News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Law: County denies 'hets' marriage licenses
You may know Benton County, in Oregon, opted to grant marriage licenses to homosexuals earlier this month. The decision followed the famous (or infamous, according to your perspective) conclusion of Multnomah County that the Oregon constitution allows gays to marry. Multnomah County is currently the only place in the United States where gays can get hitched. Mid-month, the Benton County commissioners, who favored the change 2-1, decided to wait. Pressure from opponents of gay marriage had been strong. Marriage licenses will not be granted to gays. Neither will they be granted to straights. It is that twist that has caught the eye of the New York Times.
I, too, find the decision to deny licenses to female and male couples, as well as same-gender couples, intriguing. Gay activists refer to their objective as 'marriage equality.' Equality. But, we are seldom see equality among groups in our society. The treatment of men and women, whites and nonwhites, gays and straights remains clearly unequal, despite the progress made. Benton County commissioners' decision to deny a benefit to straight people, albeit temporary, seems striking for that reason.
Outgroups are 'supposed to' bear the difficulties of inequality. That is such a given that even people who think they are progressives often find themselves adhering to the unwritten rule. Majority groups, on the other hand, are 'supposed to' get their way.
The gesture in Benton County is not an onerous one for heterosexuals. Any engaged couple can drive a few miles to another county and acquire a marriage license there. It is the even slight inconvenience to an ingroup that has people getting their dander up.
A case filed by gay couples who are married, but can't get the state bureaucracy to recognize their unions, is expected to be reach the Oregon Supreme Court this summer. Benton County commissioners, along with citizens of Oregon and the rest of the nation, are awaiting the high court's eventual decision.
It is possible a lower court judge will grant injunctive relief to straight couples who want to get their marriage licenses in Benton County. Even so, this episode has been a rare example of what equal opportunity really looks like.posted by J. | 12:02 AM
Thursday, March 25, 2004
Part II: Blogger's metier is misinformation
In Part I of this series, I said I would track down the core of a claim blogger Tom Bux made against the American Cancer Society. I debunked his argument that public schools are hostile to big business. Instead, it seems to me that the two institutions have a cozy relationship based on schools buying unhealthy food products from the corporations that sell them. That conclusion foreshadows the one I reached today.
Let's read Bux's assertion again.
I was unable to find a program in the situation Bux described. (He did not provide a name.) However, my research was rewarding. The close relationship between the tobacco industry and the production of unhealthy foods was brought to my attention anew.
Columnist Lloyd Garver reminds us that sometimes the tobacco fogeys and the fat fogeys are the same people. He was curious about legislation in Congress to prevent lawsuits over the health hazards of fast food consumption.
Yes, Dr. Jekyll is Mr. Hyde. We are often unaware of the connection because of different names and a spiraling trail of subsidiaries. Most Americans don't know the company responsible for the cheesiest is also responsible for the tarriest. Both Kraft macaroni and cheese and Marlboros are products of Phillip-Morris. RJR Nabisco reaps profits from Chips Ahoy and Camels.
The growing backlash against their power and policies is not unfelt by these corporations. As Infact reports, Phillip-Morris changed the location of its shareholders meeting rather than face an informed public.
To offset the hell hounds on their trail, the tobacco and junk food purveyors have begun to mask their objective as charity. Among the programs funded by Phillip-Morris, under the name Altria Group, Inc., is Philabundance in, of course, Philadelphia. The group distributes unused food from restaurants to soup kitchens, purchases additional food for the hungry with contributions and provides information on nutrition to organizations serving the poor. It is unclear whether Phillip-Morris/Altria influences the food choices made by the groups it supports toward including unhealthy products. However, even if there is no direct quid pro quo, the positive publicity of contributing to food banks helps the tobacco and junk food marketers promote an image as concerned corporate citizens.
Once again, I find Tom Bux's remarks to be misleading. If the American Cancer Society opposes funding of a program by a megacorp responsible for the health epidemics it is fighting, that is reasonable. The smart people at the AMC see through the name game. They realize that if they share a program with Altria, they are sharing it with Phillip-Morris. Bux seems not to see the sleight-of-hand involved. Instead, he perceives the flush with ill-earned profits Phillip-Morris as a victim of the ACS. The forces that oppose allowing the corporations that poison our bodies to mislead us about their impact on society are not the enemy to me. Ignorance is.posted by J. | 7:15 PM
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Culture: Study sheds light on black jobless rate
Sociologist Devah Pager has made a striking impression in her field before getting her first teaching position. While volunteering at a homeless shelter, Pager began counseling unemployed men. Many of them were African-Americans with criminal records. She decided to conduct a study to see just how difficult it is for convicts to obtain employment. She expected the 'felons,' to have trouble finding work. But, she did not foresee the results she got.
The results were so shocking to some influential readers of the study that major media have discovered Pager and a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, cited her work. A broader study will be funded to confirm her findings. Bruce Western of Princeton University, one of the most prominent sociologists in the country, will work with Pager.
It is not uncommon for people in some quarters to offer blame the victim reasons for the extremely high unemployment among African-Americans, which tends to be twice that of whites.
Pager's findings reveal that even clean-cut, educated black job seekers without criminal records are twice as likely not to be contacted after applying for positions as whites. A white person with a criminal record is more likely to be considered for employment than a black applicant who has had no difficulties with the law. If the research is taken seriously, perhaps a new emphasis on discouraging racial discrimination by employers will occur.posted by J. | 9:15 AM
Monday, March 22, 2004
Banal blogger too typical of blogosphere
Why does the blogosphere attract so many foolish people? Sometimes, it seems that weblogs mainly represent a conspiracy of know-nothings to create more of the same. Not long ago, I blogged a news story about a group of white high school students, probably encouraged by racist adults, who distributed posters and pamphlets urging their peers to lobby for a white student to get an award meant to affirm leadership ability in African-American students. Their pretext was that Trevor Roberts, a white boy who had fled South Africa with his family after the coming of majority rule, is African-American. I don't believe for a moment that Trevor accidentally entered that competition. Neither do I believe the racists in the blogophere continually 'accidentally' publish bigoted blog entries. One of the worst of them recently made that claim after promoting a site which depicted singer Janet Jackson as a gorilla, and inviting its proprietor to disrupt another weblog's comments with racist ranting. I believe some adult or adults, possibly the boy's parents, who may hold attitudes typical of conservative white South Africans, put him up to it. Their goal was to insult the actual African-American students at that school, creating a hostile environment for them. However, Trevor was coached well. He acknowledges no wrongdoing. Neither would the adults responsible. They might try to shift the blame to the existence of the award or to the school's African-American students themselves. (If you all would just stop existing, we would not feel compelled to harass you.) The blogger described previously tried to shift the blame for his actions to politician Al Sharpton, among others. . . .I think the discipline Trevor and his co-conspirators were subjected to is appropriate for children who behaved in a discriminatory, hurtful manner. They have been informed that not all adults want them to harass their minority classmates. At the very least, they will now know racism is not monolithic. I am glad the school's administrators did not dismiss the incident as child's play because that underestimates the potency of racism.
Why does the blogosphere attract so many foolish people? Sometimes, it seems that weblogs mainly represent a conspiracy of know-nothings to create more of the same.
Not long ago, I blogged a news story about a group of white high school students, probably encouraged by racist adults, who distributed posters and pamphlets urging their peers to lobby for a white student to get an award meant to affirm leadership ability in African-American students. Their pretext was that Trevor Roberts, a white boy who had fled South Africa with his family after the coming of majority rule, is African-American.
I don't believe for a moment that Trevor accidentally entered that competition. Neither do I believe the racists in the blogophere continually 'accidentally' publish bigoted blog entries. One of the worst of them recently made that claim after promoting a site which depicted singer Janet Jackson as a gorilla, and inviting its proprietor to disrupt another weblog's comments with racist ranting. I believe some adult or adults, possibly the boy's parents, who may hold attitudes typical of conservative white South Africans, put him up to it. Their goal was to insult the actual African-American students at that school, creating a hostile environment for them. However, Trevor was coached well. He acknowledges no wrongdoing. Neither would the adults responsible. They might try to shift the blame to the existence of the award or to the school's African-American students themselves. (If you all would just stop existing, we would not feel compelled to harass you.) The blogger described previously tried to shift the blame for his actions to politician Al Sharpton, among others.
. . .I think the discipline Trevor and his co-conspirators were subjected to is appropriate for children who behaved in a discriminatory, hurtful manner. They have been informed that not all adults want them to harass their minority classmates. At the very least, they will now know racism is not monolithic. I am glad the school's administrators did not dismiss the incident as child's play because that underestimates the potency of racism.
The Neandertal at a blog that should be called "Utterly Stupid" has congratulated the white students on what he considers to have been a wonderful idea. Rick in Virgina applauds their contribution to increasing racial tensions and possibly further fueling the already much to high dropout rate of African-American students.
What would he know about thinking? In regard to this issue, and others, he has no insight whatsoever. There's absolutely nothing racist about encouraging African-American students to excel academically and in leadership. Since they are often shunted aside, they need the affirmation. The only racist aspect of this episode was the white students' efforts to humilate their peers. This is the same repeated pattern of harassment that the neo-Confederate movement has encouraged when it urges white students to wear tee shirts depicting black people picking cotton and the Confederate flag to school. I wouldn't be surprised if Rick is involved in such activities, since Virginia, the cradle of the Confederacy, is one of the most active venues for neo-Confederate groups.
But, the corruption of conservative Southern white males is not the point of this post. Stupidity is. It seems to me that if a person does not know what he is talking about, he could at least maintain silence. Instead, the blogosphere is awash in Ricks who spread ignorance every time they sit down at a keyboard. It is not at all difficult to see through the pretext Trevor was involved in. Anyone who knows anything at all about South Africa knows white families like his immigrated to Europe and America when they were no longer guaranteed a high standard of living there while the black majority damn near starved. Only a fool would believe nonsense about how 'African' Trevor is. So, Rick is either ignorant, dishonest or both.
Fortunately, there is a corrective for stupid bloggers -- smart commenters. Robert Martin set Rick straight.
Predictably, Rick did not even have the decency to acknowledge Robert's response.
I would love to be able to say exclusively positive things about the blogosphere. But, if I did, I would be a liar. In fact, I recently had to throw a damp blanket on a claim that some bloggers were making that weblogs are better sources of news than newspapers. That is not true and will not be for as long as most bloggers are incapable of writing entries backed by facts.
I recommend Rick's blog as an example of vacuity. If I thought him capable of irony, I would credit that to what he named his weblog. He calls it 'Brutally Honest.'posted by J. | 10:38 PM
Part II: Revisiting An American Story
Debra Dickerson did eventually file the separation papers she had torn up before. She left the Air Force in 1992. Already accepted at law school at Harvard, she took a temporary position with the Democratic National Committee. The favoritism she saw there for the wealthy, white and well-connected confirmed her belief that liberals do not care much more about the poor and minority than the Republicans do. At Harvard, Dickerson did reasonably well, but did not make the overwhelmingly important top five percent cut during her freshlaw year that guarantees a position at one of the elite law firms. Having already decided to pursue writing instead of practicing law, she was not particularly disappointed. She was very disappointed with the Black Law Students Association (referred to as 'BALSA' by law students an lawyers all over the country). It reflected the same tendencies she hated in the black bourgeoise all along, especially hypocrisy and self-promotion. She broke with the group when it balked at amending its rules to admit students of any race. Dickerson explores the ideological conclusions she reached during that period more extensively in The End of Blackness.
The Atlantic describes her arguments in the second book, which are in their formative stages in An American Story, cogently.
I agree with Dickerson that many African-Americans and working-class people in general do not take advantage of the help that is available toward some upward mobility, though I also believe not nearly enough help is offered. It is often because they don't have information, peer pressure counsels otherwise or doing something different would lead to disapproval by family members, that people with potential fail to act. I believe more attention needs to focused on the talented person who is among the first in his family to consider higher education. That kind of individual needs to be pressured to get results.
Sometimes, serependity will result in the right thing turning up at the right time. I have been mulling Debra Dickerson's politics, and what bothers me about them, for a while now. Then, I noticed a link about Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, a participant on Donald Trump's reality television show at a blog that is new to me, Funk Digital. Though I don't watch the show, I read the article. She was 'fired.'
I don't know. Yes, the two words and contraction that so many people are afraid to use. I don't know whether Manigault-Stallworth is telling the truth or not. I suspect that we would never have heard about any problems with racism on the show if she had been successful. Then, her comments would likely praise the 'suits' and the other contestants. Go along to get along, you know. I believe the connundrum therein is the problem with Debra Dickerson's belief that racism has declined, if not disappeared. She is mistaking reluctance to acknowledge their encounters with racism by upwardly mobile African-Americans for the actual absence of racism. When I hear people of color say racism is 'over,' I know they know better but are claiming otherwise, either because of self-deception or opportunism. The evidence of continuing discrimination is all around them, both macro and micro. The same black activist funded by Right Wing Foundations who goes on television claiming discrimination ended sometime in the 1960s has been racially profiled by the police. The Hispanic Republican who says the unemployed are merely lazy has family descended from people here before there was a United States who can't get decent jobs. So, why do some people do it? The rewards -- money, courtship by the media and approval from white conservatives.
I consider being too easily bamboozled (a good Southern word she can relate to I suspect) about day-to-day racism a legitimate criticism of Dickerson. But, much of what people are saying about her in comments at Amazon and other sites is both erroneous and mean-spirited. She is not a bought and paid for spokesperson for reactionary white America like Jesse Lee Peterson, Walter Williams or Michelle Malkin. The far Right brooks no dissent from its paleo-conservative views. Their colored people know they had better not criticize the hand that feeds them. Dickerson speaks up about white intransigence and racism often enough to be permanently excluded from that club. Nor does it matter that she has usually dated white men and married one. Considering the shortage of comparatively educated men of color, more and more black, Indian and Hispanic women will be marrying interracially. What matters is whether the person has anything substantive to say about race relations. Debra Dickerson does.posted by J. | 6:00 PM
Sunday, March 21, 2004
Part I: Revisiting An American Story
Reasonably enough, most commentary about the work of writer Debra Dickerson focuses on her new book, The End of Blackness. However, I believed it might be useful to revisit her previous effort, the autobiography, An American Story, before penning a piece about what she has to say four years later. My lingering impression of An American Story after reading it in 2002 was that it showed promise in regard to the raw material she had to work with, particularly the history of her family, but was not rigorous enough in regard to the ideological issues she attempts to tackle.
I reread An American Story yesterday. This time, I feel as if I am reviewing two different books. One is the autobiography of an African-American woman who, despite her obvious intelligence, was earmarked for the societal junk heap, or as she says, pink collar wage slavery, at best. That is, of course the fate of most women of color who are born into poverty or the working-class. Dickerson's other story is one of an ideological journey. So, this review will have two parts, one focusing on Dickerson's life story, the other on matters of ideology and politics.
Dickerson's parents were part of the Great Migration of thousands of African-Americans to Northern cities to escape Jim Crow, poverty and lynchings in the 1940s.
Her mother's family hails from Mississippi; her father's from Tennessee. The two wed and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, after Eddie Mack Dickerson's mustering out of the United States Marine Corps at the end of World War II. He worked as a truck driver. Johnie Florence Dickerson, (formely Gooch), Debra's mother, was a waitress for most of Dickerson's childhood.
St. Louis, one of the most segregated areas in America today, had already become racially polarized by the time, Debra, born in 1959, was growing up. The nearly all-black neighborhood she grew up in and the elementary school she attended had both the benefits and the burdens of such situations. With it glaringly clear that white America was largely uninterested in their fate, the African-Americans in segregated communities relied on themselves and each other. However, at the same time, pathological behaviors were magnified. With the rest of society indifferent to harm to black Americans, the worst habits of slavery, including continual denigration of each other and ready violence, became embedded in the culture. Dickerson's brother, Bobby, the youngest of six children and the only boy, suffered the brunt of the brutality of the ghetto. He in turn became a thug for much of his youth.
Meanwhile, Dickerson, who had moved on to predominantly white schools in the suburbs, did quite well academically, though she was directionless and depressed. The spur for her depression, which would follow her into adulthood, may have been her father's dictatorial ways. A man who received little or no affirmation in his interactions with society, Eddie Mack Dickerson was determined to rule his roost remorselessly. The children were forced to wear thrift store clothes and the house was furnished with discarded furniture and implements he had scrounged from beside the highway and trash heaps. The young Dickersons were continually humiliated. Their father insisted on complete, unquestioning obedience from his five daughters and his wife and justified his dominance with scriptures from the Bible. Corporal punishment, including slaps and punches for the least infraction, and full scale beatings that leave lasting scars and injuries, have long been considered normal disciplinary acts among many African-American families. Some historians trace the practice to slavery and the need to break the wills of black children lest they offend whites by being proud of themselves. Eddie Mack Dickerson's child abuse eventually led his usually acquiescent wife to leave him. When Debra was twelve, her mother relocated herself and the children to separate lodgings. Their poverty increased, but, for the first time in years, there was relative peace in the houeshold.
Still directionless, and receiving next to no support from those who are 'supposed' to help promising students -- teachers, guidance counselors and principals -- Debra finished high school and worked a series of dull, low-paying jobs. Black, female and working-class, she was not perceived as someone deserving of help. Instead, her peers from middle-class backgrounds, both white and black, were given the assistance she and others like her desperately needed. Frightened of becoming like the drones she worked with, she applied to college, and later, enlisted in the Air Force.
Dickerson's 12-year relationship with the Air Force was a much more complex experience than she acknowledges. Perhaps influenced by the approval conservatives give the armed services as a mechanism for upward mobility for minorities, she is given to cognitive dissonance when discussing her sojourn there. It is true that the Air Force gave her the only hand out or leg up she received as a young person. Over the years, she was chosen to fill leadership positions as both an enlisted person and as the offficer she became after several years as an airman. She was a squad leader as a recruit and appointed the leader of her graduating class at Officer Training School.
But, she was mistreated as well. The most harrowing episode occurred when the 22-yeard-old Dickerson was raped and made the 'mistake' of reporting the crime. The unwritten rule in the predominantly male military services at the time was that women were at fault for any sexual abuses committed against them. Debra Dickerson was ostracized. Her assailant, on the other hand, was supported, if not condoned, in his behavior. She was frozen out of her previous social circle, mocked as loose and called crazy. Her commanding officer threatened to have her declared an alcoholic as a precursor to dismissal from the Air Force. The outcome of the case was a two-month sentence in a soft facility for the rapist, who had confessed. Still, Dickerson, who was a Korean language specialist during her enlistment, would remain loyal to the Air Force for another decade.
In the second part of this review, I will address Dickerson's battles with self-hatred and contempt for other African-Americans, her post-Air Force life and her hopes for enobling the African-American working-class.
She discusses both her books on her website.posted by J. | 9:45 PM