Monday, December 29, 2008

Friends: Old and New

I'm off tomorrow morning (6:30 a.m.) for a visit with my dear friend, Sarah, and her husband, John. Sarah and I met as freshmen in college in 1973; we've been fast friends ever since. She moved to Venice Beach, California when she married the love of her life, John. For our 50th birthdays, Sarah and I spent a week in Mazatlan, Mexico and it was the best vacation that I've ever had.

I'll be in Venice Beach until January 7. An added perk to this trip is that my blogami, Marc (Le Trash Whisperer) lives in LA and I will get to meet him face to face; he's going to join us for New Year's Eve!

I plan to take tons of pictures and behave totally like a tourist. I'll share when I return home.

Happy New Year to Everyone!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Looking For Christmas

My mother loved to tell the story about how I slipped out of the house one day when I was five years old. When she noticed that I was missing, she came out the backdoor calling my name. She quickly discovered me peering around the corner of the apartment building in which we lived. She asked me what I was doing, and according to Mama my response was, "Looking for Christmas." This was sometime in November. Anxious for Christmas with its lights and presents to arrive, I had asked her daily, since the previous Christmas, when Christmas was coming again. As the holiday drew nearer, her response had become, "Christmas is just around the corner." That day, I went to check it out.

This year, for the first time in over 20 years, I put up a Christmas tree. I always put candles in the windows and a wreath on the door, but in the past, I've been too lazy to put up a tree. Besides, I could always go home and see Mama's beautiful tree, but this year I put up my own, with lights, and ornaments, and my father said it was beautiful.

This year was our first Christmas without Mama. This was her season. She decorated everything. We teased her that if anyone of us stood still long enough that she would wrap us with lights and tinsel. She even decorated the bathroom for Christmas.

Mama was a fabulous cook, and her talents really shined at Christmas. This year, I hosted Christmas dinner for my sister and her husband, and my father. My brother, his wife and son visited us via phone but spent the holiday in their home near Charlotte.

I wanted to make it a special dinner, reflective of all the love and care that my mother always poured into the holiday meal. Every Christmas, Mama made homemade chocolate peanut candy, a pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting, and flavored oyster crackers. I decided that I would recreate each of these dishes for our first Christmas without her.

Although I know that she is with me always, there are times that I ache for her presence so badly that I don't think that I can go on, but go on I do because there really is no other option. I had been dreading this holiday without her, but somehow, standing in my kitchen on Christmas Eve, mixing cake batter, cooking the pineapple syrup, with my father waiting to scrape the remnants of the batter out of the pan, made me feel as if she was with me more than ever. My dad also helped with the candy (he scraped the last drops of chocolate out of the pan when I was done dropping the candy by the spoonful on the foil to cool). He used to do the same for my mother. He snacked on the oyster cracker snacks that I had made the day before while waiting to make sure that the pots and pans were thoroughly cleaned.

Rhonda and Bob came over for dinner and we all had a lovely dinner of baked ham, potato salad, cabbage casserole, black-eyed peas, rolls, and lemonade, followed up with pineapple cake. Before dinner I found myself cautioning, just like my mother, not to eat too much chocolate candy or snack crackers and spoil dinner.

Mama I miss you so much. I did all right, but I'm still looking around that corner, only now it's you that I'm looking for.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Obama, Warren, and the Inauguration Thing

Warning: long and serious post ahead!

I received an email from a friend today that inspired yet another blog post on Obama's selection of Rick Warren to lead the nation in prayer at his inauguration. Here's an excerpt from what my friend Aaron had to say:

Yes, the more you hear from Ricky Warren, the more laughable and morally repugnant he seems. But when you think of all the people whose lives are affected - and that he's been asked to bless the inauguration so soon after the wounds of prop 8 - it's more sad than laughable. Added to the spectacle are some Obama supporters (ahem) who proclaim that the Warren selection was actually *not* a tremendous brain fart, but instead a brilliant master plan that is somehow to be compared with Dr King's advocacy of non-violence! (sorry Sheria, I couldn't let that one go!)

Naturally, I felt the need to respond and I actually did so in an email. However, after expending so much effort in writing a response, I decided to publish it. My friends love the way that any conversation or email with me may end up being fodder for my blog. (Stop trembling; I don't write about everything y'all tell me.)

No offense taken Aaron, but I still think that my Dr. King analogy is valid. At a time when black folks weren't just being denied rights but being murdered for daring to suggest that they had rights, Dr. King met with extreme racists, invited them to discuss racism and in doing so, shone a bright spotlight on their foibles, forcing the rest of the country to have to stare the reality of the policies that the racists espoused head on.

Nothing that Warren says is going to influence someone who does not agree with him to suddenly declare, "I see the light! Warren is right." I do think that Obama miscalculated in selecting Warren because the man is a piss poor speaker and a numbskull to boot. However, I think that Obama's overall intent is valid.

Like it or not, and I certainly don't like it, the reality is that a majority of Christian ministers are preaching the same doctrine as Warren on Sunday mornings. Thankfully, there are other ministers who reject this bigotry disguised as Christianity and those numbers are slowly but steadily increasing. In the meantime, Obama has a country to govern. I view the Warren selection as a conciliatory gesture, a message to the Warren followers that all the stuff that they were told about turning this country into a godforsaken Muslim enclave are not true. A message that they can hold on to their narrow minded beliefs and no one is going to try and force them to change.

It's not the way I would like it to be. I'm for dragging people kicking and screaming into the light, but my way doesn't work, especially when it comes to social change. I see strong parallels between the gay civil rights issues and black civil rights issues. As I stated in my recent blog entry, the world that I live in now is radically different from the one into which I was born when it comes to matters of race. However, the struggle to get here began a few hundred years ago. The major strides made in the 20th century regarding race and civil rights were the culmination of an ongoing effort. In addition, racism has not been eradicated; legalized discrimination has. We are still struggling with bringing social practices, policies, and beliefs up to the same level as the legal prohibitions against discrimination. You can't legislate feelings. You can't force people to see the error of their ways. It doesn't mean that you stop trying, but it does mean that you choose your battles carefully.

This country thrives under the illusion that it is a Christian country founded upon Christian values. We now have a president that some people still believe is some type of sleeper Muslim agent. (Check the message boards on almost any site if you don't believe me.) In the long tradition of black people in this country, he not only has to be competent, he has to continually prove his competence. The irony of it all is that Obama is just as much white as he is black, but in this country he is a black man. The one-drop rule may have been removed from the law but it's still a part of the social fabric of this country.

People of color never have the luxury of representing self, we always represent our race or ethnic group. Remember when Timothy McVeigh and his cohort blew up the federal building? There was no general concern that twenty-something Midwestern white males might be a danger to the country and needed to be rounded up or put under surveillance. Or my favorite example dates back to WWII. Germany was our enemy; there were German-American communities in the U.S.; and the Germans had U-boats capable of reaching our shores, but the only group that this government felt needed to be rounded up and detained were Japanese-Americans. What's up with that?

However, let a person of color make a public misstep and immediately it is about the overall qualifications or honesty or trustworthiness of the entire racial or ethnic group. Don't believe me, well then explain why Guantanamo Bay is filled with people who haven't been officially charged with a crime other than resembling the folks who attacked this country on 9/11.

Obama has the unenviable task of not only governing this country but continually reassuring its citizens that he is worthy of being their leader in a way that no president before him has ever had to do.

Warren's task is to offer a prayer. That's it. He won't be asked to talk about policy of any sort on January 20. He will pray to God and a lot of people will feel that all is right with the world. Do I like it? No, but then I think that having the whole invocation thing is inappropriate. I think that the inauguration should be a strictly civil ceremony. I find it offensive that in having a Christian prayer, it ignores the many other ways of believing in a supreme deity. I don't believe that it is even inclusive of all Christians; there are many differing ways of believing in and worshipping even the God of Christianity. However, we have a tradition of praying and the last thing that can be allowed is to break with that tradition.

My overall point was and still is that Obama has a huge mountain to climb and he is under attack from every direction. He will make mistakes because he is human, and he never promised any of us that he was more than that. In the scheme of things, this Rick Warren hoopla is a lot of noise about a significant issues, and the noise is a good thing. Bringing bigotry out in to the light of scrutiny is the first step in changing law and policy. That's what Dr. King understood better than anyone and I think that Obama also gets that. I know from reading Obama's books that he is well versed in the works of Dr. King.

King worked with whites who believed themselves to be forward thinking because they supported the civil rights movement. Do you believe that all of these people really viewed black people as their equals? By the time that I was old enough (early 1970s) to be involved in the still ongoing civil rights movement, a standard conversation among black folks was about the whites who viewed themselves as our saviors and engaged in offensively patronizing attitudes and behaviors. Yet we worked with them because we needed them at the time.

I can live with Obama's selection of Warren. I don't think that the sky is falling. I started believing that Obama was going to win this election long before most of my friends and family did. Don't forget that I won our little poll regarding the number of electoral votes each candidate would receive because I knew that he was going to win big. (BTW, where is my prize?) I don't share the consternation or outrage expressed regarding Warren.

One more thing, certainly there are real people whose lives are being impacted by the nonsensical passage of Prop 8. However, as a pure legal issue, I (and evidently California's attorney general) question whether Prop 8: (1) can undo what has been legally wrought, i.e. the marriages validly entered into under state law at the time; and (2) has any validity under the California state constitution. The California courts may undo Prop 8.

Oh, and one more thing, I've changed my mind about all the references to Warren's weight. What in the hell does his size have to do with anything? Would he be any more acceptable if he was thin? Aaron, this isn't only directed at your reference to his pudgy face. All over the blogs there are a lot of references to his less than svelte physique. I'm not super sensitive about being fat. In my middle age I've made peace with it and can't believe all the years that I wasted not realizing how cute and adorable I am. However, the misery that I endured as a child and as an adolescent are still there for a lot of young people. This is the most bigoted society when it comes to weight. Why is fat bigotry acceptable? The most decent people who would never express any other sort of negativity about any group will casually comment on someone's weight. Warren is a numbskull and he is fat, but the two are not connected.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Have a Little Faith

In case you missed it, President-Elect Barack Obama has selected Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the Invocation at his inauguration. Warren has actually done a great deal of charitable work including work focused on AIDS; however, Warren also supported Prop 8, making gay marriage again illegal in California.

Unless you've never read my blog before, you know that I am not a fan of discrimination and that denying rights and liberties based on sexual orientation is discrimination. I don't excuse Warren, and I found his performance on Dateline this week appalling. He never gave any coherent response to the interviewer's question as to why he supported Prop 8 and opposed gay marriage. He uttered some mumbo-jumbo about how the Bible forbids it, but when interviewer Ann Curry pointed out that there are a lot of things forbidden in the Bible and deemed sinful that most Christians simply ignore (prohibitions against eating shellfish for instance), Warren had no understandable response.

He did go off on some tangent about how he was naturally inclined to have sex with every attractive woman that he saw but he didn't do it because it would be wrong. If I follow his analogy, then people who find themselves physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same gender should simply tell themselves, "That would be wrong." I really think that there is a whole lot of flawed logic in the Reverend's thinking, not the least of which is that two people seeking marriage to each other is just not parallel with wanting to have sex with multiple attractive partners.

Believe it or not, I didn't set out to write about Warren; I just needed to get that off my chest. What I'm frustrated by is how quick the media and many Obama supporters are to decry his selection of Warren as a "selling out" to the right. Obama's camp presents the selection as consistent with his belief in the need for reconciliation, for working together as a country to heal the wounds that threaten to destroy us.

Sorry, but Obama doesn't walk on water and he's never claimed that he did. He ran his campaign based on "Yes, we can." Showing the right the same disdain that the right has shown for anyone who challenges them is not likely to be effective in doing anything except giving us a chance to show them who is in charge now; however, it is highly unlikely to initiate change. As a member of a minority group that endured legalized discrimination for generations, I can say that while turning the other cheek doesn't seem to be effective, an intelligent, measured, and reasoned approach does.

When Dr. King proposed his nonviolent approach to civil rights, there were people who thought that he was a foolish idealist, disconnected from reality. King was a big believer in communication and took every opportunity to dialogue with even the most extreme racists. Black civil rights wasn't about discrimination in select areas of the society but a full scale disenfranchisement of an entire people that was sanctioned not only by cultural norms but by the legal system as well. Keep in mind that I grew up in a country where the places that I shopped, lived, received medical care, went to school, ate, and played were determined by law. My world consisted of colored only and white only signs. When I went to UNC in 1973, the parents of the white girl assigned to be my roommate said, within my hearing, "She's not rooming with no nigger." She didn't, and for my entire freshman year I didn't have a roommate.

A lot has changed in the last 35 years. The world that I live in is very different from the world into which I was born. Change is possible and I believe that Obama is making decisions based on reason. I supported him during his candidacy because I trusted his judgment. I still do.

I also have a lot of patience. You can't grow up under the yoke of discrimination that burdened African-Americans in this country and not have patience. Every generation has had to pass along a determination of spirit and the "audacity of hope" to the next generation. It's the only thing that has kept us sane and made it possible to survive.

I am weary of the second guessing of Obama's every move. The media waits to pounce. That's bad enough, but those who supported him are even worse, looking for offense or betrayal in every action. Let the man do what we elected him to do. Let us do what we can to be a part of the change, because we can, yes we can.

Another song that I love, Have a Little Faith in Me, written and performed by John Hiatt.

Have a Little Faith in Me

When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see
Just let my love throw a spark
And have a little faith in me

And when the tears you cry
Are all you can believe
Just give these loving arms a try
And have a little faith in me

Have a little faith in me
Have a little faith in me
Have a little faith in me
Have a little faith in me

When your secret heart
Cannot speak so easily
Come here darlin
From a whisper start
To have a little faith in me

And when your backs against the wall
Just turn around and you will see
I will catch, I will catch your fall baby
Just have a little faith in me


Sung over fade:
Well, Ive been loving you for such a long time girl
Expecting nothing in return
Just for you to have a little faith in me
You see time, time is our friend
cause for us there is no end
And all you gotta do is have a little faith in me
I said I will hold you up, I will hold you up
Your love gives me strength enough
So have a little faith in me

He Sang A Good Song

I'm up late and a few minutes ago I was channel surfing when I came across a young singer performing on Last Call with Carson Daly. His name is Gavin DeGraw and I've never heard his work before tonight. He's a singer songwriter and he was crooning a tune called, Young Love. Part of the lyric goes:
Young love is sacrifice,
Young love is tough,
Young love is innocent,
Young love is us.
I don't know if it was the words or his voice or just his youthful intensity, but I was totally captivated by his song. Years ago, Roberta Flack recorded a song that came to mind as I reflected on my enchantment with this singer and his song. The embellished story goes that Flack wrote Killing Me Softly With His Song after hearing Don McLean perform. (The factual version is that a singer songwriter named Lori Lieberman heard McLean perform his song Empty Chairs and wrote a poem called Killing Me Softly With His Blues. Her poem became the inspiration for the song that Flack recorded, which was actually written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox.)

So here I am, totally wrapped up in this bittersweet and melancholic treatise on young love. Funny thing is that it applies equally as well to old love.

The wonders of YouTube allowed me to find Gavin and his song. I've listened to it several times; I've reached the point that I can sing along.

You'll need to look to the left, locate my music player and hit the pause button(looks like: ll) before watching the video.

Young Love
There's no need to beg babe
That's my open pocket
You take the money from me
I can scrounge
Gave me a fever that will not come down
Oh babe!
You're a young woman cast aside
Left on the sidewalk of my lonely life

For the young lovers
Taking the hill
One plants a flag
While the other is killed
When the wine pours
We raise our cups
Young love is sacrifice
Young love is tough
Young love is innocent
Young love is us

What did I get into
Now everything is untrue
Oh, your eyes tell the lies
Of the lines that you said
And now that I love you
Oh, I wish we'd never met
Why wait?
Woman I'm taking risks here
That no one dared
And you're scared
Scared of the bottom
Afraid of the stairs


I saw someone
And fell in love with a face
And it scares me to let her go
Still want her even though
I get less than she takes

Friday, December 12, 2008

Things That Make You Go WTF!

Here lately, I find myself indulging in scandalous language every time I watch the news or read the latest headline. As a matter of fact, my language has been rather blue quite often this year. I keep having WTF moments.

Most recently, upon reading of Illinois Governor Blagojevich's game of The Price Is Right as he attempted to sell former Senator Obama's senate seat, I muttered to myself, WTF. How is it that these presumably intelligent people have incriminating conversations over the telephone and never consider that perhaps the line may be bugged? Tapping phones is certainly nothing new. J. Edgar Hoover perfected the art of eavesdropping on public figures back during the 1960s.

After vowing to clean up my language, I ran across a story detailing the Governor's wife's role in this little scandal and before I could stop myself, out slipped another WTF.

I was rather distressed by this slip up as I had to wash my mouth out with soap earlier this year when Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was making Dream Girl's hit tune, "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," his theme song. Mayor Kilpatrick's descent into idiocy began in 2003 when he fired two police officers. The officers alleged that they were wrongfully discharged for investigating misconduct on the part of two of the mayor's ex-bodyguards. During the hearing, one of the officers revealed that the mayor was having an affair with his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. Both the mayor and Ms. Beatty (both of whom were married) denied that there was an affair. Dang, wouldn't you know it, there were a few intimate text messages (14,000) exchanged between the mayor and Beatty. The last that I read, the mayor is in a jail cell for the next six months on charges of perjury, civil misconduct, and obstruction of justice.

Can any person with a functional brain really believe that text messaging is a safe and secure method of transmitting information that you don't want seen? WTF!

I was burping bubbles several months ago when Jesse Jackson forgot that his mike was on. It seems to me that if one is wearing a microphone that one should always assume that it is on!

I also slipped into a WTF moment when President Bush announced last week that we were in a recession. Gee, I hadn't noticed.

But my favorite WTF moment resulted as I read the headlines about NY Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress. I don't know any more about guns than I do about football, but it seems to me that one should be careful about carrying a loaded weapon in the waistband of one's sweat pants. I think that cowboys probably wore holsters for a reason. Poor Plaxico shot himself in the leg when his gun began to slide while he was visiting a nightclub. Is it just me, but do any of y'all pack heat when you go out partying? I'm afraid that Plaxico elicited multiple WTF's and I probably need something stronger than soap. Maybe I should gargle with bourbon.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Music Is So Good For Your Soul!

In The Wiz , the Broadway musical version of The Wizard of Oz, Evillene, the wicked witch, sings a show stopping number, No Bad News , in which she warns that there will be hell to pay to anyone who dares to bring her any bad news.

When I wake up in the afternoon
Which it pleases me to do
Don't nobody bring me no bad news
'Cause I wake up already negative
And I've wired up my fuse
So don't nobody bring me no bad news

I've taken Evillene's admonishment to heart and decided to refuse to discuss all of the bad news that fills the headlines and to instead focus on things that entertain me. So in spite of President Bush's declaration that we are indeed in a recession, I have elected not to sing the recession blues, at least for today.

I live my life through music and I listen to a fairly eclectic mix of genres as attested to by my playlist (temporarily removed so that you may listen to the various videos that I've included in this post).

One of the reasons that I like music so much is that there are songs to fit every mood and occasion in your life. When I hear Elton John's Daniel, I'm immediately transported back to the summer of 1972 when I was caught up in the war protest and a good looking boy on whom I had a colossal crush. That was also the summer that I listened to Joni Mitchell's Blue on the album of the same title, over and over again.

When your heart is breaking and you're 17, there is no better accompaniment than Joni. Between Joni and Laura Nyro, I came to realize that there is a certain satisfaction in weeping your eyes out, convinced that your world will end if you can't have the object of your affection.

I wasn't then nor am I now continually morose, although I do have a predilection for sad songs. To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy songs are all alike, it's the sad ones that suck you in and linger in your head. Sometimes sad songs have an edge to them that catches my attention. I still love Laura Nyro's version of her song, Eli's Coming . Especially the last minute and-a-half where she slows down the rhythm and just grooves with it.

Then there is Aretha singing Think, upset at the way she's been treated but warning the low-down object of her affection that he'd better "...think, think about what you're trying to do to me." You just know that he's going to be sorry some day.

Several years back, Toni Braxton released a song, Seven Whole Days, that I declared to be the national anthem for every woman who has ever been done wrong by a man. (Sorry guys, get your own damn song!) The song centers on that peculiar disease common to men known as Phoneuseitis, characterized by an inability to pick up a telephone and make a call. Braxton's pretty fed up by her guy's failure to telephone, singing, "Seven whole days, not a word from you; seven whole nights, and I'm just about through... Can't take it no more; I've had about enough of this. I'd rather be on my own."

As I was driving to work a couple of weeks ago, I heard a new song that really caught my ear. The new song reminded me of a not so new song with the same theme. Both songs made me laugh wickedly and think bad thoughts. I really like these songs. I warn you that it may distress you if you take my pleasure in these songs too seriously and attempt to analyze my affection for them. I've decided that they are both deserving of status as my new national anthem for women who find themselves infected with Payback Syndrome also known as Justifiabilitis. I've decided to just alternate between singing them upon rising every morning. I think that it's fitting that one is an R&B tune, I Busted Out Your Windows, by Jazmine Sullivan and the other a country song, Before He Cheats, by Carrie Underwood. I told you that my tastes are eclectic.

BTW, the videos include the lyrics.

Note: I own a lot of CDs. Did you know that if you join a record club, purchase 14 CDs for $0.99 plus shipping and handling($6.99), buy the three or four additional CDs to fulfill your membership requirement, and then don't order anything for six months, the record club will throw you out? It sends you a rather cold letter stating that as you haven't made a purchase in quite some time that you are no longer a member. Another six months go by and then something miraculous happens--the record club sends you an offer for another 14 CDs for $0.99 plus shipping and handling, and the whole cycle starts again.

I've been thrown out of BMG and Columbia House (I think that its music CD division is now defunct) more times than Ralph Nader has run for president.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Loss and Remembrance: World AIDS Day 2008

The summer after my junior year in high school, I attended a six week residential program for intellectually gifted students known as Governor's School. North Carolina Governor's School is the oldest statewide program of this type in the U.S., integrating academic disciplines and the arts. There are no grades, no tests, just learning for the sheer joy of learning. I loved it but not just because of the joys of intellectual exploration; it's where I met a boy.

His name was Hoagy. He was there to study drama; I was there to study French. He was funny, sweet, and talented. I was totally enamored of him. I adored him all summer and cried when we had to part. During my senior year, my best friend, who was allowed to drive her family car, took me down to the coastal community where he lived and the three of us spent the day roaming the sand dunes. That Christmas he sent me the first gift that I had ever received from a boy, a delicate silver necklace ornamented by a cross with a single turquoise stone in the center. I thought that it was the most beautiful gift that I had ever received.

I think that Hoagy was gay. I think that he tried to tell me on at least one occasion but I didn't understand, and I suspect that neither did he. I also think that he may have been in the first wave of young gay men to die from AIDS.

I lost contact with him for several years and then he turned up managing a bookstore where my younger sister worked. By then, I think that he was living his life as a gay man. He became ill. His health grew steadily and rapidly worse, and then he was dead.

December 1, 2008 is World AIDS Day. A site that I joined some time ago, Bloggers Unite, (BU) has selected World AIDS Day as a focus for its social awareness campaign. Throughout the year, BU selects various social awareness issues and asks bloggers to illuminate the issues by writing blog entries about them. As I thought of what to write in recognition of World AIDS Day, my mind conjured up the smiling face of a young man who made me feel appreciated more than 30 years ago.

I don't remember the exact year that Hoagy died, but I think it was in the early 1980s, when AIDS was still a "gay disease," spoken about in hushed whispers. Sadly, there are still far too many people who labor under the belief that AIDS is a selective disease. HIV/AIDS is an equal opportunity disease. It doesn't tap on the door and inquire, "Any gay people here?"

I read an op-ed in the New York Times (link sent courtesy of Marc, Le Trash Whisperer) that spoke among other things of a strategy for decreasing the opposition to gay rights issues. The author, Charles M. Blow, points out that a significantly higher percentage of African-American women voted in favor of California's Prop 8 (banning same -sex marriage) than black men. (Note: The black population in California was not the decisive factor in the passage of Prop 8; pundits estimate that it would have passed even without the black vote.) He suggests that the best strategy to persuade black women, who typically vote in higher numbers than black men in most elections, to rethink their opposition to gay rights is to put it in terms of a health issue.

The more stigma attached to being gay, the less likely someone is to admit, even to himself or herself, to being gay. People end up living a lie, to their detriment and the detriment of those with whom they have intimate relationships. In a 2003 study of HIV infected people, 34% of infected black men said that they had sex with women and men, while only 6% of infected black women thought that their partners were bisexual. Among infected white men, 13% said that they had sex with men and women and 14% of infected white women stated that they knew their partners were bisexual.

I do not wish to be misleading and suggest that only men engaging in bisexual behavior are responsible for the increased rate of HIV/AIDS among women (see chart for most recent data [2005] on infected women); it is a factor but according to a 2005 CDC HIV/AIDS Report, the majority of infected women were infected via high-risk heterosexual contact. However, I was struck by Mr. Blow's discussion of the need to focus on the health issue aspect as a tool to persuade black women that it is in our self-interests to change our cultural perceptions of homosexuality. As he puts it, "The more open blacks are to the idea of homosexuality, the more likely black men would be to discuss their sexual orientations and sexual histories. The more open they are, the less likely black women would be to put themselves at risk unwittingly." ( Charles M. Blow)

I don't know if the answer is quite as simple as linking gay rights and health issues, but I think that a focus on health issues should be a piece of the strategy for keeping our attention on HIV/AIDS as a disease and not an issue of religion or morality. I think that there has been progress made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS since a sensitive boy made an awkward girl feel pretty but there is still a long road ahead and the journey is far from over.

The theme for World AIDS Day is leadership--from all sectors--government, individuals, families, communities, and organizations. I take this to mean that we are collectively and individually responsible for keeping this health issue on the front burner. HIV/AIDS is a pandemic, it knows no geographic boundaries. It is a worldwide problem and it requires a worldwide effort to conquer it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Letting Go and Removing Splinters

Note: I've vacillated for over an hour about posting the following. Normally I just write what I'm thinking and put it out there. However, I confess that I had some concerns about this post. I read a comment to one of my earlier posts that I found fundamentally disturbing and I wanted to respond to the comment. However, when I checked out the commenter's blog, I was unsettled by what I found there. After communications from friends that I trust and respect, I've decided that I would not be true to my sense of personal integrity if I didn't publish my thoughts unexpurgated.

I always read my comments. Sometimes, I write about a comment that grabs my attention. A new reader left the following comment on a recent post. (The use of capitalization is Micky's own little stylistic touch.)

Micky said...

"You will not have intercourse with a man as you would with a woman. This is a hateful thing.” (Lev 18: 22)

I find Micky's all caps statement, "homosexuality is a sin," as offensive as I find the use of the word "nigger." Normally I refuse to write the word, using the the euphemistic "n-word." I use it here for its shock value. Mickey's statement offends and shocks my senses. I find it to be a crass and crude attack on people that I care about that I know to be gay, and on the millions of people in this world that so often have to hide elements of their true self even from their family and friends.

I really don't have the energy to explain to Micky that Leviticus is one of several Old Testament books that presented the laws by which the Israelites were to live. Nor do I have the time to clarify that Leviticus is focused on instructing the Israelites who are about to enter the land of Canaan after the exodus from Egypt not to engage in the behaviors of either their former masters, the Egyptians, or of their new neighbors, the Canaanites. Chapter 18 is particularly fixated on prohibiting all types of sexual behavior, specifying against men lying with their mother, their brother's wife, their sister, their aunt, their neighbor's wife and with any woman who is menstruating. (She is deemed to be unclean. )

I didn't take the time to do in depth research of social customs of the land of Canaan or ancient Egypt, but I do know that intermarriage of close relatives in the upper classes was not uncommon. It was a way of continuing blood lines and ensuring their purity. No doubt, the prohibitions were intended to make it clear to the Israelites that such practices were not to be adopted by them.

If I had the energy, I'd explain to Micky that the Bible was written by men. I don't see that it detracts from the Bible being divinely inspired, but the hands that wrote the words on the page were human hands, directed by human brains. The Bible is a fascinating review of the cultural norms, beliefs, and practices of the many peoples who inhabited the middle east for generations. Many of the prohibitions in Leviticus stem from the cultural practices of one people being juxtaposed with those of another people. The laws in Leviticus are about maintaining a separate cultural identity for the new immigrants from their neighbors in the land of Canaan. They are about a displaced people trying to survive, to maintain their heritage. What better way to insure that these laws were followed than to assert that they come directly from God?

No doubt, by now Micky is convinced that I am profaning the word of God. I have respect and faith in God. That is why I don't believe that She really took the time to specify when it is okay to eat the fruit from your orchard. (According to Leviticus 19:23-25, when you plant a fruit tree, you must not eat any fruit it may bear for the first three years. The fruit that it bears in the fourth year must all be given to God. It is only in the fifth year that you may eat of the fruit.) Leviticus is filled with admonitions about gleaning fields and food preparation, perhaps important to maintaining a people's cultural identity through adherence to social customs but not really something of significance to the Creator of the universe.

I also wonder if Micky has noted that if we accept a literal interpretation of the verse from Leviticus that he cites, then lesbians are okay. The prohibition is directed towards men and specifies that a man is not to lie with another man as he would lie with a woman. It doesn't say anything about what women can do. So Ellen can lie with Portia and there's no harm done.

I'm also thinking that I should direct Micky to Leviticus 20:11 that provides that if a man and woman commit adultery that they are both to be put to death. The number of electric chairs required to apply this biblical law would likely cause a power outage over most of the planet.

The Bible contains many lessons and many spiritual truths but it also contains ideologies shaped by the social and cultural norms of the the various time frames in which it was written. (Note: the Bible was not all written at once, in a single sitting by a single author.) If we literally follow every proclamation made in the Christian Bible, we will have everything from requirments for self-mutilation (If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out) to prohibitions against the physically disabled being allowed to offer food on the altar of God (Leviticus 21: 17-23).

I have my own favorite Bible verse, one with which I'm not certain that Micky is familiar, Matthew 7: 1-5.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

Micky proclaims on his profile that he is saved. I would hope that he is saved from the ugly hate that he has taken it upon himself to express towards his brothers and sisters. I hope that he is saved from continuing on the path of arrogance that spurs him to be judge over his brothers and sisters. I hope that he takes to heart another of my favorite teachings from the Bible, "Love thy neighbor."

I confess that I find it difficult to always love my neighbor. As I've been reminded by the words of a dear friend, even those with whom I fundamentally disagree are my neighbors and I must let go of any ill will that I harbor against them. I have much work to do to remove the wooden beam from my own eye so that I may look with charity even upon those whose beliefs offend me. I'm working on it every day.

NOTE: Language of the Biblical quotes is that of the New American Bible

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Creative Spirit

Perhaps it's the season, but there is a lot of giving going on here lately. Earlier this week, Alan of Robert's Roost and Lessons for a New World, was kind enough to include my blog as a recipient of the Arte y Pico Award. I have learned a great deal from Alan about the importance of communication. I have greatly enjoyed my dialogues with him, spurred by our various blog entries. It touches me deeply that he included me in his list of award recipients.

I am always curious about the origins of things, so I went searching for the origins of the Arte y Pico Award . I found a blog with that name, written primarily in Spanish. Hablo espanol un poquito, pero no se muchas palabras. (I speak a little Spanish, but I have a limited vocabulary.)

From my halting translation, the site appears to have devised the award to recognize artistic creativity in textile based arts such as fabric dolls, quilting, and knitted and crocheted items. From tracing the award around the Internet, it appears to have been expanded to cover an all around recognition of creativity.

Today has not been my best day and Alan's thoughtfulness has given me a bit of brightness in an otherwise dark day. I think that this type of inter-community recognition means a lot more than I have previously realized. I hope that my own choices bring a smile to the lips of the recipients.


1. Choose 5 blogs you consider deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogging community, regardless of the language.
2. Each award should have the name of the author and a link to his/her blog to be visited by everyone.
3. Each award winner should show the award and put the name and link to the blog that presented him/her with the award.
4. The award winner and the one who has given the award should show the Arte y Pico blog so everyone will know the origin of this award. Translated, it means "the peak of art." (Actually, that's a pretty loose translation but close enough.)
5. Show these rules.

There are many good bloggers out there, so to narrow my choices, I decided to only select blogs where the author demonstrates creativity in the visual arts. They are painters, photographers, collage makers, art teachers...

(1) A New Bridge by Bea
(2) Gina's Space by Gina
(3) Judith Heartsong by Judith Heartsong
(5) The Painting Activist by Ashley Cecil

I include a sixth site that isn't a blog. This means that you (Marc) are excused from having to follow the rules. It's included because of its creative content.

(6) Arcistry by Marc Olmsted

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The River of Change is Wide and Deep

I read a post over at Marc's place, Le Trash Whisperer, about multiple topics but the one that particularly grabbed my thoughts had to do with the passage of the discrimination law, Prop 8, a California state initiative on the 2008 ballot. In case you have been shipwrecked in the south seas since November 4, Prop 8 legalized discrimination by revoking the right of gay couples to marry in California.

Marc has published several thoughtful pieces about the significance of the passage of Prop 8. I am awed by his ability to be far more reasonable and rational about this topic than I am.

I am unforgiving and judgemental. I find the denial of the right to enter into marriage based on the sexual orientation of the two people who wish to marry to be an unconscionable act of discrimination and those that support this discrimination to be bigots. I don't believe that declaring oneself not to be a bigot means anything; in this matter, actions and beliefs shout bigotry louder than any words of denial.

Marc suggests that there is a middle ground or compromise position that would allow for civil unions between any adults who choose that route, including gay couples, but that would reserve the term "marriage" for straight couples. I think that I understand his logic--so many who are against gay marriage insist that they object to what they perceive as the expansion of marriage to include same-sex partners and want it declared that marriage is only for male/female unions. Marc's solution would eliminate the entire debate as to how allowing two same-sex adults to marry would somehow undermine the institution of marriage.

While I respect Marc's proposal, I don't think that it would work. I think that the so-called "defense of marriage" forces would simply find other reasons to object to same sex unions, regardless of what they are called. I find it curious that the defenders of marriage only find the institution to be threatened by allowing two same-sex adults who wish to publicly profess their love for one another and their commitment to that love to marry. I figure that if marriage can survive infidelity, divorce, and indifference by one or more partners, it ought to be able to survive a few more people willing to give a lifetime commitment a try. It's not as if heterosexuals have made a huge success of lasting marriages; I really don't see how gay couples could do any worse.

A lot of people, including me, have made parallels between the racial civil rights movement and the gay civil rights movement. After giving it some additional thought, I actually think that it may have been simpler for black people to achieve legal equality coupled with forward movement in social equality than it is going to be for gay people. Religion ultimately worked in favor of black people. Even in the heyday of slavery, the impetus of the abolitionist movement was born out of some Christian churches taking an inventory and recognizing that slavery and Christianity mixed about as well as oil and water. Certainly there were those who looked to the Bible to justify slavery, particularly among southern denominations. (Genesis 9:25-27 re: the children of Ham was often cited.) However, the abolitionist movement that blossomed in America grew out of an anti-slavery evangelicalism that had its roots in movements in England and in America that began to question human bondage as being consistent with a belief in a loving God and an obligation to love one's neighbor.

The intertwining of the civil rights movement and religion continued into the 20th century. The heart of the racial civil rights movement was grounded in a moral concept of the worth of all humans, regardless of skin color. After all, the largest symbol of the movement was a minister who appealed to basic principles of Christianity in promoting the message of equality. It was difficult for all but the most hardened, sheet wearing, cross-burning bigots to argue that the Christian God condoned keeping a people in bondage or subjected to second class citizenship because of the color of their skin.

Disturbingly, there is a refusal by a significant segment of organized religion to recognize anti-gay rights sentiment as being in the least bit immoral. To the contrary, they are certain that morality is on their side. They don't view the issue as denying rights to a group of people based on sexual orientation but rather as refusing to recognize what they view as unnatural, an aberration in the sight of man and God.

The phrase that I've heard for years is, "Hate the sin, but love the sinner." I find this sentiment hypocritical and nonsensical, but those that espouse it are rock solid in their self-righteousness. I don't know that they would be moved if their son or daughter, or grandchild declared, "I'm gay." I've seen far too many families close the door on all interactions with a family member who comes out of the closet. They pray for the "sinner" to see the error of his or her ways. On family holidays, a few daring souls speak about the absent family member in occasional hushed whispers, certain in their moral righteousness that they have followed God's law.

I don't have an answer. I believe that communication and education is essential, and we must continue to speak truth in a loud and clear voice and refuse to validate bigotry regardless of the basis for that bigotry.

However, I am disturbed at where my thoughts have taken me. I don't feel optimistic about social change taking place regarding gay civil rights to the same extent as black civil rights in the near future. I am also even more convinced of the absolute necessity of pushing forward with legal protections of those rights with "all deliberate speed."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thank You, Indigo

I have always thought of writing as something that I do because I can't imagine not doing it. Of course, I also want to be read, to be understood, to have someone say, "I know what you mean." That is why it was such a delightful gift to find that Indigo, Scream Quietly, listed my blog among her seven picks for the Marie Antoinette, A Real Person, A Real Award. I don't know the origins of the award, but I accept it with humility.

I am delighted because Indigo is herself a writer that makes me nod my head in understanding on a regular basis. I am also thrilled to be in the company of Indigo's other award recipients, all of whom write with clarity, depth, and a good dose of well placed humor.

In addition to saying thank you for the award, I must also make my own nominations. Not an easy task to choose seven out of the many fine bloggers out there.

Here are the Rules for the Award:

1. Please put the logo on your blog
2. Place a link to the person from whom you received the award
3. Nominate at least 7 or more blogs
4. Put the links of those blogs on your blog
5. Leave a message on their blogs to tell them.

I nominate the following blogs for this award:

Diary of a Podgy Poof

Latent Thoughts

The Self-Sufficient Steward

Kickin Tina

Prison's A Bitch

Isn't She Great

Random Threads

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Choice Ain't Got Nothing To Do With It

I had a good chat with my sister, Rhonda, today. She's married to that maven of fame, Bob.

Rhonda is often my muse. She has all of these great ideas and she doesn't mind my swiping them for writing material. Today we were talking about my last blog entry; the one about how the percentage of black folks who engage in homophobia and anti-gay discrimination is disgraceful. I was sharing concerns with my sister that were raised by my blogami, Marc, that the focus needs to be on addressing the express rejection by some in the black community that discrimination based on skin color and discrimination based on sexual orientation are equally offensive and indefensible.

The reasoning among black people that I know personally and on some of the black websites and blogs is that we don't choose our skin color but that people choose to be gay. I've always found this to be outright idiocy. If people choose to be gay, then obviously the rest of us choose to be straight. I don't recall ever making that choice. I just remember being in fourth grade and really wanting Bruce, who was in sixth grade, to notice me. I didn't make a decision to like boys; I just did and do. I figure that it's the same way for people who are gay. Do you choose to be right handed, left handed, or ambidextrous? No, you just are.

My sister and I were discussing this when I shared with her that the core issue for me was that it really shouldn't matter even if one's sexual orientation were something that you chose.

"If I choose to shave my head, does that mean that my boss should be able to fire me because she doesn't like women with bald heads?"

Rhonda, who is actually a whole lot sharper than I am, took my babbling about bald-headed women to a much more relevant analogy--choosing to wear Afrocentric or ethnic hairstyles. You may recall that I wrote about hair as political more than once when I was blogging on AOL journals. (It's a Hair Thang! and Embracing Me...). Simply put, black women choosing to wear natural hairstyles still run the risk of discrimination including being fired from their jobs.

A collateral effect of the civil rights movement was the acceptance by the Black community that our natural hair texture didn't need fixing. Afros became a political statement and a fashion statement, followed by a multitude of other styles that played up our natural hair textures. However, this embracing of the natural also has resulted in lawsuits involving employers attempting to ban certain hairstyles from the workplace as being unprofessional, hairstyles typically worn by black people--braids, cornrows, twists, afros, and locks. This hair issue is not a thing of the past, in 2007, two women who worked at a corrections facility in Virginia were fired because their supervisor decreed that their natural braids and locks were inappropriate and extreme hairstyles, and they refused to alter them. In 2006 in Virginia Beach, Kokoamos Island Bar refused admission to people wearing their hair in locks, twists, cornrows, or braids. Another 2007 story had a private pre-school expelling a three year old because his parents chose to lock his hair.

I certainly support that black women have the right to choose to wear their hair in whatever style pleases them and that it is discrimination to object to styles that are more readily worn by black women and men that reflect our ethnic and cultural heritage. However, if we follow the logic of the, "Oh no you don't try to claim that racial discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation are fruit of the same poisonous tree. You choose to be gay; I don't choose to be black!," well, I think that we lose on the hairstyles thing. After all, I choose how I wear my hair. I don't have to refuse to straighten my hair. I choose to wear twists, braids or an afro. My sister chooses to wear her rocking locks. Clearly if one chooses some attribute then it's okay to discriminate against you on the basis of that attribute. Not!

I realize that I probably won't readily change anyone's mind based on this logic, but I'm certainly going to give it a shot. It seems beyond unreasonable to me to find discrimination acceptable. The LGBT community comes in all colors, including black. If you believe that you don't have anyone in your family who is gay, you probably also still believe in the tooth fairy. I find this whole argument of choosing or not choosing to be ludicrous and a distraction from the real issue. There are people who live in this country, who contribute to this country, who pay taxes, but who are denied a right that the rest of us take for granted, the right to publicly and legally declare their commitment to the person whom they love. I cannot and will not be silent in the face of bigotry; even if that face bears the same skin color as my own.

Marc has written an article that is published online on the topic of California's Prop 8 and gay marriage issues. Click this link to check it out.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's About Civil Rights

I sometimes read a blog known as Pandagon, but I hadn't visited in a while until a friend sent me a link directing me to the comments on a post by one of the writers, Pam Spaulding.

Spaulding who is both black and a lesbian, had written about the successful initiatives in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida to legalize discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation. She also addressed the significant percentage (70%) of Black voters who had voted for Prop 8 in California, overturning recent law that recognized that people who are gay were entitled to marry the person whom they loved, a right that straight people take for granted. Spaulding pointed out that in spite of the large numbers, that as Blacks make up 6.2% of California's population and about 10% of voters, it isn't likely that the Black population was responsible for single-handedly passing Prop 8. However, she also indicated that the large anti-homosexual feelings that run deep in Black communities across the nation need to be addressed directly. Spaulding suggested that the LGBT community needed to engage in more outreach in the Black community challenging homophobia and bigotry based on sexual orientation.

For those of us who are black and gay, a group too often marginalized within a marginalized community, I see this as a clear signal to the LGBT advocacy community. There hasn’t been enough outreach to those groups who voted against us. We haven’t reached them; there hasn’t been enough effort expended. (Spaulding )

I think that Ms. Spaulding has a valid point, but as I was reading my friend Marc's blog entry for today, another thought hit me. When I was younger, and the civil rights movement was the hope of the future, I remember sitting in a discussion group and trying to explain to a well meaning young white woman that ultimately it was other white people who had to challenge white racism. I'm not certain that she understood me, but my words came back to me as I read Marc's entry.

As a black person, I have experienced bigotry and discrimination first hand. I know what it does to one's psyche to be treated as less than, to be denied the same rights as the majority population because you and your people have been identified as other. How can I not vehemently oppose any attempts to place any other group of people in that same cage with a lock forged from irrational fear and hatred? The same words that I spoke to that young woman some 30 years ago, I spoke to myself today with a little modification. As a black person, who understands that bigotry in any form is unacceptable, I have to challenge other people, black and white, when it comes to discriminating against anyone based on his or her sexual orientation. I like to think that I have lived my life in such a way that I have done this consistently. However, today I concluded that there is an even more important need for me to specifically address the Black community on this issue of civil rights where we should be standing in solidarity.

Yesterday, while reading Spaulding's post, I also read the comments that followed. One of them was from a woman who identified herself as a Black woman. She leaves a series of comments that get progressively more defensive and offensive. Listed below is her comment that started the discussion ball rolling ; the punctuation and spelling are those of the commenter:

Here’s my drop of honesty on this one: I am Black and a Woman.... but, I am pretty sure I am atypical:
-I do not go to church -I am selfish (I LOVE myself more than I love other people...I do not sacrifice myself on the alter of womanhood and motherdom) -I have dated more White men than Black men
-I do not espouse the status quo or the Patriarchy and I do not shy away from the word “feminist”

Here’s the thing though---; When presented with the question about whether homosexuals should be able to marry and adopt, my answer is NO. Furthermore: When people start waxing on about how anti gay marriage laws are reminiscent of anti miscegination laws and / or making comparisons between racism and anti homosexual sentiments, my hearing gets turned off. There you have it. Uhura! on 11/05 at 02:03 PM

I left the following comment addressing Uhura's words, but my comment is really for anyone who thinks like the person calling herself Uhura (I confess that as a long time fan of Star Trek in all its incarnations, I am really offended by her appropriation of Uhura's name):

Dear Uhura:

I’m a 53-year-old black, southern woman. I proudly identify myself as a feminist. I am spiritual but I don’t attend church regularly. However, unlike you, my hearing is just fine and discrimination is discrimination no matter what disguise it may wear. Gay rights are a civil rights issue.

Denying people basic civil liberties based on sexual orientation is just as discriminatory as denying rights based on skin color, ethnicity, age, disability, national origin, socioeconomic class, or religious belief.

Indeed, the very act of demanding that people convince you as to why they are entitled to the same protections under the law as you are entitled to is in and of itself, discrimination.

If someone were to ask me to justify why black people are entitled to protection under the laws of this country, I would think that person to be a complete and utter fool. No one has to justify why they are deserving of civil rights. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence that sets out the founding principals of this country presents that these rights are "Inalienable." They cannot be taken away because they are not conveyed; they are each and every person's entitlement as a human being. Don't worry, I'm quite aware that the fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration and subsequently our Constitution has been an ongoing and sometimes sluggish process, but the ideology is clear.

No group of people has to justify why they are entitled to the same rights experienced by the majority. It is the responsibility of the majority to specifically delineate the basis for any restriction on those rights. That's the basis for our entire legal system. If someone is accused of violating a law, that person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is only when a jury of ones' peers determines that one is guilty of the allegations against him or her that the person's civil liberties are suspended.

You offer no basis for suspending the civil rights of an entire class of people based on their sexual orientation other than that you just aren't in favor of the idea of gay marriage or the adoption of children by gay parents.

"I really have a hard time expressing exactly why, and I would love to be converted to the other side of the argument. "(Uhura)

I find this exceptionally lazy. If you are going to express your belief that some people are not entitled to the same freedoms that you enjoy, you should at least make the effort to articulate the basis for your bigotry. Uhura, I really hate to burst your balloon, but you are a bigot and one of the more disturbing kind. Having grown up in the south, I have always preferred my racial bigots to be honest. Tell me flat out that you believe that my skin color makes me inferior and not entitled to the same rights and freedoms that you enjoy. Don't do some song and dance about how I need to persuade you of why I should have the rights that you so freely enjoy.

Your type of rhetoric is only designed to make you feel justified in your bigotry, to be able to tell yourself that you are not a bigot; it's those gay people who can't even justify why they should be allowed to get married or adopt children. No one has to justify why he or she is entitled to the same freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution to everyone.

Discriminating against the LGBT community is a civil rights issue, just like racial discrimination is a civil rights issue. No sane person would ever ask me to offer reasons why I am entitled to the same rights as white people. So Uhura, I offer you some choices: (1) you are insane; (2) you are a bigot; or (3) you are an insane bigot. You choose, but please stop running around pretending that you offer the black perspective.

Certainly there is a larger focus in segments of the black community on anti-gay sentiment and as Pam points out, there needs to be some serious strategizing as to how to ameliorate the bias. I also agree that the debate needs to be reframed to focus not on religious beliefs but on access to equal rights and equal treatment under the law.

Uhura, just so we are clear, I am not gay. I normally don't identify my sexual orientation except to people with whom I intend to have sex, but given your demonstrated proclivities for labeling any black person who disagrees with you as only doing so because they have a secret gay agenda, (Uhura accused a black male, who challenged her opinions, of being gay, in very unflattering terms), I want to make it perfectly clear that the only agenda that I have is one that recognizes that to discriminate against any person is to lessen the integrity of us all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama and the Audacity of Dreams

In my lifetime, I've had many dreams. Perhaps my biggest dream was that the words that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. intoned so eloquently on August 28, 1963 would become a reality. Most people only remember one part of Dr. King's speech on that day, the part where he speaks of dreaming that one day his four children will live in a nation where they "...will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

However there are other parts of that speech that resonate with me. Barack Obama has referenced a phrase from King's speech on numerous occasions, "the urgency of now." I think that Obama knows the entire speech and has not forgotten any part of it.

As Dr. King began his historic speech forty-five years ago, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he spoke of the history of black people, my people, in words that still move me.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

I was eight years old that summer and I lived in a world where the dream of racial justice was far from a reality. For all of my childhood and a large share of my adult life, that dream has been tantalizingly out of reach, that check has remained uncashed.

Tonight as I watched President-elect Barack Obama stride onto the stage in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people, a tapestry of race and ethnicity, I felt giddy with joy and hope. For the first time in my life, I feel that this is truly my country. I believe that America can and will make good on that promissory note. It won't be simple and it won't be immediate. We still have our walls that divide us and we have to learn to listen to each other, and to respect each other. We have to learn to accept our differences rather than trying to shape everyone into some generic norm that means giving up parts of one's sense of culture and identity.

It has truly been a long time coming, but I think that we may have just received a payment from the bank of justice.

The video is of an a capella singing group that I like a great deal known as Sweet Honey in the Rock. The song is entitled Ella's Song and is a tribute to civil rights activist Ella Baker. The video includes the lyrics.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I Really Have to Stop Reading My Spam E-mail

I've been so consumed with the presidential campaign that I haven't taken the time to engage in the self-absorption that I promised when I began this journal. Let me remedy that oversight right now.

My spam email today contained this little gem: Why Didn't He Call You? Your Nov 2 Dish. From the subject line, I thought that maybe the email was in reference to cooking; but no, it was yet another email about my love life or lack of one.

The intro to the email proclaimed that I was receiving the "free dating advice newsletter" because I subscribed at the sender's web site, (she indicates that her name is Paige), Dating Without Drama.

Sometimes I misplace my keys and just today, I asked my sister to telephone me so that I could find my cell phone, but I'm pretty certain that I did not subscribe to Paige's web site. For one thing, I like drama in everything so I certainly wouldn't want to date without drama.

If you're wondering about the "dish" part, well it has nothing to do with cooking. Paige entitles her publication, Dating Dish Newsletter. As this issue was dated November 2, I assume that unless I click that "unsubscribe" link, I will be receiving sage advice from Paige on a regular basis.

My curiosity (or perhaps dating desperation) led me to check out Paige's website where she promised all sorts of insights: men's 6 secret commitment fears exposed, 11 simple secrets to attracting men, the calling game decoded, and my personal favorite, how to decode men's behavior.

Before getting started on all of these topics, I decided to accept the invitation to take the "Understanding Men" quiz. It only had five questions and promised that Paige would review my responses and send me a personal analysis. I quickly selected my answers, entered my email address, and error message. I tried again and click...another error message. I felt alone and abandoned as I realized that I would not be receiving personal advice from Paige and I would never know if I understood men.

I decided not to wallow in my abandonment, and I clicked on the link to order Paige's opus on capturing men, oops, I mean dating! I encountered an even longer list of promised insights. In addition, Paige offered me three books free of charge. All I had to do was send her $24.95 for an e-copy of Dating Without Drama and I, too, could become a man magnet! However, if I really want to achieve a fun, flirty, and fabulous love life, I also have to accept a 30 day trial copy of Paige's CD, "You Ask, Men Answer." The CD will help me understand exactly how men think and calm my fears. If I like the first CD, I get to keep it. (Darn that Paige, she is generous to a fault!) In addition, every month, I will receive a new CD and be charged just $19.95 for it.

After giving it some thought, I have realized that I am not certain that I want men or their secrets to be exposed and I just don't have fears that need calming. However, I appreciate Paige's thoughtfulness. In closing her email, she promised to write again soon and identified herself as my friend. I feel so loved.

Note to Paige: I appreciate the friendly advice but I think that Aretha sums it all up so much better.

Do Right Woman, Do Right Man

Take me to heart and I’ll always love you
And nobody can make me do wrong
Take me for granted, leaving love unshown
Makes will-power weak and temptation strong

A woman’s only human
You should understand
She’s not just a plaything
She’s flesh and blood just like her man

If you want a do-right-all-day woman
You’ve got to be a do-right-all-night man

They say that it’s a man’s world
Well you can't prove that by me
And as long as we’re together baby
Show some respect for me


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama: Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

McCain calls it socialism; I call it opportunity, and there's nothing more American than that.--Senator Barack Obama, Raleigh, NC, October 29, 2008

Today I feel as if I've been to the promised land. I was one of 25,000 people who stood on Halifax Mall, the roof of a parking deck in the downtown Raleigh, North Carolina legislative complex, and listened to Senator Barack Obama talk about hope, change, and what we can do as a nation.

There were a lot of parents with children in the crowd. I asked a ten-year-old girl standing next to me why she was there. As her mother proudly beamed, she replied, "Because I want to see history being made and I like Mr. Obama."

Yesterday, the local news stations reported that the Obama campaign had indicated it was expecting a crowd of around 25,000. The State Highway Patrol stated that a more realistic expectation was 10,000. It is the State Highway Patrol that reported today's final number as 25,000.

I'm still on a high. There was electricity in the air. At one point the crowd broke into a chant of Obama's name. I found myself chanting and swaying with the group. But the people in this crowd are not mindless followers, not members of the cult of Obama as McCain and Palin have tried to portray us. We believe, but not in Obama; we believe in ourselves.

Senator Obama has been very clear since the beginning; he is not a solo act. His message is straightforward--We can, not I can or you can, but We Can. He reiterated that message today stating, "Government can't solve all of our problems, but it can ensure that each of us has a shot at success." According to Obama, the American way means that you "...should be able to make it if you try." No handouts; no taking money from one person to hand over to another, but a government that ensures that every person has an opportunity to access those inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Much ado has been made by the McCain/Palin camp about Obama's economic policies and he addressed their criticism directly, speaking of his plans for creating jobs, decreasing taxes on the middle class, and returning the wealthiest 5% to the tax brackets that they were in before the George W. Bush tax cuts, back to a time when there was a federal budget surplus instead of an ever growing federal budget deficit. (If you are interested in the difference between the national debt and the federal budget, please check out an old post on that topic by clicking here.) His plans include tax credits for American businesses that actually do business in the U.S. and create jobs in the U.S., reinstating many of the regulations tossed out during the Reagan years to forestall any more missteps by Wall Street necessitating taxpayer bailouts, and eliminating capital gains taxes for small businesses.

Among my favorite moments was Sen. Obama's addressing of the McCain/Palin's scare tactics regarding his plans for the wealthiest 5% to pay their fair share of taxes. The McCain/Plain folks run around like Chicken Little shouting about the unfairness of not rewarding the wealthy for their hard work. The logic appears to be that if you work hard then you're entitled to your money. I don't have a problem with that and neither does Sen. Obama. However, he does question whether it's in our best interests to have a system that only rewards the holders of the wealth or to have one that also "...rewards workers who contribute to creating that wealth." 

Think about it. Suppose that tomorrow the CEO of every car manufacturing company disappeared. There certainly would be some confusion and discussion of what needs to be done, but the assembly lines would still be able to run because the rank and file who actually do the day to day work would still be in place. No doubt, someone from lower management would step into the CEO positions and production would continue. Now, let's imagine that all of the workers disappeared and all that was left were the CEOs. Can we say, work stoppage, boys and girls? Don't get me wrong, leadership is important but so are workers, the people who actually get their hands dirty, who have the skills to create the product. Those workers deserve a living wage and Sen. Obama wants to ensure that they receive it.

Today was an extraordinary day for me. I am high on hope. My only regret is that I couldn't call my mother and share my day with her, but I think that she knows all about it.

I do have a confession to make. I am not in the 5%; are you? If you are, I understand why McCain's plans may be more attractive to you. If not, well mama never liked it when I was rude, so I'll hold my tongue, but you know what I'm thinking.

The rally ended with the song, Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours) by Stevie Wonder. What would I do without YouTube? Turn it up and dance around the room.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The McCain Deception

I always read my comments and I thank my readers who take the time to leave their observations on my thoughts. I also thank the lurkers; you are also valued.

A comment on my most recent entry, "Erasing the Mark of Cain," caught my eye.

Sharing the wealth would also mean something like this: Say you and I were in college together. You turned down social invitations to events that you would have liked to attended to stay in and study. I, on the other hand, went to every shindig I could find and did not study at all. Come test time, you were prepared, I was not. I made a D, you made an A. But the professor, in an effort to share the wealth, gave me part of your A, and we both made a C, you a C+, me a C-. Acceptable? Not to me. If I work for it, I shouldn't have to share with those who won't work, and essentially that's what would happen.
While I appreciate Meg taking the time to comment, I take issue with her analogy. I understand it, but it's not valid. Sadly, I think that it's the thought process that happens to quite a few people when they hear the phrase, "share the wealth." The McCain/Palin campaign has clamped onto this issue like barnacles on a whale, so I think that it's worth addressing in more detail.

Fortunately, just as I was thinking about writing something in response to Meg's comment, I received a link from a friend to an article by David Sirota that was right on point, McCain Banking on a Confederacy of Dunces. It's a very thoughtful analysis of the McCain/Palin campaign's efforts to scare the socks off the American public by alleging that Obama is a socialist and wants to turn the United States into a clone of the former Soviet Union.

Nothing could be further from the truth and the McCain camp knows it. It's scare tactics predicated on the American public lacking the facts. You know me; I love sharing facts.

According to data from the Congressional Budget Office, the Bush administration has provided $715 billion in tax breaks to those making more than $342,000 per year. That's tax breaks for individuals. Corporations are in a special category. There are all sorts of loopholes that allow some of the most profitable corporations to pay zero corporate income tax. However, my favorite fact is that the government provides various subsidies to corporations that amount to approximately $93 billion annually, about three times as much as is budgeted for the food stamp program. Then there's that recent little $700 billion bailout.

What this adds up to is that the very wealthy often pay lower effective tax rates than their employees. (According to Sirota's article, billionaire Warren Buffet is one of the few who has admitted this.) In addition, corporations like Exxon Mobile that made record profit in its last quarter, don't pass any of that profit along via paying their proportionate share of corporate income tax.

So Meg, when Obama speaks of sharing the wealth, he's not talking about you going out and earning money and then giving half of it to me. What he is talking about is closing the tax loopholes (I think that the more accurate term is black hole) that allow those who are most able to pay to avoid paying their fair share. In addition, Obama proposes that the 95% of Americans who earn less than $250,000 per year, receive tax cuts. No one is proposing taking money out your pocket or mine and handing it over to anyone. No one is even proposing taking money out of the pockets of the 5% who hold the wealth; all that is being proposed is that they pay their fair share instead of being allowed to evade their responsibility through a series of tax breaks and loopholes secured from the U.S. Congress by very well paid lobbyists. 

What McCain counts on is that we do not understand that all of the things that we take for granted, the things that make our lives comfortable, are supported by the taxes that we pay. I like driving on decent roads. My friends with children want to have decent schools for those children to attend. When I turn on my tap, I want the water to be drinkable. I expect there to be law enforcement officers (in uniform because I like men in uniforms) to be there to serve and protect.

By the way, these wealthy individuals and corporations also have discovered a multitude of loopholes to avoid paying their proportionate share of state taxes as well. Ever wondered why so many businesses are incorporated in Delaware? They don't necessarily have offices in Delaware but that's the state where they filed their articles of incorporation. Some 50% of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in Delaware. The cost of incorporation there is the lowest in the country. You don't have to have any actual offices in the state, just a corporate agent to pay franchise fees and accept mail, so the business may physically consist of a post office box in Delaware. Oh, and the big lure is that as long as the corporation doesn't conduct business activities in Delaware, it doesn't have to pay any corporate income tax in Delaware. So, if a business has all of its offices in my home state of North Carolina, transacts all of its business outside of Delaware, but is Incorporated in Delaware, it doesn't pay state income taxes anywhere! That's a loophole that you could drive the space shuttle through!

The McCain/Palin camp is counting on us being dunces. They think that we can't figure it out and will continue to believe them when they tell us that sharing the wealth is going to result in the advancement of socialism. They think that we will continue to contentedly wait for the trickle down effect to kick in and provide the 95% with our share of the wealth. Well, so far, the only trickle has been upward. The richest one percent of Americans own "more of America's wealth than at any time since before the Great Depression." (Sirota)

By the way, these tax breaks and loopholes are not available to the other 95% of us. You have to have a great deal of money, in order to take advantage of these loopholes! Sending the $500 that I saved over the last six months to some offshore account isn't an option. If it was $500,000, well, then my lawyers could figure out perfectly legal options that would allow me to shelter that income and avoid paying my fair share of taxes on it or perhaps, avoid paying any taxes on it.

Meg, the issue isn't that these wealthy folks earned their money. I earned my money; you earned your money. But you, and me, and the other 95% of Americans have to contribute to the running of this country through paying taxes. Don't you think that the other 5% ought to have to do the same?

You know that I love music; so, I tried to find the perfect song to accompany this post. I initially planned to use Chain of Fools, but then I decided that another Aretha song was even better, Think (Freedom). I like to imagine singing it to John McCain. For the lyrics, just click this link.