Saturday, March 3, 2012

Just Say No to Racism, Misogyny, Classism, and Stupidity

Sometimes I just want to ignore the news, but I can’t do it for long. Dad used to read one or two newspapers from front to back on a daily basis and finish his evening by doing the crossword puzzle. He brought home copies of Time Magazine and Atlantic Monthly from his job in the mailroom at Williams Press. I got hooked on news (and crossword puzzles) at an early age.
That doesn’t stop me from feeling disbelief and disappointment every time I read the daily paper or peruse, and the online version of the New York Times.

My last two posts dealt with emotions, truth and lies.  Here they are if you’d like to read them.

My obsessive brain is still ruminating on those topics and the news is fueling my internal debate.
Tell me why people can claim ignorance on certain topics and think they can get away with it. How could federal judge Richard Cebull claim he is not a racist and that he did not see the below joke as racist when he shared it with several colleagues?
"Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.
"A little boy said to his mother, 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?'  His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'"

I say remove him from the bench. He is in a position to ruin people’s lives, particularly if he lets his personal lens inform him about the people standing before him in his courtroom. We are all guilty of viewing the world through our own unique perspective, it’s the only lens we have, but if we aren’t aware of how that perspective filters information, we’d better not be in positions of power.
If you have to announce that you aren’t racist, you probably are.  Stop trying to convince yourself and fool others. I admit that I am a racist, simply because I am white and I have directly benefitted from being white in ways my husband and daughters will never experience in our lifetime, in our society. White people, admit that privilege, power, and entitlement exists because of your whiteness and stop blaming ethnic minorities for the problems they encounter by living among us. Then stop spreading racist jokes and emails. You are smart enough to know what they are and how hurtful they are, not just for the people they make fun of but for all of us. Acknowledging and accepting your role in this racist society is the only way to change the awful course we are on.
Speaking of power, what of Rush Limbaugh’s charge that Sandra Fluke is a slut because she wants her insurance to cover contraception and not make moral judgments on her behalf because she is a student at a religiously affiliated law school? Rush is on wife number four and he is a recovering Oxycontin addict. Should he really be judging other people’s morals and actions? Powerful, rich, white men, stop trying to tell us how to act and worry about your own actions and intentions to gain power and wealth at the expense of others. Admit your own moral weaknesses and stop thinking your wealth and position make you better than others.
For all men, women are not sluts because they want to use birth control.  They are being responsible. They are not morally corrupt if they choose abortion. Even if you cannot imagine making that choice, sometimes it is the only option, and if you haven’t walked in that woman’s shoes, don’t suppose you know better than she. Your misogyny has trapped us in a corner. Instead be responsible partners who care about our health and welfare. Participate in such decisions as an equal partner, be truthful about other partners and sexual behaviors, be good fathers even when you are no longer our partners, and be accountable for your intentions. Treat us as equals, true partners and companions, and not as objects. Don’t turn our need for emotional intimacy and our desire to please you against us, as if it is a sign of weakness. It is our strength and it contributes to your strength. Let our differences complement and enrich one another. Men, admit your own imperfections and stop pretending you have all the answers or that you can answer for us.
For all people, there are no single truths on this earth. Our world is awash in ambiguity, bad and misdirected intent, and human imperfection. The continuum of human experience is long and extreme. How dare any person thinks he or she can impose belief or will on another person. Hasn’t history proven the fallacy of that over and over again?
But we can act in concert, as a community, by treating all people as equals, giving each person voice, even when that voice is different from our own, and by accepting that just because we are different doesn’t mean we cannot find common ground. That is true community, the acceptance of all that we are and the hard work of finding ways to live in harmony. Our diversity makes us stronger.
Question your intentions at all times. If they are driven by self-righteousness, personal gain, paternalism, racism, misogyny, classism, or egotism, they are probably bad, misdirected, or stupid. Just say no.

(Excerpt from Chapter 6: Being Black All by Myself, Shades of Tolerance: A Biracial Love Story  - any feedback on the title is appreciated)
In January 1978 Ronald handed me a small box. I slowly opened it, and there was a ring inside. It was sterling silver with a blue lapis stone.
“It’s so beautiful,” I said, “Does this mean we are engaged?”
“Let’s call it a pre-engagement ring,” he said, smiling at my forwardness. “I wanted something that wouldn’t overpower your hand. It’s perfect,” he continued, holding and admiring my hand, his strong aesthetic sense for color and shape molding his choice.
“Yes, it is,” I said.
I showed it to Ray and Brenda when I stopped by to drop new tapes off to them. They lived in a single room together against campus policy.  The room was a disaster: dirty clothes, tapes, textbooks, pizza boxes and empty soda cans strewn on every surface including the floor. I wondered how they navigated the room without hurting themselves, as I carefully stepped through the mess.
            Brenda, who lost her vision at age nine when she fell down a flight of concrete stairs, ran her fingers over the surface of the ring.
            “So pretty,” she said.
            “Let me see,” said Ray, and we laughed. I pushed the ring close to his “good” right eye through which he could see shadow and a bit of color. He had been a “premie” and spent time in an incubator. The oxygen levels had robbed him of sight.
            “Are you going to get married?” Brenda asked.
            “It’s a pre-engagement ring. I want to,” I said, thinking they would probably get married, too, one day. They were inseparable. But they broke up that summer, the pressure of their families’ displeasure over the interracial relationship finally taking the ultimate toll.

The summer Ma accused me of causing Dad’s heart attack, Sylvester Jr. and his wife had a baby boy. Ronald called me at my summer job to tell me baby Yancy had been born and weighed more than twelve pounds. I began to cry.
            “Why are you crying?” he asked.
            “I want that to be us,” I said.
            “We’re still in school,” he said, “We couldn’t live like that.”
            “I can get work,” I said, “I’m tired of school anyway.”
            “Nope, don’t do that,” he said.
            One day during the spring of 1978, Ronald and I had our first bad argument. I was on birth control pills and concerned about the long-term side effects. There was a meeting in the lounge of the dorm floor on birth control methods, and I wanted us both to go so we could decide together what I might change to.
            “I don’t want to go,” he said.
            “Don’t you care about my health?” I asked.
            “If you end up getting pregnant, you’re gonna be an unwed mama,” he said.
            “Why would you say that?” I asked, my eyes stinging, remembering his ex-girlfriend had a baby that she had given up for adoption.
            “What you’re on is fine. It works, why change?”
            “You don’t care if I have a stroke or get breast cancer?”
            “That’s not what we are talking about.”
            “Just come to the meeting and see,” I said.
            “You go,” he said.
            I took my ring off and threw it at him.
            “You don’t care about me,” I said, “If you did, you would go with me and be part of the decision.”
            “Is that what you think?” he asked.
            But he walked down the hall with me to the lounge packed with students. I realized later that Ronald was embarrassed to sit in a room full of people and listen to a lecture about something he thought was personal.
The resident advisors passed around condoms, IUDs and diaphragms. They explained how each worked and how effective it was. They talked about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases – no one had heard of AIDS in 1978.
Someone passed a diaphragm to me, and I turned it around in my hands. Then I handed it to Ronald and looked at the side of his face. He cradled it in one hand then passed it on.

I only got pregnant once, even though my diaphragm lay unused in the medicine cabinet for the twenty-eight years I needed birth control. Neither one of us liked its inconvenience. I always swore I got pregnant the day we got married. At three months we learned we were having twins. Ronald did not speak for several days as he digested the news.
I remember the first time I felt them move, soon after we learned we were having twins. I was sitting on the sofa and I felt a tickle deep inside. I called Ronald to come sit next to me, and he placed his hand over my tummy. He laughed and said, “I think it’s just indigestion.” But we both knew it was two little babies, growing, moving in rhythmic synchronicity.
For the next five months Ronald went to each appointment at the doctor’s office, oftentimes the only male sitting in a waiting room filled with pregnant women who stole glances at him because his presence must have made them wonder why their husbands were not seated beside them. The doctor, a petite, ageless, German-born woman who worked quickly and efficiently, teased Ronald, asking him if he questioned her competence. She often gave him instructions: “Buy her some ice cream. She isn’t gaining enough weight” or “Don’t let her walk to work anymore. Twin pregnancies are high risk and the babies’ well-being is more important than staying in shape” or “Take those pregnancy manuals away from her. She doesn’t need to be scaring herself” or “Sleep on the couch if she is too restless. And don’t you get angry, Dianne. He needs his rest, too.”
Ronald bought me a handmade black Cabbage Patch doll for Valentine’s Day. She wore a yellow baby’s dress and white leather shoes, and her hair was black yarn. I named her Amelia. Ronald shaved my legs on the weekend and pulled my support stockings on each morning, sitting behind me, his legs on either side. My tummy had gotten too big to reach my legs and feet. He patiently waited while I threw up each morning before he drove me to work. On a particularly icy day, he pulled his car up to the curb to pick me up from work. He jumped out and held up his hand, signaling me to wait for him. When he reached me, he picked me up; my arm slung around his neck, and he carried me from the library door to the car so I would not fall. I giggled the whole way, asking him, “So what does it feel like to carry a whale?” When the weight of my tummy made it difficult to climb the stairs to our apartment, he helped me, his arm around my waist, hoisting me up each stair. He ran out and bought Steak’ums with Cheese, something I had never eaten before or since, but for which I suddenly had a craving. He told me that pregnancy made me even more beautiful, my skin glowing.
At Bird Library many of my colleagues were excited about the prospect of twins. They remembered when Ronald and I met freshman year of college in Copy Services. They had watched our relationship mature over the years, held their breath waiting for us to marry, and now they were getting to experience our pregnancy. Technical Services staff good-naturedly placed bets on what day I would deliver, and many came to a baby shower thrown by one of the librarians. But one woman always looked dour when I walked by her desk to go to the restroom or the staff lounge. One day she stopped me and said she had something to say.
“You know I’m interracially married, too,” she said. She was a small black woman, maybe in her mid-thirties, quiet, not unfriendly, but not social. She just came to work and did her job. I had heard her husband was white, but I had never seen him.
“Yes, I know,” I said, wondering what she was getting at.
“We decided not to have children,” she said, looking down at my belly. “It’s irresponsible to bring interracial children into this world.”
I was stunned silent, my face feeling warm, but I shook off my surprise. I thought, what made her feel she could say this to me, when I am this far along in my pregnancy, unable to do a thing about it? What is her intent? Then I wondered if she felt she had sacrificed her right to have children for her right to love a man of a different race. “We don’t feel that way,” I said. “We think if you have loving parents it doesn’t matter what race you are.”
She looked at the floor and I turned and walked away.

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