No matter how depressing present political realities may be, Democrats look to the future with confidence. By mid-century, they say, America will be a majority-minority nation and that can only help the left.
Jamelle Bouie questions this reasoning on two counts: Republicans could win back the most prosperous sector of the Latino community by returning to the moderate immigration policies of George W. Bush; and, as minorities are absorbed into the affluent mainstream, their resistance to conservative politics will diminish.
In other words, future trends can never be predicted with confidence, especially when we’re gazing 37 years down the road.
This “the future is ours” rhetoric should make genuine reformers cringe. We can’t get locked into the culture war categories of the present hour. Between 1950 and 1970, Democrats and Republicans switched sides on civil rights. It is hard to believe that the Republican Party on display during the primary election season could move to the left on anything; but stranger things have happened in American politics. If public sentiment shifts (as it always does) politicians will shift along with it. Reformers should be trying to nudge both parties in the direction of compassion and common sense, even when it feels silly. Life is full of surprises.
The worst thing that could happen would be for Democrats to eschew the hard work of rethinking the entire progressive narrative because “we are bound to start winning sooner or later”. Democrats have been on the wrong side of plenty of issues in recent memory (think the war on drugs, mass incarceration and the deregulation of the financial sector), and the blue team will continue to get things wrong if they misread the writing on the wall.
The tepid politics of triangulation has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
Nothing in public life is inevitable. Change is always hard work. Justice demands courage. Patience is a virtue; complacency is not.
If Democrats agree on anything, it’s that they will eventually be on the winning side. The white Americans who tend to vote Republican are shrinking as a percentage of the population while the number of those who lean Democratic—African Americans and other minorities—is rapidly growing. Slightly more than half of American infants are now nonwhite. By 2050, the U.S. population is expected to increase by 117 million people, and the vast majority—82 percent of the 117 million—will be immigrants or the children of immigrants. In a little more than 30 years, the U.S. will be a “majority-minority” country. By 2050, white Americans will no longer be a solid majority but the largest plurality, at 46 percent. African Americans will drop to 12 percent, while Asian Americans will make up 8 percent of the population. The number of Latinos will rise to nearly a third of all Americans. (more…)
Pierre Berastain was a Harvard Undergrad when he worked as a Friends of Justice intern in the summer of 2010. Pierre completed his first year at the Harvard Divinity School last week and we are thrilled to announce that he will once again be working with us as an intern.
When Pierre and I got together at Starbucks this Saturday morning to talk over the details of his work this summer, we talked about the shaping power of narrative–the stories we grow up listening to. To live in America is to grow up listening to demeaning narratives about homosexuals and homosexuality.
Canada wasn’t much different. Just before the sixth grade (or Grade 6 as we Canadians called it) my family moved from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories to Edmonton where I was enrolled in Queen Alexandra elementary. All the boys were calling each other “homos” or just “mo’s”. I had no idea what you had to do to qualify as a “mo” but I knew it had to be shameful . . . and funny.
I was wrong on both counts; but since this was the only narrative I was exposed to, what was I supposed to think. Admit it, you grew up in the same cramped and fearful world.
GLBT people grow up with these toxic narratives too, and the damage can be dreadful. For people of color, the trauma is compounded. (more…)
“We prosecute cases based on the relevant facts of each case and on the law of the state of Florida.” So says State Attorney Angela B. Corey, the special prosecutor assigned to the George Zimmerman case. It is unlikely that Zimmerman would ever have been charged had it not been for the national outcry that has rivetted attention on this case.
Law enforcement and district attorneys dislike the Stand Your Ground law because it frustrates their efforts to arrest, investigate and prosecute cases in which the shooter claims self-defense. But law enforcement was obviously intimidated by Stand Your Ground. Even though Zimmerman jumped to unwarranted conclusions about Trayvon Martin, even though he defied a police dispatcher’s demand that he remain in his vehicle, even though Zimmerman clearly followed and confronted Martin, the appeal to self-defense worked like magic.
Like any high-profile narrative, the Trayvon Martin case has revealed a troubling divide in public perception. On one side of the fault line, people identify with George Zimmerman’s suspicion of young black males wearing hoodies. On the other side, folks identify with a victim of racial profiling and vigilante justice.
Those who identify with neither Zimmerman nor Martin generally take a “let the system handle it approach.” Now that Zimmerman has been arrested it may appear that the dispassionate bystanders who trust established judicial processes called it right. The Washington Post editorial below suggests, albeit cautiously, that the system is working as it should. Zimmerman will have his day in court. Prosecutors will have a hard time working around the prejudicial impact of the Stand Your Ground law. A plea bargain may settle this thing. Zimmerman’s mental issues may also surface as a major issue (the man is clearly unstable).
But none of this would be happening apart from massive national protest. (more…)
The Trayvon Martin case is following a predictable trajectory. Calls for the arrest of George Zimmerman centered on the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain’s unprovoked vigilante pursuit of an unarmed citizen. Now comes the inevitable backlash as the Sanford, Florida police department leaks reports that Martin had been suspended from school after being connected to an empty marijuana baggie. The unspoken message is that Trayvon Martin really was the flipped-out druggie Zimmerman initially reported in a 911 call.
In addition, Zimmerman’s attorney is suggesting that Martin initiated the physical altercation that lead to his own death.
A certain amount of speculation is unavoidable in this case. We know that Zimmerman decided to leave his vehicle, against the advice of the 911 operator, with the clear intention of confronting Martin. We know that Martin was aware that he was being followed because he was on the phone to his girlfriend at the time. We know a physical altercation preceded the shooting because of the grass stains on the back of Zimmerman’s shirt and his bloody nose. We know that Zimmerman used deadly force to resolve the situation.
Frankly, I was surprised that it took so long for the champions of the status quo to start spinning the story to their own advantage. For two weeks, black civil rights groups and bloggers have had the mainstream media all to themselves. That couldn’t last. It never does. (more…)
In a three-month period shortly after World War II, 751 home fires killed fo urteen people in the city of Chicago. The deadliest of these fires broke out in filthy, overcrowded tenement buildings in the city’s black district. Joe Allen’s People Wasn’t Made to Burntells the story of a fire on 1733 West Washburne Street that claimed the lives of four children and eventually placed the victim’s father on trial for murder.
Like scores of other Mississippi sharecroppers, James and Annie Hickman had migrated north in search of a better life. In segregated Chicago, housing options were strictly limited for Black families like the Hickmans. They were “forced to live in ‘kitchenettes’: dilapidated one-room apartments that in many cases had no heat, electricity, or running water.” The kitchenette the Hickman family moved into was owned by Mary Porter Adams, a Black woman desperate to maximize her monthly profit, and managed by David Coleman, a white man determined to spend as little as possible on maintenance and repair work.
James Hickman paid Coleman a $100 deposit and moved into a 25 by 15 foot attic apartment on the understanding that more suitable accommodations on the second floor would soon be available. “The Hickmans had to go down to the floor below them to get water from a neighbor to cook and clean with” Joe Allen tells us. “They cooked on a Kenmore two-burner stove a few footsteps from their beds. At a local store James bought two lamps to light the room, both fueled by kerosene.”
When James Hickman asked Coleman when the second-floor apartment would be ready, the manager initially put him off. Hickman kept pressing the issue. Finally, Coleman told Hickman he wasn’t going to rent him the better apartment and wouldn’t return the deposit money. Moreover, Coleman said “he had a man on the East Side ready to burn the place up” if Hickman took him to court. (more…)
I have been too busy to blog this week, but I couldn’t resist this story. You may ask what a royal tour has to do with criminal justice reform. Very little, I expect, although I am clever enough to come up with something if I had a mind to.
I am blogging about Kate and William’s royal tour because it pleases me.
For one thing, Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne a few years before I was born and, though I am 58 years old, she has been the only British monarch I have known. When you grow up singing "God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen(to the tune of My Country ‘Tis of Thee) it gets into your bones (whether you like it or not).
This lovely photographic essay from the Washington Post shows the royal couple taking in a little calf roping at the Calgary Stampede and attending the Dene Games in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. I was born in Calgary in 1953 and the Bean family moved to Yellowknife three years later. I remember my dad taking my sister and I to the Calgary Stampede during a summer vacation when I was a little kid. He wouldn’t spring for cowboy boots, but I did get a cowboy hat, and I wore it to bed that night.
I remember William’s grandfather, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, creating quite a stir a generation ago when he was presented with the inevitable cowboy hat during a visit to Calgary. “Thank you very much," said the Prince. “I think I have six or seven of these now. Perhaps I’ll use this one for a planter.”
That didn’t go down well in Cow Town.
There is another story about Prince Phillip dining at Calgary’s glorious Palicer Hotel back in the mid fifties (when he was about the age William is now). According to legend, a hotel waitress, while removing Phillip’s dinner plate, whispered, “Keep your fork, Prince, we’re havin’ pie.”
I don’t get back to Canada much these days. My parents are both long dead and my sister, Carol, spends half the year in Texas. But everyone needs a sense of home, and places like Calgary, Edmonton and Yellowknife are about as close as I can get. A return visit to Yellowknife after almost fifty years is high on my bucket list.
Last year, while in Calgary for the funeral of my aunt, Iris Garner, I stopped by the old home of the now defunct Baptist Leadership Training School, an institution I attended in 1971. It had been fully forty years since I last walked to the nearby park overlooking the gorgeous Bow River valley. The view of the river hadn’t changed a bit, but I hardly resembled the callow youth who once looked out over the scene. I have rarely felt more orphaned and adrift.
So I guess, in the end, these rambling thoughts do relate to this blog’s primary theme. Everybody needs a sense of place, everybody needs to belong to a people. Friends of Justice works in the American South, a region occupied by rooted people with a strong sense of belonging. What happens when a proud people is made synonymous with bigotry and hate? Issues of culpability aside, how deep does the fear, loss and resentment go?
The spirit and spirituality of mass incarceration is a plant native to the southland that has been nourished for decades by the deepest kind of alienation and outrage. People felt as if the glorious narrative that had given them a sense of people and place had been desecrated. The sense of loss was palpable. This is why Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign in 1980 in Neshoba County, the place where, 16 years earlier, three civil rights leaders had been murdered. Reagan was opposed to the civil rights movement, but he was hardly a son of the South. His advisers knew, however, that a rich deposit of racial resentment was waiting to be mined in places like Neshoba County. People had lost their story and they desperately wanted it back. Reagan promised to deliver. The promise was kept.
I understand these emotions. I grew up in one country and I live in another. Calgary, Alberta and Fort Worth Texas have a lot in common, but I never really feel at home in Texas. Nor would I feel at home if I returned to my native Canada. Like Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.”
When Tea Partiers say they want their country back they are longing for an old, old story. They want to feel part of an exceptional, virtuous and boot-leather-tough nation where everyone shares the same values and pursues the same goals. That kind of America never existed in reality; but it lives in memory nonetheless. The nation people want to regain exists in the form of narrative mythology, and this story about restoring a noble, resolute and unified America is the most potent force in contemporary politics.
There is no sense decrying or endlessly deconstructing the narrative that animates our ideological opposites. We need a narrative of our own. We don’t need a story about the nation we once were; we need a story about the nation the better angels of our national nature have always aspired to be. We need to start talking about a country where there is no us and them; a nation where there are no surplus, throw-away people.
We need to start talking about a nation of broken people where broken people can be redeemed.
According to reporter Jeremy van Loon, Prince William characterized Canada as that kind of country.
Prince William praised Canada’s “extraordinary potential” and the nation’s values of “freedom and compassion” at the end of a nine-day tour of the country with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge. “Canada is not just a great union of provinces and territories, it is a great union of peoples from many different backgrounds who have come together to make this a model — and a magnet — for those who value freedom, enterprise, tolerance and compassion,” he said today in Calgary.
I’m not sure Canada, or any other country, deserves such high praise. The prince was being complimentary. But don’t we want to live in that kind of country? When we tap into that desire, the movement to end mass incarceration will begin.
Consider the following scenario. A group of IRA terrorists carry out a bombing raid in London. People are killed and wounded. The group escapes, first to Ireland, then to the United States, where they disappear into the sympathetic hinterland of a country where IRA leaders have in the past been welcomed at the White House. Britain cannot extradite them, because of the gross imbalance of the relevant treaty. So far, this is not far from the truth.But now imagine that the British government, seeing the murderers escape justice, sends an aircraft carrier (always supposing we’ve still got any) to the Nova Scotia coast. From there, unannounced, two helicopters fly in under the radar to the Boston suburb where the terrorists are holed up. They carry out a daring raid, killing the (unarmed) leaders and making their escape. Westminster celebrates; Washington is furious.
What’s the difference between this and the recent events in Pakistan? Answer: American exceptionalism. America is allowed to do it, but the rest of us are not. By what right? Who says? (more…)
The fiftieth anniversary of the freedom rides has sparked more retrospection than introspection. Last summer, I discussed the freedom rides in detail on the eve of the trial of Curtis Flowers. How much had changed, I asked, since thousands of heroic young people flocked to the South to challenge segregation laws and, more often than not, pay a visit to Mississippi’s notorious Parchman prison (where, incidentally, Curtis Flowers now resides). The post has received 4,000 hits (that’s a lot by the modest standards of this blog), suggesting that interest in the freedom riders remains high.
An article in the Washington Post poses the obvious question: If all these young people were willing to place their lives on the line in 1961, why aren’t today’s young people demonstrating a similar dedication to justice? Few real answers emerge. American schools have essentially resegregated and nobody seems to care. Jackson, Mississippi was the primary destination of the freedom riders. In 1961, the Post article reports, Jackson was only one-third black, now, largely thanks to white flight, the school system is overwhelmingly black. (more…)
The 150th anniversary of the Civil War reminds us that America is as deeply divided now as it has ever been. We can’t even agree about the basic meaning of the Civil War. Was Robert E. Lee a hero or a villain?
In the 1860s, and again in the 1960s, the federal government, albeit with deep misgivings, moved powerfully to defend the nation’s most vulnerable members. Too marginalized to deserve the title “citizens,” 19th century slaves and the 20th century victims of Jim Crow segregation, were protected from the tyranny of the majority. In the 1860s, the Republican Party controlled the process; by the 1960s, the Democrats were in charge–but the principle was the same.
As we wander aimlessly into the 21st century, the political divide is largely defined by the traumatic events of the 1860s and 1960s. Conservatives are increasingly inclined to see the 1860s and 1960s as periods in which a tyrannical federal government crushed legitimate states’ rights. In the liberal view, the demise of slavery and Jim Crow oppression are milestones in the long march to freedom. To liberals, “states’ rights” is shorthand for state-sanctioned bigotry.
Tragically, neither conservatives or liberals give much thought to the ties that bind us together as a nation. We are too fixated on the failings of our ideological opposites to examine what our side has lost. As things stand, neither conservatives nor liberals have a narrative that all Americans, or even most Americans, can rally around. (more…)
This site has had little to say on the subject of pornography. Our primary agenda is shutting down the machinery of mass incarceration; a subject far removed, one would think, from a discussion of popular culture. But if Robert Jensen is right, pornography is fundamentally about patriarchy, and patriarchy is about hierarchy: the powerful maintaining a dominant position over the powerless. So maybe there is a connection, and not just because, as Jensen suggests, there may be a link between the explostion of internet pornography and sex crimes.
As Michelle Alexander suggests, we can’t reform the criminal justice system until we move away from the cruel and punitive public consensus driving the prison boom. How do we move from a society built on a foundation of hierarchy, control and domination, to a society rooted in equality, love and conversation.
The piece pasted below is a conversation between Robert Jensen, a fifty-two year-old journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and a twenty-four year-old writer for UT’s F-Bomb blog who keeps trying to argue for a kinder-gentler form of pornography. Jensen argues that the social impact of the porn industry has changed radically in recent years and doesn’t think that’s a good thing for women or for men. Jensen, by the way, is the author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, so he’s given this matter a great deal of thought.
FBOMB: If you could briefly describe, what is the problem with pornography?
Robert Jensen: Well, let me first sort of step back. There has long been a conservative, typically religious critique of pornography that poses the problem of pornography as being in conflict with what is traditional family values, which is sexuality confined to a heterosexual marriage. That’s the critique you’ll hear most often in the culture is that conservative, typically religious critique. The feminist critique of pornography approaches it from a very different perspective and says that, in patriarchy, in a society structured around male dominance, one of the ways that dominance is reinforced and perpetuated is in men’s sexual use and abuse of women. One way to say this is, in patriarchy women are routinely presented to men as objectified bodies for male sexual pleasure. One of the vehicles for the routine presentation of women to men as objectified bodies for male sexual pleasure is what I would call the sexual exploitation industries: prostitution, pornography, stripping. These are ways that men buy and sell primarily women’s bodies. Pornography, like prostitution and stripping, is one of those methods of buying and selling women’s bodies. So from a feminist critique, the problem is the way in which those sexual exploitation industries reinforces male dominance, and leads to predictable consequences, primarily for women and children. (more…)