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  

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Ugly American

I first remember hearing this phrase when I was in my teens, back in the 1970s. Originally it was the title of a novel published in 1958 and a film released in 1963, starring Marlon Brando. According to Wiki, The Ugly American “depicts the failures of the US diplomatic corps, whose insensitivity to local language, culture and customs and refusal to integrate was in marked contrast to the polished abilities of East bloc diplomacy and led to Communist diplomatic success overseas.”
The term is apropos in today’s social and political contexts.
When I see the hatred and vitriol spewed from the likes of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorini, my stomach turns. Worse is the rabid applause and cheers from their supporters. Trump’s supporters attacked a Black Lives Matter protester at an Alabama campaign stop.
But it doesn’t stop there.  Hatred and fear ooze like toxic waste over the landscape of our country. It is overwhelming but it is also deadly and violent.
My husband Ronald and I went to see the movie Trumbo. For those who don’t know who Dalton Trumbo was, he was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood, that is, until the House Un-American Activities Committee charged him with being a Communist.
It was a dark time in our history. The Cold War was raging, and America became paranoid. That meant people who did not share the very narrow definition of patriotism were subjected to investigation and possible prison sentences. Trumbo was one of many who served a sentence. Many of the accused weren’t Hollywood royalty but regular folk like teachers and firefighters. Some lost their careers, their homes, their families, and even their lives.
The House Un-American Activities Committee conducted these investigations from 1938 – 1975. Neighbors turned in neighbors, friends turned in friends, and many people believed that doing so protected the freedoms we so often take for granted in this country.
But the opposite occurred, because our First Amendment Right that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion was under attack.
Trumbo said, “Democracy means that people can say what they want to. All the people. It means that they can vote as they wish. All the people. It means that they can worship God in any way they feel right, and that includes Christians and Jews and voodoo doctors as well.”
Today we are dangerously close to repeating history. Some GOP candidates have called for the shutting down of Mosques and even internment of all Muslims. Today Donald Trump announced his new proposal that would prevent ALL Muslims from entering this country, even American citizens who travel outside the country.
One of his supporters, standing in line to watch Trump speak in Mount Pleasant, NC, said of Muslim Americans, ”Ship them all out.”
Historically, we have done this before.  We interred Japanese Americans during WWII, some of whom had been Americans for generations. Jim Crow systematically segregated and contained black Americans through socio-economic oppression and meted out violent and deadly retribution on those who did not comply. The Trail of Tears, the forced migration of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations from their ancestral lands in the Southeast to Oklahoma, led to thousands of Native Americans perishing during the arduous journey.
It’s important to remember that every new wave of immigration in our country caused paranoia and fear. Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants were all considered dangerous to “the American way of life.”
What is the “American way of life” if it does not include the diversity of our citizens and a mainstream culture that is the melange of multicultural and sub-cultural contributions?
We are not a white country. We are not a Christian country. We are a country that is predominately of Euro-ethnic heritage, the majority of which are Christian, but that does not represent all of us.
Whenever a whole group of individuals is demonized we are hurting our country and our citizens. In this case, because many people refuse to be inclusive and, instead, feed their own paranoia and fear, we are letting extreme Islamic terrorists win. They count on irrational responses, and there are many Americans who are more than willing to comply.
In addition such hatred, fear, and paranoia feed the virulent hate of a growing group of radicalized white citizens who perpetrate their own terrorist acts against other Americans, such as the murder of nine black worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and the murder of three and injury of nine at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. America is amnesic on these terrorist acts because the San Bernardino terrorist act better fits a narrative that includes arming more citizens rather than passing common sense gun control and blaming one group of people for terror in our country.
The ugly Americans: people applauding the murders of unarmed black men; turning their backs on Syrian refugees who are fleeing unimaginable circumstances; shouting their hatred of fellow Americans who choose to worship or not worship in ways that are not congruent with fundamental Christianity.
What’s worse is the hatred directed toward President Obama at this time when we should be standing united behind him. How dare Donald Trump, or any of the other candidates, think he can out strategize the President when he doesn’t have access to the information the President has nor the large number of experts advising him.
I can’t see how that will help us stay safe, especially when we don’t share the same definition of what it means to be safe. There is a sector of America who believes safety lies in removing everyone who doesn’t fit the narrow and untrue definition of American – white and Christian, in whatever manner it takes to get rid of them.
How can we discover who the radicals are when we are busy damning whole groups of people, most of whom are innocent?
President Obama said, “When we travel down that road [of discrimination] we lose.”

Albert Einstein once said,  “Insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results.” We are dangerously close to repeating history and the outcome won’t be different.
The Ugly American 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reconstructing the South

I don’t know what to think anymore. When racism, homophobia, and misogyny are openly expressed, I feel like the world tipped, and I can’t gain my footing or think straight. When it visits my life so closely I can touch it, I become unhinged.
A few weeks ago I discovered the attorney who represents my Homeowners Association (HOA) is a prominent member of a noted neo- Confederate hate group, League of the South (LOS).  Their logo is a black cross on a white field. The white field represents white purity and the black cross represents never surrendering to the government. They are against integration, interracial marriage, and equality. They promote secession from the United States.
In their write-up of the LOS, the Southern Poverty Law Center described the hate group, formed in 1994, this way: “The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans.” The “godly” nation envisioned by the League should be run by an “Anglo-Celtic” (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities. “
They also believe, as the lawyer representing my HOA said in a video blog,
It simply cannot be honestly disputed that we are under threat from all sides today. Whether it is the media; the Federal government; the state governments, which falsely claim to represent us; or organized agitators – all are arrayed against us and are intent on our destruction as a distinct people. There are influential individuals in the media and in government calling for expressions of our heritage to be a crime. There are some who even call for ethnic cleansing of the South through numerically overwhelming our people at the ballot box by hostile immigrants from other parts of the United States or from the third world. This is nothing other than colonization and ultimately genocide. It may be a soft genocide but it is genocide nonetheless. Our people will be erased through deliberate government policy.
Apparently, even though North Carolina is in the top ten ranked states experiencing population growth, there are certain Southerners who do not want transplants, Northerners like us, or especially interracially married people like us (for first time readers, I am white and my husband is black), to relocate to their state.
The president and founder of the LOS, Michael Hill, recently gave a keynote address at a conference in August 2015 and spoke about letting the liberals assist him in radicalizing Southerners. He said they made his job easier.
I find his words incredibly unsettling.
As the president of the HOA, I don’t care to have the chair of the NC chapter of the LOS conduct legal business on our behalf. I don’t see that he can objectively serve all the neighbors in our development since quite a few of us are people of color and Northern transplants. I also don’t want my dues supporting his hateful rhetoric, which motivates, radicalizes, and incites people to violence.
My fellow board members disagree. They feel he simply has strong opinions. They like him.
We have exactly the same information and yet we disagree. The other officers offered that they share a Southern heritage of which they are proud. I told them my in-laws have a Southern heritage, too.  They were silent, because surely they recognized that the Southern heritage my in-laws experienced included exclusion, violence, socio-economic oppression, and Jim Crow. Or maybe they feel like many outspoken Neo-Confederates who think Southern heritage is only white Southern heritage. Maybe they feel that the experience of black Southerners doesn’t count.
I offered to resign. They asked me if they could do more research first. I felt they were dragging out the inevitable.
Sometimes I just can’t understand how anyone can uphold segregation and exclusion and feel perfectly fine about it.  Or how anyone can scream about radicalized Muslims and be silent about radicalized racists.
In fact, during our discussion one of the officers brought up gay marriage and Kim Davis. He said that even though he agreed with Kim Davis on the definition of marriage, he felt she had a civic duty to perform the work. He felt our attorney, even with his beliefs, was still fulfilling his duty to us.  The other officer chimed in that she didn’t agree with gay marriage either and told a story about how the department she managed during her career had many gay employees and there was nothing she could do about it because she would have lost her job.
If there had been no threat of termination, what would she have felt right doing to the gay employees under her management?
It is not just a strong opinion when you have power over another group’s ability to live, work, learn, worship, and play. It is blatant discrimination. And in the case of the LOS, it is racism at its most virulent.
I interact with people everyday who have “strong opinions” about my marriage and about my moving from the Northeast to the South. I have never been disrespectful. I have never once tried to be punitive.  Yet many felt perfectly fine telling us we are an abomination, staring at us in places we have every right to be in, and, in one frightening encounter, veering their car at us.
That is hatred. That is exclusion. That is the demand that we don’t come into their space, even though it is our space, too.  That is the belief that we are less American than they are, even when they talk of secession. That is dangerous and, in growing situations, deadly.
Our history remains unchanged.
I feel disappointment in my fellow HOA officers, in friends and family, and in Americans overall who don’t share my outrage. In my eyes they are people who aren’t concerned with the rising number of fatalities perpetrated by haters, racists, homophobes, or misogynists. They are blind to systemic racism and either deny its existence or blame the victims of it instead of seeking out the truth.
I find myself staying away from friends, family, and all people. It is not due to my prejudice, because I am a true liberal: tolerant, accepting, and open, and I follow the first documented socialist, Jesus Christ. I exclude myself because I see that even people who are close to us choose not to acknowledge the racism that rages in our country. I am not sure why they choose to pretend it doesn’t happen except maybe they can’t handle it.
When people around me ask why I view everything through the perspective of race, I feel disappointment and anger because they refuse to acknowledge the difference between race and racism. They refuse to acknowledge my truth and the truth of America.
So I choose to go it alone with the few people who share my experience or who are willing to, if not completely understand it, because one can’t unless one experiences it directly, at least agree that it sucks to be a person of color in this country. Not only is it terrible, it is often fatal.
The original sin of our country, slavery, continues to impact the structure of our society and every social interaction transacted in our lives. Everything from our jobs, to housing, education, health care, and class, is impacted by race and privilege in America.
In his commencement speech in 1965 at Howard University, Lyndon B. Johnson said, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates."
Organizations like the LOS want to perpetuate the uneven playing field for minorities, women, and LGBT individuals. I have lost hope that we can change the pervasive evil embodied by organizations like the LOS and others like it because our country can’t handle the truth.
This evening I found out the HOA officers can’t handle the truth either. We met again to discuss the attorney. I said, “I’m ready to hear you out.”
Then I got to hear about the different flags that represent Southern heritage, that blacks fought on the side of the Confederacy (they were slaves. Did they have a choice?), and just because someone has an opinion doesn’t mean he can’t perform his job. I was told that down here there are probably a lot of people who are members of groups like that.
I responded that was probably true, and I have a right to not do business with people and businesses if I am aware of their associations.
One wanted to know if I’d experienced racism in our neighborhood, and I mentioned our shooter neighbor. “But she’s mental,” was the response.
I asked if they would agree to having a member of the Black Panther Party represent us legally. They vehemently said no. I asked if they would let a radical Muslim represent the HOA. One said she would never have a Muslim attorney, period.
I’d had enough. I stood. I shouted. I told them I was offended that they could sit there and say who they wouldn’t work with but expect me to work with a group trying to radicalize white Southerners against people of color and the government.
Isn’t that the very definition of privilege?
I said, “At the end of the day, all I have is my dignity and my personal ethics.”
I resigned.
As I opened the front door to leave, they asked me not to let the neighbors know my reason for resigning. I told them I had to give the reason, because I made a commitment, and I wanted them to know why I broke it.
My breath heaving, my body electrified, I drove all the way home with the emergency brake on. I told Ronald all I could remember as soon as I let myself into the house. He said he already knew how it was going to turn out. I said, “You are never wrong.”
Then, before I could be blocked from the email group, I wrote:
I am sorry to report that I resigned from the position of president due to deep differences of opinion amongst the board on continuing to do business with an individual who is a member of a known hate group. I would hope that as a neighborhood, we would want all our interactions to be in the best interest of all neighbors.
It was my pleasure to serve you.

Don’t be silent.
Michael Hill, founder and president, LOS
For more information on the LOS, see the complete write-up at the Southern Poverty Law Center website:
Listen to Michael Hill, founder of the LOS, at the LOS conference in August of 2015: