Monday, December 7, 2015

The Ugly American

I first remember hearing this phrase when I was in my teens, back in the 1970s. Originally it was the title of a novel published in 1958 and a film released in 1963, starring Marlon Brando. According to Wiki, The Ugly American “depicts the failures of the US diplomatic corps, whose insensitivity to local language, culture and customs and refusal to integrate was in marked contrast to the polished abilities of East bloc diplomacy and led to Communist diplomatic success overseas.”
The term is apropos in today’s social and political contexts.
When I see the hatred and vitriol spewed from the likes of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorini, my stomach turns. Worse is the rabid applause and cheers from their supporters. Trump’s supporters attacked a Black Lives Matter protester at an Alabama campaign stop.
But it doesn’t stop there.  Hatred and fear ooze like toxic waste over the landscape of our country. It is overwhelming but it is also deadly and violent.
My husband Ronald and I went to see the movie Trumbo. For those who don’t know who Dalton Trumbo was, he was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood, that is, until the House Un-American Activities Committee charged him with being a Communist.
It was a dark time in our history. The Cold War was raging, and America became paranoid. That meant people who did not share the very narrow definition of patriotism were subjected to investigation and possible prison sentences. Trumbo was one of many who served a sentence. Many of the accused weren’t Hollywood royalty but regular folk like teachers and firefighters. Some lost their careers, their homes, their families, and even their lives.
The House Un-American Activities Committee conducted these investigations from 1938 – 1975. Neighbors turned in neighbors, friends turned in friends, and many people believed that doing so protected the freedoms we so often take for granted in this country.
But the opposite occurred, because our First Amendment Right that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion was under attack.
Trumbo said, “Democracy means that people can say what they want to. All the people. It means that they can vote as they wish. All the people. It means that they can worship God in any way they feel right, and that includes Christians and Jews and voodoo doctors as well.”
Today we are dangerously close to repeating history. Some GOP candidates have called for the shutting down of Mosques and even internment of all Muslims. Today Donald Trump announced his new proposal that would prevent ALL Muslims from entering this country, even American citizens who travel outside the country.
One of his supporters, standing in line to watch Trump speak in Mount Pleasant, NC, said of Muslim Americans, ”Ship them all out.”
Historically, we have done this before.  We interred Japanese Americans during WWII, some of whom had been Americans for generations. Jim Crow systematically segregated and contained black Americans through socio-economic oppression and meted out violent and deadly retribution on those who did not comply. The Trail of Tears, the forced migration of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations from their ancestral lands in the Southeast to Oklahoma, led to thousands of Native Americans perishing during the arduous journey.
It’s important to remember that every new wave of immigration in our country caused paranoia and fear. Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants were all considered dangerous to “the American way of life.”
What is the “American way of life” if it does not include the diversity of our citizens and a mainstream culture that is the melange of multicultural and sub-cultural contributions?
We are not a white country. We are not a Christian country. We are a country that is predominately of Euro-ethnic heritage, the majority of which are Christian, but that does not represent all of us.
Whenever a whole group of individuals is demonized we are hurting our country and our citizens. In this case, because many people refuse to be inclusive and, instead, feed their own paranoia and fear, we are letting extreme Islamic terrorists win. They count on irrational responses, and there are many Americans who are more than willing to comply.
In addition such hatred, fear, and paranoia feed the virulent hate of a growing group of radicalized white citizens who perpetrate their own terrorist acts against other Americans, such as the murder of nine black worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and the murder of three and injury of nine at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. America is amnesic on these terrorist acts because the San Bernardino terrorist act better fits a narrative that includes arming more citizens rather than passing common sense gun control and blaming one group of people for terror in our country.
The ugly Americans: people applauding the murders of unarmed black men; turning their backs on Syrian refugees who are fleeing unimaginable circumstances; shouting their hatred of fellow Americans who choose to worship or not worship in ways that are not congruent with fundamental Christianity.
What’s worse is the hatred directed toward President Obama at this time when we should be standing united behind him. How dare Donald Trump, or any of the other candidates, think he can out strategize the President when he doesn’t have access to the information the President has nor the large number of experts advising him.
I can’t see how that will help us stay safe, especially when we don’t share the same definition of what it means to be safe. There is a sector of America who believes safety lies in removing everyone who doesn’t fit the narrow and untrue definition of American – white and Christian, in whatever manner it takes to get rid of them.
How can we discover who the radicals are when we are busy damning whole groups of people, most of whom are innocent?
President Obama said, “When we travel down that road [of discrimination] we lose.”

Albert Einstein once said,  “Insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results.” We are dangerously close to repeating history and the outcome won’t be different.
The Ugly American 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reconstructing the South

I don’t know what to think anymore. When racism, homophobia, and misogyny are openly expressed, I feel like the world tipped, and I can’t gain my footing or think straight. When it visits my life so closely I can touch it, I become unhinged.
A few weeks ago I discovered the attorney who represents my Homeowners Association (HOA) is a prominent member of a noted neo- Confederate hate group, League of the South (LOS).  Their logo is a black cross on a white field. The white field represents white purity and the black cross represents never surrendering to the government. They are against integration, interracial marriage, and equality. They promote secession from the United States.
In their write-up of the LOS, the Southern Poverty Law Center described the hate group, formed in 1994, this way: “The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans.” The “godly” nation envisioned by the League should be run by an “Anglo-Celtic” (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities. “
They also believe, as the lawyer representing my HOA said in a video blog,
It simply cannot be honestly disputed that we are under threat from all sides today. Whether it is the media; the Federal government; the state governments, which falsely claim to represent us; or organized agitators – all are arrayed against us and are intent on our destruction as a distinct people. There are influential individuals in the media and in government calling for expressions of our heritage to be a crime. There are some who even call for ethnic cleansing of the South through numerically overwhelming our people at the ballot box by hostile immigrants from other parts of the United States or from the third world. This is nothing other than colonization and ultimately genocide. It may be a soft genocide but it is genocide nonetheless. Our people will be erased through deliberate government policy.
Apparently, even though North Carolina is in the top ten ranked states experiencing population growth, there are certain Southerners who do not want transplants, Northerners like us, or especially interracially married people like us (for first time readers, I am white and my husband is black), to relocate to their state.
The president and founder of the LOS, Michael Hill, recently gave a keynote address at a conference in August 2015 and spoke about letting the liberals assist him in radicalizing Southerners. He said they made his job easier.
I find his words incredibly unsettling.
As the president of the HOA, I don’t care to have the chair of the NC chapter of the LOS conduct legal business on our behalf. I don’t see that he can objectively serve all the neighbors in our development since quite a few of us are people of color and Northern transplants. I also don’t want my dues supporting his hateful rhetoric, which motivates, radicalizes, and incites people to violence.
My fellow board members disagree. They feel he simply has strong opinions. They like him.
We have exactly the same information and yet we disagree. The other officers offered that they share a Southern heritage of which they are proud. I told them my in-laws have a Southern heritage, too.  They were silent, because surely they recognized that the Southern heritage my in-laws experienced included exclusion, violence, socio-economic oppression, and Jim Crow. Or maybe they feel like many outspoken Neo-Confederates who think Southern heritage is only white Southern heritage. Maybe they feel that the experience of black Southerners doesn’t count.
I offered to resign. They asked me if they could do more research first. I felt they were dragging out the inevitable.
Sometimes I just can’t understand how anyone can uphold segregation and exclusion and feel perfectly fine about it.  Or how anyone can scream about radicalized Muslims and be silent about radicalized racists.
In fact, during our discussion one of the officers brought up gay marriage and Kim Davis. He said that even though he agreed with Kim Davis on the definition of marriage, he felt she had a civic duty to perform the work. He felt our attorney, even with his beliefs, was still fulfilling his duty to us.  The other officer chimed in that she didn’t agree with gay marriage either and told a story about how the department she managed during her career had many gay employees and there was nothing she could do about it because she would have lost her job.
If there had been no threat of termination, what would she have felt right doing to the gay employees under her management?
It is not just a strong opinion when you have power over another group’s ability to live, work, learn, worship, and play. It is blatant discrimination. And in the case of the LOS, it is racism at its most virulent.
I interact with people everyday who have “strong opinions” about my marriage and about my moving from the Northeast to the South. I have never been disrespectful. I have never once tried to be punitive.  Yet many felt perfectly fine telling us we are an abomination, staring at us in places we have every right to be in, and, in one frightening encounter, veering their car at us.
That is hatred. That is exclusion. That is the demand that we don’t come into their space, even though it is our space, too.  That is the belief that we are less American than they are, even when they talk of secession. That is dangerous and, in growing situations, deadly.
Our history remains unchanged.
I feel disappointment in my fellow HOA officers, in friends and family, and in Americans overall who don’t share my outrage. In my eyes they are people who aren’t concerned with the rising number of fatalities perpetrated by haters, racists, homophobes, or misogynists. They are blind to systemic racism and either deny its existence or blame the victims of it instead of seeking out the truth.
I find myself staying away from friends, family, and all people. It is not due to my prejudice, because I am a true liberal: tolerant, accepting, and open, and I follow the first documented socialist, Jesus Christ. I exclude myself because I see that even people who are close to us choose not to acknowledge the racism that rages in our country. I am not sure why they choose to pretend it doesn’t happen except maybe they can’t handle it.
When people around me ask why I view everything through the perspective of race, I feel disappointment and anger because they refuse to acknowledge the difference between race and racism. They refuse to acknowledge my truth and the truth of America.
So I choose to go it alone with the few people who share my experience or who are willing to, if not completely understand it, because one can’t unless one experiences it directly, at least agree that it sucks to be a person of color in this country. Not only is it terrible, it is often fatal.
The original sin of our country, slavery, continues to impact the structure of our society and every social interaction transacted in our lives. Everything from our jobs, to housing, education, health care, and class, is impacted by race and privilege in America.
In his commencement speech in 1965 at Howard University, Lyndon B. Johnson said, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates."
Organizations like the LOS want to perpetuate the uneven playing field for minorities, women, and LGBT individuals. I have lost hope that we can change the pervasive evil embodied by organizations like the LOS and others like it because our country can’t handle the truth.
This evening I found out the HOA officers can’t handle the truth either. We met again to discuss the attorney. I said, “I’m ready to hear you out.”
Then I got to hear about the different flags that represent Southern heritage, that blacks fought on the side of the Confederacy (they were slaves. Did they have a choice?), and just because someone has an opinion doesn’t mean he can’t perform his job. I was told that down here there are probably a lot of people who are members of groups like that.
I responded that was probably true, and I have a right to not do business with people and businesses if I am aware of their associations.
One wanted to know if I’d experienced racism in our neighborhood, and I mentioned our shooter neighbor. “But she’s mental,” was the response.
I asked if they would agree to having a member of the Black Panther Party represent us legally. They vehemently said no. I asked if they would let a radical Muslim represent the HOA. One said she would never have a Muslim attorney, period.
I’d had enough. I stood. I shouted. I told them I was offended that they could sit there and say who they wouldn’t work with but expect me to work with a group trying to radicalize white Southerners against people of color and the government.
Isn’t that the very definition of privilege?
I said, “At the end of the day, all I have is my dignity and my personal ethics.”
I resigned.
As I opened the front door to leave, they asked me not to let the neighbors know my reason for resigning. I told them I had to give the reason, because I made a commitment, and I wanted them to know why I broke it.
My breath heaving, my body electrified, I drove all the way home with the emergency brake on. I told Ronald all I could remember as soon as I let myself into the house. He said he already knew how it was going to turn out. I said, “You are never wrong.”
Then, before I could be blocked from the email group, I wrote:
I am sorry to report that I resigned from the position of president due to deep differences of opinion amongst the board on continuing to do business with an individual who is a member of a known hate group. I would hope that as a neighborhood, we would want all our interactions to be in the best interest of all neighbors.
It was my pleasure to serve you.

Don’t be silent.
Michael Hill, founder and president, LOS
For more information on the LOS, see the complete write-up at the Southern Poverty Law Center website:
Listen to Michael Hill, founder of the LOS, at the LOS conference in August of 2015:

Friday, June 26, 2015

No More

I am angry. I’ve been fighting for equality, fairness, and justice for my entire adult life, and these last six years have been some of the most difficult. Millions of others must share my anger, frustration, and disappointment.
But there are millions of others who think racism or sexism or gender rights don’t have anything to do with them. And there are others who wage a war of hatred and violence and terrorism, often based on their religious or white supremacist beliefs, which they claim others are violating or trying to hamper.
It is the intersection of all of those perspectives that is causing us fits. Worse than that, it is endangering certain people in our society, impacting their social and economic standing in our country, and killing them.
The Charleston massacre, executed by a cowardly racist, is just the latest in a long list of violence perpetrated in our country. Lots of pundits want to call the terrorist a lone wolf who suffers some sort if mental illness. Others went straight to calling it an attack on religious freedom – really, the irony is killing me and only makes me angrier.
The truth is we caused this. We caused it through our complacency, our denial, and our refusal as a nation to recognize that inequality exists because it is engineered into our societal, institutional, and systemic structures. We live in a racist country. The majority of Americans, white people, are racist because they directly benefit socially and economically. If we don’t have this conversation, in an honest and open way, this will go on and on.
Worse are the states that live in hypocrisy.  Of course, many have started to remove the stars and bars from their capitols and from their license plates. It is a first step, but a shallow one if we do not acknowledge that much more must be done.
Even the GOP is changing. At first Lindsey Graham said in defense of the Confederate flag, “It is a part of who we are.” A day later, he stood next to Nikki Haley as she announced there would be discussion to have it removed.
But these states still believe in segregation and a system of haves and have-nots. We know brown citizens are considered less than white citizens. LGBT citizens are less than heterosexual citizens. Women are less than men. Other voting records, laws, and the denial of safety nets like Medicaid expansion and unemployment insurance are indicators of inequality.
The Confederate flag gives rise to people like the racist terrorist Roof because the state supports and embraces a racist, violent history that includes attacks on historic black churches. Read about the history of the Mother Emanuel AMEChurch, where Roof gunned down nine worshipers during a prayer fellowship. They welcomed him when he wandered into the church.  
But there are other systemic beliefs that also feed the extremists. Politicians and the media like Fox News use racial bias to promote their agenda.

We are a hypocritical country. Our greatest ideal is that we are all created equal. Yet what goes on in this country is not even close to the ideal. We live in a divided country, but not divided the way the conservatives would have us believe. The system divides us. It was created and sustained purposely to keep white men in power. The powerful prey on the ignorance of the uneducated to keep racism going. There is nothing like dividing the country and then having one group, members of the ruling majority, claim the others cause all the ills.
And what do people do when they are angry and feel justified in their anger when they watch Fox News and listen to their clergy who buy into inequality? They strike back. No Dylann Roof was not a lone wolf. He is the monster South Carolina created and there are more like him.
Is racism still a problem in America? Yes, but it was never a problem for white people who choose to ignore it, downplay it, deny it, or blame the victims. It’s easier that way.
As racism is being talked about, once again, many white people show what Robin DiAngelo termed “white fragility.” She describes it this way:
For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing.”
In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people.
Many white people cannot have a conversation about race without getting defensive or shutting down. They will claim, “I’m a good person. I’m a Christian. I am not racist, but…” and they let loose with a tirade about how black people have it so nice and it is all their fault that they are in the situation they find themselves in, whether that is in poverty or in prison or being stopped by police or in low paying jobs with no benefits or in inadequate housing with old paint that contains lead or in schools that are not at the standard of many predominately white, suburban schools.
There are white people in the same situations, but they are invisible, mostly in rural areas. The face of poverty, prison, inner cities, and low paid jobs is a black face.  That face becomes the only face of black people, despite a large and thriving black middle class. This disconnect causes many white people who are in the same situations of poverty or low paid jobs to change their personal narrative and to believe that while they are in their circumstances for valid reasons, blacks are not.
And they vote conservatively because of racial bias, hurting themselves while being punitive to people who they believe are not deserving of help.
Other white people believe they are not racist, but they don’t want to have any kind of conversation where they have to spend most of the time listening instead of stating what they believe. They refuse to see there is another experience out there that does not fit in their narrative of self-defined success and heightened status. Such narratives make them uncomfortable and feeling vulnerable to losing what they feel they have single-handedly achieved without the assistance of white privilege.
For new readers, I am white and my husband is black. We are repeatedly told such things as, “why does everything always happen to you” or “what did you do to cause that?” Or we’ve been told that our experiences are not true, can’t be true, that they could never happen.
The answer to all those offensive accusations, because that is what they truly are, is that millions of other people of color have similar or worse experiences. In many ways, we have been more fortunate than the majority of interracial couples and people of color, but that doesn’t diminish or erase the incredible opposition we’ve experienced in our lifetime together and for Ronald as an individual.
Until we can have an honest conversation and make substantial systemic changes to our infrastructure, nothing will change. Taking down the stars and bars won’t make the changes we need to happen.
It will make people feel good, and, unfortunately, lead many to believe their work is done.
I am encouraged that SCOTUS ruled in favor of the subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, the Fair Housing Act, and same sex marriage. Those decisions will continue the journey to a level playing field for all races and genders in our country.

However, we have a lot of work yet to do. I won't strike back in anger, but I will continue to work for change. Stand united and shout “no more” to keep the shift going in the right direction. One or two or three successes cannot undo centuries of racism and inequality.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Race Identity - True or False

I met a white woman about thirty-five years ago during a job interview. I did not know her well, but apparently she knew me. She told me we were in the same boat.
 “Which boat?” I asked.
“We are both dating black men.”
I accepted the job she offered me, because I needed one, but I had some doubts because there are a lot of boats out there, and I wasn’t sure we shared one.
As I got to know her over the next few months as my supervisor, I knew for certain our boats were different.
Her boyfriend stole and used her credit cards. He got fired from his job at the hospital and served time in jail for stealing prescription drugs and selling them on the street. He didn’t respect her and saw other women while they were still in a relationship.
Ronald would go on to serve the community as a firefighter for twenty-five years. He was and is a terrific, involved, and loving husband and father. He did not drink or do drugs and he did not participate in criminal activity. The only thing Ronald and her boyfriend shared was their brown skin. I found her comparison racist, based solely on one attribute, as if they were just piles of brown skin and not individual people.
One day she showed up at work with her fine, blond hair in cornrows. The movie Ten was still popular in the early ‘80s, and she just had to have them, she said, because Bo Derek had them and because she was dating a black man. I took one look and said, “Your hair is going to fall out.”
It did.
One day while walking to work, the heavy, damp smell of burned wood and plastic enveloped me. As I rounded the curve, I saw firefighters cleaning up at at my supervisor’s house. It was a total loss.
She stood in the street watching the firefighters.
“Oh, my God, are you all right? What happened?” I asked, my voice shaking, and my eyes wide.
“My house burned down. What the fuck did you think happened?” she said, her face emotionless.
I found out later it was arson and had something to do with a bad drug deal or maybe a bad drug dealer.
Soon after I moved on to another position, marriage, and motherhood. She moved on to a new town in a new state because she followed her boyfriend who had been quite clear that he did not want her to.
So I get suspicious when people tell me we are in the same boat. And I wonder about people who try to climb into other people’s boats like my supervisor and Rachel Dolezal.
If you were out at sea, climbing Mount Everest, or otherwise off the grid, she is a civil rights advocate who claimed black heritage, but her parents have come out in the press and said she is white and of European heritage.
Her race appropriation made me angry.
White privilege enabled her to decide what race she wanted to be. The social constructs of whiteness and blackness assure that people who are bestowed with privilege and power in our society, white people, can easily be identified from those who historically have not had access to privilege and power, people of color.
Let’s face it, our society views white people as being race-less and of having no ethnicity. When people say someone is “ethnic” they aren’t usually talking about a white person even though ALL people are ethnic. So only white people can choose to be something else because their slate is blank.
I can’t imagine my husband waking up one morning, leaning over to kiss me, and saying, “I think I’m going to be white today.”
It’s not that he can’t think it. It’s that no one else in our country would allow it.
There are physical markers that people use to identify race, like hair texture, skin color, and eye and nose shapes. Our brain is constantly categorizing things so we can identify the same or like thing next time. It is an intrinsic survival tactic, but it inadvertently, in this case, contributes to the syndrome called racial bias. And it isn’t accurate in many cases. I know many people of black heritage who do not have the markers most people identify as belonging to black people, and the same goes for all people of all ethnicities. Our appearance is individual.
So is Dolezal wrong or hurtful in her choice to identify as black? She is a civil rights activist and devoted her life to changing our conversation about race. She raised two of her adopted black brothers, who she calls her sons, and her ex-husband is black. She claimed she wanted to understand what they experienced and has been able to since identifying as a black woman. She also claimed that she has been interested in black culture and identified with it more strongly than her Euro-ethnic culture ever since she was a child. She self-styles her hair in locs or uses extensions and is also a makeup artist who knows how to darken her skin.
But all this tells me that she is just performing.
I am married to a black man. I’ve raised two interracial daughters. I have experienced, as close as I can as a white person, what it is like to be black in America, like when we had to go to court to buy our first house because the owner didn’t want to sell to “a black family.” I loved Sidney Poitier and Michael Jackson when I was growing up, and still do. I loved my father’s best friend, Harold, who was the grandson of slaves. He was kind and generous to us, and he admired my mother’s cooking even though he was a professional chef. I love the blues, jazz, Zydeco, and funk. I love dance that came directly from black cultures like tap dance, hip hop, and what is referred to, wrongly, I think, as black concert dance, because it is contemporary dance by black artists and choreographers. I think locs are lovely and have complimented many friends who wear them or those who have “gone natural.”  I have family and friends who are black. I am often in situations where I am the single white person.  I do not suffer from race anxiety or racial bias.
Yet, I am not in the same boat. I don’t pretend to be in the same boat or dream of being in the same boat.
I am not black. I would not call myself black. I would not cornrow my hair or otherwise try to change its texture to look like “black hair.” I would not darken my skin through tanning or makeup. I would not disrespect my family members, friends, acquaintances, or the millions of black Americans I do not personally know, through imitation and performance, because they are not an “it” or a “thing.” They are people. They are Americans or they are living in or visiting America. They share an incredibly painful history and legacy that I can never share.
But I can acknowledge their history, my history, their experience in America, my experience in America, the cultural contributions of all ethnicities, and the intersections among them that translate into us, Americans.
Though I don’t specifically identify myself with the social construct of whiteness, because of its basis of privilege and exclusion, I am white. My husband is black. My daughters are interracial or mixed race.
But identifying as black or white is damaging in our country where systemic racism and a violent history of oppression, segregation, and enslavement have made us a tale of two countries. Because of that President Obama was considered too black for some and too white for others. When those same people failed to get the response they wanted from the rest of America, they started to say he wasn’t American at all. He is still often called the black president and his mixed race heritage is ignored or twisted.
Yet there are millions of Americans who have no choice but to be identified by race, and it has negative social and economic consequences. It is the foundation of racism and segregation in our country. The fact that people of color do not have choices like Rachel Dolezal is what angers me about her choice, because she has a choice.
Tomorrow she could decide she doesn’t want to be black anymore. Maybe the performance has run its course and the show is about to close.
I also wonder what her personal gain is in all of this. What psychological benefit is she reaping from identifying as an ethnic minority? I can’t imagine, because, like my husband, many American blacks will tell you that being black in America is no parade. Ask the people of Ferguson or Baltimore about being black in America. Ask the teenagers in McKinney, who were just middle class kids having a party at their community pool, what their experience was like when their neighbors treated them as if they had no right to be in their own neighborhood, and the policeman ran around like a crazy man wielding his gun because a fourteen-year-old girl scared him, or rather his racial bias scared him.
Make time to listen, because I’m pretty sure they could talk about it for hours and still not be finished. That doesn’t mean they don’t have pride in their heritage. They do and have a right to. But Dolezal is getting something out of it, and that personal payback, that truth, is where this particular incident will finally find its resolution.
One day we may live in a race-less country where skin color will not convey a bounty of negative history, divisiveness, segregation, violence, haves vs. have-nots, and emotions, lots of emotions like anger and hatred. One day it will just be a physical characteristic that will have as little consequence as one’s eye or hair color. But we are not there yet. We are not in the same boat and not even in the same water.

I dream that one day we will share the same boat, and no one will question whether or not one person or another belongs or doesn’t. But until then, Rachel Dolezal has no right to call herself black.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sleeting Justice

Bad weather must be my motivation. It seems like that’s the only time I am moved to write these days. And it isn’t for lack of fodder for writing; there is always plenty of that in this world.
There may be too much. That’s why I feel paralysis so often. I can’t move, and I can’t speak; I can only blink my eyes.
What should I write about today? The father who killed his transgender child? The Christian woman who beat her Jewish friend in an effort to convert her? The atheist who murdered his Muslim neighbors because he didn’t like where they parked?
I could write about my own neighbor, the one who discharged her firearm through her overhead garage door at people she did not see. Her neighbor told on her. The woman told the neighbor that she “heard Mexican voices” and shot through the door. When I contacted the police by email, the cop said the report was confidential because a small child was involved. He also said the garage door was pried up in the corner (Really? That’s quite hard to visualize and must have taken some work.), and since she was home alone with a small child, she had a right to fire her weapon. What happened to leaving the garage, going back in the house, and locking the door while dialing 911? How about calling out, “I have a gun. Leave my property now!”
A few weeks later she was on our HOA Google group complaining about her new neighbors who had not even lived in the house a week. Will she shoot them because she doesn’t like the sound of their truck?
I don’t know if the new neighbors are Muslims, but I know they are black. Almost all of her complaints are about black or Hispanic men or boys. She logged 33 calls to the police in 5 years. But the police don’t think that is excessive. 
That doesn’t count the times she complained or bragged on the Google group. I sent all of those to the police and he said not all matched up to a police report.
She’s the same person I wrote about in my post Profiling Fatality 3: The Demonization of George Zimmerman. She described the intruder from that incident as having “evil eyes.” She also admitted she may have left her door unlocked.
Just like she left her SUV parked on the street with her purse in the front seat. The doors were unlocked then, too.
When the temperature is above 50 degrees, which occurs most days of the year down here, I leave the front door open. I love the extra light it lets in the house. We picked this house because of all the oversized windows. I love a light-filled home. The difference? We have a security screen door. It locks with a huge hook bolt that fits into a slot in steel-reinforced timber. The glass is bulletproof. An elephant might be able to knock it down, but I haven’t seen any of those in the neighborhood. We also own a dog and a security system, and there is a wrought iron gate on my porch – you’d be surprised how many people can’t figure out how to open it. We have motion lights and the yard is open all around the house, no privacy fences or hedges.
We aren’t paranoid, but we understand when the police tell you to make your house an unattractive target.
It’s not that there is a lot of crime in our neighborhood. Including the neighbor that called the police 33 times in 5 years (averages out to 6.6 calls per year), we averaged 7.8 break-in/property damage calls per year in the same period, 2009 – 2014. There are 78 homes in our neighborhood. Suffice it to say that most of the calls were hers.
I’ve called the police 4 times in the almost 8 years we’ve lived here: twice when my car was hit in the driveway (we live on a curve, and after the city installed a sign letting people know there was a curve up ahead, it hasn’t happened again); the third time was when a rabid coyote was rolling around on my front lawn; and the fourth time was when the house next door to me was in foreclosure and I saw two white guys come out carrying the heat pump and loading it into the back of their pick-up.
I suspect the white guys were members of the construction crew because that heat pump was well hidden in an attic crawlspace inside a closet.
We live in the city. There will be crime. That’s what happens when there are a lot of people living fairly close together. The economy down here is terrible, too, and the state government has removed or shortened the term of just about every safety net. Some people will turn to crime out of desperation and some will turn to crime because they are bad people. Remember all the rat experiments we read about in psychology class?
But city living is a choice. I prefer the city. There is more going on, more people to run into, services like trash collection are better, and the fire departments are full time, not volunteer.
Living out in the country is a choice, too, and lots of ultra-conservatives choose that option because they don’t want to be around people who are different. Why doesn’t my neighbor move? She keeps talking about it, as in, “I mean I was ready to pack up and go yesterday over break ins but this unnecessary noise has got to stop!”
My husband said, “Then go already.”
He was ready to go over to the new neighbors and warn them. I emailed and warned their landlord instead. I didn’t want my husband (for new readers, he is black; I am white) walking near that woman’s house, and I don’t want to read in the paper that a neighbor was shot and killed because another neighbor thought his truck was loud (she could hear his music as he pulled into the driveway). It reminds me too much of the atheist who didn’t like where his neighbors parked.  When did that become a reason to kill someone?
When did the pried edge of a garage door become a reason to discharge a firearm in a residential city neighborhood?
The cop I sent my complaint to reminded me of our 2nd Amendment rights. He said I was judgmental and my statements were inflammatory.
Protect and serve. I’m glad my neighbor, whose husband is a deputy in another county, is getting the full benefit of the city police service while the rest of us worry about our right to walk and drive our neighborhood streets and live in our homes safely.
I reserve my right to wonder if that garage door was truly pried at the corner or if what the other neighbor related is really the truth: the woman “heard Mexican voices,” never laid eyes on anyone, and shot blindly through the door. One of the NRA rules of gun safety (Yes, I went to the “experts.”): Know your target and what is beyond.

I just hope I don’t read about her in the paper.

The sleet made last night's storm worrisome

Monday, January 12, 2015

Long, Cold Winter of Justice

"How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
~  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cold temperatures drive me inside my head. I lived in upstate NY for the first fifty years of my life, but I never liked the cold. I tolerated it, swearing or crying into my muffler as I pushed snow off my car or straining against the wind to get to my building’s door each morning for work, hoping the wind would not knock me off my feet as it had on other occasions. When Ronald bought me a remote car starter, my mood lightened considerably. I could open the door of my building, aim the remote at the car in the parking lot twenty-five yards away and start my car. Twenty minutes later, I would brave the wind and chill and jump into my warm car. I didn’t even have to scrape windows.
Down South I complain if I have to put socks on. This winter has been one of the coldest since we moved here, and it makes me want to hibernate. Up north we would have been cheering at how mild a winter it is.
Sometimes Ronald says we should move farther south to Florida, and I just stare at him blankly. Another state with bad politics, only Florida doesn’t have grand topography or the same brilliant blue sky of North Carolina, and there are too many people.
The chill makes me think of my writing life, too. It’s been harshly vacant like one of my mornings up north, walking to my building, the cold piercing and the wind pushing.
I have reasons or excuses. The world is overwhelming and too many bad things happen, whether it is a terrorist bombing in Paris or the murder of a young black man at the hands of the police.
Sometimes I want to shut down the newsfeeds and recycle the paper before reading it. 
It’s happened with family, too. All the years of estrangement, the legacy of it carried from one generation to the next, the sameness in its execution, like it’s genetic. One day I stop thinking about it and then I stop thinking about them.
Our history seems genetically coded, too. Violence, oppression, hatred, distrust, greed, and racial bias – they are passed on as quietly as hair color and texture, eye color, height, body type, and skin color.
Greed and self-centeredness make us poor stewards of the earth and poor advocates of the greater good.
I am as guilty as anyone these days with my armchair activism. I write this blog and post my opinions on Facebook, but you won’t find me out marching anymore. There was a time I spoke up, lobbied, and protested.  I made the effort to make effective change in my workplace, at my daughters’ school, in my community, and at the state and national level.
We knew we had to do something to make change back then. We knew we had to voice our concerns, not in a room filled with like minds, but in the room of minds least likely to agree.
Last evening we went to see Selma, and I was reminded why we felt that way. I would turn eight just a couple of months after the marches from Selma to Montgomery. I remember watching the news about it, but I don’t ever remember discussing it in school. Even though it would change our history, it apparently did not affect us in my mostly white school up north.
Something in me knew that omission was wrong. Somehow I knew this was important, even though it would be years before I understood racial bias and just how insidious and pervasive institutional and systemic racism is in our country.
But something else happened, too. Dr. King taught the country about the necessity of protest to make change.
Here’s a quote from Dr. King’s speech delivered in Montgomery after the march:
If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)
I still feel the relevance of this speech. The lie of superiority is still being peddled.
My emotions were on high before we even arrived at the theater. Ronald was unsure he wanted to see it. As he has often said, “I live this.”
“I want to see it as an adult,” I countered.
He relented. I feel guilty that he shares my journey to understand what racism is. After thirty-nine years, I cannot say that I know what it is like to be black in America. White Americans may think I’m daft, but black Americans know what I mean.
 At the theater, there were very few white people in the audience. Why didn’t they come to learn about our collective history of America?
I knew the girls walking down the stairs in the church would die, but I leaped and gasped aloud when the blast decimated those innocent souls who each had all the potential but none of the opportunities to reach it.
When Jimmie Lee Jackson, church deacon and civil rights activist, was gunned down by a police officer during a non-violent protest, I began to cry.
Jimmie Lee Jackson (Wikipedia)
I continued crying all the way through the movie credits.
I cried for the valor displayed by people who knew they might die but showed up anyway. I cried for the injustices perpetrated by the very people who are supposed to protect and serve us, the peace officers, who chose instead to uphold Jim Crow. I cried because I fully understood the symbolism of the Confederate flag. I cried because what happened then is not so different from what is happening now.  I cried because this was a story that we all share, told finally from the perspective of the people oppressed by Jim Crow.
In 1965 the police galloped into the marchers on horses and wielded bats and tear gas. In Ferguson, they arrived in tanks, wore riot gear, and used rubber bullets and tear gas.
Today protests are mostly done from inside the comfort of one’s home on social media where most “friends” are in agreement. Though I am guilty of it, I don’t think it changes a single thing. When people do take to the streets, they are not organized as they were during the Civil Rights marches. Dr. King and those close advisors and collaborators around him had direction, concrete demands, and strategies. The protestors were trained and understood what to expect (some protesters in Ferguson were trained in this tradition). Little was left to chance.
Today someone tweets to meet up at Times Square, and thousands show up, but what is the plan, what are the demands, what are the strategies?
While we gather in aimless groups and lament and commiserate on social media, others are working hard to implement their agendas of privilege and power.
It scares me. I wonder what I could have done differently, what my generation could have done differently. I hope the younger generations figure it out.
I think we’ve failed as liberals and activists in the last fifty years.
Part of our failure was the complacency that comes from success. When we believed we had achieved all we set out to do, we stopped being vigilant, and Jim Crow gained ground again.
The other part of failure is that white liberals still live with privilege and still view the world through the lens of privilege.
I recently watched Chris Matthews, a man I have great respect for, get his underwear in a twist because he didn’t feel President Johnson was respectfully and truthfully portrayed in the film. His reaction to the film says to me white liberals want to be liberal but keep the old order.
They still like to be the ones in control (the power brokers) and the ones in the know. It is damaging in the quest for racial equality. As soon as a white liberal tells a person of color “I get it” or “You don’t understand what needs to be done,” he or she is being patronizing and racist.
When a white person says “I get it,” it is like telling Samaria Rice you know how she felt when Tamir was gunned down by a police officer less than two seconds after the officers pulled up to him while he played with a toy gun in the park. No, the fuck, we don’t know.
When Chris Matthews laments about LBJ’s reputation, it is stealing the story from black Americans who were tired of the oppression and ready to demand change and giving it to a "white savior" who sweeps in to save the day for the poor black fools who couldn’t save themselves without his assistance.
That’s not the story Ava Duvernay chose to tell nor was it the truth or the story we needed to hear. Certainly, LBJ was a wealthy white man with a Southern affiliation, and he was blatant in his use of the N-word. He enacted both the Civil Rights Act and the Voters Rights Act, but it is doubtful he would have acted alone. He did what was right politically and right for the country, and there is no doubt his decision to act was in direct reaction to Dr. King’s persuasiveness and the powerful microscope of the news media focused on the South.
I’ve had family and friends alike tell Ronald they get it or that the experience he is telling them couldn’t possibly have happened. His story made them uncomfortable, and their privilege ephemeral, and instead of expressing those feelings, they attack his credibility. I’ve stopped talking to family members and friends or they’ve stopped talking to me. I’ve been un-friended on Facebook because they do not want to allow that my experience is different from theirs. Estrangement is the easy way out for both of us. The other person doesn’t have to endure uncomfortable moments, and I don’t have to feel offended by their inability to accept a different experience.
We, who look at the world from the safe haven of privilege, cannot ever know what it is to be unprivileged and targeted in America. Part of the privilege is the assuredness often displayed when telling people who are not privileged that you know more about their lives than they do.
Even though I gave up “whiteness” when I entered into an interracial relationship thirty-nine years ago, I am not black. I cannot know what my husband and daughters experience as black and mixed race Americans. The experiences I relate are my narratives, not theirs, even when they star in them. 
I regain my “white” status in the eyes of others as soon as I am alone.
What I can do is demonstrate my outrage at the perpetrators of racism, give an empathic ear when things happen, speak up when it matters, and continue my journey to learn about race in America and my role in perpetuating racism. Thirty-nine years is not long enough because it’s already been proven that fifty years or even one hundred-fifty years cannot undo our history.
That is what we, the people defined as white in our racially constructed society, need to do. Listen. Acknowledge privilege. Speak up instead of choosing silence. Express outrage. Collaborate to work toward a solution.
Are we capable of accepting another societal construct, one that eliminates racial divides and gives every citizen equal opportunity and equality under the law?
Can we change our inherent need for tribalism by redefining our tribes?
Can we agree that equality is more desirable than privilege, which assumes a construct of haves and have-nots?
I need a remote starter to defrost my heart because I don’t trust we can achieve this.
Aside from watching Selma, two moments this week helped me toward that end.
Ronald turned to me as we were driving home the other night and he said, “Your looks change, and today you look like that photo I took of you on my parent’s porch.”
I knew the one he meant, taken one warm, spring day in college. “In my sleeveless sweater,” I said.
The photo was taken in 1977, a time when my parents, particularly my mother, railed against my relationship with Ronald. In one argument that summer, she would accuse me of causing my father’s second heart attack. It was also when Ronald and I knew we would spend our lives together, because neither of us could imagine a different future.
Back then (1977), no matter how cold it got, my heart remained warm
The second was yesterday morning. After writing for a bit, I climbed back into bed and shaped my body around Ronald’s contours. Our combined body heat was tropical. Soon we turned in unison, and, lying side-by-side, his left hand holding my right hand above our heads, we talked about everything and nothing. It was the most meaningful hour of my day.

Those moments are my remote starter. They warm me up and keep me going, no matter how cold it gets.