Friday, October 14, 2016

Not Okay

I stood in the elevator with a colleague. We exchanged pleasantries as the doors closed. Then he was behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist and pulling me against him. He was a big man, but I pushed him away. I said, disbelief squeezing my voice, “Why did you do that?”
“I had to.”
I told my supervisor. I was crying. I asked him if I had ever done anything to make someone believe it was okay to touch me without asking. He said, “You didn’t do anything. He was wrong.”
He reported it to senior management. Maybe someone spoke to the man because he never touched me again.
I was in my late twenties, a new mother. I knew it was wrong, but I thought he was a nice man, so I looked at myself instead of acknowledging he was terrible for thinking he could touch me just because he wanted to.
In college not just one, but two men, stalked me at different times. When I called the police to report the one who followed me in his car every morning as I walked to campus, repeatedly asking me to get in, they told me they could not do anything unless he touched me. There were no stalking laws then. I told the officer I would be sure to call back after they found my cold, dead body. Both men stopped stalking me after I pointed them out to Ronald and he threatened them. I still feel the anger of having to rely on him to feel safe instead of the men accepting my refusals.
Another time I was assigned to work on a class project with one of the football players.  He came to my dorm room. When he knocked on the door, I let him in my single room and left the door wide open. He turned around and closed it. I opened it again and told him my boyfriend was on his way over (Ronald WAS on his way. I asked him to come over because I knew it might not be safe), and he should leave the door open or I would report to the professor that I could not work on the project with him.
A director at the university library where Ronald and I were work-study students decided he did not like seeing us together (for new readers, Ronald is black. I am white. We have been together for forty-one years). He tried to fire Ronald and when that failed because the rest of us resigned, he tried to have me moved to a different department. Our supervisor told him off, especially after the director stated people had been complaining about us.  I could not believe he felt entitled to monitor, challenge and change my choices.
A professor was advising me on one of my student teaching lesson plans. He started calling me at my apartment and showing up at my work-study job. My roommates started screening calls and I changed my work schedule. One day he caught me on the stairs at the library and said, “Just have a drink with me. That’s all I ask.”
“I can’t.”
“Why?” he asked, stepping into my personal space.
“I just can’t.” I turned and ran down the stairs.
More than one white man, my father included, told me I could do better than dating Ronald. How many of them felt they were somehow missing out or that a black man had taken something that belonged to them?  Many acted as if they were concerned for my welfare, but I knew they were only concerned with their own wants and pleasures.
Other white men told me, because they saw me with a black man, that I was “easy.”
I reported a facilities problem at one job, but I didn’t know whom to contact, so I contacted the department head. The next day one of the facilities guys showed up at my office. He was enormous, about 6’5”, and he weighed well over 300 pounds. I am 5”2’ and on the tiny side. He leaned over me, his face just inches from mine, and yelled in his booming voice about how things would not get fixed because I had not gone through the right channels. I was terrified, but I looked him in the face, refusing to cower, and said, “It’s not that serious, Mike.”
After he left I went to the restroom and burst into tears.
One time a manager denied my request for personal time off to attend an event at my daughters’ school. As a manager myself, I told him it would not impact the operation of the department I managed, but he would not change his mind and suspected I did not think my job was a priority. I told him I would go to human resources and he said, “Go ahead,” like his word was the last one.
I reported him and told the personnel manager the company could not retain women managers in an environment that did not encourage work/life balance, where managers like the one I reported to judged a school event as not a valid reason to take time off. She said she would take care of it. Twenty minutes later my manager emailed me and said he had reconsidered, and I could take the personal time.
Another time he told me he could not picture me “fitting in” at the corporate office. I was not sure if he meant the way I looked, how I conducted business, or something else, but I knew it was a negative.
At another job the personnel manager shut his office door when I went in to ask him for more hours. He told me he would give me more hours, but I owed him. He leaned over the desk, loosening his tie. I raised my voice and asked him if he had ever heard anyone scream the word “rape.” He opened the door and, as I walked out, I said, “I don’t owe you anything.” He gave me more hours.
After he got transferred to another location, he stopped by my station to tell me I kept him honest. I told him, “I am your goddamned conscience.”
At a different job a manager, looking me up and down, said,  “You hair was longer in my dream last night.” Then he patted his lap and asked me to have a seat. Another day he reached out to touch the spot between my breasts and, when I slapped his hand away, he told me he was only going to touch my button to tell me he liked it.  I reported him. The executive said he would fire him – zero tolerance for sexual harassment – but I asked him not to. The man was on his third marriage and his new wife was pregnant. I felt sorry for her and asked the executive to tell him that another infraction would immediately be reported and then he would be terminated. I gave him a second chance.
A day later he asked if he could come to my desk and speak to me. He said I misunderstood him, that he liked to joke around, and he was sorry I took it the wrong way. Even at risk of losing his job, he was cavalier.  I told him I did not appreciate his brand of humor and that it had better not happen again.
Even at fifty-nine I still feel vulnerable when I am out and about alone. Sometimes I feel invisible, too, because there is a different way older women are treated and described, like the way Trump says Secretary Clinton has no stamina.
All the women who are coming forward and speaking publicly about their experiences with Trump as sexual predator brought these stories, and many more than I have space to tell, back to consciousness. I am angry. Angry for all the times men made me feel like a thing instead of a person and for all the times they felt entitled to make sexual comments, invade my personal space, or make judgments about my looks, sexuality, abilities, intelligence, and choices.
We not only taught our daughters about race and racism in America, we taught them about how society might treat them as girls and women. As they became  young teens and then left home at age seventeen to go to the dance conservatory, I told them the following:
1)                   Don’t play games with boys and men. Be clear about what is comfortable and what isn’t. Be clear if you don’t feel mutual attraction.
2)                   Don’t put drinks down at a party and leave them unattended. Don’t accept a drink from anyone, even friends.
3)                   Protect yourself from getting into a situation in which you don’t have control over the outcome.
4)                   Speak up no matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel.
5)                   You can tell me anything, and, although I may be upset or even angry, I will still support and love you.
6)                   Stay safe. Take a cab. Tell someone else where you are and whom you are with. Have someone go with you.
I only hope parents are teaching their sons how to treat girls and women as equals and with respect, not as sex objects or by shaming them about their bodies or sexuality. But I know, with the high rate of rape on college campuses, we have a long way to go.
Obviously no one taught Trump how to treat women. He does what he wants. He feels entitled. He said so. When Trump says the women who spoke out are liars and “you know me,” he is gaslighting his supporters.

But the women who are coming forward? They are courageous. They know their truth, and they are ready to speak it. Trump can’t gaslight them anymore, making them feel like they were mistaken or it was something they did or some personal failure or that they are too ugly or old to have held his attention -- "look at her." Nor can he gaslight the majority of the electorate who knows exactly who he is – a sexual predator. 
Don’t be silent.

Friday, September 23, 2016

America Broke My Spirit

I spend anxious days and view many people with suspicion. I cry. I can’t quiet my mind at night. I keep the news on almost 24/7.  I talk about these days on FaceBook to the discomfort of my FB friends. Both my daughters report crying and anxiety, too. My husband is agitated.
The two days I decided to shut the news off, bombs went off in NY/NJ and a black man was shot and killed in a police stop after his car broke down in Tulsa, OK.
One of the pilots in the helicopter circling over the scene said, “… looks like a bad dude. Might be on something.” But I didn’t see that. In the video taken from the helicopter, Terence Crutcher was walking slowly with his hands in the air. He did not appear dangerous. Nor did he have anything in his hands. Later police claimed he might have had PCP in his car, the usual criminalization and thugification of the victim. His twin sister Dr. Tiffany Crutcher said, “He didn’t have a chance to live.”
Crutcher, 40, did not deserve to die that day.
Then one day later in Charlotte, NC, police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, allegedly for carrying a gun. His family disputes this fact, and many witnesses came forward to say he spent each day reading in his car.  The police videos have not been released to the public as I write this. The family got to review them, and the attorneys representing them said the review just raised more questions.  Protests broke out, and when police arrived in riot gear, violence broke out. One person was shot and killed, not by a police officer, and neither his name nor the circumstances of the shooting were released.
North Carolina passed a law that will go into effect on October 1st. It will make it nearly impossible for the public to obtain access to police video. I believe the authorities are dragging their feet until the law goes into effect.
North Carolina, the state I live in, is an open carry state. People can wear a weapon to the grocery store, to restaurants, walking down the street, and sitting in their cars. How can anyone be shot for carrying a gun when it is perfectly legal? Easily. Just like the stand your ground law in Florida is for white people like George Zimmerman, open carry is for white people in NC and in other open carry states. America is for white people.
Two bits of positive news filtered through my veil of tears and anxiety: Officer Betty Shelby, the officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher, was charged with first degree manslaughter and protests in Charlotte, despite a call for a state of emergency and a midnight curfew, remained absolutely peaceful on the third evening, even after protesters kept on marching well past midnight.
North Carolina Congressman Robert Pittenger said of the protesters, “"The grievance in their mind is the animus, the anger. They hate white people because white people are successful and they're not."
I am so tired of people like Trump and others who call black Americans poor, uneducated, resentful, angry, lazy, needy, and criminal, any negative adjective will do in their minds. My family, my interracial family, is full of educated professionals. They own homes and cars and buy their own food and go on vacations. My black friends (and I don’t just have one for kicks) are educated professionals, too, though I have certainly known poor people in my life. I was one of them, growing up in a white suburb outside Albany, NY.
White people don’t know how offensive it is when someone assumes you are poor, uneducated, and criminal just because your skin is brown.  And it doesn’t matter where you live, what car you drive, what your profession is. If you have brown skin, America views you differently. This goes for white liberals, too, who believe all the magnanimous equality stuff in theory but quickly revert to stereotypes in practice.
Racial bias is rampant in America. It is hard to deny. My own neighbors chose a white supremacist over Ronald and me, and we have lived here for nine years. I was president of the HOA. I did good things for the neighborhood and Ronald keeps our yard and garden in tiptop shape. Yet, when forced to choose, because I asked them to, they chose the white supremacist, someone who represented the HOA in legal matters, not a neighbor. Most people did not even know his name. But the HOA officer, who refused to replace him, in spite of my protests and resignation, said the attorney was more than just a person who was paid to perform legal services, he was part of HOA, one of them, and not a single neighbor disputed that statement. Not us, though. We aren’t part of the neighborhood. We are interlopers. We are liberals who don’t understand Southern culture, white Southern culture, where white men are superior and everyone else is submissive. We are, as we have been told since moving down here, an abomination because we are guilty of race mixing. We live someplace they don’t think we belong. The sad thing is, black families don’t belong anywhere in America, because white people don’t want them.
Another neighbor who lives behind us, angry that my husband said they had directed their drainpipe on to our property, causing flooding, said, “You think everything bad happens to you because you are black. You are a dumbass.”
Ronald said, “Interesting that you are the one who brought that up and not me.”
Secretary Clinton was lambasted for calling half of Trump supporters a basket of deplorables. She was not far off, as she has a brilliant mind for numbers and statistics.
From an NPR story:
 a PRRI/Atlantic poll this spring found that Trump supporters are more likely than others to say that:
       The U.S. is becoming too soft and feminine (68 percent),
       It bothers them when they encounter immigrants who do not speak English (64 percent),
       The government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities (55 percent)
       Men and women should stick to more traditional gender roles and tasks (50 percent),
       Discrimination against women is no longer a problem (46 percent)
If anything Clinton may have been purposely underestimating the number.
The worst thing, the thing I keep replaying over and over in my head, is when a few HOA members told me I was wrong in saying the attorney was racist. They deemed he was not racist. My thoughts on the topic were not credible.
But here is a portion of a blog post from the national founder and president of the organization the attorney chairs in NC:
But [multiculturalism] is really not about ushering in equality among all races, religions, and cultures; rather, it is about destroying Western Christian civilization, the world's premier unmitigated evil. And because the South is the strongest enclave of this civilization, it finds itself square in the crosshairs of the MC crowd. Why do you think the Feds are not willing to lift a hand to stop our dispossession by a floodtide of illegal immigrants? It is the continuation of Reconstruction to the ultimate degree. We are being replaced as a people. 

Any attempt by Western man to defend himself and his civilization is called "racism," and is designed to paralyze him completely (even when no malice is shown toward any other group). This agenda points up the fact that the proponents of MC seek not fairness, justice, or equality but demonization and destruction of the white, Christian West. Only whites, and white Southerners in particular, are not allowed to have a country all their own. Asia for Asians, Africa for Africans, but no South for white Southerners! 

All indications point to the success of the MC agenda of paralyzing the West through guilt manipulation. Though we never had any sort of debate about whether we wanted to be a MC polity, it has been forced upon us anyway. Anyone who protests is silenced by the usual epithets. Even opposition to illegal immigration is enough to get you called a "racist" or a "xenophobe." If you don't believe me, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center's rants on the subject.
The xenophobic, racist right wants to get rid of political correctness, but they can’t stand to be called what they are, and that is white supremacists. My neighbors were quick to tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about. They were quick to blame my ignorance on “that liberal organization,” the Southern Poverty Law Center.  But, oh, don’t go calling them a basket of deplorables.
White supremacists are flocking to support Trump. They haven’t felt so emboldened since David Duke, once the grand wizard of the KKK, ran as a presidential candidate in 1988 – does anyone else even remember this? Today David Duke is running for a Senate seat.
Here is a snippet of an interview with Steve Innskeep of NPR:
[David Duke] was confident that Trump backers in Louisiana would support his Senate run.
"We've already polled inside the Trump voters, and we know that we're going to carry 75 to 80 percent of those who are going to vote for Trump," he said.
Steve asked, "You think Trump voters are your voters?"
"Well, of course they are!" Duke said. "Because I represent the ideas of preserving this country and the heritage of this country, and I think Trump represents that as well."
Black men get shot and killed if they are found in white neighborhoods, even when they live there, and they get shot and killed in predominately black neighborhoods. No place is home if you are black in America. No place is safe.
White people can’t imagine it. They get angry. Why do you keep talking about race? They blame president Obama for being the divisive one.  
Trump campaign chair Kathy Miller said, “If you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your own fault. You’ve had every opportunity, it was given to you,” and she also called Black Lives Matter “a stupid waste of time.”
Then she blamed it all on Obama, saying, “I don’t think there was any racism until Obama got elected. We never had problems like this ... Now, with the people with the guns, and shooting up neighborhoods, and not being responsible citizens, that’s a big change, and I think that’s the philosophy that Obama has perpetuated on America.”
She has since resigned her position, playing the scapegoat in a campaign rife with hatred and ignorance.
You can tell me she is just one person. But she is one of the deplorables and there are many more where she came from.
You know what hurts and outrages me the most? When family and friends choose white over acknowledging that what we experience is different than what they experience, and that it is dangerous and scary at times. I don’t need anyone to weigh in on how they perceive the situation. If you haven’t lived it, you have no idea.
I am sure some of my FaceBook friends wonder why I still talk about the HOA incident. Why am I still emotional and why haven’t I put to rest the whole issue because the attorney resigned and the other officers resigned? Why is it a fresh wound that won’t heal?
Because now I know how our neighbors feel about us.
As soon as the police pull over a black man in a traffic stop, he is already considered not one of them, “looking like a bad dude” just for having brown skin. That’s what racial bias does to one’s perception of an individual. Even when the police officer is black, as in the Charlotte shooting, racial bias plays a part. How can having a broken down car, a broken taillight, or maybe “fitting the description” which is oftentimes simply “black male,” turn so deadly, so quickly, and in so many stops?
Don’t tell me not to mourn. Don’t tell me my tears and anxiety are only hurting me. Don’t tell me things aren’t dire. Don’t tell me it only looks bad because the media is drawing attention to it.
Maybe my anger scares you. Your unwillingness to be outraged scares me.
I am not asking you to give away your sense of status and privilege as an American. I am only suggesting it should be available to every American.

You know what would be nice, though? Maybe saying what my friend on FB said to me last night when I was feeling pretty low. She said, “You're not alone. I can't fight your fight, but I can struggle along in my own way.” Thank you.

Footage just released by Scott family. His wife recorded it. She told the police he had traumatic brain injury. There is nothing on the ground by him, but then there is after an officer leans over. Release the police video.
9/24/2016 I had to wait a day to be able to say this because my anger and sorrow reached a terrible place while I watched the video Mrs. Scott took (over and over, I watched): how strong must a person be to record, hold herself still, put aside the terror raging inside her, engage calmly with the police, and watch the them murder her husband in cold blood? Why must she be that strong? Because in America, it is a must. The whole legacy of black American history is to not let them, the white man, break you.  I don't know if I could be that strong. But I know I have to think about it because I may have to one day unless we can stop the senseless murder of black men and women. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

#AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile

Note: I want to believe we, the American people, are better than police slaughtering people of color, the systematized racist solution to keeping white people in the majority and people of color powerless. How many of you feel fear every time your spouse leaves the house, because you are afraid he won't come home? That he will be stopped by the police and possibly killed? I do -- every single time he goes out the door and even when I go with him, because I know I cannot protect him. I watched that police officer who killed Philando Castile become completely unhinged, unfit for duty, and yet, he got to go home and Philando didn't. He died, sitting in his car, as his girlfriend and her four-year-old watched. The world has proven to me that my beliefs are naive and this post is naive. No justice. No peace.

Alton Castile

Philando Castile

I am immersed in this election campaign, debating and sharing mostly with my liberal friends – most of my conservative friends no longer speak to me, nor I to them. I never thought I would be that person. I always enjoyed having a diverse group of friends, friends who could never gather all together in one room at the same time. Then one day I got angry.
I am an optimist. If I didn’t have that trait, I might not have made it through my childhood with an alcoholic mother. I might not have made it through the years when the world thought our interracial marriage was wrong and took actions against us to prove it. I might not have picked up and moved from a somewhat comfortable place to a new place with a new culture – from North to South. From a place where immigrants are common to a place that takes pride in its generations-long heritage, no matter how violent, oppressive, exclusionary, and divided it was.
My optimism keeps me going.
But on the 4th of July, I lost my optimism.
I am in mourning for so many senseless, violent, terrorist acts, and the lives they took, being perpetrated across the world in Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul, Dahka, and Baghdad. I am holding my breath, anticipating the next tragedy.
In the United States a vile, negative presidential campaign is building up to the conventions taking place this month. It is a cult of personality: a clash between reality and reality TV; between the truth of progress and the lies of racism, hatred, misogyny, fear, and illusion; and between two different visions of America’s past, present, and future.
Daily I feel assaulted by the Trump campaign messages and the comments of his supporters. No political correctness on their parts, just plain discriminatory and hateful messages. Yet they come with the self-righteousness of disenfranchised, mostly white people who are impacted by a rigged system – a system rigged in favor of white, wealthy people and against everyone else, although there is a hierarchy of the disenfranchised with white males on top and women, people of color, and LGBT people at the bottom. Unfortunately, these same individuals are supporting the very person who epitomizes the unfairness of the system.
Then today I heard about a shooting in Baton Rouge. The alleged suspect Alton Sterling was pinned to the ground by two police officers when one of the officers pulled his gun and shot him in the chest six times, execution style. Alton Sterling was 37 years old. He was the father of five.  They had already tasered him, and after they shot and killed him, they pulled a gun from his pants pocket. I watched the mother of his oldest son speak to the media at a press conference called by the local NAACP, religious leaders, and elected city officials. I watched his fifteen-year-old son cry unabashedly in front of the cameras – a child full of despair, who lost his father and has the video of his execution burned into his brain. A child who is no safer on the street than his father was.
Where is my optimism now? It is crushed beneath the weight of Jim Crow.
How is it that some people can support Trump as a candidate and a military-style, vigilante-style police presence in predominately ethnic minority communities? Racism is alive and well.  Jim Crow is thriving. Individuals unaffected by racism pretend it doesn’t exist. Yet their subconscious racial bias supports systemic racism. Oftentimes they blame the targeted group, people of color, as being somehow unfit and unworthy of equal treatment.
This case has been turned over to the FBI and the Federal Department of Justice for a thorough investigation. However, the burden of proof is so strict in these violent and murderous police stops that very few are prosecuted. It seems a fruitless endeavor. Strange fruit, no longer hanging from trees, but lying on concrete, bodies, often left uncovered, surrounded by police tape, growing stiff, families and communities left behind to mourn: all to warn people of color what will happen to them if they forget their marginalized status in society.
I still want to feel that small kernel of hope in my heart. Strange, right? Yet I want to believe humanity will understand inequality, discrimination, and supremacy and want to stop them, because it is the right thing to do.
I felt it after crying my way through Free State of Jones, which we saw on Independence Day, the same day I suffered the loss of optimism. The truth is human beings are complex, feelings are complex, and we often have conflicting feelings about the world around us.
The film is about Newt Knight, a white Southerner who deserted the Confederate army because he believed it was a rich man’s war, fought by poor men. He also assisted the Union army, embraced slaves as his equals, and raised an American flag at the courthouse of the Jones County Seat in Mississippi, one of the most historically racist states in our country.
After watching Alton Sterling die over and over on the news, I started researching Newt Knight on the internet and found this article from Simthsonian Magazine. It parses out the true story from the poetic license of the movie and talks about the process writer and director Gary Ross (Hunger Games) went through to make the film.
Joseph Hosey, a forester in Jones County, and an extra on the film Free State of Jones said, when interviewed for the article, “When you grow up in the South, you hear all the time about your ‘heritage,’ like it’s the greatest thing there is. When I hear that word, I think of grits and sweet tea, but mostly I think about slavery and racism, and it pains me. Newt Knight gives me something in my heritage, as a white Southerner, that I can feel proud about. We didn’t all go along with it.”
Many other community members of Jones County consider Newt Knight “what we call trailer trash.”
John Cox, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans went on to say, “I wouldn’t have him in my house. And like all poor, white, ignorant trash, he was in it for himself. Some people are far too enamored of the idea that he was Martin Luther King, and these are the same people who believe the War Between the States was about slavery, when nothing could be further from the truth.”
I find it interesting when wealthy white people claim that it is poor people who are crafty and unreliable with the truth. Trump exhibits that same distinction every time he steps up to the podium and spins his version of America.
Reading the article on Newt Knight lit the coal of my optimism again. It isn’t because the history of Jones County and Newt Knight is clear and simple. It is because his story reveals our country’s complex history and who we are as a people, inclusive of all Americans, not just some.
Newt Knight, his life story, and the story of his mixed-race descendants, remind me that there are people who can move beyond systemic racism, the craziness of segregation, and self-righteous superiority.
There are people who think as I do and feel as I do. They are the ones who refuse to turn a blind eye, who refuse to accept an unfair system based on skin color, and who refuse to be silent. They understand the country and its relationship with race are complex, but they don’t give up. They are quietly heroic, and sometimes loudly and violently opposed to the directions our country took, and continues to take, throughout our history. They tell the stories of race in our country even when Hollywood can’t believe anyone would be interested and there may be no money made from making the film. 
Together we can challenge those who refuse to see the truth of our country and who will not acknowledge the systemic racism that ensures continued white supremacy and privilege and makes life dangerous and deadly for people like Alton Sterling. We can challenge Trump and the ignorance he is peddling like a carnie peddling snake oil.
Newt Knight continued to be a true rebel even after death. He asked to be buried next to Rachel his black common-law wife (he never divorced his first wife, and mixed race marriage was illegal) who was his grandfather’s slave and with whom he fathered five children. It was illegal for whites and blacks to be buried side-by-side in Mississippi, but his family refused to bend, and he was buried next to the woman he loved for eternity.
His gravestone tells the story of his life and legacy: “He lived for others.” May each of us one day be able to claim that truth.
#HandsUp; #Don’tShoot; #BlackLivesMatter; #AltonSterling; #Morethan500; #Don’tBeSilent

Newt Knight 
Note: Another fatal police shooting in MN overnight (7/7/2016). Philando Castile, 34, stopped for a broken taillight  and asked to get his license and registration, was shot as he retrieved them. Jim Crow lives. People of color die. Don't be silent. #PhilandoCastile

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Greatest is Dead

Muhammad Ali died this week.  His death represented a watershed moment personally and for our country and the world. He was one of the movers and shakers of the era in which I grew up. His life affected my life, my thinking and my understanding of race in America.
I was the child of an Italian-American father who only learned English when he went to school and a mother who was a WWII war bride of Irish descent from Australia. We were solidly trapped in the class of the working poor since neither of my parents graduated high school. The concept of white middleclass America was fuzzy in my child’s eyes.
Clearer was the circumstance of my father’s best friend Harold who, like Ali, was the grandson of slaves. I understood his concern when he told us to stay behind at the house while he walked down to the grocery store to pick up rolls for our dinner. He did not want to cause us trouble, but I know my dad respected his request because he did not want to cause Harold trouble in his mostly white rural community where he moved after retirement into the house his grandmother left him and my father was helping him renovate.
I watched boxing from an early age with my dad. It’s one of the few things I shared with him. He watched boxing by throwing punches at the TV, jumping up and down out of his chair, pacing, yelling, and clapping. I adopted his raucous spectatorship and still watch boxing with my husband Ronald. Ronald, who has always been protective of me, has repeatedly said I would not like watching boxing live in the arena. He said you hear the punches and see sweat and blood fly. I agree with him. Often one of the things I am yelling at the screen is for the referee to stop the fight.
I remember watching Ali fight, when he was Cassius Clay and when he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. I heard adults talking about his name change and then again when he registered as a conscientious objector during the Viet Nam War.  He was stripped of his title and his license was suspended. People were angry with him. When he returned to boxing three years later after the Supreme Court reversed his conviction, some wanted to watch his fights in the hope that he would lose. But he disappointed them by winning.
He kept speaking up on the right side of history; although few people understood what side of history he was on and what side they were on. Maybe he wasn’t thinking that at the time. Most people don’t wake up one day and say, “I’m choosing the right side of history. I’m going to change the world.” They simply respond to the situations presented to them, and, after the fact, the historians and pundits decide who changed what and who had the most influence.
I wonder which people will be considered the movers and shakers of these times? Certainly President Obama will be chosen. Maybe Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be looked upon the same way in the future as the first presumptive female presidential nominee and maybe as the first female president.
Trump, on the other hand, is clearly on the wrong side of history. He promotes racism, hatred, prejudice, violence, selfishness, and narcissism. His supporters followed him to the wrong side, claiming political correctness was dead.
Of course, there is political correctness and then there is blatant racism and discrimination. Trump supporters were really choosing the latter, and I do not think they chose it mistakenly. Trump said of Judge Curiel, “I’m building the wall, I’m building the wall. I have a Mexican judge. He’s of Mexican heritage. He should have recused himself, not only for that, for other things.”
Within the same week he said at a rally, while pointing to a black man in the crowd (someone who said he was not a supporter), “Oh, look at my African-American over here. Look at him. Are you the greatest?"
The GOP establishment is now walking an unknown path: the way to preserving the GOP while distancing the party from an avowed racist.  What a treacherous journey they have ahead of them, particularly because they have relied on racists as supporters since Nixon’s Southern Strategy.
One day, sometime after Ali retired, white Americans declared him a hero. He had become a shadow of his former self, his body holding his mind hostage. They forgot he was physically powerful and dominated his opponents in the ring. They forgot they cheered for the other boxers to beat him. They forgot how he spoke out against racism and white supremacy.  They forgot he was a black nationalist. They forgot how they hated him for converting to Islam and changing his name from a slave name to a name with spiritual meaning and identity. President GW Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom.
Maybe, as I’ve often heard, our memories grow sweeter with the passage of time.  Me? I always thought Muhammad Ali was an amazing and intelligent athlete, who sometimes let his ego choose his fighting strategy, and he was a person who was courageous enough to tell his truth no matter how people reacted.
Sometime during this election campaign and the deaths of several icons of my era (Ali, Prince, Bowie and others), I lost my mind and all understanding of the world. Maybe I never understood it in the first place.
I watched Trump turn the campaign into the art of the deal, playing the role of the modern PT Barnum who once said, “There's a sucker born every minute,” and “Money is in some respects life's fire: it is a very excellent servant, but a terrible master.”
I watched millions of first time voters “feel the Bern” and heard one say that if Bernie Sanders did not become the Democratic nominee, she refused to vote for the lesser of two evils (Hillary Clinton) because it was unfair to make her vote for a candidate who was not her first choice. I wondered as I listened when they would reinstitute civics classes in high school and teach about personal sacrifice for the greater good. I wondered if Bernie would choose the right side of history and concede, perhaps this evening at the close of the polls.
Then last night the AP and NBC projected Secretary of State Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee. I rushed to change my Face book profile photo from a glum, cranky pants expression to one of absolute glee. I am elated we reached this historic moment in our country, 36 years after Iceland elected their first female president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, and 50 years after Indira Gandhi was elected the first female prime minister of India, serving until she was assassinated in 1984. It feels similar to my excitement in 2008 when President Obama clinched the nomination and then won the election. As a woman, a spouse in an interracial relationship, and the mother of biracial daughters, these moments are tangible.
Perhaps if Trump supporters could tell the truth about how scared they are in a world in which they feel irrelevant and disenfranchised, we can begin to heal this country. We can assure them they and we are all Americans and that we have more in common than they believe. We can promise them no one is going to take away their way of life or their guns or their religion or their safety in public bathrooms; we simply want equality and the ability to live our lives and our truths, too.
Telling the truth is something all of us need to do more often, even at the risk of others not accepting you or it.

Mohammad Ali knew that. He lived it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Prince Died

I wanna be your lover
I wanna be the only one that makes you come running
~ Prince Rogers Nelson

Prince died, and I’m having a hard time accepting it. As I write this I am watching a Lethal Weapon marathon on AMC, eyes tearing up during movies that are sparse on sentimentality and big on guy humor, exploding cars, flying punches, and a rain of bullets.
I’ve watched hours of Prince tributes and read hundreds of FB reminiscences, but now I need space to digest this disconcerting news.
My emotions are twisted. First Michael passed in 2009. Then I woke up one day and Bowie was gone, and soon after Prince followed him. Their passing feels like the end of the Baby Boomers’ generational era. Saying their music was the soundtrack of our generation sounds cliché but it is true. And yet I understand it is the soundtrack of many generations. We can’t claim them just because they were Boomers like us.
My college days at Syracuse University put me on a path filled with music. After all, Ronald was a visual art and music student. Every Friday on work-study payday, we wandered over to Spectrum Records to buy a few albums. Ronald introduced me to music genres and musicians I didn’t know existed because I had been a top 40/movie soundtrack kind of girl before I met him in January 1976 of our freshman year. If we weren’t listening to our new albums on the stereo, I listened to him practice marimba in the basement of Crouse College, or sat in on one of his R&B band’s rehearsals, or I was in the audience watching his band play at the Jabberwocky, the college nightclub.
One of our first dates was a trip to SUNY Cortland to see Tower of Power.
I remember making love after classes in my dorm room to one of our favorite songs, Afternoon Delight by the Starland Vocal Band, number one on the pop chart in July 1976. Afterwards, spooned and turning in unison in my tiny dorm bed, the stereo playing on, we talked about our childhoods and all the things we loved about one another. It is something we still do today in a bed with plenty of room to spread out.
I can’t talk about our college years without talking about art. Ronald, his love strong and his visual aesthetic appreciative, captured my likeness in photos, acrylic, and plaster. As much as music marked our years together, his artistry captured our enduring love.
The following excerpts are from my unpublished memoir Shades of Tolerance:
Some evenings we walked down to the Con Can building where his sculpture studio was so he could work on his projects and I could read while he worked. His space was clean, swept free of plaster dust, and all his supplies fit in a neat locker. Once he took a plaster mold of my face, two short straws in my nostrils. My breath came in hollow pants, the warm plaster tingling against my skin as it tightened and dried, but he calmed me by telling me more stories as his long fingers engulfed my hands that lay crossed over my diaphragm. Then he took a plaster mold of my breasts. We laughed but I tried not to laugh too hard so the plaster wouldn’t crack, and he got serious because he didn’t want to mix up any more.
The school year soon ended, and Dad was on his way to pick me up along with my belongings to take back to Albany for the summer. The evening before Dad’s arrival, Ronald took me over to Crouse College – a huge castle of a building that housed the School of Music – where he practiced piano and marimba.
Up in the balcony of the performance space where the large organ sits center stage, we made love to the sound of melancholy chords wheezing from gargantuan pipes, an anonymous serenade made by an unknowing student, vibrating deep in our chests and amplifying my orgasm. Ronald breathed a warm, moist “I love you” into my ear, and my heart quivered. Afterward we lay in each other’s arms on the cold tile floor beneath the seats, my body shivering and pulsing, shadows tracing my pleasure, tears tracking down my cheeks in anticipation of my departure, and our lips brushing occasional kisses.

It was the disco era, and some of the music was mindless, but there was so much good music out there, too, destined to be timeless.
Prince was one of the musicians making good, timeless music. He was one of our peers, born a Gemini like me, just one year later.
His second album Prince was released in 1979, the year we graduated from college.
I hear I Wanna Be Your Lover and I remember how absolutely in love we were, committed to building our lives together no matter what other people thought about us, rebels against social convention, in the same way Prince rebelled against gender stereotyping and the music industry.
I loved his picture on the Prince album cover, androgynous, ethnically ambiguous, intense, and sexy as hell.
I played I Wanna Be Your Lover so often on our stereo, the track wore out. I remember driving my used, 1977 robin-egg-blue Ford Aspen 85 mph on 690 West to my teaching job, hoping the radio would play Prince’s song, and when it finally did, my head bobbed in rhythm to his funk fusion sound, and my heart swooned. Maybe some perceived the song as purely sexual, but not this romantic. I long for the days when love songs were achingly emotional yearning and not the graphic requests for casual sexual favors found in some popular music of today.
We spent sleepless nights in the mid-80s, wide awake and feeding hungry infants to the sound of the latest MTV music videos, too tired to party like it was 1999.
Prince’s music continued to define our generation right up until his death. His music never lost its longing and sensuality for me, just as Ronald’s and my love hasn’t waned but grown even deeper.
I appreciate the times Ronald sits behind his drum kit or when he picks up his bass guitar to knock out a few riffs. His look, a kind of intense meditation, let’s me know music is as integral as air to him. I believe that was true of Prince and many artists of our generation.
We still listen to music together, going to concerts or driving I-81 from North Carolina to New York and back again. Ronald’s iPod now contains his entire CD music library (a feat only achieved with the newest, largest device on the market that boasts it can hold 35,000 songs; we have yet to transfer his vinyl library). We sing and reminisce about what those songs mean to us, and we often meander back to our college days when love was both free and precious.
I realize, as sad as it is that Prince is no longer with us, it isn’t Prince, the person, I am mourning. I didn’t know him personally. I never spoke to him or partied with him or even shared a space like a concert hall with him. I am mourning the times and memories his music represents: the great times, the romantic times, the fun times, the sexy times, the rebellious times, and the inevitable low times, those times when doves cry, when the realization hits that life, and everything and everyone in it, is ephemeral.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

~ Prince Rogers Nelson

Ronald in a photo taken by one of his college professors. Me in one of the many photos Ronald took of me in college.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Angry White People, Part II

The GOP campaign is getting ugly and violent. Donald Trump refuses to take responsibility, but he is responsible. He is responsible for using people’s fears and anger to incite them. He is responsible for using their hatred to ramp up their fervor.
There is no hiding it anymore. Our country is divided and both sides are angry, but only one side is fearful and that makes them dangerous.
I am not sure what makes them afraid. I have my theories and they have to do with race, privilege, and disenfranchisement.  What I do know is that protesters are being ousted from Trump rallies for exercising their First Amendment Rights. And Trump supporters, emboldened by Trump’s urging, are getting violent. One sucker punched a protestor in Fayetteville, NC. That supporter faced charges, but not until the video of the incident went viral. Later in an interview he said, "The next time we see him, we might have to kill him."
Mob mentality is a frightening occurrence. Suddenly people are no longer individuals, they are part of a happening, complicit in groupthink, and they feel a heightened sense of power. This sense of empowerment causes them to lose inhibition. It may cause them to be violent. Recall the lynch mobs in the Jim Crow South before the Civil Rights movement.
Ronald and I watched the canceled Trump rally last night, and I was terrified someone would be injured or killed. I saw Confederate flag symbols and the American flag draped over people’s shoulders. They pushed their faces in the faces of the protesters and some took swings. Protesters fought back. Chaos ensued.
Ronald explained how difficult it is to disperse a crowd like that. As a retired fire lieutenant, he received riot training.
I worried more as thousands were turned out into the streets.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.
Trump, of course, refused to take responsibility. Instead he has painted himself as the leader who took precautions so no one would get hurt.
But he is lying.
He did not speak to law enforcement as he claimed when speaking to Chris Matthews. In fact it is now believed his campaign advisors purposely chose inner Chicago on a liberal, diverse college campus hoping to create the very scene we witnessed.
He is using the ignorance, fear, and hatred of his supporters to lead them toward him and his authoritarian approach to leadership. “I make the best deals,” he tells them, along with making digs about the protestors, “Go get a job!”
Why is he assuming the protesters have no jobs, when thousands of his supporters are also attending the rallies? He isn’t. He knows it is coded language that incites his supporters. He is calculating, manipulative, and unapologetic, like when he said he used the bankruptcy laws to his advantage because he could or when he said, “In the old days, they’d [protesters] be carried out on a stretcher.”
I am watching another Trump rally about to begin in Cleveland. Already I see the incendiary signs, and they aren't being carried by protesters.

This is a photo from the Chicago rally
Rubio and Kasich are backing away from supporting Trump if he becomes the candidate.  Rubio was visibly upset when questioned about last night’s rally.  Cruz still claims he will support whoever the candidate is.
They lost all respect from me (not that Cruz ever had my respect) when they bowed their heads as if in shame and said at the last GOP debate they would support Trump if he became the GOP candidate.
Bad enough Chris Christie endorsed Trump in an obvious move to climb on the train to some type of cabinet position, but then Ben Carson climbed on – the black evangelical – suddenly supporting hatred against his own people. What has this country come to?
Why is seeking equality in our country so reviled by the extreme right? Because they still believe in white supremacy. Because they still believe this country is a country of, for, and by white people and that people of color are interlopers, even those whose families have been in this country for centuries. They blame President Obama and Secretary Clinton for all the ills of the country. They are uninformed and delusional, and Donald Trump is using their ignorance and delusion to rise to power.
I thought he was a joke months ago. I, like so much of the media, thought he would crash and burn well before the Iowa caucuses. We underestimated him. This is one more deal he is working to close, and he isn’t afraid to use an unfair advantage, his supporters’ fear, anger, and hatred, to close it.
Donald Trump is dangerous, and now his supporters are dangerous, too. Just as Germans flocked to the side of Hitler, just as they believed the Jews were the reason for the country’s ills, so have Trump’s supporters flocked to him and laid blame on anyone who doesn’t look or think as they do.
Trump is up on stage in Cleveland. He is saying “professional protesters” stopped the rally goers in Chicago from exercising their First Amendment Rights. He takes the truth and twists it to his advantage.
We need to make sure Trump doesn’t even get a sniff at the presidency.  The presidency carries critical responsibility as the leader of the USA and the free world.

Get out and vote.
After Note: At Trump's rally this evening in Kansas City, he upped his rhetoric about protesters. He called Thomas Dimassimo, the protester who rushed the stage at the Dayton rally, ISIS-related (he is a 22 year-old college student from GA). He called for protesters at the KC rally to be arrested as he yelled, "Get them out." He threatened to ruin their lives. He is maligning protesters as un-American. Very dangerous, incendiary rhetoric.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Angry White People

No one wants to talk about race or racism these days, and yet everyone does. Sometimes it is subtle, as when someone uses coded language, like how the country is changing. Other times, it is blatant like the birther movement against President Obama or when David Duke came out in support of Trump. He told his followers that not voting for Trump “is basically treason to your heritage.”
Duke claims he did not endorse Trump, and Trump claims he doesn’t know who David Duke is. For those who don’t know, Duke was the grand wizard of the KKK and later a one-term Louisiana state representative.
All the white supremacist groups are supporting Trump including the League of the South, the organization I had a brush with and wrote about in my post “Reconstructing the South.”
Watch this video of neo-confederates protesting ethnic cleansing of… wait for it… white Americans. Listen to how the protestors place their hopes on Trump to bring their issues to the national stage. White supremacists love Trump.
Trump, famous for his brashness, mega-ego, and risky business deals, is working on closing his next big deal: being elected the leader of the free world.
He sidestepped questions about supremacist support, because their support is another step toward that end.
He also quoted Mussolini in a tweet: “Better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” When questioned by MSNBC commentator Chuck Todd, about whether he wanted to be associated with a fascist, Trump responded, “No, I want to be associated with interesting quotes and people.”
When Mussolini and Duke are those people, one has to wonder how low he will go, but just look to his supporters to find the answer.
They are tired of being politically correct, and they dream of deporting immigrants, excluding people of color and Muslims, legislating women’s reproductive rights, keeping gay couples from marrying, and living in a country of only white Christians.
In the meantime Trump initially refused to disavow David Duke and his supremacist ideas. The GOP establishment is livid. A few have spoken publicly about voting for Hillary Clinton if Trump becomes their candidate. Yet they used racism as a political recruiting tool since Nixon. But this blatant show, this naked truth, is too much to bear.
Violence is another of Trump’s tools to rile his base. In a rally in South Carolina Time Magazine photographer Chris Morris was choked and slammed onto a table by a secret service agent for stepping outside the media pen. There are very strict rules concerning the media at Trump campaign events, because Trump wants to control media access to his base and rally attendees. It isn’t the first time someone was attacked at a rally and one can be certain it won’t be the last.
Violence is something else his base craves. They have attacked Black Lives Matter protesters and Muslims who attended rallies. Their fervor is palpable.

This past weekend we saw the film Race about Jesse Owens and the four gold medals he won at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. I love seeing movies like this one that document our history, our true history, but they always leave me teary and depressed. The promise of reaping a rewarding career based on being a national hero never seems to materialize for athletes of color who rose to athletic prominence before the Civil Rights movement.
President Roosevelt never invited Owens to the White House after the Olympics and the dinner at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City to honor his feat of winning four Olympic gold medals was diminished because he was not allowed to enter the hotel through the front door. He and his wife had to ride the service elevator.
So anything that Nazi Germany believed about Aryan supremacy was mirrored at home, and was perhaps even worse, because in Germany Owens and his black teammate Mack Robinson (Jackie Robinson’s older brother), who won a silver medal, were allowed to room at the Olympic living quarters with the other athletes.
Sadly, Jesse Owens struggled to make a living after becoming a national hero. The film said Ohio State, his alma mater, gave him a job as a janitor after he graduated. That is not a fact repeated on his Wikipedia page, but in this case, I tend to believe the film because his daughters were consulted on the making of it.
Did Ohio State believe they were doing right by offering him a menial job on the campus his athletic feats brought to the world stage?
When I hear Donald Trump denying any knowledge of who David Duke is (he finally disavowed him), I feel anger and sadness, because our country has changed so little since 1936. Civil Rights never reached the true spirit of the law. Systemic racism still exists because a large portion of America has amnesia, denial of, or fervor for the different experiences of race in our country – the white experience and the experience of people of color.
I hoped Trump’s numbers would drop when he skirted the David Duke association in interviews and acted as if he did not hear the words “KKK” and “Ku Klux Klan” in a phone interview this past Sunday. His numbers remain strong. In fact they have risen nationally.
Even more people now believe he speaks to their fears and concerns.
The GOP establishment is freaking out. How to stop him? But they created him.  They resuscitated Jim Crow and now they are paying the price. They should lose this election, soundly, for tapping into hatred against President Obama; for feeding the growth of the Tea Party; for speaking out against immigrants and Muslims and women and LGBT individuals; for pushing for deregulation and corporate welfare. They turned against humanity and this is the result: irrational anger, hatred, violence, racism, and discrimination.
I’m disgusted with the lowbrow attacks the GOP candidates are waging against one another using middle school sexual innuendo and name calling. But what do they have left when their base is angry, white, ignorant, and hateful?
Until we take responsibility and hold our country accountable for its history and the legacy it has left us, nothing will change and the hatred and discrimination targeted at minorities will grow wildly and dangerously as it did in Nazi Germany so many years ago.

What will angry white Americans think after they elect Donald Trump (or Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio) and he enacts everything he has threatened: building the wall, shutting down legal immigration of Muslims, letting even more guns into society? Will they still believe he is the answer to all their ills? Or will they regret electing the one person willing to act on their hatred and anger?

Jesse Owens, 1936 Olympics