It no longer matters whether Rick Perry’s The Response extravaganza draws 8,000 or 80,000 ardent Christians to Houston’s Reliant Stadium; the event will be remembered (if it is remembered at all) as a cynical attempt to build a base by driving another wedge into an already fractured religious community.
Perry’s big event would have been inconceivable during the nation’s formative years, and it is hard to imagine any 20th century presidential candidate thinking he could enhance his political stature by consorting with fringe elements on the religious right. True, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan courted these same people, but always behind closed doors.
The take-away from The Response is that a Republican presidential aspirant believes an event of this sort is in his political interest. Rick Perry’s personal religion is irrelevant here; tomorrow’s event is pure politics.
Lara Marlowe generally writes for an Irish audience, but when she turns her attention to the American South it is wise to take notice. American journalists are generally reluctant to address our nation’s racial history honestly and openly; aggrieved southerners wail and lament when they feel mistreated and misunderstood. Nowhere is this more true than in Mississippi. But Marlowe’s carefully crafted piece on the Magnolia state draws on the insights of those who know the region best.
Most of the sobering facts cited below will come as no surprise to readers of this blog. But how many Americans know that the public schools of Mississippi lost half a million white students when the feds finally got serious about school integration in the South? A recent article in The Christian Century, notes that “only 2 percent of high school seniors could name the social problem that the Supreme Court addressed in Brown v. Board of Education.” (more…)
I got an email from Justin Elliott earlier this week inquiring about “The Will to Secede”, a post about Rick Perry’s ties to neo-Confederate groups I published a couple of years ago. The post, which to date has received just under 10,000 hits, highlighted the work of Dallas researcher and neo-confederacy expert, Edward Sebesta who has documented the Texas Governor’s close ties to unabashedly racist groups like the The Sons of Confederate Veterans.
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.
I’m not suggesting anything conspiratorial here—Heaven forbid!—but it does seem mighty suspicious that school funding is being decimated at a time when Texas schools are “browning” at a rapid pace. In the last decade, Hispanic enrollment in public schools jumped by 50 percent, with 775,000 more students. Meanwhile, 6 percent fewer Anglo students are enrolled, as well-off whites opt for private schools. Why is public-school funding less of a priority for Anglo legislators nowadays? You do the math. (Bob Moser, Texas Observer)
Teachers in Texas are sighing with relief now that the Texas Legislature has cut “only” $4 billion from the public education budget. That doesn’t sound so bad when some were forecasting cuts in the $8 million range. But Mob Moser, writing in the Texas Observer, says the spirit of the current legislative session reflects a new and pernicious species of white supremacy.
Back in February, at a rally protesting anti-immigrant legislation, state Rep. Lon Burnam raised some eyebrows by letting loose with the “R” word. “You are here,” he told the crowd at the Capitol, “to say no to the most racist session of the Texas Legislature in a quarter of a century.” The Fort Worth Democrat had in mind such bills as Voter ID, which suppresses minority votes, and “Sanctuary City” legislation, which would legalize racial profiling. It had been decades, Burnam argued, since so many laws were aimed at putting non-whites, you know, in their place. “All of this legislation is really directed that way,” he said. “Everybody knows it.” (more…)
On May 4, amateur historian David Barton appeared on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Barton’s central argument was that, constitutionally, the first amendment applies to the federal government but not to the states. Therefore, if individual states and municipalities see fit to make the Bible the sole standard for criminal and civil law, to reinstate chattel slavery or to make Christianity an official and protected religion, the federal government can do nothing about it.
Barton didn’t suggest that non-federal governments should do these things, merely that they can if they want to.
On May 14th, Jon Stewart invited Richard Beeman, an actual constitutional scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, to respond to Barton’s theory. (more…)
John McWhorter and Michelle Alexander agree that the war on drugs should be abandoned. They also agree that far too many young black males are languishing in American prisons. But McWhorter thinks Alexander’s call for a consensus-shifting movement is wrong-headed. It’s wrong-headed because it’s impractical. It’s impractical because white people are sick and tired of being demonized. As McWhorter sees it, we simply will not listen to a social analysis that identifies white racism at the heart of the problem.
McWhorter isn’t saying that Alexander is wrong when she associates the war on drugs with a “Southern strategy” rooted in white resentment; he just feels that, as a practical matter, that argument can’t be sold in the white-dominated American marketplace.
This is an important issue. For criminal justice reformers, it is THE issue. Should we embrace the “only a movement” philosophy of Michelle Alexander, or the “end the drug war and white guilt is gone” idea John McWhorter has been championing? Alexander is asking for the second phase of the civil rights movement; McWhorter is looking for an argument that works in an incurably cynical world.
One thing is certain: at some point we must connect with white moderates; if we don’t, the political fight cannot be won. But how do we win over white moderates? Do we conform our arguments to their fears, anxieties and preferences, or do we challenge them to embrace a revolutionary vision grounded in love, mercy and justice?
Whether Michelle Alexander knows it or not (and I suspect she does) she is calling for nothing less than a full-blown religious revival. The values she espouses are biblical values; they won’t work in the political arena, and they aren’t that welcome in most white churches either (if the preacher gets concrete and specific). Martin Luther King knew that mainstream white America wasn’t ready for integration, so he launched a movement fired by a religious revival. Mainstream white America isn’t ready to end the drug war; it could even be argued that white folks need the drug war because it reinforces our most cherished prejudices. Can anything short of a spiritual revival alter this social landscape? (more…)