Category Archives: Racial injustice

Let Us Now Praise Spike Lee

Today I want to sing the praises of Spike Lee. I have been a big fan of his work since I saw “She’s Gotta have It” in 1986. As I started to write this blog, I felt like I was repeating myself, which is either a sign I’ve written about him before and forgot (plausible), or I keep writing about him in my head, and I can’t access my Jedi powers well enough to just transmit that to the blog without typing (also semi-plausible and a writer’s occupational hazard). I  searched my posts, and so far I have only mentioned him a few times. So this is way overdue.

I’m so happy that he and his fellow writers (Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz, and Charlie Wachtell), won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman”; the movie is based on a true story of a Black undercover cop in the 70s who infiltrated the KKK using his white voice (echoes of “Sorry to Bother You”) and his white, Jewish partner. I never watch these award shows — they make me stay up too late for movies that I like, don’t like, or won’t be seeing. What do I care if they win a prize? And that’s not just the sour grapes talking because the movies I like don’t often win awards — like most of Spike Lee’s movies. I know some people don’t even watch it for the movies, but for the fashion, which it also lost on me. Nice dress! Weird dress! Red dress! Repeat!

I tend to tune the whole thing out, so as it happens, I learned Spike Lee won by reading about the comments about his acceptance speech. That’s kind of messed up, but here we are. This broke down in two ways: white people — He’s too political! He’s racist! (Because apparently talking about race is racist.) He’s using the platform inappropriately! And of course Cheeto flea had to tweet his illiterate nonsense. The Black people were more like: Yes! Thank you, Spike! We love you! Actually I think they said it in a cooler way, that was me white paraphrasing.

Now I was intrigued. Hmmmm. What did that fiery artist say now? He has always been outspoken about race and social justice — have you seen the pivotal scene near the end of “Do the Right Thing” where his usually non-threatening character has to decide — does he join a riot prompted by the unjust death of a Black man in his neighborhood or hold back and not destroy the pizza shop window of his white employer? As I was leaving the theater after that movie, all the black people were pumped up, and all the white people looked pale and uncomfortable. As they should. Spike has been telling us what’s what for more than 30 years now, He’s directed more than 24 movies and produced and created even more short films and documentaries. There’s even a Netflix series, based on the movie “She’s Gotta have It,” but I haven’t seen it — I’m experiencing FOMMM (fear of messing with my movie).

What does my artistic role model and inspiration have to say now in 2019, such as we are? I watched the clip, with some anticipation.

And there he was, a man of middle age, gripping a piece of paper, visibly shaking and doing his best to speak the Truth in his allotted time of almost 3 minutes. And what did he say that got some people’s panties in a twist? Calling on remembering the slave ancestors and the sacrifices they made. He named his grandmother, the daughter of a slave and graduate of Spelman College, and thanked her for saving her social security checks so he could go to Morehouse and NYU. She called him Spikey Poo. He called for remembering the genocide of the native people and said connecting with our ancestors would bring us wisdom and help us regain our humanity. Oh, and there was a bit about 2020 presidential election being right around the corner: “Make the moral choice between love versus hate.” Then he said “Do the Right Thing,” and he laughed, “You know I had to get that in there!”

So, yes, it was altogether shockingly … calm? Inspiring? Heartfelt with personal thanks to his grandma? Funny? Similar to what any non-Trump supporter is saying about 2020? Rooted in facts that are already established? Yes, Black people were brought here from Africa as slaves, Natives were definitely killed en masse, and there is documented hate going around.

I can totally see how shouting out to your grandmother is really just wasting people’s time with useless personal thanks. Thank your industry buds, your spouse, and move it along.

None of it matters. Spike Lee, after 5 nominations finally was recognized for the work he has been doing tirelessly, with integrity, honesty, and passion. Thanks Spike for your inspiration and for setting this white girl on a path of better understanding 30 years ago about what it means to be Black in America. And thank you for doing it with humor, music, clear-eyed Truth, and without apology. I’m going to watch your video again and get to work.

 

Nod to Elton John: This Blog Has No Title

I’ve been sitting here trying to find a pithy title to this blog. And then Elton John’s song popped in my head:  This Song Has No Title.   When I say popped, I mean up from the recesses of my adolescent brain. I haven’t thought about this song in years, but the album it’s on, Yellow Brick Road, is part of the soundtrack of my youth — it was etched into me before I understood music could do that. It was my sister’s album, and she listened to it a lot. And I loved the double album artwork, so I as I gazed at it and read the lyrics, I listened to it when she wasn’t there. As I listened to the song just now, after at least 40 years, I air pianoed in all the right places. It seems relevant still:

“And each day I learn just a little bit more
I don’t know why but I do know what for
If we’re all going somewhere let’s get there soon
Oh this song’s got no title just words and a tune”

I’m stalling. I’ve been taking a class called “White People Challenging Racism: Moving from Talk to Action,” and just so there is no misunderstanding, we’re against racism and are looking at our white privilege. The way it’s worded and in today’s Cheeto flea world, I want to confirm that it doesn’t mean we are challenging the legitimacy of racism. So all you MAGA people, move up or move on back. Preferably get a clue, but that’s probably not gonna happen. And Black folks, we’re trying to work out our white junk so we can be better allies to you and make sure our baggage fits in the overhead compartment.

And I want to talk about it, but it’s messing with my head, making me look for words, which for a writer is like being a carpenter without wood. I’m angry, sad, puzzled, tired, exposed, struggling. Where the hell is the wood?

I’m a good white person. I need you to know that, and that’s part of the problem, see? This isn’t about good white person = non-racist. I can be a good person and still have racist ideas and thoughts and assumptions. And I’m squirming and struggling against the idea like one of Pepe Le Pew’s victims. I had the great fortune of having a best friend in college who let me into her Black world. I am an empathetic person by nature. I got it, I believed it when she told me how life was for her being Black. We analyzed when she was a new lawyer at a big Boston firm. Was the interaction because she Black? a woman? Low lawyer on the ladder?

I grew up working class, from immigrants. First generation on one side, 2nd on the other. College was a goal, not a given. I worked all during college, two of those years about 30 hours a week. I graduated with tons of loans, worked in nonprofits — a professional who was not out to make money, but a difference. I did not own property until I was 37. It was in an affordable, but less desirable Boston-area town. My then husband and I didn’t have parents who could give us a down payment, so we took the money out from our 403Bs.

I know white privilege exists on a systemic level. I can’t have listened to a Black person’s experience and doubted it. Ah, so comfy, from my “less privileged” place. I didn’t have money or social standing. I’m good, I’m cool, right? I’m not like those clueless rich white people. Am I?

I defer to my alter ego Blanche, because she likes to laugh at me when I’m being stupid. She sits at the bar drinking gin and taking long contemplative drags on her ciggies.

Blanchesmoking

Poor, Blanche. She just fell off her stool, she’s laughing so hard. Luckily, she’s a tough bird. She’ll be OK. Plus, she likes laughing at me, so she wants nothing better than to get on that stool and in position for my next misstep.

Blanche says, “You’re white, girlie. Hide behind your ‘working class, immigrant’ shield all you want. The fact is, no one has followed your sorry ass in a store, even when you had no money to spend. No one ever thought at work that you were only there because of affirmative action. Once they meet you, your coffee slurping may annoy them, but that’s just being a bad office mate. You uncomfortable? That’s sounds about right.”

Blanch takes a long drag on her ciggie and looks me in the eye as she stubs it out, “You ain’t perfect, babe, let it ride. I’ll stop laughing when you talk sense.” She downs her shot and slams it on the bar. “Or not,” her smokey, throaty laugh echoes in stale air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Quite Vivid

I’m all about making things fun and easy, but I amaze even myself sometimes. If you are a regular reader, you may know I’m struggling with how to wrap my arms around getting more involved in social justice and learning more about racism and white privilege. You know just small, little things like that to help beat back the Cheeto flea and his turd minions.

Part of the problem is that I think I may have used up most of my intellectual curiosity and prowess in my 20s and 30s, what with my subscriptions to Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s (no, not Harper’s Bazaar, the smarty pants Harper’s). Then family duties called. Lapsed subscriptions were replaced with other reading. While I firmly believe that reading to your children gives them an excellent foundation for being a functioning adult with critical thinking skills, there is also a small part of me that also believes reading the Berenstain Bears 100 times over the course of several years causes permanent damage to a functioning adult’s critical thinking skills. You do your best to pick only the books you can stand to read that many times, but inevitably, the Berenstain Bears book and its kin come into your life, and like the dog who goes right for the person who dislikes dogs, your kid will pick the crap book every time.

So where was I? Right, fun and easy. So the related other part of the problem is that when I try to decide, should I read a depressing book about how messed up institutional racism is? Or the book for my book group, which is non-fiction and usually not quite as depressing as racism, but still serious and requires concentration? Or that trashy historical romance novel I just downloaded for free on Hoopla?

Guess who wins? I know. I’m the worst. Blame the Berenstain Bears.

But I’m nothing, if not wily and persistent. I had read the last historical novel by the white writer I liked and when I tried several new ones, based on Hoopla suggestions, I couldn’t get through them. I may read historical romance novels, but I do have some standards. The heaving bosoms need to belong to a strong female character and need to be part of an interesting historical plot that is based on truth. I went through many lists of writers, and one of the suggestions included a Black historical romance writer, Beverly Jenkins.

Well, hey now. Could I get a two-fer out of this? I need to learn more Black history anyway, and the book I’m currently reading Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, is quite educational, and I’ve been stuck on page 36 for a while now. I know, I know, I’m the absolute worst. But I have a mission to fulfill, so I downloaded a book called Vivid. Vivid is a female physician of color who travels from California to a Black community in Grayson Cove, Michigan; they need a doctor and no one else will hire her in 1876. They also only hire her because they think she’s a man–she uses the “no first names” trick.

(As a side note, I just saw “On the Basis of Sex,” the movie about the early career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who nearly 100 years later after Vivid, made it into Harvard Law School and was top of her class, only to also not get hired. So, you know, there’s that. But the movie is good, so go see it, my fellow snowflakes!)

Vivid is well-written, entertaining, and not only chock full of historical details of Black people in the 1876,  Beverly also lists pages of resource material at the end of the book. Paydirt! There really were Black women doctors in the 1800s, and there were all-Black communities being established in the U.S. Sadly for my gay friends, they are no gay characters in these books, but if I find any good gay historical romances, I’ll let you know. Most of Beverly’s books I’ve read take place in all-Black communities, or in cities like Philadelphia because, as she notes in the end of one of the books, it played an important role in the Black race’s history. I’ve read about the 1800s and the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal church, middle class households, ranching out west, poets and writers, and more. In other words, I’ve read about human beings being human and their specific struggles because of their color.

One of my favorites, Midnight, is set in Boston on the verge of the Revolutionary War. In it the main free male character talks about being captured by the British navy and being forced into naval service–it’s called impressment and was legal in Britain at the time. And you know those Brits–they like to carry their rules around with them to other countries, whether the other countries agree or not. Not long after reading about it, I was able to tear myself away from fascinating Beverly to my read book group book, Heirs of the Founders, by H.W. Brands, about the second generation of American politicians. An early chapter describes how in 1812 two elder statesman, Henry Clay and John Calhoun, were trying to persuade their congressional colleagues and President Madison to wage war against Britain in response to many transgressions against American sovereignty, including, you guessed it, impressment.

So, I rest my case. And I know I can’t be satisfied with just Beverly and her meticulously research novels and heaving bosoms, sigh. I’ve got more reading to do, and I also signed up for class in January called, “White People Challenging Racism.” But for the moment, I need to find out what is going to happen in the next installment of the Grayson Cove, Michigan town. Seems were going to learn more about Dr. Vivid’s brother-in-law, Eli.

And, thank you Beverly, for your wonderful books. Here is a brief bio from Wikipedia: “Beverly Jenkins (born 1951, Detroit) is an American author of historical and contemporary romance novels with a particular focus on 19th century African-American life.[1] Jenkins was a 2013 NAACP Image Award nominee and, in 1999, was voted one of the Top 50 Favorite African-American writers of the 20th century by the African American Literature Book Club.[2] Jenkins’s historical romances are set during a period of African-American history that she believes is often overlooked. This made it difficult to break into publishing because publishers weren’t sure what to do with stories that involved African-Americans but not slavery.[3]

150430_blog-photo_bev-jenkins

 

Top 5 for 2018, Cuz We’re All in Hurry

I usually do a top 10 or top 11, because it amuses me, but this year I just have time for 5, but I’m guessing you won’t mind. You’ve got things to do too, don’t you. I just want to say thank you for reading in 2018, thank you if you’ve been reading longer than that (check is in the mail, I swear), and thank you for continuing to read in 2019, if you are so moved. I love that two pieces I wrote eons ago continue to get readership–it cracks me up and lifts me up : Jilted by My Hairdresser—Twice and Shaving, Waxing, Electrocution: A Primer on Women’s War on Hair. I just realized they are both about hair, one flippant and one serious. So we must all have a thing about hair–hmmmm. Food for thought for 2019. Or maybe hair for thought.

Happy new year and here’s to making 2019 better than 2018. The bar is pretty low, people.

Anyway, here are the top 5 posts for 2018. I swear I’m not insulted that they aren’t all from this year. That’s cool. Really. Fine, I’ll work harder next year!

5. Wine Whine  : So I’m guessing you all like wine, and that’s why I like you. Some of you are sommeliers, and more power to you. Me? I’m a simple girl. Show me your wine rack that’s organized in a way people can decipher and no one gets hurt.

4. X-Files: The Bad Boyfriend I Can’t Leave : This one is the 2nd in the series, so I would be negligent if I didn’t  encourage you to read the first one: Christopher William Carter, You’re Grounded and then #3 X-Files, Fin. The fact that neither of those made the top 5, or the top 10 for that matter, may be an indication that it’s similar to the Star Trek movies: only the even numbered ones are any good. Whatever. If you are an X-File fan, prove it and read them! If not, you’re forgiven. There is a high probability the 2nd one is better than the other 2, but you didn’t hear that from me.

3. It’s a Cute Hamster Week : Not sure why you liked this one better than this one, which was so cute, it hurts: It’s Time for Cuteness. But maybe the cute hamster week, with the hamster hanging on is more relatable than cuteness that hurts. You can be the judge of that.

2. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: So I posted this twice, once in 2017 and again in 2018. I think that makes it a classic. (Hint: you will most likely see it in April 2019–for testing purposed only, I swear. Enjoy!

1. Alpha Flee: OK, so I’m going to pretend that the top post for 2018 is NOT a post I wrote in 2016. I’m going to be flattered you found it. Buried underneath 2.5 YEARS of OTHER FABULOUS POSTS. Did I shout? I didn’t mean to. I’m just SO EXCITED that you found it.  And now that I’ve reread it, you’re right. That is some damn good writing. So you’ve got impeccable taste. I totally knew that.

For the record, my personal favorite for 2018 was the Beocat Epic tale. Long live Sir Beocat!

Happy New Year my loves and see you in 2019.

Do It for the Elders

Unless you live under a rock/bubble bigger than mine, which is highly unlikely as it’s one of my minor superpowers, you have heard the request to vote from every crack and crevice of our system. And you’ve most likely heard the very good reasons: make your voice heard, participate in our democracy, save our country from ruin (even though people differ on the definition or ruin, we seem to be able to agree we’re all working toward that goal).

And that is all fine, but in case those reasons don’t do it for you, here’s another: Do it for the elders who single-handedly run our polling systems. At least here in Massachusetts.

I have lived in and voted in 3 different areas in and around Boston: in a city with a mix of college kids, townies, and those from elsewhere who liked it enough to stay; a working class city; and now a bastion of blue snowflakes. What do they have in common? Every poll place is run by people over the age of 70, maybe even 75.

While we’re bellyaching about having to run in there before, after, or during work, or between jobs, or picking up/dropping off kids, or between care giving errands, these badass guardians of our democracy are there from 7 am to 8 pm on election day, and with early voting, on many other days, as well.

So if  you are at least trying to pretend you’re human, you should go out of respect of these elders, many of them grandmas and grandpas. Are you going to diss grandma? Are you that lame?

And if you don’t care about that, are you going to be shown up by a little old man or lady? They can get up early and sit there asking people the same questions for hours, and you can’t manage to take 10 minutes to pop in and vote?

C’mon, don’t be an asshat, just vote! You can always be an asshat later.

And of course all you lovelies who have voted or will, thank you. You’re utterly fantastic, and the badasses approve.

Photo credit: OMF

 

Here’s What We’re Going to Do

My grandmother, who we called Memere (we’re 1/2 French Canadian), would say, after listening to whatever childish request we’d cooked up or if it were a rainy day and we were moping around, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” And some amazing activity would ensue: cooking up cripes (that was our version of crepes), or making a dress for an off-brand Barbie, or figuring out what fun thing to do with a piece of a float that had washed up on the shore of her tiny lake cottage.

She has moved on, but her words came back to me as I have been thinking about the three ballot questions we have in Massachusetts. If you live here, I’m sure you’ve read up, or have been reading the flyers that are inundating your mailbox, or you’re getting phone calls from engaged young enthusiastic people. But you’re still not sure?

Here’s what you’re going to do. And because my Memere’s involved, at least in memory, you know you can trust this:

  1. Ballot Question 1, NO: Do you approve of a law that would limit how many patients could be assigned to each registered nurse in Massachusetts hospitals and certain other health care facilities. The maximum number of patients per registered nurse would vary by type of unit and level of care. No on 1.

I work at a hospital that is consistently ranked in the top 3 in the nation–OK once we went down to #4, but they changed the criteria that year–and we say no. The nurses at my hospital have complete control over how many nurses they need to take care of patients who are always changing and have changing needs. One size does not fit all. Here’s is the chief nurse speaking plainly about it to one of our docs. It’s not a slick advertisement, just an iPhone video of reality.  Our chief nurse says no on 1

2. Ballot Question 2, YES: Do you approve of this proposed law that would create a citizens commission to consider and recommend potential amendments to the United States Constitution to establish that corporations do not have the same Constitutional rights as human beings and that campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated. Yes on 2.

We’re Massachusetts, and we have lots of smart eggheads who can help clarify this. I know being smart is totally out of fashion right now.  But we can’t help ourselves. Let’s show the rest of the county how it’s done, shall we? They hate us anyway, so what do we have to lose?

3. Ballot Question 3. YES: This one is do you essentially re-approve of a law that has been in existence since 2016? This law already adds gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement. Such grounds also include race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, disability, and ancestry. A “place of public accommodation, resort or amusement” is defined in existing law as any place that is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public, such as hotels, stores, restaurants, theaters, sports facilities, and hospitals. “Gender identity” is defined as a person’s sincerely held gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not it is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Yes on 3. 

WTF? Look, whatever feelings you have about people who may be different from you. THIS LAW ALREADY EXISTS. No children, pets, or people’s silly pride had been harmed by this law.

WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS? You live in Massachusetts–we’re a bunch of blue snowflakes, deal with it. If you have a problem, there are lots of other states you can be happy in. Buh-bye.

Happy voting people, and please don’t disappoint my Memere!

Image credit: National Monitor

 

 

And….Cut! Take 2

I made a commitment to get more involved in racial injustice, and I realized I needed to educate myself. Ain’t nobody need a white woman to show up with her guilt and then have to help her figure out her racial junk. That’s on me to learn about my own biases and what I do consciously or unconsciously that keeps systemic racism alive. Many years ago, I took a more straight forward route and read a number of books about the civil rights movement. I never learned that in school — we were lucky to make it to WWII, which we sped through in the final weeks of the school year. Germans invade Europe! We Americans swoop into rescue them! England kinda helps! Russians bad! We beat Hitler, yay, we’re out for the summer!

But getting back to an actual education, the civil rights movement was good for me to understand, but this time I wanted to learn more about what’s going on now in the lives and struggles of people of color. How can I be helpful now? So I have been trying to educate myself, admittedly a little randomly, with the idea that the things I need to learn will find their way to me.

That sounds soooo white hippy dippy doesn’t it? See how much work I have to do? As I learned from one of the books I read, the Black folks are giving me “shade” and “side eye.”

I have written 5 or 6 posts on the topic, and the last few kind of bothered me, and not in the good way like, “Wow, I feel defensive, I must be poking myself in the right places!” (Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and “Get Out”: A Spoonful of Sugar.)

They definitely feel too preachy, as in, “white people, let me tell you a thing or two.” My bad writing spidey sense was tingling, but I couldn’t make out why. So please forgive me for pushing the publish button anyway. The show must go on! Or at least the Monday morning post. I grant you it’s obnoxious, but far worse, it’s bad writing, which I will not tolerate…I’m fired! Wait, no, I’ll just try to do better.

I wasn’t able to put my finger on the problem until I started talking about it with my friends Becky and Susan, whose questions help clarify the issue. They are gay and have witnessed how I have been an ally for gay folks for many years now. What’s different about trying to be a Black ally?

And that is a good question. It feels different, more complicated. I told them when I first started showing up at the Gay Pride Parade and listening to my friends coming out stories, I was welcomed and appreciated for my efforts. Also, the movement was so new (compared to, say, Black history), that it didn’t take long to catch up. Hiding, hiding, hiding, Stonewall! We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it! I didn’t even have to learn about the AIDS. I witnessed it. How convenient is that? Also, there is a lot of dancing and fabulousness, and turning pain into joy. That also happens to be my main coping mechanism.

Being an ally to gay folks seemed to be a bit like going to France. Although the gay people I know are way nicer than the French. France, if you try to speak a little French, they will put you ahead of the obnoxious American tourist who makes no effort to communicate, except to speak English louder, as if that will help. Gay folks were like, hey, you listen, you want to learn, come on in!

My uncomfortable realization is that I like being praised for my efforts. I want to get the gold star, the A+ for participation. And I got that from gay people who are happy to have me and want to tell me their stores.

On the other hand, Black people seem very tired of explaining themselves, and who the heck can blame them? I’m not sure how to show my interest without, well, being white about it. Black people have turned their pain into joy too, and I like gospel music, but the church part kinda gives me the willies. Although, I have discovered we have in common our dislike/distrust of the Catholic Church, so, you know, that’s a start.

For other types of music, I don’t think you can be white and show up at a Kiss-n-Grind, which is all about dancing to soul, house, and other kinds of music and hanging out — I learned about it from the HBO show Insecure. (It’s a really good show, and I’ll write more about it, but go watch it!) Well, OK, I just Googled the real thing and there are pictures of a few white people in the crowd. But I can’t go because I’m probably too old, not cool enough, and it seems like it’s just an LA thing. And I get pretty East Coast provincial about LA, but maybe I can work on that.

More talk with Becky and Susan helped me see that this is my journey of discovery, the good, the bad, the awkward, and the difficult. I have no right to say how other white or Black people are feeling or should feel, but I can write truthfully about all the missteps and embarrassing things I’m doing while I’m finding my way. That also just so happens to make better blog material, so it’s win-win.

Bear with me as I am halfway through several books that crossed my somewhat confused path, (I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era by Ashley Farmer). Books waiting to be read like The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae (actress, writer, and producer of the aforementioned “Insecure”). There are a couple of movies on order, such as “Sorry to Bother You” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.”  Actually, Spike Lee grabbed me in the 80s with “She’s Gotta Have It,” and I need to keep pace with him, which I should get extra points for — he’s prolific!

Ah. OK. I’m doing not for the A+, but to be a better person. Right. But you know, if any Black folks out there want to think I’m hip for loving “Insecure” and following Luvvie Ajayi, that’s cool, even if I’m more like Frieda, the awkward, overly earnest white chick in the show,  I ain’t no hollaback girl. Or maybe I am. Can you wait a minute while I go look that up?