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 her 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.

I am a white woman married to a black man.  I have a bi-racial son.  As an English as a Second Language Teacher, I have worked with 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.

Trump recently banned asylum for Syrian refugees for 90 days.  This makes me think of my Syrian clients and friends, their divided families and the possibility of loved ones abroad dying from violence, starvation, illness.

Trump’s supposed “Wall” will directly and indirectly impact the 100’s of Mexican factory workers who were part of my ESL classes on the South and West Sides of Chicago – their families, the Pilsen neighborhood, 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. Trump’s ridiculous policies will have financial, medical, educational and life threatening implications on these mothers, fathers, employees, students, voters and 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.

THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL, so here’s what I will do:

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.

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The Importance of Storytelling

 

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The Journey Awaits

“Laptop open and hair pulled back, I sip on an Americano and act as a conduit for my clients.  Being present is a gift.  We all just want to be heard over the noise.”

First appointments are usually tentative, as we find commonalities, craft a path and map out goals. Subsequent sessions often involve hugs or tears, and delightful transformation.

Participating with gratitude and humility, I sit back and watch the rainbow of humanity cross my path at my “Starbucks office”.

Who do I work with and why do they come to me?

Engineers, CEO’s, accountants, teachers, lawyers, pharmacists, graphic designers, sound designers, construction workers and restaurant managers – all of whom want to: edit a resume or LinkedIn page, discover their “special sauce” or Personal Brand, reinvent themselves professionally or actualize entrepreneurial dreams.

At least these concrete tasks are what usually motivates clients to send me a text or email in response to one of my many online ads.

Students also seek out my consultation: high school students trying to write better papers, undergraduates applying for select graduate programs, and PhD candidates writing complex dissertations.

American and international geniuses from Europe, Asia and South America all show up, with carefully crafted documents and hopeful dreams of change for the future.

These are the demographic markers of the hundreds of people I have worked with for over 20 years, as a writing coach, editor, academic/business/life coach, content creator, and personal brand consultant. I have titles and my clients have titles, which bring us together and help propel our careers, but underneath it all is the PROCESS.

What I really DO, on a spiritual and “deep dive” level is hold out the metaphorical microphone to whoever is sitting in front of me – provide the time and space and silence and patience for them to FIND THEIR VOICE.

Putting words around:
memories-dreams-accomplishments-fears-realizations-stories-conclusions-assumptions-facts-theories. I hyphenated that list because that is what stream of consciousness feels like, one long, continuous idea that is like an audio loop in our MINDS, an undercurrent or theme that seems disconnected except that it wakes us up in the night and recurs in our journal entries. Pulling on our shirt tails like an insistent child that needs something.

So what I do is provide the container for my clients to finally slow down long enough to give that child a chance to be heard, to elaborate on that whim or to clearly spell out that conclusion. It is cathartic and rewarding and satisfying. Being heard. Realizing that you actually have something to say and that you matter.

Words are powerful. Clarity brings about change. Taking a mental sabbatical, whether for 2 hours or a year, gives us the opportunity to let go of the grocery list mentality and take a broader view of our lives.

This is the work of honing our vision, setting, re-setting and course correcting when our compass is off track. Assisting others in this clarification process is impactful and important work. My obsession with story-telling began as a kid. I remember listening to Studs Terkel on the radio, and reveling in how he drew out the oral histories of regular Americans. Now, at 52, I am blessed to have a calling that involves encouraging and assisting others to find their true north.

In the end – what else do we have to show for our time here on earth but our story, our message and the tribe we leave behind?

What is your story and how do you support your tribe in sharing theirs? I would feel honored if you could share your story or any other feedback with directly with me or with all of us – in the Comment Section below.

The PERSONAL is POLITICAL

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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.