If a child is taught, either overtly or unconsciously, that racism is acceptable, is it possible to change? This seems to me to be the question at the heart of the crisis facing Virginians as they decide how to respond to the revelations this week that Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to appearing in blackface as young adults.
The debate continues to rage more than a week after one or more of Northam’s medical school colleagues, incensed about the governor’s comments on late-term abortions, called media attention to his yearbook page. Given that his classmates had known about the photograph for 35 years, the release of the photograph seems not to have been done out of any concern that Northam might be racist. That, in itself, speaks volumes about the culture that gave rise to the photograph.
“I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter,” Brett Kavanaugh attested, claiming he was a virgin until well after high school in a Monday interview with Fox News’ Martha McCallum.
Almost two years have passed since Hillary Clinton delivered the gift of her “basket of deplorables” speech to her opponent’s campaign, so why do Democrats continue to make the mistake of tossing all Trump supporters into a single category of despicable people?
As an English teacher I became so frustrated with students for being unable to offer a rational abortion argument on either side that I ultimately refused to let them deliver an argumentative speech on any aspect of the issue.
Abortion was the only topic, among a host of complicated issues, which I ever banned when I taught public speaking. But I didn’t know what else to do.
I told my students when they were choosing topics that they should either avoid topics they couldn’t do justice to in five minutes, or they should narrow the speech to a single aspect of a topic. Most students followed my advice.
One passionate student, however, decided that her view was worth the risk to her grade and decided to tackle the whole of the abortion issue in spite my cautions. She defied the time limit and argued passionately but irrationally for nearly ten minutes, and at the end of the speech, nearly every student in the class was angry. Those who disagreed with her arguments were furious. Those who agreed wanted a class discussion to continue the debate. And the moderates and rule-followers in class were indignant that I hadn’t stopped the speech at the five-minute mark. Ultimately, that speech convinced no one of anything.
Though I didn’t ban abortion from arguments in writing classes, I did caution my students, as I did about all topics, that when I evaluated arguments, I would read their papers as though I disagreed, whatever their stance, and I promised them I would be as objective as I possibly could in reading their arguments. This wasn’t always easy, and the top students always wondered how I could give two papers on the same topic an A when they had such divergent views. I told them that the A arguments were always the ones that showed some recognition of the nuances of the topic.
This wasn’t always easy for me as a teacher, but I felt a responsibility to encourage students to consider all aspects of a topic, using sound sources, and then to allow them the freedom to draw their own conclusions without forcing my own views on them.
But on the abortion issue, I had no good answers for students then, and I have no good answers now for how we can have a civil, intelligent discussion of the nuances that are crucial to this discussion.
Here are two views that I’ve actually heard former students (and adults) at the two extremes say:
“Life begins at conception, and all abortion is murder. It should always be illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother.”
“As long as a fetus is still attached to a woman’s body, it’s a parasite. And if a woman chooses to abort it, that’s her right and nobody else’s business.”
Most Americans don’t espouse either of these views. In survey after survey, a significant majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade, even though most of us couldn’t tell you exactly what the opinion says. The complete transcript of the majority opinion isn’t easily available online, and many don’t realize that the decision in 1973 seemed to be based on the doctor’s right to privacy, without mention of the rights of women. In the decision for the 7-2 majority, Justice Blackmun wrote:
The decision vindicates the right of the physician to administer medical treatment according to his professional judgment up to the points where important state interests provide compelling justifications for intervention. Up to those points, the abortion decision in all its aspects is inherently, and primarily, a medical decision, and basic responsibility for it must rest with the physician.
In the years since, some aspects of the decision have been struck down, including the original guidelines for the trimesters at which abortions can be performed. Yet we continue to discuss this issue in the public arena as if only the two extremes matter. (A guide to the key aspects of decisions related to abortion can be found at the Chicago—Kent College of Law’s Body Politic Project.)
We live in a country where the majority is supposed to rule, even though recent presidential elections where the Electoral College and the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled for the minority have called that principle into question.
Surveys of citizens’ attitudes about abortion consistently reveal widespread majority support for Roe v. Wade. In January of this year, before the current uproar about the Supreme Court vacancy, Pew Research reported that 57% of Americans support legal access to abortion, including a wide variety of religious groups. Even among some evangelical denominations, over half of members felt that the law should allow access to some abortions, even if they personally opposed it.
This week, after the announcement of another Supreme Court vacancy, a number of polls are showing even more widespread support for Roe v. Wade. A Kaiser Foundation poll showed 67% support for the law, including 43% of Republicans. A Quinnipiac University poll on a variety of issues showed 63% support of the ruling overall, with virtually no gender gap in the results.
So why are we Americans being held hostage to the wishes of a small minority at the extremes of our culture?
In a more perfect union, where the majority does rule, the rights of the minority should be honored. But since we don’t live in a utopian state where consensus is always possible, where does that leave us?
I never felt good about banning abortion from class discussions. But I sometimes want to do the same thing in the discussions that are taking place in the public arena. Even though the people at the extremes are in a small minority, they seem to have the loudest voices, and because they get their information from the most biased media sites, the cacophony they create takes me back to the day a single student with a loud voice held my class hostage for ten minutes.
Right now Roe v. Wade is the best we have. I was a junior in high school when that decision was made. I remember well, in the years before, the stories of girls my age who were mutilated or who died at the hands of abortion providers who took their money and destroyed their bodies.
Here is the single lesson I took away from that time: Wealthy people will take their daughters out of the state or the country to get a safe and legal abortion. Poor women or girls who are too ashamed to seek help will find a way to have an abortion, even if it may maim or kill them.
Many of the people who protest in front of abortion facilities weren’t born yet when the Supreme Court issued that decision on Roe v. Wade. A few of them weren’t even an egg in their mothers’ ovaries or a sperm in their fathers’ testicles yet because even their parents hadn’t been born.
Perhaps only when their sisters and daughters and friends die after an abortion in a dirty and dark room will they realize the folly of not having a sensible abortion law.
Jesus is being mocked and flogged in the public square this summer. His attackers, as they were 2000 years ago, are an angry mob that has been whipped into a frenzy by the leaders of the day with the full support of the nation’s leading evangelicals.
Here are just a few of the instances when Christians have acted in distinctly un-Christlike ways in recent months:
Immigration officials, acting at the behest of leaders who rationalize cruel policies by citing the Bible, ripped families apart while the evangelical leaders who advised them remained conspicuously silent.
A Walgreen’s pharmacist, citing his Christian beliefs, refusedto provide a drug for a woman who had been prescribed the drug to expel a fetus that had died inside her womb.
The leaders of a church in Sterling, Virginia advocated abuse of children and used church members’ tithes to start a “racecar ministry” and purchase a collection of expensive motorcycles and cars. They have also been accused of sexually abusing women and girls in the congregation.
Evangelical leader Paige Patterson defended his decision to advise women to endure their husbands’ abuse and to pray for them to come to God.
Religious leaders who have spent their careers decrying the state of the family and the moral decline of our nation continue to defend Roy Moore, a candidate for Congress who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including incidents involving underage girls.
The Christian leaders who have condoned these and other acts or who have remained silent in the face of such abuse, including many abuses of people of color, are no better than those who cried out for Christ to be crucified.
I had this realization when I read today’s Gospel Reading from the Daily Common Lectionary from Matthew 20: 17-28. Jesus tells his disciples that he is about to be “mocked and flogged and crucified.” Even among his followers—who have watched him serve the poor, the lame, the disenfranchised for three years—the possibility of losing him as a leader causes a scramble for power.
In the scene that follows this news, the writer of Matthew tells us that two of the disciples bring their mother to Jesus and that she kneels before him and asks that they be able to sit on either side of him in his kingdom. It is not an unreasonable request for a mother to make. If her sons risk dying for him, don’t they deserve something in return?
The other ten disciples are understandably angry when they hear what the brothers have asked. After all, all of them have sacrificed everything to follow this man. All are equally deserving of any power that comes to them as a result of his movement.
As he’s done so often in his ministry, Jesus uses this as yet another teachable moment. He points out that they are not like other leaders who have become tyrants over them. No. He reminds them, as he’s told them before, “It will not be so among you; whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”
Our nation’s founders set up a government that they thought would ensure against tyrants. But, increasingly, our leaders are acting like tyrants—lying to the people, abusing the disenfranchised, and adding riches to their own coffers.
Where is the Leader who will sacrifice and save us? One would think that Christian leaders who have a public presence would be crying out in the face of injustice. But no. They, like the chief priests and scribes in this story, have condemned what’s left of Jesus in American Christianity to be mocked and flogged in the public square.
In the wake of news about separating immigrant families at the U.S./Mexico border in recent weeks, the silence from Trump’s evangelical advisory board as children are being ripped from their parents’ arms has been deafening. Pastors have a Christian duty to hold Jeff Sessions and his boss to account, especially in the wake of Sessions’ claim that Romans 13 supports such abject cruelty.
In fairness, some conservative religious leaders are speaking out. Franklin Graham, surprisingly, said in an interview last week with the Christian Broadcasting Network, “I think it’s disgraceful; it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.” However, he rendered his criticism impotent in the next breath by saying he still supports Trump and blaming politicians of the last 20 to 30 years for creating the mess that has led to the current policy. Continue reading Separating Immigrant Families is un-Christian!→
If you’re one of my most liberal friends, you may want to stop reading now because this is one of those posts where even my fellow liberals attack me. “How can you support moderate politicians?” you ask. If you read to the end, I can see you in my head, rolling your eyes and opening your mouth to respond before you’ve given yourself even five seconds to think about what I’m saying. You may even decide not to read any more of my blog posts and wonder how I can continue to call myself a bleeding heart liberal—or even a liberal.
Five days have passed since the school shootings in Parkland, Florida—five excruciating days for the families and friends of those killed and injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
As painful has it been for those of us who are touched by the danger only from the safe distance of the news, can you imagine their pain and grief?
According to a Washington Postanalysis of Google data, if past attacks by deranged gunmen are any indication, public interest in their grief will have dropped today by about 75% of what it was the day after the tragedy. Politicians know that our memories for mass shootings are short, and they need only weather the first week until we’re no longer focused on gun control.
Of course, not everyone searches the Internet for news, but what we see in our newsfeeds on social media is also an indicator of how long such events stay on the radar screen of most Americans.
I have to admit that I sometimes have to stop watching and thinking about such horrific events, so I click on links less often as the days go on. If I don’t, my dreams are filled with the anxiety of worrying about my own loved ones. Although I retired over a year ago, this weekend I dreamed I tried to hide my students under a table, in a futile modern-day version of duck and cover, as a masked gunman with an assault rifle burst through the door, just as I awoke, my heart racing.
This time, though, watching those courageous young people at MSDHS, I can’t turn away as easily, even for my own peace of mind. In these first few days, their anger has largely silenced politicians who are usually quick to spout the NRA talking points demanded in return for the campaign money they’ve received. There’s something different about this, and we need to seize the day.
Stories speak to us, and I plan to follow those students because they are my hope for the future. I owe it to them to stay engaged.
I owe it to all our young people—to this entire generation of our nation’s children, who are learning a fear that was once limited to children in war-torn nations far away from America’s shores.
Consider this post that appeared in my newsfeed from a friend—a mom who is one of the strongest people I know, a survivor of a cancer that nearly killed her in her twenties before she could even think about having children. She believed in her future, and she worked far harder than most of us do to have a child. In a just world she should never have to worry about this:
So…I just did it. I just asked [my son] if he knew what a lock down drill was. Without much affect, he said, “It’s a drill that we have to hide in the back of the room and stay really quiet. Our teacher has to close all the blinds and lock the doors.” I responded, “Do you know why?” He then said, “Yes, in case a bad guy gets into the building and wants to kill us with a gun. He is more likely to come into our room if he can hear us and so we stay really quiet.” I bit my lip and did my best to not show my own fear. I told him that I’m glad he practices that drill, but I am so sorry that he even has to know that bad people like this exist. He then asked me if I knew if a bad guy was near his school now. I told him that there is no need to worry when there is no fact that anyone like this exists close to our home…but, the main thing is that he practices this drill and is prepared and that everyone in that school loves him and would do anything to protect him—-and that I truly believe.
Or consider this story, not someone I know but one that came to me through the friend of a friend of a friend, as social media posts often do:
My daughter came home from school one day crying that she needed new shoes. I thought that perhaps someone had made fun of her over her shoes, but no. She informed me that she realized during an active shooter drill, that if she’s hiding from the shooter, the lights on her Sketchers will give away her location. My baby is 8 years old and worrying about being shot because of her light up shoes.
Parents all over the country are having conversations they should never have to have—worrying about whether their children will be the next victims sacrificed to the idol of gun rights that demands our nation’s blood sacrifice on a regular basis.
Another friend—also a cancer survivor—had this to say about America’s voracious appetite for guns:
I don’t care about your weapon, and if it brings you joy, then enjoy it at the range or while you shoot animals. What I do care about is getting shot, and about my babies being allowed to live their lives. Military-style weapons should be reserved for the military and law enforcement. Armed societies are not safer societies. If that fact has ever been proven wrong, I’m listening. I’d like to be able to send my kids to school and see a movie with them in a crowded theater without thinking of how I would cover them. Can we start there?
Indeed. Sensible measures have been proposed, but those measures have not been allowed out of committee and have never made it to the floor of Congress for a vote. After the tragedy in Las Vegas, even the NRA came out in support of tightening restrictions on bump stocks, which the shooter used to give his weapon the high capacity of an automatic weapon.
How much have you heard about bump stocks this year?
We live in a world where the survival of a news outlet depends on how many clicks it gets from readers. Even the best news outlets must pay attention to the number of search engine hits they get, the number of times people share links to articles on social media.
In such a world, what can we do? Here are a few ideas:
Use the search feature on your favorite credible source at least once a day to find a new article on key words like “gun control,” “gun legislation,” or one of the sites of these tragedies, like “Sandy Hook Elementary” or “Las Vegas shootings.”
If you can’t bring yourself to hear another story, remember that you don’t even have to read the article. Clicking on it to open it will make it appear as part of the Google Trends.
Subscribe to the digital version of the national newspaper you find most credible, preferably one that has a long track record of being credible.
Do your best to encourage high school seniors who are disgusted by the inaction of adults to register to vote before the mid-term elections. Here’s a link to my recent blog post to help you with that.
If you’re on Twitter, tweet your encouragement to the young people at MSDHS who are marshaling support for this cause: @davidhogg111, @cameron_kasky, @Emma4Change, and @delaneytarr.
Think about attending an event in your city for the March for Our Lives, currently being organized by the survivors in Parkland and other students around the country.
We have two days to break the trend that has happened within a week of every mass shooting in recent years. If you’ve read this far, consider going back and clicking on every link in this blog post.
Remember the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Navy Yard, the Pulse nightclub, San Bernardino Inland Regional Center, Sutherlands First Baptist Church, Charleston Emanuel AME Church, and Columbine High School.
With only a few clicks from each of us, we can help ensure America won’t forget these senseless deaths. And perhaps we’ll even be protecting our own children and grandchildren from the next deranged person before he can get his hands on a high capacity gun.
If so, are you eligible to vote? If you are eligible, have you registered to vote?
If you’ve ever felt frightened or sad or angry in the wake of tragedies like the mass shooting yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, please know that you have tremendous power right at your fingertips.
I’m a liberal Democrat and a progressive Christian. Predictably, I support gay marriage, gun control, government assistance for the poor, and the protection of the promise we made to Dreamers. I enjoy sharing a meal and discussing politics and religion with those who share my views.
I have a few friends and a number of relatives who are conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians. Predictably, they support traditional marriage, gun-owners’ rights, and a work requirement for the poor who receive government assistance. Many of them do, however, support protections for Dreamers. I occasionally share a meal with these friends and relatives, but we studiously avoid discussing politics and religion and focus on what connects us.
We are most comfortable with like-minded people, and that works for most of us in our social lives.