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Tag Archives: Religion

Taking A Shot At Racism

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Race matters. It always has and it always should. People have a great affection and interest in celebrating their race and/or ethnicity. Pretending that differences don’t exist is absurd and offensive. But attributing value according to race/ethnicity is abhorrent. We have a long history of doing this in this country and anyone thinking that it is only historic is kidding themselves (or lives under a rock); the shade of one’s skin and often the branch of one’s religion still dictates where you can go and how far. One need only look at celebrities for proof. While the music industry has always been more liberal in whom they will exalt, movies and television have not. Anglo features (particularly in women) are a prerequisite for stardom. Fundamentalist Christians are acceptable, but observant Jews or Muslims are best served to keep it on the down low. Scientologists of course are always welcome.

Hollywood is hardly a relevant sample set, but it is an indication of a nation’s preferences. We could easily get down into the weeds and point out to the lack of Asians in leading roles (or roles that don’t involve a lab or mathematical prowess.) But suffice it to say that we are a people a bit flummoxed. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to dictate mindset. We can certainly address behaviors and have done so forever. We can write Declarations, laws, and policies to control behaviors. But we can’t change how people think or feel. We also can’t ever know how people think and feel. We can know what they say (which may correlate to their feelings) and we can know what they do. The very thought of attempting to change how people think or feel is overwhelming and disheartening; it is the equivalent of digging in loose sand. We could be at it forever and never know if we’ve gotten anywhere. But we can look around and spot where we can make a quantifiable difference in behavior.

We know that African Americans are victims of violence at a much higher rate than any other group. According to the FBI, the homicide rate for “blacks” is three times what it is for “whites”. Of these homicides, 82% were shot and killed with guns. These are astronomical numbers and yet where is the outrage? When 20 children are gunned down in their rural school we are outraged (and send money.) Of the over 7,000 African Americans shot to death (in 2007) over 600 were under the age of 18. Yet we are relatively silent. Where are our community and national leaders on this subject? How is gun control not being framed as a race issue?

No matter how strongly one feels about gun rights, there is no disputing the numbers. Guns kill and disproportionately do so with African Americans. We have a society in which anyone can get their hands on a gun (and anyone really can) and we’ve enacted laws which allow for using them on people. Knowing people as we do, this is ludicrous. We will never entirely change how people think or feel but we can make it very hard for them to act on those feelings. It is intolerable that the NRA has more influence than the NAACP in this country. It is unacceptable for us to not demand real and meaningful change. All the grandstanding and tepid gun laws and initiatives are a slap in the face to those of us who fervently want to believe that all men are created equal.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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In Other Misogynistic News…

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The highest court in El Salvador has decided that a 22-year old woman must continue with her life threatening pregnancy and give birth to a baby who if born alive will die immediately. The young woman has lupus and obstetric complications. She also has a small child at home. The court’s justification is the same spouted by anyone looking to control a woman’s body; they are protecting the fetus. The fetus in question is encephalitic and cannot possibly live as a baby for more than moments. There is an actual child who might very well lose his mother to this pregnancy. That this woman is being forced to endure this pregnancy is barbaric. A court ordered pregnancy is holding her hostage. She will witness her declining health and her growing stomach, helpless to alter the tragic outcome.

That this is occurring in El Salvador is less relevant today than it might have once been. Twenty or so years ago we may have been horrified but resigned. After all, El Salvador is a very religious country. But guess what? So is America now. Not since the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock have we had such a powerful religious influence on politics and policy. In 2013 it’s rather difficult to point the finger at any other country’s religious fervor. Almost without exception all organized religions agree on a few points; there is an invisible entity that guides, there is a polarity of good and evil, and women have a place. It is not a coincidence that as the nation (finally) benefits from the feminist fights of the 1970s we are seeing reproductive freedoms erode. Those longhaired, bell bottom wearing woman marched through the streets with signs reading; A Woman’s Place Is In The House And In The Senate. And guess what? They are in the House and in the Senate. Their numbers don’t come close to representing 51% of the population, but it is an improvement. Equity in sports has a long way to go, but just remember what Billie Jean King had to endure. It is no longer legal to hire according to gender. That women still make less than 3/4 of what men earn, is an issue, but still it is progress.

So if it’s no longer legal to keep women out of office, the workplace or sports, what is a misogynist to do!? Well we know for a fact that sexism in medicine is both easy to engage in and rarely questioned. We know that medications are routinely researched and developed according to a male test subject. We know that great efforts have been made to ensure that men can always have sex (while on life-support if need be) but there is still no hormonal male birth control. Most medical machines and devices are designed for male patients (except for that gem, the mammography machine which if any man had ever to place any of his sensitive bits into would be redesigned in an instant.) When we combine the sexism of traditional medicine with the sentimentality of “it’s for the children” it’s far easier to attempt to marginalize 51% of the population. It’s not for the children; it’s never been for the children. If people cared a whit about the children we would have stellar healthcare and nutrition for all and the best K-12 system on the planet. We came close to that reality once, but I think we’ll all agree that there’s been some serious backsliding. It’s not for the children that we force a teenage girl (who is in fact a child) to endure a pregnancy and birth, or to look at a sonogram of her fetus. (How is it that using technological advances to traumatize girls and women is contemplated let alone allowed?!)

The truth is that any group outside of the power structure will suffer as they progress. We’ve seen it happen to every minority group. Homeostasis is a very strong force. There will always be those who feel that people they view as ‘less than’ are infringing on their rights by having rights of their own. But it’s hard to fathom how torturing a 22-year old woman and leaving her small child motherless makes anyone feel better about themselves.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Turning Back Time

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If you are over a certain age or have any sense of social history you may find yourself living a flashback. How in the world is reproductive freedom still up for dispute in this country? Forgetting for a moment the legality of reproductive choice; how is the subject still even a subject? Why would any person, let alone group, take up a cause that was settled decades ago? Is there a grassroots anti-prohibition movement underway somewhere? Are slogans being developed to appeal the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The common wisdom is that anti-choice supporters come at their crusade from a place of religious conviction. It certainly often looks like that, no? But the logical extension of such a premise is that these people would feel passionate about imposing all of their religious convictions upon others. It’s hard to see how or where this is happening. Even if their only religious conviction is that life (including sperm and egg) shall be preserved at any and all costs, it doesn’t seem to be happening. If it were, shouldn’t the same people protesting reproductive rights be protesting war and pollution? Shouldn’t the placards and protesters be blocking the headquarters of tobacco and gun manufacturers? Wouldn’t the crusaders be impassioned about veteran care and elder care?

The fact that there has never been any anti-choice movement that has taken up the cause of the born and at-risk reinforces the myopia of ‘the cause.’ If all the noise were really about ‘the children’ we would see a groundswell of domestic adoption of older and needier children. We would see zero-tolerance of any form of abuse or neglect of children. There would be full access to excellent health (including dental) care for every child. But almost 500,000 children languish in the foster care system. Children are abused and neglected every single day. These children might feel that being unloved is worse than being unborn.

I’ve no doubt that there are some people who consider it their one-way ticket to heaven to save even one embryo. But I also suspect that the momentum is the message. It’s appealing to belong to a group of like-minded people. It’s equally attractive to have a cause that one can brand as being on the side of ‘good.’ But there are so many crusades that fulfill these requirements. Why women’s reproductive issues? Could it possibly be that it’s ‘women’ that we’re talking about? Hmmm

If it really was about the sperm and the egg, why is there no furor over erectile dysfunction medication? Why is no one protesting the pharmaceutical transport of millions of wayward sperm? Why is there no political movement opposing artificial reproduction? Do you know how many zygotes are lost with each attempt? Has anyone calculated how many zygotes are sloughed off during implantation attempts? Do we know how many stay in the deep-freeze until the end of time (or next black-out)? Do we know how many of the little cell clusters never even make it out of the petri-dish alive? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that anti-choice advocates would be up in arms about such carnage? Isn’t it likely that the number of manufactured zygotes who do not become embryos are equal or greater to the number of abortions in this country? If you believe that life begins at conception, this should be quite troubling.

But none of those issues involve a woman’s body. Controlling a woman’s body would appear to be the only socially acceptable way to control a woman. Legally she has access to voting, employment and even some sports. Legally she must be viewed as equal, even as she earns 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. Really, the only way to stall or turn back progress would be to block her control over her own body. If this is packaged as a morality/religious issue, and if enough bright lights and pretty colors are used to distract us all from the completely illogical crusade to protect ‘life’ only once it’s inside a woman and becomes her choice; perhaps it has a chance of working. It is up to us, those of us who are scratching our heads wondering how the hell this is still an issue, to shine the spotlight on the hypocrisy. It is not enough to simply stake our claim to being pro-choice. We must not shrink from talking about biology (including how several forms of birth control do not prevent fertility but conception.) We must discuss artificial fertility and ignore fear of repercussion. We must preserve our right to determine what we do with our reproductive parts by shining a light on those who fervently desire to turn back time.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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The Epitome Of Class

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The BBC has taken it upon themselves to redefine class. ‘Well of course’ you say ‘and we do love Downton Abby, Call The Midwife and Mr. Selfridge.’ Yes, those decadent and indulgent shows are lavish examples of the British class system in play. But I refer instead to the questionnaire the BBC posted online that over 160,000 completed. Ignoring for a moment the completely unscientific method of this ‘survey’ and also putting aside the very stark reality of who completes online surveys, let us instead consider this tricky terrain.

The British have always been quite transparent about their views and demarcations of class. What (and where) one is born into is often where one stays. There are examples of upward mobility in British society (beyond that of Eliza Doolittle.) But for the most part, where you started is where you’ll stay. If for no other reason than the British are wonderfully observant of clues. (Hello? Sherlock, Miss Marple, Inspector Lewis, anyone?) The slightest hint of a flat ‘a’ or the improper wearing of wellies, and they’ve got you pegged. They have graciously exported this gift to previously colonized locales. You could probably travel the globe and identify where the United Kingdom has ruled simply by observing the (seemingly) arbitrary ‘you’re in’ you’re out’ class systems.

Americans have always prided themselves in eschewing this structure. We still like to fancy ourselves the little rebels who fled from the tyranny of such structure. The truth is that what we do is less honest and more destructive. We pretend that social class doesn’t exist. Oh, we’re happy to discuss real dollars and sense. We take great comfort (or distress) in determining if we economically fall into the middle-class. Politicians love to talk about the middle class. We don’t talk of the lower class or even working class anymore however. No, we call it ‘working families.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s just one person in that ‘family’ or twenty. It’s funny how liberal we can be discussing families in terms of poverty levels but not in terms of legal union.

Taking pains to never associate class with anything but money creates problems. To discuss class in terms of values and cultural proclivities is anathema to Americans. We discuss education and achievement in terms of poverty which is often a thin guise for race. We discuss poverty and race as if they have anything whatsoever to do with achievement, which of course they don’t. There is nothing about any race that impacts learning. There is nothing about how much money a household has which impacts learning. Underfunded and improperly staffed schools impact learning, as do households in which learning is not a priority. We avoid discussing public health and lifestyle behaviors in terms of class. We think nothing of imposing middle values on lower class people, but we’ll never admit that’s what we’re doing. Our entire social and child services structure is built on that very premise.

It’s important to Americans to ignore the real differences of class. But yet we’re wedded to creating a very us vs. them culture. We’re much more comfortable attributing our opposing outlooks and proclivities to religious or political ideals. Sociologists (versus online questionnaires) often explore the gravitation of like-peoples. (Think: lunchroom table configuration studies.) Much more often than not the ‘like-people’ means people of our own religious and ethnic group. But outside of laboratories and research studies what you’re most likely to find in the real world, is that people gravitate towards those of their own class. Being of the same racial/ethnic/religious group is less of an indicator of our shared values than that of class. Would the Rothschilds understand the seder at Sadie’s on Orchard Street? Of course, but after the seder (at 2:00 AM) what in the world would they talk about? If you take a look around at the people with whom you feel most connected they are those with similar values and cultural proclivities. They don’t have identical incomes, they don’t worship in the same way, and their complexions vary in hue. But you all share a similar outlook and a view of the world. That’s class.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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One Nation…*

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The minister selected to deliver the benediction at the 2013 inauguration has withdrawn. It seems that his well-publicized (and recorded) anti-homosexual remarks were creating a distraction. This of course is not the first time that a preacher who has expressed bigotry has been offered an exalted platform by (current and past) White House occupants. This may however been the first time that bigotry was acknowledged as potentially offensive (after the selection but before the event.)

The thing is, religion by its very definition is about exclusion. ‘This is what we believe in.’ There can be no ‘we’ without a ‘thee.’ Whether we personally engage with the philosophy of organized religion or not is somewhat beside the point. What is of significance is how comfortable we seem to be with mixing church and state. In most of our lifetimes we have never before seen the extreme polarizing and lethal effects of religion that are in play today. War is raged and terror acts committed by people citing a conflict of religious ideals. We know from our own recent presidential election how divisive religion has become in this country. It has been many decades since we considered ourselves a white Christian nation. Our language reflects that change. We are cautious in how we identify people, we use euphemisms and/or bundle all winter occasions in place of casually tossing about; “Merry Christmas.’ We can and do change. Yet, our public institutions are still decorated with Christmas trees (presumably paid with tax dollars.) Our government hosts prayer breakfasts and includes prayer in ceremonies of state. Why?

Religion is a private matter and personal decision. If memory serves, that was the motivation for founding America. So why do we unconsciously continue to allow religion into our government? Is it unconscious? Could it be that there are people in power who still have cold war tics? Are we afraid of seeming the very thing some accuse us of; godless? Could it be that there are people who do not trust strength of character, integrity and morality without clear and present doctrine? Perhaps it’s a little bit of habit, a little bit of superstition and just a dash of unconsciousness. At a time in history when we seem to go to lengths to seem inclusive and/or ‘tolerant’ it all seems embarrassingly anachronistic. Seeing a modern president (or any elected official) include religious observance into official state business is like seeing someone pat their secretary on the bottom. To my eyes anyway.

*In 1954, (during the McCarthy era and communism scare) Congress passed a bill, which was signed into law, to add the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance. 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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