Keepin' Up With the World 2.0

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Building the World House: One Person at a Time…

A Pair of Previous Articles on the Meanings of July 4th and Patriotism

Who’s Patriotic? (SpN! Spring/Summer 2005)

— Aaron Beveridge

Thomas Paine is rolling in his grave. Our current use of the word patriot would have caused Paine to put pen to paper and write yet another pamphlet. Were he to be revived from the grave and complete another work of dissent it would be patriotic in a sense that is currently lost from our contemporary use of the word patriot.

It seems that in the wake of the current middle east military action, in our post 9-11 world, the common use of patriot is rather confusing if it is thought of it in regards to the men who originally fought for our freedom and independence from Great Britain. The use of patriotism at that time was not to create a hyper-nationalism, as it is used now, but was used to rally support for the fight for freedom and independence. Granted, President Bush has dubbed our military action in Iraq a fight for freedom and independence, but he has yet to show the world that the Iraq war is accomplishing (or about) either. Moreover, President Bush is well known for naming his political deeds nearly opposite for rhetorical affect—take for instance No Child Left Behind and The Patriot Act.

While the President’s use of the word Patriot is bad enough—it is the daily common use that is most disturbing. Patriot is currently used to refer to those who support the war effort or support some sort of national agenda. Many who have come out to protest the war or question the President’s current foreign policy have been described as being unpatriotic, but is it their patriotism that is being questioned? No, what is being questioned is the essential element of a democracy—a citizens right to speak out against the government.

As of late, many citizens are taking our right to question and speak-out for granted.. Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen wrote a response to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States which is titled A Patriot’s History of the United States. In the intro to their response they accused Zinn of having Marxist biases because his book is titled a “Peoples” history. However, Schweikart and Allen show their ignorance to what democracy means in their critique of Zinn. They not only overlook the fact the demos, the root of the word of democracy, means the people, but they also seem to forget the first three words of our constitution: “We the people.” Would they argue that the writers of the constitution had Marxist biases?

The meaning of most words changes over time, but the word patriot has nearly come to mean the opposite of what it meant early in our country’s history. In the past, it meant working against the British institution and fighting for an independent country which would hopefully acknowledge individual rights; someone who wasn’t afraid to question the institution, or the people who were attempting to maintain control. Real patriots are not people who blindly support Presidential policies and national agendas, but they are the people who are willing to risk going against the grain—people who understand that questioning the status quo may not be popular but is definitely necessary.

 

What is the Fourth of July to a Progressive American Citizen? (SpN! Spring/Summer 2005)

— Austin McCoy

If the United States was built upon dissent and revolution, then why is our nation so afraid when one suggests change? Even one of the most beloved political documents ever written stated that “it becomes necessary for people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” (Declaration of Independence). So, why are we afraid? We, as citizens, get together every Fourth of July to celebrate this dissolution. We, as citizens, assemble in scores, to celebrate – we enjoy attending/eating at the cookouts, play with sparklers, and watch the fireworks display. Ultimately, the Fourth of July has always had an intrinsic meaning that has ever been so peculiar to all other nations in the world. Why? Because we were a nation that was built upon revolution, our actions were anchored in dissent, and our beliefs in ourselves seemed to have derived from the interplay between the laws of nature, our Creator, and an tenacious, hard-working, and utterly radical citizenry.

However, this meaning, over the course of centuries, which has been characterized by the pervasiveness of the market economy, has also undergone change. When we think of the Fourth of July and the meaning of freedom, now, we think of national and economic security, not so much as our ideal ability to enjoy our civic duties as well as social rights, but our ability to buy; the freedom to consume. Granted, those aspects of liberty and freedom are important, however, we, as citizens, appear to be missing the point – the significance behind the Fourth of July lies in the ideal of affecting change through a progressive citizenry willing to take risks, not necessarily of our “freedoms” being protected, or the “need to feel secure,” or to consume.

So, now is the time. It is time for the American citizenry to put the focus back upon the real reason(s) surrounding Independence Day – not just stare in awe at the fireworks like the zombies like in the recent movie Land of the Dead, because even those zombies were able to resist this stimulation in order to realize that they were oppressed by a city on a hill, and thus, mobilize themselves to invade the city that they were locked from.

No, I am not calling for an invasion or mass instances of civil disobedience during this time, or during future celebrations of Independence Day. I am calling for a reconsideration of why we celebrate this day. Do we rejoice because of our militaristic campaigns in foreign countries, or because of our belief in freedom, in the belief of taking risks, and moving with the times? Why do we celebrate the 4th of July?

Now, if this reconsideration causes people to react in a way that calls for protest, then so be it. Because, akin to those who built this nation, risks must be taken in order to realize change, essentially, risks must be taken in order to move with the times.

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Filed under: SpN!

Some Thoughts on Race, Difference, and Discrimination

My friend Kristen Traynor asked me to respond to a few questions for a paper for class. I thought, in light of the recent developments in American race relations, that I would distribute my responses to continue the conversation.

1. What was your reaction to the Jena Six situation?

The Jena Six affair just reinforced the polarization of the American public regarding the issues of race and difference. On one hand there are many people who believe the young men deserved to be punished just because they committed this act. On the other hand, there are many people, like myself, who believe that one cannot observe this issue in a vacuum. Yes, the act was inappropriate. But, the altercation was the culmination of prior events and the missed and botched opportunities of the Jena community to adequately respond to the heightened racial tension. Again, in this case, it would have been best for the kids not to resort to violence, but who can say how easy it would have been to do so in that type of atmosphere? The nooses were hung to warn black youth about sitting underneath a tree. A group of black kids were charged with a crime when they were confronted by an armed white male. Also, a young black and white male got into a physical altercation the weekend before the actual incident. And what was the community response? The noose incident was dismissed as a prank. The prosecutor threatened to end people’s lives with the stroke of a pen. The young black men were arrested for theft after they had disarmed the young white male who confronted them with a firearm. Just like many of the participants in the Watts Rebellion of 1965, if justice continues to be denied, or a particular group continues to receive a disproportionate amount of the blame, they lose faith in the system and begin to act on their own behalf. In this case, and unfortunately, the young black men responded violently. Then they were charged as adults when they should not have been. I think it’s very unfortunate.

Yet, despite my disappointment of how it was handled by those in the Jena community who did not think much of the mounted racial tension, it was great to see the many activists, especially radio personality Michael Baisden, as well as the concerned citizens in Jena highlight America’s historical problem of effectively addressing the race question. Many people in this country believe that race does not matter since the passage of civil rights legislation and affirmative action policies during the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, in spite of these gains, the exposure of black affluence in popular culture, and the limited contact between middle-class whites and blacks in certain communities and other public institutions, race and difference continue to shape the diverse realities of all Americans. Many people still base their potential encounters or views of different people on limiting and negative stereotypes. In places thought to be more liberal like Columbus, Ohio, I’ve been followed in plenty of stores. Some white people look at me funny if my spoken language is not filled with the latest slang or if my pants are not hanging low enough.

This situation has also highlighted the problems of our criminal injustice system. Since the repression of the black power organizations and the “War on Drugs” during the 1970s and 1980s, black, Latino, and poor whites have been negatively affected by unfair sentencing practices. The rates of incarceration among young black men and women, however, have been higher than their Latino and poor white counterparts. Hopefully, people follow up their efforts shown during the massive protest by expanding this into a national issue.

2. Do you feel that some people feel more open to express their prejudices now in light of the incident?

It’s possible. Based upon recent racially charged incidents and rumors here in Kent and the highly publicized noose hanging incident at Columbia University, it could be argued that the nooses hung on the tree in Jena were a calling card for those who may want to intimidate black and other peoples of color. Another issue is that people who want to express these views feel justified, not just by their self-righteousness, but by their disagreement with various aspects of hip hop/urban culture. Many whites and blacks feel their beliefs are warranted because they think many black and urban youth aspire to a life of crime, indiscriminately saying the “n” word, and/or disparage black (all) women.

And while some of this may occur within some black and urban communities, critics want to project their limited vision of hip hop/urban culture (and race consciousness) onto all of black Americans. This is the problem. No one wants to take neither hip hop nor the benefits that race consciousness has had for black Americans and other peoples of color in our country seriously. Violence, misogyny, homophobia, and crime were present in the United States before hip hop. Those are American problems. Many black Americans, not all, have retained a sense of race consciousness and dignity due to the constant threat of negative stereotypes, inequity, racial indifference and intimidation. Race consciousness is not meant to be synonymous with racial superiority.
In addition, no one wants to discuss how the historical backdrop in which many of these problems in the inner-city has developed. These conditions were produced during the early and mid twentieth centuries, not in a conspiratorial fashion, but through decades of federal and state action which negatively affected black communities. The suburbs, the ghettos, and the lack of opportunities within the urban neighborhoods were created by both informal discriminatory practices (white flight, unspoken housing covenants, white resistance to neighborhood integration) and formal, seemingly “race-neutral” policies (Discrimination in the acquisition of FHA mortgages, urban renewal, highway/freeway construction, unequal education funding as a result of the capital flight), not just through a group of people making bad decisions. Yes, personal responsibility is important, but it is only part of the solution.

We need a comprehensive plan. We need programs that ask everyone to seriously question how these conditions arose as well as one that asks inner-city populations to take the initiative and spearhead the effort. Underrepresented groups need a seat at the table and it’s important that they realize that it is their responsibility to sit in the chair. But if we give them a chair with two legs, while ours have four, then how do we expect them to want to sit at the table? If you give them a regular chair and other people are sitting on a throne, then what do you expect to happen? They are going to do whatever it takes to buy a chair with four legs, or try to buy a larger throne to keep up—even if it means dealing drugs within their own in their communities.

3. Have you been to one of the Kent State Anti-Racism Coalition meetings or do you plan on attending?

Yes, I had the pleasure of attending the first meeting. It was nice to have a frank discussion about race for once. I would not say that we all had the same views about race and racism, but if we can identify particular goals to achieve, then we do not have to totally agree. We just have to make sure we are open to each other’s differences in opinion and respect the unique experiences of all groups of people. But I’m thankful that some concerned students and faculty decided to form this group. I really admire all of them for wanting to take on such a big and complicated issue.

4. Do you think that groups like this are important to have on campus?

Yes, these groups are important to have everywhere. It’s like I was telling someone earlier, we all need to learn to think of issues of race, gender, class, sex, disability, and difference in more nuanced ways. I think too many of us begin to think we know all there is to know about these categories and the experiences of different groups of people. Sometimes we become complacent and too self-righteous. My thoughts about race now are not the same as they were when I was in high school, my first years in college, and while I was at OSU. So, if I’m aware of these changes, then why do we continue to view these categories as fixed? The meanings and implications of these categories change every time there is a public development. People seem to forget—once the civil rights legislation and affirmative action policies were passed, the critics were already planning to combat it. Their plans to slow down or reverse these policies were being put into motion as the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board, when Dr. King was giving his “I Have a Dream” speech, and when President Johnson signed that legislation. If there is going to be a new antiracist movement, then the participants have to be ready to constantly act and react.

And only once we begin to think of these categories as dynamic and shifting, then we can really begin to think of pursuing a real human rights agenda. But if we do not, and we only seek to only erase difference/s in favor of the “we are all human” approach, then it is possible that many people of color, social classes, religious faiths, genders, sexual orientations, and other marginalized groups may only think of this as a self-righteous action, a program that resembles 18th, 19th, and 20th century missionary program out to extend “civilization” into regions of the African and Asian continents. We need approaches that reflect the complexities of real life, not a “human rights” imperialism that only muzzles the historical and present experiences of different groups of people.

5. Do you think it’s important to start a dialogue about racism on campus (Kent State)? If so why?

I think so, because it seems that individuals within the administration—even the president—believe that taking down a sign, a mass email, and some sort of investigation of an incident constitutes justice and closure (Someone had spray painted a racial epithet on a sign near the Student Recreation Center on the weekend of September 25. For more information see story: “BUS Addresses Racial Tensions.”) While it was obviously wrong do not forget to think about where this was spray painted. I wonder if the people responsible would have spray painted something like that on a library sign.) This is just sweeping the dirt back beneath the rug. Yes, the perpetrators should be punished. But the powers that be have to ensure an environment where these acts are never repeated. They have to also act like a university is supposed to act and preserve the right of groups like the Black United Students (BUS) to have agency and address the situation in a manner they see fit, because the group in question has to have a chance to help remove the dirt from the house. If they are not allowed this chance, then they really don’t have a seat at the table. And if the group does not get a chance to use the broom or sit at the table, then they may flip over the table, hit you with the broomstick, and burn down the house.

See my answer above for more regarding this question. I do not want to repeat myself.

6. As someone with a master’s degree in African and African American Studies and a concentration on civil rights, how do you feel the issue should be addressed on campus?

First, I would like to say that many groups—the university NAACP, Black United Students, Save the World, the Antiracist coalition, as well as black and white students, faculty, and staff, have been trying to address this issue for a long time. But, generically speaking, the first step is dialogue. And the conversation cannot just include everyone who may roughly agree. It is important to create a safe discussion where people who disagree are invited to explain their views. Consequently, we need to create a situation where someone is not just going to be branded a “racist” for their views. Granted, one may think some of the critics may have “racist” views, but putting them on the defensive will not help, it’s just going to create a tough situation where affecting positive change will be difficult. Now, of course, if a critic is just trying to be hurtful, disrespectful, inconsiderate, and narrow-minded then they should be addressed. That is just result of someone trying to assume some sort of power or superiority. But if the person is just truly inexperienced when it comes to these issues, then we should try to raise their awareness. But, again, the age-old question remains, “How do we do so?” I’m not exactly sure, I just know it is hard work.

Second, a comprehensive plan of action needs to be outlined. This is where the different groups and individuals can decide which aspect of the problem to tackle and how. It shouldn’t be assumed that BUS will use the same tactics to tackle the same problem as the antiracist coalition. Issues of race and difference are too complicated and some aspects are better suited for particular groups to address. Many white students know they will have to disrupt the behind the scenes racial talk and bring it out into the open. Many black students know they will have to assert their will and address instances of racism and proclaim their opposition to it. They will also have the daunting task of communicating their experiences to others while maintaining their position as individual and not a representative of their race. But, no matter what type of action and the identity of the participant, there just has to be flexible action. This action needs to be both interracial and intra-racial. Simultaneously, due to the unique realities of all groups, people need to be aware and respectful of the possibilities where particular groups should assert their own agency. And in the process, we’ll have to tackle a variety of general issues, violence, sexism, homophobia, etc., in order to disarm those who only want to blame the people for their plight.

But again, this is not assuming that a lot of this work has not been done, because many people at Kent State have been doing the hard work of organizing.

7. Could you tell me a little about the incident with the News Journal article about your speech? Did the reaction change your views about the wider society or make you more aware of the difficulties that still have to be faced today?

When I was at The Ohio State University at Mansfield, I always participated in the Black History Month Celebration by planning and presenting speeches. Last year I discussed oppression in its many forms: racism, sexism, violence and child abuse, etc. I highlighted some instances of racism in America, American prostitution (the “pimp culture” many like to glorify) the underground slave trade in the U.S. and abroad, convict labor in the U.S., U.S. immigration policy, the Iraq War, and child soldiers in Uganda. I used some of the later thoughts of Dr. King to illustrate how civil rights extended beyond American borders.

Consequently, when the article about it ran in the newspaper (News Journal) I was heavily criticized for choosing the topic of oppression for a black history month speech. Apparently, many of the message board members assumed that I was just discussing white on black oppression in the United States. Because (and this is sarcastic), aren’t we (black people) only concerned with blaming the “white man” for our problems? Shouldn’t we start thinking for ourselves, like Bill O’Reilly alluded to, and not follow the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons who are only leading us down the path to an essential race-based society? But, in fact, I was discussing many aspects of global oppression and I tried to from the stance of the victim. At the same time, I also discussed how it related to black history month. It was a shame because it seemed that many people just projected what they thought about race and racism onto that story. One person was posting white supremacist articles about how black Americans should be thankful for what western Europeans (whites) have done for us through slavery and what not. I also received some backhanded compliments like, “I’m glad you’re pursuing your master’s degree, I just hope you do not turn into a Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.” I was thinking, “What does that mean?” People were also comparing me to Bill Cosby. I had no idea where that was coming from. What else is ironic is that, although I respect their past contributions, I do not totally agree with all Jackson and Sharpton’s views or courses of action. We need group-based leadership, not the one-person, male, figurehead.

But I think their negative responses were indicative of the amount of Americans who truly believe they know all there needs to know about issues of race and difference. Instead of asking questions, they made and acted upon their assumptions. Sometimes it was insensitive and other times it was just plain racist. But one could tell they passively consumed and drew conclusions from a 650-1000 word newspaper article and some quotes instead of really trying to find out the contents of my talk. I was available for questions. But, there’s a catch. I have a certain policy of only answering sincere people. I do not engage those who just want to criticize anyone because they may have different opinions or for the sake of it. There is too much going on in the world to worry about that, and that type of response only reinforces and encourages disrespect in our country. But, I’m not afraid of what someone is going to do or say because of that situation. As long as I have friends and family to support me in what I want to accomplish then I’m fine. None of us can afford to stoop to the level of name calling and disrespect. It will not do much to improve race relations and it will only serve to become hurtful sound bites in the future.

Filed under: Race, SpN!

02. Finally! New Spirit of the Nation: rEvolutionary Culture

Revolutionary Culture, Dummy Cover2

And we mean it this time! After a ridiculous hiatus, that has included nothing but all of the trimmings of real life occurrences, the release of our next issue is finally coming together. I have all but a couple of articles (that we personally want…including the Howard Zinn piece…) and will be ready to assemble the work within the next couple of weeks.

With this issue–as the name suggests–there will be some changes, or some evolution, within this issue. First, since we are ready to emphasize our web presence a little more, this issue will be offered via online (.pdf format) either through our website (www.spiritofthenation.org), our blog (which will be up long before the end of summer…no more false promises…), and probably my blog. Beware, with this development we have not ruled out hard copies…we’ll see how the funds look. This development also allows us to get a little more creative with the design and layout–hopefully…I was ready to post the introduction, but I changed my mind. You can call me a flip-flopper.

Filed under: SpN!

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