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Teaching Racism and the Law at UCLA and Masaryk University

Feb19

by: Paul Von Blum on February 19th, 2018 | No Comments »

For several years, I have taught a popular and successful course at UCLA on “Race, Racism, and the Law.”  This course systematically examines the racist fabric of the American legal system.  It explores how contemporary racist practices, including police killings and other misconduct against African Americans, are deeply rooted in the history of American legal decisions and the United States Constitution itself.  The course content addresses most of the major documents of U.S. law regarding race and shows how the legal system throughout our history has favored those with power and privilege, predominantly wealthy white men.  This course primarily focuses on how the law has abused people of African origin, but it also addressed how legal cases, statutes, and practices have discriminated against other minority groups including Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Mexican Americans.

Not surprisingly, much of the material is new to my students.  Even those who are aware that the United States has a deeply racist history that persist in the early 21st century are unnerved at the extent of legal racism from the founding of the nation to the present.  Any discussion about American racism requires an analysis of its institutional foundations.  The legal dimensions of those foundations need to be understood both because they are difficult to change and because they often remain hidden from many conventional critiques of racism, especially in educational settings.

In both 2015 and 2017, I was invited to teach a truncated version of this class, for one highly intensive week, to students at the Faculty of Law at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.  Both times I found the law students there remarkably knowledgeable, intellectually curious, and especially eager to learn about how the American legal system works to the profound disadvantage of its minority inhabitants and, very occasionally, how it moves in the opposite direction by actually implementing the deeper ideals of racial equality and social justice.  Like their American counterparts, of course, they had rarely if ever studied the underlying legal foundations of American racism.

Presenting a course on American racism and law in the Czech Republic presented some unusual challenges.  Some of these were historical and others were pedagogical; others were deeply personal.  The Law School at Masaryk University in Brno is housed in the same building used as the headquarters of Nazi killing units that contained offices and prison cells between 1939 and 1945.  This disconcerting fact inevitably conjures up the reality that the Nazi occupation government shipped most Czechoslovakian Jews to exterminations camps during the War.  As a second generation Holocaust survivor with many family members killed in Auschwitz, I felt occasionally unnerved when I realized that I was teaching an anti-racist course in a structure where countless Jews and others were tortured and murdered.  I mentioned this briefly at the outset and in some informal conversations with students.

For young law students in Brno, anti-Semitism is not a major concern.  The Jewish population in Brno and the entire Czech Republic is small and most anti-Semitic incidents occur elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe.  My major challenge at Masaryk University was to link my material to the continuing problems of racism against the Roma population in the Czech Republic.  The students there are familiar with this problem, if not comprehensively so.  I found it easy and compelling to use examples of discriminatory treatment of Roma people with my examples of racism in the United States.  Especially valuable to me is the existence of the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno, the only institution in the world devoted to the history and culture of this persecuted population, including the attempted Nazi genocide against Romani people during World War II.

As I do in my UCLA course, I began with contemporary examples of racial profiling and killings of unarmed black people before I embark on a chronological survey of American law and race (and racism).   My examples include the well-publicized cases of Rodney King, Latisha Harlins, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and others.  The Czech students for the most part had heard of Rodney King, but knew little or nothing about the others.  Most American students, on the contrary, have heard of most of these recent African American casualties.

To underscore this course opening, I showed a brief video that my graduate student, Shey Khaksar, and I produced on the topic.  The video has graphic footage of some of these horrific incidents and even more: we start the film with a clip of the dramatization of the grotesque 1944 execution of 14 year old George Stinney, who was convicted of murder by an all-white jury in ten minutes and almost immediately executed in a South Carolina electric chair (and whose conviction was vacated in 2014).  The Masaryk students, in their final essays for the class, indicated that the Stinney case and the footage of Eric Garner being choked to death on Staten Island in 2014 by New York Police Department officers had the most visceral impact on them.  Still, all these cases revealed to them that egregious racism continues in the United States, contradicting strongly some of the misconceptions about American racial equality that they found on Czech media and American propaganda outlets.

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Let’s Make Valentine’s Day Liberating Love Day! The Revolution Begins with Self-Love

Feb16

by: Mordecai Cohen Ettinger on February 16th, 2018 | No Comments »

Some years ago my cousin told me of an interaction she witnessed between my father and younger brother who was about 5 years old at the time. My cousin, now in her 50s was in her mid-20s then. My little brother, knobby-kneed and blue saucer-eyed, with the sweetest freckles you can possibly imagine, approached my father with a dandelion and gave it to him as a gift. My father promptly snatched the dandelion from my brother’s tiny hands, threw it on the ground (they were outside), and exclaimed, “that’s a weed!” Though I didn’t witness it myself, I can readily imagine my father doing such a thing. His behavior generally fell somewhere on the spectrum of violence, and for my father this was somewhat low-key. I can also imagine the sadness, fear, and crushing sense of rejection of my tender-hearted younger brother.

Love, and our expressions of love are policed and defined through this policing from a very young age. The contortion of love into acceptable relationships and expressions often begins in our families of origin, refractions of the oppressive norms and imperatives of our broader society. Our families also often serve as training grounds for these norms, regardless of our race, class, ethnicity, and immigration status. The most radical, iconoclastic, and even wonderful families pass along to us their fears, internalized oppression and limiting beliefs along with their love. Fully loving ourselves and others is complicated from the start, a truth intimately known by so many of us.

Further, in our white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, ableist society, love or its withholding is one of the primary ways in which our behaviors and their underlying and entangled beliefs are conditioned and controlled. For example many male (passing) children must capitulate to the demands of toxic masculinity to maintain the love and approval of their fathers (or mothers or other caregivers who could certainly uphold and engage in these types of behaviors as well).

In this story above, my brother was asked to refute or reject his own tenderness – an expression of his very organic, even inborn kindness –  to protect himself from rejection from one of the few people on the planet,  as a five-year-old, he most needed love, acceptance and protection: his father.

From a very young age the contradictions of our society reflected by and circulating through our most intimate relationships require us to choose between the love and acceptance of others and the love of ourselves. The root of these contradictions can be traced to settler colonialism and the highly instrumentalizing and transactionalizing economic system which co-evolved with it – capitalism.

Capitalism is an inherently disintegrating force; that which is dis-integrated and torn asunder can then be reconstituted and captured in the market for profit. Relationships are re-woven to meet the needs of the market instead of human need and we are set up to be divided against each other and ourselves. This has now been happening for generations. A father, my father, any father, chooses to uphold the demands of regulating masculinity and compulsory heterosexuality rather than honor, rejoice in, and fully receive the authentic kindness and love of his child. A child must hide their vulnerability and gentleness to be treated as a person, even though it is this self-same vulnerability and gentleness that enables us to most deeply connect with ourselves and others, and access our deepest wisdom.

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Thoughts and Prayers? What the Prophet Isaiah Said

Feb16

by: on February 16th, 2018 | No Comments »

17 more dead. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Sackcloth, ashes, bowing your head… Actually, on the night 17 people were killed in Florida, I thought to myself that maybe my husband and I should fast. We didn’t. We did sit and watch the news as details of the mass shooting at a high school in Florida were slowly revealed. We closed our eyes in prayer, feeling helpless, angry, sad.

17 dead, the shooter in custody, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, neighbors, grieving. A chorus rings out “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Two words come to mind when I hear or read that phrase coming from people in power who could do so much more than think and pray. Then, yesterday, the pastor of our church asked me if I would lead the Time for the Child in us all at church this Sunday. “What’s the scripture?” I asked. Curious? Read on!


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Belonging Cuts Like A Knife

Feb16

by: on February 16th, 2018 | No Comments »

I’ve heard it said that belonging sounds kind of soft, but to me, it’s a knife that cuts straight to the heart of our collective challenge. How do we cultivate a society that embodies the right to belong, that offers full cultural citizenship: justice and love, equity and compassion, the right to feel at home in one’s community, to feel safe in one’s school? To belong.

It’s not clear whether school shooter Nikolas Cruz actually trained with the white nationalist militia Republic of Florida (the group’s leader claimed Cruz, then said he’d mistaken him for someone else. But Cruz had been aligned for years with white supremacist views, according to a high school classmate and others: “He would always talk about how he felt whites were a bit higher than everyone,” Charo said. “He’d be like, ‘My people are over here industrializing the world and starting new things, while your people [meaning blacks and Latinos] are just taking up space.’”

When we debate who belongs—about how belonging must be earned and which categories of people are entitled to a say—we had better be ready to tussle with history.Consider a few scenes from the annals of belonging.


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Patriarchy: A major obstacle to world peace

Feb16

by: Dr. Adis Duderija on February 16th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Discussions on peace are central to humanity since they force us to deal with some fundamental issues regarding our human existence, its purpose and nature. As we all know, world-peace is much more than just the state of ‘absence of war’. The voluminous literature on ‘just peace’ and ‘just war’ testifies to this fact well. My purpose is not to engage with this literature directly but to offer some reflections on what I consider to be the major impediment to world peace today.

Today, we live in an incredibly interconnected world that one or two generations ago was simply unimaginable. Things we do and choices we make on a daily basis often can have significant impact, both positive and negative, on people who live on different continents, who come from different religious, cultural, ethnic or racial backgrounds and whom we will never meet in person. How our actions impact upon others are often not always easy to discern or to understand. Nevertheless, given our state of interconnectedness, it becomes ethically incumbent upon us to try our utmost to understand how our place in the world and things that we do (or not do) impact upon others no matter where they live or what their backgrounds are. This state of unprecedented interconnectedness offers to us a tremendous opportunity to do good. However, it is also a potential burden for if we fail to take full advantage of this opportunity history and future generations will judge us harshly. Rightly so, I think.

So what are the main impediments to world-peace today?  In this brief article I will discuss one that I consider to be the most prevalent and most damaging-patriarchy.  Patriarchy is a major obstacle to world –peace because the underlying philosophy and worldview behind it permeates all other impediments I will mention in the course of this article.

Patriarchy is a dual system of domination of a small percentage of privileged men (mainly white, rich men living in the Global North) over other men, women and children. Patriarchy as a system of domination is based upon certain worldview that manifests itself in all aspects of human   existence both at a level of society and at the level of the individual. It affects the way people think, behave and feel. Traditional hegemonic masculinity is its ultimate source of ‘values’ and norms. While we have been witnessing patriarchy ever since the rise of agricultural societies it current forms are much more lethal and insidious due to the nature of the contemporary world we live in.

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An Emergency Appeal from Honduras

Feb12

by: on February 12th, 2018 | No Comments »

Let me step aside from the activities of our delegation during our week in Honduras and interject a personal plea:

If you’re like me, you get all kinds of appeals for calls and letters of support, for donations to make and for delegations to join. The pain of the world cries out to us daily, and our efforts seem so inconsequential. Perhaps, like me, you have often passed them by, or also like me, you’ve joined delegations from time to time.

Here’s the thing: This time is different, really different.

Honduras is on the tipping point between peaceful negotiations and civil war. The uneasy political truce in Honduras is breaking down, right now, after the years of increasing intimidation and assassinations since the military coup against the constitutionally elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

As you may know, the military kidnapped Zelaya and somewhat melodramatically flew him out of the country at night in his pajamas. Since then, a wave of protest, repression and assassination has swept the country.

Whatever tenuous agreements among the political parties that have held the country together since the military coup, ruptured at last November’ contested election. In the midst of counting the ballots, when it appeared that the opposition candidate Salvador Nasrallah was winning, the election commission stopped the count. The counting resumed hours later, yet Nasrallah’s lead had vanished and the Hernández had a 1.5 percent edge. Perhaps it is worth nothing that the election commission is dominated by Hernández supporters. Opposition candidate Salvador Nasrallah refused to accept the result.

Afterwards, the Organization of American States agreed there was evidence of fraud and called for a new election, but the U.S. has tacitly supported Hernández as the winner.

Over the coming months, the crisis is likely to grow worse. The opposition Alianza shows no signs of giving in this seizure of power by Juan Orlando Hernández and his right-wing National Party. In December, Zelaya issued an appeal to the American people to make every effort to stop the “immoral support” that the U.S. government has given to the dictatorship of Hernández. In his appeal, he wrote:

The electoral fraud supported by the U.S. State Department in favor of the dictatorship has forced our people to protest massively throughout the country, despite savage government repression that has taken the lives of more than 34 young people since the election, and in which hundreds of protestors have been criminalized and imprisoned.

After this electoral coup, police and military forces have been sweeping through opposition villages, harassing and threatening people in their homes. The death toll is now reaching about 40, often merely bystanders at protests who are fired upon with live ammunition.

It’s bad enough that some police officers are questioning and rebelling against their orders.

That is why I appeal to you, now, at this moment, to stop and help tip the balance toward peace and away from violence and repression. Any action you take to influence the U.S. in favor of peaceful domestic dialogue may save real lives, right now. You can:

  • Call, email or write your Congressional representative to ask him or her to support the ‘Berta Caceres’ resolution A.R. 1299 to stop military aid to the Honduran government until the security forces stop violating human rights and past perpetrators are brought to justice.
  • Send a donation to the emergency fund to support SHARE and the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. [Yes, every delegation runs more on faith than dollars!]
  • Or designate your donation to SHARE on behalf of Radio Progreso.
  • Even a simple email to Radio Progreso and Padre Melo to show support for free and independent news would help. (Email: prensa@radioprogreso.net.) If Melo and the station receive emails, they can print these out and show the wide range of support from people of good will to anyone who questions their rights to free speech and assembly.

I wouldn’t stop to ask you this unless I really believed that American voices at this moment could save lives over the coming months. The pressure on the American government is vital to at least give the Honduran civil society a chance to work things out on their own without the historical interference of the imperial giant to the north.

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David A. Sylvesteris a Bay Area writer, teacher and contributor toTikkun. A Roman Catholic, he is also a member of Beyt Tikkun and has traveled to El Salvador as an election observer in 2009 and to Iraq in 1998 on a humanitarian mission with Voices in the Wilderness. In 2006, he served three months in a federal prison camp for civil disobedience at the U.S. army base at Fort Benning to protest the U.S.-training of Central American military troops.

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Countdown to Zero

Feb7

by: Marisa Handler on February 7th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

I come from a city surrounded by water.  Cape Town sits at the tip of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.  In precolonial times, the indigenous Khoena people called the Cape Peninsula “the place where clouds gather.”  The winters of my childhood were memorable affairs, with frequent storms bringing gale force winds and drenching rains.  But two years of severe drought have changed things, and now a different kind of storm is gathering.

Two and a half weeks ago officials announced the countdown to “Day Zero,” when the city will run out of water.  That’s the day provincial dams are estimated to sink to a mere 13.5% of capacity.  In the words of Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille: “We have reached a point of no return.”  Initially announced as April 21st, after farm irrigation was curtailed, Day Zero was moved up to mid-May.   Unless the heavens unhinge or residents immediately begin abiding by strict rationing, Cape Town will become the first major city in the world to exhaust its water supply.  Faucets will run dry, and Capetonians will have to collect their daily water ration from supply points.  “The challenge exceeds anything a major city has had to face anywhere in the world since the Second World War or 9/11,” said Helen Zille, the Western Cape province premier.

Officials have begun announcing the 200 collection points throughout the city, at which the population of almost 4 million will be required to line up for their daily 25 liters (6.6 gallons).  That’s around 20,000 people per supply point.  Pundits are calling it a national disaster in the making, potentially crippling the “Mother City” of South Africa.  Most schools will need to close.  Jobs will be lost, property prices fall.  Tourism, which accounts for 9% of the country’s annual revenue—Cape Town alone draws 2 million visitors each year—will certainly drop.  Only hospitals and clinics will retain normal water supply.  Despite the mayor’s explanation that “prior to filling their vessels, each person will be given a dose of hand sanitizer,” the inevitable sanitation issues mean serious potential for disease spread.  While many affluent residents will likely leave the city, the millions living in the townships have no such recourse.  At best, circumstances portend a logistical nightmare; at worst, chaos of dystopian proportions.

How did the situation get so dire?

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Help us celebrate Rabbi Lerner’s 75th birthday!

Feb5

by: on February 5th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Rabbi Lerner is turning 75 this coming Wednesday, February 7. Let’s celebrate him and ensure a legacy forTikkunfor decades to come! Here’s how you can help:

1. Create a short 1-2 minute video(you can do this on your cell phone, tablet, computer or other device) telling people (both friends and others whom you don’t know) something you particularly celebrate or appreciate about Rabbi Lerner and his work, aboutTikkun, and/or the Network of Spiritual Progressives (which he envisioned and then created). At the end of the video please be sure to ask folks to support our efforts to raise $18,000 in honor of his birthday, and most important, to help secure the legacy ofTikkunlong into the future by funding the creation of a new website.

We are asking you to both share the video on your own social media, using the hashtags #TikkunLegacy, #Tikkun, #NSP, and tagging Rabbi Michael Lerner, Michael Lerner,Tikkunand Network of Spiritual Progressives and then also send the video to us at chris@tikkun.org. We will then share the videos on social media and send them out to our supporters. Time is of the essence and this will only take 5 minutes of your time (and hopefully a generous donation as well!) – worth it, don’t you think?!

Will you join us and participate in this fun effort to both celebrate Michael and help ensure the longevity of our very important work in the world? If so, here’s all you have to do:

Make a short video (1-2 minutes) expressing your appreciation of Rabbi Lerner,Tikkun, the Network of Spiritual Progressives and/or his work. You can make the recording on your computer or even your cell phone (or tablet). Please be sure to hold a sign that says #TikkunLegacy and to both post the statement below with the video and end the video with the following statement:

“Please join me in giving Rabbi Michael Lerner a birthday gift that will celebrate him and impact our communities, and our society for generations to come.Tikkunis in the midst of creating a new website and social media strategy to help it engage with the next generation ofTikkun-nicks. We are aiming to raise $18,000 in honor of Rabbi Lerner’s 75th birthday to help secure the legacy ofTikkunmagazine long into the future. Will you join me? To donate, go to: tikkun.org/tikkunlegacy or click on the shared link above or below with this video.”

In addition to sharing the video (as explained above) on your social media, please also send the video (or any questions you have) to Chris at chris@tikkun.org.

Click here for an example video!

2. Donate to support Tikkun’s legacy, go to: www.tikkun.org/tikkunlegacy.

 

Thanks for your support!

Cat, Chris, & Simon at Tikkun and NSP

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Israel, Diaspora Jews and the anti-Semites

Feb5

by: Giorgio Gomel on February 5th, 2018 | No Comments »

There is a separation, a parting of ways in the Jewish world between Israel as the nation-state of the Israelis and the American and European Diasporas where Jews live in societies, which despite fractures and throwbacks, are becoming increasingly multicultural. Israeli Jews enjoy their national existence under a “Jewish” government endowed with the classical instruments of a sovereign state – an army, police and judiciary. A government which pursues its geopolitical interests dictated by the requirements of realpolitik in a complicated world and in a region, the Middle East, beset by deep, at times catastrophic convulsions.

Diaspora Jews are citizens of the states where they live, to whose laws they abide and in whose civil and political life they participate. Sociological research indeed points to a growing chasm between Diaspora Jewry, concerned with issues of human rights, equality and pluralism – less so in Europe than in the US – and Israelis leaning towards parochial nationalism. In the US in particular where Jews have been actively involved both individually and with their collective organizations in civil and social issues (the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, the opposition to the Vietnam war, and non-discriminatory treatment of refugees and migrants) many Jews find it difficult  to reconcile  this tradition with the chauvinism prevailing in today’s Israel especially with  the right-wing, religious coalition ruling the country.[1]

The Israeli government often claims to represent world Jewry in its entirety and seeks to protect it from discrimination and antisemitism. Often, it pretends to act in the name and for the sake of the whole  Jewish people, as happened after the hideous anti-Jewish killings  at the Jewish school in Toulouse, the  Jewish “Hypermarché” in Paris and the Jewish Museum in Brussels,  or in the Israeli government’s opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran.

A number of  episodes though appear to contradict this axiom: the racist, white supremacist marches in Virginia, the anti-Jewish rhetoric unleashed in Hungary against George Soros and the rise of the extreme right in Germany and, most recently, Austria. These instances occurred against the backdrop of serious concerns voiced by Jewish organizations with regard to public expressions of anti-Jewish racism. Yet, in all three instances, the Israeli government kept silent.

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Prodigal God and Restorative Justice

Jan31

by: Stephen Siemens on January 31st, 2018 | 2 Comments »

Understanding parable of “The Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) in the context of its 1st Century Middle East culture makes it one of the finest examples of restorative justice in the Scriptures.

This week is Restorative Justice Week with the theme: Diverse Needs, Unique Responses. In the parable, we see just how unique God’s paradigmatic love-in-action is for both law-keepers and law-breakers, even though their needs are very different.

In a culture where nothing was more valuable than upholding one’s honour, for a son to ask his father for his inheritance was unthinkable – synonymous with wishing for his father’s death. The father would have disinherited his son, and local villagers would have treated such a son as if he were “dead to his father and dead to us.”

Yet, in the parable, the father divides his property among his sons, turning upside down the legal customs and allowing himself to be dishonoured.

The older son remains quiet at this point. He would have been expected to do everything he could to save relationship between his father and his brother. By doing nothing, he abdicated his role as mediator and reconciler.

When the younger son had finished his wild living and found himself out of money and starving, he decided to return to his father. Imagine that walk home. He would face shame and scorn from the villagers before he could even begin to plead and grovel for his dad to take him back. But to his surprise, his father runs to him.

A scandalous response to wrongdoing! In the first century older men did not run. But here the father takes his robe in hand and exposes his legs, a vicarious exchange of shame that would prove to be transformative. Patriarchy and honour are dashed to pieces in this incredible act! The younger son was publicly liberated from his own shame by the ignominious actions of his father!

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