A Question of Strategy

So-the Democrats have taken the House. The Senate was always a long shot, but it still could have worked out better. 100 women elected. Several young, dynamic Democrats entered the national stage, and ensured themselves long-term relevance by dramatically exceeding expectations: finally, a Democratic bench is developing. There is good evidence that only gerrymandering kept the Democrats from absolutely swamping the House. And of course, it wouldn’t be an American election if there weren’t a bitterly contested recount underway in FL.

So, it becomes a question of what next: what should be the operational blueprint for the House Democrats? Moving forward, how do we, as Democrats, liberals, and yes, even radicals, best serve the Republic?

Example: The Democrats under Obama tried for years to get a seriously-needed infrastructure bill passed, and were thwarted at every turn: effectively, it must be added. It was part of the baldly-stated platform of Total Resistance the Republicans employed against Obama.

Now, Speaker-in-waiting Pelosi has signaled her willingness to work with Trump on an infrastructure bill. Would it help the country? Yes. Would it strengthen Trump? Also yes.

How serious of a threat is Trump to the health of the Republic?

How is the Republic best served?

Is it best served by cooperating with Trump, even though doing so strengthens him?

Does the magnitude of the threat posed by Trump constitute enough of a threat to justify refusing to cooperate with him, even though it may further delay needed legislation? Is the delay the price that has to be paid to prevent larger Trumpian destruction?

In warfare, if you give your opponent a sanctuary, a safe place wherein he can rest, recuperate, and re-arm, you cannot beat him. Likewise, if your opponent has access to a broad range of weapons, tactics, and strategies that you do not, you are most unlikely to beat him.

Currently, the Republicans have access to an entire range of weapons and tactics the Democrats cannot employ: lies, shamelessness, voter suppression, gerrymandering, massive billionaire support, and other forms of out-and-out cheating (see voting machines in GA), in addition to the Trump cult of personality. This puts the Democrats behind the eight ball before they even declare, as does Trump’s introduction of the permanent campaign, which he has used to amass a pre-election war chest of unprecedented size.

So, how is the Republic best served?

Ferguson Is Your Future Too

(I wish I could say I wrote this, but alas! This post is the work of the Institute’s Cherubic Adonis, the victim of a particularly nasty tech issue.)

This is your future, America. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are a symptom of a broken country. You know it’s broken. You see the damage and you look the other way because it isn’t your children who are being killed at a frightening pace by authority figures in our society. But one day soon, it will be you and your children who are the victims. They will be drawn into the battle on one of the two sides.

Either all Americans share certain “inalienable rights” or none of us do. The problem stems from your own inability to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Prejudice. Now, when I say prejudice, I don’t automatically mean race, but racial prejudice is a big part of the problem. People can be prejudiced in any number of ways. Political prejudice (left vs right), economic prejudice (rich vs poor), intellectual prejudice (intellectual elites vs common man), sexual prejudice (men vs women) are all equally as bad for our national health. Until we, as a society, recognize that we all have value, none of us will really be worth a damn.

Local police forces are now paramilitary units who use counterinsurgency and urban-warfare doctrine to establish control of their areas of operation at any cost. Now, I realize that many people will read this and say, “Oh, you’re exaggerating. This is an isolated incident” but is it really? Take a look and you’ll see that these atrocities occur with staggering regularity in America. Some folks think that this squall will pass (and they may be right), but I guarantee you one thing, this storm isn’t over.

Looking the other way when someone’s rights are being violated doesn’t strengthen your rights. It weakens them. Sooner or later you or people like you are going to become very upset about something (perhaps a big gubmint takeover of *insert cause here*) and they are going to go to the streets because of it. When they do they are going to find out what many minorities in America already know: America does not care about you. America cares about its image and it won’t tolerate you making it look bad on the news. America is a sixteen-year-old girl taking a selfie. America is a self-absorbed douchebag talking into their Bluetooth in the checkout line at the grocery store. America will step over your bleeding (and maybe dead) carcass on its way into a Starbucks to get their caffeine fix. America only cares about America. You aren’t America. America isn’t you. You have become a cog in a machine and if you get worn out or break down, it won’t matter. The machine will continue grinding away. Today it’s Ferguson, Missouri, but soon it will be YourTown, USA. It won’t be fair. It will hurt.  You’ll whine about it and maybe your friends and relatives will be killed or maimed by the “authorities” but don’t expect anyone else to care, because you don’t care right now. In fact, expect people to giggle with glee at your misfortune. Expect to be made into a meme. Expect to be shot through the door when you ring the doorbell and cry for help. Expect to be exploited, first as political fodder and then as comedy, because that’s what America does.

I leave you with an old quote about America by Carl Schurz, “My country right or wrong.” Most people have heard it before but that’s not the whole quote. The whole statement reads, “My country right or wrong; if right to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Until we are all prepared to set America right when it is wrong there won’t be any right to celebrate.

We are here.

So Ferguson happened.

The pictures say a lot, don’t they? What they say depends on who’s doing the looking. To me, it says dangerous times are ahead.

If you recall, I wrote about this very thing many months ago. In that piece, the militarization of America’s police departments was discussed. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that Ferguson has been a forward moving train..gathering steam..barrelling toward us at a speed sure to cause massive damage when it finally made impact. Armored vehicles and military grade weapons are not new. SWAT teams are not new. Abuse of authority is not new. So, I won’t go into all that again. This begs the question: Are we truly surprised? Or are we simply expert reactionary Facebook/Twitter/Instagram protesters?

If, indeed, you are truly surprised..or if you really don’t understand why minorities, all across the nation, are angry..or if you find it impossible to fathom the type of desperation, frustration, and hopelessness that causes you to destroy your own communities…

“Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”

“I was going through the hardest thing, also the greatest thing, for any human being to do; to accept that which is already within you, and around you.” –Malcolm X

We are here.

Remember when I said it depended on who was doing the looking? Yeah, well, African-Americans have always been here. This type of drama plays out on the stages of our communities Every. Single. Day.

America has done this. America – with her high handedness, her conceit, her total lack of will to right her wrongs – has done this. America is masterful at “breaking” a subset of people, at burdening them until they collapse to their knees, then punishing them for not standing up straight. (Bootstraps, anyone?) Systemic racism is like kudzu in the foundation of this nation. It has sprung up around -and intertwined itself with- every aspect of life. So much so, that far too many can’t recognize what a privilege it is to not be black in America. America wants to keep us in check with The Dream. (That they began waking us up from before we got too deeply involved in it.)

Americans have allowed it. (And by Americans, I mean ALL of us. Hang on, black folk, I’ll get to you in a minute.) There has been silence where there should have been shouting. Heads have been turned when we should have faced issues head on. Apathy has replaced action. The face we show to the world has got to be flawless, but our inner workings are as ugly as homemade sin. That ugliness fuels riots and rebellion. Unfortunately, when a people is left without power, they react in ways those without such experiences can not possibly relate to.

But, here is the thing…you don’t need to relate. You need to acknowledge. So, you’ve heard of Michael Brown. And Trayvon Martin. You posted about how sad it was for their families. You posted about the senseless waste of life. You may have even found a local march in an attempt to show your support. And then, you moved on with your life. Life does go on, right?

Not for Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Russell, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Manuel Loggins, Ezell Ford, Kimani Gray, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Steven Washington, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Travares McGill, John Crawford III, or Eric Garner. To name a few.

The constitution was meaningless for these young men and thousands of others like them. But, guess what? That means that the constitution is meaningless for you, too. Today, your kids are pretty safe from lying in a pool of their own blood for hours in the middle of the street. What of tomorrow? Don’t think for a moment it can’t happen. It has already happened. For years, disgruntled blacks complaining of police brutality, harassment, and use of excessive force were ignored. Remember? We had it coming. We deserved it. We were whiners. While you were giving the “birds and bees” talk to your kids, we were giving the “statistics show that you will probably have an encounter with police, so this is how to avoid being shot” speech. Then one day, a funny thing happened. Your neighborhood cops became overzealous. They demanded respect without being bothered to return it. They began bursting into your homes, with or without warrants. Just like that, our problem became your problem. Welcome. You are here. What are you going to do about it? Point guns at officers of the law? You just might get away with it, but black people….

“America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
― Malcolm X

….know they would be shot down. Immediately. So what do we do? March and sing? Riot and loot?

No.  Plan our lives!  We must give up on the notion that America cares. Still waiting for forty acres and a mule? Ha! Hell, we can’t even eat skittles or jaywalk! The first step is to know your worth. Self hatred, doubt, and lack of pride are the greatest enemies we face. Stop allowing this country to dictate your value. We must be present. Present in our homes and in the lives of our children. Present in our communities and programs that lift one another up. Present in our classrooms where we learn how to play the game.  Present in our children’s classrooms to ensure they are well prepared to face the world. And, like my Grandma always said, “America ain’t giving away nothing. Money talks, bullshit walks.”  Therefore, we must purchase our equality with the only currency power accepts – ballots and dollar bills. These are our weapons; we must wield them well. The logo on your foot, the name on your rear, nor the initials on your purse are more important than the number on your bank balance. Finally, speaking of walking, high step it to the voting booth. You can’t expect to be heard when you don’t speak!

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” —
Malcolm X

So, yes, we are here. But we don’t have to remain here. Stand for something.

 

Further Reading

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/police-killings-data/14060357/

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2014/0815/If-They-Gunned-Me-Down-on-Tumblr-Pressing-parents-to-take-a-second-look

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michael-brown-shooting-us-cannot-lecture-others-on-human-rights-amnesty-says-9677800.html

 

Ferguson, Pt. 1

Some links I found interesting about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri:

911: What’s your emergency?

This is 911.  What’s your emergency?

I need help.  My community, my state, my nation is being overrun.

Overrun?  By whom, Ma’am?

Men and women carrying BIG guns like soldiers.  They’re driving armored cars and sometimes tanks.  Yes, I said tanks.  And they are wearing all black riot gear and..and….badges.

copld

If I say “police”, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  (Cue Jeopardy music)

Once upon a time, I would have thought of public service.  Of bravery.  Of courage.   As a child (and, no, how long ago that was does not matter), I remember having fun interactions with police officers.  They were the “good guys” who passed out lollipops when they saw you at the playground.  They visited our schools with plastic badges and mini flashlights.  They encouraged us to “be good and stay out of trouble” with smiles on their faces.  We were allowed to sit in the police car, lights flashing and sirens blasting.  They made me feel …safe.

Here we are a few years later (yes, a few years) and that feeling of safety is nearly non-existent.  Don’t get me wrong, I am perfectly aware of the fact that the world had changed in the few years it took me to grow up.  We’re not in Mayberry anymore, Andy.  The danger that they face is not imagined.  And, sure, I know that not all police officers are bad apples.

But, come on….

swat

Storm Troopers?  And tanks?  Really?

Beating and kicking a man after you’ve hit him with the stun gun?

Two officers stand over the motionless man and begin kicking him. A third officer drives up and attacks him.

That sounds more like brutality than bravery.

Excessive use of force in New Mexico..courage..or crisis?

Five officers gave chase, and when Lopez reached a fence and began to turn around, one of the officers fired three times, hitting Lopez once. The nonlethal shot put Lopez on his back, the report said, and the officer approached him and fired a fourth shot into his chest, killing him.

 I know it’s hot as Hades out there, but seriously?  Are they losing their minds??

All over the nation, our children are scarred for life.  Rendered sterile.  Because hoodies.

But don’t get too comfortable in your justifications.  Eight year old girls are deadly!

Our blackberry bushes and sunflowers must not be allowed to disturb the peace.

And whatever you do.. Don’t. Clinch. Your. Buttocks!

Is this what we are?  Who does this militarization help?

…a sheriff in Illinois was accused of lending the assault rifles, which he got through the 1033 program, to his friends.

…a firearms manager in North Carolina pled guilty to selling his on eBay.

…a county in Arizona acquired $7m worth of weapons and Humvees before giving them to unauthorized persons and attempting to sell them to boost their budget.

…in Mississippi, it took six years before federal authorities discovered that a state office, which was ineligible for the program, had received $8m worth of equipment, despite the fact that the Defense Department is supposed to review the program every two years.
 

As an American, I know we don’t want cops who resemble this…

funny cop

…but the statistics on police brutality and misconduct are appalling.  (Check out Radley Balko.)

Know your rights!  Also know that knowing your rights won’t always protect you.

So, yeah, dispatcher..that is my emergency.  That is everyone’s emergency.  Can you help us?

Or…Maybe Flava Flav had the right of it…911 is a joke in your town.  And mine.

Continue reading

How to be an “ally”

First of all, let me acknowledge that some have valid objections to the word “ally.” Not the idea, the word itself and the way many feel it’s been cheapened over time.

For sake of convenience, I shall use “ally” in this post though, with the hopes of reaching a broader audience.

We all have some benefits because of health, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. This is also called privilege (which isn’t “bad”).   I’d venture that we all belong to a minority group,too.

Let “G” =  marginalized group.

Allies get down and dirty.

Allies constantly work to educate themselves on issues affecting G.

Allies educate others. It’s sad, say, that when I reported sexual harassment, the institution took the word of men over mine. “OH, MEN saw this happen so it must have occurred.”

As an ally, you should always challenge yourself. Recognize your limitations–you will and can never know what it’s like for G. (And that’s not good or bad, that’s just how it is.) 

Listen to members of G regarding their personal and institutional experiences of marginalization. Think about how your privileges (again, NOT a “bad” term) impact your life in a given situation and then just think about how it is for members of G. Multiply it by 10.

What you can imagine is most likely not even close to what members of G must endure, and often endure on a daily bases.

Be vigilant. When you’re at the store, wonder what this trip would be like if you were a member of G. Did the clerk listen to you or follow you around because of your skin color? Wonder about it at work: would I be promoted for the amount of work I put in or would I have to work a lot harder, often times for less pay?

Ponder which stereotypes are applied to you  now and what stereotypes would non-G folks apply to a member of G? To use race, one thing that’s always struck me as terrible is that white-skinned people aren’t called “white professionals.” White people are just doing what they’re “supposed” to be doing.

So why the term “black professional?”

Being an ally isn’t always comfortable and sometimes, you, as an ally, must draw the attention back to a member of G, say, if they’re making a damn fine point, etc.

Notice the diversity of groups to which you belong. All white? Why? No women speakers? Again, why?

Allies align themselves publicly and privately with members of target groups and respond to their needs. This may mean breaking assumed allegiances with those who have the same privileges as you.  Don’t underestimate the consequences of breaking these allegiances, and be sure to break them in ways that will be most useful to the person or group with whom you are aligning yourself.

An ally is not a rescuer. Members of G don’t need “rescuing”–that’s too Savior Complex. Work with us.

Be mindful that the G member you’re allying with could be at risk of a demotion or some form of retaliation. Be aware that the G member you may draw attention to (“X has a good point, why don’t you finish that idea for [whatever]?”) may not be delighted by your well-intentioned action. Explain and apologize. (Keep your explanation short, or you risk sounding like you’re preaching at the person.)

TALK about the fact you have privileges others don’t. Openly acknowledge this. And no, you don’t have to use the word privilege, since so many people shut down when they hear that term.

Being an ally takes personal growth, and with growth comes growing pains. If you say something supportive and a person of G responds negatively, pause and reflect. No one is perfect. Dig deep to the root and try to figure out if it was your delivery, you messed up, or they did.

Know what internalized oppression. Sometimes internalized oppression is like kudzu.

As an ally, share how oppression of G is something you may have inadvertently benefited from.  Let’s say you are running for office. A member of G has to think about public office more than you do. I mean, look at Sarah Palin. There’s plenty to dislike about her political views, but the media seems so focused on her hair/appearance. Same with Hillary and her “cankles.” That’s not cool.

Allies will make mistakes. Expect this. YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES.  You are learning, after all. Allies should help promote a sense of justice and inclusiveness.

Humor can be a method a survival, both for G and allies.

Feeling safe if not a realistic expectation; a good ally learns to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Again, growing pains. Allies understand that emotional safety is not a realistic expectation. Act to alter the too-comfortable when necessary.

(When I write, “feeling safe,” I mean more “KNOW your boundaries will be pushed, and some biases you may not be aware of may surface.” It’s very uncomfortable realizing you have a bias against something–but you can’t fix something you don’t know is broken.)

If you take anything out of this:

  • Educate yourself. It’s not the job of G to educate you, though listening to stories has helped me in the past. You can easily read stories online. Check out microaggressions. Read blogs of marginalized groups. Read the news and ask yourself questions via thought-experiment. (“If X was a member of G, would they really have gotten probation for rape? Denied bail for protecting their children?”)
  • LISTEN. I cannot emphasis this enough. LISTEN thoughtfully and with your full attention.
  • Accept that you will mess up, and then learn from it. Apologize. I’ve messed up, and I’ve learned. I’ve apologized.

And we then laughed about my gaffe.

This is by no means all-inclusive, so any ideas, suggestions, corrections are happily welcome in the comments.

Getting Real

First of all, I’d like to apologize to those of you who decided to follow me trusting I would provide you a relatively steady diet of food for thought. In this I have failed all of us.

It has been a while since I shared my thoughts with you, and even longer since I shared my life. But, well, sometimes things happen that push us to do that which we are loathe to do.

I know that some who know me will not agree with what I am about to do, because you will consider it a commission of one of the deadliest of sins: the airing of one’s dirty laundry. I don’t see it that way. Regardless of outward appearances, I long ago came to the conclusion that my most likely mission in life is to be a warning to others: the quintessential “Ms. Don’t Bee.”  I have accepted – and even embraced – this as my lot in life.

You see, I have a son. I have a troubled son. And the only thing that keeps me from being 100% angry at myself right now is that he is adopted, and I did not birth him into this screwed up world that has no use for him past making itself feel better at his expense.

I could give you a lot of reasons for his being “troubled.” I could – and most likely would, were it not for my therapist – tell you that my son is troubled because I failed to be SuperMom. But the fact of the matter is that my son – my adopted son – was probably doomed from the start. He is the biological offspring of a veteran of the first Gulf War. He is the product of a toxic gestational environment: a  toxic environment created by the United States government. However, because of his demographic profile, it’s just easier to “Blame it on the Boogie.”  Because we all know that adopted babies are throw-aways, and African American adopted babies are the worst throw-aways of all. By definition, they have to be drug babies. Imperfect people. A drag on society. Pariahs.

It became apparent fairly early on that all was not right with Quen. He simply would not settle in. He was fussy and needy and had a persistent case of thrush and endless ear infections. And then the seizures started. And after the seizures, the medication to control the seizures turned him into an entirely different child.

I could recount all of our troubles in painstaking detail, but that would do no good. Suffice it to say that his toxic gestational environment has significantly impacted his central nervous system: a fact that the Veterans’ Administration refuses to acknowledge, my pretty expensive healthcare insurance refuses to address (or authorize treatment for), and the penal and mental health systems refuse to pursue. I can only commend them on their freedom to choose.

I could tell you, like I tell myself several times each hour of every single day, that Quen’s problems are my fault. I failed to be an adequate mother and advocate. But, realistically, no matter how hard and often I try to convince him that he should go right, I cannot over-ride his lying, damaged central nervous system telling him every minute of every hour of every day that he really does want to go left. And that liar has finally won out.

As I write this, my baby is sitting in the El Paso, TX County Jail. It’s not the first time he’s been there, but I fully intend for it to be his last. On November 12, 2013 he was sentenced to 30 days for evading arrest/detention. That’s it. And the worse part of it: he was arrested a full three days after he had been released from the same jail for other offenses.

I won’t post the copy of the the complaint here, because it’s not my place to disclose his private information. But I can tell you that the arresting officer claimed  he chased my son through a number of yards and over a number of fences because, while he was in search of an armed robbery suspect, he saw my son jay walk. Yup. My son ran across a street, outside of a designated pedestrian crosswalk, and that prompted a law enforcement officer to abandon his search for an aggravated armed robbery suspect to draw both his fire arm and his taser on my 5’9″, 150lb. son. Nothing but the Grace of God prevented that asshole from killing my boy.  And you know what the kicker is??? The only charge my son faced was evading arrest. You would think RoboCop would have at least had the presence of mind to write him up for jaywalking. And you would think the judge would have had sufficient presence of mind to question the entire situation. But no. Because, you see, ever since the people of America had the unmitigated gall to elect a black man as president, the national war on Black Men that had been previously partially underground went  all the way live. And since that fateful night in 2008, every person with brown skin has been made to pay the price in one way or another. And I, for one, am sick to death of it. Because, you see, if all of these ill-read, ill-bred buttheads had any awareness of the true history of this country which they so adamantly claim as their exclusive dominion, they would realize that the primary reason these United State of America is anything other than a barren wasteland is due solely to the exploitation of peoples of color. Europeans, inarguably, stole the land from the initial inhabitants, and then used the stolen and uncompensated labor of other people of color to improve that land. In fact, our current tenuous economic status continues to rely heavily on the  exploited labor of less-than-fully-documented people of color.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not racist by nature. I am, in fact, probably one of the whitest black people you will ever meet … with the possible exception of my children. But when I read that my child had a police officer’s weapon and taser drawn on him because he jay walked  over 1,700 miles away from me, I – as a 40% disabled veteran – have no choice but to ask WTF???!!! Where is the thanks for my service, or  – for that matter – his sacrifice? Where is the dignity that is implicitly guaranteed him as a U.S. citizen  as a part of his inalienable rights of  “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?” And, as long as I’m ranting, where is the logic in a Texas Hispanic law enforcement officer, whose ancestors have suffered centuries of indignities and discrimination, acting in the same, despicable manner … which I can only see as an excuse for those oppressors to further justify their past and continuing transgressions? I fail to comprehend how a country that vehemently declares itself to be a Christian nation consistently fails so miserable to adhere to one of the most basic and simplistic teachings of Jesus Christ, that being “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”  While I have never been a large champion of the whole “turn the other cheek” mentality, I do believe that those of us in this country who have been subject to generational oppression have an obligation to – when afforded the opportunity – prove that “we are better than that.”  In my mind, when we find ourselves in  positions of power and opt to act with vengeance vice integrity, we only reinforce the wrong-minded mindset of our former oppressors that we were deserving of the treatment to which our ancestors were subjected.

Hopefully, my son will be on his way out of El Paso soon. Hopefully, he will realize that no good will come to him there; that the people he calls “friends” are not, and that them being Hispanic in a majority Hispanic town give them an advantage over him that not even true friendship could counterbalance.  I want him far away from there, where he can find some measure of self-respect and self-worth. Where he can escape the vicious cycle of hopelessness and helplessness in which he now lives. I want him to be able to hold his head high, knowing that he is a responsible, productive member of society, who has been endowed by his Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I want him to understand that he, too, has a right to claim the American Dream, because his American-ness has been bought and paid for several times over with the blood, sweat, and tears of his ancestors and is not something that others can deny him or that he should thoughtlessly relinquish.

We Now Interrupt the Government Shutdown…

Since the blogosphere is filled with talk of the government shutdown, I don’t feel compelled to join the chorus. People who know me should not be surprised by this. Instead, I’d like to talk about something interesting I heard last night.

Okay, so I’m on my way home from my belly dance/flamenco night, listening – as usual – to NPR, when up came this very interesting story about our new Miss America,  Nina Davuluri (a little lengthy, but well worth a listen). No, I’m not a former or aspiring pageant girl. Sure, growing up in an all-female household, I watched all the pageants, but as a young child I never saw this as something that was possible for me, and as I got older, I failed to see the point. I still wish they would go back to the tank-style swimsuits, since it doesn’t appear that non-value-added segment of the competition will ever go away. But this year’s pageant has captured the attention of a lot of people – including me – because it wasn’t just a parade of vaselined-toothed, overly-coiffed “beauties” talking about world peace and the distribution of maps worldwide: it was about the very ugly reaction to the winner…and what that, in a larger context, means.

I did a little research on the pageant. The first Miss America pageant was held in 1921. Minus the 4 year hiatus from 1928 – 1932, we’ve had 88 years worth of Miss Americas. Of those, eight have been African American, with the first one, Vanessa Williams, being selected in 1984, fourteen years after the first African American contestant in 1970. Ms. Davuluri is only the second Asian American, along with Angela Perez Baraquio, in 2000. Rule Number Seven actually prohibited the participants of non-whites during the early years of the pageant. Into the 40s, contestants actually had to complete an ancestry questionnaire.  Clearly, this is no bellweather organization. As Nina pointed out in this interview, Miss America has always been about “the girl next door.” And, based on the reaction to her selection, it appears a fair number of people prefer to live next door to a caucasian, even a tattooed one.

I hesitate to say much more on the topic, as I feel I would become “preachy.” Instead, I invite you to listen to this piece and respond. What does the reaction to her selection really say about the state of our country in 2013? Is it simply “business as usual” in America that every minority has to have its turn in the discrimination barrel? Will this push us forward, or has it pulled us back? Is it an indicator or a manifestation?

Some say race is a social construct, and has no basis in reality. But for those have dealt and continue to deal with the kind of behavior displayed recently, it is very, very real. And – at least for me – it has become really, really tiresome.

Who Wrote This?

Many of you may not know this, but one of my sons has Asperger’s Syndrome.  After many years of trying to force public schools to meet his needs, my husband and I decided to school him from home.  Public schools, and how they educate pupils with special needs, deserves a post of its own.  Wait for it, it is coming.  But that is not what I want to discuss today.

Virginia utilizes a “Virginia Studies” course for fourth grade students.  The curriculum mandates instruction and retention of information about the state’s history, ranging from Jamestown to the Civil War.  Naturally, there is no way to not include the plight of the Native peoples and Africans.  My child noticed right away how the language used, in an official textbook, didn’t describe events, as they truly happened.

(Him)  Wow!  This book is really not accurate, Mom. 

(Me)  Well, no, son.  It does not tell the whole story.

He saw right through the book’s attempt to force the Natives into the role of aggressors.

(Him)  How can the English really be called pioneers?  Pioneers settle land that hasn’t been settled before.  This land was settled.  And how come my book calls them savages?  And why weren’t they (the settlers) nicer to the tribes that taught them how to survive?  This book is not good!  Who wrote this thing?

He laughed at how the enslaved Africans were portrayed.

(Him)  Everybody knows that the slaves wouldn’t be laughing and dancing after all the work was done.  Slavery was not fun!  This book is stupid.

He is nine years old.

In all fairness, Aspies tend to have highly focused interests in certain topics.  The Powhatan tribes are one of his “things”.  But what of those children who trust what is written in their textbooks?  What message are we sending when Native peoples are seen as wild things who just needed to be tamed?  And the atrocity that is slavery is made out to be just a job, with singing and dancing at night?

Then, I was reminded of the fight in Texas.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a block of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

And this, in Louisiana.

Really?  Dinosaurs and humans?  The KKK a decent organization?  Slave masters and the Great Depression were not so bad.  Really?  Because math is too hard and we have good reason to doubt climate change.  No use fighting the rapture, ..excuse me..,  globalization.

Is it really a surprise that our children are falling through the cracks?

Look.  I get it.  We are Americans.  We want our children to be proud of their country.  We want them to recognize that America is one hell of a great place to live.  We, Americans, feel exceptional.

Recently, we were reminded of the dangers of exceptionalism.  Our newest BFF, Vladimir Putin, had this to say:

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Many of us are leaping to the defense of our new friend.  But keep in mind, he has also said this:

We will not allow someone to impose their will on us, because we have our own will! It has helped us to conquer! We are a victorious people! It is in our genes, in our genetic code!

This is all to remind you that every country feels it is exceptional.  History and facts are not ours to change, shape, and mold.  Our children deserve to know what happened, as it actually happened.  They deserve to hear many sides of the same story.  What we have been giving them, and seemingly want to continue to give to them, is propaganda.

Adam did not ride the back of Brontosaurus.  Slavery was not a club.  Natives were not savages.  The KKK and the Great Depression were horrible.  There is a separation between church and state.  Climate change is real.

Our children truly are our future.  Pride in our country is all fine and dandy.  I just don’t want to hear my grandchildren asking, about their textbooks, …Who wrote this thing?

WE Have a Dream: revisiting Dr. King’s speech, 50 years later

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered fifty years ago today, August 28, 1963.

Text:  “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our Nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.

Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the colored people’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the colored person’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for white only.”

We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have the difficulties of today and tomorrow.

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interpostion and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.””

Our thoughts:
From hlward:

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

This past Saturday I went to a celebration of the anniversary of the March on Washington at my local City Hall. It was organized by all the groups you would expect, and it was a lovely event. A variety of speakers read portions of Dr. King’s “Dream” speech, including the chairs of both the local Democratic and Republican parties. The crowd of fifty or so onlookers was about half white, half black, and all quite friendly.

If you didn’t know better, you might think we had achieved the Dream.

If you didn’t know African-Americans are about 12 percent of the US population but African-American men make up 40 percent of the US prison population, you might think we had achieved the Dream.

If you didn’t know African-American average household income is fully one-third less than that of all American households of all races you might think we had achieved the Dream.

If you didn’t know that “driving while black” is not a joke, you might think we had achieved the Dream.

But we do know those things, you and I. To pretend that we do not is nothing less than succumbing to the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

There are those among us who never subscribed to the Dream. Who, to this day, in their private moments, will tell you that Martin Luther King, Jr. was nothing but a “nigger troublemaker.” And they are active. They are working hard to roll back every inch of brotherhood and decency gained by the blood, sweat and tears of two generations.

Gradualism will not defeat them.

The Dream is still waiting at the end of a long, hard road. There are people who want to block that road. I don’t know about you, but I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘round. That’s an easy thing for a white boy like me to say, but white, black, brown or any color of the rainbow, we have to march together if we’re going to reach freedom land.

From tamsworld:

Dear Dr. King,

First, I would like to thank you. As a young black girl, your words touched me. Your compassion motivated me. Your dream gave me hope. Your dream made me dream, so to speak.

Who doesn’t love dreams? Pleasant interludes that allow us to escape reality. Dr. King, you had a dream. This dream was articulated in such an inspirational fashion that we forget the core of it. Equality. You dreamed many decades ago of a time when all people would be judged solely on their character and not the color of their skin. You dreamed of a time when poor people could escape their “island of poverty”. You dreamed of a time when life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would apply to all Americans. Even me, whom you fought for before I was a thought in my mother’s mind.

I will admit, and beg your pardon, that it took me a few years to understand. Having been born in 1975, I figured it was done. It was an unfortunate part of history. Your marches, protests, speeches, and abuse had put paid to that debt. I didn’t have to do anything but be a good person and, well, ..dream.

But, then, I grew up.

I think I understand, now. As a mother, I remember setting the bar really low when my sons first attempted something. But, as years passed, obstacles changed. To be an effective parent, I had to change with them. When the days of slaying under-the-bed monsters were over, I learned to handle playground bullies and peer pressure. And when new barriers pop up, I must be able to confront those, too. Because slaying an imaginary monster won’t get my sons into college or help them find gainful employment.

I don’t believe America has learned that lesson yet. We are still slaying the slavery monster. But slavery and lynchings are no longer our primary obstacles. Blatant racism and bigotry are no longer the enemy of justice. Voter discrimination, gerrymandering, school to prison pipelines, the bogus “War on Drugs”…those are our new monsters. Blacks are still unemployed at a sickeningly higher rate than other Americans. Still tried and jailed at disgustingly higher rates than other Americans. Black schools are still massively neglected. Still on the outside, looking in.

So, we continue to dream. On this anniversary of your iconic speech, I am unashamed to say that your dream is my dream. Unashamed? Yes. You see, I have learned that the fight for true equality is not a sprint, but a marathon. Sure, progress has been made. As a black woman who had the opportunity to live out many of her dreams, I am eternally grateful. The struggle that you, and others, endured allowed that to be possible. I pray that before I leave this life, I have helped equality along, in some small way. I pray that your dream will always be someone’s dream. Until that day when equality for all – no matter race, creed, or gender – is a reality. On that day, Dr. King, we can wake up from the dream. We will all join hands and be free at last.

From timrockwell:

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech I took a few moments to reflect on the purpose of his words and whether or not King’s dream and been realized. Upon reading the speech again (admittedly for the first time in many years) I was struck by its non-combative tone. This was not a general rallying his troops for battle nor was it an incitement to riot. In fact King admonishes the crowd with the words, “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

Instead of setting the stage for a war, his message is of peace and unity. He devotes some time to talking about equal rights and how black Americans should have more options than moving from “a smaller ghetto to a larger one.” He talks about how black Americans should be allowed to vote in all the states and how the ones who can vote should have someone representing them. He never blames anyone for these inequalities, he simply says that these are basic rights any human and citizen should expect and continue to demand if they are not being given. And that was the problem. We had a 14th Amendment that was going largely unrecognized in many parts of the country. The situation is better today but could still use improvement.

The heart of his speech comes at the end though. King’s message is not a black message or an anti-white message, it’s an American message, that all people are equal. Then rather than focus on negative illustrations of how people aren’t treated equally, he presents us with a series of beautiful possibilities for the future.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

His overwhelming message, his desire, and his hope was that Americans of any color would live together in peace because before any of the other changes can truly take place, this first change must happen.

Has King’s “Dream” come true? I guess it depends on your individual attitudes and where you live. Martin Luther King’s dream has nothing to do with being poor or rich or being born with advantages or disadvantages. It has to do with looking at the person across the road from you and calling them your neighbor, friend and fellow American, regardless of their skin color or yours.

We could all learn a lot from Dr. King. Not just about civil rights, but how to live as decent human beings.

From seyyaledibe:

I grew up in the Smalltown South of the ‘60s. To say that my grandmother and her peers were not particularly actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement would be somewhat of an understatement. I don’t know if it was a relative lack of education or if they’d just been beaten down so badly living in that place that they dared not hope for very much. We actually had it pretty good , relatively speaking. The lines of demarcation between Whites and Blacks were well-defined, and everybody pretty much stayed on their side. We even had a White Downtown and a Black Downtown.


When I was in third grade, the county instituted “Freedom of Choice,” which meant we could go to the “white” schools if we wanted, but the schools were not integrated. My fourth grade year, the schools were fully integrated. We were told that was a good thing, but I wasn’t convinced then or now that it was. You see, in our town (and probably in many others) “integration” meant absorption. The two schools had the same colors, but when they merged, everything that had been Jackson (the black schools) disappeared. In cases where there were duplications (principals, band directors, music teachers, etc.) the Camden staff took precedence. We had sold our souls to the devil, in a sense: in exchange for the promise of a better education, we had sacrificed our identity. It went as well as could be expected: many of the white students remained; the ones whose parents just couldn’t bear the thought of their children sharing a classroom with more than a few blacks moved to the unaccredited, all-white private school. Even then, I thought they had to be pretty desperate to go to an unaccredited school.
Fast forward some thirty years later, and I returned to that small town with my children. What did I find? The school that had been Jackson Elementary, then Camden Elementary was Jackson Elementary once again, had a black principal, and a majority black student population. The school that had been Camden Elementary, then Camden Primary, was Camden Elementary once again, and was pre-dominated by the children of the town’s white professionals and business people. Today, almost 15 years later, the old Jackson Elementary is the Alternative School and the old Camden Elementary is a magnet school. Coincidence? Maybe…
The fact is, this story tends to illustrate that we really have not come all that far in the past 50 years. We have made some forward progress, ‘tis true, but relatively little. Civil Rights in the country is a treadmill, when it should be a cross-country path.
The part of Dr. King’s speech that has always resonated with me is “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” When I was younger, it was because I was about the same age as his children, and I felt that what he dreamed for them, he dreamed for me, also. Later, as I raised my own two little brown-skinned babies, it became my hope for them.

I still remember the day in 2007 when I heard that Dr. King’s oldest daughter, Yolanda, had died. It actually hurt my heart. I thought, “That child died without ever realizing her father’s dream. I wonder if any of the others will live to see it?” And in the back of my mind, I wondered if my children would ever live to see it.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of this iconic speech, I have to wonder when or if they will ever be more than just words, just dreams. It seems that the fire in the bellies of the previous generations has been extinguished – or at least assuaged – by fancy mac-mansions, flashy cars, and designer togs. We seem to have decided that it is, truly, better to look good than to feel good. I will admit to you – my brothers and sisters – that I have failed to carry the torch in a public way. I have taught my children the quiet ways in which I was taught, but I regularly see that, even as young adults, they have little more than an inkling of what that period meant to this country in general, and to black Americans in particular.
On this anniversary, I have resolved to ponder that, and ponder ways in which to rectify that. Because I do have a dream: that one day my children will be judged solely by the content of their character. But dreams are for the sleeping. Doing is for the living.

From samanthaimperiatrix:

My initial reaction [when approached for this post]? “I’m a white girl from the suburbs. This dream wasn’t for me. What right do I have to be part of his dream? I’ve never really known discrimination… Have I?”
The truth is, when I read the text again, his dream was for me. And his family. And the people of all colors and races. We are all entitled to that dream. The dream of equality, happiness, love, and peace. Dr. King did not subset his dream for any one race or group. He may have spoke of his dream in the context of Blacks and Whites, but the word equality does not leave a group out in the cold. The Dream that he imparted on us, includes equality for all genders, all races, all sexual orientations, all creeds, and all religions. And no, we have not seen his dream realized. But I hope that my children will see it.

From contrawhit:

I had the unique privilege of attending Dr. King’s old church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, when I was a junior in college. Some very kind deacons and deaconnesses with the most amazing hats let me stay until after the service and stand behind the pulpit.

I don’t think they let most people do that. Being in the historic church was humbling enough, but standing behind the pulpit made my eyes water and I still don’t have words.

My college was in Atlanta, where I’ll (jokingly) guess that 1/3 of the streets are named after Civil Rights Leaders, 1/3 are named “Peachtree”-something, and the last third are either confederate leaders or people behind the invention and development of Coca-Cola. Living in Atlanta for those brief years shaped and improved my understanding of the Civil Rights Movement, of Dr. King, of Bayard Rustin, of Malcom X–and so many others who gave their blood, sweat, tears….and their lives. And don’t you dare forget the Sisters of the Civil Rights Movement or the fact that Dr. King’s now 50-year old speech was encouraged, inspired, and even occurred because of Mahalia Jackson.

His dream is not dead, nor has it been fully realized. His dream is a work in progress. His dream is a challenge for everyone, regardless of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability. .

It’s clear that we (adults) are all responsible to continually challenge ourselves and others.  I don’t mean in a confrontational way either; I have no room or time for hate. For example, I just encountered someone on a forum advocating for a form of segregation. I quoted Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” as a response. If this person continues, I’m going to quote Letter from a Birmingham Jail (which I used to teach in comparison to Plato’s Phaedo.)

When I taught “Race, Class, and Gender” to incoming education majors in the early 2000’s, there was a terrible hate crime. The details aren’t important except that two of my students were targeted because of their race and gender. I was horrified. The director of the program called me in and advised that I not talk about the situation, but instead carry on like everything was fine.

Ethically, I could NOT follow his instruction to pretend nothing happened.

So, I talked privately with the two targeted students. With their permission, I ditched the curriculum that day and we, as a class, talked about how this hate crime affected everyone and hurt their community. We developed ways for everyone to feel safer and regain that sense of community.

To this day, that may have been the most successful class I taught because the students–who are now teachers–left with an incredible understanding and commitment that followed them throughout their schooling.

Now that I have children, teaching them about race is not just important, it is a moral imperative, it is my ethical duty if they are to grow up and be allies and advocates for basic human rights, civil rights, and the (dying) idea of justice.

Last year, my parenting skills were put to the test. In October, my then 5 year old asked her kindergarten teacher about race. One of the children in the class had relayed (on the playground) that his father had a friend who wouldn’t vote for Obama because he’s black. My child asked the teacher, “Why would someone not vote for Obama because he’s black?”
Well, for that damn innocent question which would have made a great lesson, we were called in to discuss my child’s “racism.” All that was offered as proof of her racism was that she asked that question.

So Dr. King…and all those who worked with you, for you…we are still pushing for your dream to be a full-on reality.

We won’t let you down.