Monday, June 30, 2008

Stuff White People Do

My ego is apparently supposed to be taking a beating this week. Nothing heavy, you understand. But when you were raised to have no self esteem and no sense of your own self worth, the ole ego grows like a weed in that garden.

Fortunately, I have reached a point in my development where my self esteem and sense of self worth are blooming along with my new alamanda vine, so my ego can stand the deflation (though I still feel the pinch and embarrassingly so).

Anyway, I'm probably the last one on the band wagon, having been in cognito, as it were, for the past few months. The blogosphere will fill a vacuum in a minute, I know. But last night, thanks to a comment by Professor Zero, I discovered a new blog called Stuff White People Do. The author is smart, right on the target, introspective and clever. He reads all the same books as I do, watches all the same movies, and shares many of the same opinions. And he's written almost as much in the past ninety days as I wrote all last year.

I was tired when I reached SWPD last night and after about an hour on the site, I decided that I'm no longer necessary to the blogosphere, after all (see what I'm saying about the self esteem and self worth?). Then, I remembered what I had learned the night before (see this post), so I shook off the feeling and just celebrated the blog.

There are a number of wonderful bloggers on my blog roll to the right. If I didn't think my Faithful Readers would get something special from each and every one of the them, they wouldn't be there. But if you haven't read Macon D. over at Stuff White People Do yet, then let me send you on over there post haste.

Just recognize that you're probably gonna be there for a while.

And don't forget about me, okay? ;^)
The YouTube clip featured above is of Tim Wise talking about the origin of White privilege just like I do -- only better. I first saw it at Stuff White People Do. Of course.

Quote of the Week

"Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at the sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground."

~~ Zora Neale Hurston in Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On Planting Alamandas

The first time I ever saw an alamanda vine crawling up a railing, exploding into big, bright yellow blossoms all over the side of somebody's porch in the morning sun, I knew I wanted one, too. That was more than a decade ago, but I finally did it. I bought one at a garden store yesterday and planted it next to my rustic Louisiana porch this morning, trying to beat the heat and the mosquitoes and the rain I knew was bound to come in the afternoon (again).

As I dug into the clay-riddled earth, hoping against hope that I wouldn't dismember any earthworms or uncover anything weirder than that, I got to thinking about where I was and what I got to be a part of last night and, right there in the sunshine, I had another one of those epiphanies the outdoors so often ushers in.

It all started yesterday morning at the regular monthly meeting of the local branch of the N.A.A.C.P., when a man I'd never seen before stood up and made an announcement that there would be a special event last night in one of the African-American churches in a small town twenty miles north of here. The event would be in special recognition of Pat Morris, a latter day Rosa Parks, if you will, who has become the face of the struggle for social justice in this parish over the past four years.

Despite her bachelor's degree in mass communications, she literally cannot get a job here flipping hamburgers (she has tried to apply when a "help wanted" sign was in the window and been told as much). She's been insulted and threatened and offered MAJOR money to sit down and shut up, but she just keeps pushing. How did the money get to be major? Her efforts and the efforts of a seriously adept lawyer have finally put some things in motion that everybody -- especially the local Powers That Be -- had come to think were carved permanently in stone.

Over time (and I'll be writing more about this soon, when the website goes up), the Courts have now demanded that the parish schools have to be brought into full compliance with ALL the orders that followed Brown v. Board of Education more than fifty years ago. That means that the number of African-American teachers has to be raised from 13% to 40%. It means that the parents of students who drove their children to "better" schools at their own expense over the past forty years have to be reimbursed appropriately, as was originally ordered. It means that schools with flooded basements and failed sewer systems and rotting infrastructures leaking asphalt have to be knocked down and replaced, if necessary. Recently, it meant that when a new head coach was needed at one of the local high schools, the best qualified man had to be hired, even though he was an African-American -- the very first time in this parish they've ever hired a Black head coach and that was only done on threat of being jailed for contempt of court after they'd already put a less well qualified White man in the position. The bottom line: a federal judge with an independent monitor reporting directly to him has ordered the school board to ante up once and for all so that every child in this parish can expect to receive the same quality of education, regardless of where they live, how poor they are, or what their skin tone.

In any case, as a result of all this, Pat Morris, as you can imagine, is persona non grata in these parts. She has pushed this envelope like she can't help herself. And she's paying the price for it, just as many before her have done. Local White folks think she's the Devil. Some people of color are literally afraid of even looking as if they're connected to her in some way. And there's also folks of color who think that "rocking the boat" just "makes trouble" and should be avoided to "keep the peace." Hell, there's even folks who sell their votes, including African-American ministers who "help" White candidates get elected in majority Black districts for a "contribution" to one church fund or another. So, even in her own community, Pat has her work cut out for her.

Consequently, last night, a small congregation of maybe forty or fifty people showed up at a lovely church they didn't nearly fill to say thanks to Pat. The music was stomping-good. The testimonials about Pat and her work were loving. And the preacher chosen to inspire and encourage her moved the earth, as far as I was concerned. I was, of course, only one of two White faces in the crowd and surprised, frankly, to see another one. I've gotten accustomed to being even more of an oddity than I used to be.

When the envelopes were collected for the "love offering" for Pat, I was embarrassed. I'm dead in the middle of a two month period without income myself. I just transferred my meager savings into the account to pay my current bills. And, though I have slipped her some cash in the past and sustain the organization at a stronger level than most, I didn't have much to put into the kitty.

The fact is, I couldn't afford anything. And being raised a middle class White girl, I didn't want to go to the event because of it. Still, I knew I had to be there to show my support to this woman of valor who is taking it on the chin for all of us. So, I put a tired little twenty and five ones in the envelope with her name on it and drove up to the church.

When the collection was taken out to be counted, I stood there thinking about how small the crowd was and how little my contribution and how likely it was that most of those in attendance wouldn't have much to give either. But when they announced the results, the tally was over five thousand dollars. I was speechless. And grateful. Grateful that I got to be a part of that, that I got to see that outpouring of support for this woman who SO deserves it, that I got to be reminded that this is the way it's always been done.

Later, I was talking over chicken wings and cake in the fellowship hall with another woman I respect greatly. I don't know why, but for some reason, being around Glinnis always makes me feel kind of silly and superficial, like I have a LOT to learn about a LOT of things. Anyway, I was telling her how strapped for money I am right now and how, because of that, I didn't feel able to participate in a food drive a mutual friend is running for rural families in Mississippi. I hastened to add that I normally give substantially to feed Haitian street kids (as if I needed to validate my existence in some way). Then, digging myself ever deeper in my cognitive stew, I mentioned that, anyway, there are hungry people right here in the parish we're in. Which was not the point in the first place.


"Why don't you just quit beating yourself?" she asked, shooting me a look that was harsher than her question, a look I couldn't immediately discern.

Then, this morning, swatting at mosquitoes and wondering if my knees would hold out long enough to plant the alamanda, it hit me. It's taken me more than a decade to realize my dream of having an alamanda vine planted by my front porch. But it's there now. And even though I'm just renting, aren't I just renting my body, too? I mean, nothing is permanent from what I can tell. And even if I move someday, the plant can go on blooming, a marker, as it were, to my having passed this way.

Nobody expects me -- or anyone else -- to do it all. It's not necessary, for one thing. And it's not possible, for another. In fact, it's an ego trip to see oneself as imperatively central to any effort for social change. Or anything else, probably.

If I do whatever I can with whatever I have wherever I am, I'll be doing my share and that's all that's important. It's not about me, after all -- how I feel or what I do or even what others think of me or of what I do. It's what we do together that makes it possible for us all to survive and the grand unfolding of history to continue.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Speaking of Africa...

Yesterday, surfing the web for the first time since I moved last week, I decided to stalk my favorite website builder's work and came across a call for applications for the Focus Features Africa First Short Film Program. The application period opened May 12th and closes July 15th, so if you don't have an idea you've already fleshed out pretty seriously, it's probably too late. And the competition is only for African filmmakers. But you never know.

The Focus Features Africa First Short Film Program will award up to five (5) emerging African filmmakers $10,000 (U.S. dollars) each towards the pre-production, production, or post-production of their short film. Winners will also participate in a three-day workshop in New York City. So, if you or someone you know would be interested in this opportunity, I hope you'll pass along this information right away.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

We Need A Freedom Charter

On this day in history in 1955, the South African Freedom Charter was adopted at the Congress of the People at Kliptown near Johannesburg. Three thousand delegates -- men, women, and children -- representing the African National Congress, the Indian Congress, the Coloured Peoples Organization, and the Congress of Democrats met that day for the reading of the Charter, which was then signed. (For more, visit this site.)

The Freedom Charter said, among other things, that the people shall govern; that all national groups shall have equal rights before the law and shall enjoy equal human rights; that the people shall share in the country's wealth and that the land shall be shared among those who work it. It began:

“ We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people . . . .”

Perhaps we need a Freedom Charter in the United States. If one was drafted, would it be dangerous to sign it? Would you sign?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Quote of the Week

On this day in 1903, Eric Blair was born in Bengal, India. Never heard of him? He wrote under the name "George Orwell."

Many folks say he was anti-communist. Actually, he was anti-totalitarian. Which is why he was opposed to Stalin (see his allegory Animal Farm), but also why he set his famous book 1984 in England. He was warning us. Are we listening?

Whether talking about the socially-constructed, political notion of "race," the art of doing "gender," or what the *bleep* is going on in Washington, our quote of the week is:

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." ~~George Orwell

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin on White People

He had his problems, as we all have. But he told us as much Truth as he could figure out. And made us ask for more.

George Carlin

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm Going To Vote Republican (NOT)!

I'm in moving mode (again), taking my happy self from one apartment to another here in the same community. This means I've been offline since Wednesday and they're not hooking me up until Monday. Which is more or less like having my oxygen cut off. But my "new" place looks like a Louisiana camp. It's all shaggy and grey outside and has an unpainted front porch and a back deck with a frame for a porch swing. Needless to say, I'm excited about it, even though it means being out of synch with the rest of the blogosphere for a few days.

In the meantime, my buddy Anna sent me this video clip, so I'm passing it on to help my Faithful Readers start the weekend with a chuckle. When you watch it, keep watching through the credits until you see the Grandma re-appear. And keep on keepin' on. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blogging for Respect in Media

A few days ago, I posted that I would be supporting the Afrosphere Action Coalition's Respect in Media campaign. The immediate focus of that campaign today? The A&E Network's announcement that they are bringing Duane "Dog" Chapman's show back to the airwaves in spite of his racist rant heard 'round the world just last year.

I am contacting the following individuals and sponsors to protest in solidarity with the AAC community and ask that Chapman not be given a free pass on his behavior. I hope my Faithful Readers will join me and the Afrosphere Action Coalition in the interest of reinforcing how important it is for all media, and most particularly the mass media, to show due respect to all people.

Please tell programming executives at A&E that their support of someone with such demeaning views is unacceptable and make clear to the advertisers listed below how you feel about companies that would support a man with Chapman's so loudly stated perspectives. Giving lip service to a pretense of apology is not, never has been, and never should be enough. Chapman says he doesn't "mean anything" by his use of the n-word. Not that I believe that for a second, but even if it were true, that suggestion would be worse than using the n-word itself. I mean, if he's really so racist that he doesn't even consciously register what he's doing when he uses it, then just saying "I'm sorry" isn't going to wipe it all away.

This is the basic email I'll be sending:

"I realize that the business of television is about money and that Dog Chapman is about money in the bank. However, I protest the return of the Dog Chapman show after his racist tirade last year. I do not believe he has changed. I believe that he is sorry he got caught. It is imperative that television networks support respect in media for all people. Do you imagine that anyone watching that show will NOT have heard about what he said last year? To support this man is to support his viewpoints. And I don't support networks or sponsors that condone rabid racism to make money."

If you're a blogger, please Blog Against Dog today (contacting Yobachi here when you do). If you're not a blogger, it's still important that you participate and encourage others you may know (individuals, listservs, etc.) to do so, as well. It's really not just about "Dog." It's about respect in media.

A&E VPs of Programing: Email and

Travelocity: Vollmer Public Relations Amanda Borichevsky

Tylenol: Online Contact Form
Phone 877-895-3665

AT&T: Phone 888-757-6500

Red Bull Energy Drinks: Online Contact Form
Phone: 310-393-4647

The Yellow Pages: Online Contact Form
Phone 877-647-6278

Allstate Insurance: Online Contact Form
Phone: 866-908-2500

LG HD Television: Phone 800-243-0000

Dell Computers: Online Contact Form
Phone: 800-915-3355

Nintendo: Online Contact Form
Phone: 425-882-2040

Subway: Online Contact Form

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I was interviewed by a student today for her Senior Thesis. I agreed to post a question for her here to hopefully generate some not necessarily scientific discussion. The question is:

What effect, if any, do you think the mass media -- including MTV or new media forms (such as blogging) -- has had on U.S. culture related to bi-racial dating and relationships involving African-Americans and European-Americans, in particular?

Monday, June 16, 2008

What's Going On? Lies.

A few minutes ago, I came across this YouTube video posted by Carmen D. and I just had to pass it on. It hurts to think about how the photos and film clips of Vietnam could now be photos and film clips of the war du jour (is it Afghanistan, is it Iraq, is it -- God/dess forbid -- Iran?). How come? Because The Powers That Be tell lies.

I've posted this poem before, but it's been quite a while and it's one of my favorites.

by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God's in his heaven
and all's well with the world is wrong.
The young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can't be counted,
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter
sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew
the price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognize,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our pupils
will not forgive in us what we forgave.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Bright Spot

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about Louisiana. It was pretty sad and a little overwhelmed-sounding, I imagine. But it's not all there is.

The fact is that in this dark forest of racial oppression and racial tension, there are points of light and you never know when one will pop up unexpectedly. One day, after class, for example, a European-American woman student who might be in her thirties or even her early forties, walked up to me with a big smile and stuck out her hand.

"I saw your presentation on 'What is Racism and How Do I Know If I Have It?'" she said warmly, "and I've signed up for one of your classes in the fall. I'm quite passionate about racism and social justice and I'm really looking forward to hearing more of what you have to say!"

She caught me so off-guard that I didn't immediately know what to respond aside from the usual superficial rejoinders. But I was delighted.

Then, as we headed for different doors, I turned and asked, "What was the process by which you became 'quite passionate about racism'? How did that happen here in Louisiana?" And we parted.

A week or so later, I got an email from her with an attached entry she had apparently written in her journal in 1993. When you read it, you'll see that even in Louisiana, there are other people who look like me who are thinking about and willing to work against the status quo. She gave me permission to print her journal entry on this blog (modifying it slightly to protect her privacy). And here it is:

"I have been thinking about racism a lot lately. Serbia and Bosnia, Arabs and Jews, Rodney King and Reginald Denney, Maya Angelou, CNN and the 700 Club have me in a pre-apocalyptic spin. I headed for [another country] this summer, looking for a place away from the hate and violence, a safe haven for my family where people are colorblind and everyone is treated with respect…Like I said, I have given racism a lot of thought and I have begun to question my own attitudes about race. How do we become racists? Is it genetic? I cannot answer that question, but I can remember the day, the moment, I became a racist.

"I grew up in…Louisiana. The [Louisiana] I remember as a child in the 1950’s was an idyllic place when seen from inside a glorious bubble of ignorance. There were water fountains that said “whites only” and “colored only” but I just thought they were talking about sorting laundry or something, which was how mom did it. Mom told me once that we couldn’t sit in the balcony of the movie theatre because the balcony was for colored people only. Well, I knew right then that colored people were special people because the balcony was the most exciting looking place I had ever seen and it had to hold the best seats in the house. I wished to be colored too! I was an ignorant child.

"When the Klan burned down our ironing lady’s church…, I thought it was a mean thing to do but I never gave it another thought. The Klan even had a meeting right in our neighborhood which made my parents really nervous and scared, but from inside my bubble of bliss, while it made no sense, it did not interrupt my life. I just forgot about it.

"That old bubble of bliss kept me happy for years until one day when Mom and I were taking our housekeeper…home. I must have been eleven or twelve years old when I made my first racist comment. I wasn’t talking about people, I was talking about crickets and how they scare me “’cause they’re black and creepy.” Well, as soon as [our housekeeper] was out of the car my momma let me know what an insensitive, racist comment I had made. 'How could you say something is creepy just because it is black?' she said. “Don’t you have any consideration for [other people’s] feelings? I even asked you to repeat yourself because I couldn’t believe you would say such a thing!” My bubble burst and a terrible understanding poured in over me, thick as syrup with ancestral guilt. I knew racism.

"I wished I could disappear that day because I would never have wanted to hurt [our housekeeper], she was special. [She] came to us when I was sick and had to stay home from school for a long time. She was a nurse’s aide at the hospital and she was really smart and beautiful with dark chocolate skin and a face that reminded me of Dionne Warwick. Best of all about her was that she knew me, really knew me at my very worst, and she still liked me. (She knew me well enough to know that I was only talking about crickets.) I hoped she loved me because I loved her.

"I believe I became a racist that day because I started to notice what color people were. I started to be really careful not to talk about black things in front of brown people. I started to single out anybody who was colored for extra acts of kindness so that they would forgive my “colorblind,” insensitive past.

"The whole world seems to be going racism crazy now; I do not think I can escape it. It is in everything I see and hear, in all of its many guises: fear and anger, charity and guilt. It just bubbles out from the lips of newscasters, preachers, politicians, poets and everyday people, spreading like some creeping ooze in a sci-fi movie, consuming our minds and our souls. Even in my wonderful hideaway place [outside the U.S.], I was told that my daughter’s friend should not come to visit because she is [B]lack and some people in the village who don’t like [B]lacks might hurt her feelings. I am not going to pay attention to them. We will have my daughter’s friend come for a visit not because she is [B]lack, but because she is a friend. My daughter is neither colorblind nor racist; she still sees people in all the wondrous colors of who they really are. I envy her freedom."

This is an excellent example of the kind of inside work TheFreeSlave and I recently posted about as being necessary to the process of becoming a whole human being and an ally of those who are oppressed. I am grateful to know and to be caused to remember that the tipping point may be closer than it seems. I am dreaming of a new world where babies are fed and people laugh and dance together and be all that we're here to be.
The poster featured above is available from the Syracuse Cultural Workers collective.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Blog Against Dog

I would have thought that this whole mess would just go away. I mean, I know that in the U.S. we're given as a culture to some embarrassingly weird tastes. Reality shows pitting human against human in one way or another are all the rage. So, yeah, Duane "Dog" Chapman, the bounty hunter that looks like a professional wrestler who got lost on his way to the rink fits right in.

But a year ago March, his son Tucker threw him a curve. From what I can gather, Tucker went to prison for twenty years on a drug beef in 2002 while he was still in his teens. Then, only four years later (will wonders never cease?) he was released for some reason. Unfortunately, it appears that he hadn't gotten his loose ends tucked in while incarcerated and by the time he'd been out a year, he was in serious need of money. So he taped his dear old Dad during a fatherly chat and sold the tape for $15,000 to the National Enquirer. And this is what "Dog" was caught saying about Tucker's African-American girlfriend:

"I don't care if she's a Mexican, a whore or whatever. It's not because she's black. It's because we use the word 'nigger' sometimes here. I'm not gonna take a chance ever in life of losing everything I've worked for for 30 years because some fucking nigger heard us say 'nigger' and turned us in to the Enquirer magazine. Our career is over! I'm not taking that chance at all! Never in life! Never! Never! If Lyssa [Dog's daughter] was dating a nigger, we would all say 'fuck you!' And you know that...[I]t's not that they're black, it's none of that. It's that we use the word 'nigger'. We don't mean 'you fucking scum nigger without a soul'. We don't mean that shit. But America would think we mean that. And we're not taking a chance on losing everything we got over a racial slur because our son goes with a girl like that. I can't do that, Tucker. You can't expect Gary, Bonnie, Cecily, all them young kids to [garbled] because 'I'm in love for 7 months.' Fuck that! So, I'll help you get another job, but you cannot work here unless you break up with her and she's out of your life...."

Well, it started out just like "Dog" had feared. A&E took his incredibly popular reality show off the air. Tucker's girl friend started talking about suing him. It must have been veeeeery stressful. "Dog" was apologizing like his life depended on it, but it wasn't helping.

True, 40,000 fans signed a petition asking A&E to put the show back on the air. And in December, Roy Inniss of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) agreed to support the return of the show as well. (Excuse me?!?)

Still, A&E (supposedly) would not relent. In February, however, the network announced that "Dog" the Bounty Hunter will return, after all. The plan is to finish televising the unviewed Season 4 episodes beginning June 24th and then commence Season 5 (with a bang, I assume) on July 16th.

Now, you have to understand that my television is only a DVD monitor and not connected to the outside world, so I don't care about tv in the same way that most people seem to. And I don't even care that "Dog" is a former gang member who has eighteen felony convictions for armed robbery and did time for murder in his youth. Hell, in my hey day, I had boyfriends with worse records. And it's really none of my business that he's raising a houseful of children where he admits that the n word is in regular casual use. I'm sure he's far from alone in that.

But he's going to make a more than ample living chasing people down without the cameras. I see no reason to suggest that his racist rant ought to be overlooked. So I am supporting the Afrosphere Action Coalition's Day of Blogging for Racial Justice in Media on Wednesday, June 18th, calling for A&E to scrap this "star" once and for all. I will boycott the sponsors of the show. And participate in such other activities as Afrosphere organizes to affect the situation appropriately. If you would like to do the same, visit and let Yobachi know right away, so that your blog can be added to the list.

I have no doubt that "Dog" is sorry his thirty-year career has taken a hit. And I don't doubt that if his son hadn't had financial problems, "Dog" would probably never have missed a show. And I don't think for a minute that burying one guy for using the n word is going to change anything about this White Supremacist system in the U.S. So, I guess I'm just doing this out of general principle. It's not personal, "Dog." Just think of it as "business." Kind of like when you chase a guy down for having the ill fortune to get on a law enforcement list (the kind you probably used to be on).

There's a point at which a dog loses his "house" privileges permanently. I think that's the situation we have here. It's okay, "Dog". You're still going to be rich. You're still going to look like a professional wrestler. And you'll still be using whatever language you want to in front of your children (I'm sure). But you're just not going to be a tv star any more. You'll get over it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is It Is or Is It Ain't?

As far back as I can remember, I have always had a baseline in my critical thinking process and it is this: facts win.

I'm not sure I ever really believed in Santa Claus, for example. I may have, but I must have been very, very young at the time because it didn't take me long to figure out that there were closets we weren't allowed to look in after a certain point in the fall. And there was a reason for that. I didn't get any less excited about Christmas. I just understood that Mom and Dad were footing the bill. I was okay with that. I didn't care who gave me presents. I just wanted presents. Santa was an entirely expendable idea.

Through the years since that time (and there have been more than a few of them), I have pretty much stuck to this baseline.

I might believe something that is patently untrue, but I won't typically believe it long. For one thing, being in denial about one thing or another has kicked my ass enough times that I have learned the hard way that this is an ill-advised perspective.

Besides, it is what it is. I've been told this is a Navaho line and I, for one, use it a lot. It is what it is. You can believe in Santa if you want to, but it doesn't make Santa real -- even if you believe really, really hard. And while believing in Santa may not do much damage, believing some fictions can.

Sociologist W.I. Thomas discussed why. He wrote that when we believe something is true (even when it is NOT), it can become true in its consequences. In other words, if I come into the classroom with an automatic weapon, giving my students to understand that I've lost my mind and I'm taking myself out and them with me, all hell is likely to break loose. First, they may not believe me. "Is this some crazy explanatory stunt?" they might ask themselves. But if they decide I'm serious, conseqences will ensue. Some will rush for the door. Some will rush for me. Some will hit the floor or jump behind their classmates. And according to the movies, somebody might wet their pants.

When I show them that the "weapon" is a squirt gun and tell them that I just wanted to illustrate W.I. Thomas' theory, the ones left in the classroom will take their seats, shaking their heads, maybe even disgruntled. But the one who pee'ed his or her pants will still have wet pants -- even though the threat was not real. Capiche?

I'm forever running into students who want to "argue" with my "opinions."

"I don't agree with you (or the book or the research or whatever)," they will say.

And I ask them what they are basing their disagreement on. I have no vested interest in "being right." I have great concern about knowing what's real, what's true, what's really going on instead of what we think is going on. So any student (or friend or colleague or blogger or anyone else) who can demonstrate how my understanding of x is flawed is appreciated. But I tell my students from day one that they better be prepared to bring it. I base what I say in the classroom on forty years of personal study, on centuries of recorded history, on replicated scientific research based in solid theory, on seven uninterrupted years of graduate school, and I'm not interested in "arguing" with somebody's knee-jerk opinion based on...oh...whatever they learned from Uncle Joe at the family picnics (especially when it becomes readily apparent that Uncle Joe was basing his opinions on a tract he picked up at church or a case he once heard about from a guy at his local bar involving this Mexican guy who makes more money than him).

I'm not trying to be rude here, but you'd be surprised how simple things get when you just require that people be accountable for what comes out their mouths. So one of the central ideas my students learn, no matter what the topic of the course, is that they need to know what they're talking about.

Unfortunately, it's often difficult to get this across to the rest of the world.

So we have legislators in Louisiana right now about to decide (again) that creationism (the literal Biblical presentation of how the Earth and the human race came into being) is just as valid an idea as documentable evidence to the contrary. These are, according to virtually the entire State House of Representatives here, just two differing opinions and therefore equally reasonable to study in schools. The problem with this, of course, is that when you do that, you teach children (without them even knowing that you're doing so) that an opinion based on "faith" (I just know that I know that I know) is as reasonable a perspective as one based on "fact" (reality). And once you have established that, then an 18-year-old who's never read a single book all the way through, who's never seen anything but the town she was born in, whose experience of life has been totally prescribed by conservative politics and religious television programming, can believe that her opinions are just as valid as those of someone who has worked hard to find out and document the way things really work.

The result of this kind of "individualistic" "thinking" is that it allows anybody to believe anything without having to prove anything. And endless arguments between fact and fiction can then take the place of critical analysis wherein differing interpretations of the facts are argued.
The Ricardo Levins Morales poster featured above is available from the Northland Poster Collective.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

How Could That Have Happened?

How could two really astounding women poets of the twentieth century have been born on the same date, I wonder? I mean, what was it about that date? Were the stars in some kind of peculiar alignment? According to The Writers Almanac, which I visit online daily, two remarkable women were born on this date: Gwendolyn Brooks in 1917 and Nikki Giovanni in 1943. Perhaps Giovanni looked at the Earth from wherever babies wait for the go-ahead and decided she wanted to tumble into Gwendolyn Brooks' wake. But whatever, it gives one pause. And presents the unusual situation of having TWO stellar individuals to highlight.

The first date I ever went on with my daughter's father was to see Gwendolyn Brooks read from her work in 1981. At the time, all I knew about her was that she was the Poet Laureate of the state of Illinois (where we were) and that she was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize. I wasn't so far removed from my poetry-writing days myself (though hardly deserving of having my efforts called "poetry") and during the question and answer period, I had the audacity to raise my hand and put this icon on the spot by asking, "If you could only give us one line to take with us when we leave here, what would it be?"

Brooks didn't flinch. She just paused for a moment, as if reaching inside herself, and said resolutely, "Conduct your blooming in the noise and the whip of the whirlwind." I've been doing that, clinging to that fragile connection between myself and her, ever since.
Here's one of her shorter pieces, but if you have a minute, you can read "The Lovers of the Poor", as well.

~~My Dreams, My Works, Must Wait Till After Hell~~
by Gwendolyn Brooks

I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid I bid,
Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can give me any word but Wait
The puny light. I keep my eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.

After serving in the revolution of the 1970's with Giovanni (in different battalions, if you will, but the same war), I got reacquainted with her when I created a book for a group of inner city African-Americans teenagers. I included her famous Ego Trippin' and also the following one. And if you watch the YouTube clip after you read, you'll see where her revolution has taken her.

~~Revolutionary Dreams~~
by Nikki Giovanni

i used to dream militant
dreams of taking
over america to show
these white folks how it should be
i used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away with my perceptive powers
of correct analysis
i even used to think i'd be the one
to stop the riot and negotiate the peace
then i awoke and dug
that if i dreamed natural
dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman
does when she's natural
i would have a revolution.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

On Freeing Ourselves

In my last post, I mentioned that I sometimes ask myself, "How am I a slave? What oppressions have I internalized that keep me in bondage today?" Later that day, I read and made a brief appreciative comment on a remarkably insightful post by TheFreeSlave. He, of course, being a deep-thinking kind of guy, asked me in response to my simple thanks a question about how we can advocate individual personhood without sounding as if we support some version of what is popularly called "colorblindness." My response to his response (sorry about that, Faithful Readers, you know how it is) follows, modified slightly to make it read more sensibly. I strongly recommend that you read TheFreeSlave post first in the interest of having any idea whatsoever what I am talking about. I think you'll be glad you did. In fact, I have permanently ensconced a link to the post in question on my blog roll to the right under "On Freeing Yourself." Then, proceed with caution:

To me, TheFreeSlave's post moves the consideration from the arena of "politics" (having to do with the use and distribution of power) to the arena of "spirituality." Don't misread me here. I don't mean warm-and-fuzzy-esoteric-new-age-mumbo-jumbo type stuff. I mean down-deep-in-the-gut-where-the-rubber-meets-the-road-and-the-individual-psyche/biological-being-meets-history type stuff. In the end, what I call my spiritual being gives birth, I think, to my political perspective (which is how I see the personal and political as connected). Being one's whole, unmitigated, unapologetic Self (again, for me) does not, then, wash all the "color" out of the visible image, but rather actually heightens the color (continuing the metaphor). It shines the light of acceptance of all beauty on each individual image.

A rose garden can be lovely, but the kind of garden I like best is an explosion of all different kinds of flowers: different colors, shapes, heights, sizes, scents, etc. Each flower is beautiful because of the characteristics of the specific group it represents. No flower in such a garden is the only one of its type, though every flower is different in it particularistic manifestations of its group characteristics. Such flowers don't jockey for position, don't hold knock-down, drag-out battles to establish hierarchy, don't engage in sneaky, underhanded and manipulative attacks (either publicly or privately) out of ego or greed or ignorance. They just bloom and shine and pass the bees and butterflies one to the other.

Admittedly, though there is such a thing as weeds, humans are grossly more complicated than flowers. But I think that's part of what TheFreeSlave gets at so well in his post. We complicate the shit. We make it ugly. "Fighting the good fight" (if you will) often creates people and groups not wildly different from each other in important and frequently negative ways. And, of course, capitalism has left virtually all of us all but ruined as keepers of the flame of life.

Do African-Americans need to band together to survive and bring about change? I think so. Do women and men need to educate themselves about the patriarchy and take organized action against it (again to survive and bring about change)? I think so. Do immigrants and poor people and prisoners (and others) need to see themselves as similarly situated and act accordingly? I think so. But that does not negate the Truth inherent within TheFreeSlave's post.

"Resigning" as a White person (something I did some time ago, I guess, when I started using the term European-American and then started referring to other European-Americans as "people who look like me") does not mean I stopped honoring the beauty and experience of people in general and people of color as definitive groups, in particular. But it means that I see all Life (and not just all human life) as sacred. In order to do that, I must be fully Conscious. Conscious of others' struggles (because of the socially-constructed political notions of "race" and "gender." And Conscious of any ways in which I have participated on any side of those struggles -- in order to be healthy mySelf. This is obviously a lifetime process of Becoming. But it's the bottom line for me at the end of the day.

I am not antagonistic toward and don't have any argument with those who feel that they must be in a different space at this point in time. In fact, I often support them uncategorically. There's a reason that, in the only photograph we have of Martin and Malcolm together, they're grinning like delighted children. We don't have to be clones to be effective or to be allies.

And I am incredibly Conscious that enemies stalk the Earth, that there are many humans who do not support Life and the other perspectives that rational, loving people naturally support. I do not make them enemies. They make themselves enemies. They may destroy Life on Earth, if they are allowed to do so. I am going to do what I can to stop that process and nurture Life instead. And my full Self represents a number of groups and experiences of which I am an amalgam. But I am also an individual and stand individually responsible for everything that emanates from my center.

It's not easy to make sense of all this, but it is reality, to my mind, and therefore, a crucial aspect of the dialogue that will carry us into a sustainable future, if there is to be one.
The image featured above appears on posters, prints, t-shirts, bookmarks and stickers produced by the Syracuse Cultural Workers.

Monday, June 02, 2008

General Harriet Tubman

On this day in 1863, Harriet Tubman led a band of African-American soldiers in an onslaught described eight days later on the front page of The Commonwealth, a Boston newspaper, as follows:

"Col. Montgomery and his gallant band of 300 black soldiers, under the guidance of a black woman, dashed into the enemy’s country, struck a bold and effective blow, destroying millions of dollars worth of commissary stores, cotton and lordly dwellings, and striking terror into the heart of rebeldom, brought off near 800 slaves and thousands of dollars worth of property, without losing a man or receiving a scratch. It was a glorious consummation.

"After they were all fairly well disposed of in the Beaufort charge, they were addressed in strains of thrilling eloquence by their gallant deliverer, to which they responded in a song. 'There is a white robe for thee,' a song so appropriate and so heartfelt and cordial as to bring unbidden tears.

"The Colonel was followed by a speech from the black woman, who led the raid and under whose inspiration it was originated and conducted. For sound sense and real native eloquence, her address would do honor to any man, and it created a great sensation...

"Since the rebellion, she has devoted herself to her great work of delivering the bondman, with an energy and sagacity that cannot be exceeded. Many and many times she has penetrated the enemy’s lines and discovered their situation and condition, and escaped without injury, but not without extreme hazard..."

For more about this remarkable story, visit this site.

My favorite Tubman quote: "I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed more if they knew they were slaves." And rather than putting that on others, I read it and ask myself, "How am I a slave? What oppressions have I internalized that keep me in bondage today?"