The Anomaly that is Trayvon Martin

Here in Canada, it would be surprising if I came across someone who have not heard about Trayvon Martin, much less one who does not have an opinion to voice about the events that millions of people have been following over the past few months.

While I sympathize with Trayvon Martin’s family and friends, I cannot help but wonder why this particular case of violence has taken center stage. I read an interesting article by Actor Romany Malco where he outlines why he thinks there has been such widespread debate about Trayvon Martin. You can read it here.

The Trayvon Martin case is not the first time that gun violence has touched a community. One only has to Google “Top 25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in America to see that violent crime is occurring on a daily basis. Just take into account Detroit, where statistics show that there is a 1 in 7 chance of becoming a victim of a crime. Where is the moral outrage? Where is the celebrity-led moment of silence?

EndGunViolence Photo Credit: Google Images

Our prison system in America and Canada are disproportionately filled with minority men and women. Where is the moral outrage? Where is the national coverage?

In Canada, our Pardons (now called Records Suspension) process has been drastically overhauled. In the past, an individual who has been convicted of a summary offence could be eligible for a pardon after 3 years…today it has been increased to 5 years. For an indictable offence, it is now 10 years instead of 5 years.

In addition, the fee to apply for a pardon has been increased from $150 to $631.

There are many things that are wrong with these changes. In order to be able to apply for a pardon, one has to complete the full sentence.

Picture this, you have been charged with a summary offence and sentenced to 2 years in prison. At the end of your prison term, you are ready and eager to reintegrate into society. However, you have a criminal record and cannot easily acquire employment. You find out that you have to wait 5 years before you can apply for a Pardon (Records Suspension). What do you do for five years when you have no access to meaningful employment? As a human being, you have a right to food, clothing and shelter. However, because of a bad decision you made at one point in your life, you are trapped in a poverty-stricken environment waiting for the chance to untie the noose, that is your criminal record, from your neck.

If from sheer luck, you manage to survive for five years without resorting to crime, how can you afford to pay the application fee of $631?

All these barriers that are being placed in front of individuals who have criminal records are appalling. They have paid their debt to society by being locked away in a crowded prison. Why then are we continuing to punish them? We are only pushing them towards a life of crime.

Where is the moral outrage?

Quote # 57

“To live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren’t is to learn inequality in little ways all day long. So even if we agree that sexual imagery is in fact a language, it is clearly one that is already heavily edited to protect men’s sexual–and hence social–confidence while undermining that of women.” 

-Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women

 

Frederick Douglass’ 4th of July Speech

The United States of America celebrated the fourth of July a few days ago and it got me thinking about freedom.

The United States of America is often called “The Land of the Free” but many individuals who live in the U.S. are not free. One only has to look at the struggles that the LGBTQ community are faced with everyday. Even with the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as the union between a man and a woman, same sex couples are still looked upon with scorn.

Women do not have the freedom to choose what they do with their bodies. White men in politics are dictating how women should think and how they should behave in regards to abortion.

How can we celebrate America’s independence, their freedom from British rule when in 2013, one too many individuals are not free?

I found this on the PBS website”

During the 1850s, Frederick Douglass typically spent about six months of the year travelling extensively, giving lectures. During one winter — the winter of 1855-1856 — he gave about 70 lectures during a tour that covered four to five thousand miles. And his speaking engagements did not halt at the end of a tour. From his home in Rochester, New York, he took part in local abolition-related events. 

On July 5, 1852, Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Rochester’s Corinthian Hall. It was biting oratory, in which the speaker told his audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” 

Socialist Utopia

Can you imagine a world where money does not exist? There are no banks? Everyone is paid the same wages? There is no poverty? No war?

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This is a socialist world that Edward Bellamy imagined in 1887. Writing in the form of a novel, Bellamy tells the story of an upper class man, exasperated by the labor issue and the resulting strikes in his time, who falls asleep and wakes up in the year 2000.
Everything is changed. There are no classes…no poor…no rich…just everyone living comfortably.
The economy is publicly controlled rather than privately controlled. Everyone receives a college level education and retirement age is set at 45. The government controls the means of production with the products being distributed equally…no man has more or less than his neighbor.
Edward Bellamy, through his writing reveals his socialistic ideology and shows the reader that he believes that a publicly controlled economy can enhance the freedoms of everyone. When individuals are given the same access to schooling and careers, the whole (country/mankind) benefits.
With an economy based on communal cooperation, worker strikes, unemployment and poverty is absent. With statistics revealing the high unemployment rate in 2013 in Canada and the U.S., can Bellamy’s reimagined economic structure work? Can a a publicly owned economic system where the wealth is evenly distributed, eradicate poverty? Those are difficult questions to answer.

Socialism has a stain attached to its name. Whenever it is brought up, it is immediately rejected and the proponents of socialism are ostracised. Our current system based on capitalism does not work. From a human rights standpoint, the system is criminal. Too many individuals work but do not have enough to eat. Too many employers are choosing not to include benefits in their compensation packages. Too many companies are relying on sweatshop labor to increase profits. Too many people are homeless and/or jobless. Too much talent is being wasted because there are not enough jobs.

Now I can concede that the age of industrialism and capitalism has resulted in great strides in the economy and technology. What Bellamy is arguing for, is not a rejection of capitalism but a shift in who controls the means of production and how the products are distributed among the masses. There are enough resources for everyone. There is no need for one person’s net worth to be billions, with most, if not all, of that billions the result of the sweat and blood of the masses.

Bellamy’s twentieth century did not come to fruition. However, we must continue to envision a better world and work towards it.

Bellamy’s book, Looking Backward 2000-1887 is a short read and is available in the public domain for free. Hope my thoughts surrounding this book will encourage you to read it.

Strange Fruit – Nina Simone

I haven’t been on my blog as often as I would like because of some personal matters. But I still have my fellow bloggers in my thoughts.

I read an article on Kanye West and Lil Wayne and their portrayal of black history in their music, specifically Kanye West’s new album “Yeezus.” A controversy surrounds his sampling of Nina Simone’s cover of the song “Strange Fruit”:

“This subtle blow to the pride that comes from the spirit of our civil rights leaders reaches an all-time low with his track “Blood on the Leaves.” The title, which originated from a lyric of the famous Billie Holliday song “Strange Fruit,” features a sample of Nina Simone’s version on West’s new song. You would think that such a classic song that has significance beyond just musical admiration but actual historical importance would get respect. It does not. “Strange Fruit” is a 1939 song that was one of the first to expose American racism and its brutality through the form of lynching. That actual “blood on the leaves” phrase that many people now play around with on their Facebook posts and Twitter hashtags actually refer to the blood falling on the leaves after someone black was maliciously hanged by white racists from a tree.

But you wouldn’t know how serious the song was or what dire implications any of it had by listening to Kanye’s rant about the so-called pains of a messed up relationship gone sour and the fame, golddiggers (go figure) and tabloids that follow it.”

- Ernest Owens, Huffington Post

Some of you may be fans of Kanye while others (like me) are not. However, I wanted to post Nina Simone’s version of Billie Holiday’s song. Contrast it to Kanye West’s sampling of the song and determine for yourself whether or not the critics decrying his use of such a powerful song in a way that is disrespectful to black history, is in your opinion correct or not.

The Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass – My Thoughts

“My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the dispositon to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!”

- Frederick Douglass

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The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a short yet powerful read. With vivid descriptions and eloquent speech, Douglass takes the reader on a comtemplative journey where slavery, religion, knowledge and ignorance intersect…where small displays of kindness cannot always be accepted at face value.

Have you ever had a picture in your head about what slavery was like? Surely it is tamer than the reality! How can one slaveowner own a thousand slaves? My mind cannot fathom.

Fredrick Douglass writes with such ease and simplicity that it is easy for the reader to become engrossed in his every word.

Reading this narrative, a few themes jump out at you:

(1) The role of religion in slavery: Douglass states on numerous occasions that many slaveholders were ardent Christians. According to him, Christian slaveholders were the worse masters: they were exceptionally cruel towards the slaves. However, despite his experience with Christian slaveholders, Douglass realizes that the religion that they were practicing were a perversion of the true religion. He understood that Religion can be used to justify any manner of ill-treatment and injustices towards others…this perversion of religion can still be seen in modern society.

(2) How ignorance helps in maintaining the status quo: Slaves were not given opportunities to learn how to read and write. Therefore, they were not aware of the fact that slavery was not natural…they were not aware that grouping people into racial categories was irrational. Slaveowners knew that by keeping slaves in the dark, the power dynamics between the whites and the blacks would persist.

(3) Knowledge leads to freedom: What would you do if you were told that you could not learn to read or write? Would you care? Frederick Douglass saw the power in reading and writing and set out to learn, regardless of the potential danger to himself. Having learned how to read and write, Frederick Douglass begins to question his lifelong sentence of being a slave. With the power of literacy, he was able to easily articulate the injustice that was slavery and realized that rather than being a “brute” he was a man, capable of controlling his own life.

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There are many more themes that are brilliantly captured in “The Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass” and I hope that my little spiel will encourage you to seek out a copy of the book and read it.