Category Archives: Civil Rights

Tony Kronman: Black Lives Do Not In Fact Matter. 

In 2017, Yale University renamed Calhoun College (at Yale, they call dormitories “residential colleges” because … Yale) after Grace Murray Hopper, a “trailblazing computer scientist, brilliant mathematician and teacher, and dedicated public servant.”  John C. Calhoun was a prominent Yale alumnus and U.S. Senator and, of course, passionate defender of slavery as a positive good.

Yale Law professor and former dean Anthony Kronman objects, explaining that, in his view:

Hitler and Stalin would have to come off buildings, but he says “less egregious” cases like Calhoun are different.

This is literally valuing the millions of white lives lost to the Holocaust and to Stalinism more highly than the millions of black lives lost to American slavery. And by “literally,” I literally mean “literally.”

Kronman accuses those who supported renaming a Yale college (that is, a dorm) — discarding the name of a prominent supporter of slavery for the name of a pioneering female scientist — of the sort of historical revisionism practiced by the Soviet Politburo.

Kronman says that colleges and universities have a responsibility to “cultivate the capacity for enduring the moral ambiguities of life.”

What in the absolute fuck is morally ambiguous about slavery?  It is precisely this sort of academic arrogance that actively devalues and excludes students of color and prevents real intellectual discussion and evolution. It also requires a special sort of intellectual laziness to easily acknowledge other countries’ monsters while being unwilling to face up to our own.

I’m ashamed of my school’s former dean and proud of Prof. John Fabian Witt for his excellent point-by-point demolition of Prof. Kronman’s indefensible defense of the defense of slavery.

 

White People Listserv Freakout: A Template

White Person:  [Expresses demonstrably racist/sexist/ableist/transmisiast/nativist view.]

Reasoned Response:  Here is why your *ist views  are wrong.

White Person:  You just called me a *ist!  You hurt my feelings! [Optional: list of all the wonderful things I’ve done for BIPOC/disabled/female/LGBTQ* people.]

White Chorus:  You hurt White Person’s feelings!  He’s such a nice guy!  He has done so many good things for BIPOC/disabled/female/LGBTQ* people!  Two wrongs don’t make a right!  Both sides need to apologize!

White Apologist:  Reasoned Response said something negative about white people.  That’s just like saying something negative about BIPOC/disabled/female/LGBTQ*/etc people.

Reasoned Response:  No, actually, *ism is about power differentials.

Discussion Police:  We’ve been talking about this for a whole day.  It’s annoying.  A civil rights listserv is no place to discuss *ism.  Time to end the discussion.

Rinse.  Repeat.

Actions have consequences, or, how I responded to a MAGAing business associate.

Text conversation with a white guy I used to do business with:

Contractor: [discussion of potential project].  MAGA!

Me: Um, please tell me you don’t mean “MAGA.”  Srsly

Not funny.

I thought that might get a response from U.

But I have to ask:  are you a Trump supporter?

I am a supporter of the Constitution, less government
and the value of the individual.  I am not a supporter of
identity politics and victim culture.

Did you vote for Trump?  Will you vote for him in 2020?

Yes and yes

What is my alternative?

I’m sorry, I can’t work with you.  I respect your skills,
but I can’t work with someone who supports an entire
movement inimical to everything I believe in.
I appreciate your past work, but I’m afraid that’s it.

But I vote in CA, so my vote is completely wasted/futile.

Well I’m sorry to hear that.

Yeah, me too.

Signing off.

I answered your question: U didn’t answer mine.
What is my alternative?

You could do what many principled republicans do/did:  not vote.
STand up for your small government whatever,
but not vote for someone who is an admitted harasser,
who is working hard to oppress immigrants,
lgbtq people, muslims, and people with disabilities.

It’s not red vs. blue.  It’s a racist, nativist
movement that scares me for our future.

So:  actions have consequences.  Sorry.

I don’t see him that way, and that’s not what I support.

Those are his explicit policies.  He enacted a muslim ban.
He is banning trans people from serving our country.
He is turning back asylum seekers at teh border.

But thank U for answering my question.

it’s not what you may or may not see; it’s his policy.

So, yes, that is my answer.

 

Confiscating a Dynavox in the name of Christ.

Religious hospitals get a lot of press for denying healthcare to LBGTQ folks and the like, but a lesser known problem is that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act includes this language:

The provisions of [Title III] shall not apply to … religious organizations or entities controlled by religious organizations, including places of worship.  42 U.S.C. § 12187

So, yknow, churches can be as inaccessible as they want and can’t be challenged under Title III of the ADA.  Fine.  Well, not fine, but we’re stuck with it.  But religious-themed hospitals are big business, and dominate the healthcare landscape.  Then they do this — to a psychiatric patient who used a Dynavox to communicate  — and claim immunity as a religious organization:

[The patient, Linda Reed] claims that she was denied the use of her Dynavox; that hospital staff attempted to give her medication she was allergic to; that she was denied timely access to her medical records; that she was denied the use of a telephone to call her case manager (about whom the record reveals little); that she was denied access to a chaplain; and that she was physically escorted off the premises by two security guards. Notably, the hospital’s corporate representative and nursing supervisor, William Fry, testified in his deposition that the Dynavox was locked up outside Reed’s room at night and that she had access to it during the day only “as long as her behavior was appropriate.”

Reed v. Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, No. 17-1469, 2019 WL 494073, at *1 (7th Cir. Feb. 8, 2019) (emphasis added).*  Read that again:  she was only ALLOWED TO COMMUNICATE if her “behavior was appropriate,” apparently as assessed by Nurse Ratched.

 

Image: Dynavox speech generating device; similar appearance to a tablet; bottom half containing a QWERTY keyboard; top half a field showing the text being typed.

Dynavox

 

The hospital in question was Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, now named “Ascension.”  It claimed, in seeking immunity, that it “will not perform medical procedures inconsistent with Catholic ethical directives.”  Id. at *6.  So I guess denying communication access — including communication with a chaplain — is fully consistent with Ascension’s Catholic ethical directives.

The Seventh Circuit denied the claim of religious immunity, but only because the hospital forgot to plead it.  The court “express[ed] no opinion on whether … the hospital might fit within the exemption for entities controlled by religious organizations.”  Id.  That is, if its lawyers hadn’t been so sloppy, the hospital might have been able to confiscate and control the patient’s only way to communicate, and gotten away with it . . . in the name of Christ.

*******

*I wanted to write “emphasis added, motherfucker” but didn’t find that in the Blue Book.

You want a safe space? How about Yale College, 1924.

Thomas Chatterton Williams joins a long line of whiners complaining that taking basic steps to make our public and academic life more inclusive is Just. Too. Hard.  In his review, entitled “Does Our Cultural Obsession with Safety Spell the Downfall of Democracy,” he argues that it is “fraught” for marginalized people to object to the appropriation of their language or to the use of their bodies as metaphors.  He describes an allegedly new generation of college students who “are ‘obsessed with safety,’ which they define to include expansive notions of ‘emotional safety.’”  He asserts that this “safetyism culture” started when this generation “began arriving on college campuses in 2013.”  These students apparently have the audacity to want respect, to want a classroom in which their existence, freedom, and standing as citizens is not open for debate.  Oh the drama!

You want safe?  I’ll show you safe.  I’ll show you a truly fucking safe college experience — 89 years before 2013.

When it was time for my white, Christian, Southern,* formerly-wealthy-but-still-pretty-fucking-privileged, two-generations-away-from-enslaving-people grandfather to go to college, he found a very, very safe space.** In 1924 — according to a story my father often told*** — Yale College accepted the entire graduating class from Hotchkiss, my grandfather’s prep school.  Talk about safety schools!

Image: Yearbook photo of a white man with brown hair in a suit and tie. Text reads Arthur Clendenin Robertson. Age 19. Yale College. Home address: 12 Coolidge Hill Rd., Cambridge, Mass. Prepared at: Hotchkiss. Activities: Hawaiian Trio, Freshman Cabinet Dwight Hall.  What Granddaddy found when he got to Yale must have felt very safe, too. His entering class of 823 students had (::checks calculator::) zero women.  It also had:

  • one (1) Black student;
  • by my very unscientific count (*cough* lastnames *cough*) approximately 20 Jewish students;
  • one Armenian-American (again, per my unscientific analysis of the guy’s last name);
  • one Greek-American (same), and
  • one (likely) Syrian-American (same).

The “Yale Freshman Yearbook” for the Class of 1928 claimed that the class included six “foreign” students, which turned out to be six white guys who happened to be living outside the country when they were accepted at Yale, for example, Willard Tisdel Hodgsdon from Guatemala, and George Robert Carter, Jr. from Hawaii (remember the year!).  And of course a token Canadian — so diverse!  There were no students with names that appeared to be even remotely Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, etc.).

If the Yale class of 1928 was not safe enough for Granddaddy, he could always retreat to his fraternity or, if that was still too diverse, to his “secret society,”  Skull and Bones.  There, I said it.  A bunch of white guys with weird rituals whose childish need for safety, sorry secrecy, was so profound that my father warned us NEVER, EVER to so much as say the words “skull and bones” in front of my grandfather.  Guess this made our family an “emotionally safe space” for Granddaddy.

This cocoon of unisex, monoracial safety was the default setting for the American university for most of our history.  These white dudes did not have to encounter classmates with different gender, racial, cultural, or linguistic experiences.  They did not have to worry that speakers invited to campus would call their very existence a “disease” or “a disorder comparable to sociopathy” or explain that they were genetically inferior to individuals of a different race.

Sometime between 1924 and 2013, colleges began to integrate.  My guess is that, for much of that time, female and minority students were (and were expected to be) sufficiently grateful just to attend college in the first place that they did not dare or did not know how to demand a space that respected their existence.  By the time I started college in 1978, we were griping about the white male canon and marching for divestment from apartheid.  Even then, though, I don’t think we gave much thought to how welcoming we were to students of different backgrounds.

But let’s examine the whole “safety” thing from a broader perspective. White people’s need to feel safe has given us lynchings, the modern police state, and BBQ Becky.  A white woman felt emotionally unsafe in the presence of Emmett Till.**** His penalty was not cancellation of his speaking tour or criticism in the college newspaper.  It was violent death at the hands of a white mob.

Do students from marginalized backgrounds demanding respect at university “spell the downfall of democracy.”  Oh hell no.  They will help us build a democracy that is truly democratic. But I’ll edit Williams’s question and answer in the  affirmative. “Has White People’s Cultural Obsession with Safety Almost Spelled the Downfall of Democracy?”  A resounding yes.

****

* I’m not really sure how he ended up with a Cambridge, MA address.  I think I know the story, but it’s not really important.  He was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a family with deep roots in the south.

** I hate telling this story.  Granddaddy is not who I am.  Within his generation, the family fortune was lost in the Depression and he was a very deeply flawed, highly entertaining failure.  My father, also a privileged WASP, married my mother, the daughter of a middle-class Jewish family, and my public school upbringing in the DC suburbs was a far cry from Hotchkiss.  But who am I really fooling?  I went to a small liberal arts college that my aunt and uncle had also attended, and then to Yale Law School, which my father had attended.  My path, too, was plowed by white affirmative action.

*** My father often told this story because he lectured widely on employment discrimination and specifically affirmative action.  He would explain “you want affirmative action?  Let me tell you about Yale’s admissions policies in 1924.”

**** Edited.  I originally wrote, “Emmett Till made a white woman feel emotionally unsafe.”  As Anita Cameron pointed out, Mr. Till himself did nothing.  His accuser ultimately confessed that “she falsely testified he made physical and verbal threats.”

The straw ban is the white liberalest thing ever.

Image: two drinks sitting on a wooden picnic table: a beer without a straw and a margarita with a straw.The effort to ban plastic straws is everything that’s wrong with ableist white liberalism in a nutshell:

  • It’s a policy built on emotion
  • about animals
  • that solves a tiny part of an enormous problem
  • by imposing on a marginalized part of society
  • without listening to the lived experience of those folks
  • letting big corporations make bold declarations of solidarity
  • without holding accountable those and other corporations that cause the real problems.

The disability rights movement needs names for ableist dorks equivalent to “Becky” and “Chad.”  Suggestions?

Update:  I love the suggestion of “Wally” the White Ableist Liberal.  Thanks, MontanaBradley!

Dos and don’ts of building an inclusive Democratic party.

Image: photo of woman with brown skin and shoulder length brown hair in a striped shirt, facing the camera smiling.As I’ve written before, I was a very enthusiastic about Saira Rao’s campaign for Congress in Colorado’s CD-1.  She ran on a progressive, inclusive platform, and received endorsements from a wide and diverse range of people and organizations.  Her opponent — the incumbent Diana DeGette — was, IMHO, out of touch and did not really give a rat’s ass about civil rights and, in my specific experience, disability rights.

 

Rao was working hard — and successfully — to make the Democratic Party the inclusive party it needs to be to move forward.

On Tuesday, Rao lost to DeGette, but got 30% of the vote — having started six months ago with no name recognition.  It was an amazing, energetic, inspiring campaign, touching the lives of people who had given up on the Dems as a relevant force in their lives.

It would have been the perfect time for DeGette to reach out to Rao and her voters.  That’s what we so desperately need in these frightening, divisive, Trumpian times.

But no.

“It really didn’t turn out to be a very strong challenge, did it?” DeGette said in an interview Tuesday night.

Seriously?  I’m not sure DeGette could have found more alienating words if she’d stayed up late and hired Alienating Words Consultants.  This is now *not* to build an inclusive party and how — in more purple districts — how to alienate the coalition we need to win in November and in 2020.

But the good news is, Saira Rao and her supporters are not going away.  She’s starting to organize for 2020 and will keep working for progress in the meantime.  Sign up to join her and keep track of this inspiring new political force.