Monday, November 23, 2020

Girl, Take Those Posters Down

I don't know who needs to read this, but that faded poster on your childhood bedroom wall should probably come down, especially if it is a picture of some old 80s heartthrob. He doesn't even look like that anymore, and if he does that is a LOT of surgery. Or he might be dead, in which case, you can keep one poster up as a shrine...but that is kind of weird now that we're grown and have children and/or grandchildren who are now postering their bedroom walls. 

Just take 'em down, he's not the man you thought he was (because he was a teenager, just like we were). Or maybe he is, and if that is the case, you can stop reading now because I am not going to say anything nice from this point on.

Not that anybody needed to know his political leanings, but Rick Schroder falls into that latter category. I used to watch Silver Spoons as a child, and as recently as this year at some point during this pandemic, I have seen a handful of episodes. Including the Whitney Houston episode that we all forgot about because who paid any attention to Alfonso's uncle Dexter? Anyway, we all learned that Schroder has become one of those guys who trolls people from his mother's basement.

And in support of another basement-dweller who got his Mom to drive him across state lines to assist the police with crowd control in Kenosha, Schroder donated bail money to Kyle Rittenhouse. Because patriotism...

I didn't need to know that. Mind you, Schroder was never on any poster in my bedroom, nor did I ever consider him to be anything other than kind of cute in a Buster Brown/Richie Rich sort of way, still I DID NOT NEED TO KNOW THIS. I did not need to know that Rick Schroeder thinks that a child who gets his kicks pretending to be Terminator 2, deserves to be at home eating green bean casserole at Thanksgiving dinner! Meanwhile the families of the two people he killed...

Gimme a Break! (Yeah, that was Joey Lawrence.)

Similarly, it is past time to let go of Scott Baio. I never watched a single episode of Joanie Loves Chachi (was this really the theme song?) and I don't care, but whut??? I know what you're thinking, Baio had range beyond Chachi--he became big enough to star in another sitcom for six years, the ever under-rated Charles in Charge. But let's be honest, nobody remembers much about that show other than the theme song, Willie Aames, and the fact that Nicole Eggert accused Baio of sexual molestation during her stint. Nicole Eggert would later go on to run along the beaches of Malibu with The Hoff on Baywatch, so if Grandpa Night Rider is still on your wall, I am judging you. As for Willie Aames, who like Baio had a stint of hunkdom in the 70s (residue from Eight Is Enough), he's had a rough life, so you can leave his poster in place.

Take the others down though. Schroder, Baio, and your Grandmother's calendar of Jon Voight as Conrack too. Not because these guys are old. The late great Sean Connery, our eternal James Bond, even he proved to be a wee bit problematic. Despite the fact that we moved on and vowed never to speak of it again, never forget that he gave a most fucked up interview to Barbara Walters in which he declared it was acceptable to slap women

Teen idols and heartthrobs are human just like star athletes, hip hop artists, hard rockers, and Sexiest Men Alive. Aging is the least of their problems. I am talking about the disillusionment that comes from learning that they might be terrible human beings.

Everyone is entitled to have political opinions and so this isn't about Schroder being in that clique of Hollywood conservatives. Kelsey Grammar, Drew Carey, Kirstie Alley, Dean Cain, and Melissa Joan Hart are a few of the names we know, and there are plenty of others. We know that a lot of professional athletes are conservative, as well as most of your favorite televangelists. Most of the big box stores where you shop are run by conservatives. That one relative who insists that everything will be fine, just come over for dinner this Thursday at 4pm...yep. More than 70 million people voted to keep the Creep Show going for another four years, and they don't all look like this:

Until this century, I was fine with not caring about the political ideologies of every entertainer on the planet. Now it feels like a prerequisite, that I must know how they voted (if they voted) in order to decide if their projects are worth my energy. As such, it is unlikely that I will ever sit through a marathon of Veronica's Closet now. But what about Cheers, Frasier, Look Who's Talking? See how that can become a slippery slope with ensemble casts???

I'm joking, by the way, but these are strange times. And I am pretty clear that Rick Schroder could have thought of a better way to draw attention to himself other than to join forces with the My Pillow guy in supporting a domestic terrorist. What, no food banks or domestic violence shelters that were more deserving?

However, it is rather coincidental that many of these folks were TV stars in the 80s. I posted some observations on Twitter about a few of the sitcoms from that era and how it is obvious that most of those shows had no diversity in their writers' rooms. The very people who complain of tokenism as a displacement for them had no problems using it as a device to disprove the existence of racism. For example, why did Ricky Stratton suddenly gain a Black best friend? Was it really because he was a cool kid or because the writers were trying to cover up for the fact that Schroder had Jason Bateman booted off the show... 

So maybe we've known all along that Schroder was trash and I just forgot. My bad.

Fatigue Is Not Fatal

Lawd, my Mama would have cussed all of these people out over this virus by now...but since she can't, I will speak for her. Have you people lost your effing minds? Okay, my mother didn't use the f-word as freely as I do, but if looks could kill:

Her looks could be as lethal as this virus y'all keep playing around with. WTF is wrong with you people? How hard is it to wear a mask? Seriously? It isn't as if we've never had to wear something uncomfortable before.

As children, we wore those highly flammable death suits every Halloween. You remember the plastic face masks with slits in it for seeing and breathing. They were hot as hell, no matter how cold it actually was on Halloween night, and really, no one could see anything out of those tiny eye holes, so we wore them on top of our heads between houses. We wore those crappy masks until the elastic popped off, along with those full body hazmat suits that were supposed to be the costume. And we wore the same horrible ensemble multiple times: to the school Halloween party, to the community center party/church Harvest Festival, and then trick or treating. Don't tell me that you don't have fond memories of that!

How many of you went to Catholic school? Do you remember those gray flannel slacks, clip-on ties, and v-neck sweater vests that the boys had to wear? How about the jumpers that the girls had to wear with knee socks and saddle shoes? What about Peter Pan shirt collars? Luckily I escaped having to wear any of that, but I did have to wear a seer sucker weskit and a blazer bearing our school's crest. If you need a visual for either, think of the same suit Matlock wore, but for a high school girl. If you came up with Blair Warner from The Facts of Life, you would be right (sans necktie).

Have you ever worked a job with a dress code or a uniform? Do you honestly think flight attendants want to wear high heels while pushing that heavy drink cart down the aisle at 35,000 feet? Do people who wear uniforms ever look happy to be at work? In addition to whatever 'team' gear they must wear, they also need to affix a customer service smile to deal with the public or face the consequences of a Karen demanding to see a manager.

You want to talk about COVID fatigue? Well yeah, we are all TIRED as fuck of COVID. We're tired of hearing about it as the lead story on the news. We are tired of seeing the daily infection figures go up. We are tired of virtual schooling our children. We are tired of Zoom meetings. We are sick of our own cooking. We've forgotten how to wear real shoes and anything other than sweats or yoga pants. Or caftans and turbans.

My child recently wore her Easter dress with white shoes to a family function in November because in April when she was supposed to wear that outfit to church, we were on lockdown. Why bother to adhere to arbitrary etiquette rules when those were the only dress shoes that still fit her feet? It isn't like we're leaving the house to go anywhere formal again until next Easter anyway. She has seen every episode of every kid's show on PBS Kids, Disney, and Nick Jr., so now she has graduated to the cartoons that I watched at her age. She's practicing cursive and reading chapter books. She's five...I expect that by the end of this school year, she will be ready for 6th grade. 

Does COVID bore you? Because if the answer if yes, this is when Audrey Mae's voice comes out of me loud and clear: THEN READ A DAMN BOOK! If you have read all of the books in your room, then go write one! (Yes, she used to say that to me, and here we are). Look, it's NaNoWriMo in case people are still doing that, or you can buy more books to put on that bookshelf in the background of your Zoom calls.

Yes I know, vaccines are almost ready. But I will wait my turn because impatience is going to undermine whatever progress could come because y'all just won't stay inside!

I get it, people are social animals and we want to hang out with friends and family. We want to do stuff, see stuff, buy stuff. I want to wander around Target with a cart full of stuff and then run random non-urgent errands because that was my quiet time. I miss getting glammed up for church. I miss running late for everything. The Kid used to have a packed social calendar full of birthday parties and while I don't miss driving to the ends of the earth to find new bouncy house places, I do miss seeing her refuse to engage with the others for no good reason. It's the little things...

COVID fatigue is real, but it isn't fatal. 

I know people believe that we're at the point of Sharknado hysteria. Much ado about nothing. I've seen the posts and tweets where people argue that they will take their chances because they refuse to live in fear. That's cool, but what is so scary about wearing a mask? You can choose your own style. You can customize it to reflect your personality. You only have to wear it in public. We're not on lockdown again, so I'm trying to understand the resistance. And if you stay your ass in the house, then this is not even an issue for you (then you only have worry about what is in your Zoom background).

Help me understand how your personal liberty and freedom are at stake when you can choose whether to go anywhere. You can choose to go into the specialty pet shop where they sell those organic gluten-free dog biscuits, or you can call ahead and arrange for curbside delivery. That's freedom! You can choose to complain about the state of the world on social media or you can go out and protest it. Those are your rights! Do you realize how privileged we are to complain about voluntary disease mitigation--where we have the option to engage in pre-COVID life and the only request is that we wear a mask and carry hand sanitizer?

It has been formally recommended that people not travel or gather in large groups for Thanksgiving. No one is going to stand outside your house with a counter to limit the number of people who get to go in. You won't get fined and in all likelihood, you may luck out like we did two weekends ago when we visited family. There are precautions you can take in advance to minimize exposure. So I'm not even going to judge you for considering a small family or friend gathering because it has been a long eight months, especially if you live alone. I don't live with my parents, but I will be making sure that they get a decent Thanksgiving meal, so I'm not throwing stones from the porch of my glass house.

But for it's worth, I was still stressed the fuck out about our visit to New York, got a COVID test, and then spent ten days in quarantine. 

 

Therefore, I am suggesting that there is a difference between acceptable risk and wanton disregard. Everyone has the right to determine what is an acceptable amount of risk. What we should not do is wantonly disregard the lives of others. All of the political rhetoric and posturing aside, this disease hasn't been a respecter of person or position. Anybody can get it and most of the people who have been infected have survived. Yet, too many people have died for it to be taken for granted. Taking precaution is not giving into fear. 

I am urging caution. I am saying that in the face of an ever-changing pandemic, where the rest of the world is also preparing to go back on some form of lockdown, now is not the time to get careless or to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dig in and believe that this is all part of some elaborate hoax. Over the past eight months, I have had friends lose relatives, close down businesses, cancel weddings, have babies that no one can meet in person, and give up jobs that they loved because they could not balance every added responsibility of this 'rona life. And this is the sad part--wait until someone dies and you can't attend their memorial because you were five minutes late (because you had to set your Kid up for her virtual school day), you barely found something decent to wear, and the room had reached capacity anyway with family. 

Yeah, I am tired of COVID. This has been the most emotionally draining period of my life, so I am relieved to scale back expectations this holiday season. It has been enough for me to keep up with virtual school, my parents, my spending (yeah right), my social justice work, and still find time to be the Busy Black Woman. Yet, this pandemic has forced me to finally trust God about His timing. I have been challenged to believe in myself more (because everybody else is too busy re-assessing their own lives). I have been blessed with opportunities to finally see my writing reach more people. I am still finding my voice, but so is everyone else I know.

If you were raised in the church like me, you recall how those old saints used to admonish us to wait on the Lord (Psalm 27). They used to sing that He may not come when you want, but He'll be there right on time. They preached legendary sermons from one verse in Isaiah 40:31. So if we have to wait a little while longer for society to open up safely, then let's do that. It takes faith to believe that is possible, and to trust that God is with us in the midst of this pandemic. 

Once I was sent to my room to find something constructive to do, my Mom would give me about an hour or so before checking in to see if I was still complaining of boredom. I learned early on to always have something to do, and that is applicable now as we enter into this holiday season. In her words, there are 50-11 million other things you can do to keep from being bored and to keep from spreading COVID.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Of Malice and Men

Candace Owen sure does say a lot of absurd stuff to get attention. I sure do wish I could drag someone else every now and then...but in the words of the late Hyman Roth, this is the business I have chosen. And she is about to get this work!

Candy Land must have been bored from reading the same conspiracy tweets on Parler about how the election was fixed, so she decided to look for something new to get her heart rate up. So I'm guessing she took a stroll down to Starbucks to get her usual pumpkin spice latte when she spotted Harry Styles in a dress on the cover of VOGUE displayed prominently on a nearby newsstand. And because he looked so darn pretty in his fancy frock, I think Candy Stripe got jealous. So she clutched her pearls, forgot her drink (but she doesn't tip, so no one called after her), and hurried back home to pull out her snooty little typewriter to fire off this ridiculous tweet. Instead of asking the obvious question (is that really Gucci), she opined that this pictorial was all part of the leftist agenda to emasculate men.

Bring back manly men, she pleaded, then hit send. Whew...girl, you make this too easy:

1. Nobody, and I mean, NOBODY who reads VOGUE Magazine cares that Harry Styles is wearing a dress. And it is pretty obvious he was chosen to don frocks to please both the ladies and the gentlemen who do read VOGUE...so none of them will be complaining.

2. Harry Styles ain't checking for you, boo. He's not checking for me either, but that's okay because I don't need to add Busy Black Cougar-Mama to my resume.

3. I thought you were married and pregnant. That doesn't prevent you from looking, by the way, but I'm just checking to make sure all is okay at home.

4. Because you are pregnant and are about to bring forth life into this crazy, mixed-up world, wouldn't it be better for your child not to be branded as the kid whose Mommy says unnecessary, ridiculous shit just to get attention?

5. Then you followed up by doubling down (of course). Seeing that your first tweet went viral, you added more fuel to the fire by taking a swipe at fake feminism as toxic. But going out of your way to say something mean about someone else isn't toxic, Candy Cane?

6. As this is a polarized world, people have taken predictable sides, and even though this doesn't really have to be a debate, it is what it is. So I guess this means that you are one of those bitter bitties who believes that the design of a seasonal, disposable coffee cup is also proof of the leftist plot to destroy America.

7. Just wondering why you were trolling through VOGUE for something get outraged about...if you're such a serious person with no fashion sense (and that is not a question), then why do you even care what fills their pages? Fashion is a billion dollar job-creator...

8. Oh, I see now, you were taking a break from beating that dead horse, known as complaining about election rigging. Sigh...allow me to break this down: there is a pandemic raging, some states gave their citizens the option to vote by mail, and more of the people who chose to vote by mail preferred the guy who actually has a plan to help bring an end to the pandemic. Yeah, it sucks to lose to the guy who campaigned from his basement instead of flying around the country to spread the very disease that has been killing people.

9. I don't know why you are so fixated on the superficialities of gender as defined by attire. I know that someone sent you a bunch of pictures of men in dresses and you insisted they weren't persuasive, so I am just going to leave this right here:

10. As usual, you are entitled to your opinion, even if what you expressed was done with malice and with utter disregard to the harm that it could cause others. I am no longer joking, Lil Sis, because what you said was terrible.

Let's start with the fact that I believe you are much smarter than this. You know that manhood and masculinity are not superficial attributes. The characteristics that define manhood are so much more than a shirt and tie, bulging muscles, a ten gallon cowboy hat, or a pickup truck. I know what you said and how you meant it, and what's sad is that you know better. You know better than to reduce manhood to a bunch of tropes and to use Twitter to call someone else's manhood into question.

You know the stories of Black men who were dehumanized and physically stripped of their manhood--men who were castrated right before their bodies were set ablaze in front of jeering mobs. Men who were never afforded due process, but who were judged and punished on the mere allegation that they exceeded the bounds of manhood that had been proscribed for them. Men who had gotten too uppity by owning property or getting an education or daring to vote; men who wore this country's uniform and assumed that granted them equality; men who did not resist the charms of the forbidden fruit of white womanhood offered to them. So you know better than to say something in public that could cause someone real physical harm.

You know better than to assert that there is something less or diminishing about a person who moves about the world differently than others. You know how painful it is to be rejected and marginalized and ridiculed. You know what it is like to choose to live against the grain and to endure the consequences of that choice. You know this, and yet you said what you said, it went viral, then you felt vindicated because other small-minded people agreed with your pettiness.

You went on social media and suggested that manly men carry themselves in ways that command more respect...more than other men who have been feminized or brain-washed to express themselves without your permission or approval. Manly men are strong, you said, and our civilization cannot survive without strong men. Did you really mean that we cannot survive without strong men like Donald J. Trump, the kind of manly man who needs time to accept the fact that he lost an election? The kind of manly man who had his Daddy call in a favor to keep him from having to serve in the military? The kind of manly man who bought a beauty pageant so that he could ogle young women? The kind of manly man who routinely insults and demeans women who stand up to him?  The kind of manly man who disparages self-sacrifice as weak? The kind of manly man who has no loyalty or honor to anyone but himself?

He is your standard bearer? Or is it that you prefer the image of manhood he projects--the illusion of strength without any of the attributes.

Because real men are kind, loving, creative, funny, generous, protective, honest, vulnerable, sensitive, attentive, tough, and caring. Real men encourage others. Real men stand up for what is right. Real men make mistakes and own up to them. Real men get knocked down, get back up, and keep fighting. Real men provide for their children, regardless of who's name is on the birth certificate. Real men look out for their neighbors. Real men sin and then pray to God for forgiveness. Real men wear masks. Real men wear kilts, robes, sarongs, kaftans, agbada or boubou, sherwani, kurta, tights, capes, body armor, helmets, workboots, wingtips, sneakers, ascots, boxers, briefs, tutus, feather boas, wigs, uniforms, costumes, business suits, hoodies, spacesuits, loincloth, labcoats, makeup, beards, suspenders, scrubs, and yes, even tuxedo ball gowns if that's what they want to wear.

Real men that know who they are and are unafraid to live in their truth are manly, Candolences. And real people love them for that. And it doesn't matter what a fake pundit clutching fake pearls tweets to express her faux outrage over something that she could have just ignored.

Bring back manners. Bring back common courtesy. Bring back minding your own business. Bring back respect. Bring back 'don't start none, won't be none'. Now go on back where you came from.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Playlist Project: Black Women in Country Music

This project is really a departure for me as I have never been a big fan of country music. And that is weird, given that I enjoy most genres of music. I can also sing all of the words to Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man and y'all know how much I LOVE Dolly Parton. Well, as you know, people are complex and several things can be true at once, even if they appear to contradict--one can know all of the words to a seminal country song, one can be indifferent to that same genre of music, and yet, one can have a huge woman-crush on one of its biggest stars because she is just that AWESOME in every way imaginable!

Because Dolly is forever...

I grew up in the 80s when country music and its aesthetic were ubiquitous. Everything was either country, soft rock power ballads, or grown-folks R&B. Country was hairspray, unnatural cleavage, aerobics, and cowboy boots (essentially, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on the Love Boat). If you went into the hardware store, into an auto parts stores, or shopping at certain big box department stores, they only played country music. A good number of the popular movies/TV shows were centered around country and/or western themes--The Coal Miner's Daughter, The Dukes of Hazzard, Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, and Dallas. I swear Jim Henson featured a country musical guest on The Muppet Show every other week. And then because Ronald Reagan had been an actor in westerns, I thought every White House Christmas special featured Barbara Mandrell and Loretta Lynn (not so, but both singers were very popular during that time). 

Perhaps the most country thing of all was what we ate. Fast food in DC in the 80s was all about fried chicken, which while not as country as corn pone, was a big deal. I have no idea why that was, but in the era before the Colonel expanded into the city, Roy Rogers was one of the more popular fast food chains. There were three in my general orbit growing up--at the mall, near my dance studio, and across the street from my Dad's job. If you ate in at Roy Rogers, you were getting good fried chicken served with all of the twangiest country music legally allowed in a chocolate city.

Problem was, there were no Black stars other than Charley Pride singing country music back then, but let's be honest, his brand of country wasn't very appealing to kids my age. In fact, I don't know of anyone my age who willingly listened to country music back then, save for some Lionel Richie and We Are the World (and yes, I am categorizing WATW as a country song). But once MTV made everything about pop and rock, country got the boot...relegated to being the music you only heard at the hardware store. Or right before you turned the volume down during the awards shows while waiting impatiently for Prince to perform. Or what you only heard at Roy Rogers.

All American popular music is interconnected, so gospel begat blues and country and bluegrass and folk and rock 'n roll and pop and R&B in one continuous loop along the radio dial. It is sometimes impossible to hear certain gospel songs and not hear a country twang. Or not to hear the blues as anything other Black folks and British pop stars singing country music. Or to hear an interview with any American pop artist and not have them say that they got their start in a church choir. 

So it is not surprising that this journey has taken me to some familiar places musically. I won't stray too far off course here, but this #PlaylistProject was probably inevitable, yet definitely not as urgent until I saw that fateful tweet on my timeline about Maren Morris's acceptance speech at the Country Music Awards. I had been paying closer attention to news about country music because the genre was being called out for sexism in the aftermath of #MeToo. Several female artists complained that they were not getting the radio airplay that their male counterparts received, and a study released in Spring 2019 confirmed their allegations. This was parallel to the complaints of female artists in other genres that they were not receiving award recognition in spite of their commercial successes. The issue became undeniable when none other than REBA MCENTIRE (also revered, just not as much as Dolly) called the Academy of Country Music out for the disparities at last year's award ceremony. 

Perhaps 2020 is the reckoning, an acknowledgment that good music might be defined by a genre, but it isn't confined to a particular group or ideology. If hip hop's biggest stars (Beastie Boys and Eminem) and fans are white men, then it is high time y'all made room at the Grand Old Opry for Black women. 

I posted a playlist on the Facebook page for Maren Morris, and there is still a lot I need to learn about her and the country supergroup she joined last year called Highwoman. For now, I will direct you to this Spotify playlist I created (a work in progress) since the focus here is on the Black women her speech elevated. Just know that if you were as indifferent to country music as I was, you might change your tune after listening to Morris, Highwomen, as well as these six sisters. There will definitely be another country music #PlaylistProject in the future.

Linda Martell

The first Black woman to perform solo onstage at the Grand Old Opry was Linda Martell (born Thelma Bynem), in 1969. In my mind, she should have been a star or at least had a better chance at having a more consistent career, considering that she was unique and had a co-laborer in country music legend, Charley Pride. Alas, the familiar story of racism, accentuated by sexism, had derailed her career by the mid 1970s as recounted in this recent article in Rolling Stone magazine.

Before she made it to the Opry, Martell's career began in the classic way that R&B girl groups typically start out--a group of talented sisters/cousins/friends with beautiful voices and big dreams. In Martell's version, her group was The Anglos (later the Angelos) from a small community in South Carolina. They recorded A Little Tear (Was Falling From My Eyes) in 1962 which sounds exactly like a song that might have been released from Motown or from Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. That association is especially apparent on The Things I Do For You, the B side to A Little Tear, as well as on Lonely Hours released in 1963, so I cannot help but wonder how her career might have been different had she been in Detroit, Los Angeles, Memphis (with Otis Redding at Stax), or with a more prominent record label to promote her prior to her switch to country music.

Instead, she made it to the Opry in 1969, thanks to her cover of Color Him Father, a song that had been previously recorded by the R&B group The Winstons that same year. Her only album, Color Me Country, was released that same year, which included Before the Next Teardrop Falls and Bad Case of the Blues, which she performed on the popular variety show Hee Haw in 1970. Her manager at the time was Shelby Singleton, who initially helped to clear the path that led Martell to the Opry several times before she ultimately left the business in 1974. Check out the Rolling Stones article for the specifics, but I found it interesting that his decision to promote Jeannie C. Riley (Harper Valley P.T.A.) and then Martell's refusal to accept being passed over is what led to her disappearance from the country music scene. 

After Martell, other Black female performers of note were Ruby Falls (nee Bertha Bearden Dorsey) and Dona Mason. Now if I had heard either of these songs by Falls in those Roy Rogers days, You've Got to Mend This Heartache or He Loves Me All To Pieces, I would never have known any different. Mason's claim to fame is that she was the last Black woman to appear on the country music charts in 1987, thanks to her collaboration with Yankee-born singer Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass on Green Eyes (Cryin' Those Blue Tears). In hindsight, that seems pretty remarkable given how music collaborations in the 90s and 00s could have yielded more opportunities for hits; nevertheless, this is exactly why it is so unfortunate that we're only just coming to this moment when Black women are getting a chance to be heard in country music in their own right.

Mickey Guyton

Every listing of contemporary Black country music artists includes Guyton, but as an afterthought at the end of a list of male performers. So her story of consulting Google for a list of the Black women in the genre, and only then learning of Linda Martell in 2014 is not surprising. And to know that Guyton made her debut at the Opry 45 years after Martell's is just...wow. Hopefully, hers will be a name that will be remembered as a trailblazer for the next generation of up and coming artists who want to follow a musical path less traveled.

Perhaps it works out in Guyton's favor that she could be one of the more successful American Idol rejects, along with Jennifer Hudson, Amber Riley, and so many others. Yet, I can only wonder how much further along she could be if she had received the career boost that show gave Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Well, knowing that she's on Queen Dolly's radar is a great start, as is receiving an Academy of Country Music nomination for her debut single, Better Than You Left Me. A couple of other notable singles she has released include: Sister, Hold On, and Heaven Down Here. She released an NPR Tiny Desk Concert at Home earlier this year, which also includes Black Like Me, the single she released on Instagram this past Spring. That song probably won't win her any awards from the country music establishment...but I'm hoping that when Linda Martell hears about Guyton's courage, she feels some pride and vindication.

Rissi Palmer

Speaking of country songs that probably don't get much airplay, Seeds, released in 2019, definitely was inspired by the same kind of discontent and civil unrest that prompted Guyton's Black Like Me. The video features an allusion to the children locked in cages along the Southern border and includes the dramatization of a police shooting of an unarmed Black man. The messages are unrelenting, and Rissi Palmer, who has been paying her dues for more than a decade, is fearless. Since she had the distinction of being the first Black woman to chart twenty years after Dona Mason in 2007 with Country Girl, Palmer has earned the right to say whatever is on her mind.

In addition to Morris's acceptance speech that mentioned her, Palmer drew my attention on Twitter when she tweeted about her podcast, Color Me Country, the morning after the CMAs. Y'all know I will check it out, but in the meantime, here are a few of her songs that I like: No Air (yes, same as the Jordin Sparks/Chris Brown duet), Sweet Sweet Lovin, Soul Message, Revival, You Were Here, and Summerville.

Rhiannon Giddens

I first heard about Rhiannon Giddens a couple of years ago when she was profiled on NPR for having been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant back in 2017. I posted about it on the Facebook page, so when I listened to her music then and revisit it now, I don't get consistent country. In fact, I would categorize her music as firmly in the folk tradition with a world music vibe (listen and decide for yourself based on this 2019 Tiny Desk Concert). However, as we know these definitions are fluid, and being agile enough to transcend genres is what makes Giddens' voice and influence so powerful.

For example, Cry No More is exactly the anthem for this moment--weary of pandemic, in despair over racism and sexism, yet hopeful for the future if we remain undaunted. And to follow that up, there is the upbeat All You Fascists Bound To Lose, a remake of a Woodie Guthrie song. Not only is the message timeless, it is also timely (I say we play it on a continuous loop every night in front of a certain residence so that its Occupant gets the point). Finally, this duet with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Build A House, released for Juneteenth, is a beautiful fusion of various musical traditions and genres.

But this is a country music playlist, and Giddens' has country in her soul, which can be heard on Shake Sugaree (not nearly as gritty as Elizabeth Cotton's version), Louisiana Man, and She's Got You (an homage to Patsy Cline). 

Yola

The big shock here is that Yola is from the UK, so in the tradition of Black Brits who come across the pond to blow us away with their incredible pipes and unique sense of style, here she comes to break down barriers. Yola makes an appearance as the Freedom Rider on Highwomen, from the album of the same name, from the supergroup and the movement that has us paying closer attention to women in country music. (You real country music fans recognize this as an homage to the 1985 version of Highwayman.) And of course she nails it!

I should have discovered Yola sooner, as she also performed a Tiny Desk Concert, and that is typically how I discover new artists. I also missed her at the Grammys this year, but now that I've found her, I'm all in! I love her take on Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (and after watching that video, I feel like we all need to get high). Speaking of interesting music videos, Ride Out in the Country is exactly that...as is Shady Grove (which I had to watch a few times to figure out). Love All Night (Work All Day) is classic country, as is Walk Through the Fire.

Brittney Spencer

How does a young woman born and raised in Baltimore, who grew up singing in the AME church, end up pursuing a career in country music? Did I mention that she said she sang with THEE Twinkie Clark? Well, here she offers an explanation in her own words; there is also this interview she did with a local TV station.

Of these ladies, she is the one on the cusp of stardom, so hopefully Morris's shout out will open more doors for Spencer's career to take off. I found a few of her songs on YouTube via the Communal Hymnal site where her blog was posted. There I found Whiskey Lows and God is Not Abusive, the kind of millennial Christian worship songs that are consistent with the spiritual and musical journey Spencer appears to be following. Because of her youth, it occurred to me that a song like Thoughts and Prayers, which alludes to what we often say in the aftermath of tragic events expresses her generation's frustration, respectful yet earnest. I found more of her music on Spotify, most of it released this year such as Sorrys Don't Work No More, so I'm guessing that the pandemic has stymied her breakthrough somewhat. Thus her choice to release If You Say So, which was apparently recorded at a friend's home, is peak 2020.

Epilogue

If you can believe it, there are MORE artists to discover, more Black women who are going against the grain in pursuing a musical journey off the beaten path of R&B, pop, and gospel. I saw from Rissi Palmer's Twitter page that there are other artists that Maren Morris did not mention, so perhaps they will be included in my follow up. 

As I noted on the FB teaser playlist, these sisters are #WOKE. Some of the music they have dared to record and release is bolder than what has been attempted by artists in other genres. I'm not sure that songs like Black Like Me or Seeds would even get much radio play on the college or local public stations, let alone on the commercial country stations. But the messages are unmistakable and powerful, like some of the women who sang in another era of civil unrest. Nina Simone, Odetta, Miriam Makeba, and Mahalia Jackson went against the grain in their day, so maybe Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, Yola, and Brittney Spencer are following in their footsteps. Rhiannon Giddens invokes the spirit of Sweet Honey in the Rock. And Linda Martell is finally getting the belated recognition she deserves. If we were wondering where to find the artists who are capturing the sentiments of this moment, these sisters are definitely some of the ones we have been waiting for.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Will You Please Go Now!

Growing up, my favorite story books often came from our home collection of Dr. Seuss books. My parents were very serious about reading to us before bed, and we had our choice among a selection of Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, Little Golden Books, African folk tales, and whatever else my paternal grandparents had saved from my Dad's childhood. My parents saved all of our children's books too, and several years ago, I brought a box to my house for reading to my young cousin. We have a few still in decent enough condition to read to our daughter, so we're talking about some books that are at least 45 years old! Luckily, we have many new favorites thanks to Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which also includes a diverse collection of stories from various children's authors.

But there is nothing like a classic Dr. Seuss book, so every now and then, I slip one of my old favorites into the Kid's nighttime reading rotation. In fact, I think I will organize a rally of parents to gather every night at the White House to read this bedtime story for the current occupant, Donald J. Trump from now until January 20, 2021.

Donald J. Trump, we don't care how, 
but Donald J. Trump will you please go NOW! 

These next few weeks are going to be exhausting if his current pattern of obstinance holds. He hasn't conceded the Election because votes are still being counted and perhaps his campaign is holding out hope for a miracle. To facilitate his pipe dream of holding on to this job for life, he has dispatched teams of lawyers to file lawsuits challenging the results in a few swing states where he assumed he'd win. Specifically Pennsylvania, where I was stationed as a poll watcher, but also Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada. At present, he has lost the popular vote by 6 million and counting (which is double his previous loss in 2016). He had been hanging his hopes on another default win in the Electoral College, which is why the final vote tallies in those particular states are being challenged.

The basis of these challenges are the unfounded accusations of voter fraud in Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia. Not the suburbs, the exurbs, or the rural counties, but the cities where there are primarily voters of color. In other words, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people are so desperate to get rid of the DESPOTUS that we would cheat.

In the words of President-elect Joe Biden, C'mon Man! We don't need to cheat to express our disdain for Trumpelthinskin. Nah. We just voted as if our very lives were on the line. Which, thanks to his continued incompetence in getting a handle on the coronavirus, our lives are on the line. Thanks to his racist rhetoric and xenophobia and anti-immigrant policies and his lies over the last four years, we don't need to cheat. The great Marian Wright Edelman offers a metaphor that illustrates how powerful we can be: imagine a large, menacing dog...then consider what would happen if enough fleas attack that dog.

So you underestimated us, Sir. You thought that your Platinum Plan and the endorsement by Lil Wayne would be enough to sway younger Black voters. Your inroads into the Latinx communities did catch us off guard, but thankfully enough of them didn't get drunk on the Trump kool-aid wine. I'm pretty sure you assumed Indigenous people can't vote in US elections, for if you had known otherwise, you might have attempted some last minute, thrown together, yet comprehensive three-page plan and sent Don Jr. to promote it. Or maybe you were confused and thought it was a rally for Indian Americans, but I heard the Asian American vote also went blue.

When all else fails, when your lies fall short, and people are not persuaded by divisive scare tactics, then accuse us of stealing the election (how's that for racist irony). Make every specious argument to sow the seeds of doubt that something went awry, and refuse to accept that 76 million people (and counting) were motivated to turn the tables and say in unison:

Sure, if anyone really wants to comb through piles of crap evidence to prove rampant voter fraud, have at it. We've got a socially distant Inauguration to plan. We're buying sage bundles in bulk. We're stockpiling all of the Clorox wipes and cans of Lysol spray we can find to disinfect the place for Uncle Joe. We'll reserve a U-Haul and will pay to gas up Air Force Six for a one-way trip to Mar-a-Lago or Russia or North Korea. We'll even let Faux-Five brag that his Inauguration crowd was bigger than Biden's, but I'm guessing folks will brave the cold, the 'rona, and even the dozens of counter-protestors just to make sure that come January 20, 2021 at noon, we will be rid of Donald J. Trump:

The time has come...
Election Day is done, the votes are counted now
You can cling to your lies, you can cry foul
You lost by 6 million, you're a lame duck now
Donald J. Trump will you please go now?
 
You can go by skates, you can go by skis
Put a hat on that mop and please go please!
We don't care, you can ride off on a bike
A tandem with Melania and Barron, if you like
You can go however is most expedient for you
Just be sure to take Jared and Ivanka too!
 
Donald J. Trump, we don't care how
Donald J. Trump, will you please go now! 

 
You can go out in handcuffs, a perp walk (if you insist), 
It's what you deserve for all of this Hell
Biden won't pardon you, you're headed to jail.
 
Donald J. Trump, don't you know
You lost the election, you must go go go!
 
Get on your way, please Donald J.
Don't get it twisted, we don't want you to stay
We're over your bluster and racist schitck
Enough of your whining, you sexist prick
You can go in your trump boat or in your trump jet
We don't care where you go, just get!
Take your wives and your children, you have until noon
The 20th of January, Donald, will be here soon!
 

Donald J. Trump, we don't care how
Donald J. Trump, will you please go now!
 
We said go and go we meant!
The People have spoken,
You're out of our government! 
 
(adapted from Marvin K. Mooney © 1972, Dr. Seuss)

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

For Our Daughters

This past Saturday morning, I was scheduled to give a presentation on Zoom for the Debutante program at my church. I had been asked to give this talk months ago and honestly had not settled on what I would say until the last minute (as in Wednesday, after the election, in the car on my way back from Philadelphia). Initially, I had this grand idea that I would finally pull together thee comprehensive voting rights Power Point with pictures and voice-over and all kinds of other bells and whistles. But given the amount of time needed to pull that together, my packing anxieties, and all of the other things going on in my life, I decided to just speak from my heart about what inspired me to vote.

The morning of the presentation, we were in a hotel room in Queens because we were scheduled to attend a family function immediately afterward. I had to get myself ready, and the Kid, pack up most of our stuff, and make sure that the room looked presentable. And I had less than an hour to do all of that and beat a full face because y'all know how serious that has become these days! With seconds to spare, I logged on and began my talk. Around 11am, my phone began to blow up with successive text messages. I took a quick peek, but continued on with my presentation. We did take a moment at the end to acknowledge the significance of the news and I think the young ladies were still awake. But as Busy Black Saturdays go, I had no time to really sit to process the news as I had to switch back to Mommy mode in order for us to make our family gathering on time. 

But as the Debutante Program Facilitator said, I will always remember where I was and what I was doing at that very moment. I was sharing my vote story with some young ladies whom I hope will remember that day as the inspiration that helped to shape their voting stories.  

Later that day, we were celebrating with family. We got to meet our Great Baby Niece for the first time and the Kid got to spend time with her cousins. I have had the pleasure to watch all of these young people grow up, so it was quite the treat to watch Zuri interact with them. I thought about the successive changes in the country since the youngest of these cousins (12 years older than my daughter) was born in the aftermath of 9/11. I thought about how these young people were either very young kids or teenagers when Barack Obama was elected, and how in their lifetime, they witnessed the election of the first Black President, the first Black and Asian Vice President, and if things had been different four years ago, the first woman President (no worries, we've got time).

For them, every election has been some major historic first. 

Perhaps that is only significant to us because our family is very diverse, very New York in that respect. We represent several Latinx nationalities (primarily Puerto Rican), African American, West Indian, Eastern European, Greek, and Chinese American. And that is just the Hub's side of the aisle (my immediate family is African American and Puerto Rican). I know that delineating these identities makes some people uncomfortable as they would rather that we just call ourselves American, which is exactly what we are and why identity is so significant in this context. We are the melting pot/mixed salad metaphor that people claim America to be. We are rice and beans, corn bread and collard greens, roasted lamb, empanadas/beef patties/dumplings, ginger beer, coquito, and penne pasta (because this family cannot get together and not eat Italian food) at Thanksgiving dinner. We are descendants of the enslaved, the colonizers, the immigrants, and the Indigenous people that are all apart of the American story.

So when I think about the significance of Saturday, November 7, 2020 at 11am when the election was called; when my phone began buzzing non-stop for ten minutes; when I was telling my personal voting story to a few young ladies; when my daughter was somewhere in a park blithely playing with her Papi; when my nieces and nephews were deciding what to wear; and when my precious Great Baby Niece was being prepared for her christening (because that side of the family is also Catholic)...I am finally able to stop to take it all in.

That night, we were about 20 miles outside of Wilmington, DE when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris made their acceptance speeches. We wanted to drive through, but we had to stop to change clothes and drivers, get gas and coffee, so by the time we made it back on the road, everything was over. Although I have not gone back to listen to Biden's speech in full, I know that he quoted one of my favorite Catholic hymns, On Eagle's Wings. I heard the most relevant part of Harris' speech, which were her inspiring words to my daughter, my nieces, and my Great Baby Niece. Now that we are several days in, we really don't care why the lame duck DESPOTUS is firing folks from his Cabinet or why his followers are floating conspiracy theories about the Arizona vote count, I can breathe a sigh of relief. Our four-year long national nightmare is almost over.

More importantly, my daughter, nieces and great nieces, young cousins, Spelnieces, Deltanieces, their classmates, play cousins, imaginary princess/mermaid/fairy/dinosaur/pirate friends, athletic, poetic, analytic, fashionable, awkward, and every nonbinary, cis and transgender girl have witnessed another major crack in the Glass Ceiling of American politics!

I won't speculate what could happen in 2024. I will relish what is happening now. I will think back to that glorious night in November 2008 when I was in another hotel room watching election returns. An energetic young family took to the stage, followed by the man who will now lead our country through its next great series of challenges. I can't say whether Joe Biden is the next one we have been waiting for nor will I put that burden on Kamala Harris just yet. But I will say that this song and scene from one of my all-time favorite movies hits a lot different now:

There are 70+ million people who were hoping for a different result. I know that they are watching our celebrations with intense resentment. I bet the plans are already underway to undermine everything this new Administration proposes to undo--what some regard as near-fatal and irreparable harm caused by the DESPOTUS. The GOP Senate leaders have already said as much in admonishing us to be more sensitive to their hurt feelings. And in my one petty post for today, here is my response:

I am happy for Uncle Joe because clearly, three is the magic number. There is a sermon in his persistence that we will come to appreciate one day, because this man accomplished what other perennial candidates such as Eugene V. Debs, David Duke, Alan Keyes, Lyndon LaRouche, and Ralph Nader did not. And the answer is not that he won--it is that he convinced us to take his candidacy seriously enough to put him in a position to win. After four years of the Trumpacolypse, we need someone who understands and respects government enough to put things back on track. I know that there are many who believe our political system is corrupt and broken, and a look at the amount of money that it took to oust the single greatest threat to America other than this coronavirus pandemic does lend some credence to that belief. 

We trust Biden, and that extends to his soon-to-be Vice President. I need to draw the contrast here between the selection of Kamala Harris in 2020 and Sarah Palin in 2008, because many of the party-switchers then cited their lack of confidence in Palin as part of their reason for backing Obama over John McCain. I am sure that there were some who faced a similar dilemma this time, because of Biden's advanced age. And it should be noted that in 2008, his age and experience were assets. This time, Harris' youth and experience provide the same assurance, just in reverse. Palin had relevant experience and certainly had the youth, but she was not perceived as smart enough for the job...which seems totally ironic given the last four years. So in hindsight, I would definitely argue that sexism worked against her, which is why we need to accept at the outset that elevating Harris to the Presidency will be even harder than ousting the current Occupant. Because:

Ageism < Sexism and Racism
Sexism² = Racism

We are so giddy now because we know that this is just as seismic as 2008. It is just as inspiring. Four years ago when it seemed inevitable that we would elect Hillary Clinton, I don't think we were this enthusiastic. Even now, our joy is tempered lest one of these frivolous trump lawsuits decreases the vote count. Some of the mobs have threatened violence, such is their fealty to the Troll King. However, the prospect of change has already generated some of the same global accolades that made Obama such an international rock star. And the world has changed a great deal with 29 countries led by women. Yet, we need to anticipate that this election will garner the same intense backlash as 2008. Once we get past the hysteria, those who attempt "reasoned opposition" against systemic racism and sexism will claim that holding Harris to a higher standard is proof of their evolution--they don't see race or gender, they just see and hear an insufferable bitch...but that's okay.

Since I have alluded to it, I will share some bits from my voting story presentation, which perhaps may inspire some young person reading this blog years from now. I had grown up on the stories and seen the black and white photos of civil rights marchers and protestors being beaten. I knew about Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis. I knew that my Dad had participated in the movement in Mississippi. I was in college the first time I voted, and Sister President had demanded our participation in the process, either as registered Georgia voters, or as absentee voters in our home states. I had grown up immersed in local DC politics (Marion Barry, Mayor for Life) and observing federal politics. What cemented my desire to vote in every election and ultimately work as a voting rights advocate was the South African election in 1994. I saw color photos of miles long lines of Black voters, young and old, voting for Nelson Mandela. That was the first time Blacks could participate in the political process in a country where they were the majority, and they elected their first Black President. I have never taken the right to vote for granted since.

Therefore, for my Daughter and your Daughters (and our Sons), I will fight voter suppression. I will do my little part to keep voters informed of their rights. I will remain engaged in the process. For our children, I look upon the election of Joe Biden as a new beginning for this country. These last four years, a cruel, merciless Pharoah occupied a position of great power, which he abused at every opportunity to trample on the weak and vulnerable. It went beyond mere policy differences. Therefore, my hope is that the Biden-Harris Administration will represent the limitless possibilities of every man, every woman, every child. Children will look up to our President, a man like a modern David, flawed but wise. They will see Vice President Harris and will understand that America is a nation of immigrants--welcome from every country, every island, and from every caste. 

E pluribus unum.

Monday, November 9, 2020

History Has Its Eye On You

In the summer of 2019, my parents traveled with us to Maryland's Eastern Shore. We drove through Cambridge, the location of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, where there are several scenic sites that were significant during her enslavement. We've driven through this city many times, stopped for gas, and gotten something to eat. I suggested that we make a special visit to the historic site with my parents since this would probably be the only chance they would get to see it.

Since there are several points of interest along the byway, we visited the Visitor's Center which opened in 2017 and is operated by the National Park Service. That meant that we were headed to an out of the way, off the main road attraction, and we drove for several miles past fields and farms. My Dad commented that everything looked as if it had not changed in about 50 years, and as we continued into the void of bad cell phone reception, it definitely felt as if we were traveling back in time. 

In recent years, the Eastern Shore has embraced its history as the location where both Tubman and fellow Marylander, Frederick Douglass, were born and enslaved several miles away in Talbot County. Tour buses full of eager visitors were lined up in the parking lot. Yet, in the towns and cities along this same stretch of highway, there are plenty of Trump signs, a few Confederate flags, and in the town of Easton where Douglass was born, a monument dedicated to the Talbot Boys stands on the grounds of the courthouse.

Once inside the Visitor's Center, we saw a mock up of the recently abandoned federal effort to re-design the twenty dollar bill. We saw the letter that Douglass had sent to encourage and applaud Tubman's bravery. We saw various artistic renderings of Tubman, including a portrait of Tubman re-imagined as the Statue of Liberty. In the exhibition area, I was drawn to a mural that depicted scenes in Tubman's enslaved life. One scene in particular struck a chord for me:

I had made this association in my head many times, but seeing it in a life-sized full color rendering gave me the chills...family separation on the slave auction block is no different than family separation at our Southern border. Or when Indigenous children were 'adopted' from their families. Or when we see those black and white images of fire hoses and dogs unleashed on protesting children. Or when police dressed in riot gear fire tear gas cannons on urban protestors. We have seen this evil many, many times before.

Someone will read that and accuse me of hyperbole. They will offer a justification for every single example--how children brought to this country illegally don't have any rights that we are bound to respect (which should sound familiar to those of us who studied the opinion written about the rights of Black people by another Marylander, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the infamous Dred Scott case). That fire hoses, dogs, tear gas, pepper spray, and riot gear were/are all needed to maintain law and order. That removing indigenous children from their families offered them a chance at a better life, and that they were well cared for in those adoptive homes, just as those 545 children will be better off in America...if they aren't deported.

None of this is new, as there are historic parallels to many modern atrocities and absurdities. When this Regime fought to keep the number of undocumented immigrants out of the official Census tallies, Black people remembered when we were counted as three-fifths and that Native Americans were excluded entirely. When the DESPOTUS boasts that he has been the greatest benefactor to HBCUs, we think of all the benevolent white philanthropists whose names are etched in stone on the buildings they dedicated on many of our campuses. We think of Julius Rosenwald, who was both a real millionaire and philanthropist, whom we know this President will claim that he doesn't know and never heard of. Likewise for another Republican Sen. Justin Smith Morrill, who wrote the Second Morrill Land Grant Act of 1890 that actually created public HBCUs.

So when trust fund pundits like Jared Kushner suggests that Black people don't want the success his father-in-law offers, that is just another way of calling us stupid and lazy (a common refrain ever since we stopped picking cotton for free). When he trots out their Black best friends (BFFs): Kanye West, Lil' Wayne, Diamond and Silk, Herschel Walker, Candace Owens, and the rest of the prosperity preacher-pimps, and our eyes collectively roll, it is because we aren't entertained by blackface. Then they act astounded that we aren't more gracious.

I started this piece more than a week ago. It was supposed to be one of my closing arguments, but I got busy and anxious and focused on other matters, namely my day trip to Philadelphia where I had signed up to be a poll monitor. Now that the election is over and votes are still being counted, I am not sure how I feel about anything right now...(well, yeah now I do since we have a declared winner, but I will address that in a separate piece)

I know that the way forward is uncertain, and perhaps if I were a better student of history, I would be able to cite another example of racist evil to demonstrate how history repeats itself, and how maybe this isn't just about the possibility of four more years of this Administration. There are people in this world who live under corrupt governments for a lifetime. At least we get a chance to change course. So instead of American history, I am being drawn to the Bible and the stories of Jewish occupation. The people of Israel found themselves in captivity numerous times, which is why half of the Bible consist of stories about deliverance. Keeping the faith. Holding out hope for a Savior. 

If I were a preacher, this would be the part of the sermon where I lose folks by challenging them to question conventional wisdom. The foundation of our faith is the Resurrection. But before that triumph, Jesus had to die by the edict of a foreign enemy (Romans), engineered by the corrupt leadership of his people (Pharisees). So if our hope, as the song says, is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness...then we should already know that moral goodness alone is never enough. It always costs blood, toil, and sacrifice. Thus, in order to topple Trumpism and to dismantle other systems of oppression, those words need to be more to us than just verses in an old hymn. In moments like this, we need to ask ourselves where have we built our hope?

Reflecting back on that visit to the Harriet Tubman site, those images that were supposed to be unfamiliar to me in modern times haunt me. I heard the anguished wails of enslaved children in my soul as clearly as I heard the cries of immigrant children from cages in real time. Yet, we proclaim that scenes like that don't represent who WE are as Americans, as if we have evolved beyond basic human brutality and cruelty. If anything, Americans are quintessentially human, flawed like everyone else on the planet. We are Cain and Abel, Pharisee and Zealot, undoubtedly good and ruthlessly evil. 

Slavery persisted in this country for 400 years. It didn't suddenly become morally wrong because a few of us escaped and shared the horror stories. As long as there was a benefit derived from the exploitation of enslaved labor, there was no amount of righteous indignation sufficient to abolish it. Folks are still debating whether this peculiar institution was the catalyst for the Civil War and whether the effort was some noble Lost Cause crusade. Regardless, slavery was replaced by other forms of exploitative enforced labor (convict leasing, sharecropping, migrant farm work, gig employment) and Jim Crow segregation which only ended 50 years ago. The fact that we now laud Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass but still debate what to do with the public monuments erected to honor the men who died to keep them in bondage informs this present moment.

Of course this election is/was this close. Of course we find ourselves caught between the better angels of our nature and the worser spirits of despair. It is easier to claim an anonymous space in the crowd, to disavow direct responsibility for the actions of others. You did not imprison those children, but did you look away? You didn't march at Charlottesville or in Ferguson, but on which side of the street would you have stood? Are you more ashamed that the truth makes some of your heroes look bad than you are of the lashes, the welts, the scars, the brands, the strange fruit, the lingering wounds that they inflicted? Would you take the time to venture down a back road or to the other side of the tracks to visit an obscure museum dedicated to a formerly enslaved woman? Or would you rather visit the historical landmarks on prominent display that were built on stolen land? When did this American experiment begin, in 1492, in 1619, or in 1776--take your pick, but know that no executive order is powerful enough to outlaw the facts

America, History has its eye on you...