Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pick Your Poison: The Library at the GITMO Gulag or Sesame Street Teaches Children About Going to Jail

I am not ashamed of being an American. Unfortunately, in a country where mythic beliefs about American exceptionalism, and a media that restricts the public discourse to the "approved narrative," critical thinking--and more importantly critical deeds--are often slurred as being unAmerican or treasonous.

For example, see the bloviating of Republicans like Representative Stephen King of New York.

In keeping with this logic, I also do not believe in legitimating the empty and distracting concept known as "white guilt." White folks do not need to feel guilty about anything except their own individual choices and deeds.

What I do ask is that all people take responsibility for their unearned privileges, and how individuals are connected to another through institutions, as well as a system of power that rewards people based on if they are members of a group arbitrarily labeled as "white" and punishes those who are "black" and "brown."

In reading the following two news items today, I am do not feel guilt for being an American. However, I do feel that we have a sense of responsibility and moral culpability for the policy decisions that are being made in our name.

The prison at Guantanamo Bay is an embodiment of America's post 9-11 derangement. Domestic spying, targeted assassinations, drone murder, extraordinary renditions, and all manners of policies anathema to the best spirit of what we as a people should be, were legitimated in that moment more than ten years ago.

Osama Bin Laden may be dead; however, in many ways he won a great victory on 9-11.

Guantanamo Bay is a stain, a Kafkaesque nightmare, and black mark on the United States. Through the creation of social distance what is out of sight is made to be out of mind. The problem: the American people know what is going at Guantanamo Bay, a prison where most of the prisoners are innocent, and they choose to ignore it.

This New York Times story about the library at Guantanamo Bay prison should be sickening to all people of conscience:
If they obey prison rules, the 166 detainees may peer at the spines through the slots in their doors and check out two titles at a time, or make specific requests... 
Milton has a small budget for new acquisitions, and detainees’ lawyers and family members can send books to specific inmates through the International Committee of the Red Cross. Those copies are first donated to the library and then passed along to the prisoners, who can keep them in their cells for up to 60 days, rather than the usual 30. 
David Remes, a lawyer for Guantánamo detainees, told me one client requested romance novels, while others have asked for skiing, surfing and mountain-climbing magazines, “because they never see nature.” His client Shaker Aamer, a former resident of Britain, took a liking to George Orwell. “I sent him a copy of ‘1984,’ and he said he read it about three times and that it perfectly captured the psychological reality of being at Gitmo,” Remes said.
"If you prick me do I not bleed?"

When the blowback comes from America's abuses at GITMO and abroad, mom and pop middle America will ask again, "why do they hate us so?"

They should already know the answer.

The venerable institution that is the Sesame Street TV show has helped to prepare children for the meanness and unfairness of life. As such, it has featured episodes on the Iraq War, terrorism, Aids and HIV, and Hurricane Katrina. Given that the original purpose of Sesame Street, and for which it has been much derided by conservatives, was to help poor and working class inner-city black and brown youth improve their language and cognitive skills, such topics are essential for young viewers

The United States is an incarceration society. Two million people are held in its prisons and jails.

Among poor and inner city African-Americans for example, an encounter with the prison industrial complex is a rite of passage, where at least one million of them are in jail or otherwise monitored by the "justice" system at some point in their lives. Moreover, 1 in 3 people on parole are African-American.

Families are being broken by what has been famously described as "the New Jim Crow." Sesame Street has chosen to respond to what is a new normal.
The long-running children’s series has released a new toolkit called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” that includes videos, worksheets, and tips for both children and caregivers. The series is aimed at kids ages 2-7 years old, but the tips could be helpful for older kids and even adults, too. 
From Sesame Street’s website: 
The incarceration of a loved one can be very overwhelming for both children and caregivers. It can bring about big changes and transitions. In simple everyday ways, you can comfort your child and guide her through these tough moments. With your love and support she can get through anything that comes her way. Here are some tools to help you with the changes your child is going through. 
Along with videos, the series also includes a list of helpful tips to help children through the complicated emotions that go along with talking about a loved one’s incarceration...
We judge a society by its prisons, schools, and hospitals. We can also measure a society by how it treats the weak and the vulnerable. Based on the gulag at Guantanamo Bay, the many millions in jail, and a general culture of cruelty and disposability, the United States is in an existential and moral crisis.

Some years ago Brother Marvin Gay presciently asked "what's going on?" If he were alive to write a sequel today, sadly, the question would remain the same. He and we would also still be searching for answers.


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Joyce M said...

We need to be careful and make sure we don't become like some of our neighbors to the south. There is an interesting websites that chronicles what can happen when the gangsters get the upper hand.

chauncey devega said...

So many Right-wingers idolize Argentina and Chile. Scary, scary stuff.

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Mentioner said...

I think that it's pretty brave for Sesame Street to take up this issue, but of course, there is always weirdness afoot:

It's very hard not to be extremely cynical here. (but not so hard to separate adult cynicism from the real need of kiddos with parents in jail. That part is absolutely true. Shitty, though, that good work can't be separated from the bad strings that bind it all together.)

chauncey devega said...

I am glad they did this too. What a barometer for our society though.

Ben Grim said...

I'm not sure the issue of shame is any more relevant than the issue of white guilt, but if it were, I would say that there is indeed cause for Americans to be ashamed. You listed a couple.

"The United States is an incarceration society." That's a cause for shame.

"Guantanamo Bay is... a black mark on the United States." That's another cause for shame. "The American people know what is going at Guantanamo Bay, a prison where most of the prisoners are innocent, and they choose to ignore it." That's an even bigger shame.

The problem is, and this is why America is so complacent, it is one of many black marks on the leapard which is our government. So I reiterate the question I asked you on a previous thread: What kind of government do we have? Okay, its not totalitarian. So what is it?,

chauncey devega said...

America is a corporate democracy that is trending towards inverted totalitarianism.

kokanee said...

re: trending towards

That's generous. ;)

Ben Grim said...


Ben Grim said...

come come now. surely you got further observations. what for example does it mean for totalitarianism to be inverted? teach me something.

kokanee said...

Right? Just try and vote out the Dim-Pug duopoly and we'll find out what kind of government we really have.

tnrc75 said...

It means that while in Nazi Germany the citizenry was always pushed to be politically active, in the US, there is more value on people being apathetic. In Nazi Germany the government ran everything while in the US, it's corporations whose actions make government a handmaiden to their whims. While Nazi Germany mocked democracy, the US still affirms that it is one. Those are some of the hallmarks of Inverted Totalitarianism.

chauncey devega said...

Now that is a person who has done some reading and knows the subtleties of the game.