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Ebolaphobia Going Viral

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If we feel afraid, it isn’t what we don’t know that frightens us, it’s what we think we do know.”

Allan G. Johnson in Power, Privilege, and Difference

Two brothers, Pape, 13-year-old eight-grader, and Amidou, 11-year-old sixth-grader, reported being attacked and bashed by a mob of their classmates on the playground of their Bronx, New York Intermediate School 318. Pape and Amidou, who were born in the United States, lived in Senegal in West Africa for a time to learn French. They moved back to the U.S. one month age to rejoin their father, Ousmane Drame, a Senegalese American.

Throughout the violent attack, classmates taunted the brothers with chants of “You’re Ebola!” The boys were rushed to a local hospital with severe injuries. During a press conference at the Senegalese American Association in Harlem and flanked by community leaders, the boys’ father, a 62-year-old cab driver, reported that “They go to gym, and [taunters] say, ‘You don’t touch the ball, you have Ebola, if you touch it we will all get Ebola.’” The elder Drame claimed that the school did nothing to prevent or to intervene in the attack, and did not even write an incident report.

Though one case of Ebola was reported earlier in Senegal, this month the World Health Organization declared Senegal free of Ebola virus transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, a Senegalese mother announced that her 9-year-old daughter was bullied at her Harlem school, and when she came home, her daughter asked, “Mommy, do I have Ebola?”

The vast majority of people with Ebola are limited to the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. A person may contract the virus from one who is infected only if that person displays symptoms (including heightened fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, rash, and red eyes – which indicate a number of other diseases as well) and comes into contact with the infected person’s bodily fluids. Ebola is not an airborne infectious disease, like the common cold or the flu, and cannot be transmitted through casual contact.

Kaci Hickok, a nurse who treated people with Ebola in West Africa, and who shows no signs of the illness, is threatening legal action against Maine state officials who have requested she undergo a 21-day quarantine confinement in her home. She and her legal team assert that her treatment raises “serious constitutional and civil liberties issues,” and makes no sense medically or scientifically. Hickok declared that she “will not sit around and be bullied by politicians.”

Though the New York school students and Kari Hickok do not carry the Ebola virus, a virus of fear and suspicion seems to have infected not only these schools, but, rather, reflect the spreading epidemic of fear rapidly transmitting across the nation.

For example, President Barack Obama pushed back against New York Governor Mario Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s mandatory quarantine of health care workers returning from Africa. “American in the end,” said Obama, “is not defined by fear.”

Obama might be correct in his assessment that the U.S. “in the end” “…is not defined by fear,” but on its way to that “end,” the process of nations coming to terms with disease is often circuitous and awash with dread, loathing, prejudice, scapegoating, blame, stereotyping, and discrimination. For example, Jews were once erroneously blamed for causing and spreading the plague, syphilis, and trachoma; Asians for infesting others with hookworm; Mexicans with infecting people with lice and Dengue fever.

Our path toward understanding Ebola mirrors, in numerous ways, our coming to know HIV/AIDS a mere generation or so ago.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) undertook the first comprehensive national survey in 1990 addressing the issue of prejudice against people with HIV/AIDS and their health care providers. According to the report, “Epidemic of Fear”: “This study shows how extraordinarily persistent discrimination remains in this country, even after science has provided there is no risk of casual transmission.”

In California alone, within thirty months of HIV coming to light in the U.S., legislators introduced three statewide ballot initiatives that, if passed, would have effectively imposed quarantine on people with HIV/AIDS.

Ronald Reagan, under whose presidency the AIDS pandemic was detected and spread, had not formally raised the issue until April 1, 1987 in a speech to a group of physicians in Philadelphia — a full seven years after the onset of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Before this, however, when it was seen as a disease of primarily gay and bisexual men, Pat Buchanan, “serving” as Reagan’s Chief of Communications between 1985-1987, was quite outspoken, referring to AIDS as nature’s “awful retribution,” and saying it did not deserve a thorough and compassionate response.

Writing in his syndicated column in 1986, Buchanan wrote: “The poor homosexuals — they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution (AIDS).”

In his response to HIV in 1987, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms proposed that “Somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to quarantine people with AIDS,” and for over 20 years, he consistently opposed expanded federal support and funding to AIDS research. In 1987, Helms spearheaded an amendment in the US Senate, prohibiting federal funding for AIDS educational materials that “promote or encourage…homosexual sexual activity.”

Under Helms’s sponsorship, Congress passed an amendment in 1989 to restrict all National Endowment for the Arts funding of any art deemed “homoerotic” or “religiously offensive.” In 1990, he referred to gay and lesbian people as “weak, morally sick wretches,” and has accused them of “engaging in incredibly offensive and revolting conduct.” He warned against “homosexuals, lesbians, disgusting people marching in the streets, demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other.”

In her book, Sex and Germs: The Politics of AIDS, Cindy Patton argues: “The belief in dirty individuals who leave germs in their wake creates a terror that anyone a little different harbors disease, and has the power to invade the human body. Honest concern about real illness blurs with the need to separate from people feared for racist, sexist, or homophobic reasons.”

Patton asserted that by deploying the label “disease,” society, through it leaders, justifies “genocide, ghettorization, and quarantine.”

Though no one can reasonably argue that infectious diseases pose no concern or risk of spreading, I argue, though, that as a nation, we must investigate the rational science of transmission and avoid acting on fear, baseless speculation, and apparent political expediency. What we need, instead, is a consistent and unified policy and messaging coming from leaders in medical science and in government.

Though we may pass laws designed to ensure people’s civil and human rights, conduct educational and diversity training sessions, and though times may have changed somewhat for the better, as the proverb attributed to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

I hope in the case of Ebola, we can prove Karr wrong.

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

October 29th, 2014 at 7:52 pm

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The Conversion of a Queer-Basher

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Dedicated to the memory of Charles O. Howard, 1961-1984

There are pivotal events in everyone’s life that forever separate before from after. For Jim Baines of Bangor, Maine, a pivotal event took place one July evening in 1984, when he and two friends attacked two gay men, killing one. The three assailants were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to a youth detention center.

Ten year later, at age 25, Baines turned his life around by attempting to repay society for his crime. On occasion, he took voluntary unpaid leave from his sales job at an electrical supply company in Bangor, and traveled to schools with state police officers to talk to students about hate crimes.

I caught up with Baines at Biddeford Middle School in Biddeford, Maine where he gave a presentation to an eight-grade assembly. The day was sparkling, with a hint of summer in the air. Over 100 students noisily entered a large music room with instruments and music stands scattered around. A teacher called the group to order saying, “I’d like to introduce two special guests – Detective Sargent Mike Harriman of the Maine State Police and his guest, Jim Baines. They’re here to speak about some issues I think are relevant to us all – respect for each other, consideration, and tolerance.”

Sargent Harriman began the presentation by defining “hate crime” as “a criminal offense motivated by bias against another person’s race, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.” He cited a couple of recent examples of crimes involving race at area high schools, and then showed two short videos – “Arresting Prejudice,” a police training film, and “Crimes of Hate,” a series by a local television station detailing Jim Baines’s story.

Baines, about five feet, nine inches tall with sandy hair then walked tentatively to the front of the room. The students were quiet and attentive as he spoke.

“The story I’m about to tell is true, very true,” he said nervously. “It’s about one night that changed my life drastically.”

For most of that July day in 1984, Baines, then 15 year old, had been drinking beer with two friends, Daniel Ness, 17, and Shawn Mabry, 16. That night, they took the car of one of the boys’ parents and drove around Bangor from party to party.

“As the night went on,” he said, “we ran out of beer. And it was during our quest for more beer that our problems began.” They left a party at about 10:00 pm. along with two young women, ages 15 and 17, one of whom had a fake I.D.

Downtown, they drove across a bridge over a small stream and spotted two men walking arm in arm who the teens recognized as local gay men. The two, Charlie Howard, 23, and Roy Ogden, 20, had just left a meeting of Interweave, a support group for LGBT people sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist of Bangor.

The boys stopped the car, got out, and according to Baines, “began to push them around and really started to assault them,” demanding that they acknowledge their homosexuality. One of the gay men yelled to the other to run. Ogden got away; Howard, however, tripped on a curb, falling to the ground near the railing of the bridge. The three teens surrounded him, punching and kicking as he held onto the railing and screamed for help. One of the teens then gave the order to throw Howard from the bridge. When Howard heard this, he cried out in panic, saying he could not swim. His plea only enlivened the boys, who dislodged Howard’s hands from the railing and, with a mighty heave, tossed him into the stream some 20 feet below.

The boys then ran back to their car. “We were feeling good, excited,” Baines told the students. “We thought it was a good accomplishment at the time, and we yelled and screamed as we drove off.” Afterwards, they even bragged to a friend that they had “jumped a fag and beat the shit out of him, and then threw him into the stream.” The young women in the car, on the other hand, were quite upset and warned the boys that the man could have drowned.

At home later that evening, Baines had a hard time falling asleep. The next morning, the other boys woke him up and told him Howard had died.

Baines felt as if he had been plunged into a nightmare: “I couldn’t believe it. I kept saying, ‘No way.’” Soon, local police officers arrested him, Ness, and Mabry and charged them with murder. According to a report from the medical examiner, the cause of death was drowning, with acute bronchial asthma as a probable contributing factor.

Baines knew his life would never be the same again. “I remember sitting in the detective’s office,” he told the students, “my head in my hands, crying and just hoping the walls would swallow me up. How could I face my mother, knowing I did something so terrible? Then my mother walked in. We embraced. We both began to cry.”

The following Monday night, the Reverend Richard Forcier and congregation president Lois Reed led a memorial service at the Unitarian Universalist sanctuary in Bangor. The over 200 attendees celebrated Charlie Howard’s life, and voiced outrage over his vicious murder. They then marched over the bridge where Charlie had been murdered, and in keeping with Charlie’s mother’s wishes, dropped a white rose tied with a lavender ribbon into the stream below. The procession terminated in a candlelight vigil at the Bangor police station. All along the line of the march, amid the marchers’ grief and rage, hecklers shouted homophobic epithets. A few weeks after the murder, the words “Fags Jump Here” were painted on the bridge.

Four days after Howard’s death, the Reverend Richard Hasty led another memorial service at the First Parish Society, Unitarian Universalist, in Portland, Maine, followed by a protest march down Congress Street. Onlookers there also heckled marchers from the sidelines.

Few in the community were willing to condemn such bigotry. Forcier, in an attempt to bring Bangor together, sent a letter to the leaders of area religious congregations to join him in discussing Howard’s murder and speaking out against intolerance. The response was deadening silence, save for the angry replies of a few fundamentalist ministers. A few months later, a local school board unanimously voted to cancel a proposed “Tolerance Day,” claiming the appearance on a scheduled panel of the president of the Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance would have threatened the “safety, order, and security of the high school.”

Lois Reed, a member of the Unitarian Universalist in Bangor for 21 years and congregation president from 1984 to 1987 has led an annual service on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of Howard’s death. Charlie Howard was Reed’s friend. She remembers him as “a good person, though he could be absolutely infuriating at times. He was very frail in appearance and was targeted because he was seen as vulnerable.”

After their arraignment, Howard’s killers were released into their parents’ custody. According to a Boston Globe article, Thomas Goodwin, the assistant attorney general chosen to prosecute the case, said he had recommended their release because they were “not a threat to the community,” and had not intended to kill Howard. Sargent Thomas Placella, the chief detective on the case, in published accounts at the time of the murder, echoed this reasoning saying, “I’m not trying to lessen the severity of the crimes, but it’s not like these were axe murderers. These people came from respectable families who own property in the city off Bangor.”

Three months later, Mabry, Ness, and Baines were convicted of manslaughter and given indeterminate sentences at the Maine Youth Center in South Portland. During Baines’s two years there, he continued his studies, and following release, he returned to high school and graduated with his class.

Charlie Howard’s murder is remarkable only by virtue of it being unremarkable. Queer-bashing, of course, is not limited to Maine, a state that boasted the lowest murder rate in the US at the time of Howard’s vicious attack. The year of Howard’s killing, 90 percent of the 2000 contacted for a survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (a civil right group based in Washington, DC) reported having been victimized because of their sexual identity. More than one in ten had been threatened with violence. Victimization occurred at home, at school, and at other community sites. Forty-five percent of the males and 25 percent of the females had been harassed or attacked in high school or junior high school because they were perceived as lesbian or gay. About one-third of the respondents had been assaulted verbally, while more than one in fifteen had been physically abused by family members. Three years later, a US Department of Justice report concluded, “Homosexuals are probably the most frequent victims” of hate violence.

Like his crime, Baines himself was unremarkable. He told students at Biddeford Middle School, “I was not unlike any of you here. I was a grade-conscious, wanting to be popular, 15-year-old high school kid. I played football, basketball; I hung out with my friends on weekends. My grades were okay, and I was really looking forward to going to college.” Ness and Mabry were also “typical” middle-class teens, Ness a promising art student, and Mabry a karate enthusiast and star of the city hockey league.

Why would three young men who seemed to have so much going for them feel compelled to commit a crime of hate?

“As I look back now,” said Baines, “I don’t think I was ever homophobic.” His primary motivation, he said, was the desire for popularity. Even as he was beating Howard, he had thought, “My friends will look up to me for this, and I’ll be able to talk about it in school for a couple of years.

“In high school,” he continued, “no matter how popular you are, you worry about being popular.”

He went on to explain why he and his friends had targeted gays: “We thought these people were much different than us and that we would get away with it because it was accepted. I considered that person different than I, less than I….Just like in school, you have your bullies that pick on the little kids; it’s the same idea.”

A female student raised her hand and said, “When we think of gays, we think of a limp wrist, weird voice, and slurred speech and stuff, and we don’t realize that some people we hang around with every day could be homosexuals.”

Another female student added, “I think a lot of people hate blacks or women or gays or whatever just because they’re not a white male.”

A male student asked Baines, “Do you think education in the schools about gay people would have changed your view?”

Baines pondered the question briefly and answered, “I look back and think, ‘If I would have been more educated about homosexuality, I would have been aware that it is there, and it’s something that shouldn’t be treated violently.’ I guess, if there was more education in that area, it would’ve probably made me think differently about the whole night.”

In fact, Baines had gotten the opposite kind of education. “I did know that [homosexuality] was something my family looked at as unacceptable,” he remembered, “my family as well as the police.”

Given the lack of appropriate education, it’s not surprising that, as Baines said, “gay-bashing was happening every day. And it was more than just five or six kids doing it.” In fact, it was considered an after-school extracurricular activity. Baines confided that local youth often stole from LGBT people, threw rocks at their cars, and once even pulled a gay man from his car and sent it crashing down a hill.

“The parents knew,” he said. “I believe teachers even knew. But nobody thought it would turn into something so serious.” To Baines’s surprise, even during his trial, a man approached him wanting to shake his hand to commend him for his act.

Baines credits his change in attitude about LGBT people to a number of factors, including the therapy he received in the youth detention center. “They helped us identify our bad thoughts to monitor our thinking process,” he explained. “They made us look at the pain we caused and walk in our victims’ shoes.” In addition, since his release, he has made friends with LGBT people.

Asked if Ness and Mabry had undergone similar changes of heart, Baines said he has lost touch with them. But about seven years ago, Lois Reed was at the UU of Bangor when a young man called, asking for the location of Charlie Howard’s grave. “At first, he didn’t identify himself,” said Reed. “We talked for about two hours, and he finally told me he was Shawn Mabry. I told him I knew, and asked why he wanted to know about the grave site, and I said that there are people who would think he was trying to get the information so he could desecrate it. But he said he wouldn’t, that he was just curious. He never apologized to me for what he did, but asked me how I felt about the three of them. I said I wish them well and hope they will go on to lead productive and decent lives. I also said I hope they truly understand what they have done.”

During Baines’s presentation at Biddeford Middle School, a male student asked if he had apologized to Howard’s family. For Baines, this remained an unfinished chapter in the story. Sargent Harriman explained that soon after the murder, people in the community had made threatening phone calls to Howard’s mother and had thrown eggs at her house, and she had since moved from the area. “I’ve made attempts to contact with her,” said Baines, “but with no success.”

He expressed remorse for his actions saying, “If I live to be 90, I will never forget what happened that night. I like to fish and golf and go camping and stuff like that. But I still never forget what I was involved in, and that my victim will never be able to enjoy those types of things.

Says Lois Reed, “Shock carried me through those days years ago. I remember closing my eyes, thinking, ‘How could these young people have learned so much hatred in such a short time?” In an emotion-choked voice, she continued, “I’m crying even after all these years. It’s still a very painful subject for me.” After a long moment, she added, “I believe that today, he is not the same Jim Baines who killed my friend; but I still loathe the Jim Baines who killed my friend.”

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

 

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 26th, 2014 at 12:29 pm

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The Soul of a Young Artist

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To observe
To perceive
To interpret
Focusing on detail
Magnifying elements
Illuminating connections to the whole
 
Entities others rarely shine light upon
Savoring time and space
Smelling the roses
Documenting
Presenting in unique and special modes and manners
 
The gifts of the artist
Given to the artist
Given to us from the artist
 
A prodigy of thirteen years
Sensing, understanding, knowing the beauty of the universe
In all its sounds, textures, fragrances, shapes, colors, movements
 
A small patch of orange blossoms by the edge of sidewalk
Trees after a brief shower
A leaf
Section of a leaf
Sunlight refracting beads of rain
Highlighting miracles of color, light, shadow
Angles, curves, folds, spaces between
Nuance to brilliance
 
Sunset through tall pines over Mediterranean seascapes
Yellows, Oranges, Reds, Magentas
Like flaming hills on a New England October day
Nature’s grace, elegance, and mystery
Grasped through the artist’s looking glass
 
I remember years before
A rabbi
His father, my cousin
In a sermon before the congregation
Speculating on the soul of the artist
Opposing common idea of heightened senses
 
Rather, opined image of sensory filter malfunction
Flooding perception like a torrent, like a burst dam
Penetrating, permeating, percolating through the senses
 
Filling the artist
With insight and imagination
Revelation and prophecy
Desire and passion
And yes, with obsession
Compulsion
 
To express, to narrate, to convey
To purge and cleanse from an inner core
And achieve stasis
Until the torrent washes over once again
 
The young artist of thirteen years
Any artist
Thrives in rich nurturing soil
And though not always understood by all
 
I give gratitude to the artist
Bringing us closer to Tikkun Olam
Having capacity
To transform, to heal, and to repair our world
In becoming a more just, peaceful, and perfect place.

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

October 24th, 2014 at 7:37 pm

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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

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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

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Posted in Uncategorized