Class action lawsuit filed against debtors’ prison for juveniles

“Youth who can’t pay for alternative programs may enter the juvenile justice system when a wealthier peer would not.”

#juveniles #debtorsprison #criminaljustice #inequality

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Debtor’s prison for juveniles is still a big problem in the United States. Essentially, it is a justice system that allows people to stay out of jail, depending on their racial or financial status.

Read more about it here, and watch a Vice documentary on the subject below.

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Fun things to do this weekend: Lie about Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Knowing where to start with a man who gave possibly the most influential speech of the 20th century can be tough, but I’ll tell you where we not gon’ start…”

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929, and his mark on the world was civil rights. He became the best-known face of the Civil Rights Movement, and his words have reverberated throughout history, translating into a statue in Washington, D.C., a national holiday, and a 2014 Academy Award winning film about his epic struggle for equal rights in Selma, Alabama.

Knowing where to start with a man who gave possibly the most influential speech of the 20th century can be tough, but I’ll tell you where we not gon’ start…

Lies about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lie #1: Martin Luther King, Jr. was popular

King was popular in the same way that Jesus was popular – a lot of people were picking up what he was laying down, and a lot of people weren’t.

According to Gallup News:

“In 1963, King had a 41% positive and a 37% negative rating; in 1964, it was 43% positive and 39% negative; in 1965, his rating was 45% positive and 45% negative; and in 1966 — the last Gallup measure of King using this scalometer procedure — it was 32% positive and 63% negative…The resulting data show that King’s image became more negative as the years went on.”

The “I Have a Dream” speech compelled the head of the F.B.I’s domestic intelligence division to label King “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of Communism, the Negro and national security.”

A group of clergymen even wrote to King, calling his demonstrations “unwise and untimely.”

To say that King was popular is to:

  • Superimpose his venerated position in death onto his actual life
  • To understate the impact his stance against the Vietnam war had on his popularity
  • Dismiss the nuanced and often heated debate within black communities about how best to advance civil rights
    and
  • To whitewash the exact degree to which white America rejected King’s message of racial equality

Lie #2: Martin Luther King, Jr. was the “opposite” of Malcolm X

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Everybody knows that King believed in nonviolence, and Malcolm X was a dangerous radical, right?

Wrong.

Firstly, what King engaged was civil disobedience. In Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King describes his own beliefs regarding the difference between just laws and unjust laws:

“The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

This was hardly a meek position to take. King was openly advocating for the disregard of the laws of the United States if they were deemed unjust by the people.

Though his rhetoric reflected a distaste for violence, his tactics often included actively courting it. King even drew condemnation from Malcolm X for an event called The Children’s Crusade, in which he sent children and teenagers to a march where they were attacked by Bull Connor, Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama.

King organized the march to dramatize the cruelty black Americans were up against. Malcolm disagreed, saying:

“Real men don’t put their children on the firing line.”

To paint a beatific picture of King while posing Malcolm X as his bloodthirsty contemporary misunderstands both men simultaneously, and negates the value of the spiritual journeys that led to their distinct political persuasions.

Lie #3: Martin Luther King, Jr. would be ashamed of protestors

As we’ve already discussed, King openly advocated for people to break the law if it was unjust, and though he is painted as a teddy bear, he was not. He drew harsher condemnation as time wore on for his stance on the Vietnam War, which some felt lacked patrio…oh, wait, sound familiar?

In Beyond Vietnam, he issues a scathing indictment of the inconsistency of harsh words for protestors and gentler words for much larger actors and perpetrators of violence:

“I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.

The truth is that we don’t have to guess what a man who was arrested 29 times would think of a civil rights protest – we know.

“The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of this nation until the day of bright justice emerges.”

We know what King was about because it’s what he devoted his entire life and enduring legacy to, a legacy many white Americans claim to be proud of. We know because he told us.

And if you’re revving up for another juicy weekend of yelling at football games and lying about MLK on social media, just remember: We know what you’re about, too, and for the same reason.

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The New Civil Rights Movement

“Often, people on the liberal side of things will overdo it. They will say that they don’t understand what it’s like to be black, or even that they couldn’t possibly. I reject this premise…because you can.”

During the Ferguson riots of 2014, I was reading Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. Tyson, a race scholar who tells the story of a racial murder that happened in Oxford, North Carolina in the 1970s. The tale is also autobiographical – Oxford was Tyson’s hometown.

The parallels between the two incidents were striking in similarity. From the white community raising money to support the accused, to the arguments leveled at why 23 year old Henry Marrow deserved what he got, to the acquittal of two suspects by an all-white jury – all of it seemed to connect to the situation at hand – a disconcerting thought, considering they happened 44 years apart.

That book taught me a lot about the state of race in America, where we had come from, and how far we still have to go.

The black experience

Often, people on the liberal side of things will overdo it. They will say that they don’t understand what it’s like to be black, or even that they couldn’t possibly. They will state that white people need to tune in to the “experiences” of people of color and listen to them.

I reject this premise. Because you can. I know people who are not black can understand many different types of oppression. How? Because Timothy B. Tyson is white.

If this country is going to have progress on the issue of race, we have to have more moral courage than saying than deferring to someone because they have a certain experience. I believe it is an intellectually sloppy way to go about things, and it ensures that people can tear down your argument simply based on the race of the person you’re discussing.

Instead we have to have intellectual conviction, and the ability to say, “I’m not right about race because I’m black. I’m right because I can prove it.” Doing so also gives more power to white allies, as they now know that they don’t need that particular experience to stand in direct opposition to oppression.

I once wrote an article called “Civil rights isn’t about you liking people,” because it’s not. I’ve spent countless hours and rounds of debates with people citing data, statistics, and experience of others. It’s not that I believe experience is invalid – it’s that I don’t think it should be the only bullet in the chamber.

Differentiation

I’d like to separate this criticism from the more pernicious set of arguments such as from opponents of affirmative action: “You should get the job because you’re the best person for it, not just because you’re black.” These arguments have long been made without finishing them – as the messenger is generally unable to tell you what makes the black person “not best” and they cannot state the obvious. They are used for the denigration of minorities in America.

Instead, what I’m suggesting is that on a fundamental level, the new civil rights movement must have strong intellectual backing to it. I’m suggesting that the experience of an oppression that we know is real is not enough to suffice as an argument against that oppression. Tapping into predecessors, you must be politically active and deeply knowledgeable. You must be firm, yet fair. You must place organized pressure, but you must remember who your friends really are.

Instead we have to have intellectual conviction, and the ability to say, “I’m not right about race because I’m black. I’m right because I can prove it.”

Create new arguments. Read a lot of books. No, more than that. Whether you are black, white, Asian, Pakistani, or Hispanic – organize, persist, resist.

Pull statistics from the labor bureau about whites on welfare. Pull up information on minority crime from trusted sources or studies. Discover the rich history of people who have fought this fight before you.

Because that’s what it’s going to take. There were plenty of people in history who, at some point, had to have the courage and conviction to say that they were right when opposing oppression, and not falter.

My basic ask is that instead of saying we couldn’t possibly understand various forms of oppression, that we endeavor to.

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White People, It’s Okay To Feel Bad About Privilege

“The next time a white person blusters at you, ‘Oh, so I’m just supposed to walk around feeling bad about my privilege all the time…?!’, think about what they’re actually saying to you.”

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Every so often, I hear (probably well-meaning) black people say things like “White people, nobody’s asking you to feel bad about your privilege” when having conversations about race and politics, economic inequality, and how that can affect people’s lives right down the color line.

I know that they mean well when they say it, and I know that it’s probably just a response to memes like the that insist that no living white person was responsible for slavery and no living black person was enslaved, and other things like that.

But I don’t think that they should, and that’s because I think it’s okay to feel bad about privilege.

The next time a white person blusters at you, “Oh, so I’m just supposed to walk around feeling bad about my privilege all the time…?!”, think about what they’re actually saying to you. They’re asking for permission to live without empathy.

Empathy is looking around and realizing that other people do not have all of the things that you have. It’s feeling that uncomfortableness that comes from knowing you have a home to go to when others don’t, that you have an education when others don’t, or that you have cool gizmos and gadgets that others don’t. It’s also a complicated system of managing how we interact with the world, how we help others, and how we balance our desire for justice with competing interests – namely our own.

But as they’ve described it, they don’t WANT to have that feeling. “Feeling bad” for people is icky, and they want to live without icky. Definitely without icky. They don’t wish to be reminded of the inequality that exists in the actual world, and instead, prefer a cloistered reality where they don’t “feel bad” because they’ve noticed something outside of themselves.

All of those things that I mentioned are real levels of privilege that I personally have, by the way.

I once had a friend ask me why black people don’t like to swim. Off the top of my head, my first guess was, “Well, black people do tend to live in more impoverished communities that are in the urban centers without much access to bodies of water like pools or lakes, and often lack the monetary resources to be able to afford things like lake houses, ski doos, tubes, boats, etc., and that probably just creates a habit of not swimming very much.

She looked at me, confused, and said, “Are you saying that black people are poorer than white people?”

I’m not going to lambaste her for ignorant, but clearly she lacked exposure. And what people are saying when they ask to not “feel bad” about their privilege is that they like it that way.

Let’s get one thing straight: “Feeling bad” can be a really good thing. What I’m about to say may be heresy in some atheist/freethinking circles, but there are some problems that logic does not crack.

– Americans weren’t always outraged about Vietnam, and were only more outraged when they could see it. That’s “feeling bad.”

– The Civil Rights Movement made grand use of the media to sensationalize the brutalization of black bodies to the general public. That’s “feeling bad.”

– “Feeling bad” is the kind of thing that makes a person realize their LGBTQ son or daughter is a real person, because that’s what empathy does.

Empathy can overcome miseducation and break through barriers that raw logic is not able to penetrate. It can also be a useful surrogate for exposure, because just because you don’t know something doesn’t mean you’re a bigot. It means you’ve been sheltered from it, and empathy is often a great way to build that bridge to someone about something that you may not know a lot about, whatever it is (racism, sexism, or tapioca.)

But you’ll never learn any of that if you run around insisting that it’s wrong that you have to notice other people’s pain, or that it’s wrong for other people to bring that to your attention.

That’s not empathetic. That’s not human. And if you’re gonna feel that carelessly towards other people, that’s what you really should “feel bad” about.

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Photographer: Johnny Silvercloud
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Dear White People: Yes, It’s Offensive When You Say It

“Apparently, a bigger issue than…the problems that face us that the president was discussing…was that he said the word ‘nigger’.”

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During the summer of 2015, Marc Maron invited onto his WTF podcast the 44th leader of the free world, President Barack Hussein Obama. They quickly cycled through a lot of topics, including things that the president has discussed before, like his upbringing and policies and issues that are particularly close to his heart.

One of those issues was racism.

“Racism. We are not cured of it,” President Obama said. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.”

Guess which part of that the news cycle ran with the next day.

Apparently, a bigger issue than criminal justice reform, police brutality, indiscriminate housing and job opportunity, minimum sentencing, the privatization of prisons, and the mass incarceration of minorities, and the problems that face us that the president was discussing…was that he said the word ‘nigger’.

Apparently.

Racism. We are not cured of it,” President Obama said. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public.

So there’s this confusion about “nigger”, and the inevitable question, “Why’s it okay for you to say it, and not me?” as if it’s a privilege of sorts that we are refusing to share. Let’s break it down.

Yes, white people, it is offensive when you say it. 

I hope you’ll have noticed by now that I have said the word “nigger” and not “the N word” more than once in this article, and that’s because it’s not a spooky word. There’s nothing mystical about it.

But there’s a simple and solid reason that black people don’t take well to your use of the word ‘nigger’: You don’t share in the experiences of black Americans, and people have the right to define their own experiences. 

For example, sometimes I write about LGBT issues, but I don’t write from a position of being able to speak for a gay person. I don’t pretend I’m in that experience. I certainly don’t use words like “faggot” or “dyke” outside of the context that I just did, which is simply saying them, because those are words that have been used to harm the LGBT community.

For example, sometimes I write about LGBT issues, but I don’t write from a position of being able to speak for a gay person. I don’t pretend I’m in that experience.

If at some point, they decide that they would like to re-purpose those words and wring a new meaning from them, then that’s fine, but it still doesn’t make it okay for me to indiscriminately use them, given that I do not share in their experience.

The same is true for black people. This also explains why in certain cases, people believe that it’s okay for white, Chinese, or Hispanic people to use “nigger”, because they perceive certain individuals as having similar experiences that allow them to “enter” a community.

“Nigger” has been used for centuries to denigrate black people, so the reason I “get to” say it is that I get to decide what it means.

That is where black people take their power from, the repositioning of a weapon used to harm them into a tool for social cohesion, describing their own experience, and sapping it of its power.

So the next time you ask, “Why can black people use the word ‘nigger’ and I can’t?”, just bear in mind that what you’re really asking is, “Why don’t I get to define someone else’s experience?”

And then ask yourself if that’s really the kind of question you want to be seen asking.

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I Am Not For Sale – MLK Special Edition

"Hey, I paid for that...!"
“Hey, I paid for that…!”

I am not a slave.

It might seem like a simple phrase, but its power is not lost on me. My ability to say that I am not a slave came through years of hard-fought battles, most of which we lost. There were people that died so that I could have a college education, vote, or just drink from the same water fountain. But there is a kind of slavery that runs through our society much more deeply, and I think you know what it is. Religion. In honor of MLK day that recently passed, I think that a quote of his from his iconic I Have a Dream speech is particularly relevant:

It [Emancipation Proclamation] came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free.

MLK knew what he was saying here. He knew that he was making the point that blacks, though nominally free, were oppressed in the mind, and this is the only way that has ever mattered. The elephant can be free of the tether and still continue to walk around the pole.

If your next question is, “Did he just compare slavery to religion?”, you probably need to leave this conversation, and take a Bible with you. The Bible is a straight-up, full-on endorsement of slavery. In the words of one of my favorite Youtubers, Atheism-is-Unstoppable, “Slavery is about as obvious a moral issue as you’re gonna get, about as cut-and-dry, this is obvious, it’s wrong, why are we even talking about this, holy shit. So it’s not slanderous for us to mention that your Bible endorses and condones it.

If you are a Christian reading this, just know that you are a slave. That might offend you, but keep in mind that it’s not me making that claim. It’s you. And you’re claiming it’s a good thing, too.

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.” (1 Pet 2:14)

“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Cor 7:23) Translation: Don’t be men’s slaves, cuz I already bought you. That’s MY property.

It’s like you and God are collaborating on a cringe-worthy Kanye –T-Swift moment, derailing The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade’s Best in Class award for inflicting human misery: “Yo, TAST, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but I am one of the best slavedrivers of all time! Of all time! Two days out of every week, people gather together to thank me for being my slaves!” Or as our old pal Hitchens would say, “Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate?”

I’ve grown up in the Adventist church and I’ve heard the hymns that we sing every Sabbath. I’m well aware of how average people understand their faith. You can tell exactly how average people understand their faith by how they sing hymns of how we have been “redeemed”. You know, like a coupon. Average people sing songs of how Jesus has bought or purchased us. They say that they will surrender all to Him and that they may never know just how much it cost to see their sin upon that cross. This idea of slavery saturates Christian doctrine and daily life. There is this constant, explicit language of costs and transactions taking place, this idea that I have value because I have been purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

I cannot be bought. I cannot be purchased. I am not for sale.

Any Christian who says that this is not true is either lying or deceived. I see a Christian’s only recourse to counter this argument, and the argument most likely to be put forth, is that ours is a gentle master, which for me harkens back to Malcolm X’s brilliant discussion of “The House Negro and the Field Negro.” A major reason that I can see that this motif of slavery is accepted is because it is seen as being better than slavery to sin. This becomes more difficult if you can firmly prove that God is not good, which has never been a difficult task.

And here’s the crux of the matter: I am not for sale. I cannot be purchased. I reject the barbaric practice of human sacrifice, as exemplified by Jesus on the cross. I reject the notion that someone can pay for my life and my worship by bleeding their own divine blood. I reject a sacrifice for an imaginary offense that was made long before January 11, 1991, that I supposedly needed after that date that I came into this world. A sacrifice that I was not asked my opinion on, and one I surely did not ask for. DarkMatter2525, a titan of Youtube atheism, tackles this in his video on time travel. Ask yourself: As a Christian, if you could, would you save Jesus from the cross? No, because your salvation depends upon Him dying there. What a cost indeed. Excuse me while I reject God’s oh-so-generous offer to be His slave.

And though it may be true that I will end up dying a slave to something, it will also be true that I spent my life combatting that pernicious possibility, and that I did not die praising the one who ushers it in. The pursuit of freedom makes all the difference in the world, because destinations are not nearly as important as the journeys that lead us there.

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The Lie of Belief – What We Should Stop Pretending

Well, I don’t care what people believe, as long as they don’t try to change my beliefs.

I see this argument in many different ways all over the internet. People will vociferously argue about white privilege, atheism, Tea Party allegiance, foreign policy, immigration, gay marriage, and a host of other things, but then drop this bomb, usually said in the throwaway form of “I don’t care what other people believe; believe what you wanna believe.” This is a pernicious lie that comes creeping in, and I think it’d be better if we did away with it. You know why? Because it’s highly dishonest.

If you were talking about why belief in Santa Claus or The Tooth Fairy is ridiculous, you might notice the face of a true believer dropping with discontent. In an effort to save them the discomfort of actually answering your many objections to the existence of such creatures, you might try to soften the blow and back off, saying, “Well, I don’t really care what others believe, as long as they don’t try to push it on me.” Part of the problem is that that’s just not true. It’s just a way to ease your responsibility for your own thoughts and opinions. You (I would hope) and millions of other people take a pretty hard line on the non-existence of Santa and The Tooth Fairy, and when you meet someone that honestly believes in them, to quote comedian Dave Foley, “…you will not leave him alone with your children!

Here are three more things wrong with the “I don’t care” statement:

1.) You can’t be the aggressor and the savior.

It’s unfair to believe in something, fervently and passionately fight for it, and then claim that it doesn’t matter to you. I think this is mostly due to the phenomenon that we are more careful about our beliefs when we can see their direct impact upon another person (e.g. in a conversation). However, this is disingenuous. For example, I talk to my friends about racism, and some of them latently hold inherently racist beliefs. It’s dishonest of me to say that I don’t care what they believe, just as long as they’re not acting on it. The truth is that what others believe matters deeply to us all.

2.) Belief is never the end.

Another important thing to understand is that beliefs are not only beliefs. Beliefs are identity. Beliefs are purpose. Beliefs are action. For example, it’s all well and good to try to convince your atheist friend that there is a God, which they can’t disprove. If that was the only thing about a belief in God, religion might be a different matter. But you don’t just want your friend to believe that – you want his life to change as a result of that belief, a change that involves prayer, tithes, dietary restrictions, church events, and other things.

Beliefs are identity. Beliefs are purpose. Beliefs are action.

This is the true problem of pretending that we don’t care what other people believe. If we understand anything about the world, we understand that belief is not the end – that what you believe affects what you eat for breakfast, where you go to church, and who you vote for, and this is why you really do care what other people believe, so don’t use that argument.

3.) We are always trying to shove beliefs on each other.

I’ve been told I can come off as a person that thinks that they’re right all the time. My response to this is, “Of course I think I’m right. Otherwise, I would think differently.” This might sound like a tautology, but pay attention to what I’m saying here. I’ve accumulated really good reasons to think the way I do and some topics I haven’t thought about at all. My basic contention is that everyone generally thinks that the way they live is the best way, because if they didn’t believe that it was, they would live a different way.

Of course I think I’m right. Otherwise, I would think differently.

This brings us to the struggle of beliefs. We are all trying to convince the other of something. Here’s an easy one: If you live in America, and you are or ever have been affiliated with a church that promotes door-to-door proselytization and/or solicitations for Bible studies (as many Christian churches do), you are not going to convince me that what people believe doesn’t matter to you. If you have ever written a blog or made a Youtube video about an issue concerning you, you don’t get to say you don’t care. And I don’t think any of us should get to pretend. In today’s age, where lies truly do persist, it seems, at a rate much higher than truth, we shouldn’t claim not to care about what others believe. On the contrary – in the pursuit of truth, what others believe should be of paramount importance to us. I believe that it already is – all that is left is for us to have the integrity to admit it.

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