Priorities? America’s Family Values « MomsRising Blog

Priorities? America’s Family Values

by David Leonard

The day remains one of the most vibrant memories of my life. After months of preparation and a day at the hospital, our first child was born. Floating on cloud 9, and focused on taking care of what needed to be done in anticipation of her coming home, I quickly turned my attention back to work. It was spring break at my university so those in those first few days I wasn’t pulled in different directions. That would end before she even turned 10 days old.

I never thought about taking a break from work. That would be unfair to my students, my colleagues, and to all the deadlines in front of me. That is at least what I was told. But really I had no idea I could take time off to spend. Yes, I knew about Family and Medical Leave Act, but I didn’t know I was eligible. I was the father, not the mother.

While my absence in those initial weeks didn’t cause difficulties in terms of what needed to get done –my mother-in-law was staying with us – it led me to feel isolated. I wasn’t part of every “firsts;” I was stuck at the borderlands of parenthood, wanting to be present for every moment yet I stuck at my workplace.

By the time my daughter was 6 months, my partner was back working, leaving me as the primary caregiver. As a university professor, I had the flexibility to care for her whenever I was not in class. When not taking walks, reading or playing, we spent many days together with her by my side as I wrote my first book or prepared lectures. My feelings of isolation were a thing of the past.

The experience wasn’t idyllic as I found myself increasingly criticized for spending so much time with my daughter and not focusing exclusively on my work responsibilities. Good father, bad professor; good father, bad man? My decision to her into the workplace was met with opposition. In one instance, after telling a colleague that I would not be able to attend a meeting the following day because of childcare responsibilities, I was encouraged to consider switching to halftime since I wasn’t able to do my job properly. Angered and frustrated, I remained focused on both my responsibilities as a parent and a professor. As with her birth, the institution didn’t make either of these jobs any easier. Family values in rhetoric only!

In 2006, our second child was born. I hadn’t planned to take any time off for her arrival. No one had suggested that or even noted its availability. Our plans, however, changed quickly as the unimaginable happened. She died after a short and courageous life. Our life was turned upside down. The plans; the preparation; the future had all been changed leaving me with a constant feeling of unease. What else might happen around every corner?

Because of the courage of my partner, we quickly got pregnant again. This time I was determined to spend as much time at home as possible. I was determined to be there for the first bath, the first coo, and any other first. And because of Family and Medical Leave Act I was able to be there each and every day; I was able to share each and every moment with my partner, being there for and with her.

Continue reading at Priorities? America’s Family Values « MomsRising Blog.


Historic Amnesia: Four Little Girls and Assata Shakur

That song…did more for me to get me out of myself than any song that I’ve ever done.  I was so outraged when the four colored girls were killed in…that Baptist church.  I tell you I was so outraged that I didn’t—I only walked the floor for hours at a time and that’s how it came out.  It just came out as a complete outraged protest against the injustices of this country against my people (Simone, Interview on Protest Anthology, 2008  – from Danielle Heard’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”: Nina Simone’s Theater of Invisibility”)

Approaching the fifty-year anniversary of the release of Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” the ghosts of Mississippi and the horror of white supremacist violence continues to haint the nation.

On Friday, May 24, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley Congressional Gold Medals.  The murder of the “4 Little Girls” on September 15, 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist Church galvanized the black freedom struggle in its fight against white supremacy.

President Obama described the violence in the following way: “That tragic loss, that heartbreak, helped to trigger triumph and a more just and equal and fair America.”  Indeed – although it also triggered radicalization, outrage, and increasing calls for black power.

Taylor Branch, in Parting the Waters, describes Diane Nash’s reaction as one of growing dissatisfaction with methods embraced by the mainstream civil rights movement:

That night, Diane Nash presented to King the germ of what became his Selma voting rights campaign in 1965. She was angry. Privately, she told King that he could not arouse a battered people for nonviolent action and then give them nothing to do. After the church bombing, she and Bevel had realized that a crime so heinous pushed even nonviolent zealots like themselves to the edge of murder. They resolved to do one of two things: solve the crime and kill the bombers, or drive Wallace and Lingo from office by winning the right for Negroes to vote across Alabama. In the few days since, Nash had drawn up a written plan to accomplish the, latter with a rigorously trained nonviolent host, organized at brigade and division strength, that would surround Wallace’s government in Montgomery with a sea of bodies, “severing communication from state capitol building . . . Lying on railroad tracks, runways, and bus driveways . . . Close down the power company.” Her plan amounted to a protracted sit-in on the scale of the March on Washington. “This is an army,” she wrote King. “Develop a flag and an insignia or pin or button.”

The terrorism practiced by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations was part and parcel of American Apartheid.  The lynching of Emmett Till, the daily violence of white supremacy, and the bombings at 16th Street reflected the politics, morals, and values of the (southern) white American landscape but also contributed to a growing call for radical intervention.  Assata Shakur described the impact of white mobs, lynchings, and bombings on her political ethos:

Mostly, when I was young, the news didn’t seem real … only the news concerning black people had any impact on me. And it seemed that each year the news got worse. The first of the really bad news that I remember was Montgomery, Alabama. That was when I first heard of Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to give her seat to a white woman. The Black people boycotted the buses. It was a nasty struggle. Black people were harassed and attacked and, if I remember correctly, Martin Luther King’s house was bombed. Then came Little Rock. I can still remember those ugly, terrifying white mobs attacking those little children who were close to my own age … We would sit there horrified–from Harvey Young, “’A New Fear Known to Me’: Emmett Till’s Influence and the Black Panther Party”

There is more than a bit of irony, hypocrisy, and failure to understand history that in the same month that the “4 Little Girls” have been awarded this medal Assata is put on FBI’s most wanted list.  It is outrageous that someone committed to ridding America of white supremacist violence–to making sure no more children were murdered in the name of racism, segregation, and hatred–has been declared a terrorist worthy of a 2 million dollar bounty. She was fighting against the very terrorism that killed these girls.

Ain’t Your Father’s Southern Strategy: Whiteness as Mass Appeal

Ain’t Your Father’s Southern Strategy: Whiteness as Mass Appeal

Dr. David J. Leonard

The 2012 election, like every election before it, has been defined by race. This is America, and race always matters. Death, taxes, and race. While 2008-2012 has prompted more explicit racial assault on then candidate and ultimately President Obama, race, racism, and white supremacy defines the history of American politics. Sister Souljah, Willie Horton, anti-Muslim appeals, demonization of undocumented immigrants, “the welfare queen,” the southern strategy, and countless other examples point to the ways that race defines American political campaigns. And these are just examples since the late 1960s from national presidential campaigns.

Yet the vitriol, the explicit racial appeals, and the ubiquitous racial rhetoric has been a noteworthy outcome of the 2012 election. Adele M. Stan, in “Romney Pushed Boundaries of ‘Acceptable Racism’ to Extremes” aptly describes the campaign as a long and winding campaign of racism, one that irrespective of the outcome has had its consequences:

If asked what one thing about the 2012 campaign most impacted everyday American life, one answer stands out above all others: racism. The wink-wink racial coding Romney uses, combined with the unabashed racism of such surrogates as former Bush administration chief of staff John Sununu, adds up to quite a wash of race-baited waters over the campaign. Then add to that the steady stream of racist rhetoric that characterized the Republican presidential primary campaign, and the wash looks more like a stew set on simmer for the better part of a year.

Since the early months of 2011, our politics have been marinating in the language of racial hatred, whether in former U.S. senator Rick Santorum’s “blah people” moment, or former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s tarring of Barack Obama as “the food stamp president.”

The consequences and context of a campaign based in racism, based in a thirty-year racial assault on the civil rights movement is fully visible in AP’s recent poll, which found that both explicit and implicit racial bias against African Americans and Latinos is on the rise. According to the AP, “51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes,” which was a 3 percent rise since 2008. When examining implicit bias, “the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election.” Should we be surprised?

The likes of John Sununu and Donald Trump, the sight of racist t-shirts and posters at GOP rallies and elsewhere, and the explicitly racist discourse point to the strategy of racist appeals and the consequences of such appeals. The impact of racism isn’t simply voters picking Mitt Romney because of their anti-black racism, or even the ways that the accusations against President Obama as a “food stamp president,” as “lazy” as a “socialist” and as “anti-White” resonate because of an entrenched white racial frame, but in the yearning and appeal of a white male leader. Race doesn’t just matter in why whites are voting against President Obama but also why they are voting for Mitt Romney. Tom Scocca, in “Why Do White People Think Mitt Romney Should Be President?” argues that anti-black racism, dog “whistles” and prejudice isn’t the only reason why white males are casting their vote for Romney-Ryan but because they are white and because white masculinity is associated with toughness, leadership, intelligence, and countless other racial stereotypes. “White people — white men in particular — are for Mitt Romney. White men are supporting Mitt Romney to the exclusion of logic or common sense. Without this narrow, tribal appeal, Romney’s candidacy would simply not be viable. Most kinds of Americans see no reason to vote for him.”

Continue reading @ Dr. David J. Leonard: Ain’t Your Father’s Southern Strategy: Whiteness as Mass Appeal.

NewBlackMan in Exile: Freeloading Muppets: Mitt, the Conservative Right and its Assault on Sesame Street

Freeloading Muppets:

Mitt, the Conservative Right and its assault on Sesame Street

by David J. Leonard

| NewBlackMan in Exile

During last night’s presidential debate, which was lackluster to say the least, Mitt Romney finally unveiled some specifics as it relates to his slash the deficit, taxes, and spending economic plan – the “no reason to hope, the future will be grim” plan. He announced his desire to defund PBS, which according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, accounts for .012% of the federal budget. His war on Muppets prompted a deluge of social media posts ranging from images of an unemployed Big Bird to an angry Elmo seeking revenge.

While reflecting people’s anger and anxiety about the nature of the political process, his oft-handed remark is revealing. At one level, it demonstrates the Republican Party’s opposition to public support for institutions and organizations that advance a social good. It represents their contempt for the social contract. At another level, it embodies an ideological movement that promotes divestment from public education, health care, and countless other social programs. The recasting of Cookie Monster, Grover, and Snuffy as freeloading welfare recipients constitutes a continuation of the GOP’s structural adjustment program that started some thirty years ago. Whether or not Mitt Romney like’s Big Bird, or public teachers, firefighters, or health care workers is irrelevant.

The gutting of public higher education throughout the nation, the destruction of America’s parks and recreation facilities, and now the proposed foreclosure on Sesame Street is part of a larger movement to divested from public support and institutions, that which is utilized by the middle-class, working-class and America’s poor. It is yet another example of the true essence of the GOP AKA POP – Privatization Old Party.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan in Exile: Freeloading Muppets: Mitt, the Conservative Right and its Assault on Sesame Street.

Dreams Deferred, Humanity Denied: The War on Women of Color (Part 2) | The Feminist Wire

Dreams Deferred, Humanity Denied: The War on Women of Color (Part 2)

April 21, 2012

By David J. Leonard


The vicious attacks on women of color are not unique to the health care system. This has been evident within the recent debate that followed Hilary Rosen’s comments about Ann Romney, stay-at-home moms, and work. Whereas the GOP has framed Rosen’s statements as part of the Democratic Party/secular Left’s contempt for the family—all straight from the Right’s historic demonization of feminism—it is the policies of the Republican Party that have continually damaged women, and particularly women of color, as mothers. Whether eliminating subsidies for childcare, requiring that women receiving welfare get a job to learn “the dignity of work,” and/or enacting policies that constrain or eliminate salaries, the choices available to women of color have long been overdetermined by the realities of racism and sexism. As noted by Laura Flanders,

For all the shameful sucking up to multimillionaire mom Ann Romney after Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen accused her of never having worked “a day in her life,” the reality is neither Republicans nor Democrats treat most parenting as work, and thousands of poor women are living in poverty today as living proof of that fact.

Do we need to state the obvious? Women of different classes are beaten with different rhetorical bats. For the college-educated and upwardly aspiring, there’s the “danger” of career ambitions. Ever since women started aspiring to have men’s jobs, backlashers have told those women that they’re enjoying their careers at the expense of their kids’ well being. They really can’t have it all. They’ll raise monsters, or worse, they’ll grow old on the shelf.… The media still love stories about stay-at-home moms and professional women are still punished for wanting to succeed. For the poor, though, it’s very different.

Poor women, particularly poor women of color, are simultaneously denied the “choice” of whether to work or stay-at-home (why aren’t men asked to choose?) and demonized as bad parents. The war on mommies is not a universal war, as evidenced by the Moynihan Report AND Gov. Mitt Romney requiring that mothers on welfare with children under the age of 2 go to work in an effort to teach them “the dignity of work.”

With the discourse on health care, working mothers, education, and criminal justice, we see the ways in which race and gender (nation, class, and sexuality) directly impact people’s lives, whose life matters and whose future is worthy of public concern and policy. To deny health care is yet another instance where women of color are stripped of humanity, denied rights as citizens and people. It is part of a larger history whereupon women of color have been subject to the violence of the state, stereotypes, and structures of inequality. “It’s just a long history of negative stereotypes of black women that have changed over time to suit the political circumstances, but that focus on our irresponsible childrearing and mothering,” noted Dorothy Roberts within a Colorlines piece “The thread that joins them is the idea of total sexual immorality and irresponsible reproductive responsibility on the part of black women, who become a burden on the state and also have no maternal bond with their own children.”

The violent disregard for Anna Brown’s life, and the benign neglect approach to health and welfare of women of color is clear with the history of forced sterilization faced by Native American and Puerto Rican women;

it is clear with the systemic incarceration of black and Latina women; it is clear with the stereotype of the Jezebel, the pregnant crack addict, and the “welfare queen”; the war on women of color is nothing new is evident with Kelley Williams-Bolar, Tanya McDowell, Raquel Nelson and countless more women of color whose rights and humanity have been stripped before a silent nation. The silence is telling as to whos

continue reading @ Dreams Deferred, Humanity Denied: The War on Women of Color (Part 2) | The Feminist Wire.

“There’s a war going on outside:” Health Care and Women of Color (part 1) | The Feminist Wire

Credit: Favianna Rodriguez

“There’s a war going on outside:” Health Care and Women of Color (part 1)

April 20, 2012

By David J. Leonard

Anna Brown sought out the care of St. Mary’s Health Center in St. Louis, MO because she was not feeling well. Complaining of extreme pain, so intense that she was unable to stand, one doctor identified Brown as “healthy enough to be locked up.” She refused to leave and demanded treatment; the police who wrongly thought she was under the influence of drugs instead took her to jail.

Brown would later die as a result of blood clots that traveled from her legs into her lungs. The underlying health issue is not what killed Brown. But the suspicion that she aroused in both the doctor and the police who saw her as a criminal in need of incarceration rather than a sick patient in need of medical attention stopped these trained professionals from giving her the care she deserved.

The disrespect and disregard for her humanity has continued within a public that has been silent regarding the shameful incident. The absence of a sustained public discussion, whether in the media or from political leaders, embodies the value afforded to her as a homeless black women in America. On Medicaid, her pain was neither heard nor seen at St. Mary’s or the other two hospitals she sought care from on this fateful September day. Yet, the disregard for her life, and the dangers of being sick while black, extend beyond this moment as the value ascribed to her body and experience overdetermines her continued victimization.

Amid all the discussions of the “war on women” few have brought up the experience of Anna Brown or other women of color whose health, bodies, and humanity remain a dream deferred. Media accounts often chronicle the issue of health care through a partisan lens, in recent weeks talking about the “war on women” (as if this is new). The failure to provide universal health care, like the assault on Planned Parenthood, is particularly harmful to women of color. According to Britni Danielle, “As the Supreme Court deliberates about the fate of the Affordable Care Act, the death of 29-year-old Anna Brown reminds us why health coverage is so vital to all.” Universal access to health care represents a dream deferred for many women in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, over 17 million women between the ages of 18 and 64, that is 1 in 5, lack health insurance. One in 10 women who work lack health care; even those who are insured are often unable to secure needed care – 16 percent of women report being denied coverage or payment for needed health services. As noted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in 2005:

As earlier mentioned, while many women carry some form of health insurance, numerous policies do not cover the services most needed by women. According to the KFF, as health costs swell, 27 percent of non-elderly women (under age 65) and 67 percent of uninsured women report that they delayed or went without treatment because of the cost for that treatment. Additionally, uninsured women are far less likely to be screened for breast, cervical and colon cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis—all major maladies affecting women.

Reflecting a health care system based on employer-provided coverage, which because of gender inequality in the labor force leads to denied health care and sexism within the insurance industry, health care and affordable health care remain illusive for women. In other words, the opposition to health care reform and the refusal to institute a single-payer system constitutes a continued war on women. More specifically, it reflects a war on women of color, particularly those who are poor.

African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos all face a society that seems either unaware of or unfazed by the lack of affordable and available health care. For example, as of 2009, 21 percent of African Americans lacked health insurance compared to 15 percent of white women – black women are twice as likely and Latinas are three times as likely to lack health insurance. This is evident at the national level and also at the state level where the inequalities are startling. In North Dakota, American Indian women are five times more likely to lack health insurance than white women, as are Alaska Native women. In the District of Columbia because of denied access, the lack of affordability, and denied health insurance, black and Latina women are three times less likely to receive prenatal care, which contributes to low birth weight, high infant mortality, and a myriad of other health problems.

Continue reading @ “There’s a war going on outside:” Health Care and Women of Color (part 1) | The Feminist Wire.

Decoding the Racial Rhetoric of GOP Candidates | Urban Cusp

Decoding the Racial Rhetoric of GOP Candidates

By David J. Leonard

UC Columnist

Some days it feels like race is everywhere – central to American life, race and its corresponding signifiers is indeed ubiquitous to American life. Racial language, narratives, and stereotypes are circulated with tremendous frequency. This has been especially evident during the Republican Presidential primary. From Newt Gingrich’s “food stamp president” and constant demonization of Black youth to Ron Paul’s newsletters, Rick Santorum’s constant denunciation of “illegals,” Michelle Bachman’s celebration of slavery, and the commonplace frame of returning to a 1950s America, the GOP has hitched its hopes to racial fear, racial ideas, and racial rhetorics. Although often transparent and clear as night and day, much of the arguments and frames are articulated through racial codes. Affording GOP candidates a certain level of deniability, it is therefore crucial to understand the power and prevalence of racial rhetorics.

Enter Kent Ono and Michael Lacey, whose new collection, Critical Rhetorics of Race (New York University Press, which provides readers with the necessary perspective and tools to decipher and understand, challenge and decode the ways in which race is circulated within the GOP, as well as from other political, media, and cultural spheres. In the introduction to the text, Raymie McKerrow describes the work as a “critical perspective on the ways symbols perform in addressing publics.” Challenging the dominant ideas of a post-racial society where race is declining in significance or only present when inserted into the discourse, the collection offers an important intervention. “Contemporary U.S. media culture represents race in ambivalent, contradictory, and paradoxical ways. Media tell us that the United States is a post-racial society, in which race and racism are passé relics of a bygone era,” writes Michael G. Lacey and Kent A. Ono in their introduction to Critical Rhetorics of Race. “Yet, those same media sources bombard us daily with spectacles of racial violence and disturbing racist images that serve as evidence that race and racism are alive and well in the United States” (p. 1)

Examining how racial “discourse masks and mystifies power to oppress and liberates people,” produces knowledge, and legitimizes, “sustains, resists, or disrupts hegemonic interest” (p. 13), the collection provides great insight into a variety of issues, examples, and spectacles, all while providing readers with the necessary tools to unmask the ongoing racial realities of American culture. It brings together a range of schools all committed to examining and reflecting on the powerful ways that race, and daily utterances of race, penetrate, define, and shape contemporary culture.

The book is divided into four distinct sections: (1) racialized masculinities, where authors explore hegemonic representations of men of color, and particularly Black men, are constructed as criminalized villains. Examining new reports, two chapters focus on Hurricane Katrina and Virginia Teach and Columbine respectfully, with a third dealing with “how dominant media stories” so often “pit and rank” “one marginalized groups against another (LGBTQ) by highlighting the anti-gay epithets made by black male celebrities, who serve exemplars for the larger black U.S” (p. 9-10).

Highlighting an aversion for dealing with systemic homophobia for the sake of homophobic slurs uttered by prominent Black figures, this chapter identifies how the media’s deployed racial rhetorics turns homophobia into a spectacle used to demonize and exonerate and in doing perpetuate the systemic realities of anti-LGBTQ. “Media spectacles routinely erupt after a famous African American celebrity makes a bigoted remark about other marginalized group members (usually gays),” writes Catherine Squireso. “By doing so, the media exposes African Americans to be hypocrites, while releasing white Americans from any moral responsibility or reparations” (p. 66).

via Decoding the Racial Rhetoric of GOP Candidates | Urban Cusp.