Children Saluting the Flag in Public Schools

            San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick definitely has the nation’s attention by his decision to not stand during the national anthem.  In a Labor Day press conference, even President Obama weighed in on Kaepernick for following the First Amendment by "exercising his constitutional right" to protest police impunity in the use of excessive force on vulnerable populations of Black citizens.  And then there are six 5th graders, a teacher reported, who followed Kaepernick’s approach and took a knee during the school’s pledge of allegiance.

            Meanwhile, Trump reacts by claiming that, as president, he would promote “pride and patriotism” in schools and require saluting the flag and pledging allegiance to the U.S. in pubic schools.  In the spirit of a militaristic nationalism that sounds as if it’s coming from a dictatorial nation, Trump cried out against Kaepernick’s protest:

"That flag deserves respect... And by the way, we want young Americans to recite the pledge of allegiance. Once country under one constitution, saluting one flag...always saluting. In a Trump administration, I plan to work directly with the American Legion to uphold our common values and to help ensure they are taught to America's children."

I guess Trump and thousands of his like-minded followers don’t realize that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943 ruled against school officials who required their students to pledge allegiance to the United States. The court cited adverse effects on dissent and how “compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

And this was at a time when school children saluted “by extending the right arm, palm upward” just like Hitler’s Nazi youth of that era.

            Colin Kaepernick’s protest is educational.  The public has learned that Frances Scott Key was a supporter of slavery and his third (largely unsung) verse of the national anthem speaks to capturing Black fighting for their freedom against their enslavement under a White supremacy regime:

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Yes, the people of African descent were the “enemy” of the United States as they were fighting for a liberty that “brave” Whites were bragging to the world they had – largely, however, from the exploitation of slave labor that fueled that development of capitalism in the 19th century.

            After 9/11/01 public schools joined in violating the First Amendment and that 1943 Supreme Court decision by forcing patriotism upon children. At the time University of Wisconsin professor Michael Apple observed how

“the tropes of patriotism and vengeance all work together to create a mighty call not for justice but for vengeance.”

A September 2001 New York Times article under the headline “School Colors Become Red, White and Blue” reported,

“As a surge of patriotism has washed over the country in the wake of the terrorist attacks, nowhere has the revival been more omnipresent than in schools.”

Representative of this moment 10 years after 9/11, one woman recalled that as a 15-year-old at the time of 9/11,

she “had no concept of what it meant except that suddenly we were saying the Pledge of Allegiance again every day and having assemblies about patriotism, and everyone was flying their flags again out of nowhere.”

And we know how that round of patriotism has resulted in U.S.-led endless war in the Middle East that continues 15 years later...            

              Somehow many Americans find repulsive images of Nazi Youth and what they represented under Hitler.  Yet we have a significant proportion of our citizenry desiring compulsory patriotism.  Soon they’ll want to require children to wear brown uniforms and black boots while demanding the right hand salute that has happened at numerous Trump rallies.  Kaepernick’s protest and the conversation it set off, however, serves as an important counter balance to this rightwing march to fascism in and out of our schools.

Trump and “Second Amendment People”

            By now it’s no secret that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s appeal is to White voters who heed his racist dog-whistle.  Only this week did Trump make any gesture toward Black voters, and that was in room that was 99% White and just 40 miles north of Milwaukee, where rioting recently took place over continuing police abuse of power. 

            Trump continues to voice support for a police state over the real grievances of impoverished communities of color that daily face racial profiling and violence, as consistently documented repeatedly by the United Nations.  Never mind that researchers have documented that historically urban riots in Black neighborhoods were in a direct reaction to police use of excessive force with impunity. 

             Trump’s nasty appeal to the NRA and so-called Second Amendment People” for extralegal actions is based in a history of fear of the Other, especially those of African descent.  This is a distorted history worthy of untangling for our current moment.

             The contemporary interpretation of the Second Amendment is inseparable from the history of policing in the U.S.  As noted by social scientists Hahn & Jefferies,

During the latter quarter of the 19th century the “white ruling class sought to avoid reliance on military, to avert the hostility of the masses, and to legitimize oppression by creating a public police force.”

This all fits neatly with the creation of the Second Amendment, which reads

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The reference to a “militia” was for collective action, predates the existence of public police forces, and was directed toward enemies of the new nation.  But why did the slave-holding Founders refer to “a free State” rather than the federal government?  And who were these enemies that required a state militia rather than a national military response?

            With slave rebellions, White owners of this human “property” sought to protect themselves and secure their investments without federal interference – and constantly saw people of African descent as the enemy within, but never as part of the new nation.  It was the local White night watch guards and patrols or militias that “became the foundation of American policing.”

             Compounding the intersection of the Second Amendment with the rise of police forces as we know them today is that the Second Amendment was historically interpreted a “collective right.”  In 1939 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against an individual invoking a states-rights argument under the Second Amendment for a purchasing and transporting a weapon that was federally-banned at that time.  The Court in United States v. Miller provided a short colonial and founding history of the possession of individual weapons by emphasizing that the Second Amendment was only intended for collective military action. 

         Additionally, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall have the power

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections repel invasions...

Nothing at the time of the Founding suggests that someday an individual should have the right to bring an assault weapon into restaurants and other stores as gun-toting bullies wish to do today.  The "Insurrections" the slave-owning Founders worried about were those coming from their human "property."     

              Yet, through lobbying of the National Rifle Association – originally an organization for hunters – and an odd law journal article here and there in the 1960s, the Second Amendment was given an individual rights spin that we live under today.  Using twisted logic, the conservative majority in 2008 under racial segregationist Chief Justice Roberts narrowly ruled 5-4 in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment was somehow originally intended for individual rights.

            Back to Trump and his “Second Amendment People.”  Their march for fascism is for making and keeping America as White privileged as possible by any means necessary – because Black lives to Trump and his White followers simple do not matter, especially when people of color are perceived as the enemy within the nation to be controlled.

On the Killing of Dallas Police Officers

            As horrific and unjustifiable as the lone sniper’s killing of Dallas Police Officers last night are, this ought not be surprising in light of the growing frustration at police impunity to use excessive force on civilians, especially on populations of color.  The sniper was not part of any organized group, including Black Lives Matter, yet this individual had reached a boiling point of taking some kind of action. 

Nevertheless, the right-wing hate machine went into action.  For example, Joe Walsh, a former U.S. Congressmen and now a conservative talk show host, decided to pour fuel on the fire with this tweet last night:

"This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you."

What does Walsh mean by “Real America” is “coming after” the President of the United States and peaceful protesters appalled and feeling helpless against centuries of police violence on Black and Brown populations? 

“Real America” is clearly a White America for White supremacist nationalism.  This is what Trump’s nostalgic slogan of “Make America Great Again” is clearly all about. 

Now, should Walsh be arrested for threatening the President?  You and I would likely be “detained” and interrogated by the FBI if we made any such public comment that appeared to threaten physical harm to a President –  but prominent public figures on the Right are allowed to provoke without consequences.

Only Walsh’s ideological anti-Black racism can possibly connect Obama to having anything to do with the police shooting in Dallas or elsewhere.  For the record, as the Daily Kos reported,

“The fact is that fewer police officers have been killed during the six-plus years of [Obama’s] presidency than during the first six years of any modern presidency.”

            Never mind facts.  As the Southern Poverty Law Center documents, Trump and his armed, anti-democratic racist ilk are just itching to open fire on a Black president and supporters of Black Lives Matter.  This, too, should not be surprising.  The U.S. has been in “race war” since its colonial founding with laws and extralegal means to terrorize Indigenous, Black, and Latino populations (now add in Arab and Muslim populations).  Since the era of slavery, people of African descent have been fighting for their freedom and liberty against a political and civic culture of White supremacy. 

              In The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, Gerald Horne documents in great detail the pervasive White fear over “free” Blacks living in the midst of Whites.  A line in this important book reminded me of the millions of White anti-Obama folks who have armed themselves out of some kind of fear of having a Black president as well as witnessing an interracial Black Lives Matter social justice movement.  Horne writes that

“militarizing of the settler class was another remedy [against Black insurrections] pursued with little consideration as to what this might mean for the culture created.” 

That armed culture that was created is most certainly with us 250 years later – in the form of White militias and police regimes that appear to operate with an unacknowledged psychic fear of Black retaliation for a history of White terrorism.

         Last night before learning about the sniper killings of Dallas police officers, a friend of mine laid out his argument that we are witnessing the slow unfolding of a civil war.  He might be correct.  As long as racist issues remain unresolved from Reconstruction after the Civil War and from what some call the Second Reconstruction of the Civil Rights Movement of the last century, it will likely take a movement toward a 21st century Third Reconstruction along with a full-blown period of Truth and Reconciliation for the nation to face the root causes that create conditions for both cops and people of color to be killed and for the rise of Trump’s right-wing racist crusade.

Muhammad Ali – Champion of the War Resisters

            As we approach Muhammad Ali’s funeral this Friday, the political class and the newly-conscious sports reporters are now clamoring to express their love of Ali – despite decades of demonizing a man who stood for his principles against the U.S. war machine.  Sentenced to prison for refusing to enter the military in 1967 and then having revoked his heavy-weight boxing title, the “Champion of the World” became for many of my generation a heroic Champion of War Resisters for Ali’s widely-covered public stance:

"I strongly object to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in taking this stand: either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative and that alternative is justice.”

It may be hard for some to imagine a U.S.-born Muslim in the mid-1960s who was Black defying White Christian America, especially given the continuing rise in 21st century anti-Muslim racism.”  As a young college student who eventually received the military draft status of “conscientious objector,” I and many of others found inspiration to resist cooperating with U.S foreign policy because of Ali’s very public defiance of U.S. imperialism and his naming of racism at home and abroad.

Was Muhammad Ali part of the so-called Vietnam syndrome that President George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), a former CIA Director, claimed the U.S. had “kicked” in order to begin waging war in the Persian Gulf region that continues to this day?  Although President Obama stated, Muhammad Ali shook up the world,” Obama’s public statement conveniently ignores Ali’s pacifism over how Ali actually “shook up the world.”

Admired globally for his stance against racism, Ali was more than his boxing persona and lively poetry – he was a war-resisting anti-imperialist whose words 50 years later echo in the Black Lives Matter social justice movement:

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

This is an inconvenient truth for the Obama administration – contrary to an era of promised “Hope” – that has continued to pursue and expand unconstitutional wars just like his presidential predecessors, but now with imprecise drones that have killed thousands of civilians, including the targeting of a U.S. citizen never charged with a crime but justified as only an imperial power can do when it poses as a democracy with a façade of judicial due process.  Obama as president would have distanced himself from Muhammad Ali much the same way that President Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969) did over Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s anti-war position.

            Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was also demonized for daring to make connections among domestic racism, economic inequities, and imperialistic wars, a position that many say cost King his life in 1968.  Liberals – White & Black – turned on King.  President Johnson never forgave Dr. King

“for breaking ranks; pro-war liberal Democrats afterward often dissociated themselves from his actions; and a large part of the civil rights movement deplored his stance as a violation of an unspoken contract. Civil rights, they thought, was about black Americans, and the cause of black Americans was civil rights. The violence of the cities had nothing to do with the violence of the war.”

So why should we expect that any imperial president, including Obama, would celebrate prominent dissent against costly U.S. military ventures?

            The connection between Ali and King is not an imagined one.  As the research of progressive sports writer Dave Zirin points out,

“The press was hounding King about why he wasn’t just focusing on the ‘domestic issue’ of civil rights, and King took that moment to draw upon thoughts of his private friend and said, ‘Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all—black and brown and poor—victims of the same system of oppression.’”

Eventually, in 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the position of the U.S. Department of Justice to imprison Muhammad Ali for his refusal to participate in the military and conceded,

“The Government in this Court has also made clear that it no longer questions the sincerity of the petitioner's beliefs.”

      In a visit to the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville last year, I was taken by not only Ali’s biography but by how the museum has placed Ali’s life in the context of the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement.  The museum is unflinching in presenting this important perspective, an important aspect of U.S. history that many unfortunately would prefer go the way of Orwell’s memory hole.

Lester Thurow (1938-2016) and the Bernie Sanders Campaign

           

            Last week we saw the passing of Lester Thurow, a prominent MIT economist and dean, who called attention in the 1990s to the growing inequality in wealth and income that is now the new normal.  Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states that Thurow

“was one of the first important economists to suggest that too much inequality is bad for society.  And he was writing this just as the inequality trend that is so historically high right now was taking off.”

To be sure, Thurow was no leftist: He unfortunately believed in the late 1990s mantra that the tech industry would solve the problems of inequality inherent in capitalism.

            Nevertheless, my attachment to aspects of Thurow’s work developed in the late 1990s/early 2000s when I was working on my book Transforming the Multicultural Education of Teachers (2002).  In the chapter “Globalization and Multicultural Education,” I grappled with how to portray the nefarious effects of a narrative that constructed public school children as “human capital” necessary to meet global economic expectations.  Thurow stood out as an economist from a prominent university who questioned the logic of the so-called global economy for reducing inequality.

            I pointed out how K-12 students were simply being economically objectified and then turned to Thurow.  His basic questioning was not the accepted feel-good narrative at the end of the 20th century – which I used to explain that the students-as-human-capital model was not intended to increase economic equality:

“Economist Lester Thurow (1999) wonders, ‘How does one put together a democracy based on the concept of equality while running an economy with ever-increasing degrees of economic inequality?’  Thurow’s question highlights that a model of students as human capital is not intended to produce an equitable society.”

Nevertheless, Thurow did believe that more investment in public education was needed to make the U.S. economically competitive.

             It would take the international Occupy Movement of 2011-2012 to shout out a point that Thurow was trying to draw attention to as a public intellectual: Growing inequality is here with benefits flowing to the 1% at the expense of the 99%.  Thurow, however, believed that capitalism itself was capable of reform whereas the Occupy Movement understood that the capitalism itself was bankrupt for most of the planet’s population.

            The ignoring of the Sanders campaign by mainstream media is symptomatic of an aversion to anything but making the wealthy wealthier.  Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting observed, for example, how the Washington Post on March 6-7 ran an astounding 16 negative articles on Sanders! 

            The U.S. has a long history of suppressing activists on the Left who question and challenge the supposed benefits of capitalism when so few share in the profits generated – and Bernie Sanders is now facing those same forces for having dared to make socialism a respectable alternative to the survival-of-the-wealthiest model of capitalism.  Although Thurow may have been uneasy with some of the proposals by Sanders, Sanders would likely agree with Thurow’s statement on capitalism and democracy:

“To put it in its starkest form, capitalism is perfectly compatible with slavery. Democracy is not."

 

Hillary Clinton and the Origin of “Super-Predator”

            At a recent South Carolina fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton, “Black Lives Matter” activist Ashley Williams called on Clinton to explain her 1996 statement that

there are certain “kinds of kids that are called 'super-predators.' No conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Clinton advanced this view as a school-to-prison pipeline was fueling a skyrocketing incarceration rate in the U.S., which remains unmatched internationally today.

            Although after the encounter with Ashley Williams, Clinton later stated that the descriptor “super-predatory” was a poor choice of words.  Clinton in fact was actually repeating a trope that lacked evidence and was circulated by a conservative, Christian fundamentalist political science professor.  Diversity and Education: A Critical Multicultural Approach offered this background:  

Political science professor John Dilulio (1995), a driving force behind this assertion, proudly announced, “No one in academia is a bigger fan of incarceration than I am. Between 1985 and 1991 the number of juveniles in custody increased from 49,000 to nearly 58,000. By my estimate, we will probably need to incarcerate at least 150,000 juvenile criminals in the years just ahead. In deference to public safety, we will have little choice but to pursue genuine get-tough law-enforcement strategies against the super-predators .”

            What was Professor Dilulio’s arm-chair assessment for the supposed existence of “super-predators”?  Dilulio concluded that the basic cause of juvenile crime was due to “moral poverty” and that the solution was the Judeo-Christian tradition because “churches can help cure or curtail many severe socioeconomic ills.”  A 2014 analysis revealed, however, that from 1994 to 2011, murders committed by young people actually declined by two-thirds during Dilulio’s predicted rise.

Unfortunately for the lives of millions of young people, due to this 1990s mainstream narrative of youthful criminals as “super-predators,” nearly every state passed laws that permitted a child arrested for certain crimes to be tried as an adult.  The repercussions continue to be felt today by young people of color in their schools and neighborhoods. 

The real “moral poverty” Dilulio identified actually existed within himself and within the political class that used such anti-Black dog-whistling rhetoric to garner votes by creating a false enemy at the expense of young people.  “Moral poverty” does exist, though; it just happens it’s on Wall Street and within the refusal of the governing class to rein in the 1% while throwing crumbs to the poor, struggling middle-class families, and public schools and universities.

“Patriots” and “Occupiers” at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

            In case any of us missed it, four White people continue to “occupy” Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon.  This so-called “occupation” should not be confused with the Occupy Movement, which drew attention to economic inequality for 99% of population and is now connected to the rise in popularity of Bernie Sanders.

The wildlife refuge “occupiers,” however, are very unlikely supporters of Sanders’ presidential aspirations.  Instead, these self-proclaimed “patriots” are more closely aligned with the 1% in their self-interested private goal to open up protected public lands for ranchers to graze their livestock wherever desired.  Not totally surprising, the anti-government rhetoric of the militias at Malheur can be traced to the long reach of the billionaire Koch brothers.

            For a moment, let’s consider the label “patriots”  that Malheur invaders gave themselves.  Stepping back in history – way back – maybe they are patriots in the sense that they are continuing a colonial project to remove any Native American indigenous claims to their ancestral lands. The ideology of patriotism has its origins in patriarchy and signals to male citizens to unite for the patria, or fatherland.  As one of the “occupiers” put it, “The only way to win a war is to kill enough of the enemy that they do not want to fight anymore.”  The colonial war continues for these patriots.

            As nearly anyone living in the settler colonies of the United States and Canada knows by simply looking around and noticing the near absence of any large pockets of indigenous populations, the “patriotic” colonial wars were quite effective.  Even the U.S. Senate has acknowledged this:

“Since the first European settlers arrived on this continent, Indians have lost 97 percent of their land and their population has been decimated by military assaults and fatal disease. These attacks were also designed to rob Indians of their very identity, pushing them to relinquish their language, arts and religion.”

Canada for its part admitted last year through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission report that government and religious boarding schools for Indigenous children resulted in “cultural genocide.”

One aspect of patriotism involves asserting imperial authority and status over other people and their lands.  Living in an empire, we can find plenty of modern examples of this kind of patriotism: military excursions into Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and a very long list of covertly overthrown elected governments who disagree with U.S. foreign policy and the interests of the 1%.  For the armed militias at Malheur, patriotism serves as a settler-colony “just war” to defend their families from a federal government they consider illegitimate and to secure lands they believe belong to them.  

For more than 800 years Christian doctrine proclaimed, according to British scholar Andrew Vincent, “the religious duty of citizens was to render themselves vulnerable to death for their patria.”  Maybe that is how these patriots religiously understand themselves.  As of today, the remaining four militias members have spent 40 days and 40 nights at Malheur, a figure that appears frequently in the Christian Bible to signify troubling times of hardship.

Rather than writing off the Malheur militias as crazies, best to see them in a context of history and current anti-federal government politics.  For now, though, I’ll hold off to another day to further place this event within what the Europeans originally meant when they “discovered” a geographic location new to them, such as what is today the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Sandra Bland and Smoking While Black (continued...)

As you may recall, last July a White Texas state trooper pulled over Sandra Bland, a Black woman, on bogus grounds and became enraged when she refused to stop smoking a cigarette (“Sandra Bland and Smoking While Black”).  Based on video evidence of the encounter, the trooper was indicted this week on charges of perjury, a misdemeanor.  The county judge still needs to issue a warrant for the officer’s arrest so the case can proceed through the judicial system.

Within three days of her arrest, Sandra Bland sadly and unnecessarily died on July 13 in her Texas jail cell from a reported “suicide.”  A grand jury investigating her jailhouse death failed to bring indictments against any of the jailers.  This was despite evidence that the jailers clearly did not follow required basic protocol for a detainee about whom they had health concerns.

During just the past decade an estimated 4,200 people in Texas have died while in police custody or incarcerated.  At the national level no accurate governmental database currently exists to document how many people of color die in police custody.  This stems in part by lack of enforcement of iterations of the ‘‘Death in Custody Reporting Act.”  This Congressional bill has seen a number of revisions over the years but essentially depends on the states to accurately collect data and report it to the Feds.  This somewhat voluntary system has yet to yield valid information.

The U.S. Department of Justice attempts to compile data just on numbers of people who die while in the custody of local jails or state prisons, not necessarily those who die due to the actions of police.  In 2012, for example, the DOJ reported that 4,309 inmates died across the U.S. while imprisoned.  Between 2000 & 2012 local jails alone averaged 900-1,000 inmate deaths annually.

The Black Lives Matter social justice movement and continuing national attention to racial injustices has put the spotlight on the cozy relationship between county prosecutors and local police.  Without this movement’s pressure it is unlikely that this rural county in Texas with a known history of racism would have bothered to investigate any aspect of Bland’s arrest and death.  Only now is the nation attending to its colonial legacy: According to the 1705 Virginia Slave code, the death of a Black person by a White would be as if it “had never happened.”  In the end, these charges against the state trooper in the case of Sandra Bland are a relative judicial slap on the hand if carried out to the maximum in comparison to the actual criminality of the officer in arresting Bland in the first place.

"Statement Concerning the Climate of Political Intolerance"

[Note:  Look forward to learning how other colleges, governing bodies, and community groups are responding...MV]

A voice vote was taken on the statement below at the December 9, 2015, meeting of the Evergreen State College Faculty and passed by overwhelming yes vote with one abstention.

We, members of the faculty at The Evergreen State College, are deeply troubled by the extreme intolerance of the present political scene in the United States. Particularly worrisome are some of the demagogic, hateful and openly racist statements emerging from the field of Presidential candidates, echoed by members of Congress, governors, and other officials. In recent months we have seen rhetorical slanders against Mexican immigrants, Muslims, refugees, Black Lives Matter activists, women, and even people with disabilities.

Recent attacks in Paris prompted discussion of closing mosques, mass surveillance, the creation of databases of refugees--and even a ban on all Muslim immigration to the US.  Many governors demanded a ban on all immigration of Syrian refugees to the United States. One presidential candidate compared them to “rabid dogs.” Another has proposed that we kill the families of terrorists. Such inflammatory comments, appealing to deep-seated prejudice and fear, can only serve to degrade public discourse, weaken the defense of cherished civil liberties, and prepare the ground for authoritarianism and violence.

To combat these troubling developments, as part of our stated mission to further social justice, we at The Evergreen State College:

  1. Applaud the statement by Governor Jay Inslee welcoming Syrian refugees to the State of Washington. We further encourage an increase in the proposed number of those refugees allowed into the United States during this period of humanitarian crisis.
  2. Encourage, to the extent possible, our own Evergreen State College to be a part of the process of resettlement of these immigrants. We also endorse tuition support and an expedited admissions process to allow Syrian students to attend Evergreen.
  3. Condemn the wholesale scapegoating of members of the Islamic faith, and those of Middle Eastern ethnicity, because of the reprehensible acts of a few. We denounce the exploitation of public fears by political figures seeking to build support at the expense of whole groups of innocent people.
  4. Condemn the abusive political rhetoric against African Americans, Black Lives Matter activists, undocumented Mexican and other immigrants, people with disabilities, women, and others. We deplore this uncivil and intolerant discourse, and encourage our community members to publicly defend the rights and liberties of those under attack.
  5. Promote an ethics of welcome towards all refugees, recognizing their right to human dignity. We are also mindful that climate change, war, and economic crises will continue to produce migrations for a long time to come.

We welcome and echo this November 21 statement issued by the American Academy of Religion, the world’s largest scholarly society devoted to the critical study of religion:

The American Academy of Religion is deeply troubled by the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States and around the world. Hate speech and intemperate political discourse aimed at Muslims and other religious groups are opposed to the values of our learned society and to the most cherished commitments of American civic culture. We call on our members, other scholars of religion, and all Americans, to reject that divisive and dangerous speech and to reaffirm our shared commitment to a free and open society where all residents’ rights are recognized and protected.

“Black Women Matter”

            Last week an Oklahoma City police officer was found guilty of sexually assaulting 13 Black women while he was on the job.  The officer was finally brought to tears when the jury recommended 263 years in prison.  Outside the courtroom, supporters of the women, as the New York Times put it, “updated an evocative phrase by emphasizing ‘Black women matter’.”  Nevertheless, the all-White jury – yes, ALL, in a county that is 20% Black – acquitted the officer on 18 counts due to the questioning of the credibility of some of this rapist’s victims.

This case reflects a deep, racist history from the colonial era to the U.S. founding.   For example, Thomas Jefferson made clear the value of slave women as wealth.  In regards to how he valued his Black female slaves, he wrote, “I consider the labor of a breeding woman as no object” – that is, what her work or labor produced was not all that important.  Then Jefferson goes on to state what he did find important: “that a child raised every 2 years of more profit than the crop of the best laboring man.”  A prominent author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson clearly saw how economically valuable slaves and their offspring were to White property expansion.

Black women during the colonial era through much of the 20th century were cast by White dominant narratives as promiscuous and inviting rape, when in fact it is the legacy of White male slave owners who raped Black women with impunity. And, of course, such violations of Black women would never have had a day in court, especially with a White jury – which in the Oklahoma City case is a noteworthy shift in an all-White jury convicting a White police officer of any crime against people of color at all, let alone against Black women.

Into the 20th century we find President Woodrow Wilson praising the Ku Klux Klan, a historical lesson that became publicly debated last month in protests at Princeton University where Wilson had served as president.  Wilson was enthusiastic about his old college buddy Thomas Dixon having his 1905 novel The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan made into the 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation.  Basically the book and movie as works of fiction presented freed male slaves as criminals who preyed on White women.  This narrative contrasts with the actual historical actions of White males, especially those associated with the planter class, who raped and impregnated Black women and murdered Black males as if it had never happened.

Quoted in The Birth of a Nation is President Wilson who rationalized that KKK “began to attempt by intimidation what they were not allowed to attempt by the ballot or by any ordered course of public action.”  Projected in this film was the president’s quote that “white men were roused by the mere instinct of self-preservation…until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.” Wilson arranged for The Birth of a Nation to be the first film shown in the White House.  In that film the KKK marches proudly past the White House.

At the height of the mid-1960s “War on Poverty,” Daniel Moynihan, as a U.S. Labor Department employee – and eventual Harvard professor, member of Congress, and U.S. ambassador – penned The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.  According to Moynihan, the problem of poverty for millions of African Americans was not White racism that led to discrimination in housing and jobs – but Black women!  Using a disease metaphor, Moynihan contended that a cultural feature,  a “family pathology,” was a primary cause of intergenerational poverty.  The identified source of the continuing culture of poverty was the Black female as head of household because “a matriarchal structure…seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male.” 

The trope of the Black female parent as a cause of social problems would later become prominent in President Reagan’s 1980s racializing discourse of mythic welfare queens.  By our current decade this skewed narrative would expand into a “cultural commonsense created by rightwing race-baiting: lazy nonwhites abuse welfare, while hardworking whites pay for it,” according to Ian Haney López in his brilliant book Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.

            Meanwhile, the incarceration rate of Black women has been rising significantly during the past 20 years.  Women are currently incarcerated at a rate of 1 out of every 56 women, but for Black women chances of incarceration are 1 in 19 in their lifetime, a ratio nearly 3 times that of white women.  Added to all of this, incarceration is where women experience higher rates of sexual violence than men.

            Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw and her colleagues note that historically “Black female narratives were rendered partial, unrecognizable, something apart from the standard claims of race discrimination or gender discrimination” – a critically important point in calling continued attention to “Black Women Matter.”

Police Chiefs Address a Broken System

            It’s been 15 months since unarmed African American adolescent Michael Brown was killed by White Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson and the Lost Voices of Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter social justice movement forced national attention on America’s broken criminal justice system.  Black Lives Matter continues to inspire numerous long-overdue social justice debates over public safety and criminal justice.   In Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003), Angela Davis cautioned about the rhetoric of “reform”:

“Debates about strategies of decarceration, which should be the focal point of our conversations on the prison crisis, tend to be marginalized when reform takes the center stage.”

Professor Davis goes on to ask,

“How can we take seriously strategies of restorative rather than exclusively punitive justice?”

             In light of Davis’s comments, the October 20th announcement by the police chiefs of major urban cities urging a reduction in incarcerations and arrests definitely got my attention.  Historically, police organizations have vehemently opposed such policies.  Speaking as co-chair of the national Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, Chicago Police Chief Garry F. McCarthy reflectively shared,

“After all the years I’ve been doing this work, I ask myself, ‘What is a crime, and what does the community want?’  When we’re arresting people for low-level offenses — narcotics — I’m not sure we’re achieving what we’ve set out to do. The system of criminal justice is not supporting what the community wants.”

Like a post-structuralist, McCarthy found himself deconstructing the concept of crime and public safety.  McCarthy’s reflection on “what is a crime?” captures what is understated in Diversity and Education:

“Worldviews differ on interpretations of what constitutes a crime and a just punishment.”

             In their statement the police chiefs acknowledged the problem of arrests and incarceration of people who clearly need access to mental health services – rather than simply being thrown into jails and prisons.  Yet, these police leaders left unanswered as to how funding would shift from incarceration to mental health services.  Since the era of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, the U.S. has continued to reduce social services for the mentally ill.  Instead, we’ve witnessed a growth of mentally-challenged individuals being homeless or incarcerated. 

              Besides the lack of publicly-funded mental health services to meet the reform aim of McCarthy and his organization, the growth of what Davis named as the prison-industrial complex must be addressed politically.  In essence, the prison-industrial complex is where individuals profit off of incarceration.  While McCarthy and the other police chiefs addressed the exorbitant cost to the public of incarceration, they are silent on the huge political clout that the for-profit prison industry holds over politicians in state and federal legislatures.  That debate is yet to happen in a conservative political climate where mainstream economic policies continue to privilege profit over publicly-funded social services.

It Takes a Video: Police Violence Against School Children

            The recent student-recorded video of a White male police officer slamming a Black female adolescent sitting in her school desk to the floor while her classmates and teachers looked on grabbed the nation’s attention about the unproductive presence of police in schools.  This past July Mother Jones magazine documented how police in schools (or by their Orwellian title, “School Resource Officers”) inflict horrendous and unnecessary injuries on young people. 

            This is not a new problem.  Ten years ago the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a comprehensive report about this problem  (“Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline”).  Similar to police violence dished out to unarmed civilians, cops in schools punish and arrest students of color at a disturbingly disproportionate rate –about which the American Civil Liberties Union issued warnings seven years ago.  Students of color on the average are disproportionately criminalized for the same behavior exhibited by their White peers.  

The rise of the carceral state since the Reagan and Clinton administrations mirrors the rise in the criminalization of normal youthful behavior/misbehavior – with lasting negative effects on life opportunities for arrested and incarcerated youth. 

            The numbers help tell the story.  In the past 40 years the rate of school suspensions and expulsions have doubled.  Diversity and Education documents that

“suspended or expelled students have 300% higher likelihood than their peers of having a direct experience with the juvenile justice system within 1 year… During the 2009–2010 academic year, California school administrators alone suspended 400,000 students.”

            A 2013 New York Times article – “With Police in Schools, More Children in Court” – observed how the presence of police in schools is associated with

“a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially non-violent behavior ... that sends children into criminal courts.”

Once in the juvenile criminal justice system, as noted in an earlier commentary (“‘Cruel and Unusual Punishment’ of Incarcerated Youth”), young people often suffer human rights violations.

            Over the past four decades too many schools abandoned a focus on providing young people with counseling and on using other non-punitive methods to handle disciplinary complaints.  Instead, public schools adopted a police-state strategy of law-and-order, a practice mirrored in the larger society that has resulted in the U.S. globally having the highest percentage of its population incarcerated. 

           With this most recent nationally circulated video and the growing research on the unproductive presence in of police in schools, we may begin to see policies that lead to the removal of all police from schools except under exceptional circumstances.

The Master Narrative: No “Slaves,” Only “Workers” in Texas Schoolbooks

            An attentive 15-year old let his mother know that a required Texas social studies book claimed that people of African descent brought forcible to the Americas to labor for Whites were identified as “workers” rather than “slaves”  in a section devoted to “immigration.” Mom took to social media, Black Lives Matter picked up a video she posted, and McGraw Hill had to respond to their “mistake”:

 “We conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.”

This latest example of Texas miseducation – despite the review process – along with McGraw-Hill’s admission of inadequacy would not have surprised the late Harvard historian Nathan Huggins. In 1991 Professor Huggins wrote that

a “master narrative of American history” is founded on “a conspiracy of myth, history, and chauvinism . . . [that] could find no place at its center for racial slavery, or racial caste which followed Emancipation.”   

The power of the “master narrative” that Nathan Huggins pointed out nearly 25 years ago is defended vehemently today by Texas political dominant conservatives (and by similar forces in other states).  This imposition of a Texas master narrative continues to White-wash U.S. history, as mentioned in an earlier commentary (“A Texas Educational Approach to Racial Truth & Reconciliation”). 

The Texas Republican 2012 platform is quite clear about how to present history to young people:

 “We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive.  We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty…”

Mentioning the inhumane treatment of slaves and the profits that were accrued for the nation’s economy apparently must be hidden from young minds in the name of a “common American identity.”

Meanwhile, the nearly 140,000 print copies of textbook that Texas did buy will continue to be used in the state’s 267 school districts – until mega-corporation McGraw-Hill gets around to it: “These changes will be…included in the program’s next print run.”  This is about money and conservative ideology, not about exposure to the nation’s actual story.

 

 

"Cruel and Unusual Punishment" of Incarcerated Youth

            California’s decision this month to reform the use of solitary confinement of prisoners brought further attention to the wide-spread use of this medieval method of incarceration.  The use of medieval dungeons in U.S. prisons consistently violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”  Solitary confinement in 21st century prison-dungeons are by design a form of torture that leaves its victims – especially young people – socially and psychologically traumatized for life.

            Take the case of Kalief Browder who was imprisoned at the age of 16.  According to the New Yorker, Kalief

spent more than one thousand days on Rikers waiting for a trial that never happened. During that time, he endured about two years in solitary confinement, where he attempted to end his life several times.

Surveillance videos secured by New Yorker investigative reporter Jennifer Godderman vividly show “an officer assaulting [Kalief] and of a large group of inmates pummeling and kicking him.”

In 2013 Kalief Browder was released from jail when charges were dropped against him for supposedly stealing a backpack.  As publicity grew over his unjust imprisonment, there was an outpouring of support for him.  But Kalief never recovered from his time in the dungeon: This past June at age 22 Kalief committed suicide. 

Kalief Browder’s cruel treatment, however, is not unusual for U.S. jails and prisons. Unfortunately, his decision to commit suicide is not unusual either.  Solitary Watch reports that

Juveniles are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than a juvenile detention facility and 19 times more likely to kill themselves in isolation than in general population.

 The U.S. regularly violates international justice agreements that it has signed.  Diversity and Education describes medieval practices of degradation and torture the U.S. uses in its detention of adolescents, including:

  • Solitary confinement 21-24 hours a day despite known research on the negative effects for healthy psychological development
  • Life sentences without parole for juveniles – only nation in the world to do so
  •  Use of shackling as a punishment rather than as a restraint even when not convicted of a crime
  • Juvenile court “trials” without legal representation

With increased news attention to this medieval criminal justice justice system, maybe elected local, state, and federal official will take steps to stop the U.S. from being an international outlaw in its mistreatment of juveniles.  Simply following a 1990 United Nations resolution would be a good start.  In signing onto UN resolution "Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of Their Liberty," the U.S. in principle agreed that

All disciplinary measures constituting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment shall be strictly prohibited, including corporal punishment, placement in a dark cell, closed or solitary confinement or any other punishment that may compromise the physical or mental health of the juvenile concerned.

Continuing attention to U.S. violations of juvenile human rights can be a start to shifting public opinion away from medieval torture techniques and toward more humane treatment and restorative justice for young people.

“Europe,” the Migration Crisis, and Multiculturalism

            As some migrants are hailing their arrival to Germany, I’m reminded of the statement by Germany’s popular conservative chancellor Angela Merkel and de facto leader of the European Union.  In 2013 when faced with an increase in immigrants, especially Muslims, Merkel reacted by declaring that “the multicultural concept…has failed, and failed utterly.”

            As we’ve seen in the cruel financial treatment – led by Germany’s chief central banker of Greece by the European Union bankers in putting Greece in a permanent state of financial servitude and now with the handling of waves of migrants, the fiction of “Europe” and European unity is unraveling.  We are reminded that national boundaries are a human invention for political reasons, not for the promotion of human rights.

           Going back centuries, the idea that Europe would be reserved as the headquarters for a Christian Empire ruled by people of a certain skin color continues to be challenged by the realities of our diverse and multicultural world.  Hopefully, the people of Europe will find common humanity with the dire circumstances that these thousands of migrants are facing.

A Texas Educational Approach to Racial Truth & Reconciliation

            A recent Gary Trudeau “Doonesbury” cartoon shows a befuddled social studies teacher claiming – in accordance with Texas social studies standards – that secession from the United States by the Confederate States of America was primarily about so-called “states’ rights” while slavery was down the list of reasons.  The clueless teacher then is confronted with a student who notes that in the Texas Declaration of Secession “the word ‘slave’ appears 18 times.” The student is subsequently scolded for using “outside sources.”

            In Diversity and Education – after examining the Texas Administrative Code’s social studies standards – I concluded that

The anxiety by social conservatives over ethnic studies and multiculturalism extends to interpretations of what should be included and excluded in the public school curriculum. Representative of this trend is how the state of Texas reworded its social studies standards to reassert common culture privileging of Christianity along with more favorable impressions of patriarchy, the Confederacy, capitalism, and the military.

Additionally, the Texas Educational Standards to which a generation of youth are being subjected represents

a backlash against Islam and immigrants of color and overtly mutes a history inclusive of slavery, political gains of women, racial discrimination, labor unions, indigenous histories, and excesses of capitalism.

            This rewriting of history to conform to a sanitized White Christian narrative is indicative of the challenge to Racial Truth and Reconciliation, not only in Texas but throughout nation.  But hope rests with small but significant acts of teacher resistance.  Kirk White, a middle school social studies teacher in Austin, explains:

Are there some things in there that don’t belong? Sure, but I hope teachers don’t buckle and interpret the language too narrowly.  If we have to talk more about our so-called 'Christian nation' in class, then let’s talk about it— the good and the bad. A good teacher will know how to take advantage of this situation.

But it remains unclear how the world views of young people will be affected when exposed not to teachers like Kirk White but to such teachers as the one lampooned by cartoonist/satirist Gary Trudeau.

Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission

     A fitting recognition for the first anniversary of the killing of an unarmed African American adolescent by a white Ferguson police officer would be the convening of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  It may be the time that we – the people and our  public officials  face the sordid history of the nation that has allowed the continuation of racial oppression in support of various forms of White nationalism.  The first step to radically change continuing forms of institutional racism will likely require some sort of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

       A Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial declared in July that “Virginia must lead on racial truth and reconciliation”: 

"After the [Civil] war, Virginia and its fellow states in the Confederacy avoided an accounting.  The gentleman’s code apparently deterred integrity. Accounting has not occurred; the half remains untold.  The United States has not authorized a truth and reconciliation commission.  Although blurred, the color line persists.  Barack Obama’s election did not translate into a post-racial society.  White America seems to have believed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 erased history . Several centuries of slavery followed by segregation and racism, de jure and de facto, apparently left no trace.  The attitudes insulted those who made history and those who lived it.  Nothing could be less conservative than a reluctance to confront the past."
"This is Virginia’s opportunity….  The slaveocracy took root in the Chesapeake. Richmond served as capital of the Confederacy…   Virginia is the ideal state to take the lead in addressing truth and reconciliation, in other words."

      The controversy over displaying and the eventual lowering of the Confederate flag in South Carolina served as an example of the kind of soul-searching and action that is neededbut much more is required on broader and deeper scale.  

     The convening of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is needed not just in Virginia, but in settings throughout the United States.  Such an accounting of racial wrongs against people of color can be an important start to dismantling economic and political racial inequities that continue in housing, jobs, and education.

 

Note to Cincinnati Prosecutor: Murders by Police Do Happen in the U.S.

            As we approach the one-year anniversary of the death of unarmed Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, a slow but discernable shift is occurring among some public officials in response to the heightened public awareness brought on by the Black Lives Matter social justice movement.  This shift is seen in the legal response of the killing of unarmed African American Samuel Debose in Cincinnati.  The point-blank murder of another unarmed African American by a police officer is unusual in only that a prosecutor choose to do his job and charge the cop for murder

            The prosecutor in this case, however, appears shocked at this incident which is actually part of a larger pattern of racial oppression carried out under the watch of prosecutors across the nations.  He claims,

"This doesn’t happen in the United States, OK? This might happen in Afghanistan. People don’t get shot for a traffic stop."

Too many examples to counter this assertion of American exceptionalism, but isn’t the prosecutor aware of his own state news from just a couple months ago when Cleveland police officers were acquitted for the fatal shootings of two unarmed African Americans sitting in their own car – with 137 shots?  The prosecutor in that case who unsuccessfully tried the Cleveland cops compared the police defendants to an "organized crime syndicate" for their lack of cooperation in the case in their practice of engaging in the unwritten Blue-Wall-of-Silence.

In Urban America and its Police: From the Postcolonial Era through the Turbulent 1960s, Harlan Hahn and Judson Jefferies provide insights on the policing of Black actions from private slave patrols to the rise of modern urban police departments:

"The primary objective of white voters and politicians was to prevent both slave and free black persons from disrupting a segregated social structure, and the police served as an essential instrument of that policy."

This historical pattern that has provided police impunity in their use of violence on Blacks continues, but through the unceasing Black Lives Matter movement we are witnessing a small but significant disruptions to this system. 

Sandra Bland and Smoking While Black

Reflecting on Sandra Bland’s arrest and eventual death while incarcerated in a Texas county jail with its own legacy of White supremacy is an important reminder that historical patterns continue to inform 21st century racial disparities.   What was her “crime”?  Apparently not giving a White police officer the deference required by White custom for Black people since the colonial era and the founding of the United States.

Like the Black youth Emmett Till who in 1955 was visiting relatives in Mississippi and was mutilated and murdered for reportedly flirting with a White woman, Sandra Bland was also from Chicago and refused to follow the deferential custom imposed by Whites on Blacks. 

Like other African Americans who have been despised by Whites and arrested for nearly any concocted reason, Sandra Bland – an educated women on her way to a new job at a local university from which she herself had graduated – was simply asserting her knowledge of her civil rights when she was pulled over for a lane violation while she smoked a cigarette

Although no arrest had been made, the existence of the cigarette so inflamed the White policeman that he threatened Bland while pointing his Taser at her: “I will light you up!”

This scene reminded me of Douglas Blackmons description in Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II of a 1908 world that could result in the arrest of a Black man – or something worse:

So the term for those African American men deemed specifically worthless for their defiant attitudes was ‘cigarette dudes.’ These men were cocky in comparison to their peers; they had learned reading and writing, and sometimes worked and sometimes slouched on street corners. Sometimes cigarettes sat akilter on their lips… Instead of threadbare overalls, the uniform of all blacks and poor country whites for as long as anyone could remember, these men might wear trousers and jackets, even neckties… On their faces an air of defiant confidence, visages of the men they knew they should been allowed to be…

“According to almost every white, these cigarette dudes were the source of every trouble in the South… To be rid of them forever, by whatever means could accomplish that goal, was something nearly every white man in the South…had openly called for and worked toward…”

Contrary to assertions of a post-racial America, overcoming 400 years of racial oppression will take the continuation and expansion of the social justice movement Black Lives Matter.