2015/02/19

What in a Team Name? A Lot!

It is almost impossible to not know about the controversies over sports team names that are named after slurs or white shorthand for Native Americans as they are pretty consistently in the news. I haven’t owned a television for over ten years, but the controversies about these names is also in the newspapers, radio, etc… I have felt for many years that these names are wrong and offensive for several reasons. Those reasons can be slightly different depending on the particular ‘name’. Here are some of the names and my thoughts on them.

Redskins - This is a word that was used to describe the skin color of Native Americans and is widely considered to be a racial slur and studies show that to most likely be correct. Why it’s a slur – whether the word means the color of skin, a bloody scalp, or a description of the corpse with the scalp removed – seems clear. In 2014, Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo activist stated: "The name itself actually dates back [to] the time when the Native American population was being exterminated, and bounty hunters were hired to kill Native American people... So, in order to show that they made their kill, they had to bring back a scalp or their skin." According to the Los Angeles Herald, different parts of the colonial government would pay up to 50 pounds for the scalps of Indian males over the age of twelve, 25 pounds for Indian women over the age of twelve, and twenty pounds for the scalps of children of either gender. The owners of the team named the “Washington Redskins” state that the team name is respectful and has been from its inception, however, it appears that is not necessarily true and is more of a myth that is clung to in the hopes that they will not feel forced to change the team name. In the end, many people see the word 'redskins' to be as rude and bigoted as the word 'nigger'... if we are unable to accept the use of that word because of its connotations, why would we be okay with this one?

Braves- One the face of it, this word seems respectful. It brings to mind an Indian warrior – a tall male, proud, and strong, etc... However, when I really thing about this I realize that I am seeing an image in my head that is part myth, part caricature. I am not seeing what that word really shows because I do not know the culture well enough to understand the full nuances of what the word really symbolizes. So what this term really suggests is what white people think of Indian culture which shows how not only how limited our understanding of their culture is, but how little we actually respect it as well. A whole intricate culture is not made to be simplified into a few actions of a mascot or boiled down to a single stereotype or image. So, in the end, this word really isn't nice or respectful either as many Native Americans have tried to express to us through speech and writings. Currently, the US has a major league baseball team named the Atlanta Braves and a few minor league affiliates with the same name.

There are other team names that are named after specific tribes (such as the Chicago Blackhawks and the Florida State Seminoles), stereotypes (Elora Mohawks) or simply as Indians (such as the Cleveland Indians) and they tend to be seen by native tribes as offensive, racist and derogatory. When I look at the issue in that light, I can't have any opinion but that the names need to be changed. First of all, while it might cost the teams money to change things, it would be a very great gesture which I believe would go a long way into helping to promote healing in the Native American community. I also think that would potentially bring in more revenue as another group of people who currently feel angry and alienated (and maybe even mocked) would potentially become customers when it feels more respectful and fun for them. Sports teams have been complaining over the last several years that they need to attract more customers- this seems like a good potential way to do it. It also seems like changing a name is really a small thing to do to help build bridges and create opportunities for community gathering and understanding. Just my thoughts....


pictures from:
http://www.redskins.com/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta_Braves,

2015/02/18

Open letter to Dr. Glenn Cummings @UMA


I felt inspired to send a letter to the University of Maine president about changing some general education requirements for the student body. Here is a slightly edited version of the letter I sent him last November. I do not hold out a lot of hope that my humble letter will change anything, but I wanted to express myself. I think that everyone who studies some of these tough topics such as genocide walks away a changed person and can feel motivated to make changes in their own behavior and to actively work more towards peace in their families and communities. If this letter helps even one person or convinces someone to study more on these challenging topics, it will have been worthwhile. :)

Glenn Cummings, President
Office of the President
46 University Drive
Augusta, ME 04330


I am writing this letter to express my desire and a suggestion for a uniform change to the general education requirements to all academic degree programs that are facilitated by the University of Maine at Augusta. The change that I am advocating for is an addition of a modern day genocide class to the general requirements for graduation.

One of the important reasons for attending college and for the achievement of getting a degree isn’t just the ability to get a good job and achieve financial success/ security, but is for the ability to become better human beings and individuals in our families and the world around us. It is with this belief in mind that universities and the faculty who design courses and degree programs select many general education requirements for a student to successfully complete if they wish to leave the school as alumni with a degree in their hand and its knowledge in their heads. Among the topics that can be found in all degree programs are mathematics, writing and literary competency, humanities, applied sciences as well as social sciences and more. These ‘core’ classes are justified in degree programs to give studies an education that will help them in all aspects of their lives besides their core focus of study. For instance, students study humanity classes because through the exploration of the topics enclosed inside that label, a student learns to think more critically, to reason and ask questions, and to open their mind to more creative thought processes. In the study of humanities, we learn about other cultures and in doing so, we learn more about our own cultures. When a student studies a foreign language, they learn respect and an understanding of the relationship between language, culture and human nature as well as develop more flexibility in their thinking and behavior towards others. Mathematics is taught so that even students like myself who struggle to understand it and its relevance in their personal lives can recognize that it plays a vital, constant role in many aspects of their life and is a universal part of every human culture known. Science is considered vital because it demonstrates to every individual how the world, the universe, how our bodies work and how we are all connected with all other life. The study of science forces us to question, to not take blanket statements at face value, to require some validation before belief, and to recognize that failure is not an end in itself, but just parts of the journey to success.

All of these requirements are very important and necessary and I do not wish to take anything away from their importance by suggesting an addition. However, I truly believe that the addition of a required genocide class would be an important and innovative change to the general education requirements. Many modern day studies and the work of historians tell us that genocide is usually carefully planned. As long as the majority of individuals in every country believe that the act of genocide is an aberration and cannot believe that human beings for the most part really will not only commit genocide, but implicitly ignore it when it happens around them, the human race will never be able to prevent it. It is only by understanding and recognizing that genocide is truly preventable and will happen even where we live can people not only recognize it in its beginnings but also feel empowered to take action to prevent and if necessary, stop it. The University of Maine- Augusta is optimally place to set the standard and show the state and the country the example it should follow. As home to the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine as well as some faculty who have intensely studied the subject, these institution has a unique and enviable place in this regard.

I recognize that a suggestion from one student may not make a permanent change in the graduation requirements, but I also know that I must try. I also know that I have completed over a dozen history classes and, with the exception of the Holocaust, those classes have skirted passed though uncomfortable parts of our past as well as the world's. While history will help us better understand the past and maybe give us better insight into the future, it cannot if we ignore or do not discuss the worst that we can be. I respectfully ask that the presiding faculty of the University of Maine- Augusta continues its policy of leadership and make the necessary changes to the general education requirements of future UMA Students. Thank you for your time and consideration to my request.

Sincerely,


:)

2015/02/15

United States Governmental Priorities and the Office of Special Prosecutions


In our current times, some politicians like to argue about ways to cut taxes, cut the budget and to eliminate governments programs and organizations that they feel are redundant or unnecessary. I say current times, but this same process of politics and political spin has been around since governments began. One of the organizations that has been targeted by some politicians and talking heads lately to be eliminated is the Office of Special Investigations(OSI). A link to their mission statement found here.

On the face of it, the OSI is a really easy target. It is a small section in the criminal division of the US Department of Justice that only deals with human rights violations/crimes. Because of our laws and freedoms, there are only certain way to target those individuals that they find which is usually a long and expensive process- we do not charge them so much as a regular criminal and need to have overwhelming proof to deport them and then need to find a place to take them which isn't simple either. It needs a budget, but never creates an income of its own. With few exceptions, this department only works on 'cold cases' looking for people that are not currently in the news and for crimes that the majority of citizens do not feel have touched them or their families personally. The crimes they are investigating are huge with names like 'Holocaust' and 'genocide' that add another layer of distance from the average American as most of us have never participated in (we think) nor been affected by these human rights crimes in our daily or personal lives. So one the face of it, I can see why some people believe the department should be shuttered.

However, there are a few reasons that the Office of Special Investigations is of great value and needs to be kept open and funded. One is that the United States has a legal and binding obligation to do so. While the United States was one of the early signatories, the convention was not ratified until 1988. When signed (and afterwards ratified), our country agreed to work to prevent genocide and prosecute those who commit it no matter where in the world the acts were committed. In fact, when President Harry Truman signed the convention and then sent it to the Senate to be ratified, he stated: “The Senate’s approval would demonstrate that the U.S. was “prepared to take effective action on its part to contribute to the establishment of principles of law and justice.” Later, President Richard Nixon asked and reminded the Senate to pass it and it was later ratified with two reservations and an addition of legislation. That legislation was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan and was called the Genocide Implementation Act of 1987 which made genocide a crime if committed on our soil or by US citizens. There is no statute of limitations and comes with life imprisonment and hefty fines. At the time of its signature, President Reagan expressed that he would have preferred a bill that call for the death penalty, but “This legislation still represents a strong and clear statement by the United States that it will punish acts of genocide with the force of law and the righteousness of justice." So we have agreed to try and prevent as well as prosecute war crimes both in an international treaty and within our own laws. If we want other countries to abide by international treaties and laws, it stands to reason we must show the example and do so as well. While the department was originally created to find and prosecute Holocaust victims, we have had a few genocides since then and it seems to me that we must follow through not only with our legal commitments to prevent, discover and prosecute war criminals, but we must open it up to other genocides for two reasons; the continued finding of Holocaust perpetrators is going to become impossible soon as mortality will win that particular battle and if it is about the act and not the ethnicity or national identity of the perpetrator (as most were German from the Holocaust) then were must treat all genocides as equal and in need of our resources. I understand that this unit has started investigating and searching for those who have committed crimes in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, etc... and I am glad for it. Another reason that this office should stay open is because fulfilling our requirement under laws and treaties would be much easier if we had one department to do it that has specialized skills and the ability to focus on it. Local police forces would find themselves very challenged to take up this cases from tips and continue to do the local policing that they specialize at.

We also have a moral obligation to look for and try to create justice for those who have been victims of human rights crimes and genocide. When we concentrate on looking for the perpetrators and trying to hold them accountable, we tell the victims and others that we take what happened to them seriously and believe that they deserve justice. We also give people (indirectly) a lesson and warning- that this behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. By continuing to look and follow up on leads towards those who broke the laws, we do not give the offender easy rest because that person will always know that their lifestyle/ life is at risk... secrets do get found out. While I sympathize with the idea that sometimes the person who is caught is a good and active member of their community now, I do not believe that crimes of murder without some justice and restitution should be ignored... no matter how 'good' the person has been afterward. (I question if sometimes the individuals are good...not to be 'good'... but to not get caught.) The obligation that we have is not only to ourselves and our families but to humanity as a whole in pursuing justice and educating each other about tolerance. As all of us work together to acknowledge these crimes are unacceptable and work together to prevent them, then over time maybe we will hunt down fewer of these offenders... because there will be less crimes against humanity. Only then should we possibly consider closing the Office of Special Investigations. Only then...

2015/02/13

Genocide Denial - the Midianites and the Holodomor


I am still trying to decide for myself what the term' genocide' means with all its nuances and difficulties, but I feel pretty secure in saying that I do not believe that there is a lot of middle ground in the definition. If you have a desire/intent to rid yourself of a group of people specifically for something that they 'are' or what they have, it's genocide in my definition- no matter how successful you were at doing so. I take issue with the term 'somehow less genocidal' because genocide = genocide period. Causing the death of people for their politics is just as much a genocide as doing so for the excuses of race or religion. As we have studied this semester, I have found myself going back to things I have read or heard about that dilute the intensity of the word genocide by excusing or diverting the conversation away from the facts. An example is the attempted extermination of the Midianites by the Israelites in antiquity. The Israelite and their prophet Moses were frustrated by growing religious tensions between the two groups of people and that some Israelites were converting or following teachings that came from the Midianites religion. The God of the Israelites told Moses to kill all of the Midianites and the Israelite armies were sent out and conquered their foes returning home with all of enemy's property/ livestock as well as the women and children who survived the battle. Accordingly, when the soldiers returned to Moses with all the bounty, he is angry and tells them to kill everyone but the virgin girls. That was done and the passage ends with ritual purifying.

Some apologists suggest that God – and therefore Moses- only allowed the virgin girls to live because they would have had nothing to do with idol worship and that was why everyone else had to die. Others state that killing and war were necessary evils at the time and this was normal behavior. At least one source suggests that as Midianites are mentioned later in the Bible, this couldn't be a genocide because not all of the Midianites were killed- They were able to fight another war with the Israelites later. However, boy children and infants would also have had nothing to do with idol worship and they were killed and if some people managed to escape death that doesn’t make a genocide 'not a genocide'.... it simply changes the evaluation of its success.

Today the Russian government still denies the existence of the Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-33. (For a brief description and information see here.) I think the fact that the Russian government and diplomats took the time and opportunity to help shape the language of the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide' to exclude a 'targeted group' in their country makes one thing really clear to me... the men who helped craft the definition knew that what they did was genocide and so worked to make sure it wouldn't 'qualify'. I frankly find that heinous. I find the denial and the active participation to bury the crime almost as heinous as the original transgression. I believe this partly because I think that people who deny it because they genuinely do not believe the 'crime' happened and believe it has been made up are people that are so ignorant I can feel sorry for their lack of knowledge and understanding. Having a full knowledge and working to deny something for financial motives or to give yourself more credibility in front of other governments and the international community is pretty challenging for me to understand. I also find it provocative that a signatory of this convention who has basically agreed to try to 'prevent and punish actions of genocide in war and peacetime' ... is actively trying to distract the world from their own culpability and failings in the same areas. So to look at the Holodomor as 'somewhat less genocidal' seems a bit distracting and disingenuous; i.e. it's either a genocide or not. The major reason that seems to be given – that Stalin’s plans killed millions... many of whom were not Ukrainian, seems disingenuous at best because what that statement tells me is that those who say it recognize that it is a genocide.... just a much bigger one that encompassed a large 'class' of people rather than just Ukrainians.. (Lastly, I find a small irony in the fact that Russia has politically accepted the existence of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey and denies this one... they seem to be so alike in my mind that every argument to prove the “Great Catastrophe' proves the Holodomor as well.... deportations, false political accusations, government seizure of property, denial of food shipments and journalists, etc...)

That begs the question then as to whether the Holodomor is a genocide or not? The legal definition of genocide includes acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, racial or religious group. Acts include killing or causing serious physical/ mental harm and imposing measures intended to damage the group, prevent re-population and/or forcibly removing youth from the group to integrate them into other populations. When the whole of the Holodomor is looked at in this perspective and broken down, we can see how clearly this 'series of decisions/acts fits into the legal definition. Joseph Stalin created the artificial famine by decreeing impossible quotas on grain/ other food products and tight enforcement of them. When it was obvious that his plan was causing starvation and mass death, he did not change anything about the policy and actively denied food aid offered from other countries. If he didn't know what the consequences were when he started his plan, he certainly had the information to figure it out and stop it as time went by. However, written evidence suggests he knew full well what the consequences would be for the peasants by ordering 'the destruction of the kulaks as a class'. When he was told about what was happening from some of his own men, Stalin was quoted as saying, “Wouldn't it be better for you to leave your post and become a writer so you can concoct more fables!” He created orders to shoot anyone who stole even a small amount of food and reflected that it would be much easier to just deport all the Ukrainians but that wasn't possible. Along with other evidence, it seems clear that the intent to kill and demoralize the Ukrainian population has been proved. The Holodomor included millions of deaths as well as serious mental and physical harm as has been testified to by the survivors in their stories of cannibalism, deaths and oppression. Starvation as well as the inability to disperse themselves to safer areas also curtailed births as family relationships and communities collapsed. The Holodomor fits the definition of genocide without any difficulty. It is regrettable that its existence is still being denied and a source of contention between Russia and the Ukraine. The challenges that both countries are going through now seem to stem from the same problems and ideas that caused this genocide in the first place. Moving forward from a place of contention doesn't seem like a great way to move forward... more like a way to potentially have another serious conflict arise again that has the potential to turn into a genocide. I hope that will change… another genocide would be more than tragic, it would be… I just don’t have the words…


pictures from: http://freethoughtnation.com/moses-and-the-midianites/, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk/2012/01/was-moses-black-urban-daily-proposes-black-actors-for-spielberg-biblical-epic/, http://rt.com/news/holodomor-famine-pirozhenko-ukraine/, http://ocfordarfur.wordpress.com/2008/09/

2015/02/11

Reconciliation after Genocide


I believe that the model of reconciliation that was used in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide could be used in the aftermath for all genocides. Depending of the circumstances within each individual genocide, I think could be easily used with some potential changes if needed. There are a few reasons that come to mind that I would like to share. I think this may be a stream of consciousness post so I apologize in advance.

My first thought is that the idea... the process of reconciliation... is necessary to heal people and communities- period. The idea of 'to reconcile' is not necessarily simply defined. The simple side of the coin is that reconciliation 'restores friendly relations between' or 'cause to coexist in harmony', but we must also acknowledge the other side of the spectrum; 'to cause (a person) to accept or be resigned to something not desired.’ For any process of reconciliation to be successful, both sides of the situation have to be addressed and when we then look at that full spectrum, it becomes clear not only how important it is to accomplish reconciliation, but how difficult it actually will be in practice. One thing that happens with all genocides is that people leave. Victims flee and usually resettle themselves in an area they consider safe whether it's a few towns away or even continents. Physical distance can bring safety and even rebirth... but it also hinders this important process. An important part of reconciliation is communication and being able to try and open things up and create vulnerability for both the victims and perpetrators. The separation of both groups feels to me like a cauterization of a blood vessel; both sides are seared closed and apart which stops bleeding and open difficulty, but leaves the situation on unstable ground... Some may heal, some may become infected and permanently damaged, some will die, but all will have scarring from it. That scaring, permanent damage, or death can affect the families of the individuals as well as their communities in both small and large ways. I feel like many people cannot actually move forward without the communication and natural expression. Reconciliation helps both the survivors and perpetrators to deal with their fear, their mutual guilt (even if the guilt is different), as well as the anger and other emotions that has been closed inside their minds and body systems. From everything I have watched, read, and from the work that I have begun on my project, it seems like this is a crucial step for healing that many people are unable to get or participate in. If that could change for future genocide participants as well as those who are living today, I think that would be a really good step forward for not only those individuals, their families and their communities, but for all of us as a whole. This is not always possible. In the first world, people move more easily to other areas and perpetrators can more easily hide, especially if they have monetary resources. People who have fled tend to put down roots in new areas and do not tend to move back to their original places, especially when their property has been taken. However, I think that open communication with mediation and with the community remaining pretty intact is the best way to facilitate healing between all parties.

I also think that forgiveness is an important aspect of reconciliation that is not often addressed or is misunderstood. Some people believe that if you forgive your perpetrator, you have given them a 'free pass' or that their inappropriate actions no longer matter… i.e., justice is no longer important. Other individuals believe that if they forgive the person that they no longer remember or acknowledge the hurts and so they are stymied. Others are simply too angry and too hurt to be able to see what blessings they still have left; all they can see is their losses and what others (especially the perpetrators) still have. My understanding of forgiveness doesn't relieve the perpetrator or their guilt or crimes nor does it suggest that you totally forget the wrongs done to you. It doesn't require you to put yourself into unsafe situations with a perpetrator nor to focus on the loss and impermanence of the people and positions that we lose. I believe when we work on the process of forgiving, we do not do anything for anyone except for ourselves. We give ourselves permission to let go of the pain, to remember and recognize the past but not let it rule our current life and feelings. In essence, we release ourselves from the burden of the pain, anger, etc... and allows us to be able to feel the positive emotions of love and joy again in our life. Please understand, I recognize that forgiveness is really hard and the longer you wait and the more you feel you need to hold onto the 'bag' of experience, the harder it will be (if not impossible.) The model of reconciliation includes forgiveness in it and I think that is a very important but overlooked aspect that is important for people to be able to be able to really live and not just 'survive'. One last thought on this idea is that many of us find it challenging to forgive ourselves for our mistakes – far more difficult than we find it to forgive others. I think that a perpetrator needs to learn and work to forgive themselves. Denial, repression, shame, anger at oneself or even people who are too narcissistic rarely helps you or anyone around you and I feel like the perpetrator themselves is 'broken' until they are able to complete that process for themselves.

My last thought is that part of reconciliation in my mind is restitution. As many people mentioned in the documentary “As We Forgive” and in so many other resources and testimonies (and from my own personal experiences), service / restitution towards those we have harmed can help with healing and kind feelings for both the survivors and perpetrators. Survivors get a service that is needed and helps them to feel valued and important to the community they live in. Perpetrators get to serve someone they have harmed. Nothing they can do can replace or 'fix' what they have done, but the act of serving someone you have harmed changes the relationship between the two individuals. Over time as service is performed, a more positive relationship and feelings between the individuals are created and are able to grow. It helps people and communities to become more accepting of each other and their history and differences. Restitution brings us to the other side of the spectrum; the idea that something must be accepted that is not desired. For many people, seeing people, being around individuals who have harmed us is difficult. Why do people move away to other areas when they hurt someone? I suspect that it allows them to 'redefine' themselves and to 'start over'. Why do victims move away from the area of abuse or genocide? Some of the same ideas apply. However, I really feel that the model that Rwanda has given us is so valuable because it encompasses all three vital ideas of communication, restitution, and forgiveness that enables both individuals and groups to work together to recover and rebuild themselves, their families and their communities.

What do you think? Do you have a personal experience that you are willing to share?

pictures from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/As_We_Forgive, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/blog/radical-mercy-in-the-heart-of-rwanda/