Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Change and Anne Moody’s Racial Awareness

Moody (front right, facing the camera) and her companions endure the abuse at the Woolworth's sit-in protest, Jackson, MS.
Anne’s Moody’s memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi is a powerful insight into the life of a young girl growing up in the Deep South during the Civil-Rights Movement. Moody’s book chronicles her coming of age as a woman, and perhaps more importantly, it chronicles her coming of age as a politically active black woman. Her childhood and early years in school set up a foundation for her racial awareness and her need to be extraordinary. She built upon that foundation as she went to college and sowed the seeds of political activism. During her later years in college, Moody became active in a number of organizations dedicated to making changes to the civil rights of her people. These events eventually led to her disillusionment with the effectiveness of the movement despite her continued action.
            One of Moody’s first references to racial awareness occurred when she was four years old. As a child, Moody’s family lived in a cabin on a plantation. Both of her parents worked as field hands and were forced to leave Anne and her little brother at home. One day Anne’s uncle, who was but a few years older than her, was bitterly taking care of her. He attempted to scare her with fire and he accidently lit the house on fire. The house all but burned to the ground. This event had a devastating effect on the family. Anne’s father Diddly left for a young fair-skinned mulatto woman named Florence. Anne noted her mother’s hatred for the other woman in terms of race. She remembered the woman distastefully described as “yellow,” followed by strings of colorful expletives (3-19).
            This event points out how early Moody’s unique perspective on race began to form. It is apparent that Moody’s mother had strong feelings toward others who were not of the same race as herself. Florence was of mixed race, and Anne’s mother saw her light complexion as a sign, and perhaps a reason, for her negative qualities. Anne remembers her mother’s use of racial labels despite her very young age. Though at the time she was much too young to understand the real implications of these thoughts and words, she remembered them. She was exceptional. Something inside her told her this event was significant, and only later would she fill in the gaps about why.
            Anne’s racial awareness t\was largely influenced by the events of the summer of 1955. A young African American man named Emmett Till came to Mississippi from Chicago to visit family. He stopped at a store to purchase some things, and on the way out he allegedly winked and whistled at a white woman. As a result, a mob pulled him from his home and brutally beat and lynched him. News of the events spread across the country. This lynching had a massive influence on Moody. Until this event, Moody had never really seen the dramatic disparity between whites and blacks. She now feared for her life, and she understood that it was simply because she was black-skinned (127-37).
            Emmett Till’s murder marked the beginning of Anne’s path toward activism. Anne’s new understanding of the plight of black Americans, stemming largely from this single incident, would act as a foundation for the rest of her ideology to build upon. Were it not for a major event like this, Anne may not have developed some of her powerful ideological changes as she grew older. Her more radical decisions, made later in life, would not have been made without her strong ideology. Her entire life would have been different, and many of the Civil-Rights-related events she was involved in would have been different. Thus, Moody’s reaction to this single event may have had a massive effect on many people.
            In some ways Anne’s coming of age as a teenage girl led to her coming of age racially. As she entered high school, Anne began growing physically as fast as she did mentally. She outgrew her skirts and was forced to wear jeans to school, which was somewhat gauche according to the standards of the time. She continued to grow and her jeans became rather tight, after which the boys began to pay her much attention. As a result of her maturing physique, Anne’s popularity grew so much that she was chosen as Homecoming Queen. Anne’s father got enough money together to purchase her a beautiful gown to wear. Moody described this night as the best of her life (200-21).
            This event that signified Moody’s move from girlhood to womanhood set the precedent for her need to be racially exceptional. Moody loved to feel special and different. Anne had a new found confidence after this event. She honestly believed that she could do anything. Moody never showed much fear, even as a little girl, but the reservations she did have as a girl largely disappeared after her homecoming. She became more resolute and determined to do what she desired, and that resolution would reveal itself during college and beyond.
            During high school Anne was heavily involved in the girls’ basketball team. She worked very hard and became a star player. Her efforts on the court paralleled her efforts in school. She maintained very high grades, and as a result of all her hard work she received a scholarship to play basketball at Natchez College. Anne became even more firm in her beliefs than before. When the students were eating their grits for breakfast they found maggots in them. Moody attempted to go back into the kitchen to talk to them about it when Miss Harris stopped her and told her to sit back down. She refused, and told her it was her business because she too had “to eat this shit!” Thus began the students’ heated boycott, largely led my Moody (253-58).
            The boycott at Natchez was one of Moody’s first signs of political activism. Up to this point in her memoir, Anne had been willing to stand up for her beliefs, but not in a political way. In this instance Anne acted on the racial awareness by understanding the need for equality and fairness to all, even to lowly students. She was willing to stand up, rather powerfully, and defend her rights. This small-scale political activism gave Moody a taste for the movement, and may have been a major effect in her choice to join the movement a short time later.
            While at school Anne decided that she would be content to live the life of an activist. She wanted to try and make a difference in people’s lives, and she felt that her race needed help more than anyone. After transferring to Tougaloo College, she became involved with the SNCC, or Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The SNCC was concerned with forming protests to desegregate public and private establishments. With this group, Moody attended a sit-in at the Woolworths Department store in Jackson, Mississippi. The Woolworths sit-in was one of the most violently attacked sit-ins of the 1960s, and it received a lot of media attention around the country. Anne and a group of other students simply went to the lunch counter of the white establishment and sat down. Soon dozens of people flooded into the store. Anne decided they should pray, and as they bowed their heads a group of people rushed them. A number of men involved were badly beaten, and the girls were beaten and harassed as well. Onlookers dumped condiments and drinks all over them. After a few hours of torment the store owner closed up shop and everyone was forced to leave. As Anne left the store, she saw that ninety police officers were standing at the window watching the entire thing (286-90).
            Anne’s experience at Woolworths made her hatred for segregation even stronger, and because of her personality and experience, it gave her more motivation to fight against it. Moody said she was absolutely sickened by the people of Mississippi. They believed so strongly in segregation that they would humiliate and physically beat people simply for asking to be served at a lunch counter. They would literally kill to preserve their so-called balance. At this moment, however, Anne’s perspective changed. The white people were sick, she decided. They had a disease, and she felt that she could not hate a sickness. This experience was the beginning of her disillusionment with the effectiveness of the movement. What chance did they have against a sickness? How could they fight a sickness that was in its terminal stage? Moody offers no answer (290-91).
            Moody became fully involved in the Civil-Rights Movement. She was present at the March on Washington when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. As she sat and listened to Dr. King speak, she realized that the movement had no leaders, for their leaders were only dreamers. Back home in Mississippi they had no time to sleep, let alone dream (333-36).
            In this passage Moody began to doubt the effectiveness of the current movement. This was a passive movement, similar to that of India when Mahatma Gandhi led his people to an effective passive revolution. Unfortunately, a passive movement would not work in America’s Deep South. The movement, in Moody’s mind, was not focused on the things that would make the biggest difference. They were focused too much on voter registration and mock-elections. Moody thought the movement would be much more effective if they did things to help bring about progress now. They should do things like help black farmers buy their own land. That, to Moody, would be a real, tangible change that would have a lasting effect. Despite all this, she knew that she could never leave the movement, because there was just too much work to do (333-37, 373-77).
            Anne Moody was remarkably racially aware. From a young age, Moody felt something different about race relations than those around her. She developed into an intelligent, strong-willed young woman with a desire to make changes to the racial landscape in the South. For years she worked tirelessly to help bring about those changes, but eventually she became disillusioned. She knew who she was, and she knew that she needed to help make a difference, but she did not know if she could. She closed her book with a bus ride to Washington, where the group would try to sway Congress toward desegregation. The group began to sing We Shall Overcome. Moody thought to herself this question: “I WONDER. I really WONDER.” (424)

Monday, July 16, 2012

What Does the Affordable Care Act Do?

This blog is usually a venue for my academic writing, but I feel the need to break from that vein a little bit. Today's political climate is rather heated, and with the election nearing in November, political rhetoric begins to be thrown around with increased passion and decreased logic or original thought. Therefore, I feel it necessary to point out that there is more to the Affordable Care Act (deemed by some as Obamacare) than just the individual mandate that has bred a political firestorm for the past three years. Many of the facets of the act have already gone into practice, while others will not do so until 2014.

I do not intend this to be a partisan-fused piece, and most of the information is from healthcare.gov. Take it for what you wish, and please do not use the comments below simply to bash others and their beliefs or actions. Debate is welcome, as long as you keep it civil.

Implemented as of 2010
  • No lifetime coverage benefit limits can be placed on an individual.
  • Children can not be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition.
  • Preventative care coverage is expanded for many, eliminating co-pays for check-ups, mammograms, and colonoscopies (continued into 2011).
  • Young adults can remain on their parents' insurance until they are 26 years of age, regardless of marital status.
  • Seniors may receive expanded coverage for name-brand prescriptions, previously found in the "doughnut hole" of coverage.
  • Tax credits are available to small business owners for making health care coverage available (credits % set to increase in 2014). 
  • States are allowed to create their own Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan to provide an affordable plan for those who fall under this category. If they choose not to do so, the US Dept. of Health and Human Services will do so.
  • Insurance companies cannot rescind coverage to a sick individual based on a mistake made in the application process.
  • Blockers placed to begin eliminating annual limits to coverage benefits (completed in 2014).
  • Insurance companies are barred from hiking premium rates by more than 10% (new appeals procedures have also been put into place, both in the private and public spheres).
  • New incentives established to draw new doctors into primary care spheres, as well as incentives for those practicing.
Implemented as of 2011
  • Prices for preventative care coverage are dropped, to zero for many.
  • Funding to build/expand community health care facilities.
  • A greater portion of insurance premiums are required to be spent on health care coverage (80% for small group plans, 85% for large group plans).
  • Medicare recipients who are considered high-risk receive opportunities for greater coordinated care to avoid unnecessary readmission.
  • An advisory board was created to ascertain how to extend the life of, lower the cost of, and increase the health care for Medicare.
  • Cheaper options for at-home visiting care as an option to resident nursing homes.
Implemented as of 2012
  • Data will be collected of overall quality of health among different groups to assess racial/ethnic disparities.
  • Efforts being made to transition toward electronic record keeping and management to cut down on costs.
Implemented as of 2014
  • Tax credits for small business owners offering health benefits increase.
  • Affordable Insurance Exchanges will be established at the state level, providing a venue for individuals to compare private and public options together.
  • Annual limits of coverage benefits abolished.
  • Individuals will be able to apply their employer's premium match rate to whichever insurance coverage they choose to use.
  • Tax credits applied to individuals for those who qualify, can be applied monthly rather than yearly.
  • Coverage cannot be refused based on a preexisting condition.
  • Coverage cannot be refused, and rates cannot be hiked on account of gender.
  • The dreaded individual mandate, referred to as the requirement for individual responsibility of coverage for all those who can afford it. If they do not, they will be required to pay a fee. "If affordable coverage is not available to an individual, he or she will be eligible for an exemption."

As I mentioned before, this is meant as a brief overview of what has been, and what will be implemented as a result of the Affordable Care Act, not as a partisan plea for one side or the other. In order to make an informed decision, one must seek out the information (of which I can only impart some). Please, any thoughts, comparisons, additions or omissions are welcome.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lack of Action: Tim O’Brien’s Failed Attempt at Courage

In his book If I Die in a Combat Zone, Tim O’Brien recounted events surrounding his experience with the war in Vietnam. He noticeably came back to one question again and again: what is courage? This paper will analyze O’Brien’s struggle with this question by first explaining the dilemma he faced as a soldier fighting in a war he felt was unjust. I will then piece together O’Brien’s ideological explanations of courage from the text, followed by his examples of both courage and cowardice. Courage, to O’Brien, was action. When these pieces are viewed together according to his own convictions and definitions, O’Brien did not have courage but was, in fact, a coward
            Tim O’Brien faced a major dilemma as he was drafted to fight in a war that he deemed unjust. This quandary was perhaps most eloquently explained during his conversation with the chaplain during his Advanced Infantry Training. He pointed out that in his heart he felt that killing was wrong. War, according to O’Brien, must only be fought if it is just. In his heart he must feel that he is fighting for goodness. This war, he told the chaplain, was not just and he felt he should not fight in it. The religious leader responded by calling out O’Brien as “very disturbed.” “You’ve read too many books,” he said, “the wrong ones, I think there’s no doubt, the wrong ones.” Then he seemed to have dropped his religious front: “But goddamn it—pardon me—but goddamn it, you’re a soldier now, and you’ll sure as hell act like one!” After a brief ideological tussle between O’Brien and the chaplain, the young soldier posed his true question: if he believes the war is wrong and he goes and kills then what is the state of his soul? Also, if he refuses to fight, he will have betrayed his country. So what can or should he do (56-61)?
O’Brien’s quandary was at once universal and a product of the particular political and cultural climate of his time. War has always been controversial. Any time human life is concerned there will always be those who question the rationale behind the actions. In this case, however, O’Brien seemed to be struggling with more than just his convictions against the war. His actions questioned the legitimacy of the political and cultural norms of the period. Since World War II, the United States was obsessed with their fear of the expanding communist Soviet regime in Eastern Europe and Asia. Communism was viewed as the antithesis of capitalism and democracy, which Americans believed were divinely inspired. Americans’ fears translated into witch hunts at home and abroad in attempts to squash the communist threat to their way of life. O’Brien grew up in this Cold War era, and the political rhetoric stated that anything which questioned the United States and its convictions was not only communist, but by connection evil. His conviction against the war seemed right in his heart. “And if right, was my apparent courage in enduring [the war as a soldier] merely a well-disguised cowardice?” (138) Was he then, by connection, evil? He felt like he was in a prison: “unwilling to escape, yet unwilling to acquiesce” to the war (39).
            In an attempt to sort out his feelings about his actions, O’Brien cited a plethora of ideological explanations for what courage is. He began with Socrates. O’Brien pointed out that Socrates was likely conflicted himself. Considering his writings, one would conclude that he would not have acquiesced, but gone about the war his own way. However, O’Brien pointed out, Socrates fought a war for Athens. There was no way that war was completely just either. Was he then a “reluctant hero” like O’Brien? These musings subsided and O’Brien got back on duty (46-47). Later O’Brien described courage as “acting wisely when fear would have a man act otherwise.” But wisdom on its own was not enough, for one must spiritually endure (136-138). He cited another possible definition in connection with action. Men act cowardly, and men act courageously. Bravery is measured according to the average action when all are taken into account (148).
            Ideologically, the United States had a slightly different definition of bravery than O’Brien. This idea was partially described by Major Callicles, One of O’Brien’s last commanding officers in Vietnam. He said it was America’s responsibility, and therefore every American’s responsibility, to show the world that someone has “guts to stand up for what’s right.” Further, “it’s going out and being tough and sharp-thinkin’ and making things happen right” (200). Culturally, courage in America was characterized by proactively fighting against what they believed was wrong. They took it upon themselves to make sure the world saw things the way they did, because their way was “right” as Major Callicles said. American culture made bravery out to be forceful, and often rather cruel and oppressive. As O’Brien said, “if a man can squirm in a meadow, he can shoot children. Neither are examples of courage.” Men must know the rightness of their actions, for this is wisdom (136, 140).
            O’Brien cited examples of courage throughout the book. Each example is defined as courageous or brave differently than the rest, further complicating his pursuit of a definitive answer. O’Brien himself first exemplified courage during his Advanced Infantry Training. The more he concluded that the war was wrong, the stronger his desire was to refuse. He went to the library and researched how other soldiers had gotten away, safely, to a place where they would not be forced to fight against their convictions. He made plans and wrote letters to his family concerning his justified desertion (52-54). O’Brien knew at this point that his heart would never tell him this war was right. He thought long and hard about what he would do after his tour to fight against the, in his opinion, unjustified war. He would go on his own “crusade” and fight against some of the men who caused so many atrocities. He determined that when other wars arose he would determine if they were just, and fight against them if they were not (93). This could be considered an internal courage, holding fast to ideas one knows are right.
            O’Brien used Captain Johansen, his commanding officer, as a prime example of bravery in the more traditional sense. “I’d rather be brave than almost anything,” he said to Tim, who responded by saying he wished he had tried harder himself. As O’Brien contemplated Johansen’s words, he came to the conclusion that “It’s the charge, the light brigade with only one man, that’s the first thing to think about when thinking about courage. People who do it are remembered as brave, win or lose. They are heroes forever” (134). True bravery, according to this example, is a desire deep within oneself to charge, as hard and as strong as they can, to fight for whatever their conviction is. This example makes no ideological qualification for bravery. It is simply the action that comes from a desire within. No one in Vietnam besides Johansen cared about bravery, and thus they did not have it. All they had was an obsession with “manliness, crudely idealized,” not bravery (134).
            Examples of cowardice starkly contrasted the examples of courage in the book. O’Brien usually referred to himself as cowardly rather than brave. After he made all his plans to run and refuse to fight in a war that he was morally opposed to, he did not. He was in Seattle on leave from training and his plans were all ready to go, but when the time came he could not bring himself to do it. He vomited and went to sleep, then burned his letters and his plans when he woke up in the morning. He did not have the courage to take a stand when it really counted. His thoughts and feelings were in the right place, but his actions never followed. “I was a coward,” he said as he recalled his return to the base. He had thought about not carrying a gun, but again he “succumbed” to the war and became a soldier none the less (68, 34).
            This example of cowardice really gives us the best understanding of O’Brien’s vision of bravery. No matter how good one’s intensions are, and no matter what he/she believes, there is no bravery in it unless there is action. Knowing the rightness of his actions confirms his bravery in his heart, and he knows it is real. But no matter the inward conviction, of which O’Brien had plenty, it means nothing in regard to bravery unless it is coupled with action.
Thus, according to his own beliefs and measures of bravery, O’Brien did not have courage. He knew in his heart what was right and what he should do, but he could not bring himself to do it. He allowed his fears to overpower his convictions. No matter how bad the fighting got on the ground, no matter how many men he saw killed, and no matter the gross injustices he witnessed, the fear of leaving and facing his family and friends with an explanation crippled his courage. The great detail he went into about his dilemma, his ideology, and the examples he witnessed of both courage and cowardice were simply observations. Tim O’Brien made these observations so thoroughly because he did not have the quality he was looking for. He was not a hero, and he said it himself, but he did understand what courage was. He, like many others before him, could not put aside his fears for the nobler good and fulfill his own definition of bravery.