Category Archives: Domestic

Requiring more of journalists may help destigmatize mental illness

JournalistIn early March the Associated Press released new standards for reporters and editors regarding metal illness. To comply, we’re asked to only include mental health details if they’re relevant to the story and come as a specific diagnosis from an attributed source.

Over one in four adults have a diagnosable mental illness in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Illness. Within that large portion of our population each individual experiences their condition differently.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness issued a statement calling the new standards, “a seismic shift in the terrain of popular culture.”

In the statement, Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations, says, “For years, NAMI has worked to have the news media abandon inaccurate, careless, or stigmatizing language or practices in reporting on mental illness.”

A lot of that stigmatizing language emerged in the debate around weapons access after the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Colorado. I’m thinking specifically of rock n’ roller Ted Nugent’s commentary published in The Washington Times: “Nut control, not gun control: Failure to deal with mental illness leads to massacres.”

The AP standards do not pertain to statements from individuals and organizations, but it will hold a large group of information producers and disseminators – the news media – responsible for their language.

The guide clarifies: “Mental illness is a general condition. Specific disorders are types of mental illness and should be used whenever possible.”

It cautions journalists away from making assumptions or interpretations about subject’s mental health and from drawing connections between crimes and mental health concerns.

“Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness,” state the guidelines.

Terms such as “deranged” or “crazy” are classified as “derogatory” in the guide, and writers are cautioned against referring to folks as “victims of” or “suffering from” their disorders.

You can read the guide here, and I recommend that you do. It discourages the sensationalizing of mental illness that often arises around violent crime, and encourages reporters to be deliberate when referencing folks’ mental health. The way that we characterize issues in the media impacts the tone of national conversations and the individuals they characterize.

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Gender in Star Wars and Other Media

11212012StarWars-jpg_180602In January, the universe brought my attention to the convergence of two things: the Star Wars sequels and the Bechdel Test. I’ve known of Star Wars for a while (like most of us with a pulse), but the Bechdel Test shed new light for me on the popular series and all the other media I have consumed or will consume in the future.

The Bechdel Test serves as a tool to measure female representation in the media. I often notice when movies and television shows present one-dimensional female characters. And while I’m happy to suspend my disbelief for various fantasies of fictive media, I like for those fictions to represent both women and men.

The Bechdel Test has been around since the year I entered this earth (1985), created by comic artist Alison Bechdel. It’s a sequence of three questions:

  1. Are there more than two women [in a particular piece of media]?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. About something other than a man?

The first reference to this came from the video game website IGN, in an article titled “Why Star Wars: Episode VII Should Have a Female Protagonist.” Author Lucy O’Brien makes a strong case for the forthcoming Star Wars sequels to feature a female hero. She applies the Bechdel test to Star Wars, and it does not pass all three stages. In fact, Princess Leia, the fairly tough female lead, doesn’t have other women to talk with and she plays a secondary role to Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. O’Brien boils her argument down to a simple statement, “girls need heroes too.”

A TED talk that narrowly preceded O’Brien’s commentary features a father, Colin Stokes, as he discusses, “How movies teach manhood.” Stokes also draws on the Bechdel Test to critique Star Wars. Rather than arguing for a new female protagonist, Stokes suggests that a lack of female characters is bad for boys too. In a world in which men and women work together in a variety of circumstances, says Stokes, movies should reflect the cooperative nature of the genders today.

Like these critical fans, I too am looking forward to Star Wars, hoping to see enough tough women (with the men) to pass the Bechdel Test.

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Affordable, dependable childcare – A right worth fighting for

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration (Article 3.1, Convention on the Rights of the Child).

My nephew On January 10, parents at a Chicago daycare center located in a Social Security Administration building learned they had until April to find new accommodations for their children. On February 1, parents learned that the provider of the daycare services was closing at least two classrooms, containing over 30 children, within a week. Wait lists for childcare in Chicago extend to 6 months or longer.

The two bodies making the decisions about Windy City Kids child care center include the federal Social Security Administration and their contractors, Easter Seals, who runs the Windy City Kids center. In full disclosure, my niece and nephew attend this school, and I’ve learned about these issues through my sister.

My sister, her husband, and the nearly 100 parents of other children at Windy City Kids child care have not taken this news sitting down. They have mobilized politically and electronically, sharing their story with local Chicago media and politicians. They have spent hours writing letters and speaking with elected officials.

Several parents echo the sentiment that  the decisions surrounding the closure of the center seem to have been made with no consideration for the children who spend their weekdays there, playing, building and maintaining friendships, and learning.

In a 1998 Memorandum, then-President Bill Clinton called for higher standards at federal day cares, including a requirement for accreditation of all contracted day care centers and background checks for workers therein.

In an early story that aired on ABC, Doug Nguyen, Chicago spokesman for the Social Security Administration made a statement that they, “reviewed all aspects of the operation of the child care center and made a business decision to close it effective April 8, 2013. Given SSA’s tight budget situation, we continue to make choices.”

In follow-up communication with parents the SSA elaborated on problems with the contractor not following the requirements laid out by Clinton in 1998. When Easter Seals continued to fail to fully comply with background checks and accreditation requirements, among others, the SSA opted to close the center, rather than replace the contractors.

The subsequent decision to “collapse” classrooms in the second week of February came by letter from Easter Seals, informing parents that the daycare provider will continue removing or combining classes as teachers take other positions. So classes may be closed at any time before April 8, as the organization dismantles this branch of their service.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child codifies international standards in decisions that affect children. “The best interests of the children shall be a primary consideration,” states the convention, which the United States signed onto.  Congress has not ratified the convention, so the United Nations cannot hold us accountable.

But my sister and the other parents at Windy City Kids have taken it upon themselves to hold the Social Security Administration and Easter Seals accountable for those decisions, which have a direct impact on their children. And still many of their questions and requests remain unanswered.

The parents are still posting testimonials and circulating a petition to save their school. Some of the kids have grown up in the program from infancy, and others may have to leave before spending a full year in the program.

This sudden transition will be no doubt be difficult for the children and parents involved. The parents will soldier forward pursuing every avenue to save the program, because their right to reliable childcare and their children’s right to due consideration are certainly worth fighting for.

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Pregnant Inmates’ Rights and Stories

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImagine you are pregnant. Nine months pregnant. And in prison. Imagine that when you go into labor, your escort to the hospital, an armed guard, insists on keeping your hands and/or feet shackled. Consider the implications of restrained foot movement for a top-heavy pregnant woman. Now, when you arrive at the hospital, in order to ensure that you will not escape (even though you are fully pregnant and having contractions), the guard then attaches you to the hospital bed by hand, foot, or belly restraints. Try to imagine how would you feel about that.

These restraints limit mobility for the birthing mother, which can normally help ease and facilitate the labor process. And the restraints can cause delays if she needs to be prepared quickly for a caesarean section.

The practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant woman is widely condemned by medical groups including the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric & Neonatal Nursing. It’s also been condemned by the United Nations in various treaties and documents, some of which the US has signed on to. But despite the condemnation of this kind of shackling, which is often framed as a type of illegal, cruel and unusual punishment, it still occurs.

Less than twenty states have laws against shackling inmates while giving birth. California just passed a law to forbid shackling a woman during “pregnancy, labor, delivery, and recovery,” reports Huffington Post. Even in states without such legislation, incarcerated women (and women who were held and not-yet-convicted) have been filing — and winning — lawsuits for their treatment during labor. A case like this was filed in Nevada this summer, reports Reuters. In September, The Tennessean ran a story about a woman receiving $1.1 million in damages from the metro government for the way she was treated while in custody and in labor.

Shackling during pregnancy is not only viewed as a violation of the Eighth Amendment (re: cruel and unusual punishment), but the UN has condemned the practice in their Bangkok Rules (on the treatment of women prisoners). In 2006, the UN cited the US for not maintaining the international standards that they signed on to when ratifying the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

This topic is new and rich to me, as I’ve been researching it for a term paper. I wanted to share my findings and tie them in with yesterday’s observance of the 2012 Human Rights Day. The theme of the day was “My Voice Counts,” which ties in so well with this anti-shackling group I found while digging around for my project.

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WORTH is a New York based group that lobbied for the state bill that prohibited shackling women in labor. The project expanded their reach to reproductive rights of incarcerated women throughout the US. They are currently collecting testimonials from women who have been incarcerated. The project is called Birthing Behind Bars. They have a website to host blog posts, videos, and audio stories about women who gave birth in shackles or had a range of other pregnancy or postpartum experiences in prison. They’ve even asked for stories about the prison nursery experience, for those women incarceration in institutions with nurseries (that is a topic worth its own post).

The broad range of stories sought by WORTH is a testament to the fact that shackled labor is not the only challenge for pregnant women in prison. Other hurdles including getting adequate nutrition and dealing with the emotional strain of separation from the baby. For women with mental illnesses (a disproportionate portion of the prison population) immediate separation from a newborn can be especially traumatic.

I am not advocating for reform, but as a journalist, I value the power of story-telling. And for the women with traumatic experiences as pregnant inmates, they deserve to share their story. Please comment with links if you have narratives to share.

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Disability Rights Garner Recent Attention, Debate

Despite … various instruments and undertakings, persons with disabilities continue to face barriers in their participation as equal members of society and violations of their human rights in all parts of the world – UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Preamble

Disability accessDisability Rights made headlines twice in the last two weeks. The Associated Press covered an extensive report from the National Council on Disability that identified people with disabilities continue to face bias, especially in regards to having and keeping children. And just a few days ago, 38 Republicans in the US Congress resisted appeals to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, reported the Washington Post.

This second story has received more coverage and extensive commentary as the US has a history with this UN convention, and the failure to ratify it has raised some interesting contradictions. But the two stories together feature the often-overlooked struggles that people with disabilities continue to face in the US and around the world.

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 and was signed by George H. W. Bush in front of a crowd. Then-Senator Edward Kennedy called it the “emancipation proclamation” for persons with disabilities. This document was a model for the UN Convention, which was crafted with assistance from George W. Bush’s administration and signed by Barak Obama in 2009. It’s had bi-partisan support until now. But the treaty is not ratified until congress signs on.

Veterans and disability rights groups and lawmakers who’ve served in the military made appeals to congress to ratify the convention, but resisters drew upon a few different arguments, including a fear that ratification would threaten US sovereignty, making us subject to UN oversight. Other commentators critical of ratification cited the financial cost of supplying regular reports to the UN as a roadblock.

I cannot speak to how much it costs to issue reports to the UN, though the US has ratified and follows the protocols of other UN treaties. These UN conventions are not legally binding, nor would they allow for the UN to intervene directly in domestic affairs, but they do create another level of accountability and oversight, in this case regarding accessibility, equality, and other rights of people with disabilities.

In the UN convention there is a section referring specifically to parenting and reproductive rights. It states that:

Persons with disabilities [can] decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and [have the right to] access to age-appropriate information, reproductive and family planning education… In no case shall a child be separated from parents on the basis of a disability of either the child or one or both of the parents.

These issues were a theme in David Crary’s AP article on disabled parents. If Congress were to ratify the convention, then parents and lawyers like those featured in Crary’s article would be able to draw on that document to support their cases. As it stands, those advocating for the rights of parents with disabilities can draw on the ADA and other human rights treaties, which some say is sufficient for the US and others continue to disagree. In any case, these issues have been raised to the level of national debate and the continued struggles of people with disabilities acknowledged, at least to some extent.

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25th World AIDS Day Covers the Spectrum of this Global Pandemic

  1. The twitter-verse lit up on and around Dec. 1 in observance of World AIDS Day and the global issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic. Advocates, governments, and ordinary folks commented on tragedy, hope, stigma, and vulnerable populations. And some even found comic relief.
    AIDS is a fairly young disease. It gained mainstream attention in the 80s, then swept across the world leaving millions of bodies and orphans in its wake. When people in the United States started paying attention to AIDS and the virus that causes it, HIV, it was associated with the homosexual male population. But history demonstrated that women and men, heterosexual and homosexual, are equally vulnerable to the virus. World AIDS Day was established in 1987, and one of the purposes of the event is to remember those who have succumbed to the illness.
  2. aliciakeys
    It’s #WORLDAIDSDAY – Let’s remember those who have passed & re-commit to the struggle.We can achieve an #AIDS-free future in our lifetimes
  3. JoyceMeyer
    Today is #WorldAIDSDay. Join us in praying for the victims as well as for the families who’ve lost loved ones to this devastating disease.
  4. UNAIDS
    RT @un_women: Globally, AIDS is the leading cause of death for girls and women age 15-44. #AIDSfree @unicef_aids
  5. SLangeneggerCBC
    @dsmyxe I had so many friends in Africa who died of AIDS – so many women whose husbands brought it home and they had no idea until too late
  6. While the overall message of AIDS Awareness is as serious as life and death, many promote lighter-hearted awarenss, coupled with statistics. Red remains the color of the day.
  7. RT @geraldinegugo: @IPSForg In the laboratory… #WorldAIDSDay http://pic.twitter.com/xTT61XHV
  8. #UniversityofLiverpool s tribute for #WorldAidsDay #HIV #HIV- #1stDec #1stDecem @ Hele-Shaw Lecture Theatre http://instagr.am/p/SwERohiyqC/
  9. RT @standardny: It’s official, we turned RED with
    @joinRED for #WorldAIDSDay! #nyc http://instagr.am/p/Sts582rHOl/
  10. RT @RealTheWriter: Be positive you’re negative.. Get tested! Protect yourself! #WorldAIDSDay #RED #AMFAR http://instagr.am/p/SwFCSCPYwf/
  11. While AIDS on the continent of Africa gets a lot of coverage, it remains a problem in the United States and throughout the world.
  12. Thethamz
    RT @firstworldfacts: In America, someone is diagnosed with AIDS every 10 mins. In South Africa, someone dies due to AIDS every 10 mins. #WorldAidsDay
  13. Government officials, including both Clintons (former President Bill and Secretary of State Hillary), obeserved and presented plans to address HIV/AIDS.
  14. ClintonTweet
    “On this #WorldAIDSDay, we all need to recommit to the end of AIDS.” President Clinton’s statement: wjcf.co/Sn3rfV
  15. Medical treatments for HIV/AIDS have come a long way in the last few decades, but many people still live with an unknown, HIV positive status. World AIDS Day opens a conversation about and opportunities for destigmatized testing.
  16. ShelbyTNHealth
    #WorldAIDSDay was yesterday, but the Shelby County Health Dept. will offer free HIV counseling and testing ALL December. Know YOUR status.
  17. #WorldAIDSDay Rhema Wellness – 2 days of free testing and Counseling. 200 professionals volunteered http://pic.twitter.com/HTjHPzth
  18. ChristineIAm
    RT @thinkprogress: HIV testing will now be covered under Obamacare; 1st over the counter test was FDA approved this year #WorldAIDSDay thkpr.gs/Rp8pM9
  19. Testing and treatment are not always so accessible in African countries, where HIV/AIDS spread rapidly over the last three decades. Poverty and accessibility to health care play a major role in the large numbers of HIV infections on the continent. But this year some governments and observers highlighted progress, and South Africa even featured puppets against AIDS.
  20. HuffingtonPost
    Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 90 percent of the world’s children who have HIV/AIDS huff.to/SliuH8 #jnj #globalmotherhood
  21. manila_bulletin
    AIDS day:JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africa, home to the world’s largest HIV caseload, on Saturday unveiled … bit.ly/11n49yG
  22. mikehamilton63
    Progress-more to be done “@AfricaDailyNews: Africans mark significant progress on World AIDS day sns.mx/bsY0y6
  23. treebu
    Harper government fails Africa on low-cost drugs for AIDS fb.me/1r2DclH7b
  24. NickKristof
    A sign of progress against AIDS: coffin-makers in southern Africa say their business is slumping: nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opin…
  25. Power2thePuppet
    This week is the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s Puppets Against AIDS, see pics and video here: puppetrynews.com/puppets-ag… @actupny
  26. Stigmas against AIDS and presumed sexual activity and orientation remain a problem around the world.
  27. artisticnesss
    1987 was around the time political figures started saying the word HIV/AIDS and talking barely of gay rights in public…smh
  28. JSIhealth
    “I was drawn to #HIV/AIDS work because it had been so closely connected to the gay/lesbian civil rights movement” ow.ly/fE27I
  29. The following article explores in detail how stigma affects an HIV positive gay male in Canada.
  30. planete8
    Albert Knox on fighting segregation of HIV positive prisoners in #Alabama: bit.ly/11gaf3H #WorldAIDSDay via Gay GUARDIAN RT@
  31. Women experience HIV/AIDS differently than men and are affected in higher numbers. Paul Farmer would say they are made vulnerable by their gender and possibly, depending on their location and circumstances, poverty level (see his book: Women, Poverty, and AIDS: sex, drugs, and structural violence).
  32. UN_Women
    Girls bear a disproportionate burden of #HIV in most-affected regions.
    #AIDSfree @unicef_aids
  33. DAWNInc
    In Sub-Saharan #Africa, young women aged 15-24 are EIGHT times more likely than men to be living with HIV ow.ly/fEgia #WorldAIDSDay
  34. TeeWhyOwei
    Women account for 59% of adults aged 15 and over said to be living with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
  35. msnafia
    1998 saw women exceed men in sub-Saharan Africa living with AIDS #WorldAIDSDay
  36. Some commentators drew connections between HIV infections among women and other issues that affect women.
  37. TheShelterTweet
    Promoting and protecting women’s human rights helps keep them safer from HIV & a multitude of abuses ow.ly/fGeme #wad #dv
  38. CancerAfrica
    @UN_Women “Getting to Zero”: Working together to end twin pandemics of #HIV/AIDS & #violenceagainstwomen—least we forget #Cervical #Cancer
  39. WorldHungerDay
    Why it’s vital to support women with HIV/Aids with Microfinance – meet Elizabeth bit.ly/mcYdIT #Opportunity4All #AFRICA plsRT
  40. Every year my school buys badges like these, handmade in South Africa from women affected by HIV AIDS #WorldAIDSDay http://pic.twitter.com/PktcR0li
  41. In my experiences with World AIDS Day (and I’ve been following it for the last fifteen years), the event is not complete without sex-positive condom distribution. The city of Paris took a strong stand with 350,000 condoms to distribute and their own controversial logo.
  42. George Dexter Omoraro
    2 clicks gives a condom to a project that needs it. Be part of #1share1condom for #worldaidsday to help prevent HIV. 1share1condom.com
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Veteran Appreciation, and some of the struggles they face

On a domestic flight a few years ago I sat next to a friendly man dressed in Army fatigues. We chatted a little, then I tried to absorb myself in my book. But I couldn’t, because I felt too cold. So the soldier next to me shared his coat, and I accepted it, despite my pride.

At the time I felt very awkward about how to act towards men and women in the service, and I maintain mixed feelings about US military policies. When I shared an armrest with that nice soldier on the plane, I kept seeing flashes of all the policy and news reports about the war in Iraq, rather than fully engaging with the individual next to me. I wished I had thanked him for his service as well has his coat.

Now that I’m several years older (and maybe a little wiser) I better appreciate that soldier’s generosity in risking his life in the line of duty. But I worry that the US doesn’t have the tools to support returning soldiers. I didn’t previously consider veterans a minority or vulnerable population, but in some respects they are both. People in the active military in the US make up about 1 percent of the population, and veterans make up about 7 percent of the population (as of 2010). As for their vulnerability, some veterans return home injured (physically and/or mentally), and those who aren’t injured still have to deal with the stigma and suspicion of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The departure of US troops from Afghanistan has raised a number of issues for veterans here at home, especially in job searches. They struggle to find work, in part because their military credentials do not always transfer to civilian credentials. John Stewart on the Daily Show posed mock interviews for two medics with heroic credentials. Neither of them hold certificates or degrees to officially qualify them to serve as a school nurse – and yet both saved lives of fellow soldiers and received the sufficient medical training to do so.

Michelle Obama is among many others in the US in running initiatives to serve the military personnel who served us. The New York Times just posted a story outlining the growth of organizations that support veterans, suggesting that perhaps that the US can’t handle any more such groups. At least there is activity in that realm.

The US is faced with a growing, though small population of servicemen and women who deserve a fair shot in the job market and appreciation from the government and civilians they served.

Thank you to those who served and those still serving.

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Disability and the politics of cure

In a comfortable study room overlooking Lake Mendota, a diverse group of scholars got together to discuss a new work by Eli Clare. Clare himself sat in with the group discussing an essay that touched on “the politics of cure” for a series on Accessing the Intersections: Disability, Race, + Gender at UW-Madison on October 12. That’s where I got my first taste of the “politics of cure,” a concept I would like to share here.

Eli Clare

Clare’s writings explore the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and ability, and he writes from personal experience. I read his work, “Gawking, Gaping, Staring,” this summer, and it opened my eyes (excuse the expression) to the “othering” experienced by people with disabilities.

I wish I could say that I have been aware and sensitive to the social justice struggles of peoples with disabilities as long as I’ve been interested in gender and race issues. But I’m learning. And so is the rest of the world, as the UN only adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006 (note: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was adopted in 1979).

As the discussion on ability and ableism gains voices and volume, the experiences of disabled people also marginalized due to race or gender or sexuality shed important light on the similarities and differences of these groups. Clare’s writings eloquently explore his experiences and those of his friends and colleagues experiencing  the intersections of queerness and disability. I recommend them.

I’d like to return to the discussion group overlooking Lake Mendota where Clare, and other scholars, illuminated the politics of cure for me. Think about how we discuss cancer in the United States. The Susan G. Komen foundation sponsors races for the cure and another campaign encourages people to “Stand up to Cancer.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with striving for cures for ailments, but not all ailments have cures, and not all disabled bodies can be “cured.” So a woman with breast cancer may not focus on occupying and loving her body regardless of its cancer, because she is so focused on the life she will have after remission or after a cure.

I choose cancer as an example, because it’s widespread, relatable, and often “cured.” But consider the way that people with incurable diseases experience the politics of cure, the obsession with cure. Someone mentioned in the discussion meeting that muscular dystrophy funds have claimed a cure on the horizon for decades. And Clare mentioned Christopher Reeves’ constant striving to regain some functioning after paralysis. But Reeves did not recover from his quadriplegia and those with muscular dystrophy still live with it day in and day out.

Many people (i.e. nearly one in five) live their lives with physical disabilities and/or illness (both mental and physical). A constant quest for cures makes it difficult to accept and experience the present state of our bodies, regardless of their ability.

Sitting with Clare and the other interdisciplinary scholars, I realized I had much to learn about the sociopolitical challenges surrounding disability. I also have more to learn about the implications of cure. But hope for “cure” can translate to a non-acceptance of a disabled body. That doesn’t mean I’m racing away from the cure, but now I think about accepting bodies as they are, hoping for cures as an alleviation for pain not the restoration of a “cured” body.

“Cure” is not so simple as a pill or treatment

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Acknowledging Columbus’ Painful Legacy

Totem Pole, Washington state

The Trail of Tears took place nearly 200 years ago, and thousands of Native Americans died during this forced migration. Yet, in the United States we don’t often reflect on this black mark in our history. We do annually reflect on the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the America’s in 1492. An arrival that marks the start of the European colonization of the continent, as well as the subsequent death and subjugation of indigenous people and the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade.

Today marks Columbus Day — a federal holiday since the 1930s. It wasn’t until I heard of Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States (published first in 1980) that I began to reconsider the American history I’d learned as a child (which painted Columbus as a curious explorer and civilizing cornerstone). The arrival of Columbus in the Bahamas marked a dramatic shift in our nation’s history, but whether it should be celebrated or not is a question in a growing debate. Some activists have sought to change the focus of the holiday towards, “Indigenous People’s Day.”

In observance of the colonization and genocide that followed Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, I’ve gathered a few stories worth checking out today.

1. On Columbus Day, Indigenous Urge Celebration of Native Culture and Teaching of Americas’ Genocide: Democracy Now filmed this segment in Fort Lewis College, which hosts a large Native American student population and an event today called, “Real History of the Americas.” Three women affiliated with the college talk about alternative histories, identity, and cultural trauma experienced by generations of Native Americans.

2. Stand on the Side of Love with Native Women: This blog posted a reminder today about the tenuous position of the Violence Against Women Act facing congress. It’s fitting on what some call “Indigenous People’s Day,” that we remember the disproportionate rates at which Native Women continue to experience sexual assault and violence. One in three Native Women is estimated to be raped in her life.

3. Columbus’ Legacy of Categorization: The Yale student paper published a really interesting column from a Native American student addressing his take on Columbus day and his own identity. He explains how he struggles when people ask him, “How Native are you?” This piece indicates where we still have room for improvement in addressing our history of colonialism and it’s insidious, lingering effects.

Christopher Columbus

4. Columbus Day Vs. Indigenous Peoples’ Day: How About Happy Immigration Day?: Mediaite addressed the conflict of whether or not today should be a holiday. Author Philip Bump dismisses some of the arguments for Indigenous People’s Day with the explanation “People are — and always have been — selfish jerks… Our forefathers were oppressed and were oppressors.” He suggests forgetting the controversy and celebrating the diverse fabric of America caused by immigration. It’s an interesting piece, but it feels dismissive for the sake of a rosy conclusion.

Regardless of the name of the holiday, it’s important for Americans to observe the reality of our history. Acknowledging historical trauma on the Columbus Day holiday provides national validation and healing for part of our tumultuous history and a voice for our Native American fellow citizens.

What are your thoughts on Columbus Day? Is it antiquated? Is it important to maintain?

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Adult Witnesses of Child Abuse Held Accountable

On my parents anniversary a few weeks ago they reminisced about trying to secure a particular Catholic officiate at their wedding.  But the priest they selected was not permitted by his superiors to oversee a half-Catholic wedding, and besides, Ron Voss was already in trouble in the diocese for violating traditional practices like hosting mass in someone’s house.

The irony of the story, my parents continued, was that this priest’s most offensive act did not face sufficient punishment from the church. He molested children, and the church’s solution to the problem was to send him far away, to Haiti, where conflicting reports suggest Voss continued his abusive habits.

This anecdote from my parents revived an issue I’ve been mulling over since the Jerry Sandusky trial this summer. Protecting children from predators should be the understood responsibility of all adults. Standing by with knowledge of child abuse condones the crime and is criminal in and of itself. Within the unequal power dynamic of an abusive relationship, children cannot be expected to protect themselves from older, larger, and more influential figures in their lives who may try to hurt them.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child (this is a human rights document) states that “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation.” While the US helped draft this declaration we have not ratified it and are not held to the terms. But many states on their own, have passed legislation naming mandatory reporters who monitor for suspicious treatment of children. Florida just passed an act that “criminalizes failure to report child abuse” in the state.

Reporting charges of child abuse can be painful to pursue. I don’t doubt this. No institution — be it the Roman Catholic Church, the legendary football program at Penn State, or any other establishment — wants to set aside their mission and reputation to deal with a scandal. And no individual witness likely wants to challenge people they’ve previously respected with an accusation of molestation.   Taking responsibility for knowledge like that requires courage, and for those who don’t have the will-power to speak up, the judicial system has started to hold them responsible. 

While former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky already received a conviction for sexually abusing 10 boys,  other cases are pending around the people who may have known of Sandusky’s abuses; related allegations include failure to report and perjury. A report from Louis J. Freeh, director of the F.B.I., outlined that many support staff suspected the abuses and choose to silence concerns, rather than address them. This alleged evasion of confrontation allowed Sandusky to continue to abuse minors over the course of several years.

[In an interesting side note, a primary witness in the case against Sandusky, filed his own suit against the university. Mike McQueary, a former graduate assistant, claims that Penn State used him as a scapegoat, damaging his reputation. His testimony played an important role in the trial, though his subsequent strife illustrates why some may be reluctant to expose the crimes of superiors.]

The Sandusky trial wasn’t the only sexual abuse case to come out of Pennsylvania this summer. In July, a Catholic official, Monsignor William J. Lynn, was sentenced to 3-6 years for concealing sex abuses by priests. This trial marked the first conviction of a Roman Catholic official in the U.S.  — although charges of sexual abuse of minors in the catholic church arose frequently over the last few decades.

A petition through Change.org started circulating recently to address a parallel issue in a Kansas City, Missouri diocese. Bishop Robert Finn “shielded a pedophile priest,” reported the New York Times. And the author of the petition, Jeff Weis, wants the bishop to resign his post.

I don’t think this is a tall order, requesting the removal of someone convicted of protecting adult offenders over vulnerable children. The criminal justice system must be careful of newly criminalizing offences, but when it comes to child abuse someone must advocate for children.  That means expecting adults to take information they probably didn’t seek or desire and share it with authorities to prevent further abuse. If adult witnesses don’t take action, more and more children will be subject to the predation of abusers.

FYI: Jerry Sandusky faces sentencing this Tuesday, October 9.

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