Posts Tagged ‘Race’

Who gets to define you? My first step into studying Buddhism asked this very question in a different way – how would you describe yourself? Easier maybe than a definition. I’m a nana and mother, a writer, a wife, stringer etc…easy. These are the simple ways, stating what you DO in the world rather than who you are!

An old friend from high school was visiting this weekend, and though our hair has turned a pale blondish white, we stood out in high school because we were both redheads. Being a “Redhead” has a certain cache. But when I was little I hated my hair, I wanted to be like everyone else, I wanted to fit in and belong. I wanted black hair like Snow White!

Edie and I were also both raised as the one and “Only” child in our families. Does that define us?

I woke up this morning to National Geographic’s special edition on Race through an Instagram video. They contend that science defines us by our DNA, but the environment, our culture defines us by the color of our skin. Their mission is to make us re-examine that paradigm; their example was a pair of fraternal twin girls, about ten years old.

The April edition of the magazine, The Race Issue, features a pair of black and white fraternal twin sisters from the United Kingdom, Marcia and Millie Biggs, on the cover (more here). The Biggs twins on the cover are a catalyst for readers to rethink what they know about race. The full issue is available now at natgeo.com/TheRaceIssue.

Now you know, and I know my DNA because I spit in a tube and sent my sample to Ancestry. Although I really didn’t need to know I was almost 100% Irish, because the priest at Sacred Heart School always told me I had the map of Ireland on my face! And I was mortified whenever he picked me out in class, although I’m sure it was meant as a compliment.

When our L’il Pumpkin was born with my exact shade of flaming strawberry blonde hair I was determined to help him feel proud about his carrot top. Well either that or ignore it altogether. But how will his ghostly white skin affect his journey through life? Will his schoolmates tease him when he’s putting on sunscreen before playing baseball? Will he yearn to have brown skin like some of his friends?

I remember when we visited Duke on the Bride’s college tour, and the Rocker, only 13 at the time, watched a group of African students walk by in colorful traditional dress. He thought it was so cool. Isn’t this what we want for our children, to enlarge their cultural influences, to expand their minds beyond a neighborhood of white privilege.

With our nation so divided – by political party, by religion, by geography – I wonder if we can turn inward to see what in fact we all share. Has Mr T unleashed this underbelly of white-neo-nazi terror in order to make us choose sides? Can we reject that? I choose to embrace our common sense of decency and civility, our humanity. We ALL want better schools for our children, schools without guns and active shooter drills. We ALL deserve comprehensive healthcare.

America, in our many shades of white/beige/brown/black, is at a tipping point. On the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s murder, I remember marching in the streets of Boston with my black armband. I was a college student then, and I would have defined myself as a “Dancer!”

Here is our superhero Spiderman. I can’t wait until he’s old enough to see Black Panther.


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Today is National Honesty Day, no joke. But it is ironic that the person who invented this “holiday” was the Press Secretary for an ex-Governor of Maryland, M Hirsh Goldberg. Just when Baltimore is looking for some answers from its police force and its mayor, we are forced to listen to the “truthiness” of political spin in the wake of Freddie Gray’s murder in police custody. And tomorrow won’t deliver any more answers. Makes you long for that French policeman after that German co-pilot plunged his jet into a mountain.

We couldn’t believe it, he was giving us the facts, and talking to us like adults.

But what if politicians did just start saying what they really thought? And then they needn’t apologize for it; today, Hillary and Jeb, tell us what you really think about the criminal justice system in our country. Explain to us why 98% of Black males in New York between the ages of 18 and 20 can expect some sort of interaction with the criminal justice system.

I’ve talked about UVA’s Miller Center before, but this latest American Forum titled “Arresting Citizenship: Consequences of American Crime Control” happened before Baltimore. http://millercenter.org/events/2015/arresting-citizenship-consequences-of-american-crime-control-rebroadcast

Yale University Assistant Prof of Political Science and African American Studies, Vesla M Weaver, spoke quite candidly about the decline of our democratic process in poor urban areas of the country. About how once misdemeanors a few decades ago have become felonies. About how people in these blighted neighborhoods have learned not to drive with more than two other Blacks in the car, since they will most likely be stopped by police. About how they must learn to avoid walking through certain streets since they may be targeted by police. About how they live day to day fenced inbetween a police station, a courthouse and a jail; a Bermuda triangle of poverty.

Weaver wrote a book that should be on the nightstand of every big city Mayor, and every Presidential candidate  – “Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control,” it explores the effects of increasing punishment and surveillance in America on democratic inclusion, particularly for the black urban poor.”

And every single person we interviewed in the book, their earliest encounter with the state, with the criminal justice state, was before the age of 15. Ok? So what they revealed to us what that maybe sometimes later on in their youth was that they had something more serious. But early on they’re coming to know the criminal justice system in a way that white suburban youth are not. You know, they’re going to basketball games, they’re going to high school. They’re not being stopped by police. Um so there’s been this disassociation between criminal population and the custodial population and it’s important to make that disaggregation because it’s very easy to say well you know they’ve done bad things right? Um many people in their adolescence, and if you go back to this longitudinal study that I mentioned 50% of the population reports doing something that could have landed them a misdemeanor or even a felony. Right? But a very small percentage of that group is actually having criminal justice contact.

When I saw the empty seats for the Baltimore Orioles baseball game, all I could think was, if you build a prison they will come. Speaking honestly just about breaks your heart   Unknown

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I woke up this morning to this picture IMG_2376

And just as I was getting ready to meet Anita for another great Book Festival event http://vabook.org, Bob asked me if I heard the news…

“What, is another girl gone  missing?” I asked Bob. No, thank God, but it’s the good ole Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) running amok once more. Remember those Keystone Cops of a few years ago, cornering some UVA sorority sisters in the parking lot of Harris Teeter for buying seltzer water? https://mountainmornings.net/2013/06/29/about-that-glowing-marble/ The ABC just last year payed out a whooping six figure settlement to Virginia Daly, the girl driving the car that was pursued by these gun-waving hooligans, thereby avoiding a court case.

Well, this time the ABC agents picked on the wrong student yet again. It seems a 3rd Year Honor student at the U, who just so happens to be Black, was wrestled to the ground outside a bar on the Corner (the small strip of bars and stores right across the street from the university). Martese Johnson’s head was smashed on the concrete sidewalk, and a picture of this bloody scene was circulated everywhere thanks to social media. His injury required ten sutures to the scalp!

Last night, over a thousand protesters marched from the campus to the Police Department on the Historic Downtown Mall, even though the City Police had nothing to do with this; these are plain clothes ABC agents who must just lie in wait to catch underage drinkers.

When I first moved here from the North, I was surprised to find wine and beer being sold in grocery stores and gas stations. And I learned about ABC stores, when you needed the hard stuff for parties, which we never do. Cocktails are not my thing, but back in the day I might have gone to one for some Bailey’s Irish Cream on St Pat’s day. Johnson was out in the wee hours of St Patrick’s Day and was denied admission to Trinity Irish Pub. http://news.yahoo.com/virginia-gov-calls-investigation-students-arrest-205040028.html

Now in our day, a bouncer would have confiscated a fake ID, and that would be that. But is that why Johnson was singled out and wrestled to the ground?

Returning from our trip, I was singled out for a “random” security search. even though Bob and I went to the trouble to get Global Entry clearance, I was patted down and got my carry-on up-ended. Then after going through customs in Charlotte, NC, I refused to go into one of those X-ray machines. The agent asked me, “Do you have a cell phone?” and proceeded to tell me that I get more radiation from the phone than I do from the machine. I gave him my best “Well bless your heart” look. As y’all know I hate those things. So I was sent to sit and wait for a TSA agent, for another pat down, until somebody opened up a metal detector since the wait was getting too long, and I strolled through it with the rest of the crowd. Thanks Global Entry, for nothing.

It’s an age old question, how much of our liberty are we willing to give up for our security? Maybe the ABC should stick with storefronts, after all, we have enough cowboys with guns on our streets as it is.

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Cali girl, Wendy, brought The Help to my Ivy Farm book club’s attention. It was over a year ago, and I remember feeling like maybe I shouldn’t be reading this book, with its stereotypical  Black maids and Southern tinge of racial superiority. Then I got into it, and I got it, and the whole book club loved it.  Race is still, such a trap for this country; think about certain politicians threatening to take back our country. I always wonder where exactly they think we all went? This surprisingly nuanced little book captured those watershed civil rights years so well, from a safer angle, one we could all relate to, the homefront.

A few of us Farmers got together to see the movie. What a gem. A movie that holds its own weight next to the book, I was alternately teary and laughing. The music was incredible. One woman swore her Mother had that exact same green stripped shirtwaist dress. Another wanted to hug the large Black family that was sitting in front of us. We decided to continue the night and lingered over dinner, not wanting to let the glow of something real end. I talked about going to MN after my own Mother, the Flapper died, and wanting to keep her letters with me. My older sister, Kay, helped me clean out her desk. She kept every letter and every newspaper article I’d ever written. One letter, in particular, stood out to me.

I was 19 and in college. Postmarked April 6, 1968, it was a small orange envelope with white ink – the return address, 271 Beacon Street, Boston.  At the top of the dramatic orange letter dated the day before, April 5, I wrote: “It is truly a sad day in Boston. I just got back from a march downtown in honor of a great man who died last night in Memphis. We all wore black bands and marched arm in arm and spoke of things like truth and justice and equality…” I never mentioned MLK or race, but I had turned some mysterious corner into adulthood that day. The National Memorial to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr will be dedicated on August 28th. It took awhile, but I think our children grew up in a better world. Michelle Obama most likely had a maid in her ancestry; as did I when my Irish immigrants first got off the boat. We stand on their sacrifice.

I just pulled out a small orange card Mother placed in the envelope  dated 1-9-84. I never saw this card before. In her distinct handwriting she has given me one last admonition; “Save this letter for Jessica. Some day she will appreciate.”

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