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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.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Polar Vortex

Shut the door. Not that it lets in the cold but that it lets out the cozyness.

The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them.
~ Mark Twain

This reader’s letter appeared in my hometown newspaper on January 28, 2014:
Reading the constant barrage of letters from those who vilify the current governor, state legislature and conservatives and Republicans in general makes me wonder if there is any hope left for this country.
After 100 years of Democratic-controlled government in North Carolina, with all its catering to special interests, crooked politicians, hiring of donors and spending the state into massive debt, these idiots rail against bringing back fiscal responsibility and trying to slow down the growth of government as something terrible. They continue to defend Barack Obama, the dictator-in-chief, who is the most incompetent, radical, dishonest, unlawful and dangerous America-hating person ever to occupy the White House. He has done more in five years to destroy our coveted American way of life, as well as America's standing in the world, to increase the national debt and to ignore the Constitution than all his predecessors.
Those outside of this country, many of whom risk their lives to try to come here, must wonder what kind of mental illness is overcoming America, and surely the Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves. Obama and his merry band of radicals in the White House and in Congress threaten the very existence of the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world.
I pray that enough Americans are as concerned as I am and will vote accordingly this November. Take back the Senate and send Sen. Harry Reid back to the desert!
~ WILLIAM C. SIDES JR., Clemmons
This is a bad time of year for me. My brain is always on fast-forward during the coldest, darkest months of the year, and this year exceeded cold expectations. The problem is the day-to-day time doesn’t accelerate to catch up. It leaves me hanging out there, twirling in the polar vortex. 
I’m having strange dreams again, too.  I’m moving and hired the worst moving crew. They stomp mud into the house as they carry their straps, tarps, and boxes in. Then, without moving a single item, they sit at the table and take a break. They order pizza that looks like cake and point out tiles that are buckling away from the wall, the grout between them gooey and oozing. I double-pay the pizza delivery guy who drives away on a scooter before I can correct my error. I decide it doesn't matter, so I sit down and share pizza with the movers.
In another dream people from my past confront me. We offended one another and now they want to correct the record. But I don’t want to change anything because the story cannot and should not be edited. Accept what was and don’t alter the truth, I beseech them. They are in my face, one after the other, demanding an altered story and a happy ending.
I used to be forgiving. I believe I still am, but I feel the tug of indecision and the arrival of forgiveness taking longer and longer. I wonder how that has diminished or changed who I am.
One day, after an exhausting foray into local and national news and the burn of several interactions with people who claim allegiance to their Southern heritage that includes segregation, violence, suspicion, and hatred, I gave myself permission to not like someone if he appears unreasonable and if he directly affects the quality of my life. I used to drag them all along with me, unwilling to leave them behind, but now I don’t. I leave them where they are. I say, let them wallow in the misery of their heritage. No progress for them. They want to protect their "coveted American way of life." They choose to take America back, but I refuse to go backwards.
Sounds harsh. They are harsh, too, when they fling their insults and hatred in my direction because I am interracially married. Even worse is when they reach for their guns and point them at those people they believe are trying to take their freedoms away, or rather, if they were honest, their privileges away.
I don’t see good intent, honesty, and love in their actions.
Yet I haven’t condemned them “back to the desert.” Can’t we live in harmonious proximity instead of arming up or shrieking lies and rhetoric? But they won’t stop.
I see their fear. Fear makes people do terrible things. Why are they so afraid?
So many of them claim God is in control yet that belief does not allay their fear. Let go let God I’ve often heard. But they don’t trust God either. Else why are they intervening on His behalf and in His name? I pity them.
This letter also appeared on the readers’ page of my local paper on Thursday, January 30, 2014:
I think that dropping all charges against those law-breakers of the Moral Mondays group was a dumb thing to do (“Charges dropped against 50 protesters,” Jan. 23).
They should be made to pay the state back all of the extra money that it cost to pay the police for all the extra time and money that it cost the taxpayers for protests that are in my opinion useless, because they are too sorry to get out and work for a living, instead of always wanting something for nothing!
HAROLD DYSON, Clemmons
I wish I could figure out what planet these people live on: where hatred, fear, segregation, and violence are the answers to their questions; where there are hordes of lazy people living off the good and righteous "white" people; where guns are the answer to a question that never needed to be asked in the first place.
I don’t want to live there. I don’t care if they live by their worldview as long as they accept that I live by a different worldview. That’s how I changed, when I realized they would not change. Facts don’t matter. Content of character doesn’t matter. Accomplishment doesn’t matter. Humanity doesn’t matter. Fear of the loss of privilege matters. They can only see and hear and experience what they want to believe. 
We didn’t invade their world. Their world is our world. We’ve always been here. They didn’t see us; they didn’t hear us; they didn’t acknowledge us. Now we refuse to be invisible or silent or acquiescent. We are women and men and children, of diverse sexual orientations, people of color (neither "black" nor "white"), interracial, interethnic,  religiously free and tolerant, poor and middle class, liberal and centrist, abled and disabled, progressive and hopeful, stewards of the earth and of each other.

We don’t want something for nothing. We don’t want a free ride. We don’t want great wealth. We want jobs that pay a living wage, equality in the workplace and in our neighborhoods and institutions, access to affordable healthcare and education, environmental safety and protection, and a path to improve the quality of our lives if that is what we choose. That’s the world I want to live in, but the polar vortex is descended upon us, and I am twirling in the whiteout.

President Obama delivering the SOTUS. Far from the dictator-in-chief that some view him as, I see him as a sign of hope and change.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Matters: Gray and Otherwise

Phil Robertson of the A&E show Duck Dynasty was quoted in GQ as saying:
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
He also made the following comment about the pre-Civil Rights era:
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
Read more at Huffington Post.
He was briefly suspended from the show, but viewer outrage made A&E think again, and he has been reinstated. Free speech, his supporters cried.
Yes, free speech, but free speech for those who oppose his messages as well. Why is it that members of the far right can say whatever they want, including blatant lies about our President with their birther conspiracy, but their opposition is not allowed to respond, factually or otherwise, or the individuals will be charged with trampling on freedoms? On paper our freedoms are for all Americans; in reality, they are for a sub-group of Americans, like the wealthy, or conservative Christians, or Constitutionalists who really only believe in a couple of amendments interpreted in their favor, or, as my husband and I often discuss, for white Americans but not for Americans of color.
We have to keep fighting for equality and to protect the freedoms of all Americans or we all stand to lose. 
I’ve written about the trend of reality shows that represent rural white culture, poverty, and fundamental conservative values in my post The Honey Boo Boo Effect.
I think we should be respectful of all American sub-cultures. We truly are a diverse country, and our diversity should be reflected in the media and in our government representatives. But that respect includes not spreading hateful and discriminatory rhetoric about other groups. And there should be equal representation in the media. Don’t glorify one sub-culture at the expense of another.
Of course, money drives everything. A&E knows Duck Dynasty is one of their top moneymakers, and that is what drove them to reinstate Robertson. Besides, the network knew what it was getting when they took on the show. They like the drama it causes.
Reality TV is getting wearisome but I am not sure we are near the end of its run. Our sense of reality has gotten fuzzy. Social engineering by the conservative base and the wealthy (like the Koch brothers) is frightening, and it is taking us backwards at a pace I find alarming. We need to be proactive, vigilant, and progressive.

#####
I want to abolish whiteness in 2014. I never felt white anyway. I was that Italian kid with the odd Australian mother. I was one of the poor kids and I didn’t get to experience the things middle class white children did with regularity: vacations, summer camp, bicycles under the Christmas tree, and new clothes rather than hand-me-downs.  I called myself a mutt, but I never felt ashamed of my mixed ethnicity.
As an adult in an interracial marriage with mixed race adult children, I abhor what white represents and the way politicians and the media use it to further divide us. Whiteness does not exist anymore than blackness exists. It is a socially engineered concept designed to oppress people of color and award privilege to “colorless” people.

I am tired of this devil
I am tired of this stuff
I am tired of this business
Sewn when the going gets rough

I ain't scared of your brother
I ain't scared of no sheets
I ain't scared of nobody
Girl, when the goin' gets mean

Protection for gangs, clubs, and nations
Causing grief in human relations
It's a turf war on a global scale
I'd rather hear both sides of the tale

See, it's not about races, just places, faces
Where your blood comes from is where your space is
I've seen the bright get duller
I'm not going to spend my life being a color

~ Michael Jackson: Black or White

Let’s make a pledge to celebrate who we really are, because we are all ethnic, we are all diverse, and we are all human. We have to agree that equality is more than just tolerance. It is more than just announcing we are all equal. It is much more than telling victims of oppression that racism is dead and they are the ones perpetuating it. It is more than claiming some groups don't deserve equality and then blame them for their circumstances.
There is much hard work to be done. Let's work together to get rid of the concept of white and the oppositional concept of black. We don't need anymore divisiveness.

My family is racially and ethnically mixed and we come in all shades of skin tone, but none of us is the socially constructed "white" or "black." (Photos taken at Cara and Mackenzie's first and second birthday parties) 
#####
I am on another journey first touched on in my post Gray Matters. I promised updates. Here is the first.
I last dyed my hair in October 2013.  It’s been about three months now and the growth of my natural color, a very pale gray or nearly white, is showing. I bought five hats of various styles and gotten many compliments about how nice they look, but I bought them to cover the growing skunk stripe.
Recently Ronald told me that while he liked the hats (he tried for years to get me to wear them but I always feared “hat hair”), he really liked how my gray was coming in. He said it looked purposeful, as if I had planned it. He’s helped me to be unafraid to face the world with my growing stripe.
I am sure part of the seemingly easy transition is because I used demi-permanent instead of permanent hair color. The color is fading all over except at the ends where it is very concentrated. So streaks of gray are showing through all of my hair, not just at the hairline or part.
I’m starting to enjoy the color of my natural hair. I don’t feel it has aged my appearance one bit. I put to rest the horrible discrepancy between what I look like and what society expects me to look like and how awful it made me feel.
It’s another pledge I am making for 2014. Will you join me? No more societal judgments and pressures that make women feel insecure about their appearance. At fifty-six I am pleased with my appearance and that I am healthy and fit. What could be sexier than confidence? Ronald has noticed!

My hair has grown quite a bit since I cut it to my shoulders in November. It's always grown quickly.
####

2013 was a difficult year for me. I lost my beloved father-in-law, a man whose life deserves celebration, and I had two painful surgeries to get the bones of my feet corrected so I will regain stability when walking.
It wasn’t a stellar year for the progress of our country either, as we witnessed the least effective Congress in history, the GOP and Tea Party smear campaign of the Affordable Care Act, the war on women, the war on the poor, and the war on workers. The ACA rollout had its own set of problems, but as far as I am concerned, being someone who works with databases, I expected a rocky start with the site. It was a huge undertaking.
Now we can look forward to 2014 with the hope that things will only get better. Perhaps we can even look at the prospects of reinstating long-term unemployment for the millions of people still looking for work and of raising the minimum wage and working toward income equality.

Happy New Year, dear readers! Life is not a straight journey but one that takes course over many roads: some beaten flat by many feet, some rarely traveled, some full of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and painful realities, some that seem to lead nowhere, but none not worth the taking. Enjoy the journey.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Uh, Nuthin'

We only saw my paternal grandfather a few days a year, mostly on Christmas and Easter for a painful hour or so of silence at his home, punctuated by the ticking of the grandfather and mantle clocks. When the grandfather clock struck the hour, I was relieved by the way it cut through the tension in the room.
Dad began each conversation with his father the same way, “How are you, Pop?
My grandfather responded each time in the same way as he paced the floor in shoes two sizes too large, which caused him to slide his feet across the carpet.
“Uh, I feel like a bum.”
I wondered if they were the only English words he knew, though he had lived in the US for over fifty years by that time. Dad spoke a funny broken Italian with English words liberally thrown in to communicate with him. I didn’t understand most of what was said.
Ma would sit uncomfortably on the edge of the sofa, her purse in her lap, and her ankles crossed. I think she must have been poised for a hasty exit. Named by my paternal relatives as an outsider and a foreigner, she was not welcomed by my grandfather.
Aunt Josephine would place a dining chair in the arch between the living and dining rooms, where she would sit primly, her apron the symbol of her familial role as caretaker. She took care of her father, then three of her brothers over the course of her life. Her resentment was a fine mist on her skin.
We children were to be seen and not heard. I was a shy child but rambunctious, too, and sitting silently with my hands in my lap did not sit well with me. I hated the smell of the place, too, like the whole house was preserved in mothballs.
My grandfather died when I was around eight. I remember the phone call and my parents getting ready for the funeral a few days later. Ma would not let us attend. She did not want us to be exposed to a funeral, or grief, or death. Maybe she recalled attending her own father’s funeral when she was but four. Maybe we weren’t invited.
I remember not feeling anything except a tug of sadness for my dad.
For Aunt Josephine it was a brief time of freedom to do some of the things she wanted to accomplish in life before she had to take on the care of her brothers. One of those things was to travel. She started going on vacations with another single woman named Judy. One year, well into her seventies, she traveled to the Liuzzi family’s home country of Italy and visited with cousins.
Aunt Josephine didn’t speak to me for years after I brought Ronald home to my father’s funeral (for new readers, I am white and my husband Ronald is black). There would be no sitting on the edge of the sofa for him, waiting to make his hasty exit. As soon as he felt the discomfort of not being welcome, he took a brief nap, and got right back on the road to Syracuse. My father’s funeral was my first, and I can only say that Ma’s idea of protecting me from death and grief had failed.
Aunt Josephine started talking to me again shortly after the birth of our twins. Perhaps her drive to Syracuse when they were five months old was to verify that they had indeed not been born as one white and one black baby, like the twins she had read about in her weekly tabloid.
After that we stayed in contact. She carried on the tradition my grandfather had begun with a little twist. Every time I called her and asked her what was going on, she’d respond, “Uh, nuthin’.”
My daughter Cara carries on this same tradition. When she calls, I’ll ask, “What’s up?”
“Uh, nuthin’.”
That same malaise crawled on me. I feel like a bum. I’m too tired and too useless to do anything about it because this world is exhausting sometimes. I feel silent and invisible. It’s not the big things, the death of so and so, the surgery, the illness a close relative suffers from, or the lack of funds to do the desperately needed repair. It is the lack of humanity, the murders perpetrated on the innocent, the endless erring on the side of selfishness and greed rather than on the side of the greater good. Blindness and denial cloud the obvious. I feel that same discomfort I felt at my grandfather’s house – not being welcome and not wanting to be there anyway.
As individuals we can hope to make change for the positive, but at the end, the machine of mankind easily erases the path of one.
We’ve been watching Henry Louis Gates’ African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Each week I have to steel myself emotionally to hear much of what I already know. Each week finds me weeping anyway. I am too sensitive not to be moved by the images of injustice and hatred.
Ronald feels angry, validated, and hopeless. That makes me weep, too.
I feel like I don’t belong here in America, because I don’t want to belong to a society that raves about living in a post-racial world when racism is kicking and slapping minorities every day while making the divide larger and more impassable. It’s not good enough that a few have escaped the institutional and systemic racism that is woven into the fabric of our society. It’s not good enough that some people feel they aren’t racist and therefore are not part of the problem. It’s not good enough when white people and some black people say that bringing up racism is what perpetuates it because they are in denial on every single level and don’t care to be educated otherwise.
I’ve cried watching each episode of African-Americans, but none more than the episodes that focused on my lifetime – the awful events that shaped those of us growing up in the mid-twentieth century. The fire hosings, the lynchings, the inequality of our criminal justice system, and, later, the return of Jim Crow after Katrina and the election of our first mixed race president. I am ashamed, and I don’t want to live in a country like this. Not a single person should be accepting of this divisive state in which the value of lives is measured by the color of one’s skin and gender.
I felt the surge of the movements for civil rights, black power, and women’s rights, just as I came of age. Now, in mid-life, I see how all those advances have been engineered out of existence. We cannot be silent. We have to fight. We cannot sit idly by. We are as guilty of doing nothing as if we were the ones, like George Zimmerman, wielding the guns that slay black men and black children every single day or the cops that use profiling and the justice system that uses stiffer sentences to incarcerate black men.
I worry about the new generations and their acceptance of what is; how they are in denial in more ways than one; how they don’t think the erasure of equality (before we truly reached the final goal of a post-racial and post-sexist society) affects them and their wellbeing. But it does in wages that do not equal a living wage; in the removal of benefits including pensions and healthcare; in the closed avenue to upward mobility; and in the expanding definition of what constitutes poverty and who is ensnared by it.
African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross ought to be mandatory viewing for all school children, at every college, in every workplace as part of diversity training, in every religious institution that purports to teach that one should love one’s neighbor as you love yourself. Every parent should be required to watch it and learn to understand what white power and privilege mean to this country in which its very history and success are built on the backs of those considered less than.
Maybe then I can uncross my feet, relax a little, enjoy the conversation, and feel welcome to be part of this country, along with all the others who have been disenfranchised due to their race and/or gender. Right now, when asked what are we doing to fight for equality, I have a single answer, “Uh, nuthin’.”



I was eleven when this historic show of black power was broadcast across the world. I still feel it's impact and sadness that our new generations seem to have no sense of its importance.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gray Matters


I run my fingers through my hair as I stare into the bathroom mirror, and there it is, the gray beneath the dark brown, the truth beneath the lie.  Many people think I look young for 56, but would they say the same thing if they saw the true color of my hair?

This is what my hair looks like when I lift it up. See that gray?

A few weeks ago, I got tired of the lie. I had thoughts of chopping off my two-foot-long hair and going with a pixie cut. Growing out gray is not easy. The infamous skunk stripe lies as much as dyed hair does. Maybe it shouts, “I don’t care about my looks,” or “I’m too cheap to cover my gray,” or “I am sickly,” or “I am old, and it doesn’t matter anymore.” I don’t think it would ever announce, “I’ve taken control of my emotions, and I am not ashamed to be me.”

This is what the world sees.

Ronald and I talked about my hair. We’ve talked about it a lot over the years during complicated, emotionally wrought discussions. How can they not be when each cares so deeply for the wellbeing of the other and yet has needs that also require attention?
Ronald, an artist, has captured me in photos, in oil, in plaster, and in the love letters he sent to me when I had to return to Albany for the first two summers after we met freshman year of college. Most men are visual when it comes to attraction to the opposite sex, but there is an aesthetic that further defines Ronald’s attraction. Flawless skin of certain hues that range from palest white to deepest brown but share a certain luminescence of tone. Large eyes, downturned mouth, and a small chin are other features that speak to him, as do a tiny waist, shapely legs and hips, and small breasts of a certain, perfect shape. I can see a woman with those features and know before he does that his head will track in her direction.
I don’t feel threatened by his looking, but validated.
I’m a feminist. I have been since I can remember. I want equal status. I want a career. I want to earn my own keep and not be someone’s property. I don’t want to be sexually objectified. I want equality in my marriage where I can contribute as an equal partner. My beliefs make my strong feelings about my hair and my tolerance of Ronald’s visual attractions seem out of place. My need for validation seems antithetical.
Yet they exist inside me, clashing and melding at once, seeming like a good mix that lends balance to the whole.
So after we had talked about my hair for the umpteenth time these last few years, I decided definitively to go gray, as if it is a journey to a destination. Part of what made it so definitive is that I’m having surgery at the end of the month on one of my feet, and hope to have the other foot done next month. It’s a huge undertaking that includes breaking and resetting bones. Painful, I’ve heard, but worth it, after bones shift and grow crooked and render one unstable while walking or standing. A welcome life change, so why not clean up all the things that are disabling?
Ronald agreed. I’ve been dyeing my hair since I was in my mid-thirties. He had been against it then. He loved the color of my hair, a mixture of browns, reds, golds, and the occasional grays, so much that he couldn’t imagine changing it. He didn’t think a bottle could ever capture the beauty he saw.
“If you dye a single hair on your head, I’ll know,” he averred.
I dyed it anyway. The hairdresser used a semi-permanent dye, very close to my real color. It took Ronald six months to notice. After that he was good with it. Close enough, I suppose.
Twenty years later, the ruse is tiring.  First it was every 8 weeks, then 5 weeks. Now I go every 4 weeks, and, even then, I feel anxious after week 3. Over the years I’ve gone from semi-permanent, to permanent, to demi-permanent after the permanent hair color nearly ruined my hair with its harsh chemicals.
I used to perm my hair in order to give it the body that fine, straight hair is lacking. Lots of people thought the unnaturally curly hair suited my Italian ethnicity. I guess curly hair is expected on a woman whose maiden name is Liuzzi, but I had to give up the perms in order to color – too many chemicals, my hairdresser up in Syracuse told me. It seemed a grand sacrifice at the time, but I’ve grown to enjoy my fine, straight hair, and I don’t miss the bottled curls.


Ronald and I celebrating our marriage. My hair is permed, not dyed, in this photo taken when I was twenty-six. 


Now I’m wondering if I will miss my “coffee bean” colored hair or if I will soon wonder why I ever stopped nature from taking its course.
I wanted to find out quickly what I thought about my real color. Hence my thought of “chopping it all off.” Hair grows back, after all, and mine grows quite quickly. One daughter, Cara, the one with very short hair, applauded my choice. The other, Mackenzie, the one with hair to the middle of her back, was silent.
I texted my hairdresser: “Don’t bother buying dye. Don’t freak out, but I want you to cut my hair short, a la Cara, as I decided to go gray.” She immediately dialed Cara to see if I had lost my mind.
At the bathroom mirror a week ago, I looked at Ronald using the straight razor to trim his salt and pepper mustache and beard, and I said, as I applied makeup, “Say good-bye to my hair. This time next week, I’m chopping it all off so I can skip the skunk stripe.”
He held the razor poised in the air as my statement sunk in. He said nothing then, but later that evening he said a lot.
“I support you going gray,” he said, “but I don’t understand why you want to cut your hair, too.”
‘The skunk stripe,” I said. It was so obvious to me. I couldn’t believe he didn’t get it.
“How bad can it be? It seems more drastic to do both.” Will he feel that way when his growing bald spot cries out for a total buzz? I’ve promised to let him know when it is time.
I had been so sure. I had photos on my laptop of cuts I thought would look good. Of course, they were on women all 30 years younger than I. When I drudged up a photo of Judi Dench sporting her pixie cut, I shuddered and promptly deleted it.

One of the photos I saved on my laptop so I could show my hairdresser how I wanted my hair cut short.



Here is Judi Dench. I think she is stunning but maybe I am not ready to admit that I look closer to her age than the age of the model above.

The next day I texted my hairdresser again, telling her I needed other suggestions because Ronald was emotional about the thought of short hair and going gray at the same time.  I respect his need to take one step at a time.
We had a text conversation, my hairdresser making suggestions such as highlighting, and I texting to say I’d think about it and finally suggesting I’d like her to cut my hair to the tops of my shoulders.
Yesterday Cara and I showed up for our appointments, and, as I sat in the chair, my hairdresser ran her hands through my hair, and the three of us talked about it.
“You are about 100% gray in front, about 50% at the crown, and a lot less in the back.  You won’t really know what it looks like until you grow it out.”
“I know,” I said.
Cara thought my new cut was adorable even with a luminescent crown of gray around the edge and through the part.
Ronald still hasn’t said a word about it, but sometimes that’s how we communicate in our equal partnership, through silence. It isn’t a condemnation; it’s a slow adjustment to change, not at all out of character. I've stunned him into silence on more than one occasion in our almost 40 years together, oftentimes with a dramatically different hair cut and just once with the announcement that we were having twins. I sit comfortably in the pocket of that silence, knowing that I am validated and he and I will be just fine even when the skunk stripe takes up residence on my head.

Let the skunk stripe begin! More on my journey to gray in future posts.