If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?- Rabbi Hillel, Pirke Avot 1:14
Our world is riddled with tragedies: the epidemic of killings by police in the U.S. of African Americans, boats capsizing with hundreds of people fleeing war-torn countries in search of security, safety and well-being, children dying from illnesses stemming from malnutrition at alarming rates, women and girls being raped as victims of wars, and the list goes on. As spiritual seekers we desperately yearn for a day when peace and nonviolence, love and care, kindness and generosity as well as a deep connection with the sacred in one another and with the creative force of the universe reign.
Many of us, in our despair, turn to spiritual guidance and practices to soothe our pain and find solace. Feeling powerless to impact the enormity of the problem and recognizing that social change efforts often lack deep spiritual integration and wisdom, we instead decide to focus our energies on our inner work rather than align ourselves with larger social change movements. We find comfort in the belief that personal transformation alone can and will result in societal transformation.
'For white people who cannot seem to understand reactions of a community to the death of one man, all you have to do is look in the mirror to determine your card,' writes Dr. Blumenfeld. Above, African American pastors cross paths with Baltimore police. Credit: CreativeCommons / Vladimir Badikov.
In virtually all the university courses I teach in the field of education, I conduct what invariably turns out to be a valuable and poignant activity for the pre-service teacher educator enrolled in the course. The simulation represents the ways in which our society, along a continuum of very high to very low, encourages and enhances to discourages and reduces the individual’s motivation to learn and succeed in life.
I begin by alerting students that we are going to engage in a class activity. I travel around the room placing a playing card face down on each student’s desk. (I always include a “Joker” card.) I tell them not to look at their cards. I then stand in front of the room and provide directions. I model by taking a remaining card from the deck, and without looking at it, I place it face outward upon my forehead.
On 3 April, the powers-that-be at Howard University laid off eighty-four staff members, including E. Ethelbert Miller, director of Howard University’s African American Resource Center, who attended Howard and went on to serve the university community for more than forty years.
Ethelbert is a literary activist of wide-ranging commitments and honors: he chairs the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Policy Studies; he is a board member at The Writer’s Center and editor of Poet Lore. He’s a former Chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., and the author of many books of poetry and memoir. Dearest to my heart, he serves on the National Cabinet of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture with the title Minister of Sacred Words, offering radical love and generosity of spirit in all he does.
I’m going to suggest what all this may mean (and give you contact information to protest), but first, I’d like to share an excerpt from a letter Reginald Dwayne Betts wrote to the newly appointed President of Howard, Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick. Betts is a much-lauded poet and memoirist, a former prison inmate who credits Ethelbert with the critical and well-timed caring that enabled him to flourish. You owe it to yourself to read all of his letter, reprinted at Split This Rock.
by: Ben Kline on February 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
About a year ago, I watched the 2008 Palestinian film Salt of this Sea, about a Palestinian-American woman named Soraya and her quest to reclaim her family’s home in Jaffa. The film has quite a few agonizing moments: in one scene, Soraya and her Ramallah-born boyfriend Emad are squatting in what remains of his ancestral village, well west of the Green Line. The illusion that they might build a new life atop these ruins is interrupted by a stern Israeli tour guide, who becomes much friendlier when a panicked Soraya lies and tells him she is Jewish.
by: Warren Blumenfeld on February 23rd, 2015 | Comments Off
Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein reminded us in one of the songs, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” in their 1949 Broadway musical, South Pacific that:
You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught….
President Obama echoed this sentiment at the recent White House Countering Violent Extremism Summit when he said that “Children learn to hate.”
by: Elizabeth De Sa on February 17th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Judgmental labels are pervasive in our society. Did Bryan Oliver identify with the messages he heard and blame himself? Credit: Judy Rose Sayson / Creative Commons.
In the light of Bryan Oliver’s plea bargain and sentencing for the shooting of alleged bully, Bowe Cleveland, increasingly polarized conversations have flown back and forth about who was to blame and whether the sentence is just. I generally enjoy reading comments sections until they become too personal and vitriolic. Is the implicit purpose of commenting to convince someone of a particular opinion and is it effective to do so? Is it possible to be convinced of something just by hearing an opinion in opposition to our own or do we need to be deeply heard first? Do such debates serve as a forum for where the loudest voice wins? Some of the milder comments include telling Bryan Oliver to suck it up, that he deserves his sentence, and that there is no excuse for attempted murder. Other voices include exculpating him and holding the school and authorities culpable for neglecting their duty to protect Oliver from bullying and sexual harassment, and leaving him no choice but to seek protection and justice himself.
by: Emilye Crosby on January 14th, 2015 | Comments Off
In this 50th anniversary year of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act it helped inspire, national media will focus on the iconic images of “Bloody Sunday,” the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the interracial marchers, and President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. This version of history, emphasizing a top-down narrative and isolated events, reinforces the master narrative that civil rights activists describe as “Rosa sat down, Martin stood up, and the white folks came south to save the day.”
But there is a “people’s history” of Selma that we all can learn from — one that is needed especially now. The exclusion of Blacks and other people of color from voting is still a live issue. Sheriff’s deputies may no longer be beating people to keep them from registering to vote, but in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby v. Holder that the Justice Department may no longer evaluate laws passed in the former Confederacy for racial bias. And as a new movement emerges, insisting that Black Lives Matter, young people can draw inspiration and wisdom from the courage, imagination, and accomplishments of activists who went before.
by: Colin Hannaford on January 7th, 2015 | Comments Off
Towards the end of the summer I was invited to Trinity College in Cambridge for one of its regular gatherings. Naturally I wanted to go.
The problem, of course, was Amadeus.
In 1805, when Lord Byron was told to leave his dog at home, he brought a pet bear instead, taking it for a stroll around the grounds every day on a leash.
Amadeus is no longer the puppy I could carry around in an army medic’s pouch. He is now six feet long from his nose to the tip of his magnificent tail and he weighs over a hundred pounds. I considered, briefly, declaring him to be a bear.
He is, unmistakeably, a dog.
But there was an alternative. Some of my old maths pupils may remember me sitting entirely unperturbed through the ear-splitting clangour of a fire alarm, and demanding, as the entire class began abruptly to decamp: “Just where the Devil do you think YOU ARE ALL GOING!” And being told, in a delighted chorus: “SIR, THE SCHOOL’S ON FIRE!”
I explained to Trinity’s accommodation office that Amadeus is my Hearing Dog. I might be burnt to a crisp unless he slept in my room overnight to warn me of a possible fire. This would reflect badly on the College.
by: Henry Rosen on December 12th, 2014 | 18 Comments »
Vassar College professor Hua Hsu wrote in the New Yorker recently that “There should be nothing controversial about everyday kindness; civility as a kind of individual moral compass should remain a virtue. But civility as a type of discourse – as a high road that nobody ever actually walks – is the opposite. It is bullshit.”
Open dialogue, very much like civility, exists as both a venerable ideal and a carrot-on-a-stick style tool of discipline. When it comes to critiquing Israel, particularly from a non-Zionist or anti-Zionist approach, open dialogue becomes a mechanism that avoids the acknowledgement of underlying power imbalances and the foundational inequality of our respective ideologies.
The idea of “open dialogue” sets up a framework that requires balancing ideologies of Zionism with anti-Zionism. However, anti-Zionist and Zionist ideologies are not on an even playing field. To be clear, anti-Zionism carries with it no semblance of the same amount of institutional power as Zionism. Particularly as articulated by Palestinians, whose voices ought to be considered with primacy, anti-Zionism has historically been (and remains) the target of political repression and disenfranchisement. Trying to gain a balanced view from both an anti-Zionist and a Zionist perspective would imply those two ways of seeing the world having the same kind of organizational backing; this is simply not the case.
Moreover, conversations between anti-Zionists and Zionists, even liberal Zionists, never play out on equal ground. The fact that Hillel International, the largest Jewish student organization in the world, states it “will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers” that have explicitly non-Zionist politics provides one very important instance in which an institution represses challenges to Zionism. Unsurprisingly, Hillel invokes Hsu’s concept of civility in prohibiting those that “foster an atmosphere of incivility” in campus Hillels. With such exclusive rules in place, an anti-Zionist student pursuing an open dialogue is only ever entering a Hillel house on the prescriptive terms of the institutional power. How open is that dialogue, then? Not at all. As soon as any one part of a conversation refuses to acknowledge the power differentials that exist between itself and the other parts, open dialogue becomes chimerical.