Opinion and Editorial

Opinion and Editorial

Don’t Deflate Meals On Wheels

Don’t deflate Meals on Wheels

There are basic needs we have in our quest for a basic human existence. We need love. We need food and water. We need shelter. These are the bare minimum of things that we need to have a good life. Certainly, we can exist with these items in varying measures, but they are essential to being.

To risk sounding like a scratched record and looping a bad refrain, I’m at a loss here trying to figure out how this country arrived at Donald John Trump as a solution to any problem. I’m baffled. How did we default to Trump? Rational-me understands the climate that made him possible, but — wow, what a misstep.

The budget proposals that are coming from this administration to drastically cut money for programs that the most vulnerable depend upon are draconian. They simply are not OK.

When Meals on Wheels delivers food, it is more than a hot meal being given to someone in desperate need of food: For some of these people, these deliveries are their only contact with another person. Some delivery people are the only ones who know that these folks are alive.

These meals serve 500,000 veterans yearly, and, again, the delivery people serve as an important point of contact to people who have given their lives and, for many, their sanity for a nation that repeatedly turns its back to them. For a nation that gloats about the military, we do a terrible job of caring for those veterans.

In Kentucky, between 15 and 20 percent of senior citizens struggle with food insecurity. Nationally, the number is about one in six.

I firmly believe that statistics don’t help us understand the importance of what it means to be hungry. It is cold data. It has no tears to shed and no face to be designated as the face of the hungry. It can’t speak back. Data is easy to ignore. People are not. These budget cuts will affect real people, some who you may know.

I don’t have any personal stories about starving, because I’ve never been hungry. My parents managed, even in the leanest times, to put something on the table. There were times they were scared that they wouldn’t be able to provide a meal, but they were young and healthy. They managed to scare up enough money to get something. When I was in school, there was the availability of free lunch. It wasn’t a luxury handout, and knowing that you were poor enough to qualify was a source of shame.

For that past few years, I’ve worked as a part of the Art on the Parish Green committee. The art fair raises money for a weekly soup kitchen at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Albany. Many of the committee members cook and serve in the kitchen.

The people who come to eat don’t always look poor. They don’t look like the families in Somalia who are starving to the point of emaciation, covered in flies and scooping rice pudding from metal bowls. The poor in America are often unseen. Perhaps our ability to hide the ugly parts of our society is one of our best Victorian holdovers. We throw shutters over the things we don’t wish to see. We hate to see poverty but we do so little to end it. Because of our aversion to, and secret affection for, our own dirty colonial past, we’ve managed to sanitize poverty.

I guess what I’m getting at is just because being poor in America comes with clothing, televisions and cheap cell phones — this doesn’t erase the devastation of being poor. Poverty isn’t fun. It isn’t iPhones and glamour. Being poor is long hours, the hardest work with the least respect. Being poor is being trapped into doing the most to be given the absolute least and then having wealthy council folk and politicians argue about whether you deserve a shade more to make life a bit easier.

To end programs such as Meals on Wheels is simply gross. The rationalizations about why it is necessary to take food from the mouths of the old, and others who are food insecure, presents a dilemma that all American communities should be united in rejecting.

I’m not going to consider why people who eat from golden plates want to take a Styrofoam box from a lonely old man. I will only consider those who will be hurt and ask that we all stand up for them.

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Be Angry

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If you are in my life, it is because I want you here. Likely we’ve shared food, drinks, tears and joys. If not those things, we’ve shared a word (hopefully kind) and perhaps a laugh. We may or may not share a similar background.

If you are one of my friends who happens to also be white you might be wondering why I seem angry lately and why it seems to be directed at “white” people. Trust me, I’m not angry at you but I am asking you to be angry in solidarity with me.

I’m angry that systems created to perpetuate a phobic and unjust society have yet to be dismantled. As it stands, that often means those with the privilege to be in the “majority”—even if only by proxy of skin color—feel as though they receive the brunt of my frustration. The way that power works doesn’t allow a lot of room for those on the outside of that “majority” to become invested in ways to affect large-scale change. It has to come from within. This means directly addressing issues like: Racism, Sexism (and Misogyny), Homophobia, Classism, etc. and that is where, if you are a friend who happens to fit in that “majority,” your partnership is integral.

If you are my friend, I demand this of you: Be angry.

  1. Be angry because the actual lives of your friends might depend upon it.
  2. Be angry because the actual lives of your own children might depend upon it.
  3. Be angry because the health of our nation definitely depends upon it.

Understand that when you see injustice it is not only my duty to speak about it but yours to address as well. When you see something problematic you have a duty to stamp it out, expose it, report it and as much as you can, squash it. Don’t allow it in your life or that of your family. It is poison. If you don’t understand the issue, ask someone you trust and read about it. When people are marginalized for whatever reason, we all suffer.

You might be wondering what you can do in the place of simply being enraged. Here are a few things:

  1. Speak the name of the problem. Learn the nuances of those problems. READ.
  2. When you see the media glossing over the problem: write them, call them, and email them. Facebook them, Tweet them. Correct their language. For example: Seeing a news outlet calling the Charleston shooting, an “Attack on Faith,” when the shooter himself called it an attack on “black people”. This should immediately result in direct action and response to correct that misinformation.
  3. Call your representatives; write letters, email, etc. Demand action appropriate to the problem.
  4. In your own families, if you have relatives participating in unjust behavior, stop them. Correct them. Risk making them uncomfortable. Nowhere in our society should hatred feel cozy.
  5. Reflect on your own ideas and change the ones that can hurt someone else. Self-reflection should be a constant for all of us. We’re all implicated and we are responsible to each other.

 

The bottom line is this, DO SOMETHING. Your actions matter.

 

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‘Your silence will not protect you’: encouraging the female voice

http://www.leoweekly.com/2015/05/your-silence-will-not-protect-you-encouraging-the-female-voice/

‘Your silence will not protect you’: encouraging the female voice

I have just wrapped another semester. My brain has gone completely flat. I’m firing on zero cylinders and still have to grade, write, parent, wife and run a business. I had several topics floating around my head this weekend and by the time I sat down to write, I just needed to not think that hard. But that never works. So this week is less argumentative but part confession and part call to action.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a deeply personal piece. I’m not even sure that what I’m feeling is relevant right now but I think many women and particularly educated women might be able to relate.

Lately, I’ve read about Imposter Syndrome and think — know — that I am struggling with it with increasing frequency. It’s near debilitating some days. In brief, Imposter Syndrome is the lack of confidence in your gifts and competencies and for whatever reasons the inability to internalize that you do something well or that you have had a measure of success directly related to those same talents. It is commonly seen in women who are high achievers.

Now, I’m not sure that I fit the high-achieving model. I’ve barely made the bills some months and haven’t found the guts to shop my work in some places. Moreover, when I publish a piece I feel the need to pour over it and proofread to the point of obsession, often missing simple mistakes because I worry that somehow what I’ve written will expose my lack of knowledge. Oddly enough I’m usually the most doubtful about a subject that I know and understand well.

Let me be clear that I certainly don’t feel that I’m an imbecile but I am surely not Marie Curie or Toni Morrison (yet). I’ve never been a whiz with math or science and I struggle to start long form writing projects though I definitely feel that I have a better shot at Morrison than Curie.

Without getting too complicated, I want to get over feeling that I’m not good enough, smart enough, and stop worrying what people think of me. I haven’t always cared but lately these thoughts feel intrusive and heightened.

I’ve come to the conclusion that part of it comes from declaring my intent to live and work as a writer. It was my thing and now it really has to be my Thing so I can pay for my car and eat. I can’t run and hide from it so I need to figure out how to accept my doubts and move past them.

I know that I’m not alone so I’d love to see this issue be erased. I would like to destroy Imposter Syndrome. No one should feel that his or her contribution is worthless but I’m talking to the ladies in particular.

It has to start with how we speak to ourselves but also how we teach our girls to speak up and our sons to respect the female voice.

I teach English and in one of my courses, I had an outspoken young student who happened to be female. When she would answer questions or speak up during a discussion, some students in the room would bristle. My response was, of course, to encourage her. It felt good to have a bold young voice and to support that ability — it is definitely a valuable skill.

Statistics show that women are less likely to speak up for promotions and raises in the workplace or for any reason in the classroom. Educators and employers alike are more likely to pass over female participation for input from male workers and students. I try to catch myself but I know that I have fallen into this trap. I do tend to engage with students who readily engage in class and often those students are male — at least in the beginning of a semester. Usually at the close of the semester when I’ve entranced them all with my charm, most students speak up and participate wholeheartedly.

I’m not sure how I will resolve trusting my gifts and myself but given the opportunity to grow assertive women, I need to make a more conscious effort. I can only work to encourage women in a college classroom or those in proximity. I can teach my son but I need parents of other boys to do the same and parents of little girls, to give them a voice and encourage them to use it, to love it and most of all to trust it.

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America is burning: 
indignation and the end of civility

http://www.leoweekly.com/2015/04/america-is-burning-%E2%80%A8indignation-and-the-end-of-civility/

America is burning: 
indignation and the end of civility

I spend a lot of time thinking about the world — wondering what I can do with no money to throw at problems and little influence. I want to make my world better and definitely leave it better for my kid. When Michael Brown was killed, my son was a little more than a year old. I cried the tears of a mother saddened that someone could be so cold and that the bullet — which should be a last resort — once again became the easy out for faulty police work. I cried because my son runs that very same risk simply because he is brown. We’ve allowed the trigger to become the judge and the jury in the hands of too many officers who’d be better suited to a desk assignment than a beat.

My son is very fair skinned, yet, as he grows, he will have to understand that my half of him — the hint of brown, his curls and round nose — will cause him judgment and could present a very specific and dangerous risk to his safety despite how well dressed or well mannered he is.

I’m enraged that I have to consider that he could be the potential target of an errant policeman. At 2 years old, he doesn’t know that life ends or that guns even exist. Anything shaped like a gun is a hammer to him. He is innocent and I love his wide-eyed amazement at life. The day that he fully recognizes the dangers that lurk in the world will break my heart. The day that he learns his skin color is political will do the same.

In all that is happening in America — with out-of-control police and people using religion relentlessly to justify their discomfort with people who are different — this country is a powder keg. The risk — as always — is the spark. The spark, when it comes, will endanger officers because people want blood for blood. It will be the same spark that accidentally burns the wrong church because of those using the pulpit to preach division and exclusion, to the detriment of Christ’s teachings.

I’m not the most patient person and I don’t take well to feeling slighted or having my friends and family at risk. I react sometimes more than I should. I say that, knowing that I live in a nation that feeds apathy and willful ignorance and values them above confrontation and knowledge. We’ve been passive for too long and any suggestion that our indignation should result in peaceful and calm protests needs to be met with a strong blow to the face. Al Sharpton can carry the signs and march. We want permanent results — whatever it takes to get them.

When I see injustice, especially systemic, I jump quickly to revolution. My life comes at a point in the history of this nation where all the other quiet and calm ways of resolution have been tried and provided only temporary relief. I have little patience for picketing or singing spirituals over another dead body. If the system won’t change for us, we need to change the system and maybe that means dismantling the parts that aren’t working and rebuilding. The police force is a great place to start, followed very quickly by the enmeshment of the church in our political processes. Periodically the earth needs to burn to be reborn. I don’t find society is much different than those ecosystems.

Certainly, this will make me seem radical and that’s fine. If you think it is radical to fix what is broken instead of continuing to patch it up with temporary remedies, then I’m very radical.

With the recently surfaced video of a South Carolina police officer murdering a black father — shooting eight bullets and hitting him with five — America is faced with a dilemma: How do we make compassion part of our societal values? If it isn’t police killing black men, then we are passing laws that support discrimination. Is America so ill equipped that it can’t function in a progressive world without resorting to regressive laws and crime management? We hold our nose at the human rights violations of others and ignore our own.

There exists a time to defend what is right — by any means that result in effective and complete solutions. Could it be that we only begin to comprehend after loss — either financial or corporeal? I’m not advocating, I’m asking. At some point the gun barrels will point the other direction and it shouldn’t be a surprise. •

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Escape from Feminist Mountain (April Fool’s Column)

tumblr_n2jofobbWO1rv7vv2o5_500For several days, there has been something weighing heavily on my mind. I’ve been thinking hard about whether or not being a feminist is good for my life. There are so many great options for women these days that perhaps I no longer need to fight for my uterus–those brilliant Republicans are sure taking care of my needs in that department­–or my right to an equal paycheck. Who needs that?  Our family can certainly survive on one income and we should absolutely appreciate it. Should we want a change, we only need to work harder. I’m pretty sure that if we just pray to that invisible guy that our parents told us about and stay positive, we’ll get everything we dream of and an Easter bunny. So I’m putting my faith in fairy tales and strong men. Work harder husband, momma needs a new vacuum.
If I’m not going to be a feminist anymore should I even be allowed to drive?
I’m thinking that Republicans are right. The 1950s when women were relegated to the kitchen– sporting petticoats and aprons–was a better time in America.  For me, a black woman, the fifties were even more amazing. I could stay in my own kitchen and as a bonus; I could get a job scrubbing and flipping waffles for Ms. Sally White’s children in her home. Oh those smart Republicans. Let’s get behind those values and go back in time.

Did you also know that now, in Indiana, the Republicans have passed a bill, SB101 that says it is just fine to refuse service to someone because their presence may challenge one’s religious beliefs. I’m so happy that has been cleared up for me.  I was thinking that because of my religion-a major tenet of which is keeping my tax dollars- it will be okay for me to simply stop paying those pesky taxes. Since I won’t be getting equal pay, those extra few dollars will surely come in handy and the Lord just doesn’t accept tax collectors.
Now that I’m renouncing my old ideals for those that have kept this country stagnant for so long, I feel so relieved that I can now ask my husband if he’ll drive me to the store for a new razor so I can shave all the hair that’s been accumulating on my legs and arms. It sure was getting itchy. Plus, I will need to make sure that my husband never sees me looking like a real person ever again. I’ll need to give my pants to goodwill and buy all new makeup in colors that aren’t too frisky. I want to live up to the past.
Dear Reader, you’ve been with me through some really awesome changes. I think it is only right that you are with me through this one. It’s going to be a tough transition. I’ve told you so many things about women and how we should be treated. It’s just that maybe, it really is easier to just accept that we’re the weaker sex and let our husbands, if we have them, go back to the days of bringing home the bacon and spending evenings in his favorite armchair.
Surely, if it weren’t for those darned hippies and suffragists, we would never have gotten in our minds that our lives were important enough to protect nor our brains flexible enough to handle complex thoughts.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be caught by bad influences one too many times. Emily Post should be the only book that we are reading.  There are certainly too many books that might contradict the changes that we should make.  Have you heard of those other books?  Maybe you remember the ones, by Gloria Steinem, Audre Lorde, Susan Sontag, Erica Jong and Nancy Friday–the ones that told us about power and about sex. I apologize for using the S word.
Whatever we do, we need to reject these writers.
To insure that we remain wholesome and un-feminist, I suggest that we begin plotting our move to a remote island where the seductions of the modern world–television and the social media–have less of a chance of reaching our ears.
I also heard that the moon was going to become a great place to live. I think my dad told me that. He figured that it would be only white folks at first–trying to escape us black folks–but once they are settled, we’d be packed on the next ship.
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Hoosier Histrionics

Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence expected to sign hate bill into lawI’m ashamed of Indiana.

I’m ashamed of this country.

Indiana Senate Bill 101 in a nutshell legalizes discrimination against any person who offends a business owner’s religious beliefs. It is the bastard cousin of the strictest Sharia. That we continue to allow state sponsored discrimination is a disgrace, but we live in a nation that values fairy tales over facts.

In recent days, I’ve witnessed the faces of bigotry too many times. I’m tired of people cloaking themselves in Jesus and calling their horrendous personality flaws “religious freedom.”

It is possible, of course, to open the bible and pull the most despotic passages in an attempt to apply those words to situations and people who are 2000 years past sacrificing goats on mountains. It is also possible that everything done to justify this behavior will result in one being damned to the exact same place which others are routinely condemned.

But…

Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to continue to try and figure out why bigots are bigoted and I’m not going to try any longer to make them understand me, as a Black woman, or my friends who are gay–some of whom are also Black or Latin or Asian or White. Be a racist. Be a homophobe. Make my job of spotting you and laughing in your insipid mug easier.

So listen Indiana. Listen to what I’m about to say to the people across the river and the surrounding region–know that it is in your best interest.

Folks near Indiana, stay away. Don’t come to Indiana. Don’t spend your money. Don’t patronize, add tax revenue or tourism dollars to a state that supports this kind of hatred.

I have the misfortune of being a resident of the state without immediate remedy. Despite this, there are things that I can do. If I’m going to spend money in Indiana, I need to know that a business supports the values of a community that I want to live in–welcoming, open-minded and diverse. I can and will–as it is against my religion of not being an asshole–refrain from patronizing any business that does not support these values. There are businesses in Indiana that champion equality and I suggest they make note of it in their shop windows.

People of color and those in the LGBTQ community are done acquiescing to systems that make the simple act of being damn near impossible. The rules are being twisted and perverted by zealots foaming at the mouth in efforts to protect themselves from reality. So fuck it. It is time to rewrite the rules completely and there is nothing in Indiana that can’t be found in a nearby state–so bankrupt this motherfucker.

I married a Hoosier four years ago and moved here with the belief that the community I live in would continue to grow and become more like my hometown–more creative, more open.

There are charms.

My neighborhood gives me some hope. New businesses are opening and my neighbors are amazing and diverse. Yet, I can’t help feeling as if the state government of Indiana and people that support SB101 and government endorsed discrimination are getting too cozy with their odium of all things not apple pie or Chick-fil-a. It is getting harder to breathe while staring at the faces of hate. I want to cut off the air supply of this bigoted hydra until it dies the horrible death that it deserves.

With that said, remember that in America, nothing speaks louder than money. If we want something to change, our spending is the quickest and most effective way to affect that change. The people who want your dollars will do damn near anything to get them.

Governor Pence can sign the bill and Indiana can suffer the natural consequences of sanctioning moral bankruptcy. I certainly hope he has no aspirations for re-election because a tsunami of opposition is building against him and we WILL end his political dreams just like he is doing to the dreams of thousands of Indiana residents.

As for me, I’ll be driving to Kentucky to get gas for my car, groceries for my family and plants for my garden. I’ll be watching movies there, dining in friendly restaurants and enjoying my proximity to a place that chooses to not sponsor phony Christians. Remember the Ark Park?

I’m aware that I could be hurting local businesses that have voiced no support for this measure. If they are willing to publicly stand in opposition to SB101 and any measure that hinders a progressive and diverse climate, I will have no quibble and would gladly patronize such establishments.

I know those gas taxes support road repair. I also know that without drastic and immediate actions our elected officials will continue to grow fat from our complacency and continue to force upon our future, ideology that belongs locked in the past with the dinosaurs.

 

 

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A kinder, gentler New Year

FUN WITH SHRAPNEL

Last year when it came time for the New Year’s wrap-up/resolution column I was not in a great place. I was grouchy, grading papers and feeling weary of new motherhood. It was so bad that I neglected to greet the New Year, became an emotional knot and subsequently bemoaned my discontent in my column. Not this time.

At the end of 2013, my son wasn’t cognizant of the world in the way that he is now. Our relationship was still very primal and we were negotiating our place with each other. I felt a bit guilty about not celebrating last year with him, but I had to be forgiving of my situation. Being a new mom is tough.

While struggling to understand myself as a mother, I didn’t realize how the coming year would change my son, or myself, nor did I realize that my struggle to fit into motherhood has made me stronger. I know I’m a stronger mother now than last year.

This year, I celebrated the New Year with my husband and son. We had music, kisses and poppers with streamers. I cuddled The Kid and told him “Happy New Year.” His response was squeals of delight and running between his parents giving us “huggins.”  I wasn’t going to let another New Year pass without acknowledgement.

Like most people, I approach the New Year wondering not only what will happen ahead but also who I will be in this new twelve months. Despite my own criticisms of the New Year’s resolution, I know why the tradition exists. We mark our moments by the calendar from the time we’re born. Each birthday is another chance to do something great, a day to contemplate the places we’ve been. The beginning of each year does the very same thing. We reflect and look for ways to make our lives and ourselves better.

I think we should strive for self-actualization all the time. Growth is important. Considering that change is one of life’s few guarantees; it’s best when we accept and maybe plan a bit for it. In our growth, it’s good to stop and take inventory of what we want for ourselves. My growth in 2015 involves reaching some minor targets.

The first thing I wanted from the New Year, I got: a night in with a happy toddler and my dear husband. Following that, my New Year goals are manageable. They aren’t outrageous or ones that put me up against my own stubbornness or the ease at which most resolutions are broken. My goals for this year are extensions of things that I began in 2014 or before.

On the most basic level, I want to rid myself of things that are unnecessary and to bring something new and enriching into my life. First thing to go, I hope, are my car payments. I’m so close and it’s been nearly 10 years and 2 cars since I’ve driven a completely payment-free vehicle. I’m ready and my pockets will enjoy the break.

As a writer, I took inventory of myself last year and decided to expand beyond my column and writings for LEO. I wrote about having a conversation with my husband and his helping me to realize that I’d been fighting the universe by not writing. I’d turned my back on the most reliable gift I have.

I’m not sure what magic happens when you speak your dreams to the world but new writing opportunities happened and keep happening. I’ll still be writing for LEO, no worries, but I have chances. My goal to boost the writing work for this year is to finish a certification in web design, which comes in handy when I’m commissioned to write web content.

Of course, I want the usual healthy and happy stuff. I need to get back to yoga, eat better, remember to eat and take my vitamins. More than anything, I want the year to teach me something, make me better and give me a chance. I don’t want to start with unreal expectations but I’m growing in my belief that what we speak into our lives matters and what we do in response is just as important.
I think that’s my challenge for you, Dear Reader. Don’t be unrealistic with yourself this year. Don’t set yourself up for failure, misery and another year expecting to lose. Do one small thing and make it something that adds to who you already are. I’d venture to guess that whatever you are is pretty good.

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All in a day’s twerk

I was looking forward to a break this week. I wanted to write something happy and not so focused on current events. I think that sometimes we all need breathing room. Alas, there is none to be found.

Local pastor Dr. Kevin Cosby has been in the news this week with controversial statements about black youth. Pastor Cosby believes that young blacks should “stop twerking and start working.” The unemployment rate for black youth is greater than 40 percent. However, about 53 percent of young African Americans are employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  While the number of unemployed black youth is exorbitant, it in no way indicates that young blacks are wasting their time. We have to observe other indicators such as available opportunities within the reach of a young population that lacks access to regular and reliable transportation other than the city bus.

With Louisville’s black population being concentrated in the West End and Newburg, without being scientific, observations from a drive through either neighborhood illustrate the absence of businesses that hire young people other than fast food. This is a workforce that has yet to develop a set of employable skills living in a job desert. This is also a population of youth that historically has suffered educational disparities at disproportionate rates — due to uncontrollable factors like the lack of proper nutrition, schools less equipped and teachers who come to classrooms ill-prepared for a diverse population that includes ethnic and impoverished children.

The indicator we need to discuss in relation to Cosby’s claim is that MOST young African Americans are, in fact, working — not twerking. Cosby’s claim fits neatly into the parameters of the Politics of Respectability. By suggesting that youth are “twerking” instead of seeking employment, he invests in the same racist economy that believes African Americans are lazy or shuckin’ and jivin’ to avoid participation in society.  Cosby finds himself firmly in the company of people like Piers Morgan, Bill Cosby and Charles Barkley. Morgan, in fact, believes that if blacks eliminated the N-word from our vocabulary, then racism will magically cease to exist. Morgan has never read Yahoo comments.

Both Bill Cosby and Barkley are similar to Pastor Cosby in that they are blacks who believe that their achievements and status put them in a class above others like Michael Brown or Eric Garner. If we accepted the respectability speeches from these three, we would understand that these dead shiftless Negroes should have been trying to be more like them and if they had, might still be alive. According to the Politics of Respectability, blacks need to assimilate and erase ourselves. Participate in erasure and we will disappear.
Perhaps status and wealth allow these men to forget that blacks come to this country with no knowledge of our direct histories. As James Baldwin noted, our first entry into America was a “bill of sale.” Everything that came before this transaction is lost. It doesn’t exist. Our only ties to Africa are those of fantasy and a general understanding of the manner in which we arrived in America.

We are expected to pantomime certain behaviors even though our agreement to do so does not guarantee us employment or safety under the laws of this nation. We’ve been shown this repeatedly.

These behaviors did not save Martin Luther King, Jr., nor did they save Medgar Evers. Both were killed while wearing the trappings of respectability.

I’d like Pastor Cosby to step outside of his box and remember the teachings of God.  The Bible says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you.” Pastor Cosby, as evidenced by his Twitter feed, often delivers contradictory messages. The Politics of Respectability puts “on blast,” the very thing the Bible says to avoid.

For some, and not just young black women, twerking is work, and moral judgment does not need to come from a Cosby, a Barkley or any other self-declared navigational beacon. For those who feed their children with their twerk, a jerk, or by whatever means they bring bread to the table, moral reconciliation lies between them and their relationship with their creator, if they desire one at all. We do not have to agree but we do have to be authentic and look at the full spectrum of a person’s experience.

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Boys will be Boys

November 26, 2014

‘Boys will be boys’

We live in a culture that encourages aggressive behaviors and at times allows those behaviors to go unchecked. This is particularly true when it comes to our sons. “Boys will be boys” is an all too familiar cliche that needs to be put to rest. There is no reason that we continue to make excuses for our sons’ bad behaviors — except that as a nation, we are so trained to patriarchal thinking, we refuse to entertain the possibility that “boys will be boys” creates predatory and aggressive men. In short, we create the entitlement that feeds our nation’s issues with sexual aggression and rape. To stop this, we have to change the way we think about gender.

When I became a mother, I made a conscious decision to limit my child’s exposure to violence, gender-specific toys and clothing, and stereotypes about the male child. I had to share that decision with my family and in-laws. Initially, the response was confusion. What newfangled, hippie BS was I talking about? Why can’t the boy wear camo? (There is a standing ban on camouflage in our house.) My intent to keep the study of aggression away from my son has to be complete. It has to include his media, his clothing (I admit he has superhero shirts, though he’s never seen a superhero) and his playthings. To some, the idea that a male child would be denied the icons of boyhood should mean that he will be effeminate or weak. Contrary to this notion, my son is an assertive kid without the aggression. Having an assertive parent is much more likely to factor into his behavior than learned stereotypical conduct.

Notions of the patriarchy are reinforced everywhere. A trip to Target, a store I usually credit for its sensitivity, reveals the ways that a good business falls short when it comes to marketing toys. In the “girls” toy aisles, there are dolls, salon chairs, horses with brushes, and princess dresses. The “boys” aisles are a lesson in aggression, filled with armored action figures, weapons (Hulk fists and Minecraft swords) and superhero costumes. On a very basic level, this continued support of boy vs. girl marketing sustains the narrative that aggression and maleness are one and the same. We train our sons to be soldiers and we train our daughters to be pretty.

Recently, allegations of rape and sexual assault have resurfaced for comedian Bill Cosby. Several women have accused him of doping and molesting them. He’s even reached a financial settlement with one of his accusers. The reactions have been confused at best. Many jumped onto the bandwagon of guilt and have filled the Internet with convictions of Cosby’s character. Others, like Whoopi Goldberg, have questioned the legitimacy of the claims, even treading dangerously close to blaming the victims.

The confusion, it seems, stems from our inability as a society to retool our notions of maleness and celebrity. Because of this, we continue to feed the “boys will be boys” narrative that creates entitled men who believe that women are to be dominated and sexually manipulated. We resist changing our views because change means admitting that perhaps we’ve been wrong about how gender should be performed.

Perhaps Cosby is innocent. Sometimes men are falsely accused of sexual crimes. Mostly not, but I’m not interested in his guilt or innocence. What I am interested in is the level at which we fall over ourselves as a society trying to parse this guilt or innocence, and then flail about trying to decide what will ultimately be his legacy.

Each time a woman is raped or assaulted, complaints about mothers raising better sons gain focus … but no one tries to explain how to do this. How do we make “better” sons a reality? How do we kill the notions that male dominance and aggression are desirable and that “boys will be boys” is a scientific assessment of hostile and unsafe behavior? We have to change the whole narrative and the thought process of a society that believes people have a predetermined performative nature. When we begin to recognize that and practice allowing our children to grow without the boundaries of “gender,” perhaps finally we will see a growth in respect and compassion.

I hope that as my son grows, his ideas of masculinity don’t include these limits, and I expect that he will offer himself as a fair person who doesn’t regard his penis as a key to the world.

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Why a nation is sad…

One final word about the heavy hearts today. You might not understand when your friends (white or black) say they are hurt by the decision in Ferguson. You might not understand why cars are on fire. But let’s put this in simple terms. People are hurting because they have been hurt. Systematic oppression is not a new concept but it is one that some, especially the young and those who’ve lived in a shell of privilege don’t necessarily understand. Let’s pause here to say, privilege does not mean riches. It means that because of the structure of society, “you” by nature of events, situations and characteristics beyond your control get a certain amount of buy-in to comfort. You can shop without being harassed. You can get a ticket without fear of arrest or beating. You can fill out an application without fear that your name or your lack of attention to the race box might kick that application to the bottom of the pile and leave you out of a job.

So when you hear the word privilege, it does not mean that you are wealthy, just by nature, gifted with a certain amount of security.

The people who are saddened by the lack of indictment in Ferguson are sad because this nation where we have worked (some of us as slaves), built our homes, and raised our families continues to tell us that our lives don’t matter. Our lives are worthy of nothing more than that of this young man who lay in the hot sun for four hours on the street, like roadkill. Our lives are not worthy of respect, compassion, love, sympathy or simple FAIRNESS. This is what makes a lot of people sad.

Of course there are those who take their feelings out in anger and those who simply jump in for the opportunity to cause mischief. The media shows you those images because they are sensational. The bulk of people who feel solidarity with the Brown family and the people of Ferguson do not fit that narrative but by being fed images of fire and looting, so many are quick to believe it as the truth. It isn’t.

Understand now that this is a nation that owes a very deep debt to the people who built it on the sweat of their enslaved brows. Those people are not just black. They are poor, Irish, Mexican, etc. America has thrived because people who are considered “less” have sacrificed and once again, this nation is faced with a debt it continues to ignore. Here’s the thing that must be realized, this issue isn’t going to go away and it isn’t going to get better until we are honest, realistic and open about what is really going on in our nation. Ferguson is just a spark. There are a lot of fires waiting to ignite.

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