Wisconsin Rep Gwen Moore: Violence against women is as American as apple pie

By Frederick Sparks

Speaking on the floor of the U.S. House in favor of reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act,  Wisconsin Representative Gwen Moore recounted painful memories of sexual assault both as a child and as an adult.  “Domestic violence has been a thread throughout my personal life, up to and including being a child repeatedly sexually assaulted, up to and including, being an adult who’s been raped,” Moore said. Opposition to the bill this year has “really brought up some terrible memories for me.”  Watch here

Renewal has been stalled due to some Republican objections to what they consinder odious expansions of the bill’s scope, such as outreach to American Indians, assistance for undocumented immigrants dealing with domestic violence, and inclusion of those involved in same-sex domestic violence under the bill’s purview.

NOM memo reveals strategy to “drive a wedge between blacks and gays”

By Frederick Sparks

Revealed as part of a court ordered release of documents related to a lawsuit over finance disclosure violations, a 2009 National Organization for Marriage memo spells out a strategy of racial targeting in its opposition to marriage equality.  In a section titled “Not A Civil Right Project” the memo states “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. ”  The memo also speaks to accomplishing a “sophisticated cultural objective: interrupt the attempt to equate gay with black, and sexual orientation with race.”  This is all part of an overall objective to “raise the cost of identifying with gay marriage, and also raise the attractiveness of identifying with traditional marriage.”

In  a section devoted to targeting Latino opposition to same-sex marriage, the memo queries “will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values?”  Rich irony..the same political forces who xenophobically decry the perceived resistance of Latinos to dominant culture assimilation now worry about the effects of said assimilation.

Sikivu Hutchinson wrote previously of the alliance between Black and Latino fundamentalist anti-abortion groups and the white Religious Right .     Black and Latino conservatism on social issues, largely related to high degrees of Christian religiosity, is ripe ground for political forces who otherwise couldn’t be concerned with the most pressing issues facing those communities.

Magnitudes of marginalization and the Oppression Olympics

By Frederick Sparks

There’s a quaint but common assumption that those belonging to a group subject to discrimination and inequality have an automatic sympathy for others in the same boat.  History has not proven this assumption consistently true.  One need only watch the end of Gangs of New York, where working class white immigrants violently take out their frustrations on New York’s African-American population, to get a refresher. For  downtrodden white ethnics, the response to marginalization was not sympathy but a fierce determination to define themselves as white in contradistinction to blacks, who were clearly the lowest of the low.

As a black gay man I observe this phenomenon from the cat bird seat when it comes to the discussions of racism in the (white) gay community and homophobia among African-Americans.  “Black people can marry each other, they aren’t legally discriminated against, and people aren’t beaten in the street for being black. Besides I support your issues (I voted for Barack Obama) and you don’t support mine (Black people are responsible for prop 8)”, says the white gay.   “You can’t choose to be black, but you can choose to be gay,  the police don’t shoot you because you’re gay and you aren’t followed around department stores because you’re gay. And besides, the bible says that’s wrong/homosexuality is a European perversion that didn’t exist in pre-colonial Africa”, says the black straight.  Of course one of the many flawed assumptions in this us vs them dialectic is that all the gays are white and all the blacks are straight.

The blind spot towards the privilege one enjoys (which is the hallmark of said privilege) is exacerbated when one enjoys privilege on one dimension of ontology yet experiences marginalization on another dimension. The accusation of bias is somehow seen as a marginalization of bias endured by the accused.  So when a black gay writes about the lack of coverage of Trayvon Martin in the gay media or about the marginalization of blacks within the larger gay community the response is often along the lines of incredulity and counter-accusation of bias.  The same can be said of discussions of racism within the feminist movement or the ongoing conversation about the blind spot to social justice issues in the white male dominated secular/atheist milieu (because of course white male secularists experience their own marginalization…)

Then we get into the Oppression Olympics…who has had it worse.  My freshman year in a college, a Jewish woman professor in a world history and culture class stated that the holocaust was the worst crime ever committed against a race or group of people, “including slavery” (making it a point to look at me, one of a handful of black students in the class, when she said that).  Now if I were the same person then as I am now, class would’ve ended differently that day, but at the time I could only feel insecure and ponder why it was important for either side to “win” that battle, even if the two were quantitatively comparable.

So that is what constitutes out group privilege…an assumption that experiencing discrimination makes one immune from bias, a defensiveness when said bias is raised, and an impulse to counter accuse bias/and or to win the Oppression Olympics.  None of this leads to an actual examination of biases and privileges and leads to narrowly focused conceptions of political movements related to gender or racial or sexual orientation equality that do not incorporate a prioritization of broader social justice issues.


White Picket Fences, White Innocence

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Black children in America are never innocent.  Innocence looks like Dick and Jane, our bright-eyed tour guides through the idyll of green lawns, lazy bike rides down hopscotched sidewalks, and the mystery meat treasure of sandboxes under blue skies that sparkle into eternity.  From the 1930s into the 1960s Dick and Jane taught America how to read the American dream.  Picture book primers with these two characters snaked through every schoolhouse from the Deep South to the rugged West of African American “Promised Land” reveries. Before the mainstreaming of phonics, the Dick and Jane primers were the first to provide sight reading instruction supposedly grounded in average everyday life.  In their sun-kissed freckle-faced average-ness, Dick and Jane schooled America in the cultural literacy of suburbia and the holy trinity of nuclear family, heterosexual marriage, and white supremacy.  Neat, well-dressed, ever-courteous, they established the template for a “normal” childhood of perfect single family homes in segregated subdivisions that would be tethered to the world’s largest interstate highway system in 1956.  Father was breadwinning and boozing. Mother was homemaking and Easy-Off sniffing.  Spot the family dog brooded faithfully at brother Dick’s side, primed to rip off the balls of any intruder.  Government subsidized Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans and GI Bill funded college educations smoothed the pathway for Dick and Jane’s nuclear bootstrapping.  Black vets and black families needn’t apply.

In her World War II era novel The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison begins almost every chapter with a bitter homage to the manufacturing of Dick and Jane. The book opens with “Here is the house.  It is green and white.  It has a red door.  It is very pretty. Here is the family.  Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane.”  On the next page the words blur together, spidery and damp, underscoring the brutal contrast between idyllic Americana and the novel’s blistering story of incest, racial apartheid, misogyny, and psychic degradation in the life of a black Midwestern family.

As metaphors for American innocence Dick and Jane continue to taunt and terrorize.  These are the bodies that matter, that are worthy of protection, that demand the kind of national security epitomized by America’s panting 24/7 tabloid obsession with all the missing Caylees, Jaycees, Chandras, Elizabeths, and Natalees.  This is the legacy of human value and worth that so-called “white Hispanic” neighborhood watch “captain” George Zimmerman, like scores of American children of all ethnicities, was steeped in when he murdered Trayvon Martin in cold blood. [Read more…]

President Obama: If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon

By Frederick Sparks

Finally breaking his silence on the Trayvon Martin killing, President Obama personalized the issue while introducing Dartmouth president Jim Kim as his nominee to lead the World Bank (video link here).  The president asserted his reluctance to impair an ongoing investigation but highlighted that federal, state and local authorities were working together in the investigation. And in an apparent reference to the “stand your ground” law offered as justification for the handling of the case, the president said “I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen.  And that means we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.”

Meanwhile Seminole County State Attorney Norman Wolfinger removed himself from the case, stating “In the interest of the public safety of the citizens of Seminole County and to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, I would respectfully request the executive assignment of another state attorney for the investigation and any prosecution arising from the circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon B. Martin…This request is being made in light of the public good with the intent of toning down the rhetoric and preserving the integrity of this investigation.”  Because of course the most important thing here is toning down rhetoric.

“No confidence” vote for Sanford police chief

By Frederick Sparks

Commissioners actually split 3-2 in a no confidence vote over police chief Bill Lee’s handling of the Trayvon Martin case.   The vote followed a call for resignation from commissioner Mark McCarty.  It is the most incremental of incremental steps.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi released a statement Wednesday asserting that the tragic story “spurred many leaders, including members of Congress, to call for action.”  Pelosi praised justice department involvement in the case.  President Obama has not commented officially on the case; White House press secretary Jay Carney deflected specific commentary, referring to the case as a matter of local law enforcement. While many have criticized the President’s lack of commentary (specifically given his comments in the Henry Louis Gates controversy),  attorney B.J. Bernstein (who represented Genarlow Wilson and most recently two of the plaintiffs in the civil suit related to sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Eddie Long) asserted that it would be inappropriate for the president to comment on a case subject to an ongoing Justice Department investigation.

Meanwhile,  in Manhattan’s Union Square, demonstrators took part in a Million Hoodie March in memory of the murdered youth and to call for justice.  Martin’s parents addressed the gathering.  “We’re not going to stop until we get justice,” said the teenager’s father, Tracy Martin. His mother, Sybrina Fulton, told the crowd: “My heart is in pain, but to see the support of all of you really makes a difference.”   The march was organized largely on Facebook and Twitter, and many social network users posted pictures of themselves wearing hoodies as a  virtual show of support.

Calling out Racism on the RDF site

The following is a letter from Winterwind, a reader who recently submitted a response about his experiences at the RDF:

By Winterwind

I was a regular lurker and sometime commenter at RDF for several years. I stopped visiting the site two years ago and have never looked back. It was the best decision I have ever made, to leave that stinking cyber dungheap.

I regret leaving because it was a great place to read some interesting scientific articles and hear some very intelligent commentary. However, as time progressed, the most vocal commenters began to toxify the environment with their unchecked bullshit and privilege. They insisted that feminists, anti-racists and so on were just woolly-headed irrational thinkers, because sexism and racism no longer exist in the glorious West (such maladies only exist in backward countries populated by brown people with Arabic names, see Professor Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima”).

Sadly, the most vocal members of the RDF community are spoilt white heterosexual man-children who really belong on a site like 4chan, but instead wrap themselves in the mantle of rationality and skepticism to bash and disregard the experiences of people from minority communities.

Several times I saw threads in which Skeptical Dudebros announced that feminism was just another baseless religion, because sexism no longer existed in the West or was greatly exaggerated. While they could understand women in foreign (read: Muslim) countries being feminists, American and European women already had the right to vote and own property! That proves there’s no such thing as sexism, so American women are just whiny irrational bitches. And why do we need to attract more women? I don’t even see gender! All our leaders are men because they’re just better than women are, based on merit. (Gee, I wonder why women are underrepresented in the atheist community. I guess women are just less rational than men. It has nothing to do with the fact that the most vocal members of the atheist community are basically a nerdy old boys’ club.)

I saw similar threads in which White Skepticdudes declared that it was an empirical fact that racism no longer existed in the West – after all, black people aren’t lynched any more, and Barack Obama is president – so therefore there was no need for “Black Skeptics” or anti-racism or whatever. In fact, black people are the ones who are racist for wanting special “Black Skeptics” groups to themselves! White Skeptics don’t even see race, that’s how progressive they are! Racism doesn’t exist, it’s all in our imaginations, and if we just stop talking about it, it’ll magically go away. People who bring up racism are the racist ones. (Gee, I wonder why people of colour are underrepresented in the atheist community. I guess minorities just lack the brainpower to be skeptical. How sad.)

It must be nice to pretend racism doesn’t exist. It’s a bit harder for me, because when I was at school (just a few years ago) I had people calling me “black bastard”, “nigger”, “curry”, “Gandhi” at least once a week. Some of them bashed me. Perhaps they hadn’t yet received the memo that racism doesn’t exist any more? [Read more…]

Bearing the weight of others’ suspicions



By Frederick Sparks

It’s difficult to put into words how disturbed, angry and depressed I have been by the Trayvon Martin story, in particular the chilling 911 recording of the young man’s cries for help which certainly cast doubts on any claims of justified self-defense. Yet it appears for the moment that, as in the brutal murder of Emmitt Till, justice for the victim is not forthcoming.

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post does a great job of putting the Martin murder in a larger context of Black male experience..the ongoing set of survival skills that those of us with advanced degrees and without rap sheets also exercise intuitively when confronted with the very real possibility of violence and death based on our perceived threatening nature.  Capehart recounts the rules learned at his mother’s knee:

“Don’t run in public.” Lest someone think you’re suspicious.
“Don’t run while carrying anything in your hands.” Lest someone think you stole something.
“Don’t talk back to the police.” Lest you give them a reason to take you to jail or worse.

Sadly, my own nephew, a late 80s baby born the year I started college and now a college graduate and MBA student, has had recent run ins with police in Dallas, TX. Luckily the outcome has not been nearly as tragic as the Martin case, but the fear of such a result is a constant borne by black men and their loved ones.

Trayvon Martin: Murdered Walking While Black

Seventeen year-old Trayvon Martin was walking alone in a gated community in Orlando Florida when he was brutally gunned down by a white “neighborhood watch” captain.  There is no way in hell a black neighborhood watch captain would still be walking around free and un-charged nearly a month after having shot a white child dead in a gated community.
The following is text from a petition to SUPPORT THE PROSECUTION OF THE KILLER OF TRAYVON MARTIN:

From the family of Trayvon Martin, Petition is @ Change.org

“On February 26, our son Trayvon Martin was shot and killed as he walked to a family member’s home from a convenience store where he had just bought some candy. He was only 17 years-old.

Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, admitted to police that he shot Trayvon in the chest. Zimmerman, the community’s self appointed “neighborhood watch leader,” called the police to report a suspicious person when he saw Travyon, a young black man, walking from the store. But Zimmerman still hasn’t been charged for murdering our son.

Trayvon was our hero. At the age 9, Trayvon pulled his father from a burning kitchen, saving his life. He loved sports and horseback riding. At only 17 he had a bright future ahead of him with dreams of attending college and becoming an aviation mechanic. Now that’s all gone.

When Zimmerman reported Trayvon to the police, they told him not to confront him. But he did anyway. All we know about what happened next is that our 17 year-old son, who was completely unarmed, was shot and killed.

It’s been nearly two weeks and the Sanford Police have refused to arrest George Zimmerman. In their public statements, they even go so far as to stand up for the killer – saying he’s “a college grad” who took a class in criminal justice.

Please join us in calling on Norman Wolfinger, Florida’s 18th District State’s Attorney, to investigate my son’s murder and prosecute George Zimmerman for the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin.”

Sikivu at Georgetown University

Between Virgin Mary & Jezebel: Humanist Politics, Godless Morality

“In 1781, black and brown women and men founded the city of Los Angeles.  In this so-called city without a history, legend has it that undocumented Anglos were the real o.g. illegals.  A few years before, a ‘new’ revolution in what it meant to be human unfolded on the opposite shore in the British colonies.  My students know the ‘romance’ of the American Revolution but not the secret of Los Angeles.  In the prison house of textbook history, they know each other as enslaved ‘niggers’ and ‘wetback’ interlopers.  Growing up in the same neighborhoods, elbow to elbow, cheek by jowl, they are taught to believe that black and Latino culture can be distilled down to media stereotypes—get rich or die tryin’ hip hop and ghetto dysfunction; big Catholic families and job stealing illegals.  As kindergartners they were taught to cite the pledge of allegiance as sacred chapter and verse, hand solemnly over heart, in homage to royal theft.  Founding myths of heroic white men bootstrapping to liberty are intimately bound to their imagination of the classroom, to its rhythm of shrill discipline and stench of ground chalk, to a regime of time in which white supremacy and narratives of exceptionalist progress are the currency of American faith.”

March 22nd @Georgetown University Lannan Center,  New North 306, Washington D.C. 4:00 p.m.