Remembering/Re-Membering

unattributed

The controversy surrounding the Islamic Center near the site of the 9/11 tragedy has not only exposed the increasing xenophobia and racism in the United States but also that certain groups believe this is the definitive expression of “americanness”.  By their terms, failure to hate people who belong to the same faith as those who bombed the two towers, is akin to failing to be N. American. By extension, they assume that no other faith was represented amongst the victims beside Christianity and no people who died, read “good Americans”, were of different faiths, races, or even sexualities because to be different is to be “un-American” or “not American.”

I had meant to write a long piece about this discussing the image and meaning of N. America vs the history of oppression that sits underneath its surface. My goal was to appeal to people to choose the former, ie humanity, equality, freedom, including religious freedom,  over hatred, xenophobia, and jingoism. But then I thought, perhaps the most powerful counter-argument to those who want us to permanently link Muslims to Terrorism and therefore deny the rights of Muslims to build a multi-faith center near the 9/11 site is to remind people of all the Muslim Americans who died in those attacks alongside everyone else. Muslims who were just doing their jobs as workers who helped keep the trade centers going or who had offices in the building. Muslims who helped dig through the rubble to find people, were first responder, and volunteers who helped save lives that day.

Today, when you remember the tragedy that took so many people’s lives but also during the two wars that continue to follow it, please remember these Muslims who died in 9/11 and the fact that their families have just as much right to worship and study near the site as anyone else:

Note: This list is as yet incomplete and unconfirmed.  It has been compiled from the Islamic Circle of North America, the Newsday victims database, and reports from other major news organizations.  The victims’ ages, employers, or other personal information is included when available, along with links to further information or photos.

Samad Afridi
Ashraf Ahmad
Shabbir Ahmad (45 years old; Windows on the World; leaves wife and 3 children)
Umar Ahmad
Azam Ahsan
Ahmed Ali
Tariq Amanullah (40 years old; Fiduciary Trust Co.; ICNA website team member; leaves wife and 2 children)
Touri Bolourchi (69 years old; United Airlines #175; a retired nurse from Tehran)
Salauddin Ahmad Chaudhury
Abdul K. Chowdhury (30 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald)
Mohammad S. Chowdhury (39 years old; Windows on the World; leaves wife and child born 2 days after the attack)
Jamal Legesse Desantis
Ramzi Attallah Douani (35 years old; Marsh & McLennan)
SaleemUllah Farooqi
Syed Fatha (54 years old; Pitney Bowes)
Osman Gani
Mohammad Hamdani (50 years old)
Salman Hamdani (NYPD Cadet)
Aisha Harris (21 years old; General Telecom)
Shakila Hoque (Marsh & McLennan)
Nabid Hossain
Shahzad Hussain
Talat Hussain
Mohammad Shah Jahan (Marsh & McLennan)
Yasmeen Jamal
Mohammed Jawarta (MAS security)
Arslan Khan Khakwani
Asim Khan
Ataullah Khan
Ayub Khan
Qasim Ali Khan
Sarah Khan (32 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald)
Taimour Khan (29 years old; Karr Futures)
Yasmeen Khan
Zahida Khan
Badruddin Lakhani
Omar Malick
Nurul Hoque Miah (36 years old)
Mubarak Mohammad (23 years old)
Boyie Mohammed (Carr Futures)
Raza Mujtaba
Omar Namoos
Mujeb Qazi
Tarranum Rahim
Ehtesham U. Raja (28 years old)
Ameenia Rasool (33 years old)
Naveed Rehman
Yusuf Saad
Rahma Salie & unborn child (28 years old; American Airlines #11; wife of Michael Theodoridis; 7 months pregnant)
Shoman Samad
Asad Samir
Khalid Shahid (25 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald; engaged to be married in November)
Mohammed Shajahan (44 years old; Marsh & McLennan)
Naseema Simjee (Franklin Resources Inc.’s Fiduciary Trust)
Jamil Swaati
Sanober Syed
Robert Elias Talhami (40 years old; Cantor Fitzgerald)
Michael Theodoridis (32 years old; American Airlines #11; husband of Rahma Salie)
W. Wahid

– This list was compiled by About.com

We are all N. Americans and we all lost someone or some peace that day. When we hate each other we lose even more.

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On this Historic Day

newly revised edition

“to struggle together … to stand up for freedom together”

African Americans do not own Martin Luther King Jr., on this Glenn Beck and I agree. No one but slaveholders own people. But truthfully, aside from a few overly snide liberal pundits, I do not think anyone thinks Beck meant that literally. Instead he was referring to the legacy of King. A legacy of civil rights, social justice, and, nearing the end of his time on this earth, an increasing commitment to global equality and ending violence (including state sanctioned wars without end). In fact, it was his stance on these key issues and his ability to sway people from ALL races, religions, genders, and even sexualities (a feat, since he never spoke out for gay rights), to join in his cause that got him assassinated by white supremacist fearing a message of equality.

Martin Luther King Jr. changed the face of N. America. Along with the help of dedicated women, children, and men from across racial divides, Dr. King put an end to legal discrimination against black people in transportation, employment, education, etc. Yet, in the last few years, radio hosts like Glenn Beck have done their best to foster s well as harness long standing social discrimination and turn it back into law. Thus he argues against access to education, employment, or health care for hardworking indentured undocumented workers, more policing in black and poor neighborhoods because of the fear of black criminality, against marriage equality and even going so far as to criticize fluffy films about upper middle class cis white single working mothers; these are the very people Dr. King stood with and up for.  Worse, Beck and his ilk have tried to make this discrimination and fear the very definition of being N. American. Anyway who supports civil or human rights for the marginalized is transformed into anti-American, non-American, or members of that mythic “Other” America.

So no, African Americans do not own Martin Luther King Jr. but Glenn Beck and his followers will NEVER own another black man again no matter how much they wish they did.

Truthfully, I had not meant to talk about Beck today. You’ll note I seldom mention anyone on Fox News on the blog. I’m old enough to remember when news was somewhat apolitical (somewhat, because the crime reports were always “a black man did …” or “a man did” and often highlighted stories that reinforced similar long held believes about poor people and people of color even as they kept the editorializing about them to a minimum). And before conservatives line up to call me a hypocrite for using footage from MSNBC, one needs only look through this blog or my twitter feed to see that I am just as likely to call them out for race and gender issues as anyone else. More so than Fox news because I expect better of them, and often get it. In my mind the answer to most of Glenn Beck’s antics is: It’s Glenn Beck. Nothing deeper seems warranted when you think about it.

Yet here I am, writing.

There is something so inexplicably demented about a man who spends every day on his radio show inciting or expanding, or simply making space for existing, racism in this country daring to say that he is keeping a dream of equality alive by recreating a history that is only mirrored in the fall of the Weimar Republic and reconstruction in the U.S., particularly in 1865. Like a DW Griffith film, Beck and his ilk have hammered home the idea that there is only one people who can govern and represent a civilized nation and only one solution for everyone else. As a historian, I watched the information coming from Beck surrounding this rally with the knowledge of the history with which Beck has actually aligned. Looking at image after image of his 78-87,000 supporters, there can be no doubt where we are headed or that is decidedly away from any dream Martin Luther King Jr had for this nation.

Glenn Beck wants to make you think it is about a date:

Again, we’re arguing about the date.

He wants you to believe that such a historic date slipped his mind:

I had no idea August 28th was the day of the MLK speech when we booked it. I knew that MLK spoke at the Lincoln Memorial. I knew that it was about the content of character. I knew it was about civil rights and injustice. It knew all of those things, but I’m sorry, media, that I forgot the, oh, so important detail of the date.

And truthfully, Like Jon Stewart, I do find it possible a man who does not think MLK Day should be a national holiday would not know the exact date of the historic I had a Dream Speech. But given the way Glenn Beck has attempted to harness the image of King, Rosa Parks, and even Booker T Washington to advertise for the event, how could anyone believe that he did not know what he was doing? And according to HuffPo, when Beck started advertising this event a year ago, he made several comments on his radio show about the historic date. By calling up actual civil rights leaders he does what others have done with the n-word, ie incensed the opposition to his crusade so thoroughly as to make their arguments sound incomprehensible, condescending, or stuck on a single issue, a word or a date, rather than the much larger issues at stake. And like those people who play victim when caught using the n-word, or yelling “re-load” to those who do, Beck is using this supposed tunnel vision to claim victimhood:

At best, they’re operating in the same old political boxes they usually operate out of: Glenn Beck, bad; Sarah Palin, bad; must destroy.

While I don’t doubt there are a few people who have called for Glenn Beck’s actual destruction, they need mental health services, nor do they have access to a 24 hour network or nationally syndicated radio show. They have not been cited as a reason for actual physical violence involving the shooting of others, as at least two mass shooters and one targeted murderer in the last 2 years have cited Beck and his contemporaries at Fox news for their actions. Nor have they helped create and sustain a movement that includes people who have made threats against the president, against immigrants, queer people, and oh yes, black folks. Nor have any of the people Beck is actually blaming for saying he must be destroyed, actually been guilty of saying so. That is where liberal media and conservative media often definitively part ways. While the Olbermann’s on the left due wax indignant often, and often righteously, very few members of left media would use their radio or tv shows as a place to deify themselves in the name of hatred and violent gun imagery knowing that their supporters are armed and ready “to reload”.

And who exactly is it Beck has invited to stand with him on this historic day in which he claims he is taking the reigns of freedom back from actual civil rights leaders?

  • A woman who responded to the use of the n-word & an angry tirade against interracial dating by saying the speaker should reload & that America was “unfair”
  • A singer whose lyrics for the event include “you preach your tolerance but lecture me” … “we’re taking names; waiting for the judgment day”
  • A country musician who has sponsored events under the title “taking our country back” that has not included more than a handful of people of color if any
  • Members of the 9.12 Project whose racist, xenophobic, and homophobic signs have been archived at the top of my blog (and whose comments on that page further underscore them)
  • A woman willing to bastardize her own family’s legacy to make a single issue point about denying reproductive rights ( a woman whose participation will no doubt be used to legitimate the date of the rally and the erroneous belief the audience and the event were integrated or diverse)

And let us not forget, that Beck’s rally is not only hiding behind the skirts of Alveda King but also the troops. You see, when all of his denials fall away, Beck resorted to calling the people criticizing him anti-American because they were “anti-Troops” and pointing to the fact that his rally supports an organization that helps widows and families of disabled veterans. Never mind that he could have given money to this group without such a rally or that no money will go to them until the expensive venue, advertising, and speaker’s fees have been paid. And let us be clear the Republicans Beck often supports on his show and at least one of his speakers ran with last election, have voted repeatedly against VA benefits, medical care, pensions, and even protective gear for troops all the while claiming to be the party that supports them. Does Glenn Beck rally around that on his show? no.

According to eye witnesses the event also included:

  • a union worker passing out fliers with a picture of Dr. King that criticized the use of Asian laborers in the capital instead of “hardworking [white] Americans” – apparently he did not know Beck has continuously rallied against unions
  • people who came out to prove “the backbone of this country is the family. Messing with the definition of the family is dangerous” – apparently they did not know that heterosexual families include incest, domestic violence, child abuse, and codes of silence that are often generationally transferred as much as they include happy and healthy people
  • people who want to ensure there is no Mosque at ground zero but claim they aren’t anti-Muslim they are just “pro-American” – because apparently no one has told them that there are already Mosques in the area and Muslim Americans exist and have for a considerable amount of time in this country, some even died helping survivors in 9/11
  • and people with genuine criticism for the state of the economy, the lack of community in this nation (tho they don’t note the irony in how this rally is furthering divides rather than healing them), and the cost of education (again failing to recognize that the Republicans tried to block a critical education bill that saved teachers jobs and ensured schools had funding)
  • and people who sent emails or made comments out loud to reporters like these:

This is hardly a scene that mirrors any Martin Luther King Jr would have helmed nor one that reflects the basic principles of civil rights and social justice, something Beck has gone on record as saying he does not support anyway. (On Friday Beck told a radio show host that he did not support social justice.) Instead, 828 just like 912 highlights the growing racial divides and racial tensions in this country between white people and people of color, between white citizens + occasionally citizens of color and non-white immigrants, between white heterosexists + occasionally poc heterosexists and white + non-white queers and allies, between white arch-conservative women + woc pro-lifers and feminists, between arch-conservative protestants and every other religion represented in this country as well as those of us who are Catholic or Protestant who follow G-d’s highest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. While the boundaries of these groups shift to make provisional room for those who can increase their numbers or be put in photo ops to claim diversity, and while people from either side of the binaries can find themselves on the other side because of a single issue that matters more to them than others, the reality is that unlike the diverse multicultural coalition of King, Beck offers us a vision of N. America that is decidedly hierarchical, homogeneous, and willing to police its boundaries with violence. The only thing Beck and his supporters have learned from their last march was to leave the signs at home so it would be easier to play victim when people called them racist, or homophobic, or violent. But he did not tell them, could not tell them, to leave their hatred at home, so it showed up in the things both he and they said to each other and reporters. As Beck said himself:

Make no mistake, the flame of freedom is dwindling. The shining city on the hill, the sun is setting. If you don’t want it to go out on our watch, then you must stand in the blaze. The fire of truth that does not burn those who stand in it, but consumes everything that is not. Point others to the truth.

. . .

If you think things are tough now, you ain’t seeing nothing yet.

“if an American, because his skin is dark cannot … enjoy the full and free life that all of us want, than who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed to stand in his place”

please note the quotes for this piece were taken from Glenn Beck’s broadcast yesterday and not the transcript of his speech today which was unavailable at time of writing

Anouncement: EPA Reps to Speak About BP, Katrina, & Civil Rights in NOLA

(New Orleans, LA) – Lisa Perez Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will join General Russel Honore as a featured speaker at the Justice Revius O. Ortique, Jr., Civil Rights Award Banquet Thursday in New Orleans.

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson leads EPA’s efforts to protect the health and environment for all Americans. As Administrator, Jackson has focused on core issues of protecting air and water quality, preventing exposure to toxic contamination in our communities, and reducing greenhouse gases. She has promised that all of EPA’s efforts will follow the best science, adhere to the rule of law, and be implemented with unparalleled transparency.

“The Louisiana Justice Institute is proud that EPA Administrator will join us to represent President Barack Obama and join us in honoring the courageous Civil Rights Leaders who have stood on the frontlines in the fight for social justice,” said Tracie Washington, Co-Director of the Louisiana Justice Institute.

Administrator Jackson is the first African-American to serve as EPA Administrator. She has made it a priority to focus on vulnerable groups including children, the elderly and low-income communities that are particularly susceptible to environmental and health threats Before President Barack Obama appointed Jackson EPA Administrator,  she served as Chief of Staff to New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine and Commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Prior to joining DEP, she worked for 16 years as an employee of the U.S. EPA.

Jackson is a summa cum laude graduate of Tulane University and earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University.  She grew up as a proud resident of Ponchartrain Park in New Orleans.

General Russel Honore’, commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, is credited with restoring order in the chaotic wake of Hurricane Katrina, and for coordinating military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina-affected areas across the entire Gulf Coast before launching the region’s recovery from the epic disaster that followed Katrina. He retired with 34 years of military service after serving with distinction in a variety of command positions in South Korea, Germany and Washington, DC, and currently resides in southeast Louisiana. General Honore’ is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Survival: How Being Prepared Can Keep You and Your Family Safe.

Tickets and sponsorships are still available for event online at: www.louisianajusticeinstitute.org or by calling (504) 872-9134.

The Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI) is a nonprofit, civil rights legal advocacy organization, devoted to fostering social justice campaigns across Louisiana for communities of color and for impoverished communities. LJI understands that as a state-based civil rights organization, it can and must serve as an agent for social change in Louisiana. Its creation is responsive to a specific and urgent need to resurrect capacity for statewide, systemic, legal advocacy on behalf of those most in need of assistance – Louisiana’s minority and poor residents.

Dr. Laura: Free Speech Hero

Wait what?!?

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

I’ve been watching the Dr. Laura drama unfold with the same disdain I hold for most celebrity racists. Perhaps, I’ve even had a little more cynicism when it came to Dr. Laura precisely because she is a conservative radio host in an era in which they can say pretty much any racist, sexist, homophobic thing they want and continue to make a career out of it. Even when they get fired, public discourse continues to support them and sooner or later they end up back at work, spreading their special brand of hate-entertainment, on a different station. The mid-80s take over of radio by hosts who did nothing but fan fear and division while they belittled and berated their callers proved that hatred sells. Conservative talk radio is better at encouraging and providing open forums for fear, hatred, and violence than the famous Orson Wells broadcast that made people arm themselves against aliens. (No not immigrants, actually little green men.) The difference of course being that Wells was joking and sincere when he apologized later.

Under these circumstances Dr. Laura saying the n-word more than 10 times on her radio show made me shrug and think “another day in post-Bush N. America” I didn’t even care enough to compare her to John Mayer or diagnose her with Mel Gibson Spectrum disorder, which you know is my favorite thing to do these days. Ultimately, I knew she’d issue a meaningless apology and turn the incident into bank.

What concerns me more is all of the racism on that particular show that is going unreported so we can focus on the use of the n-word. Like John Mayer (told you), Dr. Laura said an endless array of racist-sexist things to her African American caller that have been swept away so that everyone can express their deep disgust at the use of the n-word. I don’t use that word. I don’t like that word. I know the history of that word and do not believe it can be reclaimed. That said, if that word had been omitted from her radio show or John Mayer’s interview, they still would have been racist and they still would have mixed that racism with particular fear of interracial relationships and sexism that no one is talking about.

Dr. Laura’s tirade was prompted by her stated belief that

  1. a black female caller was not only “over-sensitive to race” because she did not want racist jokes told in her home
  2. black women should not be in relationships with white men unless they are willing to “be flexible” about racism

In Dr. Laura’s world, it is the victims or targets of oppression who are responsible for the violence they endure. More than that, they ask for it by crossing racial boundaries that legally have not been in existence since Jim Crow and Loving vs the State of Virginia. In other words, her tirade was predicated on the idea that black people and white people should not interact socially nor NEVER EVER EVER date or marry. She simply softened this statement by adding the caveat: unless you are willing to laugh at being the target of racism.

See no one wants to talk about that part of it, just like they did not want to talk about John Mayer’s racialized sexism at a national level. If the message boards during the John Mayer incident are any indication, the sad fact is Loving be damned, people in N. America still hold eugenicist believes about race and interracial relationships. And in a post-Bush N. America, they feel incredibly safe and confident expressing those beliefs in public. In that way, Dr. Laura is no different than the grocery store clerk who refuses to hand you your change or goes on a break if you are with someone outside your race.

Until we have this conversation, we will have racism in N. America that travels along gender lines. Both women of color and white women suffer when a nation invests in the concept of “miscegenation” (the eugenicist term for interracial relationships that implied degeneration and predicted children’s civility or lack thereof). Women of color are demonized and pathologized which spills into economic, housing, and job policies as well as responses to domestic and sexual violence against them. People who desire them then fetishize them, work out colonial fantasies on their bodies, abuse and rape them in the name of white supremacy (and yes there is a whole genre of porn for those folks, thank you overzealous RCG student & Jerry Springer), or simply trot them out like prized possessions to prove they are not racist. White women in interracial relationships are seen as race traders or that they are slumming, their relationships are never real in this context. Men of color who date them or refuse to date them also run the risk of being called rapists or simply being beaten for crossing that color line Dr. Laura was policing on her show that day. And all of this works together to enforce the idea of racial and sexual difference that allows segregated neighborhoods and lives to exist and for real people to be disregarded or erased in favor of their symbolic meaning as objects of forbidden desire, proof of enlightenment when called out on one’s oppressive behavior, or a place to count coup. And those of us who are actual products of interracial relationships or members of multi-racial families can just fade away in the great miscegenation debate ever to be vilified for our proof that love matters even in a racist, racist, country or world.

Dr. Laura’s n-word tirade takes on whole new meaning in this context. It seems that the excessive use of the n-word was Dr. Laura’s subconscious attempt to exercise the fear of blackness, blackness in her midst, blackness mixing with her pristine whiteness, blackness that not only dares to cross into her gated community but then demand to be treated equally, and yes, because of the way miscegenation works, blackness that made her feel less sexually desirable in its wake. That is what we are not talking about and that is why she implied the caller was an n- and that all white people think so.

Wait? All white people?

Remember, Dr. Laura told her caller that she”should have known” that if she was going to date a white man that she was going to hear racist jokes and racial comments. In other words, white people are racist. White people make racist jokes. White people speculate about black people’s sexuality based on their racism. Dr. Laura’s comment implies all of these things are a given and that no person of color is safe from them unless they stay in their own segregated communities. That’s the other part we are not talking about.

Now Dr. Laura wants to play victim of “special interest groups” trying to “silence her”. Is that like when John Mayer burst into tears on stage and said he “just wanted to play music” and was sorry he was “just trying to be clever”? First of all, besides all the other conversations we are not having about race and gender, we need to have one about how white, middle class, cis people’s values are no more “family values” than everyone else’s are “special interests”. More than that, marginalized people do not have the power to silence people in the center. We can demand that you follow basic hate crimes rules. We can circulate petitions asking that you educate yourself and live up to the standards that should define N. America, ie inclusion and equality for everyone. We can even rant on a blog post that some bigwig might read. But celebrities from Lady Gaga to Mel Gibson to Don Imus to Dr. Laura will still have a public venue from which to spew their special brand of hate, ignorance, or simple erasure of people who they don’t care about. Remember, hatred and fear sell and this is a capitalist country.

To quote someone on my twitter stream: “The First Amendment does not guarantee you the right not to be ridiculed [when you are being ridiculous].” It also does not guarantee you a job. It guarantees you the right to speak your mind with few exceptions. Dr. Laura did that. According to her own version of the story, she decided to quit as a result of other people speaking their minds about her racism that she thinks need to leave her alone and be quiet. See insults only flow in one direction for people who hide behind free speech when caught being oppressive.

Nor will Dr. Laura be meeting the same fate as people of color who dare to speak their minds about racism in their workplaces. We all know what happens to the majority of them, hello some on please trot out the disparities in unemployment again because I have done it enough. Raise your hand if you or someone you know was fired, ostracized, passed-ove for a promotion, etc because they pointed out racism in the work place. Unlike all of these unfairly unemployed people, Dr. Laura’s parlaying what she calls her discussion about race in N. America into a lucrative book deal or two and some more high paid speaking engagements. And like poor, poor, Don Imus, she can go back to radio whenever she wants once the majority of N. America moves on. She’s been spewing hate against the queer community, domestic violence survivors, and others for years, why would this year be any different?

Finally, we can’t forget what happened after her tirade. After steam rolling over her caller, justifying racism, and using the n-word with abandon Dr. Laura said that electing a black president should have been enough to make black people stop “blaming white people” for racism. The implication: racism is over and black people who say otherwise are “over-sensitive” and “reverse-discriminators”. After going off in an n-word laden rant Dr.Laura was already claiming she was the victim; like so many others in the nation, she’s just so tired of having to school black folks on how not racist the people using racist language and espousing segregation really are. Remember all those “I’m not racist but” or “I don’t think it’s racist to” comments from white people during the John Mayer incident?

The failure to address the substance of Dr. Laura’s, or any other bigot’s, comments has left us in a world where bigotry is subjective and the oppressive get to define oppression. Worse liberals feel just as at ease weighing in on the truth value oppressions that do not target them as conservatives because they preface it by claiming how horrible the n-word is first. As I said on Twitter, “Sometimes I think these people use the n-word on purpose so they can get away with everything else. You say sorry for the n-word & the rest of your bigotry stands.”

So yeah, I don’t care about how many times she used the n-word enough to lose sleep over it. Like I said, it is just another day in N. America. But if you want to talk about the racism that surrounded and/or prompted that word to come out of her mouth so many times and how it is related to the actions and beliefs of so many others in this nation, and you want to deal with what that means and how to have a socially just nation, then let’s talk.

—–

images

  1. Mayer & Knowles/ Sony-BMG Grammy After Party/ unattributed – I keep picking photos with him standing with black women b/c the look on his face is always the same & incredibly telling in the context of his comments
  2. Birth of a Nation/Griffith/1915

Color of Change Save Net Neutrality Email Campaign

Worried that the end of net neutrality is the beginning of the official sanctioning of class, race, and location (as in rural vs urban, inner city vs gated community) inequality on the internet? Worried that this will in turn translate to large inequalities in the real world as even the most basic job now requires a large degree of internet savvy? I am. Most of the people who I know, read, or follow on the internet are as well. And if you are, here is your chance to tell Google how much it will cost them to join hands with the oppressor (you know, for those of you who don’t think they already have):

Dear friends,

If you value the free, fair, and open Internet, then you need to act now, before two corporate giants deal it away.

Several news outlets have just reported that Google and Verizon are about to cut a deal that would allow giant corporations to control which websites load slowly, quickly, or not at all. Google used to oppose this kind of corporate control over the Internet, but now it looks like they’re changing their tune. Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil,” but it looks like their pursuit of profit might be getting in the way of living up to that ideal.

Thankfully, it’s not a done deal yet. If enough of us speak out now, we can create enough pressure to get Google to back off this corporate takeover of the Internet. Will you join me in adding your voice, and then ask your friends and family to do the same?

sign petition here

The basic promise of the Internet lies in the guarantee that information you put online is treated the same as anyone else’s information in terms of its basic ability to travel across the Internet. Your own personal website or blog can compete on equal footing with the biggest companies. It’s the reason the Internet is so diverse — and so powerful. Anyone with a good idea can find their audience online, whether or not there’s money to promote the idea or money to be made from it.

This is critical for Black communities and others that have had our voices compromised by corporate-controlled media. For the first time in history we can communicate with a broad audience, educate, politically organize, and create new businesses — without prohibitive costs or mediation by gatekeepers in government or industry. It’s the strength of your ideas, not the size of your budget, that largely determines your success. In television, radio, and print this can’t happen on a large scale because access is determined by big media corporations seeking to turn a profit.

This deal could take the Internet in a different direction. It could end the Internet’s level playing field by allowing rich corporations like Google to pay for faster-loading websites and services. It could destroy the potential for independent voices to compete with giant corporations for an audience — big corporations who can pay for preferential access to Internet users would drown out the smaller voices online. And it could mean that you’ll start getting less Internet service at a higher cost.

We expect the big telecommunications companies to try to stifle freedom and equality on the Internet — they’ve hired an army of lobbyists to do just that. But Google has always said it supports a free and open Internet. Google likes to portray itself as a corporation with principles that go beyond profit, and it would be disappointing to see Google abandon them.

Google has tried to downplay this story. They issued a short, carefully worded statement that says they’re still committed to an open Internet, but they haven’t denied that they are in talks with Verizon to cut a deal that would give corporations more control over Internet traffic.

By speaking out, you can pressure Google to walk away from this deal. But time is running out — please join me in signing ColorOfChange.org’s petition to Google today:

Sign Petition click here

Thanks.

Key Links:

1. “NYT: Google Just Killed Net Neutrality (UPDATING: Google and Verizon Deny Internet Traffic Deal),” Gizmodo, 8-5-2010
http://gizmodo.com/5605310/google-just-killed-net-neutrality

2. “Google and Verizon Near Deal on Web Pay Tiers,” The New York Times, 8-5-2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/05/technology/05secret.html

3. “Google, Verizon Try to Shape Net-Neutrality Law,” Wall Street Journal, 8-5-2010
http://bit.ly/bivjd6

4. “Google, Verizon Said to Strike Deal on Web Traffic Rules,” Bloomberg, 8-5-2009
http://bit.ly/diIrZP

Lady Gaga Take II

Despite the widely circulated petition mentioned in my previous post on race and queer issues, calls by major queer organizations, a twitter and facebook campaign, and personal phone calls from other musicians, Lady Gaga took to the stage at the end of July in AZ after two days of vacationing in the state prior. Regardless of what you think about her decision to hold the concert, it seems impossible to describe her two-days of vacation in AZ as an act of solidarity with immigrants.

Since the political firestorm surrounding Arizona has been in both national and international news for some time and most artists have officially or unofficially signed on to an artist boycott of the state, we have to assume that Lady Gaga understood that immigrants’ and brown people’s rights were on the table when she made these decisions. Though she has, as far as I know or am able to find, never spoken out about immigrant rights or SB 1070 prior, her concert in Arizona provided an opportunity for her to care about people whose basic human rights continue to be at stake.

When the petition to ask her to care went viral and major news media started to report on the controversy, Lady Gaga finally did the minimum necessary to retain her fan base. THE DAY OF THE CONCERT she met with immigrant rights  groups in Arizona. She did not schedule these meetings nor request them On the contrary, queer immigrant right’s activists working with the Dream Act had been trying to get a hold of her since it came out that she was neither going to speak about SB 1070 nor adhere to the artist boycott. Their meeting was scheduled to last 10 minutes. However, the activists managed to eek out 10 more minutes to tell her a heart wrenching personal story about how the SB 1070 had already cost one of them their brother and safety in their own home after a police raid. In Gaga’s version of the story, she says

“I met a boy who is suffering … He told me his house was raided because of a parking ticket or something.”

The boy’s tragedy had such a lasting impact on her, she could not even remember the details of his story a few hours later. While most people have focused on her dedicating a song to him and saying immigration raids are evil, I hope the other half of that story is now sinking in.

A last minute meeting scheduled for 10 minutes after press starts to turn against you, a half remembered story, and a few choice words condemning ICE while on vacation and/or making concert related bank in Arizona by choice is hardly solidarity. When it is not backed up by any actual work for immigrant rights during the time spent in AZ, prior to it, or afterward, it is laughable.

Gaga followed up this makeshift meeting by writing “Stop SB 1070” on her arm in black ink. As you can see from the picture below, her sharpie-activism was barely visible between her tattoos. Worse, it was likely not visible to the majority of concert goers except when captured on one of the overhead monitors.

AP/unattributed

In my mind, anyone can scribble anything on their body and call it a revolution, but without actual social justice work to back it up what does it really mean to the people whose cause you have inked in so un-permanent and un-prominent a way?

She also spoke out at the concert itself. First she called herself “brave” for crossing a civil rights picket line:

Thank you so much for buying a ticket to see my show Arizona. I didn’t used to be brave, I wasn’t a brave person at all, but you have made me brave. And now I’m gonna be brave for you.

Who is she being brave for? The immigrants for whom she showed no interest prior to the concert or even during the initial stages of the petition asking her to care? The immigrants who she finally decided to talk to for 10 whole minutes after it looked like media might turn against her? Or the politicians and business owners in Arizona that support an Apartheid like state in which any brown person is suspect? After all it is these politicians and business people who have condemned the boycott, called it unfair and an act of violence against “good Americans”,  and said that they will rely on other people “who support besieged Arizonans” to bring needed dollars to the state.

Not content to just condemn SB 1070 outright as was needed and called for, Gaga also took time out to disparage the civil rights related boycott saying:

I got a phone call from a couple really big rock and rollers, big pop stars, big rappers, and they said, we’d like you to boycott Arizona, we’d like you to boycott playing Arizona because of SB1070. And I said, you really think that us dumb fucking pop stars are gonna collapse the economy of Arizona?

. . .

I will yell and I will scream louder and I will hold you and we will hold each other and we will peaceably protest this state.

Like many people from the current generation, Gaga seems both ignorant of the effect of both past boycotts and the present one in Arizona to impact lawmakers’, law enforcers’, and every day people’s perceptions of civil rights.  The money lost in Arizona from people canceling concerts, conferences, and other events have had a huge impact on Arizona so far. Despite her mocking description of it as an attempt to “collapse the economy” the boycott has increased conversations about non-violent protest, solidarity, and the power of both individual people and state’s to impact civil right’s decisions that fly in the face of whatwe  claim N. America is about. That has been essential in every civil rights action in this nation that has not had the official support of the government through national level legislation. It has also shifted the policing tactics and the businesses practices of those impacted in favor of repeal or none enforcement. And finally, it has increased the number of prominent people in Arizona willing to speak out publicly against SB 1070. Their voices are essential precisely because when good people say nothing, oppression always wins.

Even if she does not know what the impact of boycotts has been in Arizona, which would of course speak again to her lack of concern about immigrant rights there, history is on the side of boycotts effectiveness for gaining civil rights. The bus boycotts were instrumental in ensuring people like me had the right to sit in the front of the bus, ride the bus when it was crowded, and even sit down in a seat of our choosing even if a white person wanted to sit there instead. The walkouts, which was a form of boycott, were essential in ensuring people like me also had access to education that reflected us and were able to teach at and attend universities. Isn’t interesting that Arizona’s recent targeting of immigrants has also included an attempt to reverse the latter while also enacting racial profiling through transit that would likely force people on to the bus where they are easier to round up and harass?

Despite the implication of the last quoted line from Gaga above, the majority of people involved in boycotts were engaged in peacable protest. The philosophy surrounding boycotts is non-violent. Most importantly, boycotts have been a cornerstone of non-violent protest against both government and corporate oppression in the U.S. since before it was an independent nation.

It was the police who were not peaceful.

Police turned on the hoses, brought the dogs and the rifles, and used them all against marginalized people in this nation asking simply for basic human and civil rights. The police shoved, punched, bruised and even broke bones of protesters as a matter of course. In some cases they killed them or were at least believed to have done so, since most were not held accountable for deaths in custody or shortly after it. What the police did not do, “besieged citizens” carried out themselves with limited impunity. This is the picture of violence related to boycotts not peaceful protesters in search of equality.

One of the most disconcerting things for me, as a historian, has been watching middle class white activists argue that boycotts are “wrong”, “unhelpful”, or “useless” in the face of their import to equality in this nation. These liberals, many of whom have some activist credibility, not only continue to support businesses and economies that have actively excluded, ignored, erased, or even targeted people of color, immigrants, women, queer people, differently-abled people, etc but also actively mocked those wh0 do participate. In boycotts involving feminists or people who the feminist community have called feminist despite contradicting self-identification, they have even gone up and expressed solidarity with the people who are being boycotted for excluding or targeting marginalized people. Somehow the very fact of their whiteness combined with even the most minimal activism, like sharpie-activism, negates an entire national history and reframes equality seekers as the violent and oppressive minority.

Frighteningly, Lady Gaga’s own actions and the desire to excuse her are only one reflection of this larger trend. Both feminist and mainstream liberal blogs, some written by Latin@s (see comment section for real issues), have proclaimed her solidarity with immigrants on the basis of a few choice words couched in a series of economic actions and even more telling longstanding social justice inactions that show how very little she actually cares about immigrant rights. In fact, before the end of her speech, she reframed the immigration debate into one of universal rights that does not even reference immigration:

Tonight I want you to free yourself, I want you to let go of all of your insecurities, I want you to reject any person or any thing or any law that have ever made you feel like you don’t belong.

I’ll tell you what we have to do about SB1070. We have to be active, we have to actively protest, and the nature of the monster ball is to actively protest prejudice and injustice and the bullshit that is put on our society because you’re a superstar no matter who you are or where you come from, and you were born that way.

While I applaud those who understand that all oppressions are interconnected and that everyone suffers from them whether targeted or not, the tactic of taking a specific issue in which one’s actions are implicated and enlarging it into a general discussion of humanism is one that is often used by liberals and Republicans alike to mask their inaction or benefit from specific oppressions. When we talk about how everyone is oppressed and everyone can shine, we stop talking about how Lady Gaga spent two days vacationing in Arizona and 20 minutes talking to activists to cover it up and instead get to pat ourselves on the backs for supporting such a freeing artists who cares about everyone and everything.

Like the apology from Mel Gibson for his misogynist and antisemitic comments several years ago that had absolutely no reflection in his continued antisemitism, misogyny, and racism I find very little lasting credibility in Gaga’s inked arm and statement. I find even less in the activists willing to embrace her as a supporter of immigrant rights.

Let me close by saying that if we really live in a world where boycotts are seen as stupid and violent and scribbling something on your arm with a sharpie and saying “[insert oppression here] is bad” while doing nothing to change it is revolutionary, then we might as well pack it in. There is no social justice here.

—–

images

  • AP/unattributed
  • AP/unattributed
  • AZ Press/unattributed
  • Freedom Bus burned by anti-civil rights people only held accountable in the last 5 years
  • Birmingham Desegregation Campaign/Amistad Resources/unattributed
  • “The Power of Inaction”/J Dilworth

One of These Women is Apparently Not Like The Other: Conspicuous Consumption @ the White House

Take a moment to consider the bulk of the news coverage last week. What were some of the top stories that you can remember? It should not take too long for both the name and the image of Chelsea Clinton to float across your memory.

Whether you were one of the people who did not care about the Clinton wedding or one of those who gloried in its every detail, you could not possibly have gotten through last week or even the week before without hearing about the millions of dollars pouring into the former President and Presidential hopeful’s daughter’s wedding. Estimates from legitimate news sources place the wedding cost at between $2 and $5 million.

AP Photo

While Joy Behar stood out for criticizing the conspicuous consumption of politicians and celebrities, while being attacked by her co-hosts, the media party line was that:

  1. the Clinton wedding “created jobs”
  2. the Clintons are “the last of N. American royalty”
  3. the Clintons have money and therefore “every right to spend it however they see fit”

Embedded in these depictions is the celebration of conspicuous consumption during a recession because (1) it’s a wedding, and as long as you are heterosexual the mythos of this country is that you should spare no expense and (2) despite often being the center of much criticism, the Clintons are still white and what rich white people do with their money in this country has largely been off limits for critique unless they are British and go yachting while ruining two nation’s delicate ecosystems with oil. And even then, some people will defend them.

AP Photo/Sergio Torres

The First Lady and youngest daughter, Sasha Obama, went on vacation in Spain this week.  While her trip has certainly received way less fanfare than the Clinton wedding, the people reporting on it have taken an entirely different track than they did with the Clinton’s 2-5 million dollar event.

While the people in Spain celebrated the arrival of the First Lady and her friends, and looked forward to how their visit would likely boost the economy there no similar discussion happened in the U.S. Instead discussion has focused on:

  1. First Lady Obama’s “extravagant wardrobe”
  2. First Lady Obama’s “glitzy” and “extravagant vacation while N. Americans suffer”

While the cost of the trip is unknown it is estimated that the room Michelle and Sasha are staying in costs $2500 a night, or roughly $10,000 total for the 4 days they have been there. Secret Service agents are likely staying in rooms that cost between $500 and $2500 a night.

While the Clintons were praised for generating jobs, The NY Daily News went so far as to refer to the First Lady as “the Material Girl” and “Marie Antionette” who you may recall partied while France descended into abject poverty. The same article implies that the First Lady is “traveling by Air Force 2” as if she takes the plane from the hotel to the shops, hotel to the beach, etc. and not just flew from DC to Spain. Yet the NY Daily News ran no similar article questioning the gas guzzling SUVs that actually did transport the Clinton’s and their Secret Service entourage to the Clinton wedding. (Unlike other vehicles transporting people to the wedding, these cars would have been paid for by tax dollars.) In fact, there was no discussion of how tax payer money went into the Clinton wedding whatsoever because it was understood that the people running our nation need protection, at least as long as they aren’t the Obamas that is. Thus the costs of the Secret Service in Spain is referred to as part of the larger cost in the Obama trip, while the same cost of Secret Service at the Clinton wedding which included protection for the former President, the current Secretary of State, and the Chelsea Clinton herself were not included in the estimates of the Clinton wedding. (The same can be said for the costs associated with guests at the two events. The Clinton wedding paid for food, drink, hotel rooms, and parties said to last until 2 or 3 in the morning for guests but no one counted or repeatedly referred to the number of attendees as a sign of extravagance. The Obama vacation includes 40 guests and each has been counted and recounted with flabbergasted disgust about how much cost they are assumed to be generating. In both cases, the tax payers are not footing the bill but in the latter the media would like you to think so.)

For those keeping up with the coverage of the White House, these disparities are not new. The Obamas are the first, First Family, to have to account for whose money is being spent every time they leave the country. After complaints condemning their first trip, the White House Press Secretary began routinely announcing that the Obamas were spending their own money on all their vacation related expenses for every trip they took. No similar standard was applied to George Bush who not only vacationed often but did so during both internal and external crisis in the country.  Nor was his wife, former First Lady Bush, questioned about her trips with their two daughters. In fact, while First Lady Obama’s trip has been criticized as a “private affair on tax payer’s dime”, something partially caused by the White House Press secretary’s attempts to fend off invasive and condemning reports by saying she has a right to take private vacations with her children, a similar Safari taken by Laura Bush received limited criticism because she made some official visits at the same time. The First Lady also has an official visit on her agenda, but the press are either ignoring this or referring to it as an excuse to deflect her propensity to vacay.

The disparity then stems not from who is spending what but from the perception of legitimacy. First Lady Obama’s official events with Spanish leaders do not count because she is not seen as legitimate by the people doing the counting. The Obamas’ repeated statements that they pay their own way, even while other Presidential families have not, does not count because they are not seen as a legitimate presidential family. Even the reference to the Clintons as “the last N. American royalty” speaks to the lack of legitimacy of the Obamas in the eyes of white supremacist and white hegemony in the U.S.

And what about those jobs? Anyone who has ever put on an event knows that the bulk of jobs created during those events are akin to day labor. Low paid, low skilled workers are hired to do the bulk of the jobs and only for the hours they actually need to be done. In other words, an event creates a single day or less of work for most of the employees in question. It pays these employees minimum wage or in some cases, depending on how much they work and whether they are charged for uniforms, less than minimum wage. They receive no health care benefits. They often get no breaks unless they take them at the risk of getting caught and fired without pay for the work they have already done. They have no job security during the day, simply bumping into the wrong guest can get a person fired without pay.

But what about those seamstresses and catering companies and flower shops everyone mentioned? Seamstresses are skilled piece workers. They are paid by the garment. When the garment is finished, their work is finished. Like the catering company and the flower shop, the seamstresses chosen for “celebrity” weddings are well-established workers who have a large and important client list. While the economy has likely cut into their salaries considerably, they are not part of the millions of unemployed workers desperate for any job they can get. Instead, they are people who work for billionaires and get their jobs through a network of similarly rich people talking amongst themselves.

In other words, the Clinton wedding generated revenue but not jobs in the sense that the media would like you to believe.

Let me conclude this post by saying that I was among those who criticized the extravagance of the Clinton wedding. I did think it was in poor taste to spend millions of dollars while people are losing their homes, their jobs, their unemployment benefits, and enslaved to school and poverty related credit card debt. I think the same thing about the First Lady’s trip to Spain. While it is nowhere near the same scale of expense, it is still an expensive vacation during a recession in which need our leaders, both current and former, to set the tone.

What I am critiquing in this post then is not the expense but rather the perception and depiction of it. While one woman was celebrated for spending more money on a single event, that many in this country are denied access to, the other was disparaged for what will ultimately a working vacation. If we look just at the money spent by tax payers on both events and compare it to the need, ie threats to the Obamas safety and their role as current First Family vs. no threats to the Clintons and their role as former First Family, the disparity becomes all the more trasnsparent. If we add in the fact that one family is being held accountable for personal spending and the spending of their guests while the others are being praised for it and asked about who designed what, there is no escaping the double standard.

Ultimately, from the smallest event to the largest, N. Americans continue to see the world through race and its intersections with class, gender, sexuality, etc. Until we confront this issue head on and learn new ways to understand our world and our nation, there is no way to move forward.