the injustice of the myth of the bad black mother

Debra Har­rell and the mythol­ogy of bad black moth­ers by Noah Rem­nick at the Los Ange­les Times

After decades of debate among politi­cians, soci­ol­o­gists, clergy and count­less oth­ers, it is a widely held belief among many Amer­i­cans that poverty is rooted not prin­ci­pally in a lack of oppor­tu­nity and a his­tory of struc­tural dis­ad­van­tage, but rather in a col­lec­tion of social “patholo­gies” rang­ing from lazi­ness to an undis­ci­plined, even dis­solute lifestyle. The poor, you’ve been told time and again, are moochers, sap­ping resources from the pub­lic wealth as they col­lect check after check from the unsus­pect­ing hard-​working rest-​of-​us.

The mythol­ogy of bad black moth­ers was never just a part of our cul­tural folk­lore — it’s entrenched in our legal sys­tem.

And black women have been deemed par­tic­u­larly suspect,welfare queens who set a toxic exam­ple for their chil­dren. (Ronald Rea­gan cam­paigned for the pres­i­dency in 1976 using the theme of a “wel­fare queen” as a way of gin­ning up white out­rage and con­ser­v­a­tive sup­port.) Should they come upon hard times, should their fridges go bar­ren or their kids go unmon­i­tored, you mustn’t worry. After all, it was their fault, not yours.

The solu­tion, politi­cians explained, was wel­fare reform, which, as the law’s title plainly stated, sought to encour­age “per­sonal respon­si­bil­ity.” The orig­i­nal bill even set aside $250 mil­lion for “chastity train­ing” for poor sin­gle mothers.

Mom Arrested for Let­ting Her Kid Play at the Park Loses Her Job

In a sit­u­a­tion already packed with absurd over­re­ac­tions to Harrell’s per­fectly rea­son­able — if not ideal — deci­sion, this devel­op­ment seems par­tic­u­larly unfair, since she only left her kid alone (with a cell phone) because there was no one to care for her while she went to work. Mean­while, Har­rell and her daugh­ter have been reunited, but the Depart­ment of Social Ser­vices is still required to inves­ti­gate the case. An online fund-​raiser started by some nice strangers has already raised over $26,000 for Har­rell. Hope­fully, the funds will be enough to tide her over until she can find a new employer.

sexual assault, college campuses, and kangaroo courts

Whose Prob­lem is it? by Heidi Lock­wood at Daily Nous

A true story: Phi­los­o­phy Pro­fes­sor X, who taught at Uni­ver­sity Y, engaged in unwanted sex­ual con­tact with Stu­dent A. After learn­ing that Pro­fes­sor X had also allegedly engaged in sex­ual mis­con­duct with Stu­dents B and C and pos­si­bly D, Stu­dent A decided to file a for­mal com­plaint, in the inter­est of pro­tect­ing future stu­dents and doing the right thing and jus­tice and all that lofty stuff. Uni­ver­sity Y found Pro­fes­sor X guilty of sex­ual mis­con­duct, and, for var­i­ous non-​transparent but pre­dictable rea­sons, decided to qui­etly offer Pro­fes­sor X a non-​disclosure agree­ment and an attrac­tive vol­un­tary sev­er­ance pack­age. Pro­fes­sor X got by with a lit­tle help from his aca­d­e­mic friends, and rode his golden para­chute to Uni­ver­sity Z, where he met Stu­dent E, with whom he had non-​consensual sex.

Pro­fes­sor X, in other words, is a ser­ial sex­ual preda­tor and rapist who has man­aged to adversely impact the aca­d­e­mic careers (and likely much more) of at least four stu­dents (and likely many more). His behav­ior, arguably, has been sanc­tioned by higher education.

But who, we might won­der, is “higher edu­ca­tion”? His aca­d­e­mic friends? The Uni­ver­sity Y admin­is­tra­tors who gave him the golden para­chute? The Uni­ver­sity Z admin­is­tra­tors who failed to inves­ti­gate his rea­sons for depar­ture from Y? The stu­dents who didn’t file griev­ances? The untold num­ber of ostrich-​colleagues who were dimly aware of the prob­lem but fig­ured it’s none of their busi­ness? The APA or other orga­ni­za­tions in the dis­ci­pline? The Depart­ment of Education?

How One Col­lege Han­dled a Sex­ual Assault Com­plaint by Walt Bog­danich at The New York Times

At a time of great emo­tional tur­moil, stu­dents who say they were assaulted must make a choice: Seek help from their school, turn to the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem or sim­ply remain silent. The great major­ity — includ­ing the stu­dent in this case — choose their school, because of the expec­ta­tion of anonymity and the belief that admin­is­tra­tors will offer the sort of sup­port that the police will not.

Yet many stu­dents come to regret that deci­sion, wish­ing they had never reported the assault in the first place.

The woman at Hobart and William Smith is no excep­tion. With no advo­cate to speak up for her at the dis­ci­pli­nary hear­ing, pan­elists inter­rupted her answers, at times mis­rep­re­sented evi­dence and asked about a campus-​police report she had not seen. The hear­ing pro­ceeded before her rape-​kit results were known, and the med­ical records indi­cat­ing trauma were not shown to two of the three panel members.

a history of racism in Portland, Oregon

Local Color

This doc­u­men­tary chron­i­cles the lit­tle known his­tory of racism in Ore­gon and the mov­ing story of peo­ple, both black and white, who worked for civil rights. There are moments of highly dis­turb­ing racism in a state not known for diver­sity. But there are also moments of inspi­ra­tion and courage as peo­ple take a stand to bring about impor­tant change.

corruption in medicine and pharmaceutical companies

side effects comic

Insti­tu­tional Cor­rup­tion of Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and the Myth of Safe and Effec­tive Drugs by Don­ald W. Light, Joel Lexchin, and Jonathon J. Darrow

free down­load at the Social Sci­ence Research Network

Insti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion is a nor­ma­tive con­cept of grow­ing impor­tance that embod­ies the sys­temic depen­den­cies and infor­mal prac­tices that dis­tort an institution’s soci­etal mis­sion. An exten­sive range of stud­ies and law­suits already doc­u­ments strate­gies by which phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies hide, ignore, or mis­rep­re­sent evi­dence about new drugs; dis­tort the med­ical lit­er­a­ture; and mis­rep­re­sent prod­ucts to pre­scrib­ing physicians.

We focus on the con­se­quences for patients: mil­lions of adverse reac­tions. After defin­ing insti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion, we focus on evi­dence that it lies behind the epi­demic of harms and the paucity of benefits.

It is our the­sis that insti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion has occurred at three lev­els. First, through large-​scale lob­by­ing and polit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions, the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try has influ­enced Con­gress to pass leg­is­la­tion that has com­pro­mised the mis­sion of the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion (FDA). Sec­ond, largely as a result of indus­try pres­sure, Con­gress has under­funded FDA enforce­ment capac­i­ties since 1906, and turn­ing to industry-​paid “user fees” since 1992 has biased fund­ing to limit the FDA’s abil­ity to pro­tect the pub­lic from seri­ous adverse reac­tions to drugs that have few off­set­ting advan­tages. Finally, indus­try has com­mer­cial­ized the role of physi­cians and under­mined their posi­tion as inde­pen­dent, trusted advis­ers to patients.

Light, Don­ald W. and Lexchin, Joel and Dar­row, Jonathan J., Insti­tu­tional Cor­rup­tion of Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and the Myth of Safe and Effec­tive Drugs (June 1, 2013). Jour­nal of Law, Med­i­cine and Ethics, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2013, Forth­com­ing. Avail­able at SSRN:

interdisciplinary approach to understanding humans


The col­lab­o­ra­tive turn: inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­ity across the human sciences

By Des Fitzger­ald, Nev Jones, Suparna Choud­hury, Michele Fried­ner, Nadine Levin, Stephanie Lloyd, Todd Mey­ers, Neely Myers and Eugene

Ques­tions of health, med­i­cine and sci­ence have long ani­mated sub-​disciplinary atten­tions in the social sci­ences and human­i­ties. Recently, how­ever, research around these top­ics has taken a marked col­lab­o­ra­tive turn. If top­ics in the med­ical and health sci­ences were once straight­for­ward objects of study for anthro­po­log­i­cal, soci­o­log­i­cal or philo­soph­i­cal analy­sis, increas­ingly, to work ‘on’ such top­ics often means also to work both ‘with’ and ‘through’ them. While this col­lab­o­ra­tive turn has been enacted in dis­tinct ways, shaped by national and regional insti­tu­tional struc­tures and epis­temic com­mu­ni­ties, for many in med­ical anthro­pol­ogy, the soci­ol­ogy of health and ill­ness, the med­ical human­i­ties, and sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy stud­ies, ‘sci­ence’ and ‘med­i­cine’ are not sim­ple dis­ci­pli­nary spe­cial­i­ties. Instead, they are desired col­lab­o­ra­tors, allies, and co-​producers, for an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research com­plex that is less invested in insti­tu­tional or philo­soph­i­cal dividing-​lines between the ‘bio­log­i­cal,’ ‘social’ and ‘human,’ and much more com­mit­ted to explor­ing the ways in which social life, con­cep­tual labour, and bio­log­i­cal exis­tence run through one another.

love and protection in an age of cissexist violence

Love in Action: Not­ing Sim­i­lar­i­ties between Lynch­ing Then & Anti-​LGBT Vio­lence Now by Koritha Mitchell

Callaloo, Vol­ume 36, Num­ber 3, Sum­mer 2013, pp. 688717 (Arti­cle)
Pub­lished by The Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity Press

I use the word “love” here not merely in the per­sonal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace — not in the infan­tile Amer­i­can sense of being made happy but in the tough and uni­ver­sal sense of quest and dar­ing and growth.

—James Bald­win

At my job I am the only out, vis­i­bly black woman in the col­lege— when I remind col­leagues that I am inte­grat­ing the uni­ver­sity but have no National Guard to help me do so, they are both sur­prised by the fact of my unique­ness and puz­zled by my recourse to that his­tory to drive home my point. Queers have long since been cau­tioned to stay away from the use of the moniker “civil rights” … To whose body does this his­tory truly belong?

—Sharon Hol­land

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.


koritha mitchell princeton 2012

Koritha Mitchell, Prince­ton copy­right 2012

When Hol­land reminds us that she is inte­grat­ing spaces with­out the help of the National Guard, she points to a threat­en­ing specter that hov­ers over her every­day exis­tence. The threat will not retreat; vio­lence can emerge as eas­ily as a response to her queer­ness as to her black­ness as to her wom­an­ness. Very often in this coun­try, it is vio­lence that stands at the inter­sec­tion of…identity cat­e­gories. Fac­ing this real­ity is not about accept­ing vic­tim­iza­tion as the dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture of one’s iden­tity. After all, it is not iden­tity that is the prob­lem, but rather, the country’s aggres­sive het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­ity, racism, and sex­ism. To iden­tify these con­gre­gat­ing oppres­sions is to claim agency — by telling the truth about the envi­ron­ment the United States cre­ates for some of its cit­i­zens. Poten­tially need­ing the National Guard says much more about Amer­i­can soci­ety than about a queer black woman.

Study­ing lynch­ing for the past fif­teen years has taught me that vio­lence is used to mark who belongs and who does not, so chal­leng­ing it requires resist­ing the belief that those tar­geted have no right­ful claim to space. To cri­tique aggres­sion is to insist that its tar­gets deserve inclu­sion, not just tol­er­ance. In the process, one must refuse to sur­ren­der to shame, the most pow­er­ful part­ner vio­lence has. Because it polices the bor­ders of main­stream accept­abil­ity, vio­lence is sup­ported by victim-​blaming, by dis­courses and prac­tices based on the belief that vic­tims some­how “asked for it.” Because vio­lence most often plagues those whom soci­ety encour­ages us to aban­don, denounc­ing vio­lence empow­ers us to embrace them. Thus, I ana­lyze vio­lence as a way of assert­ing the cit­i­zen­ship of mar­gin­al­ized groups, a way of insist­ing that those tar­geted belong to me and mine, and that we have a right­ful place in the body politic.

~ Koritha Mitchell

abortion and the violation of basic rights

icky rights

Corbin on Abor­tion Dis­tor­tions by Brid­get Crawford

You can down­load this free pdf at the link shown here at the Fem­i­nist Law Pro­fes­sors web­site.

Regard­ing state imposed vio­la­tions of free speech such as requir­ing doc­tors to lie to women seek­ing abor­tion on behalf of reli­gious beliefs:

The Free Speech Clause pro­tects the right to speak as well as the right to not speak.This right against com­pelled speech was first estab­lished in a case chal­leng­ing a state require­ment that school­child­ren recite the pledge of alle­giance every morn­ing. In strik­ing down the law, the Supreme Court famously observed: “If there is any fixed star in our con­sti­tu­tional con­stel­la­tion, it is that no offi­cial, high or petty, shall pre­scribe what shall be ortho­dox in pol­i­tics, nation­al­ism, reli­gion, or other mat­ters of opin­ion or force cit­i­zens to con­fess by word or action their faith therein.” In other words, the gov­ern­ment can­not com­pel any­one to express agree­ment with gov­ern­ment ide­ol­ogy. Such com­pul­sion would vio­late the free­dom of con­science the Free Speech Clause was designed to pro­tect. It is as anath­ema as the state cen­sor­ing speech it disapproves.

… the default rule is that the reg­u­la­tion is uncon­sti­tu­tional unless it sur­vives strict scrutiny. Speech laws that con­trol not just the sub­ject mat­ter but view­point are espe­cially sus­pect, and espe­cially unlikely to pass such exact­ing scrutiny. Imag­ine, for exam­ple, a law for­bid­ding obstetrician-​gynecologists from telling their patients about var­i­ous child sup­port or social ser­vices avail­able to preg­nant or par­ent­ing women. Or, imag­ine that the gov­ern­ment com­pelled doc­tors to advise preg­nant women with two or more chil­dren to choose abor­tion given the over­whelm­ing expense of putting three chil­dren through col­lege. In the manda­tory abor­tion coun­sel­ing cases, how­ever, the appeals courts have not applied strict scrutiny.

Creating a new era of open government

Barack Obama, Eric Holder

I couldn’t find attri­bu­tion for this pho­to­graph. All clues welcome

Pres­i­dent Obama’s FOIA Mem­o­ran­dum and Attor­ney Gen­eral Holder’s FOIA Guide­lines: Cre­at­ing a “New Era of Open Gov­ern­ment” at the United States Depart­ment of Jus­tice Office of Infor­ma­tion Policy

On his first full day in office, Jan­u­ary 21, 2009, Pres­i­dent Obama issued a mem­o­ran­dum to the heads of all depart­ments and agen­cies on the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act (FOIA). The Pres­i­dent directed that FOIA “should be admin­is­tered with a clear pre­sump­tion: In the face of doubt, open­ness pre­vails.” More­over, the Pres­i­dent instructed agen­cies that infor­ma­tion should not be with­held merely because “pub­lic offi­cials might be embar­rassed by dis­clo­sure, because errors and fail­ures might be revealed, or because of spec­u­la­tive or abstract fears.”

Agen­cies were directed to respond to requests “promptly and in a spirit of coop­er­a­tion.” The Pres­i­dent also called on agen­cies to “adopt a pre­sump­tion in favor of dis­clo­sure” and to apply that pre­sump­tion “to all deci­sions involv­ing [the] FOIA.” This pre­sump­tion of dis­clo­sure includes tak­ing “affir­ma­tive steps to make infor­ma­tion pub­lic,” and uti­liz­ing “mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to inform cit­i­zens about what is known and done by their Gov­ern­ment.“
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