White boys will be boys: Kavanaugh, #MeToo and race

White boys will be boys: Kavanaugh, #MeToo and race

The Rev. Al Sharpton, center, speaks at Greater Grace Church in Florissant, Mo., on Aug. 17, 2014, during a rally for justice for Michael Brown, an unarmed teen shot by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer. Photo by Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Brett Kavanaugh crisis has been a crucible for questions about sexual behavior and women’s equality. But Thursday’s drama on Capitol Hill, and evangelical Christians’ responses to it, also reveal much about the racial problem at the heart of white conservative Christian America.

A number of white evangelical pastors publicly insist that the rape allegations by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and other recent victims are simply “irrelevant” because Kavanaugh was a 17-year-old boy, too young to be held responsible for such actions if they occurred at all.

Franklin Graham, who has said he believes Kavanaugh’s denials of sexual assault, also dismissed the claims against him as political maneuvering.

“It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh, who has a stellar record, that somebody can bring something up that he did when he was a teenager close to 40 years ago. That’s not relevant,” Graham told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Boys will be boys, as the saying goes.

Many white conservative voices have asked that we give Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt. By not extending this same courtesy to his multiple accusers, these pastors make clear that they don’t consider combating gender violence a priority in this country or in the churches they lead. Although Ford has testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, this nation has a long way to go in believing women’s voices concerning sexual violence.

Yet Kavanaugh’s case is not just about the inequalities associated with gender and how women are made responsible for violence committed against them. This issue also reveals the fault lines between white conservative Christians and black communities.

White conservative Christian preachers such as Franklin Graham might pause to wrestle with the uneven racial histories that portray young black boys (and girls) as responsible for a myriad of social problems, even when they are innocent.

In this country, in short, black boys can never simply be “boys.”

Consider 14-year-old Emmett Till, lynched by a vicious white mob over allegations involving sexual assault of a white woman in 1955 in Mississippi. Worse, it took decades for white political leaders to decry his lynching.

There are still Emmett Tills today, who are murdered without due process.

Consider Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen who was fatally shot in the middle of the street for looking (and supposedly behaving) like a “monster” (the words of Officer Darren Wilson).

Consider the life of Botham Jean, gunned down in his own home by Officer Amber Guyer only to be met with rationales that he resisted the commands of an off-duty officer who broke into his house. Even more horrific, his house was searched after the shooting and new rationales for his death emerged, including the argument that he had marijuana in his home and was therefore a threat, inviting his own demise.

Consider Dayonn Davis, a Georgia teen who was tried as an adult for stealing a $100 pair of shoes and received a five-year prison sentence.

Being a child in America is unequivocally tied to race. Being a black child in America is perilously unsafe. These uneven histories demonstrate that white boys can be treated as children, while black boys are tried as menacing adults.

White conservative political leaders appear to be equally appalled that they have been “forced” to hold hearings on whether the allegations against Kavanaugh are true. During Lindsey Graham’s meltdown during Thursday’s hearing, the senator stated that “immaturity does not equal criminality.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., points at Democrats as he defends Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2018. (Tom Williams/Pool Image via AP)

This is a privilege that is not accorded so many black boys and men. What excuses Kavanaugh from being called to account, to determine if indeed his alleged actions caused trauma in the life of a 15-year-old girl? Kavanaugh desires to be chosen for one of the highest positions in our nation. Why shouldn’t a fair and proper investigation be conducted in light of these serious allegations?

The answer is plain: Conservative voices want to give Kavanaugh a pass because he is a white man who will represent their interests.

The kind of sexist and racist logic that pastors such as Franklin Graham espouse is reckless and demonstrates that the racial gap in our country is sadly denied. We cannot heal. We must call out the demons of white privilege that allow white men to be considered innocent from the very start while ethnic groups such as blacks in this country go on trial even after their own blood has unjustly been spilled.

Most importantly, this entire hearing is a symptom of a much deeper problem in our country, in which entire groups of vulnerable and marginalized people stand to be stripped of fundamental rights and liberties.

We should be concerned about what Kavanugh represents: a doubling down of white evangelical Christian America in the face of growing ethnic, gender and religious diversity. With Kavanaugh’s appointment, women stand to be denied access to reproductive justice. Immigrants will continue to feel the weight of white populist anger and state violence. Policies to roll back important health policies will affect the poor. Disadvantaged black communities will experience an ever-growing system of mass incarceration and militarized policing.

As I watched Kavanaugh cry during the hearing, I wondered why his tears were privileged over those of countless vulnerable groups who have been adversely affected under the Trump administration and will continue to be affected by Kavanaugh’s appointment.

Race matters. And an acknowledgment that race matters in Kavanaugh’s case is both an intellectual and spiritual admission that things must change.

(Keri Day is an associate professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religion at Princeton Theological Seminary. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

Voter ID tied to lower turnout in Wisconsin

Voter ID tied to lower turnout in Wisconsin

Video Courtesy of Forward Community Investments

With all of her necessary documentation, University of Wisconsin-Madison student Brooke Evans arrived at her polling place on Nov. 8, 2016, for the presidential election. For her, voting that day meant not only casting a ballot for the first female presidential candidate with a real shot of winning, but having a voice in a society in which homeless people such as herself were marginalized.

“There’s something about voting that makes you very real,” Evans said.

But when poll workers examined her mailing address under the guidelines of the Wisconsin voter ID law enacted in 2015, the University of Wisconsin-Madison philosophy major initially was barred from voting due to confusion over her address.

The law requires Wisconsin residents to present certain forms of photo identification to vote but does not require that the ID have the voter’s current address. Such voters must provide proof of their current address — and that is where Evans ran into trouble. She eventually was able to cast a ballot using a campus address she herself had advocated for to help homeless students.

Not only did Evans, as a college student, face increased obstacles under the voter ID law, her homelessness was another barrier — one that almost prevented her from exercising a fundamental right of citizenship.

“I was just really surprised at the hassle I was given,” Evans said.

Over the past 15 years, voting has become increasingly difficult for people such as Evans. A recent PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 Voter Engagement Survey found that 5 percent of Wisconsin residents surveyed said they or someone in their household was told they lacked the proper documentation to vote. (The Joyce Foundation is a funder of the survey and also is a funder of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s coverage of democracy issues.)

A 2014 U.S. Government Accountability Office report concluded that voter ID laws may reduce voter turnout. The report examined 10 studies, as well as turnout in Kansas and Tennessee compared to other states without voter ID laws. The GAO estimated turnout was cut by up to 2.2 percentage points in Kansas and 3.2 percentage points in Tennessee in the 2008 and 2012 elections — with larger decreases seen among specific groups, including those ages 18 to 23 and African-Americans.

Such a margin can be decisive. In 2016, Republican Donald Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point, or 47.22 percent of the vote, edging out Democrat Hillary Clinton, who got 46.45 percent. Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel has even credited the photo ID requirement with helping Trump win Wisconsin.

Although requiring voter identification in some form has a history stemming back to the 1950s, laws requiring all voters without exception to have specific forms of identification gained traction in 2005. Currently, 34 states have voter ID laws, with Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Wisconsin being some of the strictest, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Except for people with religious objections, all voters in Wisconsin are required to present photo identification at the polls. These include state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, U.S. passports and certain IDs issued by Wisconsin accredited universities or colleges.

Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement passed in 2011 and was prompted by Republican concerns about ostensible voter fraud. But that justification has been discredited by several subsequent studies and rejected by a federal judge who in 2016 labeled concerns over voter fraud “mostly phantom.”

So after years of legal wrangling, Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement was put in place for the first general statewide election in 2016.

In Wisconsin, voter ID enjoys strong support from the public. Marquette Law School polls taken between 2012 and 2014 showed between 60 and 66 percent of Wisconsin residents surveyed favored requiring a government-issued photo identification card to vote. It should be noted that among those answering the poll in 2014, 99 percent said they had a valid photo ID to vote.

There are still lingering challenges to the law. The federal appeals court in Chicago has not issued a ruling in two cases despite hearing arguments in February 2017.

Analiese Eicher described how, during her time as a UW-Madison student from 2006 to 2011, she and her roommates would walk to the polling places together so that one could vouch for the address of the others. Eicher is program director at One Wisconsin Now, the left-leaning advocacy group suing to overturn the law. The law no longer allows for a “corroborating witness” to provide proof of residency for voters.

Since Eicher’s time in college, ID requirements for students have become much stricter. Of the 13 University of Wisconsin four-year campuses, only four provide campus-issued student IDs that are compliant for voting.

That means out-of-state students and students with no driver’s licenses at those schools must get a second ID card from the university, which is valid for only two years, as well as a Voter Enrollment Verification letter proving they are enrolled in school.

These extra steps were by design: A former GOP staffer testified in 2016 that some Republican senators in a closed session were “giddy” about the prospect of voter ID suppressing votes by Milwaukee residents and college students, both of whom tend to vote Democratic.

Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, said Wisconsin and other states risk delegitimizing their own elections by suppressing participation.

“We have to think really carefully about the barriers that are put into voting in an already-declining voter turnout reality that we live in,” Klaas said.

In the 2016 presidential election, Wisconsin’s overall voter turnout was 70.5 percent, the lowest in two decades.

In Sauk City, a town of around 3,400 residents about 30 miles north of the state Capitol in Madison, voters in the last presidential election without a proper form of identification could obtain free state ID cards at local Division of Motor Vehicles offices — but that office was only open every fifth Wednesday of every month — or just four days in 2016.

“(The voter ID law) made it harder for people to cast a ballot,” said Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan political watchdog group. “Making it much harder to vote is about as anti-democratic as you can get.”

Gail Juszczak of Lake Mills said she believes the voter ID law is aimed squarely at people likely to vote Democratic.

“I think that the whole vote and the whole idea of changing this is to exclude certain people from voting,” said Juszczak, interviewed outside her polling place during the Aug. 14 partisan primary election. “And I think it’s definitely hurt the Democratic Party, particularly because more of the Democrats are people who aren’t as able to show identification as clearly.”

The state also initially did a poor job of explaining the changes to residents, said Anita Johnson, a Milwaukee resident who has been educating voters on their rights for 25 years. In 2015, Johnson began working with VoteRiders, a national nonprofit organization specializing in helping people obtain proper identification to vote

“People are confused,” Johnson said. “Some people at the beginning thought that there was an actual voter ID card. There is no such thing as a voter ID card.”

Among those who may have difficulty obtaining proper ID for voting are senior citizens, some of whom lack state-issued driver’s licenses or other documentation, said Gail Bliss, a senior liaison for the League of Women Voters in Dane County.

Kathleen Fullin, who also works for the league, remembers the case of a senior citizen with a driver’s license that had expired since the last general election, which is a valid form of ID for voting under the law.

“Her family had actually contacted the Wisconsin Elections Commission and knew she should be permitted to cast a regular ballot, but the chief inspector at her polling place would not permit it,” Fullin said in an email.

Said Johnson: “Voting should be one of the easiest things you can do. And it allows you to participate in democracy. So when you put up problems like the voter ID law, people say ‘Forget it, I’m not going to vote.’ ”

Challengers to the voter ID law had argued that hundreds of thousands of valid Wisconsin voters — many of them Hispanic, African-American and students — could be barred from casting ballots because of the identification requirement.

A UW-Madison study commissioned by Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell in 2017 estimated that thousands of registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties were deterred or prevented from voting because of the photo ID requirement in the 2016 presidential election — a situation that more heavily affected low-income people and African-Americans. The survey was mailed to 2,400 registered voters; 293 were returned.

Based on the sampling weight, UW-Madison political science professor Kenneth Mayer concluded that between 11,701 and 23,252 people did not vote due to confusion over voter ID requirements or lack of proper identification.

Trump won Wisconsin by 22,748 votes.

Mayer’s conclusion was challenged by a free market, limited government legal group, which contended there was no proven linkage between the photo ID requirement and the election results. Will Flanders, research director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said the study “pushed a narrative” of voter suppression but did not actually prove it.

“The most this survey can claim to prove is that the administration of the law could have been improved or that the candidates could have run better ground games,” Flanders wrote.

But, with the 2018 general election approaching, stories like Brooke Evans’ show how easily confusion about voting can jeopardize voting. If it were not for her own efforts to help homeless students, Evans said, she herself might not have been able to vote.

“I ended up relying on (activism) to access basic human rights, like the right to vote.”

The nonprofit news outlet Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism provided this article to The Associated Press through a collaboration with Institute for Nonprofit News.

New Orleans publicly unveiling slave market tour app

New Orleans publicly unveiling slave market tour app

Video Courtesy of Essence

The city of New Orleans has unveiled a smartphone app tour of sites involved in the slave trade during the 18th and 19th centuries, including the pre-Civil War years during which the city was the nation’s largest slave market.

The project, officially launched on Thursday, is affiliated with New Orleans’ tricentennial celebrations. It comes as cities around the country are shining an unblinking light on slavery and racial violence through such projects as a slavery museum outside New Orleans, an Alabama memorial to victims of lynchings, and the preservation of slave cemeteries.

In announcing the app at a news conference, African-American Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the New Orleans Slave Trade Marker and App Project “will let us honor the lives and dignity of those ancestors who were undoubtedly bought and sold here.”

The city’s Tricentennial Commission reached out to Erin Greenwald, then curator at the Historic New Orleans Commission, and historian Joshua Rothman of the University of Alabama, after they wrote an opinion piece in 2016 “calling out New Orleans for being behind other southern cities” in recognizing “difficult history,” Greenwald said.

The piece noted that Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama; Charleston, South Carolina; and Memphis, Tennessee, all had historical markers noting slavery, Reconstruction or Civil Rights troubles, but New Orleans had nothing to indicate that 135,000 people of color had been sold there as slaves.

The app has been available for about two months. It includes more than two hours of recorded segments including historical descriptions and readings from interviews with and writings by former slaves.

It opens by naming 11 children — Bill, Isaac, John, Monroe, Lewis, Washington, Robert, Phyllis, Elizabeth, Mary and Lovie — sent from Norfolk, Virginia, to the New Orleans slave market on the ship Ajax in September 1835.

“Ripped from their families, their communities and their homes, they were among more than 1 million enslaved people forcibly relocated” from Maryland, Virginia, Washington and North Carolina to lower Southern states between 1808, when the United States banned the international slave trade, and the end of the Civil War, a narrator states.

In a later segment, an actor reads from a Federal Writers Project interview in 1937 with Virginia Bell, who was born enslaved near Opelousas.

“My mother’s name was Della. That was all, just Della,” she begins. She tells about her father, “sold away” from a wife and five children in Virginia. “I don’t know what became of his family back in Virginia, because when we was freed, he stayed with us,” she said.

The stops include five with markers created for this project — a sixth is underway — and two with markers created by another group. Unlike state historic markers, those made for the project are mounted directly on buildings and topped with the project’s logo: a black man, woman and child around an auction block behind which a white man has raised a gavel.

If all the stops are taken in their listed order, the tour covers nearly 4 miles (6.4 kilometers), including more than a mile of backtracking. A map navigation button can be used to find nearby sites, with pop-up boxes to show each site’s name. That in turn will show an image, a list of audio tracks for the site, and directions to the next.

For deaf Tanzanians, places to worship are rare

For deaf Tanzanians, places to worship are rare

A preacher delivers the sermon with sign language during a service at Immanuel Church for the Deaf in Dar es Salaam. Video screenshot

BAGAMOYO, Tanzania  — On a recent Sunday morning, Isaac Mbaga met with two friends to worship in his house in this town on the east side of the country’s major port city, Dar es Salaam.

As they began their worship service with songs, the three — all of whom are deaf — danced and signed along to the songs.

Soon, they sat and opened their Bibles and read from the Gospel of Matthew: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Then, Mbaga asked his fellow worshippers in sign language about the meaning of the Scripture. They looked at each other and replied that they did not understand the scriptural message.

“This is the problem we have as deaf people,” said Mbaga, 33, with the help of a sign language interpreter. “We desire to know the Word of God, but we have nobody to help us. We have no pastors and churches around here for deaf people.”

Mbaga and his colleagues are among many deaf Tanzanians who have few options for worship. They say there is only one church nearby where deaf people can worship through sign language interpreters.

Many others across the country who cannot make their way to the church are left to read the Bible on their own to meet their spiritual needs.

Tanzania, in red, located in eastern Africa. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

“These deaf people are very frustrated because they can’t find anywhere to worship God,” said evangelist Mary Temba, who is also deaf. “We have very few churches in the country where deaf people can go and worship. We have only one church in Dar es Salaam, and you need to travel over 300 miles to find another church. In fact, we have only two active churches where deaf people can worship.”

Temba, who oversees several deaf churches in Tanzania and in other East African nations, said churches, mosques and other places of worship in the country are unwelcoming to people with hearing disabilities.

“They really don’t care if deaf people exist in their churches or mosques,” Temba said at her home in Bagamoyo. “These places of worship have no special services for people with hearing disabilities, therefore leaving them out from active worship. This is very unfair.”

Seleman Munisi, who is deaf, has attended the Africa Independent Pentecostal Church at Bago village in Bagamoyo.

Throughout praise and worship time, Munisi danced with other worshippers and often tapped the edge of a folded fist to an open palm to indicate “Amen.”

When the pastor took to the podium to bring the message of the day, Munisi sat attentively but struggled to follow the preaching and prayers.

“I enjoyed the praise and worship service, but I didn’t hear the Word of God,” said Munisi, who is 25. “I love Jesus but I have nowhere I can go and worship. It’s the reason I come here and worship with others. I have no fare to travel to Dar es Salaam and worship with my colleagues with the help of a sign language interpreter.”

The National Bureau of Statistics Disability Survey Report of 2008 showed deafness is Tanzania’s third-most-prevalent form of disability. The number of deaf people was 607,618 in 2008 when the population of the country at the time was 42 million. The population currently stands at 56 million.

The praise team performs at Immanuel Church for the Deaf in Dar es Salaam. Video screenshot

At the Immanuel Church for the Deaf in Dar es Salaam, hundreds of deaf worshippers filled the sanctuary while others stood outside, trying to catch a glimpse through the windows during a recent church service.

The church for the deaf was founded with a group of pastors from Kenya and Uganda when they realized that there was a dire need in Tanzania. The church now has more than 700 congregants.

“We have a problem here but we are going to open more branches. We have realized that the use of sign language has helped deaf people to accept Christ and even live better lives. They are confident and they now feel loved,” said Joseph Hiza, the church’s general secretary.

Church member Agnes Salome agreed. “I’m very happy nowadays because I can worship God,” Salome said through a sign language interpreter. “I can comfortably follow the preaching by the evangelist. The worship service is great and we sing in sign language.”

Others deaf Tanzanians hope to have the same experience in the future.

“We want to worship God like other people because it’s our basic right,” said Mbaga. “I want to feel satisfied with God while I worship.”

Black men more religious than whites, research shows

Black men more religious than whites, research shows

Historically, women tend to be the stalwarts when it comes to religion, while men attend religious services less often and are less likely to say their faith is very important to them. But a new analysis shows that black men defy this trend.

study by the Pew Research Center released Wednesday (Sept. 26) has found that while black men are less religious than black women, they are more religious than white women and white men.

African-American men are equally as likely as Hispanic women to be what Pew considers “highly religious,” so they are tied the second-most religious group.

The findings are not entirely surprising, given earlier data on African-American faith. In general, Pew has found, African-Americans are more religious than whites and Latinos, and they are more likely to say they read the Bible regularly and consider it to be the Word of God.

Sixty-nine percent of black men in Pew’s study say religion is very important, while 78 percent say they believe in God with absolute certainty and 70 percent are considered highly religious.

“Highly religious,” according to Pew, includes those who pray at least once a day, attend religious services at least once a week, are absolutely certain about their belief in God and say religion is very important in their lives.

While 7 in 10 black men fit that description, 83 percent of black women are highly religious, Pew says. About two-thirds of Hispanic women, 58 percent of white women, half of Hispanic men and 44 percent of white men are considered very religious.

Across generations, researchers report differences. Fewer than 4 in 10 African-American millennials say they attend services weekly, compared with half of older blacks. Six in 10 of black millennials say they pray daily; in comparison, 78 percent older blacks report praying daily.

The Pew analysis is based on data from its 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. The margin of error for black men was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points and was lower for the other groups.