Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Culture

Native American Sovereignty is an Obstacle to Equality

Many left wing commentators writing about the tragedy unfolding in Standing Rock believe that the government erred by failing to respect Native American sovereignty. This argument claims that Native Americans are nations that have sovereign rights over the territory reserved to them and consequently the US government is wrong to take action that impacts them and their territory without their consent. This is well-intentioned, but there are few beliefs that have done more damage to the welfare of Native American citizens than the idea that Native American tribes constitute sovereign nations. Native Americans are treated very poorly in the United States and tribal sovereignty facilitates this instead of ameliorating it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Does Colin Kaepernick Have a Case?

San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick has drawn controversy for his decision to sit during the singing of the American national anthem. He said:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

The protest undoubtedly puts the 49ers in a difficult situation–if they stand by their quarterback, they risk offending conservative supporters and if they repudiate him they risk offending supporters of Black Lives Matter. If they try to thread the needle, they risk upsetting all sides. From a football standpoint, protests like this are bad business. This is why Kaepernick makes no attempt to justify the protest from a football standpoint–for him, the issue is bigger than football. It takes a strong commitment for an athlete to do something like this. In 1996, the Denver Nuggets’ star point guard, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, also chose to sit during the anthem. He was fined $30,000 and traded to the Sacramento Kings at the end of the season, even though he had just had a career year averaging almost 20 points per game shooting almost 40% from three point range and 93% from the free throw line. All the Nuggets got in return was Sarunas Marciulionis, an ageing shooting guard who had been slowed by a crippling leg injury and averaged just 10 points per game for the Kings that year. Abdul-Rauf’s new team stuck him on the bench behind mediocre journeyman Anthony Johnson, and Abdul-Rauf was out of the league two years later. He was only 28. Three years later he attempted a brief comeback for the Vancouver Grizzlies–a Canadian franchise at that time–but it quickly fizzled. Abdul-Rauf was one of the greatest off the dribble shooters of his generation. Phil Jackson compared him to this year’s MVP, Steph Curry:

He infamously dropped 51 points on the Utah Jazz’s hall of fame point guard John Stockton, an elite defender with multiple all-NBA defensive team awards who holds the all-time career steals record (and it’s not close):

But in the middle of his prime he was cast aside for pennies on the dollar because the Nuggets did not want their brand associated with his politics. Abdul-Rauf received death threats for years, and in 2001 his home was burned to the ground–Abdul-Rauf suspects it was arson by the klan. That’s the risk Kaepernick is taking for his beliefs. He and his family may lose a lot of money and the safety of their property and persons may even be called into question. So I want to take what he’s saying seriously and consider its substance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brexit is the Right Nationalist Response to Austerity

Like many people, I initially responded to Brexit with outrage at the terrible consequences of the result for the British people. Among other things, they may lose crucial worker, consumer, and environmental protections, they may lose access to the European market, they may lose the opportunity to work with other European countries on climate change and tax avoidance, and they may even lose Scotland. It is critical that the British Parliament assert its sovereignty and decline to implement the results of the non-binding advisory referendum, which was a mistake to hold in the first place. After all, by asserting UK sovereignty, Brexiteers are asserting the sovereignty of Parliament, so if Parliament declines to invoke Article 50 and chooses to stay in the EU it is merely exercising the very powers the Brexiteers wished to assert for it. But today I want to take a step back and look at the big picture–why the vote went the way it did and what that says about where we’re at. Many people have been happy to chalk the Leave win up to bigotry and leave it at that, but this response is too reductive and doesn’t give us enough to work with. If bigotry is the problem, why is bigotry the problem now? There have been bigoted people in Britain and in the EU and all over the world forever, but Brexit didn’t happen in 1996 or 2006, it happened in 2016. What’s different about now? Brexit is not the result of some culture war between the nice people and the nasty people, it is a consequence of economic stagnation and inequality and of a voting public that is unable to correctly identify the causes of that stagnation and inequality or confront them with meaningful and effective policy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Transgender vs. Transracial: Is There a Moral Difference?

Recently, Caitlyn Jenner has been in the news–Jenner is a former Olympian who is transgender and recently decided to transition from expressing traditionally male characteristics to expressing traditionally female characteristics. Aside from a few on the right, the media response was generally one of acceptance. By transitioning, Jenner realizes her vision for herself, she achieves a measure of self-actualization. This is good for her and it harms no one else. All of that seems pretty obvious to me, and I wasn’t going to bother writing about Jenner at all, because I think it’s pretty straightforward. But then this other thing happened–a woman named Rachel Dolezal showed up in the news. Dolezal is genetically a white person, but she chooses to present herself as a black person and to identify as black. The media response was very different–Dolezal was accused of pretending to be black when she is in fact a white person, of “faking it”. Many people are accusing Dolezal of appropriating black culture, of being a liar, and so on and so forth. Why are the reactions to these two women so different? Is there a difference, and if so, what’s the difference?

Read the rest of this entry »

How We Should Deal with the Charlie Hebdo Attack

As most of you probably know by now, terrorists in Paris shot up the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo earlier this week, killing 12 people. Charlie Hebdo is known for publishing provocative cartoons. Some of these cartoons mocked the prophet Muhammad, and this earned the magazine the enmity of reactionaries within Islam. Before we think about emotionally charged events like this, it often helps to think about how we should think about them. To get the objective distance we need from events to analyze them with the most fairness and impartiality we can manage, a little temporal distance can be useful. Over the last few days, I’ve been digesting a variety of visceral, emotive reactions from people across the political spectrum. In most of the think pieces I’ve read and discussions I’ve seen and participated in, there has consistently seemed to be something missing, and today I’m ready to identify that something.

Read the rest of this entry »