laws, guns, and money, pt 1

In the light of horrendous massacres, those who have a heart cry out to “do something” to prevent further atrocities. However, a narrow focus on gun control—or worse, mental health—at best only treats symptoms. Homicides are not merely a fact of weapons (which is to say tools) but of will, of psychological possibility, and apparent necessity. As we see in other contexts around the world, semiautomatics are but one efficient way to kill a group of people, but far from the only. So, we need to not just look at the tools of homicide, but the motives as well. Not just the how but the why are important. I’m convinced that in the context of the United States, it’s helpful to look at how state violence is carried out here and abroad on behalf of corporations and that violence becoming internalized. Digging further, the fact that the US leads the world in energy and food consumption (and waste) is not unrelated to the fact that its military dwarfs all other militaries. Combined with its repressive and militarized police and incarceral system and extreme income inequality, this helps explain why we have a more abundant gun and violence culture than other rich countries.[1] We will cover more of the why’s later, but for now I want to highlight how this concentration on the how is problematic, perhaps futile, and often worse.

Much is made in liberal circles of the over-abundance of guns. The United States leads the world in terms of firearm ownership with just slightly more guns than people (101:100 ratio). However, it rates low in terms of the guns to gun-death ratio, with several countries tacking upwards of 70 to 1000 times the number. Clearly, someone is stockpiling these weapons,[2] so the overabundance isn’t the only factor. And while this may sound insipid, perhaps there is something to the conservative argument that taking away guns merely means those who seek to commit mass murders will find other ways to do so. Lethal retaliation against random members of targeted populations (otherwise known as terrorism) takes the form of knives, homemade bombs, vehicles, and, hell, planes. However, reactionaries are always looking for distractions and scapegoats to continue the perpetuation of massive violence. On the other hand, liberalism avoids searching systemic causes. But a nation and world in such dire straits as ours must radically cut to the roots of the problem, particularly if the proposed solutions may garner more problems than solutions.

And the problems are many. On the one hand is the gun control debate where we question how to regulate the flow of weapons. A waiting period is reasonable and should not be discounted, but most of these mass random killings had been planned for months and the weapons bought well in advance. We must also take a hard look as to how historically and presently such laws have been used to criminalize Black and Brown citizens, much as anti-drug laws have done to racialized people. In fact, gun laws have the double effect of targeting black people for contact with law enforcement (and thus increasing the likelihood of death and prison) and of stripping black people of self-defense (as seen in the Reformation era, Jim Crow, and the Black Power movement). Despite much crowing from self-appointed– if not self-righteous–ministers of non-violence (who tend to be White and have little skin in the game), it was the Deacons of Defense and other armed revolutionary Black Southerners who kept the Civil Rights Movement safe in the hyper-violent Jim Crow South as witnesses such as This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed testify. Notice that there are two different standards in the application of gun laws and in how it works in relation to encounters with law enforcement: One is for White people and those connected to Whiteness and the other is for Black people and those connected to Blackness. Playing with toys did not save John Crawford or Tamir Rice. Being lawfully compliant and polite did not save Philando Castile. Carrying a phone and not a gun did not save Cedrick Chatman nor countless other Black youth and adults framed for their own murder by police who are supported by liberal fear of Black power.

If the liberal answer is to look at the tools as flawed, the conservative answer is to look at the people as such–not to seek solutions but to further alienate and oppress specific populations. Targeted here are racial and religious minorities and people facing mental health issues. While liberals tend to indirectly indict these same groups,[3] reactionaries like to go for the jugular. This can lead to travel bans, more militarized policing and crackdowns on protest, and of course ableist rhetoric that blames violence on mental health and stigmatizes mental illness. Not only are these not solutions and detrimental to the targeted populations, but they involve implementing and releasing more violence. Stigmatizing mental health, for instance, leads those facing mhi to resist assistance and therapy. This undergrounding of mental health leads to victimization for the person with the disability. By now we should all be aware that those who suffer mental health problems are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Further, going underground and not seeking help or voicing needs leads to a higher likelihood of being preyed upon.

Not that mental health access isn’t necessary, but the US doesn’t have more people facing mental health issues than anywhere else. We need to disentangle talking about mental health and mass shootings or we risk combining the two and trapping many of us into a villainized victimization.

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[1] It’s important to note that the US does not lead the world in gun-related deaths, and even less so with firearm-related homicides. In fact, it is around 15th place depending on how metrics are measured. But it does lead in so-called developed countries. What this reinforces is that poverty kills. And as the US leads rich nations in wealth inequality and gun ownership, so it leads rich nations in homicides and suicides.

[2] Apparently, half of the weapons are owned by 3% of the population, with an average of 17 guns per owner at that top tier. Thanks to ___ for pointing this out.

[3] By supporting anti-crime bills and deportations as well as malignant rhetoric about “Muslim extremists/terrorists” and stigmatizing mental health problems

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The Axioms of Evil

It’s been sixteen years since George W Bush and David Frum introduced to the neocon play action Axis of Evil speech¹ pointing out the three major powers that the US wanted to overthrow and colonize liberate from any semblance of self-rule: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea (DPRK). These were three nations that supposedly sponsored terrorism and were thus linked to the 9/11 attacks on US soil. An attack by a network not affiliated by any of these countries but instead by one of the US’s closest allies, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Since Iraq has already been dealt with, to put it crudely, and the Gears of War are turning on the other two due to either some protest or escalating nuclear tensions, it’s time for a some disjointed thoughts:

  • First, let’s dispel the false notion that there were millions of protesters in Iran calling for the overthrow of the government (and certainly that they want the United States to overthrow it). Several pictures of Brown-People-Protesting did go viral, but one of those was in Buenos Aires and another in Bahrain–two large-scale protests that Americans did not care about.
  • One of the main driving factors for the Iranian protests, as they are, has been economic. People protesting in the hundreds to thousands for a better standard of living, and against cuts to the social safety net, such as reductions in cash subsidies to the bottom 90%. How familiar does that sound to Americans? But in this case, we’re supposed to believe that Donald Trump and reactionary American elites are on the side of the protesters?
  • No one dared to raise the possibility of regime change during the millions-led Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, a clear (but respectable) sign of dissatisfaction with the current regime by a significant percentage of the population.
  • No one dared suggest toppling DC after the #J20 protesters on the day of the Inauguration for protesting a little more loudly. In fact, the police kettled and arrested 200 such under false pretenses and have pressured most to either take a plea bargain (granting them a criminal record for either protesting or being adjacent to a protest) or face up to 80 years in prison. Some are still in jail or awaiting trial.
  • What country raised the possibility of invading the US during any of the Fight for $15 minimum wage demonstrations? These were longer, and involved tens of thousands of people, many literally leaving their work place during hours. And while several municipalities raised their minimum wages (after decades of stagnation), several states made it impossible for cities and counties to increase the minimum wage–despite the fact that cost-of-living substantially rise in urban areas and thus states should not be in charge of determining what is and is not livable. Missouri Republicans, for instance, forced St Louis to reduce the minimum wage by 20%! This was clearly a repressive state action. But again, silence.
  • Speaking of St Louis, where were the regime change callers when the Black Lives Matter protests kicked off? Thousands of oppressed people took to the streets demanding justice in the criminal justice system and its attendant policing. While the justice system started making minor accommodations to their demands, the current administration has worked overtime to turn back those concessions and several states have introduced bills that make it perfectly legal to run over protesters. Clearly, Black Lives do not matter to this regime.
  • But, if anything, the US is ignoring long-standing protests in South Korea against the US’s military presence and impending war.
  • Meanwhile, the US has given millions of dollars to support the right-wing government in Honduras, which killed dozens of protesters recently. When the Washington-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández was accused of rigging the elections in his favor, thousands took to the street. Dozens were killed, most directly by the narco military police units. In one scene, a group of unarmed protesters were shot down by the police who would tell the world that their victims were shooting back at them and thus they had no choice.

Relatives of the dead say they fear that there will be no justice over post-election violence: some say they have been threatened by troops; others point out that human rights prosecutions involving security forces are overseen by the same task force that helps coordinate [military police] operations.

  • North Korea at least is acting in a defensive position. Who does the US have to prove itself to? Who is threatening to destroy our entire country? What nation in the world has ever wiped off one-fifth of our people? (Not counting the original inhabitants because then the answer would be the United States.)
  • Who knew our president would use classic Orientalist tropes about Asian male sexuality IN A FUCKING TWEET?
  • South Korea (the Republic of Korea) began negotiating talks with the DPRK without US input. This angered Trump and Nikki Haley because it’s important for US interests (including Abe’s Japan) to make it look like Kim and the DPRK are unhinged and would never compromise; as if North Korea were the one making threats, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • When the negotiations between North and South Korea to start talks began leaking, all of the US media focused on how divisive this would be, how it will end badly (for who?), and how Trump is taking credit (despite the fact that Nikki Haley just yesterday distanced the administration from the talks).
  • The United States’ two biggest allies in the Middle East do not allow for protests. It is illegal in Israel to display the Palestinian flag, and a group of more than five protesters is also violently prohibited. And we all know about the extensive human rights abuses in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Israel prevents movement in Gaza and shoots Palestinians trying to get away on boats. But you never hear of politicians condemning Israel or the KSA the way they do the DPRK and Iran.
  • If, however (and hear me out, please), Iran had a nuclear arsenal, the Trump administration would be much more likely to heed caution as they’re doing irt: North Korea.
  • There are some times when I truly wish that Trump actually was a stooge for Putin and Russia.
  • Meanwhile, in a country we’ve already conquered (my ancestral homeland): So far, at least one thousand Puerto Ricans have died and millions more at still at high-risk, without regular clean water or electricity as a result of Hurricane Maria and the US’s abysmal response. Clearly, we do not have a good track record of supporting our colonies², so why should we have a right to talk to or about Iran or Korea?

¹ In what the Washington Post dubbed the Fourth Best State of the Union Address ever.

² Yes, that is the point of colonialism, after all….

Suppression, Revolution, and Commodification: On Baby Boomers and Millennials

The ongoing flame wars between Greedy Baby Boomers and Entitled Millennials is not only  tiring (its roots lay some 25 years ago when mainstream media dubbed us Gen X’ers “Slackers”), it lacks deeper analysis in need of some old fashioned dialectical materialism. Because the problem isn’t so much the people, but the conditions.

Let’s start with the coming-of-age of Boomers. The Post-War years brought along unheralded prosperity due in no small part to added productivity in the global economy (what with the US sitting out most of this war between Empires only to clean out on top at the tail end) and a large swath of the population missing. Semi-skilled labor, due to the work or threats of unionization, finally delivered living wages and a level of comfort unknown for the Working Class. Or, shall we say, the White Working Class, as Black and other non-White populations were denied entrance to many of the mechanizations of prosperity–such as drastically increased wages, accessible higher education, and the expansion of home ownership in the sprawling suburbs. The fact that the suburbs were sprawling and that home ownership there was so available was the work of a federal government once again expanding the terms of settler-colonialism through the mechanisms of the nation-state including reduced fuel prices and expanded interstate projects coupled with a new form of Homestead Act.

The benefits of the White Working Class mediated a distinction brought about by commerce and the bourgeois government that would lead to the creation of a large and placated White Middle Class to buffer against dispirited Working Class people. Higher social mobility through the GI Bill coupled with geometric mobility, allowing a large White Flight from the urban areas, where the new White Middle Class and industries were able to transport wealth gotten through wage theft of the working class Black and White people of the city. The same remnant working class people were stagnated in urban ghettos such as, in Chicago, Uptown or Bronzeville. Meanwhile, higher-paid White WC and Black Entrepreneurs moved to their own racially and class-segregated neighborhoods to act as yet another buffer. Because White Supremacist Capitalism thrives on buffers and interruptions. And so it’s important to note that any critique of the Baby Boomer generation as a whole is woefully inadequate, as it misses many of those purposefully left behind in this new ecology.

This social and capital mobilization was imprinted for the benefit of welcoming a White Baby Boom for the manufacturing and consumption of consumptive goods, the bread and butter of American capitalism. The rising Middle Class Baby Boomers were raised in this atmosphere, but globally and locally something else was happening: revolution was in the air. While many people give White hippies (the children of the rising White Middle Class in the US) credit for the burgeoning revolutionary spirit of the 1960’s, the reductionism is particularly nationalistic and racist. Revolutions against imperialist capitalism were happening throughout the under-developed world and were finally coming to a head in the 1950’s. Whether China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, or India and the entirety of the European colonized in Africa, people of color throughout the world were unshackling themselves from Western hegemony, often at great cost. The Washington, Belgian, and corporate influence could be felt at the peak of the bullet and bomb through Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Black America in the US South and Urban North. Other formerly-colonized began to rise up and stand their ground, including the Chicano and American Indian Movements while women (famously-but-not-solely White women in the US) were simultaneously struggling for social, economic, and sexual liberation (as all three are interconnected).

It was in this frame of the liberatory organizing of the Black and Brown proletariat that the occasional White ally would arise and, due to the power of Whiteness, would somehow amass a substantial amount of the credit. While not in the same vein as the FBI taking credit for dismantling lynching White Supremacist vigilante groups during the Civil Rights Movement, it’s clear that dues owed White allies such as the Weathermen during this time may be overrepresented.

Yet, the rise of radicalism in White Middle Class Baby Boomers was an effect of the times that were a-changing. Being White and affluent, they had more direct influence and it was harder to ignore these would-be class-and-race-traitors (in the most complimentary of tones). The way they would be silenced would be different from the silencing of Black and Brown radicals throughout the world and domestically. Key leaders of the Black civil rights, anti-war, and liberation movements were assassinated and the movements as a whole underwent severe repression on all fronts that the full lethal force of the federal and local police (and aiding vigilantes) and judicial system as well as economic depression, psychological and social warfare. It’s increasingly easy to argue that they had a hand in flooding our neighborhoods with illicit drugs and guns (while maintaining .the strict prison industry that severely punishes Black and Brown communities for obtaining or holding such).

The White Middle Class retreated back to the life they were raised to occupy, to take over the mechanizations of industry. To further expand the unsustainable economic growth they sought, they helped to usher in Ronald Reagan’s Neoliberal state (aka, the Final Stage of Capitalism).  They commodified public works and turned stable and previously accessible goods into get-rich schemes. They dismantled the welfare state, the collective organizing, and the infrastructure which had enabled their transition into the comfortable Middle Class. They also helped to dismantle Affirmative Action which had temporarily expanded a Black Middle Class.

So this exponential growth necessitated the dismantling of the means to that growth. Once the capitalist class established enough buffers and re-stole all the wealth they could (in a time of tremendous economic growth, the top ten percent came away with 99% of it, leaving the working and middle class with one percent) while exponentially increasing the cost of living.  The very stolen wealth has become its own buffer. And the Petty Bourgeois White Baby Boomers, who have already entered into a comfortable retirement, seem blissfully unaware that the next generation faces the void of the disparity between the standards of living of the Baby Boomer generation and the cost of living in the new millennium.

You see, a dialectical materialism will tell you that it’s not Boomers or Millennials you should be angry with, it’s Capitalism and Whiteness.

Thanksgiving, the National Myth-Making

Thanksgiving is a collective remembering of a national myth. National myths are ahistorical stories that we retell over and over to and about ourselves as a people.

While they may be ahistorical, as though they didn’t happen in a specific time and date and place, national myths are important. They help preserve culture, connections, and kinship and help guard against those things that tear us apart. They can be a bulwark against oppression and suppression, ways of remembering the best of ourselves when the world and empire strike against us. The Torah, for example, is a national myth about Hebrew and Jewish people and their identity that often sets them apart and unique, even as many of the stories are adapted from local myths and legends and then reframed for a different context, a people who imagined themselves differently. Indigenous people throughout the world celebrate and remember national myths. The Iroquois had myths that the Puritans considered dangerous in their encounters. Schools were established to “Kill the Indian and save the Man” by driving out Hopi, Sioux, and other indigenous languages, customs and myths. So recalling those myths are important resistance to white settler colonialism.

We’re very familiar with the dangerous side of national myths, however, such as Hitler’s regurgitation the National Myth of Germany through Wagner, Nietzsche, and antisemitic and racist tropes. And the National Myth of the United States being founded as a paragon of freedom and liberty is especially pernicious in the face that its Founding Fathers denied women the right to vote and held black people as literal pieces of property.

Image result for charlie brown thanksgiving table

But it is more important what we do with our national myths and whether we are willing to interrogate them, especially if, like in the States, it is one of genocide and chattel slavery disguised as kindness and civilization.

Thanksgiving as a whole has its moments. It is a time to spend with family–whether biological or chosen or a mix of both–and a time to practice gratitude, which can be revolutionary in an atmosphere of consumption. But then it’s followed by a day expressly for the purpose of hyper-consumptive capitalism. It’s no mistake then that the main mythos narrative of Thanksgiving is of settler colonialism.

The narrative of a friendly dinner with the natives is a ritualized hand-off of the land and its bounties from the original occupants to the settlers, who now rightfully belong. How fitting that dinner is situated around a land-occupying sport like American football with one of the teams named the Cowboys–another powerful settler-colonial myth about the rugged Anglo individual who tames the Wild West and vanquishes the savage American Indian. It’s also telling that next week, the Cowboys will be playing the Redsk*ns, a specifically genocidal slur against American Indians.

I would argue it is time to confront, rather than run from, what this national remembrance means. To interrogate it as Jewish people do the Torah. To recognize the role it has played in our society and how we use it to erase and murder Native peoples here. And then to set about to make corrections.

School Priorities: Protect the Assets

What I will say following is out of the deepest love and respect for the students, teachers, parents, and administration and staff of the Chicago Public Schools, as a former or current participant in all but the latter two categories.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is going to invest in CPS next year by an additional $80 million from City Hall. Did I say “invest”? I’m sorry, I mean, rather than restructuring the contract with the Chicago Police Department to remove its presence from within the schools and save the city 80,000,000 dollars a year, he’s going to put that money back into the School-to-Prison Pipeline, diverting it from other needed resources.

His plan has always been to take money earmarked for schools and children and give it to capitalists. He does this through expanding the privatization of schools (which doubles private investments within a seven year period); enforcing standardized tests (enriching the testing and curriculum industry while stunting student-driven pedagogy); expanding the hyper-localization of taxes that is known as TIF zones where half a billion dollars a year that should go to schools and parks is redirected to private investors and developers; and shutting down fifty schools in poor Black and Brown communities by ultimatum before selling off half of the properties apart from the input of the community.

Emanuel brought in a CEO for CPS, Forrest* Claypool, who knows so little about education that he needs a Chief Education Officer simply because his main skill–and the reason he was brought in–is dismantling unions. It’s instructive, in fact, that there is a CEO and similar positions heading the operations at the Chicago Public Schools. It says much about the corporation model that neoliberal school systems seek to emulate and where their heads are at. It’s not in the interest of the children. No, in this model, students are no less than points of profit, items to be consumed. Teachers are merely overpaid workers who must be crushed and brought to heel.

Rahm fired an award-winning and high-performing principal for challenging his agenda. Meanwhile, special education classes and students are left to the wind.

But at least they’ll still have police occupation in their supposed safe-haven. The same police that are woefully untrained in even basic developmental psychology. The same police who ride around wearing Trump MAGA hats.

But that’s what police are for, no? To protect private property. The neoliberalization of public schooling is derived from the commodification of students. Students are assets and police in the schools are making sure the assets don’t step out of line. That’s for the bourgeoisie to do.

 


*Yes, that first name is apt.

 

Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Double-Edged Sword of Racist Environmental Catastrophe

Global warming and its resultant ecological disasters are merely collateral damage to the environmental disaster that is global capitalism. It’s interesting that for decades the mass messaging has been worried about so-called ecoterrorism. But terrorism is a political name of a distinct violence that functionally distracts from the heightened and broad violence that imperialist and capitalist destruction wrought to communities of color. And when it comes to the ecology, this violence is double-edged.

Because, first, the repercussions of ecological damage hit communities of color first, most, and the hardest. We see that in the warming of the Atlantic Ocean and the hurricanes that have devastated the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, rocking hardest the communities of color that have little protection and infrastructure as they are put in harms’ way. We see that in neighborhoods where garbage dumps and smoke stacks are piled and children of color face enhanced lung disease, such as Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, or Gary, IN, just across the border. In the placement of people of color near toxic dumps or vice versa. In the state of Michigan’s treatment of the water in Flint. People of color are sacrificed to the gods of efficiency because White Supremacy will not allow otherwise.

The second wave that eco-terrorism is wrought in communities of color is that they are then victimized for their survival even as their recovery is dramatically slowed. They are blamed for not leaving beforehand when they have fewer resources to do so. They are qualified as “looters” while white looting is overlooked or sympathized with. Recently, a White news reporter riding atop Houston in a helicopter bragged about calling the police on people of color requisitioning emergency supplies from a shuttered grocery store. We saw this in how Haitians were treated as children by aid agencies and yet, for all their hand-wringing and fund-raising after the earthquake, left to rot by multinational corporations and their NGO wings. Communities of color are given less sympathy and thus less resources with which to alleviate their immediate needs after disasters.

Puerto Rico perfectly encapsulates both ends of this manufactured dilemma. Long before Hurricane Maria came along, the island colony of the US was put in the line of debt and neoliberal privatization to such an effect that it was facing the largest bankruptcy in the history of the US public bond market at $123 billion[1] already back in May of this year, eight times larger than Detroit’s. As a result of this mounting debt and the pressure to pay it off, not only are its beaches being privatized (and thus denied to citizens) and its schools being closed (along with drastic cuts to teacher pay and shutting of other essential services), its infrastructure is sabotaged. The fact that the electrical grid collapsed under the weight of the storm is not due to the negligence of the Puerto Rican people, but to how debt is structured among people of color and the colonized. Haiti had no infrastructure to deal with natural disasters due to its economy being routed towards paying for debts as a two hundred-year punishment for its own Black rebellion against White empire.

By Eric Pancer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Racism is not only the reason communities of color like Puerto Rico are more susceptible to environmental disasters, but also the reason their recovery from these catastrophes is trashed. Unlike when the Wall St. banks and lenders were insured by the United States after they destroyed the housing market and countless lives, Puerto Rico, a protectorate of the US, is expected to pay debts it could not before the hurricanes. Its debt racked up under a Democratic president and it’s likely that a Democratic president wouldn’t have fundamentally altered or alleviate it. It just so happens that this openly White Supremacist and tactless president let the cat out of the bag by tweeting—while the island was under water and facing months without electrical power—that its first responsibility is to pay back Wall St.  Trump would not only blame the country for its own debt, but then, while failing to give the country the resources it needs for the people’s survival, called them lazy.

Haiti faced similar critiques and was criticized as too poor to prevent or treat the damage left by the earthquake in 2010, yet their blackness and abject poverty were tokenized for fundraising. Thus, even sympathetic aid organizations like Red Cross and the Clinton Foundation neglected or overthrew Haitian input while collecting hundreds of millions of dollars only to leave Haitians little better than before the quake. A Clinton donor, for instance, spent six billion dollars of raised money on building a handful of ‘hurricane-proof’ trailers that left homeless occupants sick from formaldehyde. Nine hundred Haitians died after Hurricane Matthew hit last year. Hillary Clinton, who claimed to be leading the response to the crisis, would as Secretary of State take the side of industrialists seeking to further exploit Haitian workers by working to deny pay increase demands and intervening in their elections. This after George W Bush assisted in a coup of democratically-elected President Aristide, following in his father’s coup of the same in the early 90’s.

We’ve yet to see how NGO’s will react in PR, but we know that banks were offering aid by merely compounding and prioritizing more debt to further consume the country and its public spaces. As a 100 year-old colony of the United States, however, Puerto Rico has very little agency in its own governance and largely relies on the US body politic, an engagement that they have no control over as the island has no representative vote.

To contrast, the neighboring socialist island nation of Cuba—undoubtedly also very poor—takes absolute, comprehensive precautions against these same tropical storms, thus facing significantly fewer lives lost than mainland US even as it takes the brunt end of these hurricanes. The country prioritizes prevention and protecting its most vulnerable people , whereas the capitalist nation state of the US undoubtedly prioritizes debt and economic growth, both at the expense of people of color. Cuba protects personal property, bodies, and affects while it’s clear that the corporations that run the US care only about their private property.

It’s about priorities, and global capitalism is perpetual war against communities of color.

 

[1] Nine times the size of Detroit, which then became another colony for the White ruling class to do with as they pleased.

A Deferred Dream Action

When the Dream Act was being watered-down, stalled, heavily-militarized, rejected, watered-down some more, and rejected again, this heavily affected many of my clients, students at a community college. These were young adults who came here as children, had lived highly respectable lives, went to college and tried to do the right thing, according to the unrealistic, hubristic standards of the American Dream. Many of them—born in but coming from Latin American but sometimes Middle Eastern, South Asian, and the African regions—were relieved when then-President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The DACA program was a temporary stop-gap measure for young immigrants (Generation 1.5, and under 32 years of age, as of 2012) who come here as children, graduated from high school, know English, and have completely spotless records that allowed them to register every two years for the chance to obtain an official state identification. These are students who traversed the traps of a country and society that highly problematize and criminalize them. They are raised in an environment of fear and secrecy, not necessarily of their own communities or families (though like any other demographic, that can be the case as well) but of being ripped from their families, communities, homes, and often the only country they know.

This existential fear is not a result of their innate badness or goodness or anything else. For immigration is a necessary lifeblood to both industry and to global capitalism. Yes, often immigrants are used as pawns to drive down the cost of labor, but that is to say that capitalists will not pay living wages and will use others to wedge in those “costs” – and further drive their theft – any way they can. At first it was indentured servanthood, then chattel slavery, then Jim Crow, then the Bracero program. Initially, the program was to bring in seasonal laborers (aka, guest workers) across the border, largely for agricultural work. When the Braceros began to settle permanently, have families, and organize their labor, then the corporations and their puppet state began striking back. In 1954, Eisenhower’s Immigration and Naturalization Services began the “Wetback Program” to round up immigrant workers who were not covered under the Bracero Program. Ten years later, when Mexican immigrants made up a full 15% of the farmhand labor force, the program ended as unions, churches, and competing demanded that both nationalized and guest workers’ wages be raised.

Immigrant rights were raised when Cesar Chavez’s joined together with Filipino migrant workers to protest grape growers’ lowering wages on the Filipino’s to undercut Mexican wages. The groups recognized that they were being pit against each other and worked together to demand fair wages from the landowners. And it worked. For fifteen years, while their wages were never at-par with the median for non-farmhands, they rose considerably. Seasonal farm laborers enjoyed a massive uptick in material conditions as a result of cross-sector solidarity and heavy organizing.

I point this out not simply as a history lesson from merely one group of workers and only a couple of immigrant groups, though the past informs the present and the future. But in light of the fact that the political parties will only serve capitalism and in doing so will seek out to destroy communities that do not meet their needs or have outserved their purpose—this includes immigrant families. Because they seek cheap labor that they can easily exploit we find this alternation between temporary, compromised rights under Democrats and permanent raids under the openly xenophobic and nativist Republicans (especially under Trump).

While DACA gave many young adults a fresh hope and materially benefited them with access to jobs, forms of valid ID, and more affordable college,[1] it only accounts for 10% of the most ‘exceptional’ immigrants (those who arrived by the age of 16, are younger than 32, have graduated high school and do not have a criminal record) and thus places all immigrants in an impossible situation of having to be super role models while under intense scrutiny in a highly criminalized climate in order to be accepted by the wider society, or to live and operate largely underground.

Additionally, the temporary fix that is DACA relied upon the idea that Obama would be replaced with someone of a like mind. The fact that this like-minded person was 1) facing off against an explicitly racist nativist and 2) herself having just repeated an astoundingly horrid nativist sentiment regarding refugee children should have alerted us all to the fact that the work, even the work for that dream-like 10%, was not complete, would not be near complete. The fact that now Donald Trump, Steve Miller, and all the fascists at ICE (and everyone who works at ICE is a fascist; don’t @ me!) have access to all this biometric information recipients is terrifying and incredibly irresponsible on the part of Obama. Further, that even the most-left-leaning national politician, Bernie Sanders, repeated nativist rhetoric about immigrants as themselves actors in lowering wages means that we are going to have to look beyond an electoral strategy.

We are left with the brazen fact that our politicians are failing us, that we must rely on each other. That capitalists only care about profit margins means that whatever actions they are willing to take for immigrant rights will be just enough to maintain their machines and not disrupt them. It is up to us, workers, to band together to make sure that everyone, regardless of race, gender, where they were born, or immigration status, is treated fairly and justly, has enough to eat, adequate income, a decent place to live, freedom from oppression and constant surveillance, and sufficient security. This cannot happen if we allow Nativism, White Supremacy, and Patriarchy—the tools of capitalism—to organize us. It cannot happen if we are mobilized through Islamophobia[2] or the impetus of a police state.

Together, fighting for and with the marginalized amongst us, on their terms, we have nothing to lose but our chains.

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[1] Including many of my student clients, some of whom came out of hiding to go back to school

[2] http://www.rawstory.com/2017/09/bank-has-entire-arab-american-family-arrested-after-father-tries-to-deposit-large-check-from-home-sale/

Evangelicals: The Sheepdogs of Capitalism [preview]

The following is from a long essay published on my Patreon page. To read the whole thing, you’ll need to become a subscriber. But you’ll get so much more, including books, chapters, poems, and other fun essays you can’t find anywhere else.

The lagger in this study is organized religion, which by necessity of sacredness takes its sweet time to make change. Since religion needs to codify through theological and linguistic practice, its values tend to run behind the elite culture it mediates for. God doesn’t change, except when God does. And God always needs justification, and for that justification to spread, for the text is sacred and God is eternal. However, this lagging provides a function in capitalism, that of the sheep dog. Preachers and religious functionaries help to keep the regular folk in line until they are ready to be absorbed into capitalism’s newer schemes.

In my experience, the organized religion most closely aligned with capitalism is White Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is a pan-Protestant movement that has erased denominational differences (similarly to how whiteness has erased ethnic and class distinctions between Euro-Americans) to focus on a salvation moment that relies on an hyper-individualistic relationship with Jesus. This in tune with the fact that Evangelicalism is rooted among the White suburban mid-management bourgeois class puts it at a unique position to serve the interests of the capitalist class while maintaining forms of power within the state and worker systems.

Prisons As Rape

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A common argument against the abolition of prisons is the question of what to do with rapists if we can’t put them in jail. And yes, that points to a group of questions that needs to be answered if we are to fully do away with the prison system: What do we with violent people? How do we prevent violence? How do we seek justice and recompense?

These are demanding questions, but one thing is sure. The answers do not lie within but are rather opposed to the current criminal justice and prison system. In fact, the criminal justice system has nothing to do with justice, with making things right, or even with violence prevention. What it does and does well is to promote and encourage violence among certain demographics (namely those targeted by the prison industrial complex). And rape is a key pattern in this. Estimates vary, but roughly 20% of incarcerated people were raped while in prison or jail—whether from other prisoners or from guards.

The criminal justice system does not stop rape. As it should be clear by now, under six percent of reported rapes lead to an arrest, and 0.7% are ever convicted.

Incarceration does not stop rapes.

Rather than discouraging rape, it makes it clear that rape is a tool to punish those that transgress against the law. If people were serious about ending rape or at least preventing rape, they would close the criminal justice system

The same people often asking what to do about rapists tend to think of rape as a tool of retribution. Thus they joke and make light of the fact of sexual violence while simultaneously showing their hand that rape is a preferable type of punishment for certain people, those belonging to these demographics and thus deemed undesirable.

Abolish prisons. Because prison exasperates rape.

Affirmative Gutting

Four initial thoughts on the efforts of the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department to end collegiate Affirmative Action practices:

1) I know that liberals spent the last few weeks defending Sessions from getting fired by Donald J. Megalomaniac in order to defend both the ongoing Russian investigation and, probably more centrally, some sense of order and precedence in the White House cabinet. True, perhaps we’ll get further on the Russia investigation with Sessions protecting Mueller, et al, then we would if the AG post became a revolving door. And maybe, after a while, the trade off will be worth it just to see Trump packing his bags and the GOP panicking. But the way that Sessions acts while at the head of the single most powerful policing and legal agency in the world doesn’t give me any hope that any investigation into Trump will stand anyway, let alone that anything of value will come about from it. Furthermore, any chance for any procedural decorum is clearly out the window in Mar-A-Lago & McConnell’s stints. Democrats wasted opportunities to blow through filibusters when Obama was in office thinking they could use the procedure when they become the minority power, and to what end? Perhaps we’d be better off with no Attorney General than to stick with Jeff Klansmans.

2) Remember that Trump, like Bushie before him, is a legacy child. Affirmative Action doesn’t mean shit to people who’ve been born into wealth, into connections, into the racist family business. If Affirmative Action is truly a threat to the Myth of Meritocracy, then why are these legacies and inheritances not? Could it be that the Meritocratic Myth is simply a manifestation of and protectorate of White Supremacy and Capitalism? Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that property and trust funds should not be handed down to children of wealthy people; the kids didn’t earn that. They should go out into the world with a clean slate like the rest of us poor suckers and make their own way. Maybe, in fact, we should begin this process at birth. Since over one-fifth of all children live in poverty in the United States, it’s not fair that Barron Trump got to shit in gold lame diapers while 400,000 innocent children are placed in foster homes. Send him to the streets to earn his keep!

3) In the post Black Wall St era, the best hope for build-up for Black and Latinx wealth has been through AA programs–not just in college acceptance but in hiring. But then those programs began to be gutted under Reagan and both Bushes, particularly under their judges, and Black wealth subsided. The Republican administrations and legislators also worked to kill federal unions, where the Black middle class was rising. The demolition of welfare under Republican and neoliberal Democratic administrations then took the bottom out of poverty. In fact, this notion that somehow Trump is a different breed of Republican is fully repulsive. He and his are merely trying to finish what their heroes got primed. He’s following the business ethos that Reagan and Thatcher pushed to its logical conclusion: Always Be Closing.

4) If anything, this final swig at Affirmative Action demonstrates we need full-on socialism and reparations anyway. Universal preschools and daycare, guaranteed income, an infrastructure that reaches to the working and permanent underclass, abolition of debt and prisons… It’d also be nice if we can stop relying on prestigious college education to be the determiner of worth.

What I Was Thinking as a Compassionate Conservative

Cross-posted from Medium.

I voted for Bush in 2000, not because I hated poor people or was racist against people of color, but largely because I was both poor and a person of color who was under the impression that he had something valuable to offer us. As a conservative Christian, I was introduced to WORLD Magazine and Marvin Olasky in the 90’s. Olasky — one of several supposed ex-communists with a dubious past and a lying streak — talked a lot about ‘compassionate conservatism’ and the need for conservative (read: White and Middle Class) Christians to support urban people. He argued that we depended on a government that could only fail us and got in the way of success. And who doesn’t want to succeed. So, yes, I voted for the first time on the premise that I was doing good for myself and my community. I think that’s why and how most people vote, and thus positioning material needs as front and center is the key to success. Or the Party of the People can just continue to treat politics as a character-driven drama, I guess…

In the early 90’s, Marv wrote The Tragedy of American Compassion. Newt Gingrich passed it out as homework for incoming representatives during the second wave of the so-called “Reagan Revolution”, helping to lead to the welfare “reforms” of the 90’s as well as the Contract <s>for</s> on America. At the same time, he became an adviser to then-Texas governor George W Bush and helped lay the groundwork for Bush’s faith-based initiatives.

But it was all a lie. All of Olasky’s ‘scholarship’ was hackneyed ideology promoting a spiritualized Free Market approach with a Christian veneer. It was Right Wing Christian deception.

The idea that White Christians could save us poor city folk would prove to be problematic, to say the least, for various reasons. But at the time I didn’t have the vocabulary or experience to tell me. I saw the word help; I understood helpI knew that white suburban Christians had resources and thought they could assist us with those. I didn’t know it was a mining exhibition and that we were the ones to be mined.

Unlike many anti-welfare actors, I never bought the lie that welfare was theft from taxpayers. I knew that was bullshit because we sure as hell weren’t living high off the hog. But I did see welfare as an impediment to working and living securely. What I thought about were the kids I was working with. The kids of single parents, often, who were themselves heading towards gangs. I thought that the continuation of welfare reform would be the necessary shock to the system bringing good jobs and stable homes. Instead, ‘compassion’ brought unprecedented levels of extreme poverty, intense competition for lower-paying jobs, and the destabilization of neighborhoods through gentrification. It didn’t lead to more secure communities through the advancement and strengthening of nuclear families (another perspective fraught with racist and bourgeois assumptions, as well as completely unnecessary), but less-secure communities.

I think I believed in compassionate conservatism not only because I hadn’t yet seen the extent of economic deprivation and theft in Working Class communities of color and other abandoned WC communities. I hadn’t understood the extent to which resources have been mined (both economically and literally) out of our communities and with no replacement. But at the time, I knew and saw the desperation of my Black and Brown Working Class community and my own Working Class family, which had received government subsidies before and after my father lost his employment to privatization, alcohol abuse, and epilepsy. [1]

However, I didn’t make the connection until now. Welfare before the Reaganites and the New Democrats altered it was not going to work on its own because it saw money to poor families as merely a form of aid. It should have realized — as conservativism and more-compassionate liberalism certainly still fail to realize — that child-raising is work. That domestic labor is work. That parents, and particularly mothers, should be paid to take care of children. Children are vital to the lifeblood of a society no matter the economic system of that society.

Instead, women are paid less money than men on the capitalist assumption that certain gendered- and class-based labors should be underpaid or even unpaid. Capitalism assumes that those who labor for society should not only be unrewarded, but should fend for themselves when the chips are down.

This bears out in the gender wage gap. Human Resources justifies, a woman isn’t the primary bread-winner for the home and thus doesn’t need a comfortable standard of living. This old excuse may not (yet still is) vocalized in these politically correct times, but the spirit is still here and thriving in the Gig Economy. Pregnancies are seen as interruptions from work — and thus income — rather than as a form of valuable, creative work in and of themselves. Pregnancies are punished, even before the conservative agendas interrupting reproductive rights and personal autonomy.

Domestic work is a public service. And domestic laborers should be paid accordingly by the public. As long as we’re under capitalism, then all parents should be financially compensated.

——————————————

[1] The order of these items tells you something about causation.

Jesus Is in the Camps. Where Is the Confessing Church?

When we talk about Whiteness, we refer not to a biological race but to a way of organizing the world. Race, as we formally understand it, is a recent social construct. There was no White race, Black race, Indian* race, or Asian race before 1492. In order to justify genocide, land theft, and chattel slavery, European colonizers invented the Indian and Black races. In so doing, they created White people. Whiteness is the daily, encultured justification of White Supremacy. It exists and constantly exercises in order to maintain the violent social and economic position of the White race over all other peoples. This is primarily a means of social and class control. It makes its way through media representation, the mechanisms of politics; it’s a stalwart of philosophies, education, and theology. It is pervasive and structural and systemic.

So understand that the problem with the following paintings is not the tone of the skin of those portrayed in them (though that figures in as well. It’s impossible to not also figure in skin tone since that is the arbitrary marker of White Supremacy). It is the cultural touchstones of Whiteness perpetrated through the entire narrative. This is important because a criticism of Whiteness should not be confused with a criticism of (individual) White people, but of a cultural understanding that maintains White Supremacy. Similarly when White is used as an adjective before an institutional or movement label (eg, White Christianity, White Theology, White Feminism), it refers not to the skin color of those who are encompassed by them, but of the predominant worldview that pervades the practice.

The following image was shared by an Anabaptist-leaning Christian theology professor on Facebook. It is a sepia-toned painting of a White Jesus in a robe, sandals and long, curly hair carrying the bag and rifle of the uniformed Nazi officer he is chatting with. They are alone on a solitary road. The piece is titled The Second Mile, referring to a line Jesus makes in his Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to Matthew: “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matt 5:41, NRSV). The original FB poster said about it that, “[I]t gets to the core of enemy-love – the way we make space for God to work in reconciling the world.”

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White Jesus. aka The Second Mile, Michael Belk

This image was made by and shared uncritically mainly among White male Evangelicals, the single largest factor of those who voted for and still support Donald Trump. To say that it is problematic is to not even scratch the surface, but let’s start with the reference.

Peace activist and theologian Walter Wink has pointed out that the way we interpret the Enemy-Love passages from the Sermon on the Mount (Turn the other cheek, Give your cloak, Do not resist the evil-doer) is contrary to what Jesus was communicating with his hearers. Jesus, Wink says, wanted his people to fight back, but not in the direct confrontational means that would see the Jewish people scattered to the winds (as in 70 AD after an uprising). Thus, he demonstrated creative resistance against the occupying Roman forces and the wealthy that were throwing the poor into prison over debt.

In the Second Mile instance, the Roman forces, in an effort to not drive up the angers of those they were occupying, had limitations on what kinds of burdens they would put on the citizens. They could force them to go one mile and carry their stuff, but no further. When Jesus said go the extra mile, he was — at least according to Wink — trying to force the Roman soldiers and officers to confront their own shame in an effort to dare them to force the people to carry their load anymore.** It’s a subversive confrontation and act of liberation.

So that’s the first thing to point out: There is no resistance here. Enemy-love is seen instead as a passive moment making a potential friend. What we experience is a normalization of violent White Nationalism through Buddy Jesus, who has come to lighten the load of the fascist murderer.

Second, notice how this depiction both completely erases Jewishness and centers Whiteness. There are no shema, prayers, cultural practices, or synagogues, but also no concentration camps, no ghettos, no markings, no hiding in secret rooms, no sitting shivas, no piles of bodies. As in most depictions of Jesus in White America, his Jewishness is annihilated — he put upon the cross of Whiteness. Hell, look at his designer sandals. This is not a brown peasant of the Near East circa 30 CE. This is a deliberate choice to whiten Jesus for a White Christianity.

This obliteration of Jewish (let alone any non-White) identity is across the board in Belk’s Journeys with the Messiah collection. But especially and hilariously so in his Metamorphosis: Uncovering the Christ in Youwhere a White man in a turtleneck and khakis enters what appears to be Jesus’ tomb to turn around to a fancy standing mirror. Looking inward, he sees a happy, handsome Jesus staring back contentedly as his own reflection.

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Uncovering the Christ in You, by Michael Belk

White Christian men, as Kathy Khang points out, see themselves as Jesus. Not just any Jesus, but that White Jesus, where Jesus actively and passively reflects back not only themselves but also the performative aspects of Whiteness. They do not come to grips with the fact that White America is the occupying force, is the Roman soldiers, is the Nazi officer. But yet there is that inkling that they know that they are, and that underneath the postures of power and murder, they just need to be talked to and treated as human beings. They need those they subject to violence to come at them politely.^

In light of Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannoupolis, the Muslim travel ban, and hyper-aggressive deportations and raids, White Evangelicals who overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump and that culture (and still overwhelmingly support the Muslim ban) are not in a position to highlight how they want to hold conversations with Nazis and other White Nationalists in order to convert them. The time for niceties is past. It is high time for active resistance from White Evangelicals and their leaders. This centering of Whiteness is an aggressive act of violence against the marginalized and oppressed, the very people Jesus came to seek and save.

As a friend pointed out, Jesus was Jewish and would have found himself dead alongside the road. Jesus would not have a chance to dialog with someone that saw him as subhuman. Where should the church be? I know that a significant amount of non-White Christians are in such a position.

Where is the White Church now? Are they ready to become the Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer’s letters — the opposition to Hitler’s nationalist violence? Will White Evangelical scholars, pastors and leaders resist this rising attack against the people of God, or will they continue to place a high emphasis on racial reconciliation without repentance?

Which is to say, will white-skinned Christians pick up their crosses and follow Jesus to the deportation centers or will they continue to polish their Whiteness, hiding in their feelings until the subaltern learn to be polite enough for their tastes where they just might say something? Will white Christians continue to live in their Whiteness and maintain it through hyper-sensitivity, or will they be brave and question their assumptions about Whiteness and how they operate within it?

Are they truly willing to be like Jesus, or just imagine themselves as reflections of a White Jesus who has nothing meaningful to say to the world?


*Aka, Native Americans or First Nations, generic terms and understandings not used by people indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere until European colonization and genocide forced them.

** Wink. Jesus & Nonviolence.

^Their mantra is “Best not to resist the Nazis lest you become one!” If you punch a Nazi, you take the Nazi’s place. If you hurt a white person’s feelings, you strengthen white supremacy. Etc. etc worldwithoutend.