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.

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.

Thoughts on AWP#14 Seattle

I attended the 14th Annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs  (AWP) Conference this past week in Seattle, and it was a  life-changing experience for me.    I took enough notes for fill an entire spiral notebook, and attended about 18 workshops/lectures over a 3 day period, along with navigating a crowd of 15,000 writers, editors, publishers and fellow book lovers.  I slowly networked in the massive bookfair, and met editors/representatives from Creative Non-Fiction, Bitch, The Sun, So to Speak, Phoebe, Boulevard Magazine and more.  I found out about VIDA, Hedgebrook, A Room of Her Own and other organizations that support women writers through workshops, lectures, retreats, fellowships and guidance.

I feel so supported in this journey of writing and publishing.  I feel I am part of this huge community now, and not just a woman sitting on her iPad in a Starbucks listening to The Caravan World Music Show on KBCS FM and trying to find her voice.  Even my Americano tastes better, and I can face down the blank page with courage and conviction that writing is a valid, serious,  and important way to spend yet another rainy Sunday afternoon.