On Racism, Nearby

I’ve been hesitating to even blog about everything that’s happening right now – the Ferguson, Missouri situation has reminded me that no matter how well-intentioned, I’ll always be white. As history has shown, that’s clearly not a bad thing, but it does mean that while I’d love to chime in and offer my take on the situation, I shouldn’t. It’s not that I can’t still be a part of the push against class warfare and racism – it’s just that I’ll never truly understand what it’s like to be anything but white.

That’s not to say that I can’t be an ally, that I can’t be someone who pushes for reform and truth and justice and tolerance and all of those wonderful, idealistic things I thought everyone believed in. The hard truth is that people don’t believe in those things. You learn the rose-colored worldview of tolerance and peace and then you hit the real world and it’s filled with ignorance and hate.

I was at 7-11 yesterday, buying iced coffee before I headed out to babysit, when a short, grandfatherly looking white man cut me in line holding two Cokes. He got up to the cashier, a nice woman who’d greeted me cheerfully when I walked in, and when he was told that it was going to be like $2.89, he flipped out. He asked how much one Coke was, because he’d been under the impression that they were 2 for $2.22. The cashier told him that they were no longer on sale, at which point he began yelling for her to come to the back and look. He turned around, nearly hitting me.

I don’t usually get scared, but something about him coming two inches from full body contact unnerved me. Apparently, the 7-11 people had put Pepsi on sale instead of Coke, but forgotten to take down the advertisements. I get that – it’s annoying. If you want to sell products and offer a discount, properly advertise it. She apologized for the confusion, admitting that they’d made a mistake.

They got back to the counter and he continued yelling (I’m not exaggerating here – the entire store could hear) about how this is what is wrong with America, greed and blah blah, and then he paused and told the cashier, “You wouldn’t know. You’re just visiting here.” She insisted, with a lovely accent, that she was an American too.

That’s when he lost it. He started going off about Judgement Day and how God would know that she was lying about being an American. (I almost cut in and asked him if God was American, but I didn’t and I’m glad.) He yelled at the cashier, and to her credit, she handled it beautifully. When he got to the part where he was yelling about how his mother would know that she wasn’t an American, she calmly told him that she didn’t care what his mother thought.

It was horrible. She was clearly an African immigrant, and I don’t care whether she was a citizen or here on a visa, she’s working and she’s nice and she’s obviously someone who is stronger than she looks. He was clearly the worst sort of American. After he left, I told her that I was sorry that she’d had to deal with someone so rude and that I hoped that her customers from then on were pleasant to deal with. The woman behind me offered her support as well. I would have been in tears – I was impressed with how calm she was.

It’s 2014. Any illusions of a white America should have been dashed years ago – it’s over, or rather, it never was going to be a thing. At some point, these people are going to have to embrace the fact that diversity is here to stay, whether they like it or not. I can’t fathom how anyone could be so cruel to someone based on their skin color, or their accent, or the fact that they work at a 7-11.

I’m still appalled. I wish I’d spoken up. Better yet, I wish the boyfriend had been there. He’s not always the most forward-thinking human, but I know that he wouldn’t have stood for this kind of hate. He’d have had words with the man.

It’s not just 7-11. It’s Facebook. I live in a very educated bubble. Most of my friends are white like me, have at least a college education, and are pretty progressive and liberal-leaning. (Not all. Most.) The posts that I’ve seen lately about Ferguson, Missouri and racism have been about being a white ally, class warfare and the threats to the white majority stronghold of our economy, and so on.

Boyfriend comes from a different place. His bubble is different. I love skimming his news feed to see how different they are. He probably thinks I’m trying to glean information about his lady friends, but honestly, it’s a remarkable sociological difference, whether it’s based on location, education level, or career path, and I’m fascinated by it. That and the lady friends.

Last week, a Marine friend of his posted something about the Ferguson, Missouri situation, including the riots, with a very inappropriate caption. I was appalled that an active member of our military would be allowed to post something like this – but it wasn’t just the post, it was the comments on it that aggravated me.

A plump, blond, middle-aged white woman commented on the post and said something about how upset she was about “these savages” and how “we bring our Lord to them and they act like animals” and so on and so forth. Our Lord? The same God of White America that the 7-11 dude worships? What are these people smoking?

I did a terrible job at describing the post and the comments, but I’m trying to illustrate how frustrating it has been for me to see that not only is racism alive and well, but it still wears the well-meaning mask of religion. I wanted to believe that while racism still existed, it at least had the decency to hide deep in a person’s soul and not be broadcasted around on social media and spit at cashiers in convenience stores. I wanted to believe that so badly, and clung to that hope. I was wrong.

I may scoff at the well-intentioned ally posts and the never-ending parade of sociological examinations of cross-sections of our society, but today I am grateful for them. I’m glad that I get to sit and click and read them – I’m glad they’re being published and that people are reading them, and sharing them, and spreading a message that shouldn’t be new to some people but clearly is. I need to do more — we’ll talk about hashtag activism at a later point. And the next time I see a man yelling at a woman because of her accent and the color of her skin, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. At the very least, a little social sanctioning may give him pause.

We can do better. We need to do better.

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On the Law, Lawlessly

It’s no secret that our justice system is a weak and broken beast. The laws that govern us (to a certain extent) are the products of a demonstrated need, and yet they provide countless loopholes and the ever-present problem of interpretation. They are further proof that all things well intended suffer from equivalent potential for ill intent.

The laws we abide by are meant to provide us with a guide for living, but more than that, a guide for our own behaviors and interactions with others. The lure of the law lies in the illusion of safety that it provides, in the clear demarcation of right vs. wrong. However, the punishments imposed as a means of failure to follow the law, which once loomed over the populous as the ultimate deterrent, have lost their luster, their ability to strike fear into the hearts of citizens.

Why is that?

Well, part of the blame rests with lawyers. They’re intelligent creatures, capable of doing great good in the world, but they often turn into legislators and judges. Not that all legislators or judges are bad people (to be honest, I’d love nothing more than to hold court and render stunning opinions), but they can fall victim to the lure of their own convictions, disregarding the spirit of the law and the best interests of their constituents in favor of their own political advancement.

Part of the blame rests with the people, who call for more laws to be written in response to events that upset them. More laws don’t help clean up existing laws that aren’t working; instead, we find ourselves buried under the oppressive crush of laws that govern our every moment. The good news is that these laws contradict themselves in such a manner that if you have a proper legal team, you can throw enough chaos into the mix and walk away scot-free.

So while it may be illegal to kill someone, it’s not actually a firm black and white thing. Mitigating circumstances have long existed, of course, but now we’ve entered an era of self-righteous self-defense.

In Texas, it’s like this:

“The Texas provision authorizes deadly force not only to “retrieve stolen property at night” but also during “criminal mischief in the nighttime” and even to prevent someone who is fleeing immediately after a theft during the night or a burglary or robbery, so long as the individual “reasonably” thinks the property cannot be protected by other means.” – source here

This is why the internet now finds itself upset at Texas (that’s not new), enraged that a jury could find a man who killed someone not guilty by reason of shitty lawmaking and a thin defense that shouldn’t have held up. One of my lawyer friends applied reason (pssh, reason? This is Texas, there is no reason) to counter my annoyance by stating that it is the law, the lawmakers, and the jury who all did exactly what they were supposed to do here. The jury followed the law.

I see his point, but he’s wrong. It used to be legal to rape your wife. Just doing it because it’s the law doesn’t make me feel any better and it doesn’t make it right. As a juror, you’re obligated to follow the law, but have we not spent years debating whether or not we should be following the letter of the law or its spirit?

We live in a society that’s used to broad application of excuses as a way to escape punishment or to justify horrifying behavior (Patriot Act, anyone?). We live in a society that simultaneously glorifies pseudo-piety and hyper-masculine aggression. It’s a funny line between the righteous and the hypocrite, in the same way that the Pharisees were the paragons of virtue back in the day.

Regardless, here’s what happened in Texas:

Man is on Craigslist. Man hires escort to come over and hang out. Man is presumably excited – he “believes” that sex is going to occur. Escort comes over, no one comes. Man is upset about the lack of sex. He demands the money ($150) back from escort. Escort says no, gets into waiting car. Man shoots at the car, injuring escort. Escort dies some months later. Man is charged with murder. Man goes trial. Lawyers claim that it’s legal to shoot someone who’s absconding with your property. Jurors are idiots, rule not-guilty. Prosecutors are also idiots, should have shot holes through that defense. (See what I did there?)

That deadly force law is ridiculous and should never have been passed. At what point did lawmakers not see that this was going to be a terrible law? At what point did it come to pass that a dude who shoots an alleged hooker can walk away from it?

My suggestion was this:

I would like to see valuation limits (or minimums?) of property established so that even though it may be legal to use deadly force to recover stolen property, you won’t be able to use that as a weak defense for murdering someone over $150. I know, I know, “what is the value of a human life?”, “how can we quantify sentimental value?” and so on, but come on, killing an escort over $150 because she wouldn’t have sex with you should not be justifiably legal in any way.

And – going further – how did the defense justify that he had been robbed (thus giving him the theft that allowed him to shoot her) while still holding onto the fact that he just “believed” he was going to get sex. If at no point was sex an explicit part of the illicit deal, then there could be no theft because the services rendered (escorting – which I imagine to be really awkward hanging out in a mini dress with a fur draped around your neck) were the services initially agreed to. Wait, since prostitution is technically illegal (unless the escort decides to have consensual non-escort sex with you, of course), wouldn’t he have no right to shoot her under that law anyway? Doesn’t criminal activity negate other stuff? (Forgive me for my pathetic grasp of our legal system and its laws, it’s been a while.)

I’m going to withhold my calls for more laws and instead call for fewer laws. No law advocating street justice (deadly force for nighttime theft) should ever be passed. No man should feel that he has the right to take a human life over $150. Shit, I would have sent him a check for $200, the additional $50 for his humiliation. Problem solved. No person should believe that they have the right to take the life of another human being unless their own live is in immediate, indisputable danger. Self-defense should not apply when the victim is driving away from you. Or when they’re unarmed and in a car. Or when you’re upset that you didn’t get laid.

I’ve also got a million dollar idea. Evan thinks it’s dumb and dangerous, and he’s probably right, but wouldn’t this be awesome (in theory)?

I’m thinking that it would be awesome to be a street justice mediator. I’d be responsible for hearing cases where parties have disagreements that can’t be settled via normal legal channels but might result in violence if not addressed. They’d come to me for gang wars, turf disputes, drug-related complaints, and so on. I’d hear both parties and then render a decision. That decision would be concrete. They’d have to follow it.

That’s where the idea gets a bit murky. I feel as though street justice is problematic because of the fact that “your word is your bond” doesn’t really apply here. I’ve watched enough Game of Thrones of late (and read enough history, novels, and so on) to understand that you’re never safe, especially when you’re consorting with criminals. But – at the same time – it would be a pretty sweet gig. And hopefully it would result in fewer gang-related deaths. (Even though in actuality, it would probably just result in mine.)

On Joy, Happily

The shameless hipster that lives in me felt the need to post this quote today. The impulsive emoter (psssh, it’s a word now) that shares the space agrees. Deal with it.

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”

– Jack Kerouac

After spending the better part of the last month fighting a strange bout of utterly consuming melancholy, I seem to have emerged radiating joy. I can feel good energy flowing around me, and I’ve noticed that the world seems to be noticing that as well. I’ve been having the best conversations with friends and strangers; I’ve been smiling and laughing; I’ve been hooked by the promise of what is still to come.

I heard someone talking about what they’ve learned about grief and pain – they said that someone once told them that instead of fighting it, you should just let the waves of emotion wash over you. I did exactly that. Instead of struggling, I let the seemingly infinite sadness surround me.

Apparently, my life force was too much for the sadness, and I’ve been returned to my usual state of good humor. Oh, how I had missed it. This weekend was my first full-on return to joyous revelry.

I ended up in Boulder on Friday night at a show that my friends were excited about. They told me that some guy named Dave Au Jus would be playing…and all I could imagine was a man holding a French dip sandwich. As it turns out, there were no sandwiches nor a man who spells his last name Au Jus (très disappointing on both counts). The man, Dave Aju, was more amazing than a sandwich. I had a blast. I forget how much I like to dance. As much as I gently ridicule my friends for their love of “techno parties,” I’ve never had a bad time at one and I always end up having some sort of excellent adventure.

An excellent adventure it was. I ended up on a porch at an after-party trying to find Orion in the sky – I was extremely disappointed to find that the night had progressed so far that he had slipped away, but the people around me were kind enough to provide me with their sky maps so that I could search. (Note to self: find more constellations to love. I can find Jupiter, sometimes, or Cassiopeia, but other than that, I’ve got nothing. Not even the Big Dipper.) I slipped back into my house at 6 am, an hour I’ve not seen from the side of night in ages, desperate to find sleep before the sun started to creep into the sky.

***

Saturday brought a lingering breakfast of coffee and bagels, then babysitting. I didn’t see the girls last week, and it’s funny how much I missed them. From there, it was off to get ready for the drag ball and Emily’s birthday celebration.

This is the lovely birthday girl!

My costume and a direwolf – he made that himself and the hood was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I would very much like to own one.

More of us, but with my wig:

Since it was a drag ball, there were categories that people would walk in to win trophies and glory. I ended up judging at the last minute because one of the judges didn’t show. It was part terrifying, part really fun.

Jacob and Gina are beautiful people – Jacob won the (S)Executive Realness category for his stunning outfit and walking ability. (You should have seen the suit jacket he wore.)

Sunday brought brunch – if you ever need to lure me out of bed, just say “brunch” and I’m there. You might also want to say “bacon,” “gravy,” or “mimosas.”  Then I’ll hurry.

After the drag ball, there was quite a flurry of internet activity, mostly comments about the party the night before. The original “Denver is Burning” drag ball was held last year in a DIY space. The party was a smashing success. It wasn’t repeated due to space issues – it’s really hard to find a good place to hold a sweet party sometimes.

[Odd side note – that silver cuff that I wear was gifted to me by an artist who was painting in the same building that night. I wandered in and apologized for bothering him, but I was fascinated by his work. He gave me the cuff and a necklace. It’s become one of my most treasured possessions, and I think of that man fondly every time I wear it.]

The chief dissenting comments discussed voguing, ball culture in general, and racial issues related to all of it. It is frustrating to see such good intentions be torn apart by misunderstanding. It also reminds me that Denver’s racial demographics aren’t conducive to creating the underground ball scene that Harlem saw in times past. Denver just isn’t that diverse.

Granted, some of the categories were a bit weird. Game of Thrones? Totally shouldn’t have been a category (even though I loved it). But it was awesome. I wish you could have been there – there was music and dancing, and I ran into friends that I haven’t seen in ages. Everyone looked amazing, and free, and happy. Isn’t that what life is all about? (Minus the looking amazing part. Just the free and happy part.)

Some people were frustrated about what they perceived to be the over-involvement of white people. As a white person who spends a ton of time in the gay/queer scene, I find it frustrating that people are so quick to jump on race like that. I was born white and straight. I can’t help that. But it doesn’t mean that I should be excluded from activities because of my biological sex, my gender, my race, my sexual orientation, etc. (Isn’t all that inclusion what we’re all working for?! We’re working backwards if we can’t start to love people of all colors, genders, body types, hair colors, whatever. Also include my obligatory “understanding of white privilege” statement, but I’m not going any further into it because it doesn’t apply here.)

Plenty of appropriate thought was put into it – plenty of links about the origination of ball culture and voguing were shared in the lead up to the party. Plenty of respect is held by everyone for the original ball culture, the original intent of ball culture, and the struggles that people have faced while trying to achieve the equality, respect, and recognition that they deserve.

Ball culture will never be what it once was – it’s impossible, not because of people’s refusal to embrace tradition, but because of the fact that situations have changed drastically. The world is a different place now in some ways, and exactly the same in others. The people who threw this party wanted to be respectful of the past, but also embrace something new. It’s how things will work, communities will grow, and people can become more educated.

I think that it did open up a very important dialogue, but it was hard to watch the pain that my friends felt – they worked so hard, and with such pure intentions, to create something magical. I hope that this doesn’t stop more like this from happening in the future – Denver could use more of it, and needs people to remain involved and motivated to create beautiful things.

***

I returned home from brunch to be lazy and do nothing. It was lovely. I killed some bugs on the side of the house. (That’s a lie – I made my brother do it.) Then I did some googling about said bugs. They’re harmless but annoying, and I imagine that the Barrys vs bugs battle that will undoubtedly take place this coming spring and summer will be nothing short of frustrating. (I can be a very determined woman – those bugs haven’t seen anything yet.)

***

When I was 18, I dated a guy who always used to tell me he was going to make me a bunch of rocks that said “Katie” on them. So they’d be Katie rocks. (Get it? I rock!) This weekend, my phone dinged and told me I had a message – there, out of the blue, was a picture of a rock with my name on it. A Katie rock. The caption? “I know it’s been years, but you still rock.” My heart cracked into a million pieces and a huge smile spread across my face. It absolutely made my day.

***

And so now it’s back to work, back to reality, back to responsibility, but with a renewed energy. I’m back to being my radiant weird self and I’m beyond thrilled about it.

On Longing for Home

There are days when I wake up and my heart hurts. The sadness settles down around me, and the longing pangs begin. And they don’t go away – they are a dull ache of wanting that can’t be soothed by anything. I get online, and stare at pictures of the places that I came to love fiercely, and I pray that I never let the memories slip away.

I know they eventually will. The way to Long St. is obfuscated already. The way to Muizenberg Beach, however, will stay fused to the very core of my soul until the day that I die. And even then, I imagine it will refuse to let go.

South Africa is not my current home. It is not my birth place. It is not where I’ve spent a majority of my time. But parts of my heart linger there: on the scent of a fresh morning, on the sounds of crashing waves, in the metal of the chain that holds the gate together, in the sand. There are some things that you can never take away. There are some experiences, that no matter how brief, will leave you changed irrevocably.

The three months we spent in South Africa were comprised of sublime experiences: the disparity, the music, the nightlife, the sadness, the love. Yes, I was ready to leave when we left, but I swear, if I could somehow let you feel what I felt in the most magical moments, you’d understand.

Cape Town, South Africa

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

On Entitlements, Defensively

I’m annoyed (oh man, what’s new?).

One of my absolute favorite teachers from high school posted a Facebook status about hearing he could quit his job teaching because he could get government handouts that total more than he makes per year. Cue the slew of comments from people advocating for people who work and decrying the lazy poor. And for people only deserving to earn money for the work that they do, and comments suggesting that people are lazy, and we live in a sick country dependent on handouts.

This is untrue. How do I know this? It’s no secret that I work my ass off. But there was a time when I made significantly less than I do now. And during that time, there was a lot of panic. Sometimes, I’d stare at my bank account and wonder how I was going to make that last me the entire month, with rent, bills, insurance, and gas and food. It goes fast.

So out of curiosity, I checked out government assistance. (Food stamps, bitch.) And guess what? I made too much to qualify for ANY of the assistance programs. (Not just food stamps, bitch.)

I started babysitting. And then I started freelancing. And then I started working at Dairy Queen. And I also got a raise or three at work.

I’m frustrated by the ideas tossed around – many of them lack any sort of basis in fact. Granted, there are a multitude of programs that fall under the umbrella of government assistance. Stafford loans, unemployment, Medicare/Medicaid, etc. And yes, there are people who are ridiculously dependent on the government without the expectation that they should have to work for it. But there are also people who need the help that they get.

I’m frustrated that the dialogue here is so critical. I’m frustrated that instead of focusing on the cause of the poverty and need in our nation, we have created a system that doesn’t allow for equal opportunity, that has magnified the cyclical situation of the working poor, that divides our nation into socio-economic groups, and so on. We’re reaping the “benefits” of an economic clusterfuck that we’ve been complicit in creating.

I harp on this all the time, but it’s because I really do see it as a barrier to progress: our societal devaluation of various types of labor has created the situation we’re in and it’s simply not sustainable. Gone are the days when someone could begin a career and work up through the ranks of a company. They may not have been wealthy, but the idea of a pension and a comfortable retirement was possible. The dream of owning a home and putting food on the table was a reality.

Now, we are forced into a hyper-competitive (and unrealistic) model of unattainable career advancement. The white-collar workforce has become an oppressively elitist segment of society, neglecting to remind themselves that their luxury cars had to be built by a laborer – someone who possesses skills they themselves most likely don’t have.

Personally, I wasn’t cut out for manual labor (apparently a lack of muscles makes me unfit for jobs that require them). Or the daily grind of a statistician (lack of mathematical prowess and logical thinking disqualifies me). Instead, I work at a job that suits my own strengths. It’s high time that we reminded ourselves that any society needs variety – variety of skill sets and variety in life. But the fact that one person runs a company and another wires houses or fixes clogged toilets does not mean that any person is of any greater value than the next. (Trust me, no amount of luxury cars in a garage is going to fix your overflowing toilet. There’s no app for that.) (There probably is an app for that.)

The discussion now focuses on the stereotype that the poor are lazy, which is something I’d love to put to the test. Let’s take your $70k/year job and pay you $12/hour for it. Let’s say that what you do isn’t worth that much. Let’s see you have to deal with not only the aching muscles, but the condescending tone of customers that so much resemble you by day. (Yeah, I get this a lot at Dairy Queen – somehow, my uniform and position behind the counter make me open to belittling, yet when I pass these same people on the street dressed in my professional attire, they open doors for me and say hello. Curious, isn’t it?)  Let’s see how you cope. Let’s see how good you are at balancing your budget, at cutting coupons, at working 14 hour days to feed your family. After you’ve spent time being part of the working poor, I’d love to hear you talk about entitlements and handouts. (Better yet, I’d love it if you’d start your arguments with facts instead of conjecture.)

Oh, and while I’m the subject of entitlement, let’s tax the shit out of capital gains. Sorry. If my $14/hour job gets taxed at a certain rate and your millions in interest and dividends don’t count, I have every right to spit your own arguments back at you. Entitled? Yeah, I think I am. I’m entitled to same services you, services such as education, roads, and police. The services that my tax dollars pay for. The services that you expect but don’t want to pay for.

I’m not saying that our government or economy or society are in a good place. They’re not. They’re corrupt. They’re every bit as corrupt as the governments we criticize. But to attempt to deny people things that they are entitled to, especially if they work and work and still can’t make enough to make ends meet, is a travesty.

I urge you to reexamine the way the you treat other people. All people. Poor. White. Black. Rich. I urge you to think about the advantages that you had. My advantages? Education. I come from a family that put education first and foremost. And I was very lucky to have the help and assistance and support that I did. I want to use my gifts to give back to my community. I want to use my gifts to help empower all people – and to give them the gifts that I had, and ultimately, give everyone a chance to make the life they want.

I don’t support handouts to people who don’t deserve them, and I do think that often, the idea of handouts leads to a dependence on them and a perpetuation of a problem that couldn’t have been solved with assistance in the first place. But I think that everyone in our society deserves the chance to live a life that’s fruitful and happy. In order to create a sustainable future for all of our citizens, not just the rich white ones, we need to come together as a people and do some serious reevaluation of our principles. Perhaps some moral compass re-calibration is necessary, too.

Just a thought.

On Racism and the Windy City

Chicago is one of those strange places where cultures mingle quite happily but there’s also a prevailing sense of deep separation between different classes and races.

I don’t know the truth about what happened here, but it does seem a little bit fishy. Chicago doesn’t have the best reputation as a city that upholds human rights, particularly when the defendant is black.

(My personal opinion is that the CPD is not actually working to help you as a resident, they’re working to help themselves. I lived in fear of my own precinct for a brief period of time during my senior year of college after reporting the actions of a Sergeant in an attempt to file a simple police report.)

MARY MITCHELL: Chicago has its own Trayvon Martin-like scandal

By MARY MITCHELL mmitchell@suntimes.com April 2, 2012 10:44PM

Story Image

Howard Morgan was hospitalized in 2005 after allegedly being shot by the Chicago police. | Courtesy ABC7 Chicago

At a time when the shooting in Florida of Trayvon Martin is drawing supporters from across the country, Chicago has its own shooting scandal.

Like the Trayvon case, nothing about the 2005 shooting of Howard Morgan makes sense. Chicago police officers shot Morgan 28 times during an alleged traffic stop. However, it was Morgan who was charged with attempted murder, among other offenses.

But unlike the Trayvon case, Morgan’s wife and supporters have had a difficult time getting the media to pay attention to the case even though it involved a volatile mixture of cops and race.

Morgan is African-American. All of the police officers involved in the shooting are white.

“This man is the only man in the world who was shot 28 times and still alive to tell the truth about what happened,” Rosalind Morgan told me during a telephone interview on Monday. “This is crazy. There’s been a news blackout. I had to go outside to get someone to help.”

After a second trial, Morgan was convicted of attempted murder and is scheduled to be sentenced at 26th and California at 8 a.m. Thursday amid protests that the second trial amounted to double jeopardy.

“He should have been acquitted of the remaining charges,” Rosalind Morgan argued. “His constitutional rights were violated. He did not have a fair trial.”

Occupy Chicago protesters are planning to demonstrate in front of the Cook County Courthouse Thursday, although uniformed police officers are expected to pack the courtroom. Morgan faces up to 80 years in prison.

Morgan, a former Chicago police officer, was working as a policeman for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Line in 2005 when he was shot 28 times by four white police officers during a traffic stop.

Although the police officers alleged Morgan opened fire when they tried to arrest him, the fusillade of bullets turned Morgan a human sieve and put him in the hospital for seven months.

He was later charged with four counts of attempted murder; three counts of aggravated battery and one count of aggravated discharge of a firearm at a police officer.

Morgan languished in jail until an anonymous donor put up the $2 million bond.

In 2007, a jury acquitted Morgan of aggravated battery and discharging a weapon at a police officer. They deadlocked on attempted murder charges.

Prosecutors retried the case and in January, and a second jury found Morgan guilty on the attempted murder counts. Morgan’s supporters argue that the verdict subjected him to double jeopardy because he was acquitted in the first trial of discharging a weapon.

“It’s just wrong. They want to sweep this under the carpet and don’t want to take the blame,” the wife said.

“All of the young people who were victims of police shootings are dead. They can’t tell their side of the story. Mr. Morgan was shot 28 times — 21 in the back of his body and seven times in the front. The man deserves to be treated fairly,” she said.

This controversial police shooting occurred around the same time the cover was being pulled on police torture and corruption in Chicago.

Yet similar to the public’s initial nonchalance with respect to the Jon Burge torture victims, the Morgan case hasn’t sparked any protests.

“None of the big ministers have gotten involved. Jesse Jackson hasn’t stepped in,” Morgan told me.

I caught up to Jackson in Memphis where he is taking part in observances marking the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson’s been all over the Trayvon Martin shooting. But he agreed that it has been difficult for the public to sustain outrage over the Morgan shooting.

“When he first got shot, we visited him in the hospital,” Jackson said. “After the first trial, we thought we won the case, but this has gone up and down. We intend to go to court with him on April 5th, and a number of our people intend to be in the courtroom,” he said.

“This [police involved shootings] is pervasive.”

Meanwhile, the Morgans are pursuing a civil suit in federal court against the police officers.

“It’s horrible, but I have to take up the mantle of justice for my husband,” the wife said. “If they can get away with double jeopardy, they can get away with anything.”

Howard Morgan, Black Off-Duty Cop Shot 28 Times By White Chicago Officers, Faces Sentencing

Posted: 04/ 3/2012 1:39 pm Updated: 04/ 4/2012 11:02 am

Howard Morgan Shot 28 Times

Howard Morgan.

As much of the country follows the Trayvon Martin case, activists in Chicago are hoping to bring some of that attention to Howard Morgan, a former Chicago police officer who was shot 28 times by white officers — and lived to tell his side of the story.

Morgan was off-duty as a detective for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad when he was pulled over for driving the wrong way on a one-way street on Feb 21, 2005, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. While both police and Morgan agree on that much, what happened next is a mystery.

According to police, Morgan opened fire with his service weapon when officers tried to arrest him, which caused them to shoot him 28 times. His family, however, very much doubts those claims.

“Four white officers and one black Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad police man with his weapon on him — around the corner from our home — and he just decided to go crazy? No. That’s ludicrous,” Morgan’s wife, Rosalind Morgan, told the Sun-Times.

She was not the only person to doubt CPD’s side of the story. A Change.org petitionsigned by more than 2,600 people called for all charges against Morgan to be dropped, and now Occupy Chicago is getting involved.

“After being left for dead, he survived and was then charged with attempted murder of the four white officers who brutalized him,” Occupy wrote on their website, adding that Morgan was found not guilty on three counts, including discharging his weapon. The same jury that cleared him of opening fire on the officers, however, deadlocked on a charge of attempted murder — and another jury found him guilty in January.

That jury was not allowed to hear that Morgan had been acquitted of the other charges.

Protesters and Morgan’s family say the second trial amounted to double jeopardy, and claim officers have gone to great lengths to obstruct justice in the case:

Howard Morgan’s van was crushed and destroyed without notice or cause before any forensic investigation could be done….

Howard Morgan was never tested for gun residue to confirm if he even fired a weapon on the morning in question.

The State never produced the actual bullet proof vest worn by one of the officers who claimed to have allegedly taken a shot directly into the vest on the morning in question. The State only produced a replica.

“If they can do this and eliminate double jeopardy and your constitutional rights, then my God, I fear for every Afro-American — whether they be male or female — in this corrupt unjust system,” Morgan’s wife told the Sun-Times.

Howard Morgan will be sentenced Thursday. He faces 80 years in prison.

 

from www.freehowardmorgan.com :

Free Howard Morgan Flyer

On Black Babies Who Grow Up to Become Black People

I know a white woman with a black daughter.

I babysat the daughter when she was just a baby. There was a terrible incident with a sweet potato and a microwave and smoke. The baby cried when I put her on the porch so that she would be out of harm’s way while I dealt with smoke detectors and disposed of the blackened mass in the microwave. (Talk about a moment of sheer panic!) The baby cried. I soothed her tears, read her stories, and distracted her. She smiled. By the end of that warm summer evening, with all the windows open to air out the rancid smell of burnt potato, that beautiful baby was laughing. Oh my god, her laugh. I’ll never forget it. It’s loud and clear, the epitome of pure joy. It bounces off the walls and fills your soul with the kind of happiness that you couldn’t ever buy. She lights up when she laughs. She’s clever and quick; she loves to dance around, loves to read, loves to play. I’ll never forget the sight of her in her footed pajamas jumping around, playing hide and seek with me. She giggled when I popped up, then I hid again, and reappeared. Her face cracked. The laugh spilled out into the coming night. My heart overflowed.

The woman adopted the baby and brought her home and loved (loves) her, just like my parents did with me.

But that baby is black.

It’s the first thing that many people comment on. I know, because I’ve read her mother’s posts. I’ve heard the annoyance, felt the pain. The comments don’t just come from white people, either. That mother is attempting to do the best she can for that beautiful child. To her, diversity is important. They have all sorts of friends who come in all sorts of colors. They do colorful things, eat colorful foods, live a colorful life. And no, I’m not just talking about racial diversity. I’m talking about life. They lead a beautiful, charming life.

So who cares?

Well, this mother cares. Knowing that her daughter is exposed to everything is important to her. She wants to educate her and show her the world. All of it.

And apparently, a lot of people care enough to comment. Even if they don’t think they’re doing it. They say critical things. They ask rude questions.

The baby will grow up. The baby will become a young woman. She will go to college. She will become an adult. She may even have children of her own someday. She’ll have the support that she needs; she’ll have all the love in the world behind her. She’ll face challenges, of course, as all babies who grow up do, but she’ll also have to learn a lot about race and our country. She’ll some day face adversity. She might even face hatred.

That sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

And while we all sit there and talk about how we have such diverse friend groups, and how it’s such a shame that racism exists, we’re not doing enough. We can do better. That doesn’t just go for white people either. Everybody needs to be better. Everybody CAN be better. It just takes a step or three in the right direction and pretty soon you’re on a better path.

No one should ever have to face the prospect of explaining racial inequality to their child.

We’re not afraid of black babies. (You all know that I’m such a huge fan of babies anyway, but oh my god, they’re ALL so cute!) No one is afraid of toddlers, or children. Those babies grow into gangly adolescents, with long arms and silly haircuts. Those babies listen to music that you’d most likely consider noise. They struggle to find their place in the world. They dream and laugh and love. They learn, they grow, they get jobs. They go to concerts. They go out to eat. They watch tv. They are exactly like all the rest of the young adults in the world.

But once those children start to grow up, start to become adults, people start to get a little nervous. They edge away on the bus; they hold their bags a little tighter; they look at their feet instead of making eye contact.

Do you do that, even unconsciously? If you do, you might want to reexamine your approach. Because when someone does that, they’re doing the worst thing that can ever happen to a child, an adolescent, or a young adult. When they do that, they’re invalidating everything that that child/adolescent/young adult/adult knows. They’re sending them the message that they’re afraid. Of them. They’re sending the message that they assume the worst. From them. They’re sending a message. That message says, “You’re not equal. You’re not okay. You’ll never be good enough.”

You don’t want to send those messages, do you? Of course not. You’re a good person. But good is relative. Be a better person. I hate to quote the Marines here, but “be all that you can be.” (That is the Marines, right?)

I promised myself I wouldn’t dive into a sociological rant, and I’m doing my best not to. Black doesn’t just have negative social implications. There are negative employment, economic, educational implications. We must stop this. We must fight to change the way we view color in our society, in our world. We must act. That doesn’t mean you have to join a diversity club or march around Civic Center Park on a Sunday with a giant sign. All you have to do is start implementing small changes in your own life. Trust me, they’ll ripple out around you like you’d tossed a stone into water. Everyone’s ripples can create giant waves of change. (So what if that’s a lame metaphor?)

The next time you get nervous on a bus, or in line at the grocery store, or wherever, think about this: the person you’re not looking at was once a baby. That person has a mother and a father. That person has family, maybe brothers and sisters. That person has hopes, and dreams, and inside jokes with people. That person has a beautiful smile. By humanizing the person you’re edging away from, you might be able to open channels of communication, create the possibility of love in your heart. Start thinking of them as a dynamic human being. Smile. Ask them how their day is going. You might be pleasantly surprised by their response.

When I was sixteen, I started working at a local Dairy Queen. As we were about to close for the night, our cleaning guy Melvin would come in. Melvin was a middle-aged man with a raspy voice and rough hands. He had a wife and a ten-year old daughter who was at the top of her fourth-grade class (I know because I double-checked – and sometimes helped out with – her homework). Melvin and I would sit on the concrete sidewalk outside the store for a while after we closed. He’d always pull this beat-up orange cushion out of his van and sit on it, while lecturing me about my own sitting habits. He told me that if I continued sitting on the ground with no cushion, I’d get hemorrhoids. (For the record, he was wrong.) He taught me a lot about love. When I was seventeen, and in love with a boy who was never going to love me back, he watched my heart break and told me that I deserved better. I loved Melvin. I was always happy to see his headlights pull into the parking lot. I felt safer when he was there. (I was robbed at gunpoint when I was seventeen. The robber was white.) He had a beautiful laugh; he told wonderful (if entirely inappropriate) jokes; he was the best cleaner we ever had. After he left, we couldn’t replace him. No one was the same. Melvin died a while ago, of lung cancer. He was a black man. But more than that, he was a wonderful man.

Let me tell you this – your life will be a sad and lonely place if you don’t let people in. It’s not about what they look like or what they do, it’s about who they are. Everyone has something to give you, something to share with you, something to teach you.

Everybody was a baby once. Everybody has loved, lost, and learned. Everyone has stories to share and jokes to tell. Everyone is dynamic in their own way.

Speaking of babies, here’s the story that inspired this: A black baby who grew up to be a young man, is now dead because someone is an idiot. 17-year old Trayvon Martin lived in a gated community in Florida with his dad and brother. During the NBA All-Star game in February, he went to buy some skittles and an iced tea. On his way home, the neighborhood watch guy – one George Zimmerman – followed him, questioned him, and ultimately, shot and killed him. Trayvon had nothing wrong. Following his murder, Zimmerman wasn’t arrested. He’s been receiving death threats. He says that he killed Trayvon because he looked “suspicious.” Yep. That terrible word.

I’ve been loosely following this story, but I think that this post says so much: (The post was written by a white blogger.)

White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin

Posted March 19, 2012 by Michael Skolnik

I will never look suspicious to you. Even if I have a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers on…in fact, that is what I wore yesterday…I still will never look suspicious. No matter how much the hoodie covers my face or how baggie my jeans are, I will never look out of place to you.  I will never watch a taxi cab pass me by to pick someone else up. I will never witness someone clutch their purse tightly against their body as they walk by me.  I won’t have to worry about a police car following me for two miles, so they can “run my plates.”  I will never have to pay before I eat. And I certainly will never get “stopped and frisked.”  I will never look suspicious to you, because of one thing and one thing only.  The color of my skin.  I am white.

I was born white.  It was the card I was dealt.  No choice in the matter.  Just the card handed out by the dealer. I have lived my whole life privileged. Privileged to be born without a glass ceiling. Privileged to grow up in the richest country in the world.  Privileged to never look suspicious.  I have no guilt for the color of my skin or the privilege that I have.  Remember, it was just the next card that came out of the deck.  But, I have choices.  I got choices on how I play the hand I was dealt.  I got a lot of options.  The ball is in my court.

So, today I decided to hit the ball.  Making a choice.  A choice to stand up for Trayvon Martin. 17 years old. black. innocent. murdered with a bag of skittles and a bottle of ice tea in his hands. “Suspicious.” that is what the guy who killed him said he looked like cause he had on a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers.  But, remember I had on that same outfit yesterday.  And yes my Air Force Ones were “brand-new” clean.  After all, I was raised in hip-hop…part of our dress code.  I digress.  Back to Trayvon and the gated community in Sanford, Florida, where he was visiting his father.

I got a lot of emails about Trayvon.  I have read a lot of articles.  I have seen a lot of television segments.  The message is consistent.  Most of the commentators, writers, op-ed pages agree.  Something went wrong.  Trayvon was murdered.  Racially profiled. Race. America’s elephant that never seems to leave the room. But, the part that doesn’t sit well with me is that all of the messengers of this message are all black too.  I mean, it was only two weeks ago when almost every white person I knew was tweeting about stopping a brutal African warlord from killing more innocent children.  And they even took thirty minutes out of their busy schedules to watch a movie about dude.  They bought t-shirts.  Some bracelets. Even tweeted at Rihanna to take a stance.  But, a 17 year old American kid is followed and then ultimately killed by a neighborhood vigilante who happens to be carrying a semi-automatic weapon and my white friends are quiet.  Eerily quiet. Not even a trending topic for the young man.

We’ve heard the 911 calls. We seen the 13 year old witness.  We’ve read the letter from the alleged killer’s father.  We listened to the anger of the family’s attorney.  We’ve felt the pain of Trayvon’s mother.  For heaven’s sake, for 24 hours he was a deceased John Doe at the hospital because even the police couldn’t believe that maybe he LIVES in the community.   There are still some facts to figure out. There are still some questions to be answered.  But, let’s be clear.  Let’s be very, very clear. Before the neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, started following him against the better judgement of the 911 dispatcher.  Before any altercation.  Before any self-defense claim.  Before Travyon’s cries for help were heard on the 911 tapes.  Before the bullet hit him dead in the chest.  Before all of this.  He was suspicious.  He was suspicious. suspicious. And you know, like I know, it wasn’t because of the hoodie or the jeans or the sneakers.  Cause I had on that same outfit yesterday and no one called 911 saying I was just wandering around their neighborhood.  It was because of one thing and one thing only.  Trayvon is black.

So I’ve made the choice today to tell my white friends that the rights I take for granted are only valid if I fight to give those same rights to others.  The taxi cab. The purse. The meal. The police car. The police. These are all things I’ve taken for granted.

So, I fight for Trayvon Martin.  I fight for Amadou Diallo.  I fight for Rodney King.  I fight for every young black man who looks “suspicious” to someone who thinks they have the right to take away their freedom to walk through their own neighborhood.  I fight against my own stereotypes and my own suspicions. I fight for people whose ancestors built this country, literally, and who are still treated like second class citizens.  Being quiet is not an option, for we have been too quiet for too long.

-Michael Skolnik

Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik

Read more: http://globalgrind.com/node/828497#ixzz1phB5TcWR

"I was born a poor black child"

Sometimes I’m grateful that my attention span is equivalent to that of a golden retriever. It leads me places I never expected to go. Today, I was reading about legal issues involving lawyers accessing sensitive information from their iPads, smartphones, etc and I got sidetracked, thus stumbling on this gem of an opinion piece from Gene Marks in Forbes.

Marks spends two pages talking about how he’s a lucky white man in his mid-40s, reaping the benefits of his white privilege, and then he decides to posit that black kids from the inner cities are going to be fine if they just learn how to read, and learn how to write code, and somehow stumble on the right answers and the right direction. 
He gets points for freely admitting that it’s circumstance that places kids on such separate paths from birth – the circumstances of color and economic standing. But he fails so hard at realizing that what he’s trying to get across – this idea of the self-made man, the epitome of the American Dream – is just that, a pipe dream. 
He starts out just fine here:

The President’s speech got me thinking.  My kids are no smarter than similar kids their age from the inner city.  My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia.  The world is not fair to those kids mainly because they had the misfortune of being born two miles away into a more difficult part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the President spoke about that much harder.  This is a fact.  In 2011.
I am not a poor black kid.  I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background.  So life was easier for me.  But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city.  It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them.   Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind.  I don’t believe that.  I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed.  Still.  In 2011.  Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.

But that’s also where he starts to go wrong. Sort of. I’m not wowed by the fact that of course it’s the poor black kids in these inner-city neighborhoods – I realize that to make his point he has to give an example that’s stereotypical enough to make sense to a wide variety of readers, but then again, he’s just reinforcing the lack of expectations that we have for our black citizens. He’s unintentionally setting “poor black kids” up for failure based solely on their color. This annoys me – there are a ton of white kids who come from wealthy neighborhoods who somehow manage to never make anything of themselves, just as there are a ton of kids of all colors who do the same. Just like there are a ton of motivated, successful, intelligent people who come from diverse backgrounds. 
But his article ends without ever really exploring the real obstacles to success.  Marks completely ignores entire segments of life that can’t be forgotten when trying to figure out why inner-city kids are so screwed. 

President Obama was right in his speech last week.  The division between rich and poor is a national problem.  But the biggest challenge we face isn’t inequality.   It’s ignorance.  So many kids from West Philadelphia don’t even know these opportunities exist for them.  Many come from single-parent families whose mom or dad (or in many cases their grand mom) is working two jobs to survive and are just (understandably) too plain tired to do anything else in the few short hours they’re home.  Many have teachers who are overburdened and too stressed to find the time to help every kid that needs it.  Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids.  Except that my kids are just lucky enough to have parents and a well-funded school system around to push them in the right direction.
Technology can help these kids.  But only if the kids want to be helped.  Yes, there is much inequality.  But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.

Marks touches on the sociological impact that the neighborhoods these kids are growing up in has on them, but he doesn’t explore it, and that’s where I find the most fault with this article. He’s looking at his “poor black kid” self without realizing that there’s a lot more to it than desire. There’s a lot more to it than drive, than ignorance. I mean, yeah, not knowing what’s out there can really hurt you. But Skype-ing with other students in your school who want to succeed just like you do is a dumb suggestion.

That’s never going to fly. Why is that? Because of the expectations of masculinity that we place on our boys. We’ve been hearing all about how black men are falling behind black women as black women become more and more educated; we hear about the decline of the black family, caused by the decline in marriage. We put this on the black women, some of whom don’t want to marry a black man based on the fact that she’s out-earning him and that she’s far more successful. We have completely forgotten about our black men. We don’t want them to be super nerdy, we don’t want them to be thugs, we don’t value them if they don’t conform to the white elite’s expectations of what a black man should be.

But all of that starts at a much younger age. These black kids – who grow up to be black men – are receiving mixed messages. They’re watching the glorification of gangsters in pop music, in pop culture, in movies and tv shows. They’re watching their friends and relatives go to prison (the odds are that 1 in 5 that a black man will go to prison at some point in his life). But more than that is the fact that to fit in and thrive in this social environment – the entirely socially constructed idea of “black”, they must mirror the actions and behaviors of their peers as a way to earn respect. This is where the problem of black being equal to ghetto becomes problematic. There is no need for such associations, and yet we all make them. And kids grow up thinking that to own their identity is to engage is behaviors that correspond with the perceptions of what that identity is.

White people – men, specifically – don’t have to work for that respect as hard because they have it. Their power is less tangible. It’s in their jobs. It’s in their suits. It’s in their bank accounts. But for a black man, one who is going to be targeted and profiled by police and just about everyone he’ll meet in his life, power and respect have to be earned in a more physical way. This is where the violence begins. To be super brainy and black in an inner city school isn’t going to make you friends. And the kind of bullying that goes on there is much different than the kind of bullying we are seeing at upper-class white middle schools.

Kids who are smart and well-read are still going to fall through the cracks, even if they have the support systems that Marks assumes they lack. He’s correct in bringing up that they may not have the family backing – but he seems to be negating the importance of familial expectations and involvement. There is no way that a 10 year old kid who has to make sure his siblings have dinner, get baths, and get into bed on time is going to have time to seek out extracurricular scholastic help. And he’s not going to find leadership and mentors through sports programs – the gear and economic involvement required to be a part of the team can’t possibly be met by a struggling family.

So let’s not assume that Skype, EverNote, etc. are going to be the tools that launch this hypothetical “poor black” Marks into the 1%. He talks about private school scholarships and how black kids just need to get on the internet and let these elite school boards know how they can improve the appearance of diversity for only the cost of reduced tuition. Wow. Let’s talk about devaluing personhood for a second.
No poor black kid should have the self-awareness to use that angle. No kid should have to use their skin color as a bargaining chip. By doing so, they are saying that they are not worth the same amount that those rich white kids are. That’s already the message that the white elite is hammering home, let’s not force kids to have to de-value themselves in order to get a better education.

We haven’t even covered college yet. But wait, Marks does. Just for a second.

There is financial aid available. There are programs available. And no matter what he or she majors in that person will have opportunities. They will find jobs in a country of business owners like me who are starved for smart, skilled people. They will succeed.

Oh, how could we have forgotten? Financial aid. The magical salve that heals all and makes dreams come true. I’m calling shenanigans. Financial aid and programs aren’t going to send you to the Ivy League school of your dreams, the ones those “poor black kids” might be reading about on their low-cost computers that they manged to buy (how, again?). Even if you end up at your local community college, your success is in no way guaranteed. Financial aid only gets you so far. And then you have travel expenses. And then you have books. And pens. And those stupid class projects that require the purchasing of dumb materials. And then there’s eating. And oh, wait, not again – that whole fitting in thing. Being a poor kid at a rich school is not a cakewalk.

Having a college degree doesn’t make you successful. Wanting something better for yourself doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find it. Yeah, the dream is alive. But that doesn’t meant that we should assume that it’s attainable. It’s not just as simple as, “Oh, I want to go to college and learn stuff so I can get a great job!” and pow! Holy shit, that’s one successful middle-aged black dude right there.

There’s a lot more to it. Being white and assuming that everyone will be afforded the same luxuries as you isn’t helping anything. Being white and segregating isn’t helping either. You’re putting black kids into a box that it’s really hard to get out of. You’re making nasty assumptions. You’re fostering racist attitudes that have perpetuated social and racial problems in the US for too long.

This isn’t about the 1%, or the American Dream. This is a sad excuse for technology-based journalism.

(By the way, most of the commenters didn’t take too kindly to the article either.)

Source: Forbes 

"Shame on all of you."

Yesterday’s post got me thinking.

Racism blows. We can reiterate that until we’re blue in the face.

And qualifying my perspective as being that of a white person isn’t nearly enough.
I need to qualify myself as educated, white, woman, and liberal.
That changes things.

I compared it to being gay. (Why? I don’t know – it was the easiest [not the best] way to make my point during our lunch discussion.) I spend so much time around my gay friends that I don’t see them as gay. It’s normalized for me. It’s not a thing. There’s no need to draw a line, to point out the distinctions, to separate.

I want my kids to be so exposed to people that they stop seeing lines and start seeing people.

It’s the same as being _____. [Insert “other” there.]

The more we talk about “other,” the more we emphasize it. The more we dwell.

Then I started thinking about the real world. (Sighing as I type this. Oh, real world.) There’s not as much integration, not as much teamwork, community building, respect, tolerance….my list could go on…. as there could be. Certain solutions to “other”-ism or “other”-phobia aren’t going to work for people with different mindsets – I forget that. The solution remains elusive.

But I would like to point out that even as we evolve to tolerate and eventually accept one “other,” we replace it with another “other.”

Division based on class differences, social differences, education differences: we’re all guilty of it. I think part of being human is forming bonds with people who share similarities to you and then ostracizing people who don’t have those interests, features, or characteristics. It’s up to us to transcend that.

It’s hard, though. I judge stupid people for doing stupid things. I’m sure people judge me for doing stupid shit all the time. I judge girls who wear Ugg boots, yet I get judged for my “if you can’t wear it with black flats, why are you wearing it at all?” mentality (I do consider that judgement entirely deserved, for the record. I’ve grown out of Birkenstock mode…at least until I find my other black clog). I really try to promote a sense of solidarity among women, yet I know a few women I’d like to punch in the face. So here I am, being just as much of a hypocrite as the rest of us. At least I’m thinking about it, though.

Granted, we all aren’t going to get along. It’s not possible. But we should at least strive to respect and understand. Also, not possible.  But ideal. And beautiful.

I was going to post last week about the suicide of a gay teen on the East Coast. I didn’t. I was too disgusted (not by him, by his tormentors). After his death, the people who taunted him continued to do so. They said they were glad he was dead. That the world was a better place. For him, it didn’t get better. That’s one reason we need to stop spreading hate.

That night I was watching the Big Bang Theory at home. And this clip really put it all into perspective for me. Please watch it.

A girl brings home a rather unintelligent date, and her neighbors (all science geeks) make fun of him mercilessly.

Zach (date): “Oh, I see. You guys are inferring that I’m stupid.”

Sheldon (one of the neighbors): “That’s not correct. We were implying it. You then inferred it.”

Penny (girl): “You know, for a group of guys who claim they spent most of their lives being bullied, you can be real jerks. Shame on all of you.”

Truth.

On Sluts. And the Racism/Feminism divide.

I’ve written about SlutWalks before, but a quick history: they stem from comments made by a police officer giving a speech. In it, he implied that women could avoid being raped by not wearing provocative clothing. The comments prompted so-called SlutWalks in major cities across the world. Women (and men) have marched (and are still marching) in protest.

To be clear, I really hate the word “slut.” It’s not a word I feel any inclination to reclaim. I don’t want to be called “slut.” I don’t want to call myself “slut.” It sends shivers up my spine. But I really like how moved people were to try and do something about it.

We live in a culture that is not supportive of women, of their clothing, or of their victimization. Rape victims are often reprimanded. Rather than addressing the rapists, we address the victims with criticism, complaints, judgement. New Jersey just passed a law to ensure that victims don’t have to pay for their own rape kit processing. As of August 15, it hadn’t been signed.

We were driving out of Chicago last summer and passed a scantily clothed woman on the South Side. “She’s just asking for it,” said my passenger. I nearly slammed on the brakes and made him walk. I turned to him and, while agreeing that her clothing was inappropriate for 4pm on a weekday, asked him how he’d feel if it was me who was being judged. Or how he’d feel if I got raped. “Would it be my fault?” I asked him. I often wonder what would happen, since I’m so outspoken about sexuality and sexual issues. Were I to be raped, would anyone believe me? Would I lose the respect of my peers?

Granted, there are things you can do to help mitigate the potential for rape, but often, nothing can be done. Rape is not the fault of the victim, no matter the circumstance.

The article below, published on the Ms. magazine website October 5, 2011, addresses the issues of racism within the feminist movement.

A few months ago, I purchased Girl Drive, a  look at everyday women across America. What struck me was the disconnect that people reported feeling between feminism and their cultures. They spoke about feminism being for white girls. I actually fit the definition of their idea of what a feminist was: it’s the academic, middle-class, white girl (basically college me). They spoke about being black rather than being a feminist. Or about being black before being a feminist. It’s as though the idea of being a black feminist was impossible. Culture comes first. And sometimes, there’s not enough room for both.

On the surface, it seems simple to bridge the gap between race and feminism. But it’s not. Peace and love is way harder than you’d think.

Another article, mentioned in the article below, discusses other issues associated with black feminism. It argues that white women have benefited from the “racialized virgin/whore dichotomy,” by fostering distrust of white women and blinding the white women to “what a SlutWalk would look like in solidarity with black women, with low-income women” etc. I don’t entirely agree with that. I don’t think that any women have benefited from the dichotomy, and that separation of women (by race, by income level, by immigration status, etc) only hinders our progress as we must fight among ourselves before we can fight for something else.

[Some] White women embrace feminism and that shouldn’t be a reason that anyone else can’t embrace feminism as well. People do. There are feminists of all colors. There are poor feminists and rich feminists.  Feminists who are double-jointed and feminists who aren’t. Feminists who have longer second toes. Feminists who have wonky ears and who have no taste in music.

I am finding that more and more of racial tension (in specific situations and circumstances, not across the board) stems from our attempts to address and acknowledge differences because regardless of our own color, we’re so hypersensitive to it. (It exists. We all see it. I absolutely accept that I have “white privilege” but disagree that it blinds me entirely.)

I realize that racism is still alive and well. Racism happens every day in institutions, from schools to prisons, in the media, in government. By acknowledging race before we acknowledge any other characteristic, we’re limiting the scope of our focus. We can’t see any further. Therefore, we make no progress.

I think that to move past it, we must put it aside. As educated individuals, we must simply step over it rather than letting it be a line that both sides draw. It has to start somewhere. It will trickle out around us. It will grow in the minds of our children. Progress.

As women, we can be that beginning. We can work together as women united by a stronger cause. We can embrace our differences, learn from each other, and begin to create a strong network of support. Regardless of color, women must realize that other women are not the enemy. Neither are men.

The enemy is the idea of inequality, of implied consent. The enemy lies in assumptions.

It is possible to be many things at once. Our connections, our histories, all of those things could lead us to create powerful webs of community. Instead, we let them divide us. We must stop seeing everyone as fractured statistics and start seeing them as whole people before we make any progress on this.

I agree with the author (of the second article – linked here) when she closes by saying:

There’s a reason why many rape survivors don’t come forward with their experiences. They do not want to be subject to such words by a larger society that still blames victims. At least the SlutWalk boldly takes on that word, and in doing so, invites us to empty it of its power and its racist, classist, hetero/sexist meanings.  Whether that’s possible is another debate, but for now, it’s useful to remember what Emi Koyama once wrote: “Everyone is safe when sluts are safe.”

What NYC SlutWalk Was, and What It Wasn’t

October 5, 2011 by  · Leave a Comment 
Union Square was packed when I arrived at this weekend’s inaugural New York SlutWalk. The crowd was mostly women, mostly young and mostly white. Clothing styles ranged from topless to scanty to normal street garb to formal. One woman wore a business suit. A common thread was “slut” in red and black markers across foreheads, arms, backs and chests. The red-and-black writing was striking: People silently write “slut” across a girl’s chest everyday, but here it was, literalized.
I wandered through the 3,000-person crowd amid signs such as “Women are Souls, Not Holes” and “If I was asking for it, I would ask for it.” “This is what I was wearing when I was raped” read one sign held by a woman in pajamas. Another held pictures of her battered body from a sexual assault a few weeks prior. As I talked with her and other NYC SlutWalkers, they all kept using the same word: empowerment. For many of them, it was the first time they had ever participated in a march about women’s rights, and it was the first time they felt surrounded by other people who “got it.”
When I finally found my way to the SlutWalk organizers, I was feeling pretty slutty and powerful myself. I’d even found a “Slut Pride” pin and attached it to my shirt. But as I reviewed my prepared questions, I remembered the serious qualms I and other feminists had with SlutWalk, such as the recent criticisms from women of color. When I asked Holly Meyer, one of the organizers, about these critiques, she had a simple response:
We have always been inclusive. We’ve always said anyone is welcome to come to our meetings, we’ve never excluded any group. It’s unfortunate that some people have that perspective and don’t feel welcome, but our message is to end sexual violence.
Plain and simple. The point of SlutWalk isn’t complicated. Or, at least, the NYC SlutWalk organizers don’t seem to think so.
Holly was proud to say that many of rally’s official performances were by women of color. From what I witnessed, those performers focused on calling for solidarity and inclusiveness, but did not get into the unique experiences that black and other marginalized women have had with sexual violence and words like “slut.” For example, Amber Stewart of Radical Women said during her performance:
We have to work to tear down racism, because there is no place in this movement for an Us versus Them mentality. We need all voices, all concerns brought to the table.
Holly told me some other great things about the NYC SlutWalk, like its pressure on the NYPD to have sensitivity trainings or its calls to the FBI asking for a change in the FBI’s definition of rape.
Despite all this, it’s easy to criticize the NYC SlutWalk as a rally for privileged white feminists, especially when women of color at the rally were few and far between. I also couldn’t help but wince when I saw a group of men staring, mouths open, at the woman in lingerie pole-dancing on the back of bike during the march. If I talked to those men today, I doubt they could tell me what the march was about.
Overall, however, I left the NYC SlutWalk feeling like it was a work in progress. Yes, it should focus more squarely on women of color issues. But it brought out thousands of New Yorkers against sexual violence at a time when Brooklyn NYPD are telling women not to wear skirts to avoid being raped. It allowed 3,000 New Yorkers to feel like they were in power for a few hours on a Saturday. We should ask SlutWalks to graduate to a higher level of feminist thinking that addresses race and deeper issues within rape culture, but I think we should also recognize them for the work in their freshman year.
Photo of SlutWalk NYC sign holder from Flickr user David Shankbone under Creative Commons 2.0.