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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 Cost of Cowardice (part two)

Jul22

by: on July 22nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

When it comes to passing gun regulations, the United States Congress is a group of cowards.

Congress-members of both parties use the second amendment as a fig-leaf to cover their cowardice while they dance to the tune of the National Rifle Association. Republican senators, with the exception of perhaps four, are completely in the pocket of the NRA. Democrats who will vote for gun regulations pay homage to “responsible gun owners” and “second amendment protections” before they speak about Band-Aid measures to prevent gun violence.

The cost of this legislative cowardice is high. In an average year, “over 108,000 (108,476) people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention.” In an average year for all ages, 32,514 people die from gun violence; 75,962 people survive gun injuries. On an average day, 7 children and teens die from gun violence. “Every day, 41 children and teens are shot and survive.” (These numbers come from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics)

Further, there is the monetary cost of gun violence. According to an article in “Mother Jones” magazine (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/04/true-cost-of-gun-violence-in-america), the annual cost of gun violence, based on 2012 data, is $229 billion dollars. “Mother Jones” reports:

“Even before accounting for the more intangible costs of violence, in other words, the average cost to taxpayers for a single gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000. And we pay for 32 of them every single day.”

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The Cost of Cowardice (part one)

Jun24

by: on June 24th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

The Confederate flag.

Credit: CreativeCommons / DixieSCV.

In February, 2009, then Attorney General Eric Holder, in an address at the Department of Justice to commemorate Black History Month, said we in the United States were “a nation of cowards” when it comes to an honest conversation about race. He continued to speak about the importance of Black History Month and the shame that such was necessary because so much of African-American history has been erased from American history. He thought we ought to dedicate Black History Month to a conversation on race because as the demographics of the United States change, there will be no racial majority. We will need to put racism behind us.

The conversation on race is a difficult conversation to have because it goes to the core of our own identities. While race is a constructed concept with its own history, it never-the-less goes to the heart of the myth of ontological, hereditary goodness. The courage required in this context is the courage to face the reality that none of us is good because goodness is inscribed in our very being. We are not good or bad because our ancestors were good or bad. We are good or bad according to the moral decisions we ourselves make. We cannot inherit moral rectitude.

In the wake of the sad, shocking, heartbreaking, mind-soul numbing murders of nine African Americans at a prayer meeting/Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina by a young man with racist motives, the nation once again faces the meaning of the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia that is commonly thought to be the flag of the Confederate States during the Civil War. It was a symbol that the young white killer used to represent his racist ideals. The flag that flies on the statehouse grounds in South Carolina and in other states in the south is controversial because of its use by whites during the civil rights movement and beyond.

For many Americans it is a symbol of slavery, the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil, legal racial segregation – American apartheid (apart hate) – and a white supremacist ideology. For others it is a symbol of southern pride, heritage, and a way of life. The problem is that the southern way of life is built upon a deception of white supremacy. Let us be clear. Racism and white supremacy are manifestations of a social psychosis found north, south, east, and west in the United States. The problem with people who want to make a confederate battle flag a symbol of southern heritage is that it is love for a fantasy that is not real and that cannot love you back.

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Blesed are the Meek: A Tribute to B.B. King

May16

by: on May 16th, 2015 | Comments Off

B.B. King — the king of the blues — is dead. He made his transition from time to eternity on May 14, 2015 at age 89 leaving behind a legacy of artistic expression that helps us all to hear and feel and know the complexity of our humanity. His life was an interpretation of the wisdom Jesus the Christ taught: “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

We live in a world that mistakes meekness for weakness. We think humility is humiliation, and we count gentleness equal to cowardice. This is a deception. The Greek word that is translated as meek in several versions of the Bible – praus – also means humility and gentleness. To be meek is a kind of power, the power to endure, the power of patient striving, the power to bear the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to and then wait for our just due. The life of B.B. King shows us a man born into a context of grinding poverty and vicious racism, but he was also born into a family of faith. His mother took him to church as a child, and it was within his faith community and a community of family and friends where he found his sense of self-worth.

A preacher friend of his family came over to eat on Sunday afternoons and brought his guitar. The preacher taught young Riley B. King how to play. Later, as a young man, he joined a gospel singing group. During the week, he worked from can to can’t (from first light in the morning until dark.) On the weekends, he went into Indianola, Mississippi to sing for passersby to put money in the hat. During the day he played gospel. At night, he played the blues. The blues people gave him the most money.

He was told that at some point he would have to make a decision, that he could not play God’s music and the devil’s music. Time passed and one day while working as a tractor driver, he thought he had turned the tractor off, but it kept going and was damaged. He ran away to Memphis. While there he found a group of guitar players who gave him master’s classes in blues guitar. About six months later, he decided to go back to Mississippi and to work off the debt he owned to the farmer whose tractor he had damaged. He was proud that when he left Mississippi the second time to start his career in Memphis, he started correctly.

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Bad Journalism

Apr22

by: on April 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off

Thank God for C-SPAN.

Because of C-SPAN’s coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s meeting where it voted on a manager’s amendment to S615-Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015, we can know that the legislation basically gives Congress power that it already has. If not for C-SPAN that allows us to see the meeting unfiltered by bad journalism, we would think that the committee voted 19-0 to give Congress a seat at the negotiating table along with Secretary of State John Kerry on the Iranian nuclear program. We would think the opening paragraph of a New York Times article on the bill is true.

In an April 14, 2015 article, Jonathan Weisman and Peter Baker report:

“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved legislation granting Congress a voice in negotiations on the Iran nuclear accord, sending the once-controversial legislation to the full Senate after President Obama withdrew his opposition rather than face a bipartisan rebuke.”

There is nothing in the legislation that gives Congress “a voice in negotiations.” It only gives Congress the power of review and oversight. The Congress cannot stop an agreement from going forward. The bill as amended says specifically: “This section does not require a vote by Congress for the agreement to commence.” (32 lines 16-17) The bill says further:

“even though the agreement may commence because the sanctions regime was imposed by Congress and only Congress can permanently modify or eliminate that regime, it is critically important that Congress have the opportunity, in an orderly and deliberate manner, to consider and, as appropriate, take action affecting the statutory sanctions regime imposed by Congress.”

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Terrorism is Terrorism and Islam is Islam

Apr13

by: on April 13th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

President Obama is correct to characterize efforts against terrorist groups as a struggle against violent extremism and not as a struggle against “Islamic” terrorism. He is correct to deny groups such as Islamic State/Islamic State in the Levant/ Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS/ISIL/ISIS) the imprimatur of Islam, to deny them the cover of religion.

Just as words have multiple meanings, groups, individuals, acts, and texts have multiple meanings. Meaning comes not only from what an individual or a group says it is, but meaning also come from what we agree, to what we say: “yes and amen.” When IS says it is Islamic, we can agree to that or we can say no. I say no. President Obama and other world leaders also say no. ISIS is not religious, and it is not Islamic. It is a death-dealing cult of destruction. It deserves no respect. Thus, let us call it by its Arabic name of derision: Daesh. (pronounced daEEsh or dash)

Some people argue that the reason to say “Islamic” terrorism is because to deny the so-called Islamic elements of its ideology would cause misunderstanding and miscalculation in war. It would break an important rule of warfare: “Know the enemy.” I say it is possible to know the ideological goals of Daesh while demonstrating how its ideology falls short of the goals of Islam and is not religion.

Let us consider the meaning of Islam – submission to the will of God. The Koran refers to God as the Most Gracious, Most Merciful Master of the Day of Judgment. Thus, Islam is submission to a gracious and merciful God. The concept of radical means extreme, basic, the root of the thing, so radical, extreme Islam would require an extreme, basic submission to a God of grace and mercy. Too often we use the term radical as a synonym for violent. Further, in Islam, Jesus is a revered prophet whose teachings ought to be obeyed. So Muslims, like Christians, have an obligation to love one’s enemies, to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. So to refer to Daesh and other terrorist groups as Islamic is to insult Islam. To even refer to Daesh as religious is a mistake.

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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 | Comments Off

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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