Everyday Expectation: Complicity in the Third Reich and Jim Crow South

by Derrick J. Angermeier

a picture of a sticker in Germany
“Ultras,” are “Super Fans” of FC Nürnberg, the soccer team of Nuremberg, Germany. This picture, taken in May 2017, is of a sticker placed on a lamppost in Nuremberg. Ultras use the Confederate Battle Flag to assert the city’s and its people’s “unreconstructed” position within not only Germany but the south German state of Bavaria. Believing themselves exceptional within Germany, this aspect of U.S. Southern identity helps point out an overlap in everyday identity politics between the nationalist cultures. Photo by Derrick Angermeier.

My research seeks to answer a complicated question: Why did everyday people participate in the systems of racial oppression known historically as the Third Reich and the Jim Crow South? Historians have focused on these two national cultures and the wide variety of ways in which they excluded racialized others while elevating their own preferred racial makeups. Much of my graduate career has been spent studying the prejudice that emanated from Nazi Party leadership down to the German citizenry. However, when I took a graduate seminar on Southern History with a preeminent scholar, I was struck by the fact that, at the structural level, histories of the South resembled many of the German histories I had already consumed.

Both fields attempt to sort through complex pasts by debating continuity over time. In Germany’s case, scholars asked if there was something essentially German that caused the rise of the Third Reich by the early twentieth century? Was there a direct path from Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler, or was the development of German history more complex? Similarly, U.S. Southern academics often argued over whether the antebellum South had ever truly given way to a New South built on technology and industry. Both arguments created a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts that has consequentially damaged historical interpretation in both fields. By setting up a world where the U.S. South was always at its heart magnolias and bigotry and Germany was always a peculiar nation susceptible to authoritarianism, no one needs to take ownership of their horrendous racial legacies. Exceptionalist narratives paint a deterministic picture where the racial castes that evolved into brutality and violence were inevitable outgrowths of inherent flaws. Nobody could help themselves; it was simply meant to be.

Such determinism has long had its opponents and supporters amongst historians, but both fields tackled this problem in remarkably similar ways: memory history. Southern and German historians embraced a historical methodology that called scholars to probe historical actors’ memories. How did exceptionalist myths like the “Lost Causes” and “Special Paths” (Sonderweg) get formed? Scholars of both cultures claimed that historical actors chose to selectively remember and internalize false memories which were then purposely perpetuated to future generations. One of the most blatant of these efforts was the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization defined by a desire amongst white Southern women to give permanence to the “Lost Cause” illusions of the Confederacy. Through textbooks, statues, speeches, public events, and other cultural activities the UDC ensured that a Neo-Confederate lifestyle would exist well beyond the South’s military defeat. Germany similarly internalized powerful false memories regarding militarism. Many young German men willingly went to war in the Spring of 1914 hopped up on tales of glory from Germany’s imperial wars; the fact that these conflicts were inherently one-sided and genocidal did not make it into travel accounts and youth magazines. These same myths would influence another generation; instead of seeing the First World War as brutal meat-grinder of humanity, many Germans sought glorification in the Nazi cause. False memories had indeed defined both regions and by extension their historical studies.

The more I read Southern history and reread German history I noticed more similarities. Neither regions’ academics seemed to address one another in any significant way. There were Cursory mentions here and there, footnotes in an epilogue, an occasional article. German historians and Southern historians seemed unaware of how significantly their methods of analysis overlapped. It was maddening! How could either of these places consider themselves exceptional when their histories were so painfully similar?! How had no one else really dug into this subject? The possibilities were staggering! I wrote a paper for my Southern History course on this overlap, and the whole exercise was produced more in the name of catharsis than course completion. However, the paper would not be enough, I did not find myself satisfied.

I read more and more and continued to find considerable overlap, but meaningful comparisons were few and far between. So, my new obsession slowly shifted into my dissertation proposal. I refined my original project, stripped it down to its bolts, and completely rewrote it. I added a research prospectus where I outlined my major argument, my answer to the question I asked above: Why did everyday people participate in the systems of racial oppression known historically as the Third Reich and the Jim Crow South? People were subjugated, excluded, and made the easy victims of violence and deprivation. The answer would not be found in studying politicians, demagogues, and the elites that had often defined my research. No, the similarity between these two regions, the element that formed the foundation of a transnational system of racial intolerance and exclusion was everyday people. The racial castes of Jim Crow and National Socialism may have had the force of law, but everyday people were the ones who enforced and followed the boundaries of racial propriety. Those boundaries were often set and adjusted at very local levels in countless interactions far away from any state supervision.

Many historians have argued that events and circumstances dictated complicity- in other words a historical actor’s present world left them little choice. Other scholars assert that historical actor’s memories of the past informed their complicity. I depart from these arguments; I insist that the answer to everyday complicity in the Third Reich and Jim Crow South lies not in past or present but in the future. I study the various expected futures that these historical actors internalized, which I call “Expectation” for shorthand. Expectation is a fact of human existence; we all walk around with some form of expectation of the future, be it a political identity, a five-year plan, or even what to eat for dinner. Historical actors similarly had expectations. In my research I have unearthed those hopes and fears of countless possible futures that provided considerable motivation for a wide variety of actions that lent credence to Jim Crow and Nazism.

Model for the components of historical “Expectation” as it relates to everyday complicity in racial caste systems. Graphic by Derrick Angermeier.

Identifying and explaining expectation has been a fascinating endeavor that has taken me across six Southern states and all across the Southern German state of Bavaria. This particular German state and its people have long considered their culture to be highly distinct from the rest of Germany, harking back to an aristocratic tradition that thrived long before Prussian led unification “reconstructed” their region into a united Germany. As such, it offers a very proximate point of comparison with a Southern culture that deals with its own hatred of reconstructions. I have assembled pamphlets, newspapers, sheet music, broadsides, tourism brochures, flyers, letters, diaries, and a wide variety of everyday kitsch to assemble a clear picture of white supremacist hopes for the future. These items help illustrate a wide variety of wants, needs, and fears that informed everyday expectations for the future and by extension the justifications people internalized to vindicate their position in racialized states.

My research has shown five key components of expectation, each one of vital importance to understanding everyday complicity. First, tradition: the idea that people expect some form a remembered past will carry over into the future. Second, continuity: the hope that the institution, customs, and society of the present will continue to exist. Third, potential: the desire to maximize the potential of humanity and society to thrive in the future. These three ideas embody expectation generally and can be found outside of Jim Crow South and the Third Reich. However, the next two components help bridge the gap between expectation and complicity. Fourth, urgency: the pressing fear generated by either stressful times, political demagogy, or the perception of changes to the status quo that motivate historical actors to become more ardent in realizing their expectations. Finally, entitlement: the idea that historical actors considered themselves entitled to their expectations of the future at the direct expense of other people.

To fully explain how tradition, continuity, potential, urgency, and entitlement form expectations for the future and motivate everyday people to participate in racial states I use a series of vignettes to tackle each topic and illustrate a component of expectation as it existed in both the U.S. South and Bavarian Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. For example, to study the idea of tradition, I look at the Lost Cause and postwar Confederate worship to demonstrate that Southerners generally expected their futures to contain some vestiges of moonlight and magnolias. In Bavaria, an emphasis on agricultural roots and Bavaria’s separate monarchy demonstrate that Bavarians hoped to honor their separatism of yesteryear. In assembling this argument, I have called on debates over Women’s Suffrage, Bavarian Catholicism, white supporters of Marcus Garvey, sterilization and eugenics, the Scopes Trial, Bamberg tourism, Prohibition, and so much else to unearth everyday expectation in a clear and compelling fashion.

When we consider the factors that contributed to everyday complicity, we must not only look at the usual suspects hierarchy, heritage, racism but also reflect on the role of people’s entitlement to expected futures and the fear of losing those futures. The world of the 1920s and 1930s was truly tumultuous with the rise of communism, a global war and an epidemic that combined wiped out much of a generation, a global depression, and many other destabilizing events. People needed and craved stability; in the case of the Jim Crow South and the Third Reich, that stability was offered by politicians and demagogues in exchange for participation in a strict and violent racial system. This stability afforded everyday whites in both the U.S. South and Bavaria Germany the opportunity to achieve their desired futures and to avoid imagined apocalypses. The opportunity to realize their expectations convinced far too many people to enforce, support, or at least look the other way as African Americans and Jews were stripped of their human rights, their dignity, and sometimes their very lives.

 

Derrick J. Angermeier is presently a PhD candidate in the History Department of the University of Georgia. His dissertation, titled Both Hitler and Jim Crow: Lost Causes and Imagined Futures in Nazi Bavaria and the New South, 1919-1939, explores the expectations, hopes, and fears for the future held by everyday people in the U.S. South and Bavaria, Germany during the 1920s and 1930s as vehicles to understanding complicity in racialized states. Derrick has been awarded multiple research grants and fellowships which have taken him across the U.S. South and to the southern German state of Bavaria. This May he will be a Graduate Fellow of the Berlin Seminar in Transnational European Studies. Derrick prides himself on sharing his expertise and research with the public. He has spoken at multiple events sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; most recently in February 2018 when he discussed the role “Expectation” played in everyday complicity in the Third Reich and Jim Crow South at a symposium co-sponsored by the UAB Institute for Human Rights.

Relevant works

  • Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Verso, 1991).
  • Kenneth Barkin, “A Case Study in Comparative History: Populism in Germany and America,” in The State of American History, Herbert J. Bass (Quadrangle Books, 1970).
  • Peter Bergmann, “American Exceptionalism and German Sonderweg in Tandem,“ The International History Review, vol. 23, no. 3 (2001): 505-534.
  • Fitzhugh Brundage, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005)
  • James C. Cobb, Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity (Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • David C. Engerman, “Introduction: Histories of the Future and Futures of History,” The American Historical Review, vol 117, no. 5 (2012): 1402-1410.
  • Paul Gaston, The New South Creed: A Study in Southern Mythmaking (Alfred A. Knopf, 1970).
  • Johnpeter H. Grill and Robert L. Jenkins, “The Nazis and the American South in the 1930s: A Mirror Image? The Journal of Southern History, vol 58, no. 4 (November 1992): 667-694.
  • John Haag, “Gone with the Wind in Nazi Germany,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 73, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 378-304
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 1983)
  • Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1790: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge University Press, 1992).
  • Ian Kershaw, “Hitler and the Uniqueness of Nazism,” Journal of Contemporary History, 2, (2004): 239-254.
  • Jürgen Kocka, “German History Before Hitler: The Debate about the German Sonderweg,” Journal of Contemporary History 23, no. 1 (1988): 3–16.
  • George L Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (Howard Fertig: 1964).
  • Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, Mourning and Recovery, Jefferson Chase (Metropolitan Books, 2001).
  • Nina Silber, The Romans of Reunion: Northers and the South 1865-1900 (University of North Carolina Press, 1993)
  • Martina Steber and Bernhard Gotto, eds., Visions of Community in Nazi Germany: Social Engineering and Private (Oxford University Press, 2014).
  • Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair: The Rise of Germanic Ideology. (University of California Press, 1974).
  • Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (University of Georgia Press, 1980).
  • Andrew Zimmermann, Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South, (Princeton University Press, 2012).

Sustainable Blazers

Green Life… Source: Julie Rutherford1, Creative Commons

On Wednesday, April 11th at UAB Edge of Chaos, dozens of Blazers met, in the spirit of Earth Month and Earth Day (4/22), to hold a discussion titled A Conversation about Sustainability. The event centered on a faculty panel, consisting of Dr. Hessam Taherian (School of Engineering), Dr. Suzanne Judd (School of Public Health), Dr. James McClintock (Department of Biology), Dr. Tina Reuter (Institute for Human Rights), Dr. Josh Robinson (Collat School of Business), and, moderator, Dr. Shauntice Allen (School of Public Health), alongside an inspired, and vocal, student body.

Conversation began with a simple question: Why should we care about sustainability?

The conversation began as far from Birmingham as possible, in Antarctica, where Dr. McClintock conducts research, inspiring him to mention risks to the continent’s biodiversity and its resources that enable pharmaceutical innovation. Dr. Taherian asserts that with almost 7.5 billion people on this planet and counting, so it is imperative we think about our actions, especially as finite resources dissipate. Dr. Judd mentioned how she just came back from Paris, where, in recent years, often rises, and threatens to flood the heart of Paris.

Discussion then turned to Alabama, where raining has increased, resulting in river erosion. Although the effects in Birmingham are minimal, as hurricanes travel through warm water, their strength compounds and influences greater threats to our environment and communities.

When discussing resource distribution, the tragedy of the commons became an immediate talking point — a scenario where individual actors are capable of taking a resource with no clear owner, leading to its depletion. This concept was then related to big hunting in Africa because no one owns the wildlife; therefore, excessive hunting practices have guided many species to their endangerment. Since human behavior was addressed, conversation quickly shifted toward a human rights perspective, demonstrating sustainability’s impact on conflict and displacement of vulnerable communities, namely poor and indigenous persons. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an international document that aims to protect security of the person, was proposed as a framework to protect these communities. However, no legal mechanisms are yet in place to protect “climate refugees”, a growing phenomenon.

Following, concerns from the crowd asked if we’ve reached the point of no return. Without hesitation, it was claimed we have because the Great Barrier Reef has experienced recent catastrophic loss from climate change, serving as a canary in the coalmine for what is to come.

Panelists exclaimed we need to incentive sustainability because it directs responsible behaviors. For example, in France, one is charged if they don’t bring their own grocery bags, while, in Dr. Reuter’s home country of Switzerland, she mentioned trash bags are $2 each, incentivizing sustainable behavior. Inevitable critiques of business practice then emerged, where Dr. Robinson claimed businesses are designed for sustainability, meaning accumulating costs of unsustainability will pressure enterprises to adapt. However, it was insisted major oil companies don’t want to leave their product in the ground because of it investment, pitting money against environment. Strikingly, the same researchers hired to protect the tobacco industry about the harms of smoking now help Big Oil with denying the existence of climate change.

As the topic of taxing the population entered the discussion, audience members suggested such an approach would disproportionately affect society’s poorest. Although, it was insisted taxes are not monolithic and can be tiered by income brackets. In addition, the groundswell of communities pressuring the Chinese government to clean the polluted air was mentioned. This generated conversation about the multi-stakeholder process that has been excluded from many environmental decisions, leading to a strong suggestion for non-state actors to be included in such discussions.

When formal discussion ended, students forwarded more insightful questions to the panel, which many responses resulted in conversation about behaviors such as beef consumption, sustainable transportation, Styrofoam cups and the importance of not being aggressive when discussing sustainable behaviors with others. As the lively dialogue ended, it was clear that UAB is the largest electricity consumer in the state, inside a city with poor transportation, and represents a state with some of the nation’s greatest solar potential, meaning Blazers are in the unique position to participate in a global cause by leading local initiatives that advocate for a greener, more sustainable community.

Music: A Cultural Expression of Identity

**This blog is a repost as we invite you to join us for a series of events with Violins of Hope Birmingham, April 11-14, 2018. The centerpiece of the project will be the Violins of Hope Concert at the Alys Stephens Center on April 14, 2018, featuring the Alabama Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Music Director, Carlos Izcaray. 

a picture of a unique violin
violin. Source: z s, Creative Commons

If identity were a sound, what would it sound like? For Jews, it sounds like the notes that rise from the striking of the bow across the tension of the strings on a violin. Elie Wiesel, in Night, writes of a brief encounter with Juliek, a dying violinist. This encounter, without full understanding of the context and the role of the violin in Jewish culture, may remain overlooked and misunderstood. It did for me until I began researching for this blog.

Violins, often heard in a piece of classical music, a genre that as Wang describes as “a special form of culture widely defined within an ideological and social sphere in people’s everyday life”, speak to the universal accessibility of music and the cultural complexity of creative expression within the social identity of Jewish people. “Always when people asked Isaac Stern why so many Jewish people are playing the violin, his answer was very simple: ‘It is the easiest instrument to pick it up and to run away!'” The embedding of music in Jewish tradition resulted from their persecution. Music provided a refuge and an outlet for emotional expression, whether pain or joy because music has the power to transcend.

A violinist is an essential figure within the sociocultural dynamic of Jewish high society. Gilman, highlighting the life of Albert Einstein, explains how the violin is “an emblem of the integration of the Jews into Western high culture… [and] links both personal and historical meanings.” Spotts insists that to the Nazis, “Theater, music, art, and literature were inherently ennobling, unless… practiced by the Jews.” Music for Einstein and other Jews allowed for the continuous expression and validation of individuality, in conjunction with and apart from religion. Conductor Franz Welser-Most maintains, “An instrument becomes part of the person which plays it. It’s the voice of that person comes through the instrument.” Violinists and their violins reinforced the humanity of all Jewish people, thereby undermining Nazi anti-Semitic ideology.

Albrecht considers art, including music, an institution. He identifies three characteristics of art: structure, function, and universality. The institution of art exists within the social structures of a society due to the ability of music to fulfill the human psychological need for creativity. While conceding that art is not a primary institution, one needed for the survival of society, he does suggest that it should no longer remain a secondary (or throwaway) institution either. Art should remain as important as religion, philosophy, and science. In other words, societies needs to recover the value of art by understanding its characteristics.

First, the structure of art is expressive and social, exposing what Parsons defines as “the paradigm of social interaction”. The paradigm of social interaction is the triad reciprocal relationship among the author, the critic, and the public based upon a supply and demand existence, or needs-based approach. For Parsons, human behavior consists of patterns of belief systems, which incorporate and appropriate objects, like violins, into the fabric of an individual or group experience based upon meaning. The repetition of the pattern creates a culture that, over time, produces a heritage. For Bortolotto, “Heritage is created …with authenticity understood as an important quality in the perpetuation of a sense of historical continuity and cultural ancestry.” Therefore, the social structure of art features this triadic interaction over a period and this historical interaction creates solidarity. Art is an essential link in the network of social and cultural relations.

Second, art satisfies curiosity, creates balance, and reduces stress. Spencer concludes that art permits “prolonged rest of the nerve-centers, which build up energy in excess of demands for immediate instrumental activities”, creating a satisfaction that comes from being a part of art through its creation or experience rather than simply participating in it. Weber equates art with ‘salvation’; not salvation as in eternal life but salvation that comes as a means of transcending one’s immediate situation or circumstance. Art allows for momentary escape; this quality contributes to the enrichment and augmentation of an individual and society.

Lastly, art is universal. Hoebel asserts, “Man could survive without art; yet man and art are inseparable.” Human beings are creative beings, yet the limitations of art classification detach the social and cultural significance of artwork or performance, whether it be resistance or propaganda. Take rap as an example. Martinez argues rap of the late 1980s and early 1990s utilizes lyrics and sounds as a form of expressing resistance to some cultural norms about music, and as propaganda when considering the urban decay of black communities, in direct contrast to white communities. In other words, regardless of classification, art, including music, possesses the power to influence, to give voice to the minority, and to symbolize resistance.

Amnon Weinstein is a violinmaker. More than 50 years ago, a customer brought him an old violin in need of restoration. Unplayed violins lose their sound and their spirit over time; therefore, a well-played instrument sounds richer and more open. Weinstein, over the course of the conversation, learned that the owner, a Holocaust survivor, “had played on the violin on the way to the gas chamber, but he survived because the Germans needed him for their death camp orchestra.” When the Nazis outlawed prayer, Jewish violinists played as a means of communion and defiance. “And just knowing that some of these people who have owned these instruments did not survive, but their personality is still within these instruments, I find that very moving”, acknowledges Welser-Most. The restoration of more than 30 Holocaust violins has become Weinstein’s method of harnessing the power of music to influence, returning voice to the minority, and to continually cultivating a resistance against the cruelty of the Holocaust and the silence that descended when the war concluded, by listening to the stories told by the violins.

This Sunday, September 17, 2pm at Temple Emanu-El, musicologist and author James A. Grymes will discuss his book, Violins of Hope: Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour, and the work of Amnon Weinstein. Event organizer Sallie Downs, when asked what inspired her to bring the Violins of Hope story to Birmingham, replied:

I am free to bring them; and they are free to come. All musicians, regardless of who they are and what they believe, are free to play the instruments when they want and where they want, and they are free to play whatever music they wish to play. Jewish musicians didn’t have that opportunity. They did nothing wrong. They were persecuted and too many people didn’t believe it could happen and they stood by until it was out of control. With all the hate and evil we are witnessing in this country, and the ignorance and resignation with which it is viewed, I can’t stand by quietly and do nothing. G-d help me, if I ever find myself on the wrong side of a barbed-wire fence, like those who were tortured and murdered during the Holocaust for no good reason, I will never regret that I did nothing when I had the opportunity to do something. The power of music on the Violins of Hope is a call to action. The Violins are giving voice to the voiceless and providing us an opportunity to help them say “Never again will good people stand idly by and watch innocent life be desecrated.  Never again will we allow the voices of the weak to be silenced.” Not here. Never again.

Violins of Hope is a bearer of intangible cultural heritage. By “establishing a relationship with the past by turning it into an authentic historical object”, Weinstein who restores the violins, and the musicians who play them, are “encouraging social practices that allow cultural objects and expressions to be produced and performed by community members”; thereby creating a living exhibition maintaining a focus on perpetuity.

Keeping the Memory Alive: A Conversation on Confusion and Suffering

On Thursday and Friday, February 22nd and 23rd, the UAB Institute for Human Rights co-hosted a two-day symposium entitled “Bystanders and Complicity in Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South” alongside the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.

The Symposium was intended to demonstrate the importance of civil society leaders galvanizing the general population to rebuff state-sanctioned racism, antisemitism, and violence. Dialogue brought forth by the symposium showed how, when, and why people supported, complied with, ignored, or resisted racist policies and violent practices in systems of intentional discrimination, oppression, and attacks on the basis of race and ethnicity.

On Thursday night, a panel entitled “Keeping the Memory Alive: Personal reflections on the Legacies of Racial Violence and Genocide” featured two speakers: Riva Hirsch, a Holocaust survivor, and Josephine Bolling McCall, who lost her father during an Alabaman lynching in 1947. This blog post focuses on my personal reflection of the panel and the conversation between the two powerful speakers.

I felt an immediate connection to Riva; she reminded me so much of my grandmother. Riva began by telling the story of how her family went on the run from the Nazis (she was seven years old at the time). It was not difficult to create vivid mental images, as Riva illustrated her story with extreme details. Rita’s horrors of that night continued to progress with the separation from her family and the beating of her mother when she fought to keep the family together.

 

Panelists kicking off the discussion, courtesy of Nicholas Sherwood

I tried to think of what my life was like at seven year’s old, and I could not pinpoint a memorable moment of comparable fear and horror. The stark contrast in my and Riva’s experiences as children was upsetting and confusing. It was more difficult to think of what my life would be like if I were forcibly separated from my family at such a young age and painful to think of seeing my mother get beaten.

When Josephine spoke of her father – his characteristics such as being hardworking and selfless – I thought of my grandfather who is the same way. Josephine’s father was murdered when she was five years old. The terrible story of Josephine running to the end of their driveway with her mother and seeing the corpse of her father was heartbreaking. Josephine’s story continued with how her mother reported the murder to the local sheriff, only to have him reply that no justice will be served.

The loss of a loved one can be painfully impactful, and the loss of a parent can be devastating. I was never met with the loss of a loved one until my early teens and it certainly was not at the hands of a murderer. If I had lost a parent when I was younger, the fact that it would be handled effectively and efficiently is a light comfort, but that was not the case for Josephine or her family simply due to the color of their skin. It was incredibly difficult to hear first-hand about the failure of our police force in the pursuit of justice. How easy it was for the sheriff to shrug off the murder of one of his citizens made my skin crawl.

Josephine (right) giving her testimony, photo courtesy of Nicholas Sherwood

Each story was authentic and emotionally impactful in their own ways. It was a dialogue about suffering, not a comparison on who suffered the most. The stories built off of one another and showed the importance of personal stories when it comes to educating on dense topics.

The final message conveyed by the two speakers was, “Keep talking about it so that love will prosper and hate will lose.” It is important for us to continue the conversations about atrocities that have plagued our societies so that we can gain the necessary means to prevent them from happening again. We are destined to repeat our mistakes if we do not recognize and learn from them. It is our job to confront the denial that these events ever took place, to ensure that they never happen again, and denounce the hate that stems from it.

To see what other events we have coming up, visit our events page here.

 

Angélique Kidjo Brings Batonga to Birmingham

On Thursday, March 22, Grammy Award-winning Beninise performer and human rights activist, Angélique Kidjo, offered a lecture at UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center titled, Give Her Wings – Teach Girls and Empower Women. After bestowing the audience with an opening melody, Kidjo spoke of her diverse musical influences, such as R&B, funk and jazz, then shared stories about her childhood, personal growth and activism for girls — periodically breaking out in song whilst incorporating the crowd.

Angélique Incorporates the Crowd. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Born into a music family, Kidjo was not shy about her childhood, confessing she had “cool parents” shared with nine other siblings. Claiming to have never lived with fear, she was pressured into her first stage performance at the age of six, gracefully under spotlight, displaying her young talent which led to a standing ovation. However, during her adolescence, her singing become an issue for some boys in her community in which she became the victim of sexist ridicule and physical confrontation. Being discouraged by this incident, she told her mother she no longer wanted to sing, but was uplifted when told, “If you let people define who you are, you will never have a life”. Her father also claimed that once you engage in a physical fight, you have lost the battle – the most powerful tool is your brain. This encouraged Kidjo to coin the term Batonga which confidently means, “Get the heck out of my life. I’ll be whoever I want to be”.

In secondary school, Kidjo started noticing children not attending class, which confused her, then realized keeping girls in secondary school limits helping mothers in the home. This gave her conviction that without secondary education, girls are limited to being mothers and wives, influencing her activism for children’s education and girl’s empowerment. Kidjo’s Batonga Foundation addresses the gender disparity in secondary and higher education throughout Africa, offering scholarships, books, tutoring, mentoring and meals.

Kidjo believes educating girls will engender world peace and influence them to not raise macho men who hijack women in the name of fear. She asked the crowd, “How do you view your kids, if your wife is viewed as inferior? Man up!”. She then briefly touched on her experiences as an African woman living in 1980s Paris, being shocked by blatant racism but standing her ground, and declared the brain and soul have no color, the world is yours and don’t be afraid to challenge people – a mindset inherited from the empowered women who raised and supported her.

Kidjo ended her lecture with one final number that included the crowd. With her grace and leadership, the crowd joined her and steadily chanted, “Chez mama, chez mama Africa”, a precursor to the following night’s concert.

Kidjo and the IHR Gang. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

Soon after, young girls and boys rushed to the microphone and asked Kidjo how they could be leaders just like her. She expressed to many of these young, impressionable minds how the liberating power of music gives one the confidence and strength in the face of adversity – Batonga.

Where Do We Go From Here? An Event Recap

On Wednesday, February 28, the UAB Institute for Human Rights hosted Dr. Samantha Nutt, founder of War Child, to talk about her experiences working in war zones. During her conversation entitled “Where Do We Go from Here? Stories from the Frontlines of the World’s Major Crises”, Dr. Nutt covered topics from ranging from personal stories from her time in Somalia to gun violence statistics in the United States. You can read more about her background here.

The illicit and licit automatic weapons market is incredibly saturated in Somalia and the United States. In this post, I argue that this oversaturation and easy access creates a gateway for violence.

Dr. Samantha Nutt at the UAB Hill Student Center Ballroom
Dr. Samantha Nutt. Source: Tyler Goodwin, author.

Recap

The talk began with Dr. Nutt explaining how she began working in warzones – she was a volunteer doctor assigned to work in one of the world’s most dangerous countries, Somalia. She was contracted by an organization who was unable to pay her more than one dollar for her services, yet she decided to go anyway. To this day, Dr. Nutt carries with her the four quarters she received as payment.

Living in Somalia, Dr. Nutt met many people who considered this crisis area as their home. She told the story of a woman named Edith, who was a single mother who came to Dr. Nutt for medical assistance. The first time Dr. Nutt met with Edith, she was told of when Edith attempted to take her newborn child to the medical facility that was down the road. On the way there, she was ambushed by a group of boys armed with firearms who would not let her pass until she paid them a toll even though she possessed no money. As a result of being denied access to the medical facility, Edith’s child died due to malnutrition.

After suffering the loss of her child, Edith asked, “Do people where you are from know what is happening? Do they know what we go through?” Dr. Nutt replied with “I am afraid not.” On the international black market, an AR-15 can be purchased for ten dollars or less apiece; this happens in Somalia and many other states, according to Dr. Nutt. The AR-15s found in Somalia are commonly made in the United States. Upon further research, Dr. Nutt revealed that other women in surrounding villages were blockaded from accessing medical facilities by young men wielding guns as well.

Dr. Samantha Nutt giving her lecture with gun violence statistics in the background
Dr. Samantha Nutt with gun violence statistics. Source: Tyler Goodwin, author.

“Globally, we are currently spending about $249 per person on war; that is twelve times more than what we spend on humanitarian assistance across the world.”

Glancing at the statistics, one may assume that, globally, we prioritize the sale of guns and military weapons over the safety and welfare of humans. At home and abroad, we are quick to sell a rifle but question whether or not humanitarian action is necessary at every turn.

Dr. Nutt told of another visit by Edith, immediately after Edith was subjected to an act of violence. Dr. Nutt was in her office with her phone, laptop, water, and other items an average American would consider a necessity. Edith pointed Dr. Nutt’s possessions and said, “all of this is for you. We die for nothing.”

Addressing the faults of a failed state is necessary. Ignoring these issues perpetuates cycles of violence we see in war-torn Somalia, which causes Edith and countless other people to lose their families and threatens their very existence. Education provides the tools to combat issues that threaten peace. With knowledge of what is happening in Somalia, we are indirectly fighting for Edith and the other Somali citizens that say they “die for nothing.”

“We begin to tip the balance in favor of peace when we question the institutions that infringe upon it.”

Dr. Nutt also presented on the massacre in Parkland, Florida, where seventeen high school students were murdered. She mentioned the gun used in the Parkland shooting was the same grade as the ones commonly used in Somalia to block access to health facilities. Bangalore and Messerli of the American Journal of Medicine argue that the easier it is to access firearms, the higher the chances of violence are. With the average price of an AR-15 being about ten dollars on the black market, it is safe to say that these firearms are easily accessible.

In Dr. Nutt’s recent post on the Parkland shooting titled “The Kids are not Alright,” she calls for legislative action within the United States by citing other nations’ gun control legislation:

“…every developed nation that has imposed stricter gun control in the wake of mass shootings saw a precipitous decline in mass shootings and other gun related deaths. In Australia mass shootings dropped by 93% percent after a successful government gun ‘buy-back’ program following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, which saw 35 people slaughtered. In the United Kingdom, after strict gun control measures were introduced in the wake of the Dunblane massacre of 15 kindergartners, there has not been another mass shooting in the 22 years since. Gun homicides have dropped to one third of their former levels. In Canada, a country with looser gun laws than the UK but tighter controls relative to the United States, gun related homicides are 8 times less per capita than the country’s southern neighbours.”

We have seen the Parkland shooting survivors gather support across the nation and assemble at our nation’s capital. By calling for change, they are calling for their form of peace. This is not to say that all gun owners disrupt that peace, but a military grade assault rifle should not be available for purchase on the black market for ten dollars and should not be available to purchase at your local Wal-Mart.

Dr. Nutt concludes by stating, “It does not matter how much you give, it matters how you give.” In her post mentioned above, she says, “Political candidates who openly advocate for gun control need financial and volunteer support. And those who resist gun control measures should be actively and consistently opposed, until NRA endorsements and contributions are seen as politically toxic.”

Human rights education gives us the tools to prevent acts of violence and teaches us how to fight against it when we see it. Like the students of Parkland, it is our duty to fight for our peace both at home and abroad. By fighting against the oversaturation of guns and regulating the market here in the United States, we can hope that the number of guns circulating through the black market, and ultimately Somalia, will decrease. As human rights activists, it is our duty to fight for peace. So, where do we go from here? We go toward peace.

Peace sign
peace. Source: Ken Swinson, Creative Commons

“Invest in peace, not war.”

To see more upcoming events hosted by the UAB Institute for Human Rights, please visit our events page here.

 

Disclaimer: emboldened quotations were provided by Dr. Samantha Nutt on the February 28, 2018 IHR Event.

Angélique Kidjo and the Importance of Education

On March 22, 2018, Grammy-award winning singer and human rights activist Angélique Kidjo will be speaking at the University of Alabama at Birmingham about the importance of education for girls and boys. Angélique is from Benin, a small country in West Africa; the IHR has previously published on challenges facing Benin on our blog, which may be found here. One pressing human rights concern facing the Beninese people is access to education. The Batonga Foundation, Angélique Kidjo’s non-profit organization states, in Benin, 3 out of 4 girls do not make it do middle school, and 1 in 3 girls get married before the age of 18. Per UNESCO, in 2015, only 48.93% of students enrolled in secondary education were female compared to 68.52% of enrolled male students in Benin. Lastly, in 2012, the female literacy rate for female population aged 15 – 24 in Benin was only 40.94%.

Grammy Award winner Singer / Songwriter and Unicef Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo visits Kazanchis Health Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 11 November 2013. Photo by Jiro Ose

As Angélique explained to CNN, unlike the majority of girls in Benin, she grew up in a household that emphasized the critical necessity of education. Growing up with ten siblings and one paycheck, Angélique used to sing for extra money for her family. She eventually wanted to drop out of school and work as a full-time singer, however, her father insisted females should be educated and made dropping out of school non-negotiable.

“My education has empowered me so much: it gave me the confidence not only to sing but also to speak on CNN or BBC and to meet world leaders to lobby on the behalf of the women of Africa.”

– Angélique Kidjo, ONE

Primary and secondary education for all children is now accepted as a universal basic need and human right. Data from the World Bank highlights the sobering relationship between education and development. The poorest countries in the world have national secondary education enrollment rates of less than 35%, along with low levels of tertiary enrollment of less than 15% (Sachs 254). Higher education institutions are necessary “to ensure that there are qualified teachers, sufficient numbers of technical workers, and a generation of young people trained in public policy and sustainable development (Sachs 255).”

In many communities, cultural roles and expectations create substantial gender gaps in the division of household responsibilities, economic opportunities such as employment, access to job-training skills, and education levels. The burden of gender inequality has detrimental and disproportionate impacts on the economic security, poverty levels, health, nutrition and environmental safety of women worldwide. These can also be prevented. Education provides mothers and children the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and fuel social mobility, which here refers to the change in social class and socioeconomic status of individuals or families.

The Ripple Effect of Education on Social Mobility

  • Educating women equates to higher economic productivity. Studies determine lower female enrollment rates in school is associated with lower GDP per capita. Specifically, UNICEF states in 2011 that one percentage point increase in female education increases the average level of GDP by 0.37 percentage points. As a result of basic education and skills, women are able to work and contribute to the economic growth and productivity of their country. Likewise, education plays a key role in endogenous growth – economic growth based on new technological breakthroughs, such as the internet and advancements in computer science using research and development (Sachs 271). The current revolution of new information and communication technology (ICT) is exceedingly dependent on trained individuals with advanced degrees in their fields of study. Research and development is deeply concentrated in high income countries due the complex interplay of successful management systems ranging from universities to high tech business companies, and even national laboratories (Sachs 273). The fundamental anchor for the success of these institutions is strong systems of higher education in sciences, public policy and engineering.

At the local level, educated women are able to work and provide for their families. UNICEF states every added year of primary school enhances girls’ ensuing wages by 10 – 20% and another 15-25% for every additional year of secondary school. Employment opportunities provides financial stability, and thus averts families from falling into poverty due to the parents’ ability to invest in their children’s human capital. Human capital is here defined as the “collective skills, knowledge, or other intangible assets of individuals that can be used to create economic value for the individuals, their employers, or their community.”

  • Educating women translates to reduced child mortality. The number one indicator for the survival of a child under the age of five is the mother’s education level. Education establishes health behaviors and customs that have a constructive impact on an individual’s health. Specifically,“Educated mothers have a greater ability to identify healthcare services for treating their child’s illnesses; higher receptivity to new health-related information; familiarity with modern medical culture; access to financial resources and health insurance; better decision-making power; and increased self-worth and self-confidence.” (Bado 2016)

Reduced child mortality breaks the intergenerational cycle of poverty of the future generation. First, healthy children and less likely to miss school and more likely to complete their education. Higher levels of education are associated with better socio-economic status. Second, healthy children grow up to be active members of society, and contribute to the productivity of their national economy. Third, families with healthy children can invest money into other areas of development and human capital such as education rather than health services.

  • Parental educational level is an important predictor of children’s educational outcomes. Educating women translates to increased chances of education for the next generation regardless of one’s social environment or income. Educated parents understand the critical relationship between education and social mobility, increasing the likelihood of putting their children through school. Likewise, educated parents have the financial means to help put their children through school. Lastly, parent education levels are associated with the parents providing children a more stimulating cognitive, emotional physical environment in the household. Motivating home environments have a positive influence on a child’s achievements and aspirations (Gunn 518-540).

“The association of  family income and parent’s education with children’s academic achievement was mediated by the home environment. The mediation effect was stronger for maternal education than for family income.”

Educating girls and women is the most cost-effective way to reduce poverty and improve quality of life. Education enables both national and local social return that continue to affect quality of life years after formal education is completed.

Female education is an imperative stakeholder in the development of women all over the world. Angélique Kidjo uses her voice and social influence to advocate for female education all over Africa. In 2002, Angélique Kidjo’s advocacy journey flourished as she became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for education. As a Goodwill Ambassador, Angélique has campaigned for education on behalf of UNICEF by attending high level meetings, speaking and performing at public events, and granting media interviews. Her advocacy work continues to bring attention to these issues. Along with her work with UNICEF, Angélique founded a non-profit, the Batonga Foundation. Angélique created the word batonga which means “get off my back, I can be whoever I want to be.” According to Angélique, she created the word during her Junior year of high school to protect herself against male bullies at her school. The word confused the boys, who eventually left her alone. The Batonga foundation focuses on the education of women and girls throughout Africa. Their services focus on providing scholarships, book materials, latrines across schools, shoes for walking to schools, and access to girls clubs.

The IHR is proud to host Angélique Kidjo. On Thursday, March 22nd at 6:00 p.m., Angélique will present an educational lecture at the UAB Alys Stephens Center. This event is free and open to the public.

Additionally, on Friday, March 23rd at 8:00 p.m.,  Angélique Kidjo give a musical performance at the UAB Alys Stephens Center. Registration for her performance can be found at the UAB Institute for Human Rights website.

References:

Sachs, Jeffery. (2015). Enviornmental Sustainability and Peace. New York: Colombia University Press

Greg, D., Brooks-Gunn, J. (1997). The Consequences of Growing Up Poor. New York: Russell Sage Foundation

Civil Rights for Blacks, Human Rights for Whites (and Everyone Else)? Reclaiming the Black Human Rights Tradition

by TONDRA L. LODER-JACKSON, PhD.

African American school children entering the Mary E. Branch School at S. Main Street and Griffin Boulevard, Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia
African American school children entering the Mary E. Branch School at S. Main Street and Griffin Boulevard, Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia. Source: Library of Congress, Creative Commons.

Black History Month’s conclusion seems to me an opportune time for reflecting on America’s age-old tension between supporting civil rights versus human rights. As an African American woman educator, I have observed this tension among students, colleagues, community members, and the national media. The paraphrased statements below capture the essence of some of my personal encounters.

“I must admit I was initially resistant to your requirement to attend [the Holocaust-themed film] Paper Clips in a course focused on the Civil Rights Movement.”- A former African American woman graduate student

“I cannot justify investing in international human rights when Black folks in America have so many unresolved problems.” – An African American woman colleague

“I have never heard an African American speak about antisemitism.” – A Jewish woman civic leader’s public comment after an African American woman scholar’s human rights symposium keynote

“Why it Hurts When the World Loves Everyone But Us” – A Black Internet media headline highlighting the outpouring of support for emerging student gun control activists in the aftermath of the February 14, 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting

These encounters, particularly my own disquiet with the optics of the media’s portrayal of (welcomed) nationwide empathy for school shooting victims and survivors contrasted with (ill-informed) public antipathy of The Movement for Black Lives, prompt me to pose a few questions, and retrace, in hopes of helping African Americans (and others) reclaim, our longstanding tradition of advancing human rights.

A Problem of Scope?

Why so much dissonance about what I consider symbiotic rights? Is a hierarchy of scope culpable? Civil rights – generally defined as an individual’s rights to be treated equally under typically federal law in public arenas such as housing, education, employment, public accommodations, and many more – are quite often viewed as too narrow, too mid-20th century, too Black. In contrast, human rights are defined more expansively as rights “inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status”. Human rights are generally viewed as being international in scope – that is, focused on human beings beyond, but tacitly excluding human beings within, the continental United States.

Yet, there are key historical moments when Black leaders in the United States strategically elevated America’s civil rights violations to international human rights violations. W. E. B. Du Bois espoused an unwavering belief in the indivisibility of national and international human rights for people of African descent. Likewise, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used his platform as a civil rights leader to speak out against apartheid in South Africa, global poverty, and the Vietnam War. Four other notables, Malcolm X, Ralph Bunche, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, also used their platforms as Black leaders to address international human rights. These leaders embodied polarities of diverse Black intellectual thought yet shared the view that advancing Black civil rights constituted a legitimate and worthy human rights agenda, particularly when linked to the destinies of Africans in the Diaspora.

Malcolm X (1925-1965)

After his exile from the Nation of Islam, and on the heels of his transformative pilgrimage to Mecca in April 1964, Malcolm X launched a campaign to persuade African states represented in the United Nations to bring charges against the United States’ oppression of what he then termed Afro-Americans. Malcolm X told friends in New York that he aimed to “internationalize” the Afro-American question at the United Nations in a manner similar to how South African apartheid was elevated as an international problem. The contents of an eight-page memorandum Malcolm X drafted and delivered to African heads of state at a conference in Cairo, Egypt convinced U. S. government officials of his potential for influential global leadership. They surmised that if “Malcolm X succeeded in convincing just one African Government to bring up the charge at the United Nations, the United States Government would be faced with a touchy problem”. Malcolm X suspected that the FBI and CIA demonstrated a particular clandestine interest in his aims for Afro-American advancement once he focused on internationalizing his agenda.

a picture of Ralph Bunche during conference on peace in Geneva, Switzerland
Atoms for Peace. “Closing sessions of the Atoms for Peace Conference”. Seen here at the closing session of the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy which opened here on 8 August are (left to right), Mr. Ilya S. Tchernychev and Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, Under Secretaries of the UN without Portfolio, and Dr. Homi J. Bhabha from India, President of the Conference. (Geneva, Switzerland, August 20, 1955) Source: IAEA Imagebank, Creative Commons.

Ralph Bunche (1904-1971)

Ironically, Malcolm X publicly criticized another Black leader, who shared similar human rights aims albeit not means, as a “Black man who didn’t know his history”. Ralph Bunche, whose role as a civil and human rights leader remains woefully overshadowed in American history, was the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for brokering the 1949 Armistice Agreements in the Middle East. Known as a consummate diplomat, Bunche helped found the United Nations, soliciting First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s support in establishing its treaties. Bunche also supported civil rights causes and was among a group of African American intellectuals W. E. B. Du Bois coined the “Young Turks.” He influenced Dr. King and other civil rights leaders and participated in the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March. He also served on the board for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)

Mary McLeod Bethune leveraged her accomplishments as the founder of Bethune-Cookman College, a national Colored Women’s Club leader, and a civil rights leader, to become a stateswoman for international human rights. As historian Paula Giddings noted, “Bethune knew how to cajole, praise, apply the right pressure here and there, to move toward a group consensus”. Joining ranks with Bunche and Du Bois as NAACP leaders, Bethune represented the organization at the 1945 founding of the United Nations. In the early 1950s President Harry Truman appointed her to a national defense committee and to serve as an official delegate to a presidential inauguration in Liberia. Bethune and Bunche were among a few Black Americans who had the ear of U. S. Presidents and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, enabling them to elevate their causes for African Americans to an international platform.

a picture of civil rights leader Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Source: Eleanor Jaekel, Creative Commons.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931)

Bethune once vied successfully against Ida B. Wells-Barnett in 1924 to become president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Both well respected in the Black community, quite similar to Malcolm X and Bunche, they subscribed to different schools of Black political thought. Wells-Barnett was a fiery activist who openly criticized Booker T. Washington’s accommodationist stance on advancing Black progress. Her public attacks were taken none too lightly by NACW leader Mary Church Terrell whom Wells-Barnett once accused of excluding her from the 1899 convention of the NACW. Terrell’s enthusiasm and support for Bethune’s NACW candidacy over Wells-Barnett’s was ill-concealed. Despite these differences, Wells-Barnett joined ranks with Black women and men to expose the atrocities of American lynching to an international audience, drawing national attention and scrutiny. As Giddings noted, “A local antilynching campaign was one thing; an international one was quite another”.

Forging New Human Rights Alliances in the 21st Century

One historical lesson from the experiences of Black human rights leaders is that they forged successful alliances both within and outside of their race to advance civil and human rights. I see hopeful signs of this legacy among younger generations. Notably, twice during this academic year, I have been fortunate to participate in human rights symposia co-sponsored by the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Campus Outreach Program, Birmingham higher education institutions, and local Holocaust and civil rights education organizations. These two symposia, hosted at the historically Black Miles College last fall and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) last week, juxtaposed holocaust experiences in Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South with meticulous and empathic attention to balancing the unique perspectives and representing the diverse identities of survivors and descendants of these atrocities. The Miles College symposium, according to its organizers the first ever hosted by a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), expectedly drew a predominantly African American audience with a notable number of Whites and other racial/ethnic groups whereas the UAB symposium was fairly racially/ethnically diverse. The symposium brought together a total of 413 attendees, 37 presenters, and moderators from 18 different universities and institutions in 7 states (plus DC), representing 17 different academic disciplines and programs.

I applaud these efforts because they are reminiscent of Black-Jewish alliances in the 19th and 20th centuries that helped advance Black and Jewish representation in American education. For example, the alliance between Birmingham’s Black community and Jewish school leader Samuel Ullman to establish Black schools in slavery’s aftermath. There is also the more familiar alliance between Booker T. Washington and Sears and Roebuck magnate Julius Rosenwald to build thousands of schools for Black children all across the South and extending to the Southwest and Mid-Atlantic states. Rosenwald once proclaimed in a speech: “We like to look down on the Russians because of the way they treat the Jews, and yet we turn around and the way we treat our African-Americans is not much better”. Together, Washington and Rosenwald, with the inestimable support of local Black communities, built nearly 5,000 schools with an estimated $4 million investment from the Rosenwald Project. Finally, there is the alliance between Jewish professors and HBCUs in the 1930s and 1940s highlighted in From Swastikas to Jim Crow. The U.S. South was once a safe haven for a number of Jewish intellectuals who fled Nazi oppression. Many Jewish professors found it difficult to find university jobs in the United States, especially at elite institutions; and even when they did, some were denied tenure for their socialist and religious orientations. Black colleagues at HBCUs were generally sympathetic to their new Jewish colleagues and helped socialize them to the Jim Crow South. The Jewish academics were often astounded by race relations in the South. One professor recounted that when a kind Black colleague gave him a ride home, the apartment manager called him into the office to complain that he had “Negro visitors who were not cleaning ladies or something like that.” A neighbor later warned him that if he did not cease bringing Negroes to the neighborhood that the neighbor would shoot – not at him but at his Black colleague.

History has taught us that forging alliances to address civil and human rights is never easy. These alliances have always been fraught with ideological, racial, cultural, socioeconomic, gender, and countless other differences. There have always been tensions between the aims of mobilizing intra-racial alliances (Malcolm X’s post-Mecca concession that “Whites can help us but they can’t join us.”) versus interracial alliances. Yet no real social movement has occurred without them. Dr. King’s prophetic treatise on human rights penned as a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” resonates today:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

 

Tondra L. Loder-Jackson, PhD is an associate professor at UAB holding a primary appointment in The School of Education and a secondary appointment in The College of Arts and Sciences’ African American Studies Program. She is the author of Schoolhouse Activists: African American Educators and the Long Birmingham Civil Rights Movement.

 

We Don’t Listen to Arabs (But We Should)

“Instead of approaching problems with humility, we approach them with hubris”, began Dr. James “Jim” Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute. When it comes to the Arab world, Zogby proclaimed, the hubris characteristic of American foreign policy and subsequent ‘humanitarian’ intervention blinds us to the goals and fears of the Middle East / North Africa (MENA) region. Zogby’s prescription for hubris is simple: “Listening”.

Dr. James Zogby addresses the UAB and Birmingham community.
Dr. James Zogby. Source: Nicholas Sherwood

Dr. James Zogby addressed the UAB and Birmingham community on Tuesday, November 14th at UAB’s Alumni House. His lecture, titled “What We Don’t Know (But Need to Know) About the Arab World Today”, drew on his personal and professional experiences in diverse capacities in the US and in the Arab worlds alike. Notable roles Zogby has played include: political researcher / pollster in the MENA region, collegiate instructor of social research and public policy, professional advocate for human rights for Arabs, advisor for multiple US presidential candidates, and a member on the US Council on Foreign Relations. Beyond his professional accomplishments, Zogby is also the son of an immigrant from Lebanon. His ties to the Arab world are professional, personal, and deeply profound.

Zogby’s theme throughout his address was the pressing need to see the Arab world not as an abstract concept but as an area of the world that represents people with their own culture, political ideas, religious beliefs, and social and economic concerns. Americans must understand the Arab world is comprised of people sharing universal human concerns: worries related to their employment, their children’s future, and healthcare. By imagining the Arab world as a world separate from our own, we dehumanize Arabs and detach them from the shared human experience. This dehumanization can and does have grave consequences.

The War in Iraq, according to Zogby was a colossal mistake that “made enemies out of people that could otherwise be our friends – because we don’t understand Arabs”. An example, says Zogby, is the Bush’s Administration’s claim the US would be ‘greeted as liberators’.  Zogby’s extensive polling in the MENA region asked Arabs what they felt about the invasion and how these feelings impacted their view of America. Many Arabs he polled viewed the foreign troops as occupiers, not liberators, and thus Arab support for US foreign policies (not just concerning the MENA region) plummeted. However, Zogby qualified, this resentment towards U.S. policy must not be conflated with a resentment towards American ideals. Ideals such as democracy, freedom, and equality are supported by Arabs. It is the execution and implementation of these ideals, Zogby stated in his address, that forced the wedge between the US and the Arab world. This wedge exists today. And the distance it created is widening still.

Without sincerely listening to the stories of another, we risk of imposing our own beliefs and goals on the other. That’s why Zogby prescribes listening to and studying the Arab world as the first step to overcoming the gap between the Arab and the Western world. How do we do this? Zogby detailed an old habit of his, whenever he travels abroad. The first thing he does when arriving in a new locale is to buy up several local newspapers to read during his stay. The big stories, the international and national topics, Zogby says, anyone can learn about in the big-name newspapers and publications, even in publications abroad. But what of the smaller stories? The local and personal experiences tangibly impacting the lives of locals in their respective communities? These are the stories that reflect what’s actually on people’s minds in their day-to-day lived. It’s these small stories, Zogby explains, that help us understand the subjective, though in many ways universal, experiences of people we would otherwise have no access to. After buying and reading the local newspapers, Zogby talks with the people he meets on his journeys. Taking the time to immerse yourself in the minutiae of a new community, not just abstract geopolitical conflicts, offers insight and builds empathy. Without cultural empathy and the understanding that follows, Americans (or any people for that matter) cannot hope to speak or act on behalf any other people – including Arabs.

Dr. James Zogby with members of the the Insitute for Human Rights and Birmingham Islamic Society.
Zogby, the IHR, and members of the Birmingham Islamic Society. Source: Tyler Goodwin.

Another barrier to understanding Arabs, Zogby posits, is American culture. Some aspects of American culture perpetuate damaging stereotypes concerning Arabs and correlate the whole of the Arab world with ignorance, violence, and anti-Western ideals. This abject dismissal of Arab culture as worthy of understanding in its own right begins with the American public education system and is reinforced through the media and political apparatuses the American public later consumes as adults. Zogby recalls his American grade school social studies classes as a child, remembering the brief entry on Arab history and culture in relation to the rest of the world. This entry summarized Arab culture as a Sheik sitting on a camel in front of the pyramids. This has particular emotional salience for him; again, Zogby is the son of Lebanese immigrants. The Arab entry, he recalled, lacked any mention of the history-altering contributions offered by the Arab people; these include the Arabic language, scientific discoveries, Islam, and architecture.

The American education system imprints foundational appraisals of other cultures onto American children; the erasure of the Arab world and its historical significance only serves to minimize the experiences of Arabs to American children. In Zogby’s case, as is the case for millions of other American children, Arab dehumanization is done to Arab American children about their own culture and heritage. Another factor impacting the dehumanization of Arabs is the prevalence of the American media industry to hyper-focus on political and religious violence of the MENA region without mention of the prosocial peacemaking attempts undertaken by many Muslim organizations and Arab governments. “Terrorists make the news”, Zogby claims, “Arab doctors don’t. We look for what’s shocking. The vast majority of Arabs who live in peace simply aren’t shocking, and they certainly aren’t good for ratings.” This mischaracterization is further emboldened by the American political system. A shocking anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias permeates many American politicians and their policy agendas. This bias, if unchecked, will further demonize not only Arabs within the Arab world but also Americans descended from Arab cultures as well. This cultural bias against Arabs affects not only Americans living within the system, but also Arabs living without the system. Anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigration American policies and norms are used to inspire Arabs (and other global citizens) to unfairly characterize the US as well. Willful ignorance of the lives of Arabs threatens not only American ideals of freedom and equality, but it also threatens US national security. It is America’s moral obligation to herself and her global neighbors to reverse course and listen to Arab voices. By listening, we hear their stories, their needs, and their fears. By listening, arbitrary and damaging cultural boundaries are rendered meaningless.

Zogby’s life’s work is defined by his role as a boundary-crosser. Although a practicing Catholic, Zogby holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Temple University. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Zogby dove early and deeply into the world of American politics. His professional and personal identities reject the notion of boundaries. This seems to be Zogby’s mantra and fundamental guidance for his work – to overcome the boundaries dividing humanity and to take a deep look at ourselves and how we approach intercultural communication and bridge-building. Zogby has certainly listened to the Arab world. America must follow suit.

Recap of Using Digital Storytelling to Promote Human Rights: The Experience of Disability Advocates

co-authored Tyler Goodwin and Nicholas Sherwood

a picture of Dr. Trevisan presenting
Photo by Tyler Goodwin

On Wednesday, October 11, 2017, the UAB Institute for Human Rights sponsored an event titled: “Using Digital Story Telling to Promote Disability Rights.” This event featured Dr. Filippo Trevisan, Assistant Professor of Communications at American University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Trevisan is a disability rights advocate whose research features the use of technology to enhance accessibility for persons with disabilities. He is the Deputy Director of the Institute on Disability and Public Policy at American University, and an accomplished author, who released his book, Disability Rights Advocacy Online, last year. Dr. Trevisan’s presentation attempts to answer the question of how advocacy effectively inspires policy change for marginalized populations- most notably, for the disabled community.

Disability Rights

When the United Nations codified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disability rights were first established at the international level of governance. This Convention is notable for its inclusion of actual persons with disabilities in the creation of this legal document, and for good reason. Persons with disabilities have long had to self-advocate for their rights, and the potency of grassroots efforts for disability rights distinguish this rights movement from other human rights movements. Dr. Trevisan, through the lens of information and communication technology, aimed to understand how formalized rights were impacted by the grassroots efforts of persons with disabilities.

Dr. Trevisan spoke of how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have significantly impacted the world of disability rights. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that ICTs have allowed persons with disabilities to “enhance their social, cultural, political and economic integration in communities by enlarging the scope of activities available to them.” ICTs have promoted self-advocacy by allowing persons with disabilities to directly participate in any number of activities by directly getting their voice heard- middlemen are no longer required for persons with disabilities to get their issues out into the world. By surpassing several links in the communication process, the voices and narratives of persons with disabilities are more authentically communicated to policy makers and all levels of governance: local, regional, national, and international.

By skipping these ‘middlemen’, the effectiveness of a message (such as advocacy for disability rights) is more prominent, and the intended effect (policy change) is more directly linked to the advocate. According to Trevisan, two main communication styles are used by disability rights advocates to persuade policy-makers.

Emotional Appeal Versus Rational Arguments

Breaking down the rhetoric used by disability rights advocates, Trevisan elucidated on two primary forms of persuasive messages: messages appealing to emotion and messages appealing to reason. Emotional appeals typically feature personal narratives, eliciting feelings of empathy and sympathy by the receiver of the message. By contrast, rational arguments (i.e. appealing to reason) offer evidence-based arguments in support of policy change. A challenge of human rights advocates (in this case, disability rights advocates) is deciding which, or in what combination, of these persuasive tactics is most likely to achieve the desired outcome.

Historically, policy-makers have favored (or been more susceptible to) appeals to reason, as evidence-based arguments offer a more sound and predictable argument for policy change (or lack thereof). However, upon analyzing cases in the United Kingdom and United States, Trevisan documented a noticeable modal shift in successful argument tactics. Instead of favoring rational appeals, policy-makers are starting to respond and succumb to emotional appeals; this change is most clearly documented in policies related to persons with disabilities. This has huge implications for advocacy efforts and policy-makers alike. Bygone are the days where statistics and figures hold greater weight than personal narratives and stories. Perhaps we do indeed live in a “post-fact world” (though hopefully not). The question now becomes: why are emotional appeals more effective than rational arguments? And how can we marry these two approaches to achieve both: 1) successful persuasion of policy-makers to codify human rights and 2) create the emotional appeal from a sound and practical argument?

a picture of social media icons as flowers indicating the growth of social media
Growing Social Media. Source: mkhmarketing, Creative Commons

The Power of Stories

The answer to the first question lies in the power of story; Trevisan argues the impact of personal story-sharing in disability rights advocacy cannot be overstated. The importance of persons with disabilities telling their personal stories has proven to be very effective when it comes to advocating for their rights, and Dr. Trevisan mentioned two critical components to story telling: 1) the voice of the person telling the story, and 2) the storyteller feeling his or her voice is heard. Dr. Trevisan states his research led him to find “individuals [with disabilities] are now able to participate in crowd-sourced campaigns, and they want to.” He goes on to say persons with disabilities generally feel authentic in their narrative-sharing and the significant strides in disability rights implementation (for example, the CRPD) shows their voices are being hear.

Persons with disabilities have been particularly effective in their use of crowdsourcing- the virtual participation in efforts such as rights-advocacy. While crowd-sourcing has been a great way to get stories out into the world, the particular mixture of rational vs. emotional components is up for debate. How narrow should the stories be? If someone has to edit these stories, who should it be and what gives them the right to do so? Should there be no editing of the stories? If not, what if the stories do not pertain to the cause? Is it right to cut out someone’s story that they want to tell? How can we (consumers of information) be sure we are receiving an authentic and genuine message from a credible source (especially in a “post-fact world”)?

Dr. Trevisan’s cunning research of story-telling in disability-rights advocacy suggests the paradigm of successful policy change is shifting: from rational appeal to emotional connection, from the presentation of hard facts to the telling of personal stories. Moving forward with this new knowledge, human rights researchers and advocates must find a way to marry objective reality with the subjective story of humanity.

 

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