Memory and Monuments at the U.S. Capitol

One of the things I did during a recent trip to Washington, DC, was visit the U.S. Capitol. I’ve never been in the building, and went on a tour through most of it with some family. One thing I hadn’t ever heard of was the National Statuary Hall Collection, which displays 100 statues – 2 representing each state in the union – in several of the rooms in the building. Originally confined to the Statuary Hall, some statues now stand in the visitor center, rotunda, and other wings and halls of the building. Each of these statues was created and donated by a state, chosen by its legislature to represent it in the Capitol.

Looking through the list of statues is an interesting exercise to do. There are many people of renown and many who are rather obscure even to fans or scholars of American history. For every Samuel Adams, there’s an Edmund Kirby Smith. There’s a bit of diversity in types of figures – mostly politicians but some activists and inventors – but there’s also a sizable list of war heroes responsible for untold misery on the frontier, like Andrew Jackson.

The first thing that caught my eye upon entering the Capitol Visitor’s Center’s Emancipation Hall was that several statues of indigenous leaders flanked the lines for tours. Kamehameha I, resplendent in gold and the heaviest statue in the collection, represents Hawai’i. 17th Century Pueblo leader Po’pay represents New Mexico and is the oldest figure among the collection. Sakakawea, Washakie, and Sarah Winnemucca also stand in Emancipation Hall. (Sequoyah and Will Rogers bring the indigenous to seven percent of the 100 statues in the collection. Impressive and unexpected).

There are six presidents currently in the collection, from Washington to Jackson to Reagan. There are also a number of Vice Presidents, like John C. Calhoun and Hannibal Hamlin, as well as presidential hopefuls from William Jennings Bryan to my own home state’s Barry Goldwater, the newest statue. Of the hundred statues, nine are women, among them several suffragettes and activists.

20150629_123332

Some tourists – presumably Arizonans – posing by Barry Goldwater. In the National Statuary Hall.

As any historian might guess, the Civil War era features prominently in the collection, and that’s the demographic that I want to talk about here.

There are two dozen Civil War figures among the hundred statues, and if you add such antebellum big names as Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, and a couple of lesser known Reconstruction names, the specter of the Civil War makes a huge mark on the National Statuary Hall Collection. What’s interesting – albeit not surprising – is just how many Confederate fighters have monuments in the U.S. Capitol.

20150629_123820

Jefferson Davis, who worked in this building as a U.S. Senator until he resigned and became the President of the Confederate States of America.

Despite the fact that there were twenty-three Union states and eleven in the Confederacy, there are roughly a dozen statues representing each side in the collection. Included among the secessionists are none other than Jefferson Davis and Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the President and Vice President of the Confederate States of America, represent Mississippi and Georgia, respectively.

Remember that the states choose which two statues represent them in the collection. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia all sent a Confederate to Capitol Hill – several of whom had resigned from positions as U.S. Senators and Congressmen to join the Confederacy.

Mississippi is the only one with two Confederates representing it (James Zachariah George, as well as Davis). Alabama had two until former member of the U.S. and C.S.A. Congress Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry was replaced by Helen Keller in 2009 (Confederate general Joseph Wheeler remains). In addition to Confederate Zebulon Vance, North Carolina’s other statue is Charles Brantley Aycock, a Gilded Age/Progressive Era politician who was a champion of white supremacy and famously said, upon being nominated governor, “When we say that the negro is unfit to rule we carry it one step further and convey the correct idea when we declare that he is unfit to vote. To do this we must disfranchise the negro.”

Of the twenty-two statues in the collection from states that once formed the Confederacy, eleven are of men who fought against the United States of America. While half of these statues are secessionists, just a quarter of the statues representing the states which once made up the Union forces are from the same time period. Among them, however, are leaders like Hannibal Hamlin and Free Soilers and founding Republicans who not only fought to preserve the Union but to rid it of slavery.

Frederick Douglass. On the side of the pedestal is a quote regarding emancipation in the West Indies:

Frederick Douglass. On the side of the pedestal is a quote regarding emancipation in the West Indies: “If there is no struggle there is no progress.”

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the 100 statues in the collection feature zero black people. Rosa Parks and Frederick Douglass both have statues in the Capitol – both installed way back in 2013, and there are busts of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sojourner Truth in the building, but no state has chosen to represent itself with a black person in the collection. But 11% of the collection once fought the United States in the name of slavery. Go figure.

What do we do with a collection of statues that memorializes so many men who once tried to leave the union? I’m not necessarily for getting rid of monuments completely. While I’m all for taking down the Confederate flag, less a historical artifact and more a symbol of white supremacy and hate, it’s less clear what should be done when Robert E. Lee is literally put on a pedestal in the same room as Samuel Adams or Roger Sherman.

When it comes to monuments in general, I find myself agreeing with Ta-Nehisi Coates, who tweeted that “the fact that white supremacists were lionized for so long is also history.” And indeed, many of the statues in the collection were first donated in the early 20th Century, just decades after Reconstruction was cut short and in the midst of the White Supremacist Democrats’ Solid South era.

But the statues continue to stand, shoulder to shoulder with historical figures who struggled for things like liberty and rights and not white supremacy and slavery. What’s more, while the U.S. Capitol is part-museum, there is only brief discussion over who the actual figures are and why they are there. The tour guide when I went (who was awesome despite her relatively recent employment there) explained statues correlating to states where her guests were from, and briefly referred to Davis and Stephens’ statues in the light of recent debate over Confederate flags and other paraphernalia.

But, just as Colin McEnroe says about the name of Yale’s (John C.) Calhoun College, “It’s not called Calhoun College So Let’s Talk About That.  It’s called Calhoun College, and it’s an easy feat to spend four years at Yale without ever having one those “teachable moments” about the background of the name… For three of my four years [at Yale], my roommate was an African-American man, Ken Jennings. He tells me the Calhoun name was a topic of discussion, if not a towering issue at the time. He’s not surprised I never noticed. ‘A lot of this kind of thing is below the radar if you’re not of African descent.'”

The fact of the matter is, the dozen rebels standing in the Capitol weren’t even put there by the Capitol. They were sent by Southern Democrat state legislatures in the early 1900s – that is to say, White supremacist state legislatures – and they were sent to memorialize great men of their states. This was no history lesson on racism. We can make it one by changing the plaque to signify these men’s real actions. To cite another Coates tweet, this time regarding what we should do with monuments like Stone Mountain: “Keep it. Put a big-ass inscription near it saying ‘These Men Fought For An Empire Of Slavery.'” Or, better yet, these state legislators can commission a new statue to represent them in the Capitol, and move these old ones into a museum or state park – with proper and honest signage. After a century of these Confederates standing on pedestals, I think it’s time for something new.

Weekend Reading

While disconnection rates vary from city to city, some of the biggest chasms are found between predominantly black and predominantly white neighborhoods—neighborhoods within the same metro area. In Chicago, for example—a city simultaneously known for its gang violence and its prestigious art museums— only 8 percent of the city’s white youth are disconnected, compared to roughly a quarter of its black youth. Youth and young adults aged 16 to 24 in Chicago who live in mostly black neighborhoods, as well as their counterparts in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, are ten times more likely to be disconnected than their peers living in majority-white neighborhoods in the very same cities.

The cities with high black-disconnection rates also have deeply segregated school systems. Less than 10 percent of kids enrolled in Chicago Public Schools are white, and the statistics are similar in D.C.(12 percent) and Philadelphia (14 percent). Unsurprisingly, the report parallels similar phenomena in school systems that, despite the six-decade-old Brown v. Board of Education decision,remain segregated to this day—often a byproduct of housing policies and trends.

Most of these early projects were built for whites, and whites of a particular kind: the “barely poor,” as Vale puts it — the upwardly mobile working class, with fathers working in factory jobs. Housing agencies required tenant families to have stable work and married parents. Children out of wedlock were rejected. Housing authority managers visited prospective tenants, often unannounced, to check on the cleanliness of their homes and their housekeeping habits.

“The idea — although people didn’t tend to voice it explicitly — was that you could be too poor for public housing,” Vale says. In many cities, the truly poor remained in the tenements.

[…]

By the 1960s, the tenants living in public housing began to grow more deeply poor and, particularly in big cities, much less white, in large part thanks to another set of active housing policies pushed next by the federal government.

In cities like Chicago and Detroit, public housing “became a black program,” says the Economic Policy Institute’s Richard Rothstein, “because the Federal Housing Administration created a different program for whites, which was a single-family suburban program.”

White Supremacist Terrorism in Charleston, and in Our History

I’ve been closely following the news from Charleston, where a white supremacist shot and killed nine people at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last night. As I write this, it appears that the shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, has been arrested in North Carolina.

The church that was the target of the shooting is a historic landmark and site of black resistance, and has been for centuries. Yesterday was the 193rd anniversary of Denmark Vesey’s aborted slave revolt. Vesey was an early member of the church (I’ve heard even a founding member, but am unsure), which was burned down as the revolt’s organizers were hanged.

When the shooter was first identified, a Facebook profile picture was circulated that showed him wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid South Africa and white-rule Rhodesia on it. The state of South Carolina flies the Confederate flag over the capitol.

There is a deep history to white supremacy and black resistance to it. It’s a violent history. It’s one we need to reckon with, and that we haven’t. I’ll paraphrase Angus Johnston by saying that we need to do more to teach the long history of racial violence, as part of an effort to raise anti-racists (do read the linked tweets, please).

Just as important is the history of the struggle. Teaching about resistance against hate, against oppression, is an imperative if we are to continue resisting these things. Just today, several pieces were published about the role of the AME church in the history of both white supremacist violence and black resistance.

Jamelle Bouie calls Emanuel AME Church “a historical symbol of black resistance to slavery and racism,” and Dave Zirin wrote a short piece detailing the long history of its place in 300 years of anti-racist, abolitionist history. This article on the place of black churches as symbols in American history is worth reading, in full. Here’s an excerpt on this AME church in particular:

while black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts.

Further, the very spot of land on which the Emanuel Church is built has witnessed much of this sobering history. In the summer of 1822, white residents of Charleston, South Carolina, discovered that one of their worst fears had come true: a slave conspiracy to rise against their masters and slaughter all white residents was afoot in the city. The accused ringleader, Denmark Vesey, was a former slave who had been a free carpenter in Charleston for two decades. His insurrection was supposedly planned to take place on July 14—Bastille Day. Once the plot was uncovered, however, authorities were swift with retaliation: 131 men were charged with conspiracy, 67 were convicted, and 35, including Vesey, were hanged. While historians today debate the extent of the conceived rebellion, the event proved formidable in confirming southern angst over an “internal enemy” and white supremacists knew they had to respond quickly and violently.

That Vesey was one of the founders of the Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church was no mere coincidence. To those that pushed prosecution, the church was central to the conspiracy. The year prior, city officials had closed the church because they feared it was breaking slave codes concerning unsupervised black gatherings after sunset and the law against teaching slaves to read. Charleston authorities depicted Vesey’s frustrations over their suppression of church activities as one of his three primary motivations. (The other two being the Haitian Revolution and the debates over the Missouri Compromise.) The punishment for these sins was the noose.

There’s a lot of history behind this act of violence. There’s a lot of history behind all of them. This country – this world – is marked by white supremacy. Its an idea that forms the foundations of our country, and its an idea that is tearing it apart. This is all part of our history.

Edit to add: The twitter hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus is a growing collection of suggested readings and other resources for any educator (or person eager to learn), focused on race and violence in South Carolina – and the South more broadly – as well as critical readings of race in America, the Confederacy, and white supremacy in general. Also, remember that this hashtag follows in the footsteps of #FergusonSyllabus, which continues to be a resource on the same issues.

Weekend Reading

Readings on racism, policing, incarceration, and other forms of violence.

To view someone as a political equal is an act of respect and empathy. The decades-long growth in black incarceration rates represents a failure of empathy. How could rational people committed to liberal ideals allow such an obvious violation of those ideals to persist? How can such manifest social contradictions be so easily tolerated? Those questions have the characteristic feel of philosophical problems.

To understand what’s happened with incarceration in America, you must examine the concepts of propaganda and ideology, especially the kind of propaganda that is most prevalent in liberal democratic societies, which I call undermining propaganda. Undermining propaganda consists of arguments that employ a cherished political ideal in the service of a goal that undermines that very ideal. When it works, we do not even notice the contradiction. Ideology conceals the contradictions of propaganda….

Battles about the putative link between crime and race stretch back more than a century in the sociological literature, to Ida B. Wells and Du Bois. The story is masterfully told in Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s 2010 book, The Condemnation of Blackness (Harvard University Press), in which he shows how white social scientists used race to explain problems among blacks, while appealing to socioeconomic causes to explain the very same problems among whites. Mass incarceration yields many other instances of manipulative expertise.

Readings on higher education, tenure, and student-teacher dynamics.

My students’ discomfort with me is especially clear when I teach “general” courses — courses that are not explicitly about people of color. It is not uncommon for students to accuse me of diminishing the quality of their education when I teach classes like this. For example, when I taught an honors writing class, I included two — just two! — reading assignments by nonwhite authors. At the end of the term, a significant percentage of student evaluations complained that the class was skewed because it unjustifiably prioritized African-American authors.

All of my students, regardless of the identity categories they embraced, had been taught their entire lives that real literature is written by white people. Naturally, they felt they were being cheated by this strange professor’s “agenda.”

Readings on everything else.

More troubling, however, are Kaplan’s claims about supposedly artificial borders and the “order” brought by colonial rule. The artificial bordersargument is a common myth that sadly continues to pervade policy discussions of the Middle East. Kaplan simply regurgitates the claim that theSykes-Picot Agreement was arbitrarily drawn, and did not conform to sectarian or national realities on the ground, implying that the “artificial” borders drawn by the agreement have contributed to the sectarian strife we see today.

Complaints about artificial states imply that borders can ever be natural. While nationalist elites may like to portray borders as natural to their kin groups, around the world, states were formed through social processes involving conflict and negotiation to create the borders we see today. That’s true whether those borders have expanded, contracted, or been drawn by outsiders or insiders, but in all cases they are socially constructed and no more artificial than any other borders. To hold up some imperial divisions (like Ottoman borders) as “natural” while calling more recent colonial borders “artificial” greatly confuses the extent to which all borders are drawn through social processes, politics and violence.

Moreover, supra-national entities, like the United Arab Republic in the Middle East and the Mali Federation in West Africa, fell apart under local and national political constraints. This suggests that, counter to Kaplan’s claims, national distinctions matter, even when colonial powers drew the borders of what became postcolonial states. And Marc Lynch and others have recently demonstrated the ways in which national identity remains highly salient in the Middle East. Kaplan’s “artificial” nations can in fact show a high degree of coherence and nationalist sentiment, even in the face of ongoing political, social and economic turmoil.

Decentralization in Uganda

There’s a new post at the Monkey Cage by Guy Grossman and Janet Lewis about decentralization, based largely on a recent article they’ve published on the subject. The piece is an overview of what happens as states (esp. African ones) decentralize at the regional level, in light of the fact that the DRC’s long-awaited redistricting may happen soon. In particular, they note that:

Creating new provinces creates new provincial leadership positions. As a result, more aspiring local leaders – especially those from previously marginalized areas – can enter politics, widening the talent pool from which local political leaders are drawn. This pattern, in turn, makes national politics more competitive. The larger the pool of governors, the greater the likelihood that at least some of them will use their offices to mount a credible challenge to the president. This greater competition in national politics often forces the incumbent president to rule more responsibly.

But there’s one exception that they mention: Uganda.

Our research in Uganda suggests that extreme fragmentation also can allow the central government to consolidate power vis-à-vis the local governments. Power struggles are common between central and local governments, and when more units are created, the power of localities as a whole diminishes. The larger the number of local governments, the more onerous it is to coordinate with one another to present a united front against the central government. In Uganda, the creation of more and more districts has coincided with less policy and fiscal autonomy for each individual district.

So, what’s the deal with Uganda?

I haven’t read Grossman and Lewis’ scholarly article on decentralization, so I’m not sure how much they go into the Ugandan exception, but it’s worth exploring here just how crazy the decentralization of government is in Uganda. The country is divided into districts, and each district is then divided into counties, sub-counties, etc. When Yoweri Museveni first came to power in 1986, Uganda was divided into 33 districts – today it stands at a whopping 111. Despite being less than 1/10 the size of its Congolese neighbor and holding less than half as many people, Uganda’s government is divided on a whole other level than the Congo’s 11 provinces and the proposed 26.

The proliferation of districts in Uganda far outpaces other countries, and it is a part of Museveni’s effort to simultaneously dispense patronage while also gaining support for elections, undercutting opposition at the local level, and impress the international community. A great source for this is Elliot Green’s 2008 working paper [pdf] on district creation in Uganda (he’s also written articles about it here and here).

The new districts in Uganda create support for Museveni through patronage. District creation accelerated after Uganda’s Movement (no-party/one-party) government opened up to multiparty democracy. Shifting to multipartyism helped Museveni push opposition politicians out of powerful seats, but it also limited his ability to curry favor through local government positions. Each new district created a new representative, a woman MP, local staff, and new district capitals. All of these allowed Museveni to gain favor through job creation, women’s movements, and patronage for new officials. However, while leaders gained new positions of power, the general populace didn’t necessarily benefit – many local leaders told Green that they faced logistical and administrative obstacles with their new district governments that they hadn’t faced before.

In addition, most of the new districts created in Uganda have been in the north and east of the country, regions where Museveni has enjoyed less support than his primary base in the southwest.  By fracturing districts where he had little support, Museveni has been able to render opposition politicians with smaller bases where they have trouble financing campaigns and begin to compete against each other rather than unify against the NRM.

In new districts, the creation of jobs and apparent support for more local governance also served as a boon to Museveni, gaining him support in places where he had little before.  In some elections, he even promised to help certain areas become new districts if they voted for him. This new form of patronage through decentralization proved an effective tactic for Museveni, who increased district creation efforts in the years prior to elections.  Looking at specific election results, Green found that newly created districts supported Museveni more than the average for the rest of the country in 1996, 2001, and especially in 2006.

District creation and decentralization are just one of Museveni’s tools for keeping power in a toolbox that includes many other tactics, including buying votes, military repression, and political bargaining (introducing multipartyism in exchange for removing term limits comes to mind). [See also, another of my posts riffing off of the Monkey Page, this time on durability of dictatorships] Decentralization in Uganda has helped to bolster the regime, something not often seen in other parts of the continent.

Weekend Reading

In describing its work, the Red Cross also conflates different types of aid, making it more difficult to assess the charity’s efforts in Haiti.

For example, while the Red Cross says it provided more than 130,000 people with homes, that includes thousands of people who were not actually given homes, but rather were “trained in proper construction techniques.” (That was first reported by the Haiti blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)

The figure includes people who got short-term rental assistance or were housed in several thousand “transitional shelters,” which are temporary structures that can get eaten up by termites or tip over in storms. It also includes modest improvements on 5,000 temporary shelters.

let’s recap some facts about Hawaii, natively known as Hawai’i:

  • It’s an archipelago
  • settled by Polynesians and other Pacific Islanders
  • whose destruction at the hands of white people began in the late eighteenth century, when Captain Cook’s crew decimated the native population with tuberculosis and STDs
  • whose native monarchy was later overthrown at gunpoint by the British in 1843
  • which was later illegally annexed by the United States with the help of the economically oppressive white minority
  • which remains U.S. territory despite the fact that Bill Clinton signed a resolution in 1993 “apologizing” to the Native Hawaiians for the “deprivation of their rights to self-determination”
  • in which white people remain a decided minority at around 25 percent.

Now, let’s recap some facts about Aloha, which was also originally called Hawaii:

  • It’s a movie
  • directed by a white man
  • about Hawaii
  • called Aloha
  • starring a 100 percent white cast
  • in which one of these white cast members plays a woman named “Allison Ng.”

Weekend Reading

Research by Ozan Jaquette, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Arizona, has found a direct relationship between declining state appropriations and the rising number of out-of-state students. He has also found that as out-of-state enrollment rises, the number of black and Hispanic students falls. “If we envision the student body as a pie chart, with various student populations representing slices, the slice of low-income students narrows as the slice of out-of-state students grows, with a greater shift at highly ranked institutions and at institutions in high-poverty states,” he writes in a forthcoming paper in The Journal of Higher Education, coauthored with Bradley R. Curs and Julie R. Posselt.

As this happens, public universities become more and more like private ones. At the University of Wisconsin, for example, out-of-state undergraduate tuition, currently around $25,000, is set to go up $10,000. Right now, the state caps the number of out-of-state students at 27.5 percent, but given recent massive budget cuts, many expect that cap to be lifted, meaning the university will be catering more and more to affluent students.

“It’s raising the cost to the country of educating its younger population,” says Christopher Newfield, a professor of literature and American studies at UC Santa Barbara and the author ofUnmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class. “All the states are now trying to educate the students of other states so they can charge them three times more. The American funding model that we’ve had, it’s broken.” All the private money coming in doesn’t subsidize the public mission of the university. Instead, it undermines it.

Robert Capa’s famous 1936 photograph of a Spanish militiaman purports to record such a moment: The militiaman falls backward on a sunlit battlefield, his body accelerating to meet its shadow. The photograph is contested now — was it staged, or was it truly caught, by serendipity and skill, in the heat of battle? — but it is an image that, for its time, is imaginable. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make a picture like it half a century earlier. And by 32 years later, in a world full of small cameras and quick-loading film, there is no longer any doubt that death can be photographed candidly. On a street in Saigon, the American photojournalist Eddie Adams clicks the shutter and captures the precise moment at which Nguyen Ngoc Loan, a South Vietnamese general, fatally shoots Nguyen Van Lem, a Viet Cong commander, in the head. A second before the bullet hits Lem, his face is relaxed. Then the shot — simultaneously of the gun and the camera — but there’s no blood, no splatter, only Lem’s face contorted in mortal agony. A second later he’s on the ground, blood gushing out of his head. We know these things because the execution was also captured on film, by Vo Suu, a cameraman for NBC. Suu’s footage is invaluable, but Adams’s picture, more striking and more iconic, earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969. The picture was remarkable for the rarity of its achievement, in recording the last moment, unscripted and hardly anticipated, of someone’s life. But when you see death mediated in this way, pinned down with such dramatic flair, the star is likely to be death itself and not the human who dies. The fact that a photograph exists of a man being shot in the head in Vietnam is easier to remember than Lem’s biography or even his name.

Ebola, Cultural Responses, and the Funding Gap

A few weeks ago I linked to a handful of academic works on Ebola outbreaks past and present. This week, as I round out my job as a high school teacher, I ran my sophomores through a couple of days on the virus and ongoing outbreak. In looking for accessible readings that deal with the cultural and political aspects of the West African Ebola outbreak, I’ve found Amy Maxmen’s reportage at National Geographic really interesting. In particular, I assigned excerpts from two of her articles that are worth highlighting here, if only to quote them in contrast to the Hewlett and Amola piece I linked to before about locally-rooted traditional responses in Uganda that contained the 2000 outbreak there effectively.

The first piece is from March and depicts the challenges of contact tracing in towns where people don’t want to be kept in isolation or taken to clinics from which they may not return. The second, from January, gives a thorough overview of how cultural traditions in the affected countries have enabled Ebola to spread, and outlines efforts to find culturally acceptable burial methods in order to help contain the outbreak:

In the three countries hit hardest by Ebola, preparations for burial typically are carried out by community members who handle the dead with bare hands, rather than by doctors, morticians, and funeral home directors. People were unwilling to have those practices casually tossed aside. That worked in Ebola’s favor. As death approaches, virus levels peak. Anyone who touches a droplet of sweat, blood, or saliva from someone about to die or just deceased is at high risk of contracting the disease.

To health authorities, the solution was simple. With so much at stake, science eclipses religion: Risky rituals must end.

“People were expected to go from one end of the spectrum to the other; from washing the bodies by hand, dressing them, and holding elaborate ceremonies, to having a corpse in a body bag and no goodbye,” says Fiona McLysaght, the Sierra Leone country director for a humanitarian organization called Concern Worldwide.

Of particular interest to me was the flexibility of such rituals, to which many who have done fieldwork can attest. As Paul Richards says in the article, “burial rituals were flexible… the spirits are totally practical!” The lede to the article is a story about a family that is trying to bury a pregnant woman who died – they want to remove the fetus according to tradition, but healthcare workers won’t have it. The solution? They found a ritualist who said that a reparation ritual would correct any problems caused by burying the woman without following customary rituals.

The idea of flexibility in ritual has been around for a while. Many rituals were only recent codified, and so many “requirements” and “customs” can be molded to fit what’s needed and what’s available. In my own line of work, Tim Allen’s argument that the traditionalist response to the ICC intervention in northern Uganda essentially invented universal Acholi reconciliation rituals where there hadn’t really been any before comes to mind.

Anyways, digression over. Back to Ebola.

After assigning these articles and discussing them with my students, yesterday I saw another article by Maxmen on the topic of Ebola, this time on the wide gap between money being donated to the cause and money being paid to frontline medical personnel. From Newsweek:

Hundreds, if not thousands, of nurses and other frontline staff fighting Ebola have been underpaid throughout the outbreak – and many remain so today. The lack of pay is not simply a matter of corrupt officials stealing donor money, because so-called “hazard pay” was issued through direct payments to frontline workers starting in November, then electronic payments to bank accounts and mobile phones beginning in December. The problems appear to be twofold: first, Sierra Leone’s national health system has been so underfunded for so long, that it was a monumental challenge to document all of the country’s care workers and set up payment distribution channels to them. Second, it turns out that relatively little money was set aside for local frontline staff within Sierra Leone’s health system in the first place. In fact, less than 2% of €2.9bn ($3.3bn) in donations to fight Ebola in West Africa were earmarked for them. Instead, the vast majority of money, donated from the taxpayers of the UK, the US and two-dozen other countries, went directly to Western agencies, more than 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and to the UN.

[…]

When I visited Kenema Hospital in February, graffiti on one wall of the Ebola isolation area read: “Please pay us.” By then, nurse Kabba had cared for more than 420 Ebola patients, and had lost several friends. She had not received most of the €80 ($92) weekly allowance she’d been promised since September. Nurses around the country were in similar positions. “We hear about money pouring in, but it is not getting to us,” Kabba said. “People are eating the money, people who do not come here. We are pleading nationwide, we have sacrificed our lives.”

When I spoke with Kabba’s boss, District Medical Officer Mohamed Vandi, he acknowledged that his health force had been sorely neglected. “I am not hopeful for the future,” he said. As Ebola ebbed, world leaders had begun to make promises about improving fragile African health systems. Vandi looked on sceptically. “If we could not get support when the virus was here, I wonder how we could get it when the virus is gone?”

The whole article is well-worth reading, as it outlines how international agencies tried to implement payment programs isolated from corrupt government officials, but also bypassed numerous nurses. There’s also a strong critique of international NGOs’ tendency to do everything on their own rather than improve the state’s existing (and weak) healthcare infrastructure. For those studying aid, development, and public health, there’s worthwhile stuff here.

Weekend Reading

This is me not grading papers. This a distraction. This is a distraction in a fire in a barrel.

Women weren’t admitted to Columbia College until 1983. They went to Barnard, across the street, instead. Two years later, Literature Humanities added its first book by a female author, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” joined later, but that’s it. On a syllabus of 21 books, only those two are by women. Contemporary Civilization, a crash intro to Western philosophy, is worse, with 33 readings and only Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” and Woolf’s essay “Three Guineas” by women. The only critical text on race in either class is W.E.B. DuBois’s short “The Souls of Black Folk.” There are no female authors of color and no Asians or Latinos represented in the core curriculum.

To expect the women of color who wrote the Spectator piece to feel comfortable or safe in a class where they are not even a curricular afterthought is disingenuous. The Columbia core and the Western canon were written by and for white men, and that has not been an especially contentious statement for a long time now. Columbia hasdebated this problem for decades, and in 1990 the school instituted a generic requirement, now called “global core,” that students take courses in cultures not covered in Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities. It’s an explicit admission: Europe is required; every other culture is optional.

Requiring courses in the literature and thought of Western civilization that introduce critiques at the end is passive-aggressive, an institutional microaggression.

I have never encountered a gang incident in Chicago remotely like this. The number of perpetrators involved — not to mention the nine deaths — far exceed the typical urban gang-related shooting. Maybe there was some gang incident in Chicago like this decades ago. But this sort of pitched battle? I’ve never heard of anything like it. If these biker gang members were non-white, I think this would cause a national freak out.

Weekend Reading

The bank is a mob bank. It houses millions of dollars of funds gained through extortion, drugs, theft, murder, you name it. Not only does The Joker rob the bank, he does so in a way in which all his criminal accomplices murder each other one by one thinking that they’ll get a bigger cut if they do. This is supposed to look diabolical bit of insanity but it’s really him immediately eliminating five dangerous murderers while he’s literally in the middle of crippling the mob financially… the real result is that The Joker completes a major anti-mob strike while getting a quintet of thugs off the streets for good. He doesn’t kill any civilians, and only wounds the manager with a shotgun in self-defense. Even then he lets the guy live with a joke.

In fact, for the whole movie his target is mostly the same mob that Batman has apparently been unable to really stop since Batman Begins. Not only are these crime families still going strong, but they are augmented by the fact that Batman was unable to stop the spread of Scarecrow’s fear toxin, creating a permanently deranged underclass that are now presumably desperate and starving. It’s these largely forgotten downtroddens that The Joker recruits for his army, which implies that Gotham has left them to rot.

The oceans are full of bodies. This is nothing new; the currents are imbricated with centuries-old ghosts of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the genocide of millions of Africans, the acceptable loss in the conversion of people into commodities. At Cape Horn, the particles of African ghosts mingle with the fragments of Chilean and Argentinean disappeared and whisper together of endemic violence. They are joined by the bodies of refugees turned away from shore, taken by the sea at the behest of state policy. The wind and the waves are always already full of ghosts, the particles of all the bodies rolling together with marine debris. The body is made of hydrogen and oxygen and when the body comes apart it becomes a part of what surrounds it, what consumes it.

[…]

Thousands of people disappeared in the regime of U.S.-backed state repression that swept through the Southern Cone of South America, particularly in Argentina and Chile, beginning in the 1970s, under what was known as Operation Condor. Disappearance is not just a euphemism for state murder, it is the central design of an act of terror. The disappearance—the murder without the corpse, operates in multiple ways. The systematic concealment of evidence is designed to exonerate the perpetrators. The withholding of information purposefully misled people and made them hold onto the unrealistic hope that they would find their detained loved ones alive. Extrajudicial detention, torture, and assassinations were carried out with the intention of intimidating survivors by setting an example of what could happen to them.