White Supremacist Elected In Pennsylvania

Steve Smith(NJDC) Steve Smith — who the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) notes is a “longtime white supremacist” — was elected to serve on the Luzerne County, PA Republican committee. According to SPLC, Smith also has record of violence in addition to his involvement with racist and white supremacist groups:

Recruited into the neo-Nazi movement while he was stationed at Fort Bragg in the 1990s, Smith, of Pittston, Penn., has been active in an extraordinary array of white nationalist, skinhead, and neo-Nazi groups, including American Third Position, Keystone United(formerly Keystone State Skinheads), and the Council of Conservative Citizens. He is a former Aryan Nations member and former leader of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, which was created by former Klan leader David Duke but is no longer associated with him. Smith also belongs to a Pennsylvania-based group called the European American Action Coalition (EAAC), which according to its website was formed in fall 2011 ‘by a few well known White activists in the great and historic state of Pennsylvania.’…

Smith’s ties to the racist right stretch far beyond the political. In 2001, he co-founded a racist skinhead group now known as Keystone United (which was until 2009 known as the Keystone State Skinheads, or KSS), one of the largest and most active single-state racist skinhead crews in the country. In March 2003, he and two other KSS members were arrested in Scranton for beating up Antoni Williams, a black man, using stones and chunks of pavement. Smith pleaded guilty to terrorist threats and ethnic intimidation and received a 60-day sentence and probation.

To advance his goals, Smith has distanced himself somewhat from his violent past and focused on political activism. As state chairman for American Third Position (A3P), a white nationalist political party that aims to deport immigrants and return the United   States to white rule, he has for several years been working the crowds at local Tea Party gatherings, which he once described as ‘fertile grounds for our activists.’

In October 2010, he led a delegation of A3P activists in presenting the party’s position to a Scranton Tea Party group. ‘We explained that the A3P was formed to represent white Americans, who have been denied representation for decades,’ he said in a press release on A3P’s website. ‘We provided them with a true alternative to the typical dead-end conservatism with which so many of these concerned and partially awakened Americans are involved.’

The Times Leader reported that the Luzerne County GOP was unaware of Smith’s decades-long involvement with racist causes — and his criminal record — and will be meeting to discuss the situation.  

Presidential Medal of Freedom

Today President Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to following laureats:

  • Secretary Madeleine Albright,
  • Attorney General John Doar,
  • Musician Bob Dylan,
  • Dr. William Foege,
  • Senator John Glenn,
  • Prof. Gordon Hirabayashi,
  • Dolores Huerta,
  • Jan Karski,
  • Juliette Gordon Low,
  • Author Toni Morrison,
  • Israeli President Shimon Peres (*),
  • Justice John Paul Stevens, and
  • Coach Pat Summitt.

(Shimon Peres was not able to attend yesterday, so his medal will be awarded in a separate ceremony next month.)

Transcript after the jump.

Remarks by President Barack Obama

Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Everybody, please have a seat, and welcome to the White House.  It is an extraordinary pleasure to be here with all of you to present this year’s Medals of Freedom.  And I have to say, just looking around the room, this is a packed house, which is a testament to how cool this group is.  (Laughter.)  Everybody wanted to check them out.

This is the highest civilian honor this country can bestow, which is ironic, because nobody sets out to win it.  No one ever picks up a guitar, or fights a disease, or starts a movement, thinking, “You know what, if I keep this up, in 2012, I could get a medal in the White House from a guy named Barack Obama.”  (Laughter.)  That wasn’t in the plan.

But that’s exactly what makes this award so special.  Every one of today’s honorees is blessed with an extraordinary amount of talent.  All of them are driven.  But, yes, we could fill this room many times over with people who are talented and driven.  What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people — not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily, over the course of a lifetime.

Together, the honorees on this stage, and the ones who couldn’t be here, have moved us with their words; they have inspired us with their actions.  They’ve enriched our lives and they’ve changed our lives for the better.  Some of them are household names; others have labored quietly out of the public eye.  Most of them may never fully appreciate the difference they’ve made or the influence that they’ve had, but that’s where our job comes in.  It’s our job to help let them know how extraordinary their impact has been on our lives.  And so today we present this amazing group with one more accolade for a life well led, and that’s the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

So I’m going to take an opportunity — I hope you guys don’t mind — to brag about each of you, starting with Madeleine Albright.


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Usually, Madeleine does the talking.  (Laughter.)  Once in a while, she lets her jewelry do the talking.  (Laughter.)  When Saddam Hussein called her a “snake,” she wore a serpent on her lapel — (laughter) — the next time she visited Baghdad.  When Slobodan Milosevic referred to her as a “goat,” a new pin appeared in her collection.

As the first woman to serve as America’s top diplomat, Madeleine’s courage and toughness helped bring peace to the Balkans and paved the way for progress in some of the most unstable corners of the world.  And as an immigrant herself — the granddaughter of Holocaust victims who fled her native Czechoslovakia as a child — Madeleine brought a unique perspective to the job.  This is one of my favorite stories.  Once, at a naturalization ceremony, an Ethiopian man came up to her and said, “Only in America can a refugee meet the Secretary of State.”  And she replied, “Only in America can a refugee become the Secretary of State.”  (Laughter.)  We’re extraordinarily honored to have Madeleine here.  And obviously, I think it’s fair to say I speak for one of your successors who is so appreciative of the work you did and the path that you laid.

Attorney General John Doar

It was a scorching hot day in 1963, and Mississippi was on the verge of a massacre.  The funeral procession for Medgar Evers had just disbanded, and a group of marchers was throwing rocks at a line of equally defiant and heavily-armed policemen.  And suddenly, a white man in shirtsleeves, hands raised, walked towards the protestors and talked them into going home peacefully.  And that man was John Doar.  He was the face of the Justice Department in the South.  He was proof that the federal government was listening.  And over the years, John escorted James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.  He walked alongside the Selma-to-Montgomery March.  He laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  In the words of John Lewis, “He gave [civil rights workers] a reason not to give up on those in power.”  And he did it by never giving up on them.  And I think it’s fair to say that I might not be here had it not been for his work.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan started out singing other people’s songs.  But, as he says, “There came a point where I had to write what I wanted to say, because what I wanted to say, nobody else was writing.”  So born in Hibbing, Minnesota — a town, he says, where “you couldn’t be a rebel — it was too cold” — (laughter) — Bob moved to New York at age 19.  By the time he was 23, Bob’s voice, with its weight, its unique, gravelly power was redefining not just what music sounded like, but the message it carried and how it made people feel.  Today, everybody from Bruce Springsteen to U2 owes Bob a debt of gratitude.  There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.  All these years later, he’s still chasing that sound, still searching for a little bit of truth.  And I have to say that I am a really big fan.  (Laughter.)  


Dr. Bill Foege

In the 1960s, more than 2 million people died from smallpox every year.  Just over a decade later, that number was zero — 2 million to zero, thanks, in part, to Dr. Bill Foege.  As a young medical missionary working in Nigeria, Bill helped develop a vaccination strategy that would later be used to eliminate smallpox from the face of the Earth.  And when that war was won, he moved on to other diseases, always trying to figure out what works.  In one remote Nigerian village, after vaccinating 2,000 people in a single day, Bill asked the local chief how he had gotten so many people to show up.  And the chief explained that he had told everyone to come see — to “come to the village and see the tallest man in the world.”  (Laughter.)  Today, that world owes that really tall man a great debt of gratitude.


Senator and Astronaut John Glenn

On the morning that John Glenn blasted off into space, America stood still.  And for half an hour, the phones stopped ringing in Chicago police headquarters, and New York subway drivers offered a play-by-play account over the loudspeakers.  President Kennedy interrupted a breakfast with congressional leaders and joined 100 million TV viewers to hear the famous
words, “Godspeed, John Glenn.”  The first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn became a hero in every sense of the word, but he didn’t stop there serving his country.  As a senator, he found new ways to make a difference.  And on his second trip into space at age 77, he defied the odds once again.  But he reminds everybody, don’t tell him he’s lived a historic life.  He says, “Are living.”  He’ll say, “Don’t put it in the past tense.”  He’s still got a lot of stuff going on.

Professor Gordon Hirabayashi

Gordon Hirabayashi knew what it was like to stand alone.  As a student at the University of Washington, Gordon was one of only three Japanese Americans to defy the executive order that forced thousands of families to leave their homes, their jobs, and their civil rights behind and move to internment camps during World War II.  He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, and he lost.  And it would be another 40 years before that decision was reversed, giving Asian Americans everywhere a small measure of justice.  In Gordon’s words, “It takes a crisis to tell us that unless citizens are willing to standup for the [Constitution], it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”  And this country is better off because of citizens like him who are willing to stand up.

Dolores Huerta

Similarly, when Cesar Chavez sat Dolores Huerta down at his kitchen table and told her they should start a union, she thought he was joking.  She was a single mother of seven children, so she obviously didn’t have a lot of free time.  But Dolores had been an elementary school teacher and remembered seeing children come to school hungry and without shoes.  So in the end, she agreed — and workers everywhere are glad that she did.  Without any negotiating experience, Dolores helped lead a worldwide grape boycott that forced growers to agree to some of the country’s first farm worker contracts.  And ever since, she has fought to give more people a seat at the table.  “Don’t wait to be invited,” she says, “Step in there.”  And on a personal note, Dolores was very gracious when I told her I had stolen her slogan, Si, se puede.  Yes, we can.  (Laughter.)  Knowing her, I’m pleased that she let me off easy — (laughter) — because Dolores does not play.  (Laughter.)


Jan Karski

For years, Jan Karski’s students at Georgetown University knew he was a great professor; what they didn’t realize was he was also a hero.  Fluent in four languages, possessed of a photographic memory, Jan served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II.  Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale, and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.  Jan took that information to President Franklin Roosevelt, giving one of the first accounts of the Holocaust and imploring to the world to take action.  It was decades before Jan was ready to tell his story.  By then, he said, “I don’t need courage anymore.  So I teach compassion.”


Girl Scouts in attendance at the White House as President Obama honored Girl Scout Founder Juliette Gordon Low. Photo: Daniel Loeb (Philadelphia Jewish Voice)

Juliette Gordon Low

Growing up in Georgia in the late 1800s, Juliette Gordon Low was not exactly typical.  She flew airplanes.  She went swimming.  She experimented with electricity for fun.  (Laughter.)  And she recognized early on that in order to keep up with the changing times, women would have to be prepared.  So at age 52, after meeting the founder of the Boy Scouts in England, Juliette came home and called her cousin and said, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world.  And we’re going to start it tonight!”  A century later, almost 60 million Girl Scouts have gained leadership skills and self-confidence through the organization that she founded.  They include CEOs, astronauts, my own Secretary of State.  And from the very beginning, they have also included girls of different races and faiths and abilities, just the way that Juliette would have wanted it.

Toni  Morrison

Toni Morrison — she is used to a little distraction.  As a single mother working at a publishing company by day, she would carve out a little time in the evening to write, often with her two sons pulling on her hair and tugging at her earrings.  Once, a baby spit up on her tablet so she wrote around it.  (Laughter.)  Circumstances may not have been ideal, but the words that came out were magical.  Toni Morrison’s prose brings us that kind of moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt.  From “Song of Solomon” to “Beloved,” Toni reaches us deeply, using a tone that is lyrical, precise, distinct, and inclusive.  She believes that language “arcs toward the place where meaning might lie.”  The rest of us are lucky to be following along for the ride.


Justice John Paul Stevens

During oral argument, Justice John Paul Stevens often began his line of questioning with a polite, “May I interrupt?” or “May I ask a question?”  You can imagine the lawyers would say, “okay” — (laughter) — after which he would, just as politely, force a lawyer to stop dancing around and focus on the most important issues in the case.  And that was his signature style:  modest, insightful, well-prepared, razor-sharp.  He is the third-longest serving Justice in the history of the Court.  And Justice Stevens applied, throughout his career, his clear and graceful manner to the defense of individual rights and the rule of law, always favoring a pragmatic solution over an ideological one.  Ever humble, he would happily comply when unsuspecting tourists asked him to take their picture in front of the Court.  (Laughter.)  And at his vacation home in Florida, he was John from Arlington, better known for his world-class bridge game than his world-changing judicial opinions.  Even in his final days on the bench, Justice Stevens insisted he was still “learning on the job.”  But in the end, we are the ones who have learned from him.

Pat Summitt

When a doctor first told Pat Summitt she suffered from dementia, she almost punched him.  When a second doctor advised her to retire, she responded, “Do you know who you’re dealing with here?”  (Laughter.)  Obviously, they did not.  As Pat says, “I can fix a tractor, mow hay, plow a field, chop tobacco, fire a barn, and call the cows.  But what I’m really known for is winning.”  In 38 years at Tennessee, she racked up eight national championships and more than 1,000 wins — understand, this is more than any college coach, male or female, in the history of the NCAA.  And more importantly, every player that went through her program has either graduated or is on her way to a degree.  That’s why anybody who feels sorry for Pat will find themselves on the receiving end of that famous glare, or she might punch you.  (Laughter.)  She’s still getting up every day and doing what she does best, which is teaching.  “The players,” she says, “are my best medicine.”  

Israeli President Shimon Peres

Our final honoree is not here — Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, who has done more for the cause of peace in the Middle East than just about anybody alive.  I’ll be hosting President Peres for a dinner here at the White House next month, and we’ll be presenting him with his medal and honoring his incredible contributions to the state of Israel and the world at that time.  So I’m looking forward to welcoming him.  And if it’s all right with you, I will save my best lines about him for that occasion.

So these are the recipients of the 2012 Medals of Freedom.  And just on a personal note, I had a chance to see everybody in the back.  What’s wonderful about these events for me is so many of these people are my heroes individually.  I know how they impacted my life.

I remember reading “Song of Solomon” when I was a kid and not just trying to figure out how to write, but also how to be and how to think.  And I remember in college listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up because he captured something that — about this country that was so vital.  And I think about Dolores Huerta, reading about her when I was starting off as an organizer.

Everybody on this stage has marked my life in profound ways.  And I was telling — somebody like Pat Summitt — when I think about my two daughters, who are tall and gifted, and knowing that because of folks like Coach Summitt they’re standing up straight and diving after loose balls and feeling confident and strong, then I understand that the impact that these people have had extends beyond me.  It will continue for generations to come.  What an extraordinary honor to be able to say thank you to all of them for the great work that they have done on behalf of this country and on behalf of the world.

So it is now my great honor to present them with a small token of our appreciation.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  Presidential Medal of Freedom citations: Madeleine Korbel Albright.  Madeleine Korbel Albright broke barriers and left an indelible mark on the world as the first female Secretary of State in the United States’ history.  Through her consummate diplomacy and steadfast democratic ideals, Secretary Albright advanced peace in the Middle East, nuclear arms control, justice in the Balkans, and human rights around the world.  With unwavering leadership and continued engagement with the global community, she continues her noble pursuit of freedom and dignity for all people.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think this goes very well with your broach.  (Laughter.)

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  John Doar.  As African Americans strove for justice, John Doar led federal efforts to defend equality and enforce civil rights.  Risking his life to confront the injustices around him, he prevented a violent riot, obtained convictions for the killings of civil rights activists, and stood by the first African American student at the University of Mississippi on his first day of class.  During pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement and in the troubled times of the Watergate scandal, John Doar fought to protect the core values of liberty, equality and democracy that have made America a leader among nations.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  Bill Foege.

THE PRESIDENT:  He is pretty tall.  (Laughter.)

MILITARY AIDE:  A distinguished physician and epidemiologist, Bill Foege helped lead a campaign to eradicate smallpox that stands among medicine’s greatest success stories.  At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Carter Center, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he has taken on humanity’s most intractable public health challenges from infectious diseases to child survival and development.  Bill Foege has driven decades of progress to safeguard the well-being of all, and he has inspired a generation of leaders in the fight for a healthier world.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

John Glenn has set a peerless example through his service to our nation.  As a Marine Corps pilot and the first American to orbit the Earth, he sparked our passions for ingenuity and adventure and lifted humanity’s ambitions into the expanses of space.  In the United States Senate, he worked tirelessly to ensure all Americans had the opportunity to reach for limitless dreams.  Whether by advancing legislation to limit the spread of nuclear weapons or by becoming the oldest person ever to visit space, John Glenn’s example has moved us all to look to new horizons with drive and optimism.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Susan Carnahan, accepting on behalf of her husband Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi.  In his open defiance of discrimination against Japanese Americans during World War II, Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi demanded our nation live up to its founding principles.  Imprisoned for ignoring curfew and refusing to register for internment camps, he took his case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943.  Refusing to abandon his belief in an America that stands for fundamental human rights, he pursued justice until his conviction was overturned in 1987.  Gordon Hirabayashi’s legacy reminds us that patriotism is rooted not in ethnicity, but in our shared ideals.  And his example will forever call on us to defend the liberty of all our citizens.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta.  One of America’s great labor and civil rights icons, Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta has devoted her life to advocating for marginalized communities.  Alongside Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the United Farm Workers of America and fought to secure basic rights for migrant workers and their families, helping save thousands from neglect and abuse.  Dolores Huerta has never lost faith in the power of community organizing, and through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she continues to train and mentor new activists to walk the streets into history.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Adam Daniel Rotfeld, former Polish foreign minister accepting on behalf of Jan Karski.  As a young officer in the Polish Underground, Jan Karski was among the first to relay accounts of the Holocaust to the world.  A witness to atrocity in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, he repeatedly crossed enemy line to document the face of genocide, and courageously voiced tragic truths all the way to President Roosevelt.  Jan Karski illuminated one of the darkest chapters of history, and his heroic intervention on behalf of the innocent will never be forgotten.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Richard Platt, accepting on behalf of his great aunt, Juliette Gordon Low.  An artist, athlete and trailblazer for America’s daughters, Juliette Gordon Low founded an organization to teach young women self-reliance and resourcefulness.  A century later, during the “Year of the Girl,” the Girl Scouts’ more than 3 million members are leaders in their communities and are translating new skills into successful careers.  Americans of all backgrounds continue to draw inspiration from Juliette Gordon Low’s remarkable vision, and we celebrate her dedication to empowering girls everywhere.

(The medal is presented.  Applause.)

Toni Morrison.  The first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize, Toni Morrison is one of our nation’s most distinguished storytellers.  She has captivated readers through lyrical prose that depicts the complexities of a people and challenges our concepts of race and gender.  Her works are hallmarks of the American literary tradition, and the United States proudly honors her for her nursing of souls and strengthening the character of our union.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

John Paul Stevens.  From the Navy to the bench, John Paul Stevens has devoted himself to service to our nation.  After earning a Bronze Star in World War II, Stevens returned home to pursue a career in law.  As an attorney, he became a leading practitioner of anti-trust law.  And as a Supreme Court Justice, he dedicated his long and distinguished tenure to applying our Constitution with fidelity and independence.  His integrity, humility, and steadfast commitment to the rule of law have fortified the noble vision of our nation’s founders.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Pat Summitt.  Pat Summitt is an unparalleled figure in collegiate sports.  Over 38 seasons, she proudly led the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers to 32 SEC tournament and regular season championships and eight national titles, becoming the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history.  On the court, Coach Summitt inspired young women across our country to shoot even higher in pursuit of their dreams.  Off the court, she has inspired us all by turning her personal struggle into a public campaign to combat Alzheimer’s disease.  Pat Summitt’s strength and character exemplify all that is best about athletics in America.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Bob Dylan.  A modern-day troubadour, Bob Dylan established himself as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.  The rich poetry of his lyrics opened up new possibilities for popular song and inspired generations.  His melodies have brought ancient traditions into the modern age.  More than 50 years after his career began, Bob Dylan remains an eminent voice in our national conversation and around the world.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Can everybody please stand and give a rousing applause to our Medal of Freedom winners?  (Applause.)

Well, we could not be prouder of all of them.  We could not be more grateful to all of them.  You have had an impact on all of us, and I know that you will continue to have an impact on all of us.  So thank you for being here.  Thank you for putting yourself through White House ceremonies — (laughter) — which are always full of all kinds of protocol.


White House Reception. Photo: Daniel Loeb (Philadelphia Jewish Voice)

Fortunately, we also have a reception afterwards.  I hear the food around here is pretty good.  (Laughter.)  So I look forward to all of you having a chance to stay and mingle, and again, thank you again, to all of you.  (Applause.)

Pennsylvania Hatred Redux

Bernie SandersCrossposted from Democratic Convention Watch

It's not enough for the Corbett administration and its cronies in the legislature to deny suffrage to the poor, elderly and minorities. The administration, through its budget, is going to cause death and intolerable suffering amoung those least able to provide for themselves.

The numbers projected in Philly are striking: Some 4,000 mentally ill people will lose outpatient services; 400 of them will lose case management services; and 500 to 600 people with chronic mental illness will lose out on housing support, according to [Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity Donald] Schwarz, meaning “We expect people will be discharged from hospitals and other places into homeless shelters.” Thirty to 40 young people with intellectual disabilities who would have received bridge services between youth and adult support systems will not. Sixteen percent of hospice beds for patients with HIV/AIDS will be cut: “There are folks that will die on the streets in Philadelphia because there will not be hospice placements.” One out of two daytime mental health emergency teams and six out of eight walk-in centers dealing with emergency mental health services will likely be cut. And 437 addiction treatment beds will be removed, meaning more people will stay in the already strained prison system due to lack of treatment options. As for those homeless shelters — which can be expected to absorb much of this new overflow — they'll be losing critical case management services. (emphasis mine) Source

Dying on the streets. Could there be anything more shameful? 

PICA is the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. It was created two decades ago to help Philadelphia with its financial crisis, and to this day provides support and analysis. PICA has reviewed the Corbett budget and its impacts on Philadelphia. Its report is after the jump.

Last night on Al Sharpton's show, he had a segment on voting rights, which included an interview with Daylin Lynch, a terrific PA state senator. Also, a clip of Corbett, (at about 7:15) from 2010 about how Corbett wants to discourage turnout in Philadelphia. Obviously from the budget, it's not enough to deny suffrage, but he wants “those people” gone from Pennsylvania. 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PICA Report:

Book Chat


— by Hannah Lee

As a Chinese-American, I am neither white nor black and I am privileged to observe the nuances of race relations in this country as a bystander (except when my own racial heritage is a source of grievance).  I wonder if an academic awareness of an issue allows one to appreciate the inherent complexities?

I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and I was riveted but very perturbed by its central issue of race relations.  Set in 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, a young white woman interviews and edits the painful narratives of black maids about their relationships with their white employers.  I  wanted to identify a black perspective.  Another friend cautioned me that I cannot generalize to all blacks, as African immigrants and people with Caribbean roots do not share the same experience as those descended from slaves brought to America.  No, indeed, but I was sure that a black person would respond differently to the book.

More after the jump.
I spoke with a black staffer at my local library, someone whom I’ve known for the 21 years that my family has lived in this community.  She did not enjoy the book as did the white readers who have praised The Help, launching it onto the bestseller lists.  She could forecast how the plot would go, and she skipped over parts.  Her niece was bored by it and never did finish the book.  I asked her if it would have been a better book if it had been written by a black author, but she demurred at that.

Could the difference lie in perspective?  Events resonate more when they become personal, as Jews are instructed to imagine that they themselves are leaving Egypt during the Passover seder.  Issues become more painful.  It took me a few years before I could follow a friend’s recommendation for Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
, because the central character, a child, dies from an epileptic seizure and my child has the same disorder.I’ve read that people like horror films because they find it cathartic, a vicarious experience that leaves them relieved to be safe and ordinary.  I wonder if readers of The Help become more understanding?  Are some readers smug that they are not racist and do not harbor any prejudicial intent?  Or do they have a renewed sensitivity to insults to human dignity?  Do they speak out in protest?My Rabbi has noted that we do not feel pain to the same degree when a tragedy, a violation, happens to someone else.  However, the challenge is in the striving to maintain sensitivity and that is a hallmark of a compassionate person.

I attended a book discussion along with my friend who grew up in the South.  She found the novel realistic, and told me later that the others (all white women) did not appreciate the fact that though the overt theme of the book was racism, the same kind of prejudice and peer control exist in other times, other places, including our own.  I attempted to point out that the new theory on bully-behavior management, is not to address the bully directly, but to educate the silent majority, that they can take control of a situation by speaking up.  The queen bee, Hilly, from the novel could not have continued in her role, if the others did not let her do so.  However, most people were too afraid, ignorant, or blind to the racial divide in a society in which they had a comfortable perch.  I wonder if readers would become more conscious and sensitive to injustice around them?  I made a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird, which is now a classic.  Did readers of the time immediately take to its message?

The film version, starring Emma Stone as the ingenue reporter, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, Viola Davis as her source, a black housekeeper named Aibileen Clark, and Bryce Dallas Howard as their nemesis, the controlling Hilly Holbrook, will open in the local cinemas on August 10th.

Ethnic Irony

By Hannah Lee

In our relatively enlightened times, it is the heedless individual who utters a blatant pejorative term, be it a racial, sexist, or any other challenging aspect of life. We have sensitized ears and it is unseemly to appear prejudiced.  There is even an attempt to erase past grievances in the misguided campaign to replace the word, “nigger,” with “slave” in Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, although the climax of the story would be lost on the reader when the character of the black man, Jim, realizes that he’s been free all along.  Good teaching requires putting history and culture into context with all its flawed and malignant chronicles.

There is a companion shadow world of indirect slurs, in which terms are coined with the negative traits attributed to a particular ethnic group. Amongst linguists, this usage is called “ironyms,” a compound word representing “lexicalized irony.” Researching this sordid aspect of language development, I came across the fairly unfamiliar terms of Dutch courage (bravado under intoxication), Welsh rabbit (a cheese dish made without meat), and Irish twins (siblings born within the same year). The more familiar ones in contemporary usage are notably all about monetary use: to gyp (cheat) someone, to welsh (renege) on a bet, and to jew someone down (bargain hard). The terms incorporating Chinese– Chinese ace, Chinese anthem, Chinese cigarette, Chinese fire drill, Chinese handball, Chinese landing, Chinese puzzle, and Chinese whispers– all connote items or events that are confused, disorganized, or difficult to understand, according to the British usage of the adjective during World War I.

More after the jump.
I have long known that Chinese checkers were not really Chinese, but I have since learned that it is a game developed in Germany, whose original name referred to its star-shaped game board.  When the Pressman company introduced it in the United States in 1928, they initially called it Hop-Ching checkers, later settling on Chinese checkers, presumably to refer to the erratic hopping allowed of the gaming pieces.  Other usages of ethnic terminology are maybe less benign, but you could be sure no Frenchman would call his fried potatoes, French fries, (derived from the presumed custom of poor French-speaking Belgians who served fried potatoes instead of fried fish when the rivers were frozen) nor would a Dane refer to the breakfast pastry as a Danish (in actuality, of Austrian origin).

As an immigrant to the United States, I did not encounter Chinese auctions until I came into the Orthodox Jewish community. It seems to be a popular low-cost fundraiser amongst churches and synagogues. Not Chinese and not even an auction, it is a lottery in which the bidder purchases tickets for specific prizes within different categories. It has become my campaign to lobby against its usage, but by the time I hear of such events, the organizers have already spent money on the publicity and are loathe to change the wording. It’s inconceivable to me that any organization would allow itself to be perceived as prejudiced these days. Prejudice when it becomes commonplace is even more insidious, because well-meaning people become complicit.

 

UN Commemorates Racist Durban Racism Conference

— Sharon Bender

B’nai B’rith International condemns the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. That event, in Durban, South Africa, was a forum overshadowed by rabid anti-Israel sentiment and deserves to be remembered as embodying the worst aspects of the United Nations.

The vote results included 104 nations in favor of the resolution, 22 against, and 33 abstentions.

B’nai B’rith International commends those nations voting against the commemoration: Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Netherlands, Palau, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Particularly disappointing was the near unanimous bloc of Latin American nations voting in favor of the resolution.

More after the jump.
The proposal to celebrate the original Durban conference has been championed by Arab and other largely non-democratic states, many with records characterized by mistreatment of minorities that have used their collective numbers to push through many anti-Israel resolutions at the world body. Though it is now only in its early planning stages, the Durban commemoration has been scheduled for a time when world leaders are expected in New York in September 2011, and just after the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

“It is tragic that more nations don’t publicly recognize and condemn Durban as the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish free-for-all it truly was,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “Our delegates joined other non-governmental organizations in walking out of the conference in 2000 and again during Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel diatribe during the 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva. The prospects for anything positive to take place at a 10-year commemoration are no better.”

The 2001 World Conference Against Racism, with its Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), implied that Israel alone is a racist nation. Even worse than the U.N. proceedings were the NGO forum and street scenes that saw horrific expressions of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

“The original Durban conference attempted to validate the perverse theory that Zionism is racism,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “Durban’s legacy of hate, intolerance, and double standards should never be forgotten, and should certainly never be celebrated.”

Following the proposal to commemorate Durban, Canada was the first country to unequivocally state it would not attend such an event. B’nai B’rith is calling on all countries not to participate in “Durban III.”

Veterans of Hope: Shirley & Charles Sherrod

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The extraordinary story of  Shirley Sherrod that has emerged so publicly over the last several days has reminded me of an extraordinary moment I lived through that involved her husband, Rev. Charles Sherrod.

In 1963, Charles Sherrod, like several other SNCC activists (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), came for several months to the Institute for Policy Studies, then a very new Washington center for progressive thought and action where I was a Fellow.  They  came to us for time to breathe, share, and reflect, after months or years of intense and harrowing work in the South.

We arranged a seminar for Members of Congress to meet Sherrod and learn from him what was happening in the South–specifically in the town of Albany [pronounced “All-Benny”] in southwest Georgia,  where he had been working.  About a dozen Members of Congress came.

Sherrod began by telling the story of Albany almost like an observer, a reporter. Then, as he began explaining the role of the Black church there,  his tone slowly shifted and he morphed into the Black minister that he was, giving a passionate sermon in the Black church in Albany.

The sermon was hair-raising. Transformative.

The members of Congress had never heard anything like it. I had never heard anything like it. They and I went from that seminar shaken to our core. I think it was one of the subterranean moments that prepared me for 1968, when Passover came shortly after the murder of Dr. King, to become a serious and impassioned Jew.

  Unlike almost all of the other SNCC activists, Sherrod stayed in the very same community where he was organizing —  stayed in Southwest Georgia, committed to the very same people and the very same region. He has been there ever since.

I don’t know when he married Shirley, but she clearly,  like him, comes from the deepest kind of religious faith. The work she has for years been doing–to empower and strengthen the Black farmers of Southwest Georgia–and, it turns out, to empower white farmers too–is rooted in the best and deepest nonviolent traditions of SNCC.  

It is disgusting — and predictable — that some right-wing racist TV jockey would attempt to smear and ruin her.  

It is horrifying — much less predictable — that the leadership of the NAACP would let themselves, as they themselves named it, be “snookered” by a right- wing broadcaster from Fox News.  What on earth possessed their national leadership to react – especially knowing what they must know about Fox News — without even calling her or the local Georgia chapter where she gave the speech that was so brutally distorted?

I can’t but imagine Mr. Justice Thurgood Marshall, one of the NAACP’s great leaders, may he rest in peace, not resting in such heavenly peace this past week —  instead infuriated and ashamed as he heard the NAACP’s utterly unthinking, indecent response to the doctored videotape.

It is also horrifying — unfortunately somewhat more predictable — that the Obama administration would react as it did.

I do take heart from the fact that the Department of Agriculture, the White House, the NAACP, and even Fox News have apologized so abjectly.

Yet the whole series of events makes clear that the spirit of SNCC ought not be dead in the land, that the work that both Sherrods have done in their extraordinary lives is not yet finished.  

Jews & Blacks “Refudiate” Tea Party Racism

— David Streeter

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) applauds the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for passing a resolution condemning the “racist language” used by elements in the Tea Party. NJDC has repeatedly condemned the anti-Semitic and abusive Holocaust rhetoric used by certain Tea Party activists and we hold the same position towards racist language. Racist language has no place in our political discourse and should be condemned by all, regardless of political orientation.

As NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris wrote following the incidents that occurred before the final health care reform vote:

… last weekend’s amped-up protests, egged-on by Republican members of Congress, just took things to a new level as racial epithets and homophobic slurs were hurled at House Democrats.

This is miserably bad for our society, and it’s bad politics for the GOP too as the public associates an unfortunate face with some of health care reform’s loudest detractors. It’s long past time for Republican and conservative leaders to step up to the plate and clearly denounce such comically over-the-line tactics …