It’s happened AGAIN! [UPDATED]

It’s still fresh, people are still weeping, and the number of lives lost is still being counted at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. So far, 20 children have been killed plus 6 teachers by a gunman, Adam Lanza, 20 years old. It’s been reported that he first shot his mother at their home before the shootings at the school. The gunman is also dead, apparently by suicide.

Parents around the country are weeping, including President Obama, and my Facebook newsfeed is filled with post after post of people offering prayers and calling on divine help, people calling for stricter gun control laws, and pleas for expanding access to mental health diagnosis and treatment. To those who say that it’s “too soon” to talk about gun laws and how to stop the violence, I say that’s horseshit. We had damn well better talk about it and talk about it right NOW because as I saw someone comment on Facebook earlier this afternoon, talking about after it happens is actually too damn LATE.

This is happening AGAIN after already happening just two weeks ago when Jovan Belcher, a football player with the Kansas City Chiefs, murdered his girlfriend and the mother of his 3 month old child, Kassandra Perkins and then committed suicide in front of his coaches the night before a game. This is happening again after a mall shooting in Portland, Oregon earlier this week. This is happening again after Aurora, CO’s mass shooting in a movie theater, after a school shooting in northeast Ohio, after a mass shootings on college campuses at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois, after Gabby Giffords nearly lost her life and several others did when Jared Sullinger pulled a gun and open fired at a rally in Tucson, AZ. How many more times must this happen AGAIN before we as a nation are willing to mourn AND then ACT to STOP this from happening AGAIN?

What’s happening in CT right now is the result of complex, intertwined issues including gun access, mental health access, and masculinity. This piece by Ezra Klein is nuanced and highly balanced and addresses some of the complexities of tackling gun access.

I do not understand people whose response to this tragedy is to go out and get a gun license so they can have their gun. That is only likely to lead to more lives being lost and injuries being reported. Everybody walking around with guns is not going to make me feel safer. I also don’t understand the responses that insist that “guns don’t kill people, people do.” No really, Sherlock? People make decisions to take another’s life. Yes, we know that. We don’t have to make it possible for those people to actually implement those decisions. Today, there was also a “homicidal maniac” (which is how I’ve heard Adam Lanza referred to several times today) who went to a school in China’s Henan Province. He was wielding a knife and while two dozen children were stabbed in this equally horrific tragedy, no one has died from those wounds because the villager had a knife and not a gun like Adam Lanza did in CT (who used guns licensed to his mother apparently it is now being reported).  I also do not understand the invocation of the 2nd Amendment in this argument. We no longer have the need for an armed militia, so there is no need for citizens to have personal guns to join in defense of the country. But it’s entirely too late to take people’s guns away, but it isn’t too late to STOP the manufacture, sell, and possession of automatic weapons. I live in a part of the country where hunting is a sport. Fine. You like to hunt, go right ahead, but you will never convince me that you need an automatic weapon to take down a deer, a bird, or any other animal that you intend to kill, eat, and mount its head on your wall.

A word about mental health access. There’s not a person who’s spoken out about any of the tragedies I’ve mentioned above, including today’s in CT, that has not questioned the mental stability and mental health of the gunman in question. I don’t disagree with those questions. I can’t conceive of anyone in their right mind thinking it’s okay and justifiable to kill innocent people, especially children between the ages of 5 and 10 years old as today’s child victims were. And yet, the FACTS are that people who do live with mental illness are more likely to be the VICTIMS of violent crime, not the perpetrators of it – read this article be s.e. smith. As smith writes here, “The false linkage between violence and mental illness is damaging and stigmatizing for mentally ill people, in addition to being incorrect.” This writer is absolutely right when ze says that such responses serve to just distance us “normal” people from “those lunatics” who kill people. We can’t insulate ourselves by targeting another population who themselves are vulnerable.

However, as Smith also acknowledges, we do have a mental health crisis in thsi country. And, I would add, that something isn’t right in one’s mind when violence is seen as the only feasible response to anger, pain, or frustration. That would put our whole country on a watch for mental illness given our unchecked militarism. Back to individual mental illness, I also know how difficult it is to diagnose and treat mental illness of the type that leads to this kind of psychotic break. Schizophrenia, sociopathic personalities, and other forms of psychopathology usually begin in childhood and require that parents and teachers recognize disturbed behavior and refer the child for treatment. Most of these people don’t end up committing mass shootings however, as s.e. smith points out.

In order for that to happen the child has to do something extreme and I have doubts that we would effectively identify people with true mental illness. After all, we have a history in this country of assigning mental illness based on race, not based on actual behavior. Racial minorities are overrepresented in correctional facilities, special education, and mental health facilities despite actually being underrepresented in the reports of those committing mass shootings. And yet, we must increase access to FREE mental health services and reduce the stigma attached to seeking help for mental health challenges.

Finally, a word about masculinity. It really cannot be ignored that the overwhelming majority of mass killers are men. Why is this? Writing about a week after James Holmes murdering rampage in an Aurora, CO movie theater, Lizzie Crocker discusses the socialization of men as central to understanding why it is that mass shooters are almost always men. The code of masculinity, as discussed by one of her sources, which socializes boys to reject any show of emotion as weakness, leads adults – including health care professionals – to ignore or misinterpret abnormal behavior in boys and young men. We must redefine masculinity in ways that do not include such platitudes as “boys don’t cry,” “don’t be a sissy,” and “be a man” as an exhortation to not admit fear, sadness, or weakness. Otherwise, violence becomes the only acceptable solution to one’s problem. Further, because men are socialized as boys to externalize their pain, instead of internalize it as girls are socialized to do (which leads to its own mental health and self-care challenges by the way), they will inevitably put others at risk of harm or death, as they seek to work out their own pain and trauma through the only means left to them to do so and be seen as “real” men – violence.

All three areas need to be addressed. Tighter gun laws without addressing mental health and masculinity will not prevent this from happening AGAIN. But developing a holistic, intersectional approach just might.

Praying, writing, acting for the victims, all of them.

UPDATES:

The shooter’s name is actually Adam Lanza, 20. His brother, Ryan, 24, has been taken in for questioning. I’ve also corrected some other factual details about the shooting as information is being released.

I have added more on the stigmatizing effect of immediately attaching mental illness as a root cause of mass shootings.

Rape, Pregnancy, and Non Sequitors

*WARNING: You’ll likely be ticked off by the end of reading this by something I’ve said. If you are deeply wedded to life-begins-at-conception beliefs, you really won’t like this. So, if you don’t like having your beliefs and the ways you’ve always read your Bible challenged, then you should probably stop reading now. And if you are going to be annoyed because they are not a bunch of links to allow you to verify what I’m saying, then you might want to stop reading now also. I figure it’s late, I’m tired, and you are fully capable of Googling all this if you doubt its veracity. I don’t mean to sound mean or hostile, I just want you to be prepared. Smile.*

Rep. Todd Akin, who is running for a Senate seat in Minnesota Missouri and sits on the House Science committee, went on record last week saying that in cases of “legitimate rape” the female body has ways of shutting down to prevent pregnancy – ergo there’s no need for a rape or incest exemption from more restrictive abortion laws. While the Republican Party is fighting like hell to get Akin to drop out of his Senate race and is distancing the party from Akin faster than Usain Bolt from his competition on the track, the reality is that Akin’s ideas are not that different than the Republican Party platform. Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, co-sponsored a bill with Todd Akin that would drastically redefine rape to be limited only to “forcible rape.” Moreover, the Republican Party platform will announce abortion policy that would make abortion much more difficult to access while NOT exempting rape and incest.

My outrage over this has been building since Akin’s comments went viral over the weekend, but what provoked me to write this post was Mike Huckabee’s, former candidate for president, response to Akin. He has claimed that since there are people who’ve done great things that were the product of a rape, there shouldn’t be a rape/incest exemption because we don’t know what “God” might do with that life to redeem the horrible circumstances under which they were created. Sigh. I’ve got 4 issues with this that I’ll run down right quick. These four issues are in addition to the idiocy and ignorance that led to Akin’s comment in the first place. Basically, I find these comments to be about as ludicrous as the DirecTV commercials but not nearly as comical.

Issue 1: I take issue with the ideology that every conception is a blessing because God is present at every conception. Okay, I know I just lost about half of you. Hear me out, please. In the Bible, it is written that when 2 or 3 are gathered together in my Name [God’s], there am I [God] in the midst. Well, I simply do not believe that rape –any kind of rape, stranger, date, forcible, deception, manipulation, incest, incapable of consenting – sets up the conditions that meet the criteria for God’s abiding presence. Just saying. Therefore, every conception isn’t necessarily a blessing. Besides, blessings don’t just exist inherently. To name an experience, event, circumstance, or situation is a blessing or not is to engage in constructive meaning-making of that experience, event, circumstance, or situation. Basically, what may be a blessing in my eyes, may not be a blessing in yours and I can’t push my interpretation on to you.

Issue 2: I take issue with the ideology that says that the ends justify the means. To make it sound religious, I’ll use a phrase I grew up hearing: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” Now, I just lost about a quarter of the rest of you still reading this. If you’ll bear with me, I think you’ll see what I’m saying. I do believe that good can come out of evil, however, that is not a justification for abetting the evil. You do not use what *might* happen that could be positive as justification for continuing to victimize the woman who’s been raped. She did not consent to the sexual act, she therefore did not consent to the pregnancy, and therefore she should not be forced to consent to give birth. Period.

Issue 3: Now for the other half of what’s wrong with this idea that if you abort the fetus that is the result of rape, you might be depriving the world of its next great thinker, scientist, freedom fighter, etc. I have three words for you: Get. Over. Yourself. Let me expound. As much as I have grown to love the movie, I blame “It’s a Wonderful Life” for this narcissistic belief that the world would be irreparably damaged if you (or anybody else) weren’t born. One thing I do know is that God will find someone else to fulfill your role in His divine plan (if there is such a thing – personally I just think that the grand plan is to get us to treat each other with justice and equity and we experience things that we can choose to allow us to push toward greater equity and justice or push us away from it). Besides, in the movie “The Butterfly Effect,” it’s eliminating someone from Ashton Kutcher’s character’s life that finally sets everything right.

Issue 4: I take issue with this ideology that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose what happens with her own body and more so that she should not elevate her needs over that of the fetus inside her. In the words of moral development theorist Carol Gilligan, higher levels of moral development centered around an ethic of care, involve women seeing themselves as morally equivalent to others instead of continually sacrificing themselves for others when doing so results in self-harm. What I see in the Republican Party’s anti-choice platform (because let’s be real, they’re not pro-life), is a denial of women’s moral equivalency. And that is just oppressive.

P.S. – I know I’m missing a #higheredWed post, but that will have to come tomorrow. I’m still trying to get the hang of keeping to my writing schedule while I’m doing my archival research. :/

#higheredWed: This is Our Business

On Sunday, August 5, Wade Michael Page entered a Sikh Gurdwara (temple) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin during worship services and opened fire. After the shooting ended and the suspect was among the dead, it was discovered that he had killed 6 and wounded many others. It’s another in a long history of hate-motivated crimes against Sikhs in the US that has spiked since 9/11. I’m grieved and disgusted by this latest act of violence and domestic terrorism, committed by yet another white male. I am equally grieved and disgusted by the response of some to this hate crime: Some have been distressed that Sikhs were “unfairly targeted” and mistaken to be Muslims (RT I saw the day of the shootings) and Pat Robertson has gone on record wondering if perhaps this massacre happened because “atheists hate God.” Besides the reality that no one is fairly targeted by hate-motivated violence and the fact that disbelief doesn’t equate to hatred, both Page’s actions and these examples of responses to it have reminded me of how vitally important it is that higher education get right in the middle of the work of promoting religious and secular pluralism and interfaith cooperation in this country and around the world.

I’ve been interested this week by the absence of discussion of this incident in higher education news outlets outside of reader forums on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website (I double-checked as I was writing this post just to be sure). I firmly believe that this incident is as much about higher education’s responsibilities to use education to promote understanding, cooperation, and equity as it is about the need to discuss our nation’s gun laws.

I have been engaged with advocating for higher education and student affairs to take a more central role in promoting religious and secular pluralism, supporting faith development, and creating inclusive campus climates that can sustain interfaith cooperation. Through my involvement with ACPA’s Commission for Spirituality, Faith, Religion, and Meaning (CSFRM), membership on the Interfaith Youth Core’s higher education advisory council, and my own publications, I have consistently argued that higher education, particularly student affairs, has an opportunity and a responsibility for improving people’s literacy in their own and others’ convictional beliefs, enhancing their competence with interfaith dialogue, and creating campus environments that reflect the inclusion of convictional beliefs as part of its social justice mandate.

There are three reasons why I believe that higher education and student affairs need to be right in the middle of conversations about why tragedies like this past weekend’s massacre happen and how we can move on from there. First, college environments are the crucibles for development and growth around issues of difference and diversity. A student’s time in college, regardless of age, provides opportunities for rich, substantive engagement with others across lines of difference and the space to practice how to build and sustain real relationships. Second, higher education institutions have been and need to ensure that they are taking active interest in the local communities in which they sit. Whether the institution is a community college, liberal arts college, or research university, all institutions ought to provide opportunities for community members to engage in dialogue about critical issues with the benefit of the knowledge wrought by active research, teaching, and service about these topics. This leads to the third reason higher education needs to have a seat at the table about interfaith cooperation and equity: faculty and student affairs professionals working together can equip people, both enrolled students and engaged community members, with the tools necessary to lead and support interfaith dialogue and cooperation, religious and secular equity, and promoting religious and secular pluralism. When faculty and student affairs professionals collaborate on these issues disciplinary knowledge is combined with deep knowledge and understanding of how people learn, develop, and grow. This is necessary for successful and effective collaboration in applying principles of equity and justice to real-world practice.

To my higher education colleagues, faculty and administrators, let’s not be silent at this time of all times. Let us speak urgently and clearly about what we have to offer and how we can help stem the rising tide of violence in this country targeting those who are different. This is our business. It’s time for us to get involved.

On Being an Angry Black Woman

Yes, I am an Angry Black Woman and I’m not sorry for it. Last Monday, The Root featured an article from Clutch Magazine by Shayla Pierce titled, “Sorry to Disappoint You, But I’m Not an Angry Black Woman.” This immediately piqued my interest and I read both the short excerpt on The Root’s website and the full article online at Clutch Magazine with a fair bit of wary curiosity.

In the article, Pierce recounts an encounter with a waiter while having lunch at a restaurant. There was something amiss with her soup, a foreign body floating in the broth, and Pierce called the waiter over and asked for her soup to be replaced. Pierce says that the waiter then became very tense, asking her to calm down, and everything would be taken care of. Now Pierce doesn’t recall getting loud, being contentious, or doing anything that would have provoked such a defensive response on the part of waiter. In her estimation, the waiter responded to the stereotype of an Angry Black Woman, instead of to the dissatisfied customer who was in front of him, who happened to be a Black woman. I recognized this in my own life; I have been told usually by White women that they find me “intimidating” and even that they were “afraid” of me. Like Pierce, I am pretty sure I’ve never given a public display of rage or even a level of impatience that would justify that kind of reaction. Granted, I don’t mince words often and I enunciate when I speak so that I can be heard and understood clearly; I don’t let my voice rise at the end of a declarative sentence as though I were asking a question and I don’t get easily intimidated by someone cutting me off while I’m speaking. None of this has to do with me being “angry” and I think a lot of it comes from being born and raised in New York City, attending high school at an all-girls school (Convent of the Sacred Heart), and being socialized in Black rhetorical styles on the playground, at church, and foremost in my own house. All of this upbringing has shaped my personality such that I’m usually somewhat stern at first glance and speak clearly, directly, and don’t take anyone’s b.s. Guilty as charged.

However, Pierce’s key point was to assert a certain way of being as a Black woman. As the title indicates, she’s sorry to disappoint those who expect her to become enraged at the slightest provocation, the epitome of what I guess she thinks it means to be an Angry Black Woman. She says, not necessarily incorrectly, that the Angry Black Woman is a myth, a stereotype, and she proactively and assertively disputes the stereotype through deliberately refusing to display anger, especially when White people are present. I heard a mid-level student affairs professional, a Black woman, express a similar sentiment in a training I did last Monday. She confessed that sometimes, many times, she would hide her authentic reaction to a situation fearing that if she were to show up authentic in that moment that she would be seen as the Angry Black Woman and lose her credibility as a professional working with a staff of predominantly White people. Pierce also acknowledges that Black women’s anger is often dismissed, causing real, substantive issues to be ignored while folks focus on the display of anger being performed and judge it to be a farce.

Hmmmm.

Anger does make people awfully uncomfortable, especially when they and their actions are the target of that anger. When marginalized groups get angry about their oppression, dominant groups tend to get jittery. In the same vein, anger is not always the appropriate response to every situation. As Pierce recounts in her article, something floating in her soup that wasn’t on the menu wasn’t much cause for rage. However, there are many issues and situations in life where anger and rage are not only appropriate and justified but are demanded.

I find it interesting that anger has been used to negatively stereotype Black women, “saucy” Latina women, Asian women, indigenous women, lesbian women, PMSing women – do you see a trend here? Yup, they’re all WOMEN who are systematically oppressed because they do not fit into the ideal trope of hegemonic femininity. Women aren’t supposed to be angry apparently and when they are angry, it’s a farce, a ridiculous display of inappropriate emotion. Moreover, women aren’t supposed to clearly and directly express the changes they want to see in their lives and in the lives of those around them (I’d like a new bowl of soup please). Women must control themselves and not be intimidating (read strong) otherwise people (read people with power) won’t take them seriously (read won’t be able to see them as cute anymore).

Oh please.

Several years ago, I read a book by bell hooks* called Killing Rage. When I first saw the title, I thought killing was meant to be a verb and assumed the book was going to be about squelching rage. Consequently I read it with a fair amount of apprehension; this was meant to teach me how not to be angry and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. But no, killing is being used as an adjective in the title and as a verb. Once I realized that, reading the book became very transformative for me. In her book, hooks justifies the need for what she calls a killing rage – a rage that is inspired by recognition of oppression and a passion for justice. This kind of rage should be stoked, not for the purpose of destructive violence, but rather to maintain one’s fire when you want to give up. But that’s just half the lesson of the book. hooks also documents the ways in which dominant systems try to squelch, or kill, the rage of marginalized groups for the purposes of maintaining the status quo. The first step to maintaining power and control is to diffuse people’s anger.

So, sometimes, when it’s warranted, I am an Angry Black Woman and I am not sorry for it. I am angry in response to systematic oppression and privilege, not because there’s a fly in my soup, Aldo’s doesn’t carry men’s size 6 in stock in Toledo, or even because somebody stepped on my foot in a crowded line outside the World of Coca-Cola. I am reclaiming the Angry Black Woman because her anger is useful and historically and presently justified as a fitting response to the killing and maiming of her sons and fathers, the raping of her daughters and sisters, the drying up of dreams like Langston Hughes’s raisin in the sun, and the constant threat of horror upon horror unleashed by an oppressive state.

I am not giving up my anger. As that participant said by the end of the training, it’s time to stop caring what everybody else thinks and show up authentic. Being angry doesn’t mean that I could be subject to psychotic rage at any given moment – that’s the stereotype, the farce that makes for high ratings on reality TV. Real anger, bell hooks’ killing rage, is fuel for action. Bayard Rustin didn’t school Martin Luther King, Jr. in nonviolent protest tactics because they weren’t angry, but because they knew how to use their anger as fuel, as motivation. Anger isn’t the absence of love, either. Both anger and love are rooted in passion, but moreso, anger is an outgrowth of loving something so much that you can’t stand to see it fail to fulfill its promise. Anger is also a sign of hope and faith that says you have not resigned yourself to the inevitability of the outcome. As Popeye used to say, “I can’t stands it no more!”

I think we all need to get angry so that we can all make change happen on behalf of justice.

Next time on #higheredWed, my response to the Penn State controversy.

*bell hooks intentionally does not capitalize the first letters in her name and so neither am I.

A Selah Moment

I was going to post a very passionate reflection today about being an angry Black woman and the value of anger as a tool of resistance. But I’m going to save all that passion and fervor for Monday. Today, I want to take a selah (I explain more at the end about selah) moment, to just pause and be silent, in a way anyway.

Selah.

In honor of and out of respect for the victims of the terrorist shootings (because terrorists aren’t just Islamic Arabs – there’s a great article by David Sirota on this), I’m choosing to silence the other thoughts and ideas running around in my head and sit in silence. I’m posting so my readers know this is an intentional choice not to add to the noise and the talk – and there is a great deal of talk going on right now. Some of it helpful like Sirota’s piece linked above. Some of it not helpful as it reinforces stereotypes and inflicts pain on marginalized groups.

Selah.

There is value in pausing; value in silence. For me today, it shows my faith that others will speak to this better than I; my hope that we will as a society realize our accountability to each other; and love of peace.

Selah.

Perhaps we can learn from our Muslim brothers and sisters who have begun the fasting period of Ramadan – a month-long pause if you will. As Najeeba Syeed-Miller wrote in her blog post preparing for Ramadan, this holy observance is about practicing a model of conflict resolution and serves as a powerful reminder to produce peace in one’s life.

I think we could all benefit from pausing in silence to practice how to produce peace, instead of producing more and more violence in our world.

Selah.

*Selah is a kind of musical notation used in the Hebrew scriptures, particularly the Psalms, which were meant to be sung, to signal to the musicians and congregation that it was time to pause and reflect on the words that had just been sung. It made the psalm more meditative, more prayerful. Today has been one giant selah moment for me.