Friday, January 12, 2018

Should the Poor be Made to Work?

Many Americans answer this question in the affirmative. The poor, they say, should not be allowed to receive assistance from the government without doing some kind of work. Recent government attempts to force work on recipients of Medicaid illustrate that conviction. If someone receives government financed health insurance, the common opinion goes, they need to have a job or work in some other way. 

People have different reasons for this opinion.

A certain number are plainly racist. When they hear the word "poor" they have the image of a black person in front of their inner eye. They think that people of color are lazy ne'er-do-wells and they do not want their own taxes to support them. That reason for advocating work for the poor does not deserve discussion.

A similar reason moves those who believe that their poverty is the fault of the poor. If only they had paid better attention in school, had not gotten pregnant in their teens, had not become addicted to hard drugs. If only they had worked hard as I have always worked hard, they would not be poor. But poverty has many different causes. This kind of uninformed blaming is completely unhelpful.

But there are reasons that deserve taking seriously. One of them we often referred to as the "work ethic." Many of us believe that everyone should work. Perhaps we owe this belief to the Puritans but it is certainly true that many people in America today work a great deal. Many complain of being overscheduled, of being too busy and being stressed out by working so much. In spite of all those complaints, however, many of us believe that not working is in some way morally objectionable.

Let's look at that.

Government aid to the poor should only be given to those who work , we say, because work is what makes you a respectable citizen. But we don't have the same feelings about the errors of rich people not working. There are obviously many Americans who have inherited a great deal and can spend their days running nonprofits, going to charitable teas and cocktail parties, being photographed for the Sunday paper and sailing their yachts to the Caribbean when winter is inclement in the northern United States.

I have never heard a proposal that we should make these playboys and playgirls do an honest day's work. Our abhorrence of life without work seems to apply mostly to the poor.. Are we wanting to punish the poor for their condition when we insist on everyone working? I'm not sure.

Think some more about this moral rule that people should work. Does it matter what sort of work people do? Can one gain respectability by cleaning toilets? There are literally armies of people cleaning offices in huge skyscrapers every night. Does their life gain moral value behind their vacuum cleaners?

Not all work seems to me to be valuable. Good work is. If your working makes someone's life better, if it makes you feel that you contribute to the well-being of others, that what you do is truly worthwhile and contributes to making the world better than it is, then work is good. But not all work makes that sort of beneficial contribution to the world around you. Much of it is routine, if not downright unpleasant and it's only contribution is to make money for some corporate stockholders.

Does Sisyphus gain moral stature from his work. Working, as such, is not morally valuable.

Many people hate their jobs with a passion. They would be glad to give it up but they are not willing to leave the poor life one gets by relying exclusively on government assistance. So they go back every Monday morning looking forward to Friday night and being miserable in between and envious of people who managed to survive without the pain of a job. Why should they have to do a job they hate so much and others not?

I don't think the work requirement for the poor can be justified in that way by envy and wishing one's own pain on others.

Here another principle enters our reflection. Many people believe that one needs to be self-sufficient. There are elderly persons in our country who refuse

Social Security which they actually have paid into for most of their life, because as a matter of principle they do not want to accept government assistance. Nor would they accept assistance from their church or a club they belong to.

    One can respect that attitude but it is, of course, ill-conceived. "No man is an island" as the poet said. The people who refuse government assistance will certainly call the fire department when their house is on fire, and they will call the police when a burglar breaks into their house. They may have fond memories of teachers who helped them learn their letters and parents and ministers who helped them become upstanding citizens. We all depend on each other. If you are richer than I you may pay more taxes. You may therefore contribute more to the upkeep of the roads which I nevertheless use even though I contribute hardly anything to fixing the potholes at the end of winter. Many citizens are proud of America's military might even if they have never served or if no one in their family died in America's wars. They are dependent on the military service and perhaps the death of others for their pride in their country. They sing our national anthem with tears in their eyes even though they have not written it and are perhaps completely tone deaf.

    No one can claim to be independent of the support of others. Why impose that requirement on the poor?

    The work requirement for those who receive government assistance cannot be justified

Monday, January 1, 2018

Why we do good?

In our dealings with each other, human beings make assumptions about what others are interested in, what they will react to. We need to have some ideas of how we can get others to respond to our needs and desires. Say, we live in the same apartment building and you like to play your music really loud at 3 AM. How can I make you be quiet in the middle of the night? I could come upstairs at 3 AM with my assault rifle and threaten or actually shoot you. I could come upstairs with a plate of cookies hoping that that will make you turn the music down. I could come and ask you what I could do for you so that you would let me sleep.

Human beings have different theories about this. Some people believe that all relationships are about power and violence is an effective way of being powerful. Some believe, on the other hand, that being kind and generous will persuade others to be kind in their turn. Then there are the believers in social life as a grand bargain. You will choose to do what I want if I give you something in return.

Different people are inclined to different theories about human interactions. It is a common belief that if you want something from someone else you have to pay them in some way to get what you want. People will only work if they get paid – that's a piece of common wisdom. With that goes the opinion that we value only things we pay for. But this bit of common sense is very incomplete. Men and women who believe strongly that everyone needs to get paid in order to work, still spend many hours generously playing with their children or caring for their elderly parents. They never notice how their actions are not consistent with their beliefs about human interactions. Their belief that everyone needs to get paid for working, is modified by the other belief that some things should be given without payment. Different human beings have different rights. Children are entitled to loving care. The elderly, the parents that raised you with considerable effort, are now entitled to have as comfortable an old age as possible.

Between conservatives and people on the left of the political spectrum there are disagreements of what sorts of things our fellow citizens are entitled to without working for them. Most Americans, left or right, believe that everyone should work and should contribute to the society. (Some of us believe that work should be fulfilling, but that is definitely a minority opinion.) But there is considerable disagreement as to how much everyone needs to work in order to have a reasonably comfortable life.

We all agree that children should not have to work and should receive good care without paying for that care. There is widespread agreement that children are entitled to a secondary education to age 18. There is disagreement as to whether they should pay for their college education or whether it should be available free of charge to anyone who wants it and is qualified. Children should have enough to eat. They should have a clean and comfortable space to live. Most agree that children are entitled to health care without payment. When we come to adults disagreements are more serious. What are homeless people, who have no jobs, entitled to? Should those of us with some money pay for health care for the poor or should they simply work longer hours to earn their keep as you and I earn ours? Should taxpayers pay the rent for people who are unable to pay for their own apartment? The poor have done nothing for me, why should I help them?

The obvious answer is: your children have done nothing for you either. Your infants eat and sleep and soil their diapers. But you take care of them anyway. To that you reply: "that is different." But whether it really is different and in what way is a matter of permanent controversy. Some rewards should be earned, we tend to agree and others we receive without making any effort or earning the rewards we get. What belongs in each category is open to serious disagreement.

These reflections lead up to another question. It being the end of another year, I am inundated with requests for charitable contributions. My Congressman promises to change the balance of Democrats and Republicans in Congress in the new year if I give him five dollars. Well meaning Americans offer to get justice for Palestinians if I send money to their specific non-profit. Some other organization will help country folk in India or in Africa to dig wells or build schools for their children.

Should I respond to all these requests even though I know the promises are extravagant? My car is fifteen years old and shows its age. I can keep my money and buy a new car and look more respectable when I drive down the street, not to mention be more comfortable. What reasons do I have for giving my money to others, however well-meaning their efforts might be, rather than spending it on myself? I earned this money. I worked for it. I should be allowed to enjoy it.

I have no problem supporting my Congressman. He provides faithful and reliable service and, given our political system, I need to pay for the possibility of retaining him in his job. He works for me. I pay him. But what right do Palestinians have to ask me for money? What have they ever done for me? Every so often they attack my Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel. Why in the world should I pay for wells or schools in places I have no connection to, places I would not even be able to find on a map. When I am old and in need of help will these country people come and feed me, or help me to the bathroom? Fat chance.

How I decide these quandaries depends very much on how I think human beings function in relation to each other. If I believe that most human transactions are bargains of one sort or another, where you do something for me and I reward you for that, I will not give any money to dig wells in India or in Africa. If I believe, on the other hand, that all human beings are entitled to decent lives including a source of potable water, I might put off buying a new car and send some money in this nonprofit that deals with water problems in faraway places.
How can we settle this disagreement?

We could try to take the easy way out and say that everyone should follow their best wisdom and leave this controversy unresolved. But we need some sort of accord when it comes to passing legislation and deciding what amount of public monies will be used to care for the indigent, the sick and the old. We could try to persuade those who are reluctant to spend taxpayer money on charity of one sort or another by accusing them of being racist, of violating the supreme maxim of Judeo-Christian morality, love your neighbor as you love yourself. We could ask our opponents what sort of world they would want to live in. Would they not prefer a world of little suffering as possible? They would respond by opting for a just world where people are rewarded for their efforts, not allowed to be lazy and of indulgent. Efforts at persuasion are not promising.

These reflections recall us to reality. After a season of sending each other cards calling for peace, calling for goodwill towards all men and women, we need to remind ourselves that this goodwill is actually in short supply. Love of their neighbor is not valued by all. Advocates for a world where everything needs to be paid for ridicule proponents of neighborly love as "bleeding heart liberals."

Welcome to 2018.

Friday, December 22, 2017

What Matters at Year's End

It is the season of the shortest day of the year, of Hanukah, of Christmas, of celebrations and gift giving. Christmas cards have begun to arrive and some of them contain the annual family newsletter.  They chronicle the family's last year, their trips to exotic places, the sports their children play, the professional conventions they attended, and perhaps the prizes and honors they garnered.
I enjoy getting the news of friends and relatives I have known for many years. But amidst all the information I was pleased to receive, something seemed to be missing. I kept thinking that the chronicle I read recounted a year in various humans' lives. But lives consist of more than travel, soccer games lost or won, or even professional recognition.

Human lives consist of growth and then of decay. Humans learn. They draw lessons from their experiences. They develop new skills when their experience pushes them to learn to solve problems they had perhaps not recognized before or had been unable to overcome. They find that the assumptions they had relied on for a long time were false; they needed to reorient themselves to different assumptions. They may, for instance, have thought that the election for two presidential terms of an African-American signified a significant reduction of racism and the racial oppression experienced by many fellow citizens. But then new experiences may lead them to question this optimistic view in the light of the cancerous growth of racist and white supremacist organizations, action, and speech.

During the past year some of the authors of these family histories passed important milestones. They celebrated their 50th or 60th birthday. Some family letters acknowledged these milestones but were content to assert that they did not bring up disturbing thoughts. But if you are 60 years old, should you not occasionally entertain disturbing thoughts? Should you not consider your health, your diet, and whether you get enough exercise? Should you think about when to retire and what that would mean? For many professionals their occupation is the central component of their identity, of who they are. How will retirement affect their sense of who they are? It is surely worth thinking about that before the event. It is utterly evasive to say: "I'll deal with that when I have to." Humans, unlike, say, dogs, are able to look ahead and plan. Should we not do that?
Many newsletters speak of sons and daughters who are close to going to college. They are in their late teens when young people experience amazing growth and change. But none of the newsletters I read recount the blossoming of their children They remained with the impersonal surface fact that this young woman or man is thinking of college. No mention of moral development, the discovery of politics, the experimentation with serious relationships, the many questions about how this world works in which they find themselves.

This may seem to be unkind complaining about people who want to share some of the very public milestones in the last year without revealing the more private, and, to be sure, more important experiences and developments of their family members. They do not know who all will read their holiday letter and do not want strangers to know about very personal and very important events in their lives. Their privacy is of great importance to many Americans. It matters to them that strangers not know about the more exciting or more troubling events in their lives.

But there is a different way of reading these bland and uncommunicative holiday missives. Americans have accustomed themselves to avoiding controversy. When we get together for a meal, or wait our turn in the barbershop or beauty parlor, or wait for the doctor in her waiting room we may talk about the weather, we may talk about sports, but politics, religion, moral controversies are off-limits. In other words it is forbidden to talk about serious matters that anybody really cares about. The essential traits of our lives, what gives us strength and hope to persevere as well as what makes us despair is prohibited. It is unspeakable. It may not be brought up for conversation.

"Different people choose to talk about different things in public. Who are you to judge people who are more reticent than you are? It is not up to you to choose to embarrass others by mentioning matters they are reluctant to discuss. It is simply unkind of you to start controversies thereby making other people uncomfortable." Such might be a response to the preceding paragraphs. Religion, politics, morality are private matters. People disagree about them and that's just how it is. Discussions of religion, politics, or morality are most often emotional, upsetting and unproductive. We should avoid them in order to have a smooth social life.

We see the result of this attitude towards, especially, morality in the present uproar over widespread sexual harassment and abuse. One half, according to some, one third, according to others, of all women have been sexually harassed or abused. No woman can ever feel safe from sudden unwanted sexual overtures. No woman can ever be certain that her relationships with men are professional or friendly without any sexual overtones.

Until now that has not been widely discussed because the women were afraid for their jobs and their advancement but also because we don't talk about serious matters like sexual domination by a male family members, male employers, male teachers, male coaches, random males. There is little serious discussion of a president who boasts of sexually harassing women. There is no one who asks: "What is the state of moral health of America when no woman, even female children, can feel safe?"

If America sent out an end of the year chatty chronicle, it too would have to avoid talking about morality or politics or religion because it has neglected those issues for too long and were it to speak of it now, it would have to be profoundly ashamed.

Were we to make America great again, we would have to expand our annual accounts of our lives to the issues that really matter, we would have to begin by thinking and talking about how we treat each other, about the political system which we called mendaciously a democracy, and our religion which more often than not preaches hate and imaginary superiority.

Monday, November 27, 2017

End sexual harassment!

So many women coming forward with stories of sexual harassment! This is a large step forward. No longer is male aggression on women to be born silently. The guilty can now be called out.
We have known for a long time that as many as one in three women have been harassed or attacked by men. But men, on the whole, have not understood this statistic. They have not been willing to understand that of every three women they know one may have been subject to more or less serious sexual violence. We should have known a long time ago that women we know, women who are friends, or relatives, or coworkers may have been injured seriously by male aggressions.
During the last presidential campaign a video surfaced of the then candidate Trump boasting of kissing or groping unwilling women. Candidate Trump excused his behavior as "locker room talk." The significance of such an excuse has not been understood so far.
The discussion of violation of women has focused on individuals on movie producers, on actors, professors, on employers and others. Aggression against women is discussed as the immoral and exploitative actions of this or that man abusing his power. When Donald Trump mentioned "locker room talk" he reminded everyone that these individuals could only act as they did with impunity in a culture that demeans women.
Everyone is part of a culture. In ours, sexual attacks on children are not acceptable. They do occur but if the culprit is found no one will say, "oh well, men will be men." But if the victim is a teenager or a grown woman people – mostly men – chuckle and change the subject. The amazing and terrifying frequency of sexual assault on women is possible only where such attacks are tacitly permitted.
This culture has different themes and some of them have roots in the distant past. Despising our bodies is one theme. Bodies are somehow thought to serve only sexual purposes and are somehow dirty. Bodies need to be hidden. Bodies are not beautiful, or graceful or dignified. Bodily functions cannot be talked about. One source of that contempt of the body is in the Judeo-Christian religion that regards those parts of us that don't seem to be bodily – mind, spirit, soul – as immortal and valuable and has nothing but contempt for the body where all these immortal functions live.
Sexuality in that culture is just plain dirty. What is more, woman's sexuality is seen as seductive. It was she who gave the apple to Adam. Had he been by himself, Adam presumably would have remained pure. It was the woman who seduced him to discover his and her nakedness. Human ambivalence about sexuality became one tool for denigrating women.
In our culture ambivalence about sexuality becomes a tool for asserting male power over women. Women are supposed to be "modest." In many situations such "modesty" involves strict dress codes for women. The requirement for modesty still remains even in the West where female nakedness is daily used to sell products. But here men have the power to define what modesty consists of, which woman is "easy" or a "whore." Male attacks are justified by complaining about women not being modest.
Not only is power in the hands of men but women are to varying extents treated as property. If a man wants, he can touch a woman's body or grab or kiss her. She would be rude or a bad sport to complain. Women are frequently a possession of one man. But often also they are a possession to be touched and hugged and kissed by any man. We have a special term for that--she can be "manhandled."
Power comes with being male, with owning male genitals. Transgender persons raise the ire of men because such status undermines masculine identity and thus blurs the clear lines that are thought to legitimate the male domination of women.
Power goes with wealth, with being white. The women who have come out to complain about male attacks are mostly white, mostly well-off. We have have heard much less from poor women and women of color. They cannot afford to loose their job. But studies show that 80% of female Mexican farmworkers in California, 50% of Chicago female hotel workers, 40% of female fast food workers say they have been sexually harassed.
Cultures don't maintain themselves automatically. They are not natural phenomena that will thrive if only the conditions are favorable. Cultures need to be maintained. The locker room talk needs to continue. The same sexist jokes need to be repeated over and over. Men need to continue to believe that their worth as persons depends on the size of their penis and the frequency of their orgasms.
Ostracizing this film producer or that actor will not affect serious change. It will titillate for a while, it will encourage wagging tongues. The self-righteous will be encouraged to overlook their own failings, their own sexism. The Bible thumpers can once again exhort us to return to their particular orthodoxy. But then it will all be forgotten.
The changes that are now beginning to men's sexual domination can only be made permanent if the culture changes that allows that sexual domination. Every man must make major efforts to overcome their contributions to the patriarchal culture that makes women into sexual targets and men into sexual predators. We must cease denigrating women. We must speak out when others do.

Friday, November 10, 2017


The latest mass shooting revives the debate over gun control once more. Gun control advocates reiterate what they have said many times before, that gun sales need to be limited, that guns need to be kept out of the hands of criminals, of mentally unstable persons, that all gun sales need to be subject to stricter rules. Gun advocates repeat that guns protect their owners. Both sides cite scientific studies and facts that their opponents reject as unreliable.
When it comes to gun sales, gun ownership and gun control our political processes have broken down. There is no conversation. No one exchanges ideas, no one learns from others. No one is going to change their mind. Everyone just repeats the same positions over and over. As time goes on each side speaks louder. Opponents are shrill and more disrespectful. Nothing is accomplished.
In actual cases, the evidence is very confusing. When David Patrick Kelly started shooting in a church in Sutherland Springs, TX a neighbor, hearing the shots, hauled out his own assault rifle and started shooting back. Kelly fled. Did the neighbor's attack on Kelly save lives? Gun advocates say "Yes." But that answer depends on hypotheticals: had the neighbor not started shooting, Kelly would have killed more people in the church. Can we be sure of that? No, of course not.
The example illustrates how uncertain facts are in many cases. The apparently indubitable conclusions both pro- and anti- gun advocates draw are often unjustified. Exaggerating conclusions merely serves to make a real conversation from which all could learn into a useless repetition of unsupported dogmas.
The question about gun safety has many different aspects. Who will be safer if they own guns? Against whom will guns protect us? Guns may protect us against robbers who invade our house But they also open possibilities of errors as when a father, hearing someone outside his house shoots his own son coming home, thinking it might be a robber. (Last year 1300 accidental shootings killed innocent victims) Will guns play a significant role in domestic violence? Women are regularly killed by the guns of husbands, boy friends, former lovers. (1250 women killed by intimate partners in 2000. Half of them shot by guns.) Guns are often used in suicides. (More than 21000 in 2013--two thirds of all gun deaths in the US) Questions whether gun owners attempt suicide more often, and succeed in their attempts more frequently are inescapable. Guns are often involved in gun accidents, especially, among children who find a parents' gun and playing with them kill a relative, not infrequently the parent who owned the gun.
These issues are being studied but the results are difficult to interpret. Different studies show correlations between gun ownership and domestic violence, suicides and accidents. But few causal connection have been established convincingly.
The efforts to get a better understanding of the role of guns is seriously inhibited by a 1996 federal law that prohibits federal funding of research into gun violence. The law makes it impossible for the two government agencies that keep track of the health and well-being of citizens--the CDC and the National Institutes of Health--to do any research having to do with guns, for instance, how to prevent gun violence, what, if any, are the signs that someone will attack a crowd of people.
Kelly bought his gun legally although, being a guilty of domestic violence, he should not have been able to get a gun from a legitimate gun dealer. The case is interesting: passing gun control legislation will not be effective if it is not enforced. After Kelly served his time for domestic violence, the Air Force should have reported this to the National Criminal Information database but failed to do so. It appears the military neglected to report most domestic violence convictions in the military. Passing gun control legislation may well remain ineffective.
Many people have very firm opinions whether every citizen should be armed or whether laws should be passed to radically reduce the number of guns owned by civilians in the country. Once we look at the different issues we see clearly that the certainty with which people hold their positions is unjustified. The matter of gun ownership does not only have to do with the question of security from home invasions or random attacks, it has to do with the role guns play in domestic violence and in suicides. It has to do with the number of preventable gun accidents that happen every year.
The correlations between gun legislation and security of gun owners, frequency of gun use in domestic conflicts and in suicides are often uncertain. Causal connections have not been established scientifically. There is a great deal we do not know about the advantages and disadvantages of private gun ownership. No one should claim to know that guns are good or bad for us.
The debate over guns is just one example of the deplorable state of our political system. Supposedly we govern ourselves. But in a world of complex issues on which citizens disagree, self-government requires that citizens talk to each other in order to discover the best policies in a given setting. Talking to each other means that we do not claim to know what we do not, but to recognize the difficulties of the problems we confront. Talking to each other requires modesty, a willingness to admit ignorance, to ask others for their insights and willingness to cooperate.
Let us begin by admitting that we are in no position to make strong statements about guns. Let us no longer claim knowledge where we are ignorant.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Racism and Hate?

In the last two weeks lawn signs have sprung up all over our neighborhood condemning hate. The intent of those lawn signs is clear: they oppose racism.
But this identification of racism with hate is attracting well-deserved criticism. Racism in the form of slavery was not a matter of slave owners hating their slaves. They may have hated some who were particularly difficult and loved others. But slavery was an economic system that produced significant wealth for the slave owners who worked their plantations with slaves – a workforce that was owned and did not receive wages and was maintained at fairly minimal levels.
           Any business that produces goods – regardless of whether it is cotton or electronic appliances – thrives to the extent that it can sell its products for more than it costs to produce them. One source of wealth is keeping one's production costs down. Wages are one important part of production costs. Where labor earns little, a business has a chance to thrive. Slavery was attractive because its labor costs were low. Slavery was supported because it enriched an entire class of landowners, not because these owners hated black people.
The end of the Civil War put an end to the institution of slavery. Afterwards the super exploitation of black labor was arranged in different ways by means of a set of laws we now refer to as "Jim Crow." No longer were black workers the private property of white plantation owners but their exploitation was enforced by new laws and random violence such as lynching.
Racism remains an economic system. The majority of black Americans are there to take up the slack of an economic system that is unable to create decent jobs for all who want to work. Black Americans are the first to be unemployed when jobs disappear. When they do work, they often work for little to do menial jobs.
The same applies to racism against other persons of color. Mexicans and other immigrants from Central and South American play the same role in the labor market as African-Americans. Immigrants from China built significant portions of the railroads in the 19th century and worked in mines. But the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented further immigration from China and made it impossible to unite the families of men who had come here to work but had left their families back in China. Different laws restricted immigration from Asia until, during World War II, China and the US were allies in fighting Japan.
Racism has always played a political role. In the slave south not all whites were rich plantation owners. Many whites were also poor. Their farms were small, their land barren; they had to work hard to wring a poor living from the soil. But the rich white people reminded them that they were after all white people. They had something significant in common with the plantation owners who were wealthy and politically powerful. This served to conceal the fact that the poor whites had in fact a lot more in common with the poor black laborers and tenant-farmers.
The racial divisions in our society were and are not primarily a matter of everyone's feelings about each other. The racial divisions were maintained because they were in the economic and political interest of the most powerful families in the region. The interests of the rich and powerful to maintain racist exclusions can continue to be concealed because most white people know next to nothing about what it is like for persons of color to live in this society. They don't know about the experiments where applicants with "white" names and applicants with what sounded like "black" names both put in applications for jobs and the persons with what sounded like black names were a lot less likely to get any response from the employers advertising jobs. They don't know about the different ways in which black and white students are treated in public schools, or the various myths circulating about how most people on welfare are black and that they are on welfare only because they are too lazy to work.
They don't know the sad history of the G.I. Bill for black veterans at the end of World War II. The G.I. Bill gave substantial support to all veterans to get an education and to get mortgages to buy a house in the suburbs. But black veterans in the South could only attend segregated black colleges that offered a very limited education. Colleges and universities in the North would admit only small numbers of Blacks. Many white veterans managed to go to graduate school and end up being college professors. That possibility was only rarely open to black veterans. The G.I. Bill guarantees of mortgages were of no use to black veterans because banks did not issue mortgages in black neighborhoods and those were the only places where black veterans would have been able to buy a house. Realtors would not sell homes in white neighborhoods to Blacks.
And on and on.
            If we want to reduce the ravages of racism on our black fellow citizens we should stop talking about love and hate. Diagnosing racism as a form of hate misdirects our attention. It completely misdiagnoses the problems our society creates for person of color and why it does so. Accordingly well-meaning efforts to reduce the damages created by racism will miscarry because they address imaginary causes and conceal real ones. Talking about racism as a form of hate is not just an innocent error. It gets in the way of addressing racism.
We need, instead, to make sure that where we work or where we study black Americans are given the same chances as whites. That means that everyone is treated with equal respect. It means that each of us patrols their thoughts and behaviors motivated by derogatory mythologies about African-Americans and other people of color.
            Well-meaning whites are often eager to "help" African-Americans as if somehow their difficulties in getting ahead, in getting and keeping a decent job, in finding housing in secure communities, in securing a good education for their children are due to their inadequacies which we, the well-meaning whites, can help repair.
            But the disadvantages suffered by people of color in this white supremacist society are imposed by white people. If whites want to help, they need to learn what limitations we, the white people, impose on persons of color and try to remove those.
I do not think that persons of color in this society are aching to be loved by whites. They want to be given an equal chance to live agreeable and secure lives without being judged defective--morally and otherwise--by people who know no more about them than that this skin is dark.

Monday, October 23, 2017

In 1620 110 Pilgrims left Europe for the New World. Their first winter was disastrous. In Spring 1621 no more than 50 of the original immigrants survived. These too might well have died had it not been for two Native Americans, Samoset and Squanto, who assisted the English Pilgrims to adjust to the new country, its climate and soils. The native inhabitants were not Christians, they were not committed by their religion to help strangers in distress. Nevertheless they welcomed immigrants and eased their transition.
Quite a contrast with today's Americans who profess Christianity and a commitment to helping their neighbors!
This contrast challenges us to think more carefully about the plight of the people whom we call "illegal" or "undocumented." European immigrants who arrived on American soil until about 1890 had no papers. They were not documented or undocumented. They simply arrived, except for the African-Americans who were imported against their will and some whites who also came involuntarily--convicts or victims of kidnaps shipped to America to work. But the preponderance of whites chose to immigrate and did so without any bureaucratic permission.
Seven of the 39 men who signed the Constitution were immigrants. In fact, two of the three men most associated with its passage, Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson, were foreign-born. Hamilton was one of three men who wrote the Federalist Papers explaining and urging ratification of the Constitution. Hamilton had no citizenship or immigration papers. By today's standards he was "undocumented." By the mean-spirited standards dominating politics today, the 18th century equivalent of Homeland Security should have arrested these Founders of our country and sent them back to where they came from.
Persecution of immigrants is justified, in the minds of many, because after all this land is our land and we have every right to regulate who enters and who lives here and who will be excluded. The 50 states are ours and we may make laws to regulate who comes in and who stays.
Yes, but what makes it our land?
When the Pilgrims made landfall the land belonged to a variety of smaller and larger Native American tribes who lived, farmed, and perpetuated themselves and their cultures in these different places. How did it become our property. Yes, the Dutch bought Manhattan--or so we are told. But Native Americans did not have a concept of private property in land. Land was sacred. One could no buy or sell it. People used the land and it was against customs to try to take land where someone else had planted a garden or erected a dwelling. The so-called "sale" of Manhattan was most likely obtaining permission for hunting and farming the land in Manhattan. No white immigrant ever bought any American lands from its native inhabitants.
Yes we did buy Louisiana from France and Alaska from Russia. (How did France and Russia come to be able to sell land in the Americas?) But the land of the 50 states "belongs" to us because we took it by force in a long series of Indian wars. We took Texas, California and the Southwest --where keeping out the "undocumented" is a particularly incendiary issue--from Mexico in the Mexican American War in 1848. The ancestors of some of the "undocumented" lived in the states which now wants to exclude them.
We are not legitimate inhabitants of this land.
Many of the "undocumented" immigrants from Mexico and farther south are what they call "mestizos." Their ancestors include many indigenous persons--inhabitants of this hemisphere for thousands of years--and Spanish colonizers. They are likely to have a better claim to living in South and North America than the descendants of White Europeans by virtue of their ancestors who have cultivated this land for many centuries, who lived here long before Christopher Columbus and others ravaged the hemisphere and its inhabitants.
The white settlers, and their descendants, have no right to keep out the descendants of peoples who have lived here for many centuries. They stole the lands we now inhabit. But robbery cannot yield a legitimate property title. If someone steals your car, is it now his?
We have an obligation to welcome migrants from South of our border and to ask them to allow us to share this land of theirs.