Friday, July 31, 2009

Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?

By Tami Newberry, Summer Intern at Kirwan Institute

Recently French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave an address to Parliament in which he proposed a banning of the burqa. This seemed consistent with governmental policies in France. I wasn’t stirred by this, as France is ‘far away’ after all.

Then, the Columbus Dispatch published an article July 23rd Ohio State University professor chimed in, saying what many Americans are quietly thinking: Women wearing burqas or veils, unsettle them. He went so far as to say, “If I wanted to hold up a convenience store, I would wear a burqa.” This really hit home.

When persons of stature lend their voice, it can strengthen a cause. These current ideas feed into xenophobia (fear/hatred of strangers or foreigners). Identities of religious groups are collapsing into racialized categories. In what many claim to be a ‘post-racial’ world, religion IS the new race. And Islam is the new black.

However, to claim to stand for women’s rights is still vogue. Therefore, in the name of supporting “women’s rights”, persons of different religious backgrounds would like to tell women how they can express their religious values. (What happened to the 1st amendment to the Constitution? Or basic human rights?)

I would encourage anyone willing to learn about the socio-, cultural- and religious reasons for Muslim women choosing to cover to read Lila Abu-Lughod’s insightful article. This may help to dismiss the myths that Muslim women need saving. Many Muslim women feel empowered culturally and religiously by choosing to cover themselves.

The next time you see a covered woman hanging her head, don’t create a victim out of her, and empower yourself. Empathize with her or engage her. She may have had a hard day at work, or may be daydreaming about the love poem her husband emailed her, or may have simply forgotten her sunglasses on a sunny day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Living While Black?

By Kerra S.Carson, Summer Intern at Kirwan Institute

By now, most of you have heard of Dr. Henry “Skip” Gates being arrested at his Cambridge home. When he arrived home from a trip, he was unable to open the front door. He then proceeded to enter his home through a back entrance. He and his driver attempted to open his door again and managed to do so, but not without damaging the door. He was in his home, on the phone with the management company reporting the damage when police arrived and asked that he step outside. Apparently, a Harvard employee saw Mr. Gates attempting to gain entry and mistook him for a burglar.
Now, this might not sound so alarming if not for a few things:
1) The person who called the police was a Harvard employee. Furthermore, she is employed in their development department. How is it possible she did not recognize one of the most well-known faces in contemporary American scholarship? Dr. Gates has been on hundreds of television programs, including every major news show, media outlet, and two mini-series. He is not your average run-of-the-mill professor. I am hard-pressed to believe she did not know who he is.
2) It appears to be fairly common knowledge where Dr. Gates lives. It is especially notable because he is the only person of color on his street. The Development office the employee is housed in is only a few hundred yards away. Is it reasonable that she would be the only person in her office that did NOT know that was his home?
3) There are two very different stories of what happened once the police arrived. The officer’s report says Dr. Gates was belligerent and refused to show identification. Dr. Gates admits to challenging the officer, but acquiescing to his request to show identification and still got arrested because he wanted the officer’s name and badge number. However, what both agree on is that Dr. Gates was arrested even after showing proper identification verifying his address.
Is there any doubt that this arrest was racially-motivated? If so, what are the implications for those of us who choose to live in areas where we are the overwhelming minority? The rhetoric announcing a post-racial America has been on the rise since we elected our first Black president. If nothing else, this incident shows that we are not quite there.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jury Duty in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas

By Leslie Birdwell Shortlidge, Managing Editor at the Kirwan Institute

I served my two weeks as a juror in June of this year in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. It was not exciting. For those in the jury pool, it is about endless waiting in a large room with lots of magazines and jigsaw puzzles.

We began with orientation, a videoed dramatization of a European Dark Ages trial by dunking. Miserable looking people in ragged clothes waited anxiously by the shore of a pond to see if their accused relative would float (guilty) or sink (innocent). It was a bit Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I recalled highlights from the film, such as peasants gathering muck in front of Graham Chapman as King Arthur and the infamous “Bring out your dead!” scene.

But seriously, folks, I never sat on a jury. Lots of people don’t, apparently, but we prospective jurors were assured more than once that we were doing our duty by being available, not trying to duck out, being punctual, etc. Managing the jury pool must be like herding cats, and so I do believe that my presence, as one of many, was indeed helpful.

I did make it through one round of voir dire (literally, “speak the truth”) in the courtroom, and was present for another round for a case that was resolved during the lunch break. Our voir dire took place in one of the courtrooms, which are round, not like the ones on TV that more closely resemble a church or a theatre. And since there is no clearly defined front or center stage, the attorneys pace about the room, working from a wheeled podium that they turn this way and that, depending on whom they address. The attorneys ask permission of the judge before they haul the thing around, and there’s a courteous exchange of please-and-thank-you that seems more reminiscent of powdered wigs and m’lords rather than American-style casual. But make no mistake, even though this is “only” voir dire, the attorneys are making their cases and beginning to wage arguments that will influence the outcome. And the arguments were directed at us, the potential jurors.

We were encouraged to tell the truth, and then were grilled on common sense and experience, one by one, right around the room. I thought of Justice Sotomayor, someone who has been raked over the coals for invoking common sense. In my experience, it was a given in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court that everyone came to the courtroom with their own background as a human being and would have some kind of opinion or experience. How could it be otherwise? We are humans, not blank slates pre-loaded with some kind of generic justice program.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Where the Research Meets the Road

By Matthew Martin, GIS/Planning Specialist at the Kirwan Institute

Since I began working as a planning and GIS research analyst with the Kirwan Institute back in January, I have been eager to direct my experience and educational background towards issues of social justice. I enjoy the ability to carry out my personal concerns and convictions with utility in my job, and I continually strive to produce work that means something to the world in which we live. But it wasn’t long after I began my current position that I started recognizing the disconnect between my professional aspirations and my personal experiences. My walks and bus rides to and from work each day often contained encounters with homeless folks asking for money, or with young boys seemingly concerned only with emulating the gangster culture they find in much of modern hip-hop. The stories my wife would bring home from the urban hospital in which she works often seemed to confirm the worst stereotypes of the communities whom I spend my days researching. For a while, this created a frustrating paradox in which I longed to make a difference, but ended up feeling as though such effort was futile.

I started going to a local recreation center in my community, because in addition to its convenient location and affordability, I need to get into better shape. But as I became more familiar with the hard-working folks employed there, as well as some of the kids who hang out there regularly, I have been reminded that the face of laziness and solicitation that we often encounter in the public squares does not accurately represent the reality of much of the urban poor. Building relationships with poor folks through my local church has also allowed me to see some of the extreme circumstances experienced by regular people.

What I’m learning then, is that you can’t just be content to read articles or make maps about poverty and race, nor can you be satisfied with giving a dollar and a warm greeting to whoever asks on the sidewalk. I’m finding that although it takes a lot of initiative and costs some comfort, what I really need to do is go to places where I can forge relationships with real people. This provides the helpful benefit of rounding out my personal knowledge of my ‘research subjects’, but the even greater value of learning about people in a much more intangible and intimate way, and learning from people with different cultural and experiential backgrounds than my own. I may not feel cool enough to play basketball with the other boys at the rec center yet, but as with any group of people, over time, trust and friendship can be gained, and that’s where the research meets the road.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


By Tami Newberry, Summer Intern at Kirwan Institute

How inspiring a sight. A complex mosaic of art. The rainbow split into individual colors masterfully arranged to create a scene. Each color “stained”, not the colorless glass of ordinary windows. And this is what catches our eye, the colors, and the way that the light shines through them. As these works are revered, they are placed high above us in grand buildings. Long beams of color cascade down, they too, being a sign full of awe. A curious hand may even reach up to the falling beams to let the colors weightlessly rest upon it. Children laugh and run with arms open wide through them.

The mosaic is complex in form and structure. It is beautiful because of the array of colors and how they are woven around and amongst each other. Each color is a vital part of the entire. It would no longer be beautiful if it were all a single color. And yet, we call them stained glass. They each are colored by different minerals to give them their own glow. Yet, does any one deny that any given color is less glass-like than another. Less pure, less worthy, less beautiful.

Stained-glass windows are truly beautiful when all of the pieces are radiating with light from above. Each one is a different unique composition in which we seek to see their individuality and uniqueness.

So, I have lofty ambitions. To be able to create an American perspective as grand as the mosaics of stained-glass. To create a composite which is greater than its individual parts. To appreciate each color for how it colors the world. To let each color radiate among the other colors.

Let’s evolve as a nation which has been color-blind only seeing shades of black and white and grey. Our diversity, like that of the colors in a stained-glass window, is an asset.

Let the light shine in.

Image source:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Slice of Suburbia

By Michelle Alexander, Associate professor of Law at the Moritz College of Law with a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute

“What are all those colored kids doing in the swimming pool?” I thought to myself as I struggled to juggle my 2-year old toddler in one arm and a giant bag of towels in the other, while my 4 year-old and 6 year-old dashed toward the pool, shedding clothing en route and shrieking in delight. I paused for a moment and surveyed the scene. More than a third of the kids in the pool were African American, playing happily with their white friends and neighbors, as well as a couple of Asian American and Latino kids. Could our neighborhood really be this racially diverse? Apparently, the answer is yes.

I spent most of my childhood in all-white or nearly all-white neighborhoods. When I became old enough to cast judgment on my parents for their child-rearing decisions, I swore I would never inflict a similar fate on my own children. How could they put a black child in an all-white school? What were they thinking? More than once, I ranted at them in self-righteous indignation, insisting I would never do such a thing to my own children.

Once I became a parent, though, I found myself facing the same difficult choices my parents had agonized over decades earlier. I could live in a racially diverse or all-black neighborhood, but I’d have to worry about the quality of the schools. On the other hand, I could live in a white neighborhood and worry about the quality of my children’s social and cultural experiences. Which would I choose? Good schools or racial diversity? As it turns out, I got lucky.

The neighborhood I live in today did not exist a decade ago. As new suburbs have sprouted up around urban centers, and racial and ethnic minorities have begun to venture outside city limits, an interesting phenomenon has begun to unfold. Neighborhoods and schools in formerly white suburbs are beginning to integrate. The Pew Hispanic Center recently reported that the student population of America’s suburban schools has shot up by 3.4 million in the past decade and a half, and virtually all of the increase (99 percent) has been due to the enrollment of black, Latino, and Asian students. In 2006-07, suburban school districts educated a student population that was more than 40 percent non-white, up from 28 percent in 1993-94.

In my neighborhood, it is a joy to look out my kitchen window and see black and white kids playing together, running through each other’s backyards, and going in and out of each other’s houses freely. During the summer, all the neighborhood kids tend to convene around 5:30 p.m. in someone’s backyard and play together until sundown. They seem utterly unaware of how unique and special their racially integrated experience is.

I wish it were that simple. The picture in our backyard obscures a more complicated reality. As the Pew report indicates, although minority enrollment has shot up in suburban school districts, there has been only a modest increase at the level of the individual suburban school. Our immediate neighborhood happens to be well integrated, but my oldest daughter was the only black girl in her kindergarten class last year. The broader community still has a long, long way to go.