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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.



Donald Trump: The Picture of the GOP

Nov7

by: on November 7th, 2016 | Comments Off

In the Oscar Wilde novel – “The Picture of Dorian Gray” – a young handsome man looks upon a portrait of himself and wishes that the picture would grow old instead of himself. Mystery grants his wish, and he never grows old. Not only does his face never reflect the corruption of aging, but the physical effects of his sins show only on the picture. His cruelties, debaucheries, depravities, vulgarities, and even murder turn what once was a representation of youth and beauty into an ugly grotesquery, a witness to his sordid monstrousness.

As this much too long presidential campaign comes to an end, I say that Donald Trump, the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, the man elected by Republican voters and half-heartedly supported by the GOP leadership, is not some stranger from a strange land that has kidnapped an innocent political party and turned it into something that it is not. I say: Trump is the Republican Party. He is the picture of the GOP that shows a party that has traded its soul for votes.

Slavery and racism are the original sins of the United States, a nation, as Lincoln says in the Gettysburg address, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” They became internal contradictions of a country that wanted to preserve both freedom and equality, both equality and property. This is especially difficult when there are millions of human beings who are neither free nor equal under the law, and, at the same time, considered to be the property of citizens. They are, according to the Constitution, counted as only three-fifths of a person.

In the 1850s, the question of the spread of slavery to territories carved from land taken from Mexico after the Mexican-American war led to protests in the North. A group of citizens from the dying Whig Party, the Democratic Party, and the Free Soil Party gathered in Ripon, Wisconsin and decided to form a new Republican Party if the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law. The founders of the party chose the name Republican to honor Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party of the 1790s. They wanted a party to promote civic virtue, to stop the spread of slavery, and to provide opportunities for small farmers and the common person.

Immigration was also an issue in the 1850s. The suspicious groups were Irish and German. Many of them were Catholics in a predominantly Protestant country. The Irish were accused of not wanting to assimilate and to become American. There was worry about their influence in the electoral process. Later, during World War I, the problem would be the loyalty to America of German-Americans and any other hyphenated groups.

The Republican Party, like every other institution in the United States, could not escape race prejudice, and it found itself having to live with its own internal contradictions. During and after the Civil War, it became a party that not only saw itself as a party for the ordinary person, but it also became identified with big business interests in the East and in the Midwest. The party of Lincoln accomplished many great things at its inception and since — the end of slavery, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments that ended slavery, provided for equal protection of the law for citizens, and guaranteed equal voting rights for men, respectively. Yet, the party that today claims to be the party of small government expanded the role of the federal government with the income tax, a national bank, a give-away of public land in the West and the transcontinental railroad.

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Remembering History

Oct22

by: on October 22nd, 2016 | Comments Off

When Donald Trump asks his supporters to go to certain neighborhoods to “watch” at the polls on Election Day, he clearly has never known, has forgotten, or does not care about the painful, tragic, and racist history of voting in the United States. He does not remember the days when African Americans faced torture and terrorism for exercising their constitutional right to vote. He does not remember that the franchise was restricted to white citizens in many states where slavery was against the law. Remembering history, we as a nation will not go back to those days.

It is important to remember that the founders did not trust ordinary people. To this day, the president and vice president are not elected by the popular vote. When the Constitution was first adopted, qualifications for voting rights was a state matter. In most states, the franchise was restricted to white men who held property. In the early 1800s only five state allowed free black men to vote – New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Later as voting rights for white men expanded with some states dropping the requirement that voters own property, the property requirement remained for black men. After the Nat Turner rebellion, blacks lost the right to vote in North Carolina.

African Americans were second class citizens throughout the United States both before and after the Civil War. Between 1820 and 1850 blacks in Philadelphia and other cities were the targets of mob violence with their offense being “uppity behavior.” Thus, whiteness carries with it social, economic, and political privilege.

In the PBS documentary “Africans in America”, historian Margaret Washington comments on racism in the north.

“So it would seem as though the nation itself had an attitude that African Americans were inferior. And if you look at some of the laws that were in existence in the northern states, African Americas were not supposed to ride on streetcars; African Americans were not supposed to ride on steamers. The whole idea of Jim Crow and segregation of the races really originates in the north. African Americans couldn’t vote in the north. African Americans couldn’t vote in most states, even if they owned property.”

Any white immigrant coming into the country had more rights than blacks. Washington says: “So while immigration became a form of economic and social mobility for whites, it became a form of degradation for African Americans.”

Because social, economic, and political privileges were reserved for white people, whiteness becomes an important category. In the same documentary, historian Noel Ignatiev observes:

“So definitely white people gained from the system of racial supremacy. Without that whiteness itself would have been a meaningless category. It would have only been a physical description like tall.”

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Peace Day 2016 and Blood on the Street in Charlotte, North Carolina

Oct14

by: on October 14th, 2016 | Comments Off

September 21 is the United Nations International Day of Peace and Global Ceasefire – Peace Day. It is a day that reminds us of the hope of humankind to make a world where everyone lives a life of sustenance and joy. Peace Day coincides with the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, but it is also a day when ordinary people do various acts and things to promote peace. Yet, every year, Peace Day dawns with some awful tragic reality to remind us of how far we have to go to arrive at the goal of peace.

On Tuesday afternoon, September 20, Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was sitting in his S.U.V minding his own business. Police who were on the scene attending to another matter say they saw him rolling what seemed to be a marijuana blunt with a gun on the front seat. When Scott exited the S.U.V., police say he had a gun and did not follow their commands. Despite his wife who was on the scene telling the police that Scott was unarmed, that he was not dangerous, that he suffered from traumatic brain injury and had just taken his medication, the situation escalated to where Scott was shot and killed by the police. He was another in a long line of African-American men who had been shot and killed by the police under questionable circumstances.

Peace Day saw protests in the street of Charlotte, North Carolina. Protestors wanted the police to release video tapes so that the public could see what happened to Mr. Scott. The night of Peace Day, during the demonstrations, 23-year-old Justin Carr was fatally wounded. There was blood on the street in Charlotte, North Carolina on Peace Day.

When we see only the blood on the street, we see the essential liquid of a living being. We cannot tell just by looking from which of the animal species it comes. When we only see the blood on the street, we do not know if it is police blood or protestor blood. We do not know whether the bleeding body was black or white or brown or yellow or red; whether the person was Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or atheist; whether the person was young or old, male or female, transsexual or pansexual; whether the person was rich or poor. We do not know if the blood is related to us. There is no party affiliation or class distinction evident in a pool of blood on the street. All of the things that would make us hate a person, that would make us want to kill a person are gone. There is nothing left in a pool of blood, but the life force wasted, something to be washed away and forgotten or remembered with either the will to revenge or the will to forgive.

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The Moment that Defeated Donald Trump

Aug1

by: on August 1st, 2016 | 2 Comments »

When Ghazala and Khizr Khan stood before the Democratic National Convention, when Mr. Khan said to Donald Trump: “You have sacrificed nothing and no one”, he defeated the Trump campaign. The words reverberated through the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and through millions of television screens across the globe with such clarity and truth that while the crowd in the hall cheered everyone watching paused. Everyone knew something important had just happened.

Donald Trump will never be president of the United States of America.

Mr. and Mrs. Khan are the parents of Captain Humayan Khan who was killed in Iraq in 2004. Their son graduated from the University of Virginia in 2000 where he was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corp. His plan was to leave military service and become a lawyer. However, after 9/11, he decided to stay in the military. While in Iraq, one of his duties was morning inspection of the troops. The day he died, a suicide bomber driving a taxi sped toward his troops. He called for them to hit the ground. He moved forward and was killed when the bomb exploded. His actions saved numerous lives. (http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-36945318)

He sacrificed his life for the warriors who he led. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John15:13) His family and friends live with this loss daily. It is a grief so deep that his mother still finds it difficult to speak of him. Her heart aches an unspeakable ache when she sees his picture. Such was the reason for her silence at the convention.

During this campaign, after terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, the Republican candidates for president seemed to be in a contest over who could be the toughest not only against Daesh – aka ISIS, ISIL, IS – but also against Syrian refugees and Muslim Americans living in the United States. John Cassidy writing in the New Yorker, “Donald Trump and America’s Muslims”, reminds us that after Paris, Jeb Bush wanted to invade Syria. Chris Christie would not allow even children from Syria into the United States. Both Trump and Ted Cruz wanted to increase surveillance of both Muslim communities and mosques. (http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/donald-trump-and-americas-muslims)

Only Trump called for a complete ban of Muslims entering the United States. He said it was a temporary ban until a mysterious we could learn some mysterious information that allowed us to know a mysterious what is going on. He has since modified his position to say he would ban those who come from “terror states.” Again he has not said which states these are.

While there has been so much attention to Trump’s various positions on banning Muslims from coming to the United States, we have forgotten his proposal to create a database of Muslims in the United States. Cassidy quotes Trump saying: “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely.”

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Star Trek Beyond the Trump GOP Brand of Crisis

Jul25

by: on July 25th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

After four days of the 2016 Republican doom and gloom be afraid be very afraid convention, after Donald Trump’s forever acceptance speech, I needed to transport myself for a while to another world to live in. I took myself to the movies to see “Star Trek Beyond.” It did not disappoint. The movie made me think about the meaning of leadership, the role of popular culture in our perceptions of reality, and how art imitates life and how life imitates art.

This year marks fifty years since the original Star Trek series made its debut on television. Since then, there have been several television series and movies. The current set of movies made for the big screen tell the story of the original crew of the starship Enterprise from before the series begins. Our favorites – Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Chekov, Sulu, McCoy, and Scotty – are back in fine form. The movie is self-referential in ways that only true trekkers will notice. However, I was delighted by the references that I did find. The new movie maintains the Star Trek brand of excitement with a touch of philosophical thinking. At the very beginning, we see Kirk trying to offer a gift to an alien people who are deeply suspicious of him and of his motives. His encounter with them is as exasperating as are human encounters with Others who do not want diplomacy on any level.

I started to think about Kirk, the leader of the group. He is now and has always been portrayed as a kind of ubermensch, an over much man, a man of superior abilities. He is courageous, with a devil may care elan that allows him the creative force to break the rules when it suits him or when he thinks it is necessary. He is the combination of the cerebral Spock and the emotional McCoy. He is the tip of the spear, the one who is not afraid to take charge.

Our popular culture has given us many such heroes, the man, usually European but not necessarily, who rides in to save the day. Kirk is another iteration of Superman, Batman, the Lone Ranger, Matt Dillon, Bond, James Bond, James West and others. They have a supporting cast of characters, but usually they are the men who will think their way or fight their way out of trouble and save the town, or world from utter destruction. Women find the over man irresistible, and men are always grateful to see him come and display the courage that they lack.

Is this who Donald Trump thinks he is? Or, is his declaration that the United States is in a state of crisis and that he is the only one who can fix the situation cynicism, a carbon copy of the recent movie “Our brand is Crisis”?

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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 | Comments Off

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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