October 23

Blog #103 – What are you willing to go to jail for?

“I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest.” – Martin Luther King, JrAutobiography

 * emphasis is mine.

Initially going back to the 5th Century, St. Augustine stated that “an unjust law is no law at all”  giving some theological weight / heft to earthly laws. Henry David Thoreau suggested that we obey our conscience when we decide to obey or disobey a law.  He went to jail during the Mexican War and wrote his famous essay on civil disobedience.  Gandhi used Thoreau as inspiration, and King used Gandhi as an inspiration.  Gandhi and King used religion to inspire and their followers.  Here’s a quote from Dr. King from a sermon in the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott:

… I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. And we are not wrong; we are not wrong in what we are doing.

If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong.
If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.
If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.
If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth.
If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning.
My friends, we are determined … to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Image result for women's marchBut we can’t necessarily have people going around disobeying laws that they don’t like.  There has to be some standards.  Right?  According to Dr. King, he stated that the difference is:

A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.

He further elaborates on this and states that: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

Assumption: Since we cannot argue and fight with every law that we think goes against “the harmony of moral law” or disobey laws at whim (for instance, I might think that one day, the speed limit downgrades my personality, therefore I am going to take a principled stand against it by not obeying it), we have to assume that most laws need to be obeyed.

But what are unjust laws today??

1. Abortion?  Or restrictions on abortion?

2. Wars or other military actions?

3. Immigration laws like the one in Arizona or the Muslim Ban?

4. LGBTQ rights? Or restrictions on those rights?

5. Economic stuff like taxes?  Or lack thereof on companies, individuals, etc.?

6. Military draft (don’t worry, we don’t have one)?

7. Environmental damage?  Or lack of environmental laws?

8. Jobs or a lack of jobs?

9. Software and music / movie downloading -piracy?

10. Behavior / actions of an American company (sweatshops, illegally drilling, dumping, etc.)?

11. Police brutality or other injustices directed at people of color?

12. Women’s pay equality and other issues concerning women?

13. ????

Questions to answer:

a. Would you be willing to go to jail to protest unjust laws like the Civil Rights workers had done many times during the 1950s and 60s?  (Consider the ramifications of a felony or misdemeanor on your record, and its impact on your possible future career).

b. After consulting the list above, which laws would you be willing to fight against?  Why? (feel free to add to the list if you see any missing).

c. Do you agree with Dr. King’s reasoning w/ what makes a law just or unjust?  Why or why not?

350 words total for all three questions.  Due Wednesday, October 25 by class. 


May 22

Follow up w/ Dr. Arbulu’s talk on Civil Rights

Many thanks to Dr. Agustin Arbulu for taking time out of his schedule to come talk w/ us.



Elliot – Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 – http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-act-453-of-1976.pdf

Harvard’s implicit bias test – https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

– You can take the test at the link above to find out about your attitudes toward society.

Dr. Arbulu mentioned that honest dialogue is the key to a better future:

  1. Honest dialogue about women in the workplace – http://interactionassociates.com/insights/videos/creating-honest-dialogue-about-women-leadership

2. How dialogue works – http://www.communitydialogue.org/content/how-dialogue-works

3. Honest dialogue in the corporate workplace – http://www.csrwire.com/blog/posts/1770-honest-dialogue-the-key-to-a-sustainable-future

4. Creating safe spaces for communication – http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/safe-spaces

Here is the link to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ report on the Flint Water Crisis – https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdcr/VFlintCrisisRep-F-Edited3-13-17_554317_7.pdf

Michigan Emergency Manager Law 

  1. Article on how we got started w/ the Emergency Manager law – http://michiganradio.org/post/how-did-we-get-here-look-back-michigans-emergency-manager-law
  2. Did the Emergency Manager law cause the Flint crisis – http://fortune.com/2016/02/18/michigan-public-act-436-flint/
  3. Anger of Appointing Emergency Managers in Michigan – NYTimes – https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/23/us/anger-in-michigan-over-appointing-emergency-managers.html?_r=0

Sensitive Locations Policy – FAQs from federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – https://www.ice.gov/ero/enforcement/sensitive-loc

Rights of undocumented workers – http://lawnewz.com/high-profile/yes-illegal-immigrants-do-have-rights-under-trumps-new-immigration-plan/

– Know Your Rights – Natrional Immigrants Justice Center

Ban the Box – eliminating the question on employment applications asking if someone has been convicted of a felony – http://www.nelp.org/publication/ban-the-box-fair-chance-hiring-state-and-local-guide/

– Ban the Box organization – http://bantheboxcampaign.org/

Women’s wage gap – AAUW – Simple Truth about the Wage Gap – http://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/

Structural racism – Dismantling Institutional Racism – http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/race_power_policy_workbook.pdf

– Is America Repeating the Mistakes of 1968? The Atlantic – https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/is-america-repeating-the-mistakes-of-1968/490568/

– Evidence of societal and economic inequality – http://www.intergroupresources.com/rc/Definitions%20of%20Racism.pdf

– Issues of Health Inequalities from the New England Journal of Medicine – http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1609535#t=article

LGBTQ+ rights – policy vs. law – interpretation of phrase “prevent discrimination against sex” to include sexual orientation is a policy, not law.

– Issues surrounding LGBTQ rights – http://www.politicalresearch.org/tag/lgbtq-rights/#sthash.pWt98SLo.dpbs

– LGBT rights in America – Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_the_United_States

– Washington Post’s article on anti- LGBT legislation – https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/lgbt-legislation/

Differences between Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals (Comfort animals). – https://www.nsarco.com/pop-esa.html

– Americans with Disabilities Act criteria for Service Animals – https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

– Please Don’t Pet Me – service, therapy, and emotional support dogs – http://pleasedontpetme.com/differences.php


February 22

I am Not Your Negro – review and extra credit

“There are days — this is one of them — when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it.” – James Baldwin, 1963.

This film, I am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck, is a testament to James Baldwin’s brilliance.  It in one fell swoop places him within the context of the Civil Rights Movement and also as someone who was a latecomer to its activism (though he fought racism through his words while living in France).  He was one of America’s leading intellectuals and social critics and found a way to cut through the baloney, the white ignorance of the time, the cluelessness, like a knife.  At once, the film is a unique history of the CRM, of the past sixty years of race, and also it’s a warning for us today that we still have racial problems left festering.

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

The film’s narrative is loosely based upon Baldwin’s attempt to write a history of the CRM using his friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. King, as touchstones.  Apparently, Baldwin only got as far as 30 pages of notes before he gave up on the project in 1979.  What shocked me (though I knew this fact in the back of my mind, being a history teacher) was the fact that all three men were killed before they hit the age of 40.  As someone who is almost 50, I am both in awe and in shock of how much these three men had accomplished in such a short span.

The film begins with Baldwin’s appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1968 as the host earnestly implores Baldwin as to where there might be a glimmer of hope in race relations.  Baldwin smiles that toothy grin and kind of shakes his head as if to say he doesn’t know.  But he does.  What Dick Cavett asked him is probably indicative of what other white people have asked themselves during and since the CRM – when will Black people be satisfied with the advances that their race has made?   When Cavett brings an older, white professor of philosophy to come on, all he does is whitesplain the problem of race in America to Baldwin.  Below is Baldwin’s response:

At an interview with Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1963, James Baldwin and playwright Lorraine Hansberry (among others) were gathered together to discuss improving race relations, a “quiet, off-the-record, unpublicized get-together of prominent Negroes”.  JFK was still thinking about 1964 and running again, so he couldn’t look like he was kowtowing to Black people for fear of losing the Southern vote, yet he still had to appear to be leader of ALL Americans. The meeting took place in late May, soon after the film footage of the Children’s Crusade was broadcast to the nation – blasting Black children with water from fire hoses and attacking protestors with dogs.  This meeting, though just briefly mentioned in the film, seems like a typical Kennedy maneuver where the Kennedys do something on the surface but don’t seem to understand the deeper, underlying causes.  The actors and activists at the meeting were told by Robert Kennedy that maybe in forty years there might be a Black president.  Baldwin’s answer, two years later in a debate with William F. Buckley, conservative critic, is telling:

“From the point of view of the man in the Harlem barber shop, Bobby Kennedy only got here yesterday and now he is already on his way to the Presidency… We were here for 400 years and now he tells us that maybe in 40 years, if you are good, we may let you become President.” – 1965

It reminds me of something that I had heard once that, when asked, how many more women did Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg feel need to be on the court in order to make women feel equal?  Her answer was nine, with the rationale that the Supreme Court had been all male for 190 years, it’s time to make up some ground.  In the same respect, maybe we need a string of minority presidents of women and people of color to help make America more equal.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

There was a telling scene, a powerful scene, when Baldwin was talking about growing up in Harlem and watching his friends die way too early.  Then, the film cuts to snapshots of modern young Black Americans, all cut down before their 18th birthday, like Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, and ends with someone holding up a sign that says “We Live in a Police State” or something to that effect.  There are shots of the Ferguson disturbances interspersed with shots of white police officers clubbing Black people on the streets of Oakland, California and Birmingham, Alabama, ramming home the message that though we whites might think this awful string of police brutality is relatively new in America, it’s not.  Now, more things are just being caught on video than ever before.

“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.” 

Baldwin’s social critiques of the nation in the film are just as prescient as they were fifty years ago, maybe even more so.  Because the film is so dense, with layers of meaning and visuals and voice overs going on all at the same time, I feel like I would need to see this film two or three more times to get the entire message.  But one scene struck me, as Baldwin decries the vacuousness of American life, about how that once we discover how pointless life is with an accumulation of stuff, we’ll go crazy.  As he says this (with narration by Samuel L. Jackson), there is some colorful movie with white people dancing all around, and then he cuts to a scene from Gus Van Zant’s 2003 film, Elephant, about a Columbine-like school shooting.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

One of the things that Baldwin stresses the most, where I think he is most consistently portrayed in the film, is his undying belief that it is our humanity that ties us all together.  Peck, the filmaker does an excellent job of contrasting how two different groups of people can see the same thing and view it differently, so I am certain that my film review would be markedly different than a Black film critic (I’m not calling myself a critic, I just love movies).  And it is this underlying humanity and how we figure out who we are in America is what seems to fascinate Baldwin the most.  This humanity is what ties us together, and because of it, we are inextricably woven as a fabric in one piece in American history. To separate the strands between white, black, brown, red, yellow, is to render the fabric useless.

For extra credit, see the film and answer three of the questions below (you must answer #2 as one of the three): 

  1. How did films shape how James saw the world when he was younger?  Also, how are films, especially ones with the great actor Sidney Poitier, used?
  2. How does this film act as a history of the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 – 1968?  How is it not a history but yet the story of James Baldwin?
  3.  One of the things that the film brings up is how white and black people see things differently, specifically using the pivotal scene in the movie, The Defiant Ones.  How do you think your perception of this film is different than somebody of another color?  Why?
  4. “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.”  Explain whether or not you agree with this quote and why.

Blog is due by Friday night, March 10.  350 words minimum.  

December 9

Loving – Extra Credit Blog

Image result for loving movie

I hope you enjoyed Loving, the story of an interracial couple and their desire to stay married and be left alone.  This is a Civil Rights story, it’s a love story, and it can also be seen (in today’s context) as a metaphor for marriage equality.  To quote Lin Manuel Miranda, “love is love is love.”

  1. The sheriff, the judge, and other opponents cite the Bible and refer to God’s law (sparrows are for sparrows, robins for robins) when pushing against the Lovings’ marriage.  When religion is mixed in with a secular argument like the one here, how can religion make the issue more complicated?  Feel free to cite additional examples not included in the movie.
  2. Richard is portrayed in the movie as reluctant to challenge the ban on interracial marriage in the courts.  He is willing to relocate to Virginia to be closer to family, and move out of D.C. after his son is hit by a car, so this is more symbolic than official.  Mildred, on the other hand, is very determined to oppose the law, and in doing so, is willing to step into the spotlight provided by the media.  Why do you think Mildred is more willing than Richard to challenge the law?
  3. Richard, for the most part, seems to blend into Black society in rural Virginia as well as in the Black section of D.C., while his white neighbors / co-workers both in the city and country don’t take his integration so well.  Though this isn’t necessarily answered in the movie, what do you think it is in Richard’s background that makes him different than some of his white neighbors and co-workers?  Feel free to speculate.  Image result for loving movie
  4. This could have been a very different film in the hands of another writer and director.  Sometimes, movies go for shock value by sensationalizing events with graphic violence and language, but Loving has neither.  The movie still gets across the menace of racism in the way Mildred is treated while in jail or the brick found on Richard’s  car seat, but in a much less confrontational way.  Why do you think the writer and director made these choices?  Are they downplaying the racism while emphasizing the Lovings’ emotional attachment?  Another reason?  Why? 

Answer 3 of the four questions, minimum 300 words total for all three questions, due by Friday, January 6, 2017.