Category Archives: Spiritual Fascism

What Is Ailing Black America -Alyson Cole

The New York Times


October 21, 2007

What Is Ailing Black America?

To the Editor:

Re “Tough, Sad and Smart,” by Bob Herbert (column, Oct. 16):

Mr. Herbert says a joint venture by Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint “is nothing less than an effort to save the soul of black America.” In fact, it is a tired recycling of an argument that reaches back to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “Negro Family” and runs through the pledge last year by Bruce S. Gordon, then the president of the N.A.A.C.P., to end “victimlike thinking” by African-Americans.

In casting victimhood as “the enemy,” we mistake a condition for a state of mind (that dreaded “victim mentality”) and end up blaming the victim. Would Mr. Cosby and Dr. Poussaint have us believe that it is not structured inequality and racism that leave droves jobless, but rather a matter of self-esteem and individual character?

While Mr. Moynihan pathologized the urban poor, he still sought national action. In our neoliberal era of personal responsibility and workfare, we leave victims to battle their victimization on their own.

What black men and women need are jobs, not another pep talk. This applies to disconnected youth, who are out of school and out of work, and, sadly, out of favor among policy makers as well.

Alyson M. Cole
Flushing, Queens, Oct. 16, 2007

The writer is a professor of political science at Queens College, CUNY.

The Problem With “Think Positive”

Dialectical Materialism and Disability

a praxis for radical healing

Emma Rosenthal

Current popular ideology asserts that positive thinking alone can improve the individual condition.  Unlike Marxist material dialectics, which recognizes social, natural and physical forces on the individual, group, society, and history;  this mandate blames the subject for conditions in her life, going so far as to accuse those who speak honestly about their doubts, frustrations, marginalization, humiliation and discrimination, of “playing the victim.”

But within the tyranny of “positive thinking”  is the  insistence, not that the subject stop being a victim;   (because victimization is always external to the subject!) simply that she become the kind of victim society is more comfortable with: one that doesn’t complain, doesn’t demand and doesn’t speak out!

Like many solutions and analyses not rooted in theories of radical social transformation, this one too, fails to look at illness and disability in the larger social context.   Certainly;  while focusing on positive aspects of life can make even the most unbearable situations better,  the spiritual tyranny (what i call spiritual fascism) of constantly being told to “be positive” is extremely oppressive.

In her last weeks, activist, Barbara Franklin, as she died of incurable cancer, told me she thought she hadn’t been positive enough to fight the disease. This missive “be positive” only added to her stress and self-loathing, as her body was consumed by rogue cells.   This discussion was one of many we had in her final days, around a language of infirmity, which we found we could share with few other people.  

Healing is the process of transformation regardless of the outcome, while cure is the eradication of the condition. The former is always possible, while the latter, may not be. The truth is, we will all die.  There is no positive thinking protocol that can override that fact.  

Illness is its own epic voyage that involves despair as well as revelation.  To limit the process to the narrow realm of “positive thinking”  serves only the status quo and does little to really illuminate the larger and more significant journey.  Nor does it inform the subject in navigating the new landscape that the condition and social obstacles impose.  

Part of the healing process involves an empowering understanding of illness, disease and marginalization. The missive to be positive, makes the illness experience easier on the people around the subject, but may only provide the most superficial of solutions to the actual challenges of healing. And, in as much as the insistence to present an affect that is dishonest, isolating and counter-intuitive, may in fact do great harm. For social transformation to occur, one must speak truth to power. How does one do that if ignoring those forces   (and symptoms?) acting against oneself? And with illness and disability, in our society, the forces outside of the individual (access to health care, attitudes of loved ones, the health care gulag, discrimination, etc.) may be greater than the disease or condition itself. Thinking positive sadly, often results in self-blame and self-loathing. Whereas critical thinking, which doesn’t preclude gratitude, but includes assessment, activism and empowerment is a much greater healer.

Even better, if the subject can connect her inner process of infirmity or disability within the context of larger social constructs and movements for social change; that is, develop an understanding of illness, disability and infirmity within the larger body politic.

More powerful if she can find allies along the way and communities of inclusion that also don’t see illness and disability as personal, individual problems that don’t have a place in the public discourse beyond the scrutiny applied by those not subject to the conditions.

For the subject, the challenge is to seek out and find community and support that doesn’t dismiss the experience behind popular platitudes that lay blame by maintaining the individual nature of the situation;  but rather, can bear witness to the journey and explore and address the social injustices and indignities and provide empowered and informed advocacy.

For activists who have  never addressed these issues within a social context, the challenge is to listen and to advocate, as well as  to understand the radical value of bearing witness; not dismissing the experience, but rather, using it to name, address and define the experience in a language of self-definition, self-determination and empowerment.

Man with service dog arrested after refusing to leave courthouse

-Good idea to follow the link, watch the video, and read the horridly bigoted comments. Experiences like this are common place for pwds. I have to limit the number of errands I do in a day to what i can handle without losing my temper. I have to assume that there will be at least one indignity per location. More, if it’s some new age, think positive type of place, like Whole Foods or the Silverlake (dogs, not cripples allowed access!) dog park, or if it’s a human rights event or gathering, like the no bathroom for gimps, Country Federation of Labor (do they hire pwds?) or the UTLA Human Rights Committee (up the stairs) retreat, or the NEA Human Rights Awards Dinner, or an anti-war  demonstration . -Emma


Man says he was kicked out of courthouse because of his service dog 08:16 AM CDT on Friday, March 27, 2009 James Muñoz, KENS 5 Video Visually impaired Richard Pena filed a lawsuit after being denied access to the Bexar County Courthouse in 2007. Richard Pena went to the Bexar County Courthouse in July 2007 to do some research on his adoption. As always, he had Prissy, his service dog with him. He says he was denied access at the metal detector, but soon a supervisor arrived and cleared the way for him to proceed to the third floor. Pena says he even had documents from the Social Security Administration with him detailing his disability and need for a service dog. Pena survived a brain tumor in 1998, but suffered a stroke during surgery. He’s visually impaired and uses Prissy for balance, mobility and direction. To Pena’s surprise, a deputy approached him again and told him to leave the courthouse because of the dog. Pena refused and says he was physically removed, arrested and charged with resisting arrest, criminal trespassing and cruelty to animals. A lawsuit says six deputies were involved in the incident. They’re listed as John Doe 1 thorough 7. Attorney Vincent Lazaro says Bexar County has yet to provide the names of the officers involved. The lawsuit claims the incident caused Pena to suffer acute mental anguish, including extreme emotional distress and mental pain, low self-esteem, humiliation, belittlement and shame. Pena says Prissy is not the same either. He says she is reluctant to go out and somewhat fearful of strangers. Bexar County declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Diary Post: Irons in the fire

Today is happiness.  I’m not sure why.  It’s the same world, the same bed, the same blankets and sheets and pillows as every other morning.  There’s still genocide, injustice, and marginalization, including mine.  But today I’m content.  Perhaps a cloud has cleared, this hell ride of the last five months, starting with the Human Rights Committee retreat and the horrid infighting and betrayals that resulted.  Through it all I became, not just an activist with a disability, but a disability rights activist with a clearer understanding of the immense discrimination against and invisibility of people with disabilities.  Andy and I have become closer, the threats against me and the betrayals as veteran activists responded so abysmally to the reaction to the scheduling of a small meeting at UTLA headquarters on the BDS campaign (boycott, divestiture and sanctions against Israel,) illuminating the need for greater security and less isolation.  (more on this in a later post, possible to the Café Intifada blog, but I’ll keep readers informed!) This has resulted in expediting our plans to move me out of the San Gabriel Valley and to find a place together.  We have spent much time talking and growing as a couple and unifying our mission and purpose.  We are well matched.  Nothing can get closer to heaven than that.
In my isolation and the betrayals of activists I have known, some for over twenty years, as they scurried to protect their lofty positions, now that they run the union, betraying an issue they have fought for, afraid that a principled stand might ruin the next election, I needed to assess my personal security.  I had hoped that we might have learned something from the witch hunts and purges of the fifties, but apparently not.  In times like these, acts of desperation, anger and self-preservation can result in real tragedy.  But my security doesn’t come from the left, though I wish it did, I wish we had that wisdom.  I do need to move closer to Los Angeles, make a home with Andy, and find ways to build real, sustaining community in this city of greed, ambition and distance, where people get so busy they don’t have time to feel lonely…until they get sick…or lose a job…or times get tough.  But I’m not totally unprotected here.  While we don’t have a community of values, my neighbors would respond to an emergency and would help me.  I do know people in city government in this small town, who would respond quickly to any real threat to my safety.  I have a dog, a security system and even video cameras, which I installed after both our cars were vandalized in my driveway last year.  It took me several months to realize the resources I do have, so lost in the immensity and the rapidity of the events that shattered and transformed my relationship within the Human Rights Committee and the teachers’ union.
Hate mail, death threats, betrayal,  isolation and new alliances, my father’s death, the illnesses of friends and family,  forced me to rearrange my life, accelerating plans already in the works.  The last several months have been consumed with deep inner reflection, grief and hard work.  We had planned to make a home together next summer,  but the opportunity presented itself and the necessity insisted that we put that plan in place much quicker.  I have been busy getting my home ready to sell in what is a rather difficult market.  A year ago, this home would have sold for more than I am asking for it now, and within the first weekend.  But the place looks great and the work is done.  I am a fisherwoman, the hook is baited.  Now I wait.
I have had to take a deep appraisal of reality; what my physical limitations allow me to do,  what social realities prevent me from doing, who my allies are, what alliances I need to build.  One of the most frustrating of social realities is that my illness prevents me from fighting and defending myself the way I used to, the stress of the conflict impacting my health so acutely.  More frustrating is that disability brings out cruelty in others.  (Apparently there is an entire body of work, from Freud on, on disability and sadism, documenting that normally sane people become excessively cruel when they perceive weakness or disability.)  So that I come under greater attack and attract greater hostility than if I weren’t disabled.
Acceptance brings change_Acceptance brings change
Fighting reality is a fruitless battle.  The truth is that I am a very disabled woman in a very intolerant world.  I struggle with the ethics of popular culture, what I call spiritual fascism: that all illness is physical failure, that all misfortune, the result of negative thinking.  Many of the platitudes reflect middle class and even upper class realities: “Go with the flow; “ (I would have washed away long ago!) “Do what you love, the money will follow;”  (only if it is profit making!!!—who survives these days writing poetry or defending universal human rights?—money is the ruling class’ measure of worth—small wonder they don’t pay me to bring them down!!!!)
The one I’m struggling with right now:  “What would you do if you thought you could not fail?”  While this is a great inspirational saying for those whose inactions simply reflect a fear of success, it may be very helpful, but for those whose lives are truly limited by financial, social or physical constraints, the results will be quite different.  Perhaps I should write more fiction, because, with no shortage of good ideas, what I have lacked has been the resources to bring them to fruition, the results have been some very public failures, leading some people to conclude that I have acted corruptly or dishonestly, when what has really played out is an inability to align my vision with the limits of the current reality.
I want to live my life in the open, embracing the notion that transformation can only come in the illumination of truth, that silence = death, that if we all live in our own miserable cocoons and pretend that everything is great, then nothing ever changes and we become even more isolated.
But, Andy reminds me that not everything is public.  I understand this when it comes to the telling of other people’s stories, and no matter how relevant or central to my own, nor how cruel someone has been to me,   I err on the side of prudence, certain that these matters are theirs to tell, not mine.  But my own story has been perhaps a bit too open.  Or perhaps doesn’t need the telling in the present tense.
It has been a long time since I have posted to this blog.  So much has happened.  So much.
So, I have many irons in the fire, but I think I’ll play close to the vest and see where the winds take me before showing my hand.
I want to write.
Build community.
Make a home with Andy.
Give Leon the support and the distance he needs as he makes his way into adulthood.
Build alliances.
Make art.
Make love.
Seek justice!
Fight for freedom.
Will I meet you on the path?  What visionary ideas can we bring into reality?