This place matters

This place matters

Friday, May 4, 2018

Four dead in Ohio

Forty-eight years ago today if my math is right (and it probably isn't), the Ohio National Guard opened fire into a crowd of peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders, killing four and wounding nine. Some of those killed and wounded were participating in the protest, but some were simply walking to class. 
I came across an interesting statistic reading about the shooting today. It turns out that at the time, a Gallup poll found that only 11% of Americans at the time thought the National Guard to blame for the four lives they took. 58% blamed the students, and the rest had no opinion. Nixon was silent on the issue, but his press secretary had this to say: "when dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy."
The following month, Nixon created the Scranton Commission, to "study the dissent, disorder, and violence breaking out on college and university campuses across the nation." None of the guardsmen were brought to justice.
The state of Ohio settled a lawsuit brought by the families of the dead and injured, $600,000, give or take, to be split between all plaintiffs. The state issued an "apology," saying in part "In retrospect, the tragedy of May 4, 1970, should not have occurred. The students may have believed that they were right in continuing their mass protest in response to the Cambodian invasion, even though this protest followed the posting and reading by the university of an order to ban rallies and an order to disperse."

History tends to forget the reason the National Guard was at the school in the first place - students had been rioting all weekend, had burned down the ROTC building and slashed the fire hoses as local firefighters tried to keep the blaze from spreading. Students, a handful of agitators in a sea of peaceful students, threw rocks. In the midst of the protest, a guardsman suddenly and without an order to do so opened fire into the crowd and his fellow soldiers followed suit without question. Those guardsmen were kids themselves, sleep-deprived and scared. But their fear doesn't bring those dead kids back. Their fear cannot possibly justify the deaths of those innocents. 
It's hard not to draw parallels between that incident and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, or the movement started by the Parkland students. In 48 years, will we look back in amazement that we were ever so prejudiced, so primitive? 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Coming soon...

Well hello, stranger. It turns out writing a thesis and finishing grad school are kind of a time suck. There's so much good stuff to come, so don't give up on me yet!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A plea: please exclude people with mental illness from the mass shooter narrative

Another school shooter. Another flurry of social media thoughts and prayers. Another seventeen funerals. Another raft of quotes from Mister Rogers, another war of pointed fingers, another synod of politicians and talking heads proclaiming not the time and not the time.
And another squirming moment where all heads turn toward us, toward people with mental illness; we may agree on little, the people of this nation, but we can all agree we'd be better off with fewer crazies in our midst. Drug 'em, hospitalize 'em, send 'em off, or lock 'em up - humanely, of course, always humanly. It's not the mentally ill's faults, those poor unfortunate souls, that they're hard wired for mass murder; they need protecting from themselves just as much as we need protection from them. And the one in five of us who might disagree, the one in five Americans who lives with a mental illness, well, we most of us keep quiet when these calls come, keeping our symptoms locked away inside us, if we're lucky enough to be able to do so, in a secret prison of our own shame. Those of us with the resources to manage our illness to the point we can keep it under wraps, well, we hear what y'all say about "the mentally ill," how we're weak and lazy, unreliable, untrustworthy, other, less-than. Violent. Dangerous. We're not stupid, most of us, we have a sense of self preservation. So we keep our diagnoses to ourselves and thank our lucky stars we're able to.

This is not a post about guns. This post doesn't endorse a position on the left or right. This post is about people with mental illness; about how we do not belong in this mass shooting narrative. And I'm writing this post because unlike most people with mental illness, I don't have the good sense to be quiet about having one, and I think that lack of good sense obligates me to speak up in defense of the people who don't or can't speak up for themselves. I'm speaking up because every damn time someone slaughters school full of children, this narrative starts, left right and center, about helping the mentally ill, as if we're the ones responsible. Well we're not.

But how can I say we're not violent when we all know that people with mental illness are dangerous on some level? How can I say that when the man who murdered seventeen at a high school in Florida this week does, in fact, have a history of mental illness? I can say it because one in five Americans is living with a mental illness, and the vast, vast majority of us are as peaceful and law-abiding as anyone else. We haven't done anything to be lumped in with mass murderers, and we don't deserve to be further stigmatized and isolated every time someone who isn't us commits unspeakable evil.
Now, when I say "mental illness" I'm referring to a diagnosable disorder characterized by patterns in thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that impair a person's ability to function in their daily life. These disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and PTSD, among others. This is probably the definition we should all be using for mental illness - I've heard a lot of people say "oh well clearly if you want to murder people you're mentally ill," but that doesn't really compute. Mental illness is a medical diagnosis. Evil is not a medical diagnosis, nor is hatred, nor is desire to kill. Certainly there are evil people who have mental illness, but there are evil people who have asthma too, and we don't go stigmatizing asthmatics every time we find out a mass murderer used an inhaler. 
Now it's really important to note that I'm not saying mental illness can't cause people to behave violently. It absolutely can, in certain cases, but probably not in the ways you think. Most people with mental illness, especially those, like me, whose symptoms are well controlled with medication and healthy lifestyle, are as peaceful and law-abiding as people without mental illness. I think we're about 1% more likely to behave violently? But by "behave violently," I mean we're about 1% more likely to punch a guy in a bar fight or shove the person in line in front of us at Target. That's a far cry from mass murder. According to a study from the American Journal of psychiatry, only one in every twenty violent crimes is perpetrated by someone with a mental illness, and since one in every five of us is someone with a mental illness... well, you do the math, I'm just a writer.
Now, our likelihood of becoming seriously violent does increase if we're abusing drugs or actively psychotic. And here I want to take a moment with the word "psychotic." Psychosis happens a lot with people who have schizophrenia, but can also happen with other disorders, like bipolar disorder. Not everybody who has a mental illness will ever experience psychosis, though.  "Psychosis" refers to a state in which a person is incapable of telling what's real from what isn't. A psychotic person might hear sounds other people can't hear, see things others can't see, or be absolutely convinced of things that aren't true. For instance, a psychotic person might have a conversation with an empty chair, convinced their long dead mother is sitting in it. They might also believe they work for the CIA, that they're secretly William Shakespeare, or that Jesus Christ is standing at the end of the bed telling them their winning lotto numbers. Psychotic symptoms vary greatly in severity, and while psychosis always causes suffering to the people who have it, it's not actually terribly common for psychosis to lead to violence. It might, in fact, lead a person to send their entire Medicaid check to a televangelist because God spoke to them through the television and told them to. That happened at a group home I used to work at more than once. Psychosis might also lead a person to douse themselves in bleach because they believe they're covered in bugs, or to write a 10,000 page manifesto that's utter gibberish, or to wear the same filthy clothes every day because it wards off the warlock that's after them. Those behaviors might seem weird and scary, but they're not as likely to lead to violence as you might think. 35% of people with schizophrenia have had at least one violent episode in their life, which seems like a lot. But the vast majority of those violent episodes have been minor things - slaps and shoves and the like; only 1% of people with schizophrenia have ever hurt somebody so badly that they even had to go to the emergency room. ONE percent of people with ONE form of mental illness (a relatively rare form at that) and now everybody with ANY mental illness gets implicated in EVERY mass murder, whether the murderer happened to have a mental illness or not? That's pretty unfair. One might go so far as to call it ignorant bigotry. 

You know what else is really ignorant? The notion that the drugs people like me take, that allow us to function in society and have meaningful lives, those drug are the cause of mass shootings. Mass shootings happen because of Ritalin and Prozac and all those nasty happy pills we crazies delude ourselves into needing. I first started seeing this notion pedaled on far right wing conspiracy-theory type blogs a few years back. Every mass shooter in the past twenty years, they say, was on SSRI drugs at the time of their crime. Those articles cite sources to "prove" their assertions, but those sources are all other conspiracy websites. No actual evidence at all. Lack of proof notwithstanding, those notions found their way into the Internet slip-stream, onto more mainstream conservative platforms, then onto the mommy blogs where they exploded, and now the notion that psych meds cause murder seems to be all but common knowledge online. Nobody checks the sources anymore - they've heard it so much it must be true.  

But actually, psychiatric drugs, even SSRIs, though very common, do come with huge side effect risks. That's why we make psychiatrists go to school for fourteen years before we give them leave to write these prescriptions. The amount we don't know about the human brain is staggering, and our understanding of how these drugs affect the brain is in its infancy. The brain, y'all, is a barely solid and impossibly fragile mass of grey snot and with all the things we don't know, all the variables that factor into the equation, medicating a mental illness is a minefield. That's why scientists dedicate their entire lives to locating those mines and helping patients steer clear of them. With, it can't be overstated, incredible success.
Back in the 1800s, most people with severe mental illness could expect no quality of life whatsoever. Having a mental illness meant restraints and prisons, experimentation, forced sterilization, stigmatization, isolation, torture, starvation. Later mental illness meant lobotomies - ice picks shoved through the eyeball straight into the brain. It meant writhing in one's own filth alone in a padded room for days on end. It meant abuse, neglect, it meant being disowned by families and locked away for life. Later it meant drugs that made one a living corpse devoid of free will - suffering still, but suffering slowly now, and quietly. 
Finally though, we're developing drugs that have powerful impact with far fewer risks than previous generations of drugs. These new meds are nothing to be taken lightly - there are serious risks that need to be weighed, and anybody who takes them needs to have a long talk with a doctor or two and read every word of those package inserts before they take the plunge. But the fact is people with mental illness deserve lives without constant suicidal thoughts, without self-injury, without constant panic attacks, without delusions, without invisible voices screaming in their ears, without being forced to spend our lives trapped inside a mind bent on its own destruction. We have treatments now that let us hold down jobs, live peacefully with our own families, live independently and make our own decisions. 
And now people are trying to say these drugs that let so many of us participate in life rather than spending it locked away or dead or worse can turn us into murderers. Without evidence. Without expertise. Without any regard for the suffering of people who have a mental illness and need help. Yes, there have absolutely been cases in which a bad response to a psych med has had devastating consequences; but no, the drugs we use to deal with the symptoms of mental illness are not going to turn us into mass murderers. Anyone who tells you otherwise is unforgivably ignorant
Y'all, having a mental illness really, really sucks; having the world think that your mental illness makes you a serial killer is really rubbing salt in the wound. And now people want to claim that the medication that helps make life bearable turns us into murder machines? How much insult do you really need to heap on top of all this injury? We already make less money than people without mental illness. We're already more likely to be homeless. Discrimination against people with mental illness is so rampant that most sufferers are terrified to let the people closest to them know about their diagnosis; you've probably got a friend or a coworker or a family member going through mental health hell right now, suffering in silence to avoid others' judgement. Our care is stupid expensive, and we generally have to fight an uphill battle to get our insurance to cover it - even though there are laws on the books saying that they have to. We've got enough to deal with already.

Here's the bottom line, cats and kittens. People with mental illness are not, no matter how you measure it, more likely to go on a shooting rampage than people without. Bringing us up every damn time someone commits mass murder is ignorant, discriminatory, and just plain wrong - factually and morally. People with mental illness are fighting an uphill battle just trying to make it through the day and live our best lives; it is wrong to heap stigma and discrimination on top of that. 
And we need you. We need you to speak up on our behalf - when the folks around you talk about people with mental illness being dangerous, we need you to call them out. We need you to pass the word on that we've done nothing to deserve to be held responsible for mass shootings that we had nothing to do with. We need you to ask your friends to stop running their mouth whenever they bring up false claims that people with mental illness, or the drugs they take, are responsible for mass shooting deaths. We're tired. We're scared. We're grieving these horrific shootings like everybody else, but we're doing that grieving while a bunch of ignorant bigots on cable news give us the side eye and try to make us take the blame. Please, just stop making people with mental illness part of the mass shooter narrative. We've had enough.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The time has come, the walrus said

The Cleveland Indians have finally decided to remove the team mascot, Chief Wahoo, from the team jersey. And if social media is to be believed, this is literally the end of life on earth. The seventh seal has opened, and there's a pale horse and the man who sat on it was Political Correctness, with the downfall of civilization following close behind him.
Look, I've been a Clevelander long enough to know how these debates go and I'm just gonna drop some facts here for you to pick up if you want 'em, and then I'm going to bar my door and pray the mob with the pitch forks doesn't find me.

So there are some fairy tales Clevelanders grow up believing, and as it turns out they're not true. I grew up believing that the Cleveland Indians were named for the great Cleveland player Louis Sockalexis, a Native American from the Penobscot tribe, who was the first Native American major leaguer. And there was indeed a Native American player named Louis Sockalexis who played just 96 games over three seasons for the team then known as the Cleveland Spiders. Sockalexis was an incredible athlete, but an ankle injury part way through his first season severely impacted his game, and that, combined with worsening alcoholism, caused his star to fall fast, and he was sent down to the minors in 1899. He died in obscurity in 1913 while working as a logger in Maine.
So when, during all that, was the team renamed in his honor? 
The Cleveland baseball team went through a lot of names between the Spiders and the Indians - they were the Lake Shores for a minute, then the Bluebirds, the Broncos, then the Naps (after star player NapolĂ©on "Nap" Lajoie). When Lajoie left the team back in 1915, the team needed a new name, and sportswriters at the time decided on the Indians. 
But in honor of Sockalexis? Not so much. Sockalexis was scorned in the press for his inherent "Indian weakness." He faced mockery and war whoops (you know, those noises Indians fans make in his "honor" at games?) from fans. 
The Cleveland Leader said of the team being renamed "In place of the Naps, we'll have the Indians, on the warpath all the time, and eager for scalps to dangle at their belts," never mentioning Sockalexis - none of the other papers mentioned Sockalexis as the reason for the name change either. None of the team's promotional materials mention Sockalexis either... not until 1968, after Native Americans began protesting the team name and mascot.
And speaking of the mascot. Like a lot of Clevelanders, I always believed that Chief Wahoo was a loving caricature of Sockalexis made by a Cleveland cartoonist to honor him. Turns out the first incarnation of Wahoo, then called "The Little Indian" appeared in 1932, decades after Sockalexis' death. The cartoonist never said that "The Little Indian" was the long-dead Sockalexis. Walter Goldbach, the logo designer who created the current incarnation of the mascot back in 1947, never mentioned honoring Sockalexis either. Goldbach said only that he had difficulty "figuring out how to make an Indian look like a cartoon." 

So, the facts do not support the idea that the team was named for Sockalexis. The facts directly refute the assertion that Wahoo was created in honor of Sockalexis. But what about the claim that the mascot is meant to honor Native Americans?
Native Americans have pretty unequivocally let the Indians club know where they can shove their "honor." The Penobscot tribe to which Sockalexis belonged has petitioned the Cleveland team to do away with the mascot. Sockalexis' surviving family members call the mascot an insult, comparing it to blackface
So if the mascot was never intended to honor a Native American player, and Sockalexis' family say they aren't honored, and Native Americans all over the country including those in Sockalexis' tribe say they aren't honored, how can we say that Wahoo honors anybody? 

I'll reiterate that I know I'm not changing anybody's mind about whether Wahoo's got to go. And I'm just as averse as anyone to the world ending in a blinding lake of fire, as it is sure to do, as a result of a ball team removing some logos from some shirts. But what I am saying is this: that team is not named in honor of a Native American, that caricature was not created in honor of a Native American, and Native Americans do not consider that caricature an honor. Clevelanders have been lead to believe one thing, but the facts are the facts, and the fact is that this mascot does not and was never intended to honor any Native American.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The blacklist

If you haven't heard already, you'll be seeing a lot of black on the red carpet at the Golden Globes tonight. Tons of Hollywood elites have committed to wearing black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement started by activist Tarana Burke. What's more, a bunch of celebrity women will be bringing activists, including Tarana Burke, as their plus ones. And that's important because those women dedicated their lives to fighting the fight long before the whole movement was a blip on Hollywood's radar. 
Not pictured: woman who started the damn movement.

A few people have called the act of wearing black an empty gesture, a symbolic act that looks good but doesn't do good. And I'd be inclined to agree, if not for the money.
See, wearing black isn't just a symbolic gesture. It's a gesture that's probably going to cost people some money, and that, my friends, is hitting 'em where it hurts.
The red carpet won't be a rainbow of showy gowns tonight. Though celebrities will naturally be wearing the most expensive of designer black gowns, the drab color palate will probably mean fewer people tuning in for the preshow, costing probably costing some advertisers some money. Magazines, I'd wager, won't sell quite as many best dressed lists, fashion pundits on TV will actually have to acknowledge the movement, at the very least. Fashion houses will lose an opportunity to display their brightly-colored show-stoppers.
All this sends a clear message: keep harboring abusers and we will cost you money. 
The monochrome might push the journalists covering the event to ask women questions more substantive than "who are you wearing?" Women, seeing all the people whose clothing choices declare them allies, might feel more empowered not to humor interviewers asking condescending questions about jewels and shoes and underwear. Those dresses might inspire winners to dedicate at least some of their acceptance speeches to the movement. Surely every winner will feel compelled to acknowledge the movement. There will be a whole lot of shout-outs to the Time's Up nonprofit, started by celebrities and activists dedicated to ending workplace harassment.

And that's a whole lot more than an empty gesture. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

On every street

I'm supposed to be working on my last school assignment of the semester, but there's this thing I can't stop thinking about, and maybe if I write it down it'll leave. Or it'll never leave. 
A couple weeks ago I was having a debate with some dude online who was complaining how we don't need feminism, how it's too divisive. I responded, not terribly politely, that we need feminism because we're all we got and we're fighting for each other's survival.
He said that I was being "hilariously overdramatic."
We can cite facts and statistics, share gruesome pictures harrowing personal stories, and some guys are going to get indignant as if our personal stories are personal attacks on them. We can tell you that one in four women has been raped and that 20,000 calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines on an average day, and some guys will respond with a "not all men" or a "well men get beaten too," as if the one negates the other.
And if all that doesn't make a difference then this probably won't either, but I've got to try. Please, men, do me a solid and hear me out. If you've ever typed the words "not all men" or you take personal offense when a woman says that she's afraid of men, please just give me a minute of your time. We need you to understand the experiences behind our words because maybe if you got it, you'd understand why we've got a hard time being fair or diplomatic. Just a couple minutes of your time. Please.
Imagine you're twenty one years old or so, and this has been the worst year of your life. You got dumped, you dropped out of school, you felt so disgusting and worthless and unlovable that you wanted to die. And imagine you're just coming out from all under that when you meet a guy in a bar. Friend of a friend. And maybe he's a tiny bit creepy and off. But he likes you and he thinks you're pretty and you really need a win, so you ignore a red flag or two. Imagine you start dating, and before too long he's getting moody and controlling. He gets mad when you spend time studying instead of with him, and he seems like he really doesn't like it that you have friends who aren't him. And imagine you put up with that for a while, four weeks to be exact, and then you realize this is getting out of control.
Imagine you tell him you want to see other people, because you're afraid what he might do if you break it off entirely. And imagine he says that if he sees you with another man, it will be "a bloodbath." Imagine you get away as fast as you can and cut off contact.
Imagine he doesn't like that very much. Imagine you're home the next day, and your dad has just left for work and imagine the phone rings and you pick it up because caller ID isn't yet a thing. Imagine it's him. And imagine he says something that makes you look out the front window to see his van slowly rolling past your house. Imagine you realizing he has probably been circling your house until he saw you were home alone.
So you call the cops and fill out a report, and they say they'll look into it and you know of course they won't. And you stop answering your parents' phone when it rings, and it rings and it rings. It rings when you're home alone during the day and it rings at three o'clock in the morning and it keeps ringing even after your dad gets on the phone with him and tells him you've moved out of state.
Imagine you start avoiding your folks' house because you're worried he might go after your family. You stay at friends' houses, and when you stay with your folks you park your car a ways down the street in hopes he doesn't notice it outside should he roll past again. Imagine how guilty you feel for bringing this down on your folks. How guilty you still feel for being so foolish.
Imagine that for months you get anxious whenever you see a white van. Imagine one day a year later you're in a parking lot and you think you see him and you don't go back to that part of town again for years. Imagine when you talk about it to people they ask if you said anything to lead him on, or imply this is your fault for ignoring the red flags for four whole weeks. Imagine hearing guys say that they're pretty sure women get into bad relationships because they like being mistreated, and imagine not arguing back because you're afraid. Afraid of them, afraid it's true, afraid because you're always afraid anymore.
Imagine you absolutely know you're one of the lucky ones. Imagine you know a hundred women, at least, who have a story far more horrible than yours. Imagine you don't know a single woman who has never experienced this kind of fear. Imagine you look back on that experience with a shudder of overwhelming relief at coming out unscathed. Imagine that a whole hell of a lot of women who have been through far worse consider themselves the lucky ones too. At least they're alive, after all.

And now imagine you're nearly forty, and even though this all happened twenty years ago, your finger's hovering over the delete key because you know he might be watching. You know he watches because ten years ago he tracked you down on MySpace and sent you a message telling you what a bitch you were for leading him on and then breaking his heart. A couple years later he sent you a friend request on Facebook, and when you blocked him he created a new account. Imagine it's only been a year or two since he last tried to contact you online and you're not sure you're out of the woods. Imagine you're worried that he'll harass your parents if you click Publish.
Imagine you still feel like a sucker, an asshole, an absolute idiot for that four-week lapse in judgement twenty years ago. Imagine you still feel so horribly guilty for the fact he harassed your folks. Imagine you don't answer the door when you're home alone to this day. Imagine this isn't the only time a man made you afraid for your life. Imagine this was only one of a thousand times a man did something to make you feel afraid. Imagine this isn't even the worst of it.
And then imagine what it feels like when you try to tell your story and some guy online takes personal offense to your sharing your story, like you talking about a time a man made you feel afraid is an attack on all men everywhere. Imagine guys who think that your fear makes you "hilariously overdramatic." Imagine having to remind yourself that he's wrong.
Just, try to imagine, and remember to imagine, and have some sympathy and have some empathy. We're telling you our stories. We need you to hear them. We need you to stop defending dudes you don't even know and start helping us defend ourselves. We need you to take all that righteous anger you feel when a woman says she's afraid of men, and channel it toward the men who made us feel that way. We need you to be allies. We need you to be the good guys you insist you are.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Back to basics

Sorry, all, for my protracted absences. As it turns out writing all day for work and then writing all night for school leaves little time for other writing activities. But also, it's kind of great. I'm dreading the end of the semester, not because I've got a mountain of work to do between now and then, though I do, but because I am loving the hell out of this semester. My professor and my classmates are so awesome that logging on to Blackboard and discussing assigned readings feels less like work and more like being part of the most awesome book club ever. I hate that it has to end. I hate that I've only got one more semester after this. (I hate that a year from now I'll be paying off loans on a degree that brings with it no increase at all in earning potential).
But that's not what I'm here to talk about today. I'm here to talk about the things we learned in kindergarten. You may be familiar with Robert Fulghum's essay "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," where he talks about the fact that the secrets to happiness and healing are all stuff we learned as munchkins - play fair, share everything, clean up your own mess, don't take things that don't belong to you. But I think Fulghum left some stuff off the list.

Other people's genitals are their own business
When arguing that transgender people don't have a right to exist in society (and make no mistake, every argument about transgender issues goes back to whether transgender people have a right to exist in society), many people argue that we all learned in kindergarten that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.
You know what else we learned in kindergarten? That other people's genitals are their own business. In every argument about transgender people being allowed to use public bathrooms, someone says that people should use the toilet that corresponds with their genitalia. Dude, other people's genitalia are not your business. 
But bathrooms aren't the only place genitals come up. I saw an article online recently about a cross-dressing cop. Article didn't say a thing about that cop's genitalia, but you better believe every entry in the comments section did. This cop is mentally ill because everyone knows that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. Lop off your penis if you must, commentators said, but you were born a man and you'll always be a man. Every other comment seemed to invoke "the surgery." As I've mentioned before, there is no "the surgery." The process of medical transition is long and expensive, usually involves multiple surgeries, and there are a great many trans people who opt not to go down that road at all. Which is beside the point because other people's genitals, whether surgically altered or not, are none of anyone else's business. My genitals aren't your business, your genitals aren't my business. People have a right not to have their genitals discussed, debated, or speculated upon because our genitals are our own business. 

We don't call names
Here's a fun game: go to YouTube, pick the most innocuous and uncontroversial video you can find, and scan the comments to see how long it takes for someone to call somebody else a "snowflake" or a "libtard" or an SJW. Generally the name-calling starts right around comment number three. Now we liberals are calling conservatives "snowflakes" because apparently we're rubber and they're glue, and it's all a pointless, infantile waste of time. In kindergarten we learned that when we're upset, we talk about our feelings. We learned that calling people names is rude and inappropriate and counter-productive. The fact that pundits on all sides have given up on substantive debate and instead flocked to insults and epithets doesn't mean we have to, because we don't call names.

Keep your hands to yourself
Twitter, Facebook, board rooms, men's rooms, everywhere they're talking about how unsafe a time it is to be a man. It's unfair, is what it is, how men can be strung up for an innocent grope of the behind, a brush against a breast when she hasn't explicitly said no.
Those endangered unsafe men might do well to heed a lesson they learned in childhood. We don't touch people without their permission. We don't touch people who do not want to be touched. Only a few people are allowed to look at or touch your private parts, and you always have the right to speak up and tell others when someone touches you in a way you do not like. We do not mistreat people who complain about inappropriate touching, and we certainly don't yell at, bully, threaten, or demean them. We listen to people when they say they've been touched inappropriately, and we always tell a person in authority (even if we're not sure they're telling the truth).

Don't play with guns
They are not toys. They kill. 


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The persistence of memory

Packed away in a basket inside a box of forgotten things I found a small muslin bag the size of the palm of my hand. The size of the little muslin bags that tourist shops let you fill with as many polished stones as you can. This bag once held a hunk of pyrite, which my mom bought me in a little shop in Loudenville during the apple butter festival.
The pyrite is gone - I don't know what ever became of it. Inside the bag is now a box - polished wood with a mother-of-pearl in-lay, too small to ever hold anything practical. The box was a gift from a woman I am no longer friends with. She gave it to me wrapped in a scrap of purple fabric for my eighteenth birthday, and I remember right where I was sitting on the floor of my parents' living room when I opened it. 
Inside the box are six rocks - tiny, of various shapes and colors, each representing a moment I wanted to remember forever. I got the idea from an utterly forgettable movie with Brendan Fraser and Danny Devito - With Honors. Pale imitation of The Fisher King. I saw the movie twenty-five years ago but I remember one of the memories was of making love on the beach.
I don't remember what the rocks are for. One's a first kiss, I think. One might be prom. What did a teenage me consider worthy of always remembering? I only remember that every one of those moments seem unforgettable. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Or does it explode?

Following the violence in Charlottesville, there have been a whole lot of white people invoking the name of Martin Luther King. Protesters who do not like Nazis should resist nonviolently, like Dr. King. Should meet hatred and violence with peace and love. Some have gone so far as to say that those who fight back against the Nazis' threats, beatings, and murders are "just as bad" as the Nazis are. 
I wonder how many of the people invoking the name of Dr. King have actually read his writings, his speeches, his sermons. How many have really understood his words and what he stood for.

Others counter that if we follow King's dictates, they'll be passively resisting their way to the grave. That his strategy of nonviolence failed. That the time has come when we can and must fight back, violently if necessary. I wonder, too, how many of the people dismissing King's methods have read and understood his words.
Because here's the thing. I happen to believe that Dr. King, flawed though he was, was one of the greatest Americans to ever live. I believe that with all my heart. In times of greatest hopelessness I turn to his words for hope and for guidance on a way forward. And if you think that Dr. King's entire life's work can be summed up as "nonviolence," then I believe you've been sold a bill of good, my friends. 
Yes, Dr. King preached nonviolence, preached passive resistance. He believed violence was abhorrent, although he didn't condemn it unequivocally. Asked to speak out against race riots he instead said "a riot is the language of the unheard." America, he said:
 "...has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity." 
Pause for a moment and reflect on just how true those decades-old words remain. King said that wherever there is injustice, violence will follow, and that "social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."

I think that a lot of the folks who extol King's strategy of passive resistance are focusing way more on the word "passive" than they are on the word "resistance." And we can't be totally to blame for seeing it this way. I think educators, when they blow the dust off of their Black history lessons every February, tend to preach that what made King special was his nonviolence, as if Black folk before Dr. King had been meeting every injustice with armed insurrection. But Dr. King was one of the good ones, they say without saying. He was well-behaved and respectable. It's a self-serving narrative, and it's a shamefully incomplete one.
King was about so much more than nonviolence. He was about the tireless struggle for justice. He was about using boycotts to hit oppressors where it truly hurt - the wallet. He was about marching through the streets not in a show of passive resistance but in a show of empowerment. He was about seizing the right to speak, to protest, to demand justice in the strongest possible terms. No justice, no peace.

Before invoking Dr. King, read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in its entirety. In it, he says "Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends."

Next time you think to use Dr. King to urge Black folk to calm down and be peaceful, take a look at his A Time to Break the Silence speech. Know that he is speaking right to you when he says "A time comes when silence is betrayal." 

Sociologist Doreen Loury says that she gets "so tired of people turning King into a dreamer." She says that people reducing him to that "made him safe. He was a revolutionary. That's reflected in his last book when he says 
"White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change of the status quo... This is a multiracial nation where all groups are dependent on each other... There is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity."
Whenever I read King's words, I get the eeriest feeling that he's talking directly to us today. But are we really listening? Or are we waving his name like a cudgel? Are we advocating for him or are we merely trying to gag Black voices with his name alone? Before we go on quibbling over whether this or that action flies in the face of King's message, we ought to all know exactly what his message was. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Ignoring the wolves at our doors

I saw something that shocked me today. A Facebook friend posted an article from The Daily Stormer about Heather Heyer, the woman murdered for participating in an anti-Nazi protest, titled "Woman killed in road rage incident was a fat, childless 32-year old slut." The headline itself wasn't the thing I found shocking. I am sure tons of hate sites ran similar stories today. What I found shocking was that other people were surprised by this.
And that made me realize I've been harboring a hideous, toxic secret. For years the prevailing online wisdom has been to ignore the trolls. Don't reward the online Nazis and white supremacists with attention. It's wisdom along the lines of "don't engage the trolls" and "don't read the comments."
That seemed like a good idea at the time. But now that the knives are out, I realize that I've kind of known about the Nazis hanging out in the bowels of the Internet for years and I guess I thought everybody else knew too.
The Huffington Post ran this story today about a televised exchange between CNN's Symone Sanders and conservative politician Ken Cuccinelli. The two were brought on to discuss the events in Charlottesville this weekend. At one point in the conversation Sanders interrupts Cuccinelli's attempt to justify the actions of the Nazis, and Cuccinelli says "Will you just shut up and let me finish, Symone?" 
Well Sanders just lets him have it, saying "Under no circumstances do you get to speak to me in that manner. You should exhibit some decorum. And understand that you were trying to defend and excuse white supremacy on this program. And under no circumstances will I sit by while that happens." 

If you followed the conventional wisdom and didn't read the comments, you wouldn't know that the vast, vast majority of the comments attacked Sanders. She was a "typical" bobble-headed Black woman. One user said that Sanders had demonstrated everything that was bad about "these people," and another blamed "people like her" for the events in Charlottesville. There were attacks on her race and attacks on her gender and attacks on the Left and there was vitriol and hate. HuffPost has since closed the article to comments.
And the thing is, these commenters could be anyone. They could be an ER doctor. A hiring manager. The guy in the next cubicle. 
They could be cops.
I should have told you about these people. I should have told you how often you can find them spouting off their racial hatred in YouTube comments sections and on news websites and on homegrown forums where they meet and collaborate with other hateful people.
I should have told you about the forum on Reddit, the one with hundreds of thousands of followers, the one where men who could be your coworkers or neighbors how worthless women are, how they are only good for one thing, and how to get that thing come rape or high water. I should have told you how many of these people there are. I should have told you that women have to interact with them every day. How they are raising their sons to be just as hateful as them. I should have said. 


I should have told you about 4chan, the asshole of the Internet, where Nazis and white supremacists scheme and plot and claim when they are called out that they are only joking. That they are doing a "social experiment." 
I should have told you about the Nazis. Then maybe you wouldn't think that we live in a post-racial America. That racism is over and the pendulum is swinging too far in the other direction. If I'd told you sooner about the Nazis you'd understand that people aren't just being oversensitive when they talk about systemic racism - maybe you'd know that there are millions of racist dirtbags hiding in every corner of the Internet. Maybe if you read their words you'd understand.
I should have read the comments. I shouldn't have told you not to read the comments. I shouldn't have ignored them. I shouldn't have let you ignore them. I should have said. 
I should have said.

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