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April 14, 2016

Jackie Robinson Set the Stage

By Kenneth Jacobson

April 15 is the 69th anniversary of the entry of Jackie Robinson into the major leagues. To commemorate that historic event and that historic figure, PBS is running a new two-part documentary  looking at how this grandson of slaves rose from humble origins to integrate Major League Baseball.

In some ways, the story of Robinson and the integration of baseball is a little hard for us to understand in 2016. Society in general has come a long way: the civil rights revolution, the election of an African-American president, and the leading role that African-Americans play in our major American sports. And baseball no longer occupies a unique place as the national pastime that it held in the 1940s.

Jackie_Robinson,_Brooklyn_Dodgers,_1954

Still, in a year where major stories include numbers of cases of unarmed African-Americans killed by police, where the right to vote created by the 1965 Voting Rights Act is under attack, where the school to prison pipeline is in the news, the Jackie Robinson story has much to teach us.

In 1947, baseball was king in America. The fact that baseball had never allowed an African-American to participate in the major leagues was a blot on America’s reputation, but only one of many that characterized the country before the civil rights era.

Robinson was truly the harbinger of change in America.

His breakthrough on April 15, 1947, which was recognized as a huge step forward. It took place seven years before the landmark segregation case Brown vs. Board of Education and 17 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It started a process, which took years to ripen and which still is not over, of righting the great wrong of American history.

The great lesson of the Robinson experience is that while laws have the greatest impact in changing society, culture can set the stage and create a climate for the acceptance of new, more inclusive laws. We’ve seen that in our time with the legalization of gay marriage, which was preceded by a number of years of greater cultural acceptance of lesbian and gay people through television and the internet.

Back then, the emergence of Robinson, the first African-American major leaguer,  who handled  hostile fellow major leaguers and crowds with such grace and strength, to be followed over the next few years of other successful black major leaguers, helped to create a sense that African-Americans deserved to be treated like other Americans in our democratic society. It was not a revolution – it took years for the law to change – but it set the stage for the revolution.

Culture matters. How we teach our children, how the media portray various minorities, how our religious, business and political leaders speak about “the other” have a cumulative affect that culminates in a more equal society.

Nobody better represents this idea than Jackie Robinson.

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March 22, 2016

Intended or Not, SJP’s Actions Have Consequences for LGBTQ People

By Seth M. Marnin, Vice President for Civil Rights

Recent homophobic and anti-Semitic incidents at Brown University came on the heels of the announcement that Janet Mock, transgender author and founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women, had cancelled her scheduled speaking engagement there. Mock’s talk, Redefining Realness, was sponsored by Moral Voices, the Brown Center for Students of Color, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, LGBTQ Center, Sexual Assault Peer Educators, Swearer Center for Public Service, Office of the Chaplains, the Rhode Island School of Design’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, and Brown/RISD Hillel.

Reacting to the fact that Hillel was one of the co-sponsors of program, the Brown University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched a change.org petition urging Ms. Mock to reject Hillel’s invitation to speak, saying that she should accept “Brown students’ sponsorship instead of Hillel’s.”  Although they were only able to gain 159 supporters (of the nearly 9,000 students who attend Brown), SJP’s divisive efforts led to Ms. Mock cancelling her talk.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

While some may be quick to criticize Ms. Mock’s decision, condemnation should instead be leveled against SJP and their efforts to splinter a community and use Ms. Mock as a pawn. In their effort to link Hillel’s Moral Voices’ campaign – a largely domestic initiative highlighting violence against LGBT+ individuals and communities – to violence in the Middle East, SJP forced a transgender woman of color to choose between silencing herself or allowing herself to be exploited for their unrelated crusade.  She should never have been put in that position.

The homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti that appeared on Brown’s campus just days later occurred in an environment that SJP helped create. Their claim to be surprised is unpersuasive.   Moreover, the graffiti is only one visible sign of the consequences of SJP’s actions. While SJP’s efforts to alienate Jewish students are well documented, there are other implications too.

There are far too few visible transgender role models and leaders. Efforts that have the effect of quashing those scarce voices have far-reaching repercussions.  For example, studies have shown that the suicide attempt rate among transgender men and women exceeds 41%, greatly surpassing the 4.6% of the overall U.S. population who report a suicide attempt at some point in their lives. The elevated rates of suicide attempts are connected with survivors’ experiences of family rejection and discrimination and violence at school and work. The absence of transgender voices in mainstream discourse also plays a role. There few role models for young transgender people, and families, co-workers, and friends of transgender people have limited opportunities to hear from transgender leaders.  Such an experience would better equip them to be allies in the future. Unfortunately, SJP’s actions foreclosed that possibility for the Brown University campus.

The importance of providing platform for transgender voices is underscored by the fact that, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ most recent report, violence against transgender women and particularly transgender women of color remains at an alarmingly high rate. At present, only 17 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws that explicitly cover gender identity. Critical efforts to address violence against LGBTQ people, including advocacy for inclusive hate crime laws like the 50 States Against Hate campaign, are undermined by organizations that engage in activism that results in silencing transgender voices. That too is what SJP did.

SJP encouraged a speaker – wholly unrelated to Israel – to reject an invitation from a broad coalition of student organizations solely because one of those organizations is Jewish. Intended or not, SJP harmed the LGBTQ community at Brown and beyond.  It’s well beyond time to reject these divisive tactics.

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March 17, 2016

Reconciliation Cannot Mean Turning a Blind Eye to Farrakhan’s Anti-Semitism

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This article originally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Farrakhan - Iran

As the new CEO of ADL, I have recommitted ADL to our historic civil rights agenda. In my short tenure as head of ADL, I have brought my leadership team to the cradle of the civil rights movement in Atlanta, Selma and Montgomery to recommit to our immense task of achieving equal justice and fair treatment to all. We have vigorously lobbied Congress to pass legislation to undo the damage to the Voting Rights Act caused by the Supreme Court ruling in 2013; we have channeled our outrage after the tragedy in Charleston to launch a coalition-based campaign of #50StatesAgainstHate to ensure that all states have effective hate crime laws to protect African-Americans and other marginalized communities; and we have taken up issues of education equity and the school to prison pipeline. And we are committing to addressing the injustice of mass incarceration, incidents of police brutality and criminal justice reform.

In the name of working to ensure equality, however, we are unwilling to give a pass to anti-Semitism and hate as exhibited by Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.

Indeed, one of the principles that underlie efforts to provide rights for all is the need to stand against bigotry wherever it surfaces. That was why I was frustrated to read Russell Simmons’ blog on Louis Farrakhan – “The Nation of Islam and the Anti-Defamation League- Now Is the Time to Mend Fences.”

Civil rights and social justice are core priorities for ADL under my leadership. But let me be clear: When it comes to the bigotry of Louis Farrakhan, there is not one iota separating me from my predecessor.

It always was true and remains so today that exposing and condemning Farrakhan’s hatred does not mean that he is beyond redemption. All of us should admit that we can do better.  But the onus for “mending fences” is not on the targets of his hate, but on Minister Farrakhan himself.

Minister Farrakhan, like others who engage in hate, has the opportunity to change. He could repudiate his long history of anti-Semitic statements, speeches and publications.  He could publicly commit never again to engage in such bigotry.  When this happens, it could be a historic moment and an opportunity to turn a new page.

But he has not done so. In fact, in recent years, he has actually doubled down on his anti-Semitic rants, accusing Jews of responsibility for 9-11, which he describes as “a false flag operation that was designed to…so frighten, alarm, and anger the American people that they could direct that anger against the Muslim world.” He has spun conspiracy theories of nefarious Jewish control of the African-American community, of America’s political system and media, and just about any other conspiracy theory that anti-Semites peddle.

We know that many in the African-American community have positive feelings toward Minister Farrakhan. We know that he has done much for his community.

I appreciate that Russell Simmons wants to see reconciliation. I know Russell is authentic in his desire to bring the parties together.  And I am sure that many others would like to see a similar rapprochement. But it’s unfortunate that Russell dismisses the long history of hatred that has characterized Minister Farrakhan’s remarks. But Farrakhan’s bigotry cannot so easily be brushed aside.

There is long history of bigotry that ADL has consistently spoken out against.  And this is not ancient history. As recently as last week, Farrakhan reiterated his obsession with Jews and our “wickedness.” And in prior public statements, we have heard his racism, his hateful statements directed at the LGBT community, and sometimes his use of violent rhetoric.

And the problem is compounded when good people like Russell Simmons willfully ignore this reality or opt to minimize such hostility, and then end up blaming ADL for the alienation from Farrakhan. There undoubtedly are positive aspects to Minister Farrakhan’s message to members of the African-American community, but no one should get a pass for hatred.

To set the record straight, there is no truth to the accusation that ADL calls “every African American leader an anti-Semite.” This is an outrageous charge on its face, considering that ADL has worked on behalf of civil rights in this country for decades. Martin Luther King Jr. was an ally and my predecessor marched alongside him in Selma and stood with him at the White House. ADL and African American leaders have worked hand in hand on many issues for generations.

While it is true that some public figures from the African American community have made bigoted statements that we have criticized, we have done the same when leaders from other communities also expressed anti-Semitism or other forms of prejudice, and even criticized bigotry from members of our own community.

But to say, however, that we accused Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young and other Black leaders of being anti-Semites is flat out wrong and deeply hurtful. Yet this is a trope that Minister Farrakhan has used to wash himself clean of the very real charge levied against him for his hate. It is disappointing to see that Russell has restated these false claims.

ADL will continue to reinvigorate its work on the civil rights agenda because our mission and values compel us to. This work is a moral imperative in fulfillment of our mission to secure justice and fair treatment to all. In pursuit of that mission, we will continue to expose and vigorously condemn bigotry wherever it appears, including the anti-Semitism and bigotry of Louis Farrakhan.

But all of us can change.  When Minister Farrakhan is ready to make the same moral choice – to treat all of God’s children with the same dignity and respect – and publicly speak out against anti-Semitism or bigotry toward others whom he has demeaned, we will be ready to engage with him.

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