Freedom of Speech, But for Whom?

Loud defenses of the Freedom of Speech, when made by the dominant classes, usually point to their concern that the underclasses are getting too uppity. Asking not to be publicly dehumanized is CENSORSHIP. Bombing mosques & NAACP buildings and locking up people of color for resisting groupthink is DEFENDING THE NATION.

On the heels of “Unity” marches and much chest-beating regarding the “Western” value of free speech, we quickly see what this is all really about.

“A string of at least 69 arrests in France this week on the vague charge of ‘defending terrorism’ risks violating freedom of expression,” Amnesty International said in an understated press release on Friday.

It turns out most of the people arrested were people of color. How about that.

From the article: France Begins Jailing People for Ironic Comments.

No to Anti-Semitism, No to Islamophobia

“ATTENTION: PLEASE refrain from using anti-semitic language when expressing support for Palestine and Palestinians. It is ABSOLUTELY unacceptable and I will call you out on it. The Palestinian cause invites ALL who stand for justice and equality and all who want to be on the right side of history including American Jews. They have been some of our closest and most loyal allies and the last thing we need is to alienate people by using the same tactics and hateful rhetoric that is used against us. Let’s learn from history. Stay focused, stay principled – your cause is pure, your cause is just. No need to contaminate it with misguided hate.”

Photo of Linda Sarsour on the Brooklyn Bridge

Linda Sarsour
Director, Arab American Association of New York

Top Quotes from “The Rich & the Rest of Us”

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West published a book called The Rich and the Rest of Us. I recently read this book, and here are my favorite quotes. I highly recommend this book as an excellent introduction into poverty issues and America’s class system.

” “There has been something crude and heartless and unfeeling in our haste to succeed and be great,” President Woodrow Wilson declared in 1913 at the beginning of the 20th century…”

“Poverty is 21st-century-style slavery; its eradication should serve as the battle cry of a new civil rights movement.”

“[A] condition of truth is to allow the suffering to speak.”

“Saving” Babies from the Horrors of an African Childhood

Let us join Nancy French in congratulating herself for saving a baby from the horrific prospect of being raised in Africa. French wrote an article entitled I’m a White Republican Raising a Black Child: Deal With It to raise awareness about how awesome she is.

When I hear this self-congratulatory rhetoric around transracial and/or international adoption, I always pause and think. The self-congratulations typically come from middle, upper-middle, and upper-class heterosexual white families who have adopted a child who is of color and/or born in another country. There is typically lots of applause from other whites for their “good deed”. The assumption being that a middle-to-upper class white upbringing must be superior to other kinds of upbringing, and that by allowing a normally-inferior individual into the white club, a meritorious act has taken place. This is part of what is called the White Savior Complex. It is a relic from colonialism, when whites felt it was their mission to spread across the planet and “improve” the “backwards” races. The colonial mindset is still very present with us, as when this author insinuates adventurism with phrases like: “poverty stricken African tribal area” and their savior status by rescuing a “starving, abandoned girl” from such a terrible place. As I recall from grade school, Africa is actually broken up into political units known as “countries”, but French is kept very busy letting the world know about her good deeds that she can hardly be expected to know unimportant details about insignificant parts of the world.

Then I start to wonder about the big picture. French’s adopted daughter has a biological mother and father. Where are they? Why are they so poor? Why couldn’t they keep their child? Do they have rights? Isn’t there any value to the culture she was born into and taken away from? Why are so many African nations “poverty-stricken”? How are the world’s dominant countries implicated in this poverty?

I just happened upon an article about the struggles of Congolese mothers against the backdrop of political violence: A Congo Mother Survives Cannibalism to Save Her Children: Why Her Photo Matters. Interestingly, the article notes that much of the conflict was instigated by European colonists. Now mothers have to protect their children from cannibalism. If only French could adopt even more African children.

The right to raise your own children is a fundamental human right, and a pillar of the Reproductive Justice movement. Yet it is easier for white Americans to reframe themselves not as colonialists with serious responsibilities to other countries we have impoverished, but as pure, loving saviors who just want to help the children. Do we really have a right to take these children that trumps our responsibility to ensure that all mothers enjoy the right to raise the children they birthed?

Obviously, I am not the first one to have these thoughts. I would recommend further reading, starting with these articles:
The Lie We Love
Black Kids in White Houses
All Your Children Are Belong to Us

Another question that just popped into my head: If French’s daughter had instead grown up in Ethiopia and tried to immigrate to America as an adult to find a better life (the better life that French hopes to offer her by raising her), would French support her access to American residency? Or is it only by fulfilling French’s need to have another child that her daughter earns her right to live in America?

US Press Freedom Rating Plummets

Reporters Without Borders released the Press Freedom Index this week.

Regarding the United State’s drop to #47 on their list, the report states that the US “owed its fall of 27 places to the many arrests of journalist covering Occupy Wall Street protests.”

Which puts us behind my homeland the Czech Republic (#14), Niger (#29), Papua New Guinea (#35), and El Salvador (#37), among others. Hey, at least we beat Haiti, Timor, and Iran!

Takeways from The New Jim Crow

New Jim Crow book coverI just finished Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I can’t recommend it enough. For everyone. READ IT NOW!

Here are some quotes that struck me:

“One in three young African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system – in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole – yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis).” Pg.9

“What is key to America’s understanding of class is the persistent belief – despite all evidence to the contrary – that anyone, with the proper discipline and drive, can move from a lower class to a higher class.” Pg.13

The rest are here:
Continue reading

When the Tea Party Controls Your School Board

Interesting things happen when local Tea Party affiliates infiltrate your school board:

  • They implement racial and economic segregation in one of the most integrated school systems in America: Wake County School District in North Carolina. (With the financial backing of a wealthy Libertarian.)

You may recall that we have former Tuscon School District Superintendent Tom Horne (supported by his local Tea Party) to thank for this mess.  His legacy is being dutifully carried forward by current Superintendent John Huppenthal, “who threatened to withhold millions of dollars if TUSD didn’t terminate the nationally acclaimed [Mexican-American studies] program immediately.”

Then Tuscon school administrator Lupita Garcia comes out and actually says: “This country is called America, okay? And they study US history. If you were to go back to Mexico… you would study Mexican history.”

  • They remove mention of racial minorities and critique of wealthy whites from history books in Tennessee.

Here is some of their actual curriculum criteria:

“No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”


Fayette County attorney Hal Rounds, the [coalition of Tennessee Tea Party’s] lead spokesman during the news conference, said the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another.

  • And how can we forget that last year, Tea Party affiliates in Texas attempted to edit out the word “slavery” from their textbooks and replace it instead with the term “Atlantic Triangular Trade“.

Question from a White Dude

Should I make this a regular sort of column?

Here’s a real question a real White Dude posted, of all places, to my Facebook page:

Why should illegal immigrants have rights?

Thanks for making it easy for me, White Dude! Because all human beings have rights. Done!

You can discover this mysterious concept in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The word “universal” is a helpful hint, confused White Dude!

For further clarification, let us examine the issue. Permission to stay and work in America indefinitely is extremely hard to come by, and will take years, possibly more than a decade, to come by, if ever. But usually, one’s status as an American national or a national of another country is arrived at by dumb luck: whose womb we happened to pop out of. Official permission to stay in America is not granted on a basis of merit. It is granted by luck of birth, and sometimes it is granted to people with enough money and influence to get around the rules.

There are many, many legitimate reasons why someone not born in America would like to live and work here. These reasons are amply examined in many places on the interweb, and I do not feel like reinventing that wheel here.

So, White Dude, unless you believe that dumb luck is a good method for determining who gets human rights and who is treated less than human, let’s play it safe and remember that all humans have rights.

Also, White Dude, never call a human being “illegal” in my presence again, mmmkay?

Freedom Waves: the Latest Aid Boats to Gaza

I haven’t seen too much media coverage about the latest aid boats trying to reach Gaza, but check this out. Two boats, the Canadian boat Tahrir and the Irish boat Saoirse left from a harbor in Turkey to bring medical aid to Gaza as part of an action called ‘Freedom Waves‘. They were, of course, violently intercepted by Israeli ships.

The violent nature of Israel’s takeover of the Tahrir and Saoirse became more apparent with a statement released mid-Sunday by Fintan Lane, the National Coordinator of the Irish Ship Saoirse, in a hurried phone call made from an Israeli prison. “The whole takeover [of the Saoirse by Israeli naval authorities] took about three hours”, claims Lane. “It began with Israeli forces hosing down the boats with high pressure hoses and pointing guns at the passengers through the windows. I was hosed down the stairs of the boat. Windows were smashed and the bridge of the boat nearly caught fire. The boats were corralled to such an extent that the two boats, the Saoirse and the Tahrir, collided with each other and were damaged, with most of the damage happening to the MV Saoirse. The boats nearly sank. The method used in the takeover was dangerous to human life.”

Class War in Oakland?

Wow, this kind of looks like war:

Riot Police at Occupy Oakland on Oct.25, 2011

Photo by Jane Tyska

On Tuesday, October 25th, Oakland police attacked peaceful Occupy Oakland protesters. They shot rubber bullets, bean bag rounds (bags filled with lead balls) and tear gas, and lobbed flash-bang grenades. They deny this, but video from the scene makes the facts clear.

They cracked the skull of Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran, and then lobbed grenades at those who rushed to help him.

Scott Olsen, Iraq veteran

Stillframe from Youtube video above

This Laura Flanders video shows the chaos pretty clearly.

I’m surprised to say that the Washington Post has a good article about the incident and Scott Olsen’s injuries.

The Root also discusses the police attack.

A photo slideshow is available at the LA Times.

In related news…

Further south in LA, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa explains his priorities:

He decided the camp could not stay … because of concerns about the condition of the lawn and trees.

“Look, our lawn is dead, our sprinklers aren’t working . . . our trees are without water,” the mayor said.

Sounds a lot like the tactics used at other Occupy locations, such as the purported deep concern for the flower beds in Liberty Plaza, New York and the plaintive calls by the authorities of Boston for Occupy Boston to PLEASE THINK OF THE SHRUBBERY!

Side note of interest: Google reports that, “We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove YouTube videos of police brutality, which we did not remove.”


Please Forgive My Massive Skepticism

Kenneth Harding was shot to death in San Francisco in front of dozens of witnesses on July 16th as he ran from police for not having a bus transfer.

Harding was a black teen, and the SFPD have a history of murdering black men, usually unarmed black men.

So please excuse my massive skepticism at the brand new police version of events:

[T]he community reacted with anger to the shooting of a young man who was videotaped bleeding helplessly in the middle of a Bayview street while police stood around him with guns drawn and a crowd gathered.

Then in a startling turn of events, authorities announced on Thursday that Harding had not been killed in a hail of police bullets after-all. They said he evidently shot himself — either intentionally or by accident — with a .380-caliber bullet that passed through his neck and into his head, killing him. A bullet of that caliber was found in his jacket pocket but the gun was missing.


Then for some reason SFPD released information about Harding’s criminal past, as though that somehow makes his shooting death acceptable.

The Exciting Times V.10 & RIP Kenneth Harding

San Francisco Police Gun Down Black Teen in Broad Daylight for Not Having Bus Transfer
Kenneth Harding’s story is even worse than it sounds. Please read it and send to friends. Racist police violence is really getting me down.

When police stopped a teenager stepping off the T-train yesterday to show his transfer as proof he’d paid his fare – $2 at most – he ran from them. They shot him as many as 10 times in the back and neck, according to witnesses. For many long minutes, as a crowd watched in horror, the boy, who had fallen to the sidewalk a block away, lay in a quickly growing pool of blood writhing in pain and trying to lift himself up as the cops trained their guns on him and threatened bystanders.

Here is a video filmed by a witness right after the shooting:

Fraudulent Documents Still Used to Steal Families’ Homes
Banks, some of whom received taxpayer stimulus funds, are still using forged documents to foreclose on families’ homes. Even though they totally promised not to do it anymore. But they don’t really have any motivation to stop. Not only do they get their hands on thousands of delicious houses to feed their insatiable appetite for the misery of others, BUT the state governments around the country are working out immunity for banks regarding suspicious foreclosures! Yayz!

More CIA Blacksites Uncovered! This Time in Somalia!
More extraordinary renditions! More filthy cells! More tortured interrogations!

Lesbians Told to Stop Being so Dykey
Whether visiting Dollywood in Tennessee or an exhibit on lesbian writer Gertrude Stein in San Francisco, lesbians just need to remember that they don’t enjoy the same freedoms as straights, because they are gay, which is gross and ungodly.

Beyond Androgyny
OH MY GOD GENDER IS ENDING! Everybody panic!

If you need a little lift after all of that, here is the theme song from Cannibal the Musical:

Use Your Privilege for Good [As a Job Seeker]

This post will apply most directly to the non-profit field, but I have a feeling it will also be relevant to many other sorts of work.

Some organizations and companies like to play little power games when they post job openings, and the Recession and the desperation caused by high unemployment rates has only emboldened them in their unethical behavior. My biggest beef at the moment is with information about pay. How many of you job seekers have noticed that many employers don’t list any salary/wage information in their job postings? And of course if you inquire about that information up front, you’re automatically discarded as a trouble-maker.

Employers weaponize pay by creating information asymmetry: they refuse to provide any information, but then state that they will only consider applicants to divulge pay history or pay requirements in their initial applications. That way, they have all the cards in their hands and you have none. They can, in secret and from the outset, only consider applicants who grossly undervalue themselves. Of course, employers know that in these tough times, there will always be at least one, if not several applicants who are willing to undersell themselves out of simple desperation.

Employers who do this are unethical and have control issues. To job seekers, job postings that set up this information asymmetry should serve as red flags indicating work places where secrecy, hierarchy, disrespect of workers, and other poor management behaviors are probably present.

However, sometimes you are desperate and have to accept a job even if your human dignity won’t be respected. I get that.

Do a little personal assessment here. Does your identity, or people’s perception of your identity, provide you with societal privileges? Are you light-skinned? Male? Able-bodied? Hetero? And etc. If you have identities which are privileged in society, here’s what you can do as a job seeker. You can hold the line. You can refuse to play the employers’ game. You can give your real pay history. You can state an appropriate pay requirement in your cover letter. You can even proactively write to employers who engage in this behavior and say, “I noticed that you omitted the salary range you are offering for this position. Would you be able to post that or share that information with me so that I can assess whether this job is a good fit?”

People with marginalized and oppressed identities are already at a disadvantage in the job market, and will be extremely loathe to add to their disadvantages by being bold on this issue. But people with privileged identities can use their advantage for the good of all job seekers by calling out this employer behavior and refusing to undervalue their labor.

If you are currently employed and have any decision-making power around hiring practices, you can help out by stopping this practice. Encourage your company or organization to demonstrate transparency and good faith by publicly posting pay information with any job listing. And remember, paying a living wage is a human rights obligation!

The US Forcibly Sterilized 60,000 Americans

Between 1920 and 1970, the United States government forcibly sterilized 60,000 Americans because they were poor and/or people of color. The justification was that there would be future savings for welfare programs.

Elaine Riddick was 14 years old when she was raped. When she gave birth 9 months later, the government labeled her “promiscuous” and “feeble-minded” and had her sterilized.

Elaine Riddick, sterilization victim

Elaine Riddick speaks out.

From WCTV:

When Elaine Riddick gave birth to her son 43 years ago, doctors sterilized her on orders from the State of North Carolina.

“They cut me open like I was a hog,” says Elaine Riddick, a sterilization victim.

Riddick was only 14 at the time, a victim of rape. She didn’t realize until years later, when she was married, that she would never again have children. The state had deemed her too feeble-minded to have them.

“I am not feeble minded, I have never been feeble minded,” Riddick says.

…”The people who were the focus of this movement were the dispossessed of society, the poor, common criminals and in some cases, simply people of color,” says Paul Lombardo, Georgia State University.

It seems like somebody knew what they were doing was probably wrong…

Most of the sterilization laws, including North Carolina’s, were written to give states immunity from lawsuits.

-From CBS


Not a Conspiracy

“Some would blame our current problems on an organized conspiracy. I wish it were so simple. Members of a conspiracy can be rooted out and brought to justice. This system, however, is fueled by something far more dangerous than conspiracy. It is driven not by a small band of men but by a concept that has become accepted as gospel: the idea that all economic growth benefits humankind and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits. This belief also had a corollary: that those people who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes are available for exploitation.”

-John Perkins, in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 2004

“America was founded very early on the basic premise that he who is poor deserves to be poor; he who is rich is entitled to the fruit of his power.”

-John Gerassi, Violence, Revolution, and Structural Change in Latin America, 1969

Racist St. Bernard Parish Leaders Will Stop at Nothing

Back in October and November of last year, I did a lot of talking about some business in St. Bernard Parish, a Parish near New Orleans. You can find my previous update and links to all my writing on this topic here.

In a nutshell, St. Bernard is 81.6% white, and the housing is mostly single-family homes. Some developers are trying to build apartments that will be more affordable to low-income individuals, a group in that area in which blacks are overrepresented. Well, white city leaders have a PROBLEM!!! with this, and have gone to great lengths to prevent the building of this affordable housing, including lengths of dubious legality, which can be found at my link above.

So construction on the apartments finally started, but then:

A roiling battle over four mixed-income apartment buildings in St. Bernard Parish reached a boil Friday, with Parish President Craig Taffaro ordering a halt to construction after the developer’s attorneys forced the case out of a state judge’s hands and back into federal court.

Within hours, however, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan called foul, ordering parish officials to “purge themselves of contempt” by today at 5 p.m. or begin paying $25,000 per day in fines, then $50,000 per day after Tuesday.

For some reason, Taffaro had ordered this halt “three days after the Parish Council repealed two ordinances that restrict mult-family and rental properties.”

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development fair housing enforcement officials have said they would block federal money coming into the parish — and possibly to Louisiana as a whole — if the parish did not rescind the ordinances. HUD officials said the laws discriminate against African-Americans who are disproportionately in need of such housing in the New Orleans area.”

People, what the hell is going on here?