How White America Prospers

Regardless of class status, in free market/free enterprise Americana, even in the midst of foreclosure and recession:

From the Sacramento Bee:

“Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), announced a federal housing discrimination complaint against Bank of America Corporation, Bank of America, N.A., and BAC Home Loan Servicing, LP. This complaint is the result of an undercover investigation of Bank of America that found the financial giant maintains and markets foreclosed homes in White neighborhoods in a much better manner than in African-American and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

Today’s complaint was filed with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and is part of an amended complaint NFHA and seven member agencies filed October 10 that looks at how Bank of America has differently maintained and marketed properties in White, African-American, and Latino neighborhoods across the country…The investigation in 13 cities of 505 foreclosed homes owned, serviced or managed by Bank of America demonstrates that it has engaged in a systemic practice of maintaining and marketing its foreclosed, bank-owned homes (also known as Real Estate Owned or REO properties) in a state of disrepair in communities of color while maintaining and marketing REO properties in predominantly White communities in a far superior manner.  The investigation has evaluated Bank of America REO properties in 13 cities including Atlanta, Charleston, SC, Chicago, Dallas, Dayton, OH, Grand Rapids, MI, Indianapolis, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Milwaukee, Oakland/Concord/Richmond, CA, Orlando, Phoenix and the Washington, DC area.

Communities of color continue to experience foreclosure rates twice that of White communities and continue to see their REO properties left to deteriorate and sit vacant.”

The Big Lie: Human Rights vs. “Special Rights”

By Naima Washington

In the October 5, 2012 edition of the Washington Blade (Washington, DC’s gay news weekly) included the article by Rev. Irene Monroe, ‘Will marriage support cost Obama black voters’? Rev. Monroe, located in Boston, points to the growing efforts among some African American ministers to create an anti-Obama campaign: “With one of Obama’s largest and most loyal blocs being African Americans who are also largely Democratic and conservative Christians, the big worry is not that African Americans would overwhelmingly cast a ballot for Mitt Romney; it’s that they might not come out in large numbers …”

Rev. Monroe also notes that Rev. William Owens of the Memphis-based Coalition of African American Pastors has more than 3742 black ministers and their churches behind his anti-Obama campaign, “Owens reportedly told the Association Press that he would lead a national effort to rally black Americans to rethink their overwhelming support of the president over the same-sex issue…” Another active pastor in Baltimore is Rev. Jamal-Harrison who “…formed the Empowerment Network, a national coalition of about 30 denominations working to register African-American parishioners…”, according to Irene Monroe, “Bryant, too, opposes same-sex marriage, and has stated that Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality is ‘at the heart’ of the problem for Black Christians.” In November, voters in Maryland will vote on marriage equality; passage would allow same-sex couples to wed beginning in January 2013.  The NAACP endorsed marriage equality along with some religious leaders who indicated a willingness to perform ceremonies for same-sex couple. Recent television ads opposing marriage equality, however, have claimed that those who support traditional marriage, which they define as one man and one woman, have been ‘punished, threatened, fired, and sued.’ According to the ad, passage of marriage equality will put us all at risk.

We live in a society where not so long ago there was no such crime as the rape of a black woman; there was also no such thing as a white woman being able to legally consent to have sex with a black man. In many cases, it would mean jail for her; in all cases it would mean death for him.  As the US claimed to respect the rights of the individual, nearly every state had laws forbidding interracial marriage; the dissemination of birth control information or devices; and of course, there were laws which criminalized same-sex intimate relationships.  America always prided itself for the freedom enjoyed by its citizens, yet millions of US citizens because of their color, gender, class, etc. have been denied an education, jobs, access to credit, mortgages, insurance, etc. Although Southern state laws subjected blacks to many forms of generational subjugation, blacks living in other states were traditionally discriminated against; one knew just what communities to avoid; which schools, jobs, restaurants, social clubs, amusement parks, and recreational centers were off-limits. Unless they were part of the ‘colored help’, many communities had no people of color living in them as renters or owners, and this pattern has continued into the 21st century. Misogyny, white supremacy, and economic injustice were at the very core of many of the laws which not only defined entire groups of people but ultimately defined how these groups would be allowed and expected to interact with each other.

Newcomers to America, especially those who come from countries where personal safety was always threatened for cultural, political, or religious reason; or where there was limited economic and social mobility, rightfully applaud the freedom they enjoy in the US. Many are often, however, ignorant of just how difficult and dangerous life has been for millions who have been here for the past three centuries. Less than 50 years ago, opponents to blacks who were seeking to crush Jim Crow laws and obtain full citizenship in America were determined to make sure that the rights of African Americans remained permanently restricted. In order to fan the flames of hostility, decades-old lies claiming that gay rights aren’t civil rights; that gays cannot be oppressed because they don’t have to be gay; that a civil rights agenda can only include black and other people of color (as though black and other people of color can’t also be gay). These lies also seek to define gays and subordinate their humanity as well. The struggle for universal human rights has never been the domain of any one group of people. Whenever and wherever there is oppression and injustice, the seeds of the struggle for human rights will always be planted. Against all odds, individuals and groups have always stepped forward to meet the challenge, and it will be a sad time for the human race should people ever cease to engage in struggle.

The Spectator Sport of Black Women Bashing

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In the 1990s, The O.J. Simpson murder trial polarized America and highlighted domestic violence as a national cause célèbre.  At the center of the storm was Simpson’s wife, the blond Orange County-bred Nicole Brown Simpson, who’d suffered years of domestic abuse by an NFL legend deified as a pop culture god.  After O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering Brown Simpson white America wanted his scalp. Nicole was the perfect victim, the beautiful tragic heroine who died too young at the hands of a savage.  The trial of the century hinged on redeeming a white woman’s honor and bringing her Negro killer to justice.  Brown Simpson was grieved globally, transformed into a symbol of the deadliness of intimate partner violence and martyr of a legal system—signified by the “dumb” biased black female jury that acquitted Simpson—run amok.

The underside of the verdict and the global valorization of Nicole Brown Simpson was the disreputable black female abuse victim.  Each year thousands of black women are shot, stabbed, stalked, and brutalized in crimes that never make it on the national radar.  Black women experience intimate partner violence at a rate of 35% higher than do white women.  Intimate partner violence is a leading cause of death for black women, yet they are seldom viewed as proper victims and are rarely cast as total innocents.  This is the backdrop to the tale of a group of white high school students in New York who thought it would be cool to don blackface and reenact the 2009 beating of pop star Rihanna by Chris Brown at a pep rally.  Like the gleefully bloodthirsty white audiences that gathered to view 20th century lynchings, there has always been a robust market for white consumption of black pain.  A big part of the white audience’s glee came from not seeing Rihanna as a proper victim.  For white Middle America, intimate partner violence is only funny as spectator sport if the person being beat is viewed as other.  From the right wing’s Moynihan-esque propaganda on black welfare queen matriarchs to recent abortion-as-black-genocide messaging, black women’s bodies are fair game for institutionalized acts of violence, terrorism, and control.  So for a lily white school to find the brutal beating of a black woman hilarious is par for the course in a misogynist white supremacist culture that deems black women less than human.

There is a deep connection between the current backlash against human rights for women and the white kids’ pep rally.  During the recent presidential debate, gender justice issues were reduced to hollow rhetoric about equal pay.  Mitt Romney prattled on about having “binders full of women” while President Obama tried to link the provisions of the Affordable Care Act with improving employment opportunities and equal pay for working women.  Although Obama rattled off a few vital health and family planning services provided by Planned Parenthood, the GOP assault on abortion rights went unmentioned.  Violence against women comes in many forms, and by ramming through law after law of draconian anti-abortion, fetal homicide, and “personhood” policies through state legislatures nationwide the GOP has become the foremost lynch mob of civil rights.  As the poorest, least compensated women in the workforce, women of color suffer disproportionately from the dismantling of reproductive health care.  But they are also brutalized by both parties’ promotion of corporate handouts, tax cuts for the wealthy, and denigration of social welfare programs that specifically target poor and low income families.

Yet, violence against women of color is so far outside of the radar of social justice organizations, much less the context of mainstream politics, that it even elicits little outrage amongst many young women of color.  Over the past few years, whenever I have classroom discussions about the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident students roll their eyes and snort in exasperation.  Some girls dismiss the issue as an endless rehash.  More insidiously, others express the view that Rihanna was somehow complicit in her own beating.  She must have done something, she must have hit him first, she must have provoked it in some way with her mouth, attitude, body—is the typical blame-the-victim refrain.

Not seeing themselves portrayed as worthy of human dignity, respect, and value has inured them to the unrelenting violence of explicitly anti-black anti-female media images.  According to a Pitzer College study, girls who are consistently exposed to “sexist violent rap videos were more accepting of teen dating violence.”  Training young women of color to come to voice, to identify the normalized violence that they experience on a daily basis, is one of the biggest challenges of feminist of color organizing.  Critiquing the pep rally incident, my Women’s Leadership Project students all agreed that the brutal beating of a Taylor Swift, a Britney Spears or even a Nicole Brown Simpson wouldn’t fly as spectator sport at a black high school.  The tragedy is that they all believed that Chris Brown’s beating of Rihanna would.

Support for Greta Christina

Fearless blogger, author and activist Greta Christina was recently diagnosed with endometrial cancer and needs community support as she recovers.  Although her condition is treatable, she needs vital support for living expenses as she convalesces.  You can pitch in and help Greta by going to her website at http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/10/18/bad-news-good-news-and-asking-for-help/.  Greta is the author of the recent hit title  Why Are You So Angry: 99 Things that Piss off the Godless.

FL Judge: Schizophrenic death row inmate’s Jesus visions no crazier than many Christians’

By Frederick Sparks

He’s sane enough for us to kill him.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court in Ford v. Wainright confirmed the common law principle that execution of the mentally insane violates the constitution (” For today, no less than before, we may seriously question the retributive value of executing a person who has no comprehension of why he has been singled out and stripped of his fundamental right to life.”).  And while the justices have also ruled against execution of the mentally retarded, there is no federal proscription against the execution of those whose mental illness falls short of the definition of legal insanity, a definition that is, for the most part, determined by procedures prescribed by the individual states.

In 1977, John Ferguson and two accomplices looking for drugs broke into a private home and murdered six people. Six months later, Ferguson came across a young couple parked in the car and murdered them both after raping the girl.   Ferguson also has a long, thoroughly documented history of paranoid schizophrenia; documented in the court system, no less.

Yet in deciding an appeal to stop the execution, Florida Circuit Court Judge David Glant ruled that “there is no evidence that he does not understand what is taking place and why it is taking place.” Particularly in addressing Ferguson’s claims that he is the “Prince of God” and will be resurrected with Jesus in the afterlife, Judge Glant said

“There is no evidence that Ferguson’s belief as to his role in the world and what may happen to him in the afterlife is so significantly different from beliefs other Christians may hold so as to consider it a sign of insanity.”

Glant describes this as a “relatively normal Christian belief”.

While the low hanging fruit in this story may be a judge equating the religious beliefs of a paranoid schizophrenic to those of mainstream Christians, the larger issues is one of a country that still carries out the death penalty, and still executes people with serious mental illness.  It is estimated that 5-1o% of death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness and that since 1983 60 people with mental illness or retardation have been executed.

Next Wave Atheist Leaders and White Privilege

By Diane Arellano

Recently the blog “Considered Exclamations” featured a post by AH Tripp challenging the selective endorsement of the “Next Generation of atheist activists.” This “crop of next wave leaders” is virtually all-white and lauded for tackling perennial secular and atheist issues such as questioning prayer in school. Tripp wondered why the social justice work of secular activists like Sikivu Hutchinson, founder of the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) and Black Skeptics Los Angeles, are under-recognized by the media and secular/ atheist communities.  He challenged white atheist groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation to get out of their bubbles and see how communities of color approach secularism.

As an atheist and program coordinator for the WLP, a feminist mentoring and leadership training program for young women in South Los Angeles, Tripp’s post resonated with me because Sikivu was my college professor and mentor.  Over the past several years, we’ve worked at schools where students who aren’t considered gifted or “college material” aren’t encouraged to prepare for college.  For example, African American students are disproportionately shut out of college prep Advanced Placement and Honors classes.  And undocumented students are often told straight up by racist teachers that “my taxes shouldn’t pay for you to go to college.”  Black and Latino students are searched, profiled, and basically considered guilty until proven innocent.  Girls of color are ritually silenced when it comes to speaking out about basic rights like freedom from sexual harassment or access to birth control.

Most of our students come from highly religious backgrounds that discourage any form of questioning about gender roles.  At sixteen and seventeen, girls are already saddled with the double and triple burdens of schoolwork, housework, caregiving, and child care for younger siblings.  Being involved in WLP they begin to see the sexism in these double standards, in the constant misogynist policing of their sexuality, and the racist bitch/ho/mammy/maid roles that society stereotypes them into.  Hardly a week goes by when one of our girls isn’t absent because she has to help with child care or work to support her family.  Hardly a quarter goes by when we don’t hear a story about a pregnant tenth grader who is keeping her baby because she can’t “kill” God’s creation. For our girls, abortion is freedom and reproductive justice is life, period.  So, no, trying to get Ten Commandments displays taken down or challenging prayer in school are not our priorities as atheists and freethinkers of color teaching in urban schools.  Sikivu willingly and patiently mentors, supports, and promotes, not just myself, but many young people of color who are unsure about how to begin to openly question religion or declare their identities as secular/ atheists in hyper-conservative religious communities.

For me, Sikivu’s humanist approach is powerful because it helps our students become critical about the influence of racism, sexism, violence, poverty, and religious dogma on their lives.  But, more importantly, it goes beyond “atheist” enlightenment, gives them the tools to understand how all of these things are connected and allows them to pushback as young women who the dominant culture—religious, secular, and all points in between—says don’t matter.

Diane Arellano is a photo documentarian and program coordinator for the Women’s Leadership Project and AB540 crew

 

Robber Baron Bingo

By Naima Washington

Once again, Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson wields her intellectual and critical scalpel and, in her essay: Mass Mitt Does South of the Border, she removes the false faces of both candidates who are running for the number one job on the planet. A few months ago, I saw an old film which stars Burt Lancaster in the title role of Elmer Gantry—an ambitious, slick-talking, evangelist who knew how to get believers to open their wallets and the ladies to open their ‘hearts!’ Perhaps, Mr. Romney has a new stylist, but lately, every time an image of him flashes across my television screen, I think of Elmer Gantry. To be fair, even a real-life version of Elmer Gantry, a fictionalized character created by author and social critic Sinclair Lewis, could have never been powerful enough to demoralize and impoverish the tens of millions of Americans who have suffered under both Democrats and Republicans. A real-life Elmer Gantry at his best (or worst) couldn’t have caused the death and devastation of untold numbers of people in Iraq, Afghanistan or of any of nation which has had the misfortune of bearing the brunt of US foreign policy.

When Messrs. Obama and Romney speak about supporting ‘business‘ regardless of what hometown example they use, they are not talking about an owner of a grocery store or dry cleaner. Both parties represent the interests of millionaires who want to become multi-millionaires as well as multi-millionaires who want to become billionaires. To be sure, neither the president nor his contender can serve two masters. They do not represent the interests of the people who are simply trying to make ends meet. What, if anything, has been the reaction to recent announcements made by corporate leaders regarding their plans to eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in the coming months? Bank of America plans to eliminate 16,000 jobs by the end of the year, and close numerous branches. Exactly how does Romney or the president expect the rate of unemployment to decrease as corporate interests continue to clash with the interests of working people? Both candidates claim to support the middle class. Yet, neither one of them seems to have noticed that the economic floor has caved-in sending middle class wage-earners crash-landing onto unemployment lines; into community food pantries; that they continue to face evictions and foreclosures; record-breaking personal bankruptcy as well as dealing with short-term low-wage positions and painful, long-term joblessness.

Mr. Romney claims that only President Obama supports the ‘redistribution‘ of wealth in this country, but that’s not true. Despite the fact that most wealth is accumulated as a result of unfair distribution, Mr. Romney continues to attempt to paint a picture of wealth redistribution through multiple invasions of the homes, vaults, and bank accounts of the wealthy by government officials who immediately redistribute those assets amongst the poor. The government even if it were to capture the wealth of the rich and super-rich would not play Robin Hood to poor folks! The wealth created by the 99% is captured by the 1% which is where much of that wealth remains. Mr. Obama tells us in the most civilized tones that he would like to ask the richest Americans to pay a little more. I think we already know their answer. When is the last you’ve been ‘asked’ permission to pay a little more taxes; asked for permission to bomb and kill your fellow human beings? The globalization of jobs is ultimately about the globalization of capital. Money and jobs are moved around the globe as investors search for low-wage earners, off-the-chart productivity, and out-of-this-world financial returns. By contrast, every time a business in my community closes, that’s it! They don’t shut down their operations and move to another part of the world. One man who ran a corner grocery store for over 20 years had to close his store. He can now be seen working as a stock clerk at another business just six blocks from the one he once owned.

The horrendous, exploitative, and dangerous working conditions in the US, particularly in the earliest part of the 20thcentury, produced radicalized visionaries who locally organized several sections of the working class while emphasizing the need for both national and international labor unions. One of their slogans, ‘workers of the world unite,’ may have sounded strange and even unnecessary to the ears of some people. But, not to the ears of corporate leaders and investors—also visionaries—who saw that there were fortunes to be made when skilled and unskilled laborers; women and men; native-born and immigrant; child wage-earner and adult wage-earner; English-speaking and non-English-speaking; people of color and whites, were all pitted against one another and would be much more easily manipulated and exploited than they would be if they were unified.

Every person who contributes to the benefit of their society should be able to earn a living wage. While it is true that there is dignity in all honest work, justice demands that honest work must translate into a wage that will allow a person to live a dignified life at a decent standard of living. The value of a human being is eroded when a living wage is seen as a handout. Besides, since the taxes on ‘earnings’ from capital gains can be much less than the taxes would be for the same amount of money ‘earned’ in wages, I don’t see what the Mitt Romneys (or the Obamas) of the world could possibly have against handouts! The cry for ‘less government’ sounds phony when coming from those who benefit from tax reductions, deductions and exemptions; special tax incentives for hiring certain workers; access to lucrative wealth-building government contracts; enjoy deregulation and zero oversight, etc. If it wasn’t for a generous government along with a loyal legislative body both of which look out for the rich, the rich could not continue to ‘get richer.’

Some people with more money than they could ever spend in a hundred lifetimes automatically assume that those of us who work for a living must be ‘jealous’ of their wealth. Perhaps any person, rich or poor, who lacks a work ethic along with the desire to earn an honest living may, in fact, be jealous. However, there are many who, in spite of the constant barrage of corporate ads which tell them that they must acquire more, newer, bigger, and better stuff, are actually satisfied with what they already have and aren’t any more jealous of those who have made their fortunes exploiting the have-nots any than the abolitionists were jealous of slave-owners. Those amongst us who lack principles can’t imagine why anyone else would have them! Furthermore, many wealthy people need to feel as though others are jealous of them; after all, what’s the point of having more money than everyone else if everyone else thinks that you’re just like them?

I believe it was Mr. Romney who quoted Abraham Lincoln as saying that it is not necessary to destroy the rich in order to save the poor. I like President Lincoln, but prefer a quote not attributed to him: Behind every great fortune is a great theft. If one gets to read, ‘Open Veins of Latin America: Five centuries of the pillage of a continent,’ its author, Eduardo Galeano will explain the globalization of capital. He writes, “Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European—or later United States—capital and as such has accumulated in distant centers of power. ..For those who see history as a competition, Latin America’s backwardness and poverty are merely the result of its failure. We lost; others won. But the winners happen to have won thanks to our losing: the history of Latin America’s underdevelopment is, as someone has said an integral history of world capitalism’s development.” I think it is a tragedy when a society which so proudly counts its millionaires and billionaires can’t seem to connect their creation to the simultaneous creation of so many poor people—lots of poor people!

Still, when remarks about the have-nots being jealous of the haves end-up as part of the Romney campaign rhetoric, it is troublesome. For one thing, it’s an indication that the candidate thinks of himself not in terms of whether he is a trustworthy competent leader, but instead interprets even viable criticism as veiled envy. More important is the fact that all too often, Mr. Romney has nothing better to say. Our electoral process can only offer candidates who represent the failed leadership of a failed political and economic system.

In his autobiography entitled Mirror to America, Dr. John Hope Franklin begins his narrative by writing, “Living in a world restricted by laws defining race, as well as creating obstacles, disadvantages, and even superstitions regarding race, challenged my capacities for survival. For ninety years I have witnessed countless men and women likewise meet his challenge. Some bested it; some did not; many had to settle for any accommodation they could.” His life and his work demonstrate that he was one of those who ‘bested it;’ and as such is an extraordinary example of character, integrity, scholarship, and activism. He has great hopes for America and he ends his book with the following words, “The test of any advanced society is not in how many millionaires it can produce, but in how many law-abiding, hardworking, highly respected, and self-respecting loyal citizens it can produce. The success of such a venture is a measure of the success of our national enterprise.”

Our national enterprise, as he puts it, is earning a failing grade. Just how long does the leadership of this country think that people will continue to sleep in doorways, eat out of trashcans, and beg for change? How long will it be before people are no longer willing to go without money, food, or shelter? Right now, the number of people who have (for any reason) lost their homes could fill the streets and shut down this country! We do have the capacity to make things right. It won’t be easy or cheap, but it will have to be done. What we have to pay now won’t hurt as much as what it will cost the country later.  However, we needn’t be fooled into thinking that those politicians wearing $5000 suits feel our pain…they don’t…but they need to!

Naima Washington is on the board of the Washington Area Secular Humanists and publishes the D.C. Atheist Advocate.

 

 

Praying Away the Gay Gets the Smackdown

By Sikivu Hutchinson

By banning so-called gay teen conversion therapy with his approval of SB 1172, California Governor Jerry Brown smacked down homophobic bigotry, psychological terrorism, and flat earth anti-science dumb shit idiocy.  Sponsored by California state senator Ted Lieu, the bill was supported by the American Psychological Association and California’s Board of Behavioral Sciences.  Conversion therapy advocates have fired back with a legal challenge that claims the ban threatens “parental rights” and freedom of speech.

Also known as “praying away the gay” therapy, conversion or reparative therapy is designed to “transition” gays and lesbians to heterosexuality through a combination of counseling and prayer.  Homosexuality is treated as a disease and source of emotional/psychological dysfunction.  In his book, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality leading reparative therapist Joseph Nicholosi argues that men wanting to transition “usually hold conservative values, (are)identified with a religious tradition, and hold no deep resentments toward Judeo-Christian teachings on homosexuality.  In fact (they) most likely find them reinforcing and supportive of (their) struggle.”  However, according to the Huffington Post, one of the foremost advocates of gay conversion therapy even questioned its validity, conceding that, “In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques [of my study] are largely correct… The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.”  The passage of California’s 2008 anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 and similar ballot initiatives made “praying away the gay” therapy a hot commodity.  Prior to that, the outing of former Colorado megachurch pastor Ted Haggard put gay conversion therapy on the cultural map.  Family man Haggard was famously outed by a male prostitute and underwent weeks of conversion therapy, claiming to have emerged as a gleamingly redeemed straight alpha male.   Haggard was one in a long line of GOP-hip pocket pastors, politicians, and golden boys who have been exposed as lying traitorous self-hating gay homophobes.

SB 1172 is one of several pieces of California legislation that aim to reinforce social justice and cultural visibility for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning) youth.  In 2010, the California legislature passed SB 48, which required textbooks and high school history courses to include the contributions of gays and lesbians.  However, although SB 48 looks good on paper, there is no evidence that most mainstream high school curricula have been developed to include examples of prominent gays and lesbians.  And what few textbook LGBT portrayals there are rarely acknowledge multiculturalism or multiple identities.  For example, portrayals of LGBT historical figures of African descent rarely go beyond Langston Hughes.   In the mainstream K-12 imagination, Hughes has been sanitized, his body of work reduced to the universalizing metaphors [Read more…]