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Friday, January 30, 2015

Okay, I cannot make that last post readable. I will try more later. Sorry.

Seeing Black Men From A Different Angle, From Ferguson Through The Kissing Case, by way of Geronimo Pratt and Alprentice Carter

Before I can get back to writing about Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter. I have to lay some more groundwork--what it was like in Los Angeles, what it was like in the deep South in those days for people of color. This seems to be especially important when white officers--and much of white America-- see people of color, particularly black men, as huge, monsters, with superhuman powers, as Mr. T, who could break you in two with a glance. 

Let's take a look at two little boys who learned about this crazy, distorted lens in 1958, when they were, respectively, seven and nine, in what came to be known as "The Kissing Case." These children, David "Fuzzy" Simpson and James Hanover Thompson went to play in another neighborhood, where they played a cowboy game with white children. In the course of the game, one little white girl kissed them on the cheek.  None of the children thought much of it, until the little girl went home and told her parents, who became crazed with anger. Daddy and friends armed themselves with pistols and shotguns and went looking for the boys and their parents. 

So--here, stop the story and imagine that you hear that your seven-year-old is being hunted with rifles because a little girl kissed his cheek. And you have to hide or arm yourself to defend him. Stop and imagine your child being pulled away from you by the police, and you now knowing what will happen to them. Stop and imagine you're one of those little boys, who is accused of molestation, and taken into the back rooms of the jail, where you're stripped and beaten with whips and punched and kicked. Imagine this happening repeatedly over several days, and knowing that it was being done in places your clothing would cover so no one would ever know.  

Imagine six long days of this, without parent being able to see child or child to see parent. 

Robert and Mabel Williams with guns. I hope the NRA and the Tea Party approve!

The head of the local NAACP, Robert Williams, sent for a lawyer from new York. He, too, was turned away. Robert Williams would later charter a National Rifle Association branch to train black people for self-defense. 




Eleanor Roosevelt contacted the governor, but could not gain their release. 



Imagine spending your eighth and tenth birthday in prison. Imagine your little boys being sent to Reform School for the next ten or twelve years. 

A journalist (Joyce Egginton) from the London Observer was allowed to visit the boys. She took the mothers along and smuggled in a camera, taking a photo of the mothers hugging their children. The London Observer ran the photo under the headline, "Why?" An international committee formed in Europe to defend Thompson and Simpson, with demonstrations held in Paris, Rome, Vienna and Rotterdam against the U.S. Though the Superior Court had turned the case down, now the U.S. Government put pressure on North Carolina officials, who asked the boy's mothers to sign a waiver before the children could be released. The women refused to sign anything that admitted their child's guilt to molestation. Still, two days later, after the boys had been in detention and apart from their families for three months, the governor pardoned them without conditions or explanations. 


Dwight Thompson and his brother, James Hanover Thompson,
Victim of the Kissing Case
The state and city never apologized to the boys or their families. "The Help" is such a joke--the idea that a maid could feed human excrement to a white woman and not see her family murdered. Here, the NAACP had to relocate these families. The women were fired as domestics--maids, care-givers, cleaning women, and their lives threatened. We're not talking, "You get out of here or we'll kill you." His sister, Brenda Lee Graham, remembers helping her mother to sweep the bullets off their front porch every morning. Two little boys couldn't be kissed on the cheek by a white child and their families emerge unscathed. 
James Hanover Thompson and his sister, Brenda Lee Graham
Ms. Graham said that her brother never did recover from his experience. I wonder how their siblings handled this, and their mother and father? I try to imagine knowing that my baby is being brutalized, and I am unable to do a thing. I am haunted by the thought.  







Now, listen to someone raised in similar circumstances, but without that intense personal trauma at such a young age. This is Geronimo Pratt, who was born and raised in Georgia before being thrown into the Vietnam War as a paratrooper. (from his book also written by Jack Olsen titled: Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt

"At Fort Polk, Lousiana, the seventeen-year-old quarterback was issued dog tags, given shots and a physical examination and appointed trainee platoon sergeant. In Washington President Lyndon Johnson was prepraring to sign a voting rights act. White supremacists were threatening to torch polling places and kill blacks. African American students at Cornell University were gearing up for armed insurrection. Geronimo’s big brothers Jackie and Charles wrote from Los Angeles that the ghetto called Watts was afire in the “Burn, Baby, Burn” riots. The Los Angeles Police Department crushed a series of student rebellions and engaged in a bloody battle with anti-Vietnam War demonstrators at the Century Plaza Hotel.
     [During his second month of basic training and while feeling homesick] Geronimo tried to overcome the dread illness by concentrating on guns, armor, reconnaissance, field tactics and the skills that might help to protect his parents and the other black people of St. Mary Parish if race warfare broke out. Five months after leaving Morgan City he completed paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and pounded his wings into his bare chest. ‘In those days you did it yourself. Man, the blood run! The army sent me to the 82d Airborne, strike troops. We were on orders for Vietnam.’
     ‘He was up for anything!’ the older brother recalled years later. ‘Our country did a good job of preparing that young man for war. He said ,’Man, I am ready!’ He wanted to save his country, the world, wanted to save his people back home. I couldn’t believe the change.’
     Pratt saw a world where the Vietnamese looked to him like Colored people back home. One explicitly said to him, "Black Man, why are you doing this to the Yellow Man?" He came back saying, "Black man shouldn't suppress the Yellow Man for the White Man," and began training the Black Panthers in Los Angeles with what he had learned as a Soldier's Medal winner in the Vietnam War. 


Geronimo knew the way the world saw him. With Vietman, and Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter as teachers he was beginning to see the world in a different way.

Seeing Black Men from a Different Angle--The Kissing Case, and Geronimo Pratt

Before I can get back to writing about Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter. I have to lay some more groundwork--what it was like in Los Angeles, what it was like in the deep South in those days for people of color. This seems to be especially important when white officers--and much of white America-- see people of color, particularly black men, as huge, monsters, with superhuman powers, as Mr. T, who could break you in two with a glance. 

Let's take a look at two little boys who learned about this crazy, distorted lens in 1958, when they were, respectively, seven and nine, in what came to be known as "The Kissing Case." These children, David "Fuzzy" Simpson and James Hanover Thompson went to play in another neighborhood, where they played a cowboy game with white children. In the course of the game, one little white girl kissed them on the cheek.  None of the children thought much of it, until the little girl went home and told her parents, who became crazed with anger. Daddy and friends armed themselves with pistols and shotguns and went looking for the boys and their parents. 
So--here, stop the story and imagine that you hear that your seven-year-old is being hunted with rifles because a little girl kissed his cheek. And you have to hide or arm yourself to defend him. Stop and imagine your child being pulled away from you by the police, and you now knowing what will happen to them. Stop and imagine you're one of those little boys, who is accused of molestation, and taken into the back rooms of the jail, where you're stripped and beaten with whips and punched and kicked. Imagine this happening repeatedly over several days, and knowing that it was being done in places your clothing would cover so no one would ever know.  
Imagine six long days of this, without parent being able to see child or child to see parent. 
Robert and Mabel Williams with guns. I hope the NRA and the Tea Party approve!
The head of the local NAACP, Robert Williams, sent for a lawyer from new York. He, too, was turned away. Robert Williams would later charter a National Rifle Association branch to train black people for self-defense. 
Eleanor Roosevelt contacted the governor, but could not gain their release. 
Imagine spending your eighth and tenth birthday in prison. Imagine your little boys being sent to Reform School for the next ten or twelve years. 
A journalist (Joyce Egginton) from the London Observer was allowed to visit the boys. She took the mothers along and smuggled in a camera, taking a photo of the mothers hugging their children. The London Observer ran the photo under the headline, "Why?" An international committee formed in Europe to defend Thompson and Simpson, with demonstrations held in Paris, Rome, Vienna and Rotterdam against the U.S. Though the Superior Court had turned the case down, now the U.S. Government put pressure on North Carolina officials, who asked the boy's mothers to sign a waiver before the children could be released. The women refused to sign anything that admitted their child's guilt to molestation. Still, two days later, after the boys had been in detention and apart from their families for three months, the governor pardoned them without conditions or explanations. 
James Hanover Thompson and his sister, Brenda Lee Graham
The state and city never apologized to the boys or their families. "The Help" is such a joke--the idea that a maid could feed human excrement to a white woman and not see her family murdered. Here, the NAACP had to relocate these families. The women were fired as domestics--maids, care-givers, cleaning women, and their lives threatened. We're not talking, "You get out of here or we'll kill you." His sister, Brenda Lee Graham, remembers helping her mother to sweep the bullets off their front porch every morning. Two little boys couldn't be kissed on the cheek by a white child and their families emerge unscathed. 
Ms. Graham said that her brother never did recover from his experience. I wonder how their siblings handled this, and their mother and father? I try to imagine knowing that my baby is being brutalized, and I am unable to do a thing. I am haunted by the thought.  
 Dwight Thompson and his brother, James Hanover Thompson, a victim of the Kissing Case.

Now, listen to this, from Geronimo (Jerry originally) Pratt, who was born and raised in Georgia under similar conditions, before being thrown into the Vietnam War as a paratrooper. 

The following comes from his book also written by Jack Olsen titled: Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt

At Fort Polk, Lousiana, the seventeen-year-old quarterback was issued dog tags, given shots and a physical examination and appointed trainee platoon sergeant. In Washington President Lyndon Johnson was prepraring to sign a voting rights act. White supremacists were threatening to torch polling places and kill blacks. African American students at Cornell University were gearing up for armed insurrection. Geronimo’s big brothers Jackie and Charles wrote from Los Angeles that the ghetto called Watts was afire in the “Burn, Baby, Burn” riots. The Los Angeles Police Department crushed a series of student rebellions and engaged in a bloody battle with anti-Vietnam War demonstrators at the Century Plaza Hotel.
     [During his second month of basic training and while feeling homesick] Geronimo tried to overcome the dread illness by concentrating on guns, armor, reconnaissance, field tactics and the skills that might help to protect his parents and the other black people of St. Mary Parish if race warfare broke out. Five months after leaving Morgan City he completed paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and pounded his wings into his bare chest. ‘In those days you did it yourself. Man, the blood run! The army sent me to the 82d Airborne, strike troops. We were on orders for Vietnam.’
     ‘He was up for anything!’ the older brother recalled years later. ‘Our country did a good job of preparing that young man for war. He said ,’Man, I am ready!’ He wanted to save his country, the world, wanted to save his people back home. I couldn’t believe the change.’
     Pratt saw a world where the Vietnamese looked to him like Colored people back home. One explicitly said to him, "Black Man, why are you doing this to the Yellow Man?" He came back saying, "Black man shouldn't suppress the Yellow Man for the White Man," and began training the Black Panthers in Los Angeles with what he had learned as a Soldier's Medal winner in the Vietnam War. 
He knew the way the world saw him. He was beginning to see the world in a different way.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

So, back to Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, "Mayor of the Ghetto," Founder of the Los Angeles Black Panthers

The more I learn about Bunchy Carter, his time and his family, the more parallels I see between then and now, Ferguson, Staten Island and our current movement to end racial bias and brutality under the law in this country. 

Of course, the current movement is one of non-violent protest, and the Panthers were emphatically about self-defense. And the current movement is aimed at police brutality, while Bunchy Carter told Geronimo Pratt, "Hey, jive motherfucker, we defend against cops; we don’t offend. We don’t punch, we counterpunch.” And Bunchy quoted Eldridge Cleaver: “In their rage against the police, against police brutality; the blacks lose sight of the fundamental reality; that the police are only an instrument for the implementation.’" 

All this clashes with my mental image of a Black Panther. You know, kind of like Shaft--Afro, Black leather jacket, dark shades, mustache, black beret, sullen-cool expression. I don't think of a child actor, who had polio as a kid, an intellectual college radical sucking in Harlem Renaissance literature along with Mao, Lenin and George William Frederick Hegel's theories of the development of the the slave-master dialectic and the relationship between immanence and transcendence while organizing and founding the three-tiered organization that was apparently the Los Angeles Black Panthers.

But all of that was, in fact, Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, born in Shreveport, where he suffered a childhood bout of polio, and moved to Los Angeles, where his mother enrolled him in a "therapeutic" dance class, and where he acted as a child in at least one episode of The Little Rascals.

Bunchy was one of ten children. From here on in, I'm going to be talking about several Carter siblings. I mean no disrespect when I'm refer to them by first names, for clarity. 


Bunchy's oldest sibling, Bernie Carter, shown here with film-maker Gregory Everett, (son of another Black Panther and director of the documentary Forty-first and Central, the Untold Story of the Los Angeles Black Panthers, spoke in 2010 with Jasmyne A. Cannick, a reporter for The Front Page Online, a Culver City, CA newspaper.  In that interview, Bernie, a retired engineer, explains how his mother and step-dad had just broken up, and mother, Nola Carter, was worried about her children, asking Bernie to try to be there for Bunchy. Bunchy was already in the Slauson Renegades, a gang. He had just graduated from Fremont High School and was working at an upscale department store downtown on Wilshire. He had climbed the ranks of leadership at the gang, and became a leader there. 

One day, Bunchy came home with his brothers, John and Glen, all excited about the Nation of Islam. The boys declared "No more pork!" His big brother, Bernie, laughed about it in 2010: 

“It drove my mother insane.  Here she was trying to feed a family of 10 on a limited budget where there was no room to be selective about what was for dinner.  It was utter chaos.”  

“Bunchy was a partygoer, a ladies man, what young people now call a player." says Bernie. Carter.  “In 1961, Bunchy wanted a car. One day he came to me and asked me if I would co-sign on a car for him.  We looked for a car for a couple weeks. Finally, we settled on a 1956 red and black MG. At the time, he was just enjoying living life.  When he got that car, you couldn’t touch Bunchy with a 10-foot pole,” he chuckles.  


“Sometime after that, Bunchy was sent to Soledad Prison for attempting to rob a Security Pacific Bank. He was there for four years.  He came out two years after the Watts Riots ended and there were all these programs being started.  Our mother was involved with a program call N.A.P., and they had teen posts.  She got Bunchy involved in one of the teen posts at Central and Nadeau.  That’s where Bunchy met Caffee Greene and Nate Holden because they were also involved with those programs. At the time, they were working with Supervisor Hahn."


Elaine Huggins, an early Panther member and the widow of John Huggins, murdered in the same incident as Bunchy, tells the story a little bit differently. "We had heard about Bunchy Carter, but we couldn't find him. And when we found, when we did find him, we found out that he was still in jail from some gang rap. And he declared that when he returned, he'd be totally committed to the party." 

(Here is Panther Charles Bursey feeding kids in the free breakfast program.)







But back to Bernie Carter's memories of his little brother. 


“From that, all of a sudden, all I know is he’s in this organization called the Black Panthers. He begins traveling back and forth up north.  He had formed a kinship with Bobby [Seale], David [Hilliard], and Eldridge [Cleaver].  Initially, I thought it was just another gang.” 

Nola Carter was terrified. She told Bernie that as the older brother, he was responsible for setting an example for his brothers. Bernie thought the Black Panthers were just another gang. Bernie was worried about what Panther membership would do to his mother. 



“Bunchy sat me down. He explained his reasons for joining the Black Panthers,” Bernie said.  “He said he was tired of being oppressed.  



“You have to understand that Bunchy, he didn’t have the same fear I had.  He was a very proud, strong young man. 



“By this time, he had been arrested and incarcerated, whereas a person like me, who had not been involved in any of that kind of stuff, was scared.  



“There were certain values that our mother instilled in me as the oldest brother.  Like Bunchy, I had a role to play in our family, and he had his.  The bottom line was that I knew something bad was going to happen. I knew my brother felt strongly about the injustices that were happening to black people at the time.  But it was his destiny to fulfill, and I was concerned with making sure it had as small an impact as possible on our mother.” 


In March of 1968, Arthur (Glen) Morris, brother of Bernie and Bunchy Carter, Bunchy’s first bodyguard, was shot and killed on 111th, between Normandie and Vermont avenues.  He was the first member of the Black Panther Party to be killed.  

“When Glen died, things really started to changed,” Mr. Carter explains.  “Almost a year after Glen’s death, Bunchy and John [Huggins] were murdered at UCLA.”  (in a Rivalry between an African-American nationalist group called US--United Slaves and the Black Panthers, that was encouraged and exacerbated by J.Edgar Hoover's disinformation campaign, COINTEL-Pro. 

More to come. . .


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In An Earlier Ferguson, in Response to Police Brutality, The Black Panthers' Approach


Today, in the wake of the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo and Staten Island and the shooting of a black child with a toy gun in Cleveland, we have a groundswell or protests over police treatment of people of color. 

In the mid-1960's, the response to similar treatment was different, particularly in the Western part of our country and then spreading through the rest of the Midwest and Northeast: the Black Panther Party, which was founded in Oakland after a series of events of police brutality and probable outright murder. 

The Panther's idea was, in part, to shadow the police and be present as armed witnesses to any potential police brutality. At that time, California had an open carry law, and it was within every citizen's legal right to observe their police officers at work. In uniform, Panthers would follow the police. "If they took out their guns, we took out their guns." White officers describe the experience as chilling and intimidating. 

The Panthers came out of Oakland Direct Action Committee (founded by Mark Comfort, who came out of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Lowndes County, Alabama, the darkest of counties in the darkest of dark states when it came to Civil Rights.) Comfort also brought back the Black Panther symbol, which was there used to represent a branch of the Democratic party. Here's Wikipedia again: "ODAC and the newly founded Black Panther Party worked together to follow police after blacks were arrested, follow them to the police station and often bail them out as well. 

The instigating incident for the Tea Party-like stand-off between the Panthers and the California State Assembly was this: 

"In 1967, a black man, Denzil Dowell, was murdered by a Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy. A grand jury ruled the killing a "justifiable homicide." The police claimed to have shot Dowell three times, but a coroner's report noted that he bled to death after being shot ten times. The family was not allowed to see the body nor to take possession of his clothing to determine how many times he had actually been shot. When Mark contacted Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, they accepted the request for assistance. The media coverage over this gave the Black Panther Party exposure into homes of millions of Americans."


 1]A Republican Congressman, Don Mulford, introduced a bill to repeal the law that permitted citizens to carry loaded weapons in public places so long as they were openly displayed. Mulford, wanted to eliminate the Black Panther Police Patrols. His bill forbade the carrying of loaded weapons within the limits of any California City. 

Like a reverse negative image of today's Tea Party Open Carry Supporters, the Panthers showed up at the California Assembly House, dressed in black leather jackets, shades, and black berets, armed and standing at attention like a paramilitary group. Then Governor Ronald Reagan scurried to his waiting helicopter and spoke to the press: "There's no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons." 

Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which prohibited "the carrying of firearms on your person, in your vehicle, and in any public place or on the street." He also signed off on a 15-day waiting period for firearms purchase.  

Which just goes to show you: when white males show up at a political gathering armed to the teeth, they are assiduously courted by one of our major political parties. When black males show up at a political gathering armed to to the teeth, white America shivers in their boots, the FBI makes them target number one, and Ronald Reagan signs off on gun control laws. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Who Owns Our Stories? Politically Correct vs. Empathy vs. ? (Part 1)

I recently had a lovely chat with a smart, savvy, kind, independent publisher, who had a concern about my novel, "The One And Holy Skillet." He worried that I, a white, Jewish Midwesterner, clinging to the Middle Class by very short fingernails, had written a novel that contained Southern caricatures, as well as a Jewish northerner providing insight to an Appalachian Christian. (Though he agreed that the  Appalachian Christian also provides insight to the Northern Jew.)

I wasn't that surprised. I had a similar reaction from a respected agent to an earlier draft of another novel, one I have almost finished, The Color of Safety. This agent, a white, liberal child of Italian immigrants, objected to a white person writing a hundred years of African-American history.

In that case, I had a subplot, which clearly she had not reached before quitting her read, about the parallels between African-American history and that of Eastern European Jews. Through extensive rewrites, I brought that subplot to the forefront, introducing it heavily in chapters one and two. I figured that this woman most likely represented many in publishing, and besides, I had long been worried about what African-American readers might think, though my friends of color love what I have written.

So here, though my southern friends had no problems with the southerners I mocked, in fact, recognized these people with delight, I took his comments to heart. As he said, Garrison Keillor has a field day with Minnesota Lutherans, but he does it with great sympathy and kindness. And I realized, types become types for a reason, whether its brain chemistry, upbringing or lack of other cultural options. (We all know people who would never fly in a novel, because they are too unbelievable to be true in fiction.)

So, I've already lightly layered in those explanations, explaining why my caricatures became who they are. I think that this is a wise edit, and I'm very grateful to him for taking the time to discuss the novel with me.

Still, though, a white, liberal friend, reading a later draft of The Color of Safety objected to a black character teaching a white one to be wary of a black man who was a "playuh," (someone who defines himself through sexual triumphs, and aggressively flirts with every female in sight). My friend said I was--I forget the precise word, though it was obviously jargon, and means sexualizing someone because of their race.

And yet, I have spent whole years of my life as the only white person back stage, at the party, on the subway car, on the street, on the bus, in the mall, in the store, and I have repeatedly been warned off this or that man, who was flirting aggressively with every female in sight, as "a playuh." (I'm not sure how you spell it, but that is how it sounds.) Even from my computer,  I can go online and find such men discussed in many African-American blogs.

Am I allowed to discuss my experiences, stating that this is only one type of person? Or is that verboten?

There is a larger question, though: can an outsider write a story about another culture? And more specifically, can someone from a dominant culture write a story about those placed within theirs?

Though you might not realize it, we Jews are familiar with this. For the last two thousand years, our most important stories have been co-opted by various sects of Christianity, their order changed, and they've been turned into an "Old Testament," not the Jewish Testament, an appendage to a larger story that they don't agree with at all. (Remember Cecil B. De Mille's The Ten Commandments? And did you know that De Mille's mother was a Sephardic Jew who converted to her husband's faith?)

Also, for the last 1300, some of these same stories have been retold in the Koran, which is why the three religions are known as The People of the Book. Which was ours first.

Anyway, when writing Color of Safety, I most emphatically wanted to avoid writing  The Help, which does, to my way of thinking, co-opt the Birmingham Bus Boycott for white readers. That boycott was planned carefully by middle class Black women, and backed by Black women and men on every financial level. The men and women, mostly women, who raised funds with bake sales and drove cars laden with cleaning woman, (though some of the drivers were white women as well) who operated mimeograph machines for hours through the night to publicize the actions to be taken, who walked out their shoe-leather, most emphatically did not need a white student interviewer to inspire them in their peaceful rebellion. (And if any woman of color had fed shit to a white woman, she, her family and her neighborhood would most emphatically have been killed and burned out like vermin.)

So, no, a white savior coming in infuriates me. And as Toni Morrison would so rightly point out, black as a metaphor for evil angers me no end.

But when is it all right to claim a story? Can Christians claim thousands of years of Jewish texts? (Well, okay, they already have, for two thousand plus years--get over it, right?) Could a Reform Jew write a story mocking an Orthodox community, or vice versa? Could the non-Amish tell tales about Plain folk? Can a Baptist write a tale that pokes fun at Presbyterians? And what about The Book of Mormon?

Well, maybe we'll let them get away with that one.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Frozen Review: When Your Greatest Disability is Your Greatest Strength--Or Why Little Girls and Big Boys Love Disney's Frozen

Okay, I have a little one. And she wanted to be Elsa from Frozen for Halloween. Of course. Not that she's a sheep or a fool. When we went to a local production of Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, she chose to be the only glamorous witch, her black velvet standing out in a sea of pink sparkly princesses with tiaras.

So, when I told her, hey, every little kid will be Elsa this year, she asked for another, more feisty princess, and wound up wearing a generic, yet elegant number that we found on sale at a Thrift store after last Halloween.

Still, I don't think the reason for her interest in Elsa, is because Elsa is glamorous, though she is the only Disney heroine I have yet seen who gets to be overtly sensual--Note the way that Elsa, when she is freed, slinks along with the panther walk that they teach models for the runway. (Also note the bedroom hair, and the hip flung out a la bumps and grinds.)

No, I think the lure of Elsa is that she is different, even one would say disabled, and though she at first fights fiercely to fit in and be ordinary, she ultimately comes to embrace her disability with a "to hell with all of you ordinary folk," before she finally comes to a more mature and loving acceptance--even a celebration--of the fact that her worst limitations and her greatest gifts are the exact same thing.

Now, as a parent, I love the fact Frozen turns the idea of Instant True Love on it's head--the Love At First Sight Prince Charming turns out to be a manipulative bad guy, just like on all those adult TV shows where the spunky heroine is threatened with death by the man she thought she loved.

And as a parent, I also love that the biggest love story is between siblings, and that the young man Anna works well with turns out to be the young man she should and does truly love.

Of course, as a parent, I don't particularly like the fact that Anna and Else are orphaned, though I do appreciate that for once, Disney killed both parents, instead of just the mother. (Oh, all right, it was the father who dies in The Princess And The Frog, but that's one out of what, thirty films?)

But I not only saw Frozen with my little one, our party also included a teenaged boy with serious disabilities. As I watched the story unfold, I prayed that he would find in it a metaphor for himself and his limitations. And yes, he did--he saw himself in Elsa. In fact, she proved such a powerful metaphor that even when I, stupidly, made his subtext text, by pointing all this out, he still identified with this female character and this is a boy who is emphatically not gay.

Though the truth is, Elsa could also easily provide the same metaphor for a gay boy or girl growing up in a culture that says their sexuality is a disability.

Or for a child who is not disabled, who wants to be confident enough to wear a black witch's dress to Cinderella when literally every other little girl there is dressed in pink or powder blue, wearing sparkles and a tiara.

And that's the point of fairytales, isn't it? To provide children with the metaphors--the subtext they need to someday find a healthy way into the complicated world of adulthood.

I never thought I'd say it, but thanks, Disney. A powerful metaphor. Well done.


J. Edgar Hoover and the Black Panther Party--background for the life of Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter

This is a photo of Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, (1942-1969) who died at the age of 26 in a shoot out at UCLA. 

Yup. It was a shoot-out at Campbell Hall, in the Black Student Union, during a meeting to create a balanced faculty in the African-American studies department. 

I have looked hard for background on Alprentice. I know he was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and at some point, moved to Los Angeles, probably as a child. In the late fifties, he became a member of a Slauson street gang, then moved up to the Slauson Renegades, the inner circle of that gang. Ultimately, he was the leader of the Slausons, which had, at that time, over 5,000 members. He was known in those days as the Mayor of the Ghetto. 

Then, he was sentenced to four years for armed robbery. Sent to Soledad, he was exposed to the teachings of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam and he converted, but after his release in 1963--he was twenty-one--he met Huey Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panthers, left Islam, and instead joined the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. 

It's important here to try to lay some groundwork for inner city Northern blacks in the early sixties. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, (SCLC) the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, (SNCC) etc., were still focused on the Jim Crow South, where blacks had been subjugated legally since the end of slavery, it was nearly impossible for them to vote, and lynchings were status quo. 

In Northern Cities, the issues were different. People of color were kept packed in isolated neighborhoods, by landlords who refused to rent to you, realtors who refused to sell homes in white neighborhoods and communities who might literally blow your house up or burn it down if you moved in. If you managed to buy a home you usually could not take out loans, as white residents of their town did, in order to improve that house, because banks had redlines drawn on their maps around Black neighborhood and refused to give loans. As for jobs--most unions were just beginning to let you be a member, which still put you in the last hired first fired role, and other than union jobs, you were often restricted to low-paying labor. 

Add to that the police department, which was staffed by people who had been raised to be racist, like most of the rest of the white population at the time. We've all been learning about how white people in general and police officers in particular frequently mis-read African-Americans as huge and impossibly dangerous (If you're interested in teasing out some of your own biases, you can take some interesting tests online at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/research/) That was obviously true in the past as well, and in Oakland and in Los Angeles, as in many other parts of the north, people in what were then called Negro neighborhoods were used to being roughed up by the police, if not killed by them. 

When we moved to South Central Los Angeles, we heard story after story from our neighbors about police brutality they had and continue to experience. This was eye-opening to me, who had been raised in white suburbia, at a time when Jews were beginning to be considered white. I had been taught that the police officer was my friend, someone to turn to if I were lost, someone who would probably give me ice-cream while I waited for my mama to come and rescue me. 

Then, I heard our neighborhood stories, and I witnessed it myself--a police officer harassing our neighbor who was walking the dogs with us one night after having us over for dinner, and multiple officers profoundly and repeatedly harassing a beloved teenaged neighbor in a way that frightened us so deeply that it was part of why we moved. I became deeply aware that my childhood ideas were not--and still are not--the usual experience for children of color, who often see the adults around them humiliated or handled brutally by police--much like Jews in Eastern Europe even before Hitler, where men were routinely humiliated in front of their families, with no kind of practical recourse, since resistance meant death, rape for their women folk, etc. (Although not resisting might lead to the same results.) 

Martin Luther King was a great leader. And he was pushed forward by impatient young men and women of SNNC. And he was both pushed and supported by an army of mostly unmentioned women who forced, organized and publicized on the ground the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The South's non-violent protests proved highly effective, largely because of this mountain of planning, the support of LBJ, who was a passionate racial activist president and consummate bully politician, and the aforementioned great inspiration of MLK's leadership--though none of that would have made a difference if not for the fact that television brought Southern Brutality into the homes of millions of white Americans, as it was their shamed awareness that allowed change to come. 

But members of SNNC, reeling from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, were already growing impatient with the slow pace of social change and Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and the Black Panther party had already chosen a more in-your-face approach when Martin Luther King finally turned his eyes to the poverty of northern cities, just before he was assassinated. They founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and they scared the heck out of white America. Armed with Marxist rhetoric as well as bristling with guns, they told the world they were tired of being roughed up by the police, and would fight fire with fire to defend their own. The Panthers were rooted in Marxist ideology and inspired by the liberation theories of countries around the world, especially South and Central America and Africa. They studied law, started schools, free breakfasts for poor children, but they also "shadowed" police officers, carrying the California Penal code and toting shot guns. 

And that will have to be that, for today. Next time--I hope to get to Ronald Reagan throwing all his political weight--you won't believe this-- in support of gun control. 




Thursday, January 15, 2015

Excavating the jumble of history--Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, the Black Panthers in Los Angeles in the 1960's, and J. Edgar Hoover.

There are plenty of places where history has gotten the truth very wrong. Fiction can help with that or hinder it. Shakespeare's deliciously villainous hunchback may have destroyed the reputation of Richard III for all time, while Josephine Tey's marvelous murder mystery, Daughter of Time, probably converted more people to Richard III the good king, Henry VII, the sidewise crab little prince murderer than anybody else, though versions are still being written that have our Dickon III plotting against one brother, drowning another and delighting in slaying his golden-haired nephews.

I fear that it will take a lot to undo the shabby history of The Other Boleyn Girl (sorry, Ms. Gregory, I have enjoyed reading your books, but your history is whacked on this one, and frankly, I have no idea how you created a timorous, trembling virgin out of the young woman whom the French King and his courtiers previously called "The English Mare," because she had been "ridden" so often.)

When I was researching the vast canvas of The Color of Safety, I found people who I felt had been neglected by history or where we have gotten things plain wrong, or where, as I find myself often saying these days, "It's complicated." Much mores than the current historical record--and even more, our collective memories-- would have us believe.

I was talking Tuesday with a gifted writer/film producer friend, Lorie Marsh (http://forward-marsh-go.tumblr.com). Lorie, who knows how to inspire, stared straight at me, called me an academic (which I am not) and said I should blog about my research for The Color of Safety.

I have to run right now, but next time, I will write more about a young man named Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, the head of the L.A. street gang, The Renegades, known as The Mayor of the Ghetto. Carter is complicated, woven in collective memory into the tangles of J. Edgar Hoover's misinformation and subversion campaign, "COINTELPRO." I am eager to begin to set the record straight about Bunchy Carter, a man who was murdered young, but not before trying to create positive change in South Central Los Angeles.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Personal Reactions to the Charlie Hebdo Shooting

A few years, when we visited family in Paris, we stayed for three weeks less than a block from the Charlie Hebdo offices, where the horrible shooting took place this past week. It was my first time to see my husband's extended family, many lovely people he had not seen since his family emigrated to the states. We got to stay for a month, mostly because we first slept in an aunt and uncle's guest room and then were able to borrow a friend of the family's apartment while they went on their vacation, a lovely apartment on Rue Pelee. 

I was very nervous about meeting all these elegant Parisian cousins, so I did a ton of research about the differences between French and American culture. I found these differences intriguing, because they indicated a subtly different outlook on life. For instance, the French considered most Americans to be false, or hypocritical, because we smile all the time, for no reason except that it's cultural to smile. (Think Mitt Romney, if you want an example--not that I'm saying he's a hypocrite, something I don't know, but that his default expression is a smile.) 

Also, the French consider certain ordinary everyday American actions to be quite rude. For instance, a French person would never walk into a store and say what they, "Give me one of those," or even, "Please give me one of those." A little courteous conversation is required first--"Good day, Madam, and how are you today? Oh, I'm glad to hear it. Yes, I'm fine. I'm so sorry to bother you, but could you please give me one of those?" A French person would never pick up the fruit at the fruit market to test for firmness, or fondle the fabric in a dress unless they were seriously interested in purchasing it. One day, we went into a little corner market, a tabac, as they call them, right by our borrowed apartment. When an elderly woman walked slowly into the store, the man behind the counter called out to her--"Pardon me, Madame. I don't mean to disturb you, but I have taken the liberty of setting aside those magazines I noticed you regularly take, and I have them here for you behind the counter." We were stunned. Clearly old women were not invisible in France. There were things in this culture that we very much liked. 

I was rebellious, for some reason, about sightseeing. I know that sounds silly, but what I wanted most was just to live there. To go to a hardware store. To grocery shop. To get my hair cut. To get to know the people who ran the little tabac. To spend time in the courtyard seeing how the people live, and to get to know the miserable (pronounced mizerabluh, just like in the musical). He was Polish, if I recall correctly. He lived in that courtyard inside a large cardboard box and was never without a thick novel in his hand. Neighbors gave him clothing and food, and money (and books.) He was *their* miserable. 

The apartment we stayed in had a balcony covered with plants. (Our rent was to make sure they were all watered.) This balcony overlooked a little street, or allee, which I believe was Rue Nicolas Appert, where the two murderers shoot a downed French policeman in cold blood.  We walked regularly walked through that allee, past the Volvo dealership, past the art store on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Our oldest learned to walk four blocks away, where he was also taught to shriek very loudly by a great-aunt and uncle, who adored him. 

These eldest members of our family and their siblings and spouses survived the Holocaust in Paris, or came back from Auschwitz, or emigrated after the labor camps in Siberia and the salt mines of Kazakhstan, or were hidden as children in the forests of Poland.  Their parents starved to death in the Warsaw ghetto, or were beaten to death by Polish workers, or watched other children--siblings of our family--die of starvation or untreated illness--in the ghetto, in the forest, in the labor camps, under Hitler, or Stalin. Their brothers and sisters died in Auschwitz. Eight of the immediate family's children died in these ways. 

So--when we heard about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, we thought of the streets where we walked, baby on back. We thought of "our" miserable, and hoped he was all right. We thought of the kind people who allowed us to stay in their apartment for a rent of taking care of their plants. We thought of the Rue de Rosiers, where we walked past Judaica shops and Kosher restaurants, and the cousin we never met because he has become ultra-Orthodox and cut himself off from the less-observant family, and of the funny, warm, kind cousin who was four when he lost mother, sister and brother at the V'el D'hiver, and is now, seventy-one years later, leaving France because of the increasing anti-semitism. 

We especially thought of our now very elderly surviving great-aunt and uncle who went through impossibly horrible experiences with humor and unbelievable resilience, who still carried the gift of loving, laughter, joy, who make music and play ping pong and sing in choirs and raised fabulous children, and who are now facing a complex situation, where a fringe element of Muslims is creating a nightmare for Jews, Christians and other Muslims--remember, that police officer murdered in cold blood was a Muslim, too. 


I have dear friends who are Muslim. We have a large population of Muslims where we live. My children go to school with them. We are on committees together and talk as we pick up our children at the end of the day. Violence is no more inherent to their faith than all Christians are Crusaders, going off to free Jerusalem and burning up the Jews along the way--no more violent than Judaism, which in our time has spawned own violent fundamentalists after centuries of Jews being renowned for peaceful living. Crazy people, people who have no sense of the value of life, can come from any upbringing and use any religion as an excuse to kill. I pray that Europe and the United States are able to find a way to stand up to those who hate--a way to keep ourselves safe from them, and to make certain we don't become them. 

Personal Reactions to the Charlie Hebdo Shooting



A few years, when we visited family in Paris, we stayed for three weeks less than a block from the Charlie Hebdo offices, where the horrible shooting took place this past week. It was my first time to see my husband's extended family, many lovely people he had not seen since his family emigrated to the states. We got to stay for a month, mostly because we first stayed with relatives, and then, for three weeks, we were able to borrow a friend of the family's apartment while they went on their vacation, a lovely apartment on Rue Pelee. 

I was very nervous about meeting all these elegant Parisian cousins, so I did a ton of research about the differences between French and American culture. I found these differences intriguing, because they indicated a subtly different outlook on life. For instance, the French considered most Americans to be false, or hypocritical, because we smile all the time, for no reason except that it's cultural to smile. (Think Mitt Romney, if you want an example--not that I'm saying he's a hypocrite, something I don't know, but that his default expression is a smile.) 

Also, the French consider certain ordinary everyday American actions to be quite rude. For instance, a French person would never walk into a store and say what they, "Give me one of those," or even, "Please give me one of those." A little courteous conversation is required first--"Good day, Madam, and how are you today? Oh, I'm glad to hear it. Yes, I'm fine. I'm so sorry to bother you, but could you please give me one of those?" A French person would never pick up the fruit at the fruit market to test for firmness, or fondle the fabric in a dress unless they were seriously interested in purchasing it. One day, we went into a little corner market, a tabac, as they call them, right by our borrowed apartment. When an elderly woman walked slowly into the store, the man behind the counter called out to her--"Pardon me, Madame. I don't mean to disturb you, but I have taken the liberty of setting aside those magazines I noticed you regularly take, and I have them here for you behind the counter." We were stunned. Clearly old women were not invisible in France. There were things in this culture that we very much liked. 

I was rebellious, for some reason, about sightseeing. I know that sounds silly, but what I wanted most was just to live there. To go to a hardware store. To grocery shop. To get my hair cut. To get to know the people who ran the little tabac. To spend time in the courtyard seeing how the people live, and to get to know the miserable (pronounced mizerabluh, just like in the musical). He was Polish, if I recall correctly. He lived in that courtyard inside a large cardboard box and was never without a thick novel in his hand. Neighbors gave him clothing and food, and money (and books.) He was *their* miserable. 

The apartment we stayed in had a balcony covered with plants. (Our rent was to make sure they were all watered.) This balcony overlooked a little street, or allee, which I believe was Rue Nicolas Appert, where the two murderers shoot a downed French policeman in cold blood.  We walked regularly walked through that allee, past the Volvo dealership, past the art store on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Our oldest learned to walk four blocks away, where he was also taught to shriek very loudly by a great-aunt and uncle, who adored him. 

These eldest members of our family and their siblings and spouses survived the Holocaust in Paris, or came back from Auschwitz, or emigrated after the labor camps in Siberia and the salt mines of Kazakhstan, or were hidden as children in the forests of Poland.  Their parents starved to death in the Warsaw ghetto, or were beaten to death by Polish workers, or watched other children--siblings of our family--die of starvation or untreated illness--in the ghetto, in the forest, in the labor camps, under Hitler, or Stalin. Their brothers and sisters died in Auschwitz. Eight of the immediate family's children died in these ways. 

So--when we heard about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, we thought of the streets where we walked, baby on back. We thought of "our" miserable, and hoped he was all right. We thought of the kind people who allowed us to stay in their apartment for a rent of taking care of their plants. We thought of the Rue de Rosiers, where we walked past Judaica shops and Kosher restaurants, and the cousin we never met because he has become ultra-Orthodox and cut himself off from the less-observant family, and of the funny, warm, kind cousin who was four when he lost mother, sister and brother at the V'el D'hiver, and is now, seventy-one years later, leaving France because of the increasing anti-semitism. 

We especially thought of our now very elderly surviving great-aunt and uncle who went through impossibly horrible experiences with humor and unbelievable resilience, who still carried the gift of loving, laughter, joy, who make music and play ping pong and sing in choirs and raised fabulous children, and who are now facing a complex situation, where a fringe element of Muslims is creating a nightmare for Jews, Christians and other Muslims--remember, that police officer murdered in cold blood was a Muslim, too. 


I have dear friends who are Muslim. We have a large population of Muslims where we live. My children go to school with them. We are on committees together and talk as we pick up our children at the end of the day. Violence is no more inherent to their faith than all Christians are Crusaders, going off to free Jerusalem and burning up the Jews along the way--no more violent than Judaism, which in our time has spawned own violent fundamentalists after centuries of Jews being renowned for peaceful living. Crazy people, people who have no sense of the value of life, can come from any upbringing and use any religion as an excuse to kill. I pray that Europe and the United States are able to find a way to stand up to those who hate--a way to keep ourselves safe from them, and to make certain we don't become them.