Paul Ryan has attempted to clarify his racist argument that “inner city” black people are lazy and do not want to work. He issued a statement that:

After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make. I was not implicating the culture of one community—but of society as a whole.

This is a false and disingenuous pseudo apology. Paul Ryan is the leader of a political party that is the country’s premier white identity organization. The Republican Party has also merged conservatism and racism in such a way that appeals to white racial resentment are its Lingua Franca and a taken for granted way of thinking about political and social reality.

Paul Ryan traffics in racism because the Republican Party is a racist organization. The calculus is not complicated.

There has been some smart writing about Paul Ryan’s use of coded racial appeals. However, the majority of the news media is asking the wrong question. Instead of trying to figure out “if” Paul Ryan is a racist, the more revealing question is “what type of racist is he?”

There are three basic ways to understand Paul Ryan’s racism, both as part of a pattern of behavior by Republicans, and as an example of (symbolic) white racism in the post civil rights era.

The Southern Strategy.

Paul Ryan’s claim that black people have “bad culture”, may be genetically defective, and do not have “normal” “middle class” values about the merits of “hard work”, is a simple channeling of legendary Republican strategist Lee Atwater’s tactics for mobilizing white voters by leveraging their hostility to black Americans.

Atwater famously advised Republicans to:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

The Southern Strategy has been the cornerstone of Republican politics for at least five decades. While former Republican National Committee chairmen Ken Mehlman and Michael Steele admitted (and apologized) that Republicans use racist appeals to motivate white voters, the Southern Strategy remains central to their party’s electoral logic and approach. Paul Ryan’s racism and embrace of the Southern Strategy is the Republican Party’s conventional wisdom in practice.

Colorblind racism and White Victimology.

Paul Ryan’s use of “dog whistles” and coded racial appeals to disparage and slur African-Americans exist within a social context where overt racism is a violation of public speech norms and values.

Following the triumphs of the civil rights movement, colorblind white racism has largely replaced “old fashioned” racism.

While whites still use very explicit and racist speech in the “backstage”, private spaces, or online, America’s embrace of multiculturalism and pluralism have deemed such acts anathema to “decent” people. This is especially true for a nationally known politician like Paul Ryan.

Colorblind racism inverts reality and distorts the facts. It involves denying that racism still exists as a serious social problem; black and brown people are limited in their life chances not because of institutional discrimination but because of their “bad culture” or “laziness”; white supremacy and systems of white racial advantage are dismissed as either exaggerated or non-existent; racism is reduced to mean words by white people, as opposed to systematic institutional discrimination against people of color.

The most perverse result of colorblind racism is that many white people now believe that they are “victims” of "racism", and that “anti-white racism” is a larger problem in the United States than is discrimination against black and brown Americans. Mountains of research and empirical data detail how Americans society is oriented around maintaining white privilege and white material advantages over people of color.

Colorblind racism overrides those facts by distorting white people’s (and some others’) ability to process and understand reality.

Paul Ryan’s “inner city” comment is a quintessential example of colorblind racism. He cannot plainly state that lazy black people are genetically predisposed to idleness, crime, violence, and sexual promiscuity. However, Ryan can suggest that the supposed failures of black people are really their own fault, and that all they need to do is “work hard” and have “good culture” to get ahead in America like "normal" (read: white) people.

Paul Ryan’s defenders are enabling colorblind racism by trafficking in its other distortion of reality: white victimology. Paul Ryan is portrayed as a victim of political correctness. His black conservative pets such as Ron Christie claim that Ryan is a “truth-teller”. Ryan will tell interviewers that he is just misunderstood and is being unfairly criticized.

Once more, colorblind racism protects white people from the consequences of their racist behavior by transforming them into “victims”.

White privilege and white racial innocence.

Paul Ryan’s faux apology emphasized his intent, and how he was “inarticulate” in his claim that black people are lazy and have bad genes.

Paul Ryan meant what he said and said what he meant. White privilege is more than the unearned advantages that come with being identified as “white” in American society and elsewhere. White privilege is an assumption that whiteness, and white people, are benign. White privilege is also an assumption of preeminent good intent and innocence.

The historical record suggests otherwise: whiteness was born of violence towards people of color. Whiteness works and is made real through many lies both small and large.

Paul Ryan, like other racists, will deploy the common phrase “I didn’t mean it that way” or “that was not my intention”.

By contrast, the twin facts of white privilege and white racism are not dependent on intent.

The racist cannot tell the victim of the former’s racism how and if they should be offended.

Moreover, Paul Ryan’s claim to have made a mistake will be granted because he is white and male. The errors of prominent (as well as rank and file) African-Americans for example, are never excused away or viewed as aberrations or outliers. No. When black folks are “inarticulate” or “misspeak” the white racial frame deems such moments as indications of incompetence, or proof that people of color are somehow “not qualified” or as “intelligent” as white people.

The white gaze does not view black Americans as individuals. When a black person makes a mistake it becomes the focus of a “national conversation” about the black community, one in which “black leaders” are forced to publicly explain and condemn the actions of other black people. There is not an equivalent ritual for white people. White conservatives and the white community will not be forced to condemn Paul Ryan. Nor will white people be held publicly accountable for Paul Ryan’s and the Republican Party’s racism.

Whiteness deems that Paul Ryan is a “racial innocent”, an “individual”, and that he should be treated as such.

Paul Ryan and other movement conservatives are racial political arsonists. Ryan’s racist claims about lazy black people with bad genes are a function of a willful political strategy and determined worldview. They are not exceptions, outliers, or bizarre happenings.

Racism is a habit for white conservatives because racism and conservatism are the same thing in the post civil rights era.

Paul Ryan and other conservatives can claim that they are innocent of their racist political arson. But, they are repeatedly caught, hiding behind the dumpster, or in the bushes, as the building burns. One hand is busy, down the trousers, working in onanistic fervor as the conflagration spreads. The other hand is concealing a lighter. The police approach, shake their heads, and say “you again!”

Paul Ryan and his fellow racial political arsonists in the Republican Party apologize, flummoxed, and indignant with the police that “you have the wrong guy!”

The police will just slap his wrist and say “don’t do it again”. Why? Because Paul Ryan and other racial political arsonists in the Republican Party are really decent people who are just misunderstood.

Republicans despise America’s poor and jobless. The GOP made that perfectly clear by repeatedly denouncing them and cutting food stamps and unemployment benefits. But last week, Republicans revealed that they also hate hard-working Americans!

Republicans condemned President Obama for proposing to extend mandatory overtime pay to more workers. The GOP doesn’t believe that Americans who work longer hours should be paid more.

Unlike the GOP, the vast majority of Americans believe extra effort should be rewarded.  They cherish the idea that their country is one where those who work hard can get ahead. In recent years, however, the actual experience of far too many Americans is that doesn’t happen. They work 50, 60, even 70 hours a week and don’t get paid extra for it. These are not high-roller managers or executives or professionals who don’t expect time and a half for overtime. These are hourly wage earners. President Obama signed an executive order last week to require employers to pay more workers overtime, to stop corporations from devaluing both hard work and an important American principal.

Overtime pay has a long tradition in the United States. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for Congress to create a federal standard for overtime pay during the Great Depression. He proposed it along with other then-radical ideas like requiring a minimum wage and prohibiting child labor. These were contained in legislation called the Fair Labor Standards Act.

He sent it to Congress 77 years ago with the admonition:  "A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling workers’ wages or stretching workers' hours." Just like now, Republicans opposed it.

Before overtime, President Roosevelt had to create a standard work week. He chose 40 hours – five eight-hour days – which labor unions and worker activists had been seeking for more than a century. They contended that each laborer who worked 8 hours also deserved 8 hours for rest and 8 hours for family and community.

Under President Roosevelt’s plan, workers who labored more than 40 hours in a week would receive one and a half times their hourly wage for each extra hour. Extra work would be rewarded. Another benefit would be increased employment. The overtime pay requirement encouraged employers to save money by hiring more workers, who would be less costly at straight-time wages.

The law passed in 1938 with Republicans still sputtering and protesting. Presidents updated it over the decades, most recently George W. Bush. As might be expected from a Republican, his changes denied overtime pay to as many as 8 million workers. Bush did that by enabling corporations to easily classify more workers as managers and professionals exempt from the extra pay requirements.

Now, 10 years later, low-paid, clearly non-managerial workers are suffering. A fry cook who spends 10 percent of her time instructing new hires may be classified as a supervisor and denied overtime pay for the 15 extra hours the restaurant requires her to put in every week. A computer repairman with a two-year tech school degree could be classified as a professional and earn less than minimum wage when his salary is divided by the 60 hours a week he’s routinely required to work.

Also, employers can refuse to pay overtime to workers who earn as little as $455 a week, a salary far below historical levels for overtime exemption. That figure – $23,660 a year – is the federal poverty level for a family of four, hardly the comfortable professional or managerial salary that traditionally justified denial of overtime pay.

“Americans don’t expect a free lunch,” President Obama said when he signed the order last week telling the Labor Department to write new rules to ensure that those who deserve overtime pay get it. He added: “If you’re working hard, [and] you’re barely making ends meet, you should be paid overtime.” That is what Americans believe.

Still, right wing-talk show hostsRepublican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and the nation’s largest business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all cried crocodile tears that corporations just couldn’t pay workers a fair wage for extra work.

In fact, they can. Both corporate profits and productivity are high. Since the mid-1980s, corporate profits have soared, setting post-World War II recordsOverall productivity grew 74.5 percent between 1979 and 2012.

Wages, however, stagnated in that 33 year period, rising just 5 percent. Workers are more productive. Their labor is creating record profits. But they’re not benefitting. President Obama believes their hard work should be rewarded. Fixing problems with overtime pay will help. It’s part of his “Opportunity for All” program.

When President Obama announced the plan to protect workers from overtime exploitation, Nancy Minor, vice president of United Steelworkers Local Union 10-1 in Philadelphia, was there. As she stood with a group of workers behind the president, he told them her story. He said that since Ms. Minor’s divorce 16 years ago, she has been able to raise and support four children because she received overtime pay from the oil refinery where she works.

“For more than 75 years, the 40-hour work week and the overtime that comes with it have helped countless workers like Nancy get ahead,” the President said, “And it means that when she’s asked to make significant sacrifices on behalf of her company – which she’s happy to do – they’re also looking out for her, recognizing that that puts a strain on her family and  – having to get a babysitter and all kinds of things, adjustments that she has to make.  It’s just fair.  It’s just the right thing to do.”

Ms. Minor, who has worked for the Sunoco refinery, now Philadelphia Energy Solutions, for 22 years, went to Washington to attend the event because she believes all Americans deserve good jobs with overtime pay. “I want to make sure every worker has the same opportunity,” she said.

Americans believe overtime pay is fair pay. Steelworkers like Ms. Minor receive it because their collective bargaining agreements require it. But untold millions of American workers don’t have that kind of protection. President Obama believes they should.
 

 

It is commonly believed that in the early days of the Christian church, followers of Jesus dealt with harsh persecution. The tales of  Romans falsely labeling the Holy Communion as “cannibalism,” and Christians being thrown to the lions while Roman citizens cheered have entered the canon of legends and we don’t know truth from apocryphal tale.

What we do know is that from time to time, enterprising Roman politicians made Christians the scapegoats of the community, thereby leading to various acts of violence while they themselves reaped the spoils.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have faced persecution from different factions, including themselves via unnecessary disagreements regarding denominations and customs.

Not surprisingly and justifiably, Christians have always maintained a fierce devotion to their beliefs. It is a shame that, at least in the case of one Christian, this devotion isn’t accompanied with a desire to speak out for other groups facing the same type of persecution.

Franklin Graham, son of the iconic pastor Billy Graham, chose to go the other direction, i.e. embracing the perpetrators of evil rather than the victims. In recent comments, he commended the country of Russia for the recent passage of its anti-gay laws under the lie that it protects children:

Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue—protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda—Russia’s standard is higher than our own? In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues. Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.

The inference that gays will somehow harm children is an old dodge perpetrated continuously because it works.  Whenever someone wants to pass anti-gay laws or keep pro-gay laws from passing, or build a reputation for themselves on the hallmarks of “values” and “family,” they exploit children as psychological shields, playing on the heart strings of the ignorant by conjuring up images of oversexed gay men raping children, “indoctrinating” children, or “recruiting” children.

It’s the same in Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. The claim that these anti-gay laws in Russia were created to “protect children” is a lie created give Putin more power and popularity. And in exchange, Russian lgbts now face horrible consequences as a result of these laws. The beatings, the unfair arrests, the all-around abject fear which now grips Russia’s gay community are the results. The sad irony is that before these laws, Russian children weren’t in danger. But they are now, if they are gay.

And with his one ignorant statement, Mr. Graham dips his hand into the blood spilled because of these laws and publicly wipes it on his face with zest.  In doing so, he spits not only his father’s legacy, and the faces of Russian lgbts facing daily persecution. He also spits upon his own religion, particularly the memory of Christians persecuted so long ago after themselves being falsely accused.

No matter what your personal or so-called religious belief about homosexuality may be, there is no excuse for making lgbts scapegoats via lies and scapegoating. Jesus never stooped to doling out excuses designed to justify horrible acts of violence and uncaring attitudes about innocent groups of people. It is an awful shame that those who claim to follow Him have no problems doing this. It is an awful shame in the eyes who claim to follow Jesus, political power makes the lives of lgbts disposable liabilities.

Even in today’s oxymoronic climate of Christian leaders clutching the lapels of their expensive suits as they trod across immaculately clean carpets of megachurches or before congregations of thousands and in front of cameras broadcasting to millions as they whine about being persecuted simply because they must acknowledge folks with different belief systems, Mr. Franklin’s cluelessness is just obscene.

If he wanted to be a leader with as much notoriety as his father, then mission accomplished. But it’s notoriety in the other direction. I’ve been to a Billy Graham crusade and I’ve seen him on television numerous times. He represented the humility of Christianity, the acknowledgement and respect for a higher power who we must leave all judgement up to while we do whatever good we can for each other.

Franklin now represents the hypocrisy of Christianity, the lack of humility which now plagues the religion but is something no one wants to talk about. Franklin represents the cluelessness that comes with forgetting your past and sacrifices of those who came before you; forgetting the innocent blood shed by those who paved the way to those expensive suits, mega churches with their immaculate carpets, congregation of millions, and television cameras. And especially the lack of shame which comes with scapegoating innocent groups of people in the same manner which your group was scapegoated and using the Bible to justify your sad behavior.

Mr. Graham, you are a disgrace to not only your father, the Christian religion, but humanity as well. I hope that you can see past the glitz which comes with being a supposed acclaimed Christian leader so that you can one day embrace the same humility which made your father such a wonderful person.

 

 

Interview with Gayathri Ramprasad, Author of Shadows in the Sun: Healing from Depression and Finding the Light Within 

 

 

The just published memoir, Shadows in the Sun, is a first-of-its-kind, cross-cultural lens to mental illness through the inspiring story of the author's thirty-year battle with depression.

 

Rosenberg: Your book gives vivid images and details of your childhood, growing up in India. It seems like you were never alone, between your immediate family, your extended family and, later, your in-laws. Yet, psychologically you were totally alone.

 

Ramprasad: India is collectivistic culture and the Indian family can either be a fortress or a prison. When the "enemy" is mental illness, it is often a prison. Not because of a lack of love. But, because of a lack of understanding. As a culture, there are many myths and misperceptions about mental illness, and tremendous shame and stigma associated with it.  If I would have been diagnosed with depression as a teenager when my symptoms started, my life would have been over. Perhaps, I would have never finished school or gotten married and I would have brought such shame onto my family, my sister might not have gotten married either. I want to point out, however, that once my family was educated about depression, they became the greatest support system I ever had.

 

Rosenberg: Has mental illness in India lost some of the stigma since then?

 

Ramprasad: Yes and no. There are a few people who are standing up and speaking out about their mental health experiences, but the stonewalls of stigma, shame, and secrecy are still intact. Recently, I met with a group of Indian professionals struggling with mental health issues, while working with ASHA International, the nonprofit organization I founded to promote mental health awareness, hope and holistic wellness. All of them told me they admired how I was speaking out about my struggles with mental illness and breaking the bonds of silence but they could not do the same thing. Medical professionals said they would lose their clients' respect. An engineer said he would lose his job. A stay-at-home mom said it would hurt her children and bring dishonor to her family. When I visited a government hospital in India, fairly recently, there were hundreds of people camped out on the hospital grounds. They had come from miles away on trains and auto rickshaws just for a psychiatric consult and were waiting for days. In India and many parts of the world, the situation is terrible.

 

Rosenberg: Your symptoms of depression began as a teenager and were heightened by your "desperate need to please others" and "perfectionistic attitudes," according to your therapist, who pointed out they were common traits in Indian culture. Later in life you found out that your father had also been diagnosed with depression. Why would he have not been more empathetic to you since he shared the disease? Why was your dad's struggle with mental illness kept a secret from you for so long?

 

Ramprasad: My father, like many men around the world, perceived the expression of emotions as a sign of weakness and suppression of emotions as a strength. He had difficulties accepting his struggles with depression, and, therefore, couldn’t empathize with my pain. Looking back, it was difficult for me to understand how my mother could have considered my father's suicidal behavior—wanting to throw himself under a bus, for example, and other things--"normal." She said they did not tell me because they didn't want me to "worry about it." My parents, like millions of people in many cultures around the world, were imprisoned by ignorance about depression.

 

Rosenberg: Did your dad's depressed behavior start after you left the house?

 

Ramprasad: Growing up in a patriarchal culture where a man’s temper is his prerogative, my father’s flare-ups were a mere fact of life. While my father is a very loving man, to this day, he regards the show of emotions as a weakness.

 

Rosenberg:  Your recovery story includes the Twelve Step principles like surrendering to a higher power and powerlessness. Both self-help recovery and the advice to "snap out of it" that is often given to depressed people rest on individual self-reliance yet they are complete opposites. Can you explain the difference?

 

Ramprasad: I think the one word that captures the difference is "knowledge." When you don't understand what is happening to you, you can't "snap out of it." I finished college, married, emigrated to the US, had a child--I did everything I was supposed to do to snap out of it. But I lacked the knowledge. I did not understand how pregnancy caused my symptoms. I did not understand that I had the genetic predisposition to depression. I certainly did not appreciate how much early experiences had affected me.

 

Rosenberg:  Your first depressive episode began when you failed math even though you were a good student. You discovered that a male student had maneuvered the failure because you had rejected his advances.

 

Ramprasad: Yes! And, as a young woman born and raised within the Indian culture, I felt utterly powerless to confront him, even when he threatened to rape me. Unfortunately, women continue to be victimized in India even today.  And, despite all the media attention on the recent gang rapes across India, we as a culture are striving to ensure that justice is served.

 

Rosenberg:  Was there a moment when your recovery from depression began?

 

Ramprasad: Yes. When I was stripped of all freedom and human dignity in an isolation cell. Until then, I blamed everyone else, God, my parents, my society, my husband, my culture. But in the cell, I realized I was the only one with the key to set myself free. I realized that I was not evil, an ingrate, weak, a drama queen, possessed or being punished--all the names I was called and had internalized. That is when I discovered the light within me – the light of love, wisdom, courage and compassion that has sustained me on my journey to wellness.

 

Rosenberg:  In Shadows in the Sun you also discuss the people who helped you along your journey.

 

Ramprasad: Yes! I had never had a roommate other than my sister. My roommate in the hospital, Sanya, demystified mental illness for me. I could see myself for the first time through her. There were also women I worked with who shared their stories with me and let me know I was not alone or different by having mental illness. There was also a wonderful nurse I write about in the book. Probably the strongest influence was a woman named Aida, the wife of my husband's boss. She was a mother figure and she embodied everything I wanted to be when I grew up. She instilled in me the conviction that I could make it despite the mental illness and made me promise I would not kill myself.

 

Rosenberg: One thing that is remarkable about your story is how even though you were in the United States, it was Indian practices like pranayama and meditation that finally helped you.

 

Ramprasad: Yes--I write in the book that India gave me my roots but the US gave me the wings to fly.

 

Rosenberg: Despite experiencing psychotic post partum depression with your first daughter, you were able to have a second baby through practicing pranayama, transcendental meditation, nutrition, exercise and other factors. You used no drugs!

 

Ramprasad: I am not opposed to medication and they have worked wonders with my brother and sister. But for me, the antidepressants and antipyschotics were anti-life and anti-wellness. They were supposed to abate my symptoms and they exacerbated them. They made me more depressed and more suicidal. Now, we know more about those drugs and they have black box warnings. My husband and family would say to me you have the best doctors, the best health care, the best medication--what is wrong with you? The medications were hurting me. Nearly 50 percent of people are not helped by antidepressants. I was lucky my doctor and family supported me going off drugs. Western medicine focuses too much on treatment, including medication and not wellness.

 

Rosenberg: You have parlayed your journey into ASHA International to help others struggling with mental illness and social stigmas, especially in other countries.

 

Ramprasad:  Yes. I would not wish my experience on anyone else. But those who go through such experiences have an obligation to use them to help others --which is what I am doing. We need to embrace our loved ones who have mental illness and not hide them away as is too often done. 

 

Gayathri Ramprasad is the Founder and President of ASHA International a nonprofit organization promoting personal, organizational and community wellness. She is the author of Shadows in the Sun: Healing from Depression and Finding the Light Within

 

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has become the latest right-winger to blame black poverty on “culture” and character. Just as he got it backwards on families and poverty, Paul Ryan gets it twisted on poverty and black men. Ryan went on William Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show to promote his recent “survey” of anti-poverty programs, and to preview his legislative agenda to cutting funding and case loads for anti-poverty programs. Ryan cited the work of Charles Murray, a conservative social scientist and co-author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, who believes genetic differences make African-Americans less intelligent than whites and that, “a lot of poor people are born lazy.” Ryan then launched into a dog-whistle politics take on poverty, using coded language about “inner-city culture” to blame poverty on lazy, immoral black people, without coming right out and saying so.

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working, just generations of men not even thinking of working, or learning the value and the culture of work,” said Ryan. “So there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

Ryan later backpedaled on his remarks, telling Crew of 42’s Lauren Victoria Burke, “This has nothing to do whatsoever with race,” and that his words were “taken out of context.” But Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called Ryan out. “Let’s be clear,” Lee said in when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’” Ryan has reached for his dog whistle before; once when he told a reporter that the solution to America’s “crime problem” was to go into inner cities and “teach people good discipline, good character,” and again when he complained that “urban voters” gave Obama the 2012 election. Rep. Lee hit the nail on the head. Paul Ryan’s attempt to wriggle off the hook drives it home. Ryan’s remarks on “inner-city” men has a ring of the other shoe dropping. The first dropped when Ryan released his survey of the war on poverty. In the introduction, Ryan writes that, “the single most important determinant of poverty is family structure,” and cites Daniel Moynihan’s 1965 report identifying “the breakdown of the family” as the primary cause of poverty in the black community. So it’s no surprise that Ryan has returned to the subject of black poverty. Paul Ryan is indeed talking about blacks. In his remarks to Burke, Ryan went on to say:

“This isn’t a race based comment it’s a breakdown of families, it’s rural poverty in rural areas, and talking about where poverty exists — there are no jobs and we have a breakdown of the family. This has nothing to do with race.”

When Ryan addresses poverty in rural areas, where the faces of poverty are mostly white, the problem is not that people won’t work, but that “there are no jobs.” When it comes to the “inner city” poor, it’s a different story. Recent statistics pull Ryan up short. A 2006 poll by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Foundation, and Harvard University showed that “Black men report the same ambitions as most Americans — for career success, a loving marriage, children, respect."

  • Black men want to work. Three in four men in the Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard survey said they value being successful in a career. More than white men or black women.
  • Black men value marriage and family. More than half in the Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard poll said they placed a high value on marriage.
  • Black men believe in the American Dream. Nine in ten in the Washington Post/Kaiser/Harvard study would tell their sons they can become anything they want to in life.

Contrary to what Ryan and a host of other right-wing pundits believe, black “inner city” men want to work. But the reality is that there are no jobs. The 30-year slow bleed of manufacturing jobs out of American cities and out of the country hit black men the hardest, because black men were over-represented in those jobs. In many cases, those were the best jobs — and the only good jobs — black men could get. Good wages and benefits, fought for and won by labor unions, meant that men without a college education — men like my father — could lift their families from sharecropping to middle-class status in one generation, and give their children opportunities they only dreamed of. Now, good jobs with livable wages have been replaced by low-wage jobs with no “dignity of work,” and no hope of affording even basic necessities, let alone a chance at a better life. As I wrote last week, the “breakdown”of the family is not the cause of poverty. It’s a symptom. Paul Ryan can spare black men his lectures on character and the “dignity of work.” Bring good jobs, with food benefits and liable wages back home, and we’ll take care of the rest.

This guest Op-Ed from dear friend, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) Advisory Board member, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, comes in light of an unprecedented Christian fundamentalist furor. This disingenuous hue and cry  surrounds our ongoing fight against dominionist hegemony at my alma mater, the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, CO, long a hotbed of nationalistic Christian supremacist extremism. Sadly, the scandal has reinforced the fact that many of the worst opponents of the U.S. Constitution are our elected representatives themselves… Mikey.

Congressman Doug Lamborn (R, CO) has just penned a letter to the Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy, Lieutenant General Michele Johnson.  In the letter, the Congressman lectures the “Supe” in religious freedom and the U.S. Constitution.  It is quite clear from the letter that Congressman Lamborn knows extremely little about the Constitution, religious freedom, or the military.

The most egregious demonstration of abject ignorance of the military and the Constitution is this statement in Lamborn’s letter: “We are asking future officers to perhaps give even their very lives to protect and defend the Constitution and yet denying them rights from that same Constitution.”

Military personnel, particularly officers, surrender several Constitutional rights immediately upon becoming members of the armed forces.  For example, they cannot speak out politically; they cannot criticize publicly their chain of command—to include the President; they cannot vote in uniform and armed (I found that out in Columbus, Georgia—the hard way); they cannot promote religion to their subordinates; they cannot associate their uniform with a commercial enterprise; and so on.  Thus, every hour of the day we deny military members certain of their Constitutional rights.  It is an integral part of the civil-military relationship in America.

Compounding Lamborn’s error is this statement from his letter: “I am deeply concerned and outraged by recent news reports indicating that an Air Force Cadet was forced to remove a Bible verse from the whiteboard posted outside his room.  I was further troubled to learn that the apparent reason the Cadet in question had to remove this verse was due to the fact that he is in a position of  leadership. This suggests that a Cadet in a leadership role may have less religious freedom than Cadets in the rank and file.”

This statement is simply full of ignorance as well as illogic.  The “apparent reason”, as Lamborn terms it, is precisely accurate.  From a position of leadership, no military member may advocate a particular religion or absence thereof.  Moreover, this restriction on a military member is to promote religious freedom, not constrain it.  How can there be freedom of religion if people in power over others are allowed to appear—or actually to do so—to favor one religion over another, or no religion over religion?  The clear answer is, there can’t be.

Not content to be simply illogical and ignorant, the Congressman goes on to write: “those who pursue leadership positions should not be forced to sacrifice their religious freedom in order to lead.”

Of course such leaders are not sacrificing their religious freedom.  They are able to go to the church, synagogue, or mosque of their choice, or believe in no divine providence whatsoever; they are simply not allowed, by their position of power over others, to try to cause others to adhere to their beliefs or even subtly to influence them to do so.  This policy promotes religious freedom for everyone, it does not constrain it and it most certainly does not sacrifice it for anyone.

Congressman Lamborn then delivers the blow that is at the heart of his apparent angst: “I would also appreciate an explanation of the apparent influence the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has at the Air Force Academy in legal and media issues relating to decisions on Cadets’ religious practices over the past 5 years (sic). The MRFF is an organization that seems to detest religious expression of any faith, and has become so outlandish in its claims that it should simply be ignored.”

Now we detect the real reason for Lamborn’s outburst.  Like the other fundamentalist Christian sects—the so-called “Dominionists” lead the way in this regard—which are so up in arms over the MRFF because it supports religiously (no pun intended) the real and important heart of religious freedom—the separation at all times of church and state—Lamborn worries that MRFF might be too successful.

I hope in that respect he is absolutely correct.  It would be the only thing in his letter that is.

Col. (U.S. Army-retired) Lawrence Wilkerson is a professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He served 31 years in the U.S. Army, both in the enlisted and officer ranks.    

Paul Ryan is the leader of the Republican Party’s “intellectual” wing. He has been described by the news media in fawning terms as a “policy wonk”, a “numbers guy”, and a “serious thinker”.

Consequently, Ryan's recent claim that "inner city" black men are lazy and have no work ethic is a revealing insight into the current state of movement conservatism and the former's supposed intellectual gifts.

There is no genius in Paul Ryan's claims: his arguments about lazy black people are a boilerplate post-civil Rights era Republican talking point.

To advance this claim, he leveraged Charles Murray's discredited research on the relationship between I.Q. and race. Ryan's intellectual slippage is not a new habit. In his anti-poverty tome, which purports (and fails) to discredit President Johnson's Great Society era programs, Paul Ryan misrepresented and distorted research findings.

He is intellectually dishonest; Ryan's claim to be a serious thinker on matters of public policy is a cheap, and not very convincing, parlor trick.

It is also a perfect fit for the post-fact universe and anti-intellectualism of the present day American conservative movement. Paul Ryan's recent observation about the laziness of black people is also providing an additional lesson in how the Republican Party has now fully merged conservatism and "symbolic racism".

Moreover, in a moment when Republicans have suggested that black and brown people’s children should become janitors to learn a “work ethic”, that Obama buys black people’s votes with food stamps, and that “real Americans”, i.e. white people, are losing “their country” to non-whites, Ryan’s argument is a rather flat channeling of the Southern Strategy and Reagan’s opines about “strapping black bucks” and "welfare queens" living in luxury as they leech off of white people.

There is an ugly hypocrisy at the heart of Paul Ryan’s efforts to chastise African-Americans (a group of people who quite literally built the United States and have never received compensation or reparations) for having “bad culture” and perhaps even defective genes.

Paul Ryan is an Irish-American. The same arguments that Ryan is making about the “bad culture” of African-Americans, and their supposed “laziness” and “idleness”, were made against his Irish ancestors by eugenicists and race scientists in the United States and Europe.

Charles Murray’s intellectual forefathers had little to no use for the Irish. As such, they spent a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out just what type of “white people” the Irish were, and how they fit into the family and hierarchy of whiteness.

Those who are considered “white” in the 21st century may not have been part of that racial group during an earlier part of American history. Jews, Slavs, Poles, Armenians, as well as Eastern and Southern Europeans more generally, were not considered “real” white people by the consensus scientific authority of the 19th and early to mid 20th centuries.

The sociological evidence is rich: political cartoons during the 19th century questioned how and if the Irish were fit for American democracy by depicting them as apes, and comparing them with similarly caricatured and stereotyped images of African-Americans. The question of “how” and “if” the Irish were suitable for American democracy also emphasized their Catholic religion, and cast doubt on if “papists” were capable of being proper and loyal citizens.

Even as late as the early decades of the 20th century, leading American eugenicists and race scientists such as Madison Grant--author of the infamous tract The Passing of the Great Race--were unsure of the relationship between the Irish and "white civilization":

By the 1920s, some eugenicists seemed ready to admit the Irish or "Celts" to a racial status closer to Anglo-Saxons. But not all. In the Passing of the Great Race, a highly read and influential attack on "race mongrelization" the eugenicist Madison Grant waffled about where the Irish stood.

Grant observed that a physical change had occurred among the Irish in America. The "Neanderthal physical characteristics of the native Irish--the great upper lip, bridgeless nose, beetling brow with low growing hair, and wild and savage aspect:--had largely disappeared. The Irish apeman of Nast's cartoons had evolved a more human form. Yet, with the Irish, in Grant's view, looks could be deceiving. When it came to intellectual and moral traits, "the mental and cultural traits of the aborigines have proved to be exceedingly persistent and appear in the unstable temperament and the lack of coordinating and reasoning power, so often found among the Irish."

Race is a social construct. Its boundaries change according to the social and political questions of a given moment. Race is a fiction; race is also real in terms of how it bounds and influences a person’s life chances by virtue of how society locates them both within and relative to a given group.

Historians Noel Ignatiev and David Roediger explore this process and detail how the Irish in America earned their whiteness in the seminal texts How the Irish Became White and The Wages of Whiteness. Most recently, Nell Irvin Painter’s A History of White People offered up a beautiful synthesis of the many ways that whiteness was manufactured and understood from antiquity to the present in the West.

The centuries-long story of Irish assimilation from a group judged to be below or perhaps somewhat equal to African-Americans in their supposed lack of intelligence, and propensity for violence, sexual impulsiveness, and unfitness for “white” civilization, to now being fully “white”, and where Paul Ryan can easily channel race science and eugenics, is a testament to the malleability of race and the enduring power of White Supremacy.

Whiteness is an expansive and changing category: this is one of the primary lessons taught by the colorline in the United States. We must also not overlook how the path to full whiteness is made easier by both hating and resenting African-Americans.

To point. The Republican Party’s outreach to white ethnics in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement leveraged such sentiments as it built a new coalition of “working class” white Democrats and soon to be Republicans.

In all, Paul Ryan, like many other Republicans, has deployed racial dog whistle politics and symbolic racism to slur the work ethic and character of black people in order to mobilize their white, racially resentful, voting base.

Of course, the Republican Party and its neoliberal allies are silent on how the very economic policies they have advocated and advanced since the 1960s are in many ways responsible for the structural and institutional inequality that has created the “jobless ghetto”.

Those same policies have suppressed wages, generated abhorrent levels of wealth and income inequality, destroyed the American middle class, and created structural unemployment such that there are more job seekers than available positions.

Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian dreams and twisted understanding of Catholic social justice have resulted in him being the metaphorical doctor who is making the patient sick while simultaneously blaming said patient for not getting better fast enough.

This is a cruel joke. The punch line is the suffering of the American people.

Paul Ryan’s racism and ego have enabled him to willfully misrepresent the research which details how the denizens of inner city and poor black and brown communities are desperate for job opportunities.

Of course, Paul Ryan’s “bad culture” and “lazy” black people thesis is mute on the question of white poverty, white “bad culture”, and white folks’ dependence on the federal government.

Whites constitute the largest group of poor people in the United States. White people also receive a disproportionate amount of federal assistance. And Red State America receives much more in federal money than any other part of the United States.

If Paul Ryan was intellectual honest, he would re-frame his talking points and faux-concern about the black, “inner city” poor, to include white poverty. I wonder, how would Republican voters respond if Paul Ryan told them that they were poor and unemployed because of their laziness and bad culture?

Charles Murray voiced his concern about the cultural pathologies and declining fortunes of poor and working class white Americans in his book Coming Apart.

Paul Ryan embraces the discredited I.Q. race science eugenicist arguments of Murray’s book The Bell Curve in order to slur and disparage African-Americans. Would Paul Ryan ever dare to find public inspiration in Charles Murray’s research about the cultural pathologies and failings of white people in Red State America?

The answer is no.

Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Donna Nevel

Many American Jewish organizations claim to be staunch supporters of civil and human rights as well as academic freedom. But when it comes to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, they make an exception. In their relentless opposition to BDS, they leave even core principles behind.

The Palestinian-led call for BDS, which began in 2005 in response to ongoing Israeli government violations of basic principles of international law and human rights of the Palestinian people, is a call of conscience. It has strengthened markedly over the last few years among artists, students, unions, church groups, dockworkers, and others. Media coverage of endorsers of the boycott has gone mainstream and viral. Recent examples include Stephen Hawking’s refusal to go to Jerusalem for the Presidential Conference, the successful campaign surrounding Scarlett Johansson’s support for Soda Stream and its settlement operation, and the American Studies Association (ASA) resolution that endorsed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Alongside BDS’s increasing strength have come increasingly virulent attacks on, and campaigns against it. These attacks tend to employ similar language and tactics – as if the groups are all cribbing from the same talking points – including tarring BDS supporters as “anti-Semitic” and “delegitimizers.”

These attacks simply don’t address or grapple with the core aspirations or realities of BDS. As described by Hanan Ashrawi, executive committee member of the PLO, in a recent letter in the New York Times, BDS “does not target Jews, individually or collectively, and rejects all forms of bigotry and discrimination, including anti-Semitism.” She goes on to explain that “B.D.S. is, in fact, a legal, moral and inclusive movement struggling against the discriminatory policies of a country that defines itself in religiously exclusive terms, and that seeks to deny Palestinians the most basic rights simply because we are not Jewish.”

The use of name-calling like “anti-Semites” and “delegtimizers” is problematic for a number of reasons, not only because its claims are untrue, but also because it takes the focus off the real issue at hand – whether and how Israel is, in fact, violating international law and basic human rights principles – and, instead, recklessly impugns the characters of those advocating for Israel to be held accountable.

Criticisms, even extremely harsh ones, of the Israeli state or calls to make a state democratic and adhere to equal rights for all its citizens are not anti-Semitic. Rather, anti-Semitism is about hatred of, and discrimination against the Jewish people, which is not anywhere to be found in the call for BDS, and these kinds of accusations also serve to trivialize the long and ugly history of anti-Semitism.

Most recently, the anti-BDS effort has moved to the legislative front. A bill, introduced in the New York State Assembly last month, would have trampled academic freedom and the right to support BDS in its quest to punish the ASA and deter any who might dare to emulate its endorsement of the academic boycott. Those supporting the bill were opposed by a broad coalition of education, civil rights, legal, academic, and Palestine solidarity organizations, as well as Jewish social justice groups. The bill was withdrawn, but a revised version has been introduced that is designed, like the original, to punish colleges that use public funds for activities related to groups that support boycotts of Israel, including mere attendance at their meetings.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) worked closely with the sponsors of the New York bill.

Like the JCRC, rather than engaging in substantive debate about the issues raised in relation to BDS, the Israeli government and many Jewish communal organizations choose, instead, to try to discredit and derail the efforts of those supporting BDS.

For example, as recently reported by Ha’aretz, the Israeli Knesset is debating how to continue to counter BDS efforts across the globe, that is, “whether to launch an aggressive public campaign or operate through quieter, diplomatic channels.” It is also considering what the role of AIPAC might be in introducing anti-boycott legislation and how to best bolster military surveillance–which has significant funding behind it–against supporters of BDS.

American Jewish communal organizations have also expended massive resources and energy in their campaigns to demonize endorsers of BDS. The Israel Action Network (IAN)–which describes itself as “a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), created to counter assaults made on Israel’s legitimacy”–has funded the anti-BDS effort to the tune of at least six million dollars over a three-year period.

The IAN website characterizes supporters of BDS as “delegitimizers”and says that, in order to gain support from “vulnerable targets,” which include “college campuses, churches, labor unions, and human rights organizations,” delegitimizers utilize Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) tactics, “the same tools used to isolate and vilify apartheid South Africa, Iran, or Nazi Germany. BDS activists, IAN continues, “present distortions, fabrications and misrepresentations of international law in an attempt to paint Israel with the same brush.”

In another example of name-calling without any substance, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL’s) July 2013 report attacked Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), featuring ad hominem accusations (JVP “intentionally exploits Jewish culture”), rather than discussing JVP’s actual positions. (A JVP report on the ADL points out that the ADL not only targets JVP but is well-known for its long history of spying on Arabs and supporters of the Palestinian movement.)

On the charge of anti-Semitism, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in its call to fight the BDS movement, urges it supporters to “learn the facts behind this hypocritical and anti-Semitic campaign,” and the ADL’s Abe Foxman echoed those same sentiments: “The BDS movement at its very core is anti-Semitic.” And most recently, in his speech to AIPAC, Prime Minister Netanyahu, after shamelessly drawing upon classic anti-Semitic imagery of Jews to speak of supporters of BDS, says: “So you see, attempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti- Semitism.”

The demonization of BDS is not only the domain of the Israeli government and the mainstream Jewish community. The self-declared liberal J-Street, in its seemingly relentless quest to stay under the Jewish “tent,” has also jumped on the anti-BDS bandwagon, sometimes in partnership with the IAN, which (precisely because J Street is positioned as a peace group) proudly documents its relationship with J Street in fighting BDS. Discussing how J Street is gaining acceptance in the mainstream Jewish community, JCPA’s CEO Rabbi Steve Gutow points to “its role in pushing back against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement…”

Further, the refusal of both liberal land mainstream Jewish groups to discuss substantive issues around Israel’s actions or BDS also reveals itself in language that admonishes BDS as being “beyond the pale.” Recently, for example, as reported by the director of JVP in an op-ed in the Forward, the director of the JCRC of Greater Boston, who has a history of involvement in liberal organizations, explained that “any organization that supports BDS…doesn’t belong at the communal table. In fact, he was referring specifically to Jewish Voice for Peace. He even argued that opening the public conversation to BDS is roughly akin to welcoming the Ku Klux Klan.”

This attempted silencing of those simply discussing BDS plays out even in seemingly minor local skirmishes. For example, last year, the liberal rabbi of a large New York City synagogue cancelled the synagogue’s facilities-usage contract with a group of Jews who, he feared, might, on his premises, discuss BDS. That, he said, would be “beyond the pale.”

These attacks against BDS appear to be an almost desperate reaction to the increasing successes of BDS, not only in the world at large, but also within the broader Jewish community itself. Respected members of the liberal Jewish community as well as a few liberal Zionist groups that were vehemently anti-BDS are now calling for boycotts against products made in the settlements and are engaging with the issue publicly. Further, the mission and vision of groups like Jews Say No and Jewish Voice for Peace – “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights” – are resonating with increasing numbers of Jews who support BDS as a natural outgrowth of their commitments. And that movement is growing in partnership with the broader Palestinian-led movement for justice.

How should the rest of the Jewish community respond? Ad hominem attacks on BDS just will not do. It is time for BDS opponents to take a deep breath. Consider this: BDS is a principled response to Israel’s actions and behavior as an occupier. It is a profound call by Palestinians – and supporters world-wide–for justice. It is not BDS that should be opposed, but, rather, the very policies and practices that have made BDS necessary.

 

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is a long-time organizer for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. She was a co-coordinator of the 1989 landmark Road to Peace Conference that brought PLO officials and Knesset members together to the US for the first time. More recently, she was a founding member of Jews Say No!, is a member of the board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and is on the coordinating committee of the Nakba Education Project, U.S.

 

 

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UPDATE: Rocky Branch Road Peaceful Blockade Stops Peabody
11:30 am CST

Facing off with the world's largest coal company, which literally sank its first historic mine nearby in 1895, Rocky Branch farmers, residents and supporters fighting to protect their Shawnee Hills community against a violation-ridden and potentially devastating strip mine set up a road blockade this morning.

The action forced Peabody haulers to unload their equipment to the side of the road, as state police attempted to verify permit and road requirements.

After stationing proper weight limit signs on the the Rocky Branch roads leading to the Peabody strip mine operation, residents say state laws limit road hauling tonnage and weight to 10 tons. According to local residents, several Peabody-hired trucks exceed such legal limits.

As Peabody-hired loggers attempted to enter the main site later this morning, residents peacefully assembled and blockaded the county road leading to the Rocky Branch mine, stretching yellow crime scene tap across the road, and called on the state police to uphold the laws.

Peabody is operating with a DNR mining permit, though it has yet to obtain proper EPA permits for the strip mine operation.

According to several witness, 75-year-old Rocky Branch farmer and pastor Allan Porter was threatened.

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Jeff Lucas

As out-of-state loggers clear-cut the forested Shawnee Hills, defiantly posting "Warning: Explosives in Use" signs without state Environmental Protection Agency permits, it may seem like Peabody's violation-ridden Rocky Branch strip mine site in southern Illinois is another lost chapter in the state's century-long history of backroom Big Coal deals.

Not for the undaunted Rocky Branch residents and farmers in Saline County, who have testified and provided unaddressed documentation on permit errors at all public hearings against the reckless mine proposal.

Drawing a line in the sand on the state's coal rush -- and drawing statewide and national support--their message is simple: Mr. Peabody's coal trains ain't haulin' our community away.

Protests, including road blocks, as well as court challenges are planned for today and the rest of the week.

"We are going to pursue every legal means that we can, but with the control the corporations have over the existing system, it will be difficult," Rocky Branch resident Jennifer Dumbris said, "which is why we need all the support possible from the Attorney General to citizens groups across the state and nation. The very fate of our community is now on the edge."

Check out a video of yesterday's clear-cutting in Rocky Branch, as loggers hurried to eliminate the probable habitats of the endangered Indiana bats. (Video courtesy of Christopher Oliver and Derek Deters.)

To borrow a line from Gov. Pat Quinn, who launched a similar battle nearly a decade ago to stop the Banner strip mine in Fulton County: "I urge your company to re-think this flawed idea."

 

Ten years ago, Quinn courageously stood up to Big Coal machinations, declaring:

Strip mining on this site threatens the drinking water of local residents and habitat of eagles, pelicans and fish. It will reduce tourism potential, strain local water treatment systems, and pollute the Illinois River and Copperas Creek.


Why has the Quinn administration now turned its back on the mind-boggling regulatory machinations by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Illinois EPA?

According to local residents, the Rocky Branch strip mine is not only a flawed idea, but one of the most bungled DNR permit decisions in recent history, and with mounting oversights, errors and violations, residents are now calling on Attorney General Lisa Madigan to file a petition requesting an internal administrative review of DNR's rushed decision to green-light a mining permit on Wednesday.

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Rocky Branch mine site. Photo by Christopher Oliver and Derek Deters


Ever since Peabody sank its first historic coal mine in nearby Williamson County in 1895, paying children and laborers 25 cents a box for hand-loading two thousand pounds of coal in deadly conditions, Saline County residents and coal miners like my grandfather and family members have taken a fearless stand for coalfield justice, galvanizing mine worker movements, as well as civil rights and environmental campaigns.

Rocky Branch residents plan to carry on that legacy again -- through the intervention of law enforcement agencies, in the courts, and in the courts of public opinion.

"Years ago the timber industry and the Forest Service pushed a plan to log over 3,500 acres around the Bell Smith Springs National Natural Landmark," said Sam Stearns, a former coal miner and Shawnee National Forest advocate, who recently led as successful campaign to remove the state's "clean coal" website for kids. "After a protracted battle with grassroots environmentalists, the logging finally began. Conventional wisdom told the environmentalists to give up, to accept the inevitability of the logging project. But two days after the logging started--- 10 acres out of 3,500 were cut -- environmentalists obtained a court order which halted all logging on the Shawnee for 18 years."

As citizens groups and support for besieged Rocky Branch residents continue to grow, Stearns added: "In order to win short-term battles to protect our land, we have to take a long view of the campaign. We have to adhere to to the principle of endless pressure, endlessly applied."

George Zimmerman signed autographs at the New Orlando Gun Show last weekend.

His claim to fame? Killing Trayvon Martin.

A question. What type of person would want George Zimmerman memorabilia? What type of person would want to endorse his stalking and murdering of an unarmed teenager whose "crime" was walking home and not being sufficiently submissive to a racist, gun toting, street vigilante?

Autographs are sought from celebrities. The man or woman on the corner; the local drunk; the town loser; or the anonymous median percentile average person is not a real "star". Nor does their signature or photo have any cache or quasi magical power as a type of totem or fetish which can be channeled by its owner.

Zimmerman's autograph is a way for his fans and public to idolize him.

Zimmerman's signed photo is also a way for his supporters to be closer to him, and to "own" part of his "success" and "power".

The autograph of George Zimmerman, a man who is "famous" only because he stalked, hunted, and killed an unarmed black teenager, is for those who seek it, a validation of their right to kill and murder at will those people that they deem to be the Other and somehow "less than". The South's hyper-masculine and racialized norms of honor both legitimate and sustain such logic.  

If one cannot be the hero who slays the dragon, at least he or she can touch the blood soaked sword or keep company with their idealized selves.

Consequently, for a particularly racist and pitiable part of the (white) American public, George Zimmerman is their knight and role-model because he sanitized, cleansed, and protected his community (read: castle) from an outside (black) invader.

Trayvon Martin's literal body--black and male--was deemed suspect and a threat by virtue of its existence in the white space policed by George Zimmerman, what was a racist police action legitimated by infamous "Stand Your Ground" laws.

The black body under Jim and Jane Crow was judged a threat in the same way. Sundown Towns and other types of de facto and de jure laws and customs served White Supremacy by controlling the movement, labor, and bodies of African-Americans across the United States. When African-Americans violated those norms of White authority and power they were subjected to lynchings and other types of extra-judicial punishment.

The spectacular lynching was a ritual that was designed to purge the white body politic of what it saw as the toxic, invasive, citizenship and presence of African-Americans.

It is important to note how black Americans during Jim and Jane Crow were not killed in an efficient way such as by a bullet to the head or a knife to the throat: instead, they were tortured, dismembered, burned alive, and reduced to trinkets and prizes for the white crowds in attendance.

The recent TV show True Detective featured the satanic and ritualistic murders of girls and women. True Detective's violence was not new; it is a pale echo of the spectacular violence which was visited upon African-Americans for almost 100 years.

Lynching was a ceremony that reinforced the group position of whites over people of color. Because they were acts of group terrorism, lynchings also helped to create a cohesive and intact white community across widely divergent lines of class and property.

Ultimately, lynching was a type of magic that used racial violence to give power to white people by ceremonially taking it away from African-Americans.

The lynching of thousands of African-Americans spawned a type of national popular culture. During the 19th to 20th centuries, lynching photographs and postcards were a way for white people across the United States to enjoy the power that came with their supposed total control over and intimidation of the African-American community.

In many ways, lynching photography was one of the country's first types of mass popular culture.

The vast majority of white Americans would never attend or participate in a spectacular lynching. But, they could buy a postcard or photo of such barbaric events as a way to reinforce their full allegiance to Whiteness, and membership in what was then a still expanding and evolving notion of the "white race".

The people who buy George Zimmerman's autographs and photos are contemporary heirs to a long tradition of White Supremacist violence against people of color in the United States. It is true that Trayvon Martin was not hung from a tree, forced to eat his own genitals in order to stop the torture, or burned alive before being physically dissected for souvenirs.

However, the idea of Trayvon Martin's murder, and the symbolic power of the black male body being vanquished and killed by someone such as George Zimmerman, holds a special place in the political imagination of the American Right-wing with its gun obsessions, neo Confederate politics, "black crime" fantasies of the "knockout game", Birtherism, and twin myths of "reverse racism" and "white oppression".

The defenders of George Zimmerman--and especially those who buy Zimmerman's "art" or autographs--are worshiping their hero and his "great" feat of vanquishing a "threatening" and "uppity" black person.

In the 19th and 20th centuries such racially resentful and bigoted white people would trade and traffic in lynching photography and postcards. In the age of social and digital media this same type of person, and those who identify with them, use the Internet and cable news to circulate their idealization and hero worship of men like George Zimmerman.