Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Being a Creative Maladjusted

This week George Zimmerman was released on bail.  His family had to come up with about $15,000 to get him bonded out on $150,000, and he was responsible for his own security. He did not tell the court that he had over $200,000 in a Pay Pal account donated by supporters of his fatal action. I so wanted to believe this man was a good man who made a terrible, irrevocable error, even knowing that he continued to trail Trayvon Martin after the police told him not to. I wanted to believe he was truly remorseful when he publicly apologized in court to Trayvon’s parents. But sometimes I give people too much credit. Then the disappointment I wear like a shroud smothers me in reality.
Wake Forest University announced the 50th anniversary of its integration on April 27, 1962. It was the first private Southern university to allow integration of students. Prior to the integration effort many (all white) Wake Forest students had joined a lunch counter protest, similar to the historically famous one staged in Greensboro, by students of the historic black college Winston Salem State University. The timing and the environment were right for university officials to open Wake Forest to integration before the federal government forced them to. Martin Luther King would deliver a speech on campus just months later on October 12th, nine months before he organized the March on Washington in 1963, an event that propelled him to national prominence.
The Charlotte Observer published a short AP wire story on October 13, 1962.
“Maladjustment is Needed – King.” 
Rev. Martin Luther King, 35-year-old Negro integrationist, told 2,200 white and Negro persons here Thursday night that the biblical prophets, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Jesus were all “maladjusted to the evils around them.”  The Baptist minister said the hope of the world lies in the emergence of “a society of the creative maladjusted.”  King received a standing ovation after his talk in Wake Forest College’s Wait Chapel.

I was about to turn five in April 1962 in a suburb of Albany, NY, and I had no idea that there were places some people weren’t allowed to be. My father’s best friend, Harold VanZandt, was a black man, and I loved him and he me. I had no reason to think he would be treated differently than my father. It wouldn’t occur to me, that fall when I entered kindergarten, that there was not a single black child in my class. Nor would there be for my entire school career, although there were a few black children in the district – about forty in my high school of 3000 students. I also never had a black teacher. Was Wake Forest progressive and caring or were they simply bending under the tide of change?
I read a great post, A Complete Guide to 'Hipster Racism', by Lindy West on It’s over the top, comical, honest, well written, and a must read. I wish I could find my humor about this shit. But I can’t, not in public at any rate because I worry that the people who need to won’t get the joke. Besides, I’ve lived this, and most incidents weren’t funny; they were scary. In private is another story – we joke about it all the time.
I read about Peter Keller in the news, a survivalist who lives in the state of Washington and who killed his wife and daughter, set the house on fire to cover up the murders, and headed to the underground bunker he spent eight years constructing and stockpiling with food, supplies, and arms.  What is an American trying to survive? And why didn’t he include his wife and daughter? Perhaps it is the perceived war being waged against his socio-political beliefs and status as a white man. I find it confusing and irrational, since we are a country rich in resources, enough for everyone and more, if we were of a generous collective mind, a be like Jesus collective mind. In some ways it makes more sense for the have-nots to be in survivalist mode – but I guess they don’t stand to lose what the haves stand to lose – wealth, power, and the ability to oppress others. But survivalists often feel disenfranchised and excluded from the elite. It’s tough to be white and not feel the privilege that one expects will go with whiteness. Disenfranchisement creates angry white men, although those same men cannot understand the anger of disenfranchised minorities.
Amendment One is up for vote in North Carolina on May 8th. If it passes it will change the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Same sex marriages are already illegal in this state, but this is a last holdout state in the South as far as amendment changes, and some people don’t care to be different about it. They want the power of the Bible in their constitution, to forget the necessary and legal separation of church and state, so they can say they’ve saved sinners from themselves. But we are all sinners and we could all use saving when you look at us from the Old Testament point of view, which is the section of the Bible many proponents of this amendment are quoting from. Forget the good news of the New Testament.
I remember my Catholic upbringing. I imagined my soul like a glass bottle of milk, white with dark spots like rot or cancer or the floaters that now obscure my vision sometimes when I awaken in the gray of dusk. Those spots represented the sins tarnishing my spiritual pureness. In the Catholic religion there are different kinds of sins.
Mortal sins are grave sins, they destroy a person’s charity, and they were listed as follows up until 2008: lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride. In 2008 Bishop Girotti redefined them as follows: polluting, genetic engineering, being obscenely rich, drug dealing, abortion, pedophilia, and social injustice.
For a sin to be considered mortal, three conditions must exist: it is a grave matter; it is committed with full knowledge that it is a mortal sin; and that it is committed with full consent.
Venial sins are less serious. While mortal sins destroy a person’s charity, venial sins merely weaken it. Both can be forgiven, as well as original sin (which is forgiven through Baptism), but not blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. That is considered an eternal sin.
Those that blaspheme the Holy Spirit, for example, by claiming God wants them to be elected or that they are speaking for God against others, are facing certain damnation. Legislate that.
This past week while Ronald and I were out, we saw a truck with its grill decorated with a Confederate flag and a car with a Confederate flag vanity plate just a few minutes later. A photograph of a lynching in Marion, IN, popularly used as a postcard in the 1930s, popped up on my computer screen as I was doing a search. The burned bodies of two black men hanging from a tree, surrounded by a mob of white men, women, and children, some of whom smile at the camera, inspired the poem and song Strange Fruit penned by Abel Meeropol and sung by Billie Holiday. Every time I see the photograph my stomach turns and my disappointment in humanity turns to horror.
Last night I watched a show on the history channel, Third Reich. The first world leader to use “the communist threat” to strike fear in the masses was Adolf Hitler in 1933. He systematically eradicated communists, then Jews (six million by the end of the war), from Germany. He ordered the involuntary sterilization of over 400,000 people in 1934 alone for reasons such as blindness, deafness, homosexuality, promiscuity, alcoholism, and physical deformity in the quest to eradicate genetically inferior humans. Aryan couples were encouraged to have as many children as possible. Germany needed “better Germans [and] more of them.” Teenage Aryan girls were placed in camps where they were impregnated. The unwed girls were known as “the Fuehrer’s brides.”
I learned the interesting fact that Hitler rose to power with only 37% of the people’s support of the Nazi party. Take note. Sounds like conservative right numbers here in America. The Moral Majority that is really the Moral Minority shouts louder and more vehemently to deliver its subliminal message of hate and oppression.
Within fifty-two days of Hitler coming to power, the government suspended freedom of the presses, tapped telephones, and opened and read mail. People supported the effort because they believed it was for the greater good, and they turned in neighbors and even family members in their vehemence to be accepted into the Reich. Time Magazine named Hitler Man of the Year in 1935. By 1938 he planned to conquer the world. Many people around the world, including many Americans, were philosophically in agreement with him. The US also engaged in involuntary sterilization and human subject experiments.
Today is my twin daughters’ birthday. I had hoped for a better world when I gave birth to them. Someone showed me a book soon after Ronald and I started dating in 1976 titled The Browning of America. I remember telling the person that showed it to me that Ron and I were doing our part. I thought that trend would stop racism and further the civil rights movement. I thought feminism would rid the world of gender oppression. But both movements have only brought out how very racist and misogynistic the fabric of our society is, and in many ways our progress has created a nasty backlash.
I realize I spend a lot of time feeling like I’m from some other planet, wishing for it, perhaps, as I witness this world that appears like a science experiment gone terribly wrong. In his speech at Wake Forest, King said he was maladjusted to “some things in our social order . . . and would hope that men of goodwill all over would be maladjusted to these things until the good society is realized.” I am one of the creative maladjusted.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Diminishing Racism One Granite Countertop at a Time

Race is in the news again this week. George Zimmerman was released from jail on a $150,000 bail and is awaiting trial.  He apologized to Trayvon’s parents in court, and many people believe the gesture was opportunistic, though I’m not so sure. A North Carolina judge, Greg Weeks, tossed out the death sentence of inmate Marcus Robinson because he ruled the trial was influenced by racial bias.  It was the first ruling under the 2009 Racial Justice Act. Two black men filed a discrimination lawsuit against TV shows The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for the treatment they received during a casting call. They believe the shows intentionally screen out people of color.
What side you fall on in each of the above events doesn’t matter. What matters is that they happened, and they happened because racism, bias and discrimination still exist.
Marcus Robinson, a black man who killed a white teenager in 1991, deserved a fair trial and to be judged by his peers, but the prosecutors rejected qualified black jurors and stacked the jury pool with whites.  It may have been a fair trial in every other way, but even so, because bias was used in jury selection, we’ll never know for sure. That uncertainty was enough to throw out the death sentence under the 2009 Racial Justice Act. This law was passed in North Carolina (Kentucky is the only other state that has a similar law on the books) because of the number of black inmates on death row in comparison to white inmates.
The judge’s ruling stated, “Race was a materially, practically and statistically significant factor in the decision to exercise peremptory challenges during jury selection by prosecutors,” and that the disparity was enough “to support an inference of intentional discrimination."
Cassandra Stubbs, one of Robinson’s attorneys, said, "For over 100 years, jury selection in capital cases has been plagued by racial discrimination against qualified African-American citizens. Today’s decision offers promise that change in this area, long overdue, is finally coming.”
The two men who filed a lawsuit against the popular reality series said that they were treated differently than white applicants. One was asked why he was even at the hotel where the casting call took place. The suit claims that TV programs assume "minorities in lead roles and interracial dating [is] unappealing to the shows' audience."
It goes on to say, "The refusal to hire minority applicants is a conscious attempt to minimize the risk of alienating their majority-white viewership and the advertisers targeting that viewership. Nevertheless, such discrimination is impermissible under federal law."
George Zimmerman’s bail hearing made headlines. When he gave his apology in court, Trayvon’s parents were stoic. The prosecutors called the gesture opportunistic, but Zimmerman insists he wanted to apologize to them in private but was advised not to. He also stated that he thought Trayvon was older, but he didn’t say specifically what caused him to follow Trayvon or what made him suspicious of him.
Here’s the thing about racism or any ism: most times it is a subconscious reaction. It’s ingrained. It’s a lens through which we process and interpret what we experience and see. We have to work hard to alter that lens and accept other possibilities. But first we have to acknowledge that our biases exist and that we operate under their influence without question.
“Why bother?” some might ask. “What does it have to do with my life?”
I have heard that question many times in my life. Once I participated in a work sponsored diversity workshop, and I shared some of the situations Ronald and I had experienced. Many people expressed shock, even sorrow, that such things still occurred, but one white man just shook his head.
“What do you expect me to do about it?” he asked, sounding disgusted. “I don’t have anything to do with it, and I’ve got my own problems.”
Then he said, “What do you think of your Louis Farrakhan? He’s against interracial relationships, too.”
That was the first time I realized some people considered me non-white, perhaps even black, because of my relationship with Ronald and because I bore his children. That proved to me conclusively that race is a social construct because it appears one can move back and forth between races depending on who is looking at you. President Obama has suffered this bias and so have my daughters.
Before I could respond, one of the other white women stood up. She had something important to say and wanted to make sure she was heard.
“I’ve known Dianne since she was a college student,” she said. “I can vouch that she is a very nice person.”
Her comment was meant to diffuse, but instead I was upset that she felt my character needed defending, as if she were saying, “Okay, you’re right, she made this terrible choice, but she’s still likeable.” Yes, yes, I’m a nice person, but is that the only reason someone should care about the discrimination I’ve experienced by being in an interracial relationship? Even nasty people deserve equality and fair treatment.
Another white woman in the workshop said, “You should consider yourself fortunate, because interracial marriage used to be illegal. At least you were allowed to marry.”
That comment made me angry. As if I needed permission to marry and should be happy I received it from some anonymous source. Just ask any gay couple if they are waiting for permission to legalize their relationship. They don’t want your permission; they just want equality and fair treatment.
There aren’t many houses without television or the Internet these days. I admit to watching TV shows with regularity and passion in some instances (I can feel my anticipation for Mad Men escalating as Sunday evening approaches). I have my favorites. But I notice the lack of diversity in most shows and that is disappointing.
Ronald and I watched Full Metal Jousting for each of the eight episodes. It is a reality show that resurrected the ancient Euro-centric sport of riding a horse toward an opponent, dressed in armor (both the rider and the horse), and carrying a large lance that is aimed at the opponent in an attempt to unhorse him. The show highlighted a competition that ended with one jouster being the overall champion and winning $100,000. There was not a single black contestant or trainer on the show.
“I’ve noticed there aren’t any black competitors,” said Ronald while we were watching one of the first few episodes, “but I still want to watch it. I wonder, though, did any black guys audition or were they not drawn to the sport?”
I had noticed, too. I can’t imagine that there are no black horse trainers or black theatrical jousters or black rodeo cowboys (or Asian or Hispanic ones, for that matter). Those were overwhelmingly the backgrounds of the all white competitors. Then again Cara, Mackenzie and I used to go to the Renaissance Faire in Sterling, NY, and there were very few black actors there and not many black spectators. Even Ronald fought us for years about going, thinking he wouldn’t like it, but Mackenzie and I convinced him to go last year, and he had a great time. I digress.
In my quest for diverse television, I find myself gravitating to HGTV. Seems ridiculous, right? But the shows are quite diverse – all kinds of couples and singles looking for housing, in all price ranges and geographic locations, to buy or rent. Seeking housing can be an equal opportunity endeavor as long as the seller, the landlord, or the realtor isn’t biased, as was the case when we purchased our first home. Perhaps the cameras prevent such bias. After all, who wants to be caught on camera being a racist unless that person is a member of a racial extremist group?
Watching people of every ilk engage in the search to fulfill one of the basic human needs, shelter, is in some way comforting to me. The universality of the need normalizes the process and breaks through cultural and racial differences. Right now it seems everyone, no matter race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or socio-economic level, wants granite countertops and stainless steel appliances on their home wish lists. How mundane is that?
In many ways TV and the Internet cause us to have more shared experiences and shared aspirations, like those granite countertops, for example. The needs are created by ad men (like in the 1980s when minivans became the must have for people with children), the message is spread via television and the Internet, and the fulfillment of that created need is equal opportunity, as long as there is economic access, but even then, you can buy granite-looking Formica or granite tiles at Lowe’s or select a high quality, unique piece at a granite yard, depending on your budget.
Where the disconnect happens, and where the situation can turn ugly, is that now, as we begin to congregate in the same places, to want the same things, to do the same things, and to share the same experiences, those biases and social constructs crop up and get in the way.
The solution is to keep questioning ourselves; to realize no one needs to give permission to anyone else to be who they are; to understand that bias and discrimination of any sort hurts everyone not just the targeted person or group; to acknowledge that the lens through which one views the world is not the only lens and does not afford the only picture of things, but is just one view out of billions; and to speak up when bias is evident because even if it doesn’t seem to affect you, it does. It affects all of us. We need more sharing of experiences and aspirations, like those granite countertops, so we can see the commonality in all of us. Then perhaps race won’t be in the headlines every week.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Authentic Post-racialism

Authenticity, philosophically speaking, is “relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life.”
I especially like the part of the definition that refers to being emotionally appropriate and responsible. That captures my personal feeling of what it means to be authentic, but I know I struggle with staying authentic regularly and experiencing my authenticity without the kind of anxiety that not only sends me into paralysis but that occasionally makes me pass out cold.
I am a known people pleaser and that sometimes makes me choose someone else’s feelings over my own. That’s a symptom of adult children of alcoholics. We spent so much of our childhood wondering how we contributed to our life situation, constantly reassessing and negotiating our way through chaos, trying to find the path to stability and calm. Oftentimes, even in my child’s mind, I realized there was no such path and that I had only hurt myself in my choices and made no good change in the process.
My biggest fear as a child was abandonment. I thought that one wrong move would leave me at the side of a road in the country, an unwanted waif wandering alone. Then there were the daydreams I had as an adult, oftentimes when I was traveling for work and away from Ronald and the girls: becoming a homeless bag lady in an unknown city, lost, and no one looking for me.
When I cater to everyone else’s needs and desires I tend to leave my own like forgotten dust bunnies under the bed. Inevitably my anger grows until it explodes.
Then the people around me think I am an emotional mess, and no one ever understands that I gave up my authenticity in the effort to please, and that it has not only caught up with me, but also consumed me.
You’d think that since I am about to turn fifty-five, I would have this under control by now. But I am a product of my upbringing, gender, and of society’s expectations, and I am of shy temperament, hating confrontation.
So in the end I am often left alone. My greatest fear manifested.
I have my immediate family, Ronald, Cara and Mackenzie. They are always around, and we support one another emotionally and in many other ways. Then I have a few close friends, but distance keeps them from everyday interaction.
My sister said, after Ronald and I had moved south, “You seem lonely.”
I am, but I didn’t tell her how she contributed to my loneliness. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
People, who are not in an interracial relationship, can never totally understand what Ronald and I face everyday. Simple things, like having couples friends. It doesn’t happen that easily, especially at our age (of a certain generation) when most people have a group of long term friends around them. Then there is the fact that I work at home and Ronald is retired, and that both of us suffer shyness and anxiety about acceptance every time we go someplace new. But mostly I believe it has a lot to do with being interracial. People don’t know how to take us or can’t see us fitting into their social circles. Most times they can’t even explain why they feel that way, but there it is.
Once we held a kids Halloween party at our house. Everyone had a great time. When it was time to go home, one of the neighbors announced they were going to an adult party and everyone was invited except for us.
“The host would be offended,” he said in explanation. Everyone said thank you for the wonderful time they’d had at our party and went off to the second one. No one wondered if our feelings had been hurt or refused to go because of the insensitivity displayed by making such a statement in front of us.
How cool it would have been if even one had said, “I wouldn’t consider going to any party where Dianne and Ron aren’t welcome!”
Ronald captured my mood in a photo after everyone left. I sit glumly on the couch, my eyes moist, and my hand cradling my chin so it won’t quiver and give away how forlorn I am.
Yesterday on the golf course, as I walked with Ronald while he played a round, we met up with the group of black guys we had played with a week or two back. One kept stealing glances at me. Another one asked me if I wanted to ride in the cart alongside him for the last couple of holes. It was hot and windy, and pollen had scratched my eyes raw. I jumped in.  I gave him a fist bump after he’d driven his ball off the tee.
I saw the other man give me that sidelong glance.
Later I said to Ronald, as we headed home, “That guy doesn’t know how to take me. He couldn’t believe I got into that cart.”
“And that it was okay with both of us,” he added.
Those black guys have probably never met a white woman who wasn’t tucking her purse more tightly under her arm and race walking to cross to the other side of the street, while juggling her keys to discreetly lace them through her fingers as a weapon to at least slow him down should he attack. No matter that he just happened to be crossing her path to get to someplace else. But that same woman might claim she is no racist. Were it a white man, she might be wary, maybe clutching her purse a little tighter, but later she would describe him as eccentric, not dangerous. She doesn’t even understand how deeply and subconsciously the image of the “sexually dangerous” black man has been pressed into her brain. No wonder I seem an oddity.
I once heard an expression, “He’s an asshole, but he’s a good asshole.” I think I heard it from the white firefighters, talking about other white guys. If you are of the same race, it seems that you can be difficult, eccentric, even hostile, but still liked. I see that all the time. Like when family members accept and embrace the spouse of a child or sibling even though he or she might not have been their pick, just like I tried really hard to get along with my siblings and their spouses. But it doesn’t seem to be like that in my experience as an interracial couple. The person of the other race doesn’t get to be an asshole, ever, without serious repercussions, like abandonment.
The standards are different and, therefore, we are judged differently, as both individuals and as a couple. That makes life difficult, especially in families where dysfunction is a norm, and interaction is already precarious. When siblings or parents claim to be liberal, but still harbor these differing standards, they talk a certain way but their actions aren’t always in alignment, like that woman crossing the street but claiming she doesn’t have a racist bone in her body.
You know what? We just want to be assholes, but good assholes. We don’t mind when you are.
Also please understand that sometimes we just want to unload on someone we are comfortable with, or thought we were, and with people we trust, or thought we did. Racial occurrences happen to us regularly and we get sick of having to put up with them. Many black people would never dream of sharing with whites what they experience daily in a society of white privilege, but, because we are both, we tend to share, if not one than the other. Our choice to be together has opened us up to being in both arenas. We can’t just stop talking to everyone, or can we?
But just because we chose to be together, doesn’t mean that we ask complete strangers to offer their opinion, “Shame on you,” or try to run us down with their car, or decide we aren’t worthy of buying that house. It gets stressful sometimes and we need to talk about it.
What we don’t want to hear is, “I have a black friend, and that’s never happened to him,” or “I can’t believe that happened here. My community is not like that,” or “How come everything always happens to you?” We’d rather just hear, “Wow, it sucks to be you sometimes.” Because when you say the other things, you diminish our credibility and our life experience and pretend that your world is too great for stuff like that to happen. But it isn’t that great and it does happen, only not to you.
Also don’t expect that we will attend social functions separately because one is preferred over the other, one causes less trouble by fitting in better than the other, or because you think one of us is an asshole but not a good asshole. We are a couple, we actually enjoy doing things together and celebrating special occasions together, and we are well behaved and sensitive to social cues. We’re done worrying about whether or not others are comfortable having us around and whether or not we’ve done anything, like just being together, for example, that might be considered offensive to others attending the function.  We feel the favor is often not returned and therein lays my explosive anger. 
[Side note about my anger: Cara and Mackenzie have a great deal of fun reenacting occasions of my expressed anger from when they were children. They imitate my tiny voice with made up swear words (turkey lurkey!), my left eyebrow raised, one hand on my hip, a foot stamp, and the other hand wiping spittle off my chin. I agree that my outward expression of anger is mostly comical, but I promise you that my inside anger can be a lot like Katrina reaching the shore of New Orleans, ready and strong enough to devastate, mostly me – I have weak levies.]
That leads me back to abandonment and authenticity. Ronald and I talk about our isolation over and over. We talk about how important it is to remain true to ourselves in spite of, and because of, our experiences. We’ve cut ourselves off from people who don’t get that about us. It often feels like we are the only ones who understand what we go through. We won’t leave one another, no matter how alone we are together. Sometimes he or I apologize to the other, “I’m sorry you have to go through this because of me.”
 We both know no apologies are necessary, though. It still feels good to know there is at least one person who truly understands, appreciates our authentic selves, and who actually cares enough to say, “Wow, it sucks to be you, and us, sometimes.”
That’s when I’ll know we really live in a post-racial world – when every one of us is free to be an asshole, but a good one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

George Zimmerman Held the Gun, but America Pulled the Trigger

On the website that he created against the advice of his counselors (who have since dropped their representation),, George Zimmerman said the following:
“I was involved in a life altering event which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage. As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life.”
It was a life-altering event, particularly for Trayvon Martin, who lost his life, but also for everyone directly connected and all of us who aren’t. He calls Trayvon’s death “the incident” which diminishes the tragedy. He’s been charged with second-degree murder and is in custody.
Being charged 46 days after Trayvon’s death is a late first step toward justice, accountability, and responsibility. But it is time that we all were held accountable. Americans have not been good stewards of positive race relations. We are not persistent in breaking down stereotypes that hurt our collective identity.
We never had an honest dialog about how black boys and black men are relentlessly demonized in America. They are portrayed as violent and sexually driven predators, based on an historical fear that white society held about their black slaves hundreds of years ago. This perception gives credence to the paranoia demonstrated by George Zimmerman. He was acting based on perceptions widely accepted by white Americans.
Of course, white men have historically been predators. They repeatedly raped slave women without remorse, resulting in the birth of light skinned babies that became house slaves because they were deemed trustworthy compared to the darker field hands.  After all, they worked in close proximity with the white women and children.
The fear whites had of black men lead to lynching, the One Drop rule, Jim Crow laws including anti-miscegenation laws, housing discrimination, and unequal educational and job opportunities. Civil Rights may have theoretically changed our collective ethical stance on equality between the races, demanding that we strive toward an ideal America, but little has changed. How is shooting less violent than lynching? How was Trayvon walking back to his father’s house any more criminal than a black man looking at a white woman?
We are unable to embrace a post-racial America. Rather, since the election of President Obama, there has been an increased expression of racist ideals and actions, not just from fringe groups, but in mainstream America, too. We have left our best selves behind while allowing old racial paradigms to thrive.
I know this because I’ve lived it for thirty-six years as the white spouse in an interracial relationship. I see how insidious racism is. I see how often whites unconsciously express racist sentiments and get defensive if they are called on it. I see how hopeless black members of my family feel because it is soul depleting to be treated as a skin color, not as a person, with the full weight of having dark skin in a white world bearing down on them every hour of every day. I am not exaggerating. I have to say this, and I hope you will listen. I hope you will ask yourself what stereotypes you harbor about people who are a different race than you are.  I hope you will question your perceptions and ask if they are factual or emotional. Then I hope you will strive to change those perceptions so that we can all live in a safer world.
It breaks my heart when I see people who don’t bother to get to know my husband. They’ve already decided who he is from the moment they lay eyes on him. They will never know his quirky, random sense of humor, his creative and artistic spirit, his deep sensitivity and empathy, his ability to study, focus, and excel in his profession as a fire lieutenant, as a musician, an artist, and a golfer, and his driving need to be of service to others and his community.  They won’t believe that he is a dedicated, loving husband and father. They will never know how their fear, or even worse, contempt, has burned a searing scar in his soul.
They will also never know how they disappointed and frightened me, because they feel entitled and righteous in their feelings, perceptions, and actions. They will never understand that I am afraid of the violence they may perpetrate against my family.  I don’t want some strange white man to feel possessive and protective of me. I chose my life partner, my soul mate, because I love him deeply, so far beyond the color of his skin or mine, that I willingly gave up whatever whiteness to which I felt connected. Not that I ever felt white in the sense it is portrayed and perpetuated here in America as a non-ethnic, non-racial, middle class persona, the imitation vanilla in the spice cabinet, but in the sense that I am of European descent. I gave up family, friends, privilege and entitlement for my relationship, and I don’t regret it.
What I regret is how we Americans ignore our racially divided society and depend on perceptions based on emotions and stereotypes, and how our willful ignorance abetted George Zimmerman the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. He held the gun, but America pulled the trigger.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Racial Ramble: More on Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman by Way of My Husband and the Game of Golf

The tragic case of Trayvon Martin’s death is receding from the public eye and from public memory just six weeks after it happened. I have to wonder if the public has gotten their fill of the event and decided to move on. It appears the media have. Perhaps they have nothing new to report. More current events must be reported, I suppose. I am saddened that our memories and passion are so short.
George Zimmerman must be held accountable for his actions that night, but he still has not been charged. I wrote in my last post that he is not evil, but simply human. That doesn’t mean he should be allowed to walk the streets free after his actions. Others out there who think what he did is right and righteous must know that with the right to bear arms comes great responsibility. All freedoms come with responsibility.
What upsets me the most is that some people want to believe the tragedy was not racially motivated. Yes, George Zimmerman is interethnic – Caucasian and Hispanic – but we don’t know how Zimmerman identifies, and we certainly don’t know his thoughts on race except for what he said on the 911 tape, some of which is garbled. What he actually considered suspicious about Trayvon is a mystery, but it certainly appears it was because Trayvon was a black teenager wearing a hoodie.
 Every day black boys and black men are at risk of being identified as suspicious, and that suspicion can turn dangerous and deadly within a few minutes.
I can’t get out of my head how accurate that above statement is and how intimately familiar it feels when thinking about my life and my husband’s experiences.
My husband plays golf regularly. There is something called a gang some here in this southern state. It’s a group of men who play competitively on a daily basis. Teams are assembled from a pool of four levels of players.  The A player on each team is allowed to pick a B, C and D level player. On the gang some my husband joined some months back, many of the men have played together for over thirty years. They are mostly white men. They mostly don’t like my husband. The few blacks on the gang some are older than my husband and don’t speak up about how the white men playing alongside them often treat them disrespectfully. They avoid talking to Ronald. They are from down here, and they remember Jim Crow laws. They know their place and are okay with occupying it.
Ronald was put in the D pool of players. He has played golf, and played well, for over thirty years, but the grass down here is different, thicker, viny, straight instead of bent, and he has had to change his game to adjust to it, so his scoring has dropped a little. Though, even with that fact, he should never have been put in the D level and belongs in the B or A level.
The funny thing is, he comes home with cash in his pocket every day. Some of the men on the teams he has played on have never once made money in all the years they played the gang some, and suddenly, after he gets on their team, they’ve begun winning.
It makes a lot of the men angry and suspicious.
“Have they accused you of sandbagging yet?” I ask him when he comes home and pulls a wad of bills out of his pocket.
“No, but they must be wondering,” he responds.
“Well, they put you in the Ds, they have to live with it,” I say. He didn’t ask to be put in the lowest level skill group.
Some of the men won’t acknowledge Ronald, even if they are on his team. They don’t speak to him even when he asks a direct question. They talk while he hits his tee shot and walk in front of his line to the green when he is hitting in the fairway. He is invisible or at least they wish he were.
“What will happen if they tell Ronald they don’t want him to play?” my friend asks me when I relate some of the things that happened on the gang some.
“It’s a municipal course. They can’t tell him he can’t play,” I respond.
Other guys on the gang some have rifled through his golf bag when they thought he wasn’t looking and sometimes when they knew he was.
A few have confronted him.  One accused him of not putting his money in the skins pot (or scats as they call them down here) even though he had. One said he cheated on a hole when he took a ball drop. That white man was on another hole, and he used the f-word with “mother” in front of it. Ronald told him it wasn’t his business and that he ought to learn the rules of golf. Then Ronald told him that he would pull out of the hole, if he had a problem, and picked up his ball and took a double bogey. The guy still wouldn’t back down. Ronald used the f-word, too, even though he doesn’t usually, but he’s told me in the past that sometimes that’s the only way a white guy will listen.
One of Ronald’s team members picked up his own bag and walked off the course when the exchange occurred. He hadn’t said a word to Ronald the whole time they played. Back at the clubhouse the gang some leader said, “I heard you tried to cheat.”
“Cheat? I don’t cheat,” Ronald said. Then he explained what happened.
“Oh, well that part of the course is ‘ground under repair.’ You could have taken a free drop, no stroke penalty,” the leader said, but he didn’t say he’d talk to the other guy for spoiling Ronald’s round.
The guy who had accused Ronald of cheating slunk through the crowd and left. Ronald stopped going for a few days. He said it was stressful and affecting his game. I told him, “They won. They don’t want you there, and you gave them exactly what they wanted.”
He returned the next day. “You’re right,” he said. “If I stopped going every place white people didn’t want me, I wouldn’t go anywhere.”
The next evening I went with him to the course so I could walk nine holes while he played. We ran into a couple of black guys and they joined us. Ronald said all the black guys come out at dusk and play the course, after the white guys have gone home for the day.
“They sure don’t like you, bro’,” said one. “All they do is talk about you.”
“I told him they don’t want him here,” I said. “I told him, ‘bad enough you’re black; bad enough you are from up north; and bad enough you take their money every day.”
The guy laughed. “Three strikes against him. But you gotta keep going back. Don’t let them stop you.”
Another of Ronald’s black acquaintances had played on the gang some a few times. Then he told Ronald he hated it. “Why do I want to play with a bunch of rednecks who don’t want me there?”
I guess if someone has to do it, Ronald’s the best choice. That knowledge scares me, but I can’t keep him boxed and wrapped in tissue paper in the closet so he doesn’t get damaged. I’ve already accepted that as his wife I might one day find the police knocking on my door to tell me something I don’t want to hear. This is America.
He’s the best choice for representing on the gang some because he won’t let them get away with anything, just like he didn’t let the white guys on the fire department do whatever they wanted and force him off the job. Or when the white seller didn’t want to sell the house to us because we are interracial. Or when the car salesman wouldn’t let Ronald test-drive the Acura RL because, he said, “You can’t afford this car.”
Ronald bought the car a week later from another salesman while the first guy watched with his mouth open. He tried to claim Ronald was his customer. “No, I’m not. You didn’t want to sell me a car,” Ronald said. “And I’ve spoken to your manager about it.”
As we continued on the course, we ended up with another group of three black men. It was getting dark and a storm was blowing in. There was no one else on the course, anyway, so they played as one big group. The other three black men were circumspect at first. I know they were thinking, “What kind of trouble are we going to be in when they see six black men out here with a white woman?”
I wasn’t worried. I’d been in that situation many times before, and whether it’s the police or just some “concerned” citizen asking if I am there of my own volition, I have an answer for them. Even as a middle-aged woman, white men still think I’ve been coerced. They can’t imagine that I want to be there. They can’t imagine Ronald is my husband.
Once I fainted at the mall when Ronald and I were out shopping. He went into fire lieutenant mode and ran the scene until the first responders got there. They were relatively new firefighters, and, even though Ronald was retired by then, they addressed him as lieutenant. They knew him from the job, but they didn’t realize he was more to me than the Good Samaritan.
“Can we call someone, ma’am, to meet you at the hospital?”
“I guess you can call my husband, but he’s already heard you. He’s right here.”
There were a lot of apologies all around.
We got caught in the thunderstorm on the last hole and ran back to our cars. I jumped into the passenger seat, but as Ronald was loading his clubs into the back of the SUV and changing his shoes, one of the other guys walked up to him to say good-bye.
“Don’t stop going. You’ll just give them what they want,” he said.
I have to keep asking myself “what do white people want?” They want to say they aren’t racist, but their actions are often the opposite of what they say. It’s easy to tell someone like my husband that they read into everything and look for racism. That puts the blame on the victim by questioning his credibility. That’s the easy way out. Then no one has to change anything about what they want, what they think, or how those two things contribute to racism in America.
Trayvon knew he was in trouble when he saw George Zimmerman trailing him. He knew it wouldn’t end well. Did he know it would end his life? Should he have just stayed home so he wouldn’t have run into Zimmerman? Maybe his father wished he had boxed and wrapped him in tissue paper and stored him safe in the closet, so the police wouldn’t have knocked on his door that night and told him something he didn’t want to hear.  But Trayvon had a right to be outside that night. Zimmerman is the one who needed to ask what he wanted when he trailed Trayvon and decided to pull the trigger.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Profiling Fatality 3: The Demonization of George Zimmerman

I know there are evil people in the world. Hitler comes to mind, and I could list others, but you probably know them already or perhaps you have your own list. The truly evil have no regard for human life; they suffer no remorse for their actions. They haven’t got a conscience. They feel entitled. They feel justified.
Most people aren’t evil. We are flawed, though, and not perfect by any stretch. That’s what I think about George Zimmerman. He was doing what he thought was right when he abandoned his plan to run an errand and, instead, followed a hooded boy, Trayvon Martin, through his neighborhood. He might have been exasperated by recent break-ins and maybe he thought he could handle whatever the situation turned out to be. In my first post on this tragedy I asked, “Did George Zimmerman ask himself what it would mean to shoot someone?”
(Here’s the URL:
I don’t know if he ever asked himself that question, but maybe he thought he would be lauded as a hero. I remember daydreaming as a child that I did something heroic, something that everyone would notice and be thankful that I did it. My daydream made me feel wanted, loved, needed, and valued. I think lots of people daydream like that. But George Zimmerman got something else when he pulled that trigger.
He got the weight of killing a teenager leaning on his soul for the rest of his life. He got recognition for being a vigilante. He put his own life in danger and maybe that of his family. Even if no one acts in kind (an eye for an eye), his life will never be the same.
George Zimmerman represents the trend of many people wanting to protect their homes and lives. Here is an email exchange that occurred when I was the secretary of our HOA.
A neighbor wrote to me back in October 2011 (unrevised):
This is XXX and XXX XXX at XXX Lane. Just wanted to make you and the other neighbors aware of the fact we had a house break in on Friday morning. I was at home at the time. I pulled my handgun on him and he fled my residence upon meeting me on the stairs. The suspect matched the suspects that broke into the home last weekend on XXX as well. They are still investigating it and I hope that they catch these theives! They are apparently ringing doorbells and if no one answers the come in. I was upstairs and heard him come in...luckily, I spared him his life and he didnt hard me. None the less, it is so very scarey! Its that time of year an people are looking for presents and other items.
You may want to send out an email to the neighborhood to just be on the lookout and be very cautious and make sure doors are locked and alarms are set if they have them!
Have a good weekend!!!
I was shocked by the email, especially the line where he (I assumed it was the husband – the couple share an email. Months later I discovered it was the wife who wrote the email, but I will continue using “he” in this post) said, “I spared him his life.” The signature line, “Have a good weekend!” surprised me, too. It seemed so out of place, gleeful, in an email that delivered such a heavy message. But under my obligation as an officer of the HOA, I emailed back and asked him for a description.
He replied, “Black male mid twenties....scruffy thin wirery beard/ goatie. Gray hoodie on....evil looking eyes. 5'9 or 5'10 about 140-150.”
Evil eyes? What do evil eyes look like? Were they blackened out like the demons’ eyes on the show Supernatural?
Hoodie? That gives me pause reading it all these months later. I decided to do some editing when I sent my message out to the neighborhood. I sent the following:
Pleased be advised that there were two break-ins in our neighborhood in the last week or so. It appears a black male in his 20s, 5'9" or 5'10", 140 - 150 pounds and with a wiry beard, was seen in the neighborhood and is a suspect in the two break-ins. The second break-in, he was confronted by the homeowner and ran away. The police believe the suspect is ringing doorbells and then breaking in if there is no answer. Please take precautions and make sure you keep your doors locked and report any suspicious people in the neighborhood to the police.
Be safe!
Apparently the homeowner was not happy with my version of events. He sent a note to the neighborhood watch leader, and she put this email out to the neighborhood:
From the owner of XXX:
My home, XXX was broken into, not attempted. I met him in my staircase with our GLOCK .45 and he took off running out the front door and around the back of the house. Nothing was taken; he didn't have time because luckily I was upstairs and heard him walking around in my kitchen. The description of the black male is from my eye witness encounter. Not sure if door bell was rung, you can not hear it upstairs. Apparently, when I came home, I didn't lock the door...he pretty much just walked in. Our door handle is tricky...if you lock it, but turn it slightly it will unlock. I'm thinking that is what happened. I always lock the door.
Well, I thought, you ought to spring for a new lock. I was upset that now the neighborhood knew one of the neighbors carried a gun and considered using it against another person. Would the other neighbors view the incident as bravery on the part of the homeowner? Would the rest of them run out to purchase Glocks (not at all difficult to do in my state) for household use?  Would they buy a few guns: one to keep by the bedside, one next to the TV remote, one in the kitchen drawer, and another stuck in the side pocket of the car door?
Ronald had his own opinion about the matter. He said that if the intruder were a seasoned criminal, a real bad guy, the owner standing on the stairway with the Glock would not have deterred him. Rather the situation could have been reversed: the intruder holding his own gun and not afraid to use it, or the intruder grabbing the owner’s gun. Then it’s the intruder deciding whether to spare a life or off one.
I wrote a personal email to the neighborhood watch leader:
Yes, XXX emailed me the details, but I did not want to put in the Google groups that he brandished a gun. I felt uncomfortable about revealing that point -- I'm not against carrying guns, my husband is a competitive pistol shooter and a certified pistol safety instructor -- but I am against people brandishing guns when they don't know how to use them or talking about doing harm and so forth when shooting someone is a horrible thing even if the guy had ill intent -- it's not a video game or movie. Maybe he wasn't happy that I didn't let the neighbors know of his bravery. And his email was a bit of a jumble -- I wasn't sure if he meant his doorbell was rung or if that was what the police said they thought was happening. Anyway, thanks for putting out the correct version. I hope I don't start to see our neighbors brandishing guns while out walking the dog.
She responded:
He/She (not certain which one) emailed me and I asked her if I should distribute her message to the group. She said yes, so I did, but maybe I shouldn't have. I just wanted people to be aware that he had gotten into the house. I also asked how he got in, whether she had heard a bell, and that was her reply.
It is a bit unusual because we've gone so long without any break-ins. Hope it's not a sign of the times.
It is a sign of the times. A sign that people value human life based on whom they are aiming their guns at. It’s a sign that as a society we value some lives more than others and property more than human life.  We live in difficult and complicated times, but then again, humanity has always suffered by its own hand. What’s worse is that we continue to look for the bad guys. Right now, they are the ones wearing the hoodies and the ones holding the guns. The definition of who the bad guys are changes with the temper of the times, or by political affiliation, religious views, race, and class.
We have to stop thinking that everyone else is the bad guy and realize that we all have the power to be bad as easily as anyone else.  All it takes is one bad decision on a rainy night or while standing on the staircase, holding a Glock, and looking down on an intruder.
I don’t hate George Zimmerman, and I don’t wish him dead. He is not evil. He is not a demon. He is simply human. I feel sorry for him – sorry that he killed a teenager and sorry that he has to live with it.