Saturday, October 13, 2012


I missed doing Prison Friday at Scission, so today I am combining it with Theoretical Weekends.  Okay? Okay.  The following is from the
Official Website of Kiilu Nyasha.

note:  when I was in federal prison in the 70s, I maxed out at 11 cents per hour.



(updated March 2012) By Kiilu Nyasha

"Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today. It's the same, but with a new name. They're practicing slavery under color of law." (Ruchell Cinque Magee) 

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution retained the right to enslave within the confines of prison.  “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Dec. 6, 1865.

Even before the abolition of chattel slavery, America's history of prison labor had already begun in New York's State Prison at Auburn soon after it opened in 1817. Auburn became the first prison that contracted with a private business to operate a factory within its walls. Later, in the post Civil War period, the "contract and lease" system proliferated, allowing private companies to employ prisoners and sell their products for profit. 
Today, such prisons are referred to as “Factories with Fences.” 

The Convict-Lease System 

In Southern states, Slave Codes were rewritten as Black Codes, a series of laws criminalizing the law-abiding activities of Black people, such as standing around, "loitering," or walking at night, "breaking curfew." The enforcement of these Codes dramatically increased the number of Blacks in Southern prisons.  In 1878, Georgia leased out 1,239 convicts, 1,124 of whom were Black.

The lease system provided slave labor for plantation owners or private industries as well as revenue for the state, since incarcerated workers were entirely in the custody of the contractors who paid a set annual fee to the state (about $25,000). Entire prisons were leased out to private contractors who literally worked hundreds of prisoners to death. Prisons became the new plantations; Angola State Prison in Louisiana was a literal plantation, and still is except the slaves are now called convicts and the prison is known as "The Farm." (A documentary of that title is available on DVD.) 

The inherent brutality and cruelty of the lease system and the loss of outside jobs sparked resistance that eventually brought about its demise. 

One of the most famous battles was the Coal Creek Rebellion of 1891. When the Tennessee coal, Iron and Railroad locked out their workers and replaced them with convicts, the miners stormed the prison and freed 400 captives; and when the company continued to contract prisoners, the miners burned the prison down. The Tennessee leasing system was disbanded shortly thereafter. But it remained in many states until the rise of resistance in the 1930s.

Strikes by prisoners and union workers together were organized by then radical CIO and other labor unions. They pressured Congress to pass the 1935 Ashurst-Sumners Act making it illegal to transport prison-made goods across state lines. But under President Jimmy Carter, Congress granted exemptions to the Act by passing the Justice System Improvement Act of 1979, which produced the Prison Industries Enhancement program, or PIE, that eventually spread to all 50 states. This lifted the ban on interstate transportation and sale of prison-made products, permitting a for-profit relationship between prisons and the private sector, and prompting a dramatic increase in prison labor which continues to escalate.

As the leasing system phased out, a new, even more brutal exploitation emerged -- the chain gang. An extremely dehumanizing cruelty that chained men, and later women, together in groups of five, it was originated to build extensive roads and highways. The first state to institute chain gangs was Alabama, followed by Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Montana, and Oklahoma.

Arizona's first female chain gang was instituted in 1996. Complete with striped uniforms, the women of a Phoenix jail (to this day) spend four to six hours a day chained together in groups of 30, clearing roadsides of weeds and burying the indigent.

Georgia's chain-gang conditions were particularly brutal. Men were put out to work swinging 12 lb. sledge hammers for 16 hours a day, malnourished and shackled together, unable to move their legs a full stride. Wounds from metal shackles often became infected, leading to illness and death. Prisoners who could not keep up with the grueling pace were whipped or shut in a sweatbox or tied to a hitching post, a stationary metal rail. Chained to the post with hands raised high over his head, the prisoner remained tethered in that position in the Alabama heat for many hours without water or bathroom breaks. (Human Rights Watch World Report 1998). 

Thanks to a lawsuit settled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama's Department of Corrections agreed in 1996 to stop chaining prisoners together. A few years later, the Center won a Court ruling that ended use of the hitching post as a violation of the 8th Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment." 

In response to the demands of World War II, the number of both free and captive road workers declined significantly. In 1941, there were 1,750 prisoners slaving in 28 active road camps for all types of construction and maintenance. The numbers bottomed out by war's end at 540 captives in 17 camps.

The Proliferation of Prisons, Jails, and Camps 

In the 1940s, California Governor Earl Warren conducted secret investigations into the State's only prisons, San Quentin and Folsom. The depravity, squalor, sadism, and torture he found led the governor to initiate the building of Soledad Prison in 1951.

Prisoners were put to work in educational and vocational programs that taught basic courses in English and math, and provided training in trades ranging from gardening to meat cutting. At wages of 7 to 25 cents an hour, California prisoners used their acquired skills to turn out institutional clothing and furniture, license plates and stickers, seed new crops, slaughter pigs, produce and sell dairy products to a nearby mental institution.

Within a decade this "model prison" at Soledad had become another torture chamber of filthy dungeons, literal "holes," virulently racist guards, officially sanctioned brutality, torture, and murder. Though prison jobs were supposed to be voluntary, if prisoners refuse to work they were often given longer sentences, denied privileges, or thrown into solitary confinement. Forced to work long hours under miserable conditions, in the 1960s, "Soledad Brother," George Jackson, organized a work strike that turned into a riot after white strikebreakers tried to lynch one of the Black strikers.

The Black Movement's resistance, led by George Jackson, W. L. Nolen, and Hugo "Yogi" Pinell, eventually brought Congressional oversight and overhaul of California's prison system. (The Melancholy History of Soledad Prison, by Minh S. Yee.).

California’s prison system rose exponentially to approximately 174,000 prisoners crammed into 90 penitentiaries, prisons and camps stretched across 900 miles of the fifth-largest economy in the world, as Ruth Gilmore's book, "Golden Gulag" reports. That number can be doubled or tripled by those on other forms of penal control, probation, parole, or house arrest.

Since 1984, the California has erected 43 prisons (and only one university) making it a global leader in prison construction. Most of the new prisons have been built in rural areas far from family and friends, and most captives are Black or Brown men, although the incarceration of women has skyrocketed. Suicide and recidivism rates approach twice the national average, and the State spends more on prisons than on higher education.  (The seeming contradiction between the official figure of 33 prisons relates to the additional buildings constructed at a given prison complex, and the various camps and county jails.)
Between 1998 and 2009, the CDCR’s budget grew from $3.5 billion to $10.3 billion (the latest figures available).  At its peak in August 2007, the department had 72 gyms and 125 dayrooms jammed with 19,618 inmate beds.

"They provided an accurate and extremely graphic example of the crowding and inhumanity that engulfed the entire system," said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office in Berkeley, which sued to force the state to ease crowding as a way to improve the treatment of sick and mentally ill inmates.

The Privatizing of Federal and State Prisons

Under court order to reduce overcrowding, by 2009, the CDCR had transferred 8,000 prisoners to private prisons in four states –Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Arizona, among the most virulently racist states in the country.  The rest of the prisoners were transferred to county jails.  Currently, the inmate population is about 142,000 and must remove another 17,000 prisoners to reach the June 2013 court deadline.

In 1985, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger lauded China's prison labor program: "1,000 inmates in one prison I visited comprised a complete factory unit producing hosiery and what we would call casual or sport shoes... Indeed it had been a factory and was taken over to make a prison." Burger called for the conversion of prisons into factories, the repeal of laws limiting prison industry production and sales, and the active participation of business and organized labor.

Heeding the judge's call, California voters passed Prop 139 in 1990, establishing the Joint Venture Program allowing California businesses to cash in on prison labor. "This is the new jobs program for California, so we can compete on a Third World basis with countries like Bangladesh," observed Richard Holober with the California Federation of Labor. 

Currently, California's Prison Industrial Authority (CALPIA) employs, 7000 captives assigned to 5039 positions in manufacturing, agricultural service enterprises, and selling and administration at 22 prisons throughout the state. It produces goods and services such as office furniture, clothing, food products, shoes, printing services, signs, binders, gloves, license plates, cell equipment, and much more. Wages are $.30 to $.95 per hour before deductions. 

For the State's highest wage, $1 hour, prisoners provide the "backbone of the state's wild land fire fighting crews," according to an unpublished CDC report. The State Department of Forestry saves more than $80 million annually using prison labor. California's Department of Forestry has 200 Fire Crews comprised of CDC and CYA (California Youth Authority) minimum-security captives housed in 46 Conservation Camps throughout the state. These prisoners average 10 million work hours per year according to the CDCR. 

"Their primary function is to construct fire lines by hand in areas where heavy machinery cannot be used because of steep topography, rocky terrain, or areas that may be considered environmentally sensitive." (I.e., the most dangerous fire lines).

Now at least 37 states have similar programs wherein prisoners manufacture everything from blue jeans to auto parts, electronics and toys. Clothing made in Oregon and California is exported to other countries, competing successfully with apparel made in Asia and Latin America.

One of the newest forms of slave labor is the U.S. Army's "Civilian Inmate Labor Program" to "benefit both the Army and corrections systems" by providing "a convenient source of labor at no direct cost to Army installations," additional space to alleviate prison overcrowding, and cost-effective use of land and facilities otherwise not being utilized.
"With a few exceptions," this program is currently limited to prisoners under the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) that allows the Attorney General to provide the services of federal prisoners to other federal agencies, defining the types of services they can perform. The Program stipulates that the "Army is not interested in, nor can afford, any relationship with a corrections facility if that relationship stipulates payment for civilian inmate labor. Installation civilian inmate labor program operating costs must not exceed the cost avoidance generated from using inmate labor." In other words the prison labor must be free of charge. 

The three "exceptions" to exclusive Federal contracting are as follows: (1) "a demonstration project" providing "prerelease employment training to nonviolent offenders in a State correctional facility" [CF]. (2) Army National Guard units "may use inmates from an off-post State and/or local CF." (3) Civil Works projects. Services provided might include constructing or repairing roads, maintaining or reforesting public land; building levees, landscaping, painting, carpentry, trash pickup, etc. 

This Civilian Inmate Labor Program document includes in its countless specifications such caveats as "Inmates must not be referred to as employees." A prisoner would not qualify if he/she is a "person in whom there is a significant public interest," who has been a "significant management problem," "a principal organized crime figure," any "inmate convicted of a violent crime," a sex offense, involvement with drugs within the last three years, an escape risk, "a threat to the general public." Makes one wonder why such a prisoner isn't just released or paroled. In fact, the "hiring qualifications" -- makes me suspect the "Civilian Inmate Labor Program" is a backdoor draft, especially in lieu of a military already stretched to its limit.

Note:  When I tried to find an updated web page on the Civilian Inmate Labor Program, there was none. The date remains 2005 for its latest report. Could the latest data be classified?

The Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a nonprofit Justice Department subsidiary, that does business as UNICOR, was created in 1935, and began supplying the Pentagon on a broad scale in the 1980s.

The prison privatization boom began in the 1980s, under the governments of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr., but reached its height in 1990 under Bill Clinton when the Wall Street stocks were selling like hotcakes.  In fact, President Clinton accomplished a record $10 billion prison building boom in the 1990s.

His program for cutting the federal workforce resulted in the Justice Department’s contracting of private prison corporations for the incarceration of undocumented workers and high-security inmates. (Global Research, 2008)

By 2003, there were 100 FPI factories working 20,274 prisoners with sales totaling $666.8 million. And currently FPI employs about 19,000 captives, slightly less than 20 percent of the federal prison population, in 106 prison factories around the country. Profits totaled at least $40 million!

In 2005, FPI sold more than $750,000,000 worth of goods to the federal government. Sales to the Army alone put UNICOR on the Army's list of top 50 suppliers, ahead of well-known corporations like Dell Computer, according to Wayne Woolley, Newhouse News Service.

In 2011, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a report that exposes how private prison companies are “working to make money through harsh policies and longer sentences.” The report notes that while the total number of prisoners increased less than 16 percent, the number of people held in private federal and state facilities increased by 120 and 33 percent, respectively.

Government spending on so-called corrections rose to $74 billion in 2007. And last year (2011) the two largest private prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group — made over $2.9 billion in profits.  These corporations use three strategies to influence public policy:  lobbying, direct campaign contributions and networking.  They succeeded in getting Arizona’s harsh new immigration laws passed, and came close to winning the privatization of all of Florida’s prisons.

A relatively new ordering tool used by BOP (Bureau of Prisons) is GSA Advantage!, the federal government’s premier online ordering system that provides 24-hour access to over 17 million products and services, solutions available from over 16,000 GSA Multiple Award Schedules contractors, as well as all products available from GSA Global Supply

Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, the Army's Communication and Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J., has shipped more than 200,000 radios to combat zones, most with at least some components manufactured by federal inmates working in 11 prison electronics factories around the country. Under current law, UNICOR enjoys a contracting preference known as "mandatory source," which obligates government agencies to try to buy certain goods from the prisons before allowing private companies to bid on the work. This same contracting restriction applies to state agencies.
The demand for defense products from FPI became so great that "national exigency" provisions were invoked so the 20 percent limit on goods provided in each category could be exceeded. The rules were waived during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Private manufacturers say they've been hurt by such practice, as they are unable to bid on various products.

According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people. 

By 2007, the overall sales figures and profits for federal and state prison industries had skyrocketed into the billions. Apparently, the military industrial complex (MIC) and the prison industrial complex (PIC) have joined forces.

The PIC is a network of public and private prisons, of military personnel, politicians, business contacts, prison guard unions, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers all making big profits at the expense of poor people who comprise the overwhelming majority of captives. The fastest growing industry in the country, it has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs and direct advertising campaigns. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners' labor lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. 

Replacing the "contract and lease" system of the 19th Century, private companies that have contracted prison labor include Microsoft, Boeing, Honeywell, IBM, Revlon, Pierre Cardin, Compaq, Victoria Secret, Macy’s, Target, Nordstrom, and countless others.
In 1995, there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, private companies operate 264 correctional facilities housing some 99,000 adult prisoners. The two largest private prison corporations in the US, GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are transnationals, managing prisons and detention centers in 34 states, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

A top performer on the New York Stock Exchange, CCA called California its "new frontier," and boasts of investors such as Wal-Mart, Exxon, General Motors, Ford, Chevrolet, Texaco, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon, and UPS. Currently, CCA has 80,000 beds in 65 facilities, and GEO Group operates 61 facilities with 49,000 beds, according to Wikipredia. 

Employers (Read: slavers) don't have to pay health or unemployment insurance, vacation time, sick leave or overtime. They can hire, fire or reassign inmates as they so desire, and can pay the workers as little as 21 cents an hour. The inmates cannot respond with a strike, file a grievance, or threaten to leave and get a better job.

On September 19, 2005, UNICOR was commended for its outstanding support of the nation’s military. Deputy Commander of the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia (DSCP), presented the Bureau of Prisons Director with a “Supporting the Warfighter” award. The award recognized UNICOR for its tremendous support of DSCP’s mission to provide equipment, materials, and supplies to each branch of the armed forces. “We at DSCP are very appreciative of UNICOR, especially with our critical need items. With more than $200 million worth of orders during Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005, UNICOR has not had a single delinquency.” 

Mass roundups of immigrants and non-citizens, currently about half of all federal prisoners, and dragnets in low-income 'hoods have increased the prison population to unprecedented levels. Andrea Hornbein points out in Profit Motive: "The majority of these arrests are for low level offenses or outstanding warrants, and impact the taxpayer far more than the offense. For example, a $300 robbery resulting in a 5-year sentence, at the Massachusetts average of $43,000 per year, will cost $215,000. That doesn't even include law enforcement and court costs." 

Nearly 75% of all prisoners are drug war captives. A criminal record today practically forces an ex-con into illegal employment since they don't qualify for legitimate jobs or subsidized housing. Minor parole violations, unaffordable bail, parole denials, longer mandatory sentencing and three strikes laws, slashing of welfare rolls, overburdened court systems, shortages of public defenders, massive closings of mental hospitals, and high unemployment (about 50% for Black men) -- all contribute to the high rates of incarceration and recidivism. Thus, the slave labor pool continues to expand.
Among the most powerful unions today are the guards' unions. The California Corrections Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) wields so much political power it practically decides who governs the state. Moreover, its members get the State's biggest payouts, according to the L.A. Times. "More than 1600 officers' earnings exceeded legislators' 2007 salaries of $113,098." Base pay for 6,000 guards earning $100,000 or more totaled $453 million with overtime adding another $220 million to wages. One lieutenant guard earned more than any other state official, including the Governor, or $252,570. 
California’s per prisoner cost has raised to $49,000, and that figure doubles and triples for elderly and high-security captives.  That’s enough money to send a person through Harvard!   

The National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA), is an international nonprofit professional association, whose self-declared mission is “to promote excellence and credibility in correctional industries through professional development and innovative business solutions.” 

NCIA's members include all 50 state correctional industry agencies, Federal Prison Industries, foreign correctional industry agencies, city and county jail industry programs, and private sector companies working in partnership with correctional industries. 
Chattel slavery was ended following prolonged guerrilla warfare between the slaves and the slave-owners and their political allies. Referred to as the “Underground Railroad,” it was led by the revolutionary General Harriet Tubman with support from her alliances with abolitionists, Black and White.  It only makes sense that this new form of slavery must produce prison abolitionists. 

As George Jackson noted in a KPFA interview with Karen Wald (Spring 1971), "I'm saying that it's impossible, impossible, to concentration-camp resisters....We have to prove that this thing won't work here. And the only way to prove it is resistance...and then that resistance has to be supported, of course, from the street....We can fight, but the results are...not conducive to proving our point...that this thing won't work on us. From inside, we fight and we die....the point is -- in the new face of war -- to fight and win."

Power to the people.

Kiilu Nyasha, Black Panther veteran, revolutionary journalist and Bay View columnist, blogs at The Official Website of Kiilu Nyasha, where episodes of her TV talk show, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, along with her essays are posted. She can be reached at This essay, originally written in 2007, was updated in March 2012.

Thursday, October 11, 2012



Sorry, I have had a busy day and don't have time to write an appropriate commentary.  My parents were anti-racists and as a child they taught me many things not to say, not to sing, not to do that were racist.  They also taught me many things to do to try to rid myself and my world of racism.  To be honest I don't remember what they had to say about the nursery rhyme "Ten Little Indians."  I remember the rhyme, but I don't remember most of the words.  However,  I do remember the ending.   Anyway, this may not be the biggest news of the day, but it is "little" things like what is described below that help spread the culture of racism and white supremacy which is backed up materially by white skin privilege.  

This comes from Indian Country Today.

The History of ‘Ten Little Indians’

By Julianne Jennings

Many of us remember learning and singing the bubbly little pre-school nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians” as we sat in a circle with our legs crossed, Indian style. And what appeared to be an innocent way to educate and stir young imagination through “comic” song, it was also a peculiar way of mental conditioning. The coded historical narratives, found in many children’s nursery rhymes, was to circulate an ideology that followed generations; intended to define Indians as “inferior” and “backward.” The song coupled the Anglo-constructed definition of “savage” with American Indian consciousness, but the ultimate legacy of this children’s nursery rhyme was the systematic murdering of Indians, leaving “One little Indian boy livin’ all alone”:

Ten little Injuns standin’ in a line, One toddled home and then there were nine; Nine little Injuns swingin’ on a gate, One tumbled off and then there were eight. One little, two little, three little, four little, five little Injun boys, Six little, seven little, eight little, nine little, ten little Injun boys. Eight little Injuns gayest under heav’n. One went to sleep and then there were seven; Seven little Injuns cuttin’ up their tricks, One broke his neck and then there were six. Six little Injuns all alive, One kicked the bucket and then there were five; Five little Injuns on a cellar door, One tumbled in and then there were four. Four little Injuns up on a spree, One got fuddled and then there were three; Three little Injuns out on a canoe, One tumbled overboard and then there were two. Two little Injuns foolin’ with a gun, One shot t’other and then there was one; One little Injun livin’ all alone, He got married and then there were none (Septimus Winner, 1868).

The original version was written by songwriter Septimus Winner in 1868 and performed at minstrel shows—a form of American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music. The traditional folk tune has a Round Folk Song Index number 13512 to establish the traditional origin of the work. However, today’s modern lyrics are believed to be in public domain, allowing for various renderings of the song to be created, especially in nursery schools. Sure you can change the words to “Ten Little Indians” to “Ten Little Puppies,” but it is still degrading when trying to compare spilled milk to spilled blood.

In 1869, Frank J. Green adopted the song as Ten Little Niggers which became a standard of the blackface minstrel shows, especially after the Civil War and later into the 1920’s lampooning black people as “dim-witted,” lazy, “buffoonish” and “musical.” Eventually the song became widely known in Europe, where it was used by Agatha Christie. The song was included in the first film version of And Then There Were None (1945), which largely took Green’s lyrics and replaced the already sensitive word “nigger” with “Indian” (in some versions “soldiers”) as African Americans began to score legal and social victories at the turn of the 20th century:

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine. Nine little Indian boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight. Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon; One said he’d stay there and then there were seven. Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in half and then there were six. Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five. Five little Indian boys going in for law; One got in Chancery and then there were four. Four little Indian boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three. Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two. Two Little Indian boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was one. One little Indian boy left all alone; He went out and hanged himself and then there were none (Frank J. Green, 1869).

In 1954, Bill Haley and the Comets did a rock ‘n’ roll version of the song for Essex records. Haley and his Brylcreem split curl and electric hollow-body Gibson guitar, crooned, “John Brown had a little Indian . . . One little Indian boy.” And in 1962, The Beach Boys released their version on their album, Surfin’ Safari. Three Little Indians was the second single from their record; and where the Indian word “Squaw,” originally meaning female or young woman, now a racist and sexist term meaning vagina, is repeated throughout the tune: “The first little Indian gave squaw pretty feather; The second little Indian made her an Indian dollar (Fighting over a squaw); Well the third little Indian gave her moccasin leather; The squaw didn’t like em’ at all.” The song became The Beach Boys’ lowest charting single (number 49), on American radio.

Now, the song is called to attention by recent conversation at a local espresso shop. The waitress, an Italian and speaks perfect English, asked me how my Italian language lessons were going. I said, “Today I am learning how to count numbers.” She replied, “I learned how to count numbers in English by being introduced to the “Three Little Indians” song by my instructor.” She continues, “They are using that song in many Italian schools teaching students how to count.”

Some have argued if you erase the song, you erase a part of history. The thought that songs, poems, and couplets that belittle or denigrate a group of people have no place in today’s global world; and should be eradicated from the languages of humanity. The idea that whites still degrade people of color—any color—with the same centuries old stereotypes of inferiority is demeaning. It is also demeaning to whites as well. Any notion or behavior that has to tear down one portion of the human race for the superiority of another is detrimental to all; and that we can all count on.

Julianne Jennings  is a Cultural Anthroplogist and a member of the Nottoway Tribal community. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Yesterday's shooting of a 14 year old girl by the Taliban has left me pretty pissed off at all those who speak in the name of that thing known as God.  I don't care what the religious affiliation may be, those who decide that God rules all, that God is omnipotent and all knowing, that they and only they understand God's intentions, blah blah blah are amongst the most dangerous people in the world.  Be you a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, etc. etc. etc., when you decide that God and YOU are in charge, you are not just sick, you are bad, very bad...and very very evil.   Notice, I am not even bothering with an argument about the nature of the whatever known as God.  Does it exist, is it a force, is it a tree, is it an old man on a throne, is it a fairy tale or a hallucination, I don't much really care right now.  But when you and your God come around and start telling me and everyone else how to live, when you start killing us in the name of the all Holy, then I will fight you with my last breath.  I am even sick and tired of every speech by every politician ending with "and God bless the United States of America."  It's all the same, if you got nothing else to offer, nothing else to defend your horrendous actions and beliefs, well, then pick up some holy book, turn to chapter this, verse that, and you are on your way...

The following post deal with some of this, some of them deal with things which are just absurd and some with things that are dangerous, and some with things that are murderous.  Really it is all the same.

They all come from something called

No-one is safe, not even 14 year olds

Yesterday, the Taliban critically wounded Malala Yousafzai, the lovely and brave 14 year old Pakistani girl, on her way home from school.
Ihsanullah Ihsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said they targeted Yousafzai because she generated ‘negative propaganda’ and was the ’symbol of the infidels and obscenity’. If she survived, Ihsan said, the Taliban would try to kill her again.
Sounds familiar?
After all, she dared to  defend the right of girls to an education, particularly offensive to the Taliban which had banned them from attending school, amongst many other things.
When religion is in power, any challenge to it – even something as simple as a girl wanting to go to school – can be deemed offensive, obscene and blasphemous.
And this is exactly why no-one – not even a 14 year old – is safe.
In light of this stark reality, calls for blasphemy laws and censorship is nothing short of a defence of the Taliban herds and their vile Sharia rules because it denies people their thoughts, their words, their expressions, and their resistance and dissent.
All at the expense of sweet Malala and the innumerable like her – challenging Islamism day in and day out by demanding to live  21st century lives.
Today is for her and them.


With God, everything is permitted

Like killing children. Charlie Fuqua, candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives, recommended child execution in his book, “God’s Law: The Only Political Solution”:
The maintenance of civil order in society rests on the foundation of family discipline. Therefore, a child who disrespects his parents must be permanently removed from society in a way that gives an example to all other children of the importance of respect for parents. … This passage does not give parents blanket authority to kill their children. They must follow the proper procedure in order to have the death penalty executed against their children. I cannot think of one instance in the Scripture where parents had their child put to death. Why is this so? Other than the love Christ has for us, there is no greater love then that of a parent for their child. The last people who would want to see a child put to death would be the parents of the child. Even so, the Scrpture provides a safe guard to protect children from parents who would wrongly exercise the death penalty against them. Parents are required to bring their children to the gate of the city. The gate of the city was the place where the elders of the city met and made judicial pronouncements. In other words, the parents were required to take their children to a court of law and lay out their case before the proper judicial authority, and let the judicial authority determine if the child should be put to death. I know of many cases of rebellious children, however, I cannot think of one case where I believe that a parent had given up on their child to the point that they would have taken their child to a court of law and asked the court to rule that the child be put to death. Even though this procedure would rarely be used, if it were the law of land, it would give parents authority. Children would know that their parents had authority and it would be a tremendous incentive for children to give proper respect to their parents.
I can think of at least 3 problems with this plan. First, in order for a threat to be effective, it has to be credible. The target of the threat must believe there is a possibility that it will be carried out. That’s what makes it so ridiculous for Fuqua to try and walk the line of “we need this as a disincentive to bad behavior, but I’m sure no one will ever actually execute their kids!” If it never happens, it starts to lose its power to influence anyone, as it becomes difficult for people to believe it could actually happen. If he really finds child executions so dreadful that he seeks to downplay how likely this is, maybe he shouldn’t want to make explicit legal allowances for it. And if he does believe that the goal of discouraging disobedience is so overwhelmingly important that it warrants the execution of children, then it makes no sense within his own value system that he would want to get in the way of doing what he believes is necessary to achieve the very objective he considers so crucial. It’s almost like the guy who supports child execution is being irrational or something.
Second, people have killed their children for religious reasons on plenty of occasions, both intentionally and unintentionally. People also kill children for reasons other than religion. What grounds does he have to be so certain that parents have never, ever wanted their children dead? And how can he possibly believe that the world he envisions, with a religious community that has a social norm of executing children for parental disobedience, would be at all averse to doing just that?
Third, you seriously want to make mere disobedience a capital crime for children when there’s already substantial debate over whether the death penalty, an irrevocable act which allows for no reevaluation or correction or pardon after the fact, is appropriate even for morally culpable and mentally sound adults? What is wrong with you? Knock it off!

A Perfect Example of Christian Privilege

One of the cases I’m researching for my book is called Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School District, case involving prayer and Bible classes in Ecru, Mississippi. Lisa Herdahl and her husband had moved their family from Wisconsin to Mississippi to be closer to his family and immediately discovered that the local schools were flagrantly violating the Constitution.

For starters, every day began with a prayer said over the school’s PA system, and they often had vocal prayers in class during instructional time as well. Some of the teachers would designate a student to lead a prayer before lunch each day. Anyone who didn’t want to participate in the pre-lunch prayers could step outside into the hallway, immediately singling them out among their classmates for ridicule.
The school also had a Bible class, which was overseen by a “Bible committee” made up of leaders from the local Protestant churches. The class was taught by someone chosen by the Bible committee, not a school employee, but the school provided classroom space and paid for books and other materials for the class. The Mississippi State Department of Education had actually already warned the school about the class and refused to allow them to grant academic credit for it, but they had made some changes to get it approved. The district court ruling explains how it worked:
In the elementary grades at the Center (K-6), the course is taught as a “rotational class,” alternating once every four days with music, library, and physical education. The Bible teachers come into the students’ regular classrooms and replace the regular teachers, who generally leave the rooms. Although the other rotational classes are required classes, the District has made an exception for the Bible class. Students who do not wish to participate are excused and may get up in front of their classmates and leave the classroom. During this period, the only alternative instruction for them is to be sent to another rotational class for their grade, which merely duplicates a rotational class they have already taken or will take, so that the children end up taking the same class twice. The plaintiff’s children who are subject to the District’s rotational class program are now excused from participating in the Bible class and are escorted to and from another rotational class by the teacher or assistant. The plaintiff claims that being singled out in this manner has exposed and continues to expose her children to harassment and ridicule, and they have been accused of being atheists and devil worshippers.
The court’s ruling was absolutely obvious:
The Bible class clearly lacks a secular purpose. From its inception by the local Protestant churches, the aim of the instruction has been overtly religious in nature. The District’s profession of educational instruction in this relevant time period of world history is belied by the evidence presented to the court at trial. First, the fact that the District contracted out the teaching of this class indicates an attempt at avoiding the constitutional ramifications of this instruction. If the class were truly secular, there should be no necessity of disassociating itself (and thus the state) with such a practice. The District cannot accomplish through others what it is forbidden to establish itself. Second, the selection procedures for the Bible teachers indicate a religious agenda unquestioned by the District. As the acknowledged “sponsor” of the Bible classes, the Bible Committee seeks out prospective Bible teachers for the public schools, interviews and then selects them, using religious criteria that have resulted in a teaching staff of Christian teachers who teach the Bible, and are expected to teach the Bible, from a fundamentalist religious perspective as the inerrant word of God.
When a Bible teaching vacancy occurs, it is the Bible Committee, not the school district, that initiates the hiring process, and it does so not by an open job search or through advertisements, but by personally soliciting names of potential teachers from the present and former Bible teachers. The District is well aware of this religious testing, and has to date not turned away any selected Bible teacher. Prospective Bible teachers are interviewed by the Bible Committee, and their religious beliefs and “salvation experience” of the candidates and their “personal spiritual background [and] beliefs about the Bible” are routine topics during job interviews. The chairman of the Bible Committee, Mr. Olen White, stated at trial that he personally believed that it was important for the prospective teacher to consider the Bible as literally true. It is also his understanding that the teachers who are currently teaching the Bible class at the Center are teaching their classes from the perspective that the Bible is literally true and without error. According to White, the Bible classes involve “reaching children for the Lord.” In a thank you letter to participating local churches, White stated that “without the help of the churches, the Bible program could not exist. Continue to pray for this work with our young people. They need all the Christian influence that can be given.” Reverend William Sims, a pastor of a local church and member of the Bible Committee, testified that he expects that a teacher of a Bible course would teach the Bible as the inerrant word of God. He further stated that if it came to his attention that one of the Bible teachers was teaching the Bible as if it were capable of error or that one of the teachers was not of the Christian faith he would not want the Committee to continue to fund that person’s salary. This religious testing, plainly imposed on prospective Bible teachers, alone makes the practice an unlawful intrusion into the school curriculum.
But here’s why I bring all this up. As often happens, there was a huge rally to defend this clearly unconstitutional behavior. A local Baptist minister organized the rally and 1500 people showed up. One of the speakers was Rep. Roger Wicker, now a U.S. Senator from Mississippi. Among the other things he said at the rally was this:
“Now I want to say this to the plaintiffs in this lawsuit: You could not have inflicted a deeper wound upon the souls, upon the very core of this community, than to do what you’ve done.”
Expecting the government-funded public schools to follow the Constitution is a deep “wound upon the souls” of the community. Forcing kids to listen to prayers they may not agree with, that’s perfectly fine. Singling out young children to be ostracized and called devil worshipers, that’s perfectly fine. But filing this suit is a deep wound. This is the essence of Christian privilege and Christian hegemony, which often ruthlessly imposes itself on everyone else and then takes terrible offense at the mere suggestion that no one should have to put up with it.