Charlotte is both rapidly growing and rapidly growing more diverse. The Ethics Center has a long tradition of presenting programming to foster constructive dialogue on issues of diversity and inclusion, often generously funded by Chancellor's Diversity Challenge Grants. Iniitally titled the "Feminism and Critical Race Theory" series, our programming has expanded to include engagement with more general cultural and social forces important to practices of inclusion. Each year, the series brings in a series of speakers, many of nationally prominent, to speak to that year's topic. Current and recent topics are listed below.
2016-17: Being Muslim in America
Islam is one of the world’s major religions, with over one and a half billion adherents worldwide today, and the fastest growth rate of any major religion. Islam will overtake Christianity as the world’s most prevalent religion by the end of the century. Muslims comprise a tiny minority of the U.S. population, however; a 2014 Pew study found that only 0.9% of Americans identify as Muslim. Earlier estimates of the Muslim population in the United States range from 2-7 million. Current Pew research suggests the number is about 3.3 million, with significant geographic diversity (i.e., the population is heavily concentrated in specific areas).
Especially since 9/11, this population has been the subject of ongoing suspicion, distrust and hostility, as evidenced by current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call to stop all Muslim immigration until “our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on." Ongoing hostility toward Muslims has been evident in efforts to stop the construction of spaces where Muslims can gather socially, ranging from the “Ground Zero Mosque” (which was neither to be a mosque nor at ground zero) to fights in Murfreesboro, TN to stop construction of a mosque. Indeed, a 2015 poll found that over half of Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam. Muslims have also been subject to disproportionate governmental surveillance programs, leading to anxiety and even behavioral changes to avoid further surveillance.
At the same time, over half of Americans claim to know little or nothing about Islam. There is thus a clear need to promote cultural understanding nationally. North Carolina is no exception; as of 2010, Charlotte was home to about 10,000 Muslims and 5 mosques. The environment of the Carolinas is also not always any more welcoming than it has been nationally. For example, South Carolina is considering legislation that would create an online registry with Muslim refugees’ addresses and that would hold any institution or individual who formally sponsors a refugee liable should their sponsor commit an act of terrorism. Said U.S. Representative Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) in support of the bill, “If you let in the wrong Irishman, the downside is really not that serious,” he said. “You let in the wrong Syrian refugee -- one -- and people could die.” Of course, early in the twentieth-century, Mulvaney’s equivalents would have said precisely the same things about the corrosive effect of Irish, Italian, Jewish and Chines immigrants. It is in this context that the CPAE proposes a speaker series to begin a much-needed social conversation about Islam and contemporary American life, providing a space to reflect thoughtfully on the changing demographics of America and the increasing presence of a religious minority both locally and nationally
For the sixth installment of its annual Feminism and Critical Race Theory series, the Center for Professional Applied Ethics is presenting a speaker series exploring the fraught complex social and political environment navigated by Muslims in the United States today. Confirmed speakers so far include Saba Fatima and Juliane Hammer.
2015-16: Violence and Privilege Online
It is a truism that the Internet has provided an astonishing forum for the discussion of diverse opinions on an endless variety of topics, and in so doing has arguably significantly democratized cultural discussion in the United States and elsewhere. At the same time, the benefits of online participation are unevenly distributed in a variety of ways. One of the more disturbing problems is endemic violence directed against women who attempt to participate in public, online fora. Whether in comment threads or cyberstalking or the posting of non-consensual, “revenge porn” videos, women, people of color, and members of other minorities are subjected to a frequent barrage of violent rhetorics and behavior. This is not a new phenomenon; one of the earliest discussions of the difficulties in life online for women was over a fantasized rape in a multi-user space called LamdaMOO. However, the recent publication of Danielle Citron’s Hate Speech Online (Harvard UP, 2014) documents objectively what a lot of women already know: online hate speech is pervasive and endemic.
Women who attempt to call out sexist behavior are often subject to the most misogynistic attacks; when game developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu (along with feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian) tried to speak to the masculinist culture of the computer gaming industry, they were subjected to a torrent of rape and other threats, including at least one threat to commit mass violence at a speaking engagement. A recent Washington Post editorial that spoke to the psychological stress of harassment that drives feminist authors away from online fora drew over 2000 comments, many of which ignored the article and complained about “Feminist hate-mongers” (as comment #2 began the complaint). It is not just feminists that are targeted, however. Citron documents the cases of ordinary women whose careers and lives have been ruined by attacks ranging from posting their names and addresses publicly, to uploading revenge porn, to placing fake Craigslist ads requesting violent sex (sometimes resulting in actual rape), to overloading search engine results with claims that the person in question was mentally unstable. And, of course, women who do participate online are often subjected to thousands of comments that graphically assert that what they most need is to be raped and murdered.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Nearly 500 in 100,000 people in the U.S. are currently in jail, for a total of nearly 1.6 million individuals in 2010. That rate is five times the average of 100 per 100,000 people in comparable countries. Incarceration is also not evenly distributed, and its burden falls disproportionately on some demographics groups. 90% of those incarcerated are men. Communities of color – particularly black and Latino men - are particularly hard hit. As of 2010, black men were incarcerated at 6.7 times the rate of white men (3074 per 100,000 versus 459). Latino men are incarcerated at more than double the rate of white men (1258 per 100,000). Similarly, African Americans constitute 13% of the total U.S. population, while accounting for 28% of all arrests; 86% of those “stopped and frisked” in New York were African American, and 88% of those individuals were innocent of any wrongdoing.
A significant variable is the drug war, which impacts people of color much more than whites due to practices like mandatory minimum prison sentences for relatively minor, non-violent crimes and disproportionately severe sentences for crack cocaine (used more in black communities) than powder (more prominent in white communities). And, again: African Americans are arrested for drug offenses at three times the rate of white men, despite comparable rates of drug usage. Scholars and activists have approached this state of affairs from a variety of viewpoints, aiming to understand the damage it does to individuals and their communities and how best to alleviate these burdens.
The status quo is increasingly unsustainable outside of these communities as well, particularly fiscally. Forty states annually spend more – usually a lot more – per capita to house an inmate than they do to educate a child, and since (as a general matter) incarceration spending is increasing and education spending decreasing, many states either are or soon will be spending more of their total revenues on prisons than schools and colleges. States are facing a crisis of overcrowded prisons; California has been ordered to reduce prison overcrowding by the federal judiciary.
The confluence of moral and financial considerations seems to be provoking, at the minimum, reconsideration of some of the policies that have led to this situation, particularly insofar as they relate to the drug war. For example, at the federal level, the Attorney General’s office has directed local offices to pursue fewer drug crimes with mandatory minimum sentences. Not all of these initiatives are designed to reduce incarceration, of course: here in North Carolina, recent legislative action repealed the Racial Justice Act, which had allowed death row inmates to reduce their sentences to life without parole if they could prove racial bias in the application of the death penalty. These sorts of policy initiatives underscore that the U.S. faces fundamental questions about what kind of society we live in when a higher percentage of our citizens are in prison than Cuba, Rwanda, or Russia.
For the fourth installment of its annual Feminism and Critical Race Theory series, the Center for Professional Applied Ethics sponsored a speaker series exploring the extraordinary rate of incarceration in the United States, and the gender, racial and class politics that accompany it. Our primary goal was to draw attention to, and renew conversation about, the incredible burden that high rates of imprisonment places on African American communities and on those who are caught in what Angela Davis dubbed the “prison industrial complex.” Speakers included Lisa Guenther (Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbit University) on "REACH Coalition: Reciprocal Education and Community Healing on Tennessee's Death Row" and "On Pain of Death: A Critical Phenomenology of Lethal Injection;" Dorothy Roberts (George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at the University of Pennsylvania) on "Prisons, Foster Care, and The Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers;" and Shannon Winnubst (Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Ohio State University) on "Queerly Ethical: Mass Incarceration, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Limits of Politics."