Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why I Am Upset at People's Racist Reactions to the New Hunger Games Movie

I don't have a big presence on Facebook anymore. I am friends with most of my coworkers, so I censor myself to posting generally innocuous things and mostly after work hours. Sometimes, though, I get worked up about something and feel righteous in sharing my opinion. Here's one of those examples.

Here's what I shared.

And this was one of the reactions, presumably both to me and to the author of the post on Jezebel.com:

"Huh? Where do you dig this stuff up? And why--when there's stuff right there on the front page to be sickened by? Seriously, don't go digging through random jerks' twitter messages about some movie--it's like getting upset because people are horrid in the Youtube comment section."

My first reaction to this (in my mind) was How dare you chastise me for being outraged by this? 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.' And then I made myself calm down a bit, relax, and reflect on the words, their intention, the context of the situation, the author, the environment. And think about myself. Why does this news story enrage me so much?

Only about thirteen tweets are actually quoted at the Jezebel post. But I agree with the author, and I quote directly from the original site: "The posts go on and on and on. It's not just a coup[l]e of tweets, it's not just a coincidence. There's an underlying rage, coming out as overt prejudice and plain old racism. Sternberg is called a "black bitch," a "nigger" and one person writes that though he pictured Rue with "darker skin," he "didn't really take it all the way to black." It's as if that is the worst possible thing a person could be."

And this, to me, is not okay. It certainly is not as big a deal to tweet your racism as it is to shoot a teenager in the chest presumably because he's someone you don't know wearing a hoodie at night in your neighborhood. But I do believe they are related. I believe that the possible racism in the Trayvon Martin case is reflected much more explicitly in the tweets of people who are angry that they 'wasted' their tears on a character who turned out to be black.

The Jezebel blogger quotes the tumblr feed keeper, who wrote "Here's what scares me... All these ... people... read the Hunger Games. Clearly, they all fell in love with and cared about Rue. Though what they really fell in love with was an image of Rue that they'd created in their minds. A girl that they knew they could love and adore and mourn at the thought of knowing that she's been brutally killed. And then the casting is revealed (or they go see the movie) and they're shocked to see that Rue is black.These people are MAD that the girl that they cried over while reading the book was "some black girl" all along. So now they're angry. Wasted tears, wasted emotions. It's sad to think that had they known that she was black all along, there would have been [no] sorrow or sadness over her death. There are MAJOR TIE-INS to these reactions and the injustices that we see around the world today.[...] This is a BIG problem. Think of all the murdered children. Think of all the missing children that get NO SCREEN TIME on the news. It is NOT a coincidence. THIS is the purpose of my blog…"

And, frankly, this is the purpose of my outrage. I thought about it before I reposted it, I've talked about it with people I love, and I've carefully considered the electronic responses I've received since reposting the Jezebel blog. I don't think I've overreacted and I will not apologize.

This week I am editing a speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's, titled "Beyond Vietnam." I will be reading my annotated edition as the sermon at my church this week. The link to King's full speech may be found here, and I will be linking this at my church's new website the afternoon after I give my sermon. This sermon is certainly on my mind as I read about the Hunger Games backlash, the Trayvon Martin case, and the continuing way we pillage the earth and her poorer inhabitants. A few hateful Twitterers are not equal to the warmongers in our neighborhood watches, in our police departments, in our Congress, our corporations, or our backroom decision makers. But again, they all have the same seed within them. They think that they are inherently better than other people, that their color, religion, political system, or country they were born in make them inherently more deserving of rights than others. They believe that the Other is lesser, less deserving of respect, dignity, sovereignty.

It is not just. And I will speak out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Creativity by Matthew Fox

This book was a gift from my minister. I'm reading it some days at lunchtime at work, and I am kind of torn on its pros and cons. Mostly, I think Fox could be more clear and concise. He's a prolific writer and is very popular in his sort of high church + mysticism + New Age feel good self-help-like genre. His books include some very interesting quotations by different mystics and he's not devoid of insight. He just goes on a bit too much and things start to sound syrupy or fluffy after a while. I won't say his work is hollow, because Fox is passionate and sincere about it, but the work is clearly more inspiration than reasoned explication, and that sort of writing is hard for me to embrace in more than short spurts.

However, as far as inspiration goes, I was reading yesterday at lunch a passage Fox wrote about Taoism and learning to praise. Being thankful has long been an important idea or even mantra in my life: "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was 'Thank you,' that would suffice," wrote Meister Eckhart (Fox is a scholar of Fox and a huge admirer).

I'm guessing nobody here knows who Matthew Fox is. He wrote "Original Blessing," a huge book I read for a book club recently. That book focuses on how we were all created as blessed creatures, that our creativity and imagination are gifts, and that we work with God. He downplays the idea of Original Sin. He doesn't deny sin as a general concept, but he doesn't think we're inherently damaged when we come into this world. Years before we read him in book club, Fox also came up in my studies of Meister Eckhart, about whom I wrote a very bad research paper in grad school. In his "Creativity," Fox writes about how creativity is a holy process, a celebration of and communion with the divine. It's beautiful and heretical and much more in line with my personal theology these days. In the chapter on learning how to praise, Fox explores almost too many metaphors about ways that people can observe nature, reflect on it, and imitate aspects of it. Again, it's fluffy stuff, but it's inspirational also. I decided to reflect on some of my favorite animals and the following sort of thought exercise came out. Not sure the 'point,' but the process felt good. First note: my favorite animal is the elephant.

I am like the elephant, physically present, grounded, able to withstand force, adversity, change. I communicate through the earth, touch and hearing important senses. I recognize change in time. I listen. I am with my herd, sometimes in communion with my many fellow sisters, sometimes leading as matriarch.

I have always wished to be a bird, fluid, mobile, seeing the bigger picture, not just communicating by but delighting people through song.

I am fascinated by snakes, creatures of the earth, self-reliant, their entire bodies raw muscle. They eat occassionally, as needed. They use what they have, conserve, and consume only what they need. They strike when provoked, using natural venom or squeezing with their strength.

I also wrote a bit about lions. I am a Leo (I don't put much stock in astrology, but it is fun), and my boyfriend's name means 'two lions.' I'll save that text for him, I think.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

On March 8, 2012, Colonel Gary Packard came to Texas A&M University to speak about the lessons learned from the recent repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. His speech took place in an auditorium that was filled with about 200 guests, mostly students. About half were students in uniform.

Col. Packard began by talking about his own upbringing. The society in which he'd been raised was such that he, as a straight guy, didn't think much about homosexuality in the military, but when he did, it was in a negative context. After 30 years in the military and a master's degree in psychology, however, he was asked by the Pentagon to be on the team to study whether or not a repeal of the early 1990s legislation would have a negative effect on the U.S. Armed Forces. The short answer is that no, they didn't think it would. So far, they've been right, and there has been no negative effect. In fact, the argument could be made that the effect has been a positive one.

A bit on the research itself: the task force collected qualitative and quantitative data from tens of thousands of military personnel and their families about how they felt about gay people in the military. They also got information from over 200 gay service members, collected anonymously. By the law, if they were to acquire information from gay members who came out as being gay, they'd have to discharge them. Catch-22, yes?

Anyway, here were some of the preliminary questions they asked in the study:
  1. Have other types of integration negatively affected the military? (NO!) They looked at racial integration in the 1940s and gender integration in the late 1970s and found that although opposition was much higher (80% for both types of integration among servicemembers), when they did integrate blacks and other minorities and women, units actually found that there was more cohesion and more efficacy. [When I heard this, I texted the people next to me - "Wha? Diversity is a good thing?" ... because I was feeling sarcastic.]
  2. Has sexual orientation integration in other countries (like the UK, Australia, Italy, Germany, etc) negatively affected their militaries? The answer, again, was NO, and that integration may have even helped.
  3. They also distributed, collected, and analyzed the surveys I mentioned before and determined that even though the opposition to serving with gays in the military was deeper for religious and moral issues, a small minority of the Armed Forces members who completed the surveys said they would be negatively affected. In fact, among groups who suspected they were working with gay members already, most people found that there was no effect or a positive effect on team cohesion, work effectiveness, etc. 
There was some worry about large attrition rates after Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal was put into effect in September, 2010. Data shows that attrition has not increased, though. Maybe it's due to tough economic times and nobody wanting to leave a secure job for any reason, or maybe it's that people really don't care, that society has changed enough that it's - in the words of many servicemembers - a 'non-issue.' I would like to think so. Anecdotally, I chatted with my brother before I went to the lecture and he, an enlisted Air Force member, told me that he hasn't talked to a single person who has had a problem with the repeal. He has friends who are liberal and friends who are conservative and - again, anecdotally - nobody cares.

What else? It is interesting to note that harassment cases that arise because of a person's sexual orientation do not go through the Equal Opportunity office but through the Inspector General's office. This is because a person's sexual orientation is not even considered in a person's enlistment or commission. It's a question that's not asked, so it's not strictly protected by EO. However, discrimination, harassment, and violence are not tolerated, so any issues will go through the IG. Colonel Packard let us know that there haven't been any big issues of that nature and that the few they've had have been solved at low levels, resolved before they needed to escalate to higher channels.

What's next? A few people in the audience wanted to know about the fate of transgender individuals in the military. Colonel Packard made it clear that his opinion was his own and did not reflect the USAF's or the DOD's position when he said he didn't think society was ready for it yet and that he thinks transgender issues are much more medical and physical in nature. Maybe eventually, but right now the number of transgender individuals is so small it just hasn't been a priority. 

An anecdote: The Commandant of the Marines, when asked by Congress what he thought personally about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, told them that he didn't think it should be repealed. However, after the orders were given, he went back to the Marines and told them that they would be the leaders in the change and would do it better than anyone else. Packard's point in retelling this story was to reiterate to the servicemembers in the room that Duty comes before personal beliefs. The oath is to the Constitution.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 25

This is the last of of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

This chapter starts by comparing the Gore/Lieberman and Bush/Cheney campaigns. Zinn argues that both options were pro-business and basically pro-establishment. Third-party candidate Nader was a breath of fresh air, so he was largely ignored. There was low turnout at the polls in the 2000 election, Zinn says, because the U.S. voters felt disillusioned. Bush 'won,' but as Justice Stephens wrote, "Although we never know the complete certainty of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."

Zinn describes Bush's early pro-business, anti-environment policies and then writes a bit about the War on Terror after 9/11. It is a good chapter and a decent analysis, but I've read other books lately that are solely about Islam, terorrism, bin Laden, etc., so I don't feel the need to recreate Zinn's points here. Some of the points that anger me most, though, include the insane jingoism that allowed the Patriot Act to pass and the war's complete support by Congress. We detained Muslims and other persons of interest at home illegally, and we killed thousands of civilians and destroyed infrastructures in the name of revenge abroad.

The U.S. did not want to seem weak. Sure, I will agree that we should not have been bombed. There is no excuse for the murder of American citizens, but that doesn't mean there weren't reasons: "Critics of the bombing campaign argued that terrorism was rooted in deep grievances against the United States, and that to stop terrorism, these must be addressed. These grievances were not hard to identify: the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabi, site of the most holy of Moslem shrines; the ten years of sanctions against Iraq which, according to the United Nations, had resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children; the continued U.S. support of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land, including billions in military aid." Bin Laden cited these things pretty clearly decades before 9/11. Even conservative thinkers like Michael Scheuer corroborate simple facts like that.

"However, these issues could not be addressed without fundamental changes in American foreign policy. Such changes could not be accepted by the military-industry complex that dominated both major parties, because they would require withdrawing military forces from around the world, giving up political and economic domination of other countries—in short, relinquishing the cherished role of the United States as a superpower.

"Such fundamental changes would require a radical change in priorities, from spending $300 to $400 billion a year for the military, to using this wealth to improve the living conditions of Americans and people in other parts of the world. For instance, it was estimated by the World Health Organization that a small portion of the American military budget, if given to the treatment of tuberculosis in the world, could save millions of lives." Lester Brown, Benazir Bhutto, and others corroborate the potential efficacy and bringing about of world peace this aid-instead-of-bombs use of money would likely promote as well.

"Three years before the terrible events of September 11, 2001, a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Robert Bowman, who had flown 101 combat missions in Vietnam, and then had become a Catholic bishop, commented on the terrorist bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In an article in the National Catholic Reporter he wrote about the roots of terrorism:
"We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things in Third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism ... Instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kills Arab so we can have the oil under their sand, we should send them to rebuild their infrastructure, supply clean water, and feed starving children... In short, we should do good instead of evil. Who would try to stop us? Who would hate us? Who would want to bomb us? That is he truth the American people need to hear."
That pretty much sums up how I feel about foreign policy in general. Let's not let multinational corporations use us - our tax money or our sons and daughters - as fodder to feed the machine, to steal resources from people abroad who live on land we want to control. It is not our God-given right to control all the bauxite, forests, diamonds, bananas, coffee, and oil in the world. Manifest destiny is a lie. Might does not make right. Respect for one another and for the world we live in are paramount to our continued survival.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 24

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."

Chapter 24, The Coming Revolt of the Guards, seems to be the most reflective and self-aware chapter of Zinn's book so far. It may be the first one I recommend new readers consider, especially people who I know will balk immediately and viscerally at this 'clearly biased' great book.

"[A] "people's history" promises more than any one person can fulfill, and it is the most difficult kind of history to recapture. I call it [this book] that anyway because, with all its limitations, it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance.

"That makes it a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction-so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people's movements-that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission."

These 'jaded' words, too, are things I believe in: "Madison feared a "majority faction" and hoped the new Constitution would control it. He and his colleagues began the Preamble to the Constitution with the words "We the people ...," pretending that the new government stood for everyone, and hoping that this myth, accepted as fact, would ensure "domestic tranquility.""

Pitting the majority or at least the strong majority (white, rich, not blacks, not women, not Native Americans... until they rose up in acts of defiance) has always been the American way. The oligarchy seems to be winning. "How skillful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white neighborhoods, in a violent exchange of impoverished schools, while the schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion-dollar aircraft carriers. How ingenious to meet the demands of blacks and women for equality by giving them small special benefits, and setting them in competition with everyone else for jobs made scarce by an irrational, wasteful system. How wise to turn the fear and anger of the majority toward a class of criminals bred-by economic inequity-faster than they can be put away, deflecting attention from the huge thefts of national resources carried out within the law by men in executive offices."

Zinn argues that people continue to revolt. And that sometimes those revolts do things. The histories that we usually read talk about concensus, about statesmanship, about the Establishment, the system, working. Other voices, like Zinn's, are important because they show a different and true perspective. They talk about real movements of real people acting of their own volition. "History which keeps alive the memory of people's resistance suggests new definitions of power. By traditional definitions, whoever possesses military strength, wealth, command of official ideology, cultural control, has power. Measured by these standards, popular rebellion never looks strong enough to survive."

"However, the unexpected victories-even temporary ones-of insurgents show the vulnerability of the supposedly powerful. In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going." I see things like iPods and tax breaks getting to people. The employed, like "soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communications workers, garbage men and firemen ... the somewhat privileged-are drawn into alliance with the elite. They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls." Zinn takes time in the book to talk about resistance movements - labor strikes in Washington, for example, that shut down an entire town and worried the people in power much more than violence ever could have. Violence can be counteracted by greater, more expensive, and better weaponed violence. (This is why we produce and sell/export so many arms.)

Zinn calls pretty plainly for revolution. "That will happen, I think, only when all of us who are slightly privileged and slightly uneasy begin to see that we are like the guards in the prison uprising at Attica—expendable; that the Establishment, whatever rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintain its control, kill us."

"Certain new facts may, in our time, emerge so clearly as to lead to general withdrawal of loyalty from the system." He mentions a few, and I see things like failed mortgages (what's left to lose?), limited access to health care, environmental pollution, lack of access to clean water, as making it "less and less possible for the guards of the system-the intellectuals, the home owners, the taxpayers, the skilled workers, the professionals, the servants of government-to remain immune from the violence (physical and psychic) inflicted on the black, the poor, the criminal, the enemy overseas. The internationalization of the economy, the movement of refugees and illegal immigrants across borders, both make it more difficult for the people of the industrial countries to be oblivious to hunger and disease in the poor countries of the world." How can we sympathize with something when we are at the top away from it all? Without knowledge of the way our very lifestyles directly abuse the people whose lives and lands we rape, why would we want to change things?

Zinn's book was first published in 1995, but it talks about the growing malaise and distrust that U.S. people have in the system, in the government, and in the corporate monster. He basically predicts the rise of the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was well before the economic collapse and the housing bubble that Zinn wrote: "Capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle classes."

"The threat of unemployment, always inside the homes of the poor, has spread to white-collar workers, professionals. A college education is no longer a guarantee against joblessness', and a system that cannot offer a future to the young coming out of school is in deep trouble. If it happens only to the children of the poor, the problem is manageable; there are the jails. If it happens to the children of the middle class, things may get out of hand. The poor are accustomed to being squeezed and always short of money, but in recent years the middle classes, too, have begun to feel the press of high prices, high taxes."

I hate to be cynical, but this happened too with Iraq and Afghanistan, and we still haven't learned: "Let us imagine the prospect-for the first time in the nation's history-of a population united for fundamental change. Would the elite turn as so often before, to its ultimate weapon-foreign intervention- to unite the people with the Establishment, in war? It tried to do that in 1991, with the war against Iraq. But, as June Jordan said, it was "a hit the same way that crack is, and it doesn't last long.""

Zinn then describes what a new society would look like. It would be local, grassroots. Everybody would be involved. Everybody would have to work. Differences among people would be celebrated. People would have to work against the system as we know it, but more than that they would have to be working FOR the better way of life. Don't fight human nature. Sure, respect its limits, its imperfections. But Embrace what is good in us.

This chapter of Zinn is a summary of the history he's laid out in specific terms in previous chapters. Then he synthesizes what he's learned and calls us to action. He doesn't recommend very specific things. Like Jensen would, Zinn leaves it to individuals in their communities. It's gonna be hard, and there will be setbacks, but there is hope, if only we believe that there is a better way and that we can achieve it.

Zinn's final chapter, which I will blog next and probably last on Zinn, is about the 2000 U.S. Presidential election and the "War on Terrorism" (which Zinn puts in quotation marks).