Tag Archives: humor

Racism: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

I’ve been thinking a lot about racism lately, and that’s my unfair advantage as a white woman: I get to think about it in an abstract way when I have time, interest, and energy. I don’t have to step out the door every day and deal with it myself or worry about a male child or a man in my life being followed, threatened, or shot for simply existing.

I’m a bleeding heart liberal from a genetic pool of people who are pre-disposed to giving others breathing room–the Dutch, so that shit’s genetic and deep. And right now pretty much everyone and every group is under fire, so how’s a lefty girl to choose? There is a macabre buffet of social, political, and environmental issues to choose to fight for. It’s an embarrassment of riches: immigrants, women’s reproduction, the environment, the political collapse of the Democratic Party that lost its focus on helping people without a voice. And then there’s the stuff to fight against, like white supremacists, people who shout using all caps in electronic communications, and Kellyanne Conway–call me conservative, but I don’t believe cyborgs should have full human rights until they can be better calibrated for balance, oh, and have a functioning brain.

So in this Cheeto flea world I’ve been darting around like a dog chasing rabid squirrels and collapsing in a corner panting until I catch my breath. Then another Cheeto flea tweet crosses my Facebook feed and I’m off and running again.

And I don’t even like exercising.

So what can I do? Where should I put my energy, because at 51, I can’t be giving it away for free like I did when I was 25. Except if you’re a hot man, then please step up to the front of the line.

Where was I? Ah, right, stop and focus. Recently a few conversations with my friend Sonia have helped clarify for me that race underpins so much of this–this fear that some white people have of losing ground they only got by 1) existing and 2) pushing down everyone else. This fear made Cheeto flea number 45. This fear continues to openly hate Obama, which is the most fucked up kind of ignorance and blatant racism. I can fight for gays, women, immigrants, and religions, but if Blacks are still considered subhuman, then everything else I do is just a Band-Aid. I should know. I went for marriage counseling around year 10, and that Band-Aid prevented us from getting to the root cause. 10 years after that, we got divorced. I’ve learned I can’t wish this crap away or think it’s one and done. That’s just for romantic comedies, and that is some of the fakest news ever.

Meeting Sonia in college and having some illuminating discussions about everything from rock ‘n’ roll to race inspired me to later read a lot of Black history that I was never taught in school, like the Civil Rights Movement. In 1986, smack in the middle of my conversations with Sonia, Spike Lee came on to the scene with “She’s Gotta Have It.” That was also life-changing–a whole movie about black people just doing regular things like trying to find love from a Black perspective. That shit was radical. Still is.

Eventually Sonia moved away, and I didn’t meet another Black person. Well that’s not true. I bonded with a nice, funny guy at a bad job. We had a lot of fun at work, and I still make this great potato salad recipe he gave me. I proposed that he and his wife hang out with my and my then husband a few times, but he politely declined. I thought at the time of something Sonia had told me about Black people having trouble trusting white people–some of us are pretty sketchy, after all. But now that I’m thinking about it, the same thing happened a few years later with a white couple, so maybe we were just a boring white couple no one wanted to hang around, Black or white.

You see how confusing this race thing can be?

After Sonia left, the gay people decided they did want to hang around with me. That worked because I don’t really think like a straight, white person. I never was big on getting married, although I did try it–it didn’t take. I’m not into working for big companies, climbing ladders, or having a big house. My one kid is great, but if he were not possible, I would have been OK not having a kid. My Moroccan friend once told me, “You’re a weird American.” And she was a weird Moroccan, so she would know. I got to know the struggles of gay people trying to define themselves outside of society’s norms–I was trying to do that too. If you’ve ever heard someone’s coming out story, which usually involves the terror of revealing your true self to those closest to you, knowing you may be rejected out of hand, then, straight, white people like me should be grateful for what we have. I just wanted to work in a nonprofit and be a writer, which meant squatting on the outer edges of American prosperity–most families don’t kick you out for that.

And so I have been to the Gay Pride parade in Boston every year, and was at Cambridge City Hall when they handed out the first gay marriage licenses, and benefited from lots of gay men giving me their cast off furniture. And then we got a Black president, so what could be better? Gay marriage! Black president! This lefty girl was snug as a bug in a rug.

Until, um, now. Cue “Home Alone” screaming kid–note that he’s white.

I’m getting back to where I started all those years ago freshman year talking into the night with Sonia about the difference between black and white hair and ashy skin. She was brave enough to let in this crazy white girl into her life and that changed me forever for the better. It’s time for me to speak up and talk about race, rock ‘n’ roll, and hair–I learned from the gay rights movement that’s what being an ally is. I have the socially acceptable attributes like being white and straight, so I need to use my ninja skills to help others and look at my own biases along the way. Yes, even the Spike Lee-loving liberal has biases. Nobody needs a clueless ally, and white, straight cluelessness can be the worst.

So what are you being called to do? We will most likely intersect and join up at some point in a big-ass massive rally that could maybe fill Rhode Island. We’re going to need all our passion and commitment to make these long-term changes. And while you’re doing your thing, try to also to hear out whatever it is others are saying, even if it makes you uncomfortable. When I hear about the environment, sometimes I want to yell, “I stopped using aerosols, I recycle, I cut up the damn plastic rings around a six-pack of soda! What more do you want from me!?” And when I put my big girl pants on, I can say, yeah, I know there’s more to it than that. Fight, and listen, and if all else fails, laugh at yourself, and keep moving.

Photo: Sonia and I getting our U2 groove on 2 summers ago.

Top 10 Posts from 2016

Intellectually I know 2016 wasn’t the worst year ever, but it was pretty bad; so let me have my grief before I move on. On my better days and a couple of glasses of wine, I try to see 2016 as a wake-up call. We’ve drifted from some essential human ingredients–some of which we know and others that gobsmacked us seemingly out of nowhere. So it’s time to face that, and I tell myself to suck it up, buttercup. Of course, we still need to laugh and wisecrack on the way to saving the world. Princess Leia and Hans Solo taught us that.

And in that spirit, I present to you the top 10 posts for the year, selected by your interest; you guys have good taste. It’s a balanced mix of serious, funny, and frivolous.

Thank you for allowing me to butt into your life with my random musings. Thank you for telling me you liked a post that I was unsure about or that I enjoyed writing. Most of all, thank you for just being here with me. It means a lot.

10. This one is a good reminder to keep checking my own biases and little (or big) judgy ways. Please forgive my unfettered Anglophile-ness. It’s a Blonde Line Between Love and Hate

9. Ah, Collegepalooza 2016. The applications should be done by now–surely I can trust my teen, right? Right? Well, we’ll always have rubber bands. Snap to It

8. Oh, perimenopause! You blogging gift from the gods. Although I fear that your weird pains will be eclipsed by the PITA prez (pain in the ass). The Mother of All Aches and Pains

7. And when all else fails, look at the cute hamster to make you smile, take a deep breath, and get beck in the ring. Cute Hamsters Is All I Got

6. Some days it’s all I can do to be verbal, so “kind” seems like a stretch. Looking at hamsters is probably a good start. Nice, My Ass

5. Sometimes you stand and fight, and other times, you flee. Alpha Flee

4. Dancing is good. Dancing with a cast can be even better. It’s not a bad reminder that barriers mostly exist in our minds. You Should Be Dancing Part II

3. Here’s the much-needed frivolous post, strategically placed before the impossible politics. For Fart’s Sake

2. Darth Vader is out there. Grab your light saber and your blaster, we’re making a run for the Millennium Falcon. Time to Get Busy

  1. I love that two dancing posts made it in the top 10, but I wish I hadn’t had to  write this one. Dancing Should Not Be an Act of Courage

In 2017, I promise to keep writing, laughing, fighting, and being Sandy.

Black Lives Matter

Last Thursday my friend Mike texted me and asked if I wanted to join a protest against the decision not to indict the officer for the death of Eric Garner in NYC. Garner died while police were taking him down to arrest him. As a divorced mom, I only have certain evenings that I can be civic-minded, social, or watch old reruns of Starsky and Hutch, so I was happy the protest was on one of those nights. Mike and I had both been feeling frustrated and helpless about the Garner news following on the heels of the heartbreaking news out of Ferguson. Another grand jury failing to indict a police officer for a death of a black person. Like the NYC protest earlier in the week, the one in Boston was called to coincide with the lighting of the Boston Commons. I admit was a little conflicted on this point. I wanted to speak out and support racial justice and equality and I have no problem interrupting purely adult events, but as a mother, I didn’t want to be responsible for traumatizing a bunch of kids. I didn’t mind kids seeing us, but protests can quickly turn ugly, and I didn’t want to be a part of a toppled burning tree and kids who would associate racial justice with Christmas haters. I needn’t have worried. The protest was peaceful and orderly and although we stopped traffic in the street nearby the tree, we respected the barriers the police had erected around the ceremony. The kids may forever hear “Black Lives Matter” sprinkled among the strains of “White Christmas,” but I can live with that.

We stood in a crowd that began to grow. Every time we turned to look behind us more people joined. The crowd was encouragingly diverse, especially for Boston, which is pretty white. All shades of skin color and all ages, from gray heads to wispy-haired toddlers. We couldn’t see the speaker, and it was hard to hear, but the chants would flow back to us like the wave at a sports stadium. But honestly, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were there, with like-minded people, speaking out. After a while the crowd started to move. Even as I was chanting, a small part of my brain acknowledged the power of the crowd and giving myself up to it. The protest was not an elaborately planned civil rights March on Washington. It seemed more organic. I had no idea where we were going, but Mike and I followed and chanted. We stepped out into the street stopping traffic. For all of Boston’s bad driving reputation, not one driver yelled at us. Some cheered, some looked annoyed, and others just took the opportunity to text with immunity. We went around the tree lighting ceremony and walked up the small hill to the state house. The sight of police in riot gear “lite” lined up along the state house lawn was sobering. They had face shields and were wearing neon yellow jackets. I was somewhat reassured by the article I had read in the Boston Globe the week before about a longer march after the Ferguson decision. The police chief was exuberant that the police and marchers had been respectful and no property had been damaged. He seemed like a reasonable guy and so far this march was reasonable. We stood by the gates chanting while the cops stood in an impassive line. Finally the protesters with bull horns turned us back down the hill and we walked in the downtown streets. It was a little surreal. The traffic at this point was being diverted, because there were no more cars. Police on bikes rode alongside us as we chanted and walked. One of the chants was “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go.” Mike commented that he didn’t like that chant, but being the word girl, I pointed out that it could be interpreted as these racist cops over here have to go, while we support those cops over there who are not racist. Of course, one thrown rock and the cops wouldn’t care very much about the nuances of demonstrative pronouns.

We wound our way down Washington Street and we were getting a little punchy; a guy behind us tried to start rogue chants. Some were kind of funny, like as we were going by a tall skyscraper he started chanting “Take the bank! Take the bank” and then “Take them all! Take them all!” We all started laughing because it didn’t even make sense, and he was laughing too.  At the corner of State and Congress we stopped. Again I had that sense of just being in the crowd, in the moment. I didn’t know what the plan was or where we are even trying to get to. Mike and I joked they were just going to march us down State Street into the ocean. But then people started lying down. It was a “die in.” We’d been standing and walking for almost two hours so it actually felt kind of nice, even on the cold pavement in the middle of street. As we looked up into the dark night sky, Mike and I marveled that we’d probably never get to see this view, quite like this again. Then “Take the bank” guy started chanting “Get me a blanket! Get me a blanket!” and we started laughing again. Irreverent? Perhaps. But it occurred to me that the humor would help keep us safe from an anger that could turn into confrontation and get people hurt. Our presence, thousands strong was enough. We were lying in the street and chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe!” We were making our point without fire hoses, police dogs, and burning buildings. Without riot gear, tasers, and mace.

To fit in my space on the street, I was curled up on my side and the hip I was resting on started to hurt. The ground was getting cold. Finally we got up. It was 8:30. Mike and I, who had both marched on Washington in our 20s—he for the AIDS crisis and me for abortion rights—were tired and hungry. It was time for us to let the young ones carry on without us. At least for the night. A few blocks away we encountered another large river of people parallel to the folks we’d just left. Yes we were leaving the protest in good hands, and we would continue our own education—Mike reading about white privilege and I rereading my books about the Civil Rights Movement.

Black lives matter.

It’s Nothing Personal

So here I am four years post-separation and marriage. During the summer I amused myself by getting reacquainted with girlie things—dresses, shoes, and those whatchamacallits…oh, yeah, accessories. I couldn’t quite pull off sexy, but I got and had a lot of laughs. Summer slipped into autumn and winter is nearly upon us, and even though the girlie dresses are getting cold, I still want to wear them. Out. Somewhere. With sincere apologies to Keats, I now find myself slouching towards dating Bethlehem. I’m still not interested in actual dating, but I’m interested in the idea of thinking about maybe seeing what might be out there. Makes me a perfect catch, don’t you think? I am the consummate researcher and thinker, which, for your information is absolutely very different from a procrastinator. I’m a writer, I know the nuances of language better than you.

In any event, I realized I’m in a good position to evaluate the personals. What do they look like compared to when I answered my ex’s personal ad in the Boston Phoenix, Boston’s alternative weekly newspaper, more than 25 years ago? Of course the internet and apps have intervened in the interim, but I limited my research to just personals because 1) I’m too lazy to actually create a dating profile on a site like Match.com, 2) I’m still scarred by my friends’ stories about how brutal and dishonest these dating sites are and 3) I’m not quite ready for an app like Adult Friend Finder—no explanation needed for that I think, except to emphasize that the technology allows you to meet someone RIGHT NOW. No judgment and call me old fashioned, but I just like to get a drink or two and dinner first.

So where to go? Craigslist personals, that ubiquitous, democratic, free internet space that provokes pretty much the same response from people as the Boston Phoenix personals did 25 years ago. Mild shock quickly followed by admonitions to be careful of all the murderers on there. The similarity was downright heartwarming. So far so good! I plunged on with my research, and here, dear reader, is my take on personals then and now:

The Phoenix had the regular personals and a section where sex was a main feature. I believe it was hip enough to also have the basic categories for gays and straights. Craigslist has nine sections and within in them, evidence of the wonder of human variation and preference. Since I’m kind of boring, I stuck with two, “casual encounters” and the “men seeking women.”

All I remember from the Phoenix was that the personals pretty much sounded all the same. The guys liked dinners, movies, and walks on the beach, which was pretty useless—what kind of food? What kind of movies? My ex’s ad actually had specifics, which made him stand out. Now? Holy acronym Batman! LTR, BBW, HWP. Within minutes I was Googling “Craigslist acronyms”: long-term relationship, big beautiful or black woman, height-weight proportional. And that’s when things really got interesting. At one point I forgot I was looking to see if there was anyone I maybe wanted to think about contacting because the specificity is fascinating. This ain’t no dinner and movies crowd.

First there are all the attributes. Ladies, if you get discouraged about all the ways the media reinforces ridiculous standards of beauty, just go to Craigslist—fair warning you are going to see more pictures of men’s junk than a porn site and the fetishes are rampant, but once you get past that, you will find guys looking for BBW, bubble butts, big breasts, small breasts, requests that a woman have a little meat on them. Tall women, petite women, single mothers, HWP, geeky women, tiny waists with big hips. Something called “thick” which even the guides can’t agree on. I thought it was maybe somewhere between HWP and BBW, but then I saw a picture of a “thick” example, and I thought she was actually HWP, so what do I know? I guess the poster will know it when he sees it. Of course there are the straight out requests for being hot looking and thin/athletic. But there are not as many as you would think, and the guys claim to be the same. And that has been going on since Adam was hoping for a hot babe who was an independent thinker and had healthy eating habits.

When men do make very specific or even wacky requests, they often apologize for it and explain they don’t mean to offend, it’s just what they prefer, which I found kind of touching. Sure they may have gotten flamed by some pissed off women or they are simply savvy marketers. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s a nice touch.

The details included in the personals turned out to be my downfall. I stopped looking for myself and got lost in my writer’s curiosity. I tend to be attracted to guys who make me laugh, and so don’t really have a type. How do people get such specific types? For example what is it about a bubble butt that gets you going? Honestly, thank goodness they included a picture, because I wasn’t even sure what that was. Of course the pictures, clearly of real people, got me started on a whole other line of thought. Where are these people now? Do they know they are a Craigslist poster girl for a ______ (fill in the blank). Then I think how many women actually respond? How many of a type can there be?

Which of course brings it around back to me. I’m happy for all the women out there whose type is being called out and worshipped (a lot of guys promise to worship these various parts). But then that means I have the opposite, but equally annoying problem of 25 years ago when the ads were too vague. Then it was OK, we both like movies, but what if I like “Equalizer” and you like “Her”? Now I have to figure out where my body fits into the acronyms. I can knock out the extremes—I’m proudly not fit or athletic. Which is just as well because the guys who ask for a fit or athletic woman always list their hobbies as hiking, running and all manner of exercise—ugh. I tend to gravitate to the guys who talk about food and wine. Also, I’m not a BBW or a bubble butt. My breasts have never been big, and thanks to my recent weight loss, they have actually gotten slightly smaller (you really can’t win sometimes). I have big hips, but my waist ain’t anywhere near tiny. It actually was a while before I encountered HWP, which shows you how many requests there are for just a regular gal—not many. I guess they are all on Match.com.

Once I could tear myself away from these fascinating guys and their requests and I decided I was HWP, I started lurking among this small number of ads. I could eliminate at least 75% of the guys off the bat. They are in their thirties or younger, and I’m not quite ready to be a cougar (although that is not an infrequent request).  Of the remaining men, there are the people who are looking for love and long-term, while others are uncomfortably honest (married seeking same). A few are just liars/too creepy if true. One guy claimed to be very successful and was looking for someone to travel with him on his boat and winter in Florida. Um, I was just looking for dinner, wine, a few laughs, and home by midnight, thanks! And that leaves me about one possibility every few weeks. And even at that point the general rule of Craigslist is that half the time, people will flake out on you and not show up.

So through very careful, research, combing through pages of original documents, I have come to a very scientific conclusion about dating today versus 25 years ago. It ain’t any easier, whether you are looking for an LTR, an Adult Friend, or just looking for dinner, wine and a few laughs. But at least if you have been hiding your Craigslist lurking habit, you can tell people you only know about it because you read it here. You’re welcome. The girlie dresses can wait until spring.

Photo credit: Glamour.com, “Here Are a Few Not-So-Solid Dating Tips From the 1930s”