Sunday, November 25, 2012

Strange Bedfellows: Reflections on Nietzsche as Miroslav Volf's evening devotional

Who reads Nietzsche for devotionals?! The famous Christian theologian Miroslav Volf, for one.
Volf surprised and shocked us during his recent visit to campus when he shared this personal tidbit with the faculty and students at Seattle Pacific University. He told us that for ten years he kept Friedrich Nietzsche at his bed-side as devotional reading.

Strange bed-fellows, indeed! Why would Miroslav Volf—who has written profoundly and passionately of the power of the cross and his personal struggle to live with the call to reconciliation as a “follower of the crucified Messiah” — read the antagonistic atheist Nietzsche for devotions?“You find that [Nietzsche] is an amazing thinker. All wrong, but still deserving honor and deserving respect,” Volf said. “Deserving to be read. Deserving to see what truth can come from his writing.”

Can truth really emerge from such anti-Christian rhetoric as that propounded by Nietzsche, the intellectual who declared “God is dead”? I have to agree with Volf here—yes, truth can and does shine through, even though a darkened, arrogant mind of a nihilistic philosopher. The truth has a way of shining through the cracks in every earthly edifice. This is the lesson we hear in the Good News of John 1:5—the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
It’s a paradox, but the truth can and does shine wherever it wills, even in the darkness of unbelief. That’s why devotional inspiration can come even while reading Nietzsche, not because his philosophy expresses any universal principles, but rather because in the reading Nietzsche we encounter another human who, whether he knows it or not, is seeking after something bigger than human experience, something too mysterious for words.

In Nietzsche’s case, his seeking falls short an encounter with the living God. But just as a man digging a dry well bears witness to his thirst and the hope of finding water, so do the efforts of this nihilistic philosopher bear witness to the shared humanity of despair in another human soul. There’s something about making contact with another person’s innermost thoughts and glimpsing his despair that brings our own thoughts and beliefs into sharper focus.

This reminds me of my encounter with a bright young man a few years ago who was wrestling with faith as well as with his choice of college major. In a risky moment of inspiration I gave my best pastoral advice: I asked him to read The Fountainhead, by the atheist Ayn Rand. Praying that I not lead him astray, I had the same inkling that I suppose led Miroslav Volf to keep Nietzsche on his nightstand. How better to confront our doubts, than by facing them head-on? The truth—living Truth, that is—will not be overcome by darkness; but rather, it will shine through the darkness when we seek and truly long for the only source of hope that does not disappoint.

When we approach doubt or conflict with this sense of hope, we are empowered to see truth even in places where the revelation of God is ignored or denied. Here’s the lesson we can learn from so-called ungodly philosophies—we can learn to trust God’s grace and truth to shine anywhere. This is what Karl Barth was getting at when he recognized the capacity of God to reveal Himself even through the darkness of skepticism and the thought processes of “the worldly sphere”:
How many signs He may well have set up in both the outer and inner darkness which Christianity has overlooked in an unjustifiable excess of skepticism, to the detriment of itself and its cause! We are summoned to believe in Him, and in His victorious power, not in the invincibility of any non-Christian, anti-Christian or pseudo-Christian worldliness which confronts Him. The more seriously and joyfully we believe in Him, the more we shall see such signs in the worldly sphere, and the more we shall be able to receive true words from it.

There’s a lesson here for understanding our Christian call to reconciliation. In confronting another person who seems antagonistic to our own faith or point of view, we need not remain stuck in the mindset that we are dealing with someone who is merely “wrong”. Nietzsche for example is not merely “wrong”; he is also brilliant, a seeker with intellectual integrity and a certain respect for the essence of humanity. The categories of right and wrong become unhelpful when deployed as superficial labels; that is, as categories that label rather than explain. We can’t and shouldn’t ignore our responsibility to discern right from wrong, but neither should we miss the opportunity to see God’s grace revealed in even the most unlikely circumstances. Superficial labels betray our worldliness and distract us from the greater reality of living Truth. The crucified Messiah calls us to seek and find God’s truth shining through somehow, even when obscured by worldly conflict or confused by paradox. Thus, we are called to learn from strange sources, and to share the hope that empowers us to listen to others, and to see the eternal light that shines through any darkness.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Baker teaches on ethics, leadership and the theological foundations of business and economics at Seattle Pacific University. His research explores the intersection of the modern moral imaginary with our business-driven culture. His Ph.D. dissertation— “The Transformation of Persons and the Concept of Moral Order”—examines how epistemological presumptions regarding human nature affect our understanding of moral responsibility, with crucial implications for teaching and moral discernment. He brings broad experience to these studies, having pursued a career as an entrepreneur, scientist and businessman, before embarking on his advanced studies in theology and ethics.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Jackie Donahue: Casualty of the Hip Hop Wars

In 2003, the rapper Nelly was at the pinnacle of his music career when he decided to launch a campaign to find a bone marrow match for his sister, Jackie Donahue, who had acute myelogenous leukemia. He also wanted to promote donation awareness. Nelly’s status as a globally recognized hip hop artist enabled him to gain the attention of black youth across the nation, and the black press, educating them on the disparities in registration and medical donations between African-Americans and whites. But then Nelly’s Jes Us 4 Jackie drive came to an abrupt halt when students at the historically black Spelman College held a rally to boycott his campaign in response to the misogyny and sexism in his video “Tip Drill.” Eventually, Essence magazine, a dominant voice in the black press, sponsored a year-long campaign of articles and blog conversations to “Take Back the Music.” The movement invoked the well-worn political rhetoric and community disciplining strategies of the black church women who sought to “uplift the race” through education and public health campaigns at the turn of the century. Reid-Brinkley explains:
"... Black women need[ed] to perform or mimic some degree of white femininity to gain patriarchal protection. The sociohistorical context in which black women develop the strategy of respectability must be understood as a 'discourse of resistance'(White and Dobris 2002). The strategy of respectability serves to destabilize the racist representations of black women and black people in general. However, as sexual and class strife demonstrate, respectability can be used to sublimate inappropriate performances of black womanhood and [manhood]."
Following the pattern of others interested in restoring the image of respectable black womanhood, one contributor overlooked the immediate health concerns to invoke the hackneyed racial politics of respectability. She wrote, “It is our responsibility to change the worldwide image of African-American women and restore some sense of dignity, value, and respectability before it is too late.”
Garnering the support of prominent black media sources, CNN and NPR, Spelman’s faculty and all-female student body received the weighty support of black male intellectuals and cultural activists. In the end, the politics demonstrated its area of greatest influence: policing other African-Americans. The spectacle at Spelman College, and in the black press, derailed the fervor behind Nelly’s health campaign, and arguably his career in the music industry. More tragically, without a donor, Jackie died at an early age of 31-year-old.
Since the ‘70s, the experience of poor African-Americans have involved ubiquitous criminalization. Linda Tucker and Michelle Alexander have produced scholarship that enables us to percieve and uncover the structural processes of stigmatization as they happen figuratively, in mass media, and literally, with the mass incarceration of black males. As a consequence, many black youth have embraced outlaw identities and “ghetto” culture and lifestyles as a form of resistance. Of late, I’ve become in interested in the implications of the politics of respectability for the health of African-Americans on the margins of society due to their stigmatized status, which has led many black elites to dis-identify with the unrespectable culture and lifestyles of black youth involved in hip hop culture and the streets. In fact, the black aristocracy’s invocation of the old adage, “my color but not my kind” not only reveals a social cleavage among African-Americans but leads to injustice in the health arena (and others). The case of Jackie Donahue and African-Americans marginalized due to being infected with HIV/AIDS in the ‘80s and '90s are emblematic. In brief, more than cultural norms are at stake. The politics or respectability has repercussions for the further elaboration of justice, and the health of the black community, writ large.
According to philosopher Sara Goering and her colleagues in bioethics at University of Washington Medical School, the various justice frameworks offered in American bioethics are inadequate in their capacity to bring about a more just society. In response to an incompleteness in conceptions of justice, Goering and her colleagues have synthesized redistribution, recognition, and responsibility into a multifaceted approach to justice in community research. That is, they've called the medical and scientific community to acknowledge our own privilege and power to heighten a sense of responsibility to and for those less privileged. They implore human subject researchers to embrace a “richer conception of justice — one that takes seriously the perspectives of the often marginalized communities in which they work.” Although this approach is more complete and acknowledges that marginalization is a result of aggregate human actions in the socioeconomic sphere, responsive justice, as a lens of analysis and ethos for action, is unable to explicate class and cultural politics within marginalized black communities involving the elite’s policing of the boundaries of blackness leading to their dis-identification and the secondary marginalization of the black poor.
As a strategy for justice it is suspect and requires transformation due to its “replication, reproduction, and reconstitution ideologies of  [racial identity and other intersectionalities]  as they operate to confine and constrain the development of subjectivity.” Ideologies embedded within American medicine. Stated differently, resistance to notions of respectability among low socioeconomic African-Americans has evaded detection among those in the medical community interested in bioethics and health justice. Our engagement with gatekeepers in marginalized communities keep us from hearing the voice of those on the farthest margins. Why does it matter to me? As an African-American male of ambiguous cultural heritage (solidly unrespectable to aspirational respectability), I am personally ambivalent about exceptionality as a strategy for social mobility and earned recognition or political respect. Moreover, I contend that embedded within American bioethics is an inherent commitment to “ascriptive” racial identity and aspiring class and cultural assimilation that plays into traditional racial politics of respectability and renders invisible the unrespectable. In the end, I’d argue that pursuing justice (i.e., redistribution, recognition, and responsibility) among African-Americans is impossible without an ethos of empathy that transcends class and culture. In doing, I suggest that we aspire to what Law Professor Regina Austins calls the politics of identification that enables us to bridge the gap between “saints” and “sinners “ to encourage the latter’s voice and enable them to advocate for their own defined communites and the broader black community as well.
In loving memory of Melanie "Mimi" Evans (5 October 2012), Lincoln High School mascot, friend to many, and nurturer of all who crossed her path. Rest in Peace big homie.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hoodies Up: Trayvon Martin, Black Twitter, and Real justice

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. (Proverbs 29:7)

The Trayvon Martin incident has become ubiquitous to the point of almost being redundant. That is, if it wasn't for a national conversation revealing social cleavages between blacks, whites, and others based on different interpretations of the significance of the young unarmed man's death.

A few things stand out to me when I think about our current conversation.

The first issue has to do with epistemology (or theories of knowledge about what we can know) and news reporting. In short, the black press, black Web 2.0, and internet activist jumped all over the story, and forced the mainstream press to begin to report on the incident. Mark Anthony Neal has captured how the black has used the web to develop a new black public sphere and deal advocate for justice. Whether the death of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, or Teena Marie, black America is storming the internet to find news with a black gaze towards justice, and share its opinions.

When the black web's overflowing response to Trayvon's death left the mainstream media looking lame, pundits defensively argued that the story was unrepresentable due to a failure to verify a real newsworthy story based on the facts. Implied in the actions of the black public sphere is the idea that the factual elements of this story were reportable. Moreover, black media pundits and activists began to weigh in on the guilt of George Zimmerman. In other words, many read the incident as one of racial hatred based on the unquestioned criminal representation of black men.

I think arguments about who is right and who is wrong, when it comes to concentrated violence against black males, are located deep in the history of the black public sphere. For more than a century, the African-American press has been forced to weigh in on historical injustice to enlighten white America, and the world, about human rights violations. All we have to do is to reach back to sister Ida B. Wells reporting on lynching. In this case, Emmit Till was drawn on as an analogy.

I've found within the activity of the black press, and revisiting our historical past, an exercise of greater significance than debates about reporting.

In short, I'm reminded of the civil rights roots of racial reconciliation. The work of our namesake, John Perkins, is grounded in an event similar to Trayvon's death."Perkins was born into Mississippi poverty, the son of a sharecropper. He fled to California when he was 17 after his older brother was murdered by a town marsh both his faith and civil rights activism. I'm reminded that it takes a village and interracial solidarity to demand and secure justice for all." Perkins work emerged out of developing an active Christian faith and getting involved in civil rights efforts.

Along those lines one other phenomenon stands out to me: The Christian appeal to emotions, or empathy, in order to plead with legal-minded skeptics to feel the pain of others. This counter to a public analytical rationality attempts to dis-aggregate the theological and the political by assuming the primary concern is one of recognizing the pain of Trayvon Martin's parents and by implication the black community.

This more compassionate approach suggest another interesting assumption. It suggest that seeking political and legal responses to injustice or tragedy is somehow less spiritual, pious, or Christian. However, these assumptions unintentionally diminish the voices of Ida B. Wells, Septima Clark, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jr. and other christian activists.

Reducing the significance of Trayvon's death to an emotional issues negates the relationship between the personal and the political. According to Martha Nussbaum, we have to draw on our emotions to bolster our public and legal rationalities, but we can't stop there. To do so plays into a new form of racism in which racism is denied, and we try to avoid calling things what they are because of the absence of racial epithets.

This admirable call from the pious to feel the pain of others fails to recognize that the killing of black males (by whites, blacks, and others) is a legal and political issue that challenges us to engage the dominant institutions to bring about justice. Furthermore, it can cause us to ignore structural issues which has lead to the criminalization and mass incarceration of all black males regardless of class, race, education or respectability.

While Michele Alexander has written about mass incarceration as the New Jim Crow,in Lockstep and Dance, Professor Linda Tucker argues that America is a prison writ large for African-American males. She also argues that we are complicit in producing our own criminal representations.

The most troubling thing about it all, for me at least, is that Trayvon's death is revealing how the social fabric of our nation is being torn asunder due to a strong undercurrent of racial animosity.

As Christians, and those in the work of reconciliation, Trayvon's death is a call for us to reexamine our moral compass. The scripture says, "Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people..." If you notice, the bible doesn't say the Christian poor or the righteous(or godly) oppressed. We know that oppression can breed unrighteousness. In doing so, this unrighteousness condemns the oppressor who perpetuates injustice. Yet, actual unrighteous or criminality has nothing to do with this case.

In this moment, I sense that is time for the household of God to approach His throne with holy hands without blame, accusation, or wrath, and to begin to intercede on behalf of our nation. As the scripture says, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (II Chronicles 7:14). Now is the time for healing, and we must be alert and vigilant for every opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Let's Move On

Recent demeaning attacks on our President and the First Lady prompted me to invite a response from Tamura Lomax, PhD. In brief,I thought Dr. Lomax might illuminate this behavior in regards to reconciliation.

Last week Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner was overheard saying that First Lady Michelle Obama should attend to her “large posterior” before lecturing Americans on eating right. Of course this was a swipe against Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. How dare the FLOTUS suggest we inclusively get off our growing posteriors and get moving, and how dare she tell American men what to eat!

Correct me if I’m wrong but First Lady Obama isn’t the first spouse to lead a national initiative while in the White House. Laura Bush partnered with the Library of Congress to launch the annual National Book Festival to increase parental and child literacy. And, as part of her Women's Health and Wellness Initiative, First Lady Bush served as the ambassador for The Heart Truth, an organization that “gives women a personal and urgent wake-up call about their risk of heart disease.” And who can forget Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign?

It’s funny, I don’t remember conservative lawmakers (or media pundits) attacking Bush for telling Americans to read or “wake-up” about heart disease, nor do I recall them lashing out at Reagan for commanding us not to use drugs. And I certainly can’t imagine a public official, regardless of party affiliation, publicly suggesting that Bush or Reagan were unfit to lead their causes due to personal or physical reasons. Picture a Democratic Representative telling First Lady Bush to make sure her husband was well read before lecturing Americans on reading and literacy, or articulating that First Lady Reagan, given her petite frame, looked like a “skinny wealthy cocaine-head,” incapable of lecturing the rest of us on the dangers of drug use.

Inflammatory? Yes. Dehumanizing? Absolutely. Well, so are the constant personal attacks on Michelle Obama. How many times will her capacity to lead national initiatives and embody the FLOTUS be measured by conventional standards of beauty? How many times will the FLOTUS be called ugly, a monkey, angry, or manly? How many times will those deeming she is unfit to represent the US censure her physique while simultaneously working out what seems to be a personal fixation? Moreover, how many times will the FLOTUS’s derriere serve as an alibi for undue attention, fears, fetishes and repulsions?

Whatever one may think about Michelle Obama, at least her initiative is all encompassing. For those who’ve missed it, Let’s Move is another way of saying let us move. Let us all treat our bodies better by exercising and eating healthier. And most importantly, let us ensure that everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, has access to these options. Perhaps therein lies the real issue: a black woman in Washington telling mainstream American what to do regarding class disparities, or really, telling those use to directing others anything at all?

For those thinking Sensenbrenner’s comments had nothing to do with race (or the location where race meets gender in the bodies of black women), please ask yourself why Reagan and Bush weren’t admonished for their initiatives—in a similar fashion. The difference lies in not only language (I don’t recall these women using the pronoun “us” when advocating their moralist platforms) but in their privilege and strategic targeting. Reagan emphasized drug use and trafficking in urban areas while Bush placed emphasis on women, children and the impoverished. White men, especially the wealthy, were left alone.

Of course Sensenbrenner has apologized by now, however, only after attempting to put Obama in her place. And what better way to do that than to police her daily habits (i.e. eating and exercising) while reducing her to her bottom and deeming it abnormal? Doing so allows Sensenbrenner to maintain a position of power, reaffirm conventional notions of beauty, and play undisturbed in his little “primitive paradise.”
Unfortunately, Sensenbrenner isn’t the first nor the last to embody such racist and sexist ignorance, and the FLOTUS isn’t the only member of the First family to be subject to its wrath.

Tamura A. Lomax, PhD, studies specializes in religion, popular culture, and race, gender and sexuality in the Black Diaspora. She hosts a cyber series, “Women, Politics, and Feminism” for The Feminist Wire, a cyber news-site co-founded with Hortense Spillers. She is currently at work on a monograph Bishop T.D. Jakes’ Woman, Thou Art Loosed Phenomenon, and the co-edited collection Womanist/Black Feminist Responses to Tyler Perry’s Cultural Productions.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hip-Hop, Post 9/11

Autumn 2011 Perkins Perspective marks the beginning of its fourth year in existence. In this e-newsletter, we have tried to model Reconciliation 2.0. In this issue, that means our feature articles represent collaborations between Seattle city government, an affluent urban Presbyterian church, a community development organization, and church in a low-income community in the process of gentrification. Another article introduces you to a former student and staff member involved in urban missions.

All of these pieces coalesced in the midst of my contributing to a Seattle Times' piece on the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. As I look at the images of the Palestinian rappers and the iconic RUN-DMC, I'm reminded of the weeks and months following the fall of the Twin Towers.

On September 12, 2001, I was in Kobe, Japan, taking a brisk walk outside in preparation for a long flight back to Seattle. It had been a whirlwind week of taking care of immigration issues with my pregnant wife. As I walked along, the villagers bowed deeply and said, “Ohayo Gozaimasu,” the most polite morning salutation from the same people who had all but ignored me on prior walks. (I was used to being ignored by strangers on previous trips, unless they were drunk and wanted to tell me that I looked like MC Hammer or Michael Jordan.)

Not long after, my wife and I were preparing to leave for the airport when a neighbor arrived with a newspaper. She held up the front page, blaring the news of the World Trade Towers’ destruction.

That week, as I haunted train stations and malls in Japan’s Kansai area waiting to return home alone, I‘d occasionally run into talkative Middle-Eastern men who wanted to chat about being in the States. Once back in Seattle, I found a parallel phenomenon: Young Middle-Eastern men were now greeting me with the universal black salutation: “What’s up brother?” They said it with a look of sadness and solidarity. These emotions, and their implied politics, emerged from their recognition that they, too, would experience unfettered racial profiling.

Here I have to explain: When I was dating my wife, Risako, she was an exchange student fresh from Japan. Watching my interactions, she thought I was in some sort of (black) secret society or a special agent, because whenever I passed another black man on the street, or encountered them at the bus stop, or in a restaurant, we’d give each other a head nod and a silent, “what’s up?” Now I found myself receiving this old-school greeting from my new found Middle-Eastern brothers. It was intriguing.

I developed a theory. Following the attack on the World Trade Center, men with Middle Eastern backgrounds began experiencing the same stigmatization and public scrutiny as black men had for centuries in the United States, and they with a greater intensity. Now, under increased scrutiny in our surveillance society, racial profiling caused them to feel the ever-present burden of their race and religion.

In speeches and print, the burden of blackness has been articulated by black leaders from Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King Jr. In our hip-hop era, commercial and conscious African-American rappers have used hip-hop as their version of a “black CNN” to communicate the sense that being a black man in America has led to a social dynamic that made them public enemy number one.

While African-American men had experienced slavery, legal segregation, Driving While Black, and the War on Drugs (now known as the New Jim Crow) for years, after the attack on the World Trade Center, Arab and Muslim men were suddenly under the glaring spotlight as we moved towards a War on Terror, stigmatized as potential extremists and profiled in public and private.

Unexpected Shifts The War on Terror began during my graduate school years while I spent my time in seminars and libraries thinking about numerous social and medical issues lens of race. These experiences have culminated in my ability observe a common perception among some Arabs and Muslims and African Americans in the global hip-hop nation. While on Hajj, Malcolm X began to recognize the humanity of Arab and non-Arab Muslims, 9/11 provided a deeper and more politicized context for reciprocity on a deeper level.

My observations are tied to my encounters with Arabs and Muslims following 9/11. Yet, they go back even further, to my experiences on the street and in academia. My first-hand familiarity with hip-hop and training in cultural and race studies has allowed me to see something new among some Arab and Muslim youth, and those that identify with them.

That is, the appropriation of hip-hop and their stigmatized identity as a means to speak back to mainstream society.

As a young man, I listened to hip-hop music during the War on Drugs, when neo-black nationalism emerged in hip-hop’s golden era it seemed to reconcile our past and present moment in dystopia for many young black males in the age of crack. Likewise, this music resonated with young Arabs and Muslims. Prior to 9/11, hip-hop music had deep roots in Islam; in fact, Islam has been called hip-hop’s “unofficial religion.” But whereas Islam’s influence on hip-hop originally came primarily through African-American Muslims and other black religious cults, as described in Arthur Huff Fauset’s Black Gods of the Metropolis, now we see Arabic, Muslim, and Jewish youth appropriating hip-hop language, music, and style to subvert narratives that criminalize them, and as a tool for reconciliation.

In 2008, Naeem Mohaiemen wrote about this shift in hip-hop culture using in DJ Spooky’s book, Sound Unbound. In an article whose title is lifted from the hip-hop neo-black nationalist group Public Enemy, "Fear of a Muslim Planet,” he concludes:

One of the most overused phrases is "after 9/11." Yet we can at least say that the new realities have brought a change to Muslim hip-hop.

For Muslim youth, there were two new forces in their lives. First, there is the crackdown on Muslim civil liberties, expressed through the Patriot Act, INS deportations, "special registrations," "extraordinary renditions," no-fly lists, and torture memos. Second, there are the continuing U.S. wars of occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq. All this has inspired the rise of new Muslim-identified hip-hop bands. Many of these are now Sunni affiliated and some are led by children of Muslim immigrants. Hip-hop remains the singular voice of black America, but that core is now made larger by Arab, Asian, African, French, and British Muslims.

These youth have developed a distinctly assertive identity under the descriptor "Generation M[uslim]," a movement that has gotten the attention of bloggers. Groups with identifiably Islamic names — Sons of Hagar, Arab Legion Divine Styler, Halal Styles, Iron Crescent, Mujahedeen Team, Native Deen, the Iron Triangle, and Young Messengerrzz — are defining themselves both as traditional Muslims and as multiracial.

Prior to 9/11, politically conscious African-American rappers tended to focus their subject matter on a derivative form of Islam, secret knowledge of the 5 percenters, and American racial politics within the black-white binary. Things have changed. One anthropologist of education interested in “hiphoporaphy” has tracked how shifts in the hip-hop nation are coinciding with globalization and the War on Terror, a phenomenon which in turn tracks with old-fashioned American racial attitudes.

In a recent fracas at the Rye Playland amusement park in New York, 15 people were arrested and the park shut down after a fight broke out between police and a group of Muslims. The Muslim patrons became incensed when a group of women were barred from certain rides because of their headscarves. In brief, these patrons felt that they were being profiled due to their conservative attire, which reflects Muslims enduring social aggression in the form of profiling and exclusion that African-Americans have endured for years. It was the ability to presage these kinds of experiences that led young Arab and Muslim youth to pick up the frustration among non-white American hip-hop artists and devotees.

Political Shifts, Media Transformation, and Cultural Transformations

A number of observable causes have led to this synthesis of Arab, Muslim and African-American cultures in the realm of hip-hop.”First, we are witnessing an increasing fluidity in identity performances among many Arab youth outside the United States who are identifying their experiences with the War on Terror and global warfare with those of African-American communities that have lived through, and rap and write about, the War on Drugs, urban poverty, police brutality, suspicion, and surveillance. Second, through art, music, film, and the Internet, we find black speech, culture, and ideologies being absorbed in the Middle East and Third World. Black youth identity politics have become mobile in such a way that transcends pop or commercial culture. Finally, African-American urban (or street) and Middle-Eastern identities are being projected across global geographies.

Here in Seattle, our own Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler of Digable Planets has reinvented his act under the moniker Shabazz Palaces. His artwork incorporates pseudo-Middle-Eastern imagery. No longer “cool like that,” when performing, he often wraps his head and breast in the Palestinian kuffiya, a scarf that indicates solidarity with Palestinians, which have become synonymous with the ubiquitous hoodie seen in the recent London riots. After 9/11, high profile and street black males appropriated the scarf into their wardrobe for both superficial and political reasons. Similarly, Israeli rappers DeScribe and Remedy sell the scarves to fund their efforts. Two years ago, while a student, Ha Neen combined the scarf into urban fashion.

In 2010, Ha Neen’s activism at the University of Washington revealed how hip-hop devotees were using the music and culture to respond to racial profiling and the War on Terror. As a leader with Students for Justice in Palestine, she helped to sponsor two global hip-hop events: Brooklyn Beats to Beirut Streets and Writing’s on the Wall. In the first show, hip-hop artists Nizar Wattad and Omar Chakaki (hailing from Palestine and Syria, respectively) cultural activists and spoken-word performer Mark Gonzales, an Alaskan-born Mexican-American who identifies with Arabs and Muslims interrogated identity, hip-hop culture, and growing up as an "other" in the United States. In the first performance, they reveal how hip-hop and social justice created the context for reconciliation and healing.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Nizar Wattad truly heard the music for the first time. He went on to become hip-hop producer and screenwriter. He also helped fund Slingshot hip-hop, a documentary film on Palestinian hip-hop. The film has been called straight of out of Palestinian, which reveals its connections to black rap classics, Straight Out of Compton and Matty Rich’s Film Straight out of Brooklyn. In Slingshot a Palestinian rapper says, “We are the black people of the United States.” In 2009, the documentary New Muslim Cool detailed the struggles of Puerto Rican American rapper Hamza PĂ©rez, a former drug dealer, who attempted to turn his life around and redeem incarcerated me through introducing them to Islam.

On numerous levels, these artists work and testimony reveals how they see hip-hop as a subversive truth-telling medium connected to the African-American experience. The ability to tell their story provides the opportunity for empathy, dialogue, and reconciliation.

A naturalized citizen of the United States, Wattad became a devotee of hip-hop after hearing the music in Palestine. When talking about his movement toward identification with the black experience, he says the attacks on 9/11 motivated him to form a hip-hop group as a means to produce a counter-narrative to the mainstream media’s portrayal of Arabs and Muslims as “billionaires, bombers, and belly dancers.”

In Writing’s on the Wall, Gonzales, and other performers sought to “build a united front to bridge communities affected by physical barriers. The wall in Palestine, the U.S.-Mexico border, and the struggles against injustices [against all people] for human rights.” Gonzales believes that many non-white communities have experienced many "9/11s.” Gonzales has a valid point. However, I see something new here.

From my perspective, the ongoing War on Drugs and War on Terror, creating what many perceive to be state-approved terrorism in age of increased surveillance, are blending with memory and the poetic possibility of the creation of a community through hip-hop. New York City has hip-hop and tourist units. Following 911, for those affected disproportionally globalizing racial profiling based on race and the micro-physics of surveillance, hip-hop culture and Web 2.0 provide the mediums for the voiceless to contradict mainstream media.

In brief, the tragedy of 9/11 has-re-politicized the art, culture, and worldview of many participants in hip-hop culture in a manner that creates the context for reconciliation beyond the dividing walls that Christ eliminates.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Organs for Sale!?

I have been thinking about the fact that the field of American bioethics was established upon the principles emerging from the Belmont Report partially in response to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. A study predicated upon overriding patient or subject autonomy.

When it comes to organ donation in the United States, truth is stranger than fiction. Almost 8000 individuals are on an organ donation waiting list in New York City alone. Although a few hundred fortunate individuals will receive organs in the span of a year, hundreds more will die waiting. Of late, economists have been exploring the idea of “adjusting the supply-and-demand problem through market incentives. Instead of asking people to donate their organs, why not just pay for them?” This practice would put a new face on neo-liberalism. In brief, I'm worried that this practice would leave us in ethical quicksand.

Emotional reasons, practical motives, and comparable situations inform the current discourse on moving towards paid organ donations and the need for caution.

First, critics of the current system argue that altruism as a motive hasn’t worked in alleviating the problem. On an average day in the United States, at least 110,371 people are waiting for an organ, and each day approximately 18 of those waiting will die before receiving a donation. Second, while the federal courts make it illegal to sell organs for many reasons, we don’t prohibit individuals from selling blood, plasma, semen, and eggs. Indeed, newspaper ads solicit Ivy League women to sell their eggs for $5,000-$100,000.

Third, in countries like India, organ sales are the norm, and kidneys are a hot commodity. These statements about the existing state of affairs seem to provide reasons for moving beyond what Leon Kass calls the “Wisdom of Repugnance” or the “Yuck Factor.” Yet let us look at these motives again and ask ourselves, as others have in the past, if “saving lives is [really] more important than abstract moral concerns.”

In a brave new world where the market ruled and individuals were allowed to sell their organs, our present ethical and practical dilemma would only worsen. To begin with, if altruism hasn’t motivated individuals to part with their organs, then should we appeal to baser human motives? I think not. In fact, one can imagine that paying for organs would increase the existing racial disparities seen among organ recipients of different races. According to a 2008 article in The Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, “black patients with end stage renal disease comprise more than a third of the kidney transplant waiting list but are 2.7 times less likely to receive a kidney transplant than their white counterparts.”

Purchasing organs sets up further barriers to egalitarian organ donation, “group[ing] life-giving organs with other most basic goods that should not be available to the rich when the poor can't afford them.” In addition, the possibility of exploitation and corruption arises from the commodification of the body, notably “exploitation of the poor and the unemployed, and the dangers of abuse—not excluding theft and even murder to obtain valuable commodities.” Research also reveals that in countries where organ transactions are condoned in order to help the poor get out of debt, the donors usually end up right back in their previous financial circumstances.

Clearly, one can find as many arguments against paid organ donation as for it. However, the temptation to err on the side of profit is too great to allow in the medical arena, where physicians should prioritize the care of the patient. While medicine is a lucrative field, organ sales would have a negative impact on vulnerable populations and sick patients.

We can imagine websites and personal ads soliciting healthy donors, and the poor seeking relief by selling their organs. Moreover, organ donation for profit would lead to new questions about end-of-life care that few of us are ready to address. Considering the difficulties that our government has encountered in regulating other industries, changing the law to allow the market to reign in organ donation programs will leave us slowly sinking in ethical quicksand.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Death of the Christian School Movement

I've asked invited Historian Ed Carson to share a recent blog entry with us over here at the John Perkins Center.

Ed inspires me on a number of levels. To begin with, Ed runs as much as I did before Risako and I started growing the kingdom organically (i.e., having children), or more. More importantly, Ed is a committed teacher at an elite Christian high school in Texas, who has resisted the tempatation to rest on his laurels. He keeps pushing his students, colleagues, and himself to think critically and puruse excellence. Last, but not least, he is an active blogger.

I believe that Ed's thoughts on the Christian School Movement has implications for how we think about diversity at Christian Universities, and our own hidden transcripts. Of course,in our pluralists society,Christian universities play an important role within the ecology of higher education. However, we can never reflect too deeply on how trends outside of our Christian enviroment have shaped the way in which we have reshaped our missions and constituted our institutions. I invite you to reflect on some of Ed's conclusions based on his research, and join him over at The Professor.

Ed has written:
While doing some reading on why the Christian School Movement is now dead , I have listed the following as my conclusion:

1.) It grew out of religious fundamentalism and weak academics.

2.) After Brown v. Board in 1954, racism championed its cause. Many southern churches opened their basements and Sunday school classes to allow parents an option. Many parents from the South sought options that would protect their interest from that of the federal government. By creating a school in a church, the federal government could not invoke its voice.

3.) The movement promoted and endorsed unqualified teachers. Many were not academics, but Sunday school teachers with a single agenda.

4.) Fundamentalism has shifted to the home school movement due to the financial uncertainty of the schools that made up this movement, and the limited options of other types of Christian schools that did not compromise to an overly conservative audience. Many Christian schools seek to expand the knowledge of students by recruiting an elite faculty. Of course, such faculty members tend not to have a singular agenda. Many are highly academic. Case in point: This creates a conflict between the mission of parents who believe Bible classes should be taught like a Sunday school class, and not like an academic discipline.

5.) It lacks racial, cultural, and intellectual diversity. With small endowments and the inability to raise money, schools of this movement fail to attract a diverse population. Such schools also struggle in attracting faculty members that are both racially, politically, and intellectually diverse.

As noted in Pearl Kane and Alfonso Orsini’s work, The Colors of Excellence:

People of color, be they African-American, Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern or whatever ethnic group, have spent years discovering their roots, developing a keen pride in their heritage, and accepting who they are. So don’t expect the current crop of prospective faculty to fit into your conservative profile. Many of them will not, and, frankly, I don’t think they should even try! Is that shocking? Is that unacceptable to you and your clientele? Then, perhaps, diversity is really not for you. If a turban or a dashiki pants suit offends, then so will diversity! Diversity by definition implies that the status quo will be upset.

6.) Schools try to be and function like a church. Thus, there are too many single denominational schools with little academic focus. A school cannot be nor should it be a church.

7.) Status usurped that of faith. Some parents have learned that schools cannot be a church. Schools must be institutions that will offer the greatest opportunity for the future success of their student. Thus, it is the job of parents to teach their faith, not schools. Now, this does not mean a school should lack a spiritual component. Many of the best sectarian and nonsectarian schools in the nation offer this.

8.) Schools that were or are a part of this movement have invested poorly. They were satisfied with sub par facilities and little to no endowment. Because of race and the radicalism of the 1960s, the movement lacked a vision beyond that of dogmatism. In essence, their alums are not in a position to contribute to the present cause of the school.

9.) Pluralism is highly significant to the 21st century student. Schools of this movement tend to subscribe to a wholly protective way of thinking.

Disclaimer: I am not talking about Christian schools here; I am more concerned with the movement born out of the 1950s. Schools like Houston Christian and the Wesleyan School of Atlanta are grounded in the Christian faith; however, they seek a much wider mission than those of the Christian School movement. Keep in mind that a school can be religious and academic. But, the school’s mission must call for it.

The topic of faith and race is one of great interest to me. I want to use this post to jump-start an online discussion of Divided by Faith. The above topic fits in very well with much of Emerson’s historical analysis. If you are interested in participating in this forum, I will use the following two dates as days to address the book: February 10th (Intro. to Ch 5), and February 24th (Ch. 6 to conclusion. The work is not very long. I believe the first 5 chapters are only 93 pages long. Fire me an email or leave a comment if you think you would like to participate. I will open the discussion with my own reflections from the reading. Then, I hope to have some conversations not just about the book, but about Christian education, Christian schools, nonsectarian independent schools (many grew out of racism too), and faith. You can order it here. Below is a summary of the work:

Here is a summary:

Both religion and race have played important — and sometimes deeply interconnected — roles in American history. Religion was used to justify both slavery and abolition; likewise it was used to justify both segregation and desegregation. Today even conservative Christians support equality between the races, but that doesn’t mean that everything is settled or peaceful. In truth, evangelical Christianity continues to reinforce racial divides.

Edward Carson is currently an instructor in the Department of History and Social Sciences at Houston Christian, a nondenominational independent day school in Northwest Houston. He teaches courses in the areas of American Studies and European History. He holds multiple memberships in various historical societies, and has delivered conference papers at a number of different venues that focus on matters of race, class, gender, and instructional pedagogy. He is currently co-authoring a book on W.E.B. Du Bois.