Independence, Sex-Testing, and Family Homelessness

July 5, 2016

Here’s our pick of news, writing, and research this week that investigates political questions at the intersections of gender, race, and region. 

1. Did a Fear of Slave Revolts Drive American Independence? 
Robert G. Parkinson argues that “separation from Britain was as much, if not more, about racial fear and exclusion as it was about inalienable rights.” For the New York Times, he writes: “The Declaration’s beautiful preamble distracts us from the heart of the document, the 27 accusations against King George III over which its authors wrangled and debated, trying to get the wording just right. The very last one — the ultimate deal­breaker — was the most important for them, and it is for us: ‘He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.’ In the context of the 18th century, ‘domestic insurrections’ refers to rebellious slaves. ‘Merciless Indian savages’ doesn’t need much explanation. […] Upon hearing the news that the Congress had just declared American independence, a group of people gathered in the tiny village of Huntington, N.Y., to observe the occasion by creating an effigy of King George. But before torching the tyrant, the Long Islanders did something odd, at least to us. According to a report in a New York City newspaper, first they blackened his face, and then, alongside his wooden crown, they stuck his head ‘full of feathers’ like ‘savages,’ wrapped his body in the Union Jack, lined it with gunpowder and then set it ablaze. […] Their burning of the king and his enslaved and native supporters together signified the opposite of what we think of as America. The effigy represented a collection of enemies who were all excluded from the republic born on July 4, 1776.”

2. A Declaration Against the War on Drugs
Danielle Allen, a Harvard University political theorist and Washington Post contributing columnist, reimagines the Declaration of Independence: “The history of the present War on Drugs is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having as a direct consequence the severing of the connection between African Americans and the rest of the American polity. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. Drug laws are disproportionately enforced against African American and Latino Americans even though Americans of all ethnic backgrounds use illegal drugs at the same rates, with the exception of Asian Americans, who use them somewhat less. […] The categorization of minor, nonviolent drug offenses as felonies, combined with the disproportionate enforcement of those laws against African Americans and Latino Americans, has served to strip large numbers of Americans from these communities of their right to vote. […] We, therefore, a portion of the American people […] do, out of respect for the Name and Authority of the good People of this Country, solemnly publish and declare, That the people of this country ought all to be connected to one another and equal; that all legislation erecting the War on Drugs, and turning the American people against one another, ought to be totally dissolved; that the free and independent states and territories have full power to pursue narcotics control through the tools of public health policy, instead of the criminal justice system; that the free and independent states and territories should so use their powers and do all other Acts and Things by which they may foster a people connected and equal.”

3. The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes
Ruth Padawer for the New York Times: “The treatment of female athletes, and intersex women in particular, has a long and sordid history. […] As women in the late 19th century encroached on explicitly male domains — sport, education, paid labor — many in society became increasingly anxious; if a woman’s place wasn’t immutable, maybe a man’s role, and the power it entailed, were not secure either. The policy for sex testing was based on screening for elevated testosterone levels which Paula Radcliff  says ‘makes the competition unequal in a way greater than simple natural talent and dedication.’ She added, ‘The concern remains that their bodies respond in different, stronger ways to training and racing than women with normal testosterone levels, and that this renders the competition fundamentally unfair.’ Advocates for intersex women were dismayed. ‘It’s ridiculous,’ says Payoshni Mitra, [researcher]. ‘They say the policy is not for testing gender — but saying that a hyperandrogenic woman can compete as a man, not a woman, inherently means they think she really is a man, not a woman. It brings back the debate around an athlete’s gender, publicly humiliating her in the process.’

4. Moving Out: One in 23 children in the San Francisco public school district is homeless. Should the city help families leave?
Lauren Smiley for California Sunday Magazine: “Nationally, the aim has been ‘rapid rehousing’ — moving families as quickly as possible from a shelter into a new place of their own and then providing them with rental assistance to stay there. The Obama administration has requested $6 billion for rapid rehousing in this upcoming fiscal year’s budget, with the hope of solving family homelessness by 2020. But when it comes to finding a place to use the subsidy, averaging $800 a month depending on income, a majority of families are [making the decision to leave]. At Hamilton Family Center — the largest family shelter in the city — 60 percent of the San Franciscan clients receiving these rent subsidies have left for places as far as Sacramento, Vallejo, and Antioch. Hamilton’s former executive director, Jeff Kositsky, says allowing families to use subsidies elsewhere just makes pragmatic sense. Critics have objected to San Francisco’s subsidies being spent in other places. Many nonprofits are focused on pushing the city to build more affordable housing here, not sending its resources elsewhere. ‘It was something that we want to mitigate as much as possible,’ says Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. ‘Moving out of town can further destabilize kids in the schools since they’ve had so much instability. Switching schools creates a lot more trauma and behavioral problems.'”

5. A year ago someone set fire to a black church in Georgia. What now?
Collier Meyerson profiles violence against black churches for Fusion: “’Southern black spirituality has been the central symbol of black life since slavery, but a symbol of free black life since Emancipation. “These churches are a sign and sight and signal of freedom and black independence,’ [Josef Sorett, professor of religion and African-American studies at Columbia University] said. Southern black Christian churches, with influences from West Africa, have always been a space where communities could sing and rejoice for surviving, and pray for a life beyond the chains of white supremacy. […] ‘It wasn’t the majority of black churches that were the center of political activism,’ Sorett said, but “often it was a space that was seen as free and autonomous to organize. So as the epicenter of black life, culture, and political activity, the black church has always been a target of white supremacists. […] ‘Hate and Bias Crime: A Reader’ tracks black church burnings into four waves: the first at the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in 1866; the second after renewed fervor for the Ku Klux Klan in 1915, coinciding with the film ‘Birth of a Nation’; the third during the civil rights movement; and the fourth in the 1980s and 1990s which led to legislation around harsher punishment for arsonists with racist intentions. Still today, the black church that remains one of the most tangible symbols of black life. And so it remains a target for white supremacists’ hate.”