Sacrificing Innocents to the Cult of Trump

It was after a Maundy Thursday, or maybe Good Friday service and Paul, lapsed Catholic and attending all the Holy Week services for the first time in a very long time, was hearing all the readings and listening with a critical ear.

Allow me to paraphrase my wise hubby, “So, all these politicians cutting services like healthcare, food stamps, etc., to the poor are calling themselves ‘Christians,’ and yet, on the night before he died, Jesus Christ said to his closest friends, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourselves’; where in that was cutting food stamps and healthcare from babies?”

Where, indeed?

I go over it again and again in my head, trying to sort the cognitive dissonance which happens every time a “Christian” quotes the bible in support of the latest outrageous Trump Regime policy, usually with Old Testament scripture. And you know what? I am done trying to justify it, or even understand it. Folks are calling themselves Christian who are really, from my view, worshipers of the worst elements of the Old Testament, the judgy-est, most damning texts.  What we’re seeing is not Christianity, it is a new cult built around the most revolting, all-too-human figure currently occupying the White House.

While understanding that Jesus did not tell us to throw the old rules out with his coming, I do believe he told us to filter all that we do through his new covenant, that we love one another:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35

What we are doing to innocents brought here by desperate parents fleeing unimaginable violence will haunt us for years to come. The Trumpist cult that is now the GOP is fond of quoting the bible; here is one quote that has always intrigued me, as a student of psychology:

 

“The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,

“The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation.”Exodus 34:6-7

This doesn’t sound much like a merciful God. But as a student of psychology, I understand how mental sickness, like many other things, rolls downhill, or through generations. The man who hated his father for beating his mother becomes an abusive husband; children who are sexually violated become abusers themselves (sometimes). God doesn’t need to send specific punishments upon our babies, we do it for Him when we allow our sick, abusive behaviors to dominate and take us over. Our sins roll down onto our babies when we don’t actively address and heal our wounds.

I wonder how many people have had a conversation with a friend the night before he or she died? I have. When my friend Jeff and I talked, seriously and lovingly, alone for the last time, we had the gift of knowing it probably was the last time, and after I fed him beef stroganoff and we did our usual ridiculous cutting up, we talked of Love. It was a conversational treasure I will carry within my heart the rest of my life, and is the conversation which resonated within me that Holy Week when Paul pondered Jesus’ last words to his disciples.

Jesus, the original rule breaker, chastising those fussing at him for dining with prostitutes and tax-collectors, and choosing his last words carefully, mindful of the importance, tells his followers to “love one another as I have loved you” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.

There is nothing of love in this:

horrible trump people on immigrants

Who are we becoming as an American People? This is what keeps me up at night. A populace which claims Christianity, but acts in distinctly unchristian ways? There is nothing of God in this policy and nothing of God in the people who revel in it. What we do know is that separating children from their parents in this manner results in trauma, the exact results of which may not be known for years.

The sins of the fathers will rain down upon us in ways we cannot even imagine if we let this stand, and they won’t be divinely sent. We will have seeded the clouds all on our own. We must not. We must contact our government representatives today and tell them this cannot stand.  Here is a link to find out who your representatives are: https://www.house.gov/representatives

So, I Never Thought I was Racist, but…

I never considered myself racist. Like, how could I be, raised in the wonderful melting pot of coastal, Southern California by liberal Democrats? When our family picture was a visual representation of the song, One of These is Not Like the Others?

Surrounded by Hispanic, Vietnamese, Persian, and many other cultures, African-American people were not too much on my radar. A few in my High school. My closest associations were the two different African-American women my mother employed as Housekeepers, first Bea, then Margaret.

During the summers Bea worked for my mom, she brought her grandson with her and we played, being of an age. We moved, moved back to another neighborhood, and Mom found Margaret. These two women did much more than clean; busy with their own lives as they must surely have been, both would stay to have a cup of coffee and some conversation with my mom, who was lonely.

So, all my few associations were positive. But I didn’t know any African-American people, so I just didn’t really think about them. And the Civil Rights Act, right? Everyone got a fair shake because it was the Law.

In the workplace, I witnessed in-the-face racism, the first time, I was 18 and waiting tables in Newport Beach, a tourist town. Despite the poshness of the address, the ventilation hood over the grill was always breaking down. On this particular night, the three grill cooks, Francisco, Vicente, and Jaime, all had water-drenched bandanas over their faces to screen out the smoke. They were drenched in sweat.

There was no soda fountain in the kitchen and during the night, waitstaff would run back pitchers of soda for the grill cooks; they needed the sugar and salt to stay hydrated. Francisco pulls his bandana down and asks of the three of us waiting for orders, “Can someone bring us some soda?” and he is clearly dying.  To my horror, Audrey pipes up, cool Audrey, whom I’d liked so much until this moment, and says, “We’re too busy! You fucking Mexicans are gonna have to wait!” Grabbing her platter of ribs and onion rings, she turns on her heel and probably doesn’t hear me when I say, loudly, “I’ll go get you some soda!” And I do. I bring back three pitchers of soda. Coincidentally, I never have to beg for special orders or favors from the kitchen, before or after I delivered those sodas. Just saying: treat people decent and they will, too.

But even today, Audrey’s words still feel like a personal slap in the face, and I guess it was. It woke me that things aren’t always like they seem on the surface. A pretty, friendly, fellow waitress, who had always been cool to me, can be a righteous bitch and a racist. It was an important lesson.

Many years pass and I see other crap like the above. I go to college and learn about Redlining. Laugh right out loud if you wish, but I was shocked to learn that devious white people perfected ways of skirting the law to keep out brown and black people. I learn about Brown V the State Board of Education, and Plessy V Ferguson, the legalized slavery of sharecropping, Jim Crow, the Klan in all it’s awfulness, Emmett Till, Billie Holiday and Strange Fruit.

I find I can no longer read my favorite book, Gone With The Wind, in quite the same way. When I read about “a lost civilization of Knights and Ladies” I keep hearing a whisper, built on the backs of slaves.

Many more years pass and I go to work on a highly diverse campus, and this time, it’s mostly African-American, not like my High school which was mostly Hispanic and Vietnamese. So I get to know a lot of African-American people: Principals, Teachers, Cops, Parents, and Students.

I am introduced to Black Culture, but here I am confused; just as there are a lot of different versions of White culture, each with their own peculiarities and traditions (my own natal Irish-American/Jewish-American,  or Italian-American, Polish-American, German-American, etc., etc.), I find a lot of different cultures among the African-American people I come to know: New Orleans Creole that came with the kids who arrived after Hurricane Katrina; our SRO, who liked to hunt and fish out on his land in the country but could also quote you the Bible, Shakespeare, and Walter Mosley; Teachers who came from highly-educated families, sometimes the third or fourth generation to Teach; Rap and Gangsta culture on display, comically often by boys too young to shave. I began to wonder, when people talk about Black Culture, what do they mean? Which one? African-Americans seem (to me) as wildly diverse as White Americans, or the myriad Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and so on. We’re just all a big mess of influences. For my money, it’s that mess which makes America truly great. The ultimate jambalaya, if you will.

But here is a thing I remembered, while pondering all of this: I was 16 or 17, and out very late at night, up in LA where I most certainly should not have been. I took a wrong exit somewhere, and got lost. Straight into Compton.

Compton had always been spoken of as a “bad” area into which the wise did not tread, especially if one were White. Blonde and  blue-eyed, I am Extremely White.

Before GPS on smartphones, we had Maps, specifically in SoCal, the Thomas Guide, and after this night I would definitely purchase one but alas, I had none, and would have to ask directions of someone at a gas station or convenience store. But all the gas stations I passed where manned by African-American men. So I drove until I found a gas station with an Hispanic attendant, with whom I felt comfortable and who sent me back down the street to the 405 Southbound, with which I was already intimately familiar and could find my way home.

It wasn’t that the African-American men manning the gas stations looked particularly malign or dangerous, it was that my life had not included, to that point, many African-American men, and I’d been warned about that part of the city. So I went to what was familiar to me, or at least didn’t seem threatening: an Hispanic male. I’d grown up with Mexican kids in every one of my classes and that culture, Hispanic people, felt safe to me.

Here’s my point: I thought I was pretty smart to get myself home by finding that Hispanic attendant. I was safely home, my parents none the wiser about where I’d been. Forty years later, my brain suddenly shouts, “A ha! Unconscious bias! Right there in your psyche big as life!”  That night, I was directed by the irrational fear of someone, a whole class of people, because they did not look like me, and I hadn’t known any closely enough to understand they are, actually, just like me. Eating, breathing, sleeping, loving, hating, yearning to live a life unmolested by others, just like me.

So, I never thought of myself as Racist, and I don’t know that I do now, but I do know I might find some more of these ugly little things, assumptions I didn’t know I had, but that directed my behavior. I hope I am brave enough to own them, too.

Questioning my strongly held opinions will never lead me astray; when they are the right ones, they hold fast. When I can see the wrongness, or….. unformedness? instability? When they are unsupportable by fact, or just plain erroneous? I am gifted with vision, to see another side, if I am brave enough. That can’t ever be wrong, and maybe it will help me be helpful, where help is wanted?

Where have you found your unconscious biases?

POTUS & Archie Bunker’s Toilet

It was a more innocent time, my childhood, when Jane Russell could only display the Platex Cross Your Heart Bra on a mannequin; it was a big deal that we heard the flush of the Bunker’s toilet; when a married couple must be shown to each have one foot on the floor in the marital bedroom (which contained twin beds). Some things were and still are illegal and other things, like underarms and Archie Bunker’s toilet, were considered crude, and either not permitted out of good taste, or played for cheap laughs. Both the extreme opinions of the far-right, bigoted Archie and his equally extreme, but far-left-leaning son-in-law were skewered by brilliant writing week after week; Archie’s toilet was daring for being heard at all, an extended fart joke. A much more innocent time.

Some firsts aren’t groundbreaking, or desired. This morning, mothers watching the news are shielding their children from anchors throwing around the word “shithole” because they are quoting the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Now, I am no prude and anyone who has talked to me for oh, maybe three seconds, knows I can turn the air blue. It’s not the language I object to; it’s who is saying it it, the context within which it was said, and his obvious, willful ignorance of History and breathtaking thoughtlessness of the world-wide implications of his every aside and tweet. How is it he doesn’t get that? Or, as I suspect and worse, he doesn’t care because this is him:  racist, misogynist, xenophobic in the extreme. Every day it is some new, crude, backwards-thinking embarrassment.

I am descended from people who came from places that, at the times they fled them, probably seemed like “shitholes”. But that did not mean my ancestors were ashamed of their origins – how could they be, when those places made them who they were? When those places gave them the very strength upon which America itself is built? People strong enough to leave a hopeless situation, strong enough to build entire new lives and a country, too, strong enough to send into the future tax-paying citizens like me.

I have had the privilege of working with immigrants from Africa, Mexico, South America, Pakistan, Lebanon, Singapore, Jordan, Kuwait, China, and Ireland. All were hard-working, and many were far better educated than I. To insult their homelands is to insult them.

When I look back at the TV of my youth, I am glad that the more ridiculous rules have fallen away; however, we currently have a Chief Executive with none of the governors over his behavior most sane people employ when in society, let alone anything like class or discretion. Every day his boorish, frat-boy behavior brings yet another new low, from bestowing ridiculous nicknames on world leaders, his insistence on propagating conspiracy theories despite empirical evidence disproving them, to the infantile Twitter battles with which he seems to start every day. He diminishes our good name with every waking hour, even as his robber barons strip healthcare  and food stamps from children and re-write tax code to increase their own wealth. Drain the swamp? Puhleeeze. He’s only added alligators.

Like getting spectacularly drunk at the office Christmas party, it is going to take us a long time to live down the embarrassment and regain our reputation. We will have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously after Trump (so for women and people of color, it will be business-as-usual on steroids).

The first place we can make a significant dent in that drunken reputation is this November. We have got to turn the GOP out, and I mean all of us, we can’t just let Black Women carry the weight. White Women: wake up. This POTUS is no good for us or our children. Vote in your best interests, which means can you get healthcare? Can you afford it? Can you afford your birth control?  Go away, Bernie. You’re not helping. Tell your voters to vote for a viable candidate instead of whining and staying home and then complaining when the Village Idiot is elected President.

Democrats need to clear out the Old Guard and yes, Nancy Pelosi, that means you. Let’s hear more from Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julian Castro. Here in Texas, I am supporting Beto O’Rourke to unseat Ted Cruz.

The GOP owns this President and everything he is destroying in his path, but it is up to all of us, together, to rebuild our Country and our Ideals – this is no less than a battle for the American Soul, American Identity. We must tell our elected representatives this behavior will not stand. Call your representatives today: 202.224.3121, register to vote, and come November, VOTE. It has never been more important. Words matter.

When someone demeans your place of birth as a “shithole,” it is a fair bet he doesn’t think much of you, either. But he misjudges at his peril. Say it with me, like Ned Stark, “November is coming”.

Who Are You?

From my mother, I grew up with very specific ideas about who I am genetically. We were Irish, “Descended from Jonathan Kelly, who stowed away aboard the Mayflower to get here and practice his Catholic faith in freedom from the English swine who stole our language and religion.” My mother had opinions on the English.

The stowaway part was a bit o’blarney according to my mother, what my Grandma Helen referred to as a “whopper,” and an outrageous lie in truth. There was an actual Jonathan Kelly, Irish Catholic, who came to America in the early 1700’s through the Virginia Colony, and one can follow the bloodline down to my mother’s generation and now, mine. He was not indentured. Jonathan Kelly came of his own free will for a chance at a better life.

caroles dnaMy daughter took the Ancestry DNA test first, then Paul and I, all with a little surprise in the results.

Paul, my very tall, very fair, second-generation Irish American hubby was predictably Irish. Not a big surprise since his family came so recently. What was a surprise was the trace amount of Indian Subcontinent. How fascinating is that? How on earth did his poor, bog-Irish ancestors meet and mingle with someone from the Indian Subcontinent? We will probably never know but it sure makes for interesting conversation and speculation.

For me it was, what I had been told about my genetic code, along with so much else of my childhood, was not necessarily true. All the Irish heritage I was fed as a child ignored the far larger percentage of my genetic markers from Great Britian and hey, how ’bout them Spaniards and Jews! Like Paul’s Indian Subcontinent, hours of contemplation can flow from those Spaniards and Jews.

In a time when DNA testing didn’t exist, her Irish heritage was what my mother believed in. My paternal genetic heritage she dismissed as, “Scottish I think. Maybe some Welsh.” Sometimes I wonder if when my mother, removed from Ireland by multiple generations, an ocean, and most of another continent, railed against the English, was she really railing at my biological father? Were “the English” code for “the guy who left me”?Her Irish genes and superstitions were what she had to give me, and as with many things, maybe felt like she had more to give than she did.
What’s really got me curious is: who were those Eastern European Jews, Spaniards, Basques, and/or Portuguese lurking in that gene pool? Sailors from Phillip’s ill-fated Armada, washed up on Ireland’s shore? Or do they go further back, were they Celts who went north? I might never know. But I think there are fascinating stories there, waiting to be told.

It solidifies a suspicion I have harbored for some time: Americans are all mutts, mongrels, and we are stronger for it. Instead of standing shouting at each other, looking at one another as “Other” we should be mixing up the gene pool and ferreting out heritable diseases. Consider, the person you’re shouting at could be your cousin. If you’re not a Native American, at some point your people left someplace else, or were brought here against their will from someplace else and here we are now, together.

We’re going to live or die, together.

Last week, a 3rd cousin  contacted me via Ancestry.com; she’s a beautiful mixed-race woman in Michigan. We haven’t figured out the common ancestor yet but there it is, courtesy of Science: two women of the same generation, raised thousands of miles apart, one recognizably African-American and one recognizably Astoundingly White, are  genetically linked. We share blood family. We are blood family. How could I stand across a protest line and shout at my family? How could I wish less-than for my family? How can I not cry out for justice for my family?

I wasn’t who I thought I was genetically, but I am still me and as an American, I choose who that is. That is the grace of freedom, and freewill. I am a mutt and a mongrel, an American Girl.

It’s kind of liberating.

Who are you?

Six Degrees of Immigration

The year I don’t know, but in the early days of the 20th Century a young man from a small village outside Kiev boarded a ship in Frankfort, Germany, crossed the Atlantic and, passing through Ellis Island, an anonymous agent recorded him under the Anglicized name, Bernard Gross. He married a fellow immigrant, a girl from the old country named Rachel. They became American citizens, owned and operated a laundry, and raised four children: Betty, Mildred, Harry, and finally, surprise! the baby upon whom everyone doted, Jack, “Jacky” to the family.

Jack played High school football and after WWII he followed his older brother west, tending bar and managing restaurants, eventually settling down with a pretty cocktail waitress, a single mother with a little girl. He didn’t live an extraordinary life, but worked hard for his living, bought houses, paid taxes, and raised another man’s child through fevers, stitches, accolades, accidents, and late-night ER visits, adopting her as his own and teaching her what is meant by unconditional love. His own father, Bernard, adopted her, too, with the less formal but equally binding ties of grandfatherly love.

That little girl was me. Only one degree of separation, a straight line linking a little girl growing up with a loving father and America opening it’s arms to a Russian Jew fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe.

There is no way to estimate what my closest associations with immigrants have meant to my life. Surely, I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t sat in a doting Papa’s lap during holidays and family gatherings.

My country was built by immigrants, but as a country we have a habit of being pretty ugly to the most recent wave of them. Recent events conjure shameful memories from High School in Southern California, when Vietnamese refugees were settled in our area. Then, I witnessed a subtler, nonetheless savage, form of welcome by my fellow students in the form of whispers and snickers in the hallways and a pointed distancing. When the locker rooms became infested with scabies, the blame was laid firmly at the feet of the Vietnamese students, and the rampant but previously quiet racism of the school’s corridors turned vocally and disgustingly scurrilous towards them. It all sounds so petty and small, but it was relentless. I was never savage, oh no, I was worse:  I saw it all and remained silent. Which is why I can’t this time, I can’t be silent and honor those immigrants who, in six degrees of separation or less, have shaped, loved, guided, educated, delighted, and enriched my life beyond measure.

Children Waving to Statue of LibertyIt bears remembering that most people don’t want to leave their home countries, their relatives, their places of worship, their familiar foods and surroundings. When one’s choice is leave or die, it’s an easy choice to make, and there in New York harbor stands a statue inviting “the poor, the tired, the huddled masses” to our shores. America has long been the beacon of safety, of hope, the promise of God’s grace for whoever named God and even those who don’t.  How do I wrap my head around even the consideration of not living into that promise? If we aspire to being the “shining city upon a hill”, deserving that honorific demands no less than offering shelter and succor to all people seeking refuge, the least, the last, and the lost.

We cannot be both Christian and Isolationist. God’s grace flows first not to particular borders but rather, into the human heart open and ready to receive it. Then we hold it but a little while, passing it on to the next in need while being ourselves replenished in the giving. In this way we are constantly renewed while repaying the debt owed to our immigrant ancestors, who paved the way for us.

In this way we live into the promise of being the “shining city upon the hill”.

(Be the) Candle

img_5389-2My daughter earned her degrees from the great University of Texas, Austin and one is a Bachelors in Women’s and Gender Studies. I love our conversations, even when her clear-headed feminism dispels my own long and closely-held bullshit. Maybe especially when she dispels my culturally ingrained, but ultimately diminishing, bullshit.

I was raised to expect praise, get validation for being pretty, skinny, funny, and amenable. Don’t make waves. Don’t call attention to myself. Don’t be a tattletale. Don’t be a party-pooper. Go along to get along. Don’t take abuse, but understand that if I dressed too provocatively, or was in the wrong place, abuse might find me and it would be my own damn fault.

My daughter and some years of counseling have been as candles illuminating the unintentionally sick thinking my mother instilled. I don’t blame my mother and have long since forgiven her, for how can one blame another for being a creation of his or her culture? How can I blame her for dying young and never having an opportunity to understand the myriad ways we institutionally blame women for the sins of a male-dominated society?

Now a harsh candle shines brightly on one of the most odious men to walk the planet, a man so entitled and privileged he claims his wealth and celebrity enable him to do anything without permission to any woman he deems attractive. I’ve listened, stomach churning, to the bile generated throughout this caustic campaign cycle but along with the far more eloquent Michelle Obama, something the Republican nominee for President said yesterday shook me to the core. It was when Donald Trump said of People Magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff, who in company with several other women has accused him of sexual assault or at the very least, unwanted sexual advances, “Look at her. Look at her words. I don’t think so.” No woman could mistake his inference.

It was all in the tone, and I think most women have known that guy. The guy who flirts with you constantly but never in public, never out in the open, because you’re just not fine enough for him, for who he believes he is: better than you, cooler than you, more popular than you. He wants you, but is almost embarrassed by the wanting, because you’re less-than. This usually happens in Middle or High school. The vast majority of men outgrow it; the ones who don’t become predators.

My first was in Middle school. He was tall and blonde, one of the popular boys. While pretty, I was unmistakably Uncool. But he flirted with me all the time when no one else was around and one day, when we’d stayed after school to work on a theater set, he shoved me up against a wall where no one could see and without my consent, felt me up. And of course I never said anything because who would believe me? Who would believe the handsome Lothario of Stacy Junior High School would want to be with plump and terminally uncool me? And what was she doing alone with him between buildings anyway?

The second happened on a Friday night during High school, at a party I should not have attended. A guy who held me down tickling and groping me until I screamed, until I managed to plant my feet in his chest and hurl him against a wall. And everyone laughed. “Oh look, she’s maaaaad!” Like it was funny. Like it was ok for a male to continue touching a female who has said, in no uncertain terms, STOP. I couldn’t count on my sister females to support me any more than I could tell him to go fuck himself for doing that to me, lest they as well as I be forever consigned to the Mortally Uncool. Because the most important thing was being seen by Male Dominance Culture as Cool, no matter how skeevy it made you feel, no matter how much in that moment you desperately need a brain-bleaching. You see, this is where it starts, this is the foundation of women keeping their mouths shut because to Say Something might ruin their chances of promotion, of being able to support themselves or their families. This is the start of culturally gaslighting women, perpetuating the sickness and imbalance of power in male-female relationships of all kinds.

 

Donald Trump is simply rich male privilege writ large. This stuff has been happening forever, and women haven’t spoken out about it in the decades since they gained the right to vote because we worked too hard to gain a foothold in the workplace and in the voting booths to risk it by calling out men on their bullshit. (And yes, I know it’s not all men, not even most, but it is still a too-large proportion.)

What kind of bullshit? The bullshit that results in light sentences for male athletes when they assault incapacitated women behind dumpsters after frat house parties. The bullshit that silences young women on our college campuses, giving male athletes a free pass to use them for their own gratification. The bullshit that a male celebrity can portray himself as America’s Daddy while drugging and raping women. The bullshit that says “She was asking for it” because she wore a short skirt. The bullshit of school dress codes that send girls home from school for wearing tank tops and somehow makes them responsible for the thoughts of boys. The bullshit that confers upon women the moral responsibility for society while constraining their rights of control over their own reproductive systems, and charges them more for maintaining their health.

So this is my rallying cry: Sister Women, the bullshit stops now. Let us be candles for each other, casting our flames upon the slime wherever and whenever we see it, making it shrivel, dry up, and blow away. Let us compete with each other less and bond with each other more. Let us be the reflector of each other’s candlelight. Let us be each other’s safe place in the train car or sidewalk to and from work, in the workplace, at the clubs. Let us teach our daughters and sons to respect women as equal human beings. Let us sing the praises of the legions of parents, male and female, who have raised respectful men who call out the lie of “locker room talk”. Above all, let us speak up, speak out and let our candlelight shine on the bullshit wherever we find it.

I am here for you. I have your back, and I’m counting on you to have mine and most especially our daughter’s and granddaughter’s backs. The bullshit stops here, replaced by the warm glow of our collective candlelight shining on a more just world where all God’s children may flourish, where no girl or woman need stay silent out of fear of reprisal in all it’s nasty, diminishing, bullshit ways.

Women, we are the candles. If we won’t light the way, who will? Stand up, speak out, and shine, shine, shine!

Truth and Reconciliation

Three days after my 18th birthday, my father attempted suicide. His business had failed, he felt he had failed, and he waited until I was old enough to take charge of my, and my mother’s, life. He did not succeed, thank God, but it was in the aftermath the real madness began. Unable to deal with the shame of a suicide attempt (not his first, we learned), my mother spun a tale of “exhaustion” to tell the neighbors and family. As soon as he was stabilized she was lobbying the hospital to release him. California law stipulates a suicide attempt results in three days mandatory commitment to a mental health facility, but my mother was an insistent person and they buckled before her as everyone always did.

I was furious. What the fuck do we do now, I asked, hide the steak knives? We aren’t qualified to deal with this. He might get help if we let him stay the three days. We need to know why this seemed like the answer for him. All my arguments fell on deaf ears and I seethed, knowing we were merely pasting a band-aid over a gaping, festering wound, allowing it to scab back over and it only become worse. How long until it blew open?

This story is not related here to engender sympathy for myself – I don’t feel bad about it anymore. I learned a lot from it, I still learn from it, and long ago I forgave all parties, even myself. It’s a story of an American girl that bears some resemblance to America itself. In the wake of murdered Black civilians and murdered Police Officers, I find myself thinking our collective wound will never heal until we face the systemic causes. Here are a few which haunt me:

Institutionalized Racism:  Death upon death upon death in our streets. Nearly every day I hear the news of another young, Black man shot by police. Next comes the grieving and the posturing, the devastated family on one side, those who would paint the deceased a thug, a miscreant, a criminal on the other, and the line remains firmly drawn between the races. In the wake of a tragedy both sides want easy answers, fast, and so we yell and shout and stamp our feet, pointing fingers at each other. But there are no easy answers because it’s deeper, it’s systemic, and we’re refusing to look honestly at the institutionalized racism which will be awkward at best, excruciatingly painful at worst, to reveal and heal. But this is what we must do, I feel certain of it.

Legacy of Slavery:  We must stop denying the painful legacy of Slavery in this country. I’m white and I don’t have the education to say exactly what that legacy entails, but I imagine it is fiercely complicated. In my gut I know that treating human beings as property, abusing an entire race and breaking up families over generations – casting human beings adrift – has to wreak havoc and cause all manner of mayhem, with ugly ripples flowing out over time and generations. It didn’t disappear with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. A phrase used by my beloved friend, Freda Marie, an Episcopal priest and wise-woman of color, “Generational Depression” has stuck in my head for a few years now; I think we all need an understanding of what that is. We white folks need to acknowledge such things exist. I can relate this to my mother’s hatred for the English and love of the IRA, though she was 300 years and 10 generations removed from Ireland. Hate gets passed down with the recipe for potato salad, it is one of those ripples transcending time and space until we make a conscious, vigilant choice to stop it.

How We Police the Citizenry:  Let’s review training of our police forces, make sure they have the tools and training to de-escalate situations, handle the mentally ill – ironically, Dallas Police Chief David Brown has been doing exactly that, with excellent results, making the shooting in Dallas even more tragic (at least for me). Let’s take a good look at funding community policing or “beat” cops, who walk neighborhoods and know the residents, each able to see the other as unique human beings and potential allies, rather than immediate foes. Cops in cars with no connection to the neighborhoods they serve fosters an Us Vs. Them mentality on both sides.

Failure of the Educational System: We’ve created a pipeline-to-prison in our Educational system, and no one can tell me this isn’t true because I’ve seen it, up close and personal; I know it exists. When I see dead Black teenagers, I see kids I loved on my campuses and it cuts me to the core. I live in fear of hearing a familiar name on the news. One size does not fit all and so we must address failing schools one by one, neighborhood to neighborhood, providing for those in need and overhauling the education system – and let’s listen to the Teachers when we do. Testing is not the answer. Creating a safe space populated with dedicated Teachers, a place where open discourse is encouraged, and everything is fueled with quality nutrition would be a good start. This will cost money or, as I prefer to look at it, an investment in our collective future. No matter what color they are today’s children will be making decisions that affect all of us when my generation are drooling on ourselves in Assisted Living facilities. I want them to have educations which enable good decision making.

Speaking of Prisons:  It is distinctly unhealthy to have a privately-held, for-profit prison system, it destroys the humanity of those on both sides of the bars. There is no incentive to feed them properly, still less to institute any kind of rehabilitative programs. Considering the United States holds the dubious distinction of having the most incarcerated citizens of any NATO country, we need to a) review sentencing guidelines for non-violent crimes, especially the ridiculously harsh ones engendered during the ill-advised and failed “War on Drugs; and b) consider that failing to give an inmate hope for his or her future through quality rehabilitation efforts is to doom them to recidivism.

This is of course not an all-encompassing list. I could go on into housing, health care, mental health care. Each subject thoroughly explored will turn up more issues. But eventually we’ll hit the end, if only we’re strong enough to start digging.

My dad never faced or was encouraged to face his internal demons, and I find it not at all coincidental he died of a massive heart attack 18 months after his failed suicide attempt. What I see in our society is an infection I fear is coming to a critical and perhaps irreversible state due to our collective failure to examine the causes of it. We slap band-aids on the wound, but never do the thorough and hard work of diagnosing the actual causes. To do so will require bravery, and a sharp lancet. It requires we start telling and listening to Truth, even when it hurts. To reject the Truth is to allow our country, this grand experiment founded on the bravest and noblest ideals, to commit suicide.

In South Africa (and other places, too), Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were established, permitting those on all sides of injustice to tell their stories free of reprisal, in order that all could heal and move forward together. I believe our country must look squarely at our old, festering wounds: the legacy of slavery; religious intolerance;  xenophobia; misogyny; and horrible, blatant racism in our justice system. We must hear the stories so we may drain away the poison and take away it’s power to hurt. Then, we may begin to heal. Only in this way, I believe, can we move forward together and realize the greatness I believe exists in the collective American consciousness. We have, in the wonderful diversity of our population, fertile ground to grow a truly great society, but it will take incredible courage. We will get this courage from each other, Black, Brown, Yellow, White, and every wonderful shade in between.

black and white unitedI am prepared to face uncomfortable truths in the hope it propels me and us forward, to a greater peace and understanding. I hope, ask, and pray you will join me.

 

 

 

 

Choosing the Birdsong

Maybe because in the wake of Orlando, I needed inspiration and so listened to David Foster Wallace’s address to Kenyon College, captured in the small book, This is Water,  but I’ve been thinking a lot about choice.

All of life is a choice. I know this is not revelatory information I am dropping here; if you’re a fellow blogger, or a reader of blogs, I imagine you discovered this long ago. We writers write to put our thoughts (because we think a lot) into some solid form, where we can look at and ponder them lest a squirrel cross our path and we lose the thought for all time. And contemplative types (in my experience) know about choice. That we have the power to choose what we take from a situation, how we react to it, what we do with the bits and pieces of our lives, good and bad.

Which isn’t to say we always choose well, or at all. Our strength and vigilance waxes and wanes. There is a lot of noise and tragedy surrounding us. There are a lot of folks invested in keeping the volume of rhetoric turned way, way up and thus, keeping all our lesser emotions ginned up, too.

For me, the noise sometimes becomes so overwhelming I simply shut down and isolate myself from any input at all, which can be healthy as long as I don’t stay there too long. If we shut down completely and choose not to choose, we make the choice of allowing Life to happen to us, with no exercise of our own freewill. For some, this feeds an unhealthy need for abdicating responsibility, or martyrdom, rather than gaining the strength of taking responsibility and with it the power to change that which is not pleasing, or is harmful to ourselves and others.

Behind my backyard are several large pines and a couple of cypresses, home to a variety of birds and some squirrels. In the early morning hours I take my camera with my zoom lens, and a cup of coffee and sit out there, hoping to take pictures of the birds. I’ve done this often enough that I find I listen for their calls, so I know where in the trees they are and can concentrate my attention on that area, my goal to get a nice, clear, sharp picture of any and all of them in flight, wings spread. It eludes me. I have ever so many nice pictures of them sitting on the power lines, or some of the lower branches, the bird feeders or fences, but none of them in full flight, wings spread and markings clear. But I keep going out there anyway, confident that God’s Guardian Angel of Photographers will help me get shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings in whatever cosmic agreement needed to render a sharp, clear, noiseless photo of a bird in flight.

On the other side of the pines and cypresses is a well-trafficked city street. It’s pretty quiet at 6:00 a.m. but the noise from commuter cars soon increases, not overwhelmingly, but enough you know a road is out there. This morning as I sat with my coffee and camera, Ivan the (recently) Terrible in the chair next to me and Blanca snuffling along in the grass, looking for rocks, it occurred to me that I had been so intent on listening for the birds, identifying Cardinals here, Mockingbirds there, a tiny Warbler, too, that I hadn’t noticed any road noise at all. Which of course brought it smack-dab to the forefront of my attention, but in the preceding hour I had heard nothing but birdsong.

With so much hate and vitriol sounding off in the continual feed of a 24/7 news cycle, it is important to make healthy choices, both for ourselves and the world around us. Informed we must be but while always exercising care in choosing our sources, eschewing the shrill and seeking the calm, ever questioning those invested in kindling our anger, and paying heed to the softer spoken, gentler words appealing to our love, patience, and kindness.

We can choose the birdsong.

 

(Un)Safe

It was 4:45 a.m., and the door from my bedroom to the back yard was open just far enough to let Blanca and Ivan go in and out. As I lay in bed listening to crickets and the odd cicada humming, I was warm, comfortable, and safe, enjoying the peace of not-quite morning.

After these last few days of hearing the horror of Orlando, all the talking heads dissecting and analyzing and looking for reasons why, why? it happened, these days of not being able to form a truly coherent thought about it, a memory came unbidden from a long time ago. A very young, very pretty me piled into a car with my equally young, very handsome male Gay friends and headed up to LA to dance the night away in one of the Gay clubs. There I could dance all night without ever having to shake some weird guy who wouldn’t go away, or worry I’d hurt someone’s feelings if I turned down a drink or a dance, had no fear of being cornered or stalked. I was in a place and among people where I was 100% accepted just for being exactly who I was, nothing more, nothing less. And so I danced, laughed and partied free of all concern, because I was safe. Maybe all those in Pulse on Saturday night were feeling that way, too, the more so because unlike white, straight me, it might have been the only place they really were safe, until a bad man with a sick head and a semi-automatic weapon shot his way through the door.

While 49 innocents died from the bullets fired at Pulse, everyone who was there sustained a potentially mortal wound in their loss of feeling safe, of having one place they could go where it was 100% okay to be who they are. Here in our country where in 29 of these United States, it is still legal to fire someone for being Gay. Here, were it is still legal in 30 states to refuse to rent to someone because they are Gay. Where county clerks twist religious liberty to flout Constitutional law and refuse to issue marriage licenses to Gay couples. Here, where televangelists of every ilk use their freedom of speech to spread hate against fellow citizens. Here, where parents feel righteous about throwing their children away, determining the child’s inborn sexuality is either defective or sinful. So for me, this national tragedy is more than even the lives lost and the horrible, devastating ripple effects of their loss – it’s about millions of my fellow citizens, my brothers and sisters who don’t and can’t feel safe. Anywhere. This was stolen from them, from all of us, really. Because as well as killing 49 innocent human beings, Omar Mateen showed us how illusory is the safety any of us feel.

The furor will die down, here in our nation where such horrors have become commonplace. But I will not be silent about these things:

  • the need for universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun, with no exceptions for gun shows, online purchases, inter-family sales;
  • the need for 30-day waiting periods for anyone who wants to buy a gun;
  • on the no-fly list? you’re also on the no-gun list;
  • ability (with proper documentation) for families/domestic partners to “red flag” an unstable person so they can’t get a gun;
  • outlawing the sale of high-capacity clips;
  • term limits for Congress and Senate, so they can’t stay long enough to get too cozy with the NRA and other lobbyists; and, importantly,
  • recognition/legislation rendering it unconstitutional to deny housing, employment, marriage or adoption rights, based upon gender identity/sexual preference, basically, recognition that a citizen is a citizen is a citizen, and it is not our business who said citizen loves provided everyone is of consenting age.

I don’t want to take away guns but I think we must acknowledge that high-capacity clips (magazines) permit sick individuals like the Orlando shooter to create a lot of carnage quickly. Loopholes in background check laws for online and gun show sales allow no time to weed out the mentally unstable, or those who pose a terrorist threat. We must recognize the cause-and-effect of weapons in the wrong hands = dead people.

Citizens always wondering when and where the next atrocity will occur does not seem to me the thoughts of a free population. When a goodly number of our citizens must spend their lives looking over their shoulders for the next act of violence, have to lie in order to earn their daily bread, or refer to their life partner as “roommate” is simply caging them in invisible prisons. The idolatry of guns in our country is steadily and not so slowly putting bars around all of us, the bars of fear and hatred.

I am optimistic enough to believe we have the love and intelligence in this great country to grant all citizens’ equality, and also to make hard decisions about our collective safety. But I am also too old now to worry about being liked for my beliefs, so while I will of course offer my prayers for the victims of Orlando,  I will also be vocal about supporting my LGBTQ fellow citizens equality, and about our need for reasonable action with regard to guns in this country.

I do not wish to be in continual mourning; I wish us all safe.

Rape Culture

My blood is boiling. Brock Turner, a young man with a promising future, assaults a young woman, is caught in the act, brought to trial, and is let off with a ridiculously lenient sentence because in the judge’s, Aaron Persky’s, assessment to render justice would have a “severe impact” on his future. This is Rape Culture giving a pass to wealth and privilege. This is Rape Culture conferring higher value on men’s lives than women’s.

The rapist’s father laments his son will rightly have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, no longer enjoys his favorite foods, and isn’t his “happy go lucky” self. He thinks it’s all a bit much for “twenty minutes of action”. Well boo-fucking-hoo. Suddenly, it becomes very clear to me why this young man didn’t grow up with a moral compass that would tell him an unconscious woman isn’t a consenting woman. This is Rape Culture saying, “boys will be boys”.

Make no mistake, Brock Turner’s lost bright future isn’t the result of something that happened to him. What happened was he threw it away with both hands the instant he chose to victimize another human being. He was the agent of change here, he was what happened to this young woman. This is Rape Culture blaming the victim for the consequences that rightly befall the perpetrator.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be raped in her lifetime and in eight out of ten cases, by someone she knows/an intimate partner rather than a stranger in drag lurking in a public restroom. But by all means, let’s carry on fuming about who uses which bathroom. This is Rape Culture disguised as morality.

If you haven’t read it, or heard it when Ashley Banfield  (Brava! Ms. Banfield) used twenty precious minutes of her airtime on CNN yesterday to read it aloud, here is the impact statement from the victim. This is what she will live with for the rest of her life. This is the product of Rape Culture.

If you haven’t watched it yet, please go immediately to Netflix or CNN and watch The Hunting Ground, especially if you have a daughter you’re sending to college. This is Rape Culture on campus, and our daughters need to be forewarned and forearmed.

What has my blood at boiling point is that we are still seeing this crap. For all the strides women have made, our society is still more concerned with the “impact” of the consequences upon men for their revolting and illegal actions than  the lifetime nightmare visited upon on their female victims by those actions, most especially if he is white, wealthy, and an athlete. Every time a case like this bubbles up through the muck it gives the lie of Equal Rights. Women are not equal. People of color are not equal (though athletes come close). This is Rape Culture and it sickens me.

When does it stop? When do we end Rape Culture? When will women be valued for their humanity, gifts, and accomplishments rather than objectified? When will we render justice to rapists and stop trying the victims? How long? How long O Lord?