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Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar studying ethics, peace theory, public discourse, and the civil rights movement.



Running in High Heels? Not!

Jan28

by: on January 28th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

high heels

Credit: Creative Commons / SPERA.de Designerschuhe, Taschen und Accessoires

There is an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) television commercial that shows a woman in a short skirt and high heels while the voice over talks of finding a career you love at any age and about life reimagined. Whenever I see this spot called “I’ve Still Got It”, I think that when anyone is old enough for an AARP card, there are some things you should know, one of which is running in high heels is a dumb idea.

If you are old enough for an AARP card, you ought to be able to recognize a non sequitur, a logical fallacy where the premises do not lead to the stated conclusion. A miniskirt and high heels have nothing whatever to do with continued vitality as we age, nothing whatever to do with working on exciting projects either as a career or not after age 50, nothing whatever to do with re-imagining life’s possibilities.

If you are old enough for an AARP card, you should know, especially if you are a woman, the history of high heels. They were first used in ancient Persia by men who used the heels to keep them in stirrups when riding horses. Over time, high heels have been used by short kings and queens to make them appear taller. The aristocracy used them to distinguish themselves from the lower classes. The heels showed that unlike the lower classes, they did not have to walk. With the Enlightenment, men were thought to be rational and useful, in charge. They stopped wearing high heels. Women were seen as sentimental and as decoration. The more successful the man, the more beautiful the woman or women with which he was associated. Once upon a time, the only women who wore high heels were prostitutes. Today, many women wear high heels because they are supposed to make a woman’s legs look longer and shapelier. They cause her to walk with more sway to her hips. Many women wear high heels so that they feel confident and sexy.

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On “Selma” the Movie

Jan15

by: on January 15th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma march

Credit: Huffington Post / Stephen F. Somerstein via Getty Images

There is a moment in the movie “Selma” when Martin Luther King, Jr. says that Montgomery (bus boycott), Birmingham (desegregation of stores, public facilities, and accommodations), and Selma (voting rights) were all parts of the same struggle. I say: the struggle is the work of the moral evolution of humankind, and Selma is a mile marker on a road that reaches back to the dawn of human history and reaches forward beyond our sight and beyond our imaginations.

When I saw the movie, I was struck by how much things have changed and by how much they have remained the same. The movie tells the story of King, the Southern Christian Leadership conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lyndon Johnson, and the march from Selma to Montgomery. The purpose of the march was to push for a voting rights bill to follow quickly after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Law, one of the most sweeping pieces of civil rights legislation in the nation’s history.

To fully appreciate this movie, it is important to remember just how very nearly completely African-Americans were disenfranchised in the Southern states. The movie does a good job of showing the humiliation of being asked to recite the preamble to the United States Constitution, or having to know how many state judges there were, or having to name them. Such so-called literacy tests were not the only impediments placed before African-Americans and their right to vote after reconstruction. There were poll taxes and the necessity of character references from a registered voter. A person’s name and address would be published in the newspaper, and if one’s employer or landlord objected to one’s attempt to register and vote, one could lose one’s job, house, or both.

White voters did not have to face such impediments because of a grandfather clause in the law that exempted anyone who was a descendant of a person who had the right to vote before 1866 from poll tax and property requirements. The 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended poll taxes or any other tax in federal elections. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended poll taxes for state and local elections, ended literacy tests, and required pre-clearance by the federal government for any changes in the voting laws in states with a history of laws that disenfranchised African-Americans.

However, today, we face the erosion of voting rights. In June 2013, in a 5-4 decision in “Shelby County v Holder”, the United States Supreme Court said that section 4b of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. This is the section that contains a formula that would trigger section 5, the pre-clearance section of the law. Since the Court deemed the formula outdated, there is nothing to trigger section 5. The logic was that since African-Americans were able to register and vote in sufficient numbers in Southern states and various other areas in the country that pre-clearance was no longer necessary. Congress could work on a new formula, but there is little expectation that a Republican controlled Congress will address the issue.

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Santa’s Tears

Dec24

by: on December 24th, 2014 | Comments Off

Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and the workshop and the packing and distribution centers at the North Pole were dark. It was about a quarter past 8 pm, and I was just finishing up the list. (I volunteer each year, working with the group that handles Santa’s delivery list.) Even though this is the busiest time of the year as everyone makes preparation for Santa’s Christmas Eve deliveries, he insists that all work stop at 8 pm. There are two shifts — 6 am to 1 pm and 1 pm to 8 pm — because Santa wants all the North Pole regulars and the volunteers to have time to spend with family and friends. For Santa time together — working together, cooking together, shopping together — is the most important part of the holiday season.

There are several trees that are lit during the work day, but Santa wants them off after everyone leaves for the day. He is very energy conscious. So as I was making my way back to my room, I thought it strange to see the colored LED lights sparkling on the tree in Santa’s otherwise dark office. He must have been called away, and his assistant forgot to turn off the lights. Since Santa’s door is never locked, I thought nothing of going to his office to unplug the tree.

However, when I walked in, and flipped on the office lights, I was surprised to see Santa in his chair behind the desk.

“Sorry,” I said more than a little embarrassed. “I did not know you were here, and I just came in to turn off the tree lights.”

“No worries,” Santa said. “I am glad that you thought to come to turn them off.”

There was a deep sadness in his voice, and tears were streaming down his face. I was more than a little taken aback because I have never seen Santa cry. He is usually a force of natural energy, of living breathing goodwill with a hearty infectious laugh. He can always find the blessing in any situation, and have you thanking whatever god you serve for the privilege of the experience. I have also seen his righteous indignation. His anger can shake the walls around him. And the thing that angers him most is cruelty and stupidity that make life harder for children. But, I have never seen him cry.

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Blue on Black Violence, Racial Bias, and Societal Psychosis

Dec9

by: on December 9th, 2014 | Comments Off

Racism causes racial bias and derangement of mind.

Racism can make a large portion of society crazy.

Now I know that many people who either suffer from mental illness or have loved ones who suffer from mental illness will not appreciate the use of the word “crazy.” I know that when we look at the reality of mental illness that causes great stress on individuals and families that the idea of racial bias as a societal psychosis may seem as if it is a stretch. I want to use this disturbing word because it is this craziness that creates a life and death situation when African Americans meet police officers who misperceive them as a threat, and in a matter of seconds may shoot them dead, or choke them to death or beat them viciously by the side of the road.

And the crazy is so crazy deep that many people affected by the crazy do not realize how crazy they are. The insanity causes us to misperceive reality, so we see what is not really real and do not see what is really real.

In the current discourse around the rash of police killings of unarmed African-American men and the failure of two grand juries to indict the police officers, we are necessarily having a conversation on race. This essay is about societal mental health. These killings are a result of how too many white police officers perceive and misperceive African-American men. When people have limited contact with members of another group they very often see members of that group through the lens of stereotypes. The super-physical black man is one stereotype of African-American men. He is the large, brute Negro who is capable of doing physical harm. In some circumstances even small African-American men are perceived to be larger and stronger than they actually are.

A recently published psychological study demonstrates this racial bias. This study – “A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perception of Blacks” -published in Social Psychological and Personality Science describes five studies and their results that support the idea that very often European Americans often misperceive African Americans as either subhuman or superhuman but not as human. And when they do perceive African Americans as superhuman it is not a favorable perception.

I say this distorted view is the content of a societal psychosis. It has made crazy ordinary.

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The Executioner’s Nightmare

Nov1

by: on November 1st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

They laid his body in the street, in a row with other dead bodies. He was not dressed all in black as he had been dressed on the video where he beheaded an American. He wore street clothes, and his face was naked, visible, recognizable, not wrapped in black. At this place, at this moment, he was just another in a long line of dead bodies stretching from this 21st century Syrian city to the beginning of human history. No breath, no heartbeat, no sign of life, except that his mind was alive. His eyes refused to close, and he could see. He could see the blue cloudless sky, but he could only see up since he could not move his eyes or turn his head.

The men laying the dead in rows tried to close his eyes, but they could not. The dead executioner had no way of communicating that he was alive. He could hear and smell and feel. His skin burned in the sun and hurt. He heard the screams and the lamentations of women mourning the dead. The wailing women called on Allah for mercy and for revenge. Their tears streamed down their faces carving a path through the dust on their cheeks. He could not see their tears but he felt every tear as a drop of fire on his skin. He wanted to scream, but he could not. His vocal cords could not vibrate, still he could feel the pain of every tear, every lamentation.

The bodies were soon to be moved to a mass grave. “I’m alive,” he shouted inside himself. Creation heard no sound. He could not blink, so dust grated against his eyeballs. His own tears were dry, creating another kind of pain. So he concentrated on the blue sky above him, a refuge, and a calming friendly presence. Then he saw a thin silver line, a vertical line from the earth to the sky to somewhere beyond. He was not aware of the tradition that on Halloween, all Hallows Eve, the Day of Death, the silver thread that divides the living from the dead appears and disappears. The dead come back. They return for a reckoning. Suddenly the sky burst in flames and a series of images emerged, the first of which was a headless horseman riding from the sky fire straight toward him. He wanted to run, but he could not move. “I am alive,” he thundered to the Cosmos inside himself.
The headless horseman spoke one word. “Think.”

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Not Another Conversation on Race

Aug26

by: on August 26th, 2014 | Comments Off

Michael Brown, the African-American young man killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, has been laid to rest. His homegoing celebration was at once a period to his earthly life and the blank space before the next chapter of activism that his family and a variety of communities promise to write.

After peaceful protests, marching in the street, chants of “hands up, don’t shoot” and “no justice no peace”, after fires, looting, a militarized police force aiming weapons of war on its own citizenry, smoke, tear gas, and national and international news coverage, the question now is: what is next? Some commentators have suggested that President Obama come to Ferguson and give another speech on race. Others have suggested that we as a nation engage in another conversation on race, this time with different contours.

I say, what this country does not need is yet another presidential speech on race. Is there anything new to say? And I am too tired of the conversation on race. I have been having this conversation my entire life, and I am weary of it. I remember watching Martin Luther King, Jr. give his “I Have a Dream” speech at the first March on Washington. I was a little girl watching with my parents. Twenty years later, I was in Washington DC for the anniversary march. In the 1990s, I taught race and racism at Temple University. In the first decade of the 21st century I taught courses on the civil rights movement and on “The Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Since the election of President Obama, I have written about race within the context of birther madness, and after the George Zimmerman verdict, I wrote about the myth of the super-physical black man that explains why so many people see the African-American male body as at once less than human and more than human that requires extraordinary force to subdue.

I have made my contribution to that conversation, and I am done with it.

Let us talk instead about cop psychology. What kind of psychological screening must one pass before we hand him or her a badge and a gun and give them the power to administer lethal force in the name of the state? What is the level of education required of police officers? How are they trained? Does this training include diversity and racial sensitivity training? Do they learn to subdue a suspect without illegal choke holds or gun fire? What goes through the mind of an officer when he is beating an unarmed woman by the side of the road, or when he is choking an unarmed man to death while the man says over and over and over again that he cannot breathe? What goes through the minds of the other officers on the scene who are pressing the man’s head into the pavement as if the man were not human? What is an officer thinking when he shoots six shots into an unarmed young black man and kills him? What police procedures allow for a body to lie in the streets for hours?

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In Memory of Robin Williams

Aug18

by: on August 18th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Robin Williams saw us.

Robin Williams heard us.

Robin Williams paid attention.

Robin Williams

Williams wore both dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy in such a way that hid him from us and revealed us to ourselves. This is what great artists do. Credit: Creative Commons-Flickr: Hot Gossip Italia

Too many of us, myself included, see the Other only to the extent that we do not bump into each other as we move from here to there in the course of our day. Too many of us, myself included, do not want to look too closely at the human condition. And, when we do set a steady gaze on our humanity we too often look with shame and blame. We judge with a false consciousness created by a social and cultural system that undergirds a political economy that allows for and justifies economic inequality and an ideology that some people are just better and more deserving than others. We judge with a judgment that tells us that the pain that other human beings feel, that the tragedy they suffer will not touch us because we are different.

The life and death of Robin Williams show us that we are all vulnerable. Williams wore both dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy in such a way that hid him from us and revealed us to ourselves. This is what great artists do. However, Williams did his work with a virtuosity, brilliance, and purity that will cause that work to last through time.

An actor trained at The Juilliard School, Robin Williams was also a stand-up comedian who brought together a legion of characters to make us laugh and think. He was an improvisational genius, doing comedy on the jazz, and like Charlie Parker, he took an art form to an entirely new level. Many comedians do impressions and most are good at improvisation. The late great Jonathan Winters, a mentor and a friend of Williams, presented a comedic stream of consciousness that could cause one to laugh until it hurt. Williams did the same thing with more characters inside more situations at rapid speed. His carried inside his heart and mind a late 20th century and early 21st century global cast of characters that helped us see that our world truly is a global village.

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Cutting Through the Nonsense

Aug9

by: on August 9th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

President Obama has ordered airstrikes against the non-state actor the Islamic State (IS) a.k.a. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) a.k.a. the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He has also ordered an airlift of food, water and medicine to Iraqi religious minorities who have fled their homes and who are now living on Mt. Sinjar. IS, a ruthless militant organization, has fought its way through Iraq with surprising speed and, as I write this, is only a few miles outside of Erbil, a major city in the Kurdish region of Iraq and where a US consulate is.

In his weekly address, President Obama said that the broad strategic goals of the US military operations in Iraq are to protect US citizens in Erbil, address the humanitarian crisis, prevent Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, and to urge Iraqis to reconcile, unify, and defend their country. While the president insists that this military operation will be limited, that the United States will not slide into another protracted military engagement, that there will be no commitment of US troops on the ground, we hear complaints that limited airstrikes will not be enough to stop IS.

This is a fighting force that is well armed with US weapons abandoned by some members of Iraq’s military. The group robbed a bank full of money provided by US taxpayers. The group also receives funding from wealthy people in the region who are sympathetic to their cause. They attract fighters from Europe and the United States who have a misguided view of the meaning of the concept of jihad in Islam.

This is a ruthless, determined, well-funded, well-armed organization. There is no question about this. The nonsense rolls in like an early morning fog when some journalists and analysts tell us that IS owes its strength to President Obama’s unwillingness to become more militarily involved in Syria at the beginning of its civil war. IS, they say, filled a vacuum.

Enough of this nonsense. Enough. President Obama did not intervene in Syria and did not do more to arm the Syrian rebels for good reasons. The Syrian opposition lacked unity then and now and it included groups such as IS. There was no reason to believe the weapons given to “moderates” would not end up in the hands of IS. Besides that, all of the various military options would have come with a high price tag and uncertain outcomes.

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“We’ve Become Cruel”

Jul30

by: on July 30th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

In the 2012 documentary, The Gatekeepers, Avraham Shalom, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet from 1980-1986, reaches the conclusion that Israel’s occupation of Gaza, Samaria and Judea has changed the character of the Israeli people. He says: “We’ve become cruel, to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population, using the excuse of war against terror.”

Shin Bet is the Israeli intelligence organization responsible for Israel’s defense against terrorism. It conducts anti-terrorism and intelligence operations in the West Bank and Gaza. In The Gatekeepers, filmmaker Dror Moreh interviews six men who headed the organization from 1980-2011. They all agree that an end to the occupation is the only way to bring about peace and Israeli national security. They also say that negotiations with Israel’s enemies are necessary.

Shalom argues that Israel ought to talk to any and every one for the sake of peace.

“I said everyone, so it includes even Ahmadinejad, whoever. I’m always for it. It’s a trait of a professional intelligence operative to talk to everyone. Things get clarified. I see you don’t eat glass. He sees I don’t drink petrol. That’s how it is.”

Peace can only come if Israel and the United States talk directly with Hamas and all the relevant parties in the conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry faces criticism in Israel for supposedly being too close to nations who talk to Hamas. They say his cease fire proposals favor Hamas’ position. I say Secretary Kerry has not gone far enough. The Israeli government has not gone far enough to make a just and lasting peace. Both ought to be in a room this very minute talking directly with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. They should stay until a peace agreement is reached.

Avi Dichter, head of Shin Bet between 2000-2005, says:

“You can’t make peace using military means. Peace must be built on a system of trust, after, or without using military means. In the end you must build it on a system of trust. As someone who knows the Palestinians well, I claim that there should be no problem building a system of trust with them, a genuine one.”

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Eric Cantor and Karma

Jun23

by: on June 23rd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

When former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his primary election, the Washington punditocracy was stunned. A flurry of breathless stories and commentary followed seeking to determine and to explain what the loss portends for public policy and for the 2014 mid-term elections. Since Cantor’s opponent, David Brat, a college economics professor and a Tea Party conservative, ran against what he calls “amnesty” in comprehensive immigration reform, conventional wisdom says immigration reform cannot pass during this Congress. At the same time, it seems that Cantor, busy with the responsibilities of national leadership, failed to stay in touch with his constituents. I say Cantor’s loss is a function of Karma.

I am not a Buddhist, but the concept that derives from eastern religions, in its most basic sense, is an economical way to think about the relationship between act and consequence, cause and effect. Karma means “act.” Good consequences come from good acts; bad consequences from bad acts. Karma reminds us that the things we do – the good, the bad, and the ugly – thinking it will have a negative effect on someone else will have a negative effect on us.

Karma says: “you reap what you sow.” It is akin to the wisdom found in Proverbs 26:27 – “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” (English Standard Version) The late gospel singer Mahalia Jackson echoed the same principle when she said: “If you dig a ditch you better dig two ’cause the trap you set just may be for you.” It is a more specific understanding of the African-American wisdom: “The Lord don’t like ugly.”

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