The Case for Black History Month

By Lester Asamoah

MLK memorial


Black History Month, like beauty, is sometimes in the eyes of the beholder. Stacey Dash’s recent comments reignited the debate as to whether Black History Month should exist or not. And Ms. Dash is not the only prominent black celebrity to speak out against the month. As we wade through another February, we are left with another year of questioning if a month “belongs” or not.

I would argue it belongs. You, the reader, are left to have your opinion. But the idea of having a month of history dedicated to African-Americans is not a bad thing. The first counterargument that should be immediately addressed is “why isn’t there a White History Month?” My question to counter is: what would we put in a White History Month? This isn’t a coy response. I would actually welcome a White History Month. But how would famous white people be honored in ways they already aren’t? More importantly, how would we assess the history and accomplishments of black people within the existing asymmetric power dynamics in America? The question isn’t, and has never been, how to leave white people out. Rather, it’s how to bring black people in.

There are three brief reasons behind keeping and appreciating Black History Month: Representation, Celebration, and History. Assessing the debate to keep Black History Month through these three lenses paints a little more of a picture as to why the month is important.

Representation

The question of “why isn’t there a White History month?” is a good starting point to point out why a Black History month is necessary. Representation. It’s not so much that black people haven’t invented things, broken records, or started major businesses. It’s that we don’t often hear about these people. Whereas, we are well-acquainted with what white people have contributed to history. Moreover, it’s that American society—in a time frame that is much closer that people realize—actively kept black people from inventing things, breaking records, and starting business. Black History Month really is a pittance compared to the cruel underdevelopment of black neighborhoods and individuals that previously took place.

Celebration

Despite the important acknowledgement of the terrible wrongs that were dealt to black people, there needs to be room for realizing the success of black people. Another common counter-argument against Black History Month is that a month is not enough. And that is true. But, as is commonly said, we don’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The increasing limits that standardized testing places on American history and the subsequent lack of interest in black history—doubled with the recent crusade against anything that isn’t American exceptionalism—is a perfect storm for knowing shockingly little about the achievements of black people. Black History Month is a celebration, but a lot of people seem to take it as a “make white people guilty month.” I would argue it’s possible to celebrate the achievements of black men and women who have contributed to history in a purely positive way. It should go without saying that black people taking pride in something is not an attack on white people.

American History v. Black History

Another common discussion point when talking about Black History Month is that it’s American history. First and foremost, someone who is enslaved is not an American citizen. And the US Constitution counted black people as 3/5ths of a person, keep in mind. Black History, as it relates to American history, is really black people either being non-citizens or highly marginalized second-class citizens for what is the majority of the existence of America. All of that being noted, a unique discussion as to what it means/meant to be black in America is warranted.  It is a limited space to contemplate what black people have experienced in America and where the future lies. These conversations can, and really should be done in conjunction with white people. And people from all creeds and races, of course. There is a strange phenomenon in the American psyche that makes people deeply suspicious when black people have their own thing. But with an open ear and an open mind, there is a lot for everyone to discuss and learn. Black History is something that goes in tandem with American history, but the discussion must be honest.

This debate, like history, may repeat itself. But at least we’ve briefly covered a few arguments that make Black History Month important. Whether it should exist or not is contentious at times, but we can certainly derive positive lessons from it while it is around.

Lester Asamoah is a Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service.

 

The Praxis of Social Justice Dialogue

By Lester Asamoah

convo


 

“Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform the world. . . But while to say the true word—which is work, which is praxis—is to transform the world, saying that word is not the privilege of some few persons, but the right of everyone…” – Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (p.88)

This opening quotation from Paulo Freire’s work is a great starting point behind the philosophy of dialogue. And, more importantly, why dialogue is so important and urgent. We, or at least those interested in social change, must be involved with the praxis of dialogue. But how can we do this effectively? What are the steps? Clearly, there’s a lot of discourse that is unproductive, and even unhelpful.

I will establish simply how we can begin to think about the praxis of dialogue. Next, I’ll discuss how to create meaningful dialogue. Finally, I’ll discuss what I believe is ineffective and effective. To my audience of social justice advocates: I must stress that this is only a glimpse into a certain philosophy and up to critical debate and interpretation.

What is dialogue?

What is meant by dialogue? Dialogue is a back and forth process between two people in learning about or analyzing the world in some way. Largely borrowing this definition from Freire, I want to make it clear that is a two way process. Its importance in being a two-way process is vital in a world where we conduct a great deal of our communication of ideas either by social media, or listening to people who are experts in a certain field speak on their experience. How can we understand the plight of homelessness by never speaking to someone who is homeless? The simple answer is that we cannot. And we wind up with policies where we “know” how to engage with these issues by marginally dealing with them.

Our means of conversation and dialogue have evolved. We can chat online, or on Skype. We have more diverse communities than ever before. There’s no limit to what we can learn about others. We have a unique way to take advantage of our technological and cultural placement. But before we talk to people and try to develop understanding, we have to remember one critical fact: every person is capable of cognition by the virtue of being human, and we should never assume that anyone is below us or unable to express complex thoughts about something. People doing the opposite of that sentence have brought great ruin to the world from their hubris.  

How can we think about meaningful dialogue?

Meaningful dialogue is about listening. That’s not a secret. Why doesn’t it happen this way? It’s because privilege and power dynamics exist. While these dynamics exist, we have to acknowledge this: If you’re reading this, you likely have some sort of privilege and power. Now, I don’t have the magic formula to get the most powerful people to the table, but Freire notes that we can make a difference with oppressed people to help them realize they’re oppressed. Note that he does not say to lecture people, but he says engage with dialogue. And also note that people that are oppressed are able to express their opinions and take action.

For those of us that are concerned with social change, there’s hope in a bottom-up approach. But we will not be the heroes. I repeat, we will not be the heroes. Empowerment cannot be taught by lecture or monologue, Freire says. But active discussion with those that are oppressed, Freire claims, will help people realize that oppression does not have to be permanent. In dialogue with people of similar or higher privilege than us, we can discuss in a hope that it leads to the understanding they can be empowered to be in the solution. This process is slow and requires patience. Freire’s work is called The Pedagogy of the Oppressed – pedagogy means the practice of teaching. This is at odds with certain ways to invoke social change. But, this is one of many ways to invoke change; a way that can be simultaneous with others.

What has worked and what has not?

I alluded to what doesn’t work – the notion of assuming that we have a higher cognition than others. We have different experiences, perhaps different values, and come from different walks of life. But by virtue of being alive—thinking, therefore they are, as Descartes would say—means we should get to know what people are thinking by hearing it firsthand. The process of dehumanization assumes that people have no cognition. People sometimes act irrationally, and may be even unfavorable to talk to, but all of us have cognition. We see people taking food stamps draw comparisons to animals, or students of Islamic background face discrimination for their creativity. People believe(d) that if one is on food stamps, their cognition is desperately dependent upon the government, or a young man’s cognition is limited and dependent on his religious background.

What works? There’s no surprise that the opposite of assuming we are better than others works. We, as individuals that care, must be open to the idea that everyone deserves human respect. And when we see others treat individuals as less than human, we have to challenge their thinking. Most importantly, we must seek to love the individuals that feel less than human. This, as Freire says, is a constant praxis of action and reflection. We have to be reflective of what we are saying, and we have to take action as people of consciousness to increase the level of consciousness. Most importantly, we have to realize that people have different ways of interacting with the world, and that must be respected. Though, if someone interacts with the world in a way that is destructive, we have to respond.

In terms of covering the philosophy of dialogue, much less the overall work of Freire, this is incredibly limited. However, it’s a starting point for us to think about how we interact with the world, the people in the world, and what we can do to empower each other instead of suffering though one-way dialogues that are ineffective, and even harmful. We have a great societal challenge ahead of us. American and global history has been marred by unthinkable marginalization and violence. However, violence does not have to be our destiny moving forward.

Lester is a Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service.

Why Love Won

#LoveWins

Not every day do the worlds of law and pop culture collide so tremendously as they did today. Then again, not every day do you have Supreme Court decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges. Undoubtedly you have read close to 525,600 Facebook statuses, tweets, and news clippings about this landmark victory for gay rights. You may be rejoicing. You may be livid. Let’s put those emotions aside for a moment to assess the Obergefell opinion and figure out why love won.

First, a brief history…

Obergefell is certainly a revolutionary decision. But for those following the Court (and political trends) over the past fifteen years, it is hardly a surprise. Prior to the 2000s, a number of states had passed laws criminalizing certain homosexual acts. In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, held that such laws discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and thus violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This was a huge step forward for gay rights, but there still remained the matter of gay marriage. In 1996, Congress had passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for all federal law purposes as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” However, in the ten years after Lawrence v. Texas, several states granted marriage rights to same-sex couples, either through judicial or legislative processes. Still, DOMA remained alive-and-well.

Then, in 2013, the Court held in United States v. Windsor (2013) that DOMA was invalid to the extent that it barred the federal government from treating same-sex marriages as valid even when they were lawful in the state where they were licensed. Again, a massive victory for gay rights. (And again, Justice Kennedy authored the opinion.) But what did this mean? It meant that, for example (and as was the case in Windsor), the surviving spouse of a same-sex couple could claim a spousal deduction from the federal estate tax. While this was another huge leap forward, it still did not legalize gay marriage. But by overturning DOMA, it did clear the way for other courts to do so.

Now to today’s opinion…

In the two years since Windsor, many same-sex marriage cases have reached federal courts of appeals, and gay marriage has been legalized in many jurisdictions. But there was still a major problem: A same-sex couple married in one state (where gay marriage was legal) could travel to another state (where gay marriage was not legal) and be denied the benefits of marriage. This meant gay couples could not take advantage of certain spousal tax benefits; evidentiary privileges; adoption rights; medical decision making authority; and so on.

Finally, however, some of these cases reached the Supreme Court in the form of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which is actually a combination of several similarly situated cases. In this case, the Court was confronted with the question of whether or not gay marriage is a constitutionally protected right. The issue could be avoided no longer.

As you now know, the Court’s opinion (once again authored by, you guessed it: Justice Kennedy) held that a “fundamental right to marry” can no longer be denied because the partners are of the same sex. Gay marriage–nationwide–is now not only legal, but constitutionally protected. The Court interpreted the two central provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment (the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause) to mean that same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are equal under the law.

The opinion itself is beautiful in its simplicity. Much of it is devoted to the judicial history summarized above (although to get a full view of that history, you should definitely read the opinion) as well as cultural and political developments spanning the entirety of human civilization. But the meat of the opinion, the real holding (a legal term meaning the binding law of the case), was this: The right to marriage is a right enjoyed equally by all people, gay or straight. This, the Court explained, is firmly rooted in our nation’s history: From past Supreme Court decisions affirming the equality of interracial marriage, to decisions affirming the autonomy of individuals to make of their lives what they will. The issue is not, as some people have framed it, whether there is a constitutional right to gay marriage, but instead whether there is a constitutional right to marriage period. The Highest Court of the Land has now firmly stated that there is such a right.

The majority encountered staunch opposition from the other justices. In fact, each of the justices in the minority (Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel Alito) wrote a separate dissenting opinion. These dissents are of varying degrees of ire and outrage. Yet the one argument that you will most likely hear disparaging Obergefell is that the Court today engaged in “judicial activism.” Chief Justice Roberts encapsulated this argument when he criticized the majority, reciting the ages-old aphorism that, under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is–not what it should be.

As with all age-old sayings, I encourage you to take this one with a grain of salt. (But certainly I am not saying you are wrong if you agree with Chief Justice Roberts). Because the line between what the law is and what it should be is a very thin one and is entirely a matter of perspective. The Court’s opinion today affirms a strong heritage of individual autonomy when it comes to the most private and intimate decisions in life. In a separate string of cases (see Loving v. Virginia and Turner v. Safley), the Supreme Court has consistently held that the right to marriage is a right enjoyed by all. The Court’s decision today simply affirmed that sentiment, regardless of sexual orientation. That is what the majority believed the law is. This is what they believed Court precedent compelled them to do. You may agree or disagree (you would be in good company with 4 of the 9 justices on the Supreme Court), but the law is what it is.

So what does this mean for me?

You now have permission to unpack those emotions we put aside at the beginning of this article. This is an opinion that invites a lot of passion from both sides, and rightly so. Even the Supreme Court itself was sharply divided in this close 5-4 decision. You will hear people rejoicing in the spirit of equality. You will hear people decrying the opinion as an affront to Christianity or other religious and moral beliefs. The vehemence of these opinions will not fade quickly. But I am sure that, eventually, it will fade.

From a legal perspective, I loved the decision of Obergefell v. Hodges. In my opinion it got the law exactly right. People may disagree because gay marriage does not fit into their religion; yet the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing or favoring a religion, so it cannot prohibit gay marriage on those grounds. People may say that gay marriage is not supported by the history and tradition of our country (echoing, in some ways, that same religious argument); yet there is a dearth of case law proving otherwise; and moreover, just because we have always done something does not mean we should continue to do it (e.g., slavery, subjugation of women). People may say that they hate this opinion because, honestly, they just hate gay people. I wish those people did not exist in our society, but they do. And unfortunately, there is no logical or constitutional argument that can persuade people out of their hatred.

Apart from the legality of it all, though, I think it is quite definitely the most beautifully written opinion I have ever read (and as a law student I have, regrettably, read thousands of opinions). It is simple, artful, and bold in ways that causes one to pause and realize that you are indeed witnessing history unfolding before you. There are not many 28-page opinions I enjoy reading, but Justice Kennedy wrote so wonderfully that it sang. It was in many ways a masterpiece. You should really take time to read it (and form your own opinions).

Personally, I am so incredibly happy today for all my gay friends, that you have had your love recognized as a constitutional right that is now the law of the land. Today must feel like a dream come true, and I am truly, truly glad for you. And to all those who are disappointed with today’s ruling, I want to remind you of this: You can disapprove of the Court’s decision but still be happy for the millions of people who are today reveling in love. You can oppose the law without opposing the people affected by the law. You can fight for change without fighting one another. That is the difference between opposition and prejudice. And that is how we can make sure that love really does win.

*****

An Assortment of Favorite Passages From the Opinion

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a character protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.

*****

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act. The idea of the Constitution was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.

*****

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.

*****

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.

*****

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

—–

David Postic is a third-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

Rethinking Peace and Violence in America

By Lester Asamoah

Peace


After the Charleston tragedy, among other tragedies foreign and domestic, the common notion is to call or pray for peace. But, in our universal desire for peace, do we recognize what peace is? Generally, peace is understood as an absence of violence. That is not a wrong definition. But, to fathom the nature of peace, we must discern the dimensions of violence.

The founder of the Peace Studies discipline, Dr. Johan Galtung, tackles this in his article Violence, Peace, and Peace Studies. (The idea of the Six Dimensions of Violence are all from Dr. Galtung, I attribute all of these ideas to him) My primary aims are to summarize a small portion of his analysis of violence in a digestible way, then apply them to contemporary situations.

The Six Dimensions of Violence

Taking the general idea that peace is the absence of violence is the starting point; if we can understand the dimensions of violence, we can prevent the obstruction of peace. Violence is usually thought of as physical and emotional violence. Again, that is not wrong, but a richer explanation of violence is critical to understand varying levels of violence occurring.

Before analyzing what Galtung refers to as the six dimensions of violence, he makes an important point about violence by explaining the potential versus the actual. Acts of violence are avoidable, and they minimize human potential. I will list the dimensions of violence and apply them to contemporary situations below:

  • Physical and Emotional violence: Physical violence includes the obvious physical harm of a person, however, it also includes restricting mobility. By keeping someone in chains, or keeping them from traveling far distances is a form of physical violence because one is being physically restricted from their potential realization.

Physical and emotional violence, as I stated before, is pretty well understood. So I want to focus on the restriction of mobility. A strong and tragic example of violence by restricting mobility is the story of Kalief Browder. Browder was held at Rikers Island for three years without a trial and eventually committed suicide once freed. The detention of Browder is tragic, but not entirely uncommon. Many people are held without trial or are held for disproportionate times to their crimes. This is violent. The act of detention, especially against the innocent is violent.

  • Negative and Positive Influence: (Influence always assumed as negative towards the subject’s potential) Whenever an influencer inflicts punishment for what they think is wrong OR rewards their subject for what they believe is right.

Negative influence happens all of the time. When individuals are punished for their religious or political views, this is violent. Especially when it results in a loss of employment. Also, when someone is positively influenced to become less they can be, that is violent. Here is an excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, when Malcolm’s junior high teacher tries to guide him, illustrating positive influence:

“’Malcolm, one of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic. Don’t misunderstand me, now. We all here like you, you know that. But you’ve got to be realistic as a n—-r. A lawyer—that’s no thing you can be. You need to think about something you can be. You’re good with your hands—making things. Everybody admires your carpentry shop work….’”

Note the teacher is trying to reward Malcolm’s work, and is generally being positive for the time, but is clearly obstructing Malcolm’s potential.

  • Objects: In response to the question, “when biological objects aren’t hurt, is there violence?” Galtung notes that violence can occur when the destruction of a non-human object forebodes the destruction of a physical or biological object.

Galtung makes an example in saying that nuclear tests are violent because they are used to forebode the destruction of biological objects (and often the tests destroy biological objects). Another example, many would argue, is the Israeli policy of destroying homes in Palestine. While nobody (usually) dies from the policy of destroying homes, it is usually used as a deterrent to terrorism.

  • Subjects: When there is no human subject that acts, can violence occur? Yes. Systemic violence occurs when people are restricted from obtaining resources needed for their potential. This situation, of course, assumes that this restriction is avoidable.

Systemic violence is growing into a larger discussion. There are many ways systemic violence is increasingly being unearthed. Of course, the quick example is the ethic-name resume. A National Bureau for Economic Research [NBER] study proves that people with ethnic names on their resumes get significantly less callbacks. However, the examples I prefer to look at are racist housing policies and the disenfranchisement of voters.

  • Intent: Violence can take place even with no conscious intent by the actor. Any act, intentional or unintentional, that robs potential in any avoidable situation, is a violent act.

Drunk driving is a simple way to understand intent. When someone is driving while drinking, their intent isn’t to hit another car. Yet… it still happens. Accidents will always happen in today’s world, but that does not mean they are exempt from being violent acts. The previous sentence is important because many times accidents and “unintentional” acts are deemed non-violent.

  • Manifest/Latent: Violence, as most are familiar with, is manifest, or obvious and physically visible acts of violence. However, Galtung is also concerned with the latent, or an unstable situation where any small act can trigger a manifest act of violence. I.E. daily acts that destabilize a situation leading to when a small act that can trigger a large act of violence.

Manifest violence is something visible like someone getting shot. But latent violence is most easily explained by the phenomena of microaggressions. Small, even as the name suggests, micro levels of day-to-day violence and disenfranchisement can build up and become largely violent acts. Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide in 2012 after discovering his sexual acts were secretly recorded by his roommate. The recording was the act that triggered the self-violent response of suicide.

Moving Forward

Now that we have a better understanding of the dimensions of violence, we can move toward a more peaceful America. Of course, the examples were highly limited and just designed to give a basic understanding. But putting this knowledge to use will explain many phenomena of violence against Native Americans, African-Americans, impoverished and homeless Americans, and even violence occurring against other cultures overseas. In the 21st century, we have to realize that violence is far beyond emotional and physical violence. And we can overcome this violence if we make genuine efforts to do so.

Lester is a Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service.

The Problem with the ‘Black on Black Crime’ Argument

By Ernest Ezeugo

Photo by Scott Olsen/Getty Images


In recent months, several tragic instances of police practicing excessive (sometimes fatal) force against black men and women have awakened a nationwide discussion about police brutality and how the justice system impacts the black community. This discussion has made a lot of people angry and defensive, and those emotions have led to some virulent responses and justifications.

Of all the empathy-void, compassion-less rebuttals to higher rates of police brutality against black men and women I’ve seen, “oh yeah? well what about black-on-black crime” is my favorite perhaps the most egregious. I have a few ideas on why people who can’t/don’t want to understand the plight of communities concerned by recent events turn to this defense, but below are my thoughts on why citing black-on-black crime is not an acceptable counterargument for police brutality.

Black on black crime and police brutality against black people are not mutually exclusive.
It is entirely reasonable to care about black on black crime and talk about how police brutality and the black community are related. It’s similar to how you can be a fan of waffles and still want pizza for dinner: black-on-black crime and police brutality are two entirely different conversations that don’t need to happen at the same time.

It’s a practice in the politics of changing the subject.
Ta-Nehisi Coates does a lot of writing about the politics of changing the subject that is very much worth taking a look at. Simply put, the black on black crime defense–kin to the “don’t wear seductive clothing” defense and the “don’t dress like a thug” defense–is a form of respectability politics that irrationally turns the blame for the death and mistreatment of black men and women at the hands of the law back onto the community. At its most general, it transforms a necessary conversation about race and justice into a condescending, often blithering discourse on the state of the black community. This is a problem for many reasons that I’ll get into, but essentially at the top of those: it’s a scapegoat that prevents us from taking part in the tough but restorative conversations about race that America has needed to engage in since the Civil War.

It’s a false equivalency.
As this interview with David Rudovsky explains, an inherent conflict of interest arises when an officer takes a life while on duty, immediately disqualifying the notion that police brutality can even be considered in the same league as any level of citizen crime, black-on-black crime in particular. Police officers serve as defenders of the people, so when a police officer is responsible for the death of any civilian, several cogs move into place to assure that trust is maintained between law enforcement and the community. This phenomenon is the reason why we know how many officers were killed in the line of duty this year, but have no accurate measurement of how many civilians were killed at the hands of police. And, begrudgingly, I understand the intent behind it. It isn’t so much shadiness as it is a means of securing trust, and therefore peace, in a society. …But at the end of the day, it doesn’t make it right. And it means that black-on-black crime and police brutality against black people, by their very definitions, are an equivalency that has no merit.

Put succinctly: Black people who kill black people go to jail. Policemen that kill people often do not.

It implicitly suggests that black people are not a part of the State.
In perhaps the most atrocious attempt to relate black on black crime to police brutality of the year, former mayor Rudy Giuliani made some disparaging comments about the state of the black community in an interview with Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson. Chief among them was this thoughtless epitaph: “White police officers wouldn’t be (in your community) if you weren’t killing each other.”

Of the several things wrong with this comment, the most concerning is its implication. We know that police officers are meant to serve and protect all citizens. But when Giuliani asks Dyson what he is doing to heal his community, he proposes two dangerous and incorrect assumptions that many who conjure up the black-on-black crime defense similarly imply: that crime as it occurs in black communities occurs at the fault of the community rather than at the fault of the individual, and that black communities can do more to stop crime than they currently are, and for some reason choosing not to.

In the same way that crime in any other form of community is born, crime involving members of the black community is the product of an individual’s thoughts and desires. It’s for that reason that Giuliani’s assertion is so absurd. There is no superhuman connectivity between black people or paranormal mental Facebook that black people can log onto that allows us to control how often other black people commit crimes. And it’s not like black communities like crime, or aren’t working hard to stop it. We can only expect communities to do what they’ve already been doing.

All of this to say, it is not solely the black community’s responsibility to control crime among its people, just like it is not solely any other communities’ responsibility, because there is nothing that makes the black community different. Remember the police? It’s their responsibility. And consequently, it is their policies and procedures that have to be the first to called to question when the black community is jailed, sentenced, and killed at exponentially higher rates than any other community in the nation.

Talking about race is not easy. If it were, the discussion about race, justice, and law enforcement would have happened after Emmett Till, not at the end of 2014. If we’re going to get to the bottom of what it means to talk about and eventually resolve these issues, we have to be honest with ourselves about what a proper conversation looks like. It’s time to stop pretending that black-on-black crime has a place in the conversation.

—–

Ernest is  the founder of Thirty Eight Minutes.

It’s a Marvel Nerdsplosion!

By Aaron Bumgarner

 

marvel

This post isn’t breaking news or anything; it’s already been a week since Marvel’s announcement altered the very fabric of our universe. To recap (Feel free to skip over the recap if you don’t care about Marvel, insightful commentary lies on the other side!):

  • Captain America: Civil War (May 6, 2016): Civil War was a popular storyline that every fiber of my being wants to spoil for you, but the laws that govern blogging mandate that I don’t. I can tell you that it involves the government mandating that superheroes reveal their secret identities.
  • Doctor Strange (November 4, 2016): Are we excited about this? Do we know anything at all about Doctor Strange?
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (May 5, 2016): Already bought my ticket. Okay, not really, they’re not on sale yet, but in spirit.
  • Thor: Ragnarok (July 28, 2017): Nothing to say about this one, mostly because I’m still not sure if Ragnarok is a villain or a disease.
  • Black Panther (November 3, 2017): This is by far the coolest announcement. Yes, because it’s a black superhero, but even more because of the actor they chose to play Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman, of 42 and Get On Up. This is super promising.
  • Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (May 4, 2018): I think this is where Thanos finally does stuff.
  • Captain Marvel (July 6, 2018): Another exciting one, because it’s Marvel’s first movie devoted to a female superhero. More on this in a second.
  • Inhumans (November 8, 2018): This one’s intriguing, because Inhumans are a little more obscure than everyone else on here, with the exception of the Guardians. Inhumans figures to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s cosmic side even more than the first Guardians already has. Also, there are rumors that Marvel wants Inhumans to become their version of X-Men, since Fox still has the rights to that and won’t be giving them up anytime soon.
  • Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 (May 3, 2019): Man, I wish they’d stop splitting the third book into two movies…wait, you’re saying this is based on a comic book? Man, and all this time I thought these were adapted from real literature.

And there you have it: your cinematic schedule for the next five years. Don’t schedule anything on those dates, or you’ll be such a loser.

First things first, this is freaking awesome. I love the Marvel movies, and they keep getting better. A quick power ranking of all the Marvel movies so far, from best to worst: Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk. That’s a lot of movies already. Feel free to argue the rankings in the comments, but don’t you dare disagree with me. As a side note, I love that Marvel announced this after DC revealed their comparably paltry lineup. No love lost there.

I’m also really excited that Marvel is giving us a black superhero and a female superhero. We should be excited about this. Superhero movies have been en vogue since the turn of the century, and the only solo super-women movies we’ve gotten have been half-assed versions of Catwoman and Elektra, two dynamic characters in the comics that were obliterated onscreen. Fortunately, though, Hollywood has given us plenty of movies devoted to black superheroes, and…oh, just Blade? Really? Wow.

See, here’s the problem with this big Marvel announcement: It’s too late. I’m happy about the announcement, and I’ll go see every one of these movies. But they dropped the ball. Black Widow should have had her own movie years ago. At least before Rocket Raccoon, for the love of God. Maybe there’s more to the story. Maybe they couldn’t get scheduling worked out with Scarlet Johansson, maybe the script just wasn’t ever right…or maybe Kevin Feige (the head of Marvel studios) just didn’t care enough. Regardless, the lack of priority on diversity has been abhorrent.

And as far as a black superhero goes, they didn’t even have to make a movie about one of the comics world’s many black heroes. They could have done what Fox has done with the Human Torch and ignored his race entirely. In the comics, the Torch is the white Johnny Storm, but in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, he’ll be played by the very not-white Michael B. Jordan. They cast Johnny based on talent, not on race. I would have been fine with that for any of these characters.

Sitting here right now, the idea of a black Captain America onscreen instead of a white one is tantalizing. Or why couldn’t Idris Elba have played Thor instead of Chris Hemsworth? They could have done anything in those first few movies. They would have angered the fan base, but after Iron Man the demand for superhero movies was so high, alienating an extremely small subset of the fans wouldn’t have made a dent in their profits.

So no, I’m not going to give credit to Marvel for trailblazing or championing diversity. To be clear, I think the comic book division of Marvel is doing a stellar job of pushing diversity in their titles. They’re not perfect, and they still make mistakes, but they’ve made big strides. The sins of Marvel’s movie division are more egregious and more public. So far, they’ve announced one movie for one female superhero and one movie for one black superhero. Woohoo, I guess. Should women and African-Americans thank Marvel for the scraps? I’m all in on both Captain Marvel and Black Panther, and I hope they’re brilliant blockbusters. But when it comes to assessing Marvel Studios, it’s too little too late, and it will take a lot of time and effort to even come close to repairing the damage.

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Aaron Bumgarner is a speech-language pathologist for Oklahoma City Public Schools, but he’d be okay with Marvel Studios offering him a job.

Lessons from Katrina?

A Break from Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

By Aaron Bumgarner

Memorial in Water


 

Having read a book about Katrina hardly makes you an expert on Katrina or New Orleans or hurricanes. But you learn enough to see that being an expert hardly means you make all the right decisions. Five Days at Memorial covers one New Orleans hospital’s ordeal before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina hit. The hospital was named Memorial Medical Center, and it received national media attention after Katrina for accusations of doctors and nurses euthanizing patients during the disaster. Author Sheri Fink is meticulous and thorough in her reporting, giving detail to the lives of everyone affected and making clear the medical, legal, and political bureaucracy involved at every stage.

The most fascinating section of the book is also the most heartbreaking, the five days at Memorial, when the hurricane hit. We get an intimate look at the horrifying conditions and the desperate doctors, nurses, and patients fighting for survival. The hospital didn’t flood completely, but enough that some of the electricity was knocked out and the heat became sweltering.

Taking care of the patients became increasingly difficult to the point that some patients appeared to be suffering on the verge of death. This hostile environment, coupled with the unwilling ignorance of the volatile situation in the city outside, presumably contributed to the tragic decisions made to end patients’ lives without their permission.

Fink writes that it was later revealed that some of the more senior doctors had taken some breaks from the hard work of caring for patients and running a hospital in crisis by retreating to a part of the hospital unaffected by the storm to run fans and watch TV. Somehow they failed to suggest that the patients be moved to this more amenable environment or that the hospital’s overworked nurses seek similar respite.

Pop Culture and Katrina

Five Days was released at a curious time: in 2013, eight years after Katrina. After you read the book, though, you appreciate the utter immersion Fink endured to tell the full story, and eight years seems surprisingly brief. But in all that time, there’s been a surprising dearth of popular culture dealing with Katrina. Fink writes about one prime example most relevant to Memorial, an episode of Boston Legal, of all things, in which the court rules in favor of a doctor who euthanized patients during Katrina. Some that I’ve encountered include the homemade movie Trouble the Water and the epic non-fiction Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. And of course, there’s Treme, the inscrutable HBO show by Wire genius David Simon.

There’s just not much out there, which I suppose shouldn’t be too surprising. America has exhibited a disturbing trend recently of not processing its tragedies in its art. This goes for 9/11 too, of course. When trailers for United 93 played in theaters, there were cries of “Too soon!”, though it was released five years after the event. We now only allow our major filmmakers to make movies about the wars we’re in overseas, not the disasters within our own borders. And that’s only true if they’re marketed as heroic victories, even when the stories they tell are morally ambiguous cautionary tales.

I say all this not because we can’t handle the truth. We handle it just fine when the narrative is packaged nicely for us, such as when the Saints won the Superbowl in 2010 and it was painted as a win for the Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. That Saints win was important; it provided hope at a time when hope was still hard to come by. But that’s not the only function of pop culture. Art should also be able to shine a light on misdeeds so we can learn from history and do better next time. The fact that popular art has ignored Katrina isn’t unexpected, but it is unacceptable.

Learning for the Future

Five Days at Memorial received a lot of attention last year. It won the National Book Award for non-fiction and appeared on the New York Times Best Books of 2013 list. The story has been optioned for a movie by Scott Rudin, producer of The Social NetworkMoneyball, and Captain Phillips. Those may be the best movies you could want as examples for the kind of quality this story deserves.

Popular culture doesn’t solve problems, but it does teach. Five Days at Memorial is an instructive book, but movies obviously have a higher profile. When popular culture engages with current events like this with a high level of public exposure, then regular culture has no excuse. When catastrophe strikes again due to a failure of bureaucracy (like, say, an Ebola crisis), learning from disasters like Katrina is what will save us. If we don’t learn, it will look much like the above episode from Five Days, in which the nurses and patients suffer in the heat and the doctors relax in cool air conditioning and watch TV. It will be the poor and underprivileged who suffer the consequences.

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Aaron Bumgarner is a speech-language pathologist for Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Fixing the Ladder: You, Me, and Inequality

By Lester Asamoah

Income Equality, Changing Inequality, Political Systems, Inequality in the US


The United States is undoubtedly richer and more prosperous than it was twenty years ago. Technology is quickly advancing, and Americans have access to knowledge like never before. It’s a great picture to paint, right? The Americans with access to capital are prospering, and even the middle class citizens are experiencing microcosms of great prosperity. The sunny skies of happiness and growth, however, are deluded by clouds of concern for those with no access to capital. Aka, those that are in the lowest socio-economic classes.

Setting the Gini Free

One would think post World War II innovations would mean a decreasing gap in inequality. While many have prospered, few have suffered. The Gini Coefficient is a measure of income inequality where 0.00 represents complete equality (everyone making the exact same wages, etc) and 1.00 represents complete inequality (one person earning 99.9% of all wages, etc). Basically, the closer the Gini coefficient gets to 1, the more stratified the inequality. A study from the US Department of Commerce illustrates how the United States’ Gini has risen since the 1940s:

Gini

(taken from CBS’ News Article, How Do We Know Income Inequality is Getting Worse?)

Why do we care about this Gini that won’t grant our wishes? Because it means that the poorest Americans are increasingly reeling – income inequality is far beyond the simplicity of working hard and not working hard. It is the difference between access to capital, opportunity, education, and safety. The people at the very top are accumulating more and more access to these things, while the people at the very bottom are simultaneously losing access to these things.

A Broken Ladder

We know that inequality exists and is highly persistent in United States. Movements like Occupy Wall Street are ways Americans express frustration at the growing Gini. Now, this isn’t the point where I scream “socialism” and demand that the government purge the accounts of the 0.01%. In fact, I agree with The Economist’s article Inequality and the American Dream when they say “Inequality is not inherently wrong—as long as three conditions are met: first, society as a whole is getting richer; second, there is a safety net for the very poor; and third, everybody, regardless of class, race, creed or sex, has an opportunity to climb up through the system.” America actually seems to be doing well until we reach the third condition. But not meeting that third condition is grave for many opportunity-seeking Americans. In a previous post, The Mirage of Opportunity, I write about inequality on a racial level. Beyond that, however, we still have heated debate over opportunities for women (Equal Pay Bill in the US Senate) and impoverished Americans (Colleges perpetuating class divides) to climb the ladder. There’s no need to cry Socialism, but there is a need to scream equality of opportunity. If the American dream means climbing the ladder, we first must fix the ladder – it’s missing almost all of its rungs near the bottom.

Repairing a Ladder, Breaking Oppressive Systems

Repairing the ladder means fighting for equality of opportunity. Women must be paid the same wages, public education must make a strong comeback, and minorities must be given equal opportunity in the workplace, classroom, and society. Returning to the heart of Thirty-Eight Minutes and my previous posts, we must fight the corrupt and unequal systems in place now. Demanding equal rights for women, minorities, and the impoverished is critical. And doing so not just to be trendy, but because people’s lives are on the line. As the famous economist Dr. Joseph Stiglitz points out in his New York Times opinion article, Inequality is not Inevitable, Americans do not have to idly stand by and watch inequality grow. First and foremost, we must get the money out of politics. A daunting, but necessary task. Large farming receives subsidies while the impoverished suffer nutritionally, and big pharma is raking in billions but not everyone can get access to health care. These are only two of many instances where lobbying efforts are steering politics. I don’t have the precise knowledge on how to suck the money out of politics, but I do know awareness and speaking out is the first step in the journey. Next, we must fight for justice. The stratification of wealth also means the price tag for justice is rising – the wealthy can afford lawyers and steep bails, while the lower-income Americans have little judicial resources and no recourse against injustices. White-collar crime continues (and the victims are often blamed), while increasingly privatized jails fill up with lower-income, often minority, people.

We have to repair the American Dream and pursue a reasonable level of equality of opportunity. The American Dream is certainly not dead, but it is unreachable for many. Our nation’s mantra is “justice and liberty for all”. When will we stop pretending justice and liberty exists for all, and start securing justice and liberty for those that do not have it?

Lester Asamoah is an International Security Studies Senior at the University of Oklahoma.

Featured Partner: Bennett Foundation for Public Service

Check out our featured partner!

tem bennett foundation


The Bennett Foundation for Public Service

We’re pleased to be introducing one of our first and most important featured partners: The Bennett Foundation for Public Service. The Bennett Foundation and Thirty Eight Minutes share a number of core beliefs, the most important of which is a duty towards helping create engaged citizens, educating our community, and taking on the defining issues of our time. Find out more about them here.

Upcoming Event: PoliCon 2014

PoliCon-banner-

To promote the mission of creating educated leaders and tackling the issues of our time, The Bennett Foundation is hosting a policy conference on September 27th, 2014 in Oklahoma City, and you’re invited! You can purchase a ticket in advance here or pay at the door. To learn more, click the PoliCon2014 image or check out this excerpt from their site.

“PoliCon is a Bennett Foundation project in partnership with Oklahoma Student Leader Summit and 38Minutes.

The first-ever PoliCon will bring together young leaders from across the state to listen to policy experts discuss some of the most pressing challenges facing Oklahomans today. Leaders will be encouraged to gather information and consider public policy solutions to issues ranging from education to criminal justice reform. We’ll wrap the conference up with a “stump speech seminar” that will help attendees articulate their passion for public service in a way that will immediately grab the attention of prople or groups they go on to speak with.

Join us Saturday, Sept. 27th at the historic Paramount Theater in downtown OKC for a gathering of emerging leaders!

Tickets can be purchased here, and include breakfast and lunch.”

Entertainment Reads (August 12th, 2014)

dvdshelf

Each week on Tuesday we’ll post our favorite links to articles from the pop culture world. They’ll at least tangentially pertain to education or sociological issues in general, and they’ll be from the past week. There will be a few bonus exceptions though, usually in the form of a link that was too fun to pass up. Because we too like to have the fun.

I did take last week off, so we’ll have TEN links this week. Enjoy.

In things I wish I wrote: Amy Nicholson tells you to support female-driven movies by not going to see Lucy. (LA Weekly)

In political correctness: Shaq is being sued because he made fun of a man’s appearance, much of which is altered due to a condition. (ESPN.com)

In it’s complicated: A music festival in Ohio dropped R. Kelly from its lineup due to complaints from other bands and sponsors, seeing as many still think he’s guilty of child pornography. (Pitchfork)

In more NBA: The first deaf NBA player is passing on his wisdom to hearing-impaired children. (Deseret News)

In maybes: Noah Berlatsky explores the idea of a transgender woman playing Wonder Woman in a movie. (Comic Book Resources)

In I must like the NBA a whole lot: The San Antonio Spurs (they’re a basketball team, you may have heard of them) hired a woman (Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Stars) as an assistant coach last week. (48 Minutes of Hell)

In it’s been complicated for a long time: Brian Eno has opinions on Israel and Gaza. (Stop the War Coalition)

In N.W.A. would be proud: Spike Lee is mad at the NYPD, and he’s letting them know through art. (BuzzFeed)

In college sports: So the NCAA lost a court case, and college sports conferences are autonomous. Wow. (Grantland)

In the tragedy in Missouri: Celebrities speak out on social media about Mike Brown’s slaying. (Rolling Out)

Bonus not for fun: Robin Williams was a great actor, and he died yesterday. Noel Murray has a moving tribute to his artistic legacy. (The Dissolve)