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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Weiners, Or We Have Now Entered The Twilight Zone of Presidential Campaigns.

That's it. We're beyond surreal, we're beyond unbelievable. We've entered--The Twilight Zone Presidential Campaign. Podium talk about hand/penis size. "I'd vote for him if he went out and shot somebody on 5th Avenue." Baby-hating candidates. 

And now this. Yes, Ms. Abedin should have left him long ago. Yes, it has next to nothing to do with Hilary's campaign. Still--

I do not need this. The American electorate does not need this. American children do not need to be hearing about any of this--hand/penis size, violent campaign promises, baby-hating, or daddy-sexting. We all have far too much on our plate to add a Weiner. 


Weiners, Or We Have Now Entered The Twilight Zone of Presidential Campaigns.

That's it. We're beyond surreal, we're beyond unbelievable. We've entered--The Twilight Zone Presidential Campaign. Podium talk about hand/penis size. "I'd vote for him if he went out and shot somebody on 5th Avenue." Baby-hating candidates. 

And now this. Yes, Ms. Abedin should have left him long ago. Yes, it has next to nothing to do with Hilary's campaign. Still--

I do not need this. The American electorate does not need this. American children do not need to be hearing about any of this--hand/penis size, violent campaign promises, baby-hating, or daddy-sexting. We all have far too much on our plate to add a Weiner. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New Trick For a Reluctant Reader--Climb A Tree

I have a reluctant reader. Given a choice, this child would rather be moving, or pretending, or playing a video game. Since other members of the family have been known to walk home while reading a book, this is a new one for me. My mom used to punish us by taking away our library cards. 

I often think our kids can come up with their own solutions. This one did. Kid spent some time scoping out various neighborhood trees. Kid planned--it's a white pine, so kid wanted to bring a towel to sit on to avoid the sap on pants. Kid figured out a rudimentary pulley, found rope, a bucket, brought food and water, climbed up, got accessory (parent) to tie the bucket on the rope, and used it to haul everything up. 

What a shame its nearly the end of the summer. Kid can't wait to get up there and read! (I can't wait to join said kid. Finally, a chance to do nothing, just sit around and read.) 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Can Donald Trump Apologize?

Okay, everybody. Close your eyes and imagine this: Donald Trump, steps up to a podium, surrounded by a crowd of very white followers, with, of course, his own personal black person. 

Mr. Trump puts his hands on the podium, leans in, and says, "All right, I have to say something. To apologize." 

A collective, inward gasp. 

"In the past, I was a racist. I ran my real estate business--the greatest business, really the best ever--in a racist way. By this I mean we didn't rent or sell to black people. By order, our agents lied to those black people and repeatedly told them that the place was already rented or sold."

He flicks back his orange hair. "In fact, we fought anybody who tried to say that. We cost the federal government a lot of money while taking more money from them in government loans." 

He spreads his arms. "Of course, this was when I was young, still working with my father. And most everybody did things like that in those days."

He lowers his head. "But even later than that, when I came to visit my casinos, I instructed the bosses to get the dark faces out of the way--hide them in the kitchen so I didn't have to see them."

"And it was wrong. And I am ashamed. I'm even ashamed of these days, when I'm racist, it's more casual. You know, I'm hanging out with supporters and so I just say what I know they want to hear because I like people to like me and because, really, I don't have any black friends--but then, I don't have any friends at all, so that's not racist. I don't want to be friends with anybody. "

He spreads his arms. "Except my kids. I love my kids, really, I do. They're the best kids ever, the very best, I make the best kids you could make, and they are the best friends a person who doesn't have friends could ever have. Having friends who aren't your kids, it's is too scary. It's like admitting that you're wrong, which I never, ever do. Of course, I'm hardly ever, almost never wrong, because I have this very good brain. And it's much easier to fight."

"But I've decided that, as your president, I need to be bigger than that. I need to be really brave. So I want to apologize. I was wrong. We kept out good people because their skin was brown. While we were doing it, we cheated the government to make a ton of bucks. I've been racist on purpose, just to win an election or get some press. In fact, I've said bad things about blacks and Mexicans and people who are disabled. And I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry."

Are your eyes still closed? Are you still struggling to imagine that scene? Me, too. Me, too.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Re trigger warnings and the university of Chicago.

Photo thanks to New York Times. 

I wonder how holocaust survivors manage. Managed. They mostly did. At least, our family did. Do. 
I remember when we watched one such couple get a phone call from dear friends, telling them that a twelve-year-old they loved had died of cancer. This is David and Rosette, living in Paris. When Rosette was a child, her little sister starved while they hid out in the forest in Poland, scrabbling for food, freezing, constantly at risk of death. Grief, yes, and they moved on. They considered themselves lucky the rest survived--everyone left behind in the village was exterminated. 
David at fourteen, had gone over the border into Russia, been picked up and shipped to Siberia and the salt mines of Khazakhstan. He was helped by being with older siblings and they were able to stick together. Two family babies--nieces--died in SIberia. The family left behind in Poland were exterminated, including two "little blond boys." Every time the family talked about them, they always cried. Same when they talked about their mother. About their siblings left behind. 
The same way they cried when they heard about the twelve-year-old with cancer. And then they sang songs and then they danced a little. 
I wonder how they managed--manage--living in Paris in the Marais, where buildings are marked with bullet holes and plaques announcing how many children were rounded up from each school and slaughtered? I know they encountered anti-Semitism. They still do. In their old age, they live in a city where hundreds of people were recently murdered because they were Jewish or were at a Jewish-owned business or a Jewish-owned concert venue. That must have triggered something from their past. 
I wonder how my neighbors, who survived the Somali civil war manage when their kids study the US civil war? Those who fled Rwanda? I have talked to survivors, about the horrendous deaths or woundings of their family members. We held hands and cried together, and connected to the soul. And then, we went out and took care of children and got on with our days. 
Lets teach our students resilience, the ability to self-calm and speak out. Let's teach them that they can cope. If they feel overwhelmed, let them learn how to step out and calm themselves down. We have to be able to talk to one another. And listen to one another. Calmly.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Kid's Nightly Journals - Philando Castile

There are times when I feel like the worst of moms, and times when I feel like I'm doing something right, and times when I am just fricking grateful that the kids have stumbled onto something wonderful on their own. 

My little one, having a hard time falling asleep, has begun to look for tools, and figured out that writing about the day or drawing pictures in a notebook seems to help calm monkey mind. 

My big one has followed suit. Now, at bedtime, I find them sprawled across one of the others' beds writing in their journals and drawing pictures. 

I know. It's wonderful, right? And I have permission to read them, which is even better. It's like that lovely moment in the book Peter Pan, when Mrs. Darling tidies up her children's minds. "It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for the net morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can't) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind and on top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on." (James Barrie.) 

So, my kids mostly seem to have ordinary kid thoughts, except for the disability we have to cope with. And except for Philando Castile. Both children's journals regularly touch on him and his death at Officer Yanez' hands. My little one is worried about what it will be like to go to school without him there. And who will replace him? What will that be like, having someone take his place? My big one is upset that Officer Yanez was put back in uniform and given a desk job. (Yes, we've raised a news junkie, of course.) "He didn't even follow proper protocol. Phil is dead because that officer didn't do his job right and because he was scared." 

I can't imagine what it must be like for Diamond Reynolds, as her little one gets ready for school. Or for our other cafeteria worker, Vanessa. Or for the teachers, preparing for 502 little kids, some who probably don't know yet. (Some who may not care. Some who will, very much.) At the Saint Anthony City Council meeting two nights ago, one co-worker of Phil's said that his four-year-old nephew said he wanted to paint his face white so that the police wouldn't kill him and people wouldn't hate him. Shades of The Bluest Eye. This stuff affects kids so differently than it does grownups, and believe me, it's affecting a lot of us grownups pretty hard. 

This world is hard. And my kids--all our kids--are in the midst of this world. I hope that, for them as for me, the gift of writing, analyzing, turning events into stories or commentary or simply dumping it onto the page, will prove a tool for resilience, and ultimately a tool to create positive change, not just for themselves, for all of us. For the whole world. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review--Highland Rebel, by Sally Watson

So, this blog was supposed to be about reading and writing as well as life. I was chugging along, my bookshelf filled with serious lit waiting for me to read and comment, and then, bam, Philando Castile was murdered, and I stopped being able to read them. 

For a long time, I couldn't read much of anything but news accounts and commentaries. I graduated to children's books, reading to the kids. Then, children's books for my own self--they tend to be compact, easy to digest, and they will contain a single kernel of wisdom that I can take with me for the day or the week.

Take Highland Rebel, a library discard published by Sally Watson in 1954 as part of a lengthy, wandering family saga focused on Scotland, moving to the US with the birth of our nation, and then heading west. 

Highland Rebel, one of the earliest in this series, gave me a romantic, life-long love of all things Scottish, along with a gauze-covered notion of Charles Edward Stewart and the "Scottish Soul," something Watson is big on in this book. It also filled me with longing to dress as a boy and save my prince. 

Another book in the series, The Hornet's Nest, is my go-to book to get kids interested in what led to the American Revolution, and her book, Jade, about Mary Read and Anne Bonney, hooked me on serious research into pirates years before Pirates of the Caribbean. Through the next decades, Watson's  novels lead us through Scotland's witch hunt years, Witch of the Glens, and then, they get cutesy, as we wade through the Puritans, and past somebody (of course) dressing up as a boy to dress up as a girl to work with William Shakespeare; and up to a sad hearted girl named Felicity, who gains some spunk and backbone while befriending Chief Seattle and learning to thrive in a log cabin in the Pacific Northwest. (First titled Poor Felicity, this is now, unfortunately, named The Delicate Pioneer.)

You can no longer find Watson's books on many library shelves, which is a real shame. They all have active, decisive female characters confronted with real challenges, and their male characters are strong as well. The women's challenges are not in any way limited to getting the boy or avoiding sexual assaults.  Now back in print, they are all well-researched, though as a parent, I do work to remove some of the historical gauze. Watson herself is ninety-two and probably still writing--her latest novel's release was in 2012. I request them at every library I visit. 

And this week, reading Highland Rebel gave me a tidbit to hang onto, from heroine Lauren's Aunt Elspeth--"Tis not what life does to you that matters, but what you do with it." (I may not have quoted her correctly--the book is still upstairs next to my bed.) Yes, this is simplistic, and yes, I know that issues like depression or, say, Krystal Nacht, can make this statement moot.  But sometimes, the simplest of concepts can be the most helpful in complicated times. 

Roll on, Children's books. Through little ones and the ideas they need to learn and grow, maybe we can save the world. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Community is Important For More Than Dancing--Philando Castile and Grief.

The other night, from the bathtub, I heard a little voice say, "I wonder what Philando is doing now?"

"What?" Oh no. I am going to have to explain to my child about souls and spirits and heaven, what happens when we die, ground that I'm not exactly sure about myself. "You mean if Phil were here as a ghost?"

"I mean," says the little voice, "What would he be doing if he were alive right now? If he hadn't gotten shot? Would he be shopping? Watching TV? Reading? Playing with Dae Dae?" (The little girl in the car.)

If he were still alive. If Phil were still alive. . .

"I don't know," I say. "He shouldn't be dead. It didn't have to happen. It's so sad. He doesn't get to do any of those things now, because he's dead."

We have volunteered in support of Philando's family and his girlfriend and Dae Dae, the little girl in the car. We have and will continue to take action to make real change against systemic racism, in policing, in education, in prisons, in banking, in community policies, not just here but nationwide. We're trying to get comprehensive supports for our students, something more than a "trauma team" for two weeks. Grief doesn't take just two weeks, and it's not always best expressed through talk therapy, especially not for kids. We're trying, and we're working. We're finding allies, and making change.

Still, it all boils down to one man and his murder, to him bleeding out in a car in front of his now grieving girlfriend and a little girl who considered him nearly a father. It all boils down to his mother, sister, uncle, cousins all having to cope with his never being here again, to the 502 kids at his school and all their parents, and to the staff that he worked with every day--Phil never missed a day--for three years.

So, you put it away for awhile, and you have a great time dancing at a Greek Festival, and the next day, you wake up and read your kid's journal, which says, "I'm stressed out right now. Going back to school, and Pilando (sic) won't be there. Who will be the new lunch guy?"

And you bike to the second day of the Greek Festival, stopping by the school, where you read the notes taped to the door--notes from as far away as Arizona and North Carolina, notes supporting Philando and the school. The notes are touching. Some are from children, with "Miss you, Pil," and sad faces in red paint. One note equates him with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King--my oldest kid points out that that's a faulty analogy--"Phil wasn't an activist. He was just a regular person who shouldn't have been shot." One note says, "Black boys of J.J.Hill Bewear (sic). The next person shot by a police officer could be you."

We take down that note.

Biking away, I am overwhelmed with grief. I don't feel grown up, responsible or mature. I feel angry. And sad. And I want to talk to somebody about it. I'm afraid I'll crash my bike. I'm teary, my throat clogged with emotion so I can't speak.

Our favorite thing at the Greek festival is the communal dancing. Men, women, adults and children, all standing in a line, holding hands and dancing. We don't have enough community in our lives. The Greek festival is a place we go to get some.

At the festival, I run into an ex-J.J.Hill parent, someone who grew up with Phil in the tightly-knit Rondo community. He sends his kids away, and mine go, too, and the tears come out, and he listens for a moment. Community is necessary for more than just dancing. And then, we talk about what he could do for the kids at school, for the supports we're trying to get them--art and music therapy, more than just a two-week trauma team that's based on talk.

I hope he follows through.  These wounds will be with us for a very long time. And Community is necessary for more than just dancing.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dancing to Oblivion, or Greek-style meditation?

Last night, we attended the Greek festival, one of our favorites, because it has public folk dancing, with people of all ages and abilities welcome to join in. (This photo is not us, and there are no children here,  but we were too busy dancing to take photos last night.) 

The steps are complicated but simple. Once you learn them, once you get them into your muscle memory, you can almost do them in your sleep. Which is lovely, because the first person in line is improvising, so you may be asked to follow along with wonderful, silly, dramatic movements, impromptu. Of course, some of them are so simple that they're just a hora--step to the right, step behind, step, kick, step, kick. But most have a quirk that makes them enough complicated that it can take, well, a few years of festivals before you learn them well. 

We know them well. While the kids went to the bouncy houses and answered Greek trivia questions (which my Jewish history buff child aced) I danced until I forgot my mind, forgot my body, until I was rhythm and music and laughter, and sweat dripping into my eyes. We all did, maybe thirty of us, dancing in circles and windy roads, ducking the tent poles, helping those who didn't know the steps or the rhythm, dancing until everybody was too tired--even the Greek folk dancers--and the party broke up around 9:45. It was absolute, sheer joy. 

We all need more of this--public, communal dancing. Dancing until we become one of many bodies in a long, snake-line of dancers, joined in laughter and movement. With, or without the fancy costumes. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Facebook Depression?

Image source: Tech Sheer

I have only been on Facebook for a very brief time. I had to join to be able to speak to fellow parents and staff at a child's school this spring. See, our horrendous principal finally retired after six years of her bullying of parents of kids with disabilities--our district's special ed rate is 16%, our school's is 4%. The whole school cheered and then two weeks before the end of the year, learned we were being given a principal who had eleven families file Federal Civil Rights Complaints over--guess what? Bullying of special ed kids and parents to try to force them to leave her school. 

So, finally I joined, and I started to make connections with writers, agents, political allies. That was a real joy.  You can really get to know someone by their Facebook posts and they can get to know you by your comments. Facebook, I thought, can be the great leveler. 

But it also sucks up a lot of time that we can't spend in regular news sources or regular lives. And since, on Facebook, we only hang with people whose views we share, and we feed each other's views. I now moderate a large group and have enforced civility--funny how quickly people manage to learn to be civil if you show them what they did that was wrong and tell them they get three strikes before they're off. Other large groups are not so caring, so that reading the back and forth can be almost as bad as Yahoo or MNBC, with smack downs etc. 

It's not just Facebook, either. Blogging is part of it. I find I am spending a little less time with people I care about. I used to write these thoughts to one or two long distance friends. Now I write them on a blog. 

That's important, yes? It's valuable to share ideas and experiences and not just with immediate friends. Blogging and posting on Facebook can persuade and connect. It can actually change people's minds. I've seen it do so, about important issues, if they are addressed with courtesy and a listening mind. 

I'm not talking about the studies that say Facebook leads to social comparison and that social comparison either way leads to depression. This is about the great connector creating a lack of connection. 

Anyway, today, I am missing closer contact with old friends. Maybe, for awhile, I will take a break and just email and phone call the ones who live far away.  Who knows. I'm still exploring Facebook and I may change my mind. Not to mention, once I've made up my mind, I still try to keep it open--deciding shouldn't end thinking. 

Give a holler if you share this experience or have ideas for how to cope with it. And thanks. 

Of course, I'm also uploading this to Facebook :) 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hey--Donald Trump is a Whiner.

It occurred to me as I was writing about the perils of "Train Or Be Trained," with children, that Donald Trump is a whiner. "If I don't win, it's because they tricked us. It's mine. She stole it. I want it baaaack." 

And maybe the reason he did so well initially is that so many of us are so well trained by our children. We hear whining, and knee-jerk, we do whatever it takes to Make It Stop. 
 Oh, God, please make him stop! 

(It's okay. Don't worry. I have been de-whined myself and am immune.) 

Whining--It's Such A Productive Sound

Our much loved family, visiting, is one of them. The kids--one in particular, has their father perfectly trained. Loud whining always gets what this young adult wants. 

Now, whining is a tremendously productive sound. It must be instinct to give in to that sound. Nobody wants to hear it, ever, certainly not over and over. Especially not when you're sleep deprived. It can be very hard to avoid being whine-trained when everybody is tired and everybody is hungry and that needle-sharp voice shoots up in the middle of a sentence. 

Some parents--lucky ones, smart ones--do get the hang of un-training themselves. In our house, we've gotten pretty good at saying, "Whining gets you nothing. Try something else." (Of course, the next request still uses whining's potent melody, so we also have to say, "Try again, and calm your voice down this time." Then, and only then, does the kid get rewarded. 

The much-loved father of this family seemed completely oblivious. And we do not feel we are in a situation where we could either step in or offer unasked for parenting advice. (Offering unasked for parenting advice is a little like offering to walk a mine-field blind-folded.) 

So we can only hope that the world will teach this lesson to this otherwise terrific child before said kid loses more friends than already reported. Sigh. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The USA--Is It An Occupied Country For Minorities?

The Justice department recently released their report on Baltimore's policing. Individuals were stopped and searched for no reason, as many as 30 times in a year. Sometimes, people were strip-searched or anal cavity searched. In public. 

Take a minute to understand that. A woman was stopped for a broken tail light, told to exit the car, told to remove her clothing, and strip-searched in her anal cavity in full view of everyone on the street, so it really didn't matter that this was done by a female police officer and the male officer said he "turned away." 

They found nothing. No apology. No compensation. The officer in charge? He was given a "simple reprimand," and could not serve until he had been "properly trained."

Another officer strip-searched and patted down the genitals of a teen-aged boy in front of his girl friend. When the boy filed a lengthy complaint, the officer found him, shoved him against the wall, pulled down his pants and shorts, and grabbed his genitals.

No disciplinary action was ever taken against this officer.

If a citizen did not immediately respond to a verbal command, they were often beaten, even when there was no cause, even when the citizen was behaving peacefully. 

These actions affect lives far more deeply than arrest records and distrust of the police. An innocent person who has to sit in jail for a month on dishonest charges will still lose their job, and sometimes their home--you can't pay the rent if you can't work.  And you can't work if you're sitting in jail. And you just might lose custody of your children, too. Which makes me absolutely shudder.

And afterwards, these citizens were not apologized to. They received no compensation. They had no recourse. Listen, one officer took hold of the radio and told a subordinate to "make something up," if he needed probable cause to stop and search. What makes this comment especially noteworthy is that it was the officer knew he had a federal investigator riding in the car with him at the time. If that is not a climate of impunity, I don't know what is.

Think of the years that this behavior was allowed to continue. Nobody paid attention. It took BLM protests, it took Freddy Gray's murder, for this to come to light. (We know he was intentionally not belted in and taken on a rough ride.)

We cannot allow his legacy to rot. We can't wait for the Justice Department to examine us, community by community. Martin Luther King was assassinated to keep him from completing the liberation of his people. We cannot let it take another fifty years, or even another five.

If the citizens being harassed in this way lived in Montana or West Virginia, this would never have been allowed to continue as long as it has. We cannot allow our citizens to live under occupation any more.

If you want to shudder, read more about egregious policing in Baltimore. And remember, in one case where a man was arrested, tazed, and beaten by several officers, beaten enough to send him to the hospital--beaten for no reason--the sergeant's report ended by saying that the "officers showed great restraint and professionalism."
Try not to throw up. Instead, take action.

Why I Finally Began To Write About My Children--Philando Castile

I just read a post from a mommy blogger--which I am not--about the ethics of writing about her children, and why she has decided to stop. (Spoiler alert, it's because her father called her out on a detailed blog about the first signs of her oldest child's puberty!) 

This issue has always been a challenge for me. As some of you long-time readers may know, I have examined other writers, in a How Close Is Too Close look at their autobiographical pieces. You also probably noticed how very careful I was to keep any comments about my children brief, in the "cute comments" category, and to not to identify my children by age, by name, even by sex, or how many I have. We artists tend to create from what we see, but the ethics are more intense for children, especially since I have a child with special needs. Our battles with a school district, with the medical system, could help other parents, but they are still my child's alone. My kids have often given me permission, but you know what, their brains aren't mature enough to really give informed consent. 

Then, Philando Castile, our school's cafeteria supervisor, was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop, catapulting us into the news. A good man was killed, killed because he was African-American, and the 502 children of our school, plus the children from his summer school employment, plus children in other schools where he has worked over the years, have all been affected. 

Our entire community's first impulse was to make certain that Phil's live truly mattered, especially when we saw, to our horror, that parts of our country began to demonize him. My children's reactions to Phil Castile's life and to his death could undercut that demonization. My voice--our voice-- could serve to humanize Phil, to make certain he is not just another person on the list, even though he had now become just another person on the list. We wanted to honor Phil, and that meant more than feeding kids and eating our vegetables and telling every food server we see that they touch far more lives than they will ever know. That meant changing a country that first cost Phil about $8000 in Driving While Black fines, and also involved at least fifty-two instances of life-threatening police encounters, getting needlessly arrested, and wasting countless hours in worry. That meant changing the racial idiocies of a country that saw him murdered and will likely see his shooter go free. Phil's death changed the formula, as far as I am concerned. I have to write about my children, because people have to know. If my kid's classmates are essentially living in an occupied country, the world has to hear about it. 

That's my decision. It doesn't mean I don't still wrestle with it. I hope if I have been in error, that my children, when grown, will forgive me. I hope I do not harm them. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Excuses for Anti-Semitism and Homophobia? Do They Add Up?

A comment came up on yesterday's blog and my response turned into its own blog post. It's from Joan, who is thoughtful and caring. And it says: "Those {the folks who  yelled anti-Semitic and homophobic remarks at a rally for Philando Castile} were outside agitators whose goal is to discredit BLM. They fired shots at the (sic) Jamar Clark rally's. They threw the first bricks at the 94 {Freeway, onto the heads of police officers}. BLM did not sponsor the mansion protests they were organic. Rashad Turner is a hero in my book and a good friend. The point of activism and he has had great success there, was a job fair for the first time ever at the state fair. The mayor just yesterday included money to add 3000 jobs in depressed areas of St Paul and is more committed to hiring from the neighborhoods. The district is now considering a social media policy for staff and students. The point of activism is to raise issues, create conversations around issue that are not being addressed or {are) being changed to{o} slowly. There is no place for anti semitism." (sic)

I thought about Joan's comments. And then, I realized that for me, they don't hold water. And the reason is, that if the situation were paralleled--that is to say, if this were to happen at a rally given by a Jewish organization, such excuses would never be accepted. 

Imagine, I said to Joan, that we're at a rally sponsored by the Anti Defamation League or B'nai Brith. The rally is to protest violence against Jews in, say, France. (Where there has been a lot of recent, horrendous attacks on Jewish targets and people are, justifiably, terrified.) 

Imagine that the rally involves an open mike, set up by the ADL, but then left alone--"because this is an organic event." Imagine that several of the speakers talk about evil Muslims--all Muslims--and denigrate black people, and put down gays and lesbians in the bargain. It's an open-mike, and these people spew hatred and the rally leaders say nothing, at the time or later. They don't step in and lay out rules of civility. They don't step up and say, "We don't accept hate of any kind." Later, they claim these people were outside activists trying to discredit the ADL. Would you give them a pass? 

I wouldn't. Nobody would. The press, the city, would erupt with outrage. Nobody would be talking about how the point is to raise the issue of anti-Semitism, or to create conversations about the rise in anti-Semitism in France. They'd be screaming about the bigotry spoken at the rally, spoken with the tacit approval (because silence denotes approval) of those who were in control of that mike and that rally. 

And that is as it should be. Somebody put that mike and that amp up there, and that person or group was responsible for what came out of those speakers. I'm not talking about those who threw bricks at the 94 Freeway, I'm not talking about Rashad Turner per se. I'm talking about the Black Lives Matter Activists who set up the mike and the amp. If we give whoever that was a blank check and we continue to support them without correction, we are choosing to support hatred. Anti-gay, anti-Jewish hatred. It's not enough to say, "Well, look at the wonderful results they're getting." Unless we stand up against hatred--everywhere, in every form--we are part of the problem. 

Then, there's the BLM umbrella organization, which just released a platform one plank of which was the demonization of Israel as "genocidal." We all know what genocide looks like. It looks like Turkey in 1915. It looks like slaughtered Tutsi piled in heaps. It looks like millions of stacked glasses outside a crematorium. 
In our family, we are fortunate to have photos of four of the children who died in the Holocaust. There were many more children in our family who "became smoke", as the family says. Photos were hard to keep when hundreds of thousands of you were being shoved into cattle cars or slaughtered in the forests. The children in the photos up on our wall were among the millions of Jews who were exterminated--and their faces look like those of my children. Calling Israel genocidal, speaking about Jews running the world, speaking about Jew landlords owning everything, speaking--as Mahmoud Abbas claimed (in Arabic, to his own people, to try to win an election) that "the Jews are poisoning our wells"--and yes, people at a Black Lives Matter rally claiming Jews are running black people out of businesses--these words can result in murdered children, as surely as Ugandan anti-gay laws can result in macheteed gay people, as surely as American systemic police racism results in murdered black men and women. This will be true until all of us--you, me, everybody--has the courage to speak out, just as we must cry out that Black lives matter. 

So, I look forward to hearing from BLM that Israel is not genocidal and that Jew-hatred is not allowed. And Joan, if Rashad is a dear friend and a hero, please speak to him about this issue. When we say no to hate, we have to say no to all hate. 

Thank you. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Hate is Hate, Bigotry is Bigotry. Right?

I am someone who lived in South Central Los Angeles where I witnessed police brutality first hand. I am also a parent at the school where Philando Castile worked. I had decided to swallow my concerns about Black Lives Matter's "Israel is genocide platform" because the need is so urgent: we must make an end to the institutionalized racism and police bias that has seen Phil Castile and so many other Black men and women murdered. 

Then, last night, a parent and teacher told me of the Black Lives Matter rally at the Governor's mansion on that  the shocked, horrible day after Phil's death. In an open mike setting, he said, individuals screamed anti-semitism and homophobia, their comments un-addressed by those in charge. I asked for specifics and was told, "things like, 'we got to get rid of those gays, those queers,'" and "those white Jews stole all our businesses." For the last month, this man's white face has been red with grief and twisted with bewilderment. He was a good friend of Philando's, much closer to him than I.  He is not Jewish. The rally he attended was not run by our often out of control chapter, but by Nekima Levy-Pound's much more practical group. 

This thoughtful man also said, "When you do an open-mike, unfiltered, at an event like this, you commodify grief. It's the one that screams the loudest who is supposedly grieving the most and the one everybody listens to." And when you allow hate speech against gays and Jews to stand unanswered, you encourage bigotry--Flat, plain evil, awful bigotry--and invite it to flourish. 

Perhaps it is easier for me to excuse amtisemitism than other kinds of bigotry--this despite the fact that our synagogue was vandalized following that event. Perhaps what freed me was the screamed homophobic invectives. Whatever the case, what he said snapped me to decision. Our local chapters of Black Lives Matter will be hearing from me, both its leadership and those members that I know and care about. I hope they will speak out against both homophobia and antisemitism. 

And Black Lives Matter is not the only African-American group working for racial justice. For now--until they, as Philando's friend says,"Get their act together" about Jew-bashing and queer-hating and any other bigotry that anybody spouts, whether it's Trump or BLM, I will be working--passionately--with others to create the change we must make in our country's open bigotry against black lives. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Should We Talk About Race?

A relative in town, someone loved and rarely seen, visits the Race Exhibit at the Science Museum and can't stop talking about it. 

"That's what I always say--there's no such thing as race. It doesn't exist. Why do we even talk about it? It doesn't exist."  

His kids hang with my kids, and my kids are deeply upset about Philando Castile's death. And I am deeply upset about Phil's death. And even before that, frankly, we talked a lot about race, because race may not exist biologically, but it haunts the world in which we live, affecting everything from policing to housing to education to medicine to child rearing. We not only talk about race, but about nuances--"Oh, you're black and Vietnamese and adopted?" Now we know approximately how old she is, what her early childhood was like--the Vietnamese were hostile to the mixed children of G.I.'s and Vietnamese women--and that she has had to explain this story many, many, many times." "You're Nepali? And you immigrated in 2001?" Now we know they were caught in tragedy. "So you fled after the Nepalese royal massacre. Did you lose family?" "Oh, you're Nigerian. Are you Yoruba. No, Hausa? And you grew up in the north, in a village?" (Most Hausa practice subsistance farming, herding or trading in patriarchal families heavy with mysogeny, often with multiple wives.) "What was it like for you to as a child?" 

But as we are eating dinner, this relative says, "Don't talk about race. It doesn't exist. Don't talk about it. When you talk about it, you make it worse." And then turns straight to me and says, flat and angry. "And stop trying to proselytize my kids." 

This relative is, quite honestly, an insecure and arrogant soul, with a childhood that made him exceedingly rigid. And he is warning me directly, in anger, that if I continue our conversation, he will withhold his children from mine, as he did for many years. 

But I'll tell you, I want to scream and rage. You ignorant, hidden bigot. You arrogant white person, steeped in your privilege You come to visit, slightly over a month after someone we know was murdered by a police officer--because of Philando's race--and have the gall to tell me it doesn't exist and that I'm talking too much about it? 

Instead, I take deep breathes and stare out the window, trying to think about how to respond. We rarely persuade when we push someone. I know this. We open minds by calmly introducing ideas and then giving the listener time and space to absorb them--if they can. 

And some people, of course, we cannot persuade. How do we handle those? What is our moral responsibility? In this instance, with this relative, I know that if I give in to righteous indignation, if I pitch a fit, his children will be cut from our life. But if I back off, his children will occasionally hang around mine, and my kids are steeped in awareness of bigotry of many kinds. Knowledge will just naturally seep in. 

So, I calm myself, breathing deeply, studying the peaceful scene outside their vacation location. Finally, I say quietly, "You have the luxury of not talking about race with your kids. Parents of minorities do not have that luxury. And studies have shown that, when we do not openly discuss race with white children, there is a tribalism that takes place, so that they grow up absorbing a kind of quiet racism." 

"When my kids have birthday parties," he says, "they're surrounded by African-American kids, Asian kids. You don't need to talk to them or everybody else about race." 

Tell that to someone black who is looking for an apartment and then explain why the landlords keep telling them that the place has just been rented, though it's available when a white friend goes to view it. Tell that to an Asian woman treated like a sex toy. Tell it to a parent called in to school to be told that their darker child is struggling to learn certain letters that it turns out the teacher hasn't taught in school yet. (This recently happened to a friend, who, fortunately, knows the curriculum and was able to point out that the materials for teaching those letters never came home--but how many times has this teacher caused other parents of color to unnecessarily worry about their child's progress?) 

Tell that to Philando's  mother, girl friend, uncle. Tell that to me, to all the children of Phil's school, to all his friends. Tell that to the family, friends, and community of Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child holding a toy gun turned into "monster" by a police officer's racial bias. 
Race does not exist--biologically, this is largely true. Racism, though, is flourishing. And we have got to not only talk about it, we have to do a lot more than that. We have to find ways to persuade those who refuse to see racism that it still exists and must be fought. We have to find ways to persuade those who think and breathe racism--whether its something they were taught or something they refuse to understand. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Why Is This So Hard? Philando Castile

 I knew Philando Castile the way we know people in our lives who we see every day. Every school morning, for three years, I saw Phil Castile. My youngest often saw him twice a day. My oldest often saw him once a week. 

In our family, saying hello means taking those extra moments to do more than say hello. When we ask "How you doing?" we really listen to the answers, and when someone asks us, we really tell them-- of challenges and joys that we are facing in our lives. Maybe we don't tell them in detail or in depth, although often we do, but we tell them the truth, and we ask for and listen to the same from them. 

The three year we knew Phil were some of the hardest our family had been through: a special needs child in crisis, a school district refusing any kind of help, a medical system on the fritz. During those years, and even at that school, we found many people--their families working smoothly, their lives trotting along--who listened politely when we spoke about our challenges and then quickly changed the subject or moved away.  

Phil was one of those who listened--without trying to fix us--Phil and his colleague, Vanessa, gave hugs, welcomed my oldest and youngest, did not lecture us on what we were doing wrong (yes, it's true, people do that even when you are in a crisis and everything is falling apart.)  Phil never missed a school day. For three years, he was there. 

We are a Holocaust survivor family. A few of our family survived as children, so they are still around--those who were in the camps still sport tattooed arms. Those who were hidden still carry nightmares and scars. We are extremely fortunate to have photos of several of those who were murdered--including the babies, including the children. We can never forget human being's capacity for inhumanity. 

On top of that, I have spent several years writing a novel about the idiocy of thinking that we are a post-racial society. I thought I was sophisticated and aware and active about racial injustice. 

I was wrong. 

My little one said today, "I'm going to miss Mr. Phil."