Thursday, May 28, 2009

When does equal not mean equal?

The status quo is a funny thing. It provides a normalizing context where everything seems to be 'in order', the 'way it should be'. Throughout our history we've had different opportunities to take a look at what is 'normal' and decide that, well, perhaps normal isn't such a great idea.

Remember slavery? Once upon a time in our country it was normal to own another human being. They were treated as less than human. We could do what we want with them. We bred slaves like animals and then sold their children away from them. Millions of people taken from their homes in Africa or were born into bondage in America. And yet, it was normal. Heck, even our Presidents owned slaves. The practice was so normal that even the church used the Bible to justify slavery. (Not all churches mind you, the Quakers were out front and during the Abolitionist movement many other churches joined in condemning the practice. If you haven't seen the movie Amazing Grace I highly recommend it). Still, slavery lasted for 258 years in America, from the founding of Virginia in 1607 until the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1865.

So African American's won their freedom and everything was hunky-dory right? Wrong. The status quo still said African American's weren't equal. Remember the term Separate but Equal? Today we know it's not but the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that it was. It wasn't until Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that it wasn't. That's a long status quo. And let me assure you, people were none too happy about these changes in their communities. Everyone knows blacks know their place - at the back of the bus right? Wrong!

Oh, and what about those women? Silly girls, thinking they are equal to boys. People actually thought this. It took a movement to even allow women to vote. Once again, people weren't happy about suggesting women had a place in society. Women were beaten and jailed. They were harassed and persecuted. I pray my own daughter won't ever forget the sacrifice by other women, decades before she was born, that will allow her to pursue her dreams. And the torch was passed down to women in the 60's and 70's who fought for equal pay. But why did they need to fight? Because the status quo said women don't need to earn as much - they aren't the breadwinners. (By the way - that fight isn't over. In 2007 women still earned 77 cents on the dollar to what men were making).

Interracial marriage. We don't think a thing of it today. Why wouldn't people get married if they loved each other. Richard and Mildred Loving fell in love and got married. The only problem? They did it in Virginia where interracial marriage was illegal. The Virginia district judge Leon Bazile ruled against them saying:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Today we look at statements like that and think - how crazy?!? Still, it took a Supreme Court decision to allow couples of different races to marry. June 12, 1967 the Loving decision was handed down, striking down state laws that prohibited interracial marriages.

Then the 80's rolled around and gaybashing became all the rage. I find it alarming that in many of these cases the church is complicit in supporting the status quo. We can be so rightous about our believes.

We stand on the "moral authority of God" on these issues. But when we look back, that authority seems to bleed away. Does God support slavery? Condemn interracial marriage? Does God think that Separate is Equal? Would Jesus call women to be second class citizens? (I know this one is still being hashed in in many churches today - and that too makes me sad).

"But Chris" I hear you say, "the Bible is clear about this."
I'm sure it seemed clear when it supported slavery too. That doesn't make it right.

When we look back, years or decades from now. Which side of the fight do you want to say you stood for?

Equal means Equal.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Defending the myth of the American Dream

I saw this clip on Fox News and was really amused by how the interview went. Check it out.

OK, let's analyze it for a minute.

First off, remember that the Professor's thesis is that it takes a bit of luck to be successful in addition to hard work etc. That often that luck comes in forms that we don't typically think about, such as our place of birth. If hard work is all it takes, why are there more millionaires in first world countries than third world countries? You can read the Professor's article in the New York Times.

OK, now that we're grounded in the Professor's thesis, let's review how the host tries to challenge it. From the very introduction the host sets up a black and white dichotomy - is it hard work, talent and determination OR luck. Remember, the professor never claimed that hard work, talent and determination aren't important. You can bet that the host will later suggest we don't need to work hard - just be lucky.

And we haven't even gotten to the first question! Watch how quickly Varney, the host of the show, personalizes the Professor's thesis....

"Wait a minute, Professor, do you know how insulting that was... when I read that"... and he goes on to talk about what a tough time he had as an immigrant to America and how he worked so hard....

"I came with nothing"... (I'm getting teary eyed thinking about this scrappy little immigrant kid)... Oh but wait - he did come with a degree from the London School of Economics. Most likely not a poor kid from Calcutta eh? He got hired by CNN back in the 80's and has continued his career in "journalism". Today he earns $20,000 to $30,000 for speaking engagements. That's on top of his FOX News salary.

Even when the professor says that hard work is important, Varney tries to flip it again. This time the personal gives way to an iconic argument.... "You're saying the American Dream is not really there".

And to even suggest luck might have anything to do with anything is "OUTRAGEOUS!"

Yep, being born to my parents wall all skill on my part baby.

And then we see it... Varney flips the luck argument (as predicted) and says "Then there's not point in trying hard."

(As a side note, I'm wondering if conservatives are simply incapable of holding 'both/and' ideas in their head. Perhaps their world is so black and white that holding two positions simultaneously would cause the to explode. I mean seriously - is this that big a deal that luck might accompany hard work?)

OK - so we shift from luck to taxes. Again, as a conservative it's an all or nothing point of view. If taxed, obviously the government is socialist. Wild swinging extremes.

And what does this professor think the tax rate ought to be? Why is he asking this question? Does the professor set tax policy? I suspect he's asking because he knows the professor favors a higher tax rate and therefore wants to paint him as someone "who wants to take your money".

Then there is comparing the US with the rest of the world. And when that doesn't pan out the answer is "then you go live there".

And of course, we couldn't have a rational discussion about these issues without the requisite labeling of the opposition as socialist. And again, even after the Professor explicitly says the opposite, Varney repeats how insulted he is and that the Professor is "going against the American Dream".

My favorite part was when Varney says "If you come to America with nothing, if you play by the rules and get WILL make it in America" etc. I guess hard working is in the eye of the beholder. I guess if you have a degree from the London School of Economics you work much harder than tomato pickers. That whole "I came with nothing" rant... Please.

We could analyze this deeper but I'd suggest that one reason why wealthy people want to cling to this idea that they are 'self-made' is that they don't want to be obligated to anyone. We live in a country where the laws make it possible for business to succeed and have a world class infrastructure that allows for the distribution of goods and services. All paid for by the government but conservatives discount all that.

OK, one last point and a bit of humor. Varney suggest to the Professor "Why don't you go live there"..... just for fun - the Daily Show took a look to see how hellish life in a socialist country might be...
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Stockholm Syndrome
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

and part II
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Stockholm Syndrome Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thanks to Josh Nelson at the Huffington Post