Freeing Society in “They Don’t Care about Us” by Michael Jackson

by Monica Stancu

In Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault argues that there is a direct connection between the modern legal system and power relations. According to him, the legal system, with its police, prisons and constant surveillance of the population represents a manifestation of power and is used as a political tool to further restrict and repress society. Foucault’s philosophical principles may be applied to the reading of Michael Jackson’s controversial video, They Don’t Care about Us (1996), which was set in a prison. In the video, the singer claims that the dominant class in America uses its political power to abuse and manipulate the people by keeping them not only in a physical jail, but also in a “metaphorical” psychological jail by withholding information and making false accusations. Continue reading

Sea Change: How We are Altering Everything

by Abby Sullivan

Photo courtesy of the author

In light of the BP Oil spill, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss the health of our oceans and how we, as humans, are altering and changing these vast bodies of water in ways previously thought to be unimaginable. What were once local problems in our waters have become increasingly disturbing and global in nature. Until the 1950’s, people considered the oceans inexhaustible. Today everyone from marine biologists to glaciologists to meteorologists all concur that our oceans are in peril and if we do not drastically change our relationship to the sea, it may be lead to our ultimate demise. I moved to Iceland a year ago to study Marine and Coastal Resource Management. What I learned about the ways we are altering everything in our ocean ecosystems has been a startling, sobering experience. As with most environmental issues, the problems caused by the state of our seas is deeply linked with issues of inequality, poverty and greed. And for me, what is the most disturbing thought is how shortsighted we are—we are stealing from future generations, destroying what is not ours to destroy. I hope to highlight a few of the largest issues we must overcome to save our seas. Continue reading

Discrimination in France: Banning the Burqa

by Rosamund Hunter

Protesting the headscarf ban in 2004, France. Credit: AP.

Since the French lower house of parliament recently banned the burqa—the full body covering worn by many Muslim women—human rights activists must step up to condemn this potential new law.

The French senate still must approve the controversial proposal before it will become law, but the initial support by parliament was overwhelming: the final vote was a whopping 335-1.   Unless the senate has radically different voting patterns, France can expect to be a burqa-free state soon after the September vote.  Not to mention, the French public supports a ban as well: 57% say they favor a ban with only 37% opposing.

The irony of imposing what could be described as forced “emancipation” is not lost for many feminists, human rights advocates, and anti-racist activists.  Certainly for feminists, this is another case where the notion of “women’s rights” comes to justify the subjugation of other oppressed groups.  Feminist movements have a complicated history of seeking to improve the lives of already privileged women at the expense of other groups.  The proposed burqa ban in France is rooted in a history of racism and discrimination directed at the French Muslim population. Continue reading

NAGPRA, A Human Rights Statute

by Ben Hunter

Personal photo of Maria Pearson/Ames Historical Society

In 1971, highway crews in southwest Iowa uncovered 28 human remains. The remains of the 26 white individuals were reburied; the remains of a Native American woman and her baby girl were boxed and sent to the State Archaeologist.  Maria Pearson, an outraged Yankton Sioux activist, visited the State house to see Iowa Governor Robert Ray.   Ray credits Pearson for drawing the government’s attention to the discriminatory treatment of Native American human remains in Iowa.  The ensuing debate over new burial legislation led to the passage of the Iowa Burials Protection Act of 1976. The Iowa legislation served as a model for graves protection reform.  Pearson and other graves protection activists went on to lobby for federal graves protection reform and eventually succeeded with the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

NAGPRA was signed into law in November of 1990. The statute requires that museums, federal agencies, and any institutions that receive federal money create an inventory of any human remains or funerary objects in its collection. The institution must consult with lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to determine if there is a known cultural affiliation of the remains or funerary objects. After the consultation, the institution makes a determination whether the remains are either culturally affiliated or culturally unidentifiable. If the museum determines that the remains or funerary objects are culturally affiliated to a tribe, then the remains must be offered to the tribe for repatriation. Continue reading