Christian Nationalism? Nope!

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  It is irrefutable that the founders of the new republic respected an individual’s freedom in terms of religious choice; however, it is equally unquestionable that they insisted on a secular state.  In other words, a state religion was verboten.

The irony of something like Christian nationalism rests in the fact that Jesus was born into a Jewish family, was raised a Jew, practiced the Jewish faith as an adult, and died a Jew.  He never indicated he wanted to begin a new religion; rather, he expressed a desire to amplify and magnify the Jewish belief system.  As a matter of fact, Jesus did not call himself Christ or Christian.  Jesus most often referred to himself as the “Son of Man.”

The term “Christian” appears over a decade after Jesus met his death by crucifixion.  The people to whom Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch are purportedly the first to coin themselves as Christian in the early 40s AD/CE.  Both apostles were, like Jesus himself, apocalypticists: they believed in the imminent end of the world and a day of judgment.  Understandably, none of them was interested in creating a new religion.  In essence, they were seeking to inject novel principles based on their Jewish belief system. 

When Jesus was brought before the people, and Pilate asked them to choose the fates of Barabbas and Jesus, the majority of the crowd—made up of both Jews and Gentiles—elected to save the life of the former.  The above notwithstanding, there were many Jews and some Gentiles who were empathetic towards Jesus and desired his life to be spared.  The idea that only the Jews condemned, betrayed, and opted to crucify Jesus is a biblical device to differentiate the faithful followers of Jesus from those considered apostate.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are characterized as Abrahamic faiths, being grounded in the patriarch Abraham.  They all embraced a monotheistic perspective.  This common heritage makes mockery of historical and contemporary interfaith hatred.  There is too much commonality among them, especially as far as ethical interpersonal and group relations are concerned.  Often, they are morally complementary, despite the lacunae of their various traditions and polities.

Jesus and his followers did not seek to form a theocracy: a nation state based on a single religion.  Likewise, the founders did not desire such a government.  And most assuredly, despite the evident xenophobia endemic to the new society and throughout its history, our country’s documents of freedom did not include the establishment of a Christian nation.

Christian nationalism is nothing new.  It is an aberration and has no place in a democratic republic.  The racism and sociocultural discrimination, which pervade Christian nationalism both yesterday and today, is anathema to the Abrahamic faiths.  Jesus was not a white man, and he taught his followers not to alienate or discriminate against people of different nationalities.  In addition, he was not at all misogynistic.  Rather, his talk of God’s commonwealth was a genuine beloved community—not an exclusionary, oppressive, or repressive place.  Hatred of others was not his modus operandi or his objective by any means.  And as far as the establishment of a nation-state based on his religio-cultural situation, his statement, or the understanding of his followers, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” seems to put the kibosh on anything that resembles Christian nationalism.

Is Christian nationalism legitimate by any standard?  Nope!

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A Tribute to Mother

During spring break from the university in March 1996, I got in my car and took the long journey from Cedar Falls, IA, to Stratford, CT, primarily to see my mother, Ruth Blackwell (née Coleman), who was suffering from a variety of illnesses.  Both legs had been amputated above the knees; she had heart disease and breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver.  She was dying as she approached her 63rd birthday on May 8. As I returned to Iowa when my break was over, I wrote the following poem: “Oh, Mommy!” I pay tribute to my mother in this fashion, twenty-six years after she passed!

OhMommy!  How I wish you had lived
According to all you dreamed,
And were able to reach all of your goals
In the manner you had deemed.

Oh, Mommy!  How I wish I could see
The majesty of your smile,
That lit my life as your childlike voice
Minimized my baggage pile.

Oh, Mommy!  How I wish I could hear
The soft laughter that was you,
As you slaved at home for us and Dad—
Forgetting what was your due.

Oh, Mommy!  How I wish you had known
The freedom of living life,
By being all that you damned well pleased
Beyond child, mother, and wife.

Oh, Mommy!  How I wish you could walk
With back erect, hands held high. . .
With the liberty to dance, to talk,
And to breathe an endless sigh.

Oh, Mommy!  How I wish you had felt
The sustenance of true love:
The friendship of one you did not fear—
The tenderness of a dove.

Oh, Mommy!  How I wish you could see
The l’il grands mature and grow;
Their dreams reflect your maternal touch,
Your wisdom’s in their eyes’ glow.

Oh, Mommy!  Oh, Mommy!  Oh, Mommy!
Once perennial as grass—
Now, gone from us, thy soul released. . .still,
How I wish you did not pass!

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REFLECTING ON MLK JR.’S LEGACY: PASSING THE BATON

Joseph Louw/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

A year has not passed since that tragic day when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was struck by a bullet that exploded his neck and jaw, when my thoughts and heart have not recalled this giant of a person!  Often, I have been criticized for idolizing him by folks not able to understand the bond my soul has experienced with his commanding and devoted spirit.  From claims that he was not as smart, as religious, as savvy and as committed as routinely attributed to him to character assassinations for plagiarizing, philandering, and pussyfooting, I have never waned in my abiding appreciation for his superior mind, sincerity of purpose, and self-sacrifice.  Certainly, his charismatic leadership was not perfect, for he was a human being.  However, his vision of the beloved community, socioeconomic and political justice and equity, militant nonviolent activism, and utilization of democratic social principles was matchless among the annals of time in national and world history.  Period!

A week to ten days prior to the murder of King, my father predicted in a somewhat cavalier way that King would probably be killed.  He didn’t elaborate on his utterance, but it instigated me to discover what would make someone so angry by such a good and decent individual.  My father’s words pierced my spirit when I heard the news bulletin of King’s martyrdom from my bedroom,to which I was sequestering because of some punishment I can no longer recall.  The intensity of my interest, and the terrific sadness I felt, compelled my disciplinarian pop to lift his sanctions against me.  I was glued to the television set through his long funereal activities.  By the summer, I had read Stride Toward Freedom, Why We Can’t Wait, and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?  My thirteenth birthday was honored by my parents with the gift of the album, The Great March to Freedom, which captured the foreshadowing of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Detroit, Michigan, on June 23, 1963.  His speech was so mesmerizing that I could not escape from emotional arousal whenever I subsequently heard his lilting baritone emanating from television, radio, or any other electronic device.  Eventually, when cassette tapes came into being, I invested in purchasing the series Martin Luther King Jr. Speaks from the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.  I memorized many of his sermons and addresses and parroted his manner of speaking.  To me, he deserved the moniker of “The Prince of Peace.”

My decision to go to college and to pursue a doctoral degree was the result of years of grappling with how I could carry on the work for which King had given his life.  Although I excelled in a number of classes in junior and senior high school, from which I graduated with honors, I was forced into the field of science and entered my baccalaureate institution with the goal of becoming a biochemist.  It was not my heart’s yearning, for I could not ascertain how a researcher’s vocation could effectuate positive social change for the oppressed.  Very quickly, my naïveté wandered to other academic disciplines until I had to pick a major and settled on government, i.e., political science.  In the process, towards the end of my undergraduate program, I had also unofficially minored in English and religion.

The ensuing fall of the year I graduated from Wesleyan University, I ventured to Atlanta to see how I could make more concrete my desire to embrace and practice the nonviolent activism of my hero.  I attended Ebenezer Baptist Church for a year, and then elected to enroll at the Morehouse School of Religion, a constituent seminary of the Interdenominational Theological Center.  I was licensed to preach at Ebenezer, and then returned to my home state of Connecticut, where I transferred to Yale Divinity School.  Ultimately, I matriculated at Boston University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in religious and theological studies, with a concentration in social ethics (and the sociology of religion).  My choice of B.U. was reached, despite the possibility of continuing at Yale, for one reason alone: King had received his degree in systematic theology from that school nearly thirty years earlier!

I opted first to go into teaching rather than the full-time ministry, for I shared some of King’s criticism of the Church in its lack of full-throttled participation in the struggle for social justice.  Instead, as I taught, I also became integrally involved in community organizations that advocated for civil and human rights.  This tri-vocational lifestyle—teaching, preaching, and serving—stayed with me for more than thirty-five years.  November of this year will mark forty years as an ordained minister and social activist.

As I reflect upon the life and legacy of Dr. King on the occasion of his mutilation some fifty-four years ago, I realize my celebration is bittersweet.  The beloved community he had envisioned is far from fulfillment.  And many of the issues he sought to address still linger with us today: racism, militarism, and economic exploitation.  The battle continues in multifarious ways amid the backlash against democracy, redistribution of wealth, nonviolent resolution of conflict, political empowerment, and human rights and decency.  Humbly, I pass the baton to the younger generations to keep on keeping on in the fight for love of neighbor.

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The Father of Black History

Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950), the son of enslaved parents, was unable to attend high school until he was a few months’ shy of his twentieth birthday in 1895.  He was forced to work hard labor for many years prior to enrolment at Douglass High School in Huntington, West Virginia, which was named after the famous abolitionist and most photographed American, Frederick Douglass.  Soon after graduation in 1900, Woodson was hired as principal at the school.  His teaching career had begun, and became his primary occupation until his sudden death in 1950.

For a few years, Woodson studied at the Appalachian postsecondary school, Berea College, and subsequently spent time in an educational endeavor in the Philippines.  Eventually, he enrolled in the University of Chicago, where he received A.B. and A.M. degrees in 1908.  While there, he became a member of the historically black fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.  Woodson was fond of the work of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and an arch opponent of Booker T. Washington’s accommodationist, or “bootstrap,” philosophy. With Du Bois as a hero, one who was the first African American to earn a doctoral degree (in sociology) from Harvard University, Woodson pursued doctoral studies at there and earned a Ph.D. in history in 1912.  Woodson remains the only individual from enslaved parentage to be awarded the terminal degree from that esteemed academic institution.

Despite his superlative academic achievement, Woodson experienced white racism in the educational profession.  Because he was black, he could scarcely find work in colleges or universities.  Rejected by the lily white American Historical Association, he wanted to establish a place where African Americans could learn more about their history and could conduct research to teach all generations.  With the help of philanthropic organizations and likeminded intellectual associates, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in Chicago in September of 1915.  The mission of this organization, which still exists today (see http://www.asalh.org), was to research, interpret, and disseminate information on black life, history, and culture to the world. The following year, he started the academic Journal of Negro History.  After working as a dean at West Virginia State University in the early 1920s, Woodson eventually found an academic home at the prestigious Howard University in Washington, D.C.—ultimately serving as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

In 1926, Woodson founded Negro History Week.  His primary purpose for starting this period, much forgotten in recent times, was to compensate for the lack of attention given to Africa and the African Diaspora in school curricula.  He wanted blacks to learn about their heritage and to discover how vital people of African descent have been for the advancement not only of the United States, but also of the entire world.

Even if he were not the founder of the weeklong celebration during the 1920s, Woodson would still have a very important place in the annals of American history in the twentieth century.  Educated at Berea College, the Sorbonne, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University, he was a prolific scholar who dedicated his life to depicting the socio-cultural conditions of black people in the United States and to demonstrating how many overcame extrinsic impediments to make notable achievements in a variety of fields.

In 1937, he inaugurated the Negro History Bulletin.  His dedication to the cause of scholarship on black history inspired a host of historians of all hues to enlighten citizens on the multifarious contributions of African Americans to the lifestyle cherished in this country.  Negro History Week was extended to a month-long observance in 1976, during the fiftieth anniversary of the celebration.

Woodson considered himself a radical in his day, for he was willing to risk ostracism and hatred for his belief in the humanity of all people.  He felt that Christian churches and their members abdicated their responsibilities to love their neighbors.  He implored local branches of the NAACP to fight more to enlist new members and to help those in need and those exploited by the structural racism pervasive in the United States.  He believed it was mandatory for all people of achievement to ensure that African Americans were able to participate fully in the warp and woof of society and culture.  This perspective is central to the thesis of his most famous book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, published in 1933.

Today, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History offers thematic approaches on an annual basis to Black History Month.  The theme for 2021 is “Black Health and Wellness.”  It is well established that African Americans disproportionately suffer from the major chronic conditions that impair health and result in death.  Most recently, we have seen these tragic consequences held true with the coronavirus pandemic.  Programs during the month of February should highlight these realities and ways to improve the quality of health indices that affect African Americans.  Moreover, the celebration of African American accomplishments and achievements, while honored in the month of February, should be a year-round, daily preoccupation until the injustices and oppression of people of African descent find the dignity and worth to which they are entitled as citizens of this country and as children of God!

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Prince of Peace & Father of Mindfulness

Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thich Nhat Hanh in Chicago (1966)

With the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., had to determine what direction he was subsequently to pursue.  After all, the previous year, he was able to celebrate the enactment of the accommodations bill; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 theoretically eliminated segregation known as Jim Crow in public places and outlawed racial discrimination and other oppressive xenophobia in the body politic.  Whereas it did not eliminate bias and prejudice, it gave recourse to those treated unfairly because of their background or identity to file for a redress of their grievances in a court of law.

Eventually, King began to focus on the socioeconomic disadvantages of African Americans and ventured into the northern cities of the United States to tackle poverty and unemployment and their ramifying effects.  While he was contemplating a move to Chicago for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s next campaign, his ears began to pique over the concerns his wife, Coretta, expressed concerning the Vietnam War and President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of U.S. participation in that battle.  Coretta had already begun making some public references to our involvement there.  King himself was less vocal about the crisis because of his hope that the administration’s War on Poverty would begin to manifest some dividends.

During this period of time, King received an unexpected letter from a Buddhist monk born in Vietnam over the terrible strife in his native land.  Thich Nhat Hanh averred in that letter his appreciation for the nonviolent direct-action work that King had prosecuted and evinced over the past ten years.  He believed that King’s visceral aversion to violence and his conciliatory way of life would help in decrying the destruction occurring in Vietnam.  His admiration for King was self-evident, and the latter reciprocated the appreciation.  Thus, a genuine relationship of mutual respect began.

The two of them were members of the pacifistic organization known as the Fellowship for Reconciliation.  Nhat Hanh believed that their shared interests in the peaceful resolution of conflict could empower others to protest and demonstrate against the war in Vietnam.  They were able to meet the following year.  Nhat Hanh’s agreement with the nonviolent struggle for human rights helped to embolden King to pepper his speeches with references to that unwinnable war and its deleterious effects on the efforts to eradicate poverty in the most affluent nation in the world.

In January of 1967, King traveled to Jamaica for rest as well as to devote concentrated time on his new book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?  While at the airport, he picked up some magazines, one of which was Ramparts.  In it, there was an article by William Pepper called “The Children of Vietnam.”  Pictures of dead children in mothers’ arms and burned bodies from napalm shocked King to his core.  As his friend, Bernard Lee, put it, King could not eat upon seeing it and vowed at that very moment to do whatever he could to end the internecine battlefront responsible for such horror.

Soon thereafter, King became more deliberate about his opposition to the war—despite the negative reactions by members of the SCLC, other African American civil rights leaders, and the media.  He could not resist the beckoning cries of Coretta, Hanh, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and Rev. James Bevel to take the stage to rail against the travesty in Vietnam.  Consequently, when he received an invitation from Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam to speak out against the war at the Riverside Church in New York City, he unhesitatingly accepted.  Precisely a year before he was assassinated, King delivered his speech at that hallowed sanctuary entitled, “A Time to Break Silence.”

Among some others, Nhat Hanh greatly influenced King in this new venture.  They resonated with each other’s quest for peace and the search for the beloved community.  As a past recipient of the coveted Nobel Peace Prize, King went against protocol and strongly encouraged the Nobel Committee to award Nhat Hanh in 1967.  Perhaps because of the tensions involved with the international community over Vietnam, the members of the selection committed demurred and did not even grant a prize to anyone that year!

Although King was an ordained Baptist minister and Nhat Hanh a Buddhist monk, their religious differences did not alienate them from one another.  As a matter of fact, they found harmony in their shared ultimate goal of a more peaceful society and world.  Nhat Hanh was inspired by the nonviolent strategies of King and his embodiment of the teachings of Jesus; and King embraced Nhat Hanh like he did Mohandas Gandhi—considering the latter to be a great soul, the Mahatma, and the former to be a personification of the Buddha, i.e., a bodhisattva (an enlightened, saintly individual who stays around to eliminate human suffering).

They shared an ecumenical spirit severely lacking in our world today among divergent religious adherents.  We have much to learn from the Prince of Peace and the Father of Mindfulness.  

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A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE

Forty years ago, I enrolled at the Divinity School at Yale University to pursue a master’s degree.  My two-year tenure there was a marvelous learning experience.  A central part of my matriculation was my encounter with scholars in the fields of biblical criticism, theology, and ethics.  Two of those professors I came to respect and appreciate were Letty Russell and Margaret Farley.  A Presbyterian minister and a Catholic nun, respectively, they schooled me on feminist theology and developing new theological perspectives for the present and future generations.

Incidentally, I grew up with four sisters, each of whom was an excellent student and demonstrated an individual independence of thought.  It was very difficult, despite the pervasiveness of male chauvinism, merely to objectify them or to treat them as undeserving of dignity and worth.  Hence, it was not a stretch for me to understand a nontraditional interpretation of scripture, God, and social concern.  Nevertheless, I was alarmed at times over the thoroughness of my indoctrination into a masculine worldview.

Of course, along the way, I had a number of instructors who were superb in grade school that were women.  All of my teachers prior to junior high school were female, and most of my classes until the end of high school were also taught by women—save for my first two years at an all-boys Catholic secondary educational institution.  However, the omnipresence of women pedagogues was normative in the academic setting, but did not imbue the sociopolitical and economic system that formally and substantively made the world go round, so to speak.

Russell and Farley helped to awaken me from assimilating to the patriarchal status quo by developing and enriching in me a questioning of the traditions that were already formed in me in terms of race relations.  It was not a laborious process by any means, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience to confront my learned biases that inevitably relegated women to second-class citizenship.

This new way of analyzing theories and practices broadened my understanding of social injustices that were structural and systemic.  By the time I graduated in 1983, I was acutely aware of the many ways in which our society oppressed women in all facets of the human enterprise.  That year of the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade exhibited how little progress had been made in respecting a woman’s right to determine what to do with her own body, her own life.  Many men were having a rough time abandoning their traditional roles of putting women on pedestals, on the one hand, and treating them like slaves, on the other hand.  The awkwardness of their negotiating new modes of behaving and perceiving was often not only a comedy of errors, but also flagrantly pathetic.

Today, we find ourselves still wrestling with the mistreatment of women in spite of the strides taken by the various waves of feminist and womanist movements.  It appears that the mantra of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body was not sufficiently internalized in our society.  Rather than women having the freedom to make their own decisions over whether or not to go through a pregnancy, many people seem comfortable and content with ordering them what to do: a one-size-fits-all set of strictures.

Such ignorance masquerades as religious, biblical, and the natural-order-of-things rationale.  The suppression of decision-making by each woman through the regulation of termination of gestation is cruel and unethical—regardless of environmental circumstances.  Whether or not we like the decision each woman makes is one thing; however, removing the right to make the choice is unconscionable.  That understanding I came to appreciate and favor decades ago through the tutelage of the likes of Letty Russell and Margaret Farley.  I commend their works without any reservations. 

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A CHANGE MUST COME!

My major doctoral adviser, John Cartwright, would sometimes ask me ostensibly outrageous questions.  While some would be deliberately puerile, many, if not most, would be challenging and quite provocative.  One that stands out for me to this day occurred when we were debating in his office the merits of socialism.  I made the mistake of strongly suggesting that my Christian faith—and that of Martin Luther King, Jr., himself—entailed an embracement of democratic socialism.  After briefly expounding upon the history of social democracy in Europe and the United States, I rested my case with unbridled confidence.  He asked me where specifically the biblical literature pointed to a preferential economic system, and why myriad socialists in history had disavowed religious expression.

Momentarily, he had stumped me.  However, my obfuscation did not last long because of a serendipitous find while browsing the shelves of my friendly neighborhood bookstore.  I was both shocked and elated when my eyes settled on the title, Christian Socialism.  It just so happened that my dissertation focused on the social ethics of Walter George Muelder, former dean of the Boston University School of Theology, a United Methodist minister, and an avowed (Christian) democratic socialist.

The goal of democratic socialism is not the overthrow of the government, but, rather, the reformation of the society wherein the greatest concern is for the eradication of poverty and injustice as well as the pursuit and proliferation of opportunity, equity, and fairness.  Hence, this perspective is not a one-size-fits-all ideology, but a multifaceted approach to the realization of a just, participatory, and sustainable civilization and culture, including the arenas of economy, politics, technology, ecology, healthcare, education, and other factors that make for satisfactory quality of life.  The process can be revolutionary, reformist, reactionary, progressive, or downright serendipitous.  However, a society will never be able to stand indefinitely if it does not have a trajectory of inclusiveness and empowerment of the masses of its people.

Ultimately—and ideologues will not like this—it does not matter where you are on the political or socioeconomic spectrum.  There is enough intentional goodness to go around; therefore, the road to a better society in which everyone can truly be a proactive citizen must be paved through persuasion and compromise, rather than through violence and bloodshed.   This progression lifts up and exemplifies the principle of the coherence of means and ends.  That is to say, if the goal is peace, then the means to that goal must develop in a way that embraces the telos, or end.  In addition, in order for this development to succeed, its architects must recognize and embrace the dialectic interplay of theory and practice.  Nothing is etched in stone.  Whereas we do not wake up each day having to determine who we are, what we believe, and to whom we are beholden, we must acknowledge that we rarely achieve success without setbacks, adjustments, mistakes, and reconfigurations. 

I heard a few times a slight alteration to the tale of Jack and Jill.  Instead of Jack falling and Jill tumbling down the hill in defeat, this alternate version claims that Jack looks up at Jill with some consternation, commiserating there are only rocks and bumps and not a smooth path up the hill.  In response, Jill admonishes that it is the rocks and bumps that help them to climb.  Many folks are often overwhelmed by the amount of changes needed to make the United States, or simply their local area or neighborhood, approximate the beloved community.  Consequently, they frequently relinquish the fight, stand by while others continue, criticize the lack of progress in effectuating social change, and/or return to selfish and private concerns.  They could learn a lesson from the Off-Broadway Jack and Jill, so to speak!

One’s rootage or anchorage in democratic socialism does not have to rely on political philosophers, economists, or activists such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Charles Fourier, Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, Milton Friedman, John Maynard Keynes, Michael Harrington, Bernie Sanders, or others.  One does not have to know what socialism is to recognize that the widening of the chasm between the rich and the poor is morally bankrupt and unconscionable.  A mixed economy such as in the United States allows for small measures of governmental interference, while the laissez-faire, unfettered competitiveness that is still allowed to continue makes mockery of freedom, democracy, and the unalienable guarantees of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It does not take rocket science or complex rationality to comprehend that capitalism is theoretically and empirically flawed as a system intended to buttress a democratic republic and bolster its members.  Individualism, materialism, avarice, and vulgarity are rampant in an economic matrix that glorifies profit, usury, jumboism, and monopolization.

So, we must ask ourselves why people who are on or below the middle rungs of the economic ladder do not support social uplift processes that would help them become more financially solvent.  Why do they often seem to believe that tax breaks for the wealthy will trickle down to their benefit—especially when the historical record does not bear such a consequence?  Income inequality is persistent and pernicious, and many of the rich quietly enjoy their advantages while others lobby to become even more affluent.  Yet the masses of people appear to be mesmerized by the lives of the wealthy and do not connect their own monetized impoverishment with the self-aggrandizement of the monied.

Such oxymoronic behavior or perspectives compel many who are barely making ends meet to look starry-eyed at those who are flush and convince themselves that they, too, can reach this distorted version of the so-called American Dream.  There are not enough jobs and entrepreneurial possibilities adequately to support the masses of people and eradicate the preposterous and growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots.  And this disregard for the material well-being of the majority of the population is antithetical to the foundational ethics of a democratic republic.  For the people under such a society as we have now inevitably become voiceless, homeless (or nearly so), and ultimately powerless.  How long can a nation afford to diminish the dignity and worth of human beings?

The United States cannot be an exemplar in the world when the human rights of her own citizens are daily violated.  We must reevaluate our socioeconomic and political realities and make policies that ensure no one will be pauperized and disadvantaged.  Needless to say, this reevaluation requires a radical transformation.  Else, we will not only rapidly decline, but also devolve further into senseless civil strife as ignorance, selfishness, greed, and immorality continue to rise.  Call it what you will, but such a “revolution of values,” as King articulated it, must come, though the heavens fall!

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MADE IT? A 9/11 FAMILY SAGA

(with collaboration from Jennifer Blue)

There was nothing unusual about that morning. I was preparing at home for my class and was running a tad late to get to the Center where my office was located.  When I finally got upstairs and entered the reception area, the staff and some of the student workers were watching television.  A few of them in unison informed me I had to join them.  I barely paid attention, for I was intent on putting the finishing touches on my upcoming lecture and ensuing discussion questions.  It was a little after 8:00 on Tuesday, fSeptember 11, 2001.  For some reason, I had on the local affiliate of public radio while driving to the university—which was my custom—but I was not listening.   It only served as background noise as I reflected on my day’s schedule.

Engrossed over perfecting my lecture notes and refining my presentation, I did not immediately comprehend the horror and gravity of the live coverage.  I insisted the staff and students get back to work and disregard whatever current event was capturing their attention.  However, the tone of voice of one of the students assigned to me shook and took me away from my routine: she informed me that two planes had plowed into the Twin Towers in New York City and news reporters were speculating that the incidents had the markings of terrorist attacks.  I could no longer ignore the matter with that characterization, and with little resistance I, too, became momentarily transfixed by what I was viewing on the screen.

After nearly a half-hour of watching the special report, I decided to return to my office to focus on what was going on—removing myself from the hullabaloo in the reception area.  It wasn’t until it was closer to 9:00 than 8:30 that it eventually dawned on me I was uncertain where my eldest sister, J. Vicki Blackwell Ogundipe, worked in Manhattan.  She lived in South Orange, NJ, and took a commuter train into the Big Apple; but I had no idea where her place of employment was located.

Consequently, I telephoned my younger brother, Kevin, who had lived in the city for some time in the past and hailed it as the greatest metropolis in the world.  Now, in Durham, NC, he was the first person I contacted since he was very familiar with all the landscape and landmarks of the five boroughs as well as the intricacies of the public transportation system there.  He informed me that she did not work at the World Trade Center per se, but it was customary for her to have meetings there and to enjoy the quiet before the business day began with a cup of coffee and the Bloomberg Report.

My call prompted him to do his own investigation.  By the time I needed to report to class, he had discovered from our older sister, Lydia, that Vicki was speaking to her via payphone when the former abruptly dropped the phone.  Vicki had heard a peculiarly loud noise, but was unaware of its cause.  In a few minutes, she and many others were confronted by first responders urging them to exit the building.  Even though she possessed a cellular phone, Vicki had an aversion to using it.  Meanwhile, Lydia was horrified by the sudden disconnection.  Knowing she could not reach Vicki through public access, she tried to reach her via cell phone as a last resort from her postmaster’s office . . . to no avail.

I went through the tunnel to my classroom building in a complete daze.  People passing by were mere shadows: I could not recognize anyone; and if anyone sought to greet me, I was deaf and unresponsive.  I kept rolling over in my mind whether or not she had escaped what I imagined to be an embroiling inferno.  The lack of knowledge of her whereabouts was distressing, and it became increasingly scary when repeated attempts to reach her by some of my siblings were unsuccessful.  All we could do was commiserate with speculations of Vicki’s whereabouts.  Our typical family conversations were remembrances of childhood traumas with our authoritarian, tyrannical, and abusive father.  Any pleasure of simple sibling relationships was frequently precluded by the residual effects of adverse childhood experiences. 

Vicki was an accomplished individual.  She skipped two grades before graduating from high school and entered Barnard College at a young age.  Gifted with natural intelligence and patience to study diligently, she majored in Economics and went on to Stanford University, where she earned a master’s in Business Administration.  She was absurdly sharp-witted—to an intimidating degree for most, even her siblings—which made many perceive her as aloof, which she was definitely not to her familiars.  Like her father, she was captious in her analysis; and she frequently seemed to come at a subject from an unexpected angle.  She read quickly and voraciously, and she always amazed others with her breadth of knowledge outside of her business acumen.

On numerous occasions, she would ask me, a former movie buff, whether I had seen a particular film.  She knew I had, for it was my wont to go to all opening features during the weekend to de-stress and relax.  It never failed that she would know the flick just as or even better than I.  After a couple years of this happening to me, I summoned up the nerve to ask her where she found the time to frequent the cinema as much as me.  Her reply? She did not go to new movies at all.  She would, instead, read at least one critical review and discuss that movie with me with a confidence that often left me nonplussed.  Her confession helped me to realize she was not exactly cheating, for I did not get the sense she was passing ideas not of her own making.  She had absorbed the material substantively and with alacrity.  I attempted to hone that craft in my perusal of books not physically a part of my massive library.

She encouraged me to become an astute user of the Internet and to do fact-checking speedily and effectively.  Such came in handy in my administrative and academic endeavors.  Even now, though I am retired, I still seek to emulate her research expertise in a variety of pursuits on my bucket list.

Phone lines were out of order or malfunctioning in New York and New Jersey, so much so that none of us siblings was able to reach Vicki in any way.  Watching the developments as they transpired on the news kept us individually busy.  Not knowing what had happened to her was traumatic for us siblings.  We could hardly carry on a conversation when we were on the phone with each other because we had no detailed information to go on.  A few of us got intermittently upset because we could not understand why Vicki did not attempt to reach one of us.  Needless to say, her being incommunicado deepened our feeling of tragedy—albeit we had no idea of the facts surrounding her perceived reticence.  Surely, we thought, she could not know how challenging it was for us to be completely unaware whether or not she had escaped.  Unbeknownst to each other, we repeatedly combed the videos and snapshots of the scene in desperate efforts to catch a glimpse of the frame and cadence with which we were well acquainted amid the escaping throngs—perishing any notion that she did not make it out of the mezzanine when the emergency personnel commanded the patrons to depart.  To this day, some of us still perform that search as if it were a religious ritual!

While at Barnard, Vicki had purchased a Schwinn 10-speed bicycle.  One summer, right before my sophomore year of high school, she entrusted me with the pedaled vehicle.  I had never ridden a bicycle before, let alone any knowledge of gear shifts.  She tried to give me a quick course on balance, negotiating traffic, tire pressure, and safety measures.  I didn’t take it seriously.  I vividly recall riding on a four-lane city road and being very nervous.  The anxiety became so great, I decided my best bet was to turn around and go back home.  Not knowing how to navigate a safe and efficient U-turn, I simply relied on my peripheral vision, did not see any car coming up behind me, and made the 180°—narrowly missing getting run over by a car from opposite directions—their blaring horns not helping to assuage my diffidence. 

Years later, with her MBA degree in tow, Vicki returned to the borough of Manhattan, where she worked as a financial analyst and CFO, and last worked at the NY State Insurance Department—located on Beaver Street, a good 10-15-minute walk from Ground Zero on that fateful day in September 2001.  Her financial success was the rage of my parents: they longed to hear from her via telephone and to see her whenever she would make a rare visit by commuter train.

On December 24, 1977, my grounded younger brother, relegated primarily to his bedroom, elected, in the spirit of the Christmas season, to ask our father for a gift: a reprieve from punishment.  I suggested to him that, knowing our controlling and repressive dad, he should realize his request would be greeted with a peremptory negative.  When the rejection came, Kevin sought to persist.  My father’s anger was palpable.  In the living room, I had just finished speaking with my two younger sisters, both eight, about the importance of standing for justice, fairness, and truth no matter the consequences.  The dynamic between our father and brother was an appropriate object lesson.  As my brother left rejected from our parents’ bedroom, I shouted an “I told you so” from my living-room berth, and my father overheard the disdain in my voice.  Before I had the chance to anticipate anything, he rushed to where I was and confronted me with a sarcasm and bait that made very real the practicable nature of my moral instruction to the girls.

In a matter of a few minutes, I stood to face my father on equal footing, whereupon he sucker-punched me and sought to wrestle me to the ground.  The Christmas tree came crashing down upon us as my frightened sisters ran out of the room.  My dad put me in a neck hold in an attempt to break my back, and I strained myself to pull away and run out of the living room, down the hall to the kitchen toward the side door exit.  My feet felt like bricks in cement with every step.  When I finally made it to the egress, the screen door was locked, and my fumbling fingers could not release it as my enraged father quickly approached me from behind.  I was able to maneuver the kitchen table in between us, and in his frustration, my father rifled through the silverware drawer and grabbed a sharp knife.  As he thrusted the knife across the table to stab me, my mother came stealthily in the kitchen and unlocked the screen door—allowing me barely to escape from the homicidal maniac into the bitter cold without a sweater or a winter coat.  I ran up the avenue and then a few more blocks to the Howard Johnson’s hotel and restaurant, where there was a conveniently located phone booth.  I called Lydia, now living a few miles away in a suburb of New Haven, to tell her the tragic news when my mother drove by with the two girls, Kevin, and some of his belongings in tow.  My back and neck were throbbing; but we made it safely to Lydia’s apartment where Kevin and I stayed for a few days.

Eventually, Lydia reached Vicki to inform her of the latest familial development.  And it was almost as if Vicki had already thought of a solution to a problem of what would be the new living arrangements for Kevin and me before the day’s circumstances were yet revealed to her.  She would help me get permission to return early to the Wesleyan campus, where I was a student, over the remaining winter break, and orchestrate the paperwork needed to obtain admission for Kevin into the five-year engineering program at her alma mater at the precious age of fifteen!  Success!  Returning home for Kevin and me—both personae non gratae to our father—was no longer plausible.

A risk-management specialist, Vicki was more of a problem-solver than she was a compassionate soul, or so it seemed.  She appeared more at ease in making pedantic, nit-picking, and pettifogging remarks that sensitive individuals could scarcely handle, than offering encouragement and positive statements about possibilities.  However, one thing was clear: she cared deeply enough to do what it took to make opportunities a reality and to set a person on the path to potential success depending on one’s ability to receive her baton and run vigorously after the prize, the finish line.

On Memorial Day, in 1996, our mother had reached the end of her race.  Over the years, the abuse of her significant other forced her into an agreeable submission that made their seven children cringe in perpetuity.  In the spring of 1992, the first day of her husband’s retirement—a day that our mother dreaded—she had a heart attack; for the next four years, she had other heart problems, breast cancer, and probably most importantly, emergent severe complications from her insufficiently monitored Type II diabetes.  Her left leg was amputated twice: once below the knee, and then above the knee; a year-and-a-half later, her right leg was amputated above the knee.  Her skin was darkening from chemotherapy, her nerves were shot, and she became enormously dependent on the man who had continually threatened her with verbal and physical violence, prohibited her from pursuing a career as a registered nurse, and generally treated her as inferior.

It had come as a surprise to us siblings that Vicki would ever settle down with a man.  In 1980, working in New York, she met a Nigerian, Oladele Ogundipe.  Within a year, they were married, much to everyone’s surprise.  He seemed a very quiet, yet determined, individual with an entrepreneurial spirit.  His dream was to help West Africans enter into the rapidly advancing technological age.  To do so meant that the couple would ultimately have to live overseas.  For a few years, they called Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and England home.  Despite their exciting and experimental traveling, they finally settled in South Orange, New Jersey.  Its relative proximity to New York City made it convenient for business, entertainment, and adventure.

With the death of our mother, Vicki, who was evidently our father’s favorite progeny, took charge.  She paid my way from Iowa to Connecticut and put me up in a hotel, and fixed me up with a limousine service to get around.  In a way, she inculcated us into assuming that if any of us had a financial need, she could and would provide the relief.  And it did not alter that perception after she gave birth to her two sons.  She did not complain about the giving away of money; rather, she appeared increasingly incredulous over our inability to make do for ourselves.  On more than one occasion, she had encouraged me to make as much money as I could before the age of forty, so that I would have the freedom to pursue my genuine ambitions and leisure activities.  Regrettably, I did not take her advice.  She admired my social activism, but cautioned me about the slowness of structural and environmental change.  She was well-off, but she seemed always to regard her financial stability and solvency as a vehicle to attaining what she wanted for herself and her familiars.

But the year 1996 was merely the beginning!  Our maternal grandfather had passed away in 1979, and his wife, our grandmother, briefly lived at our parents’ house in Stratford before being moved into a nursing home in Bridgeport because my father did not appreciate her being in the house.  Our mother was their only child, and it is understandable why our grandmother wanted to be close to her posterity.  When our mother died, our grandmother became despondent and forlorn.  She died a year later, content with joining her beloved husband and her beautiful daughter.  Later that year, Dele contracted some unidentifiable parasitic virus that invaded his stomach.  No physician or surgeon Vicki and he visited around the world, including in the United States, was able to ascertain the exact cause, diagnosis, or prognosis of his illness.  He deteriorated rapidly and passed away in 1998.

Vicki pressed on, seeking to provide a nurturing home for her two sons despite their grief.  Needless to say, her financial well-being did not mitigate the burden of raising two boys in a society that did not value the humanity of black males.  After seeing them off to school, she would catch the PATH train to the stop at the World Trade Center.  She’d go up to the mezzanine level to wake up fully and to mollify the stress that the workaday world inevitably elicit.  When she had the time, she would catch up with some people, including Lydia, and check out the latest news in print or on television.

The cause of the thunderous noise at 8:46 a.m. was not immediately determinable.  Vicki had come up from the PATH and gone above the lobby to the mezzanine level to psych herself up for a day of work.  She called to chat with Lydia, but it did not last long.  From her position, she could not tell where the noise emanated and, at the moment, Lydia had not seen the developing story on the television.  There have been discrepancies regarding advice given by first responders: some were told to stay where they were; others were encouraged to go to lower levels, but not to exit the building; and still others were told to leave immediately.  Vicki, often high-strung and ready for action, did not second-guess that police and security guard.  She ran down the stairs, stumbling, but not falling, over shoes people dislodged as they sought to depart as quickly as possible.

Once out of the South Tower, she was able to see the outline of the jet that had plowed into the North Tower.  At first, those in the same position as she was were told to head north.  However, the falling debris from the jet-propelled damage suggested that heading southward was the better choice.  And so they did.  Vicki headed towards the state insurance department in the financial district where she worked and experienced the impact of the plane on the South Tower.  The crash made it presumptively clear that these collisions were not accidental, but deliberate.  Vicki did not know what to think, but she could not help but to reflect upon the terrorist bombing of the WTC back in 1993.  Surely, this had to be orchestrated by a group, she surmised.  In other words, she felt the United States was at war—meaning she was on the battlefield without a military-grade weapon to fight back.  

There was a strange camaraderie of coworkers and others huddled together.  On the contrary, when the South Tower collapsed, the smoke and debris spread throughout the financial district, and the department personnel soon felt trapped and unable to figure out what the next steps should be.  Their freethinking and attempt at logic became meaningless when thirty minutes later the North Tower fell and the thickness of the smoke, fumes, and multifarious particles forced them to leave the precarious confines of their building in order to try to save their nasal passages and lungs.  For many, the best bet seemed to try to make it out of New York City and one of the salient options was to board a Staten Island ferry and depart the rottenness of Manhattan.

The thousands of people with the same conclusion made the egress on the Hudson jampacked.  The normal capacity of rush hour traffic between New Jersey and New York City was insufficient to transport the quizzical an frightened souls in the midst of what seemed to be the Armageddon of guerilla warfare.  Many sailors with smaller vessels heroically came to the rescue while they also seized the opportunity to make some extra cash.

In different parts of the country, we siblings looked feverishly for any signs of Vicki.  Deep down, we each felt it was a wild goose chase, so to speak, for there were many interviewed by reporters who were not even in the WTC complex who were suffering from the poisonously polluted air.  How could we believe that Vicki had made it out when people who were not within the facilities were themselves in terrible shape?  We hoped for the best, but steeled ourselves for the worse.

I could not keep the class for the entire period, for I thought it was unfair to keep them so confined while America was under siege.  Immediately, it reminded me of the time when I was eight years old and in the third grade on November 22, 1963.  It was decided fairly quickly that the best bet for the students was to send them home to the comfort of their families since such a unique situation seemed to require group commiseration.  This experience led me to suspend the class session and to continue my own efforts to learn Vicki’s whereabouts.

Just looking at the clouds of dust, metals, and gas filling block after block in all directions ed us to believe that the air was dangerously toxic.  We were certain that Vicki’s already weakened physical condition battling the effects of cancer could only deteriorate further through the intake of the multidimensional fumes.  If she made it out of the WTC, who could suggest that she would be fine in the pestilential atmosphere?

We hunkered down for a long day that stretched into the evening, night, and morning.  We were informed of the problems with the cell phones that extended in some parts to landlines and other types of communications. The agony of another loss swept over all of us.  We began to broach the subject of funeral arrangements and interment sites—despite our hope that to do so was premature and false.

Eventually, by mid-morning on September 12, there was light at the end of the tunnel for me in particular.  I discovered then that contact had been made late the previous night with Vicki by my other sisters.  Now, she was at home recuperating.  She had just made it there after miles of walking, hitch-hiking, and disbelieving—her braided hair still covered in the unsanitary, debris-filled ash.  All she wanted to do was put behind her the awful tragedy and to make some lifestyle changes that would enhance her safety protocols.  She developed an antipathy for elevators, escalators, tall buildings, subways—you name it!—for the level of her anxieties and fears rose exponentially as she bravely struggled with a post-traumatic stress disorder.  

She did not trust the government for some time.  She always questioned the hatred and jealousy of other nations, while also realizing the arrogance of our superpower status, our imperialism, our exploitation of so-called Third World countries, and our racial and sexual oppression here at home.  She felt going into Afghanistan would have no constructive purpose and would simply cost the unnecessary loss of more lives.  She recognized the fallacies involved in the decision to go to Iraq, a country that was not directly tied to the disasters of 9/11.  The widening gap in income inequality on the domestic front was more important to her than the establishment of another campaign against “axes of evil.”  She was all too familiar with the lack of access to quality health care for those struggling on the economic ladder—so much so that she supported a single-payer plan during the election cycle of 2007-2008, and expressed disappointment over Pres. Barack Obama’s reneging on universal health care in favor of the lesser affordable care program.

After 9/11, Vicki became more involved in spearheading sibling reunions in the summers and learning more about our genealogical charts.  She began to intersperse her cool language with pious greetings, sendoffs, and cliches—“God bless,” “Peace,” “Glory to God,” and so forth—that her sisters and brothers were surprised to read and hear.  Before our eyes, she was changing—all reflective of her perceptions of evils derivative of the 9/11 attacks and the unclear role the United States played in forging freedom and democracy around the globe.

Her transformation was noticeable, despite the fact we would catch glimpses of her old critical bent and her incredulity over her siblings’ inability to make adequate livings for themselves.  She failed to realize that her level of determination was greater than most and that her preparation afforded her the opportunities that many others did not have.  Her ostensible obliviousness to the plights of others she’d deemed capable of equalizing her achievements was nevertheless mutating to a less acerbic edge in her voice.  Her generosity to family and friends scarcely wavered, albeit she became more selective of who would be the beneficiaries of her largess.

As time marched on past the devastation of that September morning, she longed to commemorate that day in special ways.  However, she, like some family members who had intermittent battles with cancer, she experienced the emotional ups-and-downs with moving from remission to return.  During the late winter and early spring of 2011, it seems, in retrospect, that she had travailed against and despite the odds to be present at successive remembrance anniversaries.  With the passage of time, she had enough.  Constructive change in our society continued to be elusive, and her return to health was likewise evasive.  Her zest for life waxed and waned.  Even though her body was declining, speculatively in part because of the infestation the inhalation of noxious fumes during 9/11 eviscerated in her, she was intent on being present at ground zero for the tenth anniversary that year.

She spoke unrealistically of trips she would make that summer and of our sibling reunion in the park before the season’s demise.  She turned fifty-nine on April 15, a bittersweet occasion indeed.  A few days later, after the birthday of my older sister and seven days prior to the birthday of my older brother, Eric, Vicki succumbed to cancer.  Her dream of scaling the mountain of deliverance momentarily struck me as God denying Moses of the latter’s entrance to the promised land and of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, which seemed to be a premonition of his being struck down by an assassin’s bullet in less than twenty-four hours.  Vicki was unable to bear witness to her making it out of the WTC to live another day on the tenth commemoration of the tragedy; however, nobody who knew her could ignore the fact that the event had profoundly affected her every living thought and action.

Our father, by then only a shadow of himself, met the Grim Reaper the following year.  There were many things he had not divulged to his children about his declining health; but it was clear that he mourned the death of his firstborn in a way that forced him to face his own demons, so to speak.  As he neared the end of his life, he, too, began to pepper his conversation with religious imagery—something that was completely absent during most of our association with him.  As far as we knew, he had never become a member of a congregation during his adult life.  Perhaps, his newfound appreciation for the spiritual was of a compensatory nature, although each moment struck a strange chord within us children.

What follows is an email Vicki had sent to a friend that she forwarded to me to enlighten us siblings about what happened on that fateful day when terrorists attacked us here at home.

Michael,

This is what I wrote to a friend with whom I attended college and worked.  It was what my fingers could quickly type.  At some point, when I can, I will ponder that day and its meaning and write something that hopefully would go beyond a mere recount of that horrific act.

Again, thanks for your prayers and concern.  God bless.

I was coming into the WTC on the PATH as I usually do since I moved back to my house in South Orange.  I was looking for a magazine in the lower level.  I went up the escalator and heard the policeman yelling to get out of the building.  I ran over abandoned shoes and ran as fast as I could.  I exited the building to hear someone say that a jet had hit the tower.  I turned around and saw the crater in the building, which was on fire and smoking.  It was terrible.  The policeman outside said to go north.  I started north, but feared that the building would fall like a giant tree.  God told me south, and I started to run south and just before I got to my office building, the second plane hit the second tower.  However, I thought I was hearing a bomb or that the first tower had indeed fallen.

When the second hit tower fell, our building shook and we were evacuated into the dark soot and ash.  We couldn’t breathe or see well and went back into the building that we just evacuated.  We were strategizing as if we really could and left the building after the soot had settled somewhat.  We were going towards the water.  Well, after we left the building and were on our way, the second building crumbled and then, we were being pursued by a cloud of furious smoke.  We ran and ran and ran to the Staten Island ferry terminal, boarded the boat and got safely to Staten Island.  I had been running al morning.  I managed to hitchhike across the bridge to NJ after taking a taxi with six other people to Outerbridge Crossing near Perth Amboy, NJ.  A policeman picked us up to take three of us to the NJ side, where I called friends to pick me up.  They took me back to their place in central NJ.  I got home on Wednesday at 11:30 AM and went to church at noon to thank God.

Anyway, through the wonderful mercy of the almighty Lord, I was delivered from the clutches of evil.  Alleluia.  Thank You, Lord.

Thanks for your concern and prayers because I was indeed in the midst of a horror and was protected by HIM.

God bless.

On March 19, 2003, I completed what I called “A Litany Against the War.”  That night, we all learned of the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. armed forces: a preemptive strike, a “decapitation” air exercise against a location where it was believed that Saddam Hussein and some of his entourage was assembled in Baghdad.  The litany was printed in the local newspaper, and I was almost instantly asked to recite it across the state at protest rallies.  After each reason given, I concluded with “I am opposed to this war.”  One of the lines reads: “As my sister was in the World Trade Center when the first plane struck, I am opposed to this war.”

I had included that line because I still was profoundly affected by that terrible twenty-four hours of not knowing whether our eldest sibling was dead or alive.  I felt she deserved mention, despite the fact that she had survived, while three thousand had died.  For the most part, I had muted that reality for I believed it was insensitive to share when so many had suffered loss.  In a way though, from my current vantage point, I felt I suffered loss initially, but definitely conclude that ten years later, my sister had to some degree acquiesced to the poisoning of her lungs and body by the lethal, pernicious fumes.  Her story has the right to be told.

It was bittersweet, after Vicki was laid to rest, to learn of the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011.  Whereas I cannot comment with any certainty upon a hypothesis contrary to the facts, I feel certain the U.S. intelligence operation that successfully ended in the violent showdown would not have pleased our eldest sibling.  Although not an avowed nonviolence advocate or antiwar activist, she had attenuated to me often enough her agreement that violence begets violence.  Nevertheless, we siblings are ever so grateful for the nine-and-a-half years we had with Vicki ensuing that horrible tragedy on September 11, 2001.  Twenty years subsequent to that fateful debacle, we still scream with excitement, “She made it out!”

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REWORKING THE G-20 AND THE UNITED NATIONS

One of the major criticisms of the G20 is that it continues a tradition of patriarchalism and colonialism towards those states that are poor, powerless, vulnerable, and volatile.  For example, there is only one African country that has a seat among the other G-20 members, i.e., South Africa—despite the fact that there are fifty-four other nations located on the continent!  Since the European Union has a seat at the table, it seems reasonable for the African Union to be one of the governmental entities or—better yet—to expand the agency to 21.

The purpose of the G20 is to assess, augment, ameliorate and advocate for international financial security and stability.  This is a self-appointed group founded in 1999 and allows the major developed countries to consult with each other to develop and underwrite programs, policies, and services to enhance the global economy.  Part and parcel of this organizational mission is to foster fiscal growth and productivity among underdeveloped nations and to discover ways to sustain profitability and solvency so that these countries can increasingly become full-fledged partners in international trade and commerce, including climate control and technological parity.

In addition to the paucity of African representation, the G-20 suffers from the same malady as the United Nations.  They both lack the power and authority to enforce their decisions around the planet—especially because the members in the so-called First World have veto rights.  Hence, the veto is regularly utilized when there is a perceived threat to that particular country’s national security.  These economic and military powerhouses lord their privilege over the more dependent and weaker bodies: thus, making a mockery of the mission goals of stability and security all around.

It is not simply an idealistic dream to give voice to the voiceless or a home to the homeless, so to speak.  By leaving others out because of favoritism towards those with economic and military power cannot ultimately lead to a harmonious world society.  We must listen to all voices, for such diversity provides differing viewpoints and a more holistic approach to ensuring a better environment.  When the most developed countries ignore the perspectives of governments that are not similarly equipped, dissatisfaction and unrest will inevitably arise.  Weapons of mass destruction and affluence should not be the determinative factors in shaping the destiny of the world.  The inclusion of as many perspectives as possible is necessary for a just and sustainable society.

Jeffrey Sachs, university professor at Columbia University, has been making this case for years.  He has advocated for the African Union to sit at the table—enlarging the organization to have further representation from the continent of Africa like the twenty-seven countries of the European Union.  Sachs has promoted this addition throughout his involvement with departmental committees of the United Nations on sustainable development.  His arguments are clear and irrefutable, but the unwillingness of governments to adopt his recommendations demonstrates how difficult it is for the privileged to relinquish control of their undeserved advantages.  Whereas there is an advisory group to the G20 made up of western and eastern African nations, many countries in the central and southern regions of the continent are not included.  Moreover, in the final analysis, these countries do not have a seat among the members of the main body of the G20.  This omission is unconscionable.

This exclusion of African countries harks back to the long night of colonialism.  As African countries started to win their independence in the middle of the twentieth century, many former European colonizers abandoned them.  Malcolm X started the Organization of Afro-American Unity to join up with and support the Organization of African Unity—for the legacy of oppression among the African diaspora was common, universal.  Malcolm wanted the OAU to assist him in bringing the concerns of African Americans to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.  The OAU received pressure from the U.S. State Department not to bring the issue of white racism to the U.N.  And so it went.  Malcolm X would not live another full year.The G20 and the United Nations could have greater influence if basic humanity as opposed to wealth and might would rule the day.  With that inclusivity and the further acceptance of other remaining voiceless countries in Central and South America and in Asia, we would come closer as a world community that could experience both prosperity and peace.  Will the twenty-first century get us there?

Posted in International Affairs, Poverty, Social Ethics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: POTUS ON IMPEACHMENT

I do not believe for one minute that the members of the Republican Party in Congress are convinced that President Trump is forging the kind of country to which they have always aspired.. What is happening, in my opinion, is that they are so concerned about safeguarding their positions of power that they allow themselves publicly to support an alternative reality.  Certainly, no one could possibly believe, other than the president himself, that his comments on the impeachment trial were more than bad theater.. The bevy of lies and misrepresentations, coupled with delusions of grandeur and illusions of accomplishments that he freely associated, were only superseded by his indecency. The name calling in which Trump engaged is both inhumane and unconscionable— given his titular leadership of the free world. No head of state should speak in such derogatory language against holders of opposing viewpoints in a classic ad hominem fallacious attack.. The pep rally atmosphere of the occasion was appalling and unethical!

The sad fact of the matter is that what Trump did was nothing new.  As a matter fact, we all expected it.  Sadly, it has come to the point where the president of the greatest nation in the world can routinely stoop to the level of bullying, gangsterism, and puerile prankdom without an overwhelming outcry of repulsion by its citizenry—regardless of ideology or worldview.

The President of the United States should exemplify the highest of virtues and values and uphold our documents of freedom in clear and unequivocal ways.  Whereas it is difficult always to demonstrate perfection and equanimity under duress, it is not unduly challenging to personify, most of the time, the high road.  It is a slothful and lazy disposition that makes excusable for oneself sinking in the mire of offensiveness.. The Quaker John Oxenham got it right when he poemed “Decision”:

To every man there openeth a way, and ways, and a way, And the high soul climbs the high way, And the low soul gropes the low, And in between, on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro. But to every man there openeth a high way and a low; And every man decideth the way his soul shall go.

I am not giving anyone a pass for drifting.  That many people get a kick out of Trump’s defiance of the rubrics of humaneness and social decorum might be overlooked on reality TV; however, when the stakes are so high that they have implications of national security and we nevertheless applaud, ignore, or dismiss his vituperative shenanigans, we become accomplices in the dismantling of the validity of our democratic republic.  Such behavior on our part is repugnant!

How should we respond and redeem ourselves?  We have the opportunity to ensure the so-called American Experiment continues to mature by making solid decisions in the future.  Taking advantage of these available circumstances and making the most of them is our duty as citizens.  I still have hope that we will not abdicate our responsibilities as such and will no longer wallow in some fantastical suspension of disbelief or alternative reality when there is so much at stake!

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