The American Lie (Orginal Intent)

I am by no means a Constitutional scholar; I think back to my courses, teachings, and readings and often ponder the political dimensions of those who are self-serving. As I watch the confirmation hearings and listen to Sean Spicer (not a credible person) articulate the notion of a White House seeking original intent protection, my thoughts jog back to the 18th century justification for the protection of white male supremacy, under the notion of wealth, capitalism, and white supremacy. Yet I recall those same white men stating the Constitution “is” a living-breathing document with mechanism for change. Who sets those changes? Who benefits from them? Moreover, if the right believes in original intent – what does this mean for the biological reproductive measures of women who have historically been suppressed, silenced, and exploited by white male hegemony? American Indians? Asians? How about Black folks who were deemed property (1857)? “They had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” How about blacks as second-class citizens via Jim Crow laws by the Court? LGBTQ folk?

The argument of original intent is one manifested by straight, white, male, Christian hegemony since the dawn of the modern culture war. It is a white male ruling-class argument to manifest their interest. Yes I have read the Constitution. I have read it and the Declaration of Independence. I have challenged my students through various periodization studies to be suspicious and guarded against the American lie of American democracy and Constitutionalism. But I would love to hear from others.


American Knowledge

We completed day 1 here at Houston Christian for the 2010-2011 academic year; I met with sections of American Studies, European History, and US Government & Politics. Today I have my other section of US Government & Politics. I will have them, as I did yesterday, complete a quiz that was conducted to see how much (or little) students know about the historical and political nature of the United States. I will admit that not all of the questions were great. Better yet, I am not sure all were relevant in that if you did not know something, it would hamper your academic or professional growth in life. Here is what was noted about this survey:

  • 71% of Americans failed the civics knowledge test;
  • 51% of Americans could not name the three branches of government;
  • The average score for college seniors on the civics knowledge test was 54.2% (an “F” by any standard);
  • The average student’s test score improved only 3.8 points from freshman to senior year;
  • Freshmen at Cornell, Yale, Princeton, and Duke scored better than seniors on the civics knowledge test.
  • 79% of elected officials that took the civics knowledge quiz did not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the government from establishing a religion.
  • 30% of office holders did not know that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence.
  • 27% of politicians could not name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
  • 43% did not know the purpose of the Electoral College.
  • 39% of lawmakers believe the power of declaring war belongs to the president.
  • The average score for college professors who took the civics knowledge quiz was 55%.

You can find this particular quiz here.

American Studies Reading List

I think I have selected an array of intriguing works as “required readings” for my new Contemporary American Studies seminar course next fall; in truth, I have been working on this course, its syllabus and outline, as well as the required readings for years now. The challenge was limiting the scope of books I want us to read. I have decided to put together a “course pack” which is comprised of a diverse set of primary and secondary articles to read, alone with the following three books:

The first is a great read linking race and black nationalism as a historical phenomena to the rise of hip hop and rap music. From Black Power to Hip Hop asks students to take on a more critical position regarding the music they listen to and the forces regarding economics that have shaped the modern paradigm called America. This review stated:

Despite legislation designed to eliminate unfair racial practices, the United States continues to struggle with a race problem. Some thinkers label this a “new” racism and call for new political responses to it. Using the experiences of African-American women and men as a touchstone for analysis, Patricia Hill Collins examines new forms of racism as well as political responses to it.

In this incisive and stimulating book, renowned social theorist Patricia Hill Collins investigates how nationalism has operated and re-emerged in the wake of contemporary globalization and offers an interpretation of how black nationalism works today in the wake of changing black youth identity. Hers is the first study to analyze the interplay of racism, nationalism, and feminism in the context of twenty-first century black America.

From Black Power to Hip Hop covers a wide range of topics including the significance of race and ethnicity to the American national identity; how ideas about motherhood affect population policies; African-American use of black nationalism ideologies as anti-racist practice; and the relationship between black nationalism, feminism, and women in the hip-hop generation.

The second work above looks at the Simpson’s and how the popular TV show has had a huge impact on contemporary history. I think the most interesting thing about this work is that it allows both historians and students to assess the functionality of culture, especially when it comes to defining the traditional family and knowledge. As one reviewer of this work noted:

In exploring the thought of key philosophers including Aristotle, Marx, Camus, Sartre, Heidegger, and Kant through episode plots and the characters’ antics, the contributors tackle issues like irony and the meaning of life, American anti-intellectualism, and existential rebellion. The volume also includes an episode guide and a chronology of philosophers which lists the names and dates of the major thinkers in the history of philosophy, accompanied by a representative quote from each.

And the last work above is one I most recently read: American Jesus: How the Son of God became an American Icon. This work will push students into thinking about how different groups see and define Jesus. Moreover, it will ask students to look at how Jesus has become exploited by various groups with different agendas. A review of this work stated:

Jesus appears to be alive and well in America. Many people seek to discover the “historical” Jesus who gave rise to the Christian religion, but at least as interesting is the “cultural” Jesus which has given rise to all sorts of modern religious movements, political developments, and cultural progress. Jesus is an important figure in the Christianity of every nation, but he appears to be far more significant in America. Why?

Gay Adoption and Arkansas

During the month of November 2008, the people of Arkansas voted for the passage of Arkansas Law Act 1, which prohibits any unmarried individuals or couples from adopting children. In part, many contend that this law passed as an attempt to keep homosexuals from adopting children. Critics of this law state that it is a political ploy at the expense of Arkansas children waiting to be adopted. This law also includes foster children. Any individuals  living in cohabitation outside of a valid marriage are not permitted by law to adopt or serve as foster parents. The argument is that children function best in a “traditional” family environment between a man and a woman. Academics do not dispute this; however, they do contend there is a violation of the 9th amendment. Moreover, some sociologists have stated that the evidence of a “family” unit between a man and a women is not supported. Thus, this matter becomes one of  religious faith and belief — making it a 1st amendment issue, too.

As noted in other landmark cases such as Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, the court stated that both venues were in fact legal as thus they address matters of privacy. The matter of privacy is a significant one. There was a point in which states declared by law that one had to be of a certain age to purchase contraceptives such as a condom or diaphragm. This is no longer the case with the rise of AIDS.

After being challenged by the ACLU, a judge has ruled against this law in Arkansas; many state it is a law clearly driven by ideological and political motives, thus serves no purpose for the welfare of children. But, those that collected enough signatures to have this law placed on the ballot via initiative, contend that research backs their basic contention of family stability. Conversely, opponents of this act noted that it is not about family stability; it is anti-gay. Hence, research does not support same-sex couples having an adverse impact on children. Furthermore, as some have stated, Act 1 is in opposition to matters of abortion, as stated by some in the state of Arkansas. On one hand, 57% of the population ruled in favor of Arkansas Law Act 1. On the other hand, many within that same population argue that women should not seek an abortion, but simply but their child up for adoption.

The Ideology of the Court

One element consistent of the political processes since the Warren court is the cultural wars. This ideological conflict really came to prominence during the conservative vs. liberal debates regarding gender, race, and religion in the 1920s. Moreover, the same arguments hold true for the decade of the 1950s and the 1980s. With the retirement of Justice Stevens from the Court, both the left and the right have armed themselves for conflict; I am not sure why.

If the Court is supposed to be a neutral arbiter of the Constitution, then why did the Framers construct a system that allows a partisan official of ideological disposition to make such a selection? I would hope that my students would answer this question by stating that during the construction of the Constitution, there “technically” were no political parties; however, even that answer would not be wholly sufficient, seeing that the process of drafting the Constitution was in and of itself an ideological conflict between Federalist and Anti-Federalist. This division shaped much of the political conflicts throughout the 1790s.

So, I ask the question, why go to arms over a presidential appointment to the Court? According to the Constitution:

The power to appoint Justices belongs to the President under the Constitution (Article II, Section 2). The “advice and
consent” of the Senate is required for any Supreme Court appointment. The Senate Judiciary Committee conducts
hearings to question nominees and determine their suitability. Thereafter, the whole Senate considers the nomination; a
simple majority vote is required to confirm or to reject a nominee. In some instances, the Senate may defeat a nominee
by failing to take a final vote on the nominee, rather than by explicit rejection. For example, the minority may filibuster
a nominee, indefinitely prolonging debate and refusing to permit a vote.

Thus, since this is the case, the Framers constructed a system in which an ideological figure has the power to appoint a person to uphold the Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, but others who might not hold that position can check his/her powers to appoint.

I am hoping the president will appease the base that elected him by selecting Diane Wood to the bench; I like the fact that she is a woman, but I also like that she holds the intellectual understanding that the Constitution is a document for all Americans. It is important that groups that hold their own ideological positions do not work against that of others. I am a fan of the Bill of Rights and believe they are not in place to deny the rights of Americans, but to protect those rights. And yes, that means the rights of religious fundamentalist or those who are in the KKK; we cannot pick here.

The United States is a plural society. The joy of pluralism is that it offers an array of diverse views. A Muslim should have the same rights as that of a Christian, as noted in the 1st Amendment. A justice should be one that looks to uphold all aspects of the Bill of Rights. If Obama fails to select Wood to the Court, many will see him as a weak president.

Join the 21st Century Louisiana

In an age in which we have seen a dramatic increase in interracial dating and marriage, this article below that I received from a friend today showcases that there are a few living in the dark ages. Read all of it here. Interracial couples in Houston are a normal sight; however, one supporting Obama is not.

HAMMOND, La. – A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

Neither Bardwell nor the couple immediately returned phone calls from The Associated Press. But Bardwell told the Daily Star of Hammond that he was not a racist.

In a day and age in which over half the population is divorced, to argue that it is any different for interracial couples is laughable.

Sotomoyor: Race, Reproduction, & Gender By Jaylon Williams

I am watching the confirmation hearings of Sotomayor; currently, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions is attacking her 1970s liberalism via race, gender, and reproductive rights. The topic of affirmative action, once thought almost dead, has been recently resurrected by way of Obama’sselection of a candidate who might look to find sympathy among the American people. I suspect the key  issue today is that of race and gender, the two factors that shaped the 1970s with two instrumental court cases: Bakke v. California…. The court upheld the use of race as a factor in hiring and admission. The other factor regarding gender/reproduction was Roe v. Wade. Here the court utilized the 9th Amendment to draw a conclusion. Conservative blacks and whites fear Sotomayor due to her 1970s approach.

As public policy, affirmative action can be dated to President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s June 4, 1965 address to the graduating class of Howard University. LBJ intended this speech as his own Civil Rights Proclamation. He chose his words carefully, with an eye towards posterity: You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: ‘now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.’ You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair…. This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity – not just legal equity but human ability – not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.”