Cosby and Kavanaugh: Mapping race, sex, and power in 2018

Clarence Thomas: Black man accused by black woman of sexual assault is exonerated and appointed to the Supreme Court.

Bill Cosby: Black man accused by white woman of sexual assault is sent to prison.

Brett Kavanaugh: White man accused by white woman of sexual assault is exonerated and appointed to the Supreme Court.

The experiences of the three women referenced here are not the same. The specifics of the accusations leveled against these three men also vary. Yet, I still have to look at these three cases together. Bill Cosby sentenced to prison and Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee, accused of sexually assault, in the same week. And it’s impossible to talk about Brett Kavanaugh without referencing Clarence Thomas, who, 27 years ago, was appointed to the Supreme Court despite being accused of committing sexual assault. The Kavanaugh/Ford hearing mirrors the political theater of the Thomas/Hill hearing in many disturbing ways.

Yet what stands out to me in comparing these three cases is the element of race. Of these three cases, the only time the man was held responsible for his actions was in the case of a black man accused by a white woman of sexual assault (Bill Cosby). Historically, this is the narrative of rape in the United States; this has been the go-to excuse for the murder of Emmett Till and the lynchings of so many other black men. I am in no way defending Cosby for his acts, which were despicable and for which he should be held responsible. But I can’t help but notice that among all the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, many of whom were women of color, the only woman whose accusation led to his conviction was a white woman.

Meanwhile, Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against Clarence Thomas did not prevent him from receiving a seat on the highest court in this nation. Despite Thomas’ claims that he underwent a “high-tech lynching,” he was nonetheless appointed the the Supreme Court, where he sits to this day. Given the historical politics of race and gender in this country, it seems unlikely that Clarence Thomas would have received a Supreme Court appointment had his accuser been a white woman.

Like the testimony of Anita Hill, a black woman, was not enough to overpower Clarence Thomas, it appears the testimony of a white woman, Christine Blasey Ford, is also still not enough to topple the power of white masculinity. Brett Kavanaugh was still appointed to the Court.

It is my belief that it must be possible to locate individuals–men, women, or non-binary-identifying–in this country who are highly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court and who are not sexual predators. Apparently, it is not in the interest of those who hold power in this country to appoint these individuals to the Court.

But let’s not start bemoaning that we are living in a broken system. This system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Let us recall that the founding fathers, like Brett Kavanaugh, were wealthy, privileged white men. Let us recall that they designed a system of checks and balances in order to uphold the rights of wealthy, white men to control the entire workings of this nation. Let us further recall that some of these men were themselves sexual predators and slaveholders. A government designed to place wealthy, white men in positions of lifelong power in this nation and giving them the power to continue to uphold their own interests and the expense of women and people of color, and especially women of color, is doing exactly what it was designed to do, some two centuries later.

I would like to live in a nation where women who experience sexual assault and violence can find justice, no matter their race or the race of the perpetrator. It seems unlikely that a Kavanaugh appointment will be a forward step on this path.

Open Borders Now

During the lead-up to the presidential election I felt paralyzed by the fear of what might happen. Now that Donald Trump will actually become president, it is more important than ever to speak out for what is right. And that means arguing for open borders instead of building higher walls.

I have often asked myself idly, when my mind runs away with itself, what I would have done during the time of slavery in the United States, during the days of the underground railroad. Would I have sheltered the runaway slave, helped her on her way to the North, to freedom? Or would I have left to others the dangerous, illegal, yet indisputably moral work of providing safe passage to fugitive slaves, denounced slavery with my words but not my actions? I hope I would have opened my home to those fugitives from injustice, not just spoken empty words against slavery while I lounged in the shelter of my white home.

For some time, I have felt that the path of migrants from Central America and Mexico to the United States is the underground railroad of our time. Men and women who can no longer bear the conditions in which they live—the low wages, the long hours, sometimes the violence—make the difficult decision to grab whatever they can carry on their backs and run, in the dark of night, for the North, el norte, the land where they hear they can live freely. These migrants ride a network of actual freight trains known as la bestia, the beast, toward the north, where perhaps they can make better money, find a better job, send for their families, not have to fear for their lives. The journey is dangerous. They may not make it. They may get caught by la migra and sent back to their low-wage jobs, their impoverished homes, or their deaths amid gang violence. But the risk is worth it for the possibilities that await.

I have helped migrants on today’s underground railroad—given food, clothes, first aid, friendship, even a cell phone. I spent a summer in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, aiding migrants on their way to the north (and those who had been deported from there). But just to help people come north is not enough. The journey is not over once migrants reach U.S. soil.

Even once they reach the United States, manage to settle down, hopefully get a job, today’s undocumented immigrants are not completely safe. They are still treated as second-class citizens—or rather, not citizens at all. Congress holds plenary power over immigration, which means that Congress can apply laws to noncitizens—undocumented immigrants—that cannot constitutionally be legally applied to citizens. Thus, ironically, although migrants may seek greater freedom in el norte, their position can actually become more limited when they arrive in the United States, for they do not receive the same protections as U.S. citizens. Today’s undocumented migrants, having broken the law by entering and thus remaining in a limbo, “illegal” status, can be incarcerated indefinitely in detention centers, forcibly removed from the nation, and refused the rights given to American citizens. Like runaway slaves in the North, who could be caught by a fugitive slave catcher at any time and shipped back to their former owners in the South, undocumented immigrants who are caught by the Border Patrol can be deported at any time, regardless of how long they have lived in the United States or whether they have committed any actual crime. While deportation is justified on the grounds that undocumented immigrants broke the law in coming to the U.S., we must question the basis of very laws they have broken.

Defenders of restrictive border policy and immigration law may remind us that migrants are free within their own countries to work and move as they please, just as U.S. citizens are in our own country. Therefore, limiting the right to work for a fair wage or the right to government protection to U.S. citizens and denying such rights to undocumented immigrants is not unfair; they have those rights in their own country. Yet why should we take it for granted that people born in a nation where the minimum wage is approximately $3.54 a day (73.04 in MXN) should not be allowed to move to a country where the national hourly minimum wage is more than that? If I, a U.S. citizen, have a right to make a living wage, then someone born in Mexico or Honduras should have that right as well. If I, a U.S. citizen, can travel freely to another nation, then people in those nations should have the right to travel to my country as well. If we as Americans truly believe that all people have certain inalienable rights and that all people are created equal, then we need to end a system of border enforcement that provides certain individuals—citizens, and wealthy people who can afford to pay for expensive visas and meet the income requirements for work or travel visas—the right to movement and, thus, the right to self-determination, while denying that self-determination to people who are not born in the U.S.

The border is not an unchanging, God-given reality. The border is a man-made creation that has been moved multiple times in U.S. history. Just as slavery was an artificial division based on race that was designed to legally exclude certain people from self-determination in order to keep a captive labor class for the wealthy white planters, international borders are in the words of border scholar Reece Jones “artificial lines drawn on maps to exclude other people [noncitizens] from access to resources and the right to move.” By relying on an arbitrary border to define who has a legal right to enter, to work, and to live in the U.S., American citizens can keep wages high for citizens and legal workers and low for undocumented workers. They can constantly hold the threat of deportation over undocumented workers within the U.S. in order to keep labor costs down. Because undocumented immigrants are noncitizens who have “broken the law,” we can justify denying them citizenship and thus denying them equal rights.

Is this so different than the economic system of slavery? The American economy has always depended on low-paid (or unpaid), imported, and racialized labor in sectors such as agriculture, construction, and domestic service. In this labor market, some workers—the free whites, or the citizens—benefit from the system and advance socioeconomically, while others—the black slaves, or the noncitizens—are systematically forced into low- or nonpaying, undesirable jobs. In antebellum America, many domestic workers and farmworkers, at least in the South, were African American slaves. Today, many domestic workers and agricultural laborers across the nation are unauthorized immigrant workers from Latin America. Because these individuals are unlawfully present “aliens,” employers feel free to exploit such workers without fear that the laborers will report this exploitation or seek better working conditions. If the workers do complain, the migra can send them back to Central American or Mexico, where they will be forced to labor for even lower wages, in lower standards of living, and may be at higher risk of political or gang violence. Legally, they do not have the right to work or the right to even reside within the United States that citizens do. Everything they do can be criminalized; their very presence is considered an illegal act.

Thus today, as in the era of slavery, the U.S. relies on a racialized labor force that is legally denied the rights of full U.S. citizens. Just as in antebellum America, a legal system based on an arbitrary characteristic of birth—once skin color, now location—is used to protect the economic interests of citizens at the expense of another group.

Today’s system can be justified, as noted above, by recalling that undocumented immigrants do have rights within their own countries. They do not begin as slaves, and I do not suggest that their position is indistinguishable from that of slaves. There are differences. But we cannot congratulate ourselves on abolishing slavery and yet still systematically deny rights to some people based on arbitrary characteristics of birth. Rather than a national system that denies rights of freedom and self-determination to certain people based on the color of their skin, this is a continental system that denies rights of movement and self-determination to certain people based on their place of birth. Instead of being based on the national law of slavery, it is based on the international law of citizenship. Yet the result is still that some people in the U.S. do not have the same rights as others.

We can only have a truly equal society, internationally and within our own borders, if we grant the same rights to people from any nation. This means open borders. We cannot continue to enforce a policy of discrimination based on birthplace, a characteristic as arbitrary as skin color. People cannot change where they are born and more than they can change the color of their skin. But they should be allowed to move freely over the earth, the planet we all share, to seek opportunities and control their own destinies. Allowing some people, those born in wealthy nations, to travel freely, while restricting those born in undeveloped nations to places with low wages, poor working conditions, and fewer governmental protections, is fundamentally unfair. If we truly believe in “liberty and justice for all,” then liberty and justice should not be restricted to people born within our borders. The right to seek liberty and justice wherever it can be found, on any side of the border, should be everyone’s right, no matter which side they were born.

Casa News: Tacos Trucks on Every Corner

In case you missed it: mapmaking as empire-building, QBs protesting police impunity, and tacos on every corner…

If borders matter, then so do maps. Did you know that Palestine is not labeled on Google Maps? Read more on the importance of mapmaking in territorial and cultural conflicts.

The California legislature voted this week to give California farmworkers overtime pay for any work over 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. Let’s hope Governor Brown signs the bill into law.

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before a football game in protest of the oppression of people of color in the U.S. It’s inspiring when athletes actually use their power for good, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s defense of Kaepernick is worth a read. We stand [sit?] by Kaepernick’s decision. More info from SI and Jacobin on Kaepernick’s protest.

Trump met with Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s president, this week. While we already wonder why Pena Nieto would take a risk like that with his already embarrassing approval ratings, more disturbing was Trump’s immigration speech from the same day. This NPR fact check sets Trump straight. Now if only he actually cared about facts.

And finally, this.

In case you were wondering, here’s what might happen if there really were #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner. (Aside from everyone gaining 15 pounds and being 15% happier.)

Casa News: August 28, 2016

What happened in the world this week? Read on for the FARC treaty, the beginning of the end (maybe) of private prisons, the lead emissions-crime rate link, border vigilantes, and more dirt on Trump (can’t help myself).

After half a century of guerrilla warfare, the Colombian government and FARC have negotiated a peace accord.

To no one’s great surprise, Donald Trump was probably discriminating in housing since he got his start in real estate.

The Department of Justice announced it will stop using private prisons. What will this actually mean? Find out more here.

When I first heard this theory about the link between crime rates and lead emissions from gasoline, I thought it sounded insane. But then I read this and it’s not as unbelievable as it sounds. Not brand new, but HIGHLY worth reading.

Vigilantes policing the border suggest disturbing similarities to slave catchers who caught and disciplined escaped slaves a few centuries ago. More on this in the weeks to come…

End of Amnesty for War Crimes in El Salvador

On Wednesday, July 13, El Salvador’s Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the nation’s Amnesty Law, passed in 1993. The law–passed in 1993, just five days after the El Salvador Truth Commission published a report that investigated the intellectual authors of war crimes carried out during the long civil war–granted immunity from prosecution to the perpetrators of such crimes.

The law protected the masterminds behind these crimes, the military, paramilitary groups, and guerrilla groups, from prosecution. This was touted as necessary in order for the country to move forward with the Peace Accords and end the civil war. Yet in 2013, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared the amnesty law invalid based on international law, which states that there can never be amnesty for genocide or crimes against humanity. But until this week the law was still in effect in El Salvador. Now, the perpetrators of those crimes can finally be brought to justice in El Salvador.

As long as the perpetrators of genocide and mass murder have amnesty, the path of justice remains blocked. How can citizens feel safe when the very masterminds behind massacres and attacks during El Salvador’s bloody civil war have a seat in the new, post-war government, with no accountability for their crimes? Striking down the amnesty law may give El Salvador a new chance to seek justice and healing and move forward from its gruesome past. The path to reconciliation is not easy. But perhaps bringing the criminals to justice can clear the path toward a better future.

Yet while El Salvador is addressing the problem of impunity by repealing the amnesty, another nation’s impunity remains unaddressed. Will the United States ever be held accountable for its role in the mass murder and political repression in El Salvador and across Latin America? Not only did the CIA assist in ousting left-leaning political leaders in El Salvador and across the continent in the name of “democracy,” but the U.S. also provided military training to the very military leaders that committed massacres across Central America at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. Even if the army leaders in El Salvador who planned crimes such as the 1981 El Mozote massacre, where the Salvadoran military killed over 1,000 people, are brought to justice, when will the members of the CIA and the U.S. government who trained and supported these military men ever be held accountable for their role in the crimes?

I believe that the most important way that the U.S. can ever make amends for its involvement in war crimes such as these is to never let it happen again. Instead of allowing the CIA to continue toppling leftist leaders with impunity and training military leaders from other countries in techniques of torture and dirty war, the United States needs to close the School of the Americas (now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), stop trying to control Latin American nations for the U.S.’s own financial benefit, and let those nations choose their own paths, wherever they may lead. Then, we can close a bloody, ugly chapter in our own history and move toward international reconciliation and justice.

See here and here for more on the amnesty law (links in Spanish). 


Week in review

This was a terrible week in the world. Hundreds died in a bombing in Baghdad. Back-to-back police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. And then 5 cops in Texas were shot and killed.

Here are some numbers about guns and racism.

A friend wrote this about what white (or white-passing) people should do after murders like those of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and it helped me process and think: What To Do When It’s Not All About You. I also recommend the article she links to.

Also on the subject, if you didn’t watch Jesse Williams’ acceptance speech for the BET Humanitarian Award, you really should.

That’s all I’ve got this week other than my reflection from Friday, here.


Casa News: Happy 4th of July!

It’s Independence Day and although I have enough of critiques of the U.S. to more than fill this blog, I still appreciate the chance to take a day to watch some fireworks, eat a hot dog and celebrate the summertime. Coming right up: what’s in the news and what I’m thinking about this week.

The horror: get out and vote or this Boston Globe fake cover page imagining a Trump-run USA might become reality.

A feminist reflection on gender and sports by Deandre Levy, a Detroit Lions linebacker. Refreshing and pointed!!

If you want to read a long, wonky article about U.S. v. Texas (the Supreme Court case on DAPA) and what it means, here you go courtesy of the Atlantic.

Protest in the digital age: Syrian refugees listed their campsite on Airbnb.

#OaxacaResiste: In case you missed it, here’s a Democracy Now interview with a member of the Oaxacan teacher’s strike that started after 9 teachers were killed in a police crackdown in the southern Mexican state.

What’s wrong with Brexit

Last week, Britain voted to leave the European Union, passing the “Brexit” referendum with a 52% majority. Brexit will likely have tumultuous consequences across Britain and Europe.

I am not an expert in European affairs; Casa Marj is focused on the Americas. I do not pretend to predict all the economic and political consequences of a British exit from the EU. However, Brexit worries me not only for its likely material political and economic consequences, but also for what it represents on a cultural level. This blog is about migration, and so, in large part, was the sentiment that drove the British people to pass the exit referendum.

Many British people are worried about their economy and their future. And just like in the United States, where people use immigrants as a scapegoat for that fear and anxiety, the same thing has happened in Britain. The British claim immigrants are “invading” and that their national culture will be diluted. They worry that  immigrants will take all the jobs, that their economy will suffer.

The problem is, the immigrants do not cause the economic problems that the British–not to mention Americans–are experiencing. If immigrants are willing to work for lower wages, it is because those are the jobs that are available. Yet if business owners and corporations are not willing to pay higher wages, that is not the immigrants’ fault. It is because these profit-driven enterprises want to maximize financial gains as much as possible, and will take advantage of any opportunity to pay workers less. Immigrants are not asking for lower wages: owners are simply not offering higher wages.

Aside from the economic fear, much of the pro-Brexit campaign capitalized on a fear of cultural dilution. This cultural nativism is ultimately no more than a mask for racism. Migrants coming from Eastern Europe and the Middle East are seen as lesser than Anglo-Saxons. But cultural exchange causes vibrance and innovation when it is not tainted by prejudice and closemindedness.

What disturbs me even more is that Brexit was driven by the same anti-immigrant sentiment that is powering Donald Trump and conservatives across the United States. Nativism, xenophobia, and racism, they are dangerous and they are arising across continents at this time. The rise of Trump and the passage of Brexit are not isolated incidents, but different expressions of the same theme. These phenomena rely upon fear to power prejudice. Instead of revealing the true causes of economic problems or responding positively to cultural change, they cling to an idealized past where white men were “great” (“Make America Great Again”). Nor are these ideas restricted to Britain and the U.S. Anti-immigrant factions are gaining power throughout Europe.

We need to have faith in the future, rather than fear changes and outsiders. Closing ourselves off to immigrants can only lead to misunderstanding and conflict. Opening our borders and our hearts can lead to mutual understanding and respect. In times like these, it is ever more important that we remain open and willing to work with all of our neighbors, rather than closing ourselves off in an isolated and unrealistic past.

Rethinking the Migrant Crisis: A Passover Reflection

This week is the Jewish holiday of Passover, when Jews remember when we were slaves in Egypt and when we crossed the sea to freedom. We are also reminded that after escaping Egypt, we wandered in the desert for forty years, refugees from Egypt and unable to return to our own homeland. The Torah commands Jews, “Welcome the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” As a Jew, I find Passover an especially important time to recognize the issues of today’s migrants and refugees.

The European migrant crisis has been all over the news for months. Over a million migrants entered Europe in 2015, provoking a crisis in European nations that didn’t know how or didn’t want to resettle so many people at once.

Starting almost two years ago, the mass migration of Central American refugees, including a huge proportion of minors, through Mexico to attempt to cross into the U.S. at the U.S.-Mexico border was termed a migrant crisis in the United States. The United States has perennially viewed Mexican and Central American immigration as a crisis, an invasion, or a threat.

Yet little has been done to theoretically connect these two migrant crises, which are quite similar on a rhetorical level. The receiving nations find themselves in crisis when they receive an influx of unapproved migrants seeking refuge. But rather than turning to racist and orientalist fear-mongering or pitting Syrians against Central Americans for a small number of refugee spots in some kind of refugee competition, this moment could be used to provoke reflection on the idea of the migrant crisis, and what the response should be. What is the real crisis?

The real crisis is not that, with such high numbers of migrants reaching Europe, European countries do not know what to do with them. Nor is the real crisis high numbers of people crossing into the United States, undocumented. The real crisis is violence, poverty, and unlivable conditions in Syria and Central America forcing people to leave their homes in the first place. And the resulting uproar and nativism in the receiving nations is not a crisis of lack of resources as much as lack of human feeling toward refugees and migrants.

Some commentators have suggested that the U.S. would better keep out Syrian migrants seen as potential terrorists or orientalized Islamic others. That Central American refugees are all criminals or job stealers. These ugly responses to a genuine crisis of people being forced to leave their native lands evidence, perhaps more than anything else, fear. Time and again, conservatives invoke the threat of losing American (or European) culture to outside invaders who come as refugees but are incapable of assimilation. To these fears of the original culture being lost, I say: influx of different cultures makes our own community that much the richer, that much more creative, that much more vibrant. Culture is always hybrid, always changing. There is no one American Culture, static and unchanging. Change is what makes our society vibrant.

Rather than giving in to fear of change, which is inevitable and valuable, we should embrace love over fear, and embrace migrants rather than sending them away. Of course, given that America is a settler colonialist nation to begin with–we are almost all migrants–the country certainly has no right to reject new immigrants. But even aside from that, accepting refugees should never be in question. It is a moral imperative, when someone is fleeing for his or her life, to give shelter. Instead of using the migrant crisis as a platform to create a further sense of nationalism and impending doom, world leaders should use these crises to take a stand for brotherhood and remember the responsibility we all have as human beings toward our fellow humans. Migrants are people. Those of us who are privileged, who have more, who live in peace and relative safety, have a responsibility to share with people who have less. When someone comes to your door, unable to return home because they might die, it is your moral responsibility to accept them. Provide refuge. Do not turn away the stranger. Europeans would do well to remember this when Syrians come, and Americans would do well to remember this when Mexicans and Central Americans come.

Migration crises should not be crises for the receiving nations. Rather than turning to fear and hatred of others, we should take these migration crises as opportunities for us to love our neighbors, for us to live up to high moral values, for us to make ourselves proud, for following the just and right path. My religion, Judaism, tells me, “Welcome the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Israel.” But I think anyone of morals, whatever his or her religion, could stand by this statement. We should embrace love over fear, and embrace migrants rather than sending them away. Migrants are people. Not numbers. And they deserve to be treated as such.


Casa News: What’s Up This Week

Food for thought from the past week.

What’s wrong with liberalism, and what’s right with socialism? Here’s one explanation. This article makes a compelling argument about why we should really value free speech.

Did you hear about the Panama Papers?!? The release of these documents implicates world leaders and other rich and powerful people offshore tax avoidance. This piece explains the sketchy operations of offshore companies in real estate. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening, but it’s still so disappointing. Wealth is not disconnected from poverty. The more the extremely wealthy hold on to and conceal their money, the more income inequality increases, to the detriment of everyone else.

Latin America and the presidential race: This weekend, Residente of awesome Puerto Rican rap group Calle 13 gave a speech at a Bernie Sanders rally that called out U.S. colonialism in Latin America. It’s worth watching. Whether or not you agree with this speech and/or Bernie Sanders, it’s really important that issues of Latin American sovereignty get raised and heard in this country, given our oversized influence on the region.

Voting rights: The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the principle of equal representation.

Here’s a short piece about what it’s like to visit the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pope Francis doing more good things. Yes, it is possible for members of all the world’s religions to come together in mutual respect and understanding, and thank you, Pope Francis, for standing up and saying so.