Freitag, 13. März 2020

Plain Language and Diversity

It has been over twenty years now since I immigrated to the United States. However, a part of me was always an American, long before I ever set foot on this soil.

I thought that my excitement about this country would vanish at some point after I had gotten used to living here. However, 20-plus years later, it has not. The biggest reason for my continuing excitement is the one profound difference between the country where I was born and raised and the United States: exclusion versus inclusion.    

When I was growing up in Germany, the exclusion of “people like me”—individuals with immigrant parents—was the norm. (Unfortunately, not much has changed in that regard since.) The “natives” of the country generally referred to us bluntly as the “Ausländer” (foreigners) or (the children of) “Gastarbeiter” (guest workers). They hoped—and openly communicated to us—that one day we would “go back where we came from.” Most of us, however, never did because, among other reasons, we didn’t know where to “go back” to. We were born in Germany and had grown up there. Over time, the labels that were used for us changed. However, one thing remained the same—the certainty that we would never be a part of the German society, no matter what we accomplished, how much education we had, how we identified ourselves, or what contributions we made.

Until I immigrated to the USA, I could not properly articulate how my experiences in Germany affected me and why. This is because, despite Germany’s own awareness of its troubling history, and the country’s highly educated society, diversity knowledge is (to-date) very limited there. The country doesn’t even have a basic language to communicate many concepts related to the marginalization and exclusion of arbitrary groups. A term or concept such as “inclusion,” for example, only became known there after Germany passed its anti-discrimination laws in 2006. Until recently, the term was used in reference to individuals with disabilities only, because inclusion efforts based on ethnicity, race, or religion have been highly controversial and sensitive topics in Germany.  

It was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while attending Western Michigan University, where I was first introduced to the language of marginalization and exclusion of arbitrary groups. What was most surprising to me was the amount of research data, knowledge, and scholarly work that is available in this arena in the USA. Credit for building this foundation and knowledge, naturally, goes to the countless African American scholars, civil rights leaders, and their allies. Thanks to them, I could better understand the dynamics of my experiences in Germany. I soon started to study the subject in-depth, conduct research, and write papers about the topic. The Kalamazoo community was integral to my growth and learning in this regard. It offered me a lot of opportunities to learn, get involved, volunteer and become a contributing member of my community. Kalamazoo was the first place where I truly felt at home.

After finishing my studies in Michigan, I moved to Washington, DC. In Washington D.C. I worked on a biological defense program at Georgetown University. My work involved reviewing hundreds of articles in several languages and compiling critical information into succinct reports that consisted of a few short paragraphs. Since our work involved extensive writing, we received a lot of training in this arena. Our primary instructor was a colleague who was very passionate about the English language and clear and concise writing. She taught us how to write reports using short sentences but did not sacrifice crucial information that our clients needed. We learned the value of plain language and the ability to communicate exactly what we wanted, concisely and transparently. One of the most challenging—and rewarding—aspects of this writing style was deleting redundant words and phrases from our reports. I became extremely fond of this style and only realized years later the deeper reasons behind it.

In Germany, we learned to strive for exclusivity in our society and culture—I also saw this idea reflected in our writing. You may have read or seen German-language pieces where a sentence can go over many lines— complex sentences that are extremely difficult to follow. Being exclusive in our writing was something that particularly the well-educated individuals among us strived for. –We didn’t know any better…

Around the same time when I was working at Georgetown University, President Obama passed the Plain Language Act (2010). When I researched the Act, it quickly dawned on me that The Plain Language Act is much more than “just another act.” It is a deeply meaningful representation of what I know and love about the United States.

Plain language, first of all, is a good business practice. It is a win-win situation for the writer as well as the reader. Leaving out redundant words and constructing easy-to-understand sentences saves time and money. However, there is much more to the Plain Language Act than that. Plain language is also about access and inclusion. Plain language is accessible to more people because it is easier to understand and it lessens the chance for misunderstandings and the need for clarifications.

Access and inclusion—both are critical to our government agencies because our government must represent American values and be accessible to the people it serves. Plain language is one way to support diversity and a government that values access and inclusion. 

Samstag, 25. Januar 2020

Organizational Hierarchies, Conformity, and Leadership Narratives

US employers are spending billions of dollars annually to train and develop employees. Much of that money is allocated to “leadership development.” However, leadership development programs are based on sanitized narratives that have little to do with reality because they disregard basic human psychology. The narratives were created to sell concepts to organizations that are willing to pay major dollars to do what everyone else is doing—"developing leaders.”  Even though there are many issues with the narratives that deserve an elaborate discussion, due to the limitations of this platform, we are going to examine only a few of the most critical ones.  

A Concept Difficult to Define

Leadership is a concept that is difficult to define. Rightly so, because there is no one leadership, as insinuated by the simplistic tales that we are told.

Leadership can mean different things to different people, based on their values, aspirations, culture, and what have you. Additionally, different situations may require different types of leaders. Leaders sometimes may do horrific things to accomplish a goal while their goals can be ethical, non-ethical, against the law, or a combination of all. Their mission may not always be as black and white as insinuated by the tales we are told. Leadership opportunities can also be time-limited. The emergence of a leader can be as critical as the step down of that leader when his/her work is done.

Leadership by Appointment?

Exceptional leaders often emerge from certain circumstances. The most profiled leaders in history emerged in connection with a cause, a vision, some kind of a passion. The driving force for exceptional leaders isn’t usually a paycheck or merely getting appointed to lead others.

The circumstances from which exceptional leaders emerge generally don’t apply to organizations, except for when they were initially created. Organizations are often created with (genuine) intentions, e.g., to accomplish a vision, to serve, or to fulfill someone's purpose in life. However, over time, their “purpose” tends to shift. Over time, individuals running the organizations, their self-interest, greed, immaturity, and other human shortcomings start to define the direction. Subsequently, the mere existence of organizations and the self-interest of the persons running them becomes more important than the purpose for which they were initially created. There are countless examples of this. Political parties and other idealistic organizations are some of the most illustrative ones.  

Put on a Pedestal or Villainized

Some of the most exceptional leaders in history are people ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler. The fact that Gandhi and Hitler can belong to any same (artificial) category should make us wary. At the very least, it should make us question sanitized leadership narratives because even though these examples seem to be two extreme cases, it doesn’t even take two separate individuals for the extremes to occur. The extremes can occur even within one “leader;” for example, in the form of a champion of human rights in one arena who has no problem violating human rights in another arena.  

Through sanitized leadership narratives, however, leaders are often either put on a pedestal or villainized. The black and white stories are easier to tell and digest than having to admit to complex aspects of human psychology and examine social conditioning. The latter is crucial in all truth-finding. That is why most of the narratives we are told have little to do with the truth. The truth requires going within, examining one's own life. However, who wants to examine one’s own life when one can “get out there and ‘develop leaders’”?

Being a Leader Versus Occupying a Leadership Position

According to leadership narratives, anyone in an organization can allegedly be a leader even though individuals at the higher levels of organizational hierarchies are generally referred to as leaders, regardless of whether they are “leading” or not.  

It is correct to assume that anyone can be a leader. However, just not for the reasons the leadership narratives give us. Being a leader generally requires independent thinking and the courage to be a change agent. Within organizations, unless one is in a leadership position, opportunities to lead tend to be limited. The limitation is closely tied to the hierarchies. Individuals in superior positions can feel threatened by the leadership of a subordinate. The level of threat the superiors perceive by a subordinate and her/his capabilities will determine how much room the subordinate will be given to lead. This, in turn, can encourage or discourage the subordinate, depending on what his/her capabilities or potentials are.

Organizational Hierarchies Encourage Conformity, Discourage Leadership

Organizations, where work is performed, are hierarchical entities—no matter how non-hierarchical they claim to be—that encourage conformity and discourage leadership.

Hierarchies nurture the ego and trigger the need to control others. In hierarchical organizations, there is a tendency to keep up the status-quo and pressure to conform. Even within organizations that are identified by change, innovation, research, and development, change is usually closely controlled and tied to a particular status-quo, to one or more individual’s self-interests. The more hierarchical an organization, the truer this generally is. However, the leaders that organizations are allegedly desiring to develop are change agents. Desiring (independent) change agents and wanting to exert control are, in essence, contradictory concepts. Meaning, the two realities clash.

There is a time, however, when true leadership in structured organizations are a realistic option—when things are falling apart. The reason for this is human psychology. When things get very bad, human beings become more willing to give up control. They are willing to open up and do things that they would usually not (be willing to) do. The worse the situation, the more they are willing to give up control and allow change to happen.

Two Basic Types of Leadership

There are two basic types of leadership: idea leadership and leading others. The two types can overlap, coexist, or be in opposition to each other. One of the most critical bases for idea leadership—coming up with new ideas and having the courage to implement them—is critical thinking and questioning the status quo. Based on that, we know that we are not "developing" too many leaders because otherwise, at the very least, the leadership narratives that have little to do with reality would have no way of spreading as much as they do.

On the other hand, the lack of critical thinking should not come as a surprise because while critical thinking skills are the basis for idea leadership, the opposite is generally true when it comes to leading others.

For leaders to lead, they must have followers. Effective following often requires a lack of critical thinking or questioning, or at least, scaling down and not acting on them. It must be noted that there are legitimate times when toning down of “critical thinking” and questioning can benefit the overall good. However, lack of questioning and critical thinking is a problem when it becomes a permanent state, as often observed within organizations when they are scaled down due to fear of losing one’s job, trying to fit in, receiving validation, moving up the ladder, or other similar factors.

True Leadership Is Based on Voluntary Following

True leadership is based on voluntary following where followers gravitate to, and in essence, define the leader. True leaders have followers who have a desire to be led by the individual due to his/her merit, not because followers are instructed to follow an appointed “leader.” Career leadership where followers have no say in who gets to lead them has little to do with leadership. That is why hierarchies become essential. Hierarchies create the necessary power imbalances which ensure that career leaders have followers, regardless of their skills and the quality of their actions. It goes without saying that appointed leaders can also be true leaders whom the followers follow willingly due to the quality of their actions. However, such leaders are too few and in between. This is understandable, because organizational hierarchies encourage allegiance to one’s superiors, instead of allegiance to the mission. After all, the mission doesn’t hire or fire a “leader,” but the superiors do.

Insecurities, Fear, and Other Factors in Workplace Interactions

Within the arbitrarily created hierarchies in organizations, individuals with different levels of (childhood) trauma, insecurities, fear, aspirations, motivation, values, courage (and the long list goes on), coexist. In many ways, workplaces are not too different from a children’s playground. Both in the playground, as well as in the workplace, individuals are looking for similar things—recognition, validation, and above it all, love, and connection with others no matter how unlikely this may sound. However, the conditioned society that fiercely discourages authenticity leads to the creation of a reality where individuals, among others, pretend to be someone they are not, or give up on the truth altogether. Subsequently, highly destructive behavior patterns start to develop.

For example, in the workplace, statements that even defy the principles of science can easily be made. Highly educated and established subordinates may be listening to the statements and may pretend to not notice the lack of coherency in the statements made, or choose not to say anything. After a while, accepting such lies and delusions becomes normalized. Employees start to consider the lying, looking away, and not speaking up as an integral part of the professional workplace. Euphemisms such as “professionalism” or “diplomacy” are used to cover up the lies because rarely does anyone have the courage to speak up out of fear of losing their jobs or retaliation.

One of the most taxing and challenging tasks in workplaces is generally not the duties of a given job but rather navigating through the children’s playground aspect of workplaces, a concept referred to as “workplace politics.” Workplace politics is not more and not less than working with the childhood trauma of adults in an environment based on the unequal distribution of individual power.

Most Important Aspect of Leadership Is Courage

The most challenging aspect of (idea-)leadership is not coming up with new ideas to lead, but rather, having the courage to put the ideas into action.

Exceptional leadership takes courage because true leadership often comes at a high price. Let us go back in history and look at what happened to some of the most exceptional leaders—Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, JFK, Julius Caesar: they were killed.   

Besides the most extreme form of punishment—death—being a leader can mean being isolated, looked down upon, ridiculed, excluded, and even persecuted. Let us think about some exceptional authors or painters in history who developed new ways of doing things, introduced new ideas, new forms, and what happened to them. Many of them died before their work was ever appreciated, while during their lifetime, they were ridiculed, looked down upon, and excluded. At the very least, they experienced long periods of isolation.

True leadership can be an extremely lonely and painful place. It takes substantial courage to be a true leader. Hierarchical organizations are hardly a place that nurtures such exceptional courage…

Dienstag, 19. März 2019

USA: Millions Of Cats Killed, Millions Of Cats Declawed; The Culture Of Convenience And The Lack Of Respect For Life

Approximately 1.5 - 2.5 million shelter animals are killed (“euthanized”*) in the United States annually. These numbers represent a decrease from 15 million killed in 1970 and 3.4 million in 2013. However, the truth is that we will never know the exact numbers because shelters are generally not obligated to keep a record of the animals they kill.

While animals are killed at troubling rates at shelters across the country with little to no transparency, among others, justified by the inability to find homes, breeders continue to produce new animals. It is estimated that there are at least 10,000 puppy mills in the United States where over 2 million puppies are bred each year. Breeding for profit adds to the already high number of available animals.

Killing and discarding while breeding new animals, however, is not the only animal-related moral challenges we are facing in this country. We also seem to have a problem with accepting the physical realities of animals, e.g. that cats have claws and dogs are animals that bark. Therefore, we declaw cats, debark dogs, cut parts of their ears and tails off (“docking and cropping”), and somehow think that this is perfectly normal behavior.

Declawing, Mutilation That Is Outlawed In Many Countries

It is estimated that approximately 95.6 million cats are kept as pets in the U.S.A. An estimated 20 - 25 percent (approximately 19.1 – 23.9 million) is believed to have been declawed. However, the actual numbers may be higher. According to a CBS report, 32 percent of surveyed pet owners stated that they had their cats declawed (approximately 30.5 million). Again, there is no way of knowing the exact numbers. What is known is that the most common arguments for declawing are: protection of furniture and “if it were not for declawing, more animals would end up in shelters and subsequently, be killed.”

Declawing has been outlawed (or has never been a viable option) in many countries around the world. Even though there is an overwhelming consensus that the practice is painful and cruel, declawing is to-date widely practiced in the U.S. Besides the U.S., Canada is the only known country where declawing is similarly commonly practiced.

Ten Or More Amputations Performed At Once—Minimally Painful?

Many pet parents believe that declawing is “merely” a procedure similar to removing the nails from one’s toes. However, declawing (onychectomy) is much more than “just” removing the nails from the nail bed. It is an amputation of the end bones of each toe.** Meaning, when a cat is declawed, ten or more (see polydactyl cats)—not one—amputation is performed on the animal at once.

Onychectomy is a procedure, if it were performed on a human being, it would be comparable to cutting off the last joint of each finger. Please keep in mind here that the animal must walk on her/his toes shortly after the procedure. It requires little imagination to envision what it would feel like when 10 or more amputations were performed on a body when a) all of the amputations went “as planned” and b) in case they “didn’t go as planned.”

Besides the initial pain and suffering associated with declawing, there are also other long-time side-effects. Even if the procure is “successful,” by declawing, the animal’s physiology is changed for life.

Playing Down Cruelty And The Culture of Convenience

There are two major reasons why declawing is so widely practiced in the U.S. The first reason is the
culture of convenience. We Americans love our conveniences. It is so much more convenient to take a cat to a vet and get it declawed than to figure out respectful ways to coexist with the animal. However, convenience is not the only reason why declawing is so common. The second reason is the lack of education. Many cat parents don’t know just how cruel this procedure is. If cat parents were properly informed by medical professionals, many more would opt against the procedure. People who adopt pets generally have good intentions. They adopt animals because they love them, not because they want to inflict pain and suffering on animals.

Pro-declawing veterinarians have been down-playing the cruelty associated with declawing. This includes The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). AAFP recently took a “strong position against declawing.“ However, only after having failed to recognize that declawing is cruelty and therefore, should have been opposed all along.

Veterinarians who perform the procedure claim that cats heal very quickly and that relatively little pain is associated with the procedure. The pain can allegedly be reasonably managed by painkillers. At the Porter Pet Hospital, for example, young cats don’t just heal after undergoing the amputations, they “breeze through recovery.

According to pro-declawing narratives, veterinarians are working with their customers to ensure that all other alternatives are weighed in before considering declawing. Any American who has ever been to a doctor/vet knows that such a notion has little to do with reality. When was the last time you went to a doctor and were given the time to exchange enough information to come to an educated conclusion? Additionally, there are technically no “alternatives” to declawing because declawing is cruelty and subsequently cannot be an option in a civilized society. However, there are, naturally, ways to coexist with a cat in a respectful manner but those are not “alternatives.” They are viable options in civilized societies.

The pro-declawing attitudes of many U.S. veterinarians, however, are somewhat understandable. There is too much profit to be made in the pet industry. Even a rather underestimated price of $100 per cat/declawing—a bargain, given the amount of pain and suffering that is caused to the animal–makes declawing a billion-dollar industry in the U.S. Many veterinarians naturally don’t want to miss out on those profits.

Hope—Many Veterinarians Refusing To Perform The Procedure

In spite of the troubling status-quo, there is hope for America’s cats. More and more veterinarians are refusing to perform the procedure and more and more Americans are speaking out against it.

Several cities in California and Denver (CO) have passed legislation and made declawing illegal. Anti-declawing legislation has also been introduced in several state legislatures such as in New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, and Rhode Island.

It is only a matter of time until we catch up with other developed countries and declawing becomes no longer an option in the United States. However, let us hope that one day we will also have reached a point as a society where we don’t need to convince each other about the “pros and cons” of inflicting pain and suffering on animals and instead, agree that cruelty toward animals can never be an option.

*The killing of animals at shelters is often referred to as euthanasia. However, euthanasia occurs when the purpose of killing is to relieve severe pain and suffering. The mass killing of hundreds and thousands of animals does not meet the definition of euthanasia.

** Declawing is generally performed on the front toes only.

Sonntag, 3. Februar 2019

Sexual Misconduct, Religion, And Culture

No boy was born to disrespect, objectify, or mistreat women. Sexist behavior is generally a taught and learned behavior. We know who is learning the behavior. However, who is teaching it?

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Charlie Rose

We have recently been seeing an increase in powerful males being exposed and taken down in public due to various forms of sexual misconduct. The fact that some men in power are paying for the horrific things they have done to countless women is a development that we can welcome. However, for every Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, or Charlie Rose that we expose, there are countless women who have been violated; countless new Harvey Weinsteins are emerging, and countless more women are being violated as we speak.

If we want to put an end to misogyny in the long-term, we need to examine what led to its wide-spread status in the first place.

Mistreatment Of Women, A Recent History

Much of the conduct we consider unacceptable today was not recognized as a problem in the "free world" until recently. For example, marital rape was not even a concept, given that it was a woman's duty to serve her husband by making her body available to him at all times. Subsequently, many U.S. states had marital rape exemptions in their books until recently. The Violence Against Women Act was only passed in 1994 and was left to expire during the recent government shutdown. 

In other "free world" countries such as Germany, raping one's wife became punishable under the law in 1997. Similarly, until the end of the 70s, it was the legal duty of married women in Germany to "run the household." Women could only work outside of the home if they had the permission of their husbands. Women could not open a bank account without the input of a male until 1962 in Germany. Following suit with good old traditions, conservative lawmakers in the USA, to-date, are working hard to limit the choices of women and deny them critical access to health care and birth control.

Agriculture, Hoarding, And Sexual Control

Let us now discuss how women ended up being the primary targets of sexual oppression.

The main purpose of sexuality is reproducing, release of tension, and pleasure.  Let us repeat release of tension and pleasure here. Sexuality can also function to exert power over another being; an aspect of sexuality that, by the way, humans did not "invent," but took to extremes, like no other animal on the planet.

Civilization is the reflection of a constant effort to increase reproduction while suppressing pleasure. This is because civilized societies are artificial systems that are governed by rulers. They are militarized and operate through production, consumption, exchange of goods and services, and the transfer of wealth. Unlike reproduction, pleasure and release of tension do little to benefit the rulers (unless they are involved in the process themselves, of course). The higher the number of births, the better for the rulers because of the increased opportunities for economic and military exchange. Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule. However, such exceptions, too, are generally driven by the interests of the rulers. 

Efforts to control sexuality by targeting women started early, long before Christ. Records show that sexual oppression and differential treatment of women had set foot before the first civilization known to wo/mankind, in Mesopotamia. However, the emergence of the male-dominated, monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—substantially strengthened the patriarchy.

The initial targeting of women, however, started with the introduction of agriculture. After the hunter and gatherer societies, humans began to hoard, which led to the accumulation of wealth. In order to control the distribution of wealth, it became critical to identify the father of an offspring. The most viable way to do this was to control women because one could accurately identify the mother of a new-born. Therefore, efforts were made to limit the number of partners with whom a female could have sexual intercourse. From there, history took its course. The result is a highly oppressive system that became more and more exploitative and sophisticated over time.

Sexism And Science

Oppressive systems require constant attention to survive. Narratives that de-humanize and objectify arbitrary targets help minimize the amount of interference needed to keep the system going. Scientists and other highly regarded intellectuals generally deliver the much-needed narratives to justify the status-quo, as in the case of sexism. However, sexism isn't the only construct to which scientists made major contributions. Scientists have also made major contributions to racism. They claimed that human beings can be divided into different races and that some races are inferior to the others. To-date, they also claim to have discovered biological differences between men and women, particularly, as it pertains to their brains.  What they don’t tell us is, first of all, where they are finding the non-conditioned boys and girls on which to conduct their studies. Secondly, biological study of differences between men and women is based on flawed premises that there are two clearly distinguishable sexes and that each group has somewhat identical biological sex-traits because, otherwise, they cannot be studied the way scientists claim to study them. However, today, we know that that biological sex is somewhat fluid and even if a person fits into one biological category, their levels of female/male hormones can differ. Additionally, there are persons who cannot be assigned to either category altogether, e.g. because they have a combination of biological sex traits.

However, let us give the scientists the benefit of the doubt and assume that the differences they claim are true. What exactly would that change in the way we would treat an individual boy, girl, or anyone who does not fit into the two categories?

Sexual Misconduct And Religion

Throughout centuries, the clergy has played a major role in keeping the population in line, most importantly by aiding to demonize and suppress sexuality. The Catholic Church is one of the most prominent examples for this, but certainly not the only one.

After 9/11, it has become popular to cut Islam some slack when it comes to women and the Koran. Due to the anti-Muslim sentiments that emerged in the "free world" since 9/11, everyone seemed so keen to hear how progressive Islam is. Only, interpreting Islam in a progressive manner and claiming that there is one true way to interpret Islam or any other religion, is hardly an acceptable way to correct racist backlashes, because the truth remains that there is no “right” way to interpret any religion.

Nobody is qualified to tell others how to exclusively interpret the “word” of any God, but we are able to objectively claim that Islam is a male-dominated monotheistic religion. However, all three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—have the same root and tend to encourage oppression of women.

Religion is a personal matter. Everyone has the right to believe in whatever they please or interpret a religion the way they see fit, with the only limitation being that one's freedom (of religion) stops as soon as it interferes with someone else's freedom. 

Sexism And Men

Even though males historically ended up in more powerful positions, sexism affects males negatively too. After all, the purpose of sexism is to control society as a whole, not just women. Its goal is to provide a blueprint by which everyone has to live by, to limit individuals' choices and freedoms. Like women, males have little say in what roles they get assigned: the role of the provider, warrior, the one who does not show emotions, spreads his semen, mistreats women, and the long list goes on.

Sexist narratives teach us what a stereotypical man, woman, and anyone who does not fit into the two categories, is allegedly worth, and when, what we should look like, what we should do with our bodies, who we can share it with, and how we share it. 

MeToo Movement

Regardless of contrary claims, public shaming and the MeToo movement have contributed tremendously to creating an environment that discourages sexual misconduct. In the future, predators are at least going to think twice before preying on women (and men). The year 2018 will go into history as a key year for women's liberation from sexual exploitation. However, we are going to need many more 2018s before the sickness called sexism is driven out of our hearts and minds, from our homes, workplaces, mosques, churches, and synagogues, schools, and kindergartens. 

Link to Original Publication:

Montag, 28. Mai 2018

Coming to Terms with History–Germany is not “Burka”?

Germany is often praised for having “come to terms with the past.” Germans have even coined a specific term for their efforts, Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung, indicating how seriously the matter is taken. However, Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung generally only refers to coming to terms with a limited portion of German history, particularly the Holocaust, even though as it turns out, the Holocaust was not the only genocide that Germans have committed and subsequently need to come to terms with. Shortly before the Holocaust, Germans also committed a genocide against the Herero and the Nama that they have successfully concealed until recently. On the other hand, inconsistencies in dealing with two genocides occurring within such a short time apart—deliberately concealing one, while admitting the other—are not the only troubling aspect of Germany’s dealing with the past.

Lack of Protection for Minorities

Little is known about the lack of protection for minorities in Germany. In spite of the troubling past, Germany did not have anti-discrimination laws until the Das Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetz (AGG) was passed in 2006. The law was not a German initiative. It was passed in response to the standards set by the European Union (EU). [...]

For full article, please visit Daily Sabah at: 

Dienstag, 24. Oktober 2017

The State Of Israel—An llusion That Racism Can Protect From Racism

Recent clashes in Charlottesville, VA, brought to surface just how much appeal racist ideologies have to-date. They also showed how little we have learned from history. However, there is another side to racism that is less obvious and even more dangerous: racist ideologies are deeply ingrained in our everyday lives and most—if not all—of us participate in keeping racism alive. Subsequently, denial is a major aspect of racism. That is why real changes in this arena hardly ever occur.

Understanding this widely misunderstood subject, however, is not only key to understanding the current clashes in the USA, but also to many other conflicts around the world. One such conflict is the “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict. This particular conflict is a crucial example as it, among others, illustrates how easily targets of racism can become perpetrators themselves.

Racism—Economics and Power

Before discussing the racist aspects of the ideology that created the state of Israel, let us examine what racism is and what makes it such a difficult topic.

First of all, the term is difficult to define. Racism has little to do with race, ethnicity, or anything along those lines. Racism is an illogical construct, the details of which can change depending on what narrative is needed at a given time to justify (ill) actions. What is steady, however, is the way racism works: Racist narratives help overcome the natural empathy that humans have for each other. Once empathy is overcome, mistreatment of “others” can occur. Any ill actions taken against the “others” can additionally be justified as an action to protect the “in-group,” as reflected in the Israel’s right to defend itself narrative.

One of the biggest challenges of racism is that we can hardly even discuss the topic without utilizing racist concepts. Even to identify the “offenders” versus “targets” of racism, we have to create groups and “other” peoples. It is critical to remain conscious of these facts during conversations about racism. It is also critical to refrain from labeling individuals as racist, as labeling only leads to denial. The question that we have to ask ourselves is not whether someone is a racist (because most people who grow up in the systems in which humans operate possess racist notions), but rather, to what degree is one aware of this, and to what degree does one let his or her notions affect his or her actions?

Racism is a construct that primarily serves economic purposes. Therefore, it is critical to keep track of the exchange of money and power that is associated with it.

Exchange of Money and Power—Largest Military Aid to Israel Under President Obama
Israel, a country with barely 8.5 million in population, is the recipient of the highest US military aid in the world. The Memorandum of Understanding for the largest military package ever to go to Israel was signed during the administration of the Democrat and Nobel Peace Prize winner President Obama.

Israel, itself, is among the top ten of exporters of military equipment in the world. At the same time, main suppliers of weapons to Israel are USA, Germany, and Italy.

Politicians and other movers and shakers claim they want the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to end, even though they and their businesses, and other interest groups they collaborate with, are the major winners of this conflict. It doesn’t make sense—why would someone want something that is the basis of their existence to end? On the other hand, given the amount of money that is to be made, and power to be gained, who can blame the benefactors for exploiting the situation?

Zionism and Theodore Herzl’s Utopia
Israel is a state that was created on racist premises, ironically, in response to the horrors of racism that Jews had to endure over centuries. The founder of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, suggested creating a Judenstaat (Jewish state), a safe haven for Jews. However, creating such a state for a particular group was not only short-sighted, but also based on the racist notion that there is such a coherent, distinguishable group—the Jewish peoples. Zionists, themselves, seem not to agree what the mutual traits are that makes the group so coherent. However, this is very common in racist constructs; reasons for coherency of any alleged group are inter-exchangeable, because they are arbitrary. Therefore, traits that make Jewish people who seem to share a common religion, a coherent group, can also easily be identified as culture, nationality, race, ethnicity, and what have you.

Zionists have not been subtle about their claim that there is not only a particular group—peoples called the Jews who share a common culture and history—but also that they are superior. According to the Israel Democracy Institute, approximately two thirds of Israeli Jewish persons to-date believe that Jews are the “chosen people.” There are many attempts to rationalize this inappropriate suggestion that an almighty could have the audacity to prefer one peoples over another; however, the truth remains that such notions are similar to the perverted notions that made the persecution of the persons of Jewish belief for centuries possible. The Zionist notions of superiority are also emphasized, among others, by the group’s overall exclusivity—the opposition to “intermarrying” with other groups, and the existing hurdles for “others” to join the religion. Opposition to “intermarrying” is a common indication for one group feeling superior over another, as, among others, demonstrated in the Nuremberg Laws. However, denouncement of “intermarriage” is also common among other groups, including persons of Islamic beliefs, when they are in a more dominant position.

Besides having been created out of racist notions, the state of Israel’s existence is additionally legitimized through religious belief systems/myths in which, coincidentally, males similar to other major religions, play the main roles: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the list goes on. This legitimization additionally forces everyone to buy into a particular religious belief. Anyone has the right to believe in anything they wish; however, dominating a region because of what one believes to be true based on some religious narratives is generally not how we expect democratic countries to operate.

Given the circumstances, Zionists subsequently have to rely on fear and paranoia to keep up the status-quo in Israel. However, living in paranoia and fear is not a sustainable way of life, and it is doing disservice to one’s self.

Politicians understandably encourage fear and paranoia, because that is how they can keep the population in check and have them look up to them for solutions and protection. However, the general public should know better than to buy into such disabling narratives.

Even though religion appears to play a major role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the conflict itself is not a clash between religions, but rather stems from racist ideologies that justify mistreating the others, denying them their human rights and their human dignity.

There is a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict; however, the solution is not “political,” because politics is what created the problem in the first place. The real solution is a human solution. The good news is, politicians don’t change the world. It is the general public, their opinion, that changes the world.

The only people we have to look up to in order to resolve this conflict is the everyday individual—persons of Jewish faith, as well as Muslims, Christians, and the list goes on. Once a majority of people involved in the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict manage to see behind the perverse narratives, once a breaking point is reached, and they start dealing with their own dehumanizing attitudes, leaders will have no choice but to follow suit with appropriate actions. Unfortunately, it probably won’t take long for this conflict to be replaced by another one, but in the meantime, at least the people who suffered for too long as a result of this conflict can get a break from their pain and suffering.

However, if the general population remains conscious of what racism is about, how it is utilized to “divide and rule” common people, maybe the next conflict won’t take as many casualties, and as much pain and suffering, before it is resolved.

Alev Dudek is a German-American researcher, analyst, and writer. As an established scholar in diversity, she served on the executive board of the International Society for Diversity Management in Berlin as well as the City of Kalamazoo Community Relations Board. Alev received The National Security Education Program (NSEP) award in 2014.

Freitag, 22. September 2017

Everyday Racism: ‘Where Are You Really From?’

Humans interact with each other in strange ways, especially when they first meet: instead of exploring each other’s individuality, they face each other through the lenses of their society’s conditioned biases.

Subsequently, when two strangers meet, questions such as, “What do you do?” pop up. A question dreaded by many who, at a first encounter, don’t want to discuss a part of themselves that may have little to do with their passion, desires, or interests; or because of the value we place as a society on various lines of work; or because work is generally what we do to pay our bills, not who we are. Another first encounter question that pops up repeatedly is the focus of this post: “Where are you from?”

“Where are you from?” is a question that is asked across countries and cultures. Proponents of this question argue that it is only a means to start-up a conversation between strangers—a way to connect with each other in a light-hearted way. Most of us are so accustomed to it that we neither question the lack of literal logic, nor the everyday racism embedded in the question.

What Defines Where Someone Is From? —The Literal Challenges

Let us first explore the lack of literal logic. Has anyone ever identified what determines where someone is from? Is it supposed to be the location where someone was born, lived the longest, most recently, or identifies herself with?

Even though there is no definition of what determines where someone is from, there is a preconceived idea that everyone somehow knows what the answer is.

The question is based on the assumption that humans somehow are from fixed, easily identifiable locations, which can make anyone outside of this standard feel as if they are some sort of an outsider—somewhat “odd.” Many military children struggle with this question, as they tend to move around often and, subsequently, don’t know how to answer it. However, they are not the only ones.

Covert Racism: Where Are You Really From?

For racial and ethnic minorities, “Where are you from?” offers an additional layer of challenge. It is one of the most powerful reminders of everyday racism. Here is how the interaction often plays itself out:

When minorities tell the inquirer where they are from, the inquirer is not always satisfied with the answer, as in the case of an “Asian looking” woman who “claims” to be from San Diego. In those cases, the inquirer finds it appropriate to probe further by asking follow-up questions such as: “I mean, where are you really from?” or, “Where are you originally from?” or worse, “Where are your parents from?”—keep in mind, we are talking about strangers who just met.

Do these questions sound like a light-hearted, striking up of an innocent conversation with a stranger? Regardless of what the answer may be, there is more.

When minorities return the question to the inquirer—to the one who apparently sees him- or herself as native to the United States—they have no problem with answering, “Pittsburgh,” or “Austin.” Why the double standard? Why would someone who is allegedly from Pittsburgh be unable to accept that someone else is from a similar location? No one is from Pittsburgh unless they are Native Americans from Pittsburgh.

If we are going to play a game of where someone is from, we could even question that Native Americans too came from somewhere, some time. However, we are not going to play this game because it is ridiculous.

Minorities Also Participate in the Othering Game

It must be noted here that the inquirers are not always persons of the dominant culture. Minorities, themselves, engage in this type of interaction, as well. This makes sense because the power of racism lies in the fact that minorities buy into the narrative as much as the dominant culture does.

People who never witnessed the awkward situation that many minorities are way too familiar with may not understand just how disturbing these interactions can be. Because the awkward conversations generally do not end at this point, either, especially if the person asked—God forbid—volunteers the national origin or ethnic background information.

Then, the inquirer usually gives a sermon about how wonderful people from x, y, z country (not racist at all) are, how they have a friend from that country, or tell all about his or her recent vacation to that country. Such follow-ups clearly reflect something very crucial: the denial of the other person’s individuality. They show how the inquirer is grouping and boxing the person in front of them. What does one person “from” Spain has to do with another person from Spain? Just as much or as little as over 300 million Americans have in common with each other—or not.

Romanticizing Diversity—Narrative, Little to Do With Reality

Minorities, however, often also stress that the “Where are you from?” question is appropriate to ask, because they are proud, and want to discuss their national origin, their heritage, or what have you. They claim that those factors make up their identity.

Identifiers such as ethnicity, culture, or national origin, however, are all arbitrarily determined constructs, just like race. Contrary to wide-spread beliefs, where someone “is from” has little to do with who the person is. We are not the spices we eat. Who we are is also not determined by arbitrarily drawn political borders or by whether we drink our tea in the morning or the afternoon.

Here in the U.S., we especially tend to romanticize ethnicity and culture—traits that we conveniently mistake for diversity. “Conveniently,” because true diversity is based on a high level of individuality and requires much more effort than having an annual diversity festival at a street corner. Diversity in complex societies, such as ours, is a serious challenge—a challenge, the level of which we hardly appreciate.

Everyone has to decide for themselves how they feel about “Where are you from?” The purpose of this post is to make us question how we interact with each other on a daily basis, the questions we ask, and the answers we give.

The purpose of this post is also to make us think, if, and to what degree, we want to help others deny our individuality and humanity.

This article was originally published in The Globe Post: