Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Hope, Diversity, Civil Rights and the Future of America

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

I would like to add “powerless”, “victimized”, “hopeless” and 100 other words to Ms Roosevelt’s empowering statement – on this day when I see my beloved United States of America portrayed as a racist, xenophobic, heartless oligarchy in the international media. I am embarrassed to be an American for the first time in my 52 years on the planet.

As a Caucasian woman married to an African-American man, who has consulted international clients from Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Jordan, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, and Poland for the past 20 years, diversity is intertwined in the fabric of WHO I AM.

When I engage, connect, and unify with these sacred members of the human family, we transcend race, religion, country of origin, politics, education.  We find that place of familiarity, that sisterhood and brotherhood that is imminent, powerful, transformative.

As a Global Communications Consultant, I literally meet new international students, professionals, housewives and travelers every day, both in person and on Skype/Facetime. This has given me a unique perspective on the election, our North American way of life, issues happening across the globe and the interconnected nature of our world in 2017.

When I see Trump banning asylum for Syrian refugees for the next 90 days, I think of my Syrian clients and friends, their divided families, the possibility of loved ones abroad dying from violence, starvation, illness.  When I hear about “The Wall”, I think of the 100’s of Mexican factory workers who were part of my ESL classes on the South and West Sides of Chicago.  I think of their families, their neighborhoods in Pilsen, or their aged mother or father back home in Cuernavaca who is dependent on that monthly wire transfer.  These are not abstractions on Fox News – these are real people and real stories and Trump’s ridiculous policies will have financial, medical, educational and life threatening implications on these mothers, fathers, employees, students, voters, community members.

Working with this global population over the years, there have been hundreds of intense discussions of geopolitical issues.  In this context, I am often called upon to act as a cultural liaison and to “represent”.

BUT I

CAN

NOT

REPRESENT:

  • This administration.
  • These distorted “values” of divisiveness, isolationism, poverty consciousness (we have to protect US interests) and oppression of everyone who is not a white, male, conservative Christian.
  • This pervasive hatred and this narrow-minded view of our global reality.

I can not take this sitting down.  These impostors in the White House do not represent me or millions of other loving, conscious, intelligent American citizens.

Despite my daily trips to the gym, positive affirmations and overall optimistic spirit, this is a dark chapter and I have an immense need to DO SOMETHING.  So I will write letters to Paul Ryan and anybody else who can effect change on these issues.  I demonstrated in the International Women’s March on January 21 and will continue to demonstrate for Civil Rights, Human Rights, the Affordable Care Act, Immigration and Refugee Rights and a Woman’s Right to Choose the destiny of her life and that of her future possible children.  I will continue to blog here, and to engage in discourse IRL (in real life) and virtually.

I will love my neighbor.  I will yield to merging traffic.  I will say “thank you” to my Starbucks barista.  When the weather turns, I will once again sit outside of Barnes and Noble with my “Open Discourse – Weigh in on the State of the Nation” sign.  I will set up a card table and chairs and wait to see who sits down.  Then I will give each brave participant 5 minutes to share their thoughts – to vent or cry or celebrate.  This is how I can effect change in my own community.  This is how I can contribute to empowerment, hope and equality.

This is what democracy looks like.

Joy Ride

image

There is no bad weather, just bad gear.”

Keeping this in mind, I put on my dark brown Frye Boots, heavy black sweat pants, two hoodies and a black army-navy surplus outer shell. I strap on my sparkly orange helmet and lined gloves, swing one leg over the leather seat and mount my Suzuki TS250X. It is a cold but sunny Sunday and I have a rare 6 hours free.

Sudden October winds almost push me off of Green Bay Road, and into the oncoming traffic, as yellow and orange leaves swirl down onto the road ahead of me. “All Things Considered” streams into my white earbuds, as I drive further and further north, away from my gorgeous but draining home.

“The Field Museum will sponsor a lecture about the shrinking bee population world-wide, and how this has affected pollination and reduced crop yields”, and then, “The Ebola virus has come to America and the implications are frightening,”

The silver gas tank warms the inside of my thighs as I speed up, hitting the open road. Mile by mile, I increase the distance between my body and mind and the city. Somebody, somewhere, has a wood stove or a fireplace working, and I peal through a short corridor of distant smoke.

“According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this winter in Chicago could be even colder than last, with record-breaking temperatures.”

I wonder why I always listen to NPR, a constant stream of words and ideas, many of them negative and fearful, and about things I can’t even control anyway.

Here it is early October, and just last night we had snow and freezing temperatures. It feels as if the city is standing on a precipice, staring down into a canyon of fear about the future: cold, broke, sick, under or unemployed, mad about government policies and spending, afraid of drive-by’s and concealed weapons and worried about saving up enough money for Christmas.

Hand on throttle, wind slipping in under my plastic face shield, loud noise of the engine drowning on the radio as I accelerate, I balance myself on the bike and speed off into the unknown, away from mini-malls, mail boxes with overdue bills and a sink full of dirty dishes.

On the bike, I am a solo traveler, an adventurer out for a weekend ride, a dark-clad image speeding through small towns and down country roads, a kind stranger who is up for anything.

The PERSONAL is POLITICAL

image

I work with students from around the world, as a private English language tutor.   I am lucky in that I spend my days in cafes, sitting at tables with students from Russia, Japan, Korea, France, Spain, Mexico, and other countries.

Some days we parse out which words are verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs.  We construct complex sentences or we deconstruct abstract grammar concepts.  Other days they just want to chat, and we cover everything from politics, to history to cross-cultural communication styles.  These are my favorite sessions, when we can break down the barriers between us and get REAL.

Today, a young student from Russia asked me why I referred to myself as a “Radical Feminist” in  the title of my upcoming memoir –Experiments in Living:  How a Radical Feminist Endured Motherhood on a Suzuki TS250X.

I was happy that he had read my blog and was curious about my writing.

“Great question, which word are you asking about “radical” or “feminist?”  I asked.

“Well, I know what feminist means but radical makes me think you hate men.  It is so extreme.”  he said.

From there a discussion ensued that began with the liberation of African Americans and the MLK Movement.  I told him how many white people felt that any form of “Black Nationalism” or black power was a threat to or indictment of white culture.  We talked about how the liberation of one group does not have to demean or limit another, and how women’s liberation is about empowering women, not hating men.

My journey into feminism began back when I was 13 and going over to a boy’s house to play Monopoly.

As I was leaving, my mom said, “I know you are good at Monopoly, but let him win. Boys like that.”

I proceeded to purchase many houses and hotels,  and to buy up all the properties on the board.

I cannot blame my mother, whose rhetoric was steeped in her 50’s upbringing and the fact that she attended college just to get her M.R.S. degree.

I am not my mother.  I am not my grandmother.

Now that our son has turned 13, I can see how this formative time will set the foundation for many of his decisions and relationships.

Last month my husband and I threw him a birthday party.  Both boys and girls came to his “dinner and a movie” event,  which started at a local hamburger joint.  After eating, the boys all stood up to go and the girls started to clean up the wrappers and cups.

“Woah.  Hold the phone!”  I intercepted.  “Here’s how it works, boys, you ate the food – now you must help clean up too.”

My husband proceeded to assign duties, role modeling.

I re-direct and educate and empower and discuss and enlighten others on a daily basis about the role of women in our society, in our homes, in our schools, and at our jobs.

This is a daily choice and by having these discussions I encourage myself and others to question our assumptions about what it means to be a girl or a boy, a woman or a man.

Who decided that females must cook and clean for men?  Who decided that, in order for men to feel confident, women must be less than, demure, apologetic?

Any real man can handle a woman who is powerful,  and will support his woman in developing her intelligence and creativity.  He will see her evolution as an asset to his own life.

As women, we were born into these bodies and into this American culture at this period of time, but we do not have to accept others’ ideas about what that means for us, what we can (or cannot) do, how we should dress or what we should say.

We are free, and yet we also have the legacy of those who came before us, setting the stage for that freedom and remembering that the each day we make decisions and statements that show us:  the Personal is indeed Political.

That’s Not Funny

The blonde and the brunette (Beth Behrs and Kat Dennings), from CBS’s Two Broke Girls, were on the Rachel Ray Show yesterday.  Sitting in a booth that was part of a mock restaurant set, clad in stilettos and push-up bras, they were discussing their show with Rachel.  Kat, in her cliche way of acting like a raunchy urban slut who has no boundaries, referred  to her “crotch” more times than a team of football players in a locker room.  The “dumb blonde” (Beth)  giggled and occasionally denigrated herself, just like on the Two Broke Girls.  Rachel tried (and failed) to make a connection between their show and real life waitresses who are broke and have to deal with rude customers.  Of course real-life waitresses probably cannot afford designer jewelry or bleached out high-maintenance hair do’s, and certainly can’t schlep heavy trays around for an 8 hour shift, in 5″ heels.

They performed some kind of skit where all three “girls” had to get pie, dishes, water and silverware from a counter to individual tables, in record time.  It was ridiculous and didn’t do much to further the cause of respecting waitresses or servers.

Then they began a discussion of the comedic timing of the cast and the fact that the show is filmed with a live audience.  Beth referred to the audience as a “third character” and made more (sexual) jokes about playing off of the other members of the cast.  Rachel finally made a comparison between Beth/Kat and Carol Burnett/Vickie Lawrence, in terms of the witty reparte and improvisational creativity bouncing back and forth between the women onstage.

What?  Carol Burnett and Vickie Lawrence never referred to their “vaginas”, their “boobies”, or talked about their periods.  They never resorted to giving extremely graphic descriptions of their sex lives, while referring to cocaine use and stealing from their jobs, to get a laugh.  The writers of the Carol Burnett Show gave their actors unique and eccentric characters to play, who were involved in surprising and ironic situations.  The actors, who could rival the early Second City, interpreted the scripts with magical stage presence and pure wackiness.  Winning 22 Emmies during the 11 year run of the show, they were obviously doing something right.  Many of their laughs came from slapstick comedy or outlandish characterizations of stereotypes like the crazy grandma or a Southern Belle who is codependent on her family.

Modern television has taken comedy to a new low.  When we watch prime time TV with our 13 year old son, I have to keep my index finger hovered over the mute button.  Even I am embarrassed by the sexual references to “rods”, “parking my car in your garage” and others that are not fit to print.  Does our sound-byte-oriented, over-stimulated and unimpressed society need this much shock value to be entertained?  Remember when humor was related to irony or that statement that was so universally true that it was funny – like Jerry Seinfeld’s observations on human nature that made you laugh at yourself?  Perhaps I’ll just get Hulu and hide in the past, where it’s safe and Rated PG.