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 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.