Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Get Up, Stand Up

Anyone reading this probably knows more than I do about the hideous Tea Party movement.  Tim Wise suggests imagining the races reversed, with Black protesters threatening a white president.

Doug Noon quotes him and adds this:
Hate groups are making a stand. Everyone else needs to stand, as well. We could start with a boycott of Fox News, and anyone who advertises there. A list would be useful.
I would be delighted to boycott anyone who advertises on Fox News. (I don't have a TV, and try to stay away from anything Fox already, but I'd love to expand that.) Their hate-mongering is so dangerous.

Anyone here want to join a boycott?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spending on War

I wish I could be like Yes! magazine, and bring you mostly good news about all these hard issues (bigotry, war, poverty, environment). I'm realizing how hard that is to do. The good news is, one city is making the cost of war visible:
This week the mayor of Binghamton, New York ... exposed the elephant in the room of local budget crises – the obese, yet untouchable, military budget which over-consumes our income taxes and causes cities and towns to starve as their federal aid declines.  Urged by residents he will install a large, digital cost-of-war counter, funded by private citizens, on the front of City Hall.  Binghamton taxpayers have paid $138.6 million since 2001 to support failed wars...
The bad news needs more detail, unfortunately... Here's a great article sent to me by War Times / Tiempo de Guerras. I don't see it on their website, and the longer version (worth reading) has a different focus.

Local Budgets and War Spending:
A Reflection on Tax Day, April 15

By H. Patricia Hynes
Traprock Center for Peace and Justice

From every corner of America – urban, suburban and rural – the news of shrinking budgets and slashed community services sounds forth like the chorus of a Greek tragedy.

According to Pew Trust’s Philadelphia Research Initiative, balancing a city’s budget has become a year-long necessity due to the uncertainty of revenues and cutbacks in state aid.  In 2009, Baltimore, Boston and Phoenix had to revise already completed budgets.  Bus services are being canceled in Clayton County Georgia leaving suburban working poor, many of whom are car-less, stranded from their jobs in sprawled metropolitan Atlanta.  A national survey of 151 public transit agencies found that 3 of 5 agencies cut services or raised fares because of flat or decreased local and state funding. On March 13, 2010, my local newspaperlaid out in bold front page headlines a litany of economic woes for Franklin County, Massachusetts: “United Way falling short on fundraising goals”; “Tight times in Franklin County”; “State aid to towns to be cut by up to 4%.”  Human service programs, education, police officers, firefighters, and child support are threatened with continuing budget cuts and losses in tax income, according to the news articles.

With striking consistency, local politicians, media, and economic analysts lay the blame for budget woes on the unholy trinity of recession, falling tax revenues, and diminished federal aid to states, cities and towns.  Their consistent remedial response: cut jobs and services; raise sales and property taxes, institute work furloughs, and negotiate with unions to reduce pension and health benefits.

This week, however, the mayor of Binghamton, New York broke with this mantra and exposed the elephant in the room of local budget crises – the obese, yet untouchable, military budget which over-consumes our income taxes and causes cities and towns to starve as their federal aid declines.  Urged by residents he will install a large, digital cost-of-war counter, funded by private citizens, on the front of City Hall.  Binghamton taxpayers have paid $138.6 million since 2001 to support failed wars, an amount which could fund renewable electricity for every home over the next 11 years and provide 4 year scholarships for most of the 2010 entering class of SUNY Binghamton.

Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq bleed resources from my county as well.  According to the National Priorities Project taxes paid by Franklin County residents for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, namely $270 million, could have funded 28,027 scholarships for university students for one year, or the construction costs of 934 affordable housing units, or as many public safety officers and elementary school teachers needed plus renewable electricity costs for tens of thousands of homes for one year.

 Defense apologists argue that the Pentagon and the military industrial complex form the keystone of the economy, assuring military and defense-related civilian jobs as well as technical innovation. However, recent analysis of the effect of defense spending on job creation challenges this axiomatic notion. Comparing $1 billion spent on clean energy, health care, and education to the same amount spent on defense, researchers found that a larger number of jobs with mid- to high-range salaries and benefits would be created in the non-defense sectors than in defense. The reason? Military jobs provide higher average wages and much more generous benefits than the other sectors, thus fewer jobs overall per billion dollars spent. A related study assessed the long-term (20 year) effect on jobs and economic growth of current defense spending. The results reveal a diminished economy: a loss of 2 million jobs and a reduction of 1.8% GDP.

In the end, it’s a question of learning from recent history and choosing our priorities.  Will we join the club of 20th century militarized empires which over-stretched and failed, namely Britain at mid-century and the Soviet Union at the century’s end?  Do we want our core identity to be that of the world’s largest military (currently as large as the rest of the world’s together), the world’s largest maker and marketer of military weapons (currently 70% of world’s market), a defacto military society masquerading as a civil society?  Do we want to continue spending more on defense (now 55% of the discretionary budget) than on education, energy, environment, social services, housing, and new job creation taken together (45% of the discretionary budget)?  If so, we may fulfill the intent of Osama bin Laden – to draw the U.S. into a long war and bleed us dry. But spiritual decay may overtake us first.  “A nation that continues to spend more money on military defenses than on programs of social uplift,” warned Martin Luther King, “is approaching spiritual death.”

Pat Hynes, a retired Professor of Environmental Health, is on the board of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.  A longer version of this article can be found on the Traprock Center website.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Blogging about Racism

Mark Chu-Carroll wrote a post titled I am a racist, in which he lists some ways in which he is privileged by being white, and ways he participates in a white power structure. There are 171 comments to his post, but not a lot of depth. He had to close comments because a white supremacist site linked to his post.

I was in bed this morning, thinking about what he'd said. I wanted to discuss it with him, so I'm going to do so here. You'll need to read his post first, as this is a response to it.

Dear Mark,
Thanks for your post. Anything that gets me thinking about these issues is important to me, as I'm the white mother of a Black son* and really want to be the best parent I can be. I do think the way you framed this is problematic, though. Your description feels static - it sounds like: this is the way it is, and it's not changing.

Partly that comes of saying "I am a racist." Nouns feel solid and permanent. I think saying something like "I benefit from racism and haven't done enough to challenge that" (shorter title: "How I benefit from racism") allows for more of a sense of movement. It would also lead toward writing about how you'd like to move toward a better relationship with this issue.

Another problem is that your list doesn't tell enough stories about your life. Why do you live in a sunset town? ('Sunset town' refers to a white only town in which servants and workers of color are there in the daytime, and are required to be out by sundown. Ugly.) Is it really still that way? If you feel a need to stay there, what might you do about the policies? If you haven't done anything about it, why not? There must be so much story here, and those details would help people understand this issue deeply, much better than your list of 11 items does. Many of the items seem repetitive. I bet if you told a personal story for each one, you could easily clarify how each one is different.

You wrote: I am a racist, because I instinctively react to members of minorities with fear.

My guess is that you don't react to women of any race with fear, just men. I'd also guess that the fear you feel depends on the person's particular race (Black versus Asian?) and class (business suit gets a pass?). Race and class are thoroughly intertwined in this country. (I'm sometimes afraid of skinhead white guys and I'm afraid of anyone who seems out of control angry.) I'd appreciate a post where you go back to a particular incident, describe the person you feared, and what your fears were. (I hear that you're embarrassed, but writing the details will help us think about this very common problem.) Yes, white people are trained to fear Black men in this culture. How can white people overcome that training? I think we need to see clearly what's happening and try to understand it.

When my son is older, will you be afraid of him? Maybe. You won't know him, he'll be tall, and he might choose to wear the current in-your-face fashion. But he'll have had a lot of privilege, and it might show in his body language. Maybe you'll know he's no threat to you. Some people will be afraid of him, though. That is crazy and damaging, and I wish I could change the world before it harms my boy.

Thanks for pointing out how hard it is to remember that our success is not our own. You and I had thousands of invisible privileges - some that everyone should have, some that no one should have. U.S. culture is all about individualism, and doesn't acknowledge the power of community. Let's celebrate the power of community, and do what we can to open it up, to spread the love.

Keep writing, Mark. I'm looking forward to some interesting stories.


Dear Readers,
Now I'll take my own advice and tell a story or two that comes out of Mark's list. It's hard for me to write about this, because I want to be perfect for my son. Of course I'm not... But my fear of ever saying anything that would alienate him makes it hard for me to expose any lingering racist attitudes. I'll do my best to write as much healing truth as I can.

Mark wrote:
1. I am a racist - because I never noticed all of the unearned privileges that are given to me until someone pointed them out.

Yep. It's amazing how blind we are, isn't it? I'm still trying to understand how we were trained to be so blind. Maybe it's not training, maybe it's human nature not to notice things that benefit us.

In my first women's studies course in college (1974), I 'learned' that the crayon labeled 'flesh' was the color of a white person's skin, ditto for band-aids, which only came in that peachy color back then. Now you can get clear ones, and decorated ones, and maybe you can find ones that match a darker skin color. My son likes the Blues Clues bandaids. I prefer clear - they're cheaper. And Crayola sells a package of 8 crayons in 8 different skin tones. (Of course corporations are happy to make another product to fill another niche.) What do they call that peachy color now?

Why did I have to 'learn' those things in a course? Why had I never noticed? It is upsetting, isn't it? But it keeps happening.

If you are white, did you know that Black people's skin colors don't show up as well in photographs as white people's? I didn't learn about this until I was in my 30's. Whatever the reason for it, you know the skin color of the folks in charge is going to show up well, because someone is going to make money figuring out how to do it.

If you are white, did you know that Black men have trouble getting taxis? I didn't realize this until the day I participated in protests after the cops who beat up Rodney King were proclaimed innocent. A speaker talked about his problem catching a taxi, and I once again was faced with how ignorant I had been of the reality Black people face. I started asking taxi drivers about it, and some of them were quite comfortable admitting that they didn't pick up Black men, because ... they were scared. I'd like anti-racist taxi drivers to get together and talk about the issues they face with people who rob them, and how to deal with those issues without oppressing innocent people.

If you are white, do you know how often Black people are watched and followed in stores? When I was a kid, I accidentally walked out of the store without paying (this happened a number of time). As soon as I realized it, I went back in and paid. I used to think, "I must look innocent." Yeah, how about realizing that my skin color (and other markers of class) made me look innocent? Hmm. My son's godmother is older and middle-class, and looks it. But she's still followed in stores sometimes.

My colleague's husband was in Palo Alto in the evening, and was asked by a cop what he was doing there. I overheard her telling a Black student about the incident. As friendly as she and I are, I don't think it would have occurred to her to tell me about it. There's a big inhibition among Blacks about sharing these stories with whites.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy MacIntosh, is a classic article on this issue. Worth reading. I also found the psychology study on our unconscious reactions (mentioned in the comments at Mark's post) interesting and worth doing.

I'll try to keep writing about this uncomfortable topic, trying to find ways to move from this bad, ugly reality toward something healing. I've written in this post primarily about Black and white, but I'm aware that racism is directed against lots of other races. The issues are complex and can benefit from some intelligent discussion. Please join me in the comments.


*A note on capitalization: Black describes a cultural group with a common history; white describes the people who were allowed into the group who were seen as 'us', inside, not different. I am Dutch, German, a small part Native American, etc. My ancestors were able to assimilate as white. In doing that, they lost much that isn't about power, but more about rootedness, and they gained privilege. Similarly, most men are trained into maleness, and lose connections to feelings, etc, but gain privilege. Gay men don't get the same quality of male privilege. It's all connected...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Review: Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies

Last week was my son's spring break, and we went up to Guerneville to see the redwoods. While we were there, we visited the local bookstore, River Reader. I had bought four books, and began to chat with the owner, Susan. My son wanted to leave, but saw it was going to be a while. He discovered a book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and sat down on the floor to check it out. He wanted it, but I'd already bought him another book, and I told him we'd have to wait for it to come out in paperback, or else buy it used. He was bummed.

Susan offered him a free book from her box of advance review copies, on the condition he (or we) review it. We were both excited and looked carefully at each book in the box. My son selected Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, by Andrea Beaty. It was his choice, so I didn't say anything, but it didn't look good to me.

I was in for a big surprise. It was hilarious (in a silly sort of way), and we both loved it.

The Fluffs came from another galaxy when their marshmallow planet was burnt up by a meteor. Fluff is an acronym for Fierce, Large, Ugly, Ferocious Furballs - these are not your average Earth bunnies.

The main characters, Joules and Kevin Rockman, are twelve-year-old twins on Earth who love horror movies, and know too much about Famous Last Words. When their parents drop them off at the overgrown entrance to Camp Whatsitooya, their own horror show begins.

My son kept cracking up at the jokes, and I started smiling in anticipation. We highly recommend this book.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Economics: Does anyone really know what time it is?

Owen got me thinking. Here are my scattered thoughts...

  • In many countries, the courses you take are in Political Economy, instead of Economics. Perhaps I would have majored in political economy, but economics seemed like it was just about how our capitalist system works, as if that were the only way things could possibly be.
  • At Notre Dame, dissenting voices in economics were pushed out.
  • What does it mean that most people do not understand economics?
  •  Owen Thomas, blogging as vlorbik, went to a local conference in Columbus, Ohio, and has pointed the rest of us to some good documents here.
  • About 25 years ago, I went to a People’s Economics Seminar. It was good stuff, but (ironically) what I remember is being bummed that they weren’t progressive enough about how to do education. Too much lecture left me antsy…
  •  I subscribed to Dollars and Sense for a while. I don't remember it very well. Their site looks like it has some good information. It also looks a bit overwhelming. Does understanding economics require understanding what's going on all over the globe? That's big.
  • This site, The People's Economics, looks interesting too.
When I have time to read something other than math, I'd like to come back to this...