Tag Archives: George W. Bush

Celebrating Harry Belafonte

2 Aug

BelafonteGiven the recent events involving one of my personal heroes, Harry Belafonte, and Jay Z (a staunch supporter of marriage equality), I thought this would be an appropriate time to celebrate a social justice hero.  Belafonte is known world wide for his entertainment career, but I have always had a much greater appreciation for his social activism.  Belafonte has used his celebrity to help and support Dr. Martin Luther King.  In fact, it was Belafonte who bailed King out of the now famous Birmingham Jail.  He also financed the Freedom Rides, and helped our Bayard Rustin organize the March on Washington.

Belafonte’s dedication to human rights is not restricted to the borders of the United States, although it is worth noting that Belafonte was one of a handful of people who vocally opposed the policies of the George W. Bush administration. This was during the Great Silence when practically NO ONE dared to question the administration for fear of being called unpatriotic.  One of Belafonte’s most famous admonitions addressed Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and their implication in the violation of human rights under Bush II:

There is an old saying, in the days of slavery. There were those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master, do exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. That gave you privilege. Colin Powell is committed to come into the house of the master, as long as he would serve the master, according to the master’s purpose. And when Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture. And you don’t hear much from those who live in the pasture.

Belafonte has fought against the neo-colonization of countries in Africa.  He has helped the fight against HIV and AIDS in South Africa.  Belafonte has dedicated his life to human rights and continues to interrupt oppression around the world.  He also expects all people to take action and stand in solidarity with all targeted populations. He was proud to serve as one of the Grand Marshalls of the New York City Pride Parade this year in recognition of his support of LGBT rights and marriage equality.

While I do not wish to get into the particulars around what Belafonte said and how Jay Z responded, I would like and hope that these two men can come together and have a conversation away from the public, as Belafonte has suggested. They both make good points — progress requires direct action and public figures with whom marginalized youth can identify.

Belafonte is not only a treasure for social justice but he holds institutional and systemic memory.  Jay Z is young and has enormous power and influence.  Imagine how powerful these two voices could be if united and how many of us would support them both to help celebrate counter narratives that challenge the dominant culture. If we want the world to change for the better, we need to look towards the solidarity of targeted populations coming together in numbers too big to be ignored.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Social Justice In Our Time

26 Jul

Social Justice in Our Time

(Spoiler Alert for those that have not read or seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)  We finally went to see the last Harry Potter movie last night.  I had been putting it off because it is the last of the movies and a painful reminder that I have finished reading all seven books. (While I have read most of the books at least twice, I have read book three, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, at least five times). The movie was absolutely brilliant and very close to the book.  Watching the movie made me reflect on an era I shall refer to as the Harry Potter times.

As an important part of my reflections, I am compelled to thank J.K. Rowling for getting an entire generation reading and engaged thinking about issues around social justice. My introduction to her wonderful books was as reluctant as I imagine it was for some young readers. We had just started a new century and a new millennium and my husband and I just bought our first house together.  I was also in the process of helping to start a new school, The Atlanta Girls’ School (AGS).  Lots of new starts and lots of hope in the air.  My husband and three specific students of mine at AGS hounded — and I do mean hounded — me to start reading the Harry Potter Series! I protested for well over six months.  “I’m not into fantasy,” I said. “It is just not my type of book,” I implored. Oy! Finally, I acquiesced just to placate my husband and the students, all of whom I love.

I was completely hooked by the time I finished the first book.  Rowling had cast a spell upon me and catapulted me into a world where issues of social justice, racism, misogyny, discrimination, classicism, ageism, and homophobia would dictate a tumultuous and finally triumphant 11 year journey, a journey that in many ways reflected both the joys and heartbreaks of my life over the course of the past decade.

In book two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, we see the issues of racism and classism addressed through the treatment of house elves. Our Hermione works to set up a quasi civil rights movement to free the house elves.  To the reader’s great relief we see Dobby become a free elf.  For those detractors of Rowling and her books, I say shame on you. Don’t we want children’s literature to be didactic in nature? Do we not want our children to learn right from wrong, about discrimination and oppression?

I remember reading book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, during some of the darkest days of the George W. Bush years.  When no one was allowed to questions or criticize W. Questioning him resulted in being labeled “unpatriotic.”  This was also the time when W. and Cheney started their vilification of the LGBT community, so as to take our focus off of the war in Iraq, or the start of the never-ending recession. It was a time when taxes were cut and W. sent checks to the American people and told us to spend our way out of the recession–so much for that brilliant idea.  Reading about the Ministry of Magic and seeing our Dolores Umbridge as the Head of Hogwarts was such a mirror of what was happening in the political landscape in the United States.  When Sirius Black dies at the end of book five, I mourned for Harry, but was also mourning for a country that was scaffolding the architecture of a nefarious government that was in practice a theocracy–a government that made Ronald Reagan look like a Marxist. Incidentally, I had to re-read book three after I finished book five.

Rowling’s moral compass inspires great courage, integrity, and a heart that recognizes the greater good for the greater cause in books six and seven. With the death of the patriarchal/matriarchal Dumbledore, we witness phenomenal courage and sacrifice in none other than Severus Snape. In the Harry Potter series, we see people banding together to help one another.  While we see the dark side of humanity in Voldemort and his minions, we also see the humanity at its best in Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Snape and the rest of the cast of characters who put aside their respective egos and work for the greater good.

Who will the next writer be that inspires millions of us to read and to be engaged in the world we live in; to inspire us to leave the world a better place than how we found it?

Barbara Bush: Marriage Equality (?)

1 Feb

Thank you to my friend Jay, for passing this along to me.  Yes, it is true. W’s daughter Barbara Bush is pushing for marriage equality in New York.  I painfully remember George W. Bush and the Puppet Master Dick (If I only had a heart) Cheney pushing hard for a constitutional amendment to ban all gay marriages.  What a nice surprise to Barbara break away from her father and do the right thing. Click here to see the video she made.  How ironic, Cheney had a lesbian daughter who has only worked against the LGBT community, and now we have Barbara turning out to be a great straight ally.  Bizarre world!

Barbara Bush Pushing for Marriage Equality

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