Students nationwide stage walkouts for stricter gun laws after last month’s deadly school shooting in Florida

Students across the country — from middle school to college — began planned walkouts Wednesday, calling on state and federal legislators to enact stricter gun laws one month after the mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Seventeen students and staff members were killed at the school in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. On Wednesday, 3,000 schools across the nation planned to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas, two walkouts took place. Citing safety concerns, student government officials and administrators urged students not to leave campus, but to walk to the football field with teachers. Some students balked at the idea of a chaperoned walkout, saying they wanted to get off campus and spread their message to the broader public.

As students made their way to the football field, past a sculpture of the school Eagle mascot, they walked hand in hand or with their arms around each other. Only a few carried placards. There were no chants. Helicopters buzzed overhead.

David Hogg, 17, one of several students at the school who’ve gained national prominence for advocating gun control, live streamed the walkout on his YouTube channel.

“We have to stand up now and take action,” Hogg said. He interviewed several of his classmates.

“This is about the need for change,” another student told Hogg.

Organized by the youth branch of the Women’s March, called Empower, the National School Walkout is urging Congress to take meaningful action on gun violence and pass federal legislation that would ban assault weapons and require universal background checks for gun sales.

In Massachusetts and Ohio, students said they would head to the statehouse to lobby for new gun regulations. In Washington, D.C., hundreds of students gathered outside the White House, holding signs and marching quietly.

In Maryland, students at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute poured out the back doors of the school and onto the football field. Many of them laid down on the football field. Hundreds of Baltimore students left school to march to City Hall, calling for an end to gun violence in schools and on the city’s streets.

In Illinois, high school students from Barrington to Plainfield to Naperville to Chicago have worked with peers and school administrators and prepared signs and speeches as part of the national movement designed to prevent mass shootings and gun violence that have devastated their schools and communities for decades.

With nearly 3,000 walkouts planned across the country — at elementary schools, high schools and universities — organizers published a “tool kit” online that offered students tips on how to organize, get support from parents and guardians and share information on social media.

Earlier this week, Robert W. Runcie, superintendent of Broward County schools in Florida, notified parents he had instructed staff not to interfere with peaceful student-led protests.

“Such occasions are teachable moments, during which students can demonstrate their 1st Amendment right to be heard,” Runcie wrote in a letter to parents. “In the event students walk out or gather, school principals and assigned staff will remain with students in a designated walkout area, so that supervision is in place.”

Over the last month, students across Florida and the nation have staged spontaneous walkouts, with some leading to disciplinary action. Two weeks after the Parkland shooting, dozens of students at Ingleside Middle School in the Phoenix area were given one-day suspensions after they walked off campus.

In Needville, Texas, 20 miles southwest of Houston, Superintendent Curtis Rhodes warned students that anyone who left class would be suspended for three days, even if they had permission from their parents.

“Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative,” Rhodes wrote in a letter to parents posted on social media. “We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved.”

On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union issued advice for students who walk out, saying schools can’t legally punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their message. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, some lawyers said they will provide free legal help to students who are punished.

In Parkland, school officials urged students not to leave campus.

“We’re just trying to protect the students,” said Jaclyn Corin, 17, the high school’s junior class president. “We’re telling everyone not to leave campus, but we can’t stop them.”

Hogg said he worried students would be “a group of soft targets” if they left campus.

Yet some students balked at the idea of a chaperoned walkout, saying they wanted to get off campus and spread their message to the broader public.

When the first bell rang Wednesday at the high school, Susana Matta Valdivieso was not sitting in Spanish class. Instead, the 17-year-old junior was hauling a stack of handwritten placards across a community park in the hope that her classmates would eventually come outside and join her.

“I’m nervous and excited because I’ve never spoken in front of a crowd of people before,” Valdivieso said with laughter as she leafed through the speech she had typed up the night before.

While student government leaders and administrators were urging Parkland students to remain on campus and walk with teachers to the school football field, Valdivieso was hoping to coax students off school grounds to take part in a public rally at the nearby North Community Park.

“This is a student-led movement,” Valdivieso said after dispatching two close friends into the school with a plan to lead their classmates outside. “We want to communicate our message to the press and the public.”

In Florida, the Parkland students’ protests in recent weeks have seen some results.

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott, in a rebuke of the National Rifle Assn., signed into law a measure that, among other things, raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 and bans the sale or possession of “bump stocks,” which allow semiautomatic rifles to mimic machine guns.

The walkouts on Wednesday are among several protests planned for coming weeks. The March for Our Lives rally for school safety is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital on March 24, its organizers said. And another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

By Jenny Jarvie and Kurtis Lee/LaTimes


posted by The NON-Conformist


Austin police search for bombing motive, say explosives made with ‘skill and sophistication’

Police and federal investigators continued searching Tuesday for answers about a string of packages that have exploded at homes in Austin this month, killing two people, seriously injuring two others and unnerving the city at a time when it is flooded with visitors for the South by Southwest Festival.

While police have not provided specific details about the explosive devices, they have said the three packages that detonated at three homes several miles apart over an 11-day span appear to be related — and the work of a person or people who know what they are doing.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Tuesday that “the suspect or suspects that are building these devices” have been able to construct and deliver deadly bombs without setting them off at any point.

“When the victims have picked these packages up, they have at that point exploded,” Manley said on KXAN, an Austin television station. “There’s a certain level of skill and sophistication that whoever is doing this has.”

Precisely what motivated the attacks remained a mystery Tuesday, though officials have said they do not believe there is any connection between the bombings and the festival. Officials have urged people to use caution, telling them to call 911 if they see a potentially suspicious or unexpected package, with Manley saying that police had responded to more than 150 such calls between Monday morning and Tuesday morning.

Authorities said they were looking into whether the bombings could have been a hate crime, noting that the two people who were killed — an adult man and a teenage boy — were both black, while an elderly woman seriously injured Monday is Hispanic.

Police were also looking into connections between the victims themselves. The two victims who were killed were both related to prominent members of Austin’s African American community, and they have relatives who are close, leading families to wonder whether these connections played some role.

“Are you trying to say something to prominent African American families?” said Freddie Dixon, stepfather of Anthony Stephan House, the 39-year-old killed in the first explosion on March 2. “I don’t know who they’ve been targeting, but for sure, they went and got one of my best friend’s grandson. Somebody knew the connection.”

Dixon said he is good friends with Norman Mason, whose grandson was the teenager killed in the explosion early Monday morning. The teenager has not been formally identified by police, though they say that could come Tuesday. Mason’s wife, LaVonne, confirmed that her grandson was the 17-year-old victim but declined to comment further.

Manley, asked on television Tuesday morning about the ties between the two victims who were killed, said police were “going to look into … if there is any connection there that would be relevant to the investigation.”

Dixon said he used to be the pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church, which the Masons attend, and he and Norman Mason were longtime friends and fraternity brothers. Dixon said he spoke with Norman Mason on Monday, describing him as understandably distraught.

“It’s not just coincidental,” Dixon said. “Somebody’s done their homework on both of us, and they knew what they were doing.”

Dixon said while he knew of no one who bore a grudge against his stepson, he could not help but think about his and Mason’s family ties and their prominence in Austin’s African American community.

“My diagnosis: Number one, I think it’s a hate crime. Number two, somebody’s got some kind of vendetta here,” he said, remarking of the third victim, a Hispanic woman who he said he did not know: “Is she a diversion to throw this off, and lead to something else?”

Manley said police continue searching to see if there is any ideology that could have motivated the attack. He also said authorities remain uncertain whether the people hurt or killed were the specific targets of the attacks.

🚨If you receive a package that you are not expecting or looks suspicious, DO NOT open it, call 911 immediately. RT- Help us spread this message. 🚨

— Chief Brian Manley (@chief_manley) March 12, 2018

Authorities had initially said the first blast — a March 2 explosion that killed House — was “suspicious” but likely “an isolated incident” that posed no ongoing danger to the community.

The explosion “sounded like a cannon,” said Kenneth Thompson Sr., who lives across the street from the house where the first explosion occurred.

The police narrative of an isolated explosion suddenly shifted Monday when a pair of blasts went off. The first explosion early Monday morning killed the teenager and seriously injured an adult woman. Later in the morning, investigators at that scene had to rush miles away to respond to the second explosion, which seriously injured a woman identified by her relatives as Esperanza Herrera.

Authorities work on the scene of one of the Austin explosions. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman/AP)

Police soon said they believed all three attacks were related because of evidence recovered at all three scenes. Rianne Philips, who lives next door to House, said she was alarmed to hear about the bombings Monday but relieved it meant police would be more focused on House’s death.

“They’re not going to let this slide,” Philips said. “It’s really sad, but this means there’s a lot of attention on this now.”

Manley on Tuesday said that authorities believing the first blast was isolated “didn’t slow anything down” in the investigation, stressing that House’s death was still being investigated by Austin police and federal officials alike. After that explosion, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent a team to help process the scene.

ATF’s involvement ramped up Monday with the second and third explosions. The agency said it was sending members of its National Response Team (NRT) to help with the investigation. That group is activated for particularly large-scale or complicated fires and explosions, including the West, Tex., plant fire in 2013 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said his office is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible for the “atrocious attacks.”

by Mark Berman and Matt Zapotosky/WAPO

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Veganism Is Being Redefined in Black Communities More people are connecting the health implications of a vegan diet with the struggle against race-based oppression.

Food is a key part of any culture. Take the USA: Could there be a more potent symbol of all things Americana than BBQ? For many, to go against this national pastime amounts to a form of treason. Which is why it should cause little surprise to learn that a new culture has begun to take root among African Americans: veganism.

In years past, this dietary decision was largely associated with being, like, super white. In part, this could be due to the fact that avoiding all animal products is seen as a bourgeois indulgence, enjoyed by the sorts of people who like to proclaim that “All Lives Matter.” That perception is starting to shift.

“The black vegan movement is one of the most diverse, decolonial, complex and creative movements,” said Aph Ko, founder of the website Black Vegans Rock, in a recent New York Times article. And Ko should know. Back in 2015, she compiled a list of “100 Black Vegans” to highlight the fact that veganism is more than just an animal welfare-based lifestyle choice. Listed among Ko’s cohorts are a diverse group of individuals such as civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, neo-soul superstar Erykah Badu, the Williams sisters, and comedian Dick Gregory.

The Times listed a number of other notable vegans: Kyrie Irving from the Boston Celtics is just one of a number of professional basketball players to stop eating meat, prompting Kip Andersen (director of the documentary “What the Health”) to proclaim in an article for the Bleacher Report that the NBA should be renamed the National Vegan Association.

Animals and race

A number of factors account for this growing trend. The Times’ Kim Severson notes that the Black Lives Matter movement and “What the Health” have helped expand veganism to “connect personal health, animal welfare and social justice with the fight for racial equality.”

“I always assumed ‘Black veganism’ was just white veganism experienced and perpetrated by black people, and not a framework to analyze various oppressions,” writes Sincere Kirabo on BlackYouthProject. But after reading a book Ko published with her sister Syl last year, Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters, Kirabo reconsidered this point of view. “Now I’m rethinking the entire way the defining biases of our society create dehumanizing standards that not only impact me as a Black person,” he writes, “but also extend to animals, inform our food options, and empower the anti-Black food industry.”

What is the “anti-black food industry”? How can a diet be decolonial? Time for a quick history lesson. A core element of both slavery and colonialism was the promotion of an ideology that dehumanized black people. When Aph and Syl Ko describe veganism as a form of liberation, explains Kirabo, they are talking “less about meat consumption and more about the necessity of re-framing racism to include the relationship between anti-Blackness and anti-animal sentiment as codified into the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

This is not a new line of thinking. Anti-colonial writers like Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire first drew the connection between the colonial construct that disadvantaged certain humans and non-human animals alike. By understanding this historical context, the connection between racial oppression and our carnivorous culture begins to make more sense.

This might be a cognitive leap for some, but consider the fact that both racism and meat-eating are motivated by a sense of superiority. As such, Kirabo writes, describing the Ko sisters’ logic, “animality is a Eurocentric concept that has contributed to the oppression of any group that deviates from the white supremacist ideal of being—white Homo sapiens.”

A means to an end

Another way to understand this logic is through the simple facts of health. A 2012 analysis of national meat consumption showed that according to averages delineated by race, African Americans were overall the largest consumers of meat in America. This figure is no coincidence. As Nzinga Young points out in the Huffington Post, due to centuries of entrenched systemic poverty, black Americans have had to adapt to “making do” with what they have. In practice, this has translated, Young continues, into “eating everything from common staples like chicken and fish to chitlins, pigs’ feet, and other discarded animal parts our ancestors ate in desperation.”

In other words, meat-eating became an essential part of survival. Ironically, much of the foods that form part of this culture are centered around unhealthy eating habits. In her article, “How Black Veganism Is Revolutionary and Essential for Our Culture,” Danni Roseman explains how this situation has arisen from the fact “that the unhealthiest of foods were the cheapest and most easily available to low-income, black and brown families.” The existence of food deserts, which are predominant in poorer communities, have also contributed toward these unhealthy eating habits. As a result, a number of diet-related diseases have become endemic to the culture.

“Food is political,” writes Roseman, adding how these unhealthy eating habits have led to a rise in “illnesses that kill black people at astounding rates.” Roseman cites information provided by the CDC, which shows that “over 40% of black men over [the age of] 20 have hypertension and 44% of black women.” That’s not to mention that two of the three leading causes of death in this community are strokes and heart disease.

“It’s not just about, I want to eat well so I can live long and be skinny,” said vegan-friendly chef Jenné Claiborne in an interview with the Times. “For a lot of black people, it’s also the social justice and food access. The food we have been eating for decades and decades has been killing us.”

In order to counter this trend, Claiborne has become a specialist in vegan-friendly soul food. In her new book, Sweet Potato Soul, Claiborne combines the traditions of Southern cooking with recipes from West Africa and the Caribbean. The book is the latest in a series of similar titles joining restaurants around the country that have helped bring about the rise in black vegan culture.

(Other popular books that are part of this endeavor include Amie Breeze Harper’s anthology, Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society; Tracye McQuirter’s By Any Greens Necessary: A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Look Phat; and the Afro-Vegan cookbook.)

Diet as resistance

As Roseman points out, “if you’re dead, or perpetually functionally ill, you cannot march, you cannot protest, you cannot protect your family or yourself.” Framed in this light, a growing number of people are starting to connect the health implications of a plant-based diet with the ongoing struggle against race-based oppression.

For Kirabo, this goes beyond “people planting gardens and advocating for animal rights.” He argues that veganism is a “sociopolitical movement that renounces white-centered definitions of the world” and through that process “re-examines social norms imposed on us and calls out politics many of us take for granted.”

In other words, choosing not to eat animal products is a way of asserting a form of independence. “[We] take back control of [our] own diet in a system in which [we] are not in control of many of the things that we purchase,” performance artist and activist Jay Brave said in an interview with the BBC.

In the Times article, Zachary Toliver, a PETA columnist who appeared on Ko’s original list of black vegans, said, “I no longer feel like an endangered species out here.” Instead, Toliver and the growing community he represents are redefining what it means to be black and vegan. In the process, this movement is reframing the way society understands our relationships to animals, food and each other.

By Robin Scher/AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist


4 of the Biggest Myths About the Gender Pay Gap At this rate, the pay gap will not close for 200 years.

The existence of the gender pay gap is a well-documented fact. Respected institutions from the Pew Research Center to the Senate Joint Economic Committee confirm that American women make about 77 cents to the average man’s dollar. For women of color, the disparity is even steeper. Yet conservatives and anti-feminists insist the research is flawed or that it ignores social factors separating men and women. At the current rate at which women’s pay is improving, the World Economic Forum says it will take 200 years to close the gender pay gap worldwide.
This makes it more urgent than ever that we debunk myths about the falsity of the gender pay gap. Here are four of the most common.

1. Myth: Women choose lower-paying work.

Anti-feminists and academic contrarians like to make the case that women are to blame for receiving lower pay because they freely choose lower-paying work. Breitbart likes to push this idea to appease its feminist-hating audience, with headlines like “Data Reveals Women Overwhelmingly Choose Lower-Paying College Majors.” In fact, studies have shown that many women avoid careers in finance and technology that typically pay more because they’ve been socialized to believe that women can’t excel in the sciences or because they lack female role models in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Some women even choose majority-female fields to avoid discrimination and sexual harassment in male-dominated workplaces, which the #MeToo movement has shown us still runs rampant.

Christina Hoff Sommers, a controversial scholar and critic of feminism (whom the Southern Poverty Law Center called out earlier this month for emboldening and legitimizing men’s rights groups) advocated this very argument in 2016 for Time. Feminists, in her view, falsely claim that:

“women’s tendency to retreat from the workplace to raise children or to enter fields like early childhood education and psychology, rather than better paying professions like petroleum engineering, is evidence of continued social coercion. Here is the problem: American women are among the best informed and most self-determining human beings in the world. To say that they are manipulated into their life choices by forces beyond their control is divorced from reality and demeaning, to boot.”

Sommers refers to the well-established fact that even today, women still enter lower-paying fields, as a recent Glassdoor study shows that college majors that lead to lower-paying careers are female-dominated, while those that have more male students, like engineering, lead to high-paying jobs. According to Sommers’ line of thought, a woman should choose engineering over nursing, since she could make more money in that career path. She worries about “self-determination,” but doesn’t it limit a woman’s autonomy to suggest she choose a job path just because it is higher-paying, rather than one she is more passionate about? A better solution, many feminists have argued in response, would be to pay nurses, teachers and other largely female workers more money, rather than pressure more women to opt into certain careers just because they pay more.

Women don’t choose certain jobs because they pay less. On the contrary, historical trends show that as more women entered previously male-dominated fields, average salaries dropped in those jobs. As the Harvard Business Review explains, that’s because the jobs became less prestigious as they became female-d


“Researchers have found that the pay gap is not as simple as women being pushed into lower-paying jobs. In effect, it is the other way around: Certain jobs pay less because women take them. Wages in biology and design were higher when the fields were predominantly male; as more women became biologists and designers, pay dropped. The opposite happened in computing, where early programmers were female. Today, that field is one of the most predominantly male — and one of the highest paying.”

Sommers’ argument is also white-centric, ignoring the fact that poor women of color often do not have the same information or access to options that white women do. It is not “demeaning,” as she says, to assert that such women’s career choices are limited by their circumstances. It’s just the reality of American poverty.

2. Myth: Women choose to work fewer hours and select more part-time work than men do.

This argument has appeared in mainstream outlets such as Forbes, but it only tells part of the story of women’s employment in the U.S.

While it’s true that 31 percent of women work part-time compared to 18 percent of men, this can be largely attributed to the fact that the U.S. still lacks federally mandated family leave, unlike countries like Canada, Germany and the U.K. Without this job protection or flexibility, many women must choose part-time work over full-time. In many households, men are able to earn higher salaries than women, so lots of couples still choose to have the woman remain at home with the children while men go to work. According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, “more than half of the respondents thought children were better off if the mother stayed home” while “34 percent believed they’d be as well off if she worked. Only 8 percent said they’d be better off if the father stayed home.” This commonly held belief isn’t based in fact—stay-at-home-dads can raise kids just as successfully as stay-at-home-moms. In many families, these parenting gender biases and financial factors mean that women still sacrifice their careers to raise children.

3. Myth: Women choose jobs with flexibility over high pay so they can care for families.

Heejung Chung, a sociologist at the University of Kent who studies gender pay gap myths, investigated this subject last year. She found that, despite the popularity of telecommuting and remote work, this myth does not reflect the reality of most workplaces in 2018. The jobs women generally choose often do not provide the flexibility some economists think they prioritize over higher pay. Chung writes in Slate: “working in female-dominated workplaces such as care work, primary education, or places where the work tends to be largely clerical meant you were only half as likely to have access to flexitime compared to other workplaces.”

4. Myth: More women are getting college degrees than men, so the gap will close on its own.

Not true. As explained above, existing sexist social pressures will mean that women will continue to choose college majors that lead to lower-paying jobs. As the Washington Post explains, though the pay gap between younger and more educated men and women is narrower than for older Americans, male college graduates in their 20s still earn more than women the same age.

Credit: The Washington Post

Just because women today have more autonomy in decision-making when it comes to their careers than previous generations doesn’t mean we’ve finished our work in evening out the playing field. As long as male-dominated careers are seen as more prestigious; as long as girls are not encouraged to pursue higher-paying fields early on in life; and as long as working full-time as a mom continues to be a taboo, women will continue to wind up in jobs that pay less.

By Liz Posner/AlterNet

Posted by the NON-Conformist


What the Koch Brothers Want Students to Learn About Slavery The history-teaching wing of the Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery

Given that the billionaire Charles Koch has poured millions of dollars into eliminating the minimum wage and paid sick leave for workers, and that in 2015 he had the gall to compare his ultra-conservative mission to the anti-slavery movement, he’s probably the last person you’d want educating young people about slavery.

Yet the history-teaching wing of the Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. The political goal of these materials is to ensure students see racism and slavery as flaws in an otherwise spotless U.S. record, rather than woven into the fabric of our country from its inception.

The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) is the education arm of the network of front groups the Koch brothers use to promote their far-right ideology. Maureen Costello, the education director from Teaching Tolerance, has pointed out the many factual inaccuracies in the “Homework Help” video the BRI has recently promoted to teach students about slavery. She concludes that the history presented is “superficial, drained of humanity, and neglects to reckon with the economic and social reality of what opponents called ‘the slave power.’”

A dive into their “Documents of Freedom” readings reveals an even more disturbing agenda. The BRI bills the “Documents of Freedom” as a “modern take on the traditional textbook” — a “completely free digital course on history, government, and economics” authored by unnamed “teachers.” It’s essentially an online textbook that aims to promote a particular version of history, government, and economics that aligns with the interests of the Kochs.

The main “Documents of Freedom” reading on slavery, titled “Slavery and the Constitution,” is essentially a defense of the founding fathers and the Constitution against “some scholars” who “portray the founding fathers as racists.” The reading cherry-picks quotes from “the Founders” to argue that they believed slavery was morally wrong. Although the authors write that “most of the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution own[ed] slaves,” they steer clear of the brutal reality of chattel slavery.

They paint Thomas Jefferson as an anti-slavery crusader who “attacked the slave trade in harsh language” and “included African Americans in the universal understanding of the promise of liberty and equality.” But the Kochs’ curriculum fails to mention that Jefferson wrote Black people were “inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” Jefferson kept nearly 200 people in bondage, and even in his death emancipated only five. He regularly sold human beings away from their families to raise money to buy wine, art, and luxuries that only wealthy planters could afford. Nothing in the BRI reading acknowledges any contradiction between “the Founders’” awareness of “the immorality of slavery and the need for action” and their actual actions defending and protecting slavery.

Furthermore, the reading justifies the so-called three-fifths compromise — whereby an enslaved person was counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of congressional representation — by arguing “the Founders” had to make a “prudential compromise with slavery because they sought to achieve their highest goal of a stronger Union of republican self-government. Since some slaveholding delegations threatened to walk out. . .” Not only is this type of “compromise” immoral, but the problem with this logic is that the “slaveholding delegations” that threatened to walk out were themselves “Founders” who played an important role in crafting the Constitution.

In addition to selectively quoting the founders, the authors use quotations from Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln to bolster their argument that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document. It ignores that most politicians, including Lincoln, believed that the Constitution protected slavery where it existed. It also ignores the very large wing of the abolitionist movement, whose most prominent figure was William Lloyd Garrison, that viewed the Constitution as a “devil’s pact,” one “dripping with blood.” Douglass himself was part of that wing of the movement until he broke with Garrison in the 1850s, when he became convinced that framing the Constitution as an anti-slavery document could be a useful tool in the struggle to end slavery.

The reading also ignores how central slavery was to the economic growth of the United States, with phrases like “the number of slaves steadily grew through natural increase.” Natural? There was nothing natural about the expansion of slavery. Slavery expanded because it was profitable. The authors seek to divorce the expansion of slavery from the economic design of the capitalist cotton empire and from the horrific practice of breeding, which became a large source of revenue, especially for Virginia slaveholders.

What is most egregious is what the reading leaves out. Even today’s corporate textbooks will include a paragraph or two that attempt to provide the perspective of enslaved people. However, this reading concludes by arguing there was a steady “rise of freedom” after the Constitution because “the new nation was mostly bent on expanding liberty and equality.” The only way the Koch brothers’ Bill of Rights Institute can draw this conclusion is by completely ignoring the perspective of those whose land and labor were violently stolen by the wealthy U.S. elite.

As if that reading wasn’t bad enough, the follow-up reading, titled “Civil War and Reconstruction,” is a long, boring account that almost exclusively focuses on the battles between Radical Republicans in Congress, who the authors claim wanted to “punish the South,” and Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, who favored more “moderate” reconstruction plans. It might be the first reading I’ve ever looked at on Reconstruction that makes almost no mention of what Black people were doing during the era and barely discusses anything happening in the South.

Only in a pro-KKK film like Birth of a Nation and in the Koch brothers’ curriculum is Reconstruction reduced to a punishment for white Southerners. Let’s look at Reconstruction from the standpoint of those who were freed from more than 200 years of enslavement. It was a time when the formerly enslaved became congressmen; when the Black-majority South Carolina legislature taxed the rich to pay for public schools; when experiments in Black self-rule in the Georgia Sea Islands led to land reform, new schools, and a vital local governance. During Reconstruction Blacks and poor whites organized Union Leagues, and led strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, and educational campaigns. During this period other social movements, especially labor and feminist movements, were inspired by the actions of African Americans to secure and define their own freedom.

As the late historian Lerone Bennett Jr. wrote: “It had never happened before, and it has never happened since, in America.” During Reconstruction, “the poor, the downtrodden, and the disinherited present[ed] their bills at the bar of history.” Of course, today’s elites like the Kochs have no interest in students learning this radical history. In the Kochs’ history, the only mention of Black people’s actions comes in one sentence at the end of the reading that papers over the massive accomplishments of the era: “Although African Americans soon made up the majority of voters in some southern states and even elected some black representatives to Congress, the right to vote was curtailed by southern states through several legal devices. . .”

Tellingly, the Koch authors finish off this reading with a quote from James Madison about the “Tyranny of Majorities.” The authors claim that Jim Crow was an example of when “African Americans in the post-Civil War South discovered firsthand the dangers of majority tyranny in a republic.” That’s the main lesson the Bill of Rights Institute wants students to draw from the Civil War and Reconstruction: You can’t trust the masses, so leave politics to elites like the Koch brothers. Of course, the inconvenient truth is that when one actually focuses on the South during Reconstruction, we see an era where poor white and Black people took political power away from elites. It’s this history that the Koch brothers don’t want students to learn.

By Adam Sanchez / Zinn Education Project

Posted by The NON-Conformist


Black People Are the Most Religious People In America, But What Are They Getting Out Of It?

African-Americans are the most religious group in the United States, but what are they getting in return?

According to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of African-Americans identify as Christian, as opposed to 70 percent of whites and 77 percent of Latinos. A majority of Black people belong to historically Black protestant churches, which trace their origins to the late 18th century. Smaller numbers of African Americans are evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants and Muslims. The largest Black churches include the National Baptist Convention USA, Church of God in Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Association Inc.

Pew found that more African-Americans believe in God — 83 percent — than whites and Latinos — 61 percent and 59 percent, respectively. More Black people say religion is very important in their lives — 75 percent versus 49 percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics. However, the number of religiously unaffiliated African-Americans is on the increase, and older Black people are more likely to be a part of historically Black Protestant congregations than younger people. These data on African-Americans and religiosity reflect a religious survey Pew conducted a decade ago.

The phenomenon is not limited to Black people in America, as Black people in general tend to be the most devout Christians, and Christianity is the most popular religion among the poor, formerly colonized people in Africa. On the continent, 55 percent of people are Christian, as opposed to 9 percent in 1910.

These statistics on Black religious enthusiasm come amid reports of a Black exodus by those, especially young people, who seek traditional African spirituality, or perhaps are disenchanted with the hypocrisy and sanctimony of Christian evangelicals, and view Christianity as a ”white man’s religion” that will not speak out against institutional racism and is stalling Black liberation. While Black young people and millennials are leaving a “stale, stagnant church” that has not grown with them and has shown hostility towards their movements, as D. Danyelle Thomas, founder and content creator of Unfit Christian wrote last year, this begs the question: What of the many people in the Black community, those who face the greatest challenges in society and continue to be so religious?

Black people generally did not arrive in America as Christians, as most were followers of indigenous traditional faiths and 10 to 15 percent were believers in Islam. Christianity was the religion of the slave master and of white supremacy. And yet, Christianity was the faith of Nat Turner and John Brown, of abolition. Faith has been an important part of Black life for centuries, for people who turned to the Bible for hope and inspiration and created their own form of worship.

Dr. Eboni Marshall-Turman, assistant professor of Theology and African American Religion at Yale Divinity School, is highly critical of the Black church. However, she also readily points out the significance of the Black church and its role in the community. “If we take the premise that African-Americans are the most religious people in America, what are they getting in return presupposes certain kinds of materiality which are at stake for Black people of faith. But I think more integral to a Black Christian project is hope,” Dr. Marshall-Turman, a Christian theologian who served for ten years as assistant minister of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, told Atlanta Black Star. She added that religion historically has oriented Black people to the world, “especially to a world in the U.S. that has denigrated Black life,” and has provided a “breathing space for Black people to survive and thrive” and “think about one’s own life and future outside white hegemony.”

“There is a material aspect beyond the project of hope and possibility that is part of the tradition the church. It is often one of the first places we go and the last place we find ourselves,” Marshall-Turman offered. “We will die, and a person of faith will stand over us and say final words. Whether we see ourselves related to the Black church in terms of membership, there is the lifespan in terms of our community; the Black church bookends from the blessing of babies to the funeralizing of the dead.”

There are tangible ways in which the Black church participates in the life of the Black community, the Black theologian notes. “Black churches feed the hungry, they support the homeless. They support those who may not have the basic necessities of life. They show up at court to support members of our community who have been unjustly incarcerated and find themselves in the throes if the criminal justice system,” she said. “They advocate in terms of basic necessities, housing, jobs, equal-pay services in the communities, very foundational basic matters of one’s right to life,” Marshall-Turman added, noting Black churches and mosques that go beyond offering hope and are “showing up” and serving people outside of their congregation, and handing out food on a regular basis.

D. Danyelle Thomas has a different take on the Black church and why people remain. “I would venture to say that most remain in relationship with the church because of both fear and familiarity. Even those with only a tangential relationship to church/faith, the fear of hellfire and brimstone as an alternative is enough to keep us captive,” Thomas told Atlanta Black Star, noting that hellfire, which she removed from her own theology, is not the dominant philosophy for most Black churches. “There’s also the facet of familiarity, as Black churches are more than places of worship, they offer community within community for us. Some of us still do church because it’s what we’ve always done. Like fear, familiarity has a stronghold on Black folks’ relationship with faith because interrogating the ‘why’ behind our actions isn’t always easy,” she added.

There is no monolithic Black church, and some African-Americans congregations have a long legacy or a present-day track record of fighting for social and racial justice. Black churches have fought on the front lines in resisting racism through slavery and the civil rights movement, and the AME Church was founded in resistance to slavery. A center of community life, the Black church often has been the target of Klan violence and white domestic terror, whether the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, or the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. However, Black religious institutions have also pacified the Black struggle. As beloved as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are in the Black community, not everyone was with them and what they espoused when they were alive. Some Black churches have internalized white supremacy and have been accused of exploiting their congregations, and in the case of prosperity gospel, have appropriated white notions of capitalism for Black religious spaces.

Prosperity theology is alive and well, Thomas says. “The thing is, we all know we live in a system of capitalism that uses the tools of racism, sexism, classism, and the like to further hegemony. In my experience, I’ve found that the Black church is but a microcosm of the society at large. This is historically not the case, of course, as we know that the Black church was the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement and that faith has sustained our ancestors and living elders,” she said. “Logically, we understand that money answers all things so I don’t think people expect churches to operate for free. But, like with music and sports, churches have proved to be a fast-track to financial success with the right sales pitch — and that has, in my observation, elevated the visibility of Prosperity Theology or, as I call it, the business of church,” Thomas added.

According to Thomas, the pitch of prosperity theology is that an endless supply of wealth will be available to those who believe strongly enough. “There’s a bible verse that we’ve gleaned the idea that ‘only what you do for Christ will last’ (II Corinthians 5:9-10), and when you couple that with verses like Luke 6:38 (“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back”), the formula of spiritual gaslighting writes itself. And many folks decide to stay because they’ve been stripped of critical analysis in Jesus’ name,” she said.

Many people, including Black people, are in a relationship of spiritual gaslighting with their churches, Thomas argues, which lays the foundation for why many remain in churches that are not empowering or growing them. “Spiritual gaslighting is feeling like you’re crazy or bad, being taught the inability to trust your own judgment, constantly apologizing, insane levels of guilt and a need to constantly justify your normal, everyday decisions to an implacable and hyper-critical external authority,” she noted, adding that this does not mean the church is inherently abusive, but rather that certain normalized aspects of church culture are at play. “Your reason, conscience, will, emotions, culture, and even your personal relationship with God are all continually under attack by demonic forces that are seeking to deceive you. Therefore, you should be automatically suspicious of anything that comes from either yourself or from a source outside of the ideological bubble,” Thomas said.

“Those of us who stay or, at least, keep a tenuous-at-best relationship with the church WHILE transforming our theology do so because we understand the importance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We also stay because we believe in the possibility of building the new community that reflects our hopes,” Thomas said, while acknowledging that some people are fortunate to be in fellowship with ministries that focus on inclusion, mental health, social justice and other pressing concerns. “The latter, creating forward-looking fellowships, is the driver behind my work with Unfit Christian. My goal is to remove all things that restrict corporate access to God, including all the negative -isms and deafening silence on sociopolitical issues.”

“I think nothing is beyond critique. Black churches are not God. They are institutions built by human hands,” Marshall-Turnan believes. “if we want to strengthen the church and pursue the church as relevant to the Black community, we have to continually critique the church. I bet those who critique the church love the church, and believe in its transformative potential,” she said, noting the institution is historically sexist, homophobic, and transphobic, marginalizes young people and engages in economic fragmentation, which explain why young people are leaving the Black church.

“I’m not really concerned about the studies that show the increase in ‘nones,’ or that Black people are leaving the church. I feel the work of Antony Pinn is so resonant,” Marshall-Turman said of the Black atheist humanist scholar at Rice University who refutes the claim that all African-Americans are theists. “The narrative we’ve been hyper-religious people is not true, and when you think about the secular movements within the spectrum of the movement for Black freedom, it is obvious that every Black movement did not start in the church. So, it is not true that everybody has been in the church,” she noted, rejecting the alarmist argument about people leaving the Black church, and adding that with mobility and other societal factors, the concept of church itself is transforming.

“As a theological educator, I see the next generation every day. I see them coming with rigorous critiques of Black churches and also deep commitment to Black churches. … I also see young Black budding theologians who are imagining new ways of doing church, and I think the Black church as a rhetorical indicator is big enough to hold all of that. So I am not too worried about that. As an older millennial, I am not worried if the church will be here tomorrow,” she added, believing it will be in the hands of Black people such as these.

“The Black church has so much great potential to do transformational work. As it relates to everyday folks living in proximity to the church. Black churches matter,” Marshall-Turman concluded. “They just do, and they’re still held in high esteem behind this spirituality.”

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

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