Monday, July 27, 2015

Becoming an Ally

Last night, I was chatting with a friend from Texas.  She and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of political things since she's a Republican (gasp).  Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if she were a Libertarian - but more like those old school libertarian who formed their socio-political thinking before Ayn Rand convinced a lot of people who believed communities can take care of themselves without interference from a large, disconnected government to forget about the welfare of others and focus only on their own selves.  These old school libertarians see the wisdom in high way funds even when they see problems with the tax code, politicians, and that stuff.
My mom is an old school libertarian.  I hear there's a distinction made these days between Left Libertarians, Right Libertarians and American Libertarians because Teajadists generally don't think enough about policies to even make a real policy - they just react with fear.  That fear is easy to stoke as the Koch brothers have demonstrated so effectively as they and their fellow class warriors have taken over the country.
But I don't care about Teajadists, this morning, exactly. I'm thinking about how Velvet, as an affectionate, playful but seriously strict authority figure up at Hippy Dippy Quaker Camp, provides a stark contrast to the authority figures presented by the racist police who routinely commit murders with the blessing of a racist communities across the land who value property over people.  Those authorities pepper spray restrained college students too.

I'm also thinking about how those murderous, redneck cops in Texas are giving Texans a bad name.  A reputation worse than any we've had back in the day when Senator John Tower "flew"around a party in his superman suit.

Texans have been the laughing stock of the nation for generations because of screwballs in government, among other things.  We could always live with that because for the most part, those screwballs hadn't done any real damage yet beyond the stuff they cooked up with the John Birch Society.

I realize, here, that I'm speaking as a white Texan.  Brown Texans have had a different experience, as the case of Joe Campos Torres demonstrates.  In 1977, Houston cops arrested and beat 23 year old Vietnam veteran Joe Campos Torres and threw his dead body in Buffalo Bayou.  Maybe he was still alive when they threw him in the Bayou - either way, we see what White Texas thought about that when the judge gave two of the six officer involved one year probation and a $1.00 fine.
That's A ONE DOLLAR FINE for killing a brown man.  A Mexican . . . .

The comments of white people across the land who automatically support the cops anytime they've murdered someone - whether it's a black guy committing some low level "broken windows" offense like Eric Garner or a little kid minding his own business like Tamir Rice or a young black man in a hoodie holding skittles - the comments of whites show that the conviction that brown people are less than human continues to dominate domestic and foreign policy here in the good ol' US of A.

My friend in Texas is outraged at the behavior of the Waller cops and her neighbors who continue to support police violence as an appropriate to talking back.  Most likely, these good Christians are beating their children for insubordination as well.  Waller is pretty close to home for my friends in central Texas, and when a subject is dominating the local news, it's in your face everyday instead of in some place far away - like, say, Ferguson or Baltimore.  

Personally, I could see all kinds of violence erupting as the official response to Sandra Brown's murder starts unfolding in the courts.  If something resembling civil war were to break out in this country, you can count on the gun toting, "christian," white supremacists in Texas to start shooting brown people.  Remember this guy?  Joe Horn shot unarmed brown guys in his neighbor's yard, in the back.  That's legal in Texas, even when Texas is full of cops who would gladly shoot South Americans.  All kinds of white people are foaming at the mouth to shoot brown people - and it appears that a majority of whites still don't believe that's a reality every parent of a brown child in this country lives with every single day.  

No wonder young people, young people in white supremacist cross-hairs, used alternative tactics to draw national attention to this very deadly situation.  Still white suburbanites act as if blocking a road is worse than shooting brown kids.  A CVS, that can be replaced, is more important than the lives of brown people.  The convince and property of whites inevitably trumps the right to life for brown people and poor people of all shades.  I suppose the rights of middle class blacks are somewhat protected since they may have property and often "talk like white people," so that's okay.

A young, African American ballet dancer just stayed with us for a few weeks while she was at a dance intensive.  We talked about how her white "friends" at school say, "We don't think of you as black," as if it's a compliment - as if they're doing her an unusual and commendable favor when they extend their own equality to her.  That's liberals for you - never seeing beyond their own class and privilege even though they might be trying hard to be nice to others.

In any case, looking at that family photo in Vermont, the Whiteness is so white we throw off a glare in the sun.  And I'm saying again:  White people need to throw off the oppression of Politeness and start calling out ignorance whenever it confronts us, no matter how hard a host may have worked to make a lovely dinner.

I'm happy to say that the other night at Cupcake's parents' barbecue, Velvet, Pinko and I nearly made a nice white lady cry when she said that George Zimmerman was right to be scared of Trayvon Martin.  She didn't know their names of course.  It was just that guy in Florida who shot what's his name, the guy in the hoodie.  She even said it was hard to know what to believe with Fox being conservative and CNN so liberal.

That's what it means to be an ally, and it's time for every thinking white person in this country to throw off the complacency and comfort we passively accepted when Ronald Reagan told white America to forget about civil rights, feminism and peace and go back to the suburbs to shop.  A nation of self-centered yuppies was born - consumers who believe having stuff proves they are superior and that business ethics are actually ethical.

It's true that when you get out of the suburbs and into the streets, you may get pepper sprayed even though you're white and/or old - but like Frederick Douglass said: Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.

Today, we're fighting the same battle the abolitionists fought over a century ago.  The police now are playing the same role they played for the Robber Barons - brutalizing workers to prevent us from organizing, in addition to catching run away slaves.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Blinding Whiteness

I'm not sure when it happened.  In June, Velvet was enthusiastically describing some obscure moments in the history of westward expansion at the time of the Revolutionary War, specifically in Vermont, to some dinner guests over at Cupcake's parents' house who primarily spoke Hungarian. The guests spoke enough English to know when they were supposed to nod.  Cupcake's father, who came to this country from Hungary years ago, heard them speaking Hungarian on the street and invited them over for dinner.  I was proud of Velvet' enthusiasm for the topic, thinking he will be a good history teacher somewhere, but in my eyes, he was still a kid.
Up at Hippy Dippy Quaker Camp last weekend, Velvet was clearly a man.
He's program director for outdoor living and wilderness skills, just like last year, but because there were a lot of new counselors and support staff this year, the camp director put Velvet in charge of coordinating ALL the activities - so he's making sure the camp curriculum is implemented appropriately.  Velvet in charge of shit is a sight to behold because he's really good at it.
He's kind of an authoritarian dick, sometimes, but he's also a good listener who freely gives credit and kudos to everyone for a job well done.  With the kids, he's especially an authoritarian dick - but when you consider how boys cab be in this culture, especially between the ages of 9 and 14, there's nothing inherently wrong about playing the Big Dog among this pack of privileged puppies.  He seems to have an instinctual understanding of how to implement basic B. F. Skinner behavior modification theory by being a general hard ass about correcting behaviors but recognizing accomplishments with affectionate celebration. When a kid gets genuine affection and celebration of his/her accomplishments from an authoritarian dick, it can be more rewarding, especially since so many people praise every half-ass effort with an automatic, "Good job!"
Given that one of the primary goals of the camp is for every kid to feel like s/he's a contributing, integral member of a creative, reflective, loving community who has a unique set of skills and talents, I'd have to call this development a thing of beauty (#079-101 in the Explore Beauty challenge).

It's probably a big deal when a son has become a man in the mind of his mother.  I'm not sure Buzz Kill ever did.  Certainly Vagina Dentata (that's Velvet's grandmother, mother of Buzz Kill) considered Buzz Kill a male - but it seems like Vagina Dentata viewed all males as servants of one kind or another, rather like that proverbial queen bee.  Even her husband, who protected and provided for her, was still a servant, and when he died, those duties fell to Buzz Kill.  Fortunately, there was a crusty bachelor living upstairs when Buzz Kill's father died who could serve Vagina Dentata in more romantic ways - but he, too, was there to protect and provide.  With regard to Vagina Dentata, Velvet's only duties have been to accompany her to the theatre and entertain her over dinner and/or drinks, and now that she's in the nursing home, to come visit her regularly.  Buzz Kill stays on top of the visiting schedule, but really,  Velvet loves Vagina Dentata, so he's glad to keep her company once a week or so.

Cupcake is working in the kitchen at Hippy Dippy Quaker Camp again, and seems to be doing well.  Over the spring, I had been worried because she and Buzz Kill seemed to be in a race to see who could have the highest anxiety level, and both of them micro-manage Velvet when they're anxious.  It was troubling to think Cupcake might be turning into the Buzz Kill in Velvet's life - but up in the country, Cupcake seems relaxed, confident and capable.  The city must make her nervous.  I'm sure plenty of people can relate to that.  It even makes me nervous sometimes, and I love it here.

Here's a family photo up near the Long Trail Brewery in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont:

While we were there, Pinko took the opportunity to build a rock balancing sculpture like he saw the artist Michael Grab doing in this video:

 Personally, I think Pinko's sculpture looks a lot like a penis, but maybe that's just me.  Could be a robot that lost it's head.

Pinko had so much fun with rocks that I convinced him to get a beverage dispenser made by an artisan in Maine.  We found it at a charming gallery in Ludow called The Silver Spoon.  Here they are in Maine Rockguy's shop on etsy:

Since I seem to be doing a travel log here, I'll just add that I loved the Maple Diner in Bridgewater so much that I got teary.  Some people might say I got teary because of the menopause, but really, I always get teary when I'm happy, and I was very happy to be with my happy little family in such a happy little place, with handmade mixed berry pie for breakfast. When Pinko and Cupcake were smoking cigarettes out in the back parking lot, the neighbor was out with her dog. She told them that a 400 pound bear had been in the dumpster the night before, and with those homemade doughnuts, I can see why. That dumpster must be a bear's paradise.

Even though the tears were not from menopause, I was glad to sit next to the air conditioner, with a ceiling fan overhead to boot, since these hot flashes are starting to get to me.  Not long ago, I was fogging up my own glasses - but I guess it just goes with the territory. It's pretty good territory, all things considered, because seeing the man Velvet is becoming makes me feel a little better about the future.

Between climate change and economic collapse, the future looks damn alarming.  You never know, though - shit might work out.  Stranger things have happened.  For now, I'm grateful to live in my happy little world, secure in the knowledge that the kids are all right (mostly).  I'm particularly grateful that I've never had to worry about giving my kid The Talk that goes along with the territory of being black in America.  Clint Smith's "How to Raise a black son in America," describes that feeling:

I have friends in Texas who honestly think that Sandra Bland's murder by cops in Waller County wasn't racism - just an out of control cop.  There's even an article on Huffpo entitles, "Sandra Bland's Arrest Wasn't Racism; It Was Something even Worse," where the writer, a woefully naive white man named Tom Mullen, says the chain of events would have played out the same with a white woman because the trouble was refusing to obey cops - as if a white woman would have been stopped for a turn signal in the first place. As if the cops would have beat a white woman.  Beating as many people as they do, the cops have surely hit some white women, but to date, there have been no mass graves of middle class white women discovered on the Texas border (Democracy Now! July 16).

I continue to be amazed at how hard it is for white people to accept the notion of institutionalized racism.  Maybe accepting institutionalized racism somehow undermines their self-esteem since it means that maybe all us white people didn't get exactly where we are by hard work.  Maybe we did work hard, but if life were a baseball game, we landed on Home Plate after starting at second base.  Everybody else has to start in on the bench.

One of the reasons ignorance and racism continues to thrive in White America, if you ask me, is that too many white people are too polite to challenge ignorance and racism when it comes up at the dinner table and other social situations.  It's time for white people to start having frank conversations with each other about racism.  We still allow some rednecks to cling to their beliefs that flying the confederate flag celebrates their heritage - as if slavery itself isn't racism.

I'm wondering how I'll react to the pervasive whiteness at Burning Man this year.  It continues to trouble me that the burn is so white it feels like being in one of those suburban schools with over 4,000 kids but only a handful are brown.  Prom night at Lake Wobegon High.
The demographics of Burning Man wouldn't trouble me so much if racial diversity was charted as closely as other information, such as the percentage of people in RVs sorted by age and gender.  (Black Rock City Census)
There is one little article about diversity in Black Rock City (Rebecca Mason, May 3, 2015) stating that BRC is whiter than pretty much any city in the country except Boston.  There could very well be more black people at Burning Man than there are in the whole state of Vermont, but there are more people in New York City than there are in the whole state of Vermont.  The BRC census was looking at cities.

The thing I find most disturbing is that many of the white people at Burning Man don't even notice that they aren't very many black people, as if a blinding whiteness is normal.

I guess blinding whiteness is normal in this country.  We put the 3/5th Compromise into the constitution, after all.