Black History Month 2016: Black Lives Matter

1 Feb

black-lives-matterThis is now the sixth year that Social Justice For All (SJFA) has celebrated Black History Month. Sadly, the past year has proven unequivocally why we still need Black History Month. I can only hope all of us in the United States are doing some reflection around our own racism and encouraging conversations around issues of racial disparities and systems of inequities and oppression. I also hope as we have these courageous conversations we have a better understanding of what racism is.

In the wake of Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, and all of the other cities where black voices are being silenced, we have an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations around race and racism.  I hope all of us who identify as white have some discomfort as we look at how disproportionately black lives are subjected to police brutality or murder — how all of us should be mourning Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Artago Damon Howard, Jeremy Lett, Trayvon Martin, Roy Nelson, Miguel Espinal, Anthony Ashford, and all of the other unarmed black lives lost. It is with profound sadness that I note the statistic (most likely under-reported) that police killed at least 102 unarmed black people in 2015, more than any other race. I find it more than difficult to believe that systemic, institutional, and individual racism did not have a hand in these deaths.

While I identify as a queer white man, I would argue this horrific part of American History is most definitely a queer issue, it is a feminist issue, it is a black issue, it is a trans issue, for the intersectionality here makes it an issue for all people living in the United States.

Equity and Equality are still just a dream when 13% of the people in our country identify as African American (we know this percentage is not accurate because of the many barriers that prevent some African Americans from filling out the census) and far fewer than this are represented in most walks of life. Sadly, the places where African Americans are over-represented include poverty, dropout rates, and incarceration, further evidence that institutionalized oppression still plays a major role in how things work in America. In states like Alabama, African Americans that are or were incarcerated lose their right to vote for the rest of their lives – so much for the 14th Amendment.

I would love to see a point in history when we don’t need Black History, Women’s History, or LGBT History Months. I don’t see that happening until we have a level playing field, which would require eradicating racism, misogyny, and homophobia. This also requires that we see accurate representation in history books and the media of Blacks, Women, and LGBT folk. I can only hope that all of these targeted populations can find ways to build community and work together around issues of equity and equality.

Taking Action: Here we have an opportunity as white people to leverage our power and privilege for black lives. I hope all of us are engaging in conversations that address issues of access, power, and barriers. Can we look for spaces where white people can stand back and stand in solidarity with black people? Can we look for spaces to ensure more black voices are being heard? Please vote and think about the candidate you are voting for this year for President.

Refugees

4 Jan

Letting It GoWhile returning home from visiting my mom, I was thoroughly engrossed in The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, a book I highly recommend.  My husband, Robert, was reading Miriam Katin’s 2013 book Letting It Go, and turned to me to share Katin’s comic about Chiune Sugihara. Sugihara was the Vice-Counsel for the Japanese in Lithuania and issued thousands of visas to Jewish refugees trying to escape occupied Lithuania. He saved over six thousand lives.

I believe Sugihara’s words and Katin’s comic say what needs to be said and is sadly relevant today, as it demonstrates that every Republican presidential candidate has no sense of history:

You want to know about my motivation, don’t you? Well. It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. … Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people’s lives….The spirit of humanity, philanthropy…neighborly friendship…with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation—and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.

Thank you for that courage, Mr. Sugihara, and for your shining example of humanity.

KatinP1

 

 

 

 

 

KatinPg2

Inviting Joy…

21 Dec

JoyI have been working on this particular post for the past few months. 2015 has not been an easy year for me.  Since August 4th, I have lost four very dear friends. Our dear friend Jim passed away on August 4th from liver cancer, leaving a hole in our hearts. A week after Jim passed away my friend Ross, whom I was friends with for 20 years, died of pancreatic cancer. Naomi passed away yesterday and I will miss her terribly. Another significant loss was on December 3 when Beth died of liver cancer. Beth and I had been friends for over 30 years. She was my college girl friend. She would have been 52 yesterday. At times, it is all I can do just to get up in the morning. Throughout the day, it feels as though I have been punched in the stomach. Sadly, it also puts me back in touch with the loss of Bonnie, who was like my twin sister. This much loss is so unsettling that I am working exceedingly hard at staving off depression.

I have been watching and observing friends of mine and my husband and am in awe of their resiliency. These observations have led me to question how do I — how do we all —  invite and make space for joy. For me, this is a task that at times escapes me and seems to grow increasingly difficult.

Being aware of the embarrassing pustule on humanity known as the current Republican party (GOP) only adds to my sense of loss — the loss of common decency in our discourse.  It is exceedingly easy for me to give way to a misanthropic abyss when I think about how the discourse from EVERY Republican presidential candidate participates in and perpetuates racism, homophobia, misogyny, classism, and all of the intersections therein. Let us not forget, this is not just the nefarious Donald Trump, since every candidate believes as Trump does. They may not be quite as vociferous, but they share the same racist, homophobic and misogynistic beliefs. Sadly, even those Republicans who condemn the horrific rhetoric by these presidential hopefuls, still maintain that they will still support the Republican nominee. Yes, even while Paul Ryan slams Trump for  his racist, even Nazi like approach to this race, Ryan will still vote for him. This is more than just a little nonplussing.

So how do you, how do I invite hope, not just hope but how do I invite joy? Here I will share things that actually do bring me joy and I invite all of you readers, how do you invite joy? I want to learn from all of you!

Being in my classrooms teaching MSW students brings me great joy, such joy that I don’t have language to fully articulate how giddy I feel when I watch these students and how they reflect and leverage their privilege for equity. I am in awe of these people and they bring me joy and give me hope.

Spending time with my friends’ children next door brings me joy. Hank (who is only six years old) who grabs onto me and most insistently tells me stories brings me joy. Spending time with my amazing colleagues and friends as we are vulnerable with each other and support one another brings me great joy. Spending time with my husband as we talk, listen, drink wine, and support one another, and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race brings me joy!

My failing seems to be how do I hold on to all of this? How can I keep in contact with all of this joy and sustain my gratitude?

How do all of you do it?

Thanksgiving 2015: A Collective Amnesia

23 Nov

Turkey DayAs we swing into full gear around another Presidential election year, I have to say I have not only been sad but I have been mortified by the lies and ignorance being spewed forth by the right wing, who completely own the GOP. There is too much to unpack here to address all of the bigotry, racism, homophobia, and misogyny from ALL of the GOP candidates, but I do need to address their stand on immigration and how it pertains specifically to the Thanksgiving holiday. This past week has been particularly hard given the comments from presidential hopeful Ben Carson, who compared refugees from Syria to rabid dogs, and Donald Trump endorsing a national registry of all Muslims — Nazi much?

I often wonder, do we collectively, as Americans, conveniently choose to forget the genocide of the native peoples living in North America – the use of bio-warfare?  Yes, multi-generations of white folk have benefitted from the slaughtering of indigenous populations in North America and stealing land. It is ironic that the early survival of the Plymouth colony depended so heavily on the agricultural and fishing advice of the Wampanoag. To all the GOP governors who say “no” to Syrian refugees, I remind you that you wouldn’t have states to defend in bellicose, racist, and — yes — unconstitutional rants, if a certain set of religious refugees had been treated similarly 500 years ago.

The whole idea of a “first Thanksgiving” is historically murky at best, with both religious and civil harvest festivals easily traceable to the Spanish in St. Augustine and British colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth. The native populations also had histories of harvest festivals, thus rendering a colonizer’s claim of “first” another in a series of misappropriations. Regular Thanksgiving celebrations as fixed civil events became common much later, dating to the 1660s.

As with so much of early colonial American history, most of what we “remember” is filtered through centuries of creative reconstruction: bucolic paintings, myths of noble savages and honest oppressed British outcasts, grade school songs and pageants. It is understandable that we prefer not to dwell on our collective responsibility for the decimation of whole populations, but it is an important part of our nation’s history. The colonizers’ relationship with the native populations was complex (and occassionally grateful) but seldom benefitted the natives and almost certainly did not involve everybody sharing a lovely meal around a table in peace.

Let us not forget this was no mere land grab but a decimation of Holocaust proportions. Our mistreatment of the indigenous peoples in North America went on well into the 20th Century with the Termination Act, Allotment, and the creation of Boarding Schools where white people thought their job was to “kill the Indian to save the man.”

The root idea of Thanksgiving — shared by the Europeans and the indigenous peoples — as a celebration is a good one. Be thankful for what you have; celebrate the cherished loved ones in your life; take time to remember what is good and bountiful with no expectations of gain other than shared love and thanks. Let us move forward as a nation, correctly learning, remembering, and growing from our history. Let us work hard to return to this spirit of Thanksgiving. It need not be buried in any trivia: upcoming shopping orgies (conspicuous consumption), 437 sporting events, overindulgence for its own sake, or cute “historical” imagery that overlooks a complex history.

We all have people and events in our lives worthy of celebration; that is what we should use today to be truly thankful for. I hope everyone reading this blog will be able to spend time with cherished loved ones, be it families of origin or families and communities we create.  I leave you with Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Would You Harbor Me

Happy Birthday, Bonnie Raitt

8 Nov

Bonnie RaittToday Bonnie Raitt turns a very youthful 66 years old. I would like to honor and pay tribute to Bonnie Raitt and thank her for all of her energy in making the world a better place.

Bonnie Raitt is a lifelong activist. Born in California in 1949, Raitt’s parents were both musicians and performers and provided a home full of diverse musical influences. She also developed a strong social conscience early, enrolling in Radcliffe College’s African Studies program.

My plan was to travel to Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere was creating a government based on democracy and socialism. I wanted to help undo the damage that Western colonialism had done to native cultures around the world. Cambridge was a hotbed of this kind of thinking, and I was thrilled.

I love that she talks about her own privilege and about colonization. While in school, she met and befriended legendary blues promoter Dick Waterman. This sparked her childhood fondness for performing and she quickly found herself enmeshed in the local blues and folk scene. Although she had planned to finish her college education, she had a chance to move to Philadelphia to work with a number of her musical heroes and took it.

While most people are familiar with her Grammy-winning work since 1989’s brilliant Nick Of Time, she had a celebrated muscial career and began releasing critically acclaimed albums in 1971. Her bluesy sound and musical excellence dazzled critics and her core of fans but found little in the way of commercial success. She was eventually dropped by her label, Warner Bros., in a purge that also cost Van Morrison and Arlo Guthrie their contracts. She took the time to regroup and work with her idols, eventually working on a project produced by Don Was. That connection led to the resurgence of her career. Eight albums, nine Grammy’s and a 2000 induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame later, she’s still going strong.

Throughout it all, she has been a dedicated activist. Her second album featured a dedication “To the people of North Vietnam…” recognizing the human cost of war. She helped found Musicians United for Safe Energy and has campaigned for numerous causes. It’s quite telling that her website features a prominent ACTIVISM button with numerous links and opportunities for her fans to help make the world a better place.

She also pushes for fairness and equality in her profession. Recognizing that most of the original blues performers were victims of exploitative contracts, she works tirelessly to establish funds for the generation that inspired her. She also recognizes the gender inequities in the music business and has been a vocal part of the Women Who Rock movement. An engaging speaker with a genuine heart, a passionate advocate for social justice, and an amazing musician, I wish you a very happy Birthday! Raitt is another woman I think I could cross the road for; her talent and sense of social justice  make me fall in love with her.

Paul Ryan: Beware

2 Nov

Paul RyanI’m not even sure how to begin to unpack this colossal lying, hypocritical,  racist, misogynistic, ignorant, self-serving piece of hell whom we now call the Speaker of the House. I think I will start with the miseducation of Paul Ryan. I heard him say that this is not a national position. What? Did you really just say that out loud? Where did you go to school Speaker Ryan? The Speaker of the House is second in line to become the President of the United States, should something untoward happen to the President and Vice-President. How is that not a national position?

I think it would behoove all of us living in the United States to fully understand what we have with Ryan as he now holds such emormous power.  This is the man who said in his acceptance speech that:

I never thought I’d be the speaker. But early in my life, I wanted to serve in the House. I thought the place was exhilarating—because here, you could make a difference. If you had a good idea and worked hard, you could make it happen. You could improve people’s lives. To me, the House represented the best of America: the boundless opportunity to do good.

But let’s be frank: The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them. And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean. Neither the members nor the people are satisfied with how things are going. We need to make some changes, starting with how the House does business.

We need to let every member contribute…

Wow! Clearly, this is a man who has zero capacity for self-reflection. When he said, “improve people’s lives,” about whom was he talking? His career is built on keeping many targeted populations from having better lives. For example, Ryan proposed to cut social programs such as Medicare and Food Stamps and gutting Planned Parenthood. I will use his own words here: “I support the rights of the unborn child. Personally, I believe that life begins at conception, and it is for that reason that I feel we need to protect that life as we would protect other children.”  Sadly, he does not support family leave for women or families to take care of children — more than ironic given he demanded he be allowed time to spend time with his family before accepting the job of Speaker of the House. What a perfect example of “I want mine and I don’t care if you get  yours.”

Yes, Mr. Ryan, the House is broken. When were you planning an apology here? Let us remember that you are one of the architects who helped to break the House with your obstructionist agenda.  Of course you are not “interested in laying blame,” because that would mean you would have to apologize to the people of the United States, specifically all targeted populations and all people experiencing poverty. Perhaps we could “wipe the slate clean” by putting you and the other tea party members in check.

You continue to obstruct the Affordable Health Care Act and offer to repeal it. How does that “improve people’s lives”?  Easy for you to propose because you have a Cadillac health insurance policy paid for by the citizens you are working against.  In fact, you continue to work AGAINST women, people of color, the poor, and the LGBTQ community. (You champion promoting workplace discrimination against the LGBT community.)  From my perspective, you seem to be only concerned with white, heterosexual, Christian, wealthy men.

You also seem to be a big fan of wars, having supported going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Have you been to war? What do you propose to do to support veterans after they serve? You have consistently voted to cut veterans’s benefits, which seems both ironic and hypocritical if you are sending troops to war.

I can only hope your tenure as Speaker of the House is exceedingly short lived and that more intelligent voices will prevail and replace you with due speed.  I do wonder what your mentor Ayn Rand would think of your current position, or the fact that even former Speaker Bohener (not a friend to anyone) thought your budget proposal was too harsh.

Sadly, I am not encouraged or excited to see how you will perform in what is most certainly a national role.  Let us hope you prove me wrong.

Saturday Night Live Hosting Hate: Donald Trump

19 Oct

TrumpI used to think of Saturday Night Live (SNL) as a piece of pop culture that made an attempt at being progressive — to provide humor by shining a light on systemic oppression and the laughter was found in the irony/parody.  While SNL has had its great triumphs and failures in the past 40 years, they have reached a new low by giving the racist, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobe Donald Trump a platform for hate.

One can only assume that NBC and SNL do not care that they continue to push away targeted communities, such as the Latino community, the African-American community, and the LGBTQ community, not to mention people who have shared identities in all of these communities. Of course Trump is an equal-opportunity hater, well-known for his rabid Islamophobia. He revels in perpetuating fear-mongering myths propped up by old white men. If SNL was doing a remount of 9 to 5 and cast Trump as Franklin Hart, I would get that and I could see how that would be funny, albeit type casting.

Trump’s appearance is a remarkable, disgusting reversal of NBC’s earlier actions. When The Hair That Roared made his infamous comments about Mexican immigrants in late June, the network severed all ties with him, stating:

At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values.

I guess the greedy quest for ratings/MONEY is more foundational even than that cornerstone.

Sadly, by giving Trump a platform and so much airtime, I can only assert that NBC and SNL are now colluding with a dominant white, male, heteronormative, discourse that shows nothing but disdain for people outside of that identity. How disappointing. I can only encourage people not to watch SNL and send a message that hosting and promoting HATE just isn’t funny.

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