Tag Archives: equality

Facts Are So Inconvenient

There’s what we believe, and there’s what is true. Sometimes those two things align; often, unfortunately, they don’t.

Most of us have yet to sink to Trumpian levels–in fact, it never ceases to amaze me that Trump can tweet out some nonsense, or make an idiotic statement at a news conference, then blandly deny that he said any such thing. It takes a certain type of mental illness to forget that there is actual evidence rebutting you.

We may not approach Trumpian levels, but most of us do cling to certain “truths” that we desperately want to believe. I’m no different–it took me a long time, well into adulthood, before I realized that my view of America’s past was seriously deficient–heavy on the Founders’ ideals, light on some of their slaveholding behaviors, and pretty much void of what was done to Native Americans, among other things.

Then there were my fond beliefs about America vis a vis other countries. Social mobility. Equality. Rule of law.

I now know–unfortunately–that our once-vaunted social mobility is worse than that of many countries. This helpful infographic shows us 27th--not dead last, but not exactly in bragging rights territory.

In the Age of Orange, I’m not even going to talk about the rule of law; as a concept, it’s  beyond Trump’s limited intellect, and as a principle, it has apparently been abandoned by the Mitch McConnell wing of the Supreme Court.

And then there’s equality.

Now, as I tell my students, there are a lot of different ways to think about equality: genuinely religious people will say that we are all equal in the eyes of God; our constitution  requires government to treat equally-situated people equally, irrespective of the color of their skin or the beliefs they embrace.

And clearly, we don’t come into the world equally talented or beautiful or intelligent…

But about civic equality as a goal: Another visualization I stumbled across recently–this one from Time Magazine– made me aware of just how unequal Americans are. It uses neighborhood data to pinpoint metropolitan areas with high and low levels of equal opportunity, by searching for areas with relatively small gaps between the highest- and lowest-ranked neighborhoods. (It didn’t help my frame of mind that my own city, Indianapolis, was represented by a dark red dot indicating highly unequal neighborhoods.)

As the text explained:

This information is useful because, even when places have the same opportunity level overall, actually living in those cities can be a very different experience. For example, Colorado Springs and Detroit both score an overall opportunity level of 55. But in Colorado Springs, a typical high-opportunity neighborhood scores an 87 and a typical low-opportunity one scores 24. That might seem like a huge gap. But Detroit’s high is 95 and its low is 2: a much less equal city.

The problem was, when we found areas with small gaps between neighborhoods, those cities tended to be racially homogenous. In other words, children in Provo, Utah, and Boise, Idaho, have access to comparatively equal opportunities, regardless of which neighborhoods they live in—but those cities are more than 80% white.

When combined, in all 100 metro areas covered by the study, neighborhoods where white children lived had a median score of 73. The median neighborhood score for Asian children was 72. It was 33 for Hispanic children and 24 for black children. Black and Hispanic kids live with considerably less opportunity than their white and Asian peers almost without exception.

The disparities are especially wide in certain parts of the country. Milwaukee and its surrounding area has the widest racial disparity in the U.S., despite having a high overall opportunity score. A white child there lives in a neighborhood with a median opportunity score of 85. For a black child, the median neighborhood score is 6.

Once this pandemic is over, there is a long “laundry list” of situations in our country requiring attention and repair. That list needs to be based on facts, not beliefs.

Add equalizing children’s prospects to that list–and put it near the top.

 

My Timing Is Terrible

As some of my readers know, I ran for Congress in 1980. (I even won a Republican primary–and I was pro-choice and pro-gay-rights. That wouldn’t happen in the cult that has replaced the GOP of which I was a member!)

At the time, defense policy was an issue; among the positions I took was that , if we must have a  draft, it should include women. (You are beginning to see why I lost the election.)

Well, it is now 39 years later, and a court has concluded that I was right. Not that the army is rushing to comply with the court’s ruling.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The chairman of a panel considering changes to the U.S. military draft said Monday its recommendations to Congress won’t be influenced by a federal judge’s recent ruling that the current system is unconstitutional because it only applies to men.

The military has not drafted anyone into service in more than 40 years, but American men must still register when they turn 18. Recent efforts to make registration also mandatory for women have set off intense debate in Washington.

I have my concerns about our current all-volunteer army, which depends far too heavily on “contractors” (aka mercenaries), and enlists disproportionate numbers of poor kids who have few options while demanding no sacrifice from more comfortable ones. But that’s a post for a different day.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller declared a male-only draft unconstitutional in his ruling late Friday, but he stopped of ordering the government to make any immediate changes. He said the time for debating “the place of women in the Armed Forces” is over. Women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army and 8.6 percent of the Marines, according to Pentagon figures.

Among the many changes we have experienced since 1980, the nature of war and the identity of the threats America faces have changed rather dramatically. It will be interesting to see whether attitudes about the capacities and obligations of men and women have changed enough to enlarge the draft as well.

The decision comes as Congress awaits a report next year from an 11-member commission to study the issue of selective service. It is chaired by former Nevada Rep. Joe Heck, who personally supports that women also be required to register for the draft.

Heck said the ruling won’t influence its report or hurry along the eventual recommendations to Congress. He described a generational divide in public comments his commission has collected about women and the draft.

“If you talk to those who would be impacted, that is males and females ages 18 to 25, they say, ‘yes, women should have to register. It’s a matter of equality,’” Heck said. “If you talk to an older population, they’re the ones who seem to be reluctant.”

The lawsuit in Texas was brought by the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group. The Defense Department lifted the ban on women in combat in 2013, and Miller stopped of ordering the government to take any immediate action with the draft in his ruling late Friday.

The last major decision on selective service was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1981 that upheld excluding women because they were not allowed to serve in combat at the time.

“While historical restrictions on women in the military may have justified past discrimination, men and women are now ‘similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft,’” Miller wrote. “If there ever was a time to discuss ‘the place of women in the Armed Services,’ that time has passed.”

My time, on the other hand, may be at hand…

 

The Oldest Bigotry

Mireille Knoll believed that Paris was her city. As an article in the New York Times recounted,

She believed this despite the fact that it was also the city where, when she was 9 years old, the police rounded up 13,000 of the city’s Jews, 4,000 of them children, and crammed them into Vélodrome d’Hiver, a cycling stadium, before shipping them to their deaths at Auschwitz. Ms. Knoll narrowly escaped this largest French deportation of Jews during the Holocaust and fled to Portugal with her mother.

After the war, she married a man who had survived Auschwitz. She returned to her native land where she built a home and raised a family. French to her core, she stayed in Paris even as her grandchildren moved to Israel.

Last week, Ms. Knoll was stabbed eleven times, and her apartment was set on fire. French authorities have confirmed that the motive was anti-semitism. She wasn’t the first in her neighborhood, either. In another incident found to have been motivated by anti-semitism, almost exactly a year ago, a 65-year-old Jewish widow named Sarah Halimi was murdered by her neighbor, 27-year-old Kobili Traoré.

The truth of the matter is that Jews have made handy targets throughout history, and the assaults have come from all directions, and in all countries.

Anti-Semitism, like other bigotries, ebbs and flows; right now, with the global growth of explicit white nationalism, it is on the rise.The Guardian has reported that such incidents hit an all-time high in the UK last year. Here in the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League recently catalogued 1,986 occurrences in its 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, up from 1,267 in 2016. That made it the highest single-year increase since the organization released its first audit in 1979.

Most observers attribute America’s increase in hate crimes to a toxic political environment that has increased tribal animosities and sparked bigotries of all kinds. Donald Trump–whose election was substantially attributable to what polite researchers call “racial resentment”–regularly stokes the stereotypes and conspiracy theories that give rise to those resentments.

Trump regularly recycles far-right propaganda. Recently he tweeted out an anti-immigrant message that cited a group known for promoting pieces authored by anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers: the ambiguously-named Center for Immigration Studies. The organization was founded by John Tanton, a Michigan ophthalmologist whose racist beliefs

stirred him to create a network of organizations with a simple agenda: heavily restricting the immigration levels to the United States in order to maintain a white majority. As Tanton himself wrote in 1993, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

Trump and his supporters have waged unremitting war against “political correctness”–their term for the social norms that deter people from engaging in public expressions of bigotry. Trump himself exhibits–daily–the sorts of attitudes and behaviors that decent people teach their children to avoid.

Is it any wonder that unhappy and unpleasant people look at this President and his supporters and see permission to act out their most despicable biases?

One of the reasons so many Jews support organizations working for equal rights and social justice is that we have learned from our history. Jews and other minorities are only safe in open and inclusive societies–societies where all citizens are equal before the law, in legal systems where your “tribe” is legally irrelevant.

Of course, it’s not just members of groups that have historically been targets. Trump’s efforts to subvert the foundational American principle of civic equality doesn’t just threaten minorities. It threatens us all.

Religious Chutzpah

I am officially over the self-identified “Christians” whose definition of “liberty” is freedom to pick on and marginalize anyone their crabbed version of God disapproves of. (And yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition. So sue me.)

America is deep, deep into indignant, knee-jerk reactions to a legal and social attitude change that these holier-than-thou hypocrites consider heretical: the proposition that other peoples’ life choices and beliefs–or lack thereof– are entitled to equal respect under the law.

So Tennessee makes (a Christian version of) the “holy bible” its state book. North Carolina and Mississippi enshrine ugly anti-LGBTQ bigotry in state law. In Maine, a ballot initiative proposes to strip gay rights out of the state’s Human Rights Act. And don’t get me started on Indiana, where–in addition to keeping gays second-class citizens and women barefoot and pregnant– a state trooper named Brian Hamilton remained in the employ of the Indiana State Police until yesterday.

Hamilton was sued previously for using traffic stops–traffic stops!–as an opportunity to preach about Jesus and “being saved.” Despite losing that suit, he is being sued yet again for the same behavior.

The lawsuit alleges Trooper Brian Hamilton of the ISP Pendleton post pulled the woman over for speeding and gave her a warning. He then asked her what church she went to and if she was saved. Documents said Hamilton invited Pyle to his church and even gave directions.

A Google search will provide you with literally hundreds of additional examples of what I can only call religious chutzpah–the incredibly arrogant and ahistorical belief held by far too many people in and out of government that their beliefs are entitled to primacy, that this is their country, and the rest of us are here on sufferance, and that any law or court ruling that suggests otherwise is unAmerican and illegitimate.

When historians point to evidence of the Founders’ very purposeful separation of Church and State, the David Bartons and Ted Cruz’s of chutzpah world rewrite history.

When Courts apply longstanding First and Fourteenth Amendment precedents, the American Taliban attacks the judges: in states that elect jurists, they elect crackpots like Roy Moore; when the federal courts are the offenders, Senate theocrats stamp their feet and refuse to fill judicial vacancies.

When some poor shopkeeper has the temerity to wish them “happy holidays,” they scream that there is a “war on Christmas.”

When their efforts to retain privileged status are unsuccessful–when they aren’t able to disadvantage gay people or Muslims or atheists or Christians who disagree with them– they can can be counted on to whine about being victims.

Religious believers–all religious believers, whatever their faith– are entitled to equality before the law. No less, and no more.

No matter how convinced these odious folks may be of the superiority of their particular theologies, they are not entitled to dominance. They are definitely not entitled to use the power of the state to  disadvantage people whose beliefs differ.

Unfortunately, they are legally within their rights to annoy the hell out of the rest of us.

 

White Privilege

Every so often, even well-meaning people will pooh-pooh the notion of “white privilege.” Most of us who enjoy that privilege fail to recognize how it works, both for us and for those who don’t benefit from the unspoken assumptions evoked by white skin.

What made me think about the subject was an email I received the other day from a (white) friend. She wrote

I’m currently reading “Ted Koppel Off Camera” a book of his daily journal of news and personal observations from 1999.   In it, he says he read a statistic that was so incredible he didn’t believe it – that 8 of 10 blacks had spent time behind bars.    That includes people held for short times in jail and released for lack of evidence or wrongful arrest, but nevertheless, he was incredulous.    So he asked 5 blacks with whom he worked if they had ever been arrested and spent time behind bars, and every one of them had -one repeatedly for driving a new car which police didn’t think a black man should be driving.

Her email reminded me of my own dumbfounded reaction several years ago, when I was part of a small group that later became the much-larger Race Relations Network of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee. There were approximately 20 of us in that early group, about half and half white and black. Most were professionals, or highly-educated executives with local companies or organizations.

For some reason, the discussion turned to speed limits, and someone asked “How many of you have been stopped for speeding?” All of us raised our hands. The next question was more pointed. “When you were stopped, how many of you were asked ‘Can I  search your vehicle'”? Every black hand went up; no white ones did.

Tell me again how “white privilege” is a myth….