Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Dear White People: A Perspective On White Privilege

Dear White People:

This word 'racism' is being thrown around a lot lately, and I know it makes a lot of y'all angry and resentful.

And I understand that. It hurts to have a word like 'racist' applied to you, especially because you don't hate black people and you don't think you're better than black people and you have lots of black friends, and you believe in equality for everyone.

But 'racist' in the meaning it's used in today does not mean 'KKK member' - it merely means that in our society, there are difficulties that black folk face that white people are not even aware of.

It does not mean you are an asshole or hate black people.

It means this: that there is something called 'white privilege' that most white people don't notice in their daily lives. We don't notice it precisely because it is a privilege. Doors are open to us that we take for granted, and that we assume are open to everyone. We may think that if someone isn't succeeding the way we are, that it's because they aren't working hard enough, or expect things to be handed to them. Or if they succeed when we don't, it's because they got something handed to them that white people don't get - a free pass 'just because they're black' - i.e. 'affirmative action'.

Just because we don't see the signs of racism doesn't mean they aren't there. One example I use is being a white mom. I am a mother of sons in their teens and early twenties. But black mothers have a fear that I don't have. Rich or poor, all black mothers of teenage sons have to worry that someone may mistake their child for a criminal and kill them - for wearing the wrong style of clothing, for looking 'menacing' or looking like they're in a gang. There's no amount of money, status, or prestige that can insulate a black mom from that fear - a fear that even very poor white moms do not have to carry around because of skin color. In other words, poor white moms have their own fears about their sons, but it's not their skin color alone that is the determining factor.

When you hear the word 'racist' applied to white people as a group, this is part of what they're talking about. But it doesn't make you personally a hater. It does mean that we have biases that we may not be aware of, and we can help eliminate racism by taking a deeper look and listening to what black folk are saying about their own experiences, not project ours onto them. We don't have to be defensive. We're not being attacked personally.

We can be part of the solution.

I hear from so many white people - good-hearted, well-meaning people - that they feel insulted by being called racists (or think that dicussing racism is pointing the finger directly at them and calling them racists).

I am not talking here about the intentional racists - who ARE hateful assholes - but people who genuinely believe in equality, and just don't get that there is anything in society that is still racist, because they themselves don't see or experience it. They see any discussion of racism as someone attacking them personally and saying "you are a bigot who hates black people." I wish that instead of being offended, they could say, "Hey - I did not know that. I never thought of it in that way. I wasn't aware that this is how you feel" and maybe think through it, and maybe look at themselves to see where they could change their perspective. There's nothing 'attacking' about that.

They don't realize how 'white-centric' their world is, because they've never known anything else. It does not mean that individual white people have never struggled or had doors closed to them, but that society as a whole is still skewed in favor of white people. It just is. And understanding and acknowledging that is not saying "I'm an intolerant, racist asshole who is trying to put black folk down" - it is the first step in maybe making things better.

As a white person, it is not my place to speak for the black experience. But I hope that I can get my white friends to understand how and why it is that black folk are still marginalized in our society, and that being aware of that marginalization is not 'putting down white folks'. It's not a matter of 'white guilt'; it's a matter of 'if you know better, you do better.' Everyone wins in that case.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook - A Tipping Point?

The tragedy at Sandy Hook is unbearable to even think about.

As a parent, I was in tears much of the day. Like everyone else, our television has been set to the news channel coverage, and Facebook and Twitter have been blowing up with nothing but talk of the horrific events of this sad day.

This is not the first mass shooting we've had this year - in fact, it's the sixth. And over the past five years there have been at least 19.

But the heartbreaking deaths today seem to me to have had an effect on Americans that I have not seen from the earlier shootings  - not the shopping mall in Oregon three days ago, not Aurora, Colorado and the movie theater shootings, not Tucson, Arizona with Gabby Giffords, not the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, not Fort Hood, not Virginia Tech, not the Unitarian Universalist Church shooting in Knoxville.

I get a feeling that we are finally tired of 'not talking about gun control.'

For years we have been intimidated and shut down by the NRA and the howls of 'Second Amendment' that have come from those who equate any kind of gun regulation with Big Bad Government taking away every American's gun. And every time there was yet another massacre, Democrats as well as Republicans somberly intoned that "this is not the day to talk about gun control."

My friend Bobby Pickett says, "This is not the day to talk about gun control. Yesterday was."

Well, I think today is fnally that day.

There is still a huge swath of people who insist that the only way to prevent gun violence is - yep, you guessed it - more guns! Guns for everyone. Guns for teachers. Armed guards in every classroom, store, business, church, home.

A commenter on my Facebook page was insistent that the more guns we had the safer we would be and that the reason the attack at Sandy Hook happened was that the teacher was not armed.

As if somehow, a sweet little kindergarten teacher would have morphed into Sharpie McGreenBeret, whipped out her AK in the middle of the Alphabet Song and picked off the bad guy before he had a chance to shoot any little children - killing or incapacitating the shooter without hitting any of the 30 crying, running, screaming little children in the room.

Wait - the shooter had four guns. So maybe each teacher should have four guns too.

And the commenter claimed that it was people like me who lived in a "fairytale world."

He truly believes in the 'vigilante' civilian who jumps to the rescue to save the day with his own gun.

In an analysis of mass shootings, one fact stands out:

Not one of them was stopped by an armed citizen.

Not a few. Not several. Not ONE. Ever.

We are the most heavily-armed society in the world.

We have more guns per capita than any other nation on earth. Yemen comes in second.

So, by that logic, if more guns made us safer we would have the lowest number of gun deaths in the world. Except, of course, for Yemen. We do not have the highest level of gun deaths in the world - but the only ones higher are mostly low income Latin American and Caribbean nations:
According to the U.N., the U.S. had 3.0 firearm homicides per 100,000 in population in 2009. But there were 14 other nations that had higher rates in 2009, primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean: Honduras (57.6), Jamaica (47.2), St. Kitts and Nevis (44.4), Venezuela (39.0), Guatemala (38.5), Colombia (28.1), Trinidad & Tobago (27.3), Panama (19.3), Dominican Republic (16.9), Bahamas (15.4), Belize (15.4), Mexico (7.9), Paraguay (7.3) and Nicaragua (5.9). Three other nations had higher rates in 2008: El Salvador (39.9), Brazil (18.1) and Ecuador (12.7). But among countries like ourselves - so-called 'First World' affluent nations - we are far and away ahead of them interms of gun deaths. One study published in 2011 confirms this finding. The study, published in the Journal of Trauma -- Injury Infection & Critical Care, found that firearm homicide rates were 19.5 times higher in the U.S. than in 23 other "high income" countries studied, using 2003 data. Rates for other types of gun deaths were also higher in the U.S., but by somewhat smaller margins: 5.8 times higher for firearm suicides (even though overall suicide rates were 30 percent lower in the U.S.) and 5.2 times higher for unintentional firearm deaths.
And, no, this isn't a 'liberal study' - it's Politifact, which does not side one way or the other. My point is - if we have the most guns, why aren't we at the very bottom of the list?

But I do sense a difference today.

I think today just might be the day that we talk about it.

And force our politicians to pay attention. That's the only way to get it done.

The will of the people cannot be ignored - if they stand up and make it known. So far we have been intimidated into keeping quiet.

For these precious children - not today.

We will not be silent today.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wile E. Coyote Must Be A Republican

One thing you can say for Republicans - they stick to their guns, even when those guns blow up in their face.

Now they're blathering on about the "Fiscal Cliff".

Child please.

We don't have a spending problem. We don't have a debt problem. We have a revenue problem. We had a surplus in 2000 until it was burnt up by tax cuts for the wealthy and two un-paid-for wars. Never in the history of our country have we cut taxes in time of war. It's fiscally irresponsible. We have had a redistribution of wealth, all right - but it has been from the bottom to the top.

Let's call these tax cuts what they really are: spending.

Corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthiest are the lowest they've been in 40 years - and yet that did not magically lead to jobs and prosperity; in fact, the result was the exact opposite. Regulations did not 'strangle growth' - instead it was the lack of regulation that led to the banks and Wall Street's horrific gambling with Other People's Money which led to the tanking of the American economy - and the price has been paid by the taxpayers who did NOT cause the problem.

"Privatize the Profits and Socialize the Losses" is the modus operandi that led to this debacle. So more of the same is going to fix it? Cut taxes and regulation and "Happy Days Are Here Again"? Really? If that was so magical, why didn't it work before?

We got out of the Great Depression by A. shared sacrifice during a time of war - which we did not do; instead, we got tax cuts (which means spending) and B. government investment in jobs which put money in people's hands (for working) which they were able to then spend to stimulate the economy.

Austerity is not gonna cut it, I'm afraid. We need to invest in America and Americans if we want to have a snowball's chance in hell to get a middle class again. This is a time of crisis when borrowing is necessary. It's triage - stem the bleeding first. When we're back on our feet we can talk about deficit reduction and the like.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

WATCH THIS. THEN VOTE. Inspirational New GOTV Video!

Day before yesterday, my husband David and I had the honor of singing the underscore to a great new GOTV video, "Yes, We Will", by Joel Silberman and Laura Napoli, who also did the hilarious Funny or Die video "Legitimate Rape Pharmaceutical Ad". It's actually officially called "WATCH THIS. THEN VOTE." which seems like a very useful and descriptive title.

It is out today. I hope everyone gets a chance to see this inspirational video in these last few days before the election, which highlights President Obama's many hard-won accomplishments - accomplishments even more amazing when you consider that he had inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, thanks to eight years of George W. Bush and the conservative myth of "tax cuts for the wealthy + war + deregulation = prosperity". Not only that, at every turn he was faced with a Congress full of Republicans who were determined to block any and all Democratic legislation by the use of the filibuster (which they bitterly decried, threatening the 'nuclear option' when Democrats tried to use it when Bush was President), which required a super-majority of 60 votes to overcome, rendering the 51/49 Democratic Senate majority useless - and then paint Obama as ineffective.

President Obama has still made significant progress in the face of these overwhelming obstacles. Don't go backwards to a return of the failed policies that got us into this mess to begin with, and the rescinding of so many basic human rights that we thought had already been fought for and won that the extreme right wing is determined to take away from us - and in a good position to do so.

Fight back. Watch this video and then - get your ass to the polls and take your friends with you.

You may see me there - I'm a pollworker and, for the first time, so is my son! I am so grateful to be able to actively participate in my democracy by helping other Americans to vote.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Back Up On The Soapbox!

Okay.

It's time.

Time to climb back up on the ol' soap box. It's been almost a year since my last post (and I'll talk about that in another post), but we're looking November in the eye, and it's time to get talking again.

I know that when I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach that tells me that I have to say something, it's time to say it.

I thought they were bat-crap bonkers before, but between the last time I blogged and now, the Republican Party has ratcheted up the level of crazy to dizzying heights.

So - here we go!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Dance

I've been so beaten down; so tired; so frustrated and angry. When I started Hooterville in November of 2004, I thought I was angry, frustrated and confused, but that was nothing compared to what has happened in the last two years, when the chickens finally came home to roost - when the last available dollar had been wrung out of the middle class and we were hung out to dry.

As anyone who has visited my blog knows by now, I have not spent much time writing in the last couple of years. I wrote my book "The Price of Right: How the Conservative Agenda Has Failed America (and Always Will)"  during 2006-2007, while I was working a day job and gigging at night and being a mom to 3 kids. Somehow, I was able to find a way to do all that and write on a consistent basis as well.

But the housing market crashed and the economy crashed with it; our predatory mortgage loan became harder and harder to pay as my hours got shorter and shorter. A management change at my job made it very clear that older, more expensive teachers such as myself were no longer wanted, and it would be just a matter of time before I got the boot. There were cobwebs in the mailbox that, once upon a time, was stuffed with my husband's residual checks - cobwebs now only disturbed by bills and scam solicitations.

Then, the foreclosure notices started coming in, and my husband and I began to do The Dance.

You know The Dance - it has many names, like the "Bankruptcy Boogaloo", the "Chapter 13 Cha-Cha", the "Please-Don't-Turn-Our-Power-Off Pirouette", the "Work-Till-You-Drop Watusi", the "Juggle-the-Bills Jitterbug", the "Credit-Card Conga", the "Second-Mortgage Shuffle",  the "Hope-This-Deposit-Goes-Through-Before-That-Check-Gets-Cashed Hustle", the "Try-To-Stretch-The-Dollar-Till-It-Screams Tango", the "Just-Go-Without Jig", the "Put-Off-Going-To-The-Doctor Polka", the "Late-Payment Limbo" (also known as "How Low Can You Go?") and, of course, everyone's favorite, the "Bill-Collector Bolero".

Whatever you call it, whatever your particular dance is, The Dance will wear you out. Like the Red Shoes, it makes you dance and dance and dance and dance until you collapse. And you still haven't gotten anywhere; you're still right where you started, except you're dizzy and exhausted.

You'd think that with all this free time from not working, it would be easy to get things done, but that is not the case. The bills start piling up on the kitchen table, but you can't even look at them when you don't have anything to pay them with. All you can think about is how you can make some money right now - now, before they cut off the cable/power/gas; now, before your bank balance gets so low that a $5 charge will turn into a $35 overdraft fee; now, so you can give your kid lunch money, so you can replace the tire that just blew out - the spare that you've been putting off replacing with a real tire for three months.

You take any job or project or gig you can get, no matter how small or cheap; if you get some work, you put in four or five times the amount of time and effort that you're getting paid for, in the hopes that the people you're working for will be impressed enough to give you some more work. You stay up till 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning on the computer, working on things that you might be able to make some money on. You put things off for a day or two, like going to the grocery store; or for a year or two, like the dentist (what's the Musician's Dental Plan? Chew on the other side); some things you avoid altogether, like replacing or fixing things that break around the house. Broken window? Duct tape and cardboard. Broken doorknob? Duct tape and cardboard. After a while you stop seeing them. You stop seeing a lot of things, including your friends - you don't want to invite anyone over, and when the family is sharing one old car on its last legs, driving around for social occasions seems a little self-indulgent.

When you spend every day like this, for a few years, as I have, finding the wherewithal to do something so immediately un-financially-rewarding as writing a book or even blogging seems to be out of reach. Although technically unemployed, dancing The Dance and staying on my feet has taken every ounce of energy I have.

Being out of work is a full-time job.

Having said that, let me also say that I in no way feel sorry for myself or that I am deserving of pity. I may have to put off going to the grocery store, but I eventually get there. My husband and I are eating; our kids are eating. Our house is falling apart, but we're still in it. And I have a husband whom I love and who loves me back, who is my rock; I have kids who are so good-hearted, uncomplaining, helpful and loving that they take my breath away. We have family and friends who will always be there for us. We have it better than a lot of people, and most of the people I know personally (except the wealthiest of my friends) are in very much the same boat.

This is what the 99% is all about.

So many of us have been dancing The Dance for years, and I have been wondering what it would take to make people realize that it's not their fault; that we have been stolen from by the most brazen, audacious criminals in the world. They have stolen the money, the jobs, the health, and the houses of an entire segment of society! That, my friends, is thievery on so magnificent a scale that it almost defies description - that makes the current denizens of our prisons look like toddlers stealing cookies.

Take my money, my job, my health, my house, and my hope - now, what's left?

My family, my friends, my principles, and my daily decision to appreciate what I have that the crooks cannot steal - unless I hand it to them personally. Hope? Who needs it? What matters is whether you do what's right and fight what's wrong - with hope or without it. Hope is not a bad thing in and of itself but if you only fight if you have hope, then it becomes a crutch, not a motivator.

But I do feel hope when I see the 99% like me standing up, speaking out, getting mad, and fighting back. Is it naïve of me? Perhaps - but it surely beats the alternative, which has been going on for far too long. If I have to dance The Dance, at least I'm not alone - my brothers and sisters are out there dancing too, and if we hold one another's hands and lift one another up, we can start dancing a new dance - a beautiful, powerful dance that will move us all forward together, instead of spinning around in circles by ourselves till we collapse.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Afterbirth

Recently I posted on my Facebook page about the disappointment and disgust I felt when I had to watch President Obama produce his birth certificate, and, what was even worse, watch the unspeakably vile Donald Trump crow (yes, that word was deliberately chosen) about it, believing that he alone had the power to lift his leg on the President of the United States.

My heart broke for my black brothers and sisters, who are affected by this foulness in a way that the rest of America is not.

Let's call a spade a spade.

This 'Birther' crap is racism, pure and simple, and Donald Trump's actions were racist. I don't care what you say, you racist motherfucker. Actions speak louder than words.

The most powerful and influential black man in history was made to 'show his papers'.

This is not what it appears on the surface - not a legitimate concern about the eligibility of a politician - say, one who was born in Panama...

This is a 'dog whistle' to question the legitimacy of this President to hold his office due to his birth. Black people have been denied their human rights - the rights that the rest of native-born or even non-native-born Americans have been granted as a matter or course - due to their birth: the fact that they were born with black skin.

It was more than a slap in the face of President Obama - it was a slap in the face of every black person in America.

There are many, many people still around who have experienced racism that was written into law - 'separate but equal'. A lot of people like to pretend that we are no longer a 'racist' society, but Plessy v. Ferguson was still in force in my lifetime, and although discrimination is no longer legal it is still very much entrenched in our society.

The election of America's first black President has brought the maggots of racism crawling out of the woodwork and into the open. Yes, in past years it had become unacceptable in polite society to blatantly display racist views, but that did not mean that it was gone. It just looked bad to be too open about it. Since President Obama's election, however, we have seen more overt and open racism than we have in several generations.

And, as it always is, it is fear-based.

Many different kinds of psychological studies show that one of the signal differences between liberal and conservative personalities is that conservatives are more strongly affected and motivated by fear.  A new study by the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience shows a biological correlation as well.

An article in the London Telegraph explains that self-described conservatives
"have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions. On the other hand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life."

When you are afraid, the most important thing becomes relieving that fear - and rationality has nothing to do with it. One of the results of a fear-driven personality is acceptance of inequality. When your worldview is laid out in a vertical, hierarchical way, inequality is built into it.

This particular subset of nutballs - birthers and Tea Partyers - are people whose fears are assuaged by belonging to these groups, and who equate safety and comfort with sameness and obedience. They offer both a set of simple, unambiguous beliefs, and an enemy to unite against. President Obama is the ultimate embodiment of the "Other"; someone 'not like us', therefore Un-American. Once that decision has been made - that Obama is 'the other' and therefore unworthy of respect or obedience, there is no fact that will dislodge it. In fact, a person with this type of personality derives more safety and comfort the more ridiculous and illogical the premise that they are asked to accept - it means they are more obedient, and therefore safer.


Racism is and always has been the result of fear, and has always been used by those with money and power to control and manipulate people who are easy targets because of their discomfort with ambiguity and strong need for certainty, which make them prone to seek out someone or something 'above' them who will give them that certainty and assuage their fear. Once they accept an authority or ideology, they are both obedient to that authority and hostile and aggressive towards anyone who is opposed by the authority.

A poll taken after the release of Barack Obama's 'long-form' birth certificate indicates that 16% of all voters and 30% of Republicans do not believe President Barack Obama has proven he was born in the U.S., even after release of his long-form birth certificate.

But the fact that he was pressured into having to release it at all is what is the most revolting - that and the fact that the Republicans have no shame about going to the lowest place that humans can go in order to out-crazy each other in the race for the 2012 nomination and tapping into the basest of emotions in order to advance themselves politically.

Racism? It's the new black!