Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Sister of Sotomayor Speaks

Much is being written about Sonia Sotomayor's nomination for Supreme Court justice. I won't repeat all of that here. But some key phrases in the opposition's objections are all too familiar with what many of us women, particularly pioneers, and all of those who have suffered professionally because of racism and sexism have heard:
* "She doesn't understand" or "She would have to understand." I can't tell you how many times I heard that, the implication being that we could not understand the real (white male) world or the real issues. We would be too naive, uninformed, unintelligent, etc.
* There's the question of "temperament," which could refer to women's time of the month, their being too emotional, or too collaborative or not collabrotive enough. There was no right temperament for a woman to have. Too fat, too thin, too happy, too sad. A woman was never right for the position.
* "Angry woman" She an "angry racist." Do I need to comment on that one? All of us pioneer professional women were "angry" women or, "not showing our anger,"or...
* Closely connected is the issue of "empathy." Women are expected to be empathetic but it was and is often held against them if they are. They would no doubt make unfair decisions and show lack of objectivity.
* "Experience." Although Sotomayor's record is substantial, even amazing, "experience" for a woman was and is often suspect and not the "right kind."
* When you make a choice for diversity you are making a choice against competence. One again, that false dichotomy was said about me and about women whom I have over the years counseled. It is used way too often in matters of race. There was and still is an assumption that to choose a woman or a person of color is to downgrade the institution.
* She's brilliant. It's hard to debate that description of Sotomayor. But one commentator managed to find a problem with how smart she is. No doubt she lacks the vision of leadership because of her brilliant intellect.
* One former Republican candidate for president referred to her as "Maria." And blacks all "look alike." In this person's eyes so must Puerto Rican women. Never before, but after I was ordained and a "Rev." put before my name, I received way too much of my mail where the "Norma' has been changed to "Norman." It was not funny, nor accidental. It was thoughtless assumption that I must be male if there was a "Rev." by my name. Some people even made a point of "correcting" the address to make it right.

Now are these small things? Are they not the important issues? They are signals of the basic systemic racism and sexism that still exist. I'm deeply, deeply sad.

And I'm deeply pleased to call Sonia Sotomayor my sister.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Zuma Era

Rev. Dt. Peter kjeseth, former professor at Wartburg Seminary, who has lived in Cape Town, South Africa for a number of years writes: []

Unless the world comes to an end first, or he is struck down by something like swine flu, Jacob Zuma will in early June become the 4th president of post-apartheid South
Africa. Who would have thought?

This prospect raises hopes for the almost 66% of voting South Africans who elected him and fears for the strong minority of South Africans who did NOT vote for him.
Experts and non experts alike are, of course, analyzing what happened in the election and warning us about what to expect ahead. I have tried to listen carefully. It is no exaggeration that what happens in South Africa is crucial for all of Africa. Let me give you my take on the matter.

There are a number of unassailable positives. The election was free and fair. TheIndependent Electoral Commission exercised its authority and had the whole thing under control from start to finish. This is not to be taken for granted.

The ANC did not lose its substantial majority. In the election, at least, the poor and the left, the Congress of South African Trade Unions(COSATU) and The South African Communist Party feel they have been heard.

The many smaller parties took a hit in this election, particularly the Inkata Freedom Party, once sovereign in KwaZulu-Natal. But here, too, a win seems possible. There is talk that for the 2011 elections we might see a more united, powerful configuration of opposition parties. This election provides a solid foundation that could reinvigorate Parliament. That is good news.

Even though many in South Africa won something in this election, the prospect of the Zuma era raises frightening questions and possibilities relating both to Zuma’s persona as a leader and to what it will take for him to carry through on his promises. And the cloud of corruption still hangs over his head. In the eight years that he has struggled with the possibility of trial and imprisonment, there is a complex trail of legal maneuvering, talk of political plots and intrigue and, just in time for the elections, the controversial decision of the National Prosecuting Authority to drop all corruption charges against him – on procedural grounds.

We face the frightening potential of populist rage and violence if Zuma does not meet the high hopes and long delayed expectations of the myriad poor who have danced at his election victory parties. Though the ANC which has ruled now for fifteen years cites statistics to prove that crime is being dealt with, the people of all classes who live here know better. In Masiphumelele, the township which is our non-identical twin, crime is endemic. Here in our middle class neighborhood crime has increased even in the last couple months. People are hungry and desperate. Crime bubbles up out of the rage of the population that has been denied and betrayed.

To succeed Zuma must reverse the ANC’s governing record of awarding loyalty before competence. Cronyism and a kind of cultural nepotism are deeply engrained – and denied –at every level of the ANC as a governing entity. If that is
not changed, nothing will change. Throw in the fact that the effects of the world economic meltdown are just beginning to hit South Africa with realforce and you know that the Zuma era will be a tough one.

The election (and its possible aftermath) sends strongly mixed signals. The Zuma era COULD be a new day if the real needs of the poor majority are given real priority in termsof economic justice and service delivery. I even have the sense that most people believe this and wish Zuma – and all of us – well, in spite of all the worries.So we keep vigil with hope and prayer as the Zuma era and the Obama era play out on opposite sides of the equator but in ways that touch each other profoundly.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bread for the World

Rev. David Beckmann, Lutheran pastor and president of Bread for the world, appeared on C-Span Saturday morning. Americans are a generous people. It's central to the belief systems of many faiths and an American civil relegion creed. This morning, however, many, many calls, Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike, challenged Beckmann with words such as, "In this economic recession we have so many suffering people, how can you dare to ask us to give to people in other countried?" One said, "We are supposed to help our neighbor, not people around the world."
In the midst of loss of jobs and homes and a general atmosphere of fear, even those of good faith, want to draw in, take care of "our own."
Beckmann, of course, pointed out that the U.S. gives only about1% in foreign aid, and a much small percentage of that to poor people around the world and that the U.S. gives a much smaller percentage than the U.K. or Germany or France. And, Beckmann reminded callers that helping poor people around the world and their nations be more stable and productive, actually will help the U.S. get out of this recession. And, of course, it has long been a scandel in the U.S. that we have so many hungry, homeless people. He stressed that we are called to do both, help here and abroad.
Worth noting is the phenomenon of fear redefining in the minds of people of faith who is our neighbor. What is our basic belief about the Creating, Providing God?
For more information about Bread for the World go to Also check into the legislation calling for reform in foreign aid so that our aid agencies, national and private, are more coordinated so that aid is more effective. The call to help one's neighbor is a call to care for those down the street and around the globe.