Archive for the society and culture Category

Gay Prime Minister

Posted in politics, society and culture on January 28, 2009 by countryjim13

gay-pm2It seems that the gay rights movement will have a victory!  Iceland is set to appoint the first openly gay Prime Minister.  Iceland’s government recently failed as a result of the global economic crisis and Johanna Sigurdardottir, the social affairs minister is set to appointed as interim Prime Minister as early as tomorrow.  Once appointed, she will serve as Prime Minister until elections are held this Spring to elect a new government. (1)

For the first time, an openly gay person will be at the head of a nation’s government.  How much, if at all this will affect the gay rights movement in the United States or anywhere else in the world is not known of course.  This may be something of a small victory.  But it is a victory nonetheless and one that should celebrated.

Voices From History: Desegregation Activists Speak Out in Favor of Gay Marriage, Part I

Posted in just sayin', politics, society and culture with tags , on January 21, 2009 by countryjim13

As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) John Lewis was a leader of the civil rights movment to end segregation.  Since 1987 he has been  the United States House Representative for the 5th Congressional District in Georgia.  Below is a copy of an article written by Lewis and published by the Boston Globe on October 25, 2003.  In this article, Representative Lewis expresses support for same-sex marriage and equates laws banning same-sex marriage to the segregation laws he fought so hard to reverse. 


At a crossroads on gay unions

By John Lewis 10/25/03

From time to time, America comes to a crossroads. With confusion and controversy, it’s hard to spot that moment. We need cool heads, warm hearts, and America’s core principles to cleanse away the distractions.

We are now at such a crossroads over same-sex couples’ freedom to marry. It is time to say forthrightly that the government’s exclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from civil marriage officially degrades them and their families. It denies them the basic human right to marry the person they love. It denies them numerous legal protections for their families.

This discrimination is wrong. We cannot keep turning our backs on gay and lesbian Americans. I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.

Some say let’s choose another route and give gay folks some legal rights but call it something other than marriage. We have been down that road before in this country. Separate is not equal. The rights to liberty and happiness belong to each of us and on the same terms, without regard to either skin color or sexual orientation.

Some say they are uncomfortable with the thought of gays and lesbians marrying. But our rights as Americans do not depend on the approval of others. Our rights depend on us being Americans.

Sometimes it takes courts to remind us of these basic principles. In 1948, when I was 8 years old, 30 states had bans on interracial marriage, courts had upheld the bans many times, and 90 percent of the public disapproved of those marriages, saying they were against the definition of marriage, against God’s law. But that year, the California Supreme Court became the first court in America to strike down such a ban. Thank goodness some court finally had the courage to say that equal means equal, and others rightly followed, including the US Supreme Court 19 years later.

Some stand on the ground of religion, either demonizing gay people or suggesting that civil marriage is beyond the Constitution. But religious rites and civil rights are two separate entities. What’s at stake here is legal marriage, not the freedom of every religion to decide on its own religious views and ceremonies.

I remember the words of John Kennedy when his presidential candidacy was challenged because of his faith: “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source — where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials — and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

Those words ring particularly true today. We hurt our fellow citizens and our community when we deny gay people civil marriage and its protections and responsibilities. Rather than divide and discriminate, let us come together and create one nation. We are all one people. We all live in the American house. We are all the American family. Let us recognize that the gay people living in our house share the same hopes, troubles, and dreams. It’s time we treated them as equals, as family (source).

Checking Up On “Facts” Part II: The War On Christmas

Posted in politics, public notices, religion, society and culture on December 24, 2008 by countryjim13

Here is a link to a great article by Michelle Goldberg on about the extreme right’s attempt to actually create a liberal, secular, humanist war on Christmas as a way of acting like they are playing defense in America’s culture war when in reality they are on the offensive against seperation of church and state, pluralism, humanism, and cultural diversity and tolerance in general.  I highly recommend reading the article as means of fact checking this supposed “war on Christmas” that we’ve become all too familiar with thanks to conservative pundits such Bill O’Riley and a gang of preachers using their pulpit in this culture war as means of salvaging a small vestige of whatever political power the church may still have in the face of an increasingly liberal minded nation and the decreasingly weakened voting power of the religious right.  These preachers and pundits are using their made up war on Christmas to rally their troops in a culture war that is becoming increasingly heated  as it is more and more full of issues which the right <span style=”font-size:x-small;font-family:Verdana
sees it has very little chances of winning and so fights to win all the more ferociously.  If your power to influence real issues is continually on the wane, make up an issue to try and revitalize and energize your base!

Lost in the Shuffle : Native Americans and the Availability of Education

Posted in economics, just sayin', society and culture on December 10, 2008 by barbelith923

American history is filled with accomplishments, wars fought and triumphed, adversity overcome, an end to racial indifference, and rights put in place towards self expression without fear of reprise. Yet there is also the record of failures and injustices as well. It is true that our forefathers made mistakes in the name of progress. And in some cases, the word mistake is far too mild for such terrible deeds.  One example would be the attempts by the American government to destroy entire cultures through so-called education.  In as little as 100 years ago, Native American children were abducted from their families and forced into re-education schools to become, what the American government considered to be, civilized individuals. Sadly, rather than providing an education, children weren’t allowed to speak their native languages, practice their customs, or live life as they had been taught by their parents and elders. In many instances, these institutions dealt the final blow to some already struggling cultures. It could be argued that formalized education was originally one of the worst curses enforced upon America’s indigenous population.

These days however, an education may be one of the few things geared towards the survival of American natives. It could be said that a college degree may be the key towards not just the well being of the individual, but also to the community as well. In the last fifty years, many things have changed for the betterment of Native Americans. Yet it is not nearly enough. Still mired in poverty, resources are relatively few. And one of these missing resources is access to formalized and decent education. Out of almost all recognized minorities, Native Americans find themselves on the bottom rung of the ladder where access to education is concerned. In this small article, I will attempt to show the reasons why this is so. The subjects to be touched upon will be general issues that many minority students face, such as poverty, the availability of educational resources, and the ultimate goal of attaining a degree. We will then examine how they apply to Native American students. In addition, through the gathering of this information, I have been surprised to find one more additional issue which doesn’t seem to be mentioned in many reports on minority students. And that is the issue of culture as it applies to societal norms, and the general behavior of students and faculty on school campuses. From what I’ve observed, the issue of culture is a very large problem when it comes to Native students and learning institutions. We will examine these problems and hopefully be able to shed some light on the road towards possible solutions.

Purging The Culture Away

When discussing Native Americans and education, we must take a brief look at the history concerning these subjects. It does shed some light upon current issues. In the conquest of America, the Natives were considered a problem by those attempting to colonize the continent. Before 1870, the Natives were initially forced to reside on reservations. Yet new ideas began to surface with the concept of assimilating the Natives rather than segregating them. This led to the legal abduction of Native children, forcing them into schools with the distinct purpose of re-educating them. The goal was to make them civilized or “white”. The only other option was to become trained as a domestic servant. Yet, to hang onto their own unique cultures was strictly forbidden. We can see this in the methods used to transform these children. They were punished severely for speaking in their indigenous tongues. The same thing applied when practicing their tribal customs as well. Their hair was forcibly shorn and they were forced to wear westernized clothing. The goal itself was the loss of cultural identity while creating new and acceptable one, at least according to what white society considered to be acceptable. And as terrible as this may sound, it may be even more shocking to understand that this practice continued until the 1960’s. With the understanding of all of this, we can deduce that a bias probably exists due to the fact that these crimes against Native culture occurred up until only a few generations ago. Yet as negative as learning institutions may be viewed by members of the Native population, we cannot deny the importance of an education in America today.

Along with formalized education comes the promise of the idealized American dream. The idea is that anyone in America can make it to the top and fulfill the goal of attaining an upper class lifestyle through hard work and dedication. The puritan work ethic is still alive and well. Unfortunately, current statistics say otherwise. In fact, with the contemporary stratification of the lower classes, we may actually be watching history repeat itself in that the drastic income inequalities of this day and age have not been felt since the 19th century. However, a solution was devised in the past which changed a great deal of the situation. The answer was education. Not only were large amounts of money invested in education but ladders were created so that bright young students from all walks of life could receive a purposeful and useful education to better themselves. Stratification began to occur again however among the educated as they married and produced children who were born into an elevated status. Today, only 1 in 30 of lower class children will be selected for elite universities. What we can conclude, in this brief examination of the past, is that college graduates have received better opportunities and improved access to decent paying jobs. In addition, education may be the answer to income equalities. Yet what is the situation of stratified children today?

Social and Economic Stratification

When making an examination of those who fall under the classification of stratified individuals, we can divide them into two groups; minorities and the poverty stricken. Let me make it clear however that a good portion of the stratified belong to both groups. And since this article revolves around the Native Americans, who are considered to be a minority, let us take a look at the situation minorities face in general when it comes to elite learning institutions. Even in our modern times, racial tension can still be felt in many of these schools. We can also claim that the transformation of white genteel schools into pre-eminent universities has been slow. To put it bluntly, the numbers don’t lie. Let’s take the University of Virginia for example, who only began to promote changes in the 70’s. Taking a look at just a few years ago, it may be a bit surprising to discover that out of a student population of 13,000 that there were only 1,594 black students. In general, the number of white graduates when compared to minority graduates are just as one-sided. For example, 83% of white students graduate high school, while only 55% of Native students do the same. The numbers are just as staggering when looking at college graduates. Where 23% of whites graduate college, only 6% of Native students achieve the same goal. One more time, we can see an obvious leaning in the numbers. Yet why does this situation exist? Does the problem exist within the student population? The numbers seem to paint a different picture. Instead, we can probably conclude that a problem exists with the colleges and universities instead. In fact, we could probably go so far as to say that when it comes to Native American students, these institutions outright fail. And since we have examined the stratified, focusing in the issue of minority, it is now time to examine the issue of poverty.

It quickly becomes clear that the privileged or children of wealth have better opportunities when it comes to access to quality education. Granted, good financial means could make the purchase of an education easier. However, when it comes to the selection of students, an obvious bias exists. As before, quite simply the numbers don’t lie. In recent times, 60% of students at elite universities came from wealthy or alumni parents, with children of alumni constituting 40%. Upon further examination we can find even more bias leaning towards advantages for the wealthy. It has been shown that the children of very high donors are helped at a substantial rate. Another example is what is called the “Z list”. This is a deferment list for students to catch up when they have fallen behind. Overwhelmingly, this list is dominated by children of the wealthy. Unfortunately, the situation doesn’t seem to be improving for children who come from poor families. As of today, they have only a 40% chance of becoming students at these same universities. Upon examining statistics, we can see that the situation may be getting worse. From 1980 and 1982, the number of poor children in universities and colleges dropped 1%. However, the number of wealthy children rose from 55% to 60%. As we can see, inequalities do exist from the poor to the wealthy, with the wealthy having more advantages, while the poor are left to feed on scraps from a very rich table. Now having examined stratification from both a means of race and wealth, let us now turn to Native Americans, of whom a great portion fall into both classifications.

Hitting One Bird with Two Stones

The majority of Native Americans have it pretty rough, especially when it comes to life on the reservation. It can be said that life on the reservations can be nothing short of squalor, with very few opportunities to construct a life outside of it. Generations of Natives have been trapped in this environment without the financial means of escaping it. In this, it would seem that the segregation of the Native Americans continues to exist. Most are mired in poverty and it could be argued that Native Americans on reservations are of the most stratified. For example, the Pine ridge reservation of South Dakota has been compared to the poorest of third world countries. There are some houses with no electricity, no running water, nor any sewer system. The unemployment rate is staggering measuring at 85%. And yet, this is the third largest reservation in America. In general, life on the reservation is of the poorest quality. A great deal of the populace do not even possess a high school education. Yet, as we have seen, education, could quite possible be the road to freedom, not just serving the individual, but also the community as well. Upon taking a look at the Red Lake reservation in Minnesota, we can see that this condition exists outside of South Dakota as well. 40% live below the poverty line. Crime runs rampant at Red Lake, mainly drug and violence related. As we can see, the brutal living conditions do not apply to just one reservation but many. In examining the condition of most Natives, and reviewing the bias of universities towards whites and the wealthy, there seems to be very few opportunities to get a decent education. However, out of most minorities in the United States, Native Americans rank the lowest as far as receiving an education goes. Knowing that other minorities also suffer from poverty as well and yet are able to achieve more, might there be another factor other than ones previously discussed? As we shall see, the answer may be cultural.

When taking a closer look, we find that one aspect may have been overlooked in the majority of studies pertaining to Native Americans and education. Upon examining the culture of Native Americans and their history, we find more answers. We have already discussed a possible bias towards “white” learning institutions due to the history with Natives and forced re-education. Another aspect of the cultural problem may be in the hands of instructors at most colleges and universities. Most of these instructors experienced college life in a sort of homogeneous environment rather than one based solely on one cultural perspective. A good portion of Natives only get the experience of one culture due to the inability of being able to escape from it. In essence, they instead become dependent upon this culture to sustain them. Since most instructors, come from a more unified cultural experience, they may not have the ability to understand both the importance and impact of this cultural experience as it applies to Natives. This would possibly create a divide between the instructor and the student, which may ultimately lead to feelings of alienation in a very foreign environment. However, it can also be argued that school counselors can help in this capacity and ultimately enhance the development of a Native student. It is essential that awareness of culture, and the traditions surrounding it, be understood. This awareness could bridge this gap. Yet awareness is not enough without this information being placed in the context of the school at large. Colleges and universities may become places where the Native student is made to feel welcome rather than alienated from. And yet, as much sense as these ideas may make, with the exception of very few instances, these policies are currently not in place. It can be argued that accomplishments in school are the responsibility of the student. Yet it would be foolish to state that none of the responsibility falls on the shoulder of the staff and faculty of the university as well. In some ways, these institutions cater to the student to help them excel. However, we must ask if these same institutions have the willingness to cater to the Native student. Unfortunately, I must conclude that the answer is no. Yet where is the proof for my claim?

Tribal Colleges

The answer can be found in Tribal colleges. In 1978, Congress passed the Tribally Community College Assistance Act. It was created to ensure that there were opportunities in place and the expansion of these opportunities for American Indian students. Because these institutions are tribally controlled, students can find the cultural experience that they may be missing in other institutions. Not only are their cultural needs met, there is an understanding of aspects of the stratified life that most Natives are forced to live. Things like family and home life are understood, financial problems are catered to, and with unemployment being so staggering a factor, when a student does have a job, these colleges attempt to work with the student to help them stay employed. Therefore, I think that it is fairly easy to claim that tribal colleges do meet the unique needs of their students. Some have actually made claims that the creation of tribal colleges may be the most significant development for Native Americans in history.  This is not to say that these institutions do not have problems of their own, which in themselves are almost reflections of problems with reservation life. These institutions are horribly underfunded and their facilities are very inadequate. In addition, they are also increasingly understaffed as well. Yet having knowledge of these problems, this lends more credence to my point of culture being a large factor. It is obvious that the funding, facilities, and staff are probably of better quality at larger and more recognized institutions. Yet as we have seen, the number of Native students is incredibly low at these elite schools. However, upon examining the problems with tribal schools, it is surprising to discover that most Native students are completely satisfied with the education they received from tribal colleges rather than the education they received from other institutions. It could be argued that it may possibly be the familiarity of poor conditions in school to poor conditions in life that may create a means of comfort. However, offer an individual a choice between five dollars or fifty. I think it’s fairly logical which one would be taken. One more time, the obvious solution is the understanding of Native culture and it being implemented into the larger context of the school itself. Therefore, we can conclude that if other learning institutions were to attempt to satisfy the cultural needs of the Native student, the attendance of these institutions would probably improve. And not only would attendance improve, I think it’s quite possible that they would excel.

In examining the issue of Native American students and the lack of education among these individuals, I hope that I have been able to convey a few reasons as to why it may be occurring. In taking a look at the larger scope of the stratified, we see that there is an obvious bias towards those that are both white and from wealthy backgrounds. And therefore, since Native Americans are burdened by stratification, we can see problems occurring when Natives attempt to receive a quality education. Yet there is another factor which may add to the reluctance of these same individuals to attend universities of quality education, even if it was available to all. In asking the question as to why Natives are satisfied with an education from a substandard yet tribally influenced school rather than that of a well received and quality school, one conclusion that we can reach is the importance of a culturally influenced experience in education. Yet this is not intended to deny the burden of being a member of a minority or being financially stratified. These are obvious and troubling factors as well. Yet I cannot stress enough that more attention needs to be placed on the cultural aspects as well as the financial and minority aspects as well. The cultural solution may be one of many. We have examined other aspects as well. But there may be more. I argue that only through research will we find these missing pieces of information.

Our indigenous cultures deserve more than the paltry sum of attention they have received. Realize that these people are the descendants of the First Americans. After all the atrocities committed to them, from attempted extermination to the death of cultures through re-education, wouldn’t it seem reasonable to meet them halfway? Wouldn’t it seem reasonable to recognize the possible special needs and circumstances that they now find themselves in? Wouldn’t it also seem reasonable to do whatever possible to allow these folks to improve their condition and lives as they see fit? As we have seen, one of the key ways to improve our lives is through the attainment of an adequate education. From what I can see, we have no other course of action but to do what we can to bring this to fruition. Granted we may not have had a hand in the crimes committed by our forefathers. Yet as their descendants, the responsibility falls on our shoulders to heal what may still be some open wounds. Remember that crimes were still being committed in what could have been just one previous page in history books. These words cannot be erased. Yet, the future has not been written yet. Hopefully, we can write a book worth reading.