On Rape and Rising, Hopefully

[There are potential triggers in this post re: rape. Please do not proceed if this may make you uncomfortable.]

“Rape” is a four-letter word.

I’ve written before about my journey to the realization about the devastation of rape (I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?). Now that I’m fully aware of not only the physical effects but the emotional and psychological devastation caused by rape, I’m burning with rage about it.

My friends and I have spent a lot of time discussing the gray areas surrounding the concept of sexual assault and rape. It’s a harrowing topic, because the more it’s discussed, the more it doesn’t make sense anymore. There’s the “maybe” and the “I don’t know” and the “intent,” but at the end of the day, regardless of where any act stands on the spectrum, it’s a harmful, traumatic experience, period.

It was one of my friends, during a recent discussion about rape amazed me with his passion, who reminded me why it’s not a fruitless endeavor to fight for change. His anger, his emphasis, the sincerity in his voice – it brought me out of the removed apathy that so many of us don when we’re hesitant. It brought me into the present; it ignited a part of my soul.

They say that rape is about power, and I guess that to a certain extent it is. But it’s more than that, too. It’s about having your power taken from you. Rape, gray area rape or legitimate rape or date rape or sexual assault or whatever else you can think to call it, takes away your power. It makes you feel weak inside. It makes you skittish and scared; it makes you hurt all over; it makes you burn with shame, even though you know that it’s not your fault.

It’s under-reported. I can empathize with those women (or men) who for any number of reasons, cannot report it, and suffer in silence. I think of the Kobe Bryant trial. I don’t care whether or not it was rape – look at what happened to the victim. She was shamed, called horrible names, doubted, had her life spread before the eyes of the world and then slowly dismantled to be examined. So often, it comes down to “he said, she said” and nothing can be proven.

(I should note here that one of my biggest pet peeves is when people assume that women are “crying rape” for attention. I don’t think anyone should ever misreport anything, and it’s disgraceful to do it – but at the same time, every time someone reports something, people are so quick to make critical judgments and I think that says a ridiculous amount of negative things about humanity.)

The statistic that 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped within her lifetime is terrifying. One billion women. One billion. (I’m imaging Mike Meyers as Dr. Evil saying “one million dollars” right now….)

Think about that number. Really think about that. What does that say? What does that say about men? What does that say about our tolerance for violence? What does that say about our inclination to make women bear the brunt of the responsibility for actions committed against them?

The world is not a safe place. It never has been. But that’s not an excuse for us to stop working toward something better. I hate the idea that women are weak. I hate it. But I understand it.

During college, I took a Transgender English class – liberal arts, I know – and we read a story about a college professor who transitioned from male to female. I hated the book at the time – she wrote about embracing femininity in a way I found to be so shallow, materialistic, and stereotypical. She wrote about the vulnerability that she felt when she felt the wind between her thighs when she was wearing a skirt.

I disregarded the notion entirely. But I have gained new insight. I do understand the vulnerability. I am glad that I never realized my own vulnerability while I was living in Chicago or staying in Cape Town. I’m glad that I was bull-headed and street-smart enough to be safe.

No amount of “right decisions” can protect you. No amount of preparedness can keep you from harm. There is no such thing as safety. It’s all merely an illusion. That’s what we’ve come to as a society. Our gated communities and fancy security guards are nothing. Trust is irrelevant, an outdated idea shirked in favor of deceit and false self-truths.

Enough is enough. Listen to Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues!) say some powerful stuff about the movement called “One Billion Rising.” People are breaking their silence. They’re letting go of the discomfort that they feel when discussing something as taboo as rape and sexually motivated violence. They’re realizing that something needs to change. People need to be held accountable for their actions. People need to fundamentally respect other people.

Rape is a preventable crime. It’s not preventable in the ways that have been suggested in the past, such as “dress more conservatively.” I forget who originally made the counter-point to this, but it’s so incredibly valid: what does that say about men? That they’re little more than wild beasts who will be unable to control themselves at the sight of flesh? That argument in itself is disgraceful to men and to women.

What I wear or do not wear cannot be construed as an invitation for rape or violence. What I do or say or act like cannot be construed as an invitation for rape of violence. There is no valid excuse. None at all.

We need to teach our young men that “no means no.” We need to teach them that power can be gained through other avenues that are more rewarding than acts of violence aimed at belittling and degrading other people. We need to emphasize respect – actions have consequences. Even if you can’t see the harm that’s been done, it’s there. We need to dispel the myth that sex is something to be taken, something to be claimed.

We need to remind all women that their voices and experiences matter. We as a global society need to value our women, rather than marginalizing them and quieting their voices. We need to remind women to be strong – we need to assure them that we’ll support them, heal them, and lift them up.

No one can be an island. We’re not in this fight alone. Globalization necessitates cooperation and conviction. We must work together to stop this perpetuation of violence, of hatred, of fear. Sexual violence against women (and men, too) has long been used as the ultimate bargaining tool, a source of shame and ultimate destruction. We must stop it. We must make it so that our people are free from the terror of vulnerability.

The world is willing to work for change – it’s time for us to realize that the capacity for human compassion and love is ever-present. This is a beautiful thing. Love is the essence of humanity – it keeps us strong and humble. Love is something we need to work on teaching our children. With a strong foundation, they will be less likely to take from others what they cannot find in themselves.

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 Abortion, Thoughtfully

(The opinions expressed below are mine alone; don’t get all grumpy at me – I’m just having a jumble of thoughts.)

“How can you be pro-choice if you were adopted?”

I get that question a lot.

I usually choose to answer it delicately (“delicately” is an interesting word choice, I know, given that I’m not prone to grace). I usually say that to me, pro-choice is not necessarily pro-abortion but rather, exactly as it says: pro-choice.

I believe that the choice is the most important part of the argument. Once you’ve stripped away the arguments about when life begins, what God intended, and so on, you’re left with one thing: a woman’s body.

Since I happen to be the owner of a female body (I quite like the model I’m in), I have expert, first-hand knowledge of what being a woman is. I do not, however, have knowledge of pregnancy or knowledge of having to make the choice: adoption, abortion, or raise the kid.

I believe that people who don’t have that knowledge should sit down and do some serious listening. They should listen to women who’ve had abortions; they should listen to mothers; they should listen to people who’ve given children up for adoption, as well as people who’ve adopted children; they should listen to women – women who aren’t yet pregnant, who might become pregnant, who’ve been pregnant, and otherwise. Each woman will tell you a different story.

On the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, I think we’re all in need of some listening. Not just listening, but understanding. We need to understand that we cannot force our own personal beliefs on others, just because we believe that we’re correct in our thinking. We need to understand that the law has stood for 40 years for a reason. And we have to understand that abortion is not new. Abortion existed before you, and it will exist long after your body has returned to the earth.

I don’t think I could ever have an abortion. Were I to get pregnant (“fall pregnant,” as they say in South Africa), I’m old enough now that I could handle it (mostly). I’d also have the support system I needed: my mom is going to make an excellent grandmother some day and my brother is so great with kids. It should be noted here that none of my friends want kids, so I’m going to be that nervous, awkward, unkempt wallflower mom at the Mommy and Me class. (I went to one, once, in Illinois with the little guy I was babysitting – basically my favorite baby ever. He was very uncooperative and kept getting up and wandering and I kept getting judgmental looks from all the other “mothers.” Phew. Was so glad when the final song was over and we could book it out of the library.)

It’s not just a question of age, though. It’s more than that. There are other factors, including economic and social ones. I think that economic independence is a huge factor in whether or not a parent will decide to raise a child. In fact, now that I’m on the fence about having children of my own, I think that my decision will ultimately come down to whether or not I’ll be able to afford them.

(They’re hell on the pocketbook, in case you weren’t aware. They also make you statistically less happy, but contribute to a more meaningful life. Ugh, I’ll save weighing this decision until my biological clock is screaming at me to procreate. For now, it’s all conjecture. Besides, little kids are the cutest things. Until they get weird and hormonal and teenager-y.)

I’m going to throw this thought out there:

I believe that if we make abortion illegal, we will not be stopping abortions at all, but rather driving terrified pregnant women into a very dangerous underground. I don’t think that most people would describe themselves as “all for abortion,” even the most pro-life among us. I think that most people believe that an early abortion is best, if abortion is the choice.

I think that by attempting to seriously limit access to abortions (and birth control, too), an upsurge of which we’ve seen on the political stage in recent years, we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice. Huge.

It’s easy to protect life during gestation, but it’s a lot harder to do that once the child is born. I think that people who are so vehemently pro-choice ought to do some looking into how they can help the children of this earth who have been born into situations that they cannot control, but situations that no child should ever be in. It’s one thing to support the birth of a fetus, but it’s another to support a child until he or she turns 18. I think we as a society should start looking into how we can help the children that are already on this planet.

It’s hard, because for me this discussion always takes so many turns. Abortion as birth control? Not okay. Abortion as a life-saving measure? Totally okay. What about welfare for mothers who can’t afford the babies they’re going to be forced to have? What about the strain on the system – that most pro-lifers don’t even want to pay for? We’re not creating a better society by limiting access to reproductive services, up to and including abortion.

My ending argument is this: if a child that is not wanted is born into a family, is life going to be any better for them? Are they going to end up neglected, unloved, and potentially abused? Will they have access to education and friends and the things that they need? Will they have clothes on their backs and food on the table?

I was adopted. I was (am) loved. But that doesn’t mean that life is perfect or easy. Nothing is simple. There are complications from being adopted that I will have to live with for the rest of my life. There are complications that my birth mother has and will live with, and the same goes for my parents. Being adopted is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t make everything magically better. The same goes for having and raising a child. It doesn’t end at birth – that’s when it truly begins. (Oh man, I meant for that to sound ominous and heavy. That’s totally not me claiming that life begins at birth. Don’t think that.)

One of the most beautiful things about living in the United States is our freedoms. Freedom of expression, of speech, of religion: freedom to make the choices that will carry you through life. I love that we have the choice about what to do with a pregnancy, and I respect that so many women (and men) fought so hard to make sure that we would always have that choice.



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 Education, Gratefully

My word for 2012 has been “gratitude.” I have tried to be more mindful of the wonderful blessings in my life and express gratitude in all areas of my life. First things first: I have improved dramatically at writing and remembering to send Thank-You notes. I think that may be the only real deliverable; the rest of my gratitude practice has been solely in my own mind and heart.

As I’ve been crawling, inching, barely progressing on the series Breaking Bad, I’ve been reflecting on my own life, my own decision-making rationale, my gifts and support systems. Of course, the onslaught of gratitude and related emotions has been a refreshing reminder of how beautifully hopeful and heartbreaking life can be.

But the greatest gift I’ve ever been given was my education. From the age of three, I was enrolled in private, Catholic schools. While I realize that Catholic schools are a hot-mess of crazy (this is true), I also realize how valuable the emphasis on education is. I remember begging my parents – pleading my case every single year – to let me go to public schools. They didn’t.

I went to a Christian Brothers high school, but my real luck came from the Jesuit university I attended. The Jesuits are noted for their commitment to the education of the whole person. If there’s one thing I took away from my college experience, it was “solidarity.” While Loyola may not be known for their commitment to the betterment of Rogers Park (I think it’s a no-win situation, as far as land ownership goes, but on the plus side, the Loyola stop is in pretty good condition. and there used to be a Dunkin Donuts!), they’ve always emphasized service-learning and commitment to communities of all kinds, more than just their own student body.

My professors there were not all devout Christians, but they were all devout scholars and educators (give or take a few). One of my favorite professors was a women’s studies professor who taught some of my feminist theory classes. She was a devout Catholic, but freely admitted that as a woman, she had problems with some of the catechism. I so adored her commitment to her faith but her willingness to question it and call attention to its hypocrisies and flaws. It allowed me to see the Catholic faith in a new light, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

While attending Loyola, I lived in one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city of Chicago, which is already a wonderful blend of everywhere. But that’s not the point, even though I will carry pieces of Rogers Park in my heart forever. The point is that my educational experiences have left me a more rounded, grounded, rational human being. I’ve traveled to Europe for a forensic trip because I was lucky enough to have the most badass forensic teacher (we had one of the only forensic science classes in the country at the time) ever. Loyola prepared me to open my heart and mind to the conditions in the townships in South Africa.

All of this education has left me curious, well-informed (mostly), and most importantly, someone who cares about the well-being of all human beings (solidarity, solidarity, solidarity, and so on).

Regardless of your religious views (trust me, I have plenty of opinions and don’t ever get me started about the current Pope), this article should give you hope for the future and hope that educations such as mine will continue to cultivate a love of learning in young minds everywhere:

By Carl Bunderson

Denver, Colo., Oct 16, 2012 / 03:03 am (CNA).- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School based in Denver, Colo., has nearly doubled its enrollment in just one year by introducing a classical curriculum.

“This is something people want, and they’ve wanted it for a long time, and now it’s available,” principal Rosemary Anderson told CNA Oct. 10.

Our Lady of Lourdes is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school. The parish’s pastor, Monsignor Peter Quang Nguyen, had helped turn around a number of schools in the Archdiocese of Denver which had been in danger of closing. He was assigned to Lourdes five years ago.

When Msgr. Quang hired Anderson to be principal in 2010, the school was in “quite a bit of debt” and had only 104 students enrolled. That figure is 180 today.

The school’s capacity is 235 and Anderson believes that by the next school year, “we’ll have to start wait-listing kids.”

“The biggest problem when I came on was that everyone thought the school was going under. The attitude has changed…Now people know this place will be there, and their kids are getting a phenomenal education, and parents don’t have to worry that it will close in a few years.”

“I’m very grateful for Monsignor Quang’s support. None of this would have happened if he wasn’t completely on board,” she added. “We were right in this together.”

Anderson noted that classical education is meant to help students learn how to think, rather than merely teaching them “subjects.” The program at Lourdes school was inspired by 20th century author Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” and the work of Laura Berquist, who was involved in the founding of Thomas Aquinas College – a Catholic university in southern Calif. which uses the classical model.

“She’s a huge influence,” Anderson said, “she founded a homeschooling curriculum called ‘Mother of Divine Grace’ and is brilliant in the ways of classical education.”

The foundation of classical education is a set of three methods of learning subjects, called the trivium, which is made up of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Lourdes school will focus on the grammar and logic phases, and will introduce the eighth graders to rhetoric.

The trivium “happens pretty naturally” using the classical curriculum, and ideas of grammar and logic and integrated into the subjects taught to students: “it flows naturally from the way teachers are teaching,” Anderson expressed.

This year saw the hiring of five new teachers, in a faculty of 15 total. And out of those five, four have either had a classical education or taught in a classical school,  Anderson reported. “I brought in people who know what the vision is…they’re confident in how to teach” classically.

Anderson noted that the school drew in numerous students who had previously been schooled at home. Several homeschooling parents enrolled their children as this type of education wasn’t available before. “Now they know there’s something that will sync up with what they’ve taught” their children.

Several non-Catholic families have also come to Lourdes just for the classical education, Anderson said. She expects that group to grow as well, “because it’s a great education.”

Parents at the school are very invested in the classical model, which she “welcomes completely.” She pointed to the Catholic teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children, and that “we’re just here to help them.”

Anderson was encouraged to differentiate her school, and with the “support and knowledge”of Bishop James D. Conley – former apostolic administrator of the archdiocese – chose to follow this approach to education as a way of imparting to students the art of learning.

“The classical approach is Catholic, through and through,” said Anderson. While “other schools are doing great things,” “no other Catholic schools in the diocese are doing this yet.”

The school’s re-organization will be a three-year process. The first year, which is occurring presently, involves a re-vamp of the English department and the introduction of Latin classes.

Latin was introduced in place of Spanish because of its importance as the basis of all Romance languages. Students “logically process things better when they know Latin,” said Anderson. She pointed to high school freshmen who “test into honors French, without having had any French before, just by knowing the root language.”

Latin is important for the grammar stage of the trivium because its nouns decline, or change their ending according to function they are performing in a sentence. This helps students to better understand how languages work, and it is coupled with the memorization of poetry.

The second year of the school’s rehabilitation will consist of a renewal of science and social studies.

“We’re not necessarily changing the material we’re teaching, but how it’s given to the kids, which is a step away from dependency on textbooks,” said Anderson.

Students will be reading more primary sources for history, and in English classes, reading historical novels to tie-in with their history classes.

“All the classes are very intertwined. What they’re reading in English should correspond to what they’re learning in history, and in history should be able to carry over to the virtues they’re learning about in religion, so it’s all very integrated.”

Morgan McGinn is in her second year at the school, and teaches second grade. She discussed how the move to classical education has changed her teaching style.

“I have to read and discover knowledge on my own before I can share it with my kids…It’s definitely changed my teaching; I can’t just look at a book anymore and read the lesson, and be prepared for the next day.”

“I’ve had to almost flip everything I know about education upside-down to teach classically,” she said.

Her students are now “required to think more,” rather than having “the information they need to know fed to them.”

The holistic approach of classical education, meant to build up the whole person, translates to an emphasis on the fine arts. “We already had a great performing arts and speech department here…so that was already very integrated,” said Anderson.

The school’s music and performing arts teacher, Patricia Seeber, is a veteran of the school, having taught there for 13 years.

“The feel where we’re at spiritually with the kids, that we’re making that the most important part of the day, has shifted for the better,” she said.

“It just feels like they’re really responding to it in a great way.”

In keeping with the introduction of Latin into the curriculum, Seeber has added Latin hymns among the songs prayed at the school’s bi-weekly Masses.

“We raised the bar I think a step or two higher than a lot of schools do, and the kids really rise to the occasion.”

Lourdes’ classical education is meant to help the students realize their full potential “spiritually, intellectually and socially,” and help draw them to God through the true, the good, and the beautiful.

The parish’s maintenance director, Bryan Heier, reflected on Anderson’s leadership at the school, saying “with enrollment as high as it is so quickly, she’s doing something right.”

On Rape, Legitimately

Earlier this week, Representative Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, was discussing his views on abortion when he said, “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s [pregnancy from rape] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

Understandably, a bunch of people flipped out. We’re not talking “take shelter until this blows over” freak out, we’re talking intense, election losing freak out, and rightfully so.

Just for the record, the body does not have any “ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” What methods does Mr. Akin imagine the female body might have to avoid pregnancy? I’m curious. Click here for an article discussing the science behind rape and pregnancy. You’ll note that around 32,000 pregnancies occur as a result of rape each year.

So, realizing that this comment wasn’t just going to be hidden under the rug, Mr. Akin responded. From the New York Times:

Mr. Akin quickly backtracked from his taped comments, saying he “misspoke.”

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview, and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” Mr. Akin, who has a background in engineering and is a member of the House science committee, said in a statement. “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life, and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”


I highly doubt that’s going to make it any better, Mr. Akin.

As a country, we spend an awful lot of our time and energy discussing and fighting about abortion, but I’m not entirely sure that we spend enough time trying to understand abortion. If you’re feeling curious, why not go over here and check out some stats?

But let’s skip the abortion debate, because we’ll get trapped into that abyss of conversation and lose our way.

Let’s talk about rape.

I am guilty of spending a large part of my life believing that rape was just uncomfortable, like bad sex. I didn’t understand. I still don’t, since it’s not something I’ve experienced, but I have a much better idea now.

I knew about rape as a child because I spent so much time buried in magazines like Time, Newsweek, and Reader’s Digest. During the 90s, I feel like there were a lot of news stories focusing on rape – particularly during and after political conflicts and wars abroad. That, coupled with the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal, really cemented the idea of the vulnerability of women during times of war and the idea that rape is tied in with power and masculinity.

But my understanding of rape was still clinical and journalistic. It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven or twelve (somewhere in there), and received a book of murder mysteries for Christmas that I started to understand. In one of the stories, there was a rape and murder of a young girl. I won’t go into detail. It was graphic. It terrified me. I wrapped the book and hid it in the bottom of my desk drawer because every time I looked at it, I had nightmares. That was my first visceral reaction to the idea of rape.

Then came high school, followed by college. We were in a feminist class, I think, and the professor showed this scene from the movie A Time to Kill, which really put it in perspective for me. I don’t know why it was this that did it, or why it’s haunted me ever since, but in that moment, somewhere in a dark classroom, I felt my heart tear open and begin to ache as the understanding spread through my body to settle deep inside my mind.

Rape is not just bad sex. Rape is destructive, violent, painful, terrifying, and scarring. We as a society do so little to protect and comfort victims. You’ll notice that it’s comments like this one by Mr. Akin, or the one by the officer in Toronto who said that women should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid being raped, that really set us off. They’re the comments that create awareness, promote discussion, and prompt change.

But even so, the change comes too late for so many. The rapists take shelter in the gray areas of the law, and often walk away without having to face consequences due to lack of evidence, or a “he said, she said” argument. Rape is covered up, hidden, made a secret. The victims are left shattered and alone, abandoned by their peers due to lack of understanding and social stigmatization.

Instead of working to protect the result of rape, why are we not working to end rape? Why are we not trying harder to educate our children about the consequences of rape, about the actual definition of rape, about date rape, about assuring consent? Why are we not working to provide a save haven for victims? Why are we not working to end the shaming that we put on the shoulders of victims?

I was the result of a one-night stand. I could just as easily have been the result of a rape. Am I glad that I exist? Of course. But imagine what might have happened to my birth mother had she struggled to support herself and her child (baby me!). Where would we be now?

Something that these lawmakers (so often male) neglect in their utter dismissal of the magnitude of rape as a crime is also the magnitude of the aftermath. Personally, if I were to be raped and become pregnant, I would be furious if I were to be suddenly expected not only to carry that child to term, but then take on the financial burden of raising that child. Would I be able to be the best mother possible for that child? Would I be able to provide for us adequately? Would I need social services like welfare to help me?

Let’s not regress to where we’re arguing about what counts as “legitimate” rape. Let’s focus on eliminating rape. Let’s focus on providing services to the victims. Let’s move forward. Let’s provide choices and options, but most importantly, let’s remember that rape victims are so much more than their reproductive organs. They are people who deserve our respect, rather than our insistence that we not punish the child. (It’s an argument that gets made over and over again, along with “so and so was the result of rape, and look at them.”)

And for god’s sake, is this not THE prime example of why we need more science and sex education in schools?!

P.S. Check out these Onion articles. They’re sad, but pointed and definitely worth reading.



On Humanity, Realistically

I am not fun to watch movies or shows with. My friend Anne will tell you that I begin asking questions immediately and don’t stop. It’s as though I can’t just wait and see. (I can’t. I read the last page of romance novels before I read them even though I know exactly what’s going to happen from the outset.)

I got the new boy started on Game of Thrones this weekend. I am hooked. I love the intrigue, the strategy, the double-crossing, the cliff-hangers. (Just kidding, there’s nothing worse than an episode fading to black just as something critical happens.) I watched the first few episodes with him, and told him to stop where I’d left off. We resumed last night, I slept through the second episode of the second season, and then, revived by my late evening nap, stayed awake through another two.

The show is sort of medieval fantasy, so it’s far removed from our present reality. But it’s a   story that is beautifully applicable to our current times (as history and epics so often are). At one point, there are a bunch of prisoners in a terrible situation (when are a “bunch of prisoners” not in a terrible situation?). Daily, one of them is chosen and then tortured and killed.

I find myself blanching at the thought. Somewhere deep inside me begins to feel pain, a singular discomfort. It’s the same reason I can’t watch the Saw movies, the same reason I had to hide the book of 100 Little Murder Stories (or something similarly titled) that I was gifted during my youth, the same reason I will never forget the episode of Law and Order: SVU where the transgendered inmate is brutally beaten and nearly killed: I can’t stomach the thought of a human being doing terrible things to other human beings, for any reason at all.

The idea of murder is so romanticized, our glorification of violence so tolerated and accepted, so expected. James Bond does it so well, he does it for a noble cause, he kills those who “deserve” it. There is something heroic about the whole affair, something so clean and cold and detached that you sympathize with the killer and champion his efforts.

For me, it’s not the just murders that offend me, it’s the sadistic that stuns me. The fact that human beings, for one reason or another, are so able to cause pain and misery, inflicting cruel punishment for little or no reason at all. I can’t imagine what would possess someone to derive pleasure from those actions.

I look at the warning signs: people abusing animals, etc. I look at the black cats that fill our shelters. I look at my own black cat, who was feral until someone decided he’d be an excellent house cat. I think about someone hurting him. (I think about the sad yowl he let out when I accidentally cut his nail too short – the yowl that haunts me and makes me feel terrible.) I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine it for even a single moment.

I think of our disregard for life. It’s a societal epidemic, our lack of respect for others. I am guilty of the same, Chicago-me flipping off cab drivers that zig and zag through the crowded intersections. In those moments, those cab drivers aren’t people. They’re terrible caricatures in cabs, determined to destroy my commute.

Is that how it begins? I wonder. (Obviously it’s not.) But at what point does the casual disregard turn into something more sinister? Is this the ignition point? The gateway? (Again, it’s not.) But as we move toward a more individualistic society, forgoing the “it takes a village” mentality for the “do it yourself, crush all others” mindset, are we losing a vital piece of our humanity? Are we losing shared experiences, community, and ultimately, the true value of this life?

We can study the causality all we like. At the conclusion of our studies, our research, our newly enacted laws attempting to restrict and mitigate their movements, we will still find that people – human in constitution just like ourselves – will go to great lengths to hurt and injure and ruin other people. We cannot stop this.

It will continue in perpetuity. It breaks my heart. It hurts my soul.

I’ve been enjoying the different perspective that the boy (I can hardly bring myself to say his name, I’m so excited about this and I’m terrified to do anything that could potentially destroy it….like getting a lover’s name tattooed right across your chest only to go home and find that they’re leaving you for someone else) brings to my understanding of life as I know it. I’m finding that even though he’s fairly conservative, we have a lot of shared views.  We’ve been able to discuss politics without our conversations falling into the traditional tropes that seem to define oppositional discussions. He’ll call me a hippie and I’ll call him a gun-owner and we’ll kiss and continue our conversation. (I guess that is exactly the traditional trope you’d expect…) He’s logical and rational, and I am thrilled by the opportunity to pick his brain and ask endless amounts of questions. I’m thrilled by his responses. I’m open to his ideas and experiences. I see what he knows as an area that I’m lacking in, and I’m determined to understand his mindset and his opinions.

I watch him play video games. (I am an amazing not-yet-girlfriend, if I must say so myself.) I do the same gasping and squeaking, nervous for him as I watch his character fight off strange post-apocalyptic demon-creature-things, and I watch as their bodies disintegrate into nothingness, leaving weapons and money and health for his character to pick up. I champion his efforts, and yet, I’m left wondering about the disconnect between this pixelated violence and the violence on a global scale.

Are we hurting our young people by allowing them to perceive these kills so coldly? The real effects of death and war and bloodshed are far greater than these valiant missions in video games. I’m not anti-video game, not by any means; I’m not saying that they are THE social ill, but I am saying that I think they are symptomatic of our cultural neglect of the soul.

They’re just as bad as my willingness to cut off a cab driver who’s trying to squeeze into my lane. They’re just as bad as our neglect of shelter animals, our blind-eyes turned away from the neighbors who punish their children too harshly, our blanket declarations of individualism – the glorification of the “self-made man” in a world that no longer allows for the opportunity of the American dream nor respects the contributions of the global workforce.

Life is everything you’d imagine it to be. Life is personality, drive, hopes, dreams, fears, goals. Of course there’s no way to identify with everyone, but in trying to truly  understand people, there is so much to be learned.

How can personal, societal, national growth happen unless there is learning, understanding, community? Every body breathes. Every body desires, wants, needs. It’d be good to remind everyone of that simple fact, especially as the body counts continue to rise worldwide – from all sorts of crime and conflict – and the world continues to struggle between turning a blind eye and striving for peaceful solutions for all. It is far more difficult to work for love and understanding, but I feel that the benefits would far outweigh the alternative.

On the Weekend

Kids Crafts

I love babysitting. Now that I’m out of college and staring down the possibility of motherhood within the next decade or so, I am looking at babysitting as the ultimate in childhood education. It provides such an insight into the world of parenting. I get to see the kids at their shiny, smiling best and at their absolute, angry worst. I get to watch their minds develop and wonder; they blow me kisses and sign “I love you” when I put them to sleep; we giggle together. Children are truly wondrous.

But more than that, I get to watch different sets of parents actively making choices. Each household does things differently, and all they want is the best for their children. I’m terrified that I will somehow raise children that aren’t independent, free-thinking, and respectful. (See this article in the New Yorker for more on that…)

It’s good practice. It’s good exposure. And I honestly think that for all of my years spent babysitting, I’ll be a much better mother.

Kiddie Pool

Denver has been HOT. Too hot. Whenever the summer gets like this, I always think of that episode of Hey, Arnold! where there’s the heat wave. Don’t ask why, I’m not even entirely sure what happens in the episode.

My apartment does not have air conditioning. The cat is angry about this, and is grateful for the fans we have set up in an attempt to circulate some of the air. So on Saturday, we bought a kiddie pool, some squirt guns, sunscreen, and a plastic jar with a spout and a handle! It’s the perfect combination for summer. Swisher has informed me that now that we own a hose together, we’re pretty much committed to each other.

After the stress that was our first fight last week, I had some more serious realizations: On Saturday, he helped me clean out my room at my mom’s house – she’s trying to reclaim our childhood rooms and I’m resisting. But there was no judgement as he picked through random piles of books and clothes and the knick knacks of my youth. I realized that even though there are things that I’m going to have to accept and learn to love about him, he’s having to do the same thing for me. Helping me clean is always going to be a labor of love (Maddie knows all about this), and one that I will be forever grateful for.

I’m going to try to be more patient and realistic in my expectations, but I also told him that I’m not going to let him slide on anything. I think it was good. Cooling off in the pool was even better. I can’t wait to spend the summer hanging out at the pool I’ve inflated in the empty lot next to my apartment building. (Hah.)

Sky clouds plane

The view from the pool.

City park jazz

On Sunday nights, they do free jazz concerts in City Park. Since it’s within walking distance, last night we made a little picnic of lemonade, bread, cheese, meat, and grapes and headed over with some blankets. It was a lovely evening of lounging on the blankets in the cooling air.

City Park Jazz Denver

(Swisher took this!)

Sadly, as the jazz was ending around 8pm, a police officer (and single mother of a 12-year old daughter) was shot and killed. We heard the gunshots, thought they sounded like fireworks, and then heard the sirens. Cop cars and an ambulance were all over the park. We weren’t very close to the shooting, and we didn’t really feel any sense of panic (I mean, it wasn’t the stampede-effect), but the stream of people out of the park was pretty consistent.

I seriously hope that this crime doesn’t deter people from coming out to the park. It’s such a beautiful place, and having free music every Sunday is a really great opportunity to feel like a part of the community. Maybe next week, they will have some sort of donation center up so that patrons can donate to the family of the slain officer.

I’m sad. Sad for the daughter of the officer, sad for the officer herself, and sad for the guy who killed her. Misplaced rage, or sad displays of masculinity, or something else led to a split-second decision that took a life, took a mother, and changed another’s life forever. This guy, who’s only 21, will have to spend the rest of his life reliving those moments. I only hope that prison for him is not so much a place of criminal education, but instead offers a place of hope and personal growth. (It won’t, but then again, our prison system has never really been about reducing recidivism. It’s more of a profit mill than anything else. I like hearing about places that really work for rehabilitation and optimism than those which breed gang violence and racially divided populations while glorifying violence.)

Night fisbee

When we got home, there were a ton of people in our living room. By a ton, I mean ten, but expecting to see one and seeing ten is still overwhelming. After a while, Mike’s friends wanted to take a walk. Which was perfect, because I wanted to play night frisbee.

Night frisbee has been on my brain for days now. It’s harder, I think, to play night frisbee because all you see is the light, flying straight at your head. The color is nice, but it’s easier to miss. I’m still awesome at it, of course.

After everyone left, Mike, Swisher, and I continued playing on the side of the building. It was such a relaxing night, the perfect end to a very hectic week. (Or the perfect beginning to another hectic week?)

In unrelated news, I love my slapwatch. I do not actually use it to keep time, and so I don’t think it’s been accurate for like six months. (Bear in mind that I’ve only owned it for like 6 months.) Also, my childhood self cheers every time I wear it. Good for her.

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

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