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Archive for the ‘Race’ Category



Do Unto Yourself: The Power of Reciprocity

Jul17

by: on July 17th, 2018 | No Comments »

How do you treat yourself as compared to your habitual ways of treating others? I’ve been thinking about the dangers of self-exploitation.

I’ve always thought my radar for being exploited was keenly sensitive, even hyper-sensitive. I always attributed this to the way my young self was used by my family, constantly urged and deployed to live for others as I was entitled to no needs and desires of my own. I thought I was over that form of self-punishment, that I could no longer fall unawares into situations that made me feel used. But not long ago, I found myself talking about my own life-choices—particularly my proclivity to stick where I am needed long after it serves me—and the voice of my mother came into my head. “Do it for me,” she said nearly every day, “it will cost you so little and mean so much to me.”

The shock of realization was visceral, the epiphany loud and clear. No one had coerced me. Driving myself, my fuel had been the very same message I’d worked so long to reject. I had been using myself in precisely the same way others had used me long ago.


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Goodbye to Time

Jul16

by: Adam Fagin on July 16th, 2018 | No Comments »

As a result of President Trump's "zero-tolerance policy," thousands of immigrant children have been detained and separated from their parents for indefinite periods.

Detention centers for the children of immigrants have again raised the specter of the Holocaust in mainstream civic discourse. As a Jewish-American with a strong sense of cultural identity and an even stronger belief that what’s past is prologue, I have frequently wondered what my relationship and responsibility to the reemergence of these images should be, whether it’s tiki-torched white nationalists shouting “Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville or swastikas raised at rallies in criticism of the current administration.

In response to this question, I’m reminded of a recent reading of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the graphic novel about his father Vladek’s survival from the outbreak of the war through his time at Auschwitz. The work brings together a past of unimaginable physical and psychological torment and present-day New York where an elderly Vladek bears witness to his son.

In one scene, Art and his wife, Francoise, wait in the car as Vladek enters a supermarket to return several opened but unfinished boxes of food. The two are mortified by this attempt. But they know it’s useless to intervene. On the way to the store, Art and Francoise had listened as the old man continued his story of the camps. His survival was a miracle, says Francoise as they watch Vladek arguing with the manager through the store window, to which Art responds: “But in some ways he didn’t survive.”

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On the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassination

Apr6

by: Peter Gabel on April 6th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

As we approached the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., my partner Lisa and I watched all of Eyes on the Prize, the film history of the civil rights movement. Stunning in that history is the utter rage and desperation of the white population of Birmingham and Montgomery and Little Rock as they faced enforcement of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation order in the 1950s and early 60s. When nine innocent black children sought to attend Central High School in Little Rock, one young white woman was so distraught that, as one commentator who was there put it, her face was contorted almost beyond recognition with pain and anger; she simply could not believe what was “happening to her.”

What was happening to her? Revealed in her very rage and pain and contortion was that her very self was being ripped away from her. And as I show in Chapter 4 of The Desire for Mutual Recognition, that self is actually a false self, the medium of her recognition as a social person within the nexus of relations that weaved her into what her state governor kept calling “the Southern way of life.” We know that that self is “false” because it is defined by a totally arbitrary “outer” characteristic, the “whiteness” that she experiences on her outside that locates her in an imaginary communion with other whites, an imaginary community that substitutes for an inner absence and inner withdrawnness, an isolation at the very core of her very being. Southern whites in enacting their racist community were not experiencing one another in a relation of I-and-Thou, a relation of authentic mutual recognition of one another’s being. They were not actually present to each other, experiencing the fullness of spiritual mutuality. Rather they were participating in a false community of skin color, which precisely because it was false and merely “outer”, had to keep inflating itself by demonizing their non-white human comrades, who also appeared as merely “outer” to them, whom they could not experience in their true universal humanity.

Thus the imaginary community of whiteness served as a defense against an inner absence and emptiness and deep vulnerability, grounded in fear of each other’s non-recognition of their true social being…and it’s this whiteness-defense that desegregation, with its “mixing” of the races, was threatening to strip away from this woman in the throes of her contortion and rage. Her true fear, however, was not the loss of communal whiteness, the white outer bond, but rather the terror of being thrown back upon her true being as a longing social person, longing from birth to be truly seen and loved and to truly see and love others. Stripping away the whiteness defense threatened her with being revealed as utterly vulnerable to the revelation of her vulnerable deepest humanity, and to the utter humiliation of being seen as longing for the true spiritual bond of I-and-Thou that she had never been allowed to experience in the course of her Southern conditioning. The contortion of her face expressed her inner terror at being robbed of her defensive “way of life,” the nexus of the false sense of “we” that established her in what social connection existed in her world. And in truth that false sense of “we” was not only based on common whiteness, but on the “erotic” energy flows among Southern whites that actually constituted the Southern way of life as a felt web of social practices – from the paddling of children to the romancing of “Gone With the Wind” to an infinite number of other relational customs . By “erotic” I refer not to explicit sexual energy as such, but to the binding embodied energy of the flow of social recognition whose pathological nature is revealed in its association with the absurd outer characteristic of whiteness, imagined absurdly to be a “superior” characteristic, and in many other ways.

In reality, nothing was being taken away from the woman who was beside herself with despair and rage by the nine innocent black children seeking to join her school community. In reality, she was being offered, finally, the opportunity with the end of segregation to reveal herself and see others as fully human, as beautiful embodiments of the deep, universal social being longing for its own mutual recognition that was denied to her in her spiritual imprisonment of the false self and false “we” of her conditioning. But she could not face the terror of the humiliation that nothing would be there if her “white” self was taken away, was denied its segregation and imaginary preeminence.

And the same was true for James Earl Ray, Dr. King’s presumed assassin, who 50 years ago on April 4th, felt he had to destroy the person offering him a pathway to a more fully human, fully loving, moral destiny.

For more on the destructive role of imaginary community, see Chapter 4 of The Desire for Mutual Recognition, available from Routledge Press and at Amazon.

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Peter Gabel is the Editor-at-Large of Tikkun and author most recently of The Desire for Mutual Recognition, published by Routledge Press.

Teaching Racism and the Law at UCLA and Masaryk University

Feb19

by: Paul Von Blum on February 19th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

For several years, I have taught a popular and successful course at UCLA on “Race, Racism, and the Law.” This course systematically examines the racist fabric of the American legal system. It explores how contemporary racist practices, including police killings and other misconduct against African Americans, are deeply rooted in the history of American legal decisions and the United States Constitution itself. The course content addresses most of the major documents of U.S. law regarding race and shows how the legal system throughout our history has favored those with power and privilege, predominantly wealthy white men. This course primarily focuses on how the law has abused people of African origin, but it also addressed how legal cases, statutes, and practices have discriminated against other minority groups including Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Mexican Americans.

Not surprisingly, much of the material is new to my students. Even those who are aware that the United States has a deeply racist history that persist in the early 21st century are unnerved at the extent of legal racism from the founding of the nation to the present. Any discussion about American racism requires an analysis of its institutional foundations. The legal dimensions of those foundations need to be understood both because they are difficult to change and because they often remain hidden from many conventional critiques of racism, especially in educational settings.

In both 2015 and 2017, I was invited to teach a truncated version of this class, for one highly intensive week, to students at the Faculty of Law at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. Both times I found the law students there remarkably knowledgeable, intellectually curious, and especially eager to learn about how the American legal system works to the profound disadvantage of its minority inhabitants and, very occasionally, how it moves in the opposite direction by actually implementing the deeper ideals of racial equality and social justice. Like their American counterparts, of course, they had rarely if ever studied the underlying legal foundations of American racism.

Presenting a course on American racism and law in the Czech Republic presented some unusual challenges. Some of these were historical and others were pedagogical; others were deeply personal. The Law School at Masaryk University in Brno is housed in the same building used as the headquarters of Nazi killing units that contained offices and prison cells between 1939 and 1945. This disconcerting fact inevitably conjures up the reality that the Nazi occupation government shipped most Czechoslovakian Jews to exterminations camps during the War. As a second generation Holocaust survivor with many family members killed in Auschwitz, I felt occasionally unnerved when I realized that I was teaching an anti-racist course in a structure where countless Jews and others were tortured and murdered. I mentioned this briefly at the outset and in some informal conversations with students.

For young law students in Brno, anti-Semitism is not a major concern. The Jewish population in Brno and the entire Czech Republic is small and most anti-Semitic incidents occur elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. My major challenge at Masaryk University was to link my material to the continuing problems of racism against the Roma population in the Czech Republic. The students there are familiar with this problem, if not comprehensively so. I found it easy and compelling to use examples of discriminatory treatment of Roma people with my examples of racism in the United States. Especially valuable to me is the existence of the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno, the only institution in the world devoted to the history and culture of this persecuted population, including the attempted Nazi genocide against Romani people during World War II.

As I do in my UCLA course, I began with contemporary examples of racial profiling and killings of unarmed black people before I embark on a chronological survey of American law and race (and racism). My examples include the well-publicized cases of Rodney King, Latisha Harlins, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and others. The Czech students for the most part had heard of Rodney King, but knew little or nothing about the others. Most American students, on the contrary, have heard of most of these recent African American casualties.

To underscore this course opening, I showed a brief video that my graduate student, Shey Khaksar, and I produced on the topic. The video has graphic footage of some of these horrific incidents and even more: we start the film with a clip of the dramatization of the grotesque 1944 execution of 14 year old George Stinney, who was convicted of murder by an all-white jury in ten minutes and almost immediately executed in a South Carolina electric chair (and whose conviction was vacated in 2014). The Masaryk students, in their final essays for the class, indicated that the Stinney case and the footage of Eric Garner being choked to death on Staten Island in 2014 by New York Police Department officers had the most visceral impact on them. Still, all these cases revealed to them that egregious racism continues in the United States, contradicting strongly some of the misconceptions about American racial equality that they found on Czech media and American propaganda outlets.

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Belonging Cuts Like A Knife

Feb16

by: on February 16th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

I’ve heard it said that belonging sounds kind of soft, but to me, it’s a knife that cuts straight to the heart of our collective challenge. How do we cultivate a society that embodies the right to belong, that offers full cultural citizenship: justice and love, equity and compassion, the right to feel at home in one’s community, to feel safe in one’s school? To belong.

It’s not clear whether school shooter Nikolas Cruz actually trained with the white nationalist militia Republic of Florida (the group’s leader claimed Cruz, then said he’d mistaken him for someone else. But Cruz had been aligned for years with white supremacist views, according to a high school classmate and others: “He would always talk about how he felt whites were a bit higher than everyone,” Charo said. “He’d be like, ‘My people are over here industrializing the world and starting new things, while your people [meaning blacks and Latinos] are just taking up space.’”

When we debate who belongs – about how belonging must be earned and which categories of people are entitled to a say – we had better be ready to tussle with history.Consider a few scenes from the annals of belonging.


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What to do, when they play during the Star Spangled Banner

Jan10

by: Ron Seigel on January 10th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

In the very very olden days, when I was growing up, there was a popular song that declared, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”

Those of us who share progressive values have to expose what is negative in our society. As an investigative reporter, I have done so for nearly half a century and am proud of doing so. All too often, though, as progressives have uncovered what is negative, we all too often failed to communicate the positive values that are motivating us to do so.

One might see this in the incidents where football players protested the police shootings of Black people, including little children. They did so by refusing to stand for our national anthem.

Many interpreted this protest as an attack on America. It was actually an expression of basic American values, the exact same values expressed two centuries. ago in ‘The Star Spangled Banner.”

That song, as well as the very creation of this country in the American Revolution, represented a protest against the centuries’ old abuses of the European feudal system and the tyranny of the kings. It expresses feelings of Americans about the denial of human rights in the Europe that they had left, and their determination not to allow such things here.

However, it is clear that can not only result from foreign invaders but from authorities within.

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Nonviolence in the Face of Hatred

Nov16

by: on November 16th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Anita was present at almost every one of the 34-sessions of my online course Responding to the Call of Our Times. I have sometimes wondered what this course would have been like without her steady willingness to explore the depths of nonviolence. I was counting on it as a thread tying us together, inviting others into more willingness, inviting me into more daring capacity to excavate, find truth, find love. I thought Anita could not surprise me any longer. Then, two weeks before the end of the course, she surprised all of us.

Anita was one of very few people of African descent in the group, and the experience she described was totally related to her background. Some weeks before, her one remaining sister shared with her for the first time that years ago, when she was living in the South, there were a few times when the Ku Klux Klan broke into her house and dragged her out into a field towards a burning cross.

Probably 1958, from the North Carolina State Archives

Anita was bringing this up for a very specific reason, fully fitting with the focus on leadership that the course was on. Although this was very tender for her, she wasn’t bringing it up for empathy or sympathy. She was bringing it up because she wanted to find a way to transform her thinking about what her sister had shared with her, so she would know what to do with the violent thoughts that were populating her mind and challenging her commitment. Out of respect for her dignity and choice, I never asked for the specific nature of the thoughts.


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Discrimination Against Black Workers

Oct25

by: Los Angeles Black Worker Center on October 25th, 2017 | Comments Off

Los Angeles Black Worker Center
October 5, 2017

Discrimination has created a crisis in the Black community. Although the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids racial discrimination in the workplace, black workers continue to face higher rates of discrimination in the workforce than white workers do. ‘Whether working full-time or part-time, Black workers earn only three-quarters of what white workers earn,’ as stated in the introduction of the brief.

Dear Friends and Allies: The Los Angeles Black Worker Center (LABWC) and National Employment Law Project (NELP) demonstrates the need for California to explore expanded anti-employment discrimination to better protect workers in the era of Trump.

You can read the white paper here.

Los Angeles, California, October 5, 2017 – The National Employment Law Project and the Los Angeles Black Worker Center released a white paper today that offers analysis on why anti-discrimination laws must be strengthened to protect communities of color in the workforce as national civil rights enforcement agencies are threatened with cuts and elimination.  The report is published as a broad coalition of unemployed, underemployed and union workers call on Governor Brown to sign Senate Bill SB 491- The California Anti-Employment Discrimination Action of 2017- a bill that would begin the process of expanding anti-discrimination enforcement authority to local governments to fill the enforcement gap.

Titled, “Ensuring Equality for All Californians in the Workplace: The Case for Local Enforcement of Anti-Discrimination Laws,” this white paper points out the decline in federal investments into civil rights protections comes at a time of by increased civil rights complaints, making imperative that local governments join federal and state agencies in helping to enforce anti-discrimination legislation.. It explores the complexity of 21st century workplace discrimination and how and why local enforcement in California could provide greater opportunity to address  civil rights  violations faced by Black workers and other groups in the workplace.

“The moral and economic crisis of racism affects our entire State,” said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, co-founder of the LA Black Worker Center. “It has caused a crisis in the Black community.  We know Governor Brown recognizes that CA must commit to resist the attack on Californians by national forces. Expanding anti-employment discrimination enforcement is needed now more more than ever. We need to build infrastructure to effectively protect workers where the discrimination happens.”

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A Surprising Realization in America

Sep21

by: Richard Zimler on September 21st, 2017 | 4 Comments »

I’ve lived in Portugal for the last 27 years and generally visit America – the country where I was born and grew up – only once a year.  I recently had my annual visit, and for three weeks I stayed at a beachfront condominium on Sanibel, a tranquil and beautiful island off the west coast of Florida that is part of Lee County.  In that county – which includes the nearby city of Fort Myers – 59 percent of the population voted for Donald Trump. And he won the statewide vote as well (as most Tikkun readers will remember only too well!)  I mention the President’s popularity in that area of the country because it made me feel constrained and uncomfortable. And yet, at the same, time, his victory made me want to find a way to make it clear to shop owners, waitresses, cashiers and other strangers that I met that I regarded him as an ignorant bully and wretched human being.

After a few days, I began to notice that I had no problem mentioning my contempt for Trump to African-Americans but kept silent with whites.  The reason?  88% of blacks voted for Hillary Clinton, so airing my views about him with them was relatively safe (I do not like to get into quarrels with strangers!). Nationwide, only 37 percent of whites voted for Clinton, and 58 percent of them voted for Trump.

I confess that this comfort I felt discussing politics with African-Americans – and not with whites – is new to me, probably because I grew up in suburban community in New York with very few blacks.  In my high school on Long Island, we had 1600 white students and two African-Americans. I only began making black friends when I went to college. And yet I was always aware of the gap of experiences and perspective between us.

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Moving from Fault to Cause: Looking for Systemic Solutions to White Supremacy

Sep14

by: on September 14th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Downtown Charlottesville, by Bob Mical

The recent events in Charlottesville have brought even more attention and public conversation to the growing phenomenon of visible, explicit calls for white supremacy. Much of what I have since read and heard is horror and disgust at what has happened, and an intense inquiry about what can be done to make a dramatic shift, and quickly.

Although I experience myself as entirely separate and different from the torch-marchers, from their slogans, actions, and hatred, I consciously choose to maintain the discipline of remembering that they were not born this way; they are not in any special category. There are reasons why more and more people are drawn into such groups, and I want to know the causes, not what’s wrong with the people. Like many who’ve been writing recently, I am confident that fighting back, name calling, shaming, denouncing, and other similar tactics I’ve seen used recently are feeding rather than quelling this upsurge.

Clearly, we are facing a huge problem here; one of many that are challenging our overall ability to sustain ourselves as a species. One of the benefits that our very large brains give us is that we are, as a species, amazingly capable of responding to major challenges by solving complex problems. We know, without having to learn it very much, that to solve a problem we need to understand its cause and then look for solutions based on understanding the cause.

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