Monday, December 31, 2012

Shades of Blue

There are many shades of blue and each one elicits from me a different expectation and emotion. I love looking out my kitchen window at our backyard, the gazebo framed perfectly in the Carolina blue sky. If you haven’t seen the sky in Carolina, you don’t know what true blue is: deep, scintillating, saturated, and infinite. I feel my insignificance, but there is certain comfort in the knowledge that nothing that seems life altering really matters in the bigger scheme of the universe.
When we were driving home from the store the other night we passed a house clad in blue Christmas lights. They were cobalt blue and made the house look not festive but like a dark sepulcher, a place to lay and mourn the dead. I was overwhelmed with sadness, remembering the many times I rode in a funeral procession to the cemetery: Dad, Ma, my grandmother-in-law Mama Mack, my sister-in-law Sylvia, my uncles Rocco, Lenny and Punch, my nephew Yancy, and my Aunt Josephine.
Soon after, midnight blue settled in my bones, the kind of blue that leaves me wistful and wanting.
This week is the thirtieth anniversary of my mother’s passing. It might very well be the cause of my blue mood. I’ve understood for years that I carry the legacy of sadness and unspoken words that I only wish had passed between us, and it sneaks up on me every once in a while particularly during the holidays.
Ma loved turquoise, perhaps because it reminded her of the ocean she had crossed to join Dad in America and that separated her from her mother.
Our kitchen, her favorite spot to sit with a cuppa and a good book, was decorated with turquoise print wallpaper. Dad painted the metal cabinets turquoise and the refrigerator was turquoise, too, in contrast to the laminate red countertops and red tile floor. Ma was a study of contrasts, too.

Ma at the kitchen table circa 1982

My youngest brother Andy and I at the table in our turquoise kitchen circa 1967

The holidays often left me sad when I was a kid. Maybe every person, including me, is under the impression that everyone else’s holidays looked like the holidays portrayed in the movies and on television, and we all suffer unrealistic expectations. But the holidays of my childhood had a set progression that began with quiet enough mornings, though the air was rife with tension. Then the tension mounted steadily as the day wore on until detonation. Each holiday was unrelentingly similar. The following excerpt from my memoir is typical of my holiday memories.

(Excerpt from Chapter 3, Guinea Bastard, Shades of Tolerance: A Biracial Love Story)
That night Ma started in after dinner. She yelled over the running water in the kitchen sink to Dad in the parlor reading the paper. “Goddamned little, beady, brown-eyed Guinea bastard,” she said. “Your ignorant mother moved her bowels, didn’t know any better, slapped a bonnet on it, and named it Francesco!”
Dad shook the sports section he held up in two hands and kept on reading. When he didn’t respond, Ma continued.
“You have a woman on the side, don’t you? You don’t care about me. I’m fat and old,” she said. Then she threw one of her precious bone china cups across the kitchen and it smashed against the cellar door. I knew that in short order Dad would explode with anger and frustration. I headed to my bedroom and turned on my transistor radio. I sat on the floor, my legs folded under me, and rocked back and forth, my eyes staring straight ahead, my mind pulling me to daydreams far from home.
The daydreams had me dressed in glittery gowns on the red carpet outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater with crowds of adoring fans asking for autographs. Men lined up to ask for my hand, leaning toward me like the men on the front covers of Ma’s romance novels. Sometimes I saved the town by dragging large dinosaur bones (amazingly still in one piece in the large, hulking shape of the T-Rex) into the town square where the attention of the media and tourists stopped the town from closing down and blowing away in the dessert dust.
Dad reached ignition. “Jesus H. Christ! “ he yelled, and I knew he had thrown the paper to the floor and jumped on it.
“Can’t a man sit down and enjoy his paper after a day’s work? I can’t afford to have a goddamned woman on the side,” he said.
“Your eyes are brown because you’re full of shit! My mother warned me the first time she saw you sucking raw eggs on her front porch. You’re a barbarian. Your children are barbarians. All Italians are barbarians. I left my mother for this!”
“There’s no rest for the wicked,” Dad said, “I work hard. I put food on the table. The house is a mess. You’re all a bunch of prima donnas.”
“Nothing works! I burn my hands at the sink every time I wash dishes.”
“I ought to get a room at the Y and get some peace and quiet,” Dad said.
“I’ve bloody well had it. I’m going to kill myself; I’m going to slit my wrists,” Ma screamed, and I heard the bathroom door slam shut and the lock click. It was not the first time she had said this, nor the last, but each time felt fresh and raw. I raced out of my bedroom to the bathroom door. Andy had beaten me there. We banged on the door. We were both crying.
“Please, Ma, don’t do it!” we screamed in seeming unison. My fists ached from hitting the door over and over and my breath was ragged with terror.
I could hear her jagged sobs. Soon the door opened and she pushed past us into her bedroom. She took a suitcase out of the closet, put it on the bed, threw a few housedresses into it, then slammed the lid shut and lifted it by the handle.
“I’m leaving,” she announced, brushing past us again.
“No, Ma, please,” I wailed, “I’ll try harder to be good.”
Andy grabbed the hem of her housedress, but Ma pressed on. She went out the front door, and we watched her walk down the driveway and out into the street.
Dad went into their bedroom. He shut the door, and Andy and I were without parents at that moment. Suddenly I felt flat and tired. I turned without a word, went into my bedroom, and shut my door. 

Dad in the parlor, 1968

(Excerpt from essay Mother Mother)
I was twenty-five when I lost Ma. She had a series of heart attacks over the Christmas holiday that year, and her heart finally gave out. Dad had died eighteen months before. They did not live to see my twin daughters.
But I lost them long before they died and had only begun to get them back in my life before they each left me for good. There were all the years I wished for Ma to step in, invoke structure and obedience, and demonstrate unconditional love. She did not until I was already eighteen, a young adult, entering into an interracial relationship. That would have been the time to just sit back and watch me make my choices, but she could not do that. Causing a breakup between Ronald and me became her obsession, perhaps fueled by late stage alcoholism. Her obsession would cause me not to speak to her for almost three years. When I might have appreciated some well-placed encouragement and perhaps even joy that I had found love, I instead found myself, once again, figuring it out alone.
Then she was gone, and we both lost our chance to right our prickly, intermeshed relationship.

I look at my grown daughters today and marvel at how wonderful I think they are. They are accomplished, confident, intelligent, beautiful, young women who seem to know exactly who they are and what they want out of life. Their twinship, unlike the weirdly ambiguous one between Ma and me, is their strength, one complementing and supporting the other while still being a strong individual.
The three of us are close, but I still worry about my maternal inadequacy. I know that as much as I tried not to, my mothering damaged them in ways visible and invisible, just because I am human and flawed, and so are they. I once told a counselor, sobbing as I said it, “I feel terrible for all the things I didn’t get right as a mother.” She assured me all mothers feel that way at one time or another. I realize my overwhelming sadness was for what I didn’t get right as a daughter, too.

Ruth Alison Elliott Liuzzi, a daughter, a wife, a mother, and an alcoholic, still lives within me, right in the center of my being, a twin in situ. I feel her stirring within me whenever I feel anxious or afraid but also when I feel brave and accomplished or when I think about myself as a mother. I know we did our best to be good daughters and good mothers, in spite of ourselves. I hope Ma realized that, too.

I still feel the decimation Ma left behind when she departed thirty years ago, her suitcase sitting empty in the closet, as she had not prepared for that journey.
I am still that barbarian child, the one that was not good enough to make her stay. I am still abandoned and continue to feel the hurt that comes from wondering if I will ever be found and reclaimed, despite being surrounded with a loving husband and daughters. That wonder is manifested in the fragile and estranged relationships I have with my siblings, some of whom experienced Ma’s alcoholism at its worst, and others who didn’t because they had already left by the time the late stage alcoholism consumed those of us left behind.
Yet I don’t blame Ma. I’m not angry with her. There is nothing to forgive, though I sometimes feel I am the one needing forgiveness.
Ma did what she could in life. She was courageous in ways I’m not so sure I could ever be and she made me courageous in ways I am sure she never imagined. At the end of it, I truly miss her, and I don’t question whether or not she loved me, but wonder if she ever learned to love herself.
The many shades of blue are the colors of sadness and hope and distance and healing. I revel in their contrasts as surely as Ma did.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Unfathomable Part II: Put Down Your Assault Style Weapons

I watched Batman with my daughter Mackenzie a few days ago. We watched Pitch Perfect first while we decorated the Christmas tree and drank wine. I had a piece of Ghirardelli’s Twilight Delight chocolate with my wine. Mm, it was a delicious combination. I’m trying to feel normal in this world that is tipped on its axis and is spinning toward self-destruction.
Batman is the movie the Aurora shooter, who shall not be named, used as his stage to shoot moviegoers like tin plates in a carnival game. He used an assault style weapon that used 100 round clips. This past week another shooter, who shall not be named, shot 20 children and 5 adults with an assault style weapon called a Bushmaster before turning a handgun on himself. The parent company of the Bushmaster manufacturer decided to sell the company immediately after the school shooting.
The owner of Cerberus Capital said, ““We do not believe that Freedom Group or any single company or individual can prevent senseless violence or the illegal use or procurement of firearms and ammunition,” Cerberus said. “[Still] the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.” 

I remember I waited a week after the Aurora shooting before going to see Batman at the movies. When we finally went, because I refused to let my life be dictated by fear, I cringed and felt terrified during some of the shooting scenes. These men have ruined my movie fun. The very reason to watch a movie such as Batman or Jack Reacher, which I saw yesterday with my husband Ronald, is that such violence is unfathomable and improbable. But it has happened, and not just once. These men have blurred the line between fantasy and reality and dragged us all into the consequence of their inability to tell the difference. It is willing suspension of disbelief in real life, not just in the movies.
Assault style weapons sales have increased since the latest shooting as they did after the Aurora shooting, and people are claiming their 2nd Amendment rights as they hoard the killing machines. They are joining the NRA in record numbers, 8,000 per day since the Newtown shooting. The local gun show here in Winston-Salem had record numbers of people buying guns and ammunition.  A school board appointee was quoted in the paper today saying that he believes in the 2nd Amendment and believes certain school staff should be trained and armed.
People say they need the weapons to defend family, self, property and freedom. They say they need them to defend themselves against the government.
Assault style weapons are nothing but human killers. They have no other purpose. I thought our government was “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We are the government. We are protected by the largest and most powerful military in the world. Why do citizens need to be armed with weapons that are only used for the purpose of mass killing?
Instead of protecting freedom, they are quickly taking our freedoms away.  When I told my husband Ronald about an article I read in the paper yesterday morning where new technology 3D printers can print out plastic parts that can be assembled to make an assault weapon that cannot be detected with metal detectors, he said, “Pretty soon they will have to strip search every person who is traveling somewhere or going into certain buildings or areas, and we are doing it to ourselves.”
What the 3D printer is capable of producing - assault style weapon's parts for assembly

The NRA came out with its statement concerning the Newtown shooting. 
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police in and securing our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” LaPierre told NBC’s David Gregory. “I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it. It’s the one thing that would keep people safe and the NRA is going try to do that.”
 That’s nothing new to me. There was a police officer at every urban school my daughters attended. But LaPierre also suggested that if the teachers had been armed, fewer people would have died. That statement carries a lot of assumptions, like teachers should increase their already overwhelming responsibilities and that every teacher would be happy to carry a gun and perhaps shoot to kill. It also assumes that the teacher who shoots to protect the children is a crack shot and wouldn’t shoot any innocent children or adults in the process of taking out a shooter, or maybe the additional deaths would just be considered collateral damage.
A company is marketing body armor that fits into school knapsacks. The inserts cost about $150, which means only kids of well-to-do parents would have access to them. It also means that parents would need to train their children to place the knapsacks in front of them if someone comes into their classrooms shooting. The body armor will not stop bullets from a gun such as the Bushmaster the Newtown killer used. It also will not stop the damage we are doing to our children in this gun-oriented society.
This stuff makes me sick. Is that where we are headed? Our children’s innocence is being stolen, their lives taken, in the quest for individual freedom. Let’s stop the craziness.
President Obama said, “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”
Yes, we must change. Nothing is clearer to me. More guns and more killing are not the answer. More stringent gun ownership requirements are needed. But even more so, we need to lay down our assault style weapons.
Ronald told the white guys at the golf range, all 2nd Amendment supporters, that if he had to turn his guns in, he would willingly do so. “Sure,” he told me, “it would suck to give up competitive shooting, but if that’s what was required, I’d do it.”
He has had a “conceal and carry” license for over 30 years; owns handguns; is NRA certified to teach pistol safety (though he refuses to be an NRA member due to his strong disagreement with their initiatives); and shoots competitively at bull’s eye targets (never human silhouettes). The white guys at the golf range all scoffed at the idea, although it was a successful initiative in Australia where they allowed citizens to turn in assault style weapons and had positive results in the reduction of gun violence.
I remember Ronald once told someone, “I’m afraid of the same people you are. The difference is I know who they are, and you don’t.”
The individual claimed not to understand what Ronald meant, but I do. So many people believe a stereotyped profile that describes "bad" people: they are black or Hispanic (I won't get into the pervasive negative profiling of Arab individuals -- that's a whole different post for another time), male, poor, and they want what you’ve got. People think that is who they are protecting themselves from, and they are including anyone that fits that description, not even considering the “content of one’s character.” But it is so wrong to make that assumption, and so very dangerous for two reasons.
The first reason is that innocent people will be assumed through profiling to have ill intent and will be treated accordingly, such as shooting them for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin.
The second reason is that people who do have ill intent are not given proper precautionary treatment; they are assumed to be okay, a different and equally detrimental profiling. A white man loading up a van with the neighbor’s flat screen and surround sound equipment may be assumed to belong there, but that is not always true.
What needs to change is how we view each other -- as individuals and not a stereotype.
White men have perpetrated most of the mass shootings, and the shootings have been racially/ethnically motivated in at least one recent case, the shooting at the Sikh Temple. It isn’t just mental illness that gets these mass killers to the point where they want to kill countless others in order to gain infamy and cause the rest of us to mourn. There is something societal about their motivation, too. It’s the sense of entitlement that white people and wealthy people enjoy in our society, only these individuals feel disenfranchised by it for whatever reason. Maybe that is the great myth – that being white bears entitlement – spread by the wealthy and powerful to protect their status and self-interests. Maybe it used to be true, but the economic instability we’ve faced since 2001 and the growing minority populations in America have changed and shifted things.
It’s the same motivation that makes people want to arm up in their homes and where ever they go. It is a kind of paranoia about losing something to people one considers not as deserving as the person arming up to protect what is his. It is the same kind of hatred and fear that I heard repeatedly during the campaign, pointed at President Obama and others, the 47%, who are assumed to be living off the hard work of the “good” Americans. We’ve assumed too much about who is good and who isn’t.
We have to learn that we are all in this together, that we are the government, and that sometimes the very thing that is good for the majority may not feel good to the individual, things such as gun control laws or the banning of certain weapons. We need to believe in a greater good, not just the personally beneficial good. We’ve forgotten that Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “With great freedom comes great responsibility.”
We also need to know and support the initiative that when people need help, there is a support net to catch them. We can’t pick and choose who gets to have a net or decide to arm up in lieu of a net.
The safety net should be there for all of us. Whether it is for lack of food and shelter, to get proper treatment for a mental illness or physical ailment, to find a living wage job, to have access to education to better one’s circumstance, to have access to preventative health care, or to just feel a connection to the rest of the population and the world, we should all have a way to get there without judgment by those offering the help.
We can go back to an America where we don’t need to be armed up, particularly with assault style weapons designed to kill masses of people. Where people can continue to enjoy shooting sports like hunting or competitive shooting and own a handgun or two for personal protection if they are so inclined. Where we can go to the movies and enjoy the vicarious thrill of the action without the threat of it ever becoming a reality. Where children can go to school to learn in a safe and nurturing environment, and parents can feel safe leaving their children at school. All children should be able to learn in such an environment, whether they live in the poorest of urban or rural neighborhoods or they live in an affluent suburb or attend a private school. Our children deserve the best of all of us, and so do we. It’s time to put down our assault style weapons for the greater good.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Unfathomable Has Happened Again

I was a protective mother in many ways, and even though my daughters are adults, I still worry about them. Though I believed in letting Cara and Mackenzie explore their creativity fully as children, I firmly believed in creating a structured, safe environment in which to do so. Some people thought Ronald and I were overprotective, but I had learned, from my own childhood experience of living in an alcoholic home and suffering emotional and physical neglect as a result of it, that a safe environment is the best environment to nurture children and their creativity and minds.
So it was with great trepidation that I finally let C&M walk the three blocks to their K-8 school alone for the first time when they turned 12. They had argued with me before then, and I had said, “I know you are ready, but can you respect that I am not?”
Then one day I was. Even so, I would arrive at work some days and suffer severe panic attacks, hyperventilating with a racing heart, wondering if they got to school safely and if their day would stay safe.
Every parent hopes and has to believe that when her child steps into school, he or she will be in a safe environment and cared for by people who value him or her. I know those parents in Newtown, CT believed it, but one day their children were not safe.
I am so sad for those parents, the professionals who taught and cared for the children and those who responded to the shooting, the children who experienced such a horrific tragedy, the community who has a long healing road to travel, and the children and adults who lost their lives.
We’d already been talking about gun control for years before this event, even though in this election such discussions were eclipsed by economic woes. We talked about gun control after the Columbine tragedy, the Aurora tragedy, and many, many others.  But there are other instances of violence, the everyday violence that children are exposed to in our underserved communities in America. But these regular, every day shootings never seem to elicit the response that these shootings occurring in white middle class environments seem to elicit. And that makes me sad, too.
I’ve been listening to the coverage, and I hear over and over that Newtown is a bucolic, affluent, close community – one of the safest areas in the country. People are stunned that an event of this horrific magnitude could occur in such an area. But I’m not.
Nor am I shocked that the very guns the killer's mother kept in her house for protection were used to kill her. It happens more than anyone would like to think, and it is often by a family member who turns the gun against the gun owner.
I hate that judgments are made about where violence is and is not an expected and acceptable occurrence. Violence is unacceptable and shocking in any community.
My husband Ronald and I were not bad parents because we chose to educate our children in urban schools. They weren’t bad schools. They were good schools. They had dedicated teachers, administrators, and staff. They had safety measures in place. I expected my children to be as safe as those parents in Newtown.
We have to stop the judgments about who deserves to have guns, who deserves to be safe, and whose rights should be more protected than others. We have to believe every life is important and has the same value as ever other life.
So what do we do?
Reenact the assault weapons ban, immediately. Collect all the assault weapons that are already out there and do not sell anymore. No citizen needs that kind of firepower. Only people who expect to shoot someone one day would have that kind of weapon. We have to agree that our country is not that kind of country.
Tighten gun control requirements in every state through a federal gun control law. What is the use of having good gun control in one state if someone can cross state lines and obtain a gun someplace else? Stop the NRA lobby efforts. Every gun dealer should be a licensed dealer. Before purchasing a gun, an individual should undergo a thorough background check. Everyone who purchases a gun should register every gun they own. Large purchases of arms or ammunitions should be investigated. A safety course should be mandatory before gun ownership is approved.
We need to remove the stigma associated with mental illness. Mental illness assessment should be an important aspect of preventative health care.  Access to treatment is a must for every person, without the threat of being labeled and ostracized. How else can those who need it, receive treatment?
We need to be more open to individuality and the differing perspectives each of us brings to our experiences. If we understand that, people who do not fit into a narrow definition of normality will not feel as if they are fringe citizens, isolated from their communities, and we will stop making assumptions about others and ourselves against an unrealistic standard. We are a diverse country in so many, many ways, and we have to stop defining diversity as that which is different from that that is the same, because sameness in that sense is just a social construct that doesn’t truly represent what and who we are.
Understand that religion and God do not have an impact on violence in our society. A mentally ill person is still mentally ill if he attends church. Maybe people who attend church have a higher moral guidance and maybe they don’t. People who don’t attend church and who may or may not be agnostic or atheist do not, by virtue of not being religious, have a substandard morality. There are bad people and good people everywhere, in churches, in businesses, in social venues and in their homes, and their badness and goodness is not one dimensional and unilateral. Prayer in the schools will not stop someone from violence, as Mike Huckabee contends.
What will have an impact is that we learn to care for everyone in our community as equals, and that we ensure all communities can make sure they are safe. We can’t fool ourselves with magical thinking that something deadly and horrific would not occur in our communities, that we live in good communities vs. bad communities, so we are safe from such occurrences. We will find psychotic people who will do horrific things to themselves or others all over, mentally ill people who are hurting and overwhelmed by our post-modern complexity and who may act out as a result, and there are other bad things like natural disasters and illness that we can only do our best to protect ourselves and our families from. We have to recognize that what we think, feel and do is not always enough to keep us safe.
Now we will go through the healing process again and maybe again after this.  I hope not, but I had hoped as much after Columbine, 911, Virginia Tech, Aurora and other mass tragedies.
Parents are feeling the emptiness of their homes and their hearts today, because they lost a child even though they thought they had done everything they could to keep him or her safe. Those who were fortunate to find their children waiting for them at the fire station must truly be wondering how they will continue on and pick up life where they left it when they dropped their children at school yesterday morning.
 Such painful images make me cry and ache in empathy, and it isn’t fair that those parents have to endure such devastation. All of our children – affluent, poor, black, brown or white, girl or boy – deserve to grow up safe, and we deserve to watch them grow up.  Now is the time to act.

Here are my precious children at age two

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bah, Humbug!

I bought my Christmas cards weeks ago, and I usually do them the weekend after Thanksgiving when half of America is battling for sale priced merchandise at the malls. Not this year. I haven’t felt the Christmas spirit yet. I’m trying to give myself permission to not do them if I don’t feel like it. That’s the constant struggle of a people pleaser – always worrying about what other people will think or feel if I don’t do what is expected. I even worried about taking a week off from this blog.  But I see that it is still being accessed daily and my short break created no dire circumstance.
I hope I get my Christmas spirit back, but my whole affect caved after the election. I’ve lost confidence in many of my fellow human beings. Even though President Obama won the election, and the majority of Americans have expressed confidence in his leadership, the unbridled hatred and nastiness unleashed this election cycle has left me wanting for consensus and true American fellowship, the kind grown from having a common cause of caring for the common good. I feel sorry that I’ve let such nastiness crimp my usual perseverance, and I hope I find my Christmas spirit before the day is upon us.
I have a Christmas wish list, though, and it might not be what anyone expects, so maybe I’m learning that I don’t have to please others. Here is it:
1.     We will address the race issue in America in as honest and painful a way as it takes to get over the deep wound our history has caused us. We will not stop until we understand that skin color is just a physical attribute and that the social construct of race was created to keep a group of people powerless and enslaved. The legacy of that still impacts people’s lives daily, and will continue to, until we decide together that it won’t.
2.     The media will stop covering Sarah Palin. Her stupidity, hypocrisy, and lies are exhausting. Communism? Is that really where we are headed with President Obama’s reelection? We are headed toward untold depths of stupidity if we ingest another single word mouthed by Palin, the Tea Party puppet.
3.     The people who are crying for secession will move to Texas and they will secede, leaving the rest of us to enjoy our lives free of racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious zealotry. No, you may not use the name America, especially as associated with the words “United States of”. Nor can you abscond the Constitution. It’s already taken “by the people”, and we are the patriotic ones, not you, who are traitors.
4.     John McCain will retire at the end of his term. He is going dotty. Apparently he doesn’t remember that Condi helped precipitate a war with her message to the media that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He also is under the impression that the other Rice, Susan Rice, is part of a cover up. His vicious personal attack, in conjunction with attacks from several conservative pundits who claimed Rice’s intelligence and trustworthiness are questionable, caused her to withdraw from consideration for Secretary of State. John, get over yourself. In case you forgot, you definitely lost the presidential election in 2008.
5.     Florida Board of Elections will be investigated for continued voting issues including but not limited to excessively long lines in areas of dense minority populations.  No one should have to wait six hours in line to vote. Voting is an inalienable right, not a Wal-Mart Black Friday sale.
6.     Congress will reenact the Assault Weapons Ban, and the states that currently have Stand Your Ground laws will rescind them, making every one of us safer from gun violence. Gun control and background checks will become more stringent, and safety training prior to receiving a permit will be required.
7.     Grover Norquist will opt to relocate to seceded Texas with all the other harebrained conservatives and the greedy rich people who believe their wealth boosts self-importance. They won’t have to pay any taxes at all. Just make sure you don’t come crying to the United States of America when your roads fall apart, there is no one to protect life and property, and climate change causes another storm of the century – oh, wait, just privatize everything. Who needs taxes?
8.     Republican members of Congress will lose federal government health care coverage and pensions. They will live by the very laws they hope to enforce on others while we enjoy the true distribution of wealth where everyone who is able to work will make a living wage while those who can’t will receive assistance that ensures they will live above the poverty level.
9.     Every person serving in an elected office will spend two weeks a year, one week in a rural trailer park and one week in an urban housing project, living amongst and serving our underserved communities. Maybe then they’ll summon their humanity and remember that they are obligated to serve all their constituents.
10. Religious conservatives will stop boasting that they are the only ones practicing the one true religion that will deliver them salvation while the rest of us go to hell in a hand basket.  There may be one true religion, and if there were, and we were perfect, non-sinners, we’d all be practicing it. The world religions have more in common than differences. In lieu of not knowing or understanding the one true religion, let people worship or not in the way they choose, not the one way you want to force on them. And stop using your religion to hate others. No religion supports that.
11. Women will feel empowered and celebrate their roles and contributions to society. We will learn to love our whole beings and demand equality in every aspect of our lives. Not only are there men out there who are trying to control our bodies, they are making many young women think the sex industry is the only way to earn a living and feel self-worth. Our worth is much more than being a plaything. We are not dolls; we are people. We deserve respect and respectful men who treat us as partners and equals, not as sex objects.
12. Donald Trump will step out of the limelight and stop making delusional accusations about President Obama. We don’t care about his wealth, nor are we envious. His money doesn’t make him wise or important, and his opinion does not hold any more weight than any other delusional rich guy who thinks that money can buy anything and his shit doesn’t stink.
13. Rush Limbaugh will lose his radio and television shows. He is a toxic liar who feeds on people’s fears and prejudices to promote his extravagant lifestyle. A country of children? Rush, you underestimate us and inflate your own importance.
14. We will oppose right-to-work legislation that allows employers to decrease wages and benefits while preventing workers from organizing and negotiating for better pay and work conditions. Right-to-work legislation is designed to put more money into the pockets of the wealthy, not to create jobs.
15.  The Christmas /Hanukkah/Holiday season will not begin one minute before 12:01 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving. There will be no early retail enticements, making us too numb to choose how we wish to celebrate the holidays (as holy days, secular family holidays, a combination of the two, or days we choose not to participate in celebrating) There will be no dangerous and irresponsible encouragement on the part of retailers for people to wait in long lines out in the cold for hours, only to trample other shoppers in order to get an item, of which there are only a few and certainly not enough to appease the horde, being offered at a major discount. Once every able person has a job that pays a living wage (see number 8), we’ll all have expendable income to buy presents at fair prices for all parties involved, IF that’s what we choose to do.
16.  My final wish is that every single person will experience a moment, no matter how fleeting, of joy and wonder in the last days of 2012 (no I don’t believe the world will end on 12/21/12). Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy New Year! Happy Holidays! Happy Being!

Me at age four in front of the Christmas tree. Joy and wonder abound.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fall of the Mighty Whities Part III: The 150-Year-Journey

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
~ Abraham Lincoln

My brain is churning this week, and my heart is fast in pursuit of understanding, so I warn you, dear readers, this post is lengthy. But I ask you, is it possible to write succinctly about a 150-year-journey?
This weekend we went to see Spielberg’s Lincoln. I highly recommend this film with its stunning, dark images, stellar cast, moving story, historical accuracy, and authentic dialog. I am so intrigued my mind keeps replaying scenes, and I can’t wait to see it again.

The film showed an intimate portrayal of Abraham Lincoln during the specific months that he pushed for passage of the 13th Amendment. His complicated character is shown in his intelligence, his folksiness, his internal struggles, his offbeat humor, his moral sensibility, and his determination.
"Do we choose to be born? Or are we fitted to the times we're born into?" he asks two soldiers in the telegraph office as he is composing a telegram to hold the Confederate delegation hoping to negotiate peace on a riverboat because he fears ending the war too soon will close the window of opportunity to get the amendment bill passed in Congress.
Radical Republican Congressional Leader Thaddeus Stevens played a big role in helping to pass the 13th Amendment. Wiki says this about him:
He defended and Native Americans, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Jews, Chinese, and women. However, the defense of runaway or fugitive slaves gradually began to consume the greatest amount of his time, until the abolition of slavery became his primary political and personal focus. He was actively involved in the Underground Railroad, assisting runaway slaves in getting to Canada. An Underground Railroad site has been discovered under his office in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Though Stevens’ relationship with his Quadroon housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton, was revealed only at the end of the film, Wiki states their common law marriage was well known in Washington circles, where many people referred to Lydia as Mrs. Stevens.
In the film Stevens, who climbs into bed beside Lydia and hands her the original passed Amendment bill for her to see and read, suggests that she should come to the signing of the bill. She declines saying it would not be right to have his housekeeper attend such an event. It was a poignant moment in the film for me, a demonstration of the sacrifices we make out of our love for another, particularly when our relationships do not fit social convention.
I knew interracial relationships occurred back then as they always have since people of different races and ethnicities ran into each other (some consensual and some not, but I am speaking only of consensual couples in this case, not situations involving rape, violence, and oppression), and I find it interesting that Spielberg and scriptwriter John Logan chose to portray the relationship as secret. If it were truly known openly, it is proof of how complicated race is in our society, then as now. I imagine Spielberg and Logan viewed the relationship as the inspiration to Stevens’ thirty-year-long fight for the abolition of slavery and for race equality in America.
In one scene the congressmen debated whether passage of the 13th Amendment would open the way to giving blacks the right to vote. One congressman warned the others that soon there would be blacks in congress if they were given the vote, and, worse, women would expect to follow!
The movie couldn’t have been released with better timing, given this past vitriolic election and the continued trashing the Republican conservatives are raining down on President Obama. Maybe Spielberg purposely held the film’s release until after the election.  Could he have been that prescient or was he just waiting for the holiday moviegoers?
Certainly all this talk of secession from the Union now that President Obama has been reelected seems to warrant a history lesson. The seven southern states that seceded from the Union prior to the Civil War were not exercising their rights; they were traitors to the country. Their reliance on states rights to uphold the inhumanity and brutality of slavery was an abomination brought about by greed, power, and privilege. We need to acknowledge our history and not glorify the ugly parts of it.
After the movie, back in the car, my husband Ronald, daughter Mackenzie, and I talked about what we had seen. I came away understanding how important it was to get the 13th Amendment passed before the war ended, even without a plan for race integration (which truly did not occur until 100 years later with the Civil Rights Act of 1964). I also understood why the final argument in favor of passage was for legal equality and not race equality. At first I sided with Stevens who wanted to push forward the concept of race equality. But Lincoln counseled Stevens, in a private debate between the two, about the folly of using one’s moral compass to head true north, when the compass has no way of identifying the pitfalls and traps that lie in the path to stop one from completing the journey. He understood they needed to take one step at a time, and eliminating slavery was the first step. In real life Lincoln said of it, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”
I feel strongly that almost 150 years later, we are still taking steps toward race equality and our journey is not nearly over.
A couple of weeks ago one of the white guys at the golf range handed Ronald a photocopy of a column from his church newsletter. I’ve reprinted most of it below:
Prophetic Prospective
United States citizens, at least those who chose to exercise their franchise to vote this last presidential election, decided to return President Obama to the White House for four more years. This reelection of President Obama has received rave reviews from the European and Middle Eastern political leaders. European leaders who basically embrace the same political philosophy as President Obama see this reelection as an opportunity to advance their political agenda. Arab and Muslim leaders await the Obama administration’s acceptance of the Muslim agenda to move those nations touched by the Arab Spring into the establishment of an Islamic world more in line with Sharia, the Islamic law, as the law of each of their nations.
As Christians, many of us have questions as to how it happened. Mitt Romney lost and Barack Obama won. I am not going to analyze the results, but I do want to remind each of us of the biblical response that we must have as we look into the future…
God instituted human government 4,500 years ago as recorded in Genesis 9:6. God instructs Bible-believing Christians to be obedient to those elected and He reminds all of us that He, God is the One, who puts people in their political positions, Romans 13:1. The Lord reveals in Revelation 17:17 that He will use world leaders to have His will played out in the Last Days. God’s Word also calls for Christians to pray for all those who are in positions of authority – as is our president, Timothy 2:1 – 4.
Let me share several prophetic thoughts with you. Bible prophecy speaks of how the financial structure of this world will be controlled by a world leader, a one world leader, the Antichrist from his headquarters in Babylon, the modern-day state of Iraq…The conflict in the Middle East will also be center stage of the Last Days.
This whole scenario is like reading from prophetic passages of Bible prophecy. Europe and the EU are at least the infrastructure for the revived Roman Empire as foretold in Daniel 2 and 7 when it talks about the ten toes… and the ten horns. An Islamic based government in the 23 Arab states and the Muslim states of the Middle East prepare this region for the future described in Daniel 11, Ezekial 38, and Psalm 83.
God has used human government to fulfill Bible prophecy in the past and He will do so as well in the future. Political leaders will indeed help set the stage for prophetic passages in God’s Word to be fulfilled.
~ A minister from NC
The white guy asked Ronald for a response. Ronald, who knows the Bible better than most Evangelicals, immediately started to parse the column and Biblical references (most of which I left out to save on space and your time, dear readers). Finally the man got frustrated and said, “I didn’t ask you for a sermon!”
“No,” I said to Ronald from my hotel room up in the northeast, as we spoke on the phone, “he didn’t want a sermon. He wanted you to agree with what it said. Doesn’t he get that if he believes God chooses who wins, that God chose Obama?”
Now that I’ve reread it (instead of hearing it over the phone), I see the author is predicting that Obama’s reelection signals the End of Days. Hasn’t every generation thought that certain events were harbingers of the end? The Civil War (and every war) must have made people wonder if the end was near with the loss of over 620,000 soldiers and another 420,000 injured.
Here are a few more letters published this past week in my local paper the Winston-Salem Journal. They, like the article above, also predict the dire consequences of President Obama’s reelection.
Congratulations! Elections certainly do have consequences. Witness the 950 jobs lost from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center – in my opinion, thanks to Obamacare.
Tighten your seatbelts, because our “tyrant and chief” is just getting started.
~ Peter Wilson
Not This Time
It’s over…but I don’t get it. More than 50 percent of the voters picked the candidate who has been the most divisive president in my lifetime, which has been for almost three quarters of a century.
I have always understood why people have picked one candidate over another, but not this time.  I always felt if my candidate lost, so be it. I could live with the opponent for another four years. But the past four years have been nothing but a failure. Of course, a lot of freebies were handed out.
As you can tell by now, my choice was former Gov. Mitt Romney. Here was an honest, decent, intelligent man who felt it was a privilege to help others, yet he was demonized by the opposition and the press, including this paper, with all sorts of falsehoods.
I’m not the smartest guy in town but would someone explain how this happened? Do we go through another four years of bickering and higher unemployment, dividing the country even more? I hope not. We cannot afford more of this and while I hope I am wrong, I see the middle class disappearing. And while I’m not an overly religious man, I wonder if this is a test from God to see if we as a nation can survive.
I love America and I hope the best years of my country are not in the rearview mirror.
~Art Frauenhofer
How very fortunate America would have been to have Mitt Romney as our leader. His is so experienced, so competent and so honest. Instead, we have returned to the hopelessness, ineptness and deceit of the last four years.
My fellow Americans, it will not be all right. We will suffer; our children will suffer; our grandchildren will suffer. And, yea, the Journal will suffer. But, thank God, Sandra Fluke will get free contraceptives.
~Janice Dooley
The consequence they seem to predict is the end of the White reign in America, the day when a black president is accepted not just for the novelty of being the first black president but because the majority of Americans loves, trusts and respects him and his leadership.
Racism played a role in the election campaign but it did not change the outcome. Yet I can only think that there are people out there who are afraid of the demise of white privilege just as there were people 150 years ago who feared the consequences of freeing the slaves.
I see it quite differently, though. Maybe more like Thaddeus Stevens, I see what America can be after this hard fought election: inclusive, diverse, and celebratory of how this country was built by the contributions of many races, ethnicities, and cultures. I envision a new America that honors equality and fairness, in word and in action. No one is asking for “free gifts” as Romney accused Obama of rewarding to a majority of voters. We just want race and gender equality. That’s not a free gift; it is morally and ethically the right thing to do.
But I have the feeling that a good many white people don’t feel that way, and they are hoping and praying God will intervene and give them back the entitlement and privilege they don’t openly acknowledge. Yet they fight for it and accuse others of wanting it.
One of the white guys at the golf range told Ronald he doesn’t think everyone should be able to vote. He believes that an elite group, unnamed but probably white and wealthy, should be the only Americans eligible to elect our country’s leaders. Ronald wondered, as he related the story to me, if the white guy included himself in the elite group. No doubt.
Lincoln also said, "Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."
Maybe Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, or the white guys at the golf range would be willing to walk in the shoes of the 47% for a week. I don’t think they would last an hour. So why are they trying to determine our destiny?
Another white guy at the golf range told Ronald a couple of months ago that, all things being equal, the wealthy would still be wealthy and the poor would still be poor. In other words, wealthy people are smarter, more able, and more motivated than poor people who, he said, are too lazy to change their circumstances.
I believe the days of elitism and race advantage are coming to an end.
I’m disappointed that people are using the Bible to spread hatred and bias and that they are unabashed about mixing church and state. It was true in Lincoln’s era, too.  The Bible was used to justify slavery and unequal, brutal treatment under the law and to predict the dire consequences of ending the social order. Such predictions and prophecies render us spiritually, morally, and ethically bankrupt.
Are people afraid of the new multiethnic America? Yes. I know they are. But haven’t we been moving away from Euro-centric culture (many Americans seem opposed to European socialism; I wonder how they define their whiteness) since the first Pilgrims landed on America’s shores, since America opened its arms to immigrants (the Native Americans being the first to allow strangers on their shores)? Haven’t we always had different cultures mixing to create a culture that is singularly and uniquely American? What are we afraid of?
I wrote the following comment on Facebook and attached the political cartoon below it:
When people hate so much they want to secede from the country they claim to love, we need to invite them to the table so we can offer them the chance to talk about it and to show them we love the country as much as they do and we don't plan on going anywhere. I know, they haven't offered that to us, but I think the high road is the better route, even if it takes a little longer.

Lincoln took the high road, even as he questioned his own methods and the power of his office. The country, with the Southern States once again part of the Union, took the high road and enacted the 13th Amendment. As Lincoln counseled Stevens in the film about the virtue of using one’s moral compass to head true north, we have to walk in that direction, but avoid what the compass cannot foretell, the pitfalls and traps that may stand in front of us. Let’s relocate our country’s moral compass, find true north, take the high road, and, avoiding that which can stop us in our tracks, complete the journey to race equality. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fall of the Mighty Whities Part II: The Gift of Visibility

Mitt Romney chalked up his loss to Obama giving gifts to certain people, the 47% he infamously spoke about, effectively buying their votes. These gifts included health care coverage on parents’ plans for individuals up to age 26; amnesty for the children of illegal immigrants who call themselves the Dreamers; partial forgiveness of student loans; and access to contraceptives. It’s nothing that Republicans haven’t been saying all along in one way or another, but Romney quickly found out that his GOP peers distanced themselves as if he were a pariah.
Newt Gingrich said, “I just think it’s nuts. I mean, first of all, it's insulting. The job of a political leader in part is to understand the people. If we can't offer a better future that is believable to more people, we're not going to win.”
Was his statement a revelation or the first step to hoodwinking the populace with a different approach? I don’t consider much of what Gingrich says as even close to the truth, so, of course, I suspect the latter. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be open to the GOP changing course, but at this moment, it seems unfeasible.
I was traveling for work last week and left my red swing state to arrive in a northeast blue state, so I had some time off from politics other than tuning into MSNBC in the evening back at the hotel. One night Ronald and I watched Chris Matthews together by telephone.
Ronald, on the other hand, continued his daily trek to the golf range where the white guys on the porch also talked about how Obama stole the election. I realize that 49% of America might not be happy with the election results, but, then again, many of us spent 8 years unhappy with President Bush, and there was a good deal more evidence of a stolen election back in 2000 than the skimpy evidence Republicans are holding up as proof today that the 2012 election was stolen from them. I’m finding difficulty in believing that it is something other than racism that is causing the backlash.
One very strange accusation came from Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster a week ago. He said, “dozens [and] dozens of Black people [came] in and voted on Election Day. Everybody has a right to vote but nobody in [these] towns knows anyone who's Black. How did that happen? We’re going to find out.” 
He later issued an apology. I guess he was like a social studies teacher I worked with when I student taught in the Syracuse City Schools back in 1978.
“The invisible poor,” she exclaimed in the faculty lunchroom one day. “I’ve never met a poor person. Do they exist?”
Yes, Virginia, they exist, and a lot of them are your students. Not only do poor people exist in America, but also blacks and Hispanics and Asians and Native Americans and mixed race people and gays and lots of others of all races, ethnicities, and socio-economic status. America is not just a country full of wealthy, heterosexual, white people.
Ronald discovered once again that he does not matter the way the white guys, who hang out on the porch at the golf range, matter. They had all taken out pictures of their wives to show one another. Ronald, trying to prove that he is just another American guy despite his dark skin, wandered over to the CRV to dig into his man bag for a photo of me.
A black guy, someone Ronald has spoken to on prior occasions at the golf range, stood next to his car loading his clubs into the trunk. Ronald showed him my photo and said he was going to show it to the white guys on the porch.
“You do realize where we live,” the other black guy counseled. “It’s not accepted down here.” (Note for new readers of my blog – I’m white and Ronald is black.)
“I know where I live,” Ronald said. “That’s why I’m showing it to them.”
He stepped back up on the porch and displayed the photo, taken at work for my ID card a few years ago. Two white guys stood up and left without so much as an acknowledgment. Another said, “I’ve seen that photo already.”
True, he had. Ronald had shown it to him and a couple of the other white guys on the porch before.
“You also met my wife,” he reminded him. The white guy and his white wife were dining one evening as we entered the restaurant and were seated at the booth directly behind them. Introductions were made, and, when they finished dining, they stopped at our table for another ten minutes of small talk.
“I don’t recall that,” the white guy said. Ah, the invisible interracial couple!
Sunday night Ronald, our daughter Mackenzie, and I went out for pizza and wings at our favorite pizza shop (okay, the ONLY pizza shop we patronize down here). The young white woman, who usually works behind the counter and who always hands Ronald’s debit card back to me, was off that night. The white guy behind the counter was friendly, called Ronald “boss,” and even gave us a discount card because he knows we eat there a couple of times a month.
One of the white guys from the golf range was sitting at the counter behind us waiting for his order to be completed. Ronald turned to acknowledge him but the white guy dropped his head. He later walked by our table to go to the men’s restroom, and he dropped his head then, too. Ronald had spoken to him often over the course of three years. They had shared bowling plaques and awards they had each won, like Ronald’s 299 ring, and they had spoken about golf.
Ronald told the white owner of the golf range about being ignored by the white guy when he went Monday to hit balls.
“Well, he probably didn’t recognize you out of context,” the white golf range owner told him.
“Why not? He’s seen me for over three years, and we’ve had lengthy conversations. I recognized him,” Ronald said.
“But he’s never really looked at you,” I told Ronald when he related his conversation with the white golf range owner.
The invisible black guy!
So I agree with Romney on a certain level that Obama gave us gifts. He gave us the gift of acknowledgement, the gift of mattering, and the gift of visibility. We are not invisible. We exist. Some people just don’t see us.
Ronald and Dianne in 1976

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fall of the Mighty Whities

I heard the thunderous boom of the political right crashing down on Tuesday evening. The Leviathans of conservatism, arrogant with self-entitlement and the privilege that comes with power and money, toppled like the Atlantic City Boardwalk during Hurricane Sandy.
Some conservatives, many of whom confidently counseled that Obama’s 2008 win was an anomaly, thought they had catastrophically lost the country. Others worried aloud that they had lost their majority status of power and entitlement. Karl Rove demanded that TV stations, including conservative Fox News, recant the prediction that Obama had won Ohio, thus winning the election. Donald Trump called for a revolution, one quite different from the one I called for in my last post You Say You Want a Revolution. The next morning Rush Limbaugh opined, “In a country of children where the option is Santa Claus or work, what wins?”
I can only wonder if the wealthy campaign backers, the ones Romney courted in his infamous 47% speech that was secretly recorded by wait staff, are suffering buyer’s remorse.
I want to think the Republicans learned something from the election, but I’m more inclined to think they didn’t, especially because of the manner in which they took their losses. I can still hope though.
Maybe I can help them through this apparently dire tragedy. This is what I think they can learn:
1)   It’s not about power; it’s about empowerment.
2)   It’s not about who has the most money; it’s about who has the most heart.
3)   It’s not about white superiority; it’s about the equality of our diversity.
4)   It’s not about tokenism; it’s about open acceptance and seats at the table.
5)   It’s not about being king of the hill; it’s about moving mountains to level the playing field.
6)   It’s not about legislating Christian dogma; it’s about respecting religious freedom.
7)   It’s not about paternalism; it’s about what we can learn from one another.
8)   It’s not about staying the same; it’s about evolving into something better.
9)   It’s not about exclusion; it’s about inclusion.
10)   It’s not about race; it’s about the content of one’s character.
11)     It’s not about gender restrictions; it’s about gender parity.
12)     It’s not about abortion; it’s about educated, safe, and accessible reproductive health options.
13)     It’s not about entitlement; it’s about lifting the quality of life for all Americans.
14)     It’s not about denying history; it’s about reconciling our future.
15)     It’s not about hatred; it’s about the noisy and riotous negotiation to consensus.
16)    It’s not about lying to gain the edge; it’s about embracing the truth of our changing country.
17)     It’s not about extremism; it’s about understanding the centrality of the greater good.
18)     It’s not about the right or the left; it’s about the full continuum of conviction.
19)     It’s not about the 47%; it’s about the 100%.
20)     It’s not about the end of the world as you know it, or, as Ronald heard today, an “Obamanation;” it’s about the roar of a united voice in America.
Out of the ashes rises the Phoenix, and you, my dear Republicans, can share in the rebirth of America as a country that embraces its diversity and cares about all of its citizens. We will not exclude you, nor will we be punitive toward you. We welcome you to the new America.