Thursday, March 22, 2018
Image credits: Top, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios. Bottom: Columbia Pictures
Like nearly every other person of color that viewed "Black Panther," I left the theater mesmerized. While the movie's all-Black cast makes it a unique Hollywood offering, its depiction of Blackness is even more striking.
From the beginning of cinema, depictions of Blackness have been largely negative. One of Hollywood’s earliest blockbusters, “Birth of a Nation,” depicted Black people as stupid, lazy, lascivious monsters intent on destroying white society. In later years, Hollywood depictions broadened to include roles such as the docile slave (“Gone with the Wind”), the simple buffoon (the ‘Stepin Fetchit’ films, “Amos ‘n’ Andy”), the sassy domestic (“Beulah”), and other negative portrayals.
The Civil Rights Movement ushered in an era of more positive representations. For the first time, African Americans were portrayed as educated professionals (“I Spy,” “Julia,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Who’s Coming to Dinner,” - any movie starring Sidney Poitier, really) capable of holding their own with whites.
In the 1970s, blaxploitation films such as “Superfly,” “The Mack,” and others presented an alternative view of Blackness that emphasized sexuality and criminality. Though this movement briefly waned, in the 1990s, films such as “Boyz n the Hood,” “New Jack City,” “Menace to Society,” and others also explored drug culture and crime. Though each of these films had strong anti-drug, anti-crime messages, for some, the takeaway was that these films were a realistic depiction of Black life.
To be sure, many African-Americans bristle at negative media portrayals because they fear – and somewhat justifiably so – that these films will negatively influence how whites view us. But, this argument is problematic for several reasons. Not only does this argument absolve whites of the responsibility to befriend actual Black people rather than celluloid substitutes, but it is also frequently used as a convenient excuse to engage in respectability politics. But the largest, glaring flaw in this argument is that it ignores how labelling certain depictions of Blackness “realistic” limits the Black imagination.
The wonderful thing about "Black Panther" is that it challenges Black viewers to see themselves in a different light. Wakanda is a peaceful, technologically advanced nation with a populace that lives together in harmony. Yes, it is fictional. No kingdom with the qualities of Wakanda exists – not in Africa, not in Europe, and not in North America. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get as close to Wakanda as we can.
I came of age in the “New Jack City” era. While the movies of that era were not my reality, they did accurately depict the reality of any number of African-Americans. But when reality is so bleak, why must we double-down on it? If we can’t imagine beyond reality, how can we ever hope to transcend it?
According to an old saying, “Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, and great minds discuss ideas.” To co-opt that phrase into this discussion, average Black minds can dissect our reality, but great Black minds can see beyond our current reality into a more just and prosperous future.
The value of “Black Panther” and other films that portray Blackness and Africanness in a positive light is that they allow African Americans to see ourselves in a different light. By altering perceptions, they stretch the Black imagination. Energized imaginations are then able to conceive a brighter, Blacker future.
It would be silly to argue that the reality of Black life as it is should never be portrayed. Every Black movie need not be set in Wakanda to be meaningful. However, “Black Panther” proves that while paying homage to our reality is important, imagining our future is equally so.
Hopefully, “Black Panther” will usher in a new era of creativity that stretches the limits of Blackness in cinema and beyond.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
This guest post is part of the blog's symposium, "“Wakandan Jurisprudence: How Black Panther Challenges Us to Examine the Past, Present, and Future of Race.”
Black Panther fulfilled a diasporic desire that seemed impossible to articulate prior to its release. As a child of the Black African Diaspora, Black Panther made my heart feel full. I was hardly alone. Many African-American viewers met Ryan Coogler’s vision of the Black Panther as king of the exquisitely conceptualized Black African Utopia, Wakanda, with enthusiasm and joy. Its premiere was an emotional global event for many Black People.
But the cultural resonance has also stirred up many debates within the Black Diaspora (one example is the fascinating debate around the museum scene). However, the film’s treatment of the central struggles for Black Liberation left me dissatisfied. Black Panther is a wildly imaginative film, but its treatment of the possibilities for Black Liberation is grounded in the dualities of White Patriarchal Settler Colonial Supremacy and thus obscures the potential for alternative ways of being, becoming, and birthing freedom through solidarity.
This realization becomes clear when we explore closely the utopia of Black Panther and how the core conflict of the film is resolved.
Even before we are introduced to the Black Panther or his nemesis, we are first introduced to Wakanda—a fictional and technologically advanced African utopia that draws on the precepts of Afrofuturism and a range of African traditions and actors from across the Black African Diaspora. This Wakanda is a utopic ecosocialist African monarchy. It is untouched by the ravages of colonialism. Although perceived as poor and underdeveloped, it is actually a highly advanced confederation of five tribes whose peace and prosperity is fed by unlimited access to a mythical mineral vibranium. Tradition and technology thrive together in a complementary harmony.
But this utopia is maintained through a kind of “Wakanda First” isolationism. Wakanda relies on its technology to mask its prosperity and protect its traditions. This isolation leads to not only the fierce defense of its boarders against white “colonizers,” it also closes off Wakanda from beneficial trade and refugee protection. Furthermore, Wakanda refuses to intervene in the suffering of Black persons throughout the diaspora. The first thing viewers learn about Wakanda is that the nation failed to intervene when white colonizers enslaved Black men and women.
Accordingly, the first political act viewers see is King T’Chaka’s willing to murder his own brother, Prince N’Jobu, and leave a half Wakandan child in Oakland, California rather than either expose Wakanda’s true nature. N’Jobu offense runs deeper than this. In the course of conducting surveillance on the United States for Wakanda, N’Jobu compromises Wakandan security to arm and protect insurgent Black Americans. N’Jobu seeks a larger liberation--ending the continued terrorism and bondage that has grown from legalized slavery. Before his death, N’Jobu indoctrinated his son, N’Jadaka in Wakandaian culture and language, and ensured that N’Jadaka possessed the vibranium “mark” that identified him as a Wakandian.
To this world, we introduce Erik “Killmonger,” nee N’Jadaka (the sensational Michael B. Jordan) and son of N’Jobu. Erik is as much a product of US imperialism and foreign policy as he is of N’Jobu’s effort of liberation. A brilliant MIT graduate and an elite soldier, Killmonger fought for the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan. His methods include destabilization of established nations and institutions. After Killmonger wins the throne from T’Challa, he institutes a new foreign policy for Wakanda—an imperialist model of interventionalist destabilization and death that would make the Reagan/Bush era CIA proud. His strategy is to give Wakandian technology to insurgents of African descent to further their Pan-African vision of Black struggle so that the victims of the Diaspora end up “on top” of the global hierarchy.
Killmonger is, perhaps, the film’s most compelling character. His intellectual and physical swagger trigger unconscious nostalgia for “[the] sexified second coming of the extremist Nat Turner.” It is unsurprising that Killmonger’s desires for revolution resonate with viewers, particularly with African-American viewers who feel the tensions of his struggle in a visceral way. Killmonger, like other revolutionary villains before him (Magneto), engenders feelings from ambivalence to passion to sadness. Many Black audiences have received Killmonger as a woke Pan-African anti-hero who is on the right side of history. In his battles with T’Challa, it was difficult for many of us to determine who the real villain was. Killmonger is unapologetically angry but his anger is legitimate. He believes the Black elites of Wakanda have abandoned peoples of African descent globally when they could have made a difference. And while Killmonger is defeated, he is not all wrong.
After Killmonger’s death, T’Challa takes Wakanda in an alternative direction. T’Challa adopts a policy of openness, increased transparency, and global assistance. But this policy is nonetheless squarely within the neoliberal model. T’Challa buys up real estate in Oakland to open the “first of many” Wakandan technology and science education embassies headed by his sister, and chief technology officer, Princess Shuri. And in the first “reveal” scene in the credits, T’Challa announces his openness policy to the unsuspecting members of the United Nations.
While I admire the film and I believe Black Panther somehow, renders my existence more intelligible, I am at the same time deeply dissatisfied with the film’s the political elements. While I feel the pull of Killmonger’s wrath and revolution, I must reject the film’s oppositional way of thinking about Black Liberation. When we are dreaming dreams of liberation, I find it fascinating that we are so tame and so timid in how we can imagine alternative possibilities for liberation.
In the film, strategies for Black Liberation are filtered through a Western lens that privileges what is as opposed to expressing what could be. The knowledge and praxis of indigenous persons, particularly women of color who draw on these traditions, remains invisible and unintelligible. Liberation is seen as emerging from one of three possibilities: (1) isolation of Black Persons from others, (2) Neo-Imperialism designed to colonize the historical colonizers, and (3) Neo-Liberalism’s investment in globalization, open markets, trade, and education. Neoliberalism, in Black Panther, is presented as a healing third way that enabled T’Challa to embrace both Wakanda and the highest objectives that Killmonger represents. But I found myself feeling dissatisfied and annoyed that STEM education, technology, and market trade are represented as a path to liberation – because such approaches carry costs and entrench existing institutional structures of power. Why tame the possibilities of Wakanda with neoliberal normativity? Neoliberal answers to inequality center individualism, mythologize merit, and valorize markets at the expense of community and solidarity. They refuse to disrupt dominant norms and fail to make reparations for past transgressions. The path to liberation cannot be won through real estate development, hackathons, and coding camps.
Though many claim claim Black Panther as feminist (because of the fierce women stars and in spite of the erasure of queer women), the film failed to offer an intersectional feminist approach for liberation. A key premise of the work of feminists of color who work toward liberation—from bell hooks to Lilla Wilson—is that we are bound to one another. Our liberation is entwined. Those who oppress and those who are oppressed must seek liberation together or none shall be free.
Killmonger and T’Challa could take a lesson from feminists of color. Their praxis reveals the paradox of bondage and the possibility of liberation.
Bondage binds both victims and oppressors. Liberation, in its truest form, frees not only the marginalized but also the privileged. Liberation cannot be accomplished through only individuals acts. It requires a radical recognition of interdependency and solidarity. And liberation cannot be accomplished by merely inverting the hierarchy. Reparations must be made. The path to liberation requires forging communities across difference and making institutional amends for past transgressions. It also requires unprecedented forms of accountability where those who have done wrong acknowledge the wrong and alleviate it.
In one of the most iconic moments of the film, Killmonger is confronted by Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett) and he says, “Hey, Auntie.” Killmonger and T’Challa alike would do well to listen to the wisdom of Aunties, particularly feminist women of color. It is my hope that Black Panther, as much as it sates these diasporic desires, has the potential to create the ground for future possibilities that we can use to envision what liberation could be beyond isolation, neo-imperialism, and neo-liberalism.
Saru Matambanadzo is the Moise S. Steeg Jr. Associate Professor of Law at Tulane University Law School.
Monday, March 19, 2018
Welcome to "Wakandan Jurisprudence: How Black Panther Challenges us to Examine the Past, Present, and Future of Race"
Black Panther has been a box office juggernaut. The film claimed the number one spot in its debut weekend and has yet to relinquish the top spot at the box office. The action-packed superhero film easily surpassed one billion dollars in ticket sales over its five week theatrical run. It is not only commercial successful, but also critically acclaimed.
This blog is not an entertainment blog. It's not even a media and the law blog. We are a blog that focuses on race, racism, and the law. Why would we devote time to a superhero movie?
For us, the significance of Black Panther goes beyond its ticket sales or comic book origins. This film has a cultural significance that goes beyond the silver screen. Its portrayal of Africa, Africans, and Blackness in general makes it more than mindless popcorn-munching entertainment. At the end of the day, the law is merely the codification of social mores. Black Panther challenges those social norms on many fronts.
There are a number of reasons why Black Panther deserves scholarly consideration. King T'Challa, the Black Panther, is one of only a handful of superheroes of color. Though Hollywood has created multiple interpretations of heroes such as Batman and Superman, Black Panther is first feature film dedicated to a Black superhero. Though that alone would be significant, the fact that T'Challa reigns over the kingdom of Wakanda, a fictional African realm, causes us to rethink how Africa has been historically portrayed in Western media. The prominence of Black women in the film - and the varied roles that they occupy - is directly contrary to the standard Hollywood fare. Moreover, the fact that Wakanda has achieved untold technological advances adds another layer, as it causes us to consider the impact of racism and colonization on the African continent. To that end, T'Challa's foe, his American-born cousin Erik Killmonger, is also a metaphor for the relationship Africans forcibly taken to the New World have with the Continent.
For these reasons, and many more, we believe that an examination of Black Panther is fully in line with the goals of this blog. This week's online symposium will feature provocative, enlightening, and entertaining posts. We hope you will enjoy it!
Monday, February 19, 2018
Frederick Douglass: A Multi-Racial Trailblazer
by Professor Tanya Hernandez, Fordham Law School
Last year President Trump made statements that left the impression he believed that abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive. In some respects, he still is. This month marks the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth, and his racial justice work continues to be relevant today. In fact, after President Trump was informed that Douglass died in 1895, the president signed into law the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act to organize events to honor the bicentennial anniversary of Douglass’s birth.
While slave records mark Douglass’ birth month as February — he was born in a plantation on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County — his status as a slave meant he had no information about the exact day he was born. As an adult he chose Feb. 14th for himself as a birth date. He was also never told who his father was, but circumstances lead him to conclude that it was his white slave owner.
Despite his mixed-race heritage and likely connection to his owner, Douglass was separated from his mother at an early age and exposed to physical abuse from his owners.
After escaping to freedom, Douglass established himself as a luminary of the abolitionist movement with his eloquent speeches regarding the savagery of slavery and its blight on our Constitution. His reputation as a compelling orator and writer garnered him a pivotal role in both lobbying for the inclusion of much needed black Union soldiers in the Civil War and then recruiting them once Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. After the Civil War, Douglass continued to write and speak out on matters of racial justice. His contributions to the nation were officially recognized with various government appointments.
Yet when Douglass married a white woman (fellow abolitionist and feminist Helen Pitts) after his first wife died, his interracial marriage created great controversy. It was immaterial that Douglass had white ancestry himself. Douglass’s mixed-race status did not alter his experience of racial discrimination. This is still true for mixed-race persons today.
In the 200 years since Douglass’ birth, we have has seen the growth of interracial marriages and mixed-race “multiracial” and “biracial” identity. In fact, the Census Bureau projects that the self-identified multiracial population will triple by 2060.
-- This is an excerpt of an oped published in the Baltimore Sun by Professor Tanya Hernandez. To read the full article, click here.
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Professor Michael Morley of Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law recently posted an interesting essay on SSRN, entitled "The Disparate Impact Canon" (University of Pennsylvania Law Review Online, Forthcoming). Professor Morley builds on one of Justice Sonya Sotomayor's remarks during the recent oral arguments in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. He posits and evaluates a "disparate impact canon" of statutory interpretation: a principle "that would require courts to construe ambiguous federal statutes in a manner that avoids, combats, or prevents racially disparate impacts." Professor Morley also considers how such a disparate impact canon would fit into larger debates about the role of judges, with particular attention to Justice Sotomayor's jurisprudence.
Thursday, February 1, 2018
Presumed Incompetent – II Yolanda Flores Niemann, Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Carmen G. Gonzalez (Eds.)
CALL FOR PAPERS (deadline for abstracts is February 28, 2018)
Presumed Incompetent, The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012), continues to be a wild success, connecting with faculty across a wide spectrum of our academic world. The book continues to receive glowing reviews in academic journals and blogs. Multiple university groups and organizations have selected Presumed Incompetent as their focus-reading book. As we, the editors of Presumed Incompetent – Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez, and Angela P. Harris - have continued to respond to speaking requests based on Presumed Incompetent, we have been implored to develop a follow up volume. The stories that we hear from faculty all over the country leave no doubt that the extraordinary challenges for women of color in academia persist. We have decided that second volume of Presumed Incompetent is needed, and that now is the time to expose additional experiences laden with unjust and poor treatment. As Oprah Winfrey said in her Golden Globes speech, “…Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Our vision, as editors of Presumed Incompetent, is that by telling our truths, by courageously making our truths public, we will collectively facilitate an improved climate for women of color in academia, and, indeed, for all persons. For a climate of fairness, respect, and equity affects the quality of life for all persons. We also envision a time when, with an increased understanding of the personal and career damage that can result from biases and unjust treatment, those around us will speak up on our behalf. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
In this volume, we will feature narratives from academics facing challenges based on the following topics:
• Social class
• Serving in administrative positions
• LGBTQ and Transgender
• Adjuncts & Lecturers (contract employees)
• Sexual harassment
• Filing grievances
• Tenure and promotion
• Activism and public engagement
• Attacks on scholars via social media
We welcome personal narratives on these and other topics. We also invite empirically based articles, although the focus of the volume, as in Presumed Incompetent, will be experiential – on the lived experiences of women of color in academia. We invite narratives from scholars from all academic disciplines and career stages, and from all demographic groups, prioritizing those from women of color, including trans and cisgender.
The deadline for abstracts is February 28, 2018. Submit your three-page abstract and a short biography electronically to Yolanda.email@example.com. In your abstract please outline the focus of your narrative, including risks and challenges you have undergone, how your treatment was out of the ordinary in the context, and indicating advice you will provide others in a similar situation. One of the questions we are frequently asked has to do with telling the truth about one’s experience while avoiding defamation lawsuits. Attached to this call for papers are some general guidelines on this topic. These are only guidelines. What you write and publish is your responsibility. We can tell you that no lawsuits have resulted from the works in Presumed Incompetent. We will provide feedback regarding acceptance of your paper by March 30, 2018.
Full-length submissions of accepted papers will be due May 31, 2018. Please submit your papers as Microsoft Word documents, double-spaced, using 12-point Times New Roman font, one inch margins, maximum of 8000 words (about 30 double-spaced pages), including references in APA style. Please submit your CV and a short bio, maximum 300 words. In your bio please include your basic identifying information, e.g., Yolanda Flores Niemann, Ph.D., Mexican American, female, cisgender.
We are very pleased that for this second volume of Presumed Incompetent we have an advance contract from Utah State University Press (an imprint of Colorado University Press). We expect to submit the completed manuscript to the press by December 1, 2018. Our goals are that the manuscript will undergo review in early 2019, copy editing in spring, 2019, and be in print in by summer or early fall, 2019.
Please address questions to:
About the Editors:
Dr. Yolanda Flores Niemann
Yolanda Flores Niemann is Professor of Psychology at the University of North Texas (UNT). Previously, she served as Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at UNT, Vice Provost and Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Utah State University, and held numerous administrative and faculty positions at Washington State University. She was also an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow at Penn State. Most recently, Dr. Flores Niemann was an invited panelist at the White House for the Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics --Fulfilling America’s Future: Latinas in the U.S. She has been Principal Investigator of over 42 million dollars in federal outreach grants to prepare low socioeconomic status students for entry into and success in higher education. Her research interests include the psychological effects and social ecological contexts of tokenism – to the individual faculty member and to the tokenizing institution. She has recently developed a faculty training video to help prevent faculty to student microaggressions, Current research includes examination of stereotypes in superhero portrayals, and effective mentoring across demographic groups. Her most recent books are Surviving and Thriving in Academia: A Guide for Members of Marginalized Groups, Third Edition (2017, coedited), and is one of the editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Dr. Flores Niemann is author of seven books, the film, (https://youtu.be/ZahtlxW2CIQ), and ~ 40 published journal articles, including in Peace Review, Journal of Applied Psychology; Journal of Applied Social Psychology; Sociological Perspectives; Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; The Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior; Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, and Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, The Journal of Social Issues, and The Counseling Psychologist.
Dr. Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs
Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs is the author of several books, including being first editor of the revolutionary Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012). She has authored multiple articles, poetry collections, and encyclopedia entries, and in 2015, was awarded the Provost’s Inaugural Award for Scholarship, Research and Creativity at Seattle University. Gutiérrez y Muhs was also selected university-wide as the Director for the Center for the Study of Justice in Society (2015-2017). Her collection ¿How Many Indians Can We Be? is forthcoming with Mango Press. In 2017, she published The Runaway Poems with Finishing Line Press. Professor Gutiérrez y Muhs is also a renowned poet and literary critic and the author of two published academic books on Helena Maria Viramontes and Norma Elia Cantú: Rebozos de Palabras: An Helena María Viramontes Critical Reader and Word Images: New Perspectives on Canícula and Other Works by Norma Elia Cantú, respectively. They were both published with University of Arizona Press, 2013, 2017. Her work focuses on the expansion of Latinx subjectivities, spirituality, social class and gender.
Carmen G. Gonzalez
Carmen G. Gonzalez is a professor of law at Seattle University School of Law. She has published widely in the areas of international environmental law, human rights and the environment, and environmental justice. Professor Gonzalez was a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina, a U.S. Supreme Court Fellow, a visiting fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and a visiting professor at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in Nanjing, China. In 2017, she served as the George Soros Visiting Chair at the Central European University School of Public Policy in Budapest, Hungary and as the Norton Rose Fulbright Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Houston Law Center. Professor Gonzalez is member of the Board of Trustees of Earthjustice, Deputy Chair of the Governing Board of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Academy of Environmental Law, and past president of the Environmental Law Section of the Association of American Law Schools. She has worked on environmental law capacity-building projects in Asia, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, and has represented non-governmental organizations in environmental treaty negotiations. Professor Gonzalez was one of the co-editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (Utah State University Press, 2012). She is also the co-editor of International Environmental Law and the Global South (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Professor Gonzalez holds a BA from Yale University and a JD from Harvard Law.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Monday, January 29, 2018
Professor Osamudia James of the University of Miami School of Law recently published "Valuing Identity" in the Minnesota Law Review. Using Black identity as an example, she argues that identity politics are "[m]ore than just a useful vehicle for antidiscrimination efforts[;] [they] are also important social goods, central to a properly functioning democracy, and integral to political and social resilience among minoritized identity groups." Professor James critiques American courts for adopting "'colorblind' legal analysis" and proposes that they move beyond framing racial identity in negative terms such as stigmatic harm and focus on the positive aspects of identity for minoritized groups.
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
The University of Vermont School of Law is hosting the International Restorative Justice Conference on June 28-30, 2018 in Burlington, Vermont. Below is a summary of the conference. The Call for Papers (deadline is February 1, 2018), is available here.
Globally our most pressing challenges reveal in poignant fashion our interconnection and interdependence. Our lives are shaped by relationships at many levels: interpersonal, in community and with the environment. A restorative approach holds significant promise to meet the global need for healing and transformation in these fundamental relations on the earth, in communities, and with one another and the ways in which they are intertwined. This conference will bring together researchers, policy-makers and practitioners to share the difference a restorative approach makes and consider its potential to reveal and address the complex and relational nature of some of our greatest problems and challenges. Come be a part of this important learning opportunity including a rich blend of hands-on learning through workshops, panels, presentations and keynote addresses. The conference will focus on three areas that reflect the levels of relationship that are so interconnected and central to building a better world:
The impact of climate change and environmental disasters are felt most acutely by the most vulnerable and marginalized in our societies who have fewer resources to protect and with which to recover from these harms. The distribution of our natural resources and access to environmental security also reflect significant social inequalities resulting in patterns of environmental racism and injustice. The depth and significance of our interdependence with the environment has perhaps never been so apparent or demanded so much care and attention.
ADDRESSING HARM AND CONFLICT
Including interpersonal violence with a particular focus on the seemingly intractable challenge of addressing domestic violence and sexual assault. The conference is an opportunity to attend to the social and political nature of interpersonal violence and the contexts and inequality that continue to generate vulnerability and hear and consider the preliminary results from the recently funded US Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women survey of programs across the country that are focused on individual, family, or community healing when responding to domestic violence and/or sexual assault. This overarching theme will also examine a restorative approach in the contexts of criminal and youth justice, and family engagement practices.
BUILDING SAFE, HEALTHY AND INCLUSIVE COMMUNITIES
In collaboration with leaders from the Restorative International Learning Community who are exploring the possibility and potential of restorative communities committed to implementing a restorative approach to governance and across human services in proactive, preventative and responsive ways. Under the umbrella of building safe, healthy and inclusive communities multiple elements will be examined including education, leadership and policy, and human resources.
Addressing the problems and challenges in any of these areas requires careful attention to the structures, systems and institutions in and through which we live, work and play. The potential of a restorative approach to any and all of these challenges will require a consideration of the difference it makes within existing systems and institutions.
This conference will be an important and timely gathering of leaders in each of these areas to share cutting edge research and work through the lens of a restorative approach. It will address the intersection and interplay of our relationships at all these levels – interpersonal, the social in community and environmental – and the potential of a restorative approach to respond to the resulting complexity.
Plenary presentations will explore these key relations and their interconnection. Workshop and training sessions will provide opportunities to focus on targeted topics and network with colleagues and partners from around the globe.
The Call for Proposals is available here. (Deadline is February 1, 2018)
Monday, January 15, 2018
In her new law review article, How Women Could Save the World, Professor Catherine Powell investigates the oft-made claim that women's empowerment is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for global and economic security. This idea – which underpins law and policy in the women, peace, and security field – is of heightened importance today because, with the #MeToo movement, we are reminded that women are vastly underrepresented in leadership positions and have yet to "shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling" as U.S. Commander-in-Chief. Moreover, such claims raise fundamental questions for international law, equality theory, and feminism.
Reviewing new research, this Article argues that while some evidence supports instrumentalist claims to increase women’s participation in peace and security, the quantitative data underlying the claims suffers from methodological flaws. Plus, the forms of gender performance reflected in the data – for example, correlating women’s participation in international peace processes to more sustainable peace – are based on the socially constructed (not inherent) roles that (some) women play as caregivers, nurturers, and collaborators.
Conclusions gleaned from this data often rely on essentialist observations about women as being more pacifist than men. Having to maneuver around formal equality, on the one hand, and instrumentalist claims that women will "save" the world, on the other, means that the category of "woman" can restrict even as it liberates. After all, not all women are "peace-loving," particularly in a world where the women who succeed are often those who can succeed on macho terms defined by men. Borrowing the notion of democratic legitimacy, the Article develops a novel third approach missing from the security debate, which could reframe the notion of inclusive security and would center grassroots women in local conflict zones over professional feminists from the West.
How Women Could Save the World, If only We Would Let Them: From Gender Essentialism to Inclusive Security is published in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, and can be downloaded here.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Professors Jeffrey Fagan and Elliot Ash's article "New Policing, New Segregation: From Ferguson to New York" was recently published in the Georgetown Law Journal.
Here is the abstract to this timely article:
Modern policing emphasizes advanced statistical metrics, new forms of organizational accountability, and aggressive tactical enforcement of minor crimes as the core of its institutional design. Recent policing research has shown how this policing regime has been woven into the social, political and legal systems in urban areas, but there has been little attention to these policing regimes in smaller areas.
In these places, where relationships between citizens, courts and police are more intimate and granular, and local boundaries are closely spaced with considerable flow of persons through spaces, the “new policing” has reached deeply into the everyday lives of predominantly non-white citizens through multiple contacts that lead to an array of legal financial obligations including a wide array of fines and fees. Failure to pay these fees often leads to criminal liability. We examine two faces of modern policing, comparing the Ferguson, Missouri and New York City.
We analyze rich and detailed panel data from both places on police stops, citations, warrants, arrests, court dispositions, and penalties, to show the web of social control and legal burdens that these practices create. The data paint a detailed picture of racially discriminatory outcomes at all stages of the process that are common to these two very different social contexts. We link the evidence on the spatial concentration of the racial skew in these policing regimes to patterns of social and spatial segregation, and in turn, to the social, economic and health implications for mobility. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of the “new policing” for constitutional regulation and political reform.
To download the article, click here.
Tuesday, January 2, 2018
A Responsibility to Share What We Know
December 23, 2017
On our last night in Jordan, we dined with a Jordanian political science professor who received his PhD from the United States. He currently teaches courses on the refugee crisis and serves as a leader in his tribe. He spoke to us about the history of the Middle East, the U.S.’ involvement in the myriad political crises in the region, and the richness of his tribal traditions. I was struck by the disruptive effect of the artificial borders drawn between Jordan and Syria by European powers during colonization. Tribes and families were split apart when they suddenly found themselves citizens of different states for which they had no say.
Nonetheless, the family links between the two countries remain strong. People with whom we’ve spoken, including this professor, will say they have thousands of family members scattered across the Levant and the Gulf states, divided by arbitrary lines drawn in the sand. When the Syrian crisis started, the professor’s hometown more than doubled in size as his town accepted their Syrian refugee family members.
After dinner, the professor led us on a tour of downtown Amman, pointing out shops laden with spices, toys and crafts as we strolled down streets strung with lights. We tasted, knafeh, a Middle Eastern dessert for which Jordan is especially famous. He invited us, multiple times, to his home to meet his family the next time we visited Jordan. Receiving such hospitality is humbling; and learning from the wisdom accumulated through generations of life in Jordan, a wisdom that is inaccessible in the U.S., is a privilege.
When I reflect on the unique perspective I’ve gained in our 10-day visit to Jordan, I am filled with gratitude. So few people in the U.S. are provided with opportunities like the one we’ve experienced this week: traveling to the Middle East, experiencing a new culture firsthand, and, above all, engaging in meaningful conversations with the people who live there so that we may learn from their points of view.
Our experiences have provided us with insights that make for a more humane approach to tackling the massive problems in our world. Imagine how different our public discourse on the Syrian refugee crisis, and the Middle East writ large, would be if more of our policymakers, and ordinary Americans like me, had an opportunity to build mutual understanding of the humanity of those deemed the “other?” To be sure, it would counter the human tendency to mistakenly classify Arabs and Muslims into homogenous boxes.
Traveling requires humility. As a white Christian traveling in a majority Muslim, Arab country, I have felt keenly aware of not being completely on the “inside,” not understanding all the cues, not speaking a common language, literally and metaphorically. And yet, our hosts went out of their way to make me feel welcome. It’s a humbling experience, a tiny glimpse into what it’s like to be a member of a minority group. It requires modesty to understand more deeply the ways I take for granted the privileges of being a member of the majority in my daily life in the United States. The learning that happens while traveling requires openness and a willingness to allow your perspective to be shifted. There’s growth in allowing yourself to be proven wrong, in admitting that your framework of the world isn’t necessarily accurate.
Our role now is to share the knowledge and experiences we’ve gained here with an audience in the U.S. who has not had the opportunity to learn from those on the ground most affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Each of us on this trip has been shaped by this experience in ways that will reverberate throughout our careers and lives. It is both our privilege and our responsibility to multiply the benefits of this experience by passing on the knowledge we’ve gained.
Just as the Jordanian professor shared his reality with us in a way that enlightened our understanding of the complexities in Jordan and challenged us to change our perspective, we are now empowered to shape the perspectives of others in America. Person by person, one interaction and one conversation at a time, we can change minds and hearts, slowly building a global community of that will create more humane American policies and a more just world.
-- Joanna Gardner, Rutgers Law School, Class of 2019
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Late Wednesday night, the campaign to elect Judge Roy Moore to the vacant Alabama Senate seat sought to enjoin the Secretary of State for Alabama from certifying the result of the December 14, 2017 special election where Moore lost to Doug Jones. The basis: allegations of rampant voter fraud apparently among and related to African American voters that need to be investigated. Fortunately for us, an Alabama judge denied the motion to enjoin the certification and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.
It is easy to write this off as a last-ditch attempt of a disgraced candidate to stop the inevitable. But we should reflect on the larger context. Once again, the meme of voter fraud — the rampant supposition without proof that illegal voters (largely voters of color) are distorting our elections through voter impersonation — rears its head again as a direct weapon to suppress the votes for Jones. This use of the specter of voter fraud as weapon against the word of voters, particularly minority voters, is nothing new. And it’s the new normal in the post-Trump world.
As you know, Jones defeated Moore largely due to the significant turnout of the Black vote and anemic moderate Republican vote. The day after the election, I argued that this happened despite voter suppression laws seemingly designed to stymie the transformative power that a fully enabled and mobilized African-American vote would represent.
Yet, the day after the election the meme of voter fraud emerged. In this case, the meme apparently starts publicly here, when Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii), who is, apparently, “a famously outspoken Trump supporter,” tweeted this:
And there’s the meme of voter fraud in one tweet — the explanation for the higher turnout that swung the election was not lack of enthusiasm for a candidate who allegedly sought sexual relations with teenage girls, or the Alabaman African-American turnout that rivaled 2012 or 2016 turnout (coupled with lagging moderate white conservative turnout). It was voter impersonation — Mississippian voters impersonating Alabaman voters. The comments to this tweet included accusations of election rigging by outsiders, a “mysterious convoy of black buses,” and something completely random about the War on Christmas.
On December 13, Twitter responded with sarcastic comments like this:
But with the December 27 complaint by the Moore campaign, the meme is once again elevated to a last-ditch adversarial tool with the apparent end to subvert the will of the people. Yet the campaign’s complaint basically makes the same argument uttered in the tweets and comments. (1) irregular high turnout by black voters raises suspicion of voter fraud; (2) rumors of voter impersonation voter fraud by outsider voters raise concern; (3) outside partisan involvement (what other people call “politics”) raises suspicion; and (4) statistical analyses by election fraud experts raise suspicion. Moreover, in a quite-odd paragraph 22 of the complaint, we also see the Moore campaign seeking vindication of the truthfulness of their candidate in relation to the allegations that he sought sexual relations with teenage girls:
Clearly this is a last-ditch effort to forestall the conclusion reached by the Alabama Secretary of State, the Republican Party, President Trump, and, in at least this instance, an Alabama judge — that Jones beat Moore fair and square.
And yet, these allegations should be situated in the larger context of the evolution of the meme of voter fraud into a political weapon designed to distort elections, which started as long ago as 2000 in the hotly contested race between then-Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri and the late governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan. In the face of a loss to a dead man, the Ashcroft camp argued that dead voters in Missouri tipped the balance. Nothing came of this as Ashcroft went on to be Attorney General and, through investigations by his Department of Justice, put in-person voter impersonation voter fraud on the map. And this leant credence to the movement for voter identification laws.
More famously and recently, President Trump argued via Twitter that the participation of “illegal voters” (read, illegal immigrants) were the reason why he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes. A year later, President Trump has offered nothing in the way of proof to support this allegation. Also, in the election of 2016, Pat McCrory, who lost the governor’s office in North Carolina to then-Attorney General Roy Cooper, alleged a mass conspiracy of voter fraud denied him the election. Like Moore, McCrory filed objections and when those objections were denied, he sought a recount. The recount, and a subsequent audit by the North Carolina Board of Elections showed few irregularities, including several hundred miscast votes by former felons, some double voting, and one — ONE — vote out of the 4.5 million cast in the North Carolina 2016 gubernatorial race that could have been forestalled by voter identification laws. Voting errors are to be expected, and in North Carolina, those errors certainly did not amount to a grand conspiracy by the Democrats — what McCrory alleged — to steal the election.
Moore’s post-election litigation in the face of the door closing on his campaign fits this same pattern. And, true to form, a judge has declined to equate rumor and innuendo with proof — or even concern — sufficient to stop the mechanisms of democracy from working. The influence of political outsiders, the rumors of black votes being bussed in from Mississippi, and higher than expected African American turnout in predominantly African American counties (which, by the way, was at the same rate as for Clinton last year, as I noted earlier) does not equate to a mass conspiracy of voter fraud.
Alleging a mass conspiracy of voter fraud with nothing but rumor is a bad play. No major state or national election has been reversed because of the meme of voter fraud. Yet it persists because it is a political statement. It is a politics that exists around the idea that the meme is real, and therefore such subversion ought to be opposed. This kind of paranoia can motivate voters. And so, it becomes the equivalent of a party line.
On another level, this use of the meme of voter fraud to attempt to thwart an election is really another battle in the war over American identity. In Alabama, we saw the power of the black vote met with unbelievable conspiracy theories. To make such a claim of voter fraud without tangible proof is to engage in identity politics of the worse kind. It is to delegitimize the votes of citizens because of a set presumption against their citizens’ worthiness through complaining about their votes’ validity. This parrots our too tragic history of violence against minority voting by legislative means.
But it is also the old tactics of voter suppression coming into their own in the era of Trump. This won’t be the last you will hear of the meme of voter fraud.
Putting into Practice Self-Empowerment
December 22, 2017
I am sitting in the Queen Alia Amman airport preparing to fly back to America. As I wait for my flight, I can't help going over the details of our trip in my mind. In the course of ten days, I have met with Syrian refugees, international nongovernment organizations, local Jordan direct services organizations, and government officials who each provided me with a unique perspective on the Syrian refugee crisis.
Of all our meetings, the most impactful was our meeting with a local community based organization that provides direct services for women and children in the poorest part of Amman, most of whom are Syrian refugees. We learned about programs to provide education to children and work opportunities to empower women. Losing their homes and sense of belonging drastically affected the women’s outlook and self-perceptions such that they had lost their self-esteem. Listening to their realities was heartbreaking because it is unimaginable to me how a situation beyond one’s control could have such a negative effect. Until you experience involuntary exile due to threat of violence, you cannot fully comprehend the consequent psychological harms.
That so many people back home in America, from politicians to everyday American citizens, vilify Syrian refugees made the experience all the more jarring. Our media and government have turned people in a dire situation into monsters for political and social gain. I can't help but wonder why they teach us in school the famous quote on the Statue of Liberty "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door," while our government's policies towards Syrian refugees directly contradict such values.
Although I am not Syrian or ethnically Arab, I am a Muslim who feels some level of obligation to counter the negative stereotypes infecting American Middle East policy. Islam stresses the idea of the Muslim Ummah - a community that transcends racial, linguistic, and class barriers for the greater good of the Muslim identity. As someone who shares an identity with the majority of the Syrian refugees, I felt a connection that compels me to serve as a cultural ambassador connecting the humanity of the Middle East with the United States.
Although I am upset at how refugees are portrayed in Western media, I can't help but also feel guilty. Being a Muslim is an identity I hold, but so is being American. Although I share an identity with Syrian refugees, I also share an identity with a government whose policies is exacerbating their suffering. I can’t help but wonder how I have been complicit in the oppression of Syrian refugees. I can’t help but wonder when I should have spoken up; or when I was ignorant or lazy when I should have been educating myself and others about the real facts on the ground that debunk the false narratives.
What I have learned, as this trip ends, is that now is the time to do the work I did not do in the past. I have been given this incredible opportunity to come to Jordan and research issues facing Syrian refugees. I have been given the tools and now I need to take every meeting, fact, statistic, and tale I have learned over the past ten days and turn them into action. Writing a policy report the spring of 2018 based on what we learned on the ground in Jordan is the next step in our project.
Almost every Syrian refugee I met told me that they want to see change in their situation. They want to go home and live safely with dignity again. I may not be able to change their lives, but I can try to inform my fellow Americans and hold my government accountable for misguided and misinformed foreign policies. By putting into practice self-empowerment I hope I can inspire others to follow.
-- Omar Rana, Rutgers Law School, Class of 2019
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Supporting Community Based Organizations in Human Rights Work: Day 8
December 21, 2017
First, we visited the University of Jordan and met law students in a legal clinic that collaborates on cases with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). The students expressed their passion for helping others through application of international human rights law. They shared with us their work with Syrian refugees and how the clinic leveraged their legal studies towards that end. As the students highlighted the economic and social challenges facing refugees, their empathy was palpable. We heard no resentment in their voices notwithstanding that Syrian workers are competing with Jordanians in an economy with limited opportunities.
When asked what could be done to address the refugee crisis, the students suggested burden-sharing among nations, increasing job opportunities and international development, which directly benefit refugees and Jordanians alike. We sensed that the Jordanian students viewed the Syrians as part of a “family” in their approach to improving Jordan. The goal is to accommodate the whole family, not just Jordanians.
We then met with a volunteer organization founded by a group of Syrian and Jordanian millennials raising money for a carnival for Syrian children. The event raised more money than anticipated such that the youth group decided to create an organization to provide medical and social services for refugees ineligible for government or nongovernment aid. Since its inception in 2014, the organization has raised millions of dollars, thereby allowing it to provide medical aid and social services to approximately 100 people per month. The most fascinating element of this organization is that they are all simply a group of friends driven by compassion to help those in need. We felt proud to see our generation contributing to this cause, and more importantly, became motivated to take part in their initiative. Our conversation included potentially working with them in the United States and helping them get support through one of our legal clinics that works with small businesses. The exchange of ideas further incentivized and validated the importance of our trip to Jordan.
Our encounter with Jordanian youth also taught us the value of being multilingual. Their ability to converse with us in English and easily switch between English and Arabic made us realize the limitations of the American education system. Because most students in the United States are not fully bilingual, their opportunities for meaningful engagement with peers abroad are limited. Studies shows that less that 1% of Americans are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a U.S. classroom. Although this may not reflect a lack of interest in learning a foreign language, it certainly limits opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges. Indeed, I have frequently heard Americans express an interest in learning other languages. To meet these interests, our classrooms in the United States should start teaching foreign languages at a younger age when it is easier to learn.
Speaking a different language allows for a more nuanced experience. As a native Arabic speaker, I experienced Jordan through a different lens than my non-Arabic speaking peers. I was able to learn and analyze the information communicated to us in English, but I was also able to pick up on small gestures, jokes and comments said in Arabic but not translated, and if explained in English, would lose their meaning. This trip brought home the importance of learning languages in order to effectively work on international human rights.
-- Tamara Anaie, Rutgers Law School, Class of 2019
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Listening to those Most Affected: Day 7
December 20, 2017
In one of the famous parables by the Persian poet and mystic Rumi, he tells the story of the elephant in a dark room. People go into the room, unable to see, and touch only one part of the elephant. Based on that contact, they come up with a theory of what it must be. But none can guess the true nature of the animal using their limited perspective alone.
With each passing day here in Jordan, it feels as though we illuminate a little more of the elephant that is the Syrian refugee crisis. Today, the picture expanded in new ways based on two unique viewpoints we hadn’t yet experienced firsthand. In the morning we met for the first time with someone who could provide insight into the government’s perspective, and in the afternoon, we visited with Syrian refugee families in their home, engaging with the affected population in ways we hadn’t before. Both were eye-opening conversations.
We learned that the Jordanian government is intensely overburdened due to the refugee crisis. The crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time. Jordan was already facing a debt crisis and other economic problems. As an oasis of stability in the middle of a turbulent region, attracting investment to the country is difficult, tourism has taken a hit, and the government continues to subsidize energy, even though its crucial access to affordable gas through Egypt was cut off due to regional unrest.
Yet, the government kept its borders open to the Syrian refugees for five years until 2016 after a car bomb exploded at a government checkpoint, killing six Jordanian soldiers. In our conversation today, the government official acknowledged that this was not in Jordan’s economic best interest, but the Jordanian government couldn’t turn its backs on neighboring Syria as its people were dying.
The government must walk an incredibly fine line in upholding the obligation it shouldered when hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees poured across its borders, while at the same time avoiding the build-up of resentment among its own people who are struggling to find work. The response isn’t perfect, but somehow, for now, it seems to be succeeding in striking the right, tenuous balance.
There have been no incidents of protests or riots against the refugees by Jordanians. As we’ve heard again and again, the Jordanians are a welcoming people. It’s hard to fathom such empathy, especially when you consider negative reactions to immigrants and refugees prevalent in some parts of America. What does it say about our culture, a culture compromised of the descendants of generations of immigrants, that if we in America had experienced such an influx of people, there almost certainly would have been rioting in the streets?
Our next visit was one of the most powerful for me of the trip so far. We spent the afternoon in the living room of a refugee family, visiting with a group of several Syrian refugee women who shared their experiences with us. Life for them is so hard. They struggle to survive in an expensive city on just 10 dinar (about US$14) per person per month, an amount that has decreased as the crisis lingers. The refugees constantly apply to NGOs for aid and are repeatedly turned down or ignored. Their children are in school, they have a roof over their heads, but most can’t work to make ends meet.
A disagreement broke out between the refugees at one point about what the next step should be for them and their families. One argued that resettlement in a third country, like the US or Europe, is the best option. At least there, he said, we could be put on a path to citizenship, work, know what our status is, and create a stable future for our children. Another argued that she would rather have the tools she needs to survive in Jordan until it’s safe to return to Syria. Uprooting herself and her family again to resettle in a third country would mean giving up on the hope of returning to Syria, where her family remains.
Toddlers ran around the room playing with us while we visited. Time can be difficult to put in perspective, but when we were told that these children were born in Jordan as refugees, the force of just how long this displacement has lasted really hit home. We were handed a beautiful newborn to hold, and as I looked at him in my arms, I wondered what his future held. My heart broke thinking that his mother must look at him and wonder the same thing, without any answers.
Yesterday’s blog post talked about empowerment, the idea that the real solution to the refugee crisis isn’t actually one solution; it’s getting to a place where the refugees themselves can decide their future, based on what they need and want. The discussion today shows that not every solution works for everyone. In a perfect world, and a more sustainable one, the lasting solutions would be the ones the refugees choose for themselves.
All the refugees we spoke to agree that the life they are living right now in Jordan is not sustainable. I couldn’t understand the words they used without interpretation, but I could hear the anxiety in their voices, the desperation of not knowing what would come next and of mounting economic pressure. They had middle class lives in Jordan. Now they’ve been living in poverty and uncertainty for six years, with no end in sight.
During our visit, espresso-sized cups of delicious Turkish coffee were passed around the room, one for each of us in our group, an expression of hospitality by people who have nothing. True generosity is not giving from surplus, but giving when it’s everything you have. Jordan has done that for the Syrian refugees. The Syrian refugees today did that for us.
-- Joanna Gardner, Rutgers Law School, Class of 2019
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Education, Empowerment, and Kindness: Day 6
December 19, 2017
Today, our experiences focused our attention on ways to address the refugee crisis and what the Syrian people want—an approach frequently overlooked. We first experienced this while meeting with a community-based organization in a poor neighborhood in Jordan whose work is centered around helping Syrian refugees and their low-income neighbors integrate into society. They offer supplemental education for children and adults who have not had access to school for long periods of time or who lack basic education.
We learned that many of the Syrian families who fled to Jordan have low levels of education because they came from poor, rural areas. As they continue to live in poverty in Jordan, it can be difficult for them to understand the importance of education for their own children and not fall prey to temptations like sending their children to work instead. The organization we visited developed an innovative solution: each child is given 1 Jordanian dinar to attend school each day. The money allows families to afford keeping their children in school, and has thus far been effective in achieving this goal.
Throughout the day, our attention continued to focus on different ways of addressing the refugee crisis. One of the people we spoke to told us that if you ask a refugee what they need, they will tell you that they do not need food, water or a first aid kid. They need empowerment, something that is not offered through mere donations or sympathy.
It made me question what empowerment really is. Does it come with education and having a job that helps sustain your life? Or is there something more. Does it also include allowing someone to feel as if they genuinely belong in a country or that they have the option to live freely within the country? For instance, the community-based organization offered programming for women's empowerment by assisting them in creating handicrafts to sell, while also working on developing their self-confidence and business skills as entrepreneurs.
Perhaps it has something to do with avoiding making the Syrians feel as if they are a project that needs saving. For example, we learned that during the beginning of this crisis, many Syrians avoided registering as refugees with the UNHCR because they wanted to avoid being labeled as a member of a vulnerable community or to perceive themselves that way. Can empowerment simply be given in the way we perceive and portray a Syrian person?
A recurring theme that echoes through the cities of Jordan is the kindness and generosity of Jordanians. I believe these traits might also be a contributing factor to addressing the Syrian crisis. As the blog post mentioned yesterday, we do hear about the tensions between the Jordanian and Syrian people living in Jordan, and it is understandable. Many Jordanians live in poverty, and the international community is slowly starting to realize that in responding to protracted crises like these, it is just as important to support the refugees as it is to support their host communities.
But our meetings today were deeply moving in the ways they showed how generous and welcoming Jordanians are. The community-based organization we visited today serves low-income Syrians and Jordanians equally. One phrase I kept hearing whenever we asked about any tension was that, “there is no Jordanian and Syrian when asking for help; there is only human.” It was extremely uplifting to hear these words and realize that although tensions here surely exist, the compassion of Jordanians is strong. We hope to continue to let the Jordanians touch our hearts and teach us how to better coexist and be more tolerant. One quote that I think captures this well is one we saw painted in a mural on the streets of Amman: “Alone I am fragile, together we are strong.”
-- Tamara Anaie, Rutgers Law School, Class of 2019
Monday, December 18, 2017
Dispelling False Assumptions: Day 5
December 18, 2017
Never assume something is true until you get all the facts. How one person perceives the refugee crisis, what one person decides is a solution, and general impressions are not always the whole story.
Today was a busy day of meetings in Amman. Going into our meetings, I had two preconceptions: 1) Jordanians are supportive of Syrian refugees and 2) resettlement, particularly to the US, is the most desired solutions to the refugee crisis. I was quickly disabused of these assumptions.
We shared with the stakeholders our general impression that Jordan has a very different narrative for refugees than the United States. That is, refugees are far more welcome here in Jordan than in the U.S. Everyone agreed that Jordanians are generally very hospitable.
At the same time, one stakeholder laid out a critical context that could create points of tension, including the long history of protracted refugee crises in Jordan, including the Gaza Camp still hosting Palestinians who fled their homeland in 1967. In addition, an economic crisis, saturated job market and the scarcity of potable water imposes significant burdens on the Jordanian population.
Another stakeholder explained that some Jordanians believe Syrian refugees have been limiting their access to health care. Nearly 85% of Jordanians are insured, most of whom receive government health care. Jordanians who are not insured can access government subsidized health care.
Some Jordanians believe Syrians are also subsidized by the state, which is not true. Because they are not Jordanian citizens, Syrians must pay full cost for health services. For low income displaced Syrians and refugees, this makes access to care prohibitively costly. As a result, international organizations are providing financial aid specifically for the medical treatment of Syrian refugees. Contrary to popular perceptions, such external aid does not adversely impact Jordanians’ access to health care.
The stakeholders also pointed out that although resettlement is an option, the scale of the crisis (there are over 5 million Syrian refugees worldwide) makes resettlement an unsustainable solution. The international community should look at more sustainable solutions like creating flexible funding for neighboring nations like Jordan. This allows the Jordanian Government to address the needs of refugees as well as the needs of low income Jordanian citizens without creating tensions.
At the same time, resettlement is still considered important. There are some refugees who want to be resettled, and as one stakeholder pointed out, everyone should be able to define the path to their self-development. But more broadly, resettlement provides benefits to host countries such as the U.S. – the more the host population develops relationships with people from around the globe, particularly conflict-ridden areas. As we better understand the circumstances of Syrians most affected by the conflict, the more our government is able to support and advocate for effective and sustainable foreign policy solutions.
We ended our day with a lovely dinner at a Syrian restaurant. Our dinner guests were a local couple – a Syrian refugee and his wife. Before walking into dinner, I expected the conversation to be depressing. It turned out quite the opposite. We talked and laughed about nearly every topic under the sun from camel races to Bollywood movies, and we even celebrated one of our group members’ birthday. Of course, at some points, sad and difficult topics came up. The refugee talked about the harsh atrocities he and his family faced while in Syria and the harsh living conditions some of his family members continue to face living in a refugee camp in Jordan. These stories left us all in a state of wonder at how this person could have gone through so much but still be optmistic.
He had a smile on his face because that is what worked for him. It is entirely believable that when we met him he would have been the glum refugee that is portrayed in the media. And those people probably exist. But just because that is one person’s story, like how one person can present a solution or a perception, that does not mean every person feels that way. Is what I learned today now going to reverse everything I was told before … absolutely not. If anything, today taught me that the most important part of human rights lawyering is gaining as many perspectives as you can because not every human is going to think the same way.
As we were leaving, the wife of the Syrian refugee said that if there is anything that we should get out of our research to take back to America is that Syrian refugees should not be stigmatized just for being refugees. Rather than labeling all Syrian refugees as potential security threats, everyone should take the time to learn new perspectives.
That is sound advice that I’ll remember throughout the course of my research, and my life.
-- Omar Rana, Rutgers Law School, Class of 2019
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Coexistence in Jordan: Day 4
December 16, 2017
Our fourth day in Jordan was another combination of sightseeing and work, and the last one we will have like that for a while. The next several days are full of stakeholder meetings that will leave less time for sightseeing. It’s been inspiring to see the beauty of this country while at the same time learning about its response to the Syrian crisis. Sometimes those two things overlap.
Jordan is a country that is rich with religious history. For me personally, as my first visit to a Muslim-majority country, it has been beautiful to hear the adhan (call to prayer) echoing across the city, a constant reminder of spirituality throughout each day. Even as we drove from the airport, the number of mosques, lit up green against the night sky, was striking.
Christianity, too, has deep roots in the country, and our sightseeing today took us to some of these sites. We toured two ancient Christian churches in the city of Madaba just outside of Amman—one Greek Orthodox and one Roman Catholic. Both churches are famous for their ancient mosaics. During our visit, we ventured beneath one church to see its Byzantine foundations, dating from the 6th century. Our third church visit was to Mount Nebo, a holy site for both Christians and Muslims, who share a common devotion to Moses as a prophet.
Islam and Christianity exist side-by-side in Jordan, their common histories intertwined. In Madaba, Muslims and Christians share neighborhoods and mosques are across the street from Christian churches.
The Jordanian response to the Syrian refugee crisis seems in many ways to reflect the coexistence that is built into life here. It would be naïve to think that any time two differing cultures intersect it is always harmonious, and it is true that our conversations (and survey data collected by the Jordanian government) have not painted a uniformly rosy picture of Jordanian-Syrian relations. And yet, in our individual conversations with Jordanians, we continue to be impressed by the level of compassion we hear for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees that have poured into the country over the last six years.
Today’s conversation with a Jordanian who works with an international NGO once again reflected that perspective. She told us that Jordanians are a welcoming people; the diversity that has existed in their country for decades has helped to make them that way. Most people she knows, she said, feel compassion for the refugees, even if their own economic situations are difficult. What’s needed, she told us, are programs that meet the basic needs of both Jordanians and refugees, with a focus on jobs. (Unemployment is a problem in Jordan, and we have heard in other conversations that it is one of the points of tension between Jordanians and Syrian refugees).
The portrayal of Syrian refugees by the mainstream media in Jordan is also generally positive, focusing on the humanitarian needs of Syrians and the Jordanian spirit of welcome. Even if local media is not always regarded as entirely trustworthy, the media narrative on refugees sets a tone of receptiveness and welcome.
Our conversation today also reinforced the importance of listening to local voices in communities affected by crises. We talked today about how international NGOs sometimes fail to address the real priorities on the ground because of the perception that “we know best” and a failure to listen to what the community says it needs or to put local people in control.
One example we discussed is the flurry of NGO activity around the problem of child marriage among Syrian refugees. While no doubt a major problem, the person we spoke to today expressed some frustration that the money used for these kinds of interventions could be better spent meeting Syrians’ basic needs, since it is severe economic pressures that drive parents to marry off their girls young in the first place. But instead, foreign donors latch on to a secondary problem that fails to meet the real need or make a lasting impact. The failure to address the priority needs of refugees reveals a lack of insight and an attitude of condescension and lack of respect for the ability of local communities to assess their own needs.
Western international NGOs and their funders would do well to learn from the Jordanian model of coexistence. Living together, learning from each other, and mutual respect are the only ways that meaningful and sustainable work can be done to address human rights needs around the world.
-- Joanna Gardner, Rutgers Law School, Class of 2019