OnLate Night With Jimmy Fallon last night, the President joined Fallon and the Roots to slow jam on the need to keep rates from doubling on Stafford Loans this summer. POTUS got his groove on and the audience--many of whom are probably dealing with their own crippling student loan debts--went wild. The "Barackness Monster" (who paid off his own student loans only eight years ago) and Fallon aren't alone in their advocacy on this issue: an editorial in the New York Times points out that, "At a time when many graduates are desperate for jobs, the interest rate increase would add an average of $1,000 a year to their debt." The Occupy Movement has taken on student loan debt as a signature cause this spring. And even Mitt Romney, "voiced support for keeping federal student loan interest rates from going up – a position that puts him at odds with Republicans in Congress." (Politico)
The hashtag #loweshatesmuslims lit up the Twitter-sphere, thousands of people threatened to boycott, mainstream television channels started reporting on the story, star power in the form of Perez Hilton and Russell Simmons jumped on board.
Lots of other people have weighed in on the bigotry at play here. I’d like to comment on a somewhat different dynamic: the Americanization of the Muslim community, especially the immigrant segment. A community that not long ago wanted only the comfort and confinement of its own bubble is learning the great American art of building bridges.
There are bridges of three sorts being built.
The first bridge is to the influence-centers of American society. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there were hardly any Muslims on television saying, “What you just saw was not Islam, it was just evil.” That’s not because Muslims weren’t thinking those things, it’s just that very few of us knew anything about American media or politics. That’s the moment most Muslims realized the bubble was a mistake. Muslims started becoming writers and organizers, and got savvy about media and politics.
The anti-Ground Zero Mosque campaign showed that it’s not enough to have a bridge to the influence-centers in American society, we needed the ability to respond rapidly. If the #loweshatesmuslims campaign illustrates anything, it’s that Muslims will never be Ground Zero Mosque-d again.
The second type of bridge being built is the internal one, within the Muslim community. All American Muslim generated a lot of controversy amongst Muslims, a good deal of it from more traditional believers who didn’t like the community represented by people sporting tattoos and hanging out in clubs. But once Lowe’s pulled its advertising, even high-profile orthodox Muslims like Yasir Qadhi showed their outrage at the hardware chain, and thus their implicit support for the show.
Muslims, like every religious community, have a dizzying number of internal differences - theological interpretations, political persuasions, levels of observance, etc. These differences have long dominated discourse amongst Muslims, causing ugly divisions and an unhealthy blindness to the gathering storm from without. But now that the storm is upon us, we are banding together. Muslims of one sort who might otherwise actively denounce Muslims of another sort are now finding themselves supporting one another, all under the canopy of what I call ‘Big Tent Islam.’ There is a blessing to the forces of prejudice being so brutal and blatant: it’s uniting Muslims.
Bridges run two ways, especially the bridge to other communities. Muslims are indeed the victims of ugly prejudice, but we are far from the only ones. The vicious attacks on the Mormon faith in the presidential campaign, the continuing bullying of gay kids in schools - there’s lots of ugliness out there. Where are Muslims when it comes to other people’s suffering?
You cannot ask from others what you are unwilling to give. I know that Muslims are grateful that black hip hop visionaries like Russell Simmons, gay pop icons like Perez Hilton and so many others are going out on a limb for us. But that’s simply not enough. You have to offer what you seek.
Having a reality show called All American Muslim doesn’t make you American, not in the George Washington-Jane Addams-Martin Luther King Jr sense at least. Mobilizing to defend your own rights is a start. But if we want to go all the way to the heart of this nation’s greatness, we have to follow in the footsteps of Perez Hilton, Russell Simmons and Chris Stedman. We have to do for others what they are doing for us, at the same scale, with the same profile, even if it’s risky and uncomfortable.
The single most American thing you can do is stand up for someone else.
The movie of the best-selling novel The Help is now available for home viewing on video. (Spoiler alert! Key plot points are divulged through the web links in this post.)
For anyone who missed it in the theater, I highly recommend you watch The Help. When the book came out in 2009 I read it and loved it… and I was troubled by it… and I reviewed it…
One reason I recommend The Help is that it tackles very challenging subjects with sincerity and an eye toward justice and truth. Another reason I recommend it is because of… disquieting thoughts [it raised in my mind].
There has been some serious controversy in connection with The Help. Check out Patricia Turner’s New York Times Op-Ed, "Dangerous White Stereotypes," and "Of Anger and Alternative Endings" in the Jackson Free Press. The author of the latter column (Donna Ladd, a white woman) accurately (in my opinion) points out that…
The Help just could not have ended as it did. Hilly, or her man, would have called the [White Citizens] Council on Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. My guess is that Aibileen would have been severely beaten and never hired again in the state; anyone related to Skeeter would have been destroyed economically and at least one cross burned in her mama’s yard; and Minny would have been killed and her house burned.
I am a post-civil rights black woman whose Southern roots have been nearly erased by world travel and an adulthood spent raising a family in Michigan. I am supposed to be offended by the movie The Help for its simplification of the injustices of the Jim Crow South. But I am not.
Black and white people have both praised and vilified The Help. One of the most powerful statements comes from the Association of Black Women Historians. The authors list several troubling, false, and stereotypical portrayals in The Help:
Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.
I respect the expertise and sincerity of the authors, and I’m troubled by one point they highlight:
We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent.
How can the authors of this statement find it “unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment” and then praise the performances of the black actors who chose to portray those very characters? If you disagree so strongly with a white woman writing this story and claim that The Help misrepresents both African American speech and culture, wouldn’t it be more consistent to criticize the African American actors who chose to star in the film?
According to the cover story in Entertainment Weekly (#1167, August 12, 2011), Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer “love the characters of Aibileen and Minny, which makes having to defend them to detractors a strange and uneasy burden.” Spencer says,
I am thrilled to be playing this woman. She is a human being with the breadth and depth of emotions, and she is a contributing member of society. It should not be ‘Why is Viola Davis playing a maid in 2011?’ I think it should be ‘Viola Davis plays a maid and she gives the f—king performance of her life.’
I continue to think about The Help and the reasons I loved it and the reasons it troubled me. Jackson, Mississippi was a terribly racist city in the 1960′s when this story takes place. In far too many ways, Jackson (like the rest of our nation) still has such a very long way to go. Racism and hatred are alive and well (note the recent, brutal murder in Jackson of James Anderson). But ultimately I land on the side of those who recommend that people read or watch The Help. Love it or hate it or something in between, The Help, as pointed out by Jamia Wilson in her powerful and balanced article (she points out both positive and negative aspects) for Good Culture, inspires us to think and talk about race. That fact alone–that I continue to ponder the issues it raises (and I suspect anyone who has read the book or watched the film does as well)–is, in my opinion, the most redeeming quality about The Help.
NOW, one more point. I cannot stress enough how much I hope that people — particularly white people — will seek out other books by black writers on the subject of black domestic workers. The Association of Black Women Historians included a list of ten books at the end of their Open Statement to the Fans of The Help that they recommend. I’d like to highlight one of those books that I recently read; one that is published by my publisher, Beacon Press.
I loved Like One of the Family by Alice Childress [read an excerpt here]. This novel is a series of vignettes; brief conversations between Mildred, a black domestic worker, and her friend Marge. Childress creates a vivid image of the life of a black working woman in New York in the 1950s. It is funny, sarcastic, outspoken, and rings with truth. Here’s a brief excerpt:
‘Mrs. M…, what is the matter, you look so grieved and talk so strange ’til I don’t know what to think?’ She looked at me accusingly and said, ‘I’m afraid to say anything to you, Mildred. It seems that every time I open my mouth something wrong comes out and you have to correct me. It makes me very nervous because the last thing I want to do is hurt your feelings. I mean well, but I guess that isn’t enough. I try to do the right thing and since it keeps coming out wrong I figured I’d just keep quiet. I… I… want to get along but I don’t know how.’
Marge, in that minute I understood her better and it came to my mind that she was doing her best to make me comfortable and havin’ a doggone hard go of it. After all, everything she’s ever been taught adds up to her being better than me in every way and on her own she had to find out that this was wrong… That’s right, she was tryin’ to treat me very special because she still felt a bit superior but wanted me to know that she admired me just the same.
‘Mrs. M…,’ I said, ‘you just treat me like you would anybody else that might be workin’ for you in any kind of job. Don’t be afraid to talk to me because if you say the wrong thing I promise to correct you, and if you want to get along you won’t mind me doing so.’
This excerpt captures for me some of the challenges with The Help. Katherine Stockett did her best to write a book that would, well, help. It is flawed, as are all books, but it is her story; the story of a time and a place and people written from the perspective of a white woman. Balance The Help with Like One of the Family or one of many books about that time and place. Your knowledge and curiosity will grow. That is a good thing.
And then talk about race… which is one real value of The Help.
Photo: Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer in 'The Help' (courtesy of Dreamworks)
From an award-winning black journalist, a tough-minded look at the treatment of ethnic minorities both in newsrooms and in the reporting that comes out of them, within the changing media landscape.
From the Rodney King riots to the racial inequities of the new digital media, Amy Alexander has chronicled the biggest race and class stories of the modern era in American journalism. Beginning in the bare-knuckled newsrooms of 1980s San Francisco, her career spans a period of industry-wide economic collapse and tremendous national demographic changes.
Despite reporting in some of the country's most diverse cities, including San Francisco, Boston, and Miami, Alexander consistently encountered a stubbornly white, male press corps and a surprising lack of news concerning the ethnic communities in these multicultural metropolises. Driven to shed light on the race and class struggles taking place in the United States, Alexander embarked on a rollercoaster career marked by cultural conflicts within newsrooms. Along the way, her identity as a black woman journalist changed dramatically, an evolution that coincided with sweeping changes in the media industry and the advent of the Internet.
Armed with census data and news-industry demographic research, Alexander explains how the so-called New Media is reenacting Old Media's biases. She argues that the idea of newsroom diversity-at best an afterthought in good economic times-has all but fallen off the table as the industry fights for its economic life, a dynamic that will ultimately speed the demise of venerable news outlets. Moreover, for the shrinking number of journalists of color who currently work at big news organizations, the lingering ethos of having to be "twice as good" as their white counterparts continues; it is a reality that threatens to stifle another generation of practitioners from "non-traditional" backgrounds.
In this hard-hitting account, Alexander evaluates her own career in the context of the continually evolving story of America's growing ethnic populations and the homogenous newsrooms producing our nation's too often monochromatic coverage. This veteran journalist examines the major news stories that were entrenched in the great race debate of the past three decades, stories like those of Elián González, Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair, Tavis Smiley, the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and the election of Barack Obama.
Uncovering Race offers sharp analysis of how race, gender, and class come to bear on newsrooms, and takes aim at mainstream media's failure to successfully cover a browner, younger nation-a failure that Alexander argues is speeding news organizations' demise faster than the Internet.
Tonight, a new season of Dancing With the Stars begins, featuring Chaz Bono as one of the most-talked-about contestants (sorry, Carson Kressley). Author Matt Kailey couldn't help noticing that amid all the chatter was a current of concern.
The uproar hasn’t stopped since it was announced that Chaz Bono will be one of the cast on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, which premieres tonight.
While there are many people who are supportive of Chaz and his appearance, plenty more crawled out from under their rocks to be shocked, appalled, and offended in the comments section of the DWTS website.
Of course, there are the usual yawners harping about chromosomes and destiny, but in addition, a whole new group has materialized – parents who aren’t going to watch the show because they don’t know how to explain a man dancing with a woman to their children.
The Dancing with the Stars website is littered with these concerned comments – How am I going to explain this to my five-year-old? What will I tell the children? We’re not going to be watching this season, because I don’t want my children to see this!
I understand. It is concerning when children are exposed to heterosexual dancing. At best, a man dancing with a woman seems just a tad bit edgy – and worst-case scenario, it’s just plain immoral. After all, you know what dancing leads to! I believe they covered that a long time ago in the movie Footloose (when today’s concerned parents were kids).
So I want to offer the following tips to those parents who are worried that their children will lose their innocence by watching this season’s DWTS:
Before the show starts, sit down and explain to the kiddies that sometimes boys and girls see each other across a crowded gymnasium at prom, and while the senior high band plays their special rendition of “Back to Black,” they are all simply compelled to get up and dance – with each other! Tell the kids that someday they will understand – the dancing and the words to “Back to Black.”
Pick out an innocent song from your own youth – say, “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper or “Little Red Corvette” by Prince – and start dancing with each other. There’s no better way to break the kids in than to have them witness their own mother and father spinning around the living room together. When you’re finished, explain to them that when grown-ups fall in love, it’s natural for them to want to dance together. Someday, unless they grow up to be perverts, they, too, will be dancing with members of the opposite sex.
Go on YouTube and find old clips from American Bandstand. Show them that heterosexual dancing on television is nothing new. The only difference is that it’s now available in full color on the big screen. If they’re grossed out and scared, assure them that Dick Clark will not be hosting Dancing with the Stars.
Find the video of President and Mrs. Obama dancing together at his inauguration. When they can see that even the president and his wife dance together, in public, and on television, they will come to realize that this is perfectly normal and natural and nothing to be concerned about. It really is a beautiful thing.
Once you have done all these things, turn on Dancing with the Stars. If they start to wiggle or become uncomfortable when the various couples come out and dance, remind them of everything you have shown them.
Hold each other’s hand and sway gently to the music so they can be comforted by the image of the two of you enjoying the show. As each couple takes the stage, say, “See? It’s okay.” Soon your children will realize that there is nothing disgusting, sinful, or immoral about a man and a woman dancing together.
Over the past couple of weeks, the reaction to the novel and film The Help has made for some illuminating reading regarding race, history, and literature. Among the most thoughtful pieces we've read this week was from the Association of Black Women Historians, who said:
[T]his statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help. The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.
They outline their substantitive objections to the film in the statement, and conclude by saying, "In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment."
The statement includes a recommended reading list, which we reproduce below.
The first book on the list, Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic's Life by Alice Childress, is excerpted below. The novel is comprised of a series of conversations between Mildred, a black domestic, and her friend Marge. The book was originally published in the 1950s by a small publisher in Brooklyn (Independence Press), but Beacon Press brought out a new edition of it in 1986 with an introduction by the literary and cultural critic Trudier Harris.
The conversations in the book were first published in Freedom, the newspaper edited by Paul Robeson, and later in the Baltimore Afro-American. Childress is probably best-known for her book A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich, and was also an accomplished playwright as well as a Tony-nominated actress. Before her success as a writer, she lived a life without economic advantages. In the introduction to the Beacon Press edition of Like One of the Family, Harris writes:
Chidress's upbringing and struggles in New York effectively influenced the kind of writer she would become. She says of herself: "I attempt to write about charactes without condescension, without making them into an image which some may deem more useful, inspirational, profitable, or suitable." She has also commented that she concentrates "on portraying have-nots in a have society, those seldom singled out by mass media, except as source material for derogatory humor and/or condescending clinical, social analysis."
Before these ideals could be realized, however, Childress had to serve a long apprenticeship. ... She pursued a variety of jobs, including assistant machinist, photo retoucher, saleslady, and insurance agent as she worked relentlessly to gain audiences for her work as a playwright, actress, and novelist. She also did domestic work for a few months; the day she quit she surprised her employer by throwing her keys at her head. The woman later asked her to return to work. This "only work" that Childress could find turned out to be valuable, for it provided her with firsthand experienece of the job situation she would later depict in Like One of the Family.
If You Want to Get Along With Me
from Like One of the Family by Alice Childress (Beacon Press, 1986)
Marge, ain't it strange how the two of us get along so well? . . . Now you see there! Why do you have to get so sensitive? . . . No, I was not reflecting on your personality or making any kind of digs! . . . Well, if you'll give me a chance I'll try to explain what I mean . . . I've known you for years and although you've got your ways . . .Yes, yes, I know I've got mine . . . but the important thing is that we go right on being friends . . . for example, remember the time you borrowed my best white gloves and lost them? . . . I know that I spilled punch on your blue satin blouse! . . . Now, wait a minute, girl! Are we goin' to have a big argument over how friendly we are!
I said all of that to say this. Today I worked for Mrs. M . . . and she is an awful nice lady when she wants to be, but she can get on my nerves something terrible. . . . No, I do not mean that you get on my nerves too, and if you keep pickin' up on every litte thing I say, I'm gonna get up and go on home. . . . Well, gettin' back to Mrs. M . . ., she can make me downright uncomfortable! . . . Yes, you know what I mean, she turns my workaday into a real socializin' session, and her idea of socializin' is to ask me a million questions. . . . "What do you do after work, Mildred?" and "Do you have a lot of friends?" and "Are you married?" and "Do you have a boyfriend" and "Do you save your money?" and "Do you like to read?" and "Do you people like this or that?" . . . By you people she means colored people... and I can tell you she can wear my nerve-cells pretty near the breaking point. . . . I know you know!
Well, at first I tried to get used to it because she is so nice in other ways . . . I mean like not followin' me around and dippin' into every thing I'm doing . . . yes, I appreciate that. . . . She lets me do my work, and then if anything isn't quite pleasin' to her she will tell me afterwards but it usually turns out that she's satisfied. Also I like the fact that she is not afraid of a little work herself, and many a day we've worked side by side on jobs that was too much for me to handle all alone. Also she makes the children call me Miss Jonhson. . . . Sure, whenever anybody has so many good ways, you hate to be pointin' out the bad ones. . . . But question, question, question... and it wasn't only the questions. . . . Honey, she could come out with the most gratin' remarks! . . . Honestly, she made such a point of tellin' me about how much she liked and admired Negroes, and how sorry she felt for their plight, and what a fine, honest, smart, and attractive woman was workin' for her mother and so forth and so on and so forth until it was all I could do to keep from screamin', "All right, back up there and take it easy!"
Well, the upshot of it all was that I began to pick her up a little here and there in order to put her on the right track. For example, I'd say to her, "What's so strange about that woman being honest and attractive?" Well, Marge, she'd look so stricken and hurt and confused that I'd find myself feelin' sorry for her. . . . No, I didn't stop altogether but I'd let things go along a bit and then I'd have to pick her up on something again, and over a period of five or six weeks I had to jack her up several times. . . . Girl! all of a sudden she turned coldly polite and quiet and I can tell you that it was awful uncomfortable and strained in the house.
I guess I could have stood the strain but it began to tear me up when she'd say things like "May I suggest" and "Do you mind if I say" and "If it's all right with you." . . . When I had my fill of that I came right out and asked her, "Mrs. M . . ., what is the matter, you look so grieved and talk so strange 'til I don't know what to think?" She looked at me accusingly and said, "I'm afraid to say anything to you, Mildred. It seems that every time I open my mouth something wrong comes out and you have to correct me. It makes me very nervous because the last thing I want to do is hurt your feelings. I mean well, but I guess that isn't enough. I try to do the right thing and since it keeps coming out wrong I figured I'd just keep quiet. I . . . I . . . want to get along but I don't know how."
Marge, in that minute I understood her better and it came to my mind that she was doing her best to make me comfortable and havin' a doggone hard go of it. After all, everything she's ever been taught adds up to her being better than me in every way and on her own she had to find out that this was wrong. ... That's right, she was tryin' to treat me very special because she still felt a bit superior but wanted me to know that she admired me just the same."
"Mrs. M ...," I said, "you just treat me like you would anybody else that might be workin' for you in any kind of job. Dont' be afraid to talk to me because if you say the wrong thing I promise to correct you, and if you want to get along you won't mind me doing so. After all, if I got into all your personal business and wanted to know everything about your life and your husband and your friends, pretty soon you would be forced to correct me even though it might make me uncomfortable." "Oh, Mildred," she says, "I didn't realize . . ." "Of course you didn't," I cut in, "but can't you see that it's unfair to push a one-sided friendship on me?" "Mildred," she says, "I wanted to be friendly." "Now of course you did," I answered, "but, for example, when you told me the other day that you're going to drop by my house and see me sometime I don't appreciate that because I never invited you, and you never had me to your house except to do a day's work." She looked down at her hands as I went on, "I don't think it's fair that you can invite yourself to my house and I can't tell you that I'll be over here for tea on Sunday afternoon."
Marge, she shook her head sadly. "You mean that there is nothing that we have in common, nothing that we can talk about?" "I didn't say that at all," I sad, "but let's just relax and feel our way along and not try to prove anything, and before you know it everything will go along easy-like."
She smiled then, "You mean you don't want to be treated special?" "Well, I do and I don't," I answered; "because I knew a woman once who was awful rude to me and said that was the way she was with everybody, no matter what color, and she didn't want to treat me special. I told her that if that was her general way then I'd appreciate her treatin' me special and I'd bet that other folks would like the change, too." Marge, Mrs. M . . . fell out laughin' and says, "Mildred, people are the limit!" ... And I guess she's right too. . . . No indeed, I don't take that time and bother with most folks because when I run into a mean, hateful one who comes chatterin' around me about "What do you do after work?" I just give her a short smile and say, "Oh first one thing and then another." And by the time she's figured that out, I'm in another room busy doin' something else! . . . That's right, but, as I said, Mrs. M . . . is a nice person, so I told her.
As any sports fan will tell you, even the best umpires and referees sometimes blow a call. Every Red Sox fan over the age of 40 remembers the name Larry Barnett and can tell you how his inexplicable failure to call Ed Armbrister for interference helped cost the Sox the '75 series. But hey, blown calls are part of the game. Regrettably, as in sports, so too in punditry.
There are few members of the media that I admire more than Jon Stewart. For the past 15 years, he has nearly single-handedly waged war against the forces of ignorance and stupidity that have all but overwhelmed the so-called mainstream media, Washington, and much of American society. Even better, he was kind enough to invite me on his show in August 2006 to discuss my third book, The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American. For a struggling and (still) largely unknown writer, that's the equivalent of a Papal benediction; even five years later, it's usually the first thing that people mention when they introduce me to a lecture audience.
As a smart, passionate, and unabashedly scatological moral arbiter of American society, Stewart calls 'em like he sees 'em, and to this resident of the People's Republic of Burlington (VT), his accuracy is pretty impressive. But during his show on August 4, 2011, he made a mistake of Joycean proportions. In a segment labeled Culture War Update, Stewart lambasted the American Atheists organization for filing a lawsuit to prevent the installation of a cross-shaped fragment of steel beams at the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. Here's the beginning of his diatribe:
"[A]theists, why do you give s**t? That cross is an artifact. It was found at Ground Zero. It has come to mean something to people who view it as a symbol of comfort. If it really bothers you, why not just think of it as a metal t-shaped thingy? Or purely in architectural terms: it's not a cross, it's a crossbeam. Don't think of it as an ode to Jesus, the Christian savior; think of it as an homage to Jesus, the Canaanite with the relatively unsuccessful carpentry business. But you know what, that's fine, that's fine. That's our system. You can file lawsuits. Just because there's a lawsuit doesn't mean that it will be successful. Everyone's entitled to their day in court. It's not like the atheists are being total dicks about it. [Segue to Fox News clip featuring an inflammatory quote from American Atheists president David Silverman.]"
Any one who has watched Stewart regularly over the years knows that he feels particularly strongly about issues surrounding the events of 9/11. He has been heroic in his advocacy for medical coverage and compensation for the city's first responders, and I couldn't agree more. To paraphrase one his more poignant lines, I don't care if a first responder spends the rest of his or her days sipping asbestos martinis while sitting unsunscreened on frayed vinyl chloride beach chairs downwind from a nuclear plant, all the while using copies of Silent Spring to put a nice dark char on their hormone-laden t-bone steaks -- if they get sick, they deserve full medical coverage regardless of the cause.
I'm not an atheist (I'm actually more of an agnostic tree-hugging polytheist with a fondness for Yiddish), but having studied these issues in depth for my book The Court and the Cross, I think I can answer Stewart's fundamental question.
Atheists give a s**t because in matters of religion (or race, gender, national origin, creed, etc.), our government is not supposed to take sides or express a preference.
The very first clause of the First Amendment makes this perfectly clear: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, OR prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..." There were no professional sports teams kicking around in the late 18th-century, but the Founding Fathers implicitly understood this basic premise: the arbiters of society -- whether referees, umpires, judges, or even bureaucrats -- are supposed to neutral and even-handed.
Stewart seems to be arguing that the atheists should simply figure out a way to ignore the seventeen-foot-high, multi-ton cross, much in the same way that the Supreme Court has ordered them to ignore the use of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, "In God We Trust" on our currency, or the daily benediction that (somewhat futilely) opens Congress each day.
I'm closer to the absolutist end of the First Amendment spectrum than not, but I don't have much of an issue with a little benign deism in American political life. When I was chair of the Burlington School Board, I cheerfully led the Board and attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance. And every Fourth of July, I re-read Jefferson's magnificent Declaration of Independence, including the optimistic phrase "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence." Just as the rebels did then, we need all the help we can get right now.
The Supreme Court's tolerance for the use of "God" in the pledge and on currency stems in part from the fact that the word is open to interpretation. When we pledge that we are "one Nation, under God," each of us can can insert our own working definition of "God." (Atheists are SOL because of the historical practice argument -- since our nation has invoked a higher power in one form or another for two centuries, the Court says, it's part of the fabric of our lives.)
As Stewart's own comments make clear, however, a cross is not a benign symbol of a inchoate national Deism opposed by only the most cantankerous First Amendment absolutists. His own description of the so-called "artifact" underscores the precise problem that atheists and most other non-Christians have with the installation of crosses on government property. It's not just a t-shaped metal thingy, and it's not merely a crossbeam (after all, it's not as if a "+" sign, or an "x" would generate as much enthusiasm). Regardless of whether one views the cross as a enduring symbol of one man's martyrdom on behalf of a sinful humanity, or merely as a homage to the world's most-quoted rabbi, it is still intended to represent Jesus Christ, the central figure of one religion.
By its very nature, the installation of a cross at the Ground Zero memorial is an exclusionary act, one that implicitly suggests that the sacrifices of some victims deserve more recognition than those of others. Nearly 150 years ago, when President Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldier's National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he closed his remarks by noting that the sacrifices made there were to insure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." He did not say "of Christians, by Christians, for Christians."
If the Ground Zero memorial is truly intended to honor all of the individuals who died on that tragic day, then it should reflect our highest ideals -- equality, fairness, liberty, and justice for all. The Supreme Court has made it clear (and I agree) that our government does not have to be faithless, but it can't favor one faith over all others. Let's find a new, non-governmental home for the cross, and let each visitor to Ground Zero bring their own personal beliefs to honor the dead and find increased devotion to the task of making this a more just and tolerant nation.
Maria Shriver is guest editor of O Magazine's April Issue, a special Poetry Month edition of the magazine, which features a rare interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver. Shriver has long admired Oliver's work, and writes, "I was overjoyed when—after politely declining my invitations for six straight years—Mary finally agreed to read at my annual Women's Conference in California last fall, joining speakers like Michelle Obama and Eve Ensler."
In the interview, Oliver talks about writing, reading, the loss of her life partner Molly Malone Cook, and finding the courage to speak about personal trauma. Here's a short excerpt from this revealing and delightful discussion:
Maria Shriver: One line of yours I often quote is, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"* What do you think you have done with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver: I used up a lot of pencils.
Maria Shriver: [Laughs.] Mary Oliver: What I have done is learn to love and learn to be loved. That didn't come easy. And I learned to consider my life an amazing gift. Those are the things.
Maria Shriver: You have lived a very unique life, a life really individual and fearless. Mary Oliver: Well, it was never a temptation to be swayed from what I wanted to do and how I wanted to live. Even when Molly got ill, I knew what to do. They wanted to take her off to a nursing home, and I said, "Absolutely not." I took her home. That kind of thing is not easy. I used to go out at night with a flashlight and sit on a little bench right outside the house to scribble poems, because I was too busy taking care of her during the day to walk in the woods.
“Joy is not made to be a crumb,” writes Mary Oliver, and certainly joy abounds in her new book of poetry and prose poems. Swan, her twentieth volume, shows us that, though we may be “made out of the dust of stars,” we are of the world she captures here so vividly: the acorn that hides within it an entire tree; the wings of the swan like the stretching light of the river; the frogs singing in the shallows; the mockingbird dancing in air. Swan is Oliver’s tribute to “the mortal way” of desiring and living in the world, to which the poet is renowned for having always been “totally loyal.”
Inspired by the familiar lines from William Wordsworth, “To me the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears,” Evidence is a collection of forty-seven new poems on all of Mary Oliver’s classic themes. She writes perceptively about grief and mortality, love and nature, and the spiritual sustenance she draws from their gifts. Ever grateful for the bounty that is offered to us daily by the natural world, Oliver is attentive to the mysteries it imparts. The arresting beauty she finds in rivers and stones, willows and field corn, the mockingbird’s “embellishments” or the last hours of darkness permeates her poems. Her newest volume is imbued through and through with that power of nature to, in Oliver’s words, “excite the viewers toward sublime thought.”
When New and Selected Poems, Volume One was originally published in 1992, Mary Oliver was awarded the National Book Award. In the years since its initial appearance it has become one of the best-selling volumes of poetry in the country. This collection features thirty poems published for the first time in this volume, as well as selections from the poet’s first eight books.
New and Selected Poems, Volume Two, an anthology of forty-two new poems—an entire volume in itself—and sixty-nine poems hand-picked by Mary Oliver from six of her last eight books, is a major addition to a career in poetry that has spanned nearly five decades. Now recognized as an unparalleled poet of the natural world, Mary Oliver writes with unmatched dexterity and a profound appreciation for the divergence and convergence of all living things.
It is probably safe to say that Glenn Beck will never be a big champion of many of the books we publish here at Beacon Press. But his recent attacks on sociologist Frances Fox Piven, author of, among many other books, Why Americans Still Don't Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way, have contained a vitriol that is beyond the pale, and inspired death threats in the comment threads on his website, the Blaze.
The Nation wrote recently about Beck's targeting of Piven as a "threat":
This fusillade was evidently set off by Piven's recent Nation editorialcalling for a mass movement of the unemployed ["Mobilizing the Jobless," January 10/17]. But Beck has had Piven in his cross-hairs for some time. In the past few years he's featured Piven, along with her late husband, Richard Cloward, in at least twenty-eight broadcasts, all of which paint them as masterminds of an overarching left-wing plot called "the Cloward-Piven strategy," which supposedly engineered the financial crisis of 2008, healthcare reform, Obama's election and massive voter fraud, among other world-historical events (see Richard Kim, "The Mad Tea Party," April 12, 2010). Cloward and Piven, Beck once argued, are "fundamentally responsible for the unsustainability and possible collapse of our economic system." In his most recent diatribe against Piven (January 17) he repeatedly called her "the enemy of the Constitution." In Beck's telling, because Piven and her comrades on the left support civil disobedience in some circumstances, it is they—not the heavily armed militias of the radical right—who threaten Americans' safety.
I've known Frances Fox Piven for over 50 years and have been her literary agent for her last nine books. We are the closest of friends. I was upset and anxious by the recent death threats to her, all choreographed by Glenn Beck to his gun-crazy followers. Instead of Frances making herself scarce and hiring body guards, she, typically went into "organizing" mode. She spread the word, lined up supporters, wrote op-ed pieces and many others came to her defense She went about her business of being a radical sociologist who puts for the truth in writing and speeches to the world. My friend has courage! And fierce convictions. Glenn Beck can't stop her, but WE can stop Glenn Beck and his calls to deadly violence. That's OUR job. Let's do it!
When the social and digital media revolution gained momentum at the dawn of the new millennium, no one would have predicted that less than a decade later black and Latino youth would be just as engaged as their white, Asian, and more affluent counterparts. Across a number of measures -- use of mobile phones and gaming devices, social network sites, and the mobile web -- young blacks and Latinos are beginning to outpace their white counterparts. For years the dominant narrative related to race and technology in the U.S. pivoted around the question of access. Today, the most urgent questions pivot around participation and more specifically, the quality of digital media engagement among youth in diverse social and economic contexts.
Picture this: In the very near future the population in many of the major metropolitan areas in the U.S. will be significantly shaped by young Latinos and African Americans. A recent estimate from the 2010 U.S. Census data finds that U.S. Latinos make up nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population under age 20. The median ages for Latinos and African Americans is, respectively, 26 and 30. This is compared to a median age of 39 among non-Latino whites. Forty-five percent of children younger than five in the U.S. belong to non-white groups. The population that public schools educate in America will reflect these seismic demographic shifts.
Virtually all of those Latino and African American teens will have access to more information and data in their pockets than any brick and mortar school or library currently provides. Many already hold access to a rich array of information in their hands today. However, most teens use mobile phones as social, recreational, and entertainment devices. This is especially true among black and Latino youth who use their mobile phones to watch videos, play games, and listen to music at rates that dwarf their white counterparts. But what if young people were encouraged to view their mobile phones, cameras, and iPods as learning devices and tools for critical citizenship and engagement in their communities?
I sit in the dark next to Jane, munching the contraband cinnamon roasted nuts that we snuck into the movie theater, past the NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK sign. Against all odds, we have finally secured a babysitter and made it out to see The Kids Are All Right. Fairly early in the movie, the two mothers, Nic and Jules, are lying in bed together. “Good night, chicken,” one says. “Good night, pony,” says the other. Jane nudges me just as I elbow her. “Oh my god,” I say. “They are such lesbians.”
I like the film immediately for the way it captures the long-term lesbian relationship, at least one version of it, right down to the menagerie of nicknames. There’s overmothering at the dinner table; snuggling in front of the TV; tensions around work; years-old inside jokes; rehashed insecurities --- basically the challenges, joys, hopes and disappointments of marriage, all wrapped up with an estrogen bow.
But I’m interested in the film not just because I am a lesbian in a long-term relationship, not just because I want to see this film that has brought lesbian-headed families to mainstream attention.
I want to see it because we, too, have an anonymous donor in our lives, though for the time being, he is still anonymous. I don’t know if we will ever meet him. I would like to leave that up to our daughter to decide since her relationship with him is decidedly closer than ours. So far, Hannah, who is now just seven years old, has not expressed much interest in her donor. Will she want to meet him someday? I have no idea. Would I like to meet him someday? I don’t know the answer to that one either.
1. When I walked up to the studio, the guest entrance was besieged by awe-struck teenage girls. Were they waiting for me? Er, no, they were there for a supernaturally handsome dude I later learned was Peter Facinelli, one of the stars of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse:
Peter and I were ushered into the studio together; he gave me the once-over to make sure I wasn't somebody famous, and then ignored me. That's OK, because I didn't recognize him either, and I would rather gouge out my own eyes than watch The Twilight Saga.
Analyzing the colorful language of two of the right's loudest voices is Jonathan M. Metzl, author of The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. Metzl is associate professor of psychiatry and women's studies and director of the Culture, Health, and Medicine Program at the University of Michigan.
Has addiction become the new rhetoric of the right?
Glenn Beck suggested as much in his in his recent keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference when he parlayed his own history of substance abuse into a critique of so-called big government. "I'm a recovering alcoholic," Beck explained. "I screwed up my life six ways to Sunday." Beck argued that his experiences as an alcoholic privileged him to critique the seemingly different "addictions" to government perpetuated by progressives and liberals. "It is still morning in America," he decried. "It just happens to be kind of a head-pounding-hung-over-vomiting-for-four-hours kind of morning in America."
For much of the following week, Rush Limbaugh used his own, well-publicized addiction to prescription painkillers—"Have you ever had a genuine addiction to something? Well I have and let me tell you about it"—as a jumping off point into full-throated damnation of President Obama and his "liberal" followers. "Liberals," Limbaugh told his radio listeners, "their lives are basically meaningless, their addiction to power and dominance and control is what drives them."
Such language is, of course, a savvy political construction. Beck and Limbaugh paint the fight against addiction, and by extension against liberalism, as a redemption narrative in which the fallen overindulge earthly sin and then disavow it in what Beck calls "come to Jesus" moments. Beck literally dropped to his knees during his CPAC speech to demonstrate how "I was completely out of control," then rose to show how "I'm going to stand up on my own two feet, figure it out, and because of that failure I can stand here today." Addiction testimonials do the dual work of appealing to a presumed base of religious conservatives and placing the ex-addict, like the convert, on higher moral ground. Former President George W. Bush, who to his credit would never dream of using his own substance issues to critique others, employed such salvation to enhance his evangelical credentials. Riding Bush's coattails, Beck and Limbaugh craft the angry, white, male addict in remission as the embodiment of a new American conservative ideal.
Recently, This American Life re-ran an episode from 1997 called "Guns," which featured Geoffrey Canada discussing his childhood in the Bronx, the violence he faced there, and the changes brought about when guns became more commonplace among young people in the city. You can listen to the episode online, with Canada's segment beginning at about 15 mins, 50 seconds in (although I recommend that you just sit back and take in the whole episode—it's riveting). On the show, Canada read the following excerpt from his memoir, Fist Stick Knife Gun.
In 1971, well before the explosion of handguns on the streets of New York City, I bought a handgun. I bought the gun legally in Maine, where I was in college. The clerk only wanted to see some proof of residency, and my Bowdoin College I.D. card was sufficient. For a hundred and twenty-five dollars I was the proud owner of a .25-caliber automatic with a seven-shot clip. The gun was exactly what I needed. It was so small I could slip it into my coat pocket or pants pocket.
I needed the gun because we had moved from Union Avenue to 183rd Street in the Bronx, but I still traveled back to Union Avenue during holidays when I was home from school. The trip involved walking through some increasingly dangerous territory. New York City was going through one of its gang phases and several new ones had sprung up in the Bronx. One of the gangs liked to hang out right down the block from where we now lived on 183rd Street and Park Avenue. When I first went away to school I paid no mind to the large group of kids that I used to pass on my way to the store or the bus stop back in the Bronx. The kids were young, fourteen or fifteen years old. At nineteen I was hardly worried about a bunch of street kids who thought they were tough. But over the course of the next year the kids got bolder and more vicious. On several occasions I watched with alarm as swarms of teenagers pummeled adults who had crossed them in one way or another. Everyone knew they were a force to be reckoned with, and many a man and woman crossed the street or walked around the block to keep from having to walk past them.
And I crossed the street also. And there were times that I went out of my way to go to another store rather than walk past the rowdy group of boys who seemed to own the block. On more than one occasion I rounded a corner only to come face to face with the gang. I could feel their eyes on me as I looked straight ahead, hoping none of them would pick a tight. That September in 1971, when I got back to the serenity of Bowdoin College I was more tense than usual. I realized that those kids had me scared. After having survived growing up in the Bronx, here I was scared to go home and walk down my own block. The solution was simple, and as I held the small gun in my hand I knew I had found the answer to my fears.
Publishers Weekly highlights The King Legacy series, a new partnership between Beacon Press and the estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. The series launches next month with the publication of Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community. You can read more about the series on the Beacon Press website.
"A great irony of life on the computer screen," Watkins writes in his introduction, "is the fact that we usually go online alone but often with the intent of communicating with other people. Among the teens and young adults that we talk to, time spent in front of a computer screen is rarely, if ever, considered time spent alone." Social media, Watkins asserts, is an interim mode of communication and a means to coordinate future face-to-face interactions, not a substitute for human interaction, as was argued in the past.
Mr. 20 Prospect, a resident of the Rust-Belt town of Batavia, New York, found a lot to relate to in Hollowing Out the Middle, as he has seen his own hometown decline over the years. His post about the history of Batavia is accompanied by a series of enlightening photos.
If you are one of the small town Diaspora who left never to return, or someone who left but boomeranged back, it is a very revealing read. Not only do they highlight the demographic, and economic trends effecting rural America, they also catch the subtle undercurrents of class that play a large role in determining the opportunities and futures of the young inhabitants. At times it is also a painful book, pointing out the paradoxes that exist, and how small towns have hastened their own demise, by investing so much of their limited resources in developing their “best and brightest” and encouraging them to leave the community behind. The result is what Patrick Deneen has called the “strip mining” of young adults from rural areas, to feed the coastal, and Midwestern, urban population centers.
Today's post is from Jennifer Culkin, author of A Final Arc of Sky: A Memoir of Critical Care. Culkin, winner of a 2008 Rona Jaffe Foundation Award, is a writer and longtime neonatal, pediatric, and adult critical care nurse. Her work has appeared in many literary magazines, including the Georgia Review and Utne Reader, and in the anthologies Stories with Grace and The Jack Straw Writers Anthology 2006.
I'm so confused. To judge by two current television series about nurses, TNT’s HawthoRNe and Showtime's Nurse Jackie, are we nurses angels or 'hos? Self-righteous, micromanaging do-gooders in lab coats, or adulterous, vigilante prescription-drug addicts in scrubs? Granted, Jackie comes off as intelligent and realistic. Her black humor feels right. But how does she find time for lunch at a restaurant, let alone the sort of restaurant that has wine glasses on the table? And how, during the course of her shift, does she manage a roll in the hay with a hospital pharmacist? There are days I don't have time for a drink of water. I want to work where she works!
Except I'm not into narcotics, and certainly wouldn't use (Snort! Now there's a nice touch... and it's so lovingly filmed) them at work. Thirty years ago, when I was young and clueless, I sometimes had a glass of wine with lunch at noon before a shift that began at 3 PM. Now I'd never do that, and neither would the vast majority of nurses I know. My patients, like other consumers, have a right to expect that I'll save the wine for my time off. That I'll care for them unimpaired.
And then there is Christina HawthoRNe. I suppose it's a good thing that the public sees there IS such a thing as a chief nursing officer, that nursing is an independent profession with its own management hierarchy and that the CNO is a high-level administrator with her share of clout in the organization. But despite 30 years as a critical-care nurse, I have yet to see one charging around so ostentatiously, setting everyone straight: other hospital administrators, the Emergency Department nurses, her own daughter, a patient and his MD father. The disappointing bottom line is, Christina isn't any more realistic than... a TV doctor.
Does anyone out there know Chris Matthews, host of Hardball on MSNBC? I'd like to send him a copy of my book, Inheriting the Trade. My impression is that, like my own, his education lacked some aspects of our nation's history that have been kept hidden from students.
Most of you know that last week the United States Senate unanimously passed S. Con. Res. 26 apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans.
I wrote about this–so won't repeat myself–on June 15. Read my post here. Also read my cousin James DeWolf Perry's excellent post here about why apologies are both important and troublesome.
My focus today is on the mixed reaction the apology has received. Chris Matthews certainly had a strong reaction. Watch as he interviews Reps. Steve Cohen and Jim Clyburn, embedded after the jump.
The marriage equality victory in Iowa was greeted with heartfelt cheers on our side and an attempt to rain on our parade with a 60 second homophobic commercial, "The Gathering Storm," from a Mormon front group, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). They want all Americans to be afraid—like them. NOM claims to have spent $1.5 million to produce and air what looks like a bad high school production. I'm afraid they got taken.
On YouTube it's now more difficult to find "The Gathering Storm" than it is to find the responses to it and the wildly comic knock-offs.
In case you can't find the original, think of a cross breeding of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and The Weather Channel's "Severe Weather Watch." Frank Rich suggests that it reminds him of a cross between "The Village of the Damned" and "A Chorus Line."
As a member of Colbert Nation, I have a particular fondness for The Colbert Report ad. (Watch after the jump.)