Monday, October 29, 2018

Red Beans and Rice Monday: Black State of the Union

I was in the house all day Saturday while a lot of my friends were out celebrating that great HBCU revival known as Homecoming. So I was a little salty. And since I was not at Homecoming (and could not spend the entire day liking pictures of my friends enjoying Homecoming), I decided it was my civic duty to devote a block of time to sorting laundry and watching Candace Owens deliver her  Black State of the Union address.

What is that and who is she? Glad you asked.

To offer some context, I have written about Ms. Owens previously back when she issued a challenge to debate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which I found to be an insulting publicity stunt orchestrated to give Owens some political street cred. She is one of several young GOP pundits who came of age in the Obama era. I am unsure of her exact political evolution, except that when it happened she released a YouTube video that explained her 'coming out' to her parents. And somehow, she has a job as the communications director for Turning Point USA, which is a glorified post-graduate political fellowship of sorts for the College Republican crowd. Thus, it was no surprise to see her cheek to cheek in a video with the First Named Son of the POTUS.

Nor was it at all shocking that she believed she could produce a watershed moment for Black America at 4:00pm on a Saturday afternoon during the weekend of several major HBCU Homecomings. Not at all delusional.

To her supporters who might be reading this, you can dismiss my critiques as shade, or you can ask the same questions I have posed here. Let's begin with why her big speech did not begin on time. And then why it was not streaming on Twitter as she had advertised. And then why she had to tweet out a link to her Periscope channel with footage that looked like my Kid was streaming it live by accident. And why the sound quality was also bad, so I had to use my imagination to fill in all the gaps that were audibly indecipherable. And why for at least ten minutes, she ceded the floor to some guy whom she felt would augment whatever case she intended to make, but again because of the poor sound and video quality, it looked a lot like Kanye West snatching the microphone from Taylor Swift...

Here is the gist: she is a young black conservative who is offering the same rhetoric that I have heard for years. In fact, I attended one of those Young Republican dinners as a college student, so I can assure you that she gave the same general speech beginning with the plantation imagery to the denouncement of Planned Parenthood to the welfare state being the reason why so many black children are born to single mothers. All of that is the fault of black voter loyalty to one political party.

I could go into the contrasting arguments that provide the foundation of the conservative appeal to black voters and while none of that has any impact on my political leanings, I recognize that there are some people who find that end of the ideological spectrum compelling. And that's cool. I have been friends with black conservatives and thought they were decent people. But we disagreed and in this current political climate, I struggle to understand their alignment with a man for whom values are currency, not policy. So I regard Candace Owens and her conference room full of followers with the same skepticism that people of a certain age look upon optional technology. Google glasses sound like a interesting concept, but no one needs them. I'm sure that there are black people who need a reason to justify their decision to join the GOP, but the rest of us really don't care.

I am clear that Owens and Company actually believe in the conservative ideology of free markets and personal responsibility--what the GOP used to espouse. However, in my experience, what these folks want is a way to stand out in a crowded field where simply being different is enough to advance. These same people decry affirmative action as reverse racism against their white friends without recognizing that they contribute to that same alleged preference for black, brown and/or female voices to serve as mouthpieces for white mediocrity.

And quite honestly, I was offended that Owens had to stage her announcement without the bells and whistles that should have accompanied such an important cause. She was hosting this event, so why couldn't she even get a FOX News production intern to ensure that her big speech got the attention she clearly felt it deserved? Let me point out that the President's address to the summit got C-Span coverage, while she got to upload a fuzzy cell phone video onto Periscope (I did see some better quality footage on Breitbart, but I'm not linking to that). Thus, consistent with what I have observed over the years, the GOP isn't really interested in cultivating black and brown voters except on the margins.

It is legitimate to point out that for all of its lip service to diversity, the Democratic Party has a lot of baggage with respect to supporting black and brown candidates who vie for public office without coming up through the traditional party structure. It is an ideological difference of opinion that government safety net programs have enabled poverty and contributed to the breakdown of the traditional nuclear family. The founder of Planned Parenthood might have been a racist eugenicist. And once upon a time, because of the GOP's past support for civil rights, black voters like my grandparents could be swayed to vote for Republican candidates.

But you won't win folks over to your side if your opening salvo is the suggestion that people are mentally enslaved or somehow incapable of the critical thinking ability to make pragmatic political choices. Or if you ignore the ideological and demographic shifts that made one party more attractive to specific groups of voters. Furthermore, if your ideas are so much better, then they would prevail without having to resort to tactics that suppress the vote or attempt to undermine the process. Because if the issue really is about the freedom to choose, then it should be your business to ensure that everyone has that right.

Finally, just take this advice with whatever you choose (grain of salt/shot of bourbon), but black people are wary of folks who have been designated as black leaders by outsiders. We've got to believe in you on our terms, so unless you and Kanye can do better than market a new clothing line with a unoriginal hashtag and a familiar corporate logo, you aren't leading a movement, just another parade.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

We Bleed Too

I started to write a very different post the other day, but I only wrote half of a sentence and then life happened, so I had another idea, but I didn't get to write anything on that topic at all, so I am here with a third idea that will attempt to connect all of my earlier thoughts along this theme: Black women are not superhuman.

This past Saturday was a classic Busy Black Saturday in the mold of what I used to post on the Facebook page--a recitation of my activities with a hint of look at me, I am able to juggle multiple tasks and attend several events in a single day bombast. My initial idea was to write about the evolution of this blog from that I-can-do-it-all-in-a-day to my current Dear-Lord-are-you-for-real situation. I took pictures. It was going to be a funny take on the Black Girl magic I have lost since having a child, which I have traded for sleep, stillness, and sanity.

My second idea was to write about how I often feel like a failure as a black mother. Since her third birthday, my daughter has gone through phases when she has explosive tantrums. There was the day when she insisted that we needed to go to my parents' house and refused to leave the car. Or the time when she made the same demand, and after dragging her into the house, I forgot to close the car door. Or the time when I left her backpack on top of the car after the same replay, and one of my neighbors knocked on the door. I have pictures from those wonderful explosions of emotions too, but posting them might lead to her hating me in ten years, and then maybe for the rest of our lives.

My third idea: I learned of the tragic death of a childhood friend. I was initially told that she died in a car accident. That was not the case...she was murdered. I do not know enough details, so all I have is my suspicion that her very tragic death might have been the culmination of a horrible situation.

How do these three distinct ideas connect? For me, it is the common misconception that black women are strong, magical, and powerful. Black women can do anything. And too many of us believe that nonsense to our detriment. Black women may save the world but we cannot save ourselves.

And I mean it. I could not sustain the pretentious facade that I could manage everything when it became obvious that was not the case. I am not that black mother who can avert a meltdown with an icy stare at my child. Not every black woman has the power to walk away from a dangerous situation.
We have vulnerabilities. We have blind spots. We have weaknesses. We bleed.

Do you understand that in order to save the world, Jesus had to die? It wasn't enough for Him to be born and to perform miracles and to speak truth to power. HE HAD TO DIE. Is that what we expect from black women?

Black women suffer and die because the world presumes that we are impervious to pain. Did you know that modern gynecology was developed by using black women as test subjects? Did you know that black mothers have high maternal mortality rates? Did you know that black women develop deadlier forms of breast cancer? Did you know that black women bear the brunt of preventable infectious diseases, such as HIV? Yes, we are educated. Yes, we are strong when the situation demands. Yes, we can endure all kinds of pain and suffering. Yes, we are more loyal to the notion of global sisterhood than some of our white sisters. Yes, we voted to keep a pedophile out of the Senate.

But dammit, I don't want to die and I don't want my friends to die. I want us to live.

And I want us to affirm each other in ways that don't stigmatize women who can't quite live up to the I'm every woman hype. That song is a great anthem, empowering and inspiring, but it also represents the paradox that being everything to everybody can have disastrous consequences (because Whitney is dead y'all). And this notion that in order to be regarded as worthy, we have to sacrifice our health and safety is ludicrous. Because if we only offer the world an illusion instead of reality it can be fatal.

So I am indeed a proud Busy Black Woman who is working on 'the look' that is supposed to keep my child in line. And I am mourning the loss of my childhood friend, praying for her family, and hoping for justice. Allow us the same vulnerability and imperfection that everyone else takes for granted. Let us be human.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Stolen Thunder

It must suck to be Princess Eugenie of York right now because the weekend of her big wedding, the top news stories (at least on this side of the pond) have been about EVERYBODY but her. So I plan to remedy that by allowing her to take the lead in this piece. She was an absolutely lovely bride. Best wishes to her for a wonderful life with her groom, Jack Brooksbank.

But, Meghan the American Princess is preggers and that pretty much means there is nothing another royal can do between now and next Spring (except die) that will ever be more important.

I had been waiting all day for someone to declare that the H&M breached protocol by sharing their big news with the family at the wedding. Of course there is no way this would have stayed a secret for long since folks have been all up in Meghan's uterus since June, but there had to be some other way to camouflage it better than a bulky overcoat that practically screamed "I've got something in here!" No matter though, because it is pretty clear that the other royals seem resigned to cede the spotlight to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Meghan pulled a Rachel and totally stole Eugenie's thunder!

And until our fabulous ginger brown royal baby is born, no one else matters. Not Pippa Middleton's newborn kid. Not the kid royal cousin Zara Tindell had weeks after Harry and Meghan's nuptials. Not even Prince Louis, born weeks beforehand. We don't care about Brexit. We don't care about that hot air balloon of the American President as a crying baby. We don't care that his wife finally spoke up for herself, but had nothing to say.

I recall how a certain Sarah Ferguson stole the thunder away from the Princess of Wales some thirty years ago and that for a while, it went back and forth between the two women until Diana's tragic death. According to legend, it was Diana who brought Fergie into the royal fold, but then she got jealous over the press attention paid to the shiny new royal. The two became rivals and I'm guessing that royal rivalries are a lot like commoner family drama, except there are tiaras snatched (instead of wigs) and tell-all books to be sold. Or put another way, it is like having two versions of potato salad at the family barbecue sitting side by side, and you have to eat a serving of both or all hell will break loose.

In this case, Meghan is the shiny new royal who also happens to be American and also black, so our fascination with her should be understandable. These are dark times in America, so anywhere in the world where a black woman's pregnancy announcement is a big effing deal is a ray of hope. I've got friends who have publicly prayed for this child to have curly red hair and freckles. I haven't even checked in with my Dad who I'm guessing is excited as if this baby is his fourth grandchild (because he and Harry share a birthday).

But we are very happy for you Princess Eugenie as well because it is a good thing whenever young people get married. And even though Meghan and Harry are total cheeks for allowing their baby news to get more coverage than your wedding that only aired over here as a reality TV special on TLC, we know that in the royal order of things, you have the advantage of being an actual princess. And yes, while Meghan's kid will push you down a notch in the royal lineup to the throne, it isn't like any of your children will ever sit on the throne (except to play on it).

And here, I want to give you this as a wedding present, for you to use at some point in the future. I don't suggest using it against Meghan, but there are plenty of other lesser royals that you can outshine with the right timing.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Activate the Prayer Circle

I forgot that Kanye was scheduled to meet the Whizard of Orange yesterday. Actually, I didn't forget I just chose not to remember. I busied myself with other activities, but then happened to turn on the news and BAM, there it was--that scene from the Wizard of Oz when everyone is getting their wishes granted. But instead of giving them the things they really want, he lies to them and gives them a lot of useless crap. Except for Dorothy, to whom he makes the empty promise of getting her home to Kansas, only to get accidentally/on purpose whisked away in the balloon.

I'm guessing the Trumpet wished he had some kind of elaborate exit strategy planned for that nonsense. At least that is my initial impression upon seeing his face at the beginning of this clip.

I'm going in. I didn't want to watch it earlier, but I'll do it now so that I can report back.

(Here is some soothing elevator music to enjoy while you wait)


Well, my only joy at watching that unfold was seeing the Trumpet try to blink a message to his staff to shut that joint down, but they didn't. Congratulations Mr. President, this is a foretaste of the afterlife you've earned!

As for Brother West, we definitely need to intercede for him. Lord knows, Kim K ain't a praying woman...she a preying woman. Yeah, I said it in my church lady voice, so you already know how this is about to go down.

While the rest of the Saints gather, I will just set the scene for you. We're going to do this old school, so I pulled out my good white suit and a prayer scarf. I couldn't find my old pill box Deaconess hat with the tassel, so I'm going with the beret. I've got my church fan with the picture of the Obamas from the first Inauguration and I brought my Grandmother's green hymnal and her Daddy's Bible. The choir is still assembling so we've got Aretha Franklin and James Cleveland playing softly in the background. I gave my daughter the tambourine. And I brought the good snacks.

The call went out to all the good church folks, so we've got some Catholics with the holy oil, some Episcopalians have brought the readings, and a few Methodist bishops to preside over the proceedings. The Baptists have filled the pool and the COGIC ushers are manning their stations. The Full Gospel praise dancers are in place and the ecumenical choir has rehearsed the great hymns. If your denomination doesn't have a designated place on the program, it's all good because all are welcome to contribute and we're going to let the Spirit guide us. This is an old school altar call/prayer circle/mourner's bench/revival, and it might take all night, but we ready.

Now let's be clear, prayer is only the first battle in this fight to redeem Kanye's mind, body and soul. He's going to need therapy, medication, a 12-step program, attorneys, financial planners, bodyguards, and constant supervision for the rest of his life, but we've got to start somewhere. Right now that brother needs Jesus, Mary Mother of God, all the Saints, all the ancestors, Moses, Buddha, Mohammad, and every praying Grandmother that ever lived. Deliverance is serious business, and we're going to give it our best effort.

But Jim Brown, you're on your own.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Black Like Who?

Casting announcements for upcoming projects tend to generate a range of reactions. Recently I was scrolling through my Twitter timeline and saw that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was slated to star in and produce a project for Netflix on the life of John Henry. The reactions I saw were mostly negative based on the opinion that there were better (darker-skinned) actors more suited for the role.

The Busy Black Woman has a LOT to say about all of that.

First, Dwayne Johnson is Black. His Daddy is Rocky "Soul Man" Johnson, a former World Wrestling Federation tag team champion. His Mama is Ata Maivia Johnson, daughter of famed Samoan wrestler High Chief Peter Maivia (and in case you are color-blind, Samoans are brown-skinned). So why are there questions about his racial identity? It isn't like he made up some clever portmanteau to disguise his ethnicity, like Blamoan...

Second, now that The Rock is retired from wrestling, he is acting and producing and generally doing what famous people in Hollywood do which is to use his star power to get projects made that might not otherwise see the light of day. If folks had bothered to read the article, they would have seen that he is also going to produce this project. Thus, he will probably be putting a lot of black folks to work.

Third, John Henry is a folk legend. Which means he might not have been a real person. And that means every past depiction of John Henry is based on what someone thought he looked like. So the animated John Henry project that was released by Disney in the 2000s is the standard we're using? Seriously?

We are quick to proclaim that 'Black is beautiful' in all of its various shades, until we are confronted with a person of mixed ethnic heritage, and then we start to judge how black we perceive him/her to be. We've done this with plenty of famous people: Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Barack Obama, Meghan Markle, Tiger Woods, Soledad O'Brien, and now Dwayne Johnson. We judge their upbringing, we judge their speech, and we judge their partner choices. Then we make arbitrary pronouncements based on these criteria.

But who are we to determine how black someone else is?

A similar circular firing squad cropped up a few weeks back when culture critic Luvvie Ajayi made the mistake of dissing Tevin Campbell on Twitter. At first, it was funny because she has made a career of dragging folks, so when it was her name tied to that cart she went radio silent. When the tone changed to full on attacks of her blackness because she was born in Africa, I just shook my head. She wrote about the backlash and I am still trying to understand how all of that devolved so rapidly into something so mean-spirited.

And that wasn't even about colorism. Both of my parents are black, yet as a lighter-skinned black woman, I have had my blackness challenged because my parents were married, we grew up in single-family home, and I didn't speak with a discernible DC accent. I am already dreading what my daughter will face as an Afro-Latina (so y'all are on notice that asses will get kicked).

The problem with the who-is-black-enough-for-this-role discussion is that it never ends. There will always be questions: was Will Smith the best choice to portray Muhammad Ali; was Denzel Washington light enough to be Malcolm X; or did Diana Ross look anything like Billie Holiday? I'm sure a lot of Africans who saw The Black Panther wondered why half the actors were American, which came up in the alternative with Selma and Twelve Years a Slave (because half the actors were Brits). Everyone is entitled to have opinions about casting decisions, and maybe some of y'all are right that Winston Duke would make a better John Henry, but this isn't his project (and if you had to click on that link to know who he is, that tells you that he isn't a big enough star...yet).

The better question is whether The Rock is good enough to portray John Henry, which is best judged by his body of work (all puns intended). Chadwick Boseman doesn't look anything like Thurgood Marshall, but he's an actor so his job is to make us believe that he could be Thurgood Marshall. An actor is supposed to so embody the character s/he is portraying that we focus on the performance. So, just asking for a friend--why isn't a light skinned Black man Black enough to recreate a fictional Black character?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fried Chicken Wednesday: Be Best

There are times when I really want to seem supportive of Melania Antoinette, like now after she conveniently decided to embark on a goodwill trip to Africa to put an entire ocean between herself and her husband. I want to believe that Mrs. T is there to bring attention to some issue of concern that the rest of us overlooked in all of the hubbub over the Kavanaugh confirmation. But no. She went there to prove that she could be a VOGUE cover model if only Anna Wintour would give her a chance.

This picture is stunning and editorial. And it proves that even when she is trying to be legitimate and substantive, she can't help but troll us in the process. Melania Antoinette is oven-baked fried chicken wing tips covered in corn flakes. Fake and useless.

I am not dismissing her because she was once a model. Every woman who comes to that job was once something before she donned the title of FLOTUS. And each woman made deliberate choices about how they would use the role of First Lady to advance some important cause for the good of America. Nancy Reagan urged us to say no to drugs. Barbara Bush encouraged community service. Hillary Clinton was laying the groundwork for her own run for President one day. Laura Bush promoted literacy and Michelle Obama tried to get us to exercise and eat more vegetables. All of those were worthy causes.

Melania has told us to Be Best. And if you remember from the 2016 Convention, Melania doesn't believe in reinventing the wheel, so this effort is a bit of Nancy Reagan (opioids) mixed in with some Michelle Obama (wellness), topped off with her own special anti-bullying campaign sauce (the recipe for which she probably stole from Teresa Heinz-Kerry).

Be Best. Like the time she went to visit the children who had been separated from their parents along the Mexican-American border. Her office claimed that she went to thank law enforcement and to learn how the Administration could facilitate family reunification efforts. Yeah, we're still waiting for something tangible to come of that other than bad publicity about the jacket she wore. And we're suspicious that many of the children will probably be adopted by American families since their parents were deported without a trace.

Be Best. Like this trip to Africa where she has been rightly critiqued for her fashion choices. Some of the complaints are nit-picky, because there is nothing wrong with her desire to channel the Man in the Yellow Hat while on safari in Kenya (presumably, still looking for Barack Obama's birth certificate). But she is the American First Lady, and honing in on the outfits she chooses to wear is someone's thankless job. So it is disingenuous to complain that people should pay closer attention to what she's doing than what she's wearing when she is so obvious about trying to get us to pay attention to what she's wearing.

Be Best. Like actually stand up to your bully husband when he mocks people. Don't send out wink-wink messages in defiance, as if LeBron James cares whether you want to come visit his school. Don't tell us that your husband is his own man, then walk two paces behind him to whatever formal events he allows you to attend. Don't try to convince us that we need to be mindful of what we say online when your husband regularly insults his opponents on Twitter. Don't stay silent when your husband takes aim at women whom he deems are meek and vulnerable like Christine Blasey Ford and Dianne Feinstein. We don't care if you wear a pantsuit to the State of the Union, wear a pussy bow blouse instead of a pussy hat, or if you have a drawer full of safety pins. How are you helping?

I've got a new and improved slogan for you Miss Mellie--Do Better.

Monday, October 8, 2018

BBW Tea Party: Haters Gonna Hate

It is real out here when I start to quote Taylor Swift. I was going to give this piece a different title along the lines of "Shut Up and Sing", but I think I can save that for later (because we know there will be a reason soon enough). And as much as I hate to admit it, Swift is always on trend:

So let's dig into this. Taylor Swift, a pop star that I find tolerable enough, issued this statement on Instagram in which she declares her support for a Democrat man over a Republican woman for Senate in her home state of Tennessee. This is news because until this point, Swift has been rather apolitical and has a gizillion impressionable young coming-of-voting-age followers (to whom she directed this statement). Predictably, some of her stans were upset, most notably Charlie Kirk, who posted this lovely patronizing tweet in response. Others voiced outrage that Ms. Swift deigned to have a political opinion because she is an entertainer, you know with beautiful gowns.

I don't have an opinion about Taylor Swift's opinion (actually I do, but let's not worry about that). However, I have an opinion about people telling other people when they can speak. I have an opinion about people feeling entitled to determine whether someone else's opinion is informed enough to matter. I have an opinion about folks who seem to think that an alternative political point of view as expressed by a celebrity deserves a mass boycott or a record sale ban or a ritualistic poster/tee shirt burning.

This all or nothing ideological purity matrix we seem to be stuck in is getting insane. We are so polarized that every decision has a political implication from where we choose to eat, shop, what we wear, what shows we watch, and now which artists we will support. Not that I haven't been caught up in this too, because there are some businesses that I refuse to patronize and obviously, I have had issues with various artists as well. I won't claim to be immune from the temptation to allow my political leanings dictate my personal life choices, but I would like to think that I am tolerant enough to recognize there will be some inconsistencies. I am not going to go out of my way to boycott a James Woods film because he is a conservative; it's more likely that I won't watch one because he is a douche.

When I found out a few years ago that William Shatner might be a conservative, it was a bit disappointing, but I like Star Trek much more than I care about his political leanings. I am sure that Charlton Heston went to his grave clutching a rifle in his cold, dead hands, but that does not mean that I will pass on my annual ritual of watching the Ten Commandments. I don't listen to country music anyway, so I wouldn't call my choice not to listen a boycott. I am not going to cut up the New Balance sneakers that were given to my mother and I probably won't be burning any of the Hub's Polo shirts because of the Charlottesville rioters. If I can't sleep, I am going to watch my Frasier reruns regardless of how Kelsey Grammar may have voted in the last election. And if Chuck Woolery were to come out of retirement to host a game show...(on second thought, that is a bridge too far).

However, I still refuse to watch FOX News unless I am channel-hopping for an alternative 'factual' perspective. I will never sit through a marathon of The Apprentice (unless I've died and gone to hell), and I wouldn't so much as use the bathroom at Trump Tower. I don't eat at Chik-fil-A and I won't shop at Hobby Lobby (or visit their Bible Museum). On principle, I don't shop at Wal-Mart, yet I have had to venture down that rabbit hole in emergencies. I have an ongoing personal boycott of Koch Industry products, but I appreciate their support of HBCUs and public broadcasting. So what is a conscious Busy Black Woman to do?

Live and let live. I don't know the political leanings of every musician or artist I enjoy, so I'm willing to invite Chrisette Michele back to the BBQ. If folks are sneaking plates to Omarosa and cheering for Tiger Woods again, that is the least we can do. (And hold up, I didn't even know that she performed with Travis Greene, who escaped the same level of draggage!?) Y'all can stop acting surprised that Willie Nelson, the oldest working hippie in the business, is backing a liberal candidate in Texas. For goodness sake, he is featured on We Are the World, so how are you just catching on to his politics?

Taylor Swift is a smart woman. She has been in the business long enough to know how to find the right moment, so her choice to wade into the political waters now is not some random occurrence. She expressed an opinion and then encouraged her followers to do their research and then to register to vote. She figured that some people would get social media mad, but honestly, it isn't her fan base that is upset, it is their parents. Those newly converted followers of Kanye West because they are more worried about their sons being falsely accused of sexual assault than they are afraid for their daughters becoming victims?

Yeah right.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Rape is War

I awaited the Nobel Peace Prize announcements with a bit of anxiety. I was worried that if the prize had been awarded to the Koreans for their recent efforts at reunification, it would have by default, been the same as giving an honorable mention to our President. And the nightmare would have been his incessant bitching, whining and complaining followed up with a Swedish travel ban, the renaming of Swedish Fish candies, a mass dumping Swiss Miss cocoa into the Rio Grande, and other assorted nonsense (even though the Peace Prize is awarded in Norway, and Swiss = Switzerland ≠ Sweden). This is not to say that the possible end of the Korean War isn't a good thing; it is an acknowledgment that no one needs to give that man any reason to gloat.

I was struck by the choice of this year's winners--Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, two activists who work against sexual violence in wartime. The fact that they won is not really a surprise since the Nobel Committee tends to be responsive to the times when selecting Peace Prize recipients and generally the winners are chosen to highlight a specific global issue. Nelson Mandela and F. Willem DeClerk won the year before Mandela was elected the first black President of South Africa, and the prize was awarded to the International Committee to Ban Landmines the year Princess Diana died. I'm guessing that they gave one to Jimmy Carter in response to W's warmongering, and Barack Obama won his because he was having a really great year as America's first black President. Last year's award to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was definitely a statement against the President's tough talk of rebuilding our nuclear arsenal.

The surprise this year is that sexual violence as a weapon of war is nothing new, so the choice to acknowledge it now seems fortuitous. No one has been talking about it as an issue of immediate crisis, but perhaps that reflects my bias as an American who tends to see the world through our flag-framed glasses. We aren't talking about it as an issue, but we are having a national reckoning with sexism as a tool of oppression in our society.

Of course, the Nobel Committee didn't plan to raise this issue in response to what is happening in America...but while we suddenly acknowledge rape as a brutal consequence for girls and women who live in zones of conflict, perhaps we should reexamine the precarious status of women everywhere. Women are always vulnerable to sexual violence. So are children. So are men. And sexual violence has always been a weapon of conquest.

Sexual violence is recorded in Genesis, as early as the story of Abram and Sarai in Egypt. Most people wouldn't interpret the story of Sarai being taken into Pharoah's house as a rape, but think about it (Genesis 12: 10-20). We interpret the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a morality lesson against homosexuality (Genesis 19: 5) without acknowledging that Lot offered his virgin daughters to an angry mob (Genesis 19: 8). In Greek mythology, Zeus was a serial rapist and the abduction (rape) of his daughter Helen caused the Trojan War. In Roman mythology, there is the infamous rape of the Sabine women (which is exactly what it was). The late night creeping down to the slave quarters. Comfort women. Bed wenches. White slavery. Human trafficking.

To act as if sexual violence is worse in the Congo or as committed by the Islamic State is politically expedient for highlighting the breakdown of social structures during war. We've known about the exploitation of women in the Congo since at least the 2000s (it even inspired a Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined in 2008). We've known that ISIS has kidnapped women as sex slaves since its incarnation in Africa, Boko Haram, kidnapped more than 200 girls from a Nigerian school in 2014 and again this year. We've known about the destabilizing impact of sexual violence in societies where women are systematically unequal to men.

If we are outraged by stories of young women being abused by militants, then why are we not as inclined to believe similar atrocities being committed at house parties, in fraternity houses, in locker rooms, and elsewhere? How are we not seeing this parallel? In our current "culture war", the concern for men's reputations is being weighed against the credibility of the victims who are coming forward, sometimes years after the fact. We're choosing to condemn an obvious wrong while covering our eyes to something more subtle.

Sometimes we need to start with the low hanging fruit. That statement doesn't diminish the significant work of the two honorees, because despite all of our awareness, we have yet to prevent sexual violence wielded as a weapon of terror or oppression. Women are just as vulnerable in the remote parts of the world as in the so-called civilized places. However, the light of the sun eventually shines on all of us.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Victims and Martyrs

Note: I had begun to write this piece this weekend before our boorish POTUS mocked Christine Blasey Ford at a campaign rally. While it doesn't alter my opinion of the sympathy she received, it does disgust me to acknowledge the partisan callousness and insensitivity of the sycophants who support that man. God help us.

Okay America, I waited a respectable amount of time to say this: I don't understand why Christine Blasey Ford was so much more believable as a witness than Anita Hill. I know that no one has come out and said that (well, I don't know that for sure because I don't watch FOX), but I find it incredible how everyone claims to have been moved to tears. Even the President praised her testimony as compelling and called her a "very fine woman". Now I don't know if he was complimenting her courage or if he was judging her looks, but coming from him that

In contrast, Anita Hill was not universally praised or lauded for her courage. In fact, I recall that she was asked whether she was a jilted lover. I recall that she was practically accused of perjury. I recall that it was suspected that she had been paid to bring that black man down. I recall that when she faced that same committee, there was no bending over backwards to keep her from dissolving into a puddle of tears. Not that anyone would have cared if she had though.

Public opinion about Hill changed somewhat after the fact and she is recognized as having helped to usher in the Year of the Woman in 1992. Now we can acknowledge her grace and fortitude, but that didn't happen overnight. It only took 27 years to identify that it was she who helped us to develop the language and the protocol for confronting sexism in the workplace.

This isn't a swipe at Christine Blasey Ford, this is a swipe at America for always coming to the rescue of white women. Let a white woman cry, and everybody is straining to lend her a hanky. But let a black woman get angry, and a bunch of whiny men want to boycott her matches. Yeah, I said it.

That is exactly why Permit Patty and the Airbnb Lady and the Starbuck's manager and the rest of them can call the police for minor offenses because they KNOW that even if they are wrong, their tears can wash away their sins. That's why Sarah Huckabee Sanders can get away with lying every damn day. That's why Megyn "Jesus is white, and Santa too" Kelly still has a talk show. That's why Birth of a Nation is still regarded as one of the greatest films ever made...

And that's why so many women of color don't trust white women. We can endure the same hardships, encounter the same glass ceiling, face the same trials and tribulations of abuse, but black and brown women still had to declare #MeToo unnoticed for ten years. Face it, you can sell more magazines with Alyssa Milano on the cover than with Tarana Burke. Our children become adults at 12 and can be exploited as sex workers, but let an 18 year old white woman go missing...

It is the darnedest thing, but we accept that is how the world works. That's why this doesn't surprise us in the least:

And it won't surprise us, if after all of this hype about a blue wave of change, that come November, right before it gets cold enough to put on a pussy hat, Rebecca is going to look at her son who is still living in her basement and wonder why he isn't doing as well in life as Khalil and Jose, the kids who grew up playing baseball with her son. How she feels about their divergent trajectories will determine how she votes.

Christine Blasey Ford is a sympathetic victim. Anita Hill is just another martyr.

Monday, October 1, 2018

What Could Have Been

Last week's confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh was such a mess, but so perfect for lampooning that I think SNL might deserve an Emmy, an entire year in advance of next year's ceremonies. In fact, if Matt Damon does not get nominated, then that might be an even bigger travesty than the event he so perfectly reenacted.

I still have no comment on whether this nomination should succeed because the damage wrought by it is already done. People are polarized and traumatized and galvanized on both sides (good people, every one). We already know that if he is not confirmed, all hell will break loose on one side and similarly if he is confirmed. There is no way out of this.

Unless somebody tells the truth. And I don't mean the version of the truth that fits into some neat partisan angle that allows one side to stand in judgment or triumph over the other. I mean the truth that allows us to confront this moment of reckoning and that offers instruction for how we move forward.

Here is what we know: something traumatic happened to Christine Blasey Ford. Traumatic enough for her to be so anxious that she would insist on having a second exterior door built onto her house on the other side of the country. She identified the person to her husband and to a therapist and later to her congressional representative. At some point while she was weighing whether to make her allegations public, her name was leaked to the press. She testified in front of the entire world, submitted to cross examination from a professional prosecutor brought in for the sole purpose of discrediting her story, and now she has become the face of a movement she probably never intended to join.

The man she accuses of this assault says that he never could commit such an act. And that is the $250,000 question (plus benefits and a lifetime appointment)--not that did he attack her (because there is no way of knowing that), but could he have attacked her? It doesn't matter what he wrote in his yearbook, recorded on his personal calendar, or what was offered in witness statements. I don't hold any grudges that he grew up privileged, attended elite schools, or that he worked as a partisan for the better part of his career before becoming a federal judge. None of that tells me whether he is more or less likely to be guilty. None of that makes me question whether to believe him.

However, what tells me to believe her is a lot of what I already know and have previously said. This incident was alleged to have taken place during the early 80s, when our understanding of misogyny and sexism were very different. When some of the biggest films of that era were Animal House (1978), Porky's (1981), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), and Revenge of the Nerds (1984). When one of the most popular daytime soap opera storylines involved a couple who got married despite the fact that he had raped her (spun as a seduction). When the first woman was named to the Supreme Court but before we started to send women into space. When women were more likely to be appointed to a congressional seat to succeed a dead husband or father instead of being elected in their own right. When Yale had barely graduated a generation of women. When we got into trouble for calling a 900-number at a friend's sleepover. When our understanding and language of sexual assault had not yet been articulated.

Mind you, none of this tells me that he is lying. It just suggests that in context with the times, it might be conceivable that he would not consider a drunken grope of a girl he barely knew to be a traumatic sexual assault.

When Kavanaugh and Co. were in high school, I was still in elementary school. Every Spring the boys at my school announced "Freak Week," an annual ritual that involved the mass attempt to catch a girl alone to hit her on the butt. To my eight year old mind, that was not sexual assault but it was humiliating. If I were to track down a few of those boys, I am willing to bet that none of them would admit to participating. Not only because it was stupid and childish, but because who would want to admit thirty-some years later that they were involved what we now know was an organized game of sexual assault? Think about that.

I don't know what was taught at Holton Arms about sexual assault, but I can tell you that very little was addressed on that topic at my all-girls' Catholic high school. Our sex education content was offered in religion class where we were taught that nice girls didn't have sex until marriage (which we were free to pursue immediately after graduation). The boys at our brother school were good, because they were suburban and Catholic, but the public school boys...

(I also need to point out that we were all in Catholic school in the era before it was unimaginable that priests were capable of abusing children, but let's not linger there.)

Despite the fact that Kavanaugh says that he was a good, suburban Catholic school boy, there are a lot of creepy behaviors he could have engaged in as a teenager. He admitted to unsupervised underage drinking, but I am not suggesting that he was too drunk to remember what happened. I am saying that drunken horseplay was not called sexual assault in the 1980s. Mothers were only just beginning to crusade against drunk driving, fathers did not stay at home to care for their children, and I'm pretty sure that all of us were latchkey kids. That's not an excuse, but our culture and our values were different back then.

Call me naive, but what if Brett Kavanaugh had just said that he did not remember what happened? Where could we be right now?