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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.



The Madness Continues and Jesse Williams Speaks Truth

Jul8

by: on July 8th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

In December of 2014, I wrote an essay where I connect police violence against African-American people to racism as a social psychosis. In other words, racism has made most people in the United States crazy, police included. (http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/12/09/blue-on-black-violence-racial-bias-and-societal-psychosis/) I discuss an essay – “A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perception of Blacks” published in the journal “Social Psychological and Personality Science.” Fast forward to July 2016, and in the space of two days, two African-American men, in two cities, in two different parts of the country – Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul– have been shot and killed by police. Both shootings were caught on video and broadcast widely. I shall quote myself:

“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 that we see what is not really real and do not see what is really real.”

The madness continues.

Jesse Williams is an actor on the popular television show “Grey’s Anatomy.” In June 2016, he received Black Entertainment Television’s Humanitarian Award. In his acceptance speech, he referred to Tamir Rice, an African-American child who was killed by Cleveland police while playing with a toy gun. The young man was killed within three seconds of the police arriving on the scene. Three seconds.

Williams said in part: “Now, what we have been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.” (http://time.com/4383516/jesse-williams-bet-speech-transcript/)

In responding to the two killings in remarks from Poland, President Obama presented data. He said:

“And I just want to give people a few statistics to try to put in context why emotions are so raw around these issues. According to various studies – not just one, but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years–African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over. After being pulled over, African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites. African American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.

“So that if you add it all up, the African American and Hispanic population, who make up only 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated population. Now these are facts.”
(https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/07/07/statement-president)

President Obama also spoke of systemic racism that renders poor communities of color basically out of sight and out of mind to the majority of the people who hold power in the United States. Thus, these communities suffer from a lack of quality education, employment, and opportunity. The president also spoke of building trust between local police and the communities they serve.

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For Elie Wiesel

Jul5

by: on July 5th, 2016 | No Comments »

His breath made night light
He gave sound to silent truths
His fire inspires us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Free State of Jones and the Brexit

Jun27

by: on June 27th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Friday, June 24, 2016, I went to the first showing of the movie “The Free State of Jones” at my local movie theater. It was the day after the shocking vote in the United Kingdom where a majority of voters expressed their wish to exist the European Union. It was an OMG – Oh My God – moment for me. Why do I, sitting here in the United States, care what happens in the UK? It must be all that Masterpiece Theater on PBS, all that Downton Abbey and Poldark and Wolf Hall. It must be all that James Bond and Adele and Sting and Idris Elba. It must be Love Actually.

Watching this movie about a little known chapter of American Civil War and Reconstruction history where poor whites in Mississippi made common cause with runaway slaves, formed a community, and fought the Confederacy together made me think about how history can inform our thinking about the world we live in today.

As the fragments of my thoughts about the Brexit vote crashed against the confines of my mind, I saw on screen at least one yeoman farmer during the Civil War realize that this war was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. (Quiet as it is kept, most wars are such.) Conscription laws made it possible for men who owned at least twenty slaves to offer them for service to the Confederacy rather than go to fight and to die themselves. Men with no slaves had no choice but to go and fight when called. (In the north, the rich could also avoid the draft by paying others to take their place or by paying $300.)

Further, because of what was known as in-kind taxation, the Confederacy could come and take away a portion of a farmer’s harvest, livestock, and other goods to support the war effort. When Newton Knight, the hero of the movie, deserts, he helps women and children who are left behind defend their property against this confiscation. Life is hard enough. The reality of war made life harder.

The citizens of the UK who voted to leave the European Union must have felt that membership in the EU was making life harder. I was trying to understand why they would take such a vote. Some analysts cited discomfort with immigration into the UK from Europe. Too many people were coming into Great Britain, primarily from Eastern Europe, and competing for jobs and taking advantage of the National Health System and other social safety net provisions of the country. Brexit supporters wanted tighter restrictions. They understood the situation as a zero-sum game. They thought that leaving the EU would protect them from people who they thought were making their life harder.

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Here We Go Again

Jun13

by: on June 13th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

A few months back, a segment on the “Daily Show with Trevor Noah” presented a kind of generic report after a mass shooting. The point was that mass shootings happen so often in the United States that all we have to do is to fill in the specific details of the event. Everything else would be the same. Some loner mentally disturbed individual– fill in the blank– took an assault weapon into a public place – fill in the blank – and killed and injured a number of people. – fill in the blank.

The president will speak words of comfort. We will hear about the shooter. We will hear stories of the victims. There will be candle-light vigils. People will brings flowers and teddy bears in a pop-up memorial. Half the nation will speak of stronger gun laws. The other half will talk about mental health and our violent popular culture. A few days will pass, and we will be on to the next thing until the next mass shooting when it all starts all over again.

I have written over and over about gun violence in the United States. Last June, after the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina at the Mother Emanuel Church where African-American church goers were killed by a young white racist, I wrote a two-part essay inspired by the incident. Part one was about the Cost of Cowardice of this country on the issue of race. The second part was about the Cost of Cowardice of our law makers to pass gun regulations. We as a society pay a high price not only in medical and legal costs but also in lost wages and productivity when citizens have long -term physical disabilities caused by gun violence and cannot be as productive as they might have been before the shooting. (http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2015/07/22/the-cost-of-cowardice-part-two/)

More important, the loss of one’s loved one or friend is beyond calculation. The injury of a loved one whose life will never be the same is also beyond calculation.

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Muhammad Ali is the Truth

Jun10

by: on June 10th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Muhammad Ali is the truth. Even though Ali laid his body down on Friday, June 3, 2016, a body that was fast and strong and weak and trembling, the essence, excellence, beauty, and truth of the man remains.

Muhammad Ali is the truth. His life tells us that to be excellent at anything, we have to put in the work. He started boxing when he was 12-years-old. He trained six days a week for more than twenty years. Joe Martin, the police officer who taught him how to box, and Angelo Dundee, his trainer for his entire boxing career, both agree that he was the hardest worker they ever trained. As a teenager, he ran to school rather than ride the bus. He asked his brother to throw rocks at him so he could work on his reflexes. He ran long distances in Miami to the point where the police contacted Dundee to confirm that Ali was a professional fighter in training.

Moreover, Ali was a student of his craft. He knew its history, and he could talk with authority about the fighters who came before him. He knew their styles and the styles of their opponents. When he built his boxing camp, he remembered boxing history by painting the names of previous champions on rocks. He made a decision to move like Sugar Ray Robinson rather than Joe Lewis. When he proclaimed himself “The Greatest”, it was a declaration based on his assessment of other fighters and a study of their styles.

Muhammad Ali is the truth. He is the truth of the essence of a champion, in every sense of the word. He fought for the Olympic Gold Medal. He fought for the money and the fame that comes with winning the heavy weight championship of the world, but he also fought for more than the belt that comes with the title. When he converted to Islam under the teaching of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, when he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, he became an advocate for the dignity of African-American people in particular and human dignity in general. He claimed the right to name himself, to choose his religion and way of being in the world. He spoke the truth of African-American history as he understood it. He accepted the teaching of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad that black people in the United States were members of an Afro-Asiatic race that made us brothers and sisters with people of color across the globe. This understanding along with the just war tradition inside Islam became the basis of his refusal to be inducted into the United States military during Viet Nam.

In a conversation with William F. Buckley on his program “Firing Line”, Ali assures Buckley that his mind had not been poisoned by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. Ali said:

“He cannot teach us you are our enemy, you taught us and your people daily.” Ali recited the history of lynching, castration, rape, and a 400 year enslavement. He reminded Buckley and his audience of the assassination and persecution of people such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Medgar Evers. He spoke of poor education in the black community and of white soldiers who wave the rebel flag. He was a champion of the truth of both the history and the current challenges of black life in America.

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Reclaiming Words: Niggas, Bitches, and Queers

May31

by: on May 31st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

WARNING: I will quote the original sources in this essay verbatim. Some people may find the words offensive. Reader discretion is advised.

At the 2016 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, the last during the administration of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, comedian Larry Wilmore ended his presentation referring to the president as “my nigga.” His use of the word “nigga” reignited the discussion about when and where and how and by whom the word ought to be used or whether it ought to be used at all. Civil rights leader Al Sharpton is among those critical of Wilmore’s use of the word. Sharpton rejects the argument that the word can have a positive connotation, that there is such a thing as reclamation of pejorative words, either for African-Americans or for anyone else.

I say that most words are fecund with meaning, that these multiplicities of meaning shift depending upon context and the human being using the word, that negative words have been turned upside down and inside out, and reclaiming words is a liberatory act of empowerment.

I will not rehearse the etymologies of the three words I will consider in this essay – nigga, bitch, and queer – except to say that they were and are sometimes still used to disrespect another human being. Once upon a time in America it was common to see the word “nigger” used to speak of African-Americans in respectable journals. There is no question that the word was used to represent black people as less than white people. There was a time that to call an African-American person black would be cause for consternation. Some white people past and present till spit the word “nigger” out with hate-filled venom.

James Weldon Johnson in his 1912 novel – “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” – wrote of a common rhyme: “Nigger, nigger never die. Black face and shiny eye.” However, Frank Horne, activist, physician, civil servant, poet, and uncle to the actress and singer Lena Horne, reclaimed the word in his poem “Nigger” when he turned the rhyme into a black history lesson. (https://hiddencause.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/poem-of-the-week-horne-2/)

The poem says in part:

Little Black boy,
Chased down the street
“nigger, nigger never die
Black face an shiny eye
Nigger. . . nigger. . . nigger. . .

Hannibal. . Hannibal
Bangin’ thru the Alps
Licked the proud Romans
Run home with their scalps
. . .
Toussant. . . Toussant
Made the French flee
Fought like a demon
Set his people free
. . .
Jesus. . . Jesus
Son of the Lord
Spit in his face
Nail him on a board
Nigger.. . nigger. . . nigger

Little Black boy
Runs down the street,
“Nigger nigger never die
Black face an’ shiny eye
Nigger. . . nigger. . . nigger
(http://www.poetrynook.com/poem/nigger-0)

Also, in “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man”, Johnson describes the use of the word “nigger” among some black men:

“I noticed that among this class of colored men the word “nigger” was freely used in about the same sense as “fellow” and sometimes as a term of almost endearment; but I soon learned that its use was positively and absolutely prohibited to white men.”

This is not unusual. Most group have some expression that they may use to refer to themselves or that others in the group may use but is forbidden to outsiders. In the popular British Television show, “Downton Abbey”, the Irish chauffeur who has married into the English aristocracy says of himself:

“You won’t make a gentleman of me, you know. You can teach me to fish, to ride, to shoot, but I’ll still be an Irish mick in my heart.”
It would have been an insult for anyone else to say that to him.

And this is the rub. Some words are acceptable within groups, but are forbidden to those outside the group. In their use of the word “nigger” within the group, it is a word that connotes shared experience, but when the word “nigger” becomes “my nigga” it connotes a shared moral and communal location. African communal logic says that: Because I am we are, and because we are, I am. The moral space created between the individual and the community past, present, and future, makes a righteous claim on both individual and community. We all exist to uplift the individual, and the individual has a responsibility to do her or his best for the sake of the community. Thus “my nigga” is family and friend and sometime enemy, someone with whom I share past, present, and future moral responsibility.

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Dear Speaker Ryan

May11

by: on May 11th, 2016 | Comments Off

May 12, 2016

Dear Speaker Ryan,

On Thursday, May 12, you are scheduled to meet with Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States. According to reports in the media, the purpose of the meeting is for the two of you to get better acquainted so that you will feel comfortable enough with Mr. Trump that you will endorse his candidacy, unify the Republican Party, and win the presidency as well as down ballot races.

I am writing to encourage you to withhold your endorsement. Please do not put party unity and the will-to-win the next election ahead of the good of the nation.

You have put the party and the next election before the good of the people in the past. When you participated in the 2009 inauguration night conspiracy where you agreed with several GOP leaders in Congress that you would not work with President Obama on ANYTHING, you elevated the politics of obstruction to new heights. Your plan partially worked, and the GOP regained control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and the GOP took control of the senate in 2014. You failed, however, to make President Obama a one-term president.

Despite your efforts, the first two years of the Obama administration were two of the most productive since Franklin Roosevelt. Economic recovery, bank reform, the auto bail-out, and health-care reform passed without your help. Let us give your predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, her due. She was a historic speaker in more than one way. She was both the first woman speaker and one of the most effective.

You apologized for your remarks about poor people during the 2012 presidential campaign. I have been waiting for you to apologize for your participation in the conspiracy. Alas, I continue to live in hope.

Again, I encourage you to withhold your endorsement of Donald Trump. He has run a ridiculous, ignorant, sophomoric, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, crass, no class, vulgar, fact-free campaign. You have had to speak against Trump’s policies on banning Muslims from entering the country and his maybe so, maybe not disavowal of racist support. To endorse him is to endorse his campaign, his style, and his positions.

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Prince

Apr23

by: on April 23rd, 2016 | Comments Off

There are not many singers whose songs captivate the imaginations of both me and my children. When we play Prince in the car, both my son and I sing along. The only time I saw Prince live in concert was with my daughter and her father. Prince broke down generational barriers with the power of his musical truth. His was a life and artistry of radical love.

Since the sudden, shocking, unexpected and as of this writing unexplained death of Prince Rogers Nelson– musical cultural icon, philanthropist, and sage– at the age of 57, much has been written about his genius that transcended easy, simplistic, and lazy categorization. He was a virtuoso performer on several instruments, among them key boards, drums, and guitar. He wrote music that became hits for himself and for other artists that was his own genre, a combination of R&B, funk, pop, rock, and jazz. His self-presentation was androgynous and beyond racial category.

Such a way of crafting and living one’s humanity requires both imagination and courage. Too, too many of us would not recognize our faces in the mirror without a group definition to tell us who we are and therefore who we are not. Our group identities tell us on whose side we are. It tells us who to love and who to fear. It gives us a false sense of self, either of inferiority or of superiority. We so often have to work against the definitions the world would impose upon us. These definitions very often constrict our humanity. Prince refused.

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Merrick Garland, a Good and Decent Man

Mar17

by: on March 17th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

He had me at tutoring elementary school children.

Before President Obama’s official announcement that he would nominate Hon. Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court, the news had leaked, and cable news networks were already giving information about him. His is an impressive Curriculum Vitae. So, when the president began to give Garland’s credentials for the court, I had heard much of it before. What I had not heard was that he tutored elementary school children in math and reading. This is when I learned forward and started to pay more attention.

Very often when searching for someone to fill a position, after a certain level of achievement, there are any number of people who are competent to do the actual job. This is where other factors enter into the decision-making process. That this man would take the time to tutor elementary school children is a testimony to his character. It would be a good thing if a news organization spoke to some of the students he tutored. Garland has been doing this for 20 years, so some of these children are adults now.

We have heard about his clerks who have gone on to clerk for other judges. We know that their time with him served as good preparation for their next career move as lawyers. What do the children he tutored have to say? I am impressed with this aspect of his life because it is something that he does not have to do. I know from my own experience that elementary school children can be challenging. It requires patience and skill that many adults, myself included, do not have. It is a challenge he chose that demonstrates a willingness to walk the extra mile to help another human being. It embodies the moral imperative: each one teach one. It is an example of the African-American saying that we all have an obligation to reach back and lift someone else as we climb the ladder of success.

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One God: Dr Larycia Hawkins, Wheaton College, and Presidential Politics

Mar11

by: on March 11th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

This is an a priori presupposition born of faith. When I contemplate the simple sentence – God is Love – I contemplate the power and the mystery of a life force that defies words. We give God, this Divine Love, anthropomorphic qualities so that we can make God thinkable and speakable. We make God father, mother, friend so that we can wrap our minds around the concept that we are in relationship with a Love that existed before the beginning and will exist after the end, a Love that is as vast as the still expanding universe and as finite as a single grain of sand or a single drop of water, a Love that contains within itself all the laws of physics and mathematics and biology, a Love that loves us personally, knows our names, who understands the language of our laughter and of our tears.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

The Gospel of John tells us that: In the beginning was the Word. I say the Word is Love. The Word, the logos is at once a signifier pointing beyond itself to the stuff of creation and to a divine logic. It is the logic of love. When the Word becomes incarnate in humanity, when the Word becomes flesh, the is-ness of Divine Love becomes a statement, a sentence, a subject and a verb. It becomes Divine Love loving through nature and creation, through flesh and blood.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

When we think of the oneness of God, we also ought to think about the question of theological reconciliation between religions that say God is one and Christianity that says that the one God contains three persons. One way to think about the Trinitarian God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – is to think about God in three dimensions – the height, breadth and depth of God. Imagine walking into a beautiful room. We walk into a singular entity, but when we look at the ceiling, that is one perspective. When we notice the walls on either side, that is another perspective. When we notice the front and back of the room that is yet another view. No one would say that we are standing in at least three different rooms. It is one room with different aspects.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

So it is with a Trinitarian idea of God. We can understand the Father God as our relationship with the creative transcendent aspect of God. Our relationship with God the Son is analogous to our divine connection to humanity, nature and creation. God the Holy Spirit can be understood as God the Mother, the Comforter, the wisdom, the fecundity of God.

Three aspects, three kinds of relationships three perspectives do not mean we are not in relationship with a divine unity. This is a unity with many names. Christians call God by many names, some of which originate in the Old Testament sources. Various names of God include: Jehovah-M’Kaddesh, the God who sanctifies; Jehovah-jireh, the God who provides; Jehovah-shalom, the God of peace; Jehovah-rophe, Jehovah heals; Jehovah-nissi, God our banner; El-Shaddai, God Almighty; Adonai, God is Master and Lord; Elohim, God is strength or power.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

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