The Moral Universe – Black Lives Matter, Period.

Standard

At an NAACP rally in Amherst, Massachusetts, the other day, Dr. Barbara Love (http://www.barbarajlove.com/) talked about research on the moral lives of babies.

She said that research has shown that babies are hardwired toward fairness. If someone manipulates dolls in front of an infant and makes one of the dolls hit the other, the baby will turn away and disengage. It will not engage again until fairness is restored. And we all know, from our own experience, that one of the earliest cries of a child is, “That isn’t fair!”

Barbara J. Love

Barbara J. Love

Dr. Love’s ultimate message was about the #Black Lives Matter movement and the fear that the movement seems to instill in many white people. “All lives matter,” they cry, “not just black lives. That’s not fair!”

Yet, they do not seem able to grasp that not only does the #Black Lives Matter movement not mean that white lives don’t matter, neither do they seem to grasp the unfairness and injustice with which black lives have been treated in this country.

White lives have mattered to the exclusion of all other human lives since white Europeans stepped onto these shores. Historically, for white people (and I am white), the universe has been centered on them. First, last and always, domestic and foreign policies have been based on the questions, “What’s in it for me?” and “How is this going to affect me?”

Despite credible evidence passed to the United States by people on the ground that Nazi Germany was rounding up Jews and it looked as if the Jews were being murdered, the US government chose not to intervene because it still hoped to collect from Adolph Hitler the rest of the reparations owed by Germany according to the Treaty of Versailles. Not until our own shores were attacked did the government go into action.

The Vietnam war? A tragedy for the United States, all are agreed. Was it not first and foremost a tragedy for the Vietnamese people? How many Americans were made refugees by that conflict? And had to come and live in the very country that made them refugees? Ask a Vietnamese refugee what it’s like to live in the US.

And yes, I’m going to go there. 9/11. We will be picking at that scab until the end of time. But do we ever acknowledge that mass killings occur on a regular basis in many countries in the world? Do we understand what is happening in the world right at this moment? Do we understand that those dead children on distant beaches are dead because of white men’s actions that destabilized a large segment of the Middle East?

So when white people say something’s not fair, they usually mean that it is not fair to the system of white privilege that they enjoy. This is what is still being taught to white children when they first say, “That’s not fair!” Black children? They have to sit down with their parents and hear that, no, life  isn’t fair for them, and here’s some things they need to learn to stay alive in this society.

#Black Lives Matter? You bet they do. White lives matter? Not the point. Police lives matter? Not the point. All lives matter? Not the point. Now deal with it.

Advertisements

The Moral Universe – “Oppression of the Oppressed”

Standard

Mass incarceration in the United States is a subject fraught with implications for who we are as a nation, who we are as North Americans, who we are as members of a global society, and who we are as inhabitants of a smallish planet in the Milky Way galaxy.

One activist is trying to reach hearts and minds on this subject through his creative talents. The result, a play called “The Oppression of the Oppressed” by Máximo Anguiano, will have a staged reading on September 19 in San Antonio, Texas.

I first came across Mr. Anguiano’s name while writing a blog post a year ago about the little-known (to white people) history of Latino lynchings. He had reviewed an article by Richard Delgado. I have since been following his Facebook posts.

At least since Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, came out a few years ago, the subject of mass incarceration in America and privatized prisons has been in the forefront of issues addressing discrimination against black and brown people.

How Mr. Anguiano came to the subject is perhaps different from most people.

“A few years back I was asked to assist with the Latino population inside of a state prison,” he said in an interview. “There were many disputes of gang warfare, intercultural fighting, and things of the like there. The purpose of my assistance was to help with a cultural program and to help cease much of the fighting. This event is what really opened my eyes to what was going on inside the prison walls. . .”

The main themes of his play address the war on drugs, mental health of prisoners/inmates, disproportionality of blacks and Latinos incarcerated, solitary confinement, capital punishment and privatization among others. The play is inspired by true events, Mr. Anguiano said, adding that he has spent about 100 hours in the last few months on the phone talking to people coming out of prison.

He points out the well-known and alarming statistics of incarceration in the US: With 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s prison population at a cost of more than $63 billion a year. There are almost seven million people imprisoned in the US, and the majority of them are people of color. We also know now, thanks to the Herculean efforts of people like Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, that many of them are innocent, are children sentenced under adult guidelines, and are even people who are languishing in prison without being charged of any crime and/or imprisoned for being too poor to pay a fine for something as insignificant as a traffic violation.

Does this not sound like Soviet stalags or what happened in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power? Donald Trump’s lunatic bellowings on immigration have empowered every racist in the country to show their true colors. (Note: I wrote this sentence two weeks ago. It is a main headline in the NYT of 9/13/15.)

The lead character in Mr. Anguiano’s play, he said, is loosely based on Hakim Nathaniel Crampton, who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. “He was sentenced to life for murder and finally set free because of a false confession.” (You can read more about Mr. Crampton, a poet and activist, here: Convicted on false confession

But Mr. Anguiano does not sentimentalize the level of violence he witnessed in prisons. “Some of these men are savages,” he said. But, “were they that way before they were locked up?”

He also addressed privately owned prisons: “Private prisons are a business. They have to keep enrollment up.” Such prisons don’t address rehabilitation because they need the prisoners to turn a profit. And it’s not just the prisons themselves that need prisoners, but food, clothing, and linen vendors; anyone who supplies anything to a prison has a stake in mass incarceration.

Maximo Anguiano

Maximo Anguiano

Mr. Anguiano has been able to capture various audiences with outspoken perspectives and motivational expressions, crediting much of his work from the mind’s images, societal issues, the Hip Hop culture, and forgotten history. He often performs on stage theatrically and poetically, in addition to consulting educationally & politically. As a leader & trendsetter in fashion, athletics, and current events, Mr. Anguiano is a mobilizer for progressive ideas and awareness.

Where is the hope for Mr. Anguiano in the travesties of justice that mass incarceration lead to?

“We need to continue to have these voices cross over,” he said. “We need to get the information to people who aren’t in the chair. We need to keep open minds and communicate the humanity of prisoners.”

In the end, if we don’t address the societal ills that put people in prison, the poverty, the racial injustice, “we’re all going to pay for this together.”

Visit Mr. Anguiano’s RAW profile to see videos of his work: Independent Creative Services

The Moral Universe – I Dream a World

Standard

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

Langston Hughes

From Langston Hughes to Walt Whitman to Wilfred Owens to Joan Baez to Pete Seeger and John Lennon to myriad other poets and songwriters, I have only heard and read of pleas for peace in our world.

Yes, there has been poetry and music that beats a drum, but I have never heard or read of an all-out plea for war.

Until President Obama decided to use diplomacy with Iran, that is. Now most Republicans and Benjamin Netanyahu’s party want war. With Iran. Despite the agreement of most world leaders, weapons experts, military authorities and, I’m sure, Pope Francis.

The fact that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz want to stage a protest in favor of war in our nation’s capital, which I have just come from, on my birthday makes it that much more personal.

Because I believe I was born knowing that very few wars solve anything. There have been wars that have had to be prosecuted, and were, but with great anguish and soul searching. Others have been prosecuted out of direct defense of home and hearth. Others have been entered into with great reluctance.

But for the United States, I’m having trouble coming up with one that involved pro-war protests. Correct me if I’m wrong.

So I have to ask, is it me whose thinking is scrambled, or is it them?

I recently read Erik Larson’s In the Garden of the Beast (the title is a loose translation of Tiergarten, the large park in the middle of Berlin). It is the story of the first US ambassador to Germany, who was sent there in the early 1930s particularly to try to get the new Chancellor, Adolph Hitler, to abide by the Treaty of Versailles.

Ambassador Joseph Dodd was an academic, not a diplomat. He was not part of the club that ruled the foreign service at that time. He thought he had President Franklin Roosevelt’s ear, but there were many right there in Washington who really wielded the power of foreign service.

Unsuitable as Dodd was, and as naïve about Hitler as he and his infamous daughter Martha were in their early days in Berlin, they did begin to recognize the truth about Hitler and Goering and Goebbels as friends began to go into exile or disappear. The Night of the Long Knives, during which a purge against German officials who were not loyal to Hitler took place, sealed it for the Dodds. But the ambassador’s warnings to his government went unheeded, and while we can’t say for sure whether earlier US intervention could have saved them, six million lives were lost.

So are we appeasing Iran with the treaty and will it come back to haunt us? Am I an isolationist trying to pretend that the possibility that this is the worst thing our government could do isn’t real?

No, we aren’t and I’m not.

If I compare the early 1930s in Germany to the 2000s in the US, I see much more of the insidious evil of Nazism in the very Republicans who are so eager to go to war with Iran. They have compared President Obama to Hitler, but it is they who want to keep a white supremacist ethos in this country. It is they who fear and loathe the “other” and want to keep the “other” out. It is they who have been paranoid about everything from ebola to immigrants to weapons of mass destruction. It is they who keep the death penalty going and don’t really seem to care whether the prisoner to be executed is innocent or not.

I believe I was born dreaming the world that Langston Hughes describes so beautifully. I won’t let the likes of Cruz and Trump to turn that dream into a nightmare.