Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and the Campaign Saga of Racism

I was supposed to travel for work this week, right into the wrath of Sandy, but, fortunately, I was authorized to cancel my trip. I live to work and play another day.

Canceling the ugliness, vitriol, and racism in this campaign is a little more difficult. It’s impossible.  There is more and more evidence, despite loud protestation, that many citizens in our proud country are voting on just one issue: the race of the candidates.

Among Republicans and Democrats alike, an AP Poll showed that 51% of Americans express explicit racist attitudes, and when asked implicit questions, the number jumps to 56% of Americans who have racist attitudes.

That means 1 out of 2 people in America harbors racist beliefs and attitudes. That’s hard to deny, even though I’ve heard lots of people saying defensively, “It’s the President and his policies I don’t like, not his race.” Oftentimes statements like, “He’s not American,” or “He needs to go back to Kenya,” follow.

I’m including just a few of the photos that I found out on the Internet. These images are more than just policy attacks. They are blatantly racist. Why aren't people more outraged? Why aren't we calling to end this kind of racist attack on President Obama?

Colbert I. King wrote an op ed piece on how racism might impact the outcome of this election. He gives several examples of the kind of freewheeling racism that has been making its way around the Internet (including the above photos). See his article Racism Could Sway the Election.

Racism still exists. It is so pervasive and ingrained in our language, mainstream culture, and institutions that most people don't recognize it. It exists in the veiled language of the GOP, which is openly courting racists to get more votes.

One of the most prevalent stereotypes is the perception that most black people are on Welfare and most Welfare recipients are black. This stereotype is reinforced in the media and by many conservative politicians. It's the idea that underserving people of color who are too lazy to take personal responsibility for their lives are using our hard-earned tax dollars to support extravagant lifestyles. In fact, according to this stereotype, they feel entitled to receive this free money while the rest of us (read that as white people) work for a living only to pay exorbitant taxes to support these freeloaders.

The statistics show that most people on Welfare are not black. Over 65% are white or other races. A large percentage live in rural areas and not urban centers. Yet the image of a single, urban, black mother is what most people call to mind when asked to picture someone on Welfare.

The image of the Welfare Queen, originally introduced by President Reagan, is a stereotype that grew from one case of Welfare fraud that was exaggerated and distorted so much so that it is unrecognizable from the real case. The original woman charged with Welfare fraud embezzled $8,000 and had four assumed names to collect the extra money. Reagan said the Welfare Queen, “Has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000."

Though Welfare fraud is rare and no one can stay on Welfare indefinitely because of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act passed by President Clinton, the image of the Welfare abusing, single black mother continues strongly today. You can hear it in Romney’s closed-door speech given to his wealthy financial backers when he talked about the 47% who refuse to take personal responsibility and who want government handouts.

In response to Reagan's use of the term Welfare Queen, Susan Douglas, a professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, writes:
"He specialized in the exaggerated, outrageous tale that was almost always unsubstantiated, usually false, yet so sensational that it merited repeated recounting… And because his ‘examples’ of welfare queens drew on existing stereotypes of welfare cheats and resonated with news stories about welfare fraud, they did indeed gain real traction."

Read more about the stereotype of the Welfare Queen on Wiki.

Then we have the stereotype of what young black men are like. Just this past week I was speaking to a friend about the Trayvon Martin case, and she interrupted me and said, "But he was a thug. He was looking in windows, and he had no right to be there."

"No," I said. "You've been watching too much Fox News. He had every right to be there. He was just a high school boy who happened to be tall and who wore a hoodie. That should not have been reason enough for him to die."

Besides, Ronald and I agreed later when I told him of my conversation, even if he were a thug (and we truly don't believe he was anything but an average high school kid), did he deserve to be killed for it?

According to the stereotype, if you are a young, black male, you should avoid wearing what 90% of teenage boys wear on a daily basis -- hoodies and baggy pants, and you should not go out at night or be seen in the street even in daylight, because you are obviously planning a criminal or violent act. And if someone approaches you brandishing a gun, you should not defend yourself because, obviously, the white man with the gun (who since being charged is now identified as Hispanic) has a right to trail you against the advice of the police and shoot you if he deems you need to be shot. Of course, he had already decided you needed to be shot when he saw you crossing the community grounds with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. He probably spotted your evil eyes from 50 yards away (see my post on evil eyes Profiling Fatality 3: The Demonization of George Zimmerman) and intuited your next move of ill intent.

Read The Thugification of Trayvon Martinan op ed by Zerlina Maxwell, about the stereotypes that came out after Trayvon Martin died from gunshot.

Does America really believe that Trayvon Martin should have been shot and killed for walking back to his father's gated community home, because he was tall, black, and wearing a hoodie? If you believe the answer is 'yes' you may be part of the 51% who explicitly express racist beliefs. If you can't say it out loud but have your doubts, you may be part of the 56% who have implicit racist beliefs.

I stated in this blog in past posts (Can't We All Get Along? and Checking the Other Box) that if you are white in America (I include myself in this definition), you are a racist simply because your skin color affords you privilege and entitlement at the expense of other races and ethnicities. That idea always seems to raise people's ire and defensiveness, but it is true, and we have to acknowledge this fact before we can move on to a post-racial world.

When I was in graduate school for my first master's degree, I studied to become a counselor. The students studying with me were diverse in age (I was one of the oldest at forty-five), but predominately white and middle class. While multiculturalism was mentioned in every course, I constantly wondered why recruiting efforts warranted such dismally monocultural results in the student population. Several professors agreed that recruiting efforts had not warranted the diversity they envisioned but they couldn't really articulate a plan for drawing more students of color into the program.

There was one core course that specifically addressed multiculturalism. That's where I was introduced to the writing of one of my favorite researchers in the counseling field, Monica McGoldrick. She is, in my opinion, the foremost expert in multicultural counseling practice that acknowledges the ways in which culture and ethnicity inform an individual's worldview and the context in which that individual develops.

I was stoked about this course. I couldn't put the books down. Suddenly, many of the things I experienced and witnessed about race (and gender and class) were documented in research. I couldn't wait for the class each week where I hoped for some honest discussion. 

I quickly learned that the course was merely an awareness course, not an in-depth study. One week the professor emailed me just hours before class started and asked if I could hold some of my comments. She said she didn't want the other students intimidated by my level of knowledge. The email upset me. Why would she not encourage such discussion?

The shiny star I thought I had discovered in the program began to look tarnished. I realized that not even the faculty wanted to reach the level of understanding that my life experience had brought me to.

In the counseling practice course, I was told by the professors that my counseling skills were the most advanced they had ever observed for someone who had never worked in the counseling field prior to matriculating into the program, yet several of my student observers critiqued my counseling method of including questions about my client's ethnicity and culture harshly, saying I made too much of culture and ethnicity. My practice patients rated my sessions as very helpful and felt my skills aided in making them feel comfortable in the sessions. I felt sad that many of the students who would obtain their counseling credentials would venture out feeling multiculturalism was a theoretical concept but not something they would consider as part of their practice.

In another class we used a textbook that included a chapter on multiculturalism that I felt crossed the line into stereotyping, but the professor I took my complaint to only said that the author was a good friend and well-respected colleague who had been teaching for many, many years.

When I realized that the conversation about race and ethnicity was not going to take place in this program, and that there were literally thousands of white, middle-class people graduating from this and other counseling programs across the country, all of whom would be responsible for the well-being of their multicultural client base, I transferred out of the program and finished out my master's in Professional Education Studies at another university.

Sad but true. I gave up out of frustration. I felt the weight of obligation to talk about what I experienced, to be a voice for multicultural understanding, but I have often seen that one voice is hardly effective. At the end of obtaining my first master's degree, I realized my personal ethics are of much greater value to me than a sheepskin saying I have the credentials to practice counseling on other people, especially when I think that some counselors' approaches would actually be harmful to their multicultural clients.

We have to have that conversation about race and racism. We have to talk about the details, go into depth, and move way beyond awareness. We have to address how racism is both pervasive and accepted in mainstream culture, and that not all Americans are treated equally depending on the color of their skin. We have to remember that even if one thinks s/he is not racist, if you are white in America you are racist by virtue of the privilege you enjoy by being white, and that 56% of Americans implicitly express negative racial attitudes and beliefs.

So may I ask you to take a simple quiz? It's the How Racist Are You? quiz, and is just one of many out on the Internet. The results are for your eyes only. The quiz is simply a way to be completely truthful with yourself about how you feel about race. Don't answer what you think should be the answer; just be honest. If you can't be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with?

Then, after you have taken the quiz, please pass it on to your friends and family so they can take it. Again, the results are for their eyes only, unless you and they are moved to have that conversation about race. I approve of that kind of sharing.

I took the quiz just to see if it was a good tool and to see how my beliefs rated. Just because I am interracially married with children doesn't mean I don't harbor racial attitudes, and, as I stated earlier, my white skin affords me privileges my husband and grown daughters are denied. I'm open to exploring that concept, else why would I ask others to do so.

The quiz rated me as “Optimistically Openminded.”

It went on to say:
You are about as open-minded as they come. It's a rarity, but you actually see people as being the same but having different circumstances and cultures. You think stereotypes only serve to dehumanize groups. If more people were like you the world would be a little less hateful. 
Suggestion: Register with Altruists R Us. 
Similar Personalities: MLK, Mother Theresa, Jesus of Nazareth.

As Hurricane Sandy reaches eastern US shores, I hope, in my optimistically openminded way, that we can start talking about how outraged we all are by the racism directed at our President. Then maybe when someone says they don't like Obama's policies, I'll believe that person instead of wondering if s/he is picturing him in a hoodie with evil eyes.  And just maybe, at the close of our conversation on race, the world will be a little less hateful.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Everything's Gonna Be All Right

Rise up this mornin',

Smiled with the risin' sun,

Three little birds

Pitch by my doorstep

Singin' sweet songs

Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', ("This is my message to you-ou-ou:")

Singin': "Don't worry 'bout a thing,

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.

Singin': "Don't worry (don't worry) 'bout a thing,

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"

~ Bob Marley

I had planned to write about a different topic, but life has a way of directing one’s thoughts and that is what happened to me this week. Everyone in my circle is experiencing stressful times, and as a fixer and a pleaser, their stress has affected me.
No matter how co-dependent I am and how much I want to take the reins and steer the horse back on course, I’ve learned that is not my most useful role.  So I’ve had to learn how to assist people in other ways.
The thing about life is that things happen and even the best prepared of us can be knocked down on occasion.
Sometimes I think how rote our lives are. Up at a certain time every morning, same morning routine just about every day, off to work or something else, bills to pay, laundry to wash and fold, groceries to buy, lawns to mow, bathrooms to clean, this TV show on this night, another one the next night, books to read and new ones added to the list, exercise, nutritional meal, splurge meal, a movie, or a concert or a road trip on the weekend. Then something happens that snaps us upright and out of the mundane. No one said life was going to be easy, and sometimes it’s downright boring and that’s not easy either. One isn’t better than the other, it seems.
Right now I know people who are out of work (some for a few years), who struggle to pay bills, who lost a loved one, who have an illness, who are making a life transition, and others who just feel overwhelmed. I feel for each of them, wish I could help them better, and wonder when it will be my turn.
A couple of weeks ago, Ronald and I went out for dinner. That’s something that has become rather common for us as empty nesters in a new location (I hate to keep calling it new when we’ve been here five years) where we can’t seem to find friends. As we approached the restaurant, there was a man sitting on the bench. I noticed he watched us as we got closer and closer.
“Hey, you look like a nice couple,” he said. “I don’t want no money, but I sure could use a ride.”
My shyness made me retreat a step. Ronald glanced at me then spoke.
“Where do you need to go?” he asked.
The man identified an intersection a few miles away.
“Why don’t you go in, and I’ll give this man a ride,” Ronald said. He opened the door for me and, as it closed behind me, I heard him introduce himself to the man.
I sat in a booth, ordered a soda, and told the waitress I was waiting for my husband because he offered a ride to someone that needed one.  “That’s so nice of him,” she said.
I had my cell phone out on the table, watching the digital numbers change as time passed, and figuring out at what precise time panic would set in if Ronald hadn’t returned.
Finally I decided I would give him three more minutes, and then figure out whether I would call his cell phone or 911. Just at that moment, he slid into the booth.
“I had my cell phone ready in case you didn’t get back,” I said, laughing, relieved.
“He had to go a little farther than he initially said,” he replied. “He never would have gotten there walking.”
Last week he shared a similar story. He had gone out to shoot pool on a weeknight. He played quite a few games with a guy he had never seen before, sat and talked afterwards over a soda, and it was late by the time he finished. I had long ago gone to bed so I could get up for work in the morning.  A teenage girl flagged him down as he drove home. He stopped and she asked if he could give her a ride.
“My God,” I said, “you could have been a serial killer.”
“I dropped her off at the corner of her street,” he said.
“She was lucky.”
“I see a lot of girls out late around here,” he said. “I don’t know why they are out at that time of night.”
“I taught Cara and Mackenzie to not get into situations like that if they could help it,” I said. In theory I hope for equality among the sexes, but in real life, brawn wins out in certain situations.
“She acted like I was going to ask her for something,” he said.
“She was expecting it,” I said. I told him about a reality show I had watched where a teenage girl was getting into strangers cars and offering sex in exchange for rides. Her father had died and her mother had been in a car accident that had left her paralyzed. This girl was angry at life and out of control.
“Yup, but she got me instead,” he said. I felt relief. I could have been reading about her in the paper but instead she got home safely that night.
A year ago he came home asking if we had any wire hangers.
“This guy is locked out of his truck downtown, and he doesn’t have any money to call for a tow truck or help,” he said. “I stopped at the dry cleaner, but they wouldn’t give me one. Probably thought I was going to do something illegal.”
I handed him a hanger, knowing that as a retired firefighter, he knew how to open a car door. He turned and headed back out, and I knew I’d hear a good story that night at dinner.
Ronald is nonjudgmental about the circumstances when a person asks him for help. He’s not thinking, “this guy is homeless” or “he’s going to take my money and buy drugs” or “he’s going to do me harm.” He assesses the situation and determines if there is anything he can contribute.  He learned to do that on the job. It didn’t matter if it was a prostitute who had been beaten up by a john or the drug addict who suffered a bad trip or the wealthy guy who rammed his BMW into a guardrail. He was there to assist.
A lot of people wonder why Ronald hasn’t continued to work in firefighting in some way, but he is adamant that he wants nothing to do with it. Over twenty-five years he saw things he would not wish anyone else to witness, and they haunt him as many others who work in such fields will attest. He knows what death looks like, and catastrophic injury, and terror, and mass destruction. He knows those things are equalizers. He still has a strong need to serve, to protect, and to assist.
I know a few of my readers probably think I am crazy over Ronald. I am. I’m crazy in love and crazy full of respect for him and how his presence makes a mark in the world. It’s an honor to have someone like that in my life. In many ways, he saved my life, but he has told me I did the same for him.
It still frightens me, though. It’s not that I don’t want him to help, but that I don’t know how to read the situations like he does. Sometimes I worry about the danger he might encounter. But I know I have to trust him in those situations, just as I told him a long time ago when he was still on the job that he could rely on his intuition because it never failed him.
Another dinner out a few nights ago, and another situation arose. The guy who held open the door for us first asked us if he could cut ahead since he had been at the door first, and the line was fairly long. We both said yes. Then he started a conversation with us.
He said he was new in town, was in the military, and worked for the FAA. He said that since he had moved to the city, he hadn’t really been able to meet people, and he wanted to know what places might be good to do that. I chuckled because we hadn’t been very successful at meeting people. Ronald made a suggestion or two. We exchanged introductions, and, in the meantime, he had worked his way around to being behind us in the line. When we reached the hostess desk, Ronald waved him in front of us, but he begged off. The hostess asked, “Two for dinner?”
We looked at one another and silently assented, as people who have been together for almost forty years tend to do. Ronald said, “Maybe three. Would you like to join us?”
The man seemed surprised and said that he was actually waiting for a friend and that he would stop by our table to exchange phone numbers.
He never stopped by although I saw him several times on his cell phone racing to the restroom. It made me suspicious.
Later, on our way back to the car, Ronald said, “I don’t know about that guy. What was his name again?”
“Adam. He was strange,” I said.
“A lot of times, guys are trying to sell drugs or buy drugs, and they tend to look for a black guy. They make their assumptions,” he said.
“You know, I was thinking that,” I replied. “It’s like the guy that worked in the dining hall when we were in college. One day he asked me if I liked to party. I was confused and didn’t know how to respond, and he never asked me again. Now I know, just from this situation, that he was wondering if I did drugs.”
“It took you all these years to figure that out?” Ronald asked, laughing.
I know Ronald relies on his intuition, and that’s true about my daughters, and even myself. My fear in certain situations is my intuition telling me, “you can’t handle this so don’t get involved.”  That’s why I didn’t answer the dining hall employee when he asked me his question. I didn’t know what he meant, but I knew it couldn’t be good.
I may not be in the position to help people the way Ronald does, but I’m the cheerleader who isn’t afraid to shed a tear and feel your pain alongside you while I listen to your story. That’s what I do best: letting people share their burdens or vent, helping them believe in themselves, to reach for something better, or to help pick up the pieces after life has been shattered by some event.
I can think of many times when I met a stranger – someone who walked into my office or that I met at a function or in a store or who rang my doorbell – and my intuition told me they needed to talk to someone. I’m that someone. I can listen and listen and listen, for hours if need be. I can sense if that person needs more than that and offer suggestions, a contact name or place to assist, or some lovely platitudes that lift the spirit.  Maybe I’ll never see that person again. That happens frequently. My hope is that I left a gift for that person, maybe recognition of one’s own strength. Each person leaves me a gift as well – the gift of connectedness.
Trusting your intuition is true for you, too. Listen to it. Withhold judgment. Hear what it really says, not what you think it should say or what you want it to say.
When those things in life occur that knock you down, trust in yourself. You’ll find your way. You’ll figure out the outcome, even if it isn’t the one you first wished for or imagined. In the end things have a way of working out just the way they are supposed to – everything’s gonna be all right.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Honey Boo Boo Effect

My Gemini is showing. I am of two minds. I like people. I dislike people. I wish there were more people around. I wish there weren’t any people around. Some days I can’t even summon self-empathy because I’m a person!
I’ve always watched people and been fascinated by them, even as a child hiding under the table due to shyness but curious to hear what the adults talked about. It’s the imperfections that fascinate me the most. They are also what frustrate me the most. Let me wander a bit as I weave around this ambivalence.
Our imperfections make us unique.  Our diversity makes us interesting. But sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever be able to live in harmony, side by side. Our differences are small, but they hold much more weight than our commonality. They cause disconnects, miscommunications, fear, hatred, oppression, and violence. Yet many people won’t acknowledge this. They want to believe that racism, sexism, classicism, and homophobia don’t exist. They want to blame the victims for the situations they find themselves in and cast them as complainers.
Watch this short video, Stopped and Frisked for being aF**cking Mutt, about the NYPD Stop and Frisk initiative in New York City. 87% of all stops involve a person of color.  9 out of 10 stops result in the suspect being released, but listen to the treatment they endure for just being out in the neighborhood. Learn about the pressure police are under to engage in this initiative. Racial profiling is alive and well in America.
I’m even weary of repeating myself on this topic, over and over. It feels like no one is listening.
Ronald and I often talk about how we identify as a family. Like my daughter Mackenzie, who just got her license changed over from New York State to a North Carolina license, we’ve had to choose whether we identify as black or white.
“I’m other,” she told the DMV official. “Can’t I choose interracial?”
“No, you’ll have to choose between black or white. My granddaughter will have to make that choice, too,” he said, as if that would make the choice to deny part of one’s ethnic identity easier.
“I choose black,” she told him. “It’s how I’m viewed by society anyway. My mom won’t be happy.”
I’m not happy, not because the choice seems like a slap in the face, but rather because she had to choose. Why can’t we, in this supposed post-racial society, identify as interracial? See my post Checking theOther Box.
We’ll be choosing a president soon. Early voting begins in NC on Thursday. I will proudly make my choice for President Obama and Walter Dalton for governor of NC. People died believing in and fighting for the inalienable right of all Americans to vote. I won’t diminish their lives and their struggle through apathy.
Maybe some people believe I support President Obama because I identify closely with black Americans. That is not true. What is true is that I can see beyond the color of his skin and see that his policies and philosophies are in alignment with my vision of America where all Americans experience equality, access, and opportunity; where we all live and play on a level playing field; where our diversity is our strength instead of our weakness; and where everyone is proud to be an American. I understand there are people who don’t share this vision, but isn’t that a part of our diversity? Why feel hatred over it? I don’t.
Here’s another video I recommend you watch. Called SacrificeTotal Gift of Self, this video is pro-life and presents anti-contraception arguments. It is a weird mix of religion (the Old Testament) and pseudo-science. Be prepared to be in total awe. Women, beware. You may find yourself suffering the vapors and wondering where women’s rights, choice, and equality went.
No wonder I feel so ambivalent lately.
There is a trend on television that intrigues me. It is a celebration of rural white poverty and culture. Turn to TLC, CMT, Animal Planet or the History Channel, and you’ll see what I mean. Here is a list of shows that are now popular:
What I find interesting is that there are two opposing draws that create the audience for these shows. Some viewers watch for the pure exploitation aspect. They make fun of the cultural aspects and the people in the show. Some viewers watch the shows because they believe these shows celebrate what true Americanism is.
I’m disappointed by both approaches. America is diverse. There are subcultures all over the place, and none are more American than others. Together, these subcultures contribute aspects of American mainstream culture and Americanism. We are unique in the world due to our diversity.
No subculture should be subjected to voyeurism and exploitation or held up as the epitome of what being American is. A show that respectfully explores a subculture is fine. How else do we learn about one another? But give equal time to all the subcultures that exist in America, and do it non-judgmentally.
I watch a few of these shows. I admit it is like watching a train wreck. They are hard to turn off. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo had a particularly evocative effect on me when I tuned in one evening.
Here is this precocious, chubby, blonde, seven-year-old white girl living in abject poverty and filth, who eats “sketti” made with catsup and melted butter served over pasta, and who participates in child beauty pageants. Her dad works six days a week in the chalk mines, her mother is foul-mouthed yet loving, and her seventeen-year-old sister just had a baby who was born with the hereditary defect of an extra thumb.
The show is just wrong on so many levels. I felt extreme guilt for watching the few episodes that evening, as if I were peeking in someone’s windows. But I couldn’t turn the channel. I was mesmerized. Yet I feel such compassion for this family who got paid two thirds less than other reality show families per episode. Is it an effort to gain their fifteen minutes of fame or an effort to improve their condition and the lives of their children?  What a horrible situation to find oneself in and yet it is repeated in show after show and in more and worse ways than the show before.
All the shows about weddings were brought to my attention this weekend at an event called TheWedding Dress Project. This project is the dreamchild of my daughter Cara, who envisions deconstructing gender stereotypes through the deconstruction of wedding dresses, prom dresses, and tuxedos. Groups and individuals take apart these symbols of traditional gender roles and remake them into other items in order "to deconstruct and re-imagine the societal factors that perpetuate violence in the home and the emotional trauma that results."
A speaker at the event, Dr. Jenn Brandt, Director of Gender Studies at High Point University, gave a short presentation on the business of weddings and what the average wedding costs these days.
I am guilty of watching some of the reality wedding shows, including Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.  These shows are exploitative and voyeuristic, too. In Say Yes to the Dress women are reduced to tears searching for the perfect wedding dress while their entourage of family and friends criticizes their choices.  My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding highlights the lives of Irish Travelers rather than Romani Gypsies as the title seems to indicate. After lavish weddings, these sometimes fifteen or sixteen-year-old girls are relegated to a life of drudgery, keeping up their homes and waiting hand and foot on their husbands. Many of these women never graduate high school. Most of the brides only meet their husbands briefly before the wedding.
I find it odd that I watch these shows about weddings when my own wedding took place at the Public Safety Building (that housed the county jail back then as well as the county courtrooms) after traffic court one Saturday morning.  Here is a photo of us, taken in our wedding clothes just a few weeks after we got married in 1983. Not terribly fancy duds nor a lavish event, but our marriage is nearly thirty years strong.

These shows emphasize the wedding event and downplay the marriage.  A societal shift, no doubt, a la Kim Kardshian, toward extravagance and the growing ephemeral status of marriage.
I am as disappointed in myself as I am in others. I wonder, as I struggle with my ambivalence about people, how Honey Boo Boo and the parade of characters that march across our television screens have affected all of us. Let me include politicians in that group of characters. There have been some awful negative campaign ads in my home state of NC, a swing state. Are they diversions that deflect us from thinking too deeply about the real problems such as racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia that we face in America? Maybe, but I can't be certain in this Gemini frame of mind.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Campaign Fatigue Elicits Poetry

A week of traveling and my campaign fatigue grows heavy. The debate made me angry. The media analyses made me angry. I railed and waged my own debate. Seemed like the world agreed that President Obama wasn’t on his game. He was bored. He wasn’t aggressive.
I disagreed. I thought he was strategic. I thought he was presidential, relaxed, cool, knowing. His mother was white, but somewhere along the way, President Obama learned You Can’t Do What They Do.
Driving down 81 South from Upstate New York on the way back to our home in Carolina, I started thinking about poetry. I’ve not really written poetry before, but the urge needled me. I wanted a different way to express what is important to me, my confusion about why people hate so strongly, and my disbelief that they feel justified. Here are two poems that grew from that need to express and on which to rest my campaign-fatigued brain. They leave me feeling vulnerable, though, and I want to scream, “Draft!” Maybe after I post them, I’ll feel embarrassed. I know they’ll change if I choose to continue to work on them. I’m still going to post them because if we hide our vulnerability, real connections cannot be formed. We can’t know about each other, other than what we assume, and we all know how that usually goes. We remain segregated by choice.

Both his hands on my hips
My arms circle his neck
Our lips touch
Another one, I say,
That one was crooked
He smiles
Our lips touch again
That’s a good one
We stay embraced
Our hearts push rhythmic pulses
Chest to chest
My day starts this way
Or with two perfect kisses
Always in the embrace,
Afraid to part
I squeeze tighter; he pulls my hips closer
The way his skin smells
Sweet and earthy
Spooned at night
His arm draped over the curve of my waist
I unfold inside him

Half Moon Cookies
Chocolate cookies
Chocolate and vanilla frosting
Meet in the middle
Look like half moons
Fallen into a cardboard box
Also called
Black and Whites
Integrated in 1976
Upstate New York
Procreated in 1984
Black and White times two
Beige babies
Our favorite bakery
Four in a box
Size of our family
Drive down 81 South
Back home
From old home to now home
Neither feels comfortable
Music infused car
Exhaust pipe spews the beat
Zoom zoom
Sun Mountain, Betty Carter, Robert Cray
Marcus Miller, Steel Pulse
Lynn August, Aquarium Rescue Unit
Angelique Kidjo
Oranges, reds, and yellows
Fires on the hillsides
Hawks circle
Cows lounge
Chew on Black and Whites
One each
Tea and soda
Somewhere in Pennsylvania
Two more down
Cross the Mason Dixon Line
No more Black and Whites
Hot air balloon at dusk
Carolina Blue down the way
Whistlin’ Dixie
No integration cookies
Look away! Look away!
Barack Obama
Look away!
Lazy, disengaged
Back to Kenya
Show the birth certificate
Integration President
Take it back
Impeach Obama
Take it back
Take back
I wish I was in Dixie
Take it back
Jesus Loves You!
Centenary, Baptist, Bethabara, Pinedale, Hope,
Jesus Loves You!
I approve this message
Tax return, no return
Lies, religion, and riches
Amendment One
Black and Whites
Gay, mixed race, Indian, Asian, Hispanic, Black
Post, Po-Po, Post
Chew it, smoke it, hang it on the wall
Unincorporated annexation
Vagina vigil
Look away!
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Down in the land of cotton
Look away! Look away!
Strange fruit
Stars and Bars
Old pickups
Stand your ground
Black and Whites
Tick tock
Stand my ground
Integration condemnation
Look away! Look away!
Black and Whites
Integration vindication
Look away!
Old times they are not forgotten
Reynolds built this city
We now call home
Tar heel, tar fingered
City named for cigarettes