Friday, April 30, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Black men...oh, my!

Lately, I've been thinking about how White people are scared of Black men. Not all White people, of course, but certainly most of them. And not all Black men, but...well...once they arrested Henry Louis Gates (a world-famous, 59-year-old Harvard professor who walks with a cane and was arrested last year on his own porch for being irritated with police for entering his house uninvited), it's hard to imagine immediately just where to draw the line.

Anyway, White folks are a scary bunch around African-Americans ("scary" being Black talk for frightened of pretty much everything pretty much all the time). And the big sociological question, naturally, is why?

I see this a lot. And more recently, I've been seeing it more and more.

A month or so ago, I began to hear rumblings about young Black men getting into trouble on my campus by hanging around the front of the library loud-talking, arguing about sports mostly, blowing off student steam. Girls are encouraged to giggle; guys (in general) are usually allowed to yell. Students, especially over-tired commuter students who work thirty or more hours per week and go to school full time need to let loose one way or the other between classes. But while White males can push each other, leer at girls and make noises at will, Black males are experienced by White bystanders (including librarians and campus police) as "intimidating." So even duly enrolled and tuition-paying Black males listening to an i-pod or eating their lunch were being aggressively rousted and ordered to move, on threat of appearing before the disciplinary committee. And tensions were rising.

One Black administrator I spoke with said the young men should just bite the bullet and leave rather than make standing in front of the library a "Waterloo." My suggestion to him was that if the only two options being offered these students were "Waterloo" or "sucking dick" (yes, I said that), then a resolution was NOT going to be reached. Young Black men (just like every other human on the face of the earth) need to feel that they have a right to exist. Being constantly singled out and "moved along" at the will of authority figures who threaten and disrespect them reduces the personhood of those who are commanded to shuffle quietly away and that will only work so long, if at all.

In any case, while I was considering this situation, I came across Tim Wise's piece on "What If the Tea Party Was Black?" wherein, after outlining numerous examples, he concludes:

"And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis."

Point taken.

Which brought me back around to an email I received in February from Will Capers, whose blog Will Capers' Blaque Ink is WELL worth following and whose post here neatly outlines the opposites of White privilege in a way I've never seen done before.

Capers' email referred me to a piece by Malcolm Trocio entitled "Being Mugged Has Made Me Afraid of Young Black Men. Should I Feel Guilty?" and Capers asked me what I thought of it. When I responded that I wanted to blog on it and welcomed his input, he wrote the following:

It wasn't until a few years ago that I began to feel shame, anger, and depression whenever I hear news about blacks, particularly young black men, committing crimes. From what I've heard from other blacks, they feel the same range of emotions.

There have been crimes committed by white men as well, numerous and heinous at that, but a crime committed by a black man is instantly stapled as proof as to how "those people" are. The media and the news help strengthen the racist stereotype of the young black male that have been around for a few centuries. Sadly, no one within the media or news media will take even an iota of responsibility for this continuous form of racism. Instead, they will shift the blame onto the very people they generalize and stereotype. In the end they help to maintain the hatred and fear society has of the black man, and will do little or no work to ask important questions, do unbiased research and try to clean up the image they help to realize because in the end to them it's what society wants.

As mentioned earlier white men have committed crimes that are large in numbers and heinous in nature, and that too is good for the business of the news media. However, when a white man commits a crime, only that one white man is responsible. Only that one white man must own up to his crime or crimes. The entire white male population in this country or the world for that matter is NOT looked upon as how society looks upon that one, individual white man. That is an example of white privilege.

In the case of the news media some whites who have been convicted or accused of a crime will be reported as having some sort of mental disorder or damaging childhood. It's as if the media wants the public to feel sorry for them and to understand what may have contributed to their behavior. For accused or convicted blacks, it's more silent towards their mental health or childhood and more vocal about their criminal history. Thus, not only strengthening the negative stereotype, but also making it seem as if they were born criminal minded.

For many black men like myself, it's a harsh struggle to live in a world where you are automatically judged for the actions of a few or one. It's a burden to live in a world where hearing about another black man committing a crime or acting deviant makes you feel guilty. Sadly, in white-dominated world, that's the unnatural norm. One black criminal confirms the belief that all black people are criminals despite the fact that there are black men who are constantly trying to prove society wrong. Even though the numbers of black men greatly outweigh the numbers of black men who have fallen astray due to the persistent racism that destroys them in some way, shape or form, the racist stereotypes persist. To that end society feels that those black men who are clearly victims of the continuous oppression cannot be helped, and that society itself must protect itself from them by throwing them in cages or shooting them.

To society the young black male is a beast. Society might consider me to be a "tamed" beast like a pet tiger. Society considers those who have murdered, raped or robbed others as the wild beasts that need to be put down especially if they've harmed one of their privileged citizens. The media will be there to let society know when one of them goes wild. The beast and I will share similar features, one being skin color, and that's all the reason society needs to hate and fear me.

This is hardly the first time I've come across a Black man talking or writing about his frustration with being portrayed continually as the Booger Man. It must be wearing, indeed, to be faced with such judgment as a constant refrain. And we know full well through the media that fear of Black men, especially young Black men -- however unfounded -- can and often does result in an arrest or even the death of a Black man in a New York minute. So here, then, is my commentary on Malcolm Trocio's piece on his fear of Black men.

Trocio opens by calling himself a "socially conscious, bias-free white person" and it occurred to me immediately that this is how White people invariably start off. "Now, don't call me a racist...," they'll begin. Or "I was raised not to SEE color...," they'll say, following the statement with a "but...." And then they'll introduce an attitude that raises my eyebrows up to my hairline. And Trocio is no exception. Calling his fear of young African-American men a "socially unacceptable paranoia" focusing primarily on those sixteen to thirty who exhibit a "'thug' look and mentality," he nevertheless admits that it manages to spread itself to include well dressed or even older Black men. What a surprise.

Then he describes how he was raised around many Black and multi-ethnic children, but "never managed to make a real connection to their social structure." (So it's "not connecting to the social structure" that's the problem, is it? It's the social structure he's afraid of?) And then he does another quintessentially White thing: making a blanket racist statement and attributing it to "human nature."

"Humans," he writes, "tend to naturally regard skin color as a type of uniform." And it is true that I've been thinking about another blog post I want to write about how I sometimes put on my "White suit" to accomplish certain things, but I don't think he and I are actually in agreement here. He wants us to accept his premise that all humans just naturally wear skin like a banner of where we belong. "Uniforms," after all, imply inclusion in a membership of some kind; an organization, if you will; a group of similarly-situated individuals that patently does NOT include those wearing a different "uniform."

In attempting to paint his family and himself as "nice" White people, Trocio relates two stories of family friends who were Black. He apparently felt very warmly toward these two individuals, but couldn't for the life of him remember the name of one of them, what they looked like (other than Black), or any specifics about them other than their entertaining personalities (hmmmm....), but these men's presence in his life is supposed to balance the rest of what he has to say, which is far longer, far more detailed, and much less positive.

It seems that Trocio (brace yourself here) was once approached by a homeless Black guy in filthy clothing and it scared him almost to death. Nothing happened, you understand. There wasn't even any contact at all. But the homeless guy waved his arms (oh, my gosh!) and tried to stop him one time when he was on his way to an Art Museum and he barely escaped with Sanity? Pocket change?

The homeless guy was shouting "I just wanna be your friend," but as we all know, you can't be too careful with somebody wearing filthy clothes. I mean, didn't that homeless guy know that you may not be able to avoid being poor, but you can still be clean? The incident was described as "almost being mugged," which makes, in my book, about as much sense in this case as calling a movie date "almost" getting married. I'm guessing Trocio doesn't get around too much.

Anyway, he went on to Incident Number Two, involving his "gazelle-like" leap from a train platform after seeing a Black teenaged boy hit a White kid over the head and steal his wallet. The Black kid, according to Trocio, has a couple of buddies with him, so I understand Trocio not jumping in to help the victim. But still, he doesn't mention yelling and says he didn't really even see much because the minute the situation began, he ran away. Again, no contact between him and the Black guys. And he repeatedly calls the victim a "doofy White kid" (for whatever reason), which doesn't seem very respectful, especially since the term suggests that Trocio more than likely would NOT refer to himself in such a way.

The third event (which was, again, I'm afraid, more of a non-event than an occurance since the Black "muggers" that have terrorized Trocio have hardly fit the "Menace II Society" description) was an occasion on a public bus when a young Black man demanded Trocio's winter gloves. His terror this time was so nondescript that Trocio admits he didn't even understand what the young man was saying. Finally, getting the point, Trocio responded loudly (in heroic fashion, I guess, given his earlier responses), "Why would I give YOU my gloves?" At which point the female bus driver (luckily) "saved his behind" by declaring, "We ain't gonna have any of that on MY bus!"

Now, the driver did push the police button. And it was a crowded public space (which I deduce from Trocio talking about the "mugger" standing behind him on the bus, which usually means there are no seats available). But really now, if "almost mugger" number three was as frightening as the ones in the movies, Trocio wouldn't have had the nerve to speak, the driver wouldn't have sounded like an Assistant Principal, and the "mugger" would have been after something besides a pair of gloves (which since they were used, I assume the Black man needed or he wouldn't have asked). Yet this was the closest Trocio has ever come to being "mugged." And being "mugged" (according to his title) is why he's afraid of young Black men.

I realize I've had a more dramatic life than some or maybe even most. But honestly, regardless, I can't relate to poor Malcolm Trocio's post-traumatic stress. I've taken some serious licks at the hands of both Black and White guys at one time or another in my life, so I guess, based on his standard, I could claim terror at the face of anyone with a penis (including Trocio). But I don't. Because those people were individual Black or White guys. They had real problems, no doubt. But they didn't typify all Black and all White men. In fact, for every wacko male I've met (and I've met more than my share for a variety of reasons), I've met MANY guys that were at least trying to be decent, a goodly number you could take home to your mother, and more than a few I would trust with my life (Trocio not being one of them since I'm high-strung as it is and he obviously freaks out pretty fast).

Trocio, on the other hand, while not lumping himself and all his White brothers in the "Tim McVey" or "John Wayne Gacy" pools, fears all Black men, he writes, because the "Gangsta Rap/Thug" culture is meant to intimidate. If this makes no sense to you, don't blame the sentence, blame the idea. (I do, by the way, agree with Trocio that gangsta rap is intended to get Whites' attention, which it does. I would, however, suggest that Whites intimidate African-Americans day and night in this society and, as far as I'm concerned, Black intimidation of Whites is just blow-back. Besides, White money and White production is how we GOT gangsta rap in the first place -- see this YouTube video or this one, both by spoken word artist Taalam Acey).

Trocio closes by trying to make nice. Thuggish clothes, he reminds himself, are worn by lots of folks (including White people) and aren't a good way to judge character. He's also afraid, he admits, of Southerners and hill-folk, too (which includes me on both counts and I'm here to say that, as nervous as he apparently stays, he's right to steer clear of a lot of us, as we tend to make sport of those who flinch too often).

Still, he claims that paranoia -- defined by as "baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others" -- is a normal reaction to the circumstances he writes about in this piece. If that's true, then it's a wonder any of us is willing to get out of bed in the morning.

He tries, he says, to judge each person as an individual and that would be a laudable stance if he hadn't just written 1100 words about why he can't. But when he finishes with the line, "all people act all ways," I don't believe he means it. Because if he did, he wouldn't have written this nonsense and put his name on it for all the world to see.
NOTE: The graphic above is by Laurie Cooper and is available as a poster here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On This Day In History

On this day in 1964, Nelson Mandela stood before the Supreme Court in Pretoria, South Africa, against the urgings of his lawyer, and made the following statement before being sent to prison for twenty-seven years:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live and to see realised. But, my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, To Angola We Go!

Yesterday, Boxer and I motored up to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for the spring Arts and Crafts Fair. Most folks also attend the prisoner Rodeo which is always held the same week-end, but I can't support a gladiator-style competition where untrained prisoners bleed and are sometimes permanently disabled in events (such as bull riding) for which they are completely unprepared. All to make money for the prison.

I always have mixed feelings about hanging out with prisoners. And Angola -- with its 5000 prisoners (many of whom are Black and doing ridiculously long sentences) and 1800 "staff members" (some of whom are second and third generation guards and most of whom live on the prison grounds just like the prisoners) -- is larger than many towns in this state. A former(?) plantation, its 18,000 acres are meticulously kept (by its "inmates," of course) and resplendent with flowers. Riding through Angola, with its mile after mile of manicured lawns, always creeps me out, frankly, when you consider the unmitigated, continual anguish of those who are as surely held in bondage as their ancestors ever were.

As we prepared for our first hejira together to the Mecca of this desolate place, where Boxer spent twenty years of his life, he regaled me with stories. One told about a prisoner that just dropped his hoe one day and said, "I'm tired. I'm sittin' down."

"A guard, looking at him, shocked, said, "Whachu mean, you're tired? You better get back to work!"

The prisoner just shook his head and matter-of-factly replied, "I been workin' five hundred years and I'm tired..."

At which point the guard paused a moment, nodded, and said, " right. I 'magine you are tired. Go sit down."

Another story Boxer told was about the first time he was sent to the fields with the others shortly after he arrived at Angola.

It was mid-winter, cold, with a sharp wind blowing and they were sent out to the far north part of the to pick spinach. They were given no jackets, no gloves, no boots or caps to ward off the bitter weather, despite, needless to say, the guards on horseback who sported all of the above.

Boxer, new to the drill and unbroken, looked down the football field long row of plants he had just been assigned and said, "I'm not doin' it. It's cold out here. You sent us out here to work like slaves with no warm clothes and I'm not doin' it. Call me a cab!"

Why they didn't just march him off instantly to be given a proper "attitude adjustment" in a darkened cell somewhere off to itself, I don't know. It's fairly standard practice. But they didn't. And the others quickly picked up the refrain. In a bit, the bus rolled up and the men were re-loaded and returned to the dorms, with Boxer going to the infamous Camp J (also called "the dungeons"), where he was locked in a one-man cell.

Every week or so, they would appear at the bars of his cell with a "Ready to go to work?" Solitary lockdown isn't for everybody.

"Is it spring yet?" Boxer would ask.

And when told no, he would politely decline the offer of "freedom" from the cell. Again.

I met some of his long-time friends yesterday. A couple of them didn't know what had happened to him or where he went. He's been gone from Angola since 2000 and from the prison system since early 2008. But when a prisoner is moved, it's typically done rapidly and without notice, so maintaining contacts can be tricky. One learns to roll with the punches, as it were, to have the fewest possible expectations of life, to maximize patience, to let go of frustration -- in order to survive with one's physical, mental and emotional health intact to whatever degree possible.

I was reminded of the sociological concept of "master status." Your master status is the principle role you see yourself filling. For example, I spend a LOT of time teaching and mentoring and relating to students; I'm an activist on my campus and in my community; but I think of "writer" as my master status. I revel in not teaching for a while. I engage in activism on the basis of whatever is happening to which I must respond. But when I don't write for two weeks, I get edgy. I'm a writer.

In prison, the role of prisoner (with all that entails) becomes like a creeping rot on the soul of the individual. The man or woman who spends any time at all locked up -- let alone a long period so treated -- is modified in some very characteristic ways. But if a prisoner can embrace a master status other than prisoner while incarcerated, they are, while unquestionably shut down in a thousand other ways, still able to hang on to a greater portion of their humanity. Boxer, of course, was a winning boxer and later a trainer of other winning boxers. And in a system where wardens spend real cash on their boxing teams, pitting them in competition state-wide, this was a very cool master status indeed.

One of the men I met yesterday is Jeffrey Lewis (far left in the photo above), who's been down a long time for a double manslaughter conviction and was refused parole for having a juvenile record (which he does not, in fact, have). Apparently, the latest addition to the "how-we-gonna-keep-'em-down-on-The-Farm" repetoire is having a juvenile record. Consequently, for example, a 76-year-old man who went up for parole the last time the Board met was refused release because he had a juvenile record. Which means exactly what at this late date? It's stuff like this that makes me incapable of walking away from the prisons once and for all, no matter how much of a bummer they are. What kind of society allows such a system to brutalize people in such cruel and arbitrary ways and doesn't feel in any way responsible for its actions?

In any case, Lewis has been involved with the hospice program at Angola for seven or eight years now, a program that has been ruled the number one such program in the country for five of the past eight years, from what I understand. Nationally-recognized photographer Lori Waselchuk has put together a traveling exhibit on the program entitled "Grace Before Dying", which I'd like to see brought to my university, if possible. And Lewis' master status, it occurs to me, is that of "hospice worker," which has enabled him to avoid having "prisoner" be his primary personna, in spite of his being at Angola now for a very long time.

I also met Michael Johnson and Daniel ("Phantom") Washington, two really extraordinary artists that reminded me of an idea I once had and have now rebirthed: a brokerage to handle prison art from a catalog or online website. Prisoner artists are always hamstrung by their inability to access basic art supplies, training, and exposure to other art and artists to stimulate their muse. Because of this, much prisoner art is constituted of drawings and has a particular (however accomplished) tone to it. But some artists -- inside or outside of prison walls -- just have that "x factor," that inexplicable quality that stops the viewer in his or her tracks. And Johnson and Washington are two such artists.

Johnson's painting of an arrogant Black man walking away from a dejected Black woman sitting on the side of a bed has all the earmarks of an artist with an extraordinary internal eye for the human condition embodied in and expressed by the human form. Unfortunately (and this is not peculiar to prisoner artists), Johnson has had to pander to the tastes of the folks who attend the Angola Arts and Crafts Fair -- running in the direction of children in straw hats looking at a sunset -- to the detriment of the development of his edgier and far more interesting capabilities.

Washington's nod to the hoi polloi manifests more as nicely done oil or acrylic (I never figured out the difference) studies of famous and beautiful women (why am I not surprised?). But the one I was compelled to charge (shit! I'm trying so hard not to do that these days!) and bring home where it's hanging now on our bedroom wall is a butt-kicking 24 by 30-inch painting of three women. The two in the back, under a large umbrella, are so shadowed as to look almost gone, like apparitions hovering in the background, though just behind the principle figure, which is a disgusted-looking Black woman staring aggressively into the eyes of the viewer with such potency as to leave one fixated. The strength of the piece, as well as the use of color, line and shadow, is so highly developed as to suggest the artistic breakthrough of a real talent in my mind, though what little understanding I have of what makes art "good" has come largely as a function of just hanging out with artists and loving art.

Regardless, the work of these two men is pushing me to encourage them and to create an online window to the world for them in the way of a website that would offer their work (and that of others). Obviously, I don't need something else to do, but what the heck, right? I'll sleep when I'm dead. I'd be honored to have a role in introducing interesting and extraordinary artists from inside the walls, so I wouldn't be doing them any favors.

In the meantime, meeting and talking to these and other men at Angola reminded me also of a quote I found decades ago. I came across it again last week and now I feel urged to reproduce it here:

"There will come a dreadful time in the shame-ridden history of Mankind when The Kings of the East will meet The Kings of the West on the Vast Plains. A battle for Ultimate Justice shall be waged, as all Life trembles in the Confusion between Good and Evil; while the blind existence of Mankind violently struggles and desperately searches in deep ignorance for the Final Truth. That Truth SHALL BE FOUND, but the knowledge of it will only exist in the Sinful Soul of Mankind, as the Spirit of Life rapidly descends to the Netherworld, vanishing from all memory. Nothing shall remain of Mankind's cruel glory and false pride in their greatly mistaken theories toward Civilization and in Scientific Advancement. For even as the Seed Of A Fruit creates a Tree that independently GROWS; Full Bloom, the same Tree will shed its Fruit and discard it down to Earth...and so also will Mankind's technology come to outgrow its need for Mankind. But at this End, the Harvest will turn rotten; and when the Last City erupts in its Final Blaze, it will THEN be revealed that only those who have risen ABOVE the Qualities of Mankind shall survive..." -- A.U.P.S. (circa 7000 B.C.), Thudamen*


*The Thudamen is the sacred book of the ancestors of the ancient Egyptians. This quote comes from the chapter called "The Fruits."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Glen Ford: White Nationalism on the March

I rarely re-post in its entirety anything by anyone else in this space and I have very consciously NOT weighed in on the Tea-Partyers issue to prevent a meltdown of my last two nerves, but this piece by Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report is just too on target not to spread. Kudos, Glen. I couldn't agree more.

White Nationalism on the March
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

The campaign to bring White nationalism, the founding ideology of the United States, fully out of the closet, kicks into a higher gear on the Right’s anti-holiday, April 15. Newt Gingrich and the various tribes of White Rightists unveil their “Contract From America,” a scaled-down version of the manifesto the Republicans rallied around to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1994. The 2010 “contract” is leaner, built for mass Caucasian consumption. It is written largely in code, the language of obfuscation that American racists speak in an attempt to hide their white supremacist beliefs from others – and, in many cases, from themselves. Indeed, much of American mass political speech is conducted in code, allowing white people to identify each other through terms like “middle class,” “family values,” “taxpayers,” “patriots,” “law-abiding” – terms which, although literally applicable to people of every ethnicity, are understood to mean “good white American citizens.”

Corporate media almost universally describe the Tea Partyers as “anti-government” – which is nonsense. They oppose the government providing assistance – economic, legal, educational, real or imagined – to those that are “undeserving,” which in their world consists mostly of folks that can be defined by race, language or religion (using code words, when required by polite society). Naturally, the average Tea Partyer – when sober – will deny having “a racist bone” in his body, but any group whose unifying characteristic is daily engorgement on Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck is, by definition, racist. Anyone who tries to tell you different, is far too tolerant of bigoted behavior, assumptions and speech to be anything but a closet racist, himself.

Tea Partyers live in a world of throbbing hatreds that render them damn near incoherent.They shout and hoot and holler in fevered support of political statements with which they cannot possibly agree. For example, the highly popular “Limited Government” plank of The Contract states: “The purpose of our government is to exercise only those limited powers that have been relinquished to it by the people, chief among these being the protection of our liberties by administering justice and ensuring our safety from threats arising inside or outside our country’s sovereign borders.”

That means, the government should provide only police, criminal justice and public safety services, and a national defense. No public schools or publicly supported colleges, no tax breaks for homeowners, none of the public supports that “middle class,” “law-abiding,” “patriotic,” “taxpayers” with strong “family values” have been demanding for themselves for the last 65 years. (“And don’t you dare touch my Medicare!”)

Any “movement” that actually believed in as shrunken a government as The Contract describes would be either very rich, or very tiny. The plank only begins to make sense when understood as a kind of scatter-shot code talk for restricting government assistance to “worthy” Americans, and cutting the flotsam and jetsam people loose.

What the Tea Partyers really oppose is a social contract among all the resident peoples of the United States. In this, they are indeed the direct political progeny of the Founding Fathers and the great mass of white settlers, who found the very concept of full U.S. citizenship for Africans and Native Americans monstrously repugnant, a devaluation of their superior white selves. Racism in the national womb prevented the United States from forging a genuine social contract between whites and Others. More to the point, white people rejected any relationship that did not recognize and maintain white supremacy. This was to be forever a White Man’s country, expanding as far as might and money could take it – but white, white, white.

The white nationalists want their white nation back. But they can’t have it. And, since there can be no bargaining on that issue, there is no reason whatsoever for Blacks and browns and people of good will to engage or humor the Tea Party’s white nationalists. There is nothing to concede to them, and nothing they can offer us to which we are not already entitled.

Prominent peace activists are eager to engage the Tea Party, in search of common ground in opposition to government waste through war. It is true that Tea Party darling Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican and former presidential candidate, fights as hard as anyone on The Hill against bloated military budgets. But the anti-war movement will soon discover that all but a sliver of the Tea Party crowd are belligerent hawks, as racist in their global worldview as in their domestic outlook. Just as they reject a national social contract with non-whites, they reject any compact with other peoples of the world, particularly the non-white ones. White American nationalism is warlike, expansionist, and proud of it – a grave danger to the survival of humanity.
NOTE: BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Whacha Gonna Do?

Most of my Faithful readers know by now that I live in Louisiana. Boy-oh-boy, I'm tellin' ya. It's interesting.

Don't get me wrong. I tell folks hereabouts all day long that White Supremacy is the default position everywhere in this country, not just here. And that's a fact, Jack.

But it is true that they're subject to do stuff like train folks in hand-to-hand combat here in preparation for an attack by "terrorists." And it's true they will organize against the possibility of Black folks participating here in the political decision-making process. And it's also true that "law enforcement" in this state alarms even law enforcement officers from other states and that, when the Justice Department is called, the locals threaten to sue those who ratted them out. (As if...? I mean, how could they hope to defend brutality witnessed by other cops who were so horrified, they left town and called Daddy?)

So whacha gonna do?

You're gonna head down to N'Awlins for the French Quarter Music Festival yesterday afternoon, that's what, and spend hours shakin' to the sounds of, among others, the Rebirth Brass Band. Oh. yeah.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Racism = Prejudice + Power, Part 2

Earlier this week, I had an appointment in a doctor's office and while there, I inadvertantly let it be known to a young White woman receptionist that I teach courses on race. I should know better. In fact, I do know better. Every time it happens, I swear to myself it will never happen again. But it does. And it's amazing how fast the "conversation" goes sideways.

In a matter of only a couple of sentences, she had already managed to drop the bomb I so often hear from folks like her: "Well, in my opinion..." (as if I would ever in a million years ask for it) "the problem these days is with Black people. They're WAY more racist than Whites and all they want to do is just sit up on their porches and live off the government..." I forget exactly what came after that. Thank goodness. But I remember gritting my teeth all the way home.

I tried to help her get a broader view (ha!), but was so unsuccessful (needless to say) that her final volley (as she flounced away flipping her long blonde hair over her shoulder) was, "I guess you'll have to ask your Black President about that!" Oof.

"It's okay," I said to myself. "I've been meaning to write about Black "racism" ever since several Anonymous comments appeared in January on a blog post I wrote back in 2006. The commentator(s) argued that African-Americans are seen as "real" Americans (as opposed to other minorities who are, it was posited, not seen that way). They also have powerful representative organizations and greater media representation than other minorities, Anonymous went on. So what did I think of what this Asian person had to say on the topic?

As the night wore on, Anonymous' comments became more and more irritable and esoteric. If the powerless can't be racist because they don't control the social institutions that prescribe our lives, then would that mean White women couldn't be racist...or how about somebody with only one great-great-grandmother who was White? Could they be racist? Does racism only exist where White people are? And do African-Americans benefit from U.S. world economic and political power just like all other Americans when that power is so disproportionately used against people of color around the globe?

I was caused to think of the types of questions I sometimes field in Introductory Sociology classrooms. They can't help it. They really don't (want to) know. The problem is that they ask the questions anyway, as if they did. Sigh. I don't mind answering. It's my job. But it would help if I didn't so often feel I was talking to the walls.

In any case, I'm going to have another go at it, using the questions above and the article referenced by the commentator(s), which is "Black Racism: the Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name". The piece appeared in 1998 in Front Page Magazine (an online manifestation of The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank). The author, Ying Ma, is, among other things, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, which was featured in the films "America: Freedom to Fascism" and "Zeitgeist, the Movie". The CFR has been the subject of some controversy fueled by the suggestion that it's implicated in planning toward a one-world government. Ma was also instrumental in working to see the infamous Proposition 209 passed in California, gutting affirmative action in that state.

So here's Part 2 of "Racism = Prejudice + Power."

The bottom line (assuming that's the place to begin) is that Ma missed the point. Entirely. I've never said African-Americans aren't prejudiced toward Whites or members of other groups. Why in the world wouldn't they be under the circumstances? Things that happened to me as a child have affected my attitude toward authority figures, for example (just as things that happened to Ying Ma during her childhood have affected how she sees Black folks). But since so many of us have such factors in our lives, why is it so difficult for others to understand why African-Americans carry so much rage -- especially with the on-going nature of their continued violation as individuals and as a people?

African-Americans are pissed. And rightly so. This blog is a veritable compendium of statistics and anecdotes and analysis and explanation concerning why it is utterly rational for them to be pissed all day long. Some of them are prejudiced against Whites (meaning they don't like them in advance on general principle). Some are just disgusted by White privilege (and the many Whites who wield it while swearing that they don't see color). Some are distrustful of Whites (particularly those Whites who say at every opportunity, especially around Black people, "Some of my best friends are Black..."). Some are hostile toward Whites since many Whites (and even many other minority individuals such as Ma) are so unendingly hostile toward them. And frankly, some are downright dangerous toward themselves and others. (Though it should be noted here that one White serial killer never seems to make the rest of us say, "Oh, those White people -- they will go off half-cocked...")

But using the definition of racism that it is prejudice PLUS power, African-Americans simply can't be racist. They can't be White either. And I can't be a Republican. So what? These are words. So, in the extreme, a Black person who murdered a Chinese person while screaming the word "Chink" would be guilty of a hate crime, but would not be (using my definition) a racist. That's all.

Not that all Blacks are warm and fuzzy, I hasten to add for the umpteenth time. Ma is a veritable prickly pear after just eight years of meanness at the hands of other children and she's ready to call all Blacks profligate. She uses the term "horrific" to describe such nightmares as being called "Ching Chong" or "Chinagirl," and being laughed at or beaten up on the way home from school.

Now, I'm not heartless. I was abused as a kid and I know that's no picnic. It's hard to be a kid anyway -- with all the attendant fears and insecurities -- let alone he or she takes additional licks at anyone's hands. I've been told some gut-wrenching stories about growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China (with no Blacks involved).

But I'd like to see what she'd do with a good old fashioned ass-whuppin' by a couple of stick-wielding cops in an alley or maybe being followed around every store she enters for her entire life no matter how she's dressed or being kept out of the fancy schools and neighborhoods she's had NO problem getting into because she wasn't Black. And for sure, I'd like to see what she'd do with 500 years of vicious institutionalized torture and terror that had not yet ended.

See, that's the part she misses. The institutionalized part. The part that's played by power. Not the power to have your own organization UNDER the social institutions and forces that "let" that organization operate. Not the power to force your way into the media to the extent and in the ways that suit the social institutions and forces that monitor and maintain the status quo of African-Americans' experience of life as less than full citizens. Remember Henry Louis Gates' arrest on his front porch last year? That's an indignity Ma is not likely ever to experience. Though she would be quick to suggest, I'm sure, that she'd never be arrested because she wouldn't do anything that would get her arrested (the implication being that the 80-year-old Dr. Gates is Black and -- famous or not -- probably couldn't help doing whatever got him handcuffed).

Because Ma and her family immigrated to the U.S. and moved into a poor Black neighborhood when she was ten years old, the typical American ethnocentrism ("America for Americans, goddam it! You furiners get out now!") wore a Black face. Ma's Ivy League education doesn't seem to have helped her to recognize that. Either that or she's decided (for whatever reason) to give White folks a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card.

White folks robbed the indigenous Americans of this continent, brutally used and abused Asian people in the U.S. (and in Asia, which they continue to do, as Ma points out), made themselves rich holding millions of Africans in bondage while being responsible for the deaths of millions more, are recognized world-wide for maintaining the most wide-ranging characteristically racist system in the history of the human race and still want to dare anyone with a darker skin tone to try to come here. Yet her article makes it sound as if the only Americans with which Ma has had any problems were Black. Gee. That's surprising, given what history and the statistics tell us.

The fact is that people of African descent (which includes, of course, everyone in the world, but that's a topic for another day) learned to be hateful from the White folks. This phenomenon is called "taking on the language of the oppressors" and oppressed peoples do it all the time. Even some Jews in World War II concentration camps put on cast-off Nazi uniform jackets and brutalized others, trying to identify themselves with the power. This doesn't excuse it; it's just an attempt to explain it.

It should also be noted that White people (good grief! I hate repeating myself over and over, but some things bear repeating) set up the social institutions in this country in the first place and have continued to run them ever since. So every single problem we have in this country is directly or indirectly attributable to that simple fact. Face it or not, folks. White-controlled social institutions -- including the family, education, religion, politics and the economy -- are the base foundation from which everything else (bad or good) emanates. Holding Black folks responsible for practices, attitudes, and systems they had NO part of setting up and have not ever even had the least part in running is (1) blaming the victim and (2) sweeping White power under the rug.

Interestingly enough, this is EXACTLY the world view the White Supremacist system (it's a system, folks, not a person or group of persons) wants folks like Ma (and everybody else) to espouse. It works to keep White Supremacy in place to convince as many as possible (including as many people of color as possible) that Black folks are the problem. That Black inferiority is endemic to their nature. That they can't help it. That White people and their institutions and their "values" (such as money being more important than life, for example, or the idea that torture is reasonable to accomplish one's agenda?) are just superior to all others -- especially any that might be conceived by anyone else.

Another explanation, which Ma refers to begrudgingly just before brushing it aside as irrelevant in the end, is Dollard's frustration-aggression theory. The Black kids that made Ma's life so difficult back in the ghetto knew even before she did that someday she would get to leave. She was eighteen. She writes that she "left this ugly world for a beautiful school far away" and never returned. The image of the bright young African-American children standing inside the walls of their institutionalized fortress of oppression watching her board the train for bliss makes my heart weep. But she doesn't get it.

Ma suggests that this cruelty to her people (apparently only at the hands of Blacks, though I remember that during the year I dated a Korean man, the only shout of "Chink" I ever heard came from a carload of White boys) is ignored even by Asian activist organizations because it's deemed not really that bad. She suggests that poor, innocent, elderly and very young Asians don't typically complain because they have language deficiencies, are smaller in size, and fear reprisal -- especially in the form of violence.

Further, Ma suggests that "Asians are unlike blacks who got to where they are in politics by being confrontational," completely ignoring two crucial points. First of all, African-Americans (not unlike the African National Congress in South Africa prior to Nelson Mandela's imprisonment) are almost always ignored unless they're violent (which allows White folks in power to "punish" them while further noting their "natural" violent tendencies). And second, there are many incidents of Asians being wildly violent including the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Chinese occupation of Korea as only a couple of examples.

Actually, California law enforcement bodies report that more than 500 Asian gangs now exist in that state and the vast majority of the terrorizing they do is in the Asian community. Yet Ma doesn't once mention this or take anyone to task for it, though many of the gangs had already formed and were widely operant when she wrote the piece in question.

As I already mentioned, Ma does admit that Asian activist organizational leaders acknowledge other factors. They suggest, for example, that competition over limited resources, lack of jobs, and institutionalized economic disparities between African-Americans -- still relegated to the back of the economic bus in this country -- and Asians, treated inappropriately as "outsiders" under and by a White-controlled system, but much more mobile in terms of access to opportunities in general as individuals and as a group.

Ma even quotes Joe Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, as saying that "much of the hostilities are due to blacks' jealousy of Asian economic success, a sense of alienation, and the self-perpetuating belief that blacks will always lose out in the racial equation in America." Nevertheless, this is not enough to resolve Ma's angst or lessen her bitterness.

Her suggestion that Black hostility toward Asians is reminiscent of Nazi attacks on the Jews, African attacks on immigrants from India, and Indonesian more recent attacks on Chinese immigrants to Indonesia completely disregards the fact that in all of these cases, the tormentors were or are in power over their society at the time -- which African-Americans are not and never have been. Does she really think this is not relevant?

Ultimately, Ma tidies up her vitriolic diatribe with a hat tip to the idea that minorities should not fight among themselves, but should rather fight against racial discrimination. This goes without saying, I guess. But if her misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what happened in her own life and how it has affected her on-going perception of racial reality in this country is any indication, then we're unlikely to see that idea develop much any time soon.

We might have imagined that her education and what I must suppose to be her current level of social mobility and economic well-being as compared to the children who made her childhood so difficult would have softened the edges somewhat somewhere along the line. But they haven't. We might have imagined that she would come to see more clearly over time the actuality of African-American day-to-day existence as less than full citizens in the land of their birth. But she hasn't. And this is pretty typical. Because it suits the White Supremacist system (and those who support it) to have Asians and African-Americans at juggernauts. It works to maintain the status quo for various minority groups to see each other as enemies. It's called "divide and conquer" and it's the oldest okey-doke in the book. Funny so few of us get it.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Guess Who?

Lewis Carroll once wrote: "The time has come," the walrus said, "to speak of many things..." And today, the time has come for me to begin to step up the pace. I want to publish my books. I want to travel around and talk about the things I write about on this blog.

In the sixties, Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a-changing" and it's true again. Only this time, they're changing in terrible ways. We can no longer pretend that everything is just somehow going to work itself out. "We have to become," said Gandhi, "the change we want to see in the world."

I'm ready. Here I come.

The Dream is Alive, But is the Hope? (Part 1)

The Dream is Alive, But is the Hope? (Part 2)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

If Haiti Didn't Have Bad Luck, It Would Have No Luck At All

Yesterday, I wrote about the still suffering Angola 3. Today, I want to remember the still suffering Haitian people. Here are some links I've been meaning to share:

Second, an interview of Noam Chomsky by Keane Bhatt that discusses, among other things, why aid to Haiti ought to go to popular Haitian organizations rather than U.S.-based contractors and NGO's (at least some of which are military -- why am I not surprised?).


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Angola 3 Again...Still

At one point or another, I've written a fair amount about the Angola 3, a trio of Black Panthers whose forty-year torment at the hands of administrators at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola (a former? slave plantation and, not surprisingly, one of the most infamous prisons in U.S. history) has become legendary. The saga goes on.

Today, I'm inviting you to visit Angola, if you will, with Dr. Nancy Heitzeg, a professor of sociology and Co-Director of the Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity program at St. Catharine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Hans Bennett's interview with Heitzeg about her visit is painful to read, but so well done, I'm sure you'll want to follow it up with Part 2.

Some very savvy educators in the A3 camp have developed an entire curriculum that can be used to explore not only this particular case, but its broader context in the world of "punishment."

And finally, an important new website called Solitary Watch adds its analysis.

In the meantime, Herman Wallace's appeal was denied, sending him into the Federal court system for possible redress. And Albert Woodfox waits YET for the appellate court to rule on his case more than a YEAR after the hearing last March.

Still, supporters continue to plan and push. "In the Land of the Free", the latest movie on the three political prisoners opened in Europe this spring and will begin appearing at increasing venues in the U.S. in coming months. Get in the loop, if you aren't already. When Herman and Albert are released, you'll want to know you did something to help make that happen.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Can A White Land Be Killed?

Yesterday, I was writing about transitions. Transitions can be adventuresome (such as mating) or daunting (such as finding out you are about to have your pay cut substantially without, needless to say, any expectation that your workload or your work ethic will be altered in any way). But sometimes, they are grossly disappointing.

When South Africa, for example, shifted from being absolutely controlled by and for the 10% of the population that is White in that country, I -- like many, I suppose -- hoped, if not imagined, that things would be "better now" (whatever that might be construed to mean). And that may be the typical problem with transitions. They're so damned amorphous. Most of the time, we're only vaguely conscious of where we've been and have practically no idea of where we're headed next.

The shame of this is that, as my principle mentor used to say, "It's predictable and I told you so!" If we would just be deadly honest with ourselves about what we already know to be the truth of the present situation and then extrapolate logically where that would naturally wind up, we'd never be blind-sided by social change. But we apparently would rather never be ready to catch the ball and always be reeling in shock at what we claim not to have been able to imagine than to face reality.

In any case, for those of you who may not know basic South African history (and why should we when we aren't even taught our own other than the White-washed version?), indigenous Africans have lived on the tip of the continent for more than 100,000 years and currently, about fifty million folks speaking eleven official languages call South Africa the land of their birth.

In 1652, the Dutch East Indies Company founded Cape Town as a docking station on the way to India and in 1806, the British turned Cape Town into a colony. Obviously, the struggle between the Brits and the Boers (White Dutch farmers) was an on-going saga for a long period of time, marked particularly by the second Anglo-Boer war from 1879 to 1915 over control of the gold and diamond industry that belonged in the first place (lest we forget) to the 80% of the population that represents Black Africans and predates the coming of the Europeans (with about 10% of the population being Indian, Asian or blended peoples).

The system of Apartheid (Dutch for "separateness") of which many of us are at least somewhat aware, was not established until 1948, more than 35 years after the African National Congress was formed and I would thus assume, because of it. After all (and here's an example of moving in the direction of admitting we're not asleep), many people will quickly use violence -- or allow it to be used -- when they think their privilege and power is being threatened. White people claiming that they are only aggressive when defending themselves always makes me want to say, "Uh-huh!" with a grin -- which they most generally don't appreciate.

In 1994, when it became apparent that they were going to die if they refused to step down, the Whites gave up their power (though some still held to the dream of wielding it -- we'll return to this shortly). Mandela was released after more than 25 years in a prison cell to take over the Presidency of the country in what was probably one of the most dramatic moments in modern history. And somehow (though honestly, of course, there was no precedent for imagining that this was automatically going to implement Utopia), we anxiously clung to the belief that this heralded the dawning of a New Day, an era when justice for all would slowly, but surely, become a reality around the world. I mean, if it could happen in South Africa, it could happen anywhere, right? Maybe, even in the United States!

Political prisoners in the U.S. took great heart as Nelson Mandela came forth from the tomb. A political prisoner becoming President. A nightmare giving birth to a dream. A long-held fantasy coming true. But by 1999, it began to become obvious that, as is sometimes said, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Black people were in office, but they were Black people that had drunk the kook-aid of capitalism and control. Socialized to perceive it appropriate to "look out for #1" (a concept antithetical to the African principle that teaches commitment to the good of the community as the way for all to sutvive), they quickly formed economic and politital elites. They made some passes at empowering themselves and a handful of others. They talked about re-distribution of wealth and, indeed, White poverty levels increased. But the richest country in Africa is more than capable of re-distributing the wealth in such a way that unemployment would not actually rise. Yet the condition of the Black masses was even worse than it had been before.

Consequently, South Africa, after hundreds of years of systematic social disintegration under White powermongers who stole the region's riches and destroyed its age-old pride and greatness, stumbled into this new period of history bloody and crazed. Today, there are 52 murders per day and half a million rapes per year in a country where boys have been taught by a violent history to call "jack-rolling" (raping little girls) "fun."

Complicating the process has been the vestiges of a rampant and anti-social political conservatism that heavily restricts sex education, access to abortions and homosexuality. Banning pornography in a nation where the mass population has been so openly brutalized and de-humanized by its government for centuries is an excuse to blame the victims for the consequences of official -- and what amounts in my humble opinion to criminal -- policy setting. One of the results, then, is a pandemic-level of AIDS under a government that still (a la past example) doesn't want to even admit the problem exists. Sigh.

Which brings me to the latest news emanating from South Africa: the brutal death of a 69-year-old White Supremacist named Eugene Terre'Blanche (whose last name translates, I swear, to "White Land"). Terre'Blanche founded a right wing secret society "protecting" White people's rights in the 1970's. He eventually did several years in prison for personal violence against people of color. And had re-emerged with renewed commitment to his "cause" since his release in 2004. Feelings, as you may surmise, are running really high about now related to the issue of his death. And the situation overall promises to unfold in some possibly horrifying ways very soon. But my take on it -- and what I want to write about concerning this -- are more peripheral, but equally crucial, aspects of this event.

Eugene Terre'Blanche was alledgedly bludgeoned and hacked to death by two males, ages nineteen and fifteen, because he would not pay them money they had earned by doing work he had contracted them to do. What I want to point out, then, is one of the earmarks of White Supremacy: the delusional idea that Whites really ARE superior, that they really ARE deserving of their position (whatever they perceive that to be), that they really ARE in control.

The point is, if the facts are as they have been presented, this 69-year-old man living on a secluded patch of ground far away from other White support apparently believed that he could flatly refuse to pay for contracted work and there would be no consequences. However physically powerful Terre'Blanche may have thought he was, he would hardly be a match for two young male farmworkers at what was likely the peak of their physical prowess. And keep in mind that unemployment and poverty levels for Black Africans in South Africa are such that it's possible the two young men in question (assuming they did the crime) may not have eaten recently. Earned wages can take on survival mode importance under such circumstances. Nevertheless, Terre'Blanche refused to pay them and then (here's the kicker) laid down to take a nap. Now think about that for a minute.

Only a person who honestly believes that they are a magical entity indeed would think even for one second that they could refuse to give what he owed to two strapping young men who are desperate and then lay down like a baby to sleep in a secluded place. And this, I would argue, is the grave danger of White Supremacy. Not that Black people might at some point get a bellyful and strike back (and I use "strike back" because we must admit, if we're not living in la-la land, that where Whites have the power, Black people are treated as second class citizens in virtually every way with undisguised physical brutality a common occurrence to maintain the system).

But that's not the warning I want to highlight here. It is, rather, the full scale idiocy that convinces White people of such a mind (and there are many of them still in South Africa and, even more so, here in the U.S.) that they ARE, in fact, superior. That they always deserve the job they are given (because they have always worked hard for it, while Black people, of course, never worked for anything -- right?). That they always have good reasons for making whatever decisions they make (because they are intelligent people, while Black people, of course, are...well...not very bright -- you know what I mean?). That they would never knowingly be mean-spirited or selfish (because they don't see color; they treat everyone as they have earned the right to be treated -- while have you noticed how Black people treat each other?). That they are richer and get better jobs and get paid more and are quicker to get loans at lower interest rates and can live wherever they can afford and never get followed around a store because they're just better than Black people (which is NOT something they can help -- it's just that way).

And because they believe all, the idea that this attitude kills your soul and can eventually kill your body never enters their mind. Even as they watch their nation fall apart and their culture crumble, they blame others for their downfall. Even as they know in their gut that they would never allow themselves to be oppressed forever. Even as they ultimately fear with the terror of unavoidable guilt the specter of being treated as they have treated others -- either by omission or commission -- for no other reason than the tone of those others' skin. They believe they are superior (even supreme, if you will). They believe they have the divine right of kings. They believe they are ever and appropriately in control. And yawning widely in the face of reality, they prepare to lie down and sleep.
NOTE: I am counting on my South African readers to correct any inaccuracies in this post or my understanding of events in South Africa, whether historical or current. Thanks.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


This morning I received an email from a former student who has morphed into the role of a friend now. She had written the word "transitions" in the subject line and included the photo above (yes, she's the kind of person who would illustrate her emails). And thus she gave me the opening I needed for writing this first blog post in five weeks. I have been going through -- no question about it and as many of us are just now -- a period of transition.

To begin with, I have -- for the first time in ten years -- entered and become committed to a relationship with another person (we'll call him Boxer because he did a LOT of time in prison winning bouts and teaching others to win bouts). I spent so long alone because it took that to emancipate my mind from mental slavery. Being raised to be a woman in a patriarchy (despite my readiness to belligerantly decide exactly how I as an individual would manifest that role at one point or another) had stripped me of my ability to say "no," which in turn meant that I had no ability to say "yes" in any meaningful sense either. So I retreated for a decade, never knowing whether or not I would ever enter a romantic relationship again, nor what type of person it might be with once it occurred. Enter Boxer.

Initially, I was unapproachable. For very nearly a year.

I didn't want to hear it. Didn't know what to do with it. And didn't have any intention of giving up the slightest shred of my hard won independence. Even if he didn't try to or succeed in taking it from me, I knew too many women whose internalized oppression had led them to voluntarily relinquish it. And I have no intention of joining them at this late date.

Complicating the situation was the fact that I found him wildly attractive the first time I laid eyes on him and he was instantly drawn to me. That sent up all kinds of red flags for me. My past record is one that is strewn with unhealthy choices, so my fear was not of him as much as it was of myself.

Still, month after month, he steadfastly held to his course, never pushing, never going away (which becomes even more amazing when you consider that he had done twenty-seven years in prison and had been out for two years without sex because he felt that such a sacrifice was the only way to achieve the intimacy he valued even more than some knee-jerk sexual encounter).

Finally, out of frustration with his refusal to walk away, I accosted him in my own inimitable fashion.

"Obviously," I blurted out in a very harsh frontal assault one night at a gathering we both attend, "the only way to get you to see that this won't work is to actually do you want to go to the movies or what?" (Romantic, huh?)

He didn't miss a hitch, however startled he may have been at that moment.

"Yes," he responded simply.

And we've been together pretty much ever since.

Needless to say, I didn't become comfortable with it over night. I was ruthless to the point of brutality at pretty much every juncture. I hid nothing about my least attractive qualities, determined to run him off if at all possible, while vigilantly watching for any indicator (however slight) that something about him would prove to be a deal-breaker for me. I told him every garish detail of my life and demanded that he do the same. Nevertheless, in the insuing months, we created a bond and began to believe.

"How did this happen?" I once queried incredulously while lying in pitch black darkness.

His answer was succinct, which is often his way: "Faith."

I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall. And while waiting, other transitions have forced themselves upon us.

He's had trouble pulling down a decent, on-going job, for one thing, though he has mad skills. Then, in the middle of coming to grips with the thought of what the implications are of this difficulty, they give me the news at work that we all will be taking a pay cut beginning this month, a pay cut that could be as high as 20%. Gulp.

Now, I've never had a lot. I worked for five years collectively, never drawing a paycheck at all per se. Then, I was a low income stay-at-home Mom for several years followed by a period of five years on welfare. During my seven years in grad school, I raised two kids on student income and food stamps. And as a social service administrator, I made the bills, but not much else. It's only been in the last couple of years that I could consistently cover my needs, take care of some of my wants and still give away a fair amount to folks that needed it worse than me. And now, I guess, it's over. And I ain't a little bit happy about it. It's amazing how quickly we become accustomed to even a modicum of prosperity.

But I knew that the economy (that monstrous bugaboo that has been horse-whipping so many in this nation of late) was going to get around to me at some point. I know how to be poorer. I just didn't want to. And, typically, I've been far more worried about my politics getting my ass kicked than my financial situation. Suddenly, my politics have taken a back seat and I'm mulling a game plan to stock pile diabetic supplies and make sure the money I've contributed to a "retirement" fund stays in my pocket. Sigh.

Major transitions include (as always) minor ones, as well. The bedroom my daughter's significant other once referred to as "Amish" (marked by lace pillows and pink roses) is now in tones of brown, black and beige, with the floral English country wing chair traded out for brown wicker. A-hem!

I am (inexplicably, as far as I'm concerned) developing muscles and wearing snappier clothes. I don't always get my papers graded in a timely fashion (which I choose to call having a more balanced life). I'm having WAY more fun -- just because there's fun to be had (who knew?). And I've gone from being celibate to...well...not being.

So all of this is why I've been quiet for the last month. But I'm back. With a long list of stuff I want to write about and a whole week of spring break to write about it. Transitions (personal and collective) are really what this blog is all about anyway. Because change is continuous and inevitable. The nature of the change is what I write about, along with the way we might get from here to there. I write about race. I write about life. I write about transition.