Wednesday, March 6, 2019

When Diversity Is At the Bottom of the List

Recently, Forbes published a news report entitled, "Chief Diversity Officers Are Set Up to Fail." The article draws on a survey of a group of Fortune 500 Chief Diversity Officers that asked them what they need to succeed. The article points to CDOs stating that they do not having enough experience, data, or power to accomplish their role. In particular the article reported that, "All of the leaders surveyed reported that diversity and inclusion came in last on a list of eight potential business priorities for their companies."  

And interestingly, as to higher education in particular, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a study from September 2018 about University Chief Diversity Officers hired to increase faculty diversity. The claim there was that CDOs likely had no significant impact on the diversification of representation in higher education. The question remains for corporate and educational institutions that claim to want it: why is diversity still such a low priority?

This problem is nothing new. The disconnect between institutional priorities and achieving diversity (whatever that means, as it can mean many things to different people) seems to be indicative of our current broken attitudes towards diversity and inclusion. This brokenness can result in diversity-as-tolerance (as I've discussed before), which cravenly takes advantage of being seen as diverse merely to increase profits or enrollments (to the extent that, as Nancy Leong has pointed out, such institutions are willing to fake diversity) without there being an authentic commitment to inclusion and transformation of institutional culture.

The law appears particularly vulnerable to this problem. We can point to examples of the perception of a lack of commitment to diverse representation in law schoolslaw firms, and law practice generally. All of which are microcosms of the society’s shallow practices about diversity and inclusion. And this is ironic given the legal profession's mission to protect vulnerable minorities. 

Maybe "diversity" as idea is in the midst of an existential crisis. Despite good intentions diversity may appear meaningless and amorphous. Or maybe all of this reflects society’s comfort with the patterns of white supremacy, and thus the lip service to diversity is simply a cover for preserving the status quo. And maybe—a thought I would never have uttered four years ago—some people in power actually want the rising tide of renewed white heteronormative patriarchal supremacy to take us to a time when America was "great," and authentic diversity based on equality is treated as poison.

The existential crisis that diversity faces doesn't excuse ending the search for it. Authentic diversity is an essential predicate for American institutions, whether for-profit or nonprofit, private or public, that strive to represent all of the people. These recent thoughts about Chief Diversity Officers would suggest some basic starting places for authentic institutional diversity—finding a working definition of diversity, making that definition as part of the institutional vision, and most importantly achieving that vision by making diversity a real, measurable priority.

The priority at the bottom of the list rarely gets achieved.

March 6, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Responsibility to Share What We Know (Final Blog in Syrian Refugee Blog Series)

 

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.

IMG_0081When 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

 To read previous blogs in this series, see Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, and Day 9.

 

January 2, 2018 in Current Affairs, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

On the Alabama Special Senate Election: Meme of Voter Fraud Edition

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:

Mitchell-tweet

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:

  Mitchell-tweet-response

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:

  Moore-complaint-par-22This, somehow, bolsters Judge Moore’s credibility.

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.

December 30, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Putting into Practice Self-Empowerment (Syrian Refugee Blog Series Day 9)

Putting into Practice Self-Empowerment

December 22, 2017

Blog 6 Pictures2I 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

 

December 30, 2017 in Current Affairs, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Supporting Community Based Organizations in Human Rights Work (Syrian Refugee Blog Series Day 8)

Supporting Community Based Organizations in Human Rights Work: Day 8

December 21, 2017

IMG_0201Today, we met Jordanian law students and Arab youth activists with similar interests in the Syrian refugee crisis and its impact on host countries like Jordan.

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. 

 

IMG_0155We 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

 

To read previous blogs in this series, see Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5, Day 6, and Day 7.

 

December 24, 2017 in Current Affairs, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Listening to those Most Affected (Syrian Refugee Blog Series Day 7)

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?

IMG_0066Our 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

To read previous blogs in this series, see Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5, and Day 6.

 

December 21, 2017 in Current Affairs, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Education, Empowerment, and Kindness (Syrian Refugee Blog Series Day 6)

Education, Empowerment, and Kindness: Day 6

December 19, 2017

Blog 6 PicturesToday, 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?

Blog 6 Pictures2A 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

To read previous posts in this blog series, see Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5.

 

 

December 19, 2017 in Current Affairs, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Dispelling False Assumptions (Syrian Refugee Blog Series Day 5)

 

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.

20171216_115122We 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

To read previous posts in this blog series, see Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.

 

December 18, 2017 in Current Affairs, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Coexistence in Jordan (Syrian Refugees Blog Series Day 4)

Coexistence in Jordan: Day 4

December 16, 2017 

IMG-20171216-WA0004 2Our 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. IMG-20171217-WA0002

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

 

To read previous blogs in this series, see Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3

 

 

December 17, 2017 in Current Affairs, Religion, Travel, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Give Us the Ballot: On the Alabama Special Senate Election, Voter Suppression, and the Black Vote

In May 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a landmark speech in Washington, DC. This address, entitled, “Give Us the Ballot” was King’s vision about how Black voting power could transform the apartheid South. In particular, he said:

“Give us the ballot, and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a ‘Southern Manifesto’ because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.”

Maybe we had a foretaste of King’s foresight as we watched the African American vote defeat Judge Roy Moore and elect Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate from Alabama, a state at the heart of Trump conservatism. And maybe we also saw a glimpse of how an empowered Black vote can be a threat to establishments that rely on their marginalization.

But let me confess up front that I predicted Moore would win—and win outside of the margin of error--because of how Alabama had been dominated by Trump in the 2016 election and how Alabamans had elected Moore twice to statewide office (after he had been removed once and suspended once from his judgeship for violating the U.S. Constitution).

And I also knew that Alabama’s strict voter identification law, its efforts to make such identification less available, and its efforts to modulate (but not eradicate) the collateral consequences of criminal convictions that bar voting all made Alabama a focal point of the voter suppression wars.

Thus, this election was both a referendum on the divisive gender and racial politics of Donald Trump and a test of the ability of the Black community to surmount the effects of voter suppression. And I was a pessimist about both.

In a world absent the allegations that Moore had romantically pursued teenage girls while a District Attorney, absent his Islamophobic stances, and absent the prominence given to various reactionary claims, e.g., all the amendments after the Tenth are “problematic,” I probably would have been right. But all this came to light, and it demobilized white voters and energized Black voters. And that cost Moore the election.

Exit polls reveal that Black voters overwhelmingly voted for Jones and white voters voted overwhelming for Moore. Here’s the data as summarized by the Washington Post:

Moore-jones-exit-poll-chart

This was a perfect storm to cause the defeat of Trump’s chosen candidate in the heart of the Trump campaign’s base.

But the data makes two key points: first, the base of white Republican voters voted overwhelmingly for Moore despite the rhetoric and the accusations. This echoes the outcome of the 2016 election. However, fewer moderate Republicans voted for Moore; they instead supported Jones. Had there been more Republican party unity, or a more respectable candidate, the Republicans would probably have won. And presumably, in the next election cycle, Alabama Republicans will unite behind a more respectable candidate.

But this is not to deny the strength of Black voting power. African American voters were consistent with their performance in 2016 in opposing the Trump-Moore politics. This to me is a glimmer of King’s prophesy of how African Americans would use the vote to oppose white supremacy in the name of justice. They compared Moore to Jones and selected the person who they thought was “a man of goodwill.”

This happened despite the post-Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder era of voter suppression to use voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and structural efforts to make it more difficult for poor black Alabaman voters. I have previously discussed Alabama’s voter identification laws and the strong risk that such IDs would be unavailable to poor black voters due to DMV closings in the Black Belt (the counties in Alabama which are over 80% black and where there is high poverty). In a recent academic paper, I extend these arguments to talk about how there is a little-discussed structural problem when it comes to failing to prioritize the right to vote—and that structural misgiving can have voter suppression consequences. I have also discussed the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Alabama legislature’s effort to racially gerrymander state districts to pack black voters and preserve white Republican political power.

In short, Alabama is a front line of the post-Shelby County voter suppression wars.  

Black voters turned out despite the barriers, and the efforts of civil rights groups to overcome the barriers deserve praise. Between that and the white voters who damned him by few votes, Moore lost.

It is tempting to argue that Black voters’ ability to organize and vote despite voter suppression means voter suppression claims are overblown. That reasoning is faulty. Being able to surmount an illegitimate difficulty doesn't make the difficulty any less illegitimate. Moreover, numerous federal courts have used the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to strike down voter identification laws because of their potentially disparate discriminatory impact.

The evidence brought in court included academic studies, the documentation of the intent to suppress minority votes, and the statistical risk of disparate effects. It all supports the claim that strict voter identification laws, arbitrary and last-minute changes in the timing of voting, and arbitrary enforcement have been used in concert to unnecessarily intimidate and unduly burden the right to vote (rather than making voting more efficient or secure). This battle continues in Alabama and elsewhere to secure the legacy of the right to vote.

King foresaw what that legacy could be. He knew that the African American electorate could transform the South if voter suppression barriers were removed and African Americans brought the vote to bear. Roy Moore’s defeat by African American voters gave us a glimpse of this transformative power. But it’s also a reminder that the voter suppression war can still be lost.

And it also forces us to wonder anew if this new era of voter suppression exists because of fear of the Black ballot.

December 14, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Teaching Dred Scott in the Era of Trump

 

I taught Dred Scott v. Sanford this week. As a teacher and scholar of civil rights, it’s my job to teach the constitutional canon and how Dred Scott, and cases fairly called its progeny, misshaped our idea of equality. And while it is unsurprising to teach this canon in a course at Marquette Law on “Contemporary Perspectives on Civil Rights,” or in any civil rights or constitutional law course, what was different this time is that I taught Dred Scott for the first time in the Era of Trump.

Of course, I’ve taught the case before in first-year Property, in my Race Racism & American Law seminar, in public lectures at WVU Law, and in seminars on three different continents. I’ve written about Dred Scott in articulating my view of “tiered personhood” and blogged about its contemporary relevance. And it is fair to say that, after teaching for over 10 years, on some level, I was used to rehearsing the case often called “pure constitutional evil.”

But this time was different.

I walked into class, ready with my practiced confrontation of this intellectual monument to Chief Justice Roger Tawny. And after answering follow-up questions from last class about a case that enforced the racial classification system on which slavery depended, I began Dred Scott by reminding my students that we were studying the origin story of American white supremacy.

But before opening the casebook, I recalled that a student suggested we frame the conversation by watching a recent viral video of Univision News journalist Ilia Calderón. I had attempted to show the video in the class prior, but due to technical difficulties, this video prefaced our discussion of Dred Scott—which was not my original plan but proved more than appropriate for discussing the case in today’s political climate.

After the video ended, I found myself dumbstruck. This Klansman and his wife had the audacity to claim his superiority based purely on the color of his skin (which echoed the race classification cases from last class). He called her a “mongrel” and a “n**ger” and threatened to burn her out of his land. And despite their claims of racial superiority, religious exceptionalism, and entitled grievance, accompanied by threats of rebellion against a government that attacks their heritage and takes their stuff, the couple claimed they are not racist and the Klan is not a hate group.

In that moment, I remembered that Dred Scott is more than precedent. It is the anti-gospel of slavery, echoed anew by this Klansman, as an effort to tell Ms. Calderón (and all of us who can imagine her situation) to keep our place or be ready to burn. My own anger welled up, and my sadness too because that Klansman’s words reminded me of the times I had been called “n**ger” by white people, or told during an internship that “deliveries were around back,” or called “Big boy” by a white senior partner in front of my peers. Watching this Klan couple’s loathing reminded me that their hearts are full of twisted grievance and their minds are the heirs of the racial hierarchy enforced by Dred Scott.

To calm myself after the video ended, I had to let silence overcome the room. As far as I could tell, the students felt some mix of anger, pity, and shock. After this pause, I explained in both legal and moral terms that the structures of racism and the ideology of white supremacy cannot be thought of in isolation. The anti-gospel of the Klan and the words of Chief Justice Tawney must be thought of as parts of a whole.

Indeed, to read Dred Scott is to read a blueprint for structural racism. American citizenship is defined to exclude all black people. Slaves are a property that can be treated with near impunity. People of color do not belong in the American political community. A black person was “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” These are the lessons of Dred Scott, which followed through on the seeds sown in the Constitution of 1789, and which took amendment and 160 years of activism, struggle, and needless death to reverse.

And though the law has changed, the reversal is incomplete. This era—these times we live in now—echo that evil. The boundaries of personhood continue to be drawn to exclude not only race, but also gender and sexual orientation. The borders of the political community are being redrawn to wall off children who live up to the egalitarian American creed but have imperfect immigration status. The Klan and Nazis march with the impunity offered through mealy-mouthed accommodation from the White House. The structures of mass incarceration, disenfranchisement, and police brutality were built according to the same blueprint of white supremacy as Dred Scott, yet there are those who defend these still-functional monuments to slavery and Jim Crow as “law and order.”

Dred Scott and its ideological and doctrinal progeny are still with us. As much as we have moved away from being an apartheid state, as much as we have asserted through the Constitution and laws that we believe in equality, there are those of us who, by their torches, their twisted ideologies, and their policies seek to bring us back to that time. Their fire and fury—both cultural and legal—still try to burn out equality in the name of nativism and racial superiority. This is the era in which we live.

September 8, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Race Conscious Admissions Policies Upheld in Fisher v. University of Texas II

Today, by a 4-3 vote, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas's affirmative action admissions program in Fisher v. University of Texas II. The Court found that the consideration of race in its admissions process did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and accordingly, rejected Abigail Fisher's challenge that she, a white female, had been discriminated against because of this policy.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the four-justice majority. He effectively found that the UT race-conscious affirmative action program was appropriately narrow (and, indeed, the only functional) means available for the University to accomplish the goal of achieving the benefits of diversity. The opinion, interestingly, concludes with a caution directed at the University of Texas "to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies," with the implication that a continuing obligation to insure fairness in use of race-conscious admissions policies is implicit to its continuing legality. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a 50-page dissent which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarance Thomas. Justice Thomas also dissented.

Justice Kennedy's reasoning is fairly called narrow. The opinion can be read as a compromise interpretation of affirmative action doctrine that maintains the status quo. And yet, it is novel to simply say that race-conscious affirmative action, both in general and as applied in Fisher, is still constitutional today. (Indeed, as Ruthann Robson points out, it is also novel that Justice Kennedy actually upheld an affirmative action policy under the Equal Protection Clause.) Certainly this is not the last word of the Court on race-conscious affirmative action.

Other recent reporting on Fisher can be found at the New York Times and at SCOTUSblog. Additionally, we will post more about Fisher in the days to come, so stay tuned to Race Law Prof Blog for more commentary on this important decision.

June 23, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Race, Poverty, and Voter Identification in Alabama

I commented previously on how the right to vote remains in what President Obama called "the long shadow of racism." Mr. Obama juxtaposed the modern challenges of voting with concerns about the larger problems of structural racism that plague poor African Americans. It is a concern about the precarity of those who may suffer harm to their rights because of structural shifts. To be concerned about this is to be concerned with how

structural inequality pervades the American political structure at its most basic levels. It is also to imply that we cannot see voting in isolation from police violence, economic oppression, or racial domination.  [T]he juxtaposition of race, democracy, mass incarceration, and poverty is to imply the need for a dialogue about structural racism that will ultimately spur legal reform.

Recent events in Alabama underscore this concern. On Wednesday, al.com reported that the State of Alabama would be closing 31 driver part-time driver's license offices located in rural areas of the state.  This was done to close an $11 million cut in the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency's budget.  This is part of a larger set of cutbacks in governmental services due to budget constraints. 

John Merrill, Alabama's Secretary of State (and Chief Elections Official) said the closings would not affect access to identification cards necessary for voting, under Alabama's voter ID law.  Mr. Merrill stated that each county's Board of Registrars could issue appropriate identification.

Despite Mr. Merrill's assurances, commentators and civil rights activists nonetheless complained about the risk to the voting rights for rural black Alabama residents.  Susan Watson, Executive Director of the Alabama ACLU said that "people are right to be worried" about the closures.  "It's going to have a huge impact on the ability of people to get a state-issued I.D." Political commentator Kyle Whitmire argued that the closings would necessarily narrow access to the necessary credential of a driver's license (or other ID), and thus created the "certainty" of a "civil rights lawsuit."

Depending on which counties you count as being in Alabama's Black Belt, either twelve or fifteen Black Belt counties soon won't have a place to get a driver's license. Counties where some of the state's poorest live. Counties that are majority African-American.  Combine that with the federally mandated Star ID taking effect next year, and we're looking at a nightmare. Or a trial lawyer's dream.

If the closures are part of a coordinated strategy to disenfranchise, it would represent voter suppression of the worse kind (though the evidence of this would be highly unlikely to find).  A suit under the Voting Rights Act would be apt.

But even if the State of Alabama is taken at its word, and the cuts in providing drivers licenses is not an effort to disenfranchise African Americans in Alabama, the structures of historic, racially disparate poverty have coincided with the need for austerity that the state claims, putting at risk the right to vote for those poor black Alabamians who are at the intersection of race and class.  Mr. Whitmire's disparate impact argument could be pursued under Section 2, which would force Alabama--if it is found liable--to rethink this approach to solving its austerity problem.  Yet, without Section 5 preclearance, the alleged harm done would continue until a judicial finding.  

This serves as a reminder that Voting Rights Act as it currently stands is under-equipped to address this kind of structural voter discrimination. Moreover, whether this is intentional or incidental, the situation illustrates how the right to vote is precarious for those who suffer subordination based on race and class.

October 2, 2015 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Podcasts on Race and the Law

As podcasts become an increasing source of information, I will be regularly posting podcasts I come across that discuss legal or policy issues pertaining to race, ethnicity, or color.  I welcome our readers sending me additional podcasts that would benefit the Race and the Law blog community at saziz@law.tamu.edu.

Here is the first batch.

How Accurate is TV’s Portrayal of Terrorism? May 6, 2015, RAND Corporation

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/events-rand/id433409385?mt=2&i=342288083  

 

American Terrorist, June 8, 2015 FRONTLINE: Audiocast PBS
 
Race in America, From Watts to Ferguson and Beyond, August 8, 2015, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, by NPR,

September 25, 2015 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)