Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sleeting Justice

Bad weather must be my motivation. It seems like that’s the only time I am moved to write these days. And it isn’t for lack of fodder for writing; there is always plenty of that in this world.
There may be too much. That’s why I feel paralysis so often. I can’t move, and I can’t speak; I can only blink my eyes.
What should I write about today? The father who killed his transgender child? The Christian woman who beat her Jewish friend in an effort to convert her? The atheist who murdered his Muslim neighbors because he didn’t like where they parked?
I could write about my own neighbor, the one who discharged her firearm through her overhead garage door at people she did not see. Her neighbor told on her. The woman told the neighbor that she “heard Mexican voices” and shot through the door. When I contacted the police by email, the cop said the report was confidential because a small child was involved. He also said the garage door was pried up in the corner (Really? That’s quite hard to visualize and must have taken some work.), and since she was home alone with a small child, she had a right to fire her weapon. What happened to leaving the garage, going back in the house, and locking the door while dialing 911? How about calling out, “I have a gun. Leave my property now!”
A few weeks later she was on our HOA Google group complaining about her new neighbors who had not even lived in the house a week. Will she shoot them because she doesn’t like the sound of their truck?
I don’t know if the new neighbors are Muslims, but I know they are black. Almost all of her complaints are about black or Hispanic men or boys. She logged 33 calls to the police in 5 years. But the police don’t think that is excessive. 
That doesn’t count the times she complained or bragged on the Google group. I sent all of those to the police and he said not all matched up to a police report.
She’s the same person I wrote about in my post Profiling Fatality 3: The Demonization of George Zimmerman. She described the intruder from that incident as having “evil eyes.” She also admitted she may have left her door unlocked.
Just like she left her SUV parked on the street with her purse in the front seat. The doors were unlocked then, too.
When the temperature is above 50 degrees, which occurs most days of the year down here, I leave the front door open. I love the extra light it lets in the house. We picked this house because of all the oversized windows. I love a light-filled home. The difference? We have a security screen door. It locks with a huge hook bolt that fits into a slot in steel-reinforced timber. The glass is bulletproof. An elephant might be able to knock it down, but I haven’t seen any of those in the neighborhood. We also own a dog and a security system, and there is a wrought iron gate on my porch – you’d be surprised how many people can’t figure out how to open it. We have motion lights and the yard is open all around the house, no privacy fences or hedges.
We aren’t paranoid, but we understand when the police tell you to make your house an unattractive target.
It’s not that there is a lot of crime in our neighborhood. Including the neighbor that called the police 33 times in 5 years (averages out to 6.6 calls per year), we averaged 7.8 break-in/property damage calls per year in the same period, 2009 – 2014. There are 78 homes in our neighborhood. Suffice it to say that most of the calls were hers.
I’ve called the police 4 times in the almost 8 years we’ve lived here: twice when my car was hit in the driveway (we live on a curve, and after the city installed a sign letting people know there was a curve up ahead, it hasn’t happened again); the third time was when a rabid coyote was rolling around on my front lawn; and the fourth time was when the house next door to me was in foreclosure and I saw two white guys come out carrying the heat pump and loading it into the back of their pick-up.
I suspect the white guys were members of the construction crew because that heat pump was well hidden in an attic crawlspace inside a closet.
We live in the city. There will be crime. That’s what happens when there are a lot of people living fairly close together. The economy down here is terrible, too, and the state government has removed or shortened the term of just about every safety net. Some people will turn to crime out of desperation and some will turn to crime because they are bad people. Remember all the rat experiments we read about in psychology class?
But city living is a choice. I prefer the city. There is more going on, more people to run into, services like trash collection are better, and the fire departments are full time, not volunteer.
Living out in the country is a choice, too, and lots of ultra-conservatives choose that option because they don’t want to be around people who are different. Why doesn’t my neighbor move? She keeps talking about it, as in, “I mean I was ready to pack up and go yesterday over break ins but this unnecessary noise has got to stop!”
My husband said, “Then go already.”
He was ready to go over to the new neighbors and warn them. I emailed and warned their landlord instead. I didn’t want my husband (for new readers, he is black; I am white) walking near that woman’s house, and I don’t want to read in the paper that a neighbor was shot and killed because another neighbor thought his truck was loud (she could hear his music as he pulled into the driveway). It reminds me too much of the atheist who didn’t like where his neighbors parked.  When did that become a reason to kill someone?
When did the pried edge of a garage door become a reason to discharge a firearm in a residential city neighborhood?
The cop I sent my complaint to reminded me of our 2nd Amendment rights. He said I was judgmental and my statements were inflammatory.
Protect and serve. I’m glad my neighbor, whose husband is a deputy in another county, is getting the full benefit of the city police service while the rest of us worry about our right to walk and drive our neighborhood streets and live in our homes safely.
I reserve my right to wonder if that garage door was truly pried at the corner or if what the other neighbor related is really the truth: the woman “heard Mexican voices,” never laid eyes on anyone, and shot blindly through the door. One of the NRA rules of gun safety (Yes, I went to the “experts.”): Know your target and what is beyond.

I just hope I don’t read about her in the paper.

The sleet made last night's storm worrisome

Monday, January 12, 2015

Long, Cold Winter of Justice

"How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
~  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cold temperatures drive me inside my head. I lived in upstate NY for the first fifty years of my life, but I never liked the cold. I tolerated it, swearing or crying into my muffler as I pushed snow off my car or straining against the wind to get to my building’s door each morning for work, hoping the wind would not knock me off my feet as it had on other occasions. When Ronald bought me a remote car starter, my mood lightened considerably. I could open the door of my building, aim the remote at the car in the parking lot twenty-five yards away and start my car. Twenty minutes later, I would brave the wind and chill and jump into my warm car. I didn’t even have to scrape windows.
Down South I complain if I have to put socks on. This winter has been one of the coldest since we moved here, and it makes me want to hibernate. Up north we would have been cheering at how mild a winter it is.
Sometimes Ronald says we should move farther south to Florida, and I just stare at him blankly. Another state with bad politics, only Florida doesn’t have grand topography or the same brilliant blue sky of North Carolina, and there are too many people.
The chill makes me think of my writing life, too. It’s been harshly vacant like one of my mornings up north, walking to my building, the cold piercing and the wind pushing.
I have reasons or excuses. The world is overwhelming and too many bad things happen, whether it is a terrorist bombing in Paris or the murder of a young black man at the hands of the police.
Sometimes I want to shut down the newsfeeds and recycle the paper before reading it. 
It’s happened with family, too. All the years of estrangement, the legacy of it carried from one generation to the next, the sameness in its execution, like it’s genetic. One day I stop thinking about it and then I stop thinking about them.
Our history seems genetically coded, too. Violence, oppression, hatred, distrust, greed, and racial bias – they are passed on as quietly as hair color and texture, eye color, height, body type, and skin color.
Greed and self-centeredness make us poor stewards of the earth and poor advocates of the greater good.
I am as guilty as anyone these days with my armchair activism. I write this blog and post my opinions on Facebook, but you won’t find me out marching anymore. There was a time I spoke up, lobbied, and protested.  I made the effort to make effective change in my workplace, at my daughters’ school, in my community, and at the state and national level.
We knew we had to do something to make change back then. We knew we had to voice our concerns, not in a room filled with like minds, but in the room of minds least likely to agree.
Last evening we went to see Selma, and I was reminded why we felt that way. I would turn eight just a couple of months after the marches from Selma to Montgomery. I remember watching the news about it, but I don’t ever remember discussing it in school. Even though it would change our history, it apparently did not affect us in my mostly white school up north.
Something in me knew that omission was wrong. Somehow I knew this was important, even though it would be years before I understood racial bias and just how insidious and pervasive institutional and systemic racism is in our country.
But something else happened, too. Dr. King taught the country about the necessity of protest to make change.
Here’s a quote from Dr. King’s speech delivered in Montgomery after the march:
If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)
I still feel the relevance of this speech. The lie of superiority is still being peddled.
My emotions were on high before we even arrived at the theater. Ronald was unsure he wanted to see it. As he has often said, “I live this.”
“I want to see it as an adult,” I countered.
He relented. I feel guilty that he shares my journey to understand what racism is. After thirty-nine years, I cannot say that I know what it is like to be black in America. White Americans may think I’m daft, but black Americans know what I mean.
 At the theater, there were very few white people in the audience. Why didn’t they come to learn about our collective history of America?
I knew the girls walking down the stairs in the church would die, but I leaped and gasped aloud when the blast decimated those innocent souls who each had all the potential but none of the opportunities to reach it.
When Jimmie Lee Jackson, church deacon and civil rights activist, was gunned down by a police officer during a non-violent protest, I began to cry.
Jimmie Lee Jackson (Wikipedia)
I continued crying all the way through the movie credits.
I cried for the valor displayed by people who knew they might die but showed up anyway. I cried for the injustices perpetrated by the very people who are supposed to protect and serve us, the peace officers, who chose instead to uphold Jim Crow. I cried because I fully understood the symbolism of the Confederate flag. I cried because what happened then is not so different from what is happening now.  I cried because this was a story that we all share, told finally from the perspective of the people oppressed by Jim Crow.
In 1965 the police galloped into the marchers on horses and wielded bats and tear gas. In Ferguson, they arrived in tanks, wore riot gear, and used rubber bullets and tear gas.
Today protests are mostly done from inside the comfort of one’s home on social media where most “friends” are in agreement. Though I am guilty of it, I don’t think it changes a single thing. When people do take to the streets, they are not organized as they were during the Civil Rights marches. Dr. King and those close advisors and collaborators around him had direction, concrete demands, and strategies. The protestors were trained and understood what to expect (some protesters in Ferguson were trained in this tradition). Little was left to chance.
Today someone tweets to meet up at Times Square, and thousands show up, but what is the plan, what are the demands, what are the strategies?
While we gather in aimless groups and lament and commiserate on social media, others are working hard to implement their agendas of privilege and power.
It scares me. I wonder what I could have done differently, what my generation could have done differently. I hope the younger generations figure it out.
I think we’ve failed as liberals and activists in the last fifty years.
Part of our failure was the complacency that comes from success. When we believed we had achieved all we set out to do, we stopped being vigilant, and Jim Crow gained ground again.
The other part of failure is that white liberals still live with privilege and still view the world through the lens of privilege.
I recently watched Chris Matthews, a man I have great respect for, get his underwear in a twist because he didn’t feel President Johnson was respectfully and truthfully portrayed in the film. His reaction to the film says to me white liberals want to be liberal but keep the old order.
They still like to be the ones in control (the power brokers) and the ones in the know. It is damaging in the quest for racial equality. As soon as a white liberal tells a person of color “I get it” or “You don’t understand what needs to be done,” he or she is being patronizing and racist.
When a white person says “I get it,” it is like telling Samaria Rice you know how she felt when Tamir was gunned down by a police officer less than two seconds after the officers pulled up to him while he played with a toy gun in the park. No, the fuck, we don’t know.
When Chris Matthews laments about LBJ’s reputation, it is stealing the story from black Americans who were tired of the oppression and ready to demand change and giving it to a "white savior" who sweeps in to save the day for the poor black fools who couldn’t save themselves without his assistance.
That’s not the story Ava Duvernay chose to tell nor was it the truth or the story we needed to hear. Certainly, LBJ was a wealthy white man with a Southern affiliation, and he was blatant in his use of the N-word. He enacted both the Civil Rights Act and the Voters Rights Act, but it is doubtful he would have acted alone. He did what was right politically and right for the country, and there is no doubt his decision to act was in direct reaction to Dr. King’s persuasiveness and the powerful microscope of the news media focused on the South.
I’ve had family and friends alike tell Ronald they get it or that the experience he is telling them couldn’t possibly have happened. His story made them uncomfortable, and their privilege ephemeral, and instead of expressing those feelings, they attack his credibility. I’ve stopped talking to family members and friends or they’ve stopped talking to me. I’ve been un-friended on Facebook because they do not want to allow that my experience is different from theirs. Estrangement is the easy way out for both of us. The other person doesn’t have to endure uncomfortable moments, and I don’t have to feel offended by their inability to accept a different experience.
We, who look at the world from the safe haven of privilege, cannot ever know what it is to be unprivileged and targeted in America. Part of the privilege is the assuredness often displayed when telling people who are not privileged that you know more about their lives than they do.
Even though I gave up “whiteness” when I entered into an interracial relationship thirty-nine years ago, I am not black. I cannot know what my husband and daughters experience as black and mixed race Americans. The experiences I relate are my narratives, not theirs, even when they star in them. 
I regain my “white” status in the eyes of others as soon as I am alone.
What I can do is demonstrate my outrage at the perpetrators of racism, give an empathic ear when things happen, speak up when it matters, and continue my journey to learn about race in America and my role in perpetuating racism. Thirty-nine years is not long enough because it’s already been proven that fifty years or even one hundred-fifty years cannot undo our history.
That is what we, the people defined as white in our racially constructed society, need to do. Listen. Acknowledge privilege. Speak up instead of choosing silence. Express outrage. Collaborate to work toward a solution.
Are we capable of accepting another societal construct, one that eliminates racial divides and gives every citizen equal opportunity and equality under the law?
Can we change our inherent need for tribalism by redefining our tribes?
Can we agree that equality is more desirable than privilege, which assumes a construct of haves and have-nots?
I need a remote starter to defrost my heart because I don’t trust we can achieve this.
Aside from watching Selma, two moments this week helped me toward that end.
Ronald turned to me as we were driving home the other night and he said, “Your looks change, and today you look like that photo I took of you on my parent’s porch.”
I knew the one he meant, taken one warm, spring day in college. “In my sleeveless sweater,” I said.
The photo was taken in 1977, a time when my parents, particularly my mother, railed against my relationship with Ronald. In one argument that summer, she would accuse me of causing my father’s second heart attack. It was also when Ronald and I knew we would spend our lives together, because neither of us could imagine a different future.
Back then (1977), no matter how cold it got, my heart remained warm
The second was yesterday morning. After writing for a bit, I climbed back into bed and shaped my body around Ronald’s contours. Our combined body heat was tropical. Soon we turned in unison, and, lying side-by-side, his left hand holding my right hand above our heads, we talked about everything and nothing. It was the most meaningful hour of my day.

Those moments are my remote starter. They warm me up and keep me going, no matter how cold it gets.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This is What Apartheid Looks Like in America

Words failed me because America failed in race relations again.  I spent a sleepless night after Prosecutor McColloch spent half an hour defending the grand jury process even though his use of it was far outside standard procedure. He spent most of the time bashing witness credibility and Michael Brown’s character while defending Darren Wilson, the man he was supposed to be considering charges against. With nine whites and three blacks on the jury, there was no other outcome possible. I knew this even as I held a glimmer of hope.
Then I watched the streets of Ferguson swirl into chaos, fire, anguish, rage, and hopelessness.
AP photo of Ferguson protests
This is what Apartheid looks like in America. This is the systemic implementation of racist and biased policies, laws, and actions in our courtrooms, in our neighborhoods, in stand your ground laws that seem expressly written for the protection of white Americans, and in the ethnic and racial makeup of a militarized police presence.
CNN reported, “Wilson called the area where Brown was shot a "hostile environment."
Wilson testified, "There's a lot of gangs that reside or associate with that area. There's a lot of violence in that area, there's a lot of gun activity, drug activity, it is just not a very well-liked community. That community doesn't like the police."
Why is the community suspicious of police? Because the police and the city used the community as a source of income, issuing tickets and fining people based on petty charges. The police presence was not a positive presence but a force of containment and oppression.
I believe it is a high crime area. There is a lot of poverty with few paths out. That causes an environment where some believe crime is an acceptable way of life. But not all citizens who live there believe that and live good, honest lives. They should be afforded the same police protections that the rest of America, white America, enjoys. They are there by circumstance, not necessarily by choice. Why do the police, officials, and the media impugn the whole community and not just the criminals? How can a police officer adequately protect and serve a community he doesn’t like?
He can’t.
Justice is bankrupt, and racism prevails.
While we argue causes and fling hatred and suspicion back and forth, more black men and boys die.
Including Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old carrying a toy gun. Look at his face. He is a child. Why did the man who called 911 call him a man and why didn’t the police acknowledge that he was just a kid and treat him as one? Racial bias blinds them.
Tamir Rice
Ronald left the house twenty minutes before the verdict was read. We had already watched four hours of coverage, and he said he didn’t want to see the verdict. He did not want to relive the George Zimmerman verdict. We had watched that verdict together. I cried; he got angry, then silent.
I knew I had to watch the grand jury announcement even as I understood he could not. I kissed him good-bye and told him to be careful. He already knew the verdict, and my silence when he got home, and again this morning, told him he was correct.
I understand hopelessness. I see it in the faces of the protestors, in the tears shed by Michael Brown’s family, in the comments on my Facebook page, and in the way Ronald grows more introspective daily. I suffer the same hopelessness.
If we don’t fight for change, the violence will grow and more black boys and men will die, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. The death of black men and boys is epidemic in this country.
I also understand that the election of a mixed race president did not usher us into a post-racial world. Instead it brought to light the very real inequality and injustice under which our society operates. Denial won’t change that fact.
The things that will change systemic racism are the following:
·      Video cameras on every police officer
·      Police departments that reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the communities they serve
·      Viable citizen review boards
·      Better and more comprehensive diversity training for officers
·      Better and more comprehensive training for officers on how to provide a positive community presence that promotes a safe environment rather than an adversarial force that works against citizens
·      Equality in the criminal justice system including the charges brought against offenders, sentencing, and the length of prison terms
We also need to have that conversation about race in America.  
Let me be brutally honest: If you believe race does not affect your life, then you are one of the privileged in this country. If you don’t care about or support the growing use of unnecessary force against citizens of color, you are racist and one of the privileged. If you don’t care about black boys and men being killed at the hands of police officers and vigilantes hiding behind stand your ground laws, you are a racist and one of the privileged. If you believe that every black community is full of lazy and lawless people, you are a racist and one of the privileged.
This is a tragedy for all Americans, not just black Americans.
We need to dig down into the history of our country and the institutional and systemic factors that cause bias and oppression. We need to acknowledge how this country was taken from Native Americans and how it was built on the backs of slaves. We need to acknowledge that  we continue to create an underclass through sub-poverty wages, sub-standard schools, and the high cost of college tuition.
Then we need to educate the public about these truths and make the changes necessary through the enactment of laws that protect equality and through Federal government oversight. We already know that states fail to achieve equality and justice for their citizens. Ferguson has proven that yet again with the appointment of a biased prosecutor, an almost all-white police force in a city that is 70% black, a jury that was predominately white, and in the militarized response to protests.
If we don’t make those changes, black men and boys will continue to die in record numbers.

This is what Apartheid looks like in America.
Michael Brown will not be forgotten

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Change of Color

I loved autumn as a child. The turning of the leaves coincided with the joy I felt being back at school, learning new things, reading new books, and getting to know new teachers and classmates. For me, it was the start of things rather than the beginning of the end. The crisp air and cold puddles hinted at what was to come.
The leaves are at their peak, and they are as lovely as ever. The changing of the seasons helps me remember that all things change even when they feel static as lead weights. Knowing change is part of the life cycle keeps me hopeful.
A year ago I began what I imagined was the painful process of growing the dye out of my hair and letting it turn to its natural color. I had dyed my hair since the age of 38 and now I am 57, so I had no idea just how much or how little gray would come in. I imagined walking around with a skunk stripe and being judged harshly by anyone caring to notice. I wore hats most of the winter, and that helped the transition go smoothly. I strategically lopped off hair, not too short, as it caused Ronald anxiety, but enough to speed the process. A year later, my transformation is complete.

I love my steel gray hair mixed liberally with dark brown strands. It is beautiful. Instead of being judged as old or ugly, I’ve been stopped countless times and told how lovely my hair is. One young woman asked if I’d had it dyed that way, and I gave her my shy smile and said, “Just the opposite. I’ve let it go natural.”
“It’s so beautiful,” she said.
Ronald, supportive but slightly anxious about my penchant for impulsivity, declared my natural hair as beautiful as he remembered it and stated, as if we had not discussed it in depth many times, that he knew it all along.
Nature knows how to put colors together just like those autumn leaves, so why do we try to second-guess it?
We early voted this week. The poll was not too crowded. We waited less than ten minutes. I was surprised to see a constitutional amendment up for vote. The last one we voted on in 2012, the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, was effectively called unconstitutional by the SCOTUS. Of course, Thom Tillis, Speaker of the State Legislature, who is running against Senator Kay Hagan, is hiring outside counsel at taxpayers’ expense to defend the amendment. I call it beating a dead horse. I’m hoping his campaign ends up dying, too, in spite of the Koch brothers’ money funding it.
The new amendment is stated as follows: “Constitutional amendment providing that a person accused of any criminal offense for which the State is not seeking a sentence of death in superior court may, in writing or on the record in court and with the consent of the trial judge, waive the person’s right to a trial by jury.”

Read more here: Charlotte Observer
North Carolina is apparently the only state that requires a trial by jury for defendants facing felony charges. But, hey, it’s North Carolina, and after reading the amendment, I chose to vote no. Walking back to the car after voting, Ronald and I talked about it. We both came to the conclusion that coercion might be a tactic for saving money on jury trials and to ensure the outcome wanted whether it is justice or injustice. The Charlotte Observer, in the article linked above, noted that attorneys might sway judges through campaign contributions and other methods. The history here is too awful to be ignored.
Because it’s campaign season again, I am angry and tired by the hate ads in the media. Our phone rings constantly, I open my email to see hundreds of pleas for money, and the mailbox is stuffed with flyers. I understand the urgency, and I get information from both parties because I have written to my representatives and, even if I am in disagreement, I end up on their mailing lists.
I am offended by the GOP’s courting of women and minorities even though they do not and will not have our interests in mind. Do they really think we are that stupid?
Halloween hasn’t helped with Internet photos of white people in blackface, decorations that depict lynching, and the articles written about them. Privilege of the few is exhausting for everyone else on the other side. It’s also dangerous and sometimes fatal.
Then I can’t face it anymore. I don’t want to talk or write about it. I am too angry and too offended by the news and reports. I wish it would just go away. But there it is, every single day, with millions of people pretending it doesn’t exist.
I guess that’s why I still get excited when I vote. I think about the people who waged battles and the ones who lost their lives to ensure women and blacks could vote, and I want to both honor those who sacrificed and also feel like my vote can make a difference. I’m not sure it makes a difference, but if we don’t try, what is left to do?
Today as I finish this post a cold rain pelts the colorful leaves and they drop to the ground, one or many at a time. The trees are turning barren and gray. I can feel the chill in my bones, and I’m voting for the sun to appear, but I know my vote will not count in this case.

But nature makes the colors work and gives me hope for the change I know will come.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Race War

I’m heartbroken…again. Michael Brown, Jr. gunned down in Ferguson, MO by a police officer in broad daylight, in front of many witnesses, his hands raised in the air. I am outraged, devastated by the loss of one more life in this racially broken country.
Michael Brown, Sr. holding a photo of himself with Michael Brown, Jr. 
AP Photo
The community reacted: some in solidarity and peace, others through looting and violence.

Memorial at the site of Michael's murder
AP Photo
I believe that individuals who are rendered powerless by the color of their skin (or their gender or their socio-economic class) and who cannot trust the very people sworn to serve and protect them will sometimes resort to violence out of desperation. What’s left to do when just living life may prove fatal at the hands of authority?  It doesn’t seem right or productive through the eyes of most people, particularly for those who live with the privilege of being part of the power group, but I get it.
How did the authorities react? With tear gas and rubber bullets and increasing military presence.
Police response to protestors
AP Photo
We are experiencing the systemic elimination of one race of Americans through an unjust and prejudiced judicial system, a privatized prison system, unequal educational opportunity, a growing underclass of working people, usurpation of rights and freedoms, geographical containment, and media stereotyping and omission.
Vigilantes and some police officers murder men and boys of color (and, increasingly, women and girls of color). Sworn to protect and serve? Not certain police officers and certainly not vigilantes like Zimmerman.
The trend is clear. Jim Crow may have hibernated for 50 years (I rather think he operated under cloak of darkness), but he is up and about and full of piss and vinegar. 
Police response during Civil Rights protests in Alabama circa 1963
Wiki Photo
We’ve lost ground we gained after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. A seemingly large portion of those who identify as white Americans, particularly those who claim to be conservative thinkers and voters, don’t want to talk about it. Why? They support it. They vote for it. They demand it. They participate in it by arming up and acting on paranoia and fear. They don’t believe it affects them or their communities. They claim it’s their heritage, a heritage and history of conquering, oppression, and genocide. Others simply don’t believe race disparity exists or choose not to think about it.
There is a race war, but it isn’t the one the GOP and extreme conservatives are alluding to.
“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else...It's part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things. Well that’s not true.”
~ Rep. Mo Brooks, Alabama
The power of privilege is the power to accuse the victims of the very crime being perpetrated upon them by the powerful.
And men and boys of color are being murdered to support the hatred and fear of the privileged.
Why should a mother have to mourn the passing of her child when she should have been celebrating his first day of college? Why is she left with the legacy of her child’s murder as a symbol of racism in our country? Why should she have to shoulder that burden? My heart breaks for her and all the others who watched loved ones die: sons, husbands, brothers, nephews, fathers, students, friends, and neighbors. Why and how is that happening today in this country?
Because we are a racially divided country where groups of people are segregated by skin color and do not receive equal protection under the law. In fact the law targets people of color through profiling, confrontational stops and frisks, and harsher sentencing by the judicial system.
Privilege leads one to believe the police and judicial system are there for you and your kind only, sworn to serve and protect you while pursuing others. Even if you end up on the wrong side of the law you are innocent until proven guilty by a jury of your peers. Privilege gives one freedom to be wherever one wishes and to do whatever one chooses and to feel safe doing so. It’s privilege when one believes his way and his people are better and more deserving and more right than others. It’s privilege that makes one believe others are less than and deserve to be controlled and contained. It may appear to be invisible but there it is, wrapping around you, protecting you, giving you confidence, making you proud, and making you believe that the murder of black men and boys is justified or someone else’s problem.
There may be a lot of white Americans denying their role and complicity in systemic racism and the privilege they enjoy as white Americans. That's part of the privilege, the ability to deny and distance oneself or to just choose silence. They will feel anger as they read this post or hear people talking about racism.
We can stop the unfair advantage of privilege but only those that benefit directly from privilege can stop it, white people just like me. Not the victims or the people disenfranchised by white privilege and not the people who willfully support racism, segregation, and white supremacy.
If you are ethnically white and you do not support a racist society, acknowledge that privilege exists. Recognize that not everyone experiences life in America as you do. You don’t have to give privilege away and be tossed on the other side of it, but believe that every single American has a right to the kind of life only a sector of Americans, white Americans, exclusively enjoy. Let that thinking be your guide and your conscience.
Privilege is not just wealth. Most people don’t aspire to great wealth. Privilege is about feeling safe living in your skin and being you; living, working, playing and worshipping where and how you choose; and feeling safe and validated every day and every hour of your life as you negotiate your way in society. That was the spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We can recreate that spirit.
Put your hands in the air in protest. Vote in protest. Congregate in protest. Stand for equality, inclusiveness, and solidarity. Speak out against privilege, segregation, and injustice. Do it peaceably, because a violent response to violence only makes it worse, and gives the powerful and the privileged more power and privilege. 
Protesters standing as Michael Brown, Jr. did when he was shot and killed
AP Photo
I know we can be a better nation. We the people can declare the people of America to be equal, to have an equal voice and an equal vote, to enjoy equal protection under the law, to enjoy the right to exercise our freedoms in safety, and to know that those who are sworn to serve and protect us will do so in our time of need.

My heart is broken, but my spirit tells me we have to keep trying.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Two Books, Two Eyes Opened

I’m reading two books right now, The Wars of Reconstruction by Douglas R. Egerton  and Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton, but I find myself taking time out to read novels to give my mind a rest, because the subject matter is hurting my brain and my soul. Both books tackle the complicated, violent, and oppressive history of slavery in America.
When I studied American history in fifth grade, I can only recall slavery being covered in one brief paragraph in our textbook. I don’t recall any lectures or discussion about it. In my all white classroom, it was but a footnote in the great history of our country. And yet it was 1967, three years after the Civil Rights Act had passed and the same year the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in the case of Loving vs. Virginia.
When I met Ronald (for first time readers, my husband Ronald is African-American and I am Irish/Italian-American), in 1976, I was not aware that interracial marriage had been illegal in many states just nine years before and would remain illegal in South Carolina and Alabama until 1998 and 2000 respectively. I admit to my naïveté and the shock I experienced over the years as my sensitive psyche was exposed to blatant racism and discrimination.
Almost 40 years have gone by since we met and the nation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the other day we were just discussing how little things have changed. Yes, we have a mixed race president, but he has experienced hatred and obstacles every single day of his presidency. Black men are being targeted under Stand Your Ground and Shoot First laws, a new method that, like lynching, is designed to keep black men afraid and contained.  Schools are once again likely to be segregated rather than integrated. Police brutality occurs most often in high minority areas.
Many of the incidents I am reading about in both books differ only in the time period and actual execution from what is still happening today. Those beliefs and attitudes about the difference between people of color and colorless or white people still exist.
I want to believe we are above this, but we aren’t. I want to believe things will change, but they haven’t. Not in my lifetime. How many lifetimes will it take? How many books, blogs, or films will have to be written and made? How many voices will have to shout to be heard?
I still feel the presence of our past. It lives in the soil and in the air and in the difficult and often dangerous relationship between people of color and white people. I wonder what violence was unleashed upon others on the very land on which my house sits.
When I read passages from the two books, I can see the bloodshed, the beatings, the murders,  and the way in which freed blacks were promised one thing by President Lincoln and the promise taken away by his successor President Johnson, a Southern sympathizer. I understand the frustration and suspicion freedmen felt and the utter danger their lives were in as they took each step toward equality, including land ownership and schools to educate their children. Yes, equality was a goal even then. In the meantime Federal troops were pulling out of the South, black and white, weary of war and ready to return to their families. Freedmen were at the mercy of the locals who were angry, accusatory, self-righteous, and violent.
What’s changed? As our country becomes browner, white Americans grow more conservative.  They cling to those times when they were self-acclaimed superior by virtue of their skin color.
What are they afraid of? They are afraid of the same thing slaveholders were afraid of: a revolt, an uprising, the tables turned.
They cannot imagine being treated as they have historically treated others.
But no one that I know of is hoping for that. We, people of color, women, LGBT, only ask for equality. The very same thing freedmen asked for after the Civil War and during reconstruction. Yet 150 years later, we have not achieved it, and in many ways, like with the SCOTUS decision to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1964, we have regressed.
How can we achieve equality and eliminate racism and discrimination? Through the difficult journey of truthfully studying our history, enacting laws aimed at stopping discrimination, demanding fair and equitable treatment and opportunities for all Americans and those who want to become American, and educating to target the deep-seated racial attitudes and legacies that are systemically and institutionally embedded in our social fabric.
As individuals, we can make the effort to know and understand the history of our country, to be sensitive to and aware of our own prejudices, and to speak up when we witness prejudice and hatred. Not simple requests, but they are the foundations of a progressive future where everyone is equal.
How else to bring closure to our history of hatred, oppression, violence, and genocide?
1866 campaign poster of Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Heister Clymer. He lost the election.

An example of some of the "campaign" literature during President Obama's runs. Some things haven't changed. See more here.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

More Gray Matters

It’s the time of year when I can’t get up in the mornings and I don’t want to go to bed at night until sleep finally finds me which is often well after midnight. I’m restless and glum. Not that winters down here in NC are anything close to what they are in NY where I spent the first 50 years of my life. This winter in upstate NY is a constant barrage of sub-zero temperatures and blustery snowstorms. We had our storm in NC, sure. A few inches of snow and everything was shut down for days. The trash was not picked up, the mail was not delivered, and the snowplows didn’t arrive until the sun had done most of their job of clearing the streets.
I didn’t mind the time spent indoors. I like my solitude. It’s the short days and the reminder that mortality comes to all living things that has walloped my resoluteness.
I suppose that should make me hopeful because some of the crazy ideologies circulating the media these days have taken on a life of their own. Their impending demise should be cause for a premature celebration. Yet I can’t arouse the energy for even one “hoorah.”
I feel anger brewing beneath the surface when I think about recent deaths, like the murder of Jordan Davis because one drunk guy carrying a gun decided he and his friends were playing their music too loudly, and how certain people continue to get away with murder because gun companies want to sell more guns and they don’t care what they are used for. They know what they are used for. They convince legislatures to pass vague “stand your ground” and “shoot first” laws as if owning a gun is a more important freedom than the freedoms of safety and place. Every American has the right to go to the store, wear a hoodie, play music, sit in an SUV, buy Skittles at a convenience store, and walk home in the rain. Not just white Americans. Not just wealthy Americans.
That includes being confident of being served if one goes to a restaurant to eat dinner or to a dry cleaner to drop off clothes. Why should one be turned away if one has the money to purchase the service? Oh, excuse me, religious freedom. Did I forget that one? Religious freedom is the freedom to worship as one chooses, not the freedom to force one’s beliefs on another or choose not to serve those you believe don’t share your religious beliefs. Your service to someone who is gay or a different ethnicity or race is not considered abetment if that’s how you see it. Conservative Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, but that hasn’t stopped other states from considering a similar law.
I feel the burden of mankind on my shoulders.  I can’t shake it this time of year. It’s the feeling that some things never change. Like the “isms” will never truly go away and that mankind can’t help but be corrupted by power and wealth. It’s depressing.
I sought diversion and turned on TCM in time to catch the 1940 movie Hullabaloo, about a has-been radio actor who turns to his three daughters, children of three different wives, to revive his career. It starred two actors from the Wizard of Oz: Frank Morgan and Billie Burke, so it captured my attention. A black actor playing the role of bellhop sang two beautifully rendered songs: Carry Me Back to Old Virginny and Vesti la Giubba from I Pagliacci.
I searched the cast listing to see who the man was as I couldn’t recall ever seeing him in a movie before, and I’ve seen many, many movies from the 1940s and 1950s, two of my favorite movie eras.
His name was Charles Holland. He had roles in just three movies, one role minor enough where it was not credited. My search for more information resulted in no photos, no wiki page, and no full bio on him. The only other tidbit was that he died at age 77 in Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands.
That news made me sad, too. Despite my love of movies from that era, I acknowledge that the lives portrayed in Hollywood were, and mostly still are, white lives. The movies were in black and white, but the actors, with the exception of certain roles like maid, slave, butler, or bellhop, were white, and the stories were based in white cultural mores.
That started to change in the late 1950s when America’s social conscience awakened and movies like Sidney Poitier’s The Defiant Ones came out in 1958. Of course, it was one more push toward equality that never truly came to fruition. I just read about the “hullabaloo” caused by the casting of Michael B. Jordan as one of the Fantastic Four in the next sequel of the franchise. The movie remake of Annie awakened a few racists. One tweeted: They're redoing the Annie movie and making the little girl black. The fuck gonna be going on next? A black snow white????
Some fans can’t picture the characters Annie and Johnny Storm as African Americans so, in alignment with what white privilege affords to those who have it, they have made their dissatisfaction known with great trumpeting and fanfare. I am sorry their imaginations are stunted.
Yes, it’s exhausting, maddening, and outrageous, but I can’t give it up. Instead, after dwelling on it until I can’t any longer, I allow myself those diversions, another one being obsessing about my hair, a symptom of another ism.
I’ve been growing out my dyed hair since October 2013. It’s a slow process, even for my quickly growing hair, and one that is becoming more painful, though I retain my excitement of reaching the goal of accepting myself just as I am. You can read my first two installments at: Gray Matters and Matters: Gray and Otherwise.
Though I am resolute in my decision, I still feel the sting of envy as my friends continue to dye and cover their gray hairs. There is an invisible, self-imposed pressure to conform to the standard of beauty that frowns upon natural hair.
One day in the car, I turned down the visor and stared at myself in the mirror. “My hair looks terrible,” I lamented as I ran my fingers through it. The stripe is growing larger but, as the demi-permanent dye fades, it is not the defined stripe I originally imagined and that permanent hair color makes.
“Yeah, it does,” Ronald responded with the truthfulness I appreciate even when it hurts. “I liked your hair short before,” he continued, “and then you grew it long.”
I smiled because a few months ago he had put forth the argument that I shouldn’t go short. “Well, I guess I would have been almost bald if I had cut it when I first started to grow it out. Maybe it would work now.”
“Yes,” he replied.
Not quite yet, though. I think I need to go a little longer before I chop.
Here I am with my boy Ru. We will share similar hair color when I am all done.
Now I am sitting in our dark and unheated living room typing the rest of this post before the battery on my Mac dies. Another polar vortex hit NC yesterday. We woke up this morning to no electricity and no heat. The trees were bending to the ground by the weight of the ice coating their branches, and the window screens on the eastern side of the house were frozen over. It didn’t seem so bad in the daylight while my Nook and Mac still had battery power.
When I realized my Nook would not last too much longer, I picked up a trade paperback I’ve been meaning to read titled Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. After a few pages I got that excitement I get when I want to share with Ronald, so I started reading aloud, as I often did in college, either to him or into a tape recorder for Ray, who was visually handicapped. I read from the Harriet Tubman book for almost two hours, until my voice began to give way.
We ended up at the movies, because they had power. Then we went to dinner. We relaxed at the table until we saw lots of people crowding the lobby. We drove toward home through this block that had lights and that block that didn’t. We arrived to the still darkened neighborhood, our house cloaked in darkness. Ronald has wandered into the bedroom, and here I sit finishing up this post before the Mac goes dead.

It’s another diversion in a world of gray matters.

This is what it looked like off my front porch.