Posted on: 03/23/10:
A Right to Life for the Living
By Melissa Harris-Lacewell
By Melissa Harris-Lacewell
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study employed Eunice Rivers as an outreach coordinator for more than thirty years. Her role, as an African-American nurse, was to gain and maintain the trust of black men targeted by the study. She helped ensure that they did not seek the widely available, highly effective medical care that they critically needed to treat their syphilis, because if they received penicillin they would disrupt the study's goal of observing the disease's devastating course of blindness, madness and physical decay.To read the rest of the article, click here
Georgia's largest antiabortion group, Georgia Right to Life, is employing a similar strategy. Catherine Davis is its Eunice Rivers. As outreach coordinator for the predominantly white group, this black woman is traveling to black churches and colleges decrying abortion as a genocidal conspiracy against African-Americans and encouraging black women not to exercise their legal right to obtain the healthcare of their choice.
The Tuskegee study was initiated in the rural South during a period of great economic distress. It preyed on vulnerable communities with few medical resources and little political power. It employed a cynical racist strategy of encouraging black compliance by deploying black spokespeople to claim that the study's efforts were in the best interests of African-Americans.
Georgia Right to Life has revived this racial masquerade by portraying its opposition to reproductive rights as a campaign for racial justice. This is a potentially effective strategy because it taps into the troubling legacy of eugenics-inspired efforts to broaden birth control access and legalize abortion. Family planning pioneer Margaret Sanger was a eugenics proponent who sought to reduce birthrates among the poor, the disabled and racial and ethnic minorities. State-enforced involuntary sterilization was a common practice in the United States until the 1960s. Southern doctors routinely performed hysterectomies without consent; civil rights organizer Fannie Lou Hamer was the victim of one of these "Mississippi appendectomies." Moreover, black families and children are often labeled deviant, pathological, potentially criminal and burdensome to taxpayers. In a country that glorifies large white families, it feels as though few celebrate or encourage the birth of black children. Given this ugly history, it is easy for many to believe racialized antichoice appeals like the Georgia Right to Life billboards asserting Black Children Are an Endangered Species.
But if black children are endangered, the reasons are far more complicated than those billboards suggest. If these conservative organizations are really concerned about creating and maintaining a robust black birthrate, then they will have to buy space for some additional billboards. They could start with a billboard that says, Poverty Is Genocide. Black babies are more than twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday. Maternal poverty, inadequate nutrition and insufficient prenatal care are the key contributors to black infant mortality.
They need a billboard declaring Inadequate Education Is Genocide. Black children are significantly more likely to live in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty and residential segregation and, therefore, to attend schools with inferior resources, lower-quality instructors and larger class sizes. Children in these schools are vastly more likely to drop out, to be arrested, to be the victims of violent crime and to die prematurely.
Posted on: 03/18/10:
Black male privilege is often articulated through the ways in which "Black" is usually shorthand for "Black male," such that discourses about race and racial diversity (particularly in conservative Christian circles) curiously conceal the existence and conditions of Black women, thereby (re)authorizing patriarchical arrangements and sexist practices that, in part, produce Black male privilege!
From NPR's Tell Me More:
From NPR's Tell Me More:
But first, we want to talk about black men for a moment because on just about any day, there is some tragic story about black men in the news on the Internet or bandied about at the water cooler. And often those stories are about how black men are mistreated by police or underserved by educators or about how they are falling short in some way. But sociologist LHeureux Lewis, who is himself a black man, has been thinking about and documenting a fresh take on the question of black men and race and power, as a theory that he calls black male privilege.To read the rest of the article, click here
And if that raises your eyebrows, you are not alone. So, we called him to find out more. Hes - LHeureux Lewis is an assistant professor of sociology at the City University of New York, and he joins us now. Welcome, thank you for joining us.
Professor LHEUREUX LEWIS (Sociology, City University of New York): Thank you for having me on.
MARTIN: So, define black male privilege. Im sure thats a phrase on its face that will get people to sit up and take notice.
Prof. LEWIS: My working definition is really a system of built-in and often overlooked systematic advantages that center the experience and the concerns of black males while minimizing the power that black males hold, which is a fancy way of saying, we are absolutely used to talking about African-American men in crisis. And we can talk about this crisis so much that we miss the ways in which black men are oppressed and can also serve as oppressors.
MARTIN: And when you say privileged, I think generally people think of privilege in relation to whom. So, when you think of privilege, are you speaking relative to someone?
Prof. LEWIS: Absolutely. Black male privilege is first centered as being relative to black women. Im not comparing black males privilege to white male privilege. I think one could argue that, but itd be a very dangerous leap. When we look in the African-American community, there are actually spaces where black men are advantaged and often sometimes dominate a dialogue, when we should be listening more carefully to whats happening with black women equally.
MARTIN: Give an example.
Prof. LEWIS: In particular, if we think about the narrative of mass incarceration, we think about the ways in which black men and black boys have been locked up at increasing rates since the 1980s. While this is true, the fastest growing incarceration rate is particularly among black and Latino women. And because we havent thought seriously about whats happening with black girls and Latino girls, we tend to make the issue of incarceration solely male, and we miss the different ways in which we need to be intervening not just for our young boys, but also our young girls.
MARTIN: Well, give another example then, because I think people would say focusing on those who are even worse off than you doesnt mean youre well off.
Prof. LEWIS: Well, the first time I really came to think about black male privilege was when I was a freshman at Morehouse College. And at that point, there was actually an incident of sexual assault between a Morehouse student and a Spelman student. And what I found quickly were that black men were -instead of actually talking seriously about issues of sexual assault, which are very common in our community, it became a discussion about the ways in which black men become vilified. So, what happens is we often look at issues like domestic violence or sexual assault, and instead of actually dealing with those who are survivors or the victims of it, predominantly African-American women, we re-center it on black men.
Posted on: 03/09/10:
Progressive Bible Study
By Melissa Harris-Lacewell
By Melissa Harris-Lacewell
History is replete with examples of how religion has been used to divide, abuse, and justify horror. Christian theologies have been distorted to fit ideologies of white supremacy, patriarchy, imperialism and oppression. Today many Conservative spokespersons continue to selectively quote scripture, employ religious imagery and deploy twisted religious rhetoric to support policies of unprovoked international aggression and domestic oppression.To read the rest of the article, click here
Many who resist marriage equality base their opposition in a biblical assertion that homosexuality is inherently evil and deserving of punishment. They often point to Leviticus 20:13, which reads "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
When Haiti was ravaged by a devastating earthquake, Pat Robertson argued that the nation was cursed. Robertson's insisted the island was reaping a harvest of death and destruction because they had entered into a pact with the devil during their 19th century liberation struggle.
Just last week, Virginia state delegate Bob Marshall said that children born with disabilities are divine punishment for those who terminate earlier pregnancies. To support his position Marshall cited Exodus 13:2, which reads "Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine."
With this history, it is easy to understand the progressive desire to eliminate God talk from political life. Let's banish faith claims from public life and get on with addressing the empirical realities of inequality. I am sympathetic to this solution. Policymaking should be firmly rooted in secular decision making based in evidence, science, and non-religious assessments of the common good.
But if the left remains near exclusively secular in its approach to public life, it will continue to miss important opportunities for building broader and more durable coalitions. Ignoring, denigrating or hoping to eliminate biblically based faith claims from public discourse does not serve progressive political interests.
At least part of the political Left needs to engage biblical texts and arguments directly. This does not mean simply trying to reinterpret biblical stories so that their messages are liberal and libratory; it also means acknowledging that some texts are irredeemably oppressive.
Posted on: 03/04/10:
I Can't Think Of One Religious Reason Against Health Care Reform -- Can You?
By Paul Raushenbush
By Paul Raushenbush
We are in a critical stage in the health care reform debate and religious people should be weighing in by providing a moral argument in favor of, or against health care reform. Religious leaders should be talking about health care in small groups and in their weekly services in an effort to translate what their sacred texts and inherited traditions say about the issues which confront us in the debate on health care.To read the rest of the article, click here
From my perspective I cannot think of one religiously based argument against reforming America's health care system. Health care reform is fundamentally about keeping health care costs affordable for those who already have some kind of insurance, and making it available for the millions who do not have it.
Care of our basic well-being is an essential element of religious concern. In my own tradition of Christianity, Jesus was in the practice of healing those who were sick (the roots of the word salvation is connected to healing), and he mandated his disciples to go about the business of healing the sick and providing for the poor. Christians alive today are meant to continue the work of Jesus and be the body of Christ. While we may not have miraculous healing powers ourselves, we do have the ability to make sure that the miraculous healing ability of medicine is available to all who need it.
I honestly hope that someone will correct me about this, but it seems to me that the objections to health care reform always come down to selfishness. People who enjoy good health care are worried that their own care might suffer if it were extended to a wider group, or else they resent that they might have to pay a bit more to allow for health care for the poor. Putting aside the fact that those with money will always be able to buy superior health care, and that insurance companies continue to raise costs on health care annually -- with reform or without it -- the religious objection to these arguments is that they are grounded in making self interest the priority at the expense of the well-being of others. This selfishness is the antithesis of the religious impulse.
Posted on: 03/01/10:
The Black Church Is Dead
By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
The Black Church, as we've known it or imagined it, is dead. Of course, many African Americans still go to church. According to the PEW Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, 87 percent of African Americans identify with a religious group and 79 percent say that religion is very important in their lives. But the idea of this venerable institution as central to black life and as a repository for the social and moral conscience of the nation has all but disappeared.To read the rest of the article, click here
Several reasons immediately come to mind for this state of affairs. First, black churches have always been complicated spaces. Our traditional stories about them -- as necessarily prophetic and progressive institutions -- run up against the reality that all too often black churches and those who pastor them have been and continue to be quite conservative. Black televangelists who preach a prosperity gospel aren't new. We need only remember Prophet Jones and Reverend Ike. Conservative black congregations have always been a part of the African American religious landscape. After all, the very existence of the Progressive Baptist Convention is tied up with a trenchant critique of the conservatism of the National Baptist Convention, USA. But our stories about black churches too often bury this conservative dimension of black Christian life.
Second, African American communities are much more differentiated. The idea of a black church standing at the center of all that takes place in a community has long since passed away. Instead, different areas of black life have become more distinct and specialized -- flourishing outside of the bounds and gaze of black churches. I am not suggesting that black communities have become wholly secular; just that black religious institutions and beliefs stand alongside a number of other vibrant non-religious institutions and beliefs.
Moreover, we are witnessing an increase in the numbers of African Americans attending churches pastored by the likes of Joel Osteen, Rick Warren or Jentzen Franklin. These non-denominational congregations often "sound" a lot like black churches. Such a development, as Dr. Jonathan Walton reminded me, conjures up E. Franklin Frazier's important line in The Negro Church in America: "In a word, the Negroes have been forced into competition with whites in most areas of social life and their church can no longer serve as a refuge within the American community." And this goes for evangelical worship as well.
Thirdly, and this is the most important point, we have witnessed the routinization of black prophetic witness. Too often the prophetic energies of black churches are represented as something inherent to the institution, and we need only point to past deeds for evidence of this fact. Sentences like, "The black church has always stood for..." "The black church was our rock..." "Without the black church, we would have not..." In each instance, a backward glance defines the content of the church's stance in the present -- justifying its continued relevance and authorizing its voice. Its task, because it has become alienated from the moment in which it lives, is to make us venerate and conform to it.
But such a church loses it power. Memory becomes its currency. Its soul withers from neglect. The result is all too often church services and liturgies that entertain, but lack a spirit that transforms, and preachers who deign for followers instead of fellow travelers in God.
Black America stands at the precipice. African American unemployment is at its highest in 25 years. Thirty-five percent of our children live in poor families. Inadequate healthcare, rampant incarceration, home foreclosures, and a general sense of helplessness overwhelm many of our fellows. Of course, countless local black churches around the country are working diligently to address these problems.
The question becomes: what will be the role of prophetic black churches on the national stage under these conditions? Any church as an institution ought to call us to be our best selves -- not to be slaves to doctrine or mere puppets for profit. Within its walls, our faith should be renewed and refreshed. We should be open to experiencing God's revelation anew. But too often we are told that all has been said and done. Revelation is closed to us and we should only approximate the voices of old.