Let’s talk about America’s record on women’s rights

America's second-class citizens?

After Jasmin brought my attention to this story, I thought I would roll out a few more coincidentally timed reports that highlight the contradictions between America’s self-proclaimed equality and our astonishing contemporary failures in the area of women’s rights.

Firstly, Amnesty USA has released a new study on the quality of maternity care for American women. It notes:

The USA spends more than any other country on health care, and more on maternal health than any other type of hospital care. Despite this, women in the USA have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than those in 40 other countries. For example, the likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth in the USA is five times greater than in Greece, four times greater than in Germany, and three times greater than in Spain.

Unsurprisingly, there is a tremendous racial disparity as an African American woman’s odds of dying as a result of child birth is four times greater than that of white American.

Secondly, Democracy Now! explored the disparity in median wealth for American women. The median for a single Black woman is $100, $120 for a single Hispanic woman, and $41,000 for a single white woman. Seriously.

If you’re playing along at home, you can check off both “post-racial” and “feminist” on the list of things we hear about America but know are not true. I will also give you a prize if you can tell me how many of America’s governors are women and explain how that reflects the country’s diversity.

Image by Maze Walker on Flickr.

Time to Start Profiling White Christians*

It is with great regret and hesitation that I arrive at the unsavory conclusion that it is in the interests of our safety as Americans that we begin profiling White Christians.  The evidence for outbreaks of irrational White Christian violence is overwhelming.  We, the conscientious people of color, must protect the nation from the dangers of that violence.  The measures I propose to implement will be practical and just, little more than surveilling techniques and moderate physical compressions that will produce only minor inconveniences.  Those White Christians who have nothing to hide will of course be unaffected.

If the past twenty years have shown us anything it is that White Christians are slaves to a fanatic ideology of hatred that is incompatible with the practice of modern democracy.  Eric Rudolph, for instance, bombed the Olympic Village during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and undertook a guerilla campaign against physicians and those who promoted a “homosexual agenda.”  Theodore Kaczynski, popularly known as the Unabomber, bombed sixteen targets in nearly two decades of terror, including airlines and universities, the very symbols of American modernity.  We cannot forget Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 truck bombing of the Oklahoma City Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168, including the seventeen children in the daycare center under which McVeigh parked his vehicular bomb.

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The Haitian Revolution

Even if you have been watching Democracy Now’s outstanding coverage of the Haitian tragedy, the despicable neglect with which the United States and other rich countries have treated the disaster-struck nation, you still can’t fathom the depth of outrage the Haitians feel unless you put it into the context of its tortured history. Here is an excellent overview from C. S. Soong’s Against the Grain.

It was a cataclysmic event, the first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas. In 1791 brutally exploited slaves on a small Caribbean island rose up and eventually won emancipation. Their story, a legacy that has inspired and instructed people and nations for centuries, is told in Laurent Dubois’s Avengers of the New World.

America’s Quaking Racial Divide

Martin Luther King Jr

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Andrew Oxford reflects on America’s extant racial divide and the lingering threat of white nationalism.

In the preface to his monumental study of the contemporary American white supremacist movement (1), Leonard Zeskind points to the Sarajevo Haggadah for a pertinent lesson on race and society. A Hebrew text of stories, songs, and prayers written by Spanish Jews around 1314, it arrived in the Yugo peninsula with Sephardic Jews fleeing the Inquisition. In the nineteenth century, it was entered into the Sarajevo Museum and saved from invading Germans during World War II by the Croation curator. For the duration of the war, it was guarded by Muslim clerics and it currently resides in the vaults of the Serbian National Bank while it is revered as a cultural icon of all peoples of the region. Reflecting upon the curious history of this relic, Zeskind writes:

It is useful to remember that at one time a hodgepodge of religious and ethnic groups lived together in relative harmony. Places like Sarajevo were cosmopolitan centers of learning and culture for centuries. But in a matter of a few historical seconds, the whole place went up in flames, like a refugee hostel attacked by arsonists…

The United States, unlike the former Yugoslavia, has well cemented the foundations of its federal order in the 150 years since our own Civil War, and the election of a black man, Barack Obama, has broken the white monopoly on the presidency. Nevertheless, collective identities based on race and religion have remained just under the skin of American life. As such, we will continue to be vulnerable to the machinations of … white nationalists … particularly as population demographics shift in the next few decades. For those of us who hope to protect and extend our multiracial democracy, and the cosmopolitanism of the type that preserved the Sarajevo Haggadah, we ignore this white nationalist movement at our own peril.

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The Price of ‘Existing’ as a Muslim Today

In the classic French novel, Adolphe, Benjamin Constant writes: 


There are things that for a long time remain unsaid, but once they are spoken, one never ceases to repeat them.

How true this is of so many of the things we keep inside for a time. Think, for example, of how an argument with a loved one often reveals the things that we have felt, but carefully hidden from them. Once spoken, those words repeat themselves with a frequency that suggests that we are seeking vengeance for the time they spent in silence.

The same is true of our secret prejudices, which often remain unsaid until the moment ‘feels right’ or circumstances seemingly produce the ‘necessity’ for their articulation.

It appears that circumstances today have produced a space in which articulating anti-Islamic sentiment both ‘feels right’ and ‘necessary’. It is an environment marked by series of events invoked as evidence in the ever-growing case against Islam.

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Peeling away the “Obama phenomenon”: An interview with Paul Street

obama-book3 How progressive is Barack Obama? It’s a question pundits, bloggers, and journalists have trouble grappling with. But one individual goes beyond the Obama phenomenon andinvestigates who Obama is and what he’s all about. In Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, author Paul Street cuts to the chase and takes a closer look at the man who became the 44th president of the United States. What Street uncovers is a man crafted by campaign consultants with political beliefs consistent with elite party interests.

Street is an independent journalist, policy adviser, and historian. He is a former vice-president for research and planning at the Chicago Urban League, and author of Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era.

I caught up with Street to discuss his new book by Paradigm Publishers.

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How to Write about Africa

Kenyan literary critic Binyavanga Wainaina offers some handy tips for all would-be saviours of Africa.

UNICEF does more good

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

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The Color of the Race Problem Is White

Robert Jensen is one of the best US scholars whose analysis on issues ranging from race, class, media to foreign policy is always insightful and free of dogma.

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois suggested that the question white people so often want to ask black people is, How does it feel to be a problem? This program turns the tables and recognizes some simple facts: Race problems have their roots in a system of white supremacy. White people invented white supremacy. Therefore, the color of the race problem is white. White people are the problem. White people have to ask ourselves: How does it feel to be a problem?

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The Persecution of Michael Jackson

Ishmael Reed ruminates on race, the mad dog DA and the mad dog media in the death of Michael Jackson.

Michael-Jackson_childLast Thursday, while working on some writing deadlines, I was switching channels on cable. On CNN they were promoting “Black In America”, an exercise meant to boost ratings by making whites feel good by making blacks look bad, the marketing strategy of the mass media since the 1830s, according to a useful book entitled The Showman and the Slave, by Benjamin Reiss. The early penny press sold a “whiteness” upgrade to newly arriving immigrants by depicting blacks in illicit situations. By doing so they were marketing an early version of a self-esteem boosting product. One of the initial sensational stories was about the autopsy of a black woman named Joice Heth, who claimed to be George Washington’s nurse and over one hundred years old. It was the O. J. story of the time. Circus master, P. T. Barnum, charged admission to her autopsy, which attracted the perverted in droves. And so, if the people broadcasting cable news appear to be inmates of a carnival, there is a connection since the early days of the mass media to that form of show business. According to Reiss, early newspapers were not only influenced by P. T. Barnum, but actually cooperated with him on some hoaxes and stunts.

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You (and I) got Darfur Wrong

 Mahmood Mamdani
Mahmood Mamdani

From Open Source with Chris Lydon:

Who can imagine that a Save Darfur coalition vocally including Al Sharpton (”we know when America comes together, we can stop anything in the world”), Mia Farrow, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Elie Wiesel (”Darfur today is the world’s capital of human suffering”), Nat Hentoff, Bob Geldof, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Harold Pinter, Oprah Winfrey, the gold-medal speed skater Joey Cheek, Tony Blair and Dario Fo might be profoundly shallow in its reading of the brutal warfare in Sudan five years ago… and just as wrong-headed in its drum beat for an American intervention?

Mahmood Mamdani can. We are talking here about his book Saviors and Survivors and his argument that the Darfur rescue campaign, which became a sacred cause of our civil religion, was not so much the moral alternative to Iraq, the Bush “war on terror,” and Cheney-think as it was a variation and extension of the same toolkit. I begin with a sort of confession that I may be a sample of Mamdani’s problem — having drenched myself in Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times columns and largely absorbed the common framework that Darfur was about Arabs slaughtering Africans, and that somebody had to something about it.

Continue reading “You (and I) got Darfur Wrong”

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