February 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
Earlier this week, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, signed a law that toughens the country’s already rampantly homophobic laws, making some sexual acts subject to life in prison. Being gay was already illegal in Uganda prior to this law being passed. This law had been under discussion since 2009, and originally called for the death penalty for some sexual acts, and was originally tabled when the European Union objected. It was revived last year. President Musveni had flip flopped on whether or not he would sign the law, at one point arguing that gay people were “sick,” but didn’t require imprisonment, but help and treatment. And just to make it absolutely where Musveni stands on the issue, he clarified his thoughts in this CNN article. Musveni says:
They’re disgusting. What sort of people are they? I never knew what they were doing. I’ve been told recently that what they do is terrible. Disgusting. But I was ready to ignore that if there was proof that that’s how he is born, abnormal. But now the proof is not there…”I was regarding it as an inborn problem. Genetic distortion — that was my argument. But now our scientists have knocked this one out.
Charming. Just charming.
Also in the past week, documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams’s new film, God Loves Uganda has been making the rounds. It is based largely on the undercover work of a Boston-based Anglican (Episcopalian in the US) priest, Kapya Kaoma. In the film, we learn that missionaries from the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer have been proselytising in Uganda, preaching that God hates LGBT people. Charming.
All of this is deeply unsettling. Yesterday, I tweeted this
I immediately got into a discussion on several fronts about the role of these American missionaries in all of this, on several fronts. I maintain that the IHOP missionaries are disgusting and an afront to humanity, but Uganda is to blame for this. But I’m writing this to expand what one can say in 140 characters on Twitter. One, being gay was already illegal in Uganda when the IHOP missionaries began spreading hate. Two, the IHOP missionaries capitalised on the already extant homophobia in Uganda in their preaching. And three, Uganda is responsible for its laws. The missionaries are a handful of people in a nation of 36 million people.
To argue that the missionaries are entirely to blame is wrong-headed to me for several reasons. First and foremost, it reflects an imperialist mindset to say that American missionaries went to Uganda and taught Ugandans that being gay is a sin and therefore Uganda passed a law that toughened anti-gay measures already in place. To blame the missionaries removes Ugandan culpability here. It also says that Ugandans are not capable of forming their own thoughts. Being gay was already a crime in Uganda before the IHOP missionaries gained a following. And Uganda is hardly alone in the world in an anti-gay stance. I point to, say, for example, Russia (interestingly, Russia’s anti-gay laws are also based on conservative Christian thought). The new law just expanded on earlier ones.
Ultimately, Uganda is responsible for this new law. Musveni is responsible for signing it. No missionary held a gun to his head, or bribed him. It’s his doing. And it’s entirely consistent with his thoughts on being gay to start with. And its consistent with Ugandan thought before the advent of the missionaries.
January 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’m an historian. I teach history. I study history. I write history. I even think about it in my spare time. February is Black History Month. In theory, I support this. I support the teaching of Black history. As well as the history of other groups who have been marginalised, oppressed, and written out of history. I remain deeply influenced by the New Left of the 1960s, particularly the work of E.P. Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm. Black history has to be incorporated into the rest of the curriculum, it has to be included in the story at the core. Black History Month is important to raise awareness, but we need to do more than that if we’re ever going to get anything done. African American history is central to the American story, and not just through slavery, the Civil War, and Civil Rights.
I was struck nearly stupid by a post on NPR.org today, “What Does ‘Sold Down the River’ Really Mean?” Seriously. This is considered to be a newsworthy blog post by the leftist, liberal, listener-supported public radio station. The comments on the story on Facebook are predictable in many ways. There are the liberals having pedantic arguments about whether the apocryphal river is the Missouri, Mississippi, or the Niger, whether the provenance of the phrase is American or African. On the actual post on NPR.org,the liberals are arguing about whether or not slavery still exists today in relation to agricultural workers from Central America. But back on Facebook, there are also people claiming that this is race-baiting, or “playing the race card.” Others say that there is no racism in America today. Others say that its racist to even have a Black History Month, because there is no equivalent White History Month. These are the folks who call Women’s Day sexist because there’s no Men’s Day. And then there’s the one who says that this is all ancient history and belongs “up there on the shelf with the other antiques where it belongs.”
Pointing out the history of slavery and the historic oppression of black people in this country is neither race-baiting nor playing the race card. Pointing out that racism still exists today is also not race-baiting or playing the race card. In fact, from my experience, those who make such claims are doing to from a place of racism themselves. As for the one who said that racism and slavery are ancient history and belong up on the shelf with the other antiques, well, the less said about that, the better.
As for the claim that Black History Month is racist because there’s no White History Month. Well, it’s not often I will outright say an idea is stupid. But this is an exception to that rule. The majority of the history we teach, in primary and secondary schools, in university, is about dead white men. Still. In the early 21st century. There is a reason for this, of course, and that’s because most survey history courses are overviews and, at least when it comes to North America and Europe, it is dead white men who were the kings, presidents, advisers, cardinals, popes, explorers, revolutionaries, politicians, and rebels. In short, in the United States, the history curriculum is still overwhelmingly about white people, particularly white men. So the suggestion that Black History Month is racist is ludicrous, ridiculous, and downright stupid.
But, it’s stories like this, and the comments made on them, that point out the real need for Black History Month. We do need to spend some time privileging African American history, if only to draw attention to it. And then to include it in the rest of the curriculum. A high school teacher commented on the Facebook post that slavery IS taught in the schools, and to suggest otherwise is wrong and stupid. Well, yes, it is taught. And then once we get past the Civil War and Reconstruction, black history isn’t generally deal with again until the Civil Rights era, but then that’s it. So, black history appears in relation to slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights. In short, when the national story was dominated by issues related to race and African Americans. When race and African Americans aren’t part of the national story, it’s back to the sidelines. I don’ think this is good, it doesn’t create an inclusive history, it is an exclusive history. The same is true of women and other minorities.
This NPR story and the comments to it on Facebook and NPR show that rather than moving towards a post-racial society (hey, remember those dreams in 2008?), we are caught in a stasis, and we need Black History Month now as much as ever.