Monthly Archives: April 2014

Exclusion in the News — Articles from April 2014

Last week there were a few stories in the New York Times, seemingly independently written and unrelated to one another.  The first concerned the Supreme Court backing the Michigan ban on race as a factor in college entry.  The second was a long piece on why the U.S. middle class is no longer the world’s richest.  The third was the Nepali Sherpas move to shut down Mt. Everest in an attempt to get better working conditions.   These were all on Wednesday 23 April 2014.   Later in the week, there was a story of two girls who bullied, degraded, and almost killed an autistic boy in their school.  Finally, Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team was caught making some overtly racist remarks.  This is most curious as he made them to a close woman friend who is reported to be of Hispanic and African American heritage and almost every player on the Clippers is black.  

What do these stories have in common, if anything?  Or am I force fitting them into some ideological position?  To my mind, it has to do with our notion of political inclusion and exclusion.  

Proponents of the Michigan ban on affirmative action argue that it gives race based preference to some, thus denying others some sort of due process.  The majority opinion seemed to uphold the notion that if the citizens of Michigan voted for this ban, then the Supreme Court had no authority to overturn it.  To my simple, non-legally trained mind, this sounds very much like those who argue that the Confederate States of America was about states’ rights, i.e. the right of the good citizens to enslave the black population for economic gain and perpetuation of the belief still held by some that white people are superior to black, brown, and yellow people and that they have some God given right to a superior position.   If this is clearly about exclusion of some from the political process, just as the wave of new voter laws uses a phony rubric of  non-existent voter fraud to deny the ballot to mostly minority voters.

The story on the decline of the American Middle class was a long piece that detailed the growing disparity in incomes in the US.  Much of this is due to the very long recession and the movement of good paying manufacturing jobs to lower wage countries, primarily China.  Go into a hardware store these day and see what is made in this country and what is made in China.  The Bush era tax cuts also play into this.  They basically shifted income and wealth into the pockets of the highest earners in the county, excluding those in the middle and the bottom of the economic pile.  

The bullying of the autistic teenage boy by two girls is hardly a new story, but the Washington Post report this week  from St. Mary’s County Maryland was particularly disturbing.  It is alleged that the girls almost drowned him in a local pond, encouraged him to perform sex acts with animals, and held a kitchen knife to his throat.  Autistic children interact differently than their peers, but there’s no excuse for excluding the boy from the set of people that we treat decently.

Donald Sterling wanted to exclude blacks from sitting with his woman friend.  He also paid a large fine for attempting to exclude blacks and Latinos from his apartments in Los Angeles, preferring white and Asian tenants.  

But wait, there’s more.  Some Christians want to exclude non-Christians from heaven citing the bible as proof.  Some Muslims want to exclude non-Muslims from the political process because they’re infidels.  Some Jews, believing they’re the Chosen People, want to wall off their ghettos to exclude their non-Jewish neighbors from getting in.  Please excuse if I’ve excluded other religious groups from this article.  





Blame Game, Name Game, Yfems …

13 April 2014

The Blame Game, in addition to being the name of a popular song, is an expression that means finding someone/something to blame when things go badly.  While the term is new, the action is eons old.   It’s not just used to refer to individuals or a small group, but entire social groups, usually ethnic groups other than one’s own that can be used as scapegoats for all and any causes.   “Die Juden sind unser Ungluck.”, German for “the Jews are our misfortune.”, appeared at the bottom on the front page of Der Steurmer, the Nazi weekly newspaper.    But blaming others is certainly not limited to the Nazis.  It seems to appear in most cultures and frequently works on stereotypes of ethnic minority groups.   Witness Irish jokes, Polish jokes, East Frisian jokes, Newfie jokes, all of which are pretty much the same, with one ethnic group’s name replacing the other.

Years ago, my friend Harry came up with Yfem jokes.  They are no more than the standard ethnic jokes, but instead of being told about Irish, Poles, etc. they’re told about Yfems, an acronym for Your Favorite Ethnic Minority.  The nice thing about Yfem jokes is that one can tell them and not be accused of bigotry or bias against any one particular group.  And, to my shame, I find some ethnic jokes fairly funny.  For example:

Two Yfems went to a fair and each bought a horse.  On the way back Yfem1 (if I used a real name, you could tell which group was being singled out here, so I won’t do that), says to Yfem2, “How will we tell them apart?”  Yfem 2 says, “Let’s cut the mane off your horse and that’s how we’ll know.”  This works for a while, but they notice that the mane is starting to grow back.  So Yfem1 says, “Let’s measure their height”.  When they did, they discovered that the white horse was 8″ taller than the black horse.  That’s funny and it could be told about any ethnic group, especially the Yfems.

The point of this is that names, particularly ethnic slur names and stereotyped jokes play an important role in the blame game.  And often the use of the name itself is enough to generate a visceral reaction.  In the Middle East, the word “Arab” sets off many Jewish Israelis, and the similar case holds for the word, “Jew” or “Israeli”.  If you’re interested in such things, there is an earlier post about the name of the Washington NFL team.

You’re probably asking yourself, “Where is he going with this?”.   The Ukraine.  I’m wondering what pejorative names the Russians have for the Ukrainians and vice versa, so they know whom to name and blame.  Or, they could just blame it on the Jews.

14 April 2014

Just after I wrote this, I heard about the events in Kansas City in which a man with a history of anti-Semitic and racist remarks shot 3 people at Jewish centers.  In posts, he blamed the country’s problems on allowing the Jews to take over.

Ironically, all three were not Jewish.

18 April 2014

Following on this theme, in the city of Donetsk, Ukraine pamphlets were circulated required all Jews to register at the Donetsk People’s Republic office by May 3.  This happened the week before Easter.   Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus, whom th  Jews killed just a few days earlier.    Actually, they didn’t, but that’s of no matter.  This time of year is rich in anti-Semitism and includes the blood libel in which Jews are accused of slaughtering young children to use their blood in the Passover seder.

At these times, I’m reminded of the song, “It’s a Wonderful World.”

Votes for sale

Today, April 2, just one day too late for symbolic effect, the Supreme Court announced that there are no limits to the amounts individuals, groups, corporations, etc. can contribute to political campaigns.  The punditry believes that this will increase the role of money in political campaigns.  If we spent as much money on improving our society as we spent on political campaigns, we would be in a better place.  But I digress.

Where will this money be spent?  Let me make a modest suggestion.  All candidates in the next election can grease my palm to vote for them.  I’m taking cash, checks, credit cards, barter, IOUs, Czarist rubles, bitcoin.  If it’s got more than a modicum of value, I’ll take it.  And in the spirit of bipartisanship, I’m accepting from all candidates regardless of party, political persuasion, race, creed, religion, gender identity, or shoe size.  

I do hope that the candidates don’t think that costly negative attack ads on TV will be more effective than simply bribing voters.  Show me the evidence!  

So, bring it on!  I know it’s early yet for the 2014 elections, but I’m accepting now.  And early money, as we know, goes a long way in politics.