Feminist : a man or a woman who says, “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

TED | We should all be feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at TEDxEuston (transcript)

(This is a personal transcript. I take responsibility for all typos. The symbol “[--]” simply indicates African names and references unfamiliar to me.)

So I would like to start by telling you about one of my greatest friends, [--]. [--] lived on my street and looked after me like a big brother. If I liked a boy, I would ask [--]‘s opinion. [--] died in the notorious [--] plane crash in Nigeria in December of 2005, almost exactly 7 years ago. [--] was a person I could argue with, laugh with and truly talk to. He was also the first person to call me a feminist. I was about 14, we were in his house, arguing, both of us bristling with half-bit knowledge from books that we had read. I don’t remember what this particular argument was about, but I remember that as I argued and argued, [--] looked at me and said, “You know, you’re a feminist.” It was not a compliment. I could tell from his tone, the same tone that you would use to say something like, “You’re a supporter of terrorism.” I did not know exactly what this word “feminist” meant and I did not want [--] to know that I did not know. So I brushed it aside and continued to argue. And the first thing that I planned to do when I got home was to look up “feminist” in the dictionary.

Now, fast-forward to some years later. I wrote a novel about a man who, among other things beats his wife and whose story doesn’t end very well. When I was promoting the novel in Nigeria, a journalist, a nice well-meaning man told me he wanted to advise me. And to the Nigerians here, I’m sure we’re all familiar with how quick are people to give unsolicited advise. He told me that people were saying that my novel was feminist and his advice to me — and he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke — was that I should never call myself a feminist because feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands. So I decided to call myself a “happy feminist.” Then, an academic, a Nigerian woman told me that feminism was not our culture, that feminism wasn’t Africa, and that I was calling myself a feminist because I had been corrupted by “Western” books, which amused me because a lot of my early reading was decidedly un-feminist. I think I must have read every single [--] published before I was 16. And each time I try to read those books called the “feminists classics” I get bored, and I really struggle to finish them. But anyway, since feminism was un-African, I decided I would now call myself a happy African feminist. At some point I was a happy African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high heels for herself but not for men. Of course a lot of this was tongue-in-cheek, but that word “feminist” is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage. You hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, that sort of thing.

Now, here’s a story from my childhood. When I was in primary school, my teacher said at the beginning of term that she would give the class a test, and whoever got the highest code would be the class monitor. Now, class monitor was a big deal. If you were a class monitor, you got to write down the names of noise-makers, which was heady enough power in its own. But my teacher would also give you a cane to hold in your hand while you walked around and patrolled the class for noise-makers. Now, of course you were not actually allowed to use the cane, but it was an exciting prospect for the 9-year-old me. I very much wanted to be the class monitor, and I got the highest score on the test. Then to my surprise my teacher said that the monitor had to be a boy. She had forgotten to make that clear earlier because she assumed it was obvious. A boy had the second highest score on the test and he would be monitor. Now what was even more interesting about this is that the boy was a sweet gentle soul who had no interest in patrolling the class with a cane. While I was full of ambition to do so. But I was female and he was male, and so he became the class monitor. And I’ve never forgotten that incident.

I often make the mistake of thinking that something that is obvious to me is just as obvious to everyone else. Now take my dear friend Louis, for example. Louis is brilliant progressive man and we would have conversations and he would tell me, “I don’t know what you mean by things being different or harder for women. Maybe in the past, but not now.” And I didn’t understand how Louis could not see what seemed so self-evident. Then one evening in Lagos, Louis and I went out with friends. And for people here who are familiar with Lagos, there’s that wonderful Lagos fixture, the sprinkling of energetic men who hang around outside establishments and very dramatically help you park your car. I was impressed with the particular theatrics of the man who found us a parking spot that evening. And so as we were leaving, I decided to leave him a tip. I opened my bag, put my hand inside my bag, brought out my money that I had earned from doing my work, and I gave it to the man. And he, this man who was very grateful and happy, took the money from me, looked across at Louis, and said, “Thank you, sir!” Louis looked at me surprised, and asked, “Why is he thanking me? I didn’t give him the money.” Then I saw realization dawn on Louis’s face. The man believed that whatever money I had had ultimately come from Louis, because Louis is a man.

Now, men and women are different. We have different hormones, we have different sexual organs, we have different biological abilities; women can have babies, men can’t, at least not yet. Men have testosterone, and are in general physically stronger than women. There are slightly more women than men in the world, about 52% of the world’s population is female. But most of the positions of power and prestige are occupied by men. The late Kenyan, Nobel Peace Laureate, Wangari Maathai, put it simply and well when she said,

The higher you go the fewer women there are.

In the recent US elections we kept hearing of the Lilly Ledbetter Law. And if we go beyond the nicely alliterative name of that law, it was really about a man and a woman doing the same job, being equally qualified and the man being paid more because he is a man. So, in a literal way, men rule the world. And this made sense a thousand years ago. Because human beings lived then in a world in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival. The physically stronger person was more likely to lead. And men in general are physically stronger; of course, there are many exceptions. But today we live in a vastly different world. The person more likely to lead is not the physically stronger person, it is the more creative person, the more intelligent person, the more innovative person, and there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, to be creative, to be innovative. We have evolved, but it seems to me that our ideas of gender have not evolved.

Some weeks ago I walked into the lobby of one of the best Nigerian hotels. And a guy at the entrance stopped me and asked me annoying questions. Because the automatic assumption is that a Nigerian female walking into a hotel alone is a sex worker. And, by the way, why do these hotels focus on the ostensible supply rather than the demand for sex workers. In Lagos, I cannot go alone into many reputable bars and clubs. They just don’t let you in if you are a woman alone. You have to be accompanied by a man. Each time I walk into a Nigerian restaurant with a man, the waiter greets the man and ignores me. The waiters are products of a society that has taught them that men are more important than women. And I know the waiters don’t intend any harm, but it is one thing to know intellectually, and quite another to feel it emotionally. Each time they ignore me, I feel invisible. I feel upset. I want to tell them that I am just as human as the man, that I am just as worthy of acknowledgement. These are little things but sometimes it’s the little things that sting the most.

Now, not long ago I wrote an article about what it means to be young a female in Lagos and an acquaintance told me it was so angry. Of course it was angry. I am angry. Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change, but in addition to being angry, I’m also hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better.

Gender matters everywhere in the world, but I want to focus on Nigeria, and on Africa in general, because it is where I know and because it is where my heart is. And I would like today to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start. We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently. We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity becomes this hard small cage and we put boys inside the cage. We teach boys to be afraid of fear. We teach boys to be afraid of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves because they have to be, in Nigeria speak, “hard man.”

In secondary school, a boy and a girl, both of them teenagers, both of them with the same amount of pocket money would go out and the boy would be expected always to pay, to prove his masculinity. And yet we wonder why boys are more likely to steal money from their parents. What if both boys and girls were raised not to link masculinity with money? What if the attitude was not, “The boy has to pay,” but rather, “Whoever has more, should pay.” Now, of course because of the historical advantage, it is mostly men who will have more today. But if we start raising children differently, then in fifty years, in a hundred  years, boys will no longer have the pressure of having to prove this masculinity.

But by far the worst thing we do to males, by making them feel that they have to be hard, is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The more “hard man” a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is. And then we do a much greater disservice to girls because we raise them to cater to fragile egos of men. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man. If you are the bread winner in your relationship with a man, you have to pretend that you’re not. Especially in public. Otherwise you will emasculate him.” But what if we question the premise itself? Why should a woman’s success be a threat to a man. What if we decide to simply dispose of that word, and I don’t think there is an English word I dislike more than, “emasculation.”

A Nigerian acquaintance once asked me if I was worried that men would be intimidated by me. I was not worried at all. In fact it had not occurred to me to be worried because a man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in. But still I was really struck by this. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?

I know a woman who decided to sell her house because she didn’t want to intimidate a man who might marry her. I know an unmarried women in Nigeria who, when she goes to conferences, wears a wedding ring, because according to her, she wants all the participants in the conference to give her respect. I know young women who are under so much pressure from family, from friends, even from work to get married, and they’re pushed to make terrible choices. A woman at a certain age who is unmarried, our society teaches her to see it as a deep personal failure. And a man, after a certain age isn’t married, we just think he hasn’t come around to making his pick.

It’s easy for us to say, “Oh, but women can just say ‘no’ to all of this.” But the reality is more difficult and more complex. We are all social beings. We internalize ideas from our socialization. Even the language  we use in talking about marriage and relationships illustrates this. The language of marriage is often the language of ownership, rather than the language of partnership. We use the word “respect” to mean something a women shows a man, but not often something a man shows a woman.

Both men and women in Nigeria will say — and this is an expression I am very amused by — “I did it for peace in my marriage.” Now, when men say it, it is usually about something that they should not be doing anyway. Sometimes it is something they say to their friends in a kind of [fundly] exasperated way. You know, something that ultimately proves how masculine they are, how needed, how loved. “Oh, my wife said I can’t go to the club every night, so for peace in my marriage I do it only on weekends.” Now, when a woman says, “I did it for peace in my marriage,” she is usually talking about having given up a job, a dream, a career. We teach females, that in relationships, ‘compromise’ is what women do. We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs, or for accomplishments — which I think can be a good thing — but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. If we have sons, we don’t mind knowing about our sons’ girlfriends. But our daughters’ boyfriends, God forbid. But of course, when the time is right, we expect those girls to bring back the perfect man to be their husbands. We police girls. We praise girls for virginity, but we don’t praise boys for virginity. And it’s always made me wonder how exactly this is all suppose to work out, … [applause] I mean, the loss of virginity is usually a process that involves two people.

Recently a young woman was gang raped in a university in Nigeria. And the response of many young Nigerians, both male and female, was something along the lines of this: “Yes, rape is wrong. But what is a girl doing in a room with four boys?” Now, if we can forget the horrible inhumanity of that response, these Nigerians have been raised to think of women as inherently guilty. And they’ve been raised to expect so little of men that the idea of men as savage beings with out any control is somehow acceptable. We teach girls shame. “Close your legs. Cover yourself.” We make them feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up — and this is the worst thing we do to girls — they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.

I know a woman who hates domestic work. She just hates it. But she pretends that she likes it because she has been taught that to be good wife material she has to be — to use that Nigerian word — very “homely.” And then she got married, and after a while her husband’s family began to complain that she had changed. Actually, she had not changed. She just gotten tired of pretending.

The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are.

Now, imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations. Boys and girls are undeniably different, biologically. But socialization exaggerates the differences, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling process.

Now take cooking for example. Today, women in general are more likely to do the housework than men, the cooking and cleaning. But why is that? Is it because women are born with a cooking gene? Or because over the years they have been socialized to see cooking as their role? Actually, I was going to say that maybe women are born with a cooking gene until I remembered that the majority of the famous cooks in the world who we give the fancy title of “chefs,” are men.

I used to look at my grandmother who was a brilliant, brilliant woman and wonder how she would have been if she had the same opportunities as men when she was growing up. Now today, there are many more opportunities for women than there were during my grandmother’s time because of changes in policy, changes in law, all of which are very important. But what matters even more is our attitude, our mindset, what we believe and what we value about gender.

What if, in raising children, we focus on ability, instead of gender? What if, in raising children, we focus on interest, instead of gender? I know a family who have a son and a daughter, both of whom are brilliant at school, who are wonderful, lovely children. When the boy is hungry, the parents say to the girl, “Go and cook [noodles] for your brother.” Now, the girl doesn’t particularly like to cook [noodles], but she’s a girl, and so she has to. Now, what if the parents, from the beginning, taught both the boy and the girl to cook [noodles]? Cooking, by the way is a very useful skill for a boy to have. I’ve never thought it made sense to leave such a crucial thing, the ability to nourish one’s self, in the hands of others. [applause]

I know a woman who was the same degree and the same job as her husband. When they get back from work, she does most of the house work, which I think is true for many marriages. But what struck me about them is that whenever her husband changed the baby’s diaper, she said, “Thank you” to him. Now, what if, she saw this as perfectly normal and natural that he should in fact care for his child?

I’m trying to unlearn many of the lessons of gender that I internalized when I was growing up. But I sometimes still feel very vulnerable in the face of gender expectations. The first time I taught a writing class in graduate school, I was worried. I wasn’t worried about the material I would teach, because I was well prepared and I was going to teach what I enjoyed teaching. Instead, I was worried about what I was going to wear. I wanted to be taken seriously. I knew that because I was female, I would automatically have to prove my worth, and I was worried that if I looked too feminine, I would not be taken seriously. I really wanted to wear my shiny lip gloss and my girly skirt, but I decided not to. Instead, I wore a very serious, very manly, and very ugly suit. Because the sad truth is that when it comes to appearance, we start off with men as the standard, as the norm. If a man is getting ready for a business meeting, he doesn’t worry about looking too masculine, and therefore not being taken [for granted] [seriously?]. If a woman is getting ready for a business meeting, she has to worry about looking too feminine, and what it says, and whether or not she will be taken seriously. I wish had not worn that ugly suit that day. I’ve actually banished from my closet, by the way. Had I then, the confidence that I have now, to be myself, my students would have benefited even more from my teaching because I would have been more comfortable, and more truly myself.

I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be.

Gender is not an easy conversation to have for both men and women. To bring up gender is sometimes to encounter an almost immediate resistance. I can imagine some people here actually thinking, “Women [--?]” Some of the men here might be thinking, “Okay, all of this is interesting, but I don’t think like that.” And that is part of the problem. That many men do not actively think about gender or notice gender, is part of the problem of gender. That many men say, like my friend Louis, “But everything is fine now.” And that many men do nothing to change it. If you are a man and you walk into a restaurant with a woman and the waiter greets only you, does it occur to you to ask the waiter, “Why haven’t you greeted her?”

Because gender can be a very uncomfortable conversation to have, there are very easy ways to close it, to close the conversation. So, some people will bring up evolutionary biology and apes, how female apes bow down to male apes and that sort of thing. But the point is, we’re not apes. [applause] Apes also live on trees, and have earthworms for breakfast, and we don’t. Some people will say, “Well, poor men also have a hard time.” And this is true. But this is not what this conversation is about. Gender and class are different forms of oppression. I actually learned quite a bit about systems of oppression and how they can be blind to one another by talking to black men. I was once talking to a black man about gender and he said to me, “Why do you have to say ‘my experience as a woman’? Why can’t it be ‘my experience as a human being’?” Now, this is the same man who would often talk about his experience as a black man.

Gender matters. Men and women experience the world differently. Gender colors the way we experience the world. But we can change that. Some people will say, “Oh, but women have the real power, bottom power.” And for non-Nigerians, “bottom power” is an expression in which I suppose means something like a woman who uses her sexuality to get favors from men. But “bottom power” is not power at all. Bottom power means that a woman simply has a good root to tap into, from time to time, somebody else’s power. And then of course we have to wonder when that somebody else is in a bad mood, or sick or sick or impotent.

Some people will say that a woman being subordinate to a man is our culture. But culture is constantly changing. I have beautiful twin nieces who are 15 who live in Lagos. If they had been born 100 years ago, they would have been taken away and killed because it was our culture, it was our culture, the Ibo/Igbo culture to kill twins. So, what is the point of culture. I mean, there is the decorative — the dancing — but also culture is really about the preservation and continuity of a people. In my family, I am the child who is most interested in the story of who we are in our traditions and the knowledge of ancestral lands. My brothers are not as interested as I am, but I cannot participate. I cannot go to a [--] meetings, I cannot have a say, because I am female.

Culture does not make people. People make culture.

So if it is in fact true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we must make it our culture.

I think very often of my dear friend [--]. May he and others who past away in that [--] crash continue to rest in peace. He will always be remembered by those of us who loved him. And he was right, that day many years ago, when he called me a feminist. I am a feminist. And when I looked up that word in the dictionary that day, this is what it said:

feminist : a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

My great-grandmother, from the stories I’ve heard, was a feminist. She ran away from the house of a man she did not to marry and ended up marrying the man of her choice. She refused, she protested, she spoke up, whenever she felt she was being deprived of access of land, that sort of thing. My great-grandmother did not know that word, “feminist.” But it doesn’t means that she wasn’t one. More of us should reclaim that word.

My own definition of feminist is:

feminist : a man or a woman who says, “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better.”

The best feminist I know is my brother [--]. He is also a kind, good-looking, lovely man, and he is very masculine.

Thank you.

Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg3umXU_qWc

The KKK Showed Up at the Free Library on Saturday Afternoon

Long live the Freedom to Assemble.

On Saturday, the first day of summer, a handful of KKK members headed out to the Tacony branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. The exact purpose for this, er, rally is a little unclear, and the KKK hasn’t returned a call we placed to their home office, but from what we hear, the whole thing started when one of the Klansmen was denied a spot on the Tacony Town Watch.

It’s fair to say that those who showed up to scream, gawk, or laugh at the KKK exponentially outnumbered the KKK slobs, as evidenced in the video and photos below.

Source: http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/06/23/kkk-philadelphia-rally-free-library-tacony/#gallery-1-13

Happy Juneteenth 2014!!!

JUNETEENTH: A CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM

WHAT IS JUNETEENTH?

Juneteenth or June 19, 1865, is considered the date when the last slaves in America were freed. Although the rumors of freedom were widespread prior to this, actual emancipation did not come until General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and issued General Order No. 3, on June 19, almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

BUT DIDN’T THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION FREE THE ENSLAVED?

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, notifying the states in rebellion against the Union that if they did not cease their rebellion and return to the Union by January 1, 1863, he would declare their slaves forever free. Needless to say, the proclamation was ignored by those states that seceded from the Union. Furthermore, the proclamation did not apply to those slave-holding states that did not rebel against the Union. As a result about 8000,000 slaves were unaffected by the provisions of the proclamation. It would take a civil war to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to formally outlaw slavery in the United States.

WHEN IS JUNETEENTH CELEBRATED?

Annually, on June 19, in more than 200 cities in the United States. Texas (and Oklahoma) is the only state that has made Juneteenth a legal holiday. Some cities sponsor week-long celebrations, culminating on June 19, while others hold shorter celebrations.

WHY IS JUNETEENTH CELEBRATED?

It symbolizes the end of slavery. Juneteenth has come to symbolize for many African-Americans what the fourth of July symbolizes for all Americans — freedom. It serves as a historical milestone reminding Americans of the triumph of the human spirit over the cruelty of slavery. It honors those African-Americans ancestors who survived the inhumane institution of bondage, as well as demonstrating pride in the marvelous legacy of resistance and perseverance they left us.

WHY NOT JUST CELEBRATE THE FOURTH OF JULY LIKE OTHER AMERICANS?

Blacks do celebrate the Fourth of July in honor of American Independence Day, but history reminds us that blacks were still enslaved when the United States obtained its independence.

WHY WERE SLAVES IN TEXAS THE LAST TO KNOW THAT THEY WERE FREE?

During the Civil War, Texas did not experience any significant invasion by Union forces. Although the Union army made several attempts to invade Texas, they were thwarted by Confederate troops. As a result, slavery in Texas continued to thrive. In fact, because slavery in Texas experienced such a minor interruption in its operation, many slave owners from other slave-holding states brought their slaves to Texas to wait out the war. News of the emancipation was suppressed due to the overwhelming influence of the slave owners.

 

The Meaning of Juneteenth — Freedom

When blacks in Texas heard the news, they alternately sang, danced and prayed. There was much rejoicing and jubilation that their life long prayers had finally been answered. Many of the slaves left their masters immediately upon being freed, in search of family members, economic opportunities or simply because they could. They left with nothing but the clothes on their backs and hope in their hearts. Oh, freedom!

“When my oldest brother heard we were free, he gave a whoop, ran, and jumped a high fence, and told mammy good-bye. Then he grabbed me up and hugged and kissed me and said, “Brother is gone, don’t expect you’ll ever see me anymore,” I don’t know where he went, but I never did see him again.” — Susan Ross

Freedom meant more than the right to travel freely. It meant the right to name one’s self and many freedmen gave themselves new names. County courthouses were overcrowded as blacks applied for licenses to legalize their marriages. Emancipation allowed ex-slaves the right to assemble and openly worship as they saw fit. As a result, a number of social and community organizations were formed, many originating from the church. Freedom implied that for the first time, United States laws protected the rights of blacks. There was a run on educational primers as freed men and woman sought the education that had for so long been denied them. The Bureau of Refuges, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, were founded by Congress in March 1865 to provide relief services for former slaves. Schools were established and joined churches as centers of the newly-freed communities. The promise of emancipation gave freedmen optimism for the future; few realized slavery’s bitter legacy was just beginning to unfold and that equality was to remain an elusive dream. Oh freedom!

At the beginning of Reconstruction, the period immediately following the end of the Civil War, rumors were rampant that every freedman would be given forty acres and a mule. Ex-slaves petitioned for land and, with federal troops stationed throughout the South to protect their rights, looked forward to participating in American society as free citizens. In some cases ex-slaves were successful in obtaining land. Land grants by Congress allowed several states to establish black colleges.

The optimism was short-lived, however, and soon replaced by a betrayal so soul shattering blacks questioned whether the United States was serious about granting them their freedom. Ex-slaves found for the most part, that despite the Freedman’s Bureau, they were left to fend for themselves. The abject poverty and the racism that maintained it, prohibited any hope for assimilated into American society. In Texas, the editor of the Harrison Flag newspaper denounced as “treasonable” the sale of land to blacks. The Texas Homestead Act, passed during Reconstruction, granted up to 160 acres of free land to white persons only. The Texas legislature in 1866 passed a new set of black codes that attempted to reverse the limited gains blacks had been granted.

Ex-slaves entered freedom under the worst possible conditions. Most were turned loose penniless and homeless, with only the clothes on their back. Ex-slaves were, as Frederick Douglas said “free, without roofs to cover them, or bread to eat, or land to cultivate, and as a consequence died in such numbers as to awaken the hope of their enemies that they would soon disappear.”

Many white Texans disdained black freedom and this utter contempt guaranteed the price of freedom for many would be unaffordable. The sharecropping system that emerged in Texas and all over the deep South kept many blacks from starving, but had little to distinguish it from the slave life blacks thought they had escaped. This was the other side of emancipation where high expectations gave way to heart-crushing disillusionment.

By 1877, the end of Reconstruction, the North had abandoned black Americans to the will of southern whites, who through violence, racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws succeeded in disenfranchising them, resulting in more than 100 years of oppression. It’s not surprising that blacks turned to the only institution that gave them hope–the church.

CHURCH

From the establishment of the first black church in America, throughout slavery and beyond, the church has been the foundation of the black community. During the horrific days of slavery it provided relief and nourishment for the soul with its promise of a better life after death. The church gave the slave dignity and assured him he was equal in the eyes of God. Despite his earthly condition he was loved and valued as a child of God no matter how difficult his burden became or unbearable his suffering was, Jesus, who too suffered, prepared a place of rest for him when his time was up on earth. It was this religious faith that sustained the slave and enabled him to endure his bondage.

The slave owner was able to observe a glimpse of this faith as he heard the incredible music that seemed to come out of the slave’s soul while toiling in the field. If the slave owner had ventured into a slave church, his strong defense of slavery would no doubt have been weakened. He would have seen the people he considered inferior and sub-human without the defensive masks they wore in the fields; in their churches, enslaved men and woman displayed a dignity and stateliness that survived the slave owner’s dehumanizing oppression.

The church was more than a safe house. It served as a launching pad for black leadership and was involved early on in working for liberation. Many free blacks in northern churches participated in the Underground Railroad, raised money for freedmen after the Civil War, and helped keep the black community intact.

The importance of the black church cannot be overstated. It was, and perhaps still is, the single most important institution in the black community. It permitted self-expression and supported creativity at a time when it could have meant death. An example is found in the spirituals, gospel and other forms of music that helped blacks explain and endure their sojourn in America. Blacks were able to use their churches to hone organization and leadership skills useful in the economic, social and political development of their community. It’s no accident that Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson and a host of other civil rights leaders got their start through the black church.

Therefore it is not surprising the black church has always played a pivOtal role in keeping alive the meaning of Juneteenth. Religion has always been at the root of the observance of this holiday, which is ironic, considering it is a holiday born out of an institution so far removed from Christian ideals–slavery.

The Black Church provided a haven from the daily oppression slaves faced, but after freedom it was also the center of social activities including the sponsorship of the annual Juneteenth Celebration.

TRADITIONAL PRAYER

The deep spiritual faith of the enslaved is reflected in the traditional prayer below. Similar prayers are often recited in Juneteenth celebrations.

Father, I stretch my hand to thee–for no other help I know. Oh my rose of Sharon, my shelter in the time of storm. My prince of peace, my hope in this harsh land. We bow before you this morning to thank you for watching over us and taking care of us. This morning you touched us and brought us out of the land of slumber, gave us another day–thank you Jesus. We realize that many that talked as we now talked, this morning when their names were called, they failed to answer. Their voices were hushed up in death. Their souls had taken a flight and gone back to the God that gave it, but not so with us. We are thankful the sheet we covered with, was not our winding sheet, and the bed we slept on was not our cooling board. You spared us and gave us one more chance to pray. And Father, before we go further, we want to pause and thank you for forgiving our sins. Forgive all our wrong doings. We don’t deserve it, but you lengthened out the briskly threads of our lives and gave us another chance to pray, and Lord for this we thank you… Now Lord, when I’ve come to the end of my journey, when praying days are done and time for me shall be no more; when these knees have bowed for the last time, when I too, like all others must come in off the battlefield of life, when I’m through being ‘buked and scorned, I pray for a home in glory.

When I come down to the river of Jordan, hold the river still and let your servant cross over during a calm down. Father, I’ll be looking for that land where Job said the wicked would cease from troubling us and our weary souls would be at rest; over there where a thousand years is but a day in eternity, where I’ll meet with loved ones and where I can sing praises to thee; and we can say with the saints of old, Free at Last, Free at Last, thank God almighty, I am free at last. Your servant’s prayer for Christ sake. Amen!
– Traditional with additions from Reverend Wallace Evans

LEGACY OF SLAVERY

The fact that it took a Civil War to forcibly put an end to slavery left a bitter legacy that continues to divide American society. Slavery so bankrupted slave owners’ sense of right and wrong that they were willing to die to defend that lifestyle. A slave-holding minority morally corrupted a nation, and this legacy still haunts the country.

According to historian John Hope Franklin, “the Founding Fathers (by allowing slavery) set the stage for every succeeding generation of Americans to apologize, compromise and temporize on those principles of liberty that were supposed to be the very foundation of our system of government and way of life…that is why this nation tolerated and indeed, nurtured the cultivation of racism that has been as insidious as it has been pervasive.”

Professor Franklin asks, “How could the colonists make (such) distinctions in their revolutionary philosophy? They either meant that all men were created equal or they did not mean it at all. They either meant that every man was entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or they did not mean it at all…Patrick Henry, who had cried, ‘Give me liberty or give me death’, admitted that slavery was ‘repugnant to humanity’, but (obviously) not terribly repugnant, for he continued to hold blacks in bondage. So did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson…”

This blatant hypocrisy poisoned both religion and the law. Every institution at the slave-holder’s disposal was used to justify slavery. Instead of the slave-owner being considered inhumane, the people he enslaved were. The legacy of racism has grown into perhaps the greatest internal threat that this country faces. John Hope Franklin aptly put it when he wrote that “slavery weakened America’s moral authority.”

It’s amazing that despite living under the most inhumane conditions known to humankind, blacks contributed everything from agricultural inventions, to medical breakthroughs, to music. Enslaved artisans crafted incredible sculptures, designed beautiful buildings and helped build a nation. Blacks preserved a culture and succeeded in passing down a legacy of music, language, food, religion and a lesson in survival. We’ll never know how many scientists, engineers, doctors and artists were lost on the trip over on the slave ships or after they arrived.

Slavery taught America another lesson, one that it too often ignores. Blacks and whites worked together to create an anti-slavery movement that ultimately succeeded. Later they fought and died together to force an end of slavery. Blacks and whites have worked throughout the nation’s history for social justice. This lesson of cooperation must never be forgotten.

While the painful side of slavery makes it difficult for many blacks to celebrate Juneteenth, it is the positive legacy of perseverance and cooperation that makes it impossible for others to ignore.

WHY WE CELEBRATE

J — Juneteenth represents the joy of freedom–the chance for a new beginning.

U — Unless we expose the truth about the African-American slave experience, Americans won’t be truly free.

N — Never must we forget our ancestors’ endurance of one of the worst slave experiences in human history.

E — Every American has benefitted from the wealth blacks created through over 200 years of free labor and Juneteenth allows us to acknowledge that debt.

T — To encourage every former slave-holding state to follow Texas’ (and Oklahoma’s) example and make Juneteenth a state holiday.

E — Every day in America, blacks are reminded of the legacy of slavery. Juneteenth counters that by reminding us of the promise of deliverance.

E — Even on the journey to discover who we are, Juneteenth allows us to reflect on where we’ve been, where we’re at and where we’re going as a people.

N – Never give up hope is the legacy our enslaved ancestors left. It was this legacy that produced black heroism in the Civil War and helped launch the modern civil rights era. It is this legacy we celebrate.

T — To proclaim for all the world to hear, that human rights must never again become subservient to property rights.

H — History books have only told a small part of the story; Juneteenth gives us a chance to set the record straight.

FREEDOM IS ALWAYS WORTH CELEBRATING!

PSA: Rage Against The Ratchet

Filthy, violent lyrics: Enough already!

Haggins

A WHOLE LOT of folks think it’s cute to see young children twerking and singing along to sexually suggestive songs.

They laugh. Maybe post a YouTube video of it.

Not two-time Grammy winner Carvin G. “Ransum” Haggins.

After visiting a beauty salon in the Philly burbs earlier this spring and watching a 2-year-old girl mimicking Beyonce’s provocative dance moves and singing the very adult lyrics to “Drunk in Love,” Haggins got fed up and launched a grassroots campaign called Rage Against the Ratchet. Its purpose? To force radio stations to clean up the airwaves.

“I’m just coming as a concerned citizen saying, ‘We’ve got to do something about the music. We’ve got to do something about how the music is getting to the people,’ ” Haggins, 45, who grew up in Philly, said in a YouTube video.

“There are rappers saying, ‘I dropped a molly in a girl’s drink,’ ” Haggins added. ” ‘She didn’t even know. I took her home and had my way with her. She didn’t even know.’ Yo, that’s date rape! . . . There’s a child right now with that in his headphones saying that that’s the cool thing to do because a rapper said it.”

Haggins – who has worked with Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Justin Timberlake and others – has organized a protest outside the Bala Cynwyd studios of Power 99 FM at 11 a.m. Saturday to protest filthy, violent lyrics in popular music.

I spoke at length with Haggins, but I think his YouTube comments say it all. We ought to get behind him. Turn out in droves at 111 Presidential Blvd. to show the powers at Power 99 that the stupid lyrics and misogynistic filth that gets played on the airwaves is unacceptable.

Take, for example, what Chris Brown spews in “Loyal”:

” . . . When a rich n—- want ya

And your n—- can’t do nothing for ya

These hoes ain’t loyal . . .”

These hoes ain’t loyal

Just got rich

Took a broke n—- b—-

I can make a broke b—- rich

But I don’t f— with broke b—-s.”

 “What type of lyric is that? What are you saying to our kids? Some kid is going to recite that. My mom ain’t a b—-. My daughter ain’t a b—–,” Haggins added. “Why is it so free to say that word and disrespect women? And the sad part is women are singing along with these records like that’s the thing to do.”

The first time I saw those lyrics, they were on a young relative’s Instagram page. Yes, I confronted her. And when I did, her excuse was that it wasn’t her personal commentary but popular rap lyrics she’d heard on the radio and was merely reciting on social media. To her, the fact that Brown sings this mess on the radio makes it OK.

I can see how her young mind could make such a leap, because the Federal Communications Commission regulates what comes across the airwaves.

And adults, older people she’s been trained to look up to and respect, put this crap out for public consumption. And it’s everywhere.

Take the song “Partition” by Beyonce:

” . . . Oh he so horny, yeah he want to f—

He popped all my buttons and he ripped my blouse

He Monica Lewinsky’d all onmy gown . . . “

“What?!” said Haggins, a father of seven. “I don’t want to see somebody’s daughter in the car singing that song.

“Like, why is that cool that Beyonce is telling these girls about how she’s having oral sex? Nothing about that’s cool. It ain’t cool. It ain’t sexy. It ain’t fly. It’s just a lack of creativity . . . and I feel like right now we’re being treated like sex-slave beasts.”

He likens commercial radio to drug dealers.

“You are dealing poison to our kids,” said Haggins, who lives in Marlton. “Y’all flipping these records back-to-back-to-back.

“You’re pumping that poison into the heads of our kids when they’re sitting with their headphones on. We need better music. We need better programming.”

He’s right on about that. Yesterday I reached out to the powers at Power 99, who then emailed me a statement: “Power 99 is part of the fabric of the city of Philadelphia and has maintained a great relationship with the local community by playing music that our listeners want to hear from their favorite artists, while abiding by all government regulations as a responsible broadcaster.”

If you don’t like what comes from Power 99, which is owned by Clear Channel Media and Entertainment, stop being passive. Get involved. Rage Against the Ratchet.

Source: http://articles.philly.com/2014-06-06/news/50362593_1_youtube-video-lyrics-airwaves#XY9rrgbFdTXzXhfW.01

Maya Angelou, Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South, Dies at 86

Hiding the Pain: The Emotional Repression of Men

By: @TheBlackVoice

 

Men aren’t supposed to cry. Men aren’t supposed to hug. Men aren’t supposed to say how we truly feel. Men aren’t supposed to be afraid. Men aren’t supposed to be wrong. I could keep going on with the long list of things men aren’t supposed to do, as I’ve had “man-laws” drilled into my head for decades. The worst law I learned in the school of manhood, is the one saying that men aren’t supposed to feel.

As men we are taught that any emotions other than anger or lust are signs of weakness. Weakness is like kryptonite to patriarchal masculinity, so no man ever wants to show any indication of it. Whenever our emotions do come up, we do our best to hide them. We front, so we won’t be exposed and have our manhood challenged.

I often hear the conversation about how emotionally insecure women are. I find this surprising because I believe that men are more or just as emotionally insecure as women. My logic behind this statement is quite simple. The patriarchal definition of masculinity in this society does not allow men to express our emotions. Emotions such as fear, pain, and sadness are swept under the rug. They’re not to be seen by society, because a man’s (defined by patriarchal masculinity) greatest fear is to be perceived as weak or soft.

The emotional crippling of men is destructive to the mental and physical health of men and society in general. All men feel, because we are humans. Feelings of empathy, fear, anxiety, patience, love, and compassion are not just specific emotions that women express. The human spirit contains a wide variety of emotions. Patriarchal masculinity attempts to suppress these emotions, which in turn creates broken men. Men who cannot express the fullness of their emotions are broken.

One of the biggest coping mechanisms of this emotional repression is foolish pride. Foolish pride enables us to shield ourselves from personal insecurities, rather than dealing with them. Basically it is a process of deflection. When we are afraid, we deflect. When we are hurt, we deflect. When are unsure, we deflect. Any emotion or action that goes against the “guy code” gets deflected.

This front is something men do conscious and subconsciously. The conditioning of patriarchy is so deeply rooted that the emotional repression of men has become normalized. As long as men continue to use the front, we will never be able to heal from the wounds of this emotional paralysis. We can’t heal if we don’t feel. Men have to feel and own our pain. As a community we must create spaces where men can feel comfortable expressing their emotions without being shamed. We cannot build a powerful movement towards self-determination with broken men. Masculinity must be redefined in a way that uplifts our humanity, the humanity in men, women, and other genders. It’s time to stop fronting and start healing. Stay Woke.

 

When Black Hair Is Against the Rules

By AYANA BYRD and LORI L THARPS

 
America has always had trouble with black hair. The United States Army is only the latest in a long line of institutions, corporations and schools to restrict it. On March 31, the Army released an updated appearance and grooming policy, known as AR 670-1. It applies to all Army personnel, including students at West Point and those serving in the R.O.T.C. and the National Guard.
No distinctions are made for race or ethnicity, only gender, in that the regulations regarding hair are divided between women and men. But it’s not hard to infer that certain sections pertain specifically to black women, since they refer to hairstyles like cornrows, braids, twists and dreadlocks, severely limiting or banning them outright.

While the Army certainly isn’t the first to impose these kinds of prohibitions, it may be the most egregious example, considering that the 26,000 black women affected by AR 670-1 are willing to die for their country. On Tuesday, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel ordered the entire military to review its hairstyle rules, after the women of the Congressional Black Caucus sent him a letter saying that the Army policy’s language was “offensive” and “biased” and strongly urging him to reconsider it. More than 17,000 people signed a petition submitted to WhiteHouse.gov asking the Obama administration to review the policy.

The bias against black hair is as old as America itself. In the 18th century, British colonists classified African hair as closer to sheep wool than human hair. Enslaved and free blacks who had less kinky, more European-textured hair and lighter skin – often a result of plantation rape – received better treatment than those with more typically African features.
After Emancipation, straight hair continued to be the required look for access to social and professional opportunities. Most black people internalised the idea that their natural hair was unacceptable, and by the early 20th century wore it in straightened styles often achieved with dangerous chemical processes or hot combs, or they wore wigs.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Black Power movement declared that “black is beautiful” – and not least unstraightened natural black hair. Soon the Afro became a popular style, first at protests and political rallies and eventually on celebrities from Pam Grier to Michael Jackson.
But in many settings, black hair was still a battleground. In the 1980s civil rights groups led boycotts against the Hyatt hotel chain after it terminated a black female employee for wearing cornrows. In 1999, couriers for Federal Express were fired for wearing dreadlocks. And this past fall, 7-year-old Tiana Parker was told her dreadlocks violated her elementary school’s dress code in Tulsa, Okla., and 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke was threatened with expulsion from her private school in Orlando, Fla., because her natural hair was deemed a “distraction.”

If a person doesn’t have black hair, isn’t married to someone with black hair or isn’t raising a child with black hair, this issue may seem like a whole lot of something about nothing. But what these women are demanding is a policy that reflects a basic understanding of black hair. For most black people, hair naturally grows up and out – think of the shape of an Afro – not down. But the Army’s regulations assume that all hair not only grows the same way but can be styled the same way. For example, one permitted hairstyle is a bun. Yet because of the thickness of a lot of black women’s hair, a bun is not always possible unless the hair is put into twists first. But twists and dreadlocks, no matter how narrow and neat, are banned in the policy and labelled “faddish” and “exaggerated.”


Black people around the globe have worn dreadlocks for centuries. They can be easily and neatly worn under a helmet or in a bun. Two-strand twists, a popular option for black female soldiers that look similar to braids but are much easier to style, especially in the field, are versatile and require little maintenance. AR 670-1 does allow women to wear wigs and hair extensions, a suggestion that borders on the ridiculous when considering the time and cost required for upkeep in a salon – let alone in a desert army barracks.
The argument isn’t that the Army does not have the right to enforce a conservative code – this is the Army, after all – but that it must consider the diversity of hair textures. The current policy is the equivalent of a black majority military telling its thousands of white soldiers that they are required to have dreadlocks or Afros.

At a time when the military is trying to attract more women to its ranks – this week, the military’s newspaper, Stars and Stripes, ran a cover story about West Point’s attempt to draw more female cadets – it can’t afford policies that punish those same women for their ethnic features. Secretary Hagel says the military has three months for its review “to ensure standards are fair and respectful.”
Here’s an idea: Why not take a survey of active and retired black servicewomen? Let the courageous women serving our nation contribute to an understanding of what conservative, safe and professional means when it comes to their own hair. –NY Times

Source: http://www.nation.com.pk/international/02-May-2014/when-black-hair-is-against-the-rules

Are You Down With Co-Washing?

By Dr. Phoenyx Austin of DrPhoenyx.com
Hey ladies! One of the best hair practices I adopted after going natural was co-washing. I was actually years into natural hair and cleansing my hair with sulfate-free shampoos. I knew all about the harsh sulfates thing, but I had no clue that there was something even better than shampoo. Then one day, a fellow naturalista put me onto co-washing. And boy oh boy did this doc fall in love!


Do you co-wash?

If you aren’t hip to the co-washing game, I’ll give you a quick debriefing of what it is, why you should do it, how often you should do it, and what types of conditioners to use.

What is it?

Co-washing is simply using conditioner to cleanse the hair instead of shampoo. You just cut out the shampoo step and go straight to conditioning

Why you should do it?
Co-washing is muy bueno for hair- especially natural hair! As far as cleansers, you should already be switched over to sulfate-free shampoos. Sulfates are cleansing agents that are included in most commercial shampoos. Sulfates are what give shampoos their bubbly, foamy quality. Sulfates may make bath time fun, but they are also powerful degreasers that will literally strip the oil from your hair. No bueno! This is why you should use sulfate-free shampoos IF you do use shampoo.
Now if you want to take things up a notch with your hair care, co-washing is the way to go. Commercial conditioners are actually formulated with cleansing agents too- not just conditioning agents. So shampoos are really not that necessary. You can use conditioner to cleanse your hair- it’s like getting 2 benefits for the price of 1!

What types of conditioner to use?
The most common issue with co-washing is product buildup on hair. This is because conditioners contain silicones- an agent that gives hair “slip” and shine. Silicones come in 2 forms- water soluble and non-water soluble. It is best to use conditioners with water soluble silicones (or no silicones) because product buildup will be unlikely. Water soluble silicones wash easily from hair. Non-water soluble silicones do not- they can only be washed off with stronger cleansers that are found in shampoo (i.e. sulfates).

To tell if your conditioner is co-wash friendly, just read the ingredients on the bottle and look for these silicones: Dimethicone Copolyl and PEG Modified Dimethicone. These are the water soluble silicones. If you conditioner contains these, you’re good to go!
And don’t worry about cost. There are tons of el-cheapo conditioners that contain water soluble silicones. So you won’t have to break the piggy bank when looking for these types of conditioners.

How often should you do it?
That’s all personal preference. You can keep you current regimen, while simple eliminating the shampoo step. So if you normally wash your hair once a week, keep washing your hair once a week. Just use conditioner instead of shampoo. I know many naturals that co-wash daily. I don’t. I usually co-wash once a week, or at most twice a week. And if I ever feel like my hair is becoming heavy or dull from product buildup, I’ll simply clarify with shampoo or an ACV rinse once a month. Done, and done!

Do you co-wash? How well does co-washing work for your hair? What are you favorite conditioners for co-washing?

 

Source: http://www.curlynikki.com/2011/11/are-you-down-with-co-washing.html

The MOVE 9 Bombing: 29 Years Later

Today marks the 29th year since the Philadelphia-based movement’s headquarters were bombed by law enforcement

move

On this date in 1985, a four pound bomb made of the explosive C-4 and Tovex, a dynamite substitute, was dropped onto the roof of a revolutionary organization by American state and federal agencies, killing six adults and five children.

No, this was not in Afghanistan, Iraq, or any other country that the media has trained the general public to believe is justified in receiving such an attack. This military action was executed on American citizens.

MOVE, which was founded in 1972 by Vincent Leaphart, who later became known as John Africa, lived communally and frequently engaged in public demonstrations related to issues they deemed important. MOVE’s early protests centered around treatment of animals in zoos and circuses and poor housing conditions for the elderly. As time went by, MOVE began to protest chemical companies such as Dow Chemical and DuPont. As the decade wore on, MOVE began to be targeted by the Philadelphia Police Department for its views on technology and its “getting back to nature” mentality.

In 1978, a negotiation was reached to vacate their Powellton Village headquarters after a year-long standoff with the police, however, they refused to follow the court order and vacate. After the eviction notice was served on the premises, the Philadelphia PD attempted re-entry, in which Officer James Ramp was shot in the back of the head and killed. In turn, nine members of the group were found guilty of 3rd degree murder and all sentenced to 30-100 years in prison. 7 of the 9 became eligible for parole in 2008, but were all denied.

Following the 1978 shoot-out, or “shoot-in” as it has been called by some, the MOVE house was immediately bulldozed despite a court order against its destruction — as well as the fact of it being a crime scene — by the city on the orders of mayor Frank L. Rizzo. This destroyed any and all defense evidence. For the next seven years, MOVE worked tirelessly to free the MOVE 9 and other members of the organization who had been jailed. MOVE relocated to Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. After neighborhood complaints about dirtiness, rat infestations, and MOVE’s refusal to use electricity and gas, another eviction notice was drawn up to relocate MOVE members. This time 500 to 600 armed law enforcement descended into the Osage Avenue neighborhood and neighborhood residents were ordered to evacuate their homes. On the morning of May 13, 1985 MOVE headquarters was bombarded with water from fire hoses. Then came the tear gas. At 5:20 p.m. the four pound C-4 bomb was dropped and MOVE headquarters caught fire. Despite using fire hoses to try to get MOVE members to evacuate the house on Osage Avenue, after the fire started the fire department turned no hoses towards the flames. Instead, the flames of the fire were left to burn destroying MOVE headquarters and 58 other houses in the neighborhood. Neighborhood residents were shocked and appalled by what had transpired. Eleven people – six adults and five children – were massacred, an entire neighborhood was burned to the ground and over 280 people were displaced from their homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Delbert Africa dragged by Philadelphia police officers after they dropped a bomb on the MOVE home.)

According to a chosen few, the price of freedom is death. MOVE members have given and continue to give their lives in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.

A revolutionary soldier salute goes out to Sister Debbie Africa, who I have had the honor of corresponding with and has sat in a Pa. prison cell for 25 years in the name of freedom. She gave birth to her son Mike Jr. in her prison cell on September 15, 1978 with no medical assistance

-Sha Be Allah(@KingPenStatus)

Source: http://thesource.com/2014/05/13/the-move-organization-bombing-29-years-later/

8 Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back

 How the US Crushed Youth Resistance

 

Republished from alternet.org
By Bruce E. Levine

Traditionally, young people have energized democratic movements. So it is a major coup for the ruling elite to have created societal institutions that have subdued young Americans and broken their spirit of resistance to domination.  

Young Americans—even more so than older Americans—appear to have acquiesced to the idea that the corporatocracy can completely screw them and that they are helpless to do anything about it. A 2010 Gallup poll asked Americans “Do you think the Social Security system will be able to pay you a benefit when you retire?” Among 18- to 34-years-olds, 76 percent of them said no. Yet despite their lack of confidence in the availability of Social Security for them, few have demanded it be shored up by more fairly payroll-taxing the wealthy; most appear resigned to having more money deducted from their paychecks for Social Security, even though they don’t believe it will be around to benefit them.  

How exactly has American society subdued young Americans? 

1. Student-Loan Debt. Large debt—and the fear it creates—is a pacifying force. There was no tuition at the City University of New York when I attended one of its colleges in the 1970s, a time when tuition at many U.S. public universities was so affordable that it was easy to get a B.A. and even a graduate degree without accruing any student-loan debt. While those days are gone in the United States, public universities continue to be free in the Arab world and are either free or with very low fees in many countries throughout the world. The millions of young Iranians who risked getting shot to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, the millions of young Egyptians who risked their lives earlier this year to eliminate Mubarak, and the millions of young Americans who demonstrated against the Vietnam War all had in common the absence of pacifying huge student-loan debt.

Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000, I increasingly talk to college graduates with closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt. During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt. In a vicious cycle, student debt has a subduing effect on activism, and political passivity makes it more likely that students will accept such debt as a natural part of life. 

2. Psychopathologizing and Medicating Noncompliance. In 1955, Erich Fromm, the then widely respected anti-authoritarian leftist psychoanalyst, wrote, “Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of man.” Fromm died in 1980, the same year that an increasingly authoritarian America elected Ronald Reagan president, and an increasingly authoritarian American Psychiatric Association added to their diagnostic bible (then the DSM-III) disruptive mental disorders for children and teenagers such as the increasingly popular “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD). The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” “often argues with adults,” and “often deliberately does things to annoy other people.”

Many of America’s greatest activists including Saul Alinsky (1909–1972), the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would today certainly be diagnosed with ODD and other disruptive disorders. Recalling his childhood, Alinsky said, “I never thought of walking on the grass until I saw a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass.’ Then I would stomp all over it.” Heavily tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs (e.g. Zyprexa and Risperdal) are now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States ($16 billion in 2010); a major reason for this, according to theJournal of the American Medical Association in 2010, is that many children receiving antipsychotic drugs have nonpsychotic diagnoses such as ODD or some other disruptive disorder (this especially true of Medicaid-covered pediatric patients). 

3. Schools That Educate for Compliance and Not for Democracy. Upon accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990, John Taylor Gatto upset many in attendance by stating: “The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions.” A generation ago, the problem of compulsory schooling as a vehicle for an authoritarian society was widely discussed, but as this problem has gotten worse, it is seldom discussed.

The nature of most classrooms, regardless of the subject matter, socializes students to be passive and directed by others, to follow orders, to take seriously the rewards and punishments of authorities, to pretend to care about things they don’t care about, and that they are impotent to affect their situation. A teacher can lecture about democracy, but schools are essentially undemocratic places, and so democracy is not what is instilled in students. Jonathan Kozol in The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home focused on how school breaks us from courageous actions. Kozol explains how our schools teach us a kind of “inert concern” in which “caring”—in and of itself and without risking the consequences of actual action—is considered “ethical.” School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.  

4. “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” The corporatocracy has figured out a way to make our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian. Democrat-Republican bipartisanship has resulted in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, the Wall Street bailout, and educational policies such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” These policies are essentially standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society. Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority. In a more democratic and less authoritarian society, one would evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher not by corporatocracy-sanctioned standardized tests but by asking students, parents, and a community if a teacher is inspiring students to be more curious, to read more, to learn independently, to enjoy thinking critically, to question authorities, and to challenge illegitimate authorities. 

5. Shaming Young People Who Take EducationBut Not Their SchoolingSeriously. In a 2006 survey in the United States, it was found that 40 percent of children between first and third grade read every day, but by fourth grade, that rate declined to 29 percent. Despite the anti-educational impact of standard schools, children and their parents are increasingly propagandized to believe that disliking school means disliking learning. That was not always the case in the United States. Mark Twain famously said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” Toward the end of Twain’s life in 1900, only 6 percent of Americans graduated high school. Today, approximately 85 percent of Americans graduate high school, but this is good enough for Barack Obama who told us in 2009, “And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.”

The more schooling Americans get, however, the more politically ignorant they are of America’s ongoing class war, and the more incapable they are of challenging the ruling class. In the 1880s and 1890s, American farmers with little or no schooling created a Populist movement that organized America’s largest-scale working people’s cooperative, formed a People’s Party that received 8 percent of the vote in 1892 presidential election, designed a “subtreasury” plan (that had it been implemented would have allowed easier credit for farmers and broke the power of large banks) and sent 40,000 lecturers across America to articulate it, and evidenced all kinds of sophisticated political ideas, strategies and tactics absent today from America’s well-schooled population. Today, Americans who lack college degrees are increasingly shamed as “losers”; however, Gore Vidal and George Carlin, two of America’s most astute and articulate critics of the corporatocracy, never went to college, and Carlin dropped out of school in the ninth grade. 

6. The Normalization of Surveillance. The fear of being surveilled makes a population easier to control. While the National Security Agency (NSA) has received publicity for monitoring American citizen’s email and phone conversations, and while employer surveillance has become increasingly common in the United States, young Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance because, beginning at a young age, surveillance is routine in their lives. Parents routinely check Web sites for their kid’s latest test grades and completed assignments, and just like employers, are monitoring their children’s computers and Facebook pages. Some parents use the GPS in their children’s cell phones to track their whereabouts, and other parents have video cameras in their homes. Increasingly, I talk with young people who lack the confidence that they can even pull off a party when their parents are out of town, and so how much confidence are they going to have about pulling off a democratic movement below the radar of authorities? 

7. Television. In 2009, the Nielsen Company reported that TV viewing in the United States is at an all-time high if one includes the following “three screens”: a television set, a laptop/personal computer, and a cell phone. American children average eight hours a day on TV, video games, movies, the Internet, cell phones, iPods, and other technologies (not including school-related use). Many progressives are concerned about the concentrated control of content by the corporate media, but the mere act of watching TV—regardless of the programming—is the primary pacifying agent (private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards).

Television is a dream come true for an authoritarian society: those with the most money own most of what people see; fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy; TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities; and regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, transforming them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically. While playing a video games is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this “virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite. 

8. Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Consumerism. American culture offers young Americans the “choices” of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist consumerism. All varieties of fundamentalism narrow one’s focus and inhibit critical thinking. While some progressives are fond of calling fundamentalist religion the “opiate of the masses,” they too often neglect the pacifying nature of America’s other major fundamentalism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. Fundamentalist consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A fundamentalist consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulations, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulativeness, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form democratic movements. Fundamentalist consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult for the solidarity necessary for democratic movements.  

These are not the only aspects of our culture that are subduing young Americans and crushing their resistance to domination. The food-industrial complex has helped create an epidemic of childhood obesity, depression, and passivity. The prison-industrial complex keeps young anti-authoritarians “in line” (now by the fear that they may come before judges such as the two Pennsylvania ones who took $2.6 million from private-industry prisons to ensure that juveniles were incarcerated). As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed: “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.”

 

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite  (Chelsea Green, 2011). His Web site is www.brucelevine.net