor confronted. Dominance is perceived as unremarkable or “normal,” and when anyone poses a challenge, those in the dominant positions brand them as “subversive,” “extremist,” “hateful,” “reverse oppressors.”

The concept of “hegemony” describes the ways in which the dominant group, successfully disseminate dominant social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as common sense, as “normal,” as universal. Hegemony is advanced through “discourses,” which include the ideas, written expressions, theoretical foundations, and language of the dominant culture. These are implanted within networks of social and political control, described by Foucault as “regimes of truth,” which function to legitimize what can be said, who has the authority to speak and be heard, and what is authorized as true or as the truth.

The concept of oppression, then, constitutes more than the cruel and repressive actions of individuals upon others. It involves an overarching system of differentials of social power and privilege by dominant groups over minoritized groups based on ascribed social identities and reinforced by unequal social group status. And this is not merely the case in societies ruled by coercive or tyrannical leaders but, according to Iris Marion Young, occurs within the day-to-day practices of contemporary democratic societies like the United States. “Unpacking” the knapsack of privilege (whether it be white, male, Christian, heterosexual, owning class, temporarily able bodied, English as first-language speakers, and others) is to become aware and to develop critical consciousness of its existence and how it impacts the daily lives of both those with and those without this privilege.

Forms of Resistance

When raising and discussing issues of oppression and privilege, I like to refer to Dr. Sherry Watt’s “Privilege Inventory Exploration” (PIE) model to name the types of resistance that may emerge:

Denial – Rejection of the concept of dominant group privilege, for example “It’s not white privilege. I worked hard for what I have gained.”

Deflection – The notion that majority rules and that the minority cannot expect the majority to adhere to minority standards. “They can’t expect the dominant culture to change for them. If someone is going to live in America, then they need to understand that we were founded by white Europeans, that our founding fathers were white, and the majority rules.”

Rationalization – The notion that the individual did not set the conditions for the inequities that may exist in the society currently or historically. “My relatives arrived in the United States after slavery, and I had nothing to go with it.”

Intellectualization – The assertion that the individual is not prejudiced and does not discriminate. “I am opposed to hate groups. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of my heroes. Beside, my best friend is an Asian American.”

Principium – A defensive reaction arising from a personal or political belief. Though the person may feel badly that a certain social identity group may not have achieved full equality and equity within in society, this is the way it was meant to be. “As I see it, white people’s culture has created some of the greatest civilizations in the world, and other cultures can learn a lot from these white cultures.”

False Envy – Sometimes manifesting an affection for a minoritized person or group, it is an effort to deny the complexity of the social and political context. At times, it manifests itself in dominant groups claiming victimhood at the hands of minoritized groups. “Actually, white people are the victims. We should be talking about reverse racism.”

Minimalization – Reducing the effect that social identity has upon one’s life chances, and that issues of oppression based on social identity are no longer a problem. “People of color all have the same chances to succeed as white people do. It’s not about race. It’s about motivation. Besides, racism used to be a problem, but it’s no longer a problem today.”

Benevolence – Projecting an excessively sensitive attitude toward a social and political issue or group based on a position of charity. “I treat everyone with respect. I don’t see race. I am color blind.”

Look, for example, at the clear similarities between consistent charges lodged against WPC with the tenets of the 2010 law passed in Arizona, HB 2281, abolishing Mexican American studies programs in Tucson Public School and the banning of foundational books like Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The following is from the actual language of the law:

“The legislation prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:

–Promote the overthrow of the United States government.

–Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

–Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

–Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

While the legislature and governor of Arizona may have eliminated the program (which, by the way, had successfully increased graduation rates to an amazing 92% of students enrolled in the courses), this short-term “victory” on their part has only increased opposition to these racist policies and has served to unify the opposition.

[Not A] Conclusion

I have often attended WPC to learn as much as I can, and to recharge my batteries to reenergize for the work, the often difficult work, of joining with others to help bring about a more equitable and just society, one that truly fulfills the ideal of justice and equality on which our nation was built but has not yet achieved.

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 higher unemployment or lower educational outcomes, 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.

The great news is that no amount of intimidation will ever lock us away again. Minoritized people and our allies are coming together in greater numbers than ever before. We are pushing the boundaries unwilling any longer to accept the repressive status quo. In coalition with other disenfranchised groups and allies, we are refusing to buckle under and to assimilate into a corrupt and corrupting system that forces people to relinquish their integrity and their humanity. And most exciting of all is the fact that people of the younger generations are leading the way.

In the final analysis, I do believe that love will conquer the hatred, the lies, the stereotypes, the violence, and ultimately the resistance.

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

April 4th, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The False Construction of Binary Thinking and the Doublespeak of “Individualism”

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“There is a binary issue here: Collectivism versus Individualism. They are as different as black and white, right and wrong, moral and immoral.” Lee Fox, Ayn Rand and Education Facebook page, uploaded 3/30/2014

The human brain, through millennia of its evolutionally process, has developed a capacity to categorize reality into easily digestible morsels in its attempt to absorb and make sense of a complex world. We have seen the perennial theme, for example, of Good versus Evil surface throughout the human condition as far back as over 3000 years in Zoroastrianism as valued by Zarathustra, and the theme has reappeared in literary and religious discourses ever since. In some monotheistic religions, within the overarching theme of dualism, for example, the “right” side is seen as good, while the “left” is considered bad.

Though you might not think your friend, mother, classmate, or the other approximately ten present of each society are bad because they prefer their left hands, such tolerance or support has not always been the case. In fact, for centuries, left-handed people were viewed with scorn and even, at times, with fear.

People often justified this scorn with references to religious texts such as the Bibles, both the Jewish Bible and Christian Testaments, though primarily the Christian Testaments, which consider “the left” as the domain of the Devil, whereas “the right” as the domain of God. For this reason, Jesus told his followers to “not let they left hand know what they right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3). Jesus also describes God’s process for separating good from evil in the Last Judgment: “…the King [shall] say unto them on His right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world….’ Then shall He say unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels….’” (Matthew 25:32-41).

Early Christians applied these categories so strictly that they even held that the saints, while still infants, were so holy that they only suckled from the right breasts of their mothers!

The ancient Greeks and Romans also condemned left-handedness. For example, the philosopher Pythagoras argued that left-handedness was synonymous with “dissolution” and evil, and Aristotle described good as “what is on the right, above, and in front, and bad what is on the left, below, and behind.” Later, in the Middle Ages, left-handed people were sometimes accused of being witches or sorcerers.

Though I can at times view some cases as presenting clearly dualist categories of right and wrong, good and bad, in most other instances, however, I do not understand or view the world, with its multiple components and structures, in these simplistic binary terms: as two opposing poles. In most cases, I understand reality as comprising a continuum with nuance, shades, and degrees. I also do not see the beginnings and ends of the continua as representing good or bad, just and evil, but rather as representing differences.

I contend that the socially constructed binary and hierarchical view within a U.S. context represent THE connecting factors within the varying forms of oppression. The socially constructed “races” of “white” is seen as good, “people of color” as bad, and “light” as good or adroit (whose root comes from droit, in French meaning “right”) and “dark” as bad and sinister (sinister comes from Latin for “left”); “male” depicted as leader and good, “female” as subservient and bad; “heterosexual” as good, “homosexual” as bad,” and “heterosexual” perceived as love and “homosexual” as sex; “Christian” considered” good, “non-Christian” judged bad; “rich” as good and virtuous, “poor” as bad and lazy; people of, say, 18 to about 50 as good and in their “prime” versus under 18 as irresponsible and untrustworthy and elders as “over the hill” and “no longer sexual”; “able bodied” as good, “people with disabilities” as unfortunate, once also seen as punished by the Devil for past transgressions, possibly in a former life; and I could go on in this vein virtually forever.

I bring up this discussion focusing on what I believe as the false constructions of binaries because as I have engaged in discussions with a person named Lee Fox on the philosophy of “Objectivism” as articulated by its primary founder, Ayn Rand, Mr. Fox throughout our dialogue has referred to me as a “Collectivist.” I asked him how he meant the term.

“Lee. Can we get on the same page in terms of how you are defining ‘collectivism,’ since I see it as points on a continuum. You seem to be employing it as a binary: Collectivism on one pole and Individualism at the other. No society that I know of has ever fit into either pole.”

He responded with the opening quote of this commentary. Though I had never defined myself as a “Collectivist,” and I see no particular negative denotation, Mr. Fox, on the other hand, throws the terms at me as an epithet.

In this cosmology, “Individualism” equals the good, correct, righteous, rational, objective, as opposed to “Collectivism,” equaling the bad, misguided, irrational, subjective. He went on to quote Ayn Rand, who described anyone who did not view issues upon a binary frame, but who, rather perceived a continuum with its nuance, as “evil.”

“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit….”

So, let’s look at the implications, the inevitable extensions, of Rand’s alleged analysis. The following could be constructed as “evil”: people of mixed or multiple so-called “races”; intersex people; trans* people; bisexual and pansexual people; people who do not have a hand preference (“ambidextrous” literally means “having two or multiple right hands); people beholden to no religious faiths, which, by the way, includes Ayn Rand herself; people on a continuum of financial resources between “rich” and “poor”; people on the lower and upper ends of the “middle years”; people temporary “able bodied” who may have acquired a disability, and may then have gone back to being “able boded,” or not; and on and on.

Ayn Rand, who has become intellectual center for the economic/political/social philosophy of Libertarianism, constructs a bifurcated world of one-dimensional characters in her novels: the “noble and heroic” on one side and the “looters” on the other. Welfare she terms “unearned rewards,” while she argues for a system of laissey-faire Capitalism separating economics and state.

Ayn Rand bristles against the notion of collectivism, of shared sacrifice and shared rewards. Rather, she argues that individuals are not and should not be their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers; that one must only do unto oneself; that one must walk only in one’s own shoes and not attempt to know the other by metaphorically walking in another’s shoes; that personal happiness is paramount; and that one’s greatest good is what is good for oneself rather than for the greatest number of people.

In other words, Ayn Rand paints a world in which the evil and misguided takers wage war against the noble and heroic makers. We currently hear strong echoes of this within some political circles.

We have seen the severe consequence for those holding to these bifurcated views of the world, where compromise has been considered surrender, which in the real world has resulted in a freezing or even reversing of political, economic, and social advancement, where “my way or the highway” has set the stage for war and other human tragedies; where my belief system is right and your belief system is wrong, and, therefore, I have the “right” to impose my system on you and upon your country in the form of colonialism, slavery, forced religious conversion, territorial expulsion, and murder.

This so-called “libertarian,” “objectivist,” or “Individualistic” philosophy has been used to justify a code of neglect and abandonment of the most vulnerable members of our society. The “Libertarian” battle cry of “liberty” and “freedom” through “personal responsibility” sounds wonderful on the surface, but we have to ask ourselves as individuals and as a nation, what do they really mean by and what are the costs of this alleged “liberty” and “freedom”?

This brings to mind the poignant words of singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson in his lyrics to “Me and Bobby Mcgee”: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to loose.”

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

March 30th, 2014 at 10:22 pm

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Community & Security with Freedom: What Canada Geese Can Teach Us

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I look forward each spring and autumn to the heavenly performance overhead as Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) migrate in their distinctive V-shaped formations. I stand fascinated watching as these beautiful animals, with glistening black heads and necks, white patches on their faces, and brown bodies take respite from flight casually laying down or slowly walking on rolling fields, and wading in gleaming waters.

At these times, I reflect on what we humans can learn from these majestic co-inhabitants of our planet. Over millennia, these winged creatures, which reflect the near full range of human hues, have pecked out a sturdy and durable governing social structure carefully balancing what we humans continually struggle to achieve: a resilient and robust community balancing a solid sense of security while protecting the individuality, privacy, freedom, and liberty of its members.

Our shimmering feathered friends rotate as flight formation leaders. Therefore, each member, regardless of sex, has an opportunity to lead and to serve, to take responsibility and risk, and to achieve. The Canada Geese have developed a true meritocracy, unlike our species, which has developed a social hierarchy dependent on humanly constructed categories like race, gender, socioeconomic background, and other variables.

The birds’ collectivist social structure enhances their security by providing a greater ability to scare off predators, and to assist the flock in locating its migratory locations year after year. With this social safety net firmly in place, each individual has the freedom to soar from an average cruising altitude of approximately 3,000 to the heights of as much as 29,000 feet above the earth. They freely choose their mates, with whom they remain over the course of their lives. Both females and males take on care of the young. When one member of the partnership dies, they choose another. And yes, same-sex couples are welcomed members of the flock.

Their very survival is based on their interdependence, their collectivism, their communitarianism. Without this structure, the consequences could be disastrous, even species ending. If individuals were to go it alone, their choice of mates would diminish substantially, they could easily lose their way in flight, they might not find resources to sustain life, and predators could easily pick them off one by one.

Each individual’s freedom to soar depends on a sense of security and protection based on their collectivist communitarianism founded on their firm and intractable governing structure.

Genetically programmed instincts do not impact human drives and actions as highly as our neighbors, the Canada Geese. Maybe, though, we would do well to learn the lessons nature teaches. By following its models, we too can lift our species higher where the human potential can soar, where birds of our multicultural feathers not only flock, but live and thrive in peace and harmony.

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

March 28th, 2014 at 7:33 pm

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An Open Letter to Franklin Graham Regarding His View on Homosexuality

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Hey Franklin,

How’s it going? By the way, can I call you Frank?

So Frank, I read your March 2014 column in Decision Magazine, the organ of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association named in honor of your father. In your column you took President Barack Obama to task while praising Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, for its stand against homosexuality and homosexual propaganda.

“It’s obvious that President Obama and his administration are pushing the gay-lesbian agenda in America today and have sold themselves completely to that which is contrary to God’s teaching. Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue — protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda — Russia’s standard is higher than our own? In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues….[H]e has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.” (http://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/march-2014/putins-olympic-controversy/)

As you know Frank, you are referring to last June when the Russian Parliament passed and President Putin signed what has come to be known as the “Anti-Homosexual Propaganda Law” outlawing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. Among its provisions, the law forbids LGBT Pride marches, positive media depictions of same-sex relationships and public displays of same-sex affection, and discussions in the schools. It carries a fine of up to 5,000 rubles ($156) for individuals and up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for media outlets.

Frank, you think Putin is great? Well, I could direct you to other Russian leaders who would literally blow your socks off!

Going back to the early 17th century, you would get a real kick out of Czar Alexis Mikhailovich who made it routine to round up males and females accused of homosexuality and burnt them to a crisp. Hey, he needed kindling to keep the palace at a reasonable room temperature.

Czar Peter the Great (at what?) continued the crackdown by banning homosexual relations in the Russian military, and he criminalized sexual relations between males in the larger Russian society.

I’m sure, Frank, you were extremely upset to learn that following the Russian Revolution of 1917, leaders jettisoned the former anti-homosexual laws in Russia. Openly gay and lesbian people even served in Vladimir Lenin’s government. But fret not Frank, when Joseph Stalin took control, he recriminalized homosexuality with eight years imprisonment or exile to Siberia. Actually, untold numbers never returned since Uncle Joe had them killed.

Frank, if your socks have not already been blown from your toasty toes, you may be pleased to know that Russia is not the only place in the world that currently protects its youth from the evils of love and relations between people of the same sex. You might even consider moving to the country of Uganda where its righteous Parliament passed on December 20, 2013 and President Yoweri Museveni signed this February a law criminalizing homosexual relations with up to life imprisonment. You probably like this new twist: the law even doles out punishments to friends and relatives of suspected homosexuals if they fail to turn them in to authorities. As you can imagine, the Uganda “homosexual agenda” has been exiled.

But Frank, you don’t even have to go over the oceans and the seas to find supportive role models since we have so many here at home in the U. S. of A. For example, Rev. Charles L. Worley of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina, during a 2012 sermon, argued for the building of a large fence some 150 miles long to place inside “lesbians” in one section and “queers and homosexuals” in another section. “And have that fence electrified ‘til they can’t get out. Feed ‘em. And you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce.” The Sunday following Worley’s sermon going viral on YouTube, his congregation gave him a standing ovation in support for his directives. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/21/north-carolina-pastor-gay-rant-starvation_n_1533463.html)

And Rev. Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church of Fayetteville, North Carolina had the young people’s needs in mind when he loudly and vehemently lectured during his Sunday sermon (April 29, 2012) that parents must enforce strict gender role behaviors, their duty before God, on their children. “Dads,” Harris commanded, “the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and you crack that wrist. Man up! Give him a good punch.” He directed fathers to say to their sons: “Okay? You’re not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male.” He also instructed that parents should be “squashing that like a cockroach.” He warned that “the word of God makes it clear that effeminate behavior is ungodly.” (http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/05/02/474809/amendment-one-pastor-crack-your-four-year-old-sons-limp-wrist/)

And to parents directing their daughters, Harris shouted and flailed: “And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you rein her in, and you say, oh, no. oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you’re going to act like a girl, and walk like a girl, and talk like a girl, and smell like a girl, and that means you’re going to be beautiful. You’re going to be attractive. You’re going to dress yourself up!”(http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/05/02/474809/amendment-one-pastor-crack-your-four-year-old-sons-limp-wrist/)

Oh Frank, I’m sure you are grieving over the death this week of you buddy, Rev. Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. As you know, he and his followers traveled around the country protesting funerals of fallen soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual) claiming that these deaths are God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Phelps is also (in)famous for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a brutal homophobic assault.

On his website, godhatesfags.com, Phelps made a connection, here linking his own version of homophobia with anti-Jewish oppression. Phelps and company directed their protests a few summers back in my then home state of Iowa against “…the Jews…[who] arrested, falsely accused, prosecuted and then sentenced [Jesus] to death…” and because “God hates Iowa” for being “the first to begin giving $ to little [homosexual] perverts for no other reason than they brag about being little perverts.”

So as you can appreciate, Frank, you have plenty of people to admire. Don’t worry, since marriage for same-sex couples remains illegal in 33 U.S. states and most countries throughout the planet, and anti-gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender attitudes and statutes are alive and well in our country and abroad.

Oh, Frank, you have much to be thankful for.

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

March 21st, 2014 at 4:22 pm

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V8 Juice’s Poisonous Punch: Disinhibited Intimidation & Gate Keeping

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Maintaining Hegemonic Masculinity

“Did you have your balls removed or are you just retarded?” (Mark)

When I researched and penned my recent commentary for The Good Men Project giving a critical analysis of V8 juice TV commercials, and specifically the one titled “Personal Trainer” in which a white woman punches a black man squarely and firmly on the forehead (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eN88Oo2M8x8), I imagined my piece might spark some discussion. I did not, however, foresee the degree of the abusive and threatening backlash.

My analysis centered on a discussion emphasizing that while the commercial portrays a woman in a positive leadership position, its transformational potential has been decimated. We witness in this scenario, instead, a reflection and reification of the unequal and inequitable racial power dynamics emanating from the larger society. I argued, as well, that it at least subliminally, though more likely overtly, represents the racial profiling and violence perpetrated on people of color (http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/v8-juices-poisonous-punch-sxsw/).

Like Mark in his quote above, “happy infidel” challenged my gender with the comment: “…The other ‘pussywhipped politically correct’ Frankfurt School trainees are at it again.”

By so doing, the person may, indeed, feel “happy” but is no “infidel” in any sense of the word. This respondent serves, rather, as an enforcer of hegemonic masculinity, the underpinning of not only the maintenance, but more importantly, the enhancement of a patriarchal system of power and control. These respondents transformed me into the infidel, the gender trader or heretic, whom they must symbolically annihilate.

“Happy infidel’s” reference to the “Frankfurt School” refers to an interdisciplinary neo-Marxist social critical theory associated, in part, with the Institute for Social Research of Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. This school of inquiry has, indeed, I am very proud to assert, informed my thinking and has, I believe, sharpened my critical consciousness and analytical skills.

The “Online Disinhibition Effect”

The very nature of social communication technologies establish the conditions that make it possible for users to perform and act in cyberspace in ways they might not – at least I hope they would not — ordinarily act in face-to-face interactions with fewer social inhibitions. While navigating virtual words, users may forget that actual people inhabit real space on the other end (Joinson, 2003).

Social communication technologies permit people who engage in cyberabuse to hide in the anonymity of cyberspace. With anonymity, those who cyberabuse do not have to “own” their actions, and they often do not fear being punished or even identified. The technology can also shelter the user from tangible feedback about consequences of one’s actions, which can result in minimized empathy or remorse for the target of the bullying (Media Awareness Network, 2000). The user experiences reduced or filtered sensual input, often unable to see or hear the person or people on the other end: no facial expressions signaling emotional output, no ability to see or read body language and voice intonations (Suler, 2001).

Much of cybertime exists asynchronically (Turkle, 1995), that is, people often do not have to interact in real time, which can add to the disinhibition effect when one does not have to deal with the immediate reactions of others. Cyberspace also transcends distance by virtually shrinking space making geography irrelevant. This feature has advantages and disadvantages. It can bring people closer together, but for those with anti-social motives, the nature of social communication technologies can enable the user to abuse others not only next door, but also on the other side of the planet.

Gate Keepers of Social Orthodoxy

“Well, thanks to the grievance industry personified by the ever-popular, world-famous, and utterly disreputable Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and their ilk, and thanks to divide-and-rule identity politics which encourages each person to think of himself as a member of an aggrieved minority, this is the sort of thing that passes for intelligent thought.” (Brother John)

 “When the hell would a black man take direction from a white woman?” (JimmyHat)

This online disinhibition effect, however, cannot fully explain the intense reactions of some of these respondents to my commentary.

Society presents many role models, from very positive and affirming to very negative, biased, aggressive, and destructive. As people observe negative role modeling in the society, at home, in the media, at school, and other social sites, this can result in them taking on prejudicial judgments and aggressive or violent behaviors. Those who bully often fulfill the social function of establishing and reinforcing the norms stemming from their larger society and from social institutions.

Brother John simply dismisses challenges to “racial” power dynamics by discounting the credibility of two reputable civil rights leaders, and JimmyHat seemed not to take the V8 commercial seriously since it did not represent true reality (gender power dynamics). This respondent couldn’t even imagine a black man, or possibly a man of any “race,” following the lead of any woman.

Challenges to Critical Consciousness

“Go out and do something good instead of making everything about something.” (Anonymous)

 “If there’s something offensive in this commercial, it’s because you went looking for it. Other than ‘Drink your V-8,’ there’s no other message here; no politics, no pointless identity, nothing. The more skilled we become in finding these ‘subtexts,’ the less skilled we become in actual relationships and in doing things that matter.” (Brother John)

 Each year, the American Library Association publishes its list of the most banned and censored books to direct a bright beam of light on the challenges in our country to the free flow of ideas. In addition to some of the common reasons given by would-be book burners, including, for example, “sexual explicit language,” “violence,” “promotion of “homosexuality” and “the occult,” curiously “challenging authority” and “promoting critical thinking” have landed on this dubious list as well (see e.g. Jenkinson, 1985).

Essentially, books critically investigating social orthodoxy — the statue quo in terms of hierarchical racial, gender, sexual, age, religious, and other power relationships — stand most at risk for censorship. Some banned classics include The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, Beloved and Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison, Native Son, by Richard Wright, Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence, The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh, Go Tell It on the Mountain, by James Baldwin, and Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. In fact, librarians at Harvard University once held Whitman’s book of collected poetry in a locked cabinet (“closet”) to be opened only upon presentation of a sighed “permission” letter of a university professor by a student requesting the book.

So I ask, what kinds of messages are we sending as we as a society promote and validate people punching one another in the head to get them to eat (or drink) vegetables, characters like the Priceline “negotiator” strong-arming a hotel manager to lower room rates, famous x-football players telling men how to “guard your manhood” if they “leak a little” — as if our so-called “manhood” depended on our bodily fluids not staining our trousers — restaurant chains like Hooters (as well as Girlie Pancake House whose motto is “They’re Better Stacked”) serving up manifestly large breasts with their entrées, and general ads codifying rigid socially constructed gender roles where girls and women clean and cook and boys and men engage in dangerous activities, work outside the home, and “protect” the womenfolk?

Media both reflect as well as promote social norms while simultaneously creating needs where no real need exists without a public relations ad firm intervening. Do we really need to spray our rugs and furniture with fabric freshener? Do we really need to be given 50 different options of dishwashing liquid or laundry soap? And do we really need to hear from the General Motors Corporation that it is far more important to drive a Cadillac than to relax and smell the roses?

“Why do we work so hard? For what? For this (showing a large swimming pool in the back yard)? For stuff? Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the cafe, they take August off. Off! Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that? Because we’re crazy, driven, hard-working believers, that’s why.”

Actually, living life to the fullest and smelling the roses, and the coffee, suits me fine. I certainly don’t need nor do I want a pricy “luxury” automobile. And I prefer to critically examine my social environment, for to paraphrase the old truism, “If we don’t stand for (critically investigate) something, we will fall for anything.”

References

Jenkinson, E. B. (1985). Protecting Holden Caulfield and his friends from the censors. English Journal, 74(1), 26-33.

Joinson, A. N. (2003). Understanding psychology of internet behavior: Virtual worlds, real lives. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Media Awareness Network. (2000). Young Canadians in a wired world: Parents and youth focus groups in Toronto and Montreal. Environics Research Group.

Suler, J. (2001). Psychology of cyberspace—The online disinhibition effect. http://www.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/disinhibit.html.

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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

March 16th, 2014 at 12:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Who Is Ayn Rand Paul Ryan?

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My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
Ayn Rand, Appendix to Atlas Shrugged

Like the perennial question, “Who is John Galt,” reflective of the heroic character of Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, which people of all walks of life asked, similarly we may ask “Who is Ayn Rand Paul Ryan?” While actually three separate individuals, Ayn Rand, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan promote and advance the philosophy of “objectivism” (or rational individualism in which proponents assert there are objective standards of truth) articulated by Any Rand in her novels and non-fiction works.

Ayn Rand, who has become intellectual center for the economic/political/social philosophy of Libertarianism, constructs a bifurcated world of one-dimensional characters in her novels. On one side, she presents the noble, rational, intelligent, creative, inventive, self-reliant heroes of industry, music and the arts, science, commerce, and banking who wage a noble battle for dignity, integrity, personal, and economic freedom, and for the profits of their labors within an unregulated “free market” Capitalist system.

On the other side, she portrays the “looters” represented by the followers, the led, the irrational, unintelligent, misguided, misinformed, the corrupt government bureaucrats who regulate and manipulate the economy to justify nationalizing the means of economic production, who confiscate personal property, who dole out welfare to the unentitled, the lazy, and in so doing, destroy personal incentive and motivation resulting in dependency. Welfare Ayn Rand terms “unearned rewards,” while she argues for a system of laissey-faire Capitalism separating economics and state.

Ayn Rand bristles against the notion of collectivism, of shared sacrifice and shared rewards. Rather, she argues that individuals are not and should not be their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers; that one must only do unto oneself; that one must walk only in one’s own shoes and not attempt to know the other by metaphorically walking in another’s shoes; that personal happiness is paramount; and that one’s greatest good is what is good for oneself rather than for the greatest number of people.

In other words, Ayn Rand paints a world in which the evil and misguided takers wage war against the noble and heroic makers.

The Apostles

So, how are Rand Paul and Paul Ryan constructed in Ayn Rand’s world? I ask this since both of these characters in the Libertarian project base much their political and economic philosophies on objectivism as illustrated by their muse and inspiration, Ayn Rand.

Kentucky Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul said recently that extending unemployment benefits past what the U.S. federal government has already paid would be a “disservice” to workers.

“I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers,” he said, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” December 8, 2013. “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really – while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you’re trying to help.” (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/08/rand-paul-extending-jobless-benefits-a-disservice-to-workers/)

On a YouTube video, Rand Paul told his followers: “I am a big fan of Ayn Rand, and I’ve read all of her novels….I cut my teeth on Ayn Rand in high school….I read a lot of the different free market Austrian economists who were sort of fellow travelers of Ayn Rand.” Refuting rumors that his parents named him after Ayn Rand, he stated that his given name is Randal, but after he married, his wife shortened it to “Rand.” He continued, “I was not named after Ayn Rand, though I have a lot of respect for her.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD-R_OeP6tU)

Current House of Representatives Budget Committee Chair and former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) seemed to blame men “in the inner city” on their “real culture problem” for their higher rates of unemployment during his appearance March 12, 2014 on William Bennett’s “Morning in America” program: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Though he claimed the next day that he might have been inarticulate in his wording after controversy swirled, while speaking on Bennett’s radio program, Paul Ryan continued: “Your buddy Charles Murray or Bob Putnam over at Harvard, those guys have written books on this.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center terms Charles Murray, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, as a white nationalist who uses “racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by genetic inferiority” (http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/profiles/Charles-Murray).  Murray asserted that “when we know the complete genetic story, it will turn out that the population below the poverty line in the United States has a configuration of the relevant genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line. This is not unimaginable. It is almost certainly true.” (Deeper into the Brain, National Review, 2000; (http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/profiles/Charles-Murray).

Paul Ryan spoke in 2011 at The American Spectator’s Robert L. Bartley Gala Dinner in which he referenced to the “30 percent” who desire the welfare state to take care of them, and he continued that, “Before too long we could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers, not makers.” (http://www.politicalruminations.com/2012/10/morning-quote-paul-ryan-calls-30-percent-of-americans-takers.html)

Paul Ryan claimed that he read Ayn Rand growing up, and “it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are,” he told members of the Atlas Society, an organization devoted to Ayn Rand in a 2005 speech. (http://www.atlassociety.org/ele/blog/2012/04/30/paul-ryan-and-ayn-rands-ideas-hot-seat-again) “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he went on to say. “And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” (http://www.atlassociety.org/ele/blog/2012/04/30/paul-ryan-and-ayn-rands-ideas-hot-seat-again)

Paul Ryan, though, rejects outright Ayn Rand’s atheism.

The Doublespeak of “Liberty” & “Freedom”

The so-called “Libertarian” battle cry of “liberty” and “freedom” through “personal responsibility” sounds wonderful on the surface, but we have to ask ourselves as individuals and as a nation, what do they really mean by and what are the costs of this alleged “liberty” and “freedom”?

We must, first, cut through the coded xenophobic, racialized, and classist language, for often when politicians use the words “poor,” “welfare,” “inner city,” “food stamps,” “entitlements,” “bad neighborhoods,” “foreign,” they tap into many White people’s anxieties and past racist teachings of people of color. Though white people comprise the largest percentage of current food stamp recipients, 34 percent, the common perception and societal stereotype depicts Black people and Latino/as as abusing the system. In addition, the buzz words, “personal responsibility” now have become the catch phrase to justify cutting benefits from people with disabilities, older people, and those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.

Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and yes, Ayn Rand would rather blame poverty within our communities and low achievement in our schools on the “cultures” of those suffering from the social inequities. This “cultural deficit model” detracts and undermines us from interrogating and truly addressing the enormous structural inequities pervasive throughout our society, which these “Libertarians” would have us multiply if we were to follow their lead.

So-called “social issues” become wedge issues to attract people to a particular candidate. In the final analysis, though, when middle and working class people vote for these candidates, they essentially vote against their own economic self-interests.

Most government workers, in reality, are not the one-dimensional, corrupt, self-serving, hypocrites (advocates for “the people” while actually being ruthless manipulators), and “looters” of industry, art, and enterprise as Ayn Rand Paul Ryan would have us believe. In addition, so-called “laizzez-faire” (free, uninhibited, unencumbered, and unregulated) Capitalism is not the bromide for a prosperous economy, and freedom and liberty for the individual as Ayn Rand Paul Ryan argues.

Ragnar Danneskjöld, Ayn Rand’s so-called moral crusading pirate and symbol for “justice” in Atlas Shrugged, quite tellingly expresses Ayn Rand’s true purpose when she puts these words in the pirate’s mouth: “I’ve chosen a special mission of my own. I’m after a man whom I want to destroy. He died many centuries ago, but until the last trace of him is wiped out of men’s minds, we will not have a decent world to live in.”

Hank Rearden, one of Ayn Rand’s “righteous” industrialists asks: “What man.”

Danneskjöld replies: “Robin Hood….He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I’m the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich – or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich.” (2.7.2.93-97; http://www.shmoop.com/atlas-shrugged/ragnar-danneskjold.html)

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

March 13th, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized