I Don’t Think You Understand What Hate Speech Is…

Now that’s a really eye catching title isn’t it? Let’s start this essay off with some context. On July 31st at 12:00am at around midnight, my Facebook account was blocked from posting for 24 hours because two posts I made violated Facebook’s Community Standards for Hate Speech. While it’s entirely possible that someone who saw my posts reported them as such, it is equally likely that Facebook’s algorithms flagged the posts on their own. What did I post that was in such flagrant violation of Facebook’s Community Standards?

White People Can Be Terrorists Too

and

Men Are Weak

These posts, apparently, constitute Hate Speech. White men being such a marginalized group that they need special protection against verbal assault at the hands of a professional historian.

I will be the first person to call out Hate Speech in my daily life. I have a Master’s Degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. I wrote my Master’s Thesis on How Governments Use Words to Inspire Genocide and a book on how Genocide is Represented in Animated Televised Media. I know hate speech when I see it. I know the value of defending marginalized groups from verbal assault at the hands of oppressors. I know that sometimes free speech has to take a back seat to the right to live your life free of such verbal assault. What I posted isn’t even remotely hate speech.

Well ok, then what is hate speech?

The dictionary defines hate speech as such:

Hate Speech – noun

  1. speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

Looking at that definition, you might be under the impression that what I said does, in fact, constitute hate speech. You would think wrong. To further understand how this is not the case we have to look at the definition of a hate crime.

The dictionary defines a hate crime as such:

Hate Crime – noun
  1. a crime motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically one involving violence.

When we look at the crimes that have been classified as hate crimes, do you know what we don’t see? Crimes against white men. Hate crimes are always committed against marginalized and oppressed groups, by members of the group that oppresses them. A hate crime is when someone is murdered for being a PoC or for being queer. Hate speech is the use of slurs and threatening to harm members of an oppressed and protected class of people. Hate speech is not pointing out the inherent flaws in our society and how bad the people on the top of the social strata are at taking criticism.

Criticizing the status quo is not hate speech, it’s your civic duty.

I’m gonna take some time later to analyze the importance of what I said that got me blocked from Facebook. For now let’s take a look at Facebook’s Community Standards for Hate Speech.

What are Facebook’s Community Standards for Hate Speech?

Other than bullshit? Let’s take a look.

We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation. We separate attacks into three tiers of severity, as described below.

Tier 1 attacks, which target a person or group of people who share one of the above-listed characteristics or immigration status (including all subsets except those described as having carried out violent crimes or sexual offenses), where attack is defined as

  • Any violent speech or support in written or visual form
  • Dehumanizing speech or imagery including (but not limited to)
  • Reference or comparison to filth, bacteria, disease, or feces
  • Reference or comparison to animals that are culturally perceived as intellectually or physically inferior
  • Reference or comparison to subhumanity
  • Mocking the concept, events or victims of hate crimes even if no real person is depicted in an image
  • Designated dehumanizing comparisons in both written and visual form

Tier 2 attacks, which target a person or group of people who share any of the above-listed characteristics, where attack is defined as

  • Statements of inferiority or an image implying a person’s or a group’s physical, mental, or moral deficiency
  • Physical (including but not limited to “deformed,” “undeveloped,” “hideous,” “ugly”)
  • Mental (including but not limited to “retarded,” “cretin,” “low IQ,” “stupid,” “idiot”)
  • Moral (including but not limited to “slutty,” “fraud,” “cheap,” “free riders”)
  • Expressions of contempt or their visual equivalent, including (but not limited to)
    • “I hate”
    • “I don’t like”
    • “X are the worst”
  • Expressions of disgust or their visual equivalent, including (but not limited to)
    • “Gross”
    • “Vile”
    • “Disgusting”
  • Cursing at a person or group of people who share protected characteristics

Tier 3 attacks, which are calls to exclude or segregate a person or group of people based on the above-listed characteristics. We do allow criticism of immigration policies and arguments for restricting those policies.

Content that describes or negatively targets people with slurs, where slurs are defined as words commonly used as insulting labels for the above-listed characteristics.

Based on what we can see in Facebook’s Community Standards, it’s likely that my posts were deleted and that I was blocked for violating Tier 2 when I said “Men Are Weak” and “White People Are Terrorists Too”. White Men, we will remember, being one of the most marginalized and oppressed groups in history.

But let’s look at some examples of posts that Facebook has allowed, and posts that Facebook has deleted.

A post made on June 4, 2017 made by a U.S. Congressman called for the death of all radicalized Muslims. Facebook didn’t remove this post, despite thousands of people reporting it because it targeted a very specific subgroup of Muslims. Radicalized ones. So despite being in clear violation of Facebook’s Tier 1 rules on Hate Speech, this post stayed up.

A post from May of 2017 made by a poet named DiDi Delgado was flagged as in violation of Facebook’s standards for stating that all White People Are Racist. This was flagged for targeting the whole of a group and saying that they are all this one thing. Which we are. All White People Are Racist. You might not be a frothing at the mouth White Nationalist, but we’re all a little bit racist. Take the criticism and try and be better.

Facebook’s policies tend to take a color blind approach and refuse to target posts that target a specific subgroup. So while posts that target black people will be removed, posts that target poor black people might not be. In this ProPublica article you can see how Facebook determines that White Men are a protected group, but not Black Children or Female Drivers.

My post about how Men Are Weak was blocked, but groups that the SPLC has listed as harmful still get verification checkmarks and donation buttons on their page. Groups like the Christian Action Network. Facebook’s Hate Speech algorithms are like a hammer. A color blind hammer that tries to take anything that attacks a group and blocks it, regardless of if the post is about a marginalized group, an entrenched power structure, or what have you. This might seem like a good thing on the surface. That way none of those posts get out, even though many of them do anyway, but this broad policy is doing more harm than good.

If we live in a world where we can’t criticize the powers that be, then we live in an authoritarian hellscape. such criticism was always the point of free speech. For us to be able to criticize the government without having to worry about being arrested or killed for expressing such an idea. When Facebook’s policies prevent us from doing that in the interests of stopping anything that might even be remotely hate speech they make an unsafe environment for minorities and anyone looking to change the status quo.

It’s also important to point out that while posts like Delgado’s statement that all White People Are Racist was taken down, there are still dozens of alt-right (Nazi) pages active on Facebook. Go through their posts and look at the images and memes they post. Ask yourself why so much of that is allowed, but I can’t criticize the media’s policy on Never Calling White People Terrorists.

So about those posts that got you banned…

Right, yeah. So first:

White People Can Be Terrorists Too.

Cause we can. That post wasn’t saying that all White People Are Terrorists. That would be ridiculous and false. We can be terrorists though. Most acts of domestic terrorism in the US are committed by White People. Just look at all the mass shootings that we have in this country. The vast, and overwhelming, majority are committed by White Men. These men are never called what they are though. The media leaps at the chance to call them mentally ill, or lone wolves, or depraved murderers. They are never called terrorists. We need only look at how many white mass shooters are taken in alive, versus how many unarmed black men are killed to see how much of a problem our country has with race.

So it’s important to be able to point out that White People Can Be Terrorists Too, because our media networks and politicians ignore that, and we can’t let them. When Facebook blocks posts that make that statement, they are defending and sheltering those White Terrorists from the public that sees and knows them for what they are.

Now my second post.

Men Are Weak.

If I wanted to go into depth on how messed up toxic masculinity is in our society I’d need a whole other essay (which I might write another time). Suffice it to say that a large percentage of men out there are entitled trash who never learned to respect the agency or needs of another human being. White Men specifically have been at the top of the social strata for so long that any push for equality is seen as oppression. Any tiny chink in the perfect armor of their social privilege is seen as a violent attack.

Look at the cries of “feminazi”. Look at the meninists. Look at all the rape apologists. Men are trash and they refuse to be held accountable for the damage that they do to the people around them. We won’t ever have any kind of equality or egalitarianism until we can point out the flaws in our power structures without having to worry about those power structures hitting back. Old Rich White Men are the entrenched power structure in the US. We have to be able to post about the problems that group and all of its subsets cause.

We have to be able to have an honest discussion of our society’s shortcomings if we expect to be able to fix them. If all those attempts keep getting us banned from the largest social media platform on the planet, then change is a long time coming.

I said something earlier in this essay that bears repeating. So I’ll end this essay saying it again, so that you don’t forget:
Criticizing the status quo is not hate speech, it’s your civic duty.

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No, You Don’t Get a Spirit Animal

Today we are going to be writing another essay for the “I Shouldn’t Have to Write This Essay” series.  There is a popular trend among young Americans to call things their “spirit animal”.  I have been guilty of this when I was younger, calling everything from a fox to Chandler Bing my spirit animal.  It’s a common trope that white people use to indicate “I associate strongly with this thing and feel that it is a large part of my personality” or “This item, person, or place, informs a lot of my personality”.  Neither of these concepts are an accurate representation of what spirit animals are to Native Cultures of North America.  There’s a lot to unpack when dealing with this issue so let’s begin.

What is a spirit animal?

It’s difficult to discuss this because there’s not a good outsider definition of what a spirit animal is.  These are sacred practices for a number of people and not something that is generally shared with outsiders.  Spirit Animals are deeply sacred and the hows of them are always kept a secret from anyone who doesn’t need to know.  So we, as Non-Natives, don’t have a solid idea of how Spirit Animals come about and what they are.  When you combine that with the long history of abuse and cultural genocide that Native Americans faced, having a set definition of what a Spirit Animal is, is difficult.  The traditions vary from tribe to tribe and I cannot do them true justice with my explanations.  Suffice it to say that spirit animals represent a deeply held spiritual belief of many Native Tribes and this belief is generalized and infantalized by many white Americans.

The term “spirit animal” is in all likelihood not even a Native American term.  They likely have their own word for the concept.  Spirit Animal is a term used by early 19th century anthropologists in order to try and explain a concept to their readers.  We must keep in mind that early Anthropology is made up of a great deal of racism, ethnocentrism, and western imperialist ideology.  So when we use the term Spirit Animal we are referring to the Native American religious belief of Spirit Animals.  A belief that was misunderstood, and distorted by early anthropologists, that they attempted to be wipe out through the 19th and 20th centuries.

How has it been infantalized?

While some white Americans use spirit animal to refer to an animal spirit guide that they believe guides and aids them in their life, the internet has come to use “spirit animal” as a meme.  Samuel L. Jackson was the internet’s first spirit animal, and from there it slowly snowballed until everything from Ron Swanson, to pizza, to whiskey was suddenly a spirit animal.  Putting aside the inherent problems of identifying so strongly with whiskey as to call it your spirit animal, let’s look at the cultural problems.

Here we have an important and deeply held spiritual and religious belief for many Native Americans.  Native Americans whose history with Europeans and Americans is one entirely made up of physical and cultural genocide, of oppression, of having their culture mocked by sports teams.  Of childhood games of Cowboys and Indians where we unwittingly relived the Indian Wars as children.  Of cultural appropriation and of having their culture turned into Halloween costumes.

Native Americans are a marginalized group who have been abused since the point of first contact with Europeans.  Due to this long history of abuse and the abuse that they still encounter from the US government, partly in the form of reservations, Native Americans have the largest rate of alcoholism per capita.  When we examine the Residential Schools of the US, Canada, and Australia that began in the 1870s and ended in Canada in 1996 we see a furthering of the violent culture of these nations that attempted to strip the culture from Native Tribes and assimilate them into their mainstream culture, forcing them to give up their sacred beliefs in order to become more white.

So when you take this belief, held by many tribes, appropriate it and then infantalize it, you are furthering the history of theft and abuse that is all Native Americans have ever known.  You’re not using spirit animal as it was intended, and you’re not part of a culture that has spirit animals.  You don’t get one, and claiming one, whether in earnest or in jest is culturally appropriative.

Don’t other cultures have spirit animals?

One of the most common counters that I see to the spirit animal debate is the idea that other cultures like the Celts, the Vikings, and a few other have spirit guides.  There are still Celtic Polytheists and Norse Polytheists and even practicing Druids, Wiccans, and various other religions that claim a spirit guide or tutelary spirit.

The European Pagan ideas of a spirit guide are different than the Native American concepts of spirit animals.  To equate the two as the same is to create a false equivalence.

Many pagan religions, the Celts, the Norse, various New Age religions, neo-shamanism, Wicca, etc. have deep connections to the spiritual through forces of nature.  They have tutelary spirits or fylgja, familiars, spirit guides, etc.

The ancient Celts didn’t have spirit animals, despite what you may have been told.  The Celts were animists, which means that they believed that every aspect of the natural world had a spirit and that they could develop a rapport and connection with those spirits.  Spirits and dieties often were thought to inhabit parts of the natural world and could take the form of animals or use them as messengers, but animism is a distinctly different belief than a belief in a Spirit Animal.  Spirits and animal spirits had a large part in Celtic faith, but they are not Spirit Animals.  They should not be referred to using those terms due to the differing nature of the beliefs.

The ancient Norse believed, not in Spirit Animals, but in Fylgja.  A fylgja is a supernatural guardian spirit that is attached to a family or person.  This is its own distinct practice.  Norse paganism has its own issues in its history.  The practice was largely wiped out under the spread of Christianity throughout Europe.  They are welcome to celebrate their own culture with their own word.  Spirit Animal belongs to the Native Americans, and besides the two ideas, while similar are very different.

Many aspects of older European cultures had the idea of a familiar.  Familiars are beings, often in the form of animals who aid witches.  In modern times a number of witches I know refer to their pets (usually cats) as their familiars.  This belief in a distinct animal guide who is an aid to the witch in question is again, a distinct idea from a Spirit Animal.  While there is some overlap between the ideas of animism, tutelary spirits, fylgja and familiars.  None of those ideas are Spirit Animals as the Native Americans understand them.

So I can’t have a Spirit Animal?

Well look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you can’t believe that you have an animal spirit guide or familiar or even a tutelary spirit.  These are all beliefs that transcend a single culture.  There are hundreds of cultures that connect very deeply with animal spirits.  Aztec culture had a huge connection with the Eagle and the Jaguar.  The Morrigan from Celtic tradition is heavily associated with crows.  Zeus once turned into a swan and had sex with a woman.  Animals have deep connections to many religions.  The Spirit Animal though is an old anthropological term used to refer to a specific set of beliefs that belong to a marginalized group.  Even if other religious beliefs have overlap with that belief they are different and lumping them all in with the idea of Spirit Animals just further steals agency from Native Tribes and further distorts what their beliefs are to the general public.

You also, it’s worth noting, don’t get a totem animal either.  Totem animals are a tradition that belong largely to the Ojibwe people of the Pacific North West and is also a sacred tradition not to be used lightly for the purposes of describing your personality.  There are other similar beliefs out there that allow you to connect with with the spiritual through animals.  Cultures that are not mocked and appropriated daily.  Animism accepts that everything has a spirit and can easily form the base of whatever belief you wish to have.

Many practitioners of neo-shamanism use the term Power Animal to refer to an animal spirit guide with whom they feel a deep connection.  Modern religions have even less of an excuse when it comes to using the term Spirit Animal as they emerged after the history of abuse and appropriation began.  They can’t claim that it’s a historic practice separate from the Native Culture as New Age books discussing Spirit Animals stole their ideas directly from Native Tribes.  Even if you believe that you have a “spirit animal” you’re likely operating under a misunderstanding of what a Spirit Animal actually is.

Look, you can have your religious beliefs of spirit guides and animism and tutelary spirits and power animals.  You can associate your spirit or soul or magical energy with a certain animal, but we’ve learned a lot in the past few years about the power of words and symbols and that there are just some that we don’t use and don’t try and take or reclaim.

The swastika has been found in various religions and cultures throughout history.  Hinduism used it.  The Armenians used it.  The ancient Celts and Vikings used it.  It’s even been found in some parts of Africa.  Then the Nazis took it for their flag and the symbol was ruined.  You cannot divorce the symbol from its historic context.  Anymore than you can divorce Spirit Animals from the Native context.

The swastika is dead to all save Neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups.  It’s still being used to further that hate.  Even if it wasn’t that symbol is stained with the blood of over 12 million people.  The idea of trying to reclaim that symbol is an insult to the dead.

Spirit Animals are a religious idea that belong to a specific set of cultures.  It’s a term that, despite its beginnings in imperialist anthropology, has come to refer to the beliefs of some Native American tribes.  While other religions have similar ideas, they do not have a belief in Spirit Animals as we understand it from the western perspective.  Keep your beliefs, but it’s this one term that I’m asking you to give up because of its racist and appropriative history.

I’ll wrap this up by saying once again that Native Americans have been, since the day of first contact, an abused and marginalized group.  They are making the statement loud and clear that they feel that other cultures trying to claim a Spirit Animal is cultural appropriation.  If you want to have a tutelary spirit, or a spirit guide, or a familiar, or a fylgja then more power to you.  I won’t tell you that you can’t, but when a marginalized group tells you that you’re stealing their sacred cultural beliefs, pointing to European beliefs as proof that you’re not probably isn’t the best idea.  When someone tells you that something you’re doing is hurting them, you don’t get to tell them that their wrong.

 

 

Why Do You Care More About Guns Than You Do About Kids?

I shouldn’t have to write this essay. I should not have to write this essay! I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO WRITE THIS ESSAY!!

And yet here I am, throwing down my two cents in a rage over the issue of gun control in the United States. We live in a country where we are told that all are created equal. That all are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet time and again our country has been the victim of domestic terrorism at the hands of men with guns and nothing has ever happened to stop it. We need gun control. We need it now. By now you all know how this works, so here we go.

Doesn’t the Second Amendment protect my right to own guns?

No. No it does not. You might think that it does, but it absolutely does not. Here, let’s take a look at the actual text of the amendment.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Look at it. Read it very carefully. What words stand out to you? If you picked anything other than “well regulated militia” go back and look again. When the constitution was written the US relied on militias to fight the majority of our battles. The Revolutionary War was won by militias. These militias were well regulated, they had a clearly defined command structure and obeyed the rules of war and the laws set down by their government, they looked a lot like a professional army. The only real difference between the army and a militia was that a militia soldier had to provide his own gear and a soldier had his provided by the government. Also a soldier’s job was war, whereas militia members had other jobs they did to survive and responded to the call to arms in times of direst need. When the safety and security of the state was being threatened.

As of the 2017 DoD Budget Proposal there were 1,281,900 people serving in the active branches of the Armed Services and an additional 801,200 in the seven reserve components. That’s over 2 million volunteers ready and willing to take up the defense of the State. This is our well regulated militia. It’s not you, with you various personal firearms down at the shooting range. You are not well regulated. You have not been trained in the proper wartime use of those weapons. You should not have access to anything even closely resembling military hardware. You wanna have access to military weaponry? Join the military.

We also have to take into account that when this Amendment was written the standard gun of the day was the Brown Bess Musket. The Brown Bess was a 5 foot long, 10 pound, smooth bore, muzzle loading, flintlock musket. Each time you pulled the trigger you had to reload the gun. It could not hold more than one musket ball at a time. It had an average rate of fire of 1-3 rounds per minute. This was the gun we were talking about. A gun with an effective firing range of 50-100 yards.

There’s no comparison between modern guns and the Brown Bess Musket. The slowest semi-automatic weapon today can still fire as fast as you can pull the trigger. The AR-15, the semi-automatic rifle that has been the topic of much discussion over the past several years has a firing velocity of 3,200 feet per second. You can buy a 100 round drum magazine for an AR-15 without too much difficulty and for not a whole lot of money. The gun itself can be purchased for less than $1000. I highly doubt the men who wrote the Second Amendment were talking about a weapon capable of carrying 100 rounds and firing most of them in under a minute when they wrote it.

Well John, you really can’t know what the Founding Fathers meant.

Obviously. Neither can you. That being said, it really doesn’t matter what they meant when they wrote the Amendment. The fact is, the technology of 2018 is so vastly superior to the technology of 1776 that it would have appeared to be magic to them. The idea of a gun firing 1 million rounds per minute would have seemed impossible. So why are we allowing ourselves to be dictated to by archaic laws?

As societies advance, laws change. We have laws that govern how we are allowed to drive our cars. Something that didn’t even exist back in 1776. We have laws that dictate how we are allowed to fly. We have laws, values, and traditions that simply didn’t exist back in 1776. While some of the Founding Fathers were abolitionists, and some manumitted their slaves later in life, they would have never signed anything like the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Look, for all I know, the laws that the Founding Fathers wrote down represented the best wisdom of their time, but by any modern standard so much of it is unacceptable. So why do we care so much about leaving this part unchanged when we’ve changed so much?

Laws might change John, but the Constitution is sacrosanct.

That’s not even a little bit true. The Constitution was made to be amended. Hence it having Amendments. The 18th Amendment prohibited the sale or consumption of alcohol within the borders of the US starting in January of 1920. 13 years later in 1933 the 21st Amendment was ratified and canceled out the 18th. We just cancelled a whole Amendment because it was no longer serving the best interests of the American people. So why can’t we do that with the Second?

You just want to take away all of our guns.

Well shit, you caught me. Yup, I want to take away all of your guns. BECAUSE THEY’RE BEING USED TO KILL CHILDREN. I don’t know how to make you care about other people, but for some reason you don’t. You care more about your guns than you care about the people being killed by those guns. Now if we go off of the federal definition of a mass killing, “four or more people (excluding the perpetrator) being killed in a single event”, the US has only has about 150 mass shootings since 1967. If we broaden that definition to include any incident where multiple people were shot by the same perpetrator regardless of if they died or not we are met with a much higher number.

1,642 over the past 1,870 days.

That count only goes back to January 1, 2013. The US leads the world in mass shootings. We lead the world in that category. There’s an article by The Onion that they repost after each shooting in the US.

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting since 1996.

1996!

Why do you think that is? Do you think it’s just because Americans are more violent by nature? Or do you think it’s because Australia has passed strict gun control laws and the US hasn’t? 3% of American adults own 133 million guns. That’s about half of the guns in the hands of private citizens in the US. 265 million guns in the US as of September 2016. I’d bet anything that those numbers are even higher today. Why do we need so many guns?

And they’re so easy to get!

In Florida there’s a 3 day wait period on a handgun purchase, but to buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle? No wait period at all. Just avoid being a felon and pass a basic background check. It’ll only take you a few minutes to walk out of the store with a weapon capable of killing dozens of people, and you only need to be 18 to do that.

5 of the 6 deadliest mass shootings in the past 6 years in the US have used an AR-15 style gun. They’re light, easy to carry and fire, and they have a limited recoil. Plus, you’ll remember how easy it is to purchase a 100 round drum magazine. Well the standard AR-15 magazine only holds 30 bullets. So that’s a lot better I guess.

So what did Australia do to prevent a mass shooting since 1996? Australia has some very strict laws regarding civilian handgun and long gun ownership. They banned civilian ownership of rapid firing long guns. That’s anything that is semi-automatic or pump action. Those guns that are the easiest to kill people with over long distances. Britain has passed laws banning hand gun ownership following their first ever school shooting in 1996. The US has had 290 school shootings since 2013. It’s time to change our guns laws.

Even if you ban guns, people are still gonna kill each other. A knife is plenty deadly.

You know when you say that you sound like an idiot right?

Australia has had a declining number of gun deaths since their gun control laws were passed, and yes an increasing number of knife deaths. So what? When you pull the trigger on an AR-15 the bullet travels at 3,200 feet/second. The speed of sound is 1125.33 f/s. That means that the AR-15’s .223 caliber bullet is traveling at about 2.5 times the speed of sound when it leaves the barrel of the gun. Find me a knife that can do that, and then do it 29 more times in under a minute, and I’ll stop thinking that you’re an idiot.

From a purely technical standpoint it’s simple to take a life. Almost anything can do it. A knife can kill someone. A car can kill someone. A baseball bat can kill someone. Do you know what the difference between a car, knife, bat, and gun are?

Utility.

A knife is a multi purposed tool. It can be used to open a box, cut an apple, scale a fish, and any number of other tasks. Yes, it can be used to kill someone, but it has other functions. A car is used to transport you from one point to another much faster than walking. Yes, it can be used to kill someone, but it was designed for transportation. A baseball bat is used for playing baseball. Yes, it can be used to kill someone, but it was designed with recreation in mind. Guns though, guns were designed to kill.

That is their only function. They make killing as easy as it can possibly be. Oh sure, you can shoot someone in a nonlethal fashion, but you better be damn good or damn lucky. Far more often than not, when you shoot someone, you intend to kill them. The gun, alone of all the potentially lethal items the average citizen can obtain, is designed purely to kill something. Handguns doubly so. You don’t hunt with a pistol. They were designed to be easy to carry and maneuver so that shooting people would be easier in tight quarters.

You’ve heard the expression “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Well that’s just wrong. Guns kill people, that’s all they do. You can say that guns help defend our troops overseas, and you’re right, but they do that by killing the other guys.

Going back to the idea of cars. Owning and operating a car requires a number of things. I’m speaking specifically about my home state of NJ, but I imagine that the requirements are largely the same across the US. To own and operate a motor vehicle in NJ you have to be a certain age (17 yo for a provisional licence and 18 for a full). You have to take both a written and a practical exam, you have to insure the car and register it with your state. You have to maintain it and get it routinely inspected. There are monthly insurance costs that will go up if you get into any kind of motor vehicle accident or are demonstrated to be driving poorly. All this for a transit tool. You’d think that owning a gun would take even more work, but getting permission to purchase a gun in my home state of NJ is pretty simple.

  1. Pick up an STS-33, the application for your Firearms Purchaser Identification Card and fill it out
    1. You’ll also need a valid government issued ID
    2. 2-3 references who will be asked about your mental health, you’ll likely want to call them ahead of time so they don’t get an unexpected call from the police.
    3. $60 for fingerprinting (If you’re a teacher like me you’ve been fingerprinted already)
  2. Fill out a Consent for Mental Health Records Search form
  3. Photocopy your driver’s licence and social security card to leave with the police
  4. Bring all your necessary paperwork and forms of ID to the station and $60
  5. Get fingerprinted (if you haven’t been already)
  6. Wait for your paperwork to be processed.
    1. Legally they have to get back to you within 30 days
      1. Although they might not if they don’t feel like it.

And that’s it. It’s really pretty simple. That’s all you need to do to be able to purchase a firearm in the state of NJ. NJ, which is ranked 49 out of 51 for worst state in the Union (they include D.C.) for gun owners by Guns and Ammo .com Arizona (as of 2015), is called the best state for gun owners because it allows in some cases permit-less open carry of firearms.

NJ is very strict in that regard. Still, your access to firearms is disturbingly easy, even in the less gun friendly states. But why do we need so many guns? It’s the job of the armed services to fight our enemies both foreign and domestic. It’s the job of the police to protect and serve (we won’t get into the problems with the police in this essay). Both of those professions need access to some type of weaponry. Although most of Britain’s police officers don’t carry firearms, so there’s something to be said for that, cultural differences aside. Why does the average citizen need to have access to a gun. To a tool whose only function is killing?

Well, only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.

Well yeah, of course. They’re called the police, the national guard, soldiers, FBI agents, the Secret Service, SWAT, or any of the other various highly trained people who protect us.

Oh… wait, you meant Joe Q. Citizen… didn’t you?

That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. You might feel safer walking around with your gun. Thinking that if an active shooter pops up you’ll be ready, but you scare the average American. Soldiers go through thousands of hours of training to learn how to use their weapons effectively. Thousands of hours. Even army veterans don’t believe in the “good guy with a gun” myth. Because they know the amount of work that they put in to be able to kill human beings effectively. To engage in a firefight and not make a dumb panicky mistake or just piss their pants. They know their guns inside and out and I’ll bet all the money in my pockets that you just don’t. You don’t have the discipline or training to be effective in an active shooter situation.

According to Daniel Webster, the Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, more guns cause more shootings. The more situations that have guns in them, the more situations that are lethal for people involved. That’s what the latest research shows. More guns = more bodies.

So why can’t we do anything about it?

There are a number of reasons. It’s partly because America has a rose colored glass hard on for the “Old West”. We love the idea of strapping on our six shooters, rounding up a posse and rustling some bandits. Hell, I’m a bleeding heart liberal intelligentsia and even I’ve had daydreams about being a gunfighter in the Old West.

I hate to break it to you, but the “Wild West” wasn’t so wild. It was surprisingly peaceful. Our perception of the excessive violence in the frontier of America comes from genocidal policies the US government initiated against Native Americans in the “Indian Wars”. Now I’m just a lowly Genocide Studies Scholar, so maybe my opinion doesn’t mean much, but that’s not an era of our history you want to glorify.

That’s not the only issue though. Here are some figures for you. According to Gallup Polls, as of 2017, the majority of Americans favor stricter gun control laws. So why don’t we have them? The Gun Lobby has more money than you do. Thanks to two Supreme Court cases:

  1. Citizens United v. Federal Elections Comission
  2. Speechnow.org v. Federal Elections Comisison

These cases, when combined, allow individuals, unions, and corporations to donate unlimited money to Political Action Committees (PACs). Forming so called Super PACs. Now PACs can’t donate straight to candidates for the purposes of election, but they can donate unlimited money toward supporting or opposing legislation. Money which can be, and is used to quash any substantive gun reform.

Of the list of the Top 10 Senators who have taken PAC money from the NRA, the lowest dollar amount is $2,861,047 to Bill Cassidy of Lousiana. The highest amount goes to John McCain from Arizona to the tune of $7,740,521. Both of these men, and indeed every member of the Senate on this Top 10 list made statements to the press expressing their deepest sympathies for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting this past October. They did this and then did nothing to stop access to the weapons that caused the deadliest mass shooting in the history of our country. So why can’t we actually make any substantive gun reform? The NRA has more money than you, and they have the support of the Republican party. On the list of the Top 100 Politicians Who Have Received Money From the NRA, 95 are Republicans. Right now the Republicans control the House, they control the Senate, they control the White House. We won’t see gun control reform with them in office.

In fact, we might see the opposite. According to an article written in the Miami New Times on February 15, 2018. Florida state legislators were planning to vote on a provision that would allow even laxer background searches of potential gun owners and would even allow incomplete background check forms to be turned in for concealed carry permits, among other issues. Less than 24 hours after a 19 year old with an AR-15 killed 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida was planning to make it easier for such a horrendous tragedy to happen again.

Now is not the time to be talking about gun reform.

I here this a lot from politicians, pundits, and lobbyists following mass shootings. Now’s not the time to talk about gun control reform. People have just died. Considering the prolific nature of mass shootings in this country, it’ll never be the right time. So let’s make the right time right now. While we’re here. People have died and I think that they would prefer that we use their deaths as a rallying cry to try and ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. I think they would rather that, than that we sit idly by and offer our thoughts and prayers to the families and victims. All due respect to your prayers, but I’ll take legislative change on the nature of gun control in our country. Now is the time. Talk about it. Please.

The Second Amendment is meant to protect citizens from the tyranny of their own government.

This is another point I hear a lot from Defenders of the Second. The right to keep and bear arms is meant to protect citizens from their own government. I can see where they’re coming from. When the Second was written we had just come from a war where we had been forced to overthrow our colonial oppressors and so it was necessary for each man to have a firearm and know its use. In fact, it was law for a while that each man between the ages of 18 and 45 have and know the use of a musket. It made sense at the time.

Today though? You live in a democratic republic. You live in a world where, nominally, the government works for you. You get to elect your representatives. It’s not a perfect system, and like any system it is able to be abused, but if you’re so illogically fearful that you’re worried about having to go to war with your government I’d first like to remind you of something. The US Armed Forces is made up of roughly 2 million of the best trained soldiers in the world. They have access to weaponry far beyond what you have access to. Body armor, grenades, missiles, fighter and bomber jets, tanks and more.

Honestly, do you really think that you and your AR-15 are gonna be able to do anything about all that? I’m not trying to scare or threaten you, but it’s gotten far beyond the point where you stand a chance. I don’t like a lot of what my government is doing right now. We live in a scary time, but the Armed Forces aren’t made up of brainwashed psychopaths. They’re made up of dedicated people who believe in the freedoms that our country is supposed to uphold. They don’t stop believing in the values their parents instilled in them just because they join the Army. They don’t cease being able to think critically. They are your well regulated militia. They are the safeguard against the tyranny of your own government, if that’s what you’re afraid of.

We don’t really need gun control, it’s really about mentally ill people.

First of all, stop stigmatizing people who have mental health issues. I’ve got a few myself. My issues are minor as far as these things go. I haven’t been on any medication since I was 17 (not that there is anything wrong with medication), but I’m hardly a poster child for mental health.

And anyway, you’re falsely correlating mental health issues with mass shootings in an effort to move the goal post. Well I’m not gonna let you.

According to a New York Times article, “In an analysis of 235 mass killings, many of which were carried out with firearms, 22 percent of the perpetrators could be considered mentally ill.”

According to experts contacted for the above article, while barring the sale of guns to people deemed dangerous by mental health professionals could help prevent gun violence, other measures like banning assault weapons and barring sale to convicted violent criminals would be more effective.

In the days following many mass shootings there are a lot articles linking the causes of the shooting to suspected mental health issues of the shooter. We already saw above how that link is false, prejudiced, and is damaging to people with mental health issues who are not all being painted with the same brush as the mass shooter. Cause once we say that the shooter had mental health issues we stop looking for the reasons behind their violence. We think that it had to have been caused by the , often false, mental health issues.

What these same people refuse to talk about is how so many of these mass shooters are white. In a statistical analysis done by Statista, all of the mass shootings (using the federal definition) between 1982 and 2017 were looked at and then broken down by racial make up. Of the 95 mass shootings in that time, 54 of them were committed by white men.

What do so many of these men have in common?

A history of violence against their romantic partners. The shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas last year, as well as the shooters in Las Vegas, Orlando, and San Bernadino all had histories of domestic abuse.

Here are five statistics that show the link between domestic violence and mass shooting (using the federal definition).

  1. 54% of mass shooters killed an intimate partner or family member.
  2. About 4.5 million American women have reported being threatened by a partner with a gun
  3. Nearly half of women killed in the US are killed by an intimate partner
  4. Homicide is the fifth leading cause of death for women in the US
  5. Women in the US are 16 times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other developed nations.

All of that goes to show that we need to stop stigmatizing mental health issues in the US and we need to take victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault more seriously. So many mass shooters are also domestic abusers (and white men), and while a convicted domestic abuser is supposed to be banned from obtaining a firearm under federal law, there are many enormous loopholes that allow them to legally obtain firearms anyway.

The system is broken and guns are a huge reason why. Research shows that the presence of a gun in any given situation makes it more likely for people to be killed by said gun. Any gun, held by any person, makes it more likely that a gun will kill someone, and yet we are told time and again that more guns will fix our problems. It’s not even like these mass shootings are being committed by people who purchased their guns from the back of a car in a dark alley. More than 80% of guns used in mass shootings are bought legally.

In the end it comes down to one simple reason.

Children are dying.

I shouldn’t have to give you another reason that we need stricter gun control.


I tried to keep this as civil and professional as I could. I tried to be unbiased and let the research speak for itself. I can say with absolute certainty that I failed to remain unbiased, and I don’t see a problem with that. This is an issue that people should be angry about. I did my best to address the points that I hear most often in a gun control debate. I gave my honest and professional perspective on the issues and laid out the necessity for gun control reform and the necessity for taking the victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault more seriously. Of the necessity for ending the stigma against mental health issues in our country.

I don’t know exactly what effective American gun control would look like. I don’t have solutions. I can’t write policy. I’m not even sure if I’ll convince anyone, but I did what I could to lay it all out there in a way that would be easy to understand. If all I do is contribute to the continuation of the gun control debate it’ll be… well it won’t be enough, but it’ll be what it is.

Israel and Palestine: An Issue of Genocide

Israel and Palestine has been on my writing list for a while now, but I’d never gotten around to really doing the research and writing something.  Life got busy, I was writing other things, it just never came up.  Then a friend of mine requested my take on the issue.  The question I was asked was: Is Palestine experiencing a genocide at the hands of the Israeli government.  Before I tackle this question, there are a few points I want to make in regards to being critical of the State of Israel and actions it has taken in recent years.

You can be critical of actions taken by Israel without being against the State of Israel.

You can be against the current Israeli government without being against the idea of an independent Jewish state.

You can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic.

These points need to be made before I begin tackling the issue of Israel and Palestine because it is not uncommon for any critique of Israel to be labeled anti-Semitic.  I am a Holocaust and Genocide Studies Scholar and I will be giving my opinion on the current situation.  You are welcome to disagree with me.  Now before we get into current and recent events, a little history is in order.

Where did Israel come from?

The modern State of Israel was established in May of 1948, following the Holocaust, to give the Jewish people a free and independent state.  Many people, especially following the devastation of the Holocaust believed that the Jewish people would never truly be free or safe unless they had their own sovereign state.  So Israel was created.

Before Israel was created, beginning in 1881, there were a series of mass migrations of Jews to Palestine.  These were called Aliyahs.  There were five in total and many were the result of anti-Semitic pogroms happening in Europe.  By the end of World War II Jews made up roughly 1/3 of the population of Palestine.

Following the Holocaust, and the increased amounts of Zionism that sprang up, something had to be done about the Jewish refugees trying to get into Palestine.  The British had placed immigration limits on Jews entering Palestine in 1939, and Palestine was technically ruled by British mandate.  In May of 1947 the UN created the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine.  The Committee suggested that the British mandate be dissolved and replaced with an Independent Arab State, an Independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem.  Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all claim Jerusalem as a holy city.  There was no way to give stewardship of the city to either Israel or Palestine without causing great conflict with the other group so the Committee suggested that Jerusalem be ruled over by an International Trusteeship.

The Jewish Assembly accepted this plan of a partitioned Jewish/Arab State, while the Arab League rejected it.  This caused an escalation of conflict until the Arab-Israeli War began in May of 1948, shortly after the formal recognition of Israel by the UN.

Wait, I thought we were talking about the current issues the Palestinians are facing…

Well, we are, but this isn’t an issue you can just jump into with both feet.  There’s back story that needs to be understood so that we know why things are happening.

The end result of this war was that Israel won and ended up controlling all of the land granted them by the UN, as well as 60% of the land granted to Palestine.  Roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes, adding to the 250,000 – 300,000 who had left their homes preceding the creation of Israel.  Roughly 700,000 Jews moved into that area after having been kicked out of various Middle Eastern countries.

Causes of Arab flight from Palestine include: Jewish military advances, destruction of Arab villages, psychological warfare and fears of another massacre by Zionist militias after the Deir Yassin massacre, which caused many to leave out of panic; direct expulsion orders by Israeli authorities; the voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes; collapse in Palestinian leadership and Arab evacuation orders, and an unwillingness to live under Jewish control.

Ok, but what about what’s happening NOW…

We’re almost there.  Following the flight of the majority of the Palestinians from Palestine, Israel passed a number of laws disallowing the Palestinians their right to return to their homes in Palestine.  Some historians see the forcible removal of the Palestinians from Palestine, and the fact that Israel is not allowing them to return to their original homes, effectively trapping them in refugee camps across the Middle East as an ethnic cleansing or genocide.

Whoa, whoa, whoa… genocide?

Yeah, and this isn’t the issue we even came her to discuss.  So let’s define genocide.

The UN legally defined genocide in 1948 with the Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide.  Genocide is defined as such:

“Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Now war and genocide often go hand in hand, but this does not make all wars genocidal.  The key part of the definition is the intent to destroy.  All genocides involve that same intent to destroy the target group.  Is Israel making efforts to destroy the Palestinians, in part or in whole?  Now that is the question we came here to answer.

Is Israel committing genocide against the Palestinians?

This is a loaded question, and I fully expect to get angry messages from people for even posing the question.  So allow me to say this:  It is my job as a historian to critically analyze the things that are happening in our world and to attempt to provide perspective on those events.  It is YOUR job as human beings to critically analyze the things that are happening in our world.  I’m just better equipped for such analysis and so I offer this help in your analysis.  As unbiased as I can make it, with all of my skills as a genocide historian and researcher brought to bear.

Technically being expelled from your homeland and not being allowed to return by an invading nation isn’t genocide.  Now before anyone jumps on that phrasing, Israel did invade Palestine and take over the majority of the land that would have been granted Palestine under the UN resolution.  Whether the UN had the right to take land from the Palestinians and give it away to another nation is a different issue.  So Israel did invade Palestinian ancestral land and roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes as a result.

There are far more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees though.  According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), about 1/3 of Palestinians refugees, 1.5 million people, live in 58 designated refugees camps throughout the Middle East.  The conditions in these camps are generally poor, they have high population densities, and inadequate basic infrastructure.  They don’t have sewers in many of them.

Of those 58 refugee camps, 27 of them exist in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  Now, while both of those areas are nominally Palestinian territories, both are still technically controlled by Israel.

Human Rights Watch, a non-government organization (NGO), considers Israel to still be an invading and occupying force in these two Palestinian regions.  The two of which are separated from each other by the nation of Israel.

“Even though Israel unilaterally withdrew its troops and settlements from Gaza in 2005, it continues to have obligations as an occupying power in Gaza under the Fourth Geneva Convention because of its almost complete control over Gaza’s borders, sea and air space, tax revenue, utilities, population registry, and the internal economy of Gaza. At a minimum, Israel continues to be responsible for the basic welfare of the Palestinian population in Gaza.”

So what we have hear are two Palestinian areas, occupied by Israel, full of refugee camps with poor and horrifically cramped living conditions.  We have the Gaza Strip, where most every aspect of their lives are still controlled by the Israeli government and military.  We have the West Bank, where Palestinians are effectively kept from accessing the major roads in their supposedly sovereign state.  Effectively keeping them in a state of economic turmoil and forcing them to rely on foreign aid to remain alive.

The citizens of the Palestine are also being denied their basic right to water by the Israeli government.  The World Health Organization recommends 100 liters of water per capita, where as most Palestinian citizens in occupied territories receive only 70 liters per capita.

From the above information we can clearly see that Palestinians in occupied territories are deliberately being denied the basic rights and requirements of life.  Forcing them to live in a constant state of struggle.  Part of the UN definition of genocide includes “inflicting on members of the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in part or in whole.”  A case could possibly made for an Israeli genocide of Palestinians using that part of the definition.  Let’s keep going.

13 of the 58 Palestinian refugee camps are in the nation of Syria.  Putting aside the conditions of those camps, we will merely focus on the location of those camps.  In Syria.

What’s so bad about refugee camps being in Syria?

Well, I’m just spit-balling here, but probably because of the ongoing Civil War that’s ravaging Syria, and also ISIS.

I’m going to pull a section from another essay I wrote a while back on 45’s proposed Muslim Ban.  It’s easier than writing it all out again.

“ISIS is likely the most successful militant group in recent history.  They began as al Qaeda, in Iraq in 2004, but two years later they changed their name to ISIS after taking over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria, and holding them.  ISIS declared itself a legitimate state in 2014, established a government and continues its war even today.  ISIS not only wages war against Iraq and Syria, but it also conducts and inspires terrorist attacks around the world.

Now, Syria has been engaged in a civil war since 2011, following the Arab Spring, and the situation is such a hopeless quagmire that it makes World War I look simple.  There are four main groups fighting in the war.  The Syrian Government, ISIS, a Sunni Arab rebel group called the Free Syrian Army, and The Syrian Democratic Forces.  Half of the country’s pre-war inhabitants, around 11 million people, have been killed or displaced.  The Syrian Civil War is the single largest humanitarian crisis of the past 20 years.  Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives from a horror that I can’t even imagine.”

So here we have 13 refugee camps for Palestinians inside a country that is also dealing with its own refugee crisis as Syrians continue to flee the war and the ravages of ISIS.  Palestinian refugees fleeing this horror alongside the Syrians are either denied entry into countries that are taking in the Syrians, or are placed in separate camps with even stricter conditions (in the case of the nation of Jordan).  Palestinians who were forced to flee the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel are not being permitted to return to their homes in Palestine.

According to an article on the Jewish Virtual Library, the Palestinian Right to Return is a plot to destroy Israel.  Citing that if all the refugees were allowed to return to Israel, the Arabs would be the majority and the one and only Jewish state would be destroyed.  Israel denies the Palestinians the right to return to the homes and land that they fled or were forced to flee.

Now, technically there is no law anywhere that guarantees the Palestinians the right to be able to reclaim their homes.  The UN General Assembly said that Palestinians should be permitted to return to their old homes if they are willing to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors, but the UN General Assembly can only really make suggestions.  They can’t pass laws or compel anything.

Of the Arab countries that have taken in Palestinian refugees and set them up in camps, only Jordan really allows them to apply for citizenship.

Based on what we know of refugee camps and the conditions that they usually have.  Based on Israel denying Palestinians the right to return to their old homes.  Based on how Israel deals with Palestinians in occupied territory and based on how Israel still, illegally, occupies Palestinian territory we can very easily say that Israel is violating the human rights of the Palestinians.  Genocide though?

We have seen how the Israelis, in their dealings with occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), that Israel is denying Palestinians human rights.  Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Does this imply that the Palestinians do have the right to return to their nation if they wish?  That’s an issue for another day.  It does state though that when Israel denies Palestinians the use of major roads in the West Bank they are denying their right to free travel.  By restricting access to roads and setting up checkpoints and making it harder for Palestinians to move around they are lowering the standard of living of all Palestinians and most assuredly violating their human rights.

The difficult part when trying to determine if genocide is occurring, in this case, is, are actions being taken that are “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.  We know that Palestinians are being denied their rights.  We know that the conditions of refugee camps are often awful and that people will die due to those conditions.  We know that lack of access to proper infrastructure and water can cause deaths.  We know that Israel is inflicting on OPTs conditions that keep them in a state of economic decline.  Are these conditions being inflicted with the intent of destroying the Palestinian people?  That’s a harder question to tackle.  Let’s shift away from the political and economic violence being inflicted upon the Palestinians, and discuss the physical violence that the Israeli and Palestinians are doing to each other.

What physical violence?

If we wanted to tackle the long and bloody history of physical violence and armed conflict between Israel and Palestine we’d need an entire book (at least).  So we’ll focus on one event from 2014 that took place in the Gaza Strip.

In 2014 the Israeli military launched Operation Protective Edge.  During that operation 2,104 Palestinians died.  The majority of whom were civilians. “An Israeli government official told the BBC that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 “terrorists” during the assault on Gaza.”  The Gaza Strip is ruled over by Hamas, a known terrorist group, but if the majority of the deaths were civilians, that paints a different picture of Operation Protective Edge.

“The IDF says Hamas fired at least 4,591 rockets towards Israel between 8 July and 31 August – with more than 735 intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile systems. It says its own forces have hit at least 5,226 targets in Gaza. A number of UN buildings have also been hit, while people were sheltering inside.”

There’s massive violence on both sides of the conflict.  Israel has been criticized for using the “knock on the roof” approach, whereby they fire a non-explosive missile before beginning the true missile strike.

Wow, that’s a lot to digest…

It really is.  Israel is still illegally occupying parts of Palestinian territory.  They are restricting access to roads, water, and disallowing Palestinians to return to the homes they were forced from in past wars.  They are passing discriminatory legislation in the Palestinian areas they still control, and both sides often to their best to kill the other.

We’ve sort of left behind the question we were trying to answer when this essay began.  Is Israel committing genocide against the Palestinians?

Short answer: No

Long answer: Still no, but the situation bears watching and should be the cause of great concern for everyone keeping track of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.  According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Pyramid of Hate, created in 2005, discriminatory legislation falls on the third of  five levels on the Pyramid of Hate.  I have used the Pyramid of Hate in most of my writings on Genocide Studies, as it is a clear and easy to follow guide to how genocides come about.

Israel is engaging in dangerous policies in regards to the Palestinians.  Their [the Palestinians] rights are definitely being violated.  They are treated as second class citizens in OPT.  They are seen by many Jews and Israelis as the enemy simply by virtue of being Palestinian.  There’s no genocide… yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one soon.  Regardless of the lack of genocide, something needs to change in how Israel and Palestine deal with each other.  The death toll is way too high.

I believe in a free and independent Palestine.  I believe in a free and independent Israel.  I also believe that the current Israeli government needs to undergo massive changes before it will have my respect again.  I also believe that the Gaza Strip should get rid of Hamas.  No one is comporting themselves well in this situation, but Israel has all the power when it comes to this conflict.  It’s on them to help raise Palestine up, not raze them down.

Your Protest Should Inconvenience People

I know that just reading the title of this is going to be enough for some people to get angry over.  Try and read the whole thing before you decide that the thing to do is leave an angry comment.

Protesting is as old a tradition as America has.  We’ve been protesting since before we even became a nation, and there’s no chance that we’ll stop in the near future.  By now you all know the format of these articles.  So our first question is:

Why do people protest?

Now that’s an excellent question.  People can protest for a number of reasons, but it all boils down to this:  Something is happening that people don’t like, and they want to ensure that their voices are heard.

Why don’t they just call their Representatives?

That’s a great idea, but your question assumes that people aren’t doing that as well.  And they are!  In the wake of the inauguration of the 45th president of the US and the policy decisions he’s been making people have been calling their representatives so much that voice mails got filled to capacity.  Even emails started bouncing back as mailboxes also got filled to capacity.  That’s not even taking into account the Congressional Representatives that turned off their phones.  So what do you do when your Representative isn’t taking your calls?  Well, they’re supposed to turn up for Town Hall meetings to talk directly with their constituents concerning issues that affect them.  Except a majority of Republican Representatives didn’t show up for those meetings.  

So what can people do when their Representatives are actively avoiding them?

They can take to the streets and guarantee that their voices are heard.  They can, say it with me, protest!

But what are they protesting about?  They live in the greatest country in the world!

Let’s leave the statistics aside on how exactly America is #1.  America may be a great place to live for a lot of people.  It is not an ideal place to live if you’re a Person of Color interacting with the police.  It’s not if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community.  It’s not if you’re Muslim.  It’s not if you’re an immigrant.

So what are these people protesting?  They’re protesting massive amounts of systemic, societal injustice that is killing members of our community.  They’re protesting the dehumanization of PoC and LGBTQ people by the media and by many politicians.  They’re protesting a president who has mocked woman, immigrants, and various other groups.  They’re protesting a world that only views certain people as people.  They’re protesting a nation that makes claims at equality and that all people are created equal, and then fails to live up to that.  They’re angry and they have a right to be.  When Congress turns off its phones, the only recourse left to be heard is to march.

Why can’t they just protest like MLK Jr.?  

They are.  All these folk going out into the streets, marching, carrying signs, blocking traffic, disrupting your daily lives.  Even the ones breaking windows.  They are protesting just the way Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted them to.

No way!  MLK would never have blocked traffic or disrupted people’s lives.  He believed in non-violence.

Read this.

I’m going to bullet point it here too.

  • The Civil Rights movement caused massive economic disruption.
  • It was seen by many as ‘extremism’
  • Most people like Rosa Parks, who we celebrate today, were hated in their time
  • The average American hated the Civil Rights Movement and insisted it would do more harm than good.
  • The federal government put 19,000 troops on standby for the March on Washington.  It terrified them.

When Dr. King led the Selma March they took up entire roads.  They filled the entire width of the Edmund Peetus Bridge in Selma.  They blocked the whole road.

So yeah, Dr. King encouraged his followers to be non-violent.  He also never denounced a single riot done in the name of Civil Rights.

Wait, what?

Yeah.  On March 14, 1968, at Grosse Point High School Dr. King gave a speech in which he called riots “the voice of the unheard”.  Dr. King would never have used violent measures himself, but he understood that when you’re fighting for your rights, and your right to live as equals in a society that doesn’t see you as people, sometimes you have to make a statement they cannot ignore.  In a capitalist society such as ours, a good hit to the wallet is always felt.  That’s why the Montgomery Bus Boycott was so successful, that’s why Lunch Counter Sit-ins worked.  Dr. King preached civil disobedience.  When the law is unjust or immoral or unethical, break the law.  Legal and ethical are not the same thing.

But it’s Unamerican to break people’s property in protest.

That’s the most American thing ever!  In 1773, in protest of British tea taxes, colonists dumped 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.  They caused nearly $2 million of damage.  We started this country by making an economic statement of protest.

Ok, but blocking traffic is dangerous.  What if emergency services need to get through?

I could write a lot about that, but honestly, it’s already been done.  Emergency crews are always let through when protestors are aware that there is an emergency crew that needs to be let through.  These people are out there marching so that everyone can live a free and equal life.  Would they really be the type of people to block emergency vehicles?

People block traffic so that you will be inconvenienced.  So that you can’t help but notice.  Too many people don’t see problems until it effects them.  Well, we’re gonna make it affect you.


I’ve covered most of the questions I encounter in this discussion, but all these questions are smokescreens.  They’re distractions from the real question.

Why can’t these people just stay out of my way and protest quietly over in the corner?

Because then you’d have no reason to listen.

These people are out there protesting a system that is KILLING THEIR NEIGHBORS.  They are going to make damn sure that you hear us.  If that involves blocking roads.  We’re gonna do it.  If that involves Punching Nazis, we’re gonna do it.  If that involves being a nuisance and making your life more difficult, we’re gonna do that.

But even if we did protest in a way that didn’t inconvenience anyone, that didn’t block traffic or break anything, PEOPLE WOULD STILL COMPLAIN.

Colin Kaepernick protested by sitting during the National Anthem at an NFL game he was playing in.  So obviously he was seen on camera, on National Television doing this.  Who was hurt by that?  Whose life was made more difficult?  What was broken?  Nothing.  But the backlash was immense.

I’m going to finish this up by paraphrasing a quote from William Lloyd Garrison, and know that whatever criticism you have of protestors these days, this will be my response.

We are in earnest — We will not equivocate — We will not excuse — We will not retreat a single inch — AND WE WILL BE HEARD.

 

Listen Kids, Some Parts of Your Culture Suck

Sometimes people say certain words to me.  These words should not be said because they will make me angry.  Some of these words include:

The movie was better
I just don’t like dogs
Men’s Rights Activists have a legitimate case to make

But two of the worst sentences you can say are:

Well John, that’s just their culture.  You have to respect that.

No, I don’t.

Why do people keep insisting that we have to respect all aspects of someone else’s culture?  When did the liberal world get such a hard on for cultural relativism?

What’s cultural relativism?

So, cultural relativism is the idea that a person’s beliefs and activities should be understood based on the person’s own culture.  We shouldn’t judge other cultures for having ideas that are different than ours.  It was first put forward as an idea by anthropologist Franz Boas and was in direct conflict with the idea of ethnocentrism.  Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging the actions or values of another culture based on the values that your own culture has.

Well, ethnocentrism sounds like a bad thing.

Hey, it is.  Or it can be.  We’re always going to judge things based on our own views of right and wrong.  Cultural relativism goes right along with the idea of moral relativism.  Moral relativism is the idea that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.

This can become a huge problem as we become unable to judge or condemn problematic aspects of another culture because, say it with me, cultural relativism doesn’t let us.   Because it insists that you can only judge the morality of a culture from inside that culture’s own perspective. There are many examples of problematic aspects of culture.

In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive a car*.  There’s no specific law which bans them from driving, but deeply held religious beliefs don’t allow it and many Saudi clerics argue that female drivers undermine social values.  

*Edit: As of September 27, 2017 this is no longer the case and Saudi Arabia has lifted its long standing ban on female drivers.  This has in no way ended Saudi Arabia’s abuse of the rights of women as they are still need the permission of a man to:

  • Apply for a passport
  • Travel abroad
  • Get married
  • Open a bank account
  • Start certain businesses
  • Get elective surgery
  • Leave prison

In many parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) happens on a regular basis.  This includes such procedures as removing the clitoris from girl aged infancy to 15 years.  There are no potential health benefits and lifelong harm that comes from all FGM procedures.

Many Middle Eastern communities still practice stonings.  Muslim women who are accused of adultery are stoned to death for their punishment.  In case you can’t figure out the definition of stoning, it involves having rocks hurled at you until you die.  Such events are especially prevalent in fundamentalist Islamic nations, like Syria under ISIS.

Turkey actively denies the Armenian Genocide and has a law on the books (called Penal Code 301) that makes it illegal to embarrass Turkey.  This law is most often cited in cases where Turkish citizens or Turkish-Armenian citizens call upon Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide.  Hrant Dink was a Turkish-Armenian journalist who was arrested multiple times under Code 301 and was eventually assassinated by a Turkish nationalist.

Turkey also allows, in some cases at least, honor killings.  These are murders committed for the purpose of restoring a family’s honor.  One case, involving a murder in Germany in 2005 recently concluded.

And there are dozens of other examples that I could list if I wanted to go more into this.  Many of those unfortunate cultural practices even happen in the US.  (anti-Vaxxers, the alt-right, police murders of PoC, tax exempt churches, most of the GOPs policies)

Wow.  Those all sounds like awful things.

They are!  Cultural relativism can be used to cover up human rights abuses and to hide people from the consequences of crimes.  All because “it’s allowed in their culture”.  So here’s a quick study guide for you kids.

Does any aspect of your culture call for the death of another group?
GET RID OF IT.

Does any aspect of your culture treat another group as a lesser person for any reason at all?
GET RID OF IT.

Does any aspect of your culture discriminate against anyone in any way at all?
GET RID OF IT.

I am all for cultural differences.  They make the world a richer and broader place.  However, some aspects of cultures are just plain wrong and they should never be entertained.  I’m looking at you, Southern States with Confederate War Memorials.  I’m looking at you, “Heritage Not Hate” proponents.  I’m looking at you, the Alt-Right.

Well John, it sounds like you want to just push your own cultural values on other people.  That’s imperialistic.

Wow, I don’t want to be mean, but just please stop talking.

So, you’re partially correct, I do want to take some key aspects of my own values and enforce them around the world.  Just one part though.  All people are people who deserve equal treatment and consideration under the law.  As long as your cultural practices don’t get in the way of that simple fact, I don’t really care what you do.  Do you want to go to Church on Sunday?  Fine.  Do you want to abstain from eating certain foods?  Fine.  Do you want to pray five times a day?  Fine.

There’s nothing wrong with those cultural practices.  There’s nothing wrong with like… 90% of all cultures.  I don’t expect everyone to live a life like I do.  I don’t expect everyone to share my values and to believe what I believe.  I do expect you to treat every single living person with dignity and respect and to accord them all rights and privileges that you would want for yourself.  If any part of your culture doesn’t mesh with that idea, then it’s not a valid cultural practice and I will fight it until it dies or I do.  Some parts of your culture just suck.  Police your values.  Police your ideas.  Hold people accountable to an objective morality.  All people are people and deserve equal treatment under the law.

The Boy Who Cried “White Racism”

Lately when I write these essays I continually mutter to myself “I can’t believe I have to write this.” Here in America we have a strange and damaged relationship with the concept of race. There are many topics that white Americans aren’t comfortable talking about. We don’t like talking about slavery, we don’t like talking about Jim Crow laws, we don’t like talking about how African Americans and other minorities are still treated like second class citizens in many ways. We don’t like to talk about problems that don’t affect us. So we’ll talk about how ‘Immigrants are Stealing Our Jobs’ or we’ll talk about ‘White Genocide’, or we’ll shout from the roof tops about how ‘The Irish Were Slaves Too!’ I’m gonna address the issue of Irish slavery later. First we’re gonna learn about the African slave trade and slavery in general.

What is a slave?

Well, dictionary.com defines slaves as: “a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another.” The key word there, and the one we’ll want to pay very close attention to is ‘property’. The type of slavery that Africans dealt with in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was specifically ‘chattel slavery’. Under chattel slavery, slaves are treated no differently than any piece of property and they can be bought, traded, sold, or beaten at the leisure of their owner.

What’s the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?

The Trans-Atlantic Slave trade refers to the slave trading routes between Western Africa and the Americas. We can actually point to pretty specific years for the start and end date of this massive slave trading operation. The first European man to buy a West African slave was Antão Gonçalves, a Portuguese explorer in 1441 CE, and Brazil was the last country to officially ban the slave trade in 1888. In that span of years perhaps 10 million Africans were sold into slavery (in the US alone). Not all of the slaves who were captured in Africa made it to the America’s though. Altogether, for every 100 slaves who reached the New World, another 40 had died in Africa or during the Middle Passage.

But, slavery is over in America right? So what’s the big deal?

Oh man, that’s… *sigh* ok. Yes, the practice of keeping slaves in the United States has ended. This is a legal fact. Slavery officially ended, legally, in the United States when Congress ratified the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865. So yeah, from that day on slavery was no longer allowed in the US. That wasn’t the end of racism though. We didn’t all get together in a big group hug and suddenly love each other. Slavery had begun in the United States in August of 1619. It didn’t end until 1865. That’s 246 years of slavery in the US. 246 years of virulent racism. 246 years of treating Africans and African Americans like property. 246 years of dehumanization, of treating Africans as less than human. 246 years. You think we’re gonna solve that in a day. That’s not even something that we’ve solved today.

But it’s been…

152 years since slavery was legally ended, by a Constitutional Amendment. Slavery in the US still has nearly a century on Abolition. Following the ratification of the 13th Amendment Congress also passed the 14th, and 15th Amendments. Both were designed to try and improve the political lives of African Americans. The 14th defined a citizen as any person born in or naturalized in the U.S., overturning the Dred Scott V. Sandford (1857) Supreme Court ruling stating that Black people were not eligible for citizenship. The 15th prohibited governments from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or past servitude. This didn’t stop many Southern States from passing what would come to be called “Jim Crow Laws”.

What are Jim Crow Laws?

Jim Crow Laws are the name given to the wide series of State and Local laws that sprang up following the Reconstruction Period which were designed to keep African Americans from voting and to segregate White and Black populations. Some key examples include poll taxes and literacy tests. Jim Crow laws also included those measures that segregated bathrooms, schools, and dictated to African Americans that they had to sit in the back of the bus. Following the death of legal slavery in the US, racism continued as people still felt racially superior to African Americans.

But this all happened over 100 years ago.

Not even close. Technically the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Still, that was only 53 years ago, and it only states what’s supposed to happen legally. It does nothing to change what’s in the hearts and minds of people. African Americans are jailed 600% more often than white people. Of a prison population of about 2.3 million people, 1 million are African American. This isn’t because African Americans commit more crimes than white people. It’s because even 53 years after the Civil Rights Act, the effects of racism still effect relations between the races. African Americans, and indeed all minority groups within the US, are marginalized and in many ways still treated as second class citizens. Read through the wikipedia article on institutional racism if you want to know more about it. There’s still racism in this country. Legal, institutional racism, that is keeping African Americans and other minorities in a lesser position socially and economically.

Ok, but what does any of that have to do with Irish Slavery?

Excellent question! It has nothing to do with Irish Slavery, but everything to do with why people use Irish Slavery as their own personal “I’m not racist card”.

I don’t understand…

I know you don’t, you’re just an internal dialogue I use to order my thoughts. You don’t really exist. Allow me to share with you a very brief history of anti-Irish sentiment in Europe and America, and then we’ll get into the meat of “Irish Slavery”.

Why did you put quotes around Irish Slavery that time?

You’ll see! Back in the early days of the 12th century Pope Adrian IV signed a Papal Bull giving King Henry II of England the power and authority to conquer Ireland and so bring the Irish Church under the authority of Rome. This Bull was later ratified by Pope Alexander III. Both Popes considered the Irish to be a rude and barbarous nation with filthy practices.

When Viking raiders came to the British Isles they took English, Irish, and Scottish slaves. There’s nothing truly particular about the Irish in this instance. The Vikings made anyone they could defeat and capture a slave or thrall. The Irish were also among the first to settle Iceland, though they did so as slaves, and not freemen. While the British Isles did have slaves, and Irishmen were enslaved, Britain was never a “slave society” it was merely a “society with slaves”.

Still, the lot of the Irish was not an easy one. Even Voltaire, the patron saint of liberal ideology thought the Irish were a savage and backwards people. As Protestantism became a more and more powerful force on the British Isles, the Irish refusal to denounce their Catholicism also earned them the ire of the English.

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the Irish as drunk and violent. This particular stereotype grew out of Victorian Era England and the 19th century United States. In media the Irish were often depicted with an ape like face and were considered an inferior race compared to Anglo-Saxons.

We also absolutely have to mention the Great Famine, also known as the Irish Potato Famine. From 1845 until 1852 there was a massive blight on the potatoes in Ireland. The blight struck most of Europe and there’s a great deal of debate on where the blight came from before it got to Europe. Despite the presence of the blight all throughout Western Europe, the Irish were hit the hardest. A large percentage of Irish citizens were utterly dependent upon the potato as a crop for a variety of reasons. They also only had one variety of potato growing in Ireland. The Irish Lumper. So when the Blight hit, Ireland got hit hard. By 1846 about 75% of their potato crop was lost. It’s estimated that around 1 million Irish citizens died as a direct result of the Blight and there’s still fierce political debate concerning whether the famine, or more particularly the British response to the famine, constitutes genocide.

We also have to talk about the period of American and English history affectionately called the “We Don’t Want to Hire You, You Filthy Stinking Irishman” era. Following 1860 there were a large amount of signs on shops and job postings in newspapers that came with the addendum. No Irish Need Apply or Irish Need Not Apply. So yeah, the Irish have had a rough go of it. That much we can easily say.

So Irish Slavery is talking about the Vikings?

Nope. That was just a historical example of a time when the Irish were enslaved. No, the truth about “Irish Slavery”, and why I’ve started putting it in quotes, is that it didn’t exist. It’s true that the Irish were discriminated against. They were persecuted for their religious beliefs, they were subject to dehumanization, we didn’t even talk about what Cromwell did. They were discriminated against for jobs and faced a long string of harmful stereotyping. The Irish have had a rough history.

When people talk about “Irish Slavery” they’re not talking about the Vikings. They’re referring to the 17th and 18th century tradition of penal transportation and indentured servitude that the Irish dealt with. Indentured servitude was a pretty common system. It was how a lot of people got to ‘the New World’ when they didn’t have the money for passage. You have someone else pay your way over and then you owe them a contractual obligation of unpaid labor for a period of time. Usually seven years. The main difference between indentured servitude and slavery is, both the fact that indentured service is temporary, and that indentured servants were still considered people. While the indentured servitude system could be abused, and many indentured servants faced very poor conditions. No comparison can be made.

We also have to consider the modern context of this argument. The “Irish Slave” myth is often summed up like this: “The Irish were enslaved too, but you don’t here us whining about it.” What this is, is a gross distortion of history and just further racism against black Americans and descendants of African slaves. To even begin to make the comparison between penal servitude, indentured servitude, and chattel slavery. Is just plain wrong. You know who trumpets the horn of “Irish slavery” the most? White supremacists and white nationalists. Ask yourself, are those really groups that we want to associate with? But don’t take my word on the myth of the Irish slaves. Read this.

The final nail in the coffin of “Irish Slavery” though, isn’t even that it doesn’t exist. It’s the awful racism that Irish immigrants inflicted on Black people in America. The Irish learned pretty quickly that they could increase their social standing by stepping on the backs of the only group white America hated more. Free Black people. The Irish worked menial jobs for less money than they should have. Then once they had an Irish monopoly on menial labor, they could command any price they wanted to. They also did everything they could to keep Black people out of their workforce. The Irish knew that if they kept working alongside Black people they’d forever be painted with the same brush. They did everything they could to maintain the system of slavery in the US. In order to improve their lot in life they knocked Black people down and used them as stairs to climb up to the level of ‘being white’


So yes, we have to recognize that the history of the Irish people has not been a happy one. They’ve been slapped around the British Isles and the United States for a long time. They faced conditions of racial prejudice, job discrimination, famine and a potential genocide at the hands the British. But you’re all missing the huge White Nationalist elephant in the room. The Irish are white. They may have started their journey in the US as third class citizens and indentured servants. They may have faced all the discrimination they did, but Irish and Irish American culture has assimilated into the greater Americana. They are such a huge part of the greater American culture that when St. Patrick’s Day roles around “everyone is Irish” (you’re not, but the problems of the American celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day will have to wait for another time).

So while the Irish are now part of the classic whiteness of America, African Americans are not. They are still a marginalized group. Their battles for their rights ended only a short time ago, historically speaking, and in many ways they still don’t have equal rights. They endured being considered property for centuries, and are still fighting to be treated as full citizens. They’re still fighting for reparations over the racial terrorism that they’ve faced in this country, beginning with slavery and not ending today. So when you equate “Irish Slavery” with the actual horrors of African Slavery, you sound like a racist. Don’t compare the two.

Words and how we use them are important. Calling what the Irish dealt with “slavery” cheapens the slavery that Africans face and the slavery that still exists in our world today. It’s important that we call things what they are, so that when we use words like slavery or genocide. They mean what they are, and society feels the full impact of those words. Not the lessened impact of the boy who cried “white racism.”