30 September 2016

"Unjust Targeting of African-Americans Not a New Phenomenon"

Kristine Mattis interview  October 3, 2016:

Two weeks ago, the police shooting of an African American man named Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte enraged thousands of African Americans. The killing, believed to be driven by racist attitudes, triggered protests.
Mattis tells the Tehran Times that “the protests that are going on in Charlotte, the ones that have occurred in numerous cities throughout the country following the murders of black people by police, the silent protests against the Star-Spangled Banner - these are all righteous, justified expressions of decades and decades of pent-up emotion, and they should be acknowledged.”
Following is the transcription of the interview.
Q: What's your view on the police shooting of the black man and the following protests in Charlotte?
A: It is just another in a growing list of unwarranted antagonism, aggression, and violence against people of color in America. The unjust targeting and killing of African-Americans is not a new phenomenon. We obviously know about the history of black oppression and murder during slavery, reconstruction, and throughout the civil rights era, but the commonplace executions of black men and women have been hidden from view for several decades until recently. Black people in America are rightfully angry about their brothers and sisters (OUR brothers and sisters) being murdered by the police, and about innumerable other racial injustices that have occurred and continue to occur since the inception of the United States of America.
When I was in my early twenties, I worked at a bookstore, and there was a group of four of us who became good friends. One of our friends was a black male. During our time in the bookstore, he faced many instances of covert racism – in language and attitude and lack of respect – from our bosses. I recall one particular time being a witness to this and fuming. I gave him a look and he basically looked back at me in a way that said, “Just leave it alone.” (This was not the first time a black male friend of mine responded to me in that way after I was angered by the racism shown to him.) I don’t remember if he told me this outright or if it was just insinuated, but the long and short of it was that he has to face this kind of B.S. all day, every day. He just couldn’t always get mad or fight it because not only would he lose his job, but he simply would not even be able to get through the day if that were the case. (It probably also accounted for his great wit and humor; he was one of the funniest people I knew.) So, imagine this subjugation happening to every black man, every black woman, and most people of color – be they Latino, Muslim, Native American, or African-American – all the time. After a while, you just can’t expect people to repress their anger and hurt and betrayal forever.
The protests that are going on in Charlotte, the ones that have occurred in numerous cities throughout the country following the murders of black people by police, the silent protests against the Star-Spangled Banner - these are all righteous, justified expressions of decades and decades of pent up emotion, and they should be acknowledged. If you listen to many of the protesters, they express profound, important perspectives, ideas, and stories that we do not normally hear in the corporate media.
Q: How do you see the Black Lives Matter and its impact in the recent years?
A: They are a phenomenal group who do not rely on any allegiance to either of the corrupted political parties in America. Any white person who doesn’t understand why Black Lives Matter is important - and why All Lives Matter is ridiculous - probably harbors tremendous white privilege if not racism. You cannot look at the history of the U.S. or the world and not realize that injustice runs rampant and fairness is an illusion. Black Lives Matter has illuminated the truth that certain people have more obstacles, fewer opportunities, less money, less power - in short, black people have always been left behind in America. Everyone should read the BLM guiding principles. You can see that they are seeking to create a better, more just world for the traditionally oppressed (i.e., black folks), and consequently, for all of us. As much as I think the mainstream media and the corporate elite are trying to marginalize BLM. I think BLM is having an impact in mobilizing people, and I think they will have more of an effect in years to come. Unfortunately, things are bound to get worse given that our country will be ruled by either the narcissistic, infantile ignoramus Trump or the neoliberal, corrupt, corporate Clinton, neither of whom will do anything to help people of color.
Q: Do you think that reports by the mainstream media imply that protesters are violent?
A: In a word, yes. The media and government officials – even our African-American president - use more loaded words and rhetoric to describe black folks who protest. More often than not, black protesters are described as “rioters” and “looters.” When people organized rallies against the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, President Obama cautioned that people should “keep the protests peaceful.” Would he – or anyone, for that matter – feel the need to admonish groups of white protesters like that? (Perhaps environmental protesters …) Did we hear that kind of reprimand when all of the white Tea-Partiers gathered? Did the media ever treat the Tea-Partiers as troublesome, potentially violent mobs? It’s a fairly obvious double-standard if you are at all sensitive to the language and framing that the media employ in their reports.
Q: What role can the police play in such incidents?
A: The police have a motto: “To protect and serve.”  We assume that they are supposed to be around to protect and serve all citizens, but in reality, the police force in the U.S. was established to serve and protect the elite. The police may not even be aware of that role all the time because they are rule-followers, and the laws are written by and for the privileged powers that be – the corporatists, the capitalists, the one-percent.
Instead of being authoritarian, and now, militarized, the police could be the peace-keepers they were supposed to be. According to the First Amendment, all Americans are supposed to have the constitutional right to free speech and peaceable assembly. Black protesters shouldn’t be met with police armed like soldiers, with riot gear and even tanks. The police should actually be protecting the protesters.
Furthermore, we see how differently black protesters are treated compared to white protesters. As I said before, the rhetoric in the media is different, but the treatment by law enforcement is also different. In recent years, some Tea Party groups assembled at Obama speeches with loaded guns in hand. The police didn’t come out in full military regalia to deal with them and certainly didn’t shoot them. In January of this year, armed white militants took illegal occupation of the office of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. They, like other white, right-wing groups were treated with kid gloves compared to how black protesters are treated. And since the announcement that the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, has endorsed Donald Trump for president – which means Trump garnered a 2/3 majority of the union voters – it seems clear that there exists a definite current of racism flowing through the American law-enforcement system.
Police are acting like we live in a war zone rather than a so-called democracy. They perpetuate the violence rather than prevent it. The police should be our allies, not our enemies. In other countries in Europe, police do not even carry guns. We need a re-envisioning of the purpose of a police force in America, because if we truly lived in a democracy, the police would be protecting the 99%, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable among us, while arresting the 1% who perpetrate the majority of crimes against humanity and against the planet.
Q: What do you regard as the root of racism in the United States?
A: Racism has been around in this country since its inception and has never left. Overt racism has been somewhat squelched since the civil rights era, but places like Fox News and people like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump have brought racism back to the fore. The election of Barack Obama angered the racists in the country who had been somewhat hiding in plain sight. They could not believe a person of color was their president. But it was what coincided with his election – the rhetoric of the commentators on Fox News and right-wing radio and the emergence of truly moronic, incompetent, and prejudiced politicians such as Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, who made racist remarks and actions acceptable again to a certain segment of the population. These people have empowered the bigots.
But, the other reason racism is coming out again is because of the increase in income inequality in the U.S. Not only do people want to find some boogeyman to blame for their misfortunes, they want to find some “other” to declare as worse than themselves, so they can feel better about their own unfortunate circumstance. And let’s be clear, the circumstances of too many people in America are absolutely reprehensible in a country of such plenty and such wealth. It doesn’t help that here in America we perpetuate the bogus myth of the self-made man and pretend that anyone who is not financially “successful” only has himself to blame. We have a whole psychological and self-help industry that makes people believe that their economic circumstance is wholly a product of their own hard-work, rather than a product of nepotism, privilege, corruption, and often, criminality. This way, we ignore the myriad systemic problems that have caused the increase in homelessness, poverty, and economic inequality (and environmental degradation). And this way we have white people railing against people of color rather than against the one-percent and the corporate criminals who have plundered the country and the world.
Q: What could you say about the recent African-American Museum? Do you think it distracts people from the recent incident?
A: I do not know a whole lot about the museum, but from what I have read, it is as superficial as most anything else in America. It puts a pretty face on a deeply important and still-evolving history. It sounds like a bit of whitewashing to me, which is the same complaint I have heard about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in D.C.
I would not say that the African-American Museum is a distraction exactly, but it certainly appeases white people. Too many white people claim to care about the plight of black people in America, but are not willing to sacrifice their comfort for the sake of all of their black brothers and sisters who are suffering. The African-American Museum should definitely exist, but it is not the be-all, end-all that is needed to help race relations or to improve the conditions of black people in the U.S. That’s where a movement like Black Lives Matter comes in and why it is crucial. Hopefully, BLM welcomes all of the white brothers and sisters who stand in solidarity to support their cause. As a white woman, I can never begin to fully understand or empathize with the plight of African-Americans due to the very real privilege of my skin color, but I can be willing to stand with them and fight with them and for them. The willingness to fight for justice is what is needed much more than a museum to appease the elite masses.
Martin Luther King Jr. put it best in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963). His words ring as true today as they did then, so I will leave you with some of them:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis

Ending Education Inequality and Saving Public Schools

From the Sacramento Coalition to Save Public Education: savesacramentopublicschools.org

While the neoliberal war-monger and the fascist buffoon were duking it out on Long Island, further up the Hudson River in Hillary’s adopted hometown, an ongoing eruption was spewing concerning a pedophile teacher at Horace Greeley, the prestigious public high school in Chappaqua, New York. Christopher Schraufnage, a former drama teacher at the school, reached a plea deal with the town on charges of sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. He is now facing federal criminal charges and civil suits from at least half a dozen victims of his criminal sexual exploitations. Understandably, the parents in town are out for blood. Consequently, many are determined to see the school superintendent, the school board members, and other administrators face repercussions for not preventing this horrendous abuse under their watch. Any mother or father can empathize with the bloodlust these Chappaqua parents are feeling, yet not all have the power and the money to do something about it.

I bring this incident up because I grew up in a town not far from Chappaqua – a decidedly less affluent northern Westchester County suburb. I have been hearing about this story from my mother, who often relays the local news. From what I can gather, there is a feeling of “this doesn’t happen here” and “this is not the kind of school where these things occur.” It’s not surprising. You hear this all the time from residents who are interviewed by the news media after an otherwise “unheard of” crime occurs in their wealthy enclave. And at Horace Greeley, things are different. This school is known as a sort of private-public school, always ranked as one of the best public high schools in the nation. It sends its students to all of the top-tier universities, and its students go on to successful careers. It is not at all coincidental that Chappaqua households are listed among the highest-income in the country as well.

A school’s success is inextricably tied to wealth for a number of reasons. In public schools, the major source of revenue is derived from property taxes. Obviously, an abundance of multi-million dollar properties will generate higher returns for a school district than the cheap real estate of the poor and middle-class. But above that, whether students in rich neighborhoods attend public or private schools, whatever their schools may lack, their parents can make up for in donations. We can all help fund our children’s schools, but while poor households may not even be able to spare pennies, and middle-class households might be able to spare $10 or perhaps as much as $100 dollars, rich households could “sacrifice” $10K, $100K, or for some, even millions of dollars without blinking an eye. That is how much wealth disparity exists; it is truly incomprehensible.

Unequal funding in schools results in inequitable educational opportunities. Schools with more money have greater resources. And greater resources does not mean technology, because there is no evidence that technology enhances education (it merely benefits the tech industry). It means smaller class sizes, ample books and supplies, access to music, art, and physical education, availability of field trips, clean classrooms, and well-paid teachers who are not overburdened with untenable conditions and who are not struggling themselves to make ends meet. There is a reason that the students in Beverly Hills were performing better, on average, than the students I once taught in East Los Angeles – and it had nothing to do with the students’ abilities. Instead, it had everything to do with the superior resources available to both students and teachers in richer school districts (along with the horrendous hunger, poverty, and homelessness rampant in schools in lower socio-economic neighborhoods).

A recent episode of “This American Life” explained how school integration was a monumental success in increasing student performance and narrowing the achievement gap for people of color, not because of racial intermingling, but because black students were able to access the same education opportunities as white students. It follows that desegregation of schools should be implemented not just on the level of race but on the level of economic status. If we really want to fix our public school system, students of all races and all socio-economic strata need to co-exist at all public schools, and there needs to be an end to all private and charter schools.

Charter schools have done little to aid in providing a better quality education to all – mainly because that is not what they were established for. Charters do not have the same mandates as public schools, so they do not have to follow all of the same onerous, bureaucratic regulations. These directives were put in place by the capitalist governing class who purposefully constructed them to undermine public education. With the failure of public education, the capitalist class could make way for a new open market in education. With charter schools, the taxpayers could pay for the market and all of the profits could be had by industry. That is not to say that all charter schools were created by corporate profiteers (though that is true in an alarming number of cases). Many charter schools were established by good educators with the best of intentions for students. I know of a number of them and worked at one over a decade ago. That is also not to say that some students do not benefit from a charter school education, whether socially or academically (though research shows that, overall, this is not the case). But these exceptions are akin to a handful of people sharing a winning lottery ticket while everyone else remains left behind. They amount to educational fortune, but not educational justice.

Imagine if all of the nation’s rich folks were forced to send their children to plain-old public schools, along with students of middle-incomes and students of low- or no incomes. First, any crowded classrooms, unclean conditions, problems with teachers, or lack of resources would be nipped in the bud, because the rich parents would pour their money, their time, and their lawyers into improving the conditions for their children (and thus, all of the children). Second, the rich children would learn a great deal from their less wealthy peers about people who do not have access to the wealth and privileges that they do, hopefully, making they more sympathetic and empathetic to the conditions of others. Third, the wealthy parents might not feel comfortable having their children mingle with the non-wealthy hoi-polloi, so they may actually learn empathy as well. They may think more closely about socio-political issues and they might learn about the reality of other people’s lives, about the plight of others from the actual struggles of their childrens’ peers, rather than from the propaganda and hearsay they gather from their perch on high. They might, in turn, use their fortunes to help to improve the quality of life for their childrens’ peers and maybe, for the rest of the 99% of the country.

While there is no doubt that the eradication of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and gross income inequality overall would drastically improve the educational success of all students, it also seems that the preservation of what could be and should be an exceptional public school system in America is imminently achievable. But, it cannot be done with the useless reforms and technological tools that are currently being pushed on the public. The solution to educational equality relies on the total integration of all American students into diverse yet equivalent, well-financed public schools.

Now, exactly what kids are being trained for in school – to be corporate technocrats and to perpetuate society’s plunge into planetary ecocide and species suicide … That’s a whole other issue …

Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. Before returning to graduate school, Kristine worked as a medical researcher, as a science reporter for the congressional record in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a teacher.

Contact: k_mattis@outlook.com and @kristinemattis.

Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves

For better or for worse, warranted or unwarranted, when I encounter certain terms, phrases, and misappropriations in an article, the irrational, impatient side of me wants to discard the piece altogether. Granted, I try to use my better judgment and gauge what I read on its analytic integrity and substance rather than on its style, so I try to push on despite my fastidious aggravation. Lord knows I make plenty of errors in my own writing. Nevertheless, here are a few examples of what irks me the most:

Ubiquitous and Overused Words


As long as people continually use the term surreal for every action and event, the term will be rendered meaningless.


No. Just No. Only narcissists need this word in their vocabulary.

A pivot used to be something I did when I was a dancer and gymnast as a child. It is not something that everyone everywhere is doing now. Here are some alternatives for what you really mean:

Also, why on earth do writers and reporters feel the need to use the exact same language as every other writer and reporter? Is it showing that you possess the insider lexicon or is it just the juvenile high school need to feel like one belongs? Whatever the case, it is annoying – and it lends itself to satire when the Daily Show or Last Week Tonight put together a video reel of every broadcast reporter and their mother repeating the same exact term or phrase. Really, do you want to be one of those guys?

Mistaken and Wrong Usage

Try and …

As in, “Next week, I will try and write a more substantive article than this one.” “Try and…” might be okay when spoken. We all speak in colloquialisms that we would not put on paper, but the written word is different. Neither formal nor informal writing allows for the grammatical use of “try and …” as a substitute for “try to...”

Contrary to popular opinion, nonplussed does not mean “unfazed” or “unaffected.” Yes, nonplussed really does sound like it should mean something like nonchalant – but it doesn’t. Our esteemed and “brilliant” president even used the word incorrectly when describing his daughter's reaction to his presidency. Regardless of what Obama may think, nonplussed actually means perplexed, bewildered, or fazed.

Toxin (n)

This one is near and dear to me, as the focus and interest of my scholarship lies in this realm. Somehow, probably because of the new-agey, faddish wellness movement in which people of extravagant wealth pay excessive amounts for “cleanses” as they strive to clear their bodies of “toxins,” toxin has come to mean a synthetic chemical or man-made pollutant.

Famous, successful writers, scientists, physicians, and even Ivy-League educated folk (I know, can you imagine?) use this term incorrectly. In doing so, it likens one to those who believe that rocks and crystals and expensive potions can instantaneously cure one of all ills.

Technically, a toxin is poisonous substance derived from an organism. Last month, I had a spider bite that produced a large, red, scaly, itchy rash on my back. It has only now finally receded. The venom from that spider was a toxin. The harmful synthetic substances, about which many people are rightfully concerned, are known as toxics or toxicants or pollutants or contaminants – not toxins.

The Intercept recently published a piece about Teflon, labeling it a “toxin.” When I received a link to the article from a listserv to which I belong, the moderator soft-corrected the article title and instead called it “The Teflon Toxic …” A man (or woman) after my own heart!

Reports, articles, analyses, and essays by radical, unconventional, iconoclastic, and moral voices are marginalized enough by the purveyors of conventional wisdom, It might do us all some good to pay careful attention to grammatical errors, misapplications, and overused terms that the corporate, capitalistic, elite class could use to dismiss writings that run counter to their precious status quo. We don’t need to provide them any more ammunition to discount important voices.

Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. Before returning to graduate school, Kristine worked as a medical researcher, as a science reporter for the congressional record in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a teacher.
Contact: k_mattis@outlook.com and @kristinemattis.

The Game Never Named, the Addendum Never Spoken

Remember that silly game we used to play with fortune cookies from Chinese restaurants? Maybe people still play it. It’s the one where...