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Racism Reproduced in Social Institutions Like Police Departments

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A 28-year-old man identified as Ismaaiyl Brinsley apparently shot two uniformed New York City Police Department officers, Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, execution-style as they sat in their marked patrol car in Brooklyn. Investigators believe the gunman’s motive for the slayings was to avenge the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown – two black men killed by police officers earlier in the year. Police also suspect Brinsley of shooting his ex-girlfriend in the abdomen previously that day at her residence in Baltimore.

According to NYPD Police Commissioner, William Bratton, the gunman shot the officers with “[n]o warning, no provocation — they were quite simply assassinated, targeted for their uniform.”

Only minutes after murdering the officers, Brinsley turned his gun on himself and died on a subway platform as police began surrounding him.

While allegations of racism against individual officers and entire departments have certainly gained traction across the nation with the high-profile killings of black men and boys recently, no one can condone the random murder of police officers as a solution to this long-standing problem.

In fact, speaking for the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton was emphatic in his condemnation of the events in Brooklyn: “I have spoken to the Garner family and we are outraged by the early reports of the police killed in Brooklyn today. Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases.”

I contend that allegations of racism in the hiring practices, policies, and attitudes in police departments represent in microcosm much larger forces evident in our country. We must not and cannot dismiss police killings of black men and boys as simply the actions of a few individuals or “bad cops,” for oppression exists on multiple levels in multiple forms. These officers live in a society that subtly and not-so-subtly promotes intolerance, imposes stigma, and perpetuates violence. These incidents must be seen as symptoms of larger systemic national problems.

The concept of “Social Reproduction Theory” asserts that schools and other social institutions reproduce social inequities, especially in terms of socioeconomic class and race, which exist in the larger society. When we challenge racism only within any institution like law enforcement organizations, we are missing the point if we do not address the roots, the origins of racism (and all other forms of oppression).

Researchers Charles and Massey interviewed 3,924 undergraduate students at 28 selective colleges and universities on their perceptions of various racial and ethnic groups – 959 Asian-Americans, 998 whites, 1,051 African-Americans, and 916 Latino/a students. Results indicated that “black people are rated most negatively on traits that are consistent with American racial ideology. White, Latino, and Asian students are all likely to perceive blacks as violence-prone and poor. They also rate black people more negatively than themselves in traits like lazy, unintelligent, and preferring welfare dependence.”

These students represent the very types of people who eventually enter police training academies and take their place patrolling the streets. These are the very types of people who eventually enter the classroom and teach our children. These are the very types of people who eventually enter politics. These are our future and current leaders.

So, where did they (we) learn these attitudes that they (we) are reproducing? They most certainly did not invent or create these negative belief systems. Rather, we all are born into a society that teaches us these biases. 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.

Other researchers, Artiles, Harry, Reschly, and Chinn, contend that “bias is more than the personal decisions and acts of individuals. Rather, bias against minorities should also be thought of in terms of historical residua that are layered in social structures and that may lead to various forms of institutional discrimination.”

By our challenging social institutions, we are taking a necessary step in reducing and one day eliminating cultural bias to ensure that these institutions work for everyone regardless of race and other social identities. But this is surely not enough.

All individual police officers do not necessarily exemplify the problem, though some officers perpetuate the oppression. Law enforcement as an institution does not necessarily represent the problem, though many agencies perpetuate the oppression.

Rather, racism stands as the problem: the systematic and hierarchical ideology of white superiority and white privilege. We much look into the mirror at ourselves as well. Especially for us white people, we much come to consciousness of our social conditioning and the ways we have internalized notions of “race.”

I believe we are all born into an environment polluted by racism (one among many forms of oppression), which falls upon us like acid rain. For some people, spirits are tarnished to the core, others are marred on the surface, and no one is completely protected. Therefore, we all have a responsibility, indeed an opportunity, to join together as allies to construct protective shelters from the corrosive effects of oppression while working to clean up the racist environment in which we live as well as addressing the racism we have internalized. Once sufficient steps are taken to reduce this pollution, we will all breathe a lot easier.

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

December 21st, 2014 at 5:44 pm

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Contesting “Political Correctness”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my teaching, I require students to justify and backup all of their thoughts and “opinions.” Opinions without justification are just that—opinions. Stephen Brookfield discusses three inter-related phases in the process of critical thinking: discovering the assumptions that guide our decisions, actions, and choices (What do I think and why do I think of it the way I do?); checking the accuracy of these assumptions by exploring as many different perspectives, viewpoints, and sources as possible (Talking with others, taking courses, reading, researching, etc.); and taking informed decisions based on these researched assumptions (Informed decisions are based on evidence we can trust, can be explained to others, and have a good chance of achieving the effects we want).

Those who automatically throw “political correctness” into the debate, however, often do so because they lack the facts, the specificities, or the nuances of any given topic under discussion. I proudly embrace the acronym “PC,” and I hope that I practice the skill of treating all people with Proper Courtesy. Other than that, I realize that when people use the terms “political correctness” or “politically correct” in their arguments, they have lost the debate because they do not have the facts. Therefore, no person can intimidate me when they toss these epithets in my face.

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

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

December 9th, 2014 at 10:30 pm

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“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” and “I Can’t Breathe!”

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A grand jury in St. Louis county Missouri, on November 24, 2014, failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed black man, Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014.

Now a grand jury has decided not to indict Statin Island police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the July 17, 2014 chockhold death of Eric Garner, a black man who was selling loose cigarettes in violation of New York law.

After my initial outrage and disgust after hearing both these decisions, I am left with so many unanswered questions that I don’t know where to begin, but begin I will.

Darren Wilson Case

There is sufficient reason to doubt Darren Wilson’s assertion that he was in fear for his life in the presence of Michael Brown, Jr., but for the sake of argument, if Wilson was, in fact, in fear for his life, tell us why he felt compelled to aim approximately 20 bullets at Michael Brown, Jr. hitting him six times with two to the head? Why didn’t he aim to slow Brown down, to injure him rather than to kill?

Why did Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis Country prosecutor not recuse himself from the case due to a conflict of interest since his own father, a police officer, was killed by a black man?

Why was the grand jury composed of only three black people compared with nine white people? Yes, I understand that demographically, white people comprise approximately 70% of St. Louis country, and they represent Darren Wilson’s peers, but what about a grand jury composed more equally of Michael Brown, Jr.’s peers? Did his rights to a “jury of his peers” terminate with his killing?

Why does Ferguson, Missouri have a police force that includes only three black officers and the overwhelming majority composed of white officers in a town of 70% black residents?

Why did McCulloch decide to announce the grand jury decision not to indict at 8:00 p.m. after dark? What was his intent? And why did the city of Ferguson concentrate police officers and the National Guard primarily downtown rather than also in the neighborhoods to protect black-owned business from vandalism and destruction?

When a young man is killed over box of smokes, where a smoke screen seems to cover the many still unanswered questions, when a grand jury acquitted an officers on charges in secret proceedings, how can healing begin when the heart is ripped from a community? And how can justice be served when so many questions linger?

Daniel Pantaleo Case

In our nation, as we see the decriminalization of marijuana in state after state, as the federal government has increasingly lowered the penalties for accumulating small amounts of pot, why does New York State maintain a law criminalizing the sale of loose cigarettes? Didn’t Eric Garner and others who do so simply conform to a basic tenet of Capitalism by selling legal merchandise at a profit? Take for example the restaurant industry, which buys large quantities of food stuffs, and sells smaller amounts at a profit. Should we pass laws against the food industry as well?

Why did it take a gaggle of officers to confront Eric Garner for simply selling cigarettes? Don’t Staten Island officers have more important work to perform? Was Garner’s so-called “crime” so serious that the force needed to divert such a large segment of its human resources to confront Garner?

How many more times in addition to 11 would it have taken Eric Garner to utter that he couldn’t breathe for Pantaleo to ease his grip on Garner’s neck and chest?

With all the increased calls for police officers to wear body cams while on duty to record their interactions with the public, will juries actually consider what they see on video screens in court rooms? This grand jury had the change to witness the actually events in the Pantaleo case, which was clearly recorded by an eye witness, and still, it refused to indict?

Pantaleo argued in front of the grand jury that he “had not intended” to kill Eric Garner. When will we as a nation understand that the burden of proof in many court cases must rest on the impact of an action and not merely on the intent of the person committing the action?

Since prosecutors work closely with police departments, and they depend on police evidence for details in the vast majority of their cases, does it really make sense for prosecutors to lead efforts in investigating the very officers with whom they count on in their work? Is this system itself not a conflict of interest?

Tiered (Teared) System of Justice

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

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

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

This relative inability of white people to see through the veil was reflected in a Pew Research Study of 1000 people conducted between August 14-17, 2014. It found profound racial divisions between African American and white people on attitudes surrounding the police killing of Michael Brown Jr.

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

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

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

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

December 4th, 2014 at 3:57 pm

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Santa Claus as Stalker and Spy

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Parents and guardians throughout at least the Western world, shut off your Nanny cams, delete your keystroke computer spywares, stop threatening to cut off yummy desserts and imposing time outs and earlier bed times, for ‘tis the season for Santa Clause (a.k.a. Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Saint Nicholas, Old Saint Nick, and simply Santa) to enforce discipline upon hitherto allegedly unruly and naughty youth! — far before George Orwell conceived the world of “Big Brother.”

Yes, Santa Clause: that portly (too many cookies and brownies eaten along his travels) white-bearded figure who lives at the North Pole with Ms (though I think she prefers “Mrs.”) Clause – even though I’ve never actually seen any wedding photos or etchings of their ceremony.

Santa Clause: who makes Christmas toys with his joyous and merry (well, at least in front of the cameras) elf employees in their busy and active workshop. (I hope he’s paying far in excess of the minimum wage and is recycling all wasted materials!)

Santa Clause: who makes lists of those who are naughty and nice (though determining who fits into each category is totally subjective; for those determined “naughty” by Santa might be seen as “nice” – and vice versa – by others. Santa is oblivious to the fact that it is often productive and beneficial to break unwise or unnecessary rules, especially when adults inflict such rules simply to control young people.)

Santa Clause: that generous old man who seems never to have been born and in all likelihood will never die. (I must ask him how he avoids arthritis developing on those old bones. I wonder if he’s ever incontinent or ever uses laxatives.)

Santa Clause: dressed in his (tasteless) red and white felt suit (I have a designer to recommend), with wide black belt (karate master?) and high black (kinky) boots as he delivers toys on Christmas Eve (how does he fit toys for all those kazillion Christian youth in one cloth bag? And how does he remain so clean and tidy squeezing down all those filthy grimy chimneys? Hey, how does he squeeze down those chimneys at all? I never got that! And why is he never detected by the human eye and only by the bio sonar systems of bats and radar systems of alert meteorologists who have made their careers by forecasting Santa’s arrival schedule? And most of all, why hasn’t there been widespread revolt by capitalist toy manufacturers protesting Santa’s virtual monopoly on the global toy market depriving them of the massive profits they could have otherwise garnered?)

Santa Clause, who travels on his speedy (multiple times that of light) reindeer-powered (animal abuse?) sleigh (how can wingless reindeer actually fly in contradiction to laws of physics and theories of animal evolution?) to excited (to the point of having “accidents” in their one-piece pajamas) expectant young people around the globe.

Oh, and by the way: why have you so commercialized a holy holiday in Christendom to the point of absurdist parody in the service of an insatiable Capitalist economic system?

Oh, the joy of it all? Just askin’.

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

December 2nd, 2014 at 11:06 pm

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Sport as Socio-Political Institution

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I still clearly see in my mind’s eye the raised black-gloved fists of gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos soring into the air of history during the track and field medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. As the Star Spangled Banner blared throughout the stadium, Smith and Carlos stood in solute to all the human rights workers and the victims of injustice in the United States and throughout the world.

They both ascended the winner’s platform shoeless wearing black socks to highlight black poverty. Representing black pride, Smith wore a black scarf around his neck, and Carlos unzipped the top of his tracksuit in solidarity with all working class blue collar workers in the United States. He wore a strand of beads, which he declared

“were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.”

I watched the ceremonies from my university dormitory lounge with other residents, while tear tracks of pride streamed down my face, not merely because of my connections with Smith and Carlos as undergraduate students at the same institution, San José State University, but because they clearly demonstrated not only the political potential, but more importantly, the very political nature of sport to forever transform minds, hearts, and souls for the betterment of society.

Not everyone, though, even at my university, supported their actions, stating that the purpose of sport is for entertainment only, and not to advance a political policy or agenda. Avery Brundage, International Olympic Committee president, scolded the athletes and the U.S. Olympic Committee for bringing domestic politics into “the apolitical, international forum [of] the Olympic Games.” Soon following Smith and Carlos’ actions, the U.S. Olympic Committee suspended them from the team and barred them from the Olympic Village. My university, however, gave them a heroes standing ovation when they returned to campus, and we honored the two athletes with a 22-foot high statue in 2005.

I suggest to those who assert the “apolitical” nature of sport to ask President Jimmy Carter why he chose to have the U.S. boycott the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Ask the athletes and spectators at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia why they proudly waved rainbow flags and wore rainbow garments, held placards, and publically embraced and kissed others of the same sex as Russian authorities passed legislation and cracked down on so-called “homosexual propaganda.”

Ask historians and relatives whether Jesse Owens’ performance by winning 4 gold medals in track and field at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany seriously called into question Nazi “racial” political philosophy on the supremacy of the so-called “Aryan.”

Ask the relatives of Jackie Robinson whether his very being as the first black professional baseball player had political implications within the sport as well as the effect of opening and expanding opportunities for people of color in the larger society.

Ask Michael Sam his experiences over and above the field as the first out gay man recruited by a National Football League team.

Ask Billie Jean King whether politics surrounded her win over Bobby Riggs in 1973 in their “Battle of the Sexes,” and her coming out as lesbian as the first prominent woman athlete.

Ask Martina Navratilova as well of her experiences as an out lesbian on the professional tennis circuit.

Perhaps, as time goes by, as more pioneers break racial, sexual, gender, religious, ethnic, language, and other barriers, athletes’ very being may one day have diminished political implications, but sport has always been and will forever have political consequences and possibilities.

Take for example, the recent show of solidarity by members of the St. Louis Rams football team with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri and throughout the nation demanding justice in the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black teen shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Five team members entered the field at their recent home game presenting the “hands-up-don’t-shoot” gesture, which has become a protest symbol calling attention to the continuing plague of police shootings of black men and boys.

Reaction came swiftly from the St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA):

“The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engaged in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.”

SLPOA has called for the players involved to be disciplined for their actions, and for the Rams organization and the NFL to issue a public apology to police in the area and throughout the country.

Whether the players face any consequences, the question still remains over whether professional and amateur athletes relinquish their First Amendment right of free speech once they don their team jersey and enter the field, and even when they are on their own time off the field of play.

I argue that Tim Tebow, when praying and performing the sign of the cross on his chest on the football field, and talking of his love for Jesus Christ during recorded interviews, not only engaged in religious acts, but also upheld Christian cultural hegemony within an alleged religiously diverse nation, and as such, he promoted his political agenda.

So should he have been restricted in his actions in other than his private spaces? Should athletes have restrictions or bans enacted on other forms of political expression? The jury is still out on these questions.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), 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

December 1st, 2014 at 5:09 pm

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Educational Philosophies of Drawing or Leading v. Depositing

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I have never forgotten one essential point my educational psychology professor related to my class back at San José State University when I was working toward my Secondary Education Teacher’s Certification. His point crystallized for me the intent of true and meaningful learning. My professor explained that the term “education” is derived from two Latin roots: “e,” meaning “out of,” and “ducere,” meaning “to lead” or “to draw.”

“Education,” he said, “is the process of drawing knowledge out of the student or leading the student toward knowledge, rather than putting or depositing information into what some educator’s perceive as the student’s waiting and docile mind”—what the Brazilian philosopher and educator Paulo Reglus Neves Freire termed “the banking system of education.”

I would ask, however, 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?

Standardized curriculum and testing were initially intended to gauge students’ progress, but have, unfortunately, metastasized into benchmarks for student advancement through the levels of education, for teacher accountability, as well as criteria for school funding from the government. The new Core Standards curriculum policies, rather than improving the educational outcomes of our students, have the potential of merely reinforcing and extending the failed so-called “neoliberal” policies of the past.

The educational buzz word (or, rather, buzz acronym) is now STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math). Actually, since the time of Sputnik forward, we hear from the White House, to the school house, to the houses of industry that for us to achieve and maintain personal and national security, we must emphasize and rigorously promote STEM education in our schools and jobs in our economy.

As we understand in plant biology that stems cannot take root and grow unless planted in a fertile nutrient-abundant soil, likewise I submit that STEM fields cannot take root and grow unless planted in a fertile foundation of the social sciences, humanities, the arts, and all in the context and development of creativity and critical thinking skills.

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.

I believe that for genuine learning to occur, for it to be transformational, it must be student centered—grounded on the shared experiences of the learners—and composed of at least two essential elements or domains: the “affective” (feelings) and the “cognitive” (informational). I design and implement my classes on a dialogic approach within a social justice framework in which students and educators cooperate in the process, whereby all are simultaneously the teacher and the learner. Educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky referred to this process as Obuchenie.

Education, as I have gained from Freire, is a path toward permanent liberation in which people became aware (conscientized) of their position, and through praxis (reflection and action), transform the world. Educators, to be truly effective, must spend many years in self-reflection and must have a clear understanding of their motivations, strengths, limitations, “triggers,” and fears. They must thoroughly come to terms with their positions in the world in terms of their social identities: both the ways in which they are privileged as well as how they have been the targets of systemic inequities. They are not afraid of showing vulnerability and admitting when they are wrong or when they “don’t know.” They have a firm grasp of the content area, and they work well with and are accessible to students and their peers.

Realizing that students come from disparate backgrounds in terms of social identities, and that students learn in a variety of ways, educators must be “culturally competent,” and must be informed on the historical and cultural backgrounds of diverse student populations, pedagogical frameworks, theories of cognitive development, personality types, preferred sensory modes of learning, and others.

In the ideal classroom, the overriding climate is one of safety. This is not, however, the same as “comfort,” for very often, comfortable situations might feel fine, but are not necessarily of pedagogic value. By “safety” I am suggesting an environment where educators facilitate a learning process: one in which one can share openly without fear of retribution or blame; where one can travel to the outer limits of one’s “learning edges” in the knowledge that one will be supported and not left dangling.

The multicultural/social justice classroom poses exceptional challenges, or more importantly, opportunities to find creative solutions to address not only potential but actual student resistance to course materials and concepts, for we touch upon some very personal and potentially triggering issues related to identity, social inequities, and critical histories that for many reasons are not often investigated in other coursework.

To address potential student resistance, I structure and sequence my courses around Robert Kegan’s three-stage teaching model. In the initial stage, called “Confirmation,” the educator meets learners why they are, solicits ideas, beliefs, and knowledges, listens and legitimize, invites elaboration, and asks questions. During stage II, “Contradiction,” educators stretch students’ existing views and experiential backgrounds by reframing issues, offering another perspective and new information, suggesting educational experiences (books, events), challenging stereotypes and previously held assumptions, offering a wider analysis, soliciting additional opinions from others, drawing out contradictions, and providing time and opportunity for exchange. And during stage III, called “Continuity,” educators continue the contradiction by giving constructive feedback, providing and soliciting a variety of perspectives, affording time for student reflection, giving praise for engaging in the process, and offering humor if and when appropriate. Very often, a single semester course may not provide the educator sufficient time to fully appreciate the true growth or impact of their endeavors, but it can at least provide the opportunity for the planting of a seed, for overall, the role of the educator is to excite, to motivate, to develop or enhance in the student a continuing and life-long quest for learning.

A foundational element in critical multiculturalism/social justice is social reconstructionist or transformational education in which the educator’s role is to help prepare future citizens to reconstruct society to better serve the interests of all groups of people, and to transform society toward greater equity for all. Christine Sleeter and Carl Grant emphasize four unique educational practices underpinning this philosophy: 1. Democracy is actively practiced in the schools, 2. Students learn to analyze institutional inequality in their own life circumstances, 3. Students learn to use social action skills, and 4. Bridges are built across various oppressed groups.

I require students to justify and backup all of their thoughts and “opinions.” Opinions without justification are just that—opinions. Stephen Brookfield discusses three inter-related phases in the process of critical thinking: discovering the assumptions that guide our decisions, actions, and choices (What do I think and why do I think of it the way I do?); checking the accuracy of these assumptions by exploring as many different perspectives, viewpoints, and sources as possible (Talking with others, taking courses, reading, researching, etc.); and taking informed decisions based on these researched assumptions (Informed decisions are based on evidence we can trust, can be explained to others, and have a good chance of achieving the effects we want).

For me, critical multiculturalism/social justice education is far more than my academic interest and focus. On a number of occasions, I have been asked the following question: “Are you a professor/educator, or are you a community organizer/activist, a writer, a theorist, or a researcher?” I always answer “Yes, all of the above,” for I view critical multiculturalism/ social justice as providing a seamless connection to all of these elements in my life. And I attempt to practice what I teach.

I have conducted all of my work in the service of social transformation. Without a basic knowledge of and experience in the humanities and the social sciences, students’ education remains incomplete, one that will not fully prepare them to live in a continually changing global environment. The traditional 3 Rs are indeed important, but we need to include the forth of “Respect” for cultural differences.

In addition to teaching the 3 Rs (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic), we need to teach students how to investigate issues around Self Awareness: how to “Read” the Self and “Solve” social, emotional, and ethical problems. We must provide students with, what Jonathan Cohen in his 2006 book terms, “Social, Emotional, Ethical, & Academic Education” (SEEAE).

Last semester, I asked the students in my Educational Psychology class to answer the following question by raising their hand: “How many of you have a parent or guardian who wakes up in the morning thinking to themselves, ‘I have a job I love and I’m looking forward to going to work?” Of the approximately 100 students in class that day, exactly seven raised their hands.

I usually still answer that question in the affirmative. I cannot think of any other profession where one reads and discusses ideas with others and (sort of) gets paid for it. I love the opportunities for learning and engagement that I have as a professor. However, I see how “education” as currently constituted contradicts its own methodologies by primarily focusing on grades in the service of eventual jobs and economic security for the educational consumer, and in so doing, we have diminished in many of our students the joy of learning for learning sake, and learning for the sake of understanding themselves and the world around them.

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

November 29th, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The [Christian] Month of December

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When people wish others a “Happy Holiday Season” or just “Happy Holidays,” what exactly do they mean? This “season” usually begins around Thanksgiving and lasts through December until the first day of January, “New Year’s Day.” Thanksgiving in the United States commemorates that mythical occasion when the “Pilgrims” and the “Indians” shared a joyous meal together. If we are wishing people a “Happy Holiday Season” between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, whom are we including?

I suppose we cannot include Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, some of whom celebrate Diwali (Festival of Lights), observed beginning in late Ashvin (between September and October on the Christian Gregorian calendar) and ending in early Kartika (between October and November). And what about the estimated 16% of U.S.-Americans (according to the Pew Research Center) who define themselves as “religiously unaffiliated,” “atheist,” “agnostic,” “freethinker,” or “non-believer,” as well as members of some religious sects, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, many of whom do not celebrate any holidays?

What events are we including in our “Season’s Greetings”? A major happening that comes to mind is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere: that exact split second — usually occurring on December 21 or 22 on the Christian Gregorian calendar — when the earth’s axial tilt is farthest from the Sun. Also called the “first day of winter” in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the seasonal reversal when days begin their gradual lengthening and nights shorten. Many groups celebrate the winter solstice in a number of ways, from sharing a meal to lighting candles, hanging lights, and having song and dance fests.

Also in December, among many other celebrations, there’s Chanukah, also known as the “Festival of Lights,” an eight-day Jewish holiday observing the rededication of the Second Holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 3593 on the Jewish calendar (167 BCE on the Christian Gregorian calendar), when the Maccabees conducted a revolt for independence. Chanukah begins at sundown on the 25th of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, which falls anywhere from late November to late December on the Christian Gregorian calendar. Celebrants light candles each night on candelabra called “menorahs.”

In addition, Kwanzaa, created by Maulana Karenga and first celebrated in 1966, honors African heritage and culture. It is commemorated annually between December 26 and January 1 on the Christian Gregorian calendar. The name was drawn from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning the “first fruits of the harvest.” Celebrants light candles each night on candelabra called “kinaras.”

And then there’s Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Though no one knows the actual date of the birth of Jesus, most Christian denominations — though not all — celebrate it on December 25 on the Christian Gregorian calendar.

Christian Cultural Imperialism

Earlier and earlier each year, often now following Halloween in late October, merchants and media begin proclaiming “Happy Holidays.” While many holidays, both religious and secular, occur around this time, “Happy Holidays” is in all actuality coded language for “Merry Christmas” and “Happy (Christian) New Year.” In fact, most non-Christian major holidays do not fall in December.

How many people in the United States really care about or are even familiar with the non-Christian holidays and celebrations that fall around this time of the year? What are these “Winter Parties,” “Winter Concerts,” “Winter School Breaks,” and “Winter Vacations” really about? I would ask, how many Christians would even have heard of Chanukah had it not usually fallen in December on the Gregorian calendar? In actuality, Chanukah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday — equivalent to, say, Arbor Day.

What we are experiencing is a form of Christian cultural imperialism (hegemony): a promotion of the larger Christian culture, celebrations, values, and beliefs. I define Christian hegemony as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on Christians. It is the institutionalization of a Christian norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be Christian, thereby privileging Christians and Christianity and excluding the needs, concerns, cultural practices, and life experiences of people who do not define themselves as Christian. Often overt though at times subtle, Christian hegemony is oppression by intent and design, as well as by neglect, omission, erasure and distortion.

While some of its religious significance has diminished over time as traditional Christian religious practice has entered the public square, on critical analysis, the clearly religious meanings, symbolism, positionality and antecedents of generalized holiday observances belie any claims that they have become fully secularized.

The effect of the so-called secularization of religion, in fact, not only fortifies but indeed strengthens Christian privilege by perpetuating Christian hegemony in such a way as to avoid its detection as religion or to circumvent constitutional requirements for the separation of religion and government. Christian dominance, therefore, is maintained by its relative invisibility; and with this invisibility, privilege is neither analyzed nor scrutinized, neither interrogated nor confronted. Dominance is perceived as unremarkable or “normal,” and when anyone poses a challenge or attempts to reveal its religious significance, those in the dominant group brand them as “subversive” or as “sacrilegious.”

Examples of Christian cultural imperialism during the so-called Holiday Season are many:

–The constant and prolonged promotion of Christmas music in public spaces and on radio stations; Christmas specials on television throughout November and December each year.

–Christmas decorations (often hung at taxpayer expense) in the public square in cities and towns throughout the United States.

–The highly visible and widespread availability in retail stores of Christian holiday decorations, greeting cards, foods, and other items during Christian holiday seasons.

–The president and first woman lighting the “National Christmas Tree” on the Ellipse behind the White House.

There are many other examples, truly too numerous to list.

Our society marks time through a Christian lens. Even the language we use in reference to the calendar reflects Christian assumptions. A few years ago, with increasing rapidity, we heard and read of the coming of the “twenty-first century,” “The year 2000,” and the dawning of “the new millennium.” Among the definitions of millennium in the Merriam-Webster’s Eleventh New Collegiate Dictionary (2003), definition 2a is: “a period of 1000 years” (p. 789).

Let us not forget, however, that the year 2000 is calculated with reference to the birth of Jesus, and it is therefore the beginning of the next Christian millennium. In fact, definition 1a in the same dictionary defines millennium as: “the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 during which holiness is to prevail and Christ is to reign on earth” (p. 789).

This fact is brought home each time we hear someone mention the date followed by “in the year of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” The century markers BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini) are clearly Christian in origin. Therefore, the year 2000 is one important milepost, though for many religious traditions it also marks a heightening of their invisibility.

An attempt to decenter Christian hegemony in terminology related to the marking of time is replacing BC with BCE (Before the Common Era) and AD with CE (Common Era), although the renaming does nothing to end the marking of time before and after a “common” (Christian) era.

Actually, this is the year 5775 on the Jewish calendar that began on the first day of Tishrei (the seventh month on the Jewish calendar, or September 9 this year on the Christian Gregorian calendar). The Jewish calendar is a lunar/solar hybrid with months defined by the moon, but the year based on the Earth’s annual solar revolution. In addition, we are coming up on the year 4706 on the Chinese calendar (February 3 on the Christian Gregorian calendar). The Chinese calendar is both a lunar- and solar-based calendar. The New Year on the Islamic calendar, or Hijri, announces the year as 1439, which began on the first evening of the month of Muharram, or December 8, 2014, on the Christian Gregorian calendar. In addition, we are celebrating the year 2754 on the Karen calendar.

The “Grinch Alert” or “Cultural Pluralism”

Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, a few years ago organized a movement to call the season what it really is — the “Christmas Season” — and he asserted that businesses who display “Happy Holidays” greetings are simply stooping to “political correctness.” Jeffress created a “Grinch List” on his website to expose businesses that he contends are taking Christ out of Christmas. Simply stated, the pastor is positioning Christians as the real “victims” in the current “Happy Holidays” epoch. In his effort to purge “Happy Holidays” from modern parlance, Jeffress was attempting not only to maintain but also to fortify Christian cultural imperialism — though by all indications he has nothing to fear, since this form of hegemony has a long way to go and most certainly will not be placed on the endangered list any time soon.

We as a society face some choices. We can commit to issues of multiculturalism: we can learn about and value of other peoples and others’ customs and cultures, ways of knowing, and ways of viewing the world, and we can work for a true realization of the concept of cultural pluralism — a term coined by the Jewish immigrant and sociologist of Polish and Latvian heritage, Horace Kallen, to challenge the image of the so-called melting pot, which he considered inherently undemocratic. Kallen envisioned a United States in the image of a great symphony orchestra, not sounding in unison (the melting pot) but rather one in which all the disparate cultures play in harmony while retaining their unique and distinctive tones and timbres.

If we are unwilling to begin this journey, however, then as offensive as it is, Pastor Jeffress may have hit on something. At least Jeffress is demanding honesty in expressly naming the reality and calling it what it really is — “the Christmas Season” — and in insisting on the greeting “Merry Christmas” rather than the transparent idiom “Happy Holidays,” which clearly was created to give the impression of inclusivity.

An individual can appropriately wish a Christian “Merry Christmas,” of course. Can an individual’s wishing others “Happy Holidays” in December be considered that individual’s intent to work toward inclusivity? Of course! Can an individual wishing others “Happy Holidays” in December amount to that individual’s intent to decenter Christmas and Christianity? Of course!

My argument, however, focuses upon a critique of the systemic (and not necessarily individualistic) structures that promote Christian privilege and hegemony within the United States (and I would argue, many other Western countries) in the expression of “Happy Holidays” in the context of the month of December, considering that most cultures’ major holidays do not fall in the month of December on the Gregorian calendar and a large segment of the population celebrates no holidays, religious or otherwise. I argue that the systemic structures themselves promote Christian imperialism (hegemony), in which individuals are often unwilling and even unknowing conspirators. Wishing people “Happy Holidays” simply glosses over the Christian assumptions inherent during this particular time of the year.

Wishing another “Happy Holidays” in December certainly can be very nice, well-meaning, and well-intentioned. If one really wants to be sensitive and inclusive while acknowledging others’ cultural and religious (or nonreligious) perspectives, why not wish people of other faiths “Happy Holidays” during their holidays that are actually important? Or if they celebrate no holidays, why not be mindful of that fact?

When we as a society use the generic greeting “Happy Holidays” in December, many of us may intend to promote intercultural awareness and sensitivity. But I would argue that this actually has the exact opposite effect by giving most of us the excuse not to do our homework in truly investigating other cultures and other forms of celebration. When we wish others “Happy Holidays” in December, we do not have to think about when others’ major holidays actually occur, and we do not have to acknowledge that many people are not affiliated with religion at all.

While the intent may certainly be well-meaning and heartfelt, the impact is often exactly the opposite. 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 exercised by dominant groups over subordinated 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 occurs within the day-to-day practices of contemporary democratic societies such as the United States. “Unpacking” the knapsack of privilege (whether it be Christian, white, male, heterosexual, owning class, temporarily able bodied, native English speakers, and others) is to become aware of — and to develop critical consciousness of — its existence and to recognize how it affects the daily lives of both those with and those without this privilege.

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).

 

Permission granted to forward, reprint, or publish this commentary: warrenblumenfeld@gmail.com

 

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

November 27th, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Stigma + Violence = Social Control

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          1999, Amadou Diallo, 23 years

 

In Puritan Boston, on Hester Prynne

Forced scarlet letter stigma

To castigate, to separate, to isolate, to humiliate

 

In fiction as in life

Stigmata mark, brand

The outsider, the offender, the outcast, the enslaved

 

Sting of virtual and actual stigmata remain

Skin color, hair texture, facial features

Sex assigned at birth, sexuality, gender expression

Religion, language, native country

Ability, age, and on

 

          2000, Patrick Dorismond, 26 years

 

From kidnapping

To enslavement

To Jim Crow

To de facto and beyond

 

          2003, Ousmane Zongo, 24 years

 

Black and brown parents’ worst fears

The list of the unarmed

Targeted, harassed, profiled

Tracked, arrested, violated

Killed at police hands

Carrying stigma of “race”

 

          2004, Tim Stansbury, 19 years

 

Parents begin “The Talk” with sons

Reaching age 12, 13, 14, earlier

“When police confront

Remain calm

Walk slowly toward, never run

Keep hands visible, out of pockets

Don’t raise voice

Act polite, never show anger

No cursing

Follow directions”

 

2006, Sean Bell, 23 years

 

Parents know

Racist society marks sons

The expression of criminality

Consigning them to endangered species list

 

Stigmatized, marginalized live with knowledge

Random, unprovoked, xenophobic violence

To divide, to harm, to humiliate

To destroy the “other”

Maintaining power, privilege over

 

Cannot dismiss as “the few bad cops”

Larger, wider, broader

Systems of oppression

Individual, Interpersonal, Institutional, Societal

 

          2009, Oscar Grant, 23 years

 

Property rights precede human rights

“Corporations are people my friend”

NRA and “Stand Your Ground”

Militarized weapons invading our cities, towns

Stigmatized violence

People expendable to power

 

          2014, Michael Brown, Jr., 18 years

 

Missouri the “Show Me” state

Show me why Officer Wilson in fear for his life

From unarmed young man?

Why so many bullet holes and graze wounds?

Six, seven, eight robbing Michael of life.

Why only 3 black officers on force?

Why 9 whites of 12 grand jurors?

In town of 70% black residents

 

Why put in charge a prosecutor

Whose father

A police officer killed by black man?

Bias favoring Officer Wilson?

 

Why prosecutor’s announcement

Of grand jury decision after dark?

Expected and welcomed violence

To discredit Brown’s supporters?

 

When a young man is killed over box of smokes

Where a smoke screen covers the many still unanswered questions

When officer acquitted of charges in secret proceedings

How can healing begin when the heart is ripped from community?

How can justice be served when so many questions linger?
          2014, Eric Garner, 43 years

 

My white skin inoculates me

I can walk or drive or cycle

Anywhere my body can take me

Without fearing police suspicion

 

I can eat Skittles and drink ice tea

No neighborhood watch follows me

I can travel to wealthy neighborhoods

Officers most likely ignore me

 

My skin serves as protective shield, armor, defense

My good luck talisman

Deflecting officers’ profiling gaze

 

          2012, Stephon Watts, 15 years

 

We can stand on soap boxes

We can try cleansing our pain, our anger, our rage

But in the end

Stains of blood and tears remain

Community fabric torn apart

 

But soul persists

Most taking higher moral ground

Talking, organizing, marching

Speaking out, reaching out

Challenging and transforming

A government, a nation, a world

 

          2014, Tamir Rice, 12 years

 

Ferguson stands as but one ground zero

And the struggle continues

In the words of Desmond Tutu:

 

Stability and peace in our land

will not come from the barrel of a gun,

because peace without justice

is an impossibility.”

 

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

November 25th, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Mixed Results in Studies Investigating LGBT Equality

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During my 67 years on this planet, I have witnessed many transformative changes in attitudes, behaviors, and laws related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex, and queer sexuality and gender expressions in the United States, from the late 1940s growing up as a non-gender conforming gay youth, through the socially conservative 1950s, the dynamic and often volatile 1960s, to the present day. As I travel across the United States and abroad delivering presentations on queer history, participants often ask me to provide a perspective on where we have come and where we still need to go. (For my extensive two-part LGBTIQ PowerPoint presentation, click here, and press “Slide Presentations” on right.)

I sometimes begin by discussing a family incident that has forever changed me, which my parents talked about at dinner one evening in 1962 when I a 15-year-old high school student. It began during the day as I reflected on my Great-Uncle William – a brother of my paternal grandmother, Dorothy. I always enjoyed William visiting our home. He was one of the most intelligent, kind, and caring people I had ever known. When I was very young, he read me stories, and he always brought a little gift each time he visited. I was always amazed by how much he knew. I hoped to know as much when I was older.

Not seeing Great-Uncle William for a few months, I asked my parents over the dinner table where he had been. “Oh,” said my father, “He hasn’t been feeling very well lately, but we hope he will feel better soon.”

“I will call him to see how he is feeling,” I said, and I continued: “It’s too bad,” I said with deep concern, “that he never married, and he may not have anyone to take care of him. By the way, why didn’t Great-Uncle William ever marry?” I asked.

“You haven’t heard the story?,” my father quipped with a curious expression on his face. When I asked “What story?” he revealed a not-so-hidden family “secret.”

When Uncle William was about my age in around 1917, his father — my paternal Great-Grandfather, Barney — asked William at the dinner table to join him in his bedroom for a talk after dinner. Though apprehensive not knowing what to expect, he answered that he would.

Walking behind his father into the bedroom after eating dessert, William shut the door behind him upon being instructed by his father to do so. Barney sat upon the bed and ordered William to come closer to him. “William, you must do exactly as I say,” he commanded. “William, take down your pants.”

Startled, William responded, “What? Why?” Barney shouted this time: “Take down your pants!” At this point William obeyed. As he did this, Great-Grandfather Barney pulled a sharpened kitchen knife from beneath a bed pillow, moved closer to William grabbing his testicles, and in one quick action, chopped them off.

William shouted in agony and extreme pain, and he fainted as his body went into shock. Hearing his screams, William’s other siblings and mother ran into the room and applied cloth bandages to prevent him bleeding to death.

Barney refused to allow the family to take William for professional medical treatment, and he ordered them not to reveal to anyone what he had done. William somehow physically survived the traumatic injury. My father told me that William lived in shame all his life. He was never involved in an intimate romantic relationship, and he always lived alone. Though he maintained friendships, and he acquired a good education, a cloud of depression and melancholy forever hung over him.

Startled and in shock myself, I asked my father, “Why did Barney do this? How could anyone do this to anyone, let alone their own son?” My father responded: “Well, Barney suspected William of being homosexual, and he didn’t want him to be.”

I had feelings for other males ever since I was five or six years old, but I knew up to this time at the dinner table when I was 15 not to tell anyone. This information about Great-Uncle William pushed me even deeper into silence. I always felt that something more than genetic material connected me with William. Though he died many years ago now, I still think fondly but with a sense of pain each time I remember William. We remain attached through time and space by a familial history and a history of oppression and sense of identity. In his life, William served as a reluctant pioneer in the struggle for respect and equality.

Recent Studies:

Since William’s death, overall public opinion has changed toward LGBT people. I recently came across a new study released by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, which found a substantial increase in positive public perceptions of LGBT people during the past three decades. Researchers analyzed and crunched the numbers of over 325 national surveys going back to 1977 focusing on five primary issues: general attitudes toward LGBT people, legality of same-sex relations, legal recognition of marriage for same-sex couples, rights of adoption for same-sex couples, coverage of sexual and gender identities in non-discrimination policies and laws, and inclusion in military service.

According to the study: “Public support for lesbians and gay men has doubled in the past three decades, more so than public support for any other group surveyed over the same time period.”

While this is generally good news, other parts of the study show that public support for bisexual women surpasses support for bisexual men, and the majority of surveys report an increasing favorability toward bisexual people generally in 2011. However, this support is lower than for lesbians and gay men. In addition, while many of the studies that researchers analyzed did not address support for trans* people, overall, public opinion “remains less supportive, or comfortable, than reported feelings toward lesbians and gay men.”

The study also found that support for marriage equality has more than doubled since the early 2000s, support for child adoption rights for same-sex couples has recently reached an all-time high of 63%. Also, while 29 states still have not passed state-wide laws protecting LGBT people from institutionalized discrimination, 72% of the public currently supports non-discrimination laws protecting lesbian and gay people from employment discrimination, and 75% support similar laws protecting trans* people. Approximately 48,500 LGB people currently serve in the U.S. military, and support for their service stood at 70% in 2012. The U.S. Department of Defense still maintains a discriminatory policy toward trans* service members, though it is currently reevaluating this policy.

In another research study, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), in it 2013 National School Climate Survey investigating school experiences of LGBT students in middle and high school found that generally:

“Schools nationwide are hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT students, the overwhelming majority of whom routinely hear anti-LGBT language and experience victimization and discrimination at school. As a result, many LGBT students avoid school activities or miss school entirely.”

Fully 55.5% of LGBT students across the country felt unsafe at school around their sexual orientation, and 37.8% felt unsafe because of their gender expression. About one-third missed at least one full day of classes in the past month over safety concerns.

Where Do We Go From Here: A Recommendation

This year marks the 25th anniversary of my state of Massachusetts passing legislation protecting LGB people from discrimination (later upgraded to include “gender identity and expression”), making us only the second state after Wisconsin to do so at that time. We accomplished this historic legislative victory after undertaking a 17-year concerted effort in lobbying elected officials and educating the public.

Looking back over the years now, as our visibility has increased, as our place within society has become somewhat more assured, much certainly has been gained, though we still have far to travel. But, also, I can’t help but feel that something very precious has been lost. Our early excitement, our desire — though by no means our ability — to fully restructure the culture, as distinguished from mere reform or assimilation, seems now to lay dormant in many of our political organizations and communities.

In our current so-called “neoliberal” age, emphasis is placed on privatization, global capital, reduced governmental oversight and deregulation of the corporate sector, attacks on labor organizing, and increased emphasis on competition. We are living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights. In this environment, we are witnessing a cultural war waged by the political, corporate, and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years.

Today, reflecting on what seems to be the major focus of our mainstream movement, I see four main themes — or, what I am calling the “Four Ms” of the mainstream movement. These “Ms” are: Marriage Rights, Military Inclusion, Media Visibility, and Making Money.

While these are laudable goals, I believe that if we are going to achieve a truly equitable society, we must reach higher, wider, and broader. I believe that we need to work to “transform” or “revolutionize” completely the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities, and the economic basis on which this country rests giving rise to the massive inequities between socioeconomic groups. We need to make links in the various forms of identity and forms of oppression, and develop more and tighter coalitions between marginalized groups, as well as look at other means of activism, which can result in true and lasting systemic change.

Oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. Each spoke represents a specific form of oppression. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue spinning and trampling over people. We must, therefore, work toward breaking all of the wheel’s many spokes if we hope ever to eliminate oppression in its many forms.

I believe that sexual and relational attractions and gender identities and expressions alone are not sufficient to connect a community, and by extension, to fuel a movement for progressive social change. We must, therefore, look beyond ourselves and base our communities and movements not simply on our identities, but also on shared ideas and ideals that cut across individuals from disparate social identities. We must come together with like minds, political philosophies, and strategies for achieving our objectives.

This is my vision of a movement for social change. It follows a concept of Jewish tradition known as Tikkun Olam: meaning the transformation, healing, and repairing of the world so that it becomes a more just, peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place. I understand Tikkun Olam to be equivalent to working for social justice and social equality, sometimes against incredible odds, for people of all social identities and all backgrounds.

If my Great-Uncle William had lived longer, I am sure he would have continued with us to make the world a more perfect place. For William and for all others who have gone before, may you rest in peace.

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

November 22nd, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Immigration Laws as Official “Racial” Policy

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

Therefore, President Obama has committed to an Executive Order at last to place a band aid on the gashing wound that is this country’s immigration policies.

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

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

“Race”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Official Immigration and Naturalization Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following U.S. entry into World War II at the end of 1942, reflecting the tenuous status of Japanese Americans, some born in the United States, military officials uprooted and transported approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans to Internment (Concentration) Camps within a number of interior states far from the shores. Not until Ronald Reagan’s administration did the U.S. officially apologize to Japanese Americans and to pay reparations amounting to $20,000 to each survivor as part of the 1988 Civil Liberties Act.

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

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

“Ruthless Americanization”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

November 20th, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized