Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Talking My Truth

There has been so much in the news over the last couple of weeks that I find it difficult to choose a single topic. As you may have noticed, I'm an inconsistent blogger. I tell myself that I will blog at minimum once a week but the best laid plans....

I ran across a link posted on Facebook to an article proclaiming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling for "crippling sanctions against Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapons capability." I read the brief article and there were no surprises; Iran and nuclear weapons capability is not at the top of the wish list for most nations. What caught my eye were the 30 comments following the post in which the overwhelming majority's views are summed up in the comment, "I urge crippling sanctions for him," referencing Netanyahu.

One commenter suggested that if the players can't get along in Jerusalem, the UN should just nuke it. I think he was kidding. Another declares that Israel has been playing the anti-Semitic card since its inception. (Somehow that reminds me of something.) Yet another declares that he doesn't want his tax money to support Zionism. One lone woman protested that Israel had to defend itself because it couldn't trust anyone else to do so. She was soundly attacked and dismissed for her alleged Zionist views.

Interesting comments, however it seems to me it's like arguing which is worse, a scorpion bite or a bite from a black mamba. Nuclear weapons capability in the hands of Iran, Israel, the U.S. or any nation is as scary as hell. That some of us already have that capability doesn't mean that everyone else should get to have it. No new profileration and disarmament with regards to current weapons should be the focus, not a bitch session about Israel.

I confess that I have empathy for Israel. I don't agree with its policies towards the Palestinians but I can understand the impetus that drives those policies. I think that Israel mistrusts that anyone will look out for its interests with the same diligence that it looks out for its own interests. I actually understand that position. I understand because I find myself having problems trusting that the white majority in this country has the best interests of black people at heart. I understand exactly why Reverend Wright talked about chickens coming home to roost. I fully comprehend Michelle Obama's statement about being proud of her country for the first time; I still haven't been able to say that. I work on being a rational person as opposed to giving in to my anger and frustration, but they are still a part of me.

I was 11 years old when I read The Diary of Anne Frank. When I finished the book, I knew that she died, but I didn't fully understand the larger backdrop of the war and the concentration camps until my 10th grade history class. Mr. Sewell was an amazing teacher and what our textbook left out about WWII, he filled in with supplemental materials.

I recall how betrayed and bewildered I felt as I learned the full horror of the Holocaust. I couldn't understand how the world allowed this to happen. I couldn't forgive the world for allowing Anne Frank to die. I became a student of the Holocaust at the age of 14 and I'm still bewildered by it. I've visited the Holocaust Museum in D.C. twice. The first time, (1991 or 1992) I didn't make it all the way through.

I began crying out loud at the "Tower of Faces," a three-story room that contained photographs of an entire community of Jews that were murdered over a two-day period in September 1941. The train car filled with the tiny shoes of children and the fragile high heels of women, mingled with the work shoes of the men, all of them victims of the gas ovens, strangled me and my sobs were more like gasps. When we reached the level with the medical experiments I was no longer able to speak. I held my friend Becca's hand as if it were a lifeline.

I wanted to finish all of the levels but "Voices of Auschwitz," the room with the recorded voices of survivors, was the one that did me in. Voice after voice telling of murdered mothers, fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. I was no longer crying, I dissolved into an uncontrollable sobbing that I could not stop. Realizing that I was disturbing the experience for others, I got up to leave. Becca, always a good friend, took my hand again and we descended and exited together. I cried for Anne Frank, for the millions that died, for the forever scarred survivors, and for a world that could allow such horrors to happen.

The Holocaust wasn't about the atrocities of Germany, it was about the whole world turning its back on Jews, the disabled, the mentally ill, gays and lesbians, and all the other groups deemed unfit and massacred by the Third Reich. If you are not fully familiar with the history leading up to the concentration camps, do a little Internet research.

Start with the S.S. St. Louis, a ship allowed to leave Germany in 1939, bound for Cuba, with more than 900 Jewish refugees on board. When Cuba refused to grant them asylum, they sought permission to land in the United States but were denied. Canada also refused to grant them asylum. The killing of Jews in Germany was already underway. Eventually the St. Louis returned to Europe where England, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands admitted the refugees. Nearly a third of them eventually died as part of the Final Solution as the Germans overran Belgium, the Netherlands and France within the next few months. The strands of anti-semitism reached far, including deep in the belly of the U.S. The signs read, No Coloreds, No Jews Allowed in the North as well as the South. The same country clubs, golf courses, businesses, and other groups and organizations that did not allow Black people also didn't allow Jews.

Does the suffering of a people justify inflicting suffering on another people? I think not, but it does explain the source of the mistrust and the anger. My purpose is not to evaluate the conduct of the modern nation of Israel. The complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are way too deep to be sorted out by me.

My attention was captured by the comments on the article because of a personal identification that I've had with the Holocaust since I first read the diary of a young girl with whom I strongly identified. The more that I've learned over the years, the more that identification has gone beyond a child's identification with another child's suffering.

I see the nation of Israel as fighting desperately to keep its truth in front of us.
I identify with this need for truth because I see the same desperate struggle in my own experiences as a Black woman, especially amidst the current climate where racism has pulled off its white hood and is riding across the country announcing its resurrection.

I never believed that racism was dead, but I did believe that it was on life support. I wanted to believe that Obama's election was a sign that we were entering a post racial era, but the revisionists are at it again. The Governor of Virginia has set aside an entire month to honor the Confederacy under the guise of, "We are just honoring our ancestors."

Well it doesn't fly. Those ancestors treated my ancestors like cattle; they branded them, sold them, divided families permanently, raped the women, beat and abused men, women and children. Now, comes the ultimate insult, a new level of abuse--it wasn't about slavery it was about the economy and states' rights. The right to do what? To continue to make slavery a part of the economy.

The highest court in this land ruled conclusively in Dred Scott [60 US 393 (1857)] that slaves were chattel (property). Slaves, as well as people who had been slaves, or who descended from slaves, were not protected by the Constitution and could never be US citizens. Without citizenship status, African-Americans were denied access to the courts, and couldn't sue for their freedom, even if they had a contractual agreement granting them free status. The Supreme Court also ruled that Congress had no right to prohibit slavery, nullifying the Missouri Compromise. It would take the 13th amendment to overturn Dred Scott.

My first year in law school, like 1st year law students across the country, I had to take a course in property law. One of the assigned readings was of a case in which a landowner had sold two female slaves to a buyer and then died before the slaves had been transferred to the new owner. The son and heir of the landowner argued that the sale was null because the slaves were a part of his inheritance. He wanted to return the money and keep his property. I don't recall the outcome of the case. I only recall reading a legal case arguing ownership of the property at issue--two Black women.

I don't write about this stuff because I want pity or sympathy. I write about this stuff because I think that lies are dangerous; because I believe that if we misrepresent the past we compromise the integrity of the present.

I write about this stuff because I get so angry sometimes that I have to find a way to vent that anger and writing is preferable to cussing out strangers who cross me. I write about this stuff because I am tired of hearing people attempt to wipe out the past with the declaration, "I've never owned slaves;" or "My family never owned slaves." I'm never certain what response is desired to such statements. Thank you seems a bit much. Let's try a little substitution. "I've never abused a child."  Gee, thanks a lot!

Really want to move forward? Then recognize that slavery was just the tip of the iceberg. Black codes, Jim Crow, the denial of civil rights, segregated schools, and the current manifestation in the guise of states' rights aka the tea party are all part of the white privilege that accrues to the White majority regardless of whether you seek it out or not.

The first step in healing the past is acknowledging the full truth of the damage that arose from that past, no matter how distant. The harm that oppression does to the victims is passed from generation to generation. Healing cannot begin until truth is acknowledged.  

I write about this stuff because it is my truth.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Myth of a Post Racial America

I was meandering about the Internet today when I came across the "cartoon" to the left (the artist gives her name as Darleen Click). Clearly, my Aunt Dorothy is wrong about exploding heads because if mine was ever going to blow, this should have lit the fuse. Although my head is still intact, I do have a throbing headache brought on by the various streams of thought running through my brain in response to this image.

I’ve been having some interesting discussions with friends on Facebook about the progressive left and the discontent expressed about President Obama’s advancement of a progressive agenda. I get that no one is above critique, certainly not the president. I also concede that many of us, myself included, have been guilty of challenging any criticism from the left as unrealistic expectations based on a lack of understanding on the political process.

After viewing Darleen’s cartoon, I’ve decided to come clean as to what really annoys me about the left’s head shaking at what it perceives to be Obama’s need to be liked and not offend the recalcitrant Republicans in Congress. I don't think that it's the limits of the political process that progressives don't understand, at least not as the sole issue or even the biggest issue. I think what progressives don't always fully appreciate is what it means to be the first black president. I don't say this as an insult or as an accusation. White men have had centuries of never being the "first" anything. The power structure in this country has always belonged to white males.

In spite of the wishful thinking of some, this is not a post racial age. I read a lot of my news on the Internet. Every day, I read comments on those news stories. Every day I read the most insulting racist comments that I have ever heard in my lifetime. I don't recall such insults even in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up. I cannot visit a website and read the comments unless I am prepared to be insulted. I am not using hyperbole; I literally mean every day. The people who post this vileness defend their right to spout racist commentary under the guise of the 1st amendment.

Friends and family tell me that I should just stop reading these comments. My response is, “Will they disappear because I don't read them?” Mind you, I'm not talking about white supremacists websites; I'm talking about trivial stories about which Hollywood starlet is going to be the next big thing or some how to article on the best way to organize your closets.

These trolls exist to spread their crap; they don't care that their comments have nothing to do with the story at hand. They are simply seeking an opportunity to make ugly, depraved racist commentary. They have invaded websites that specify that they are geared to a black audience such as Black Voices, The Griot, and The Root, for the sole purpose of making racist comments.

Since Obama has taken office, it's as if these people have upped the ante in expressing their racism. Every step Obama takes, every move that he makes, he is being watched with a scrutiny that no president has ever had to endure. There have been more death threats against him than any other president. Dimwit Darleen’s cartoon portraying Obama as raping Lady Liberty disingenuously claims that there is nothing racist about this portrayal of a black man as a rapist, conveniently ignoring the history of false allegations of rape that lead to the lynching deaths of thousands of black men in the 20th century. Michelle Obama has suffered the indignity of being portrayed as an ape on multiple occasions. As a black woman, I can tell you that it is an insult that cuts to the core, especially when you must maintain your cool and never let them see you break a sweat.

I have no problem with progressives calling Obama to task for not following through on his agenda or even for not being forceful enough in promoting his ideas but where I take offensive is anyone daring to suggest that this man has made any decisions because he fears being disliked and holds some kind of Pollyannaish notions about bringing us all together to join hands and sing Kum Ba Yah. I find such commentary insulting to the very real dangers that Obama and his family faced in simply running for the presidency. I think that he and Michelle are both incredibly brave.

I get that the Republicans in Congress are obstructionists and are unlikely to change. I agree that wooing them was useless if the point was to get them to participate in a bipartisan agenda. However, I don't think that was ever Obama's agenda. It wasn't the Republicans in government that he was playing to, it was the American public. His win seemed solid and overwhelming, but he knew from the start that he would be judged by a different standard.

Since the election, there has been an interesting shift in the mood of the country. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 48% of voters feel that the Tea Party more accurately reflects their views. Along party lines more of the Tea Party supporters self identify as Republicans or Independents. Democrats continue to be more likely to favor Obama’s agenda.

I don’t believe that polls are gospel. Statistically the samples are limited and people’s responses are influenced by many factors including the wording of the questions asked. However, even when you factor in a percentage of error, polls do shed some light on the pulse of the country. My point is not that Progressives have become members of the Tea Party, nor is my point that progressives have betrayed Obama.

It’s the Independents who have shifted from supporting Obama to threatening to vote Republican in 2010 and 2012 that disturb me. My take on this is that if these folks had ever been fully committed to Obama's agenda, then hell would have to freeze over before they would capitulate to a right wing agenda, no matter how dissatisfied or disappointed in Obama they were.

I'm not a cynic by nature but my life experiences have fed my growing cynicism. I think that there are people who voted for Obama because it made them believe that they were not racists. From my perspective, there are a lot of white people who spend an inordinate amount of time declaring, "I am not a racist." Normally we don't declare that we don't possess a negative belief. For instance, no one feels compelled to declare, "I'm not a child abuser," or "I am not a wife beater." When someone declares that they are not a racist, I believe he or she has doubts and is trying to convince him or herself.

Obama was the fashionable trend of the moment. Now the hate against him in many quarters is palpable. I think that his efforts to cultivate the public failed, but he wasn't acting out of some fear of not being liked. I don't think that a black person who has worked his or her way into the dominant power structure could possibly get there if we were so thin-skinned that we honestly worried as to whether people liked us on a personal level. My people are made of sterner stuff; it is a strength forged on the anvil of oppression.

I recognize that it is an unintentional slight, but to characterize Obama as being motivated by a fear of being disliked or a desire to be liked is to trivialize the reality of race in this country. It has taken more than 200 years since the inception of these United States for a person of African heritage to achieve the highest office in this land. Two hundred and thirty-two years of not being counted as people, of legalized abuse, of denial of the most basic of human rights--how can anyone honestly think that this man, this black man is worried as to whether or not he is liked! If black people spent our time obsessing as to how to make white people like us, none of us would ever have the courage to leave our homes.

Obama’s moves were strategic; what he wanted was to build public momentum and support for his agenda. He thought that he could achieve that by demonstrating reasonableness in the face of unreasonableness. It didn't work. I think that he misjudged the depth of the unreasonableness, the strength of the animosity of those who declare their lack of racism as if speaking the words makes it so and negates their actions to the contrary.

Say that Obama made a strategic error in spending so much time trying to cultivate a bipartisan health care plan and you’ll get no argument from me. Say that this man is motivated by the insecurity of an ego that needs to be stroked by being liked and I will borrow the mantra of the GOP, “You lie.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Guest Blog from A Dear Friend

In the last three weeks, three of my friends have lost a parent. I know the feeling of that loss intimately; my mother died on September 15, 2008 and I continue to feel her loss deeply.

One of those friends, Laurita, is my sister Rhonda's BFF. I met Laurita through my sister and liked her instantly. I don't recall how long ago it was that I met her; it seems that I've known her my entire life.

Laurita's mother, Ms. Jessie, passed after a battle with cancer. Laurita is a lot like her mother, warm and caring. Laurita is not a blogger, but after reading the piece she wrote about the loss of Ms. Jessie, I think that she should be. I asked Laurita if I could share her writing in my blog and she has agreed. Following are the words of my friend Laurita; I hope that they give some comfort and aid to all of you have suffered great loss.

TODAY by Laurita R.
I just realized TODAY, that I’ve been grieving for my mother since November 13, 2008. You see, that was the day mommy received her diagnosis of CANCER…SMALL CELL LUNG CANCER. We were reeling from grief on that day until she took her last breath on Monday, March 8, 2010.

Mommy was a very vibrant woman. She loved to laugh and genuinely loved people. I always teased her about never meeting a stranger. I’ve often said that she, my sister Lynda and my brother Larry would talk to a sign post if it said hello. You see they have the same outgoing personality of my mother. When she spoke to you it was genuine. Her smile was warm and inviting.

The wind was knocked out of our sail on November 13, 2008. Mommy and Leo (my younger brother) had been to all of her doctor appointments and were settling in for a nice afternoon when she received the call to return to the office. That is when the endless doctor appointments began. We knew time was of the essence when they immediately scheduled an appointment to see a surgeon to evaluate the severity (or confirm it).

We had a family meeting on that Friday evening to break the news that she indeed had small cell lung cancer. At the time it was at “limited stage” which meant it had not metastasized (spread). The grieving process began. We didn’t know how long we had with mommy so every day became even more precious. We made sure she was comfortable and did not want for anything. You see she was spoiled or should I say a pampered woman, so it didn’t take much to make her happy. Happiness to mommy was being with her children, grandchildren & great grandchildren. She lived a simple life without a lot of frills.

Mommy moved in with me and Leo and the process began. First it was chemo three times a week. It was hard and we took turns taking her to treatments and staying with her. I could never bring myself to leave mommy alone during this period. She became my baby. Yippee we survived chemo without any ill effects. Chemo resolved the spot on her lung so the next step is radiation as a precautionary measure in hopes of preventing metastases. More tests to determine the success of each invasive treatment. Then, boom, there is a lesion on your brain. It’s very small but will require brain radiation do you want to do this? Hesitation sets in because she (we) feel the cancer has taken over.

A mold was made of her head and this brought on the depression. Being the strong woman she is, she trudged on to each treatment every day for 1-2 minutes. It was hard to watch her go through this. You see, she only did it for us. We never asked but mommy decided she would do it for her children, which is how she’s always lived her life.

Okay, the chemo and radiation worked and we were in remission for 10 months. The doctors were amazed considering her health issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, emphysema, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). She was taking a lot of medication.

Mommy had numerous hospitalizations unrelated to the cancer and we started teasing her about it being her vacation spot. She hated the mention of the hospital because as soon as you mentioned the “H” word it meant she was about to spend some time there. She was tired of taking medication and the medications increased. “I spend all my money buying medicines.”

I am happy that she decided to go talk to someone other than me & my siblings about how she was feeling. We wanted to fix whatever was wrong and our hands were tied, we were helpless. We slept together as mother and daughter and would lie in the bed at night and talk about her fears. She knew I was scared but I never told her so. I only wanted to comfort her for she was my world. My heart aches and shatters a little more as each day passes.

Talking to “Missy” helped her put a lot of things in perspective. She began reading about her condition and one day she asked me “did you know I had Stage IV cancer?” I said yes, “well why didn’t you tell me?” Mommy we did but at the time you did not want to accept what was happening to you. “Oh”

The cancer robbed mommy of a lot of things. She was a beautiful woman and had great legs. She began feel she was ugly and wearing “C” as a scarlet letter on her forehead. “Why are people looking at me like that?” “Do I look sick?” No, mommy, you look just fine people are not staring at you. This went on for months. She began to lose her balance and could no longer wear high heel shoes. Oh, how she loved her high heels and looked fabulous in them. You see, she had nice shapely legs and wore her dresses right below or at the knee to show her legs. That’s the woman I remember. She felt like an old lady in low heeled shoes and didn’t feel the same anymore.

She went home for a few months and then we were dealt another blow. December 3, 2009, we received news that the cancer had returned, this time on her liver. The process begins again but for a shorter period of time. They ask “Ms. Jessie, is it still your wish not to be resuscitated should something happen to you?” Yes, she replies. This is the day my heart begins to shatter and they give me the DNR sheet that I need to keep with me at all times. I knew right then the prognosis was not good. Mommy had always said “do not hook me up to any machines or do anything to prolong my life that I can’t do on my own. “ We honored her wishes until the end.

In the hospital again, December 26, 2009-Jan. 2, 2010 we bring in New Years together at Western Wake Hospital. We are happy to see a new year, and praying that it will be uneventful. Depression really sets in. She is to begin another round of chemo treatment. Upon arriving for treatment mommy has a meltdown and decides she cannot do this again. Her doctor recommends she take some time and call them if she wants to proceed. Maybe it’s too soon after being discharged from the hospital. Another visit with Missy helps her to think through her options and mommy decides to fight to the end and see where God leads her. She was a woman of strong faith and this is what sustained her to the end.

I failed to mention that with the guidance and support of her wonderful doctors we were able to make great decisions concerning mommy’s health. She relied on us to help her think through everything but ultimately we left the final choices up to her.

Another round of chemo with no success. The cancer has grown on the liver but the good news is it hasn’t moved to any other parts of the body. THE GOOD NEWS, what does that mean? It’s grown….there is NO GOOD NEWS. I suck it up because mommy has resolved that she is at peace with this now so I guess I need to get my butt into gear. Next round of chemo treatments scheduled for March 3-4.

On Saturday, Feb. 27, mommy, Phyl (my younger sister), Dominique (my niece) and I went to breakfast. Mommy had mentioned the night before “we should start going to breakfast on Saturday mornings.” I am so thankful that we did because this was the last meal mommy would have with us. She was in a very good mood that day and ate ALL of her food. We were planning to do a little shopping afterwards which is unusual for mommy but I was just happy that she felt good enough to do so. Upon walking to the car I noticed she was walking strangely and noticed her face….oh my god she is having a stroke. Trying not to alarm her, my sister and niece and I quietly tell mommy we are going to the hospital something is going on with you. She is still in her right mind and replies “I don’t want to go”… mommy you have no choice. By the time we get to the car her face has begun twisting and her speech is slurring. We are close to the hospital and I don’t have time to call 911 and wait so I decide to take her myself.

Upon arriving they immediately rushed her in and began treating mommy. Due to the cancer they could not relieve the clot on her brain because it would cause other complications. Her stroke affected her left side which made it difficult for her to speak. She had difficulty swallowing. She would talk to us when she had the strength and then Wednesday night she STOPPED. I think she became frustrated because she could not get her words together. She could hear us and would open her eyes periodically so we continued to talk to her and kept laughter going in the room no matter how much we were hurting. I kept my usual vigil of staying with her at nights. I didn’t want her to be alone just in case she woke up and wanted to talk. We all stayed by her bedside day and night weeping, laughing and praying.

All her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren surround her with love and laughter on Saturday, March 6. Oh what a wonder sight when she opened her eyes unable to speak but just seeing her eyes open was enough for us. The love was palpable.

On Monday, March 8 at 3:15 pm, Phyl called screaming in the phone and I knew mommy was gone. I went home for a little while and feel I abandoned mommy. I know it wasn’t meant for me to be there. Phyl says she opened her eyes with tears streaming down her face and then was gone.

I’ve been grieving silently since November 13, 2008 waiting for the other shoe to drop and now the pain is REAL. We all have her love and strength to sustain us. She instilled in us to “Do What’s Right” and to trust and believe in God and he will bring us through this sorrow and pain. The grief will become more bearable in the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years to come. The circle of love we have made and the grace of God will heal and get us all through.