Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hey Glenn Beck, You Crack Me Up

A month ago when I read that Glenn Beck planned to host his Restoring Honor rally on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic I Have a Dream Speech, I was so ticked off that I could spit nails. Next I heard that the ubiquitous Sarah Palin was scheduled to speak at the rally and my left eye started to twitch uncontrollably. When I learned that Dr. King's niece, Alveda King, also planned to speak at Beck's rally, I feared that my Aunt Dorothy's prophesy was about to be fulfilled and my head was going to explode.

However, there was no spit and no nails, the twitch is nearly gone, and my head is still intact. I temporarily forgot the basic rule for surviving encounters with the madness of those who attempt to rewrite history and reshape truth--never forget to laugh.

Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Dr. King's hapless niece as modern day purveyors of the dream is just laughable. I was eight-years-old when King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial; his speech moved a nation. I know for a fact that Glenn Beck is no Martin Luther King, Jr. He's not even a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Beck is a pompous twit whose hour has come round at last, much like the beast slouching so ominously towards Bethlehem in The Second Coming. History is filled with charismatic charlatans who give winning performances before clueless audiences.

And the audiences...they fervently worship their idols, and the more those of us who see that the emperor has no clothes try to share that revelation, the more firmly entrenched they become in defending their idols from those of us who would dethrone them. Attacking Beck and Palin only elevates them in the eyes of their followers. The rest of us are the enemy.

Look at the language that they use; it's as if we are at war. "Take back our country;" "Restoring Honor;" "I want  my country back;" "Defend our Constitution."

So rather than spitting nails, or developing a permanent tic, or having my head explode, I'm going to engage in a bout of laughter at Palin, Beck, and Alveda King trying to assert that Dr. King would have been at their side on August 28. I'm going to recognize that Beckolytes will not be swayed no matter how many times the rest of us try to tell them that their demi-god has feet of clay. When I'm done laughing, I'm going to renew my efforts to work on my local get-out-the-vote campaign. The way I figure it, the only sensible course of action is for those of us who have not drunk the kool-aid to take back our country.

Beck and Palin focus on one line from King's I Have A Dream Speech, the part about being judged by the content of our character not the color of our skin. It's certainly a part of what was said that day, but Dr. King never made pretty speeches solely about pie in the sky dreams; he always grounded his dream in a call for action. The following is also from that speech:
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 would be guaranteed the inalienable 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 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 rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dr. Laura and the N-Word Rant

I've been mulling over Dr. Laura Schlessinger's on air n-word meltdown for the past two weeks. My friend, writer Mark Olmsted, calls Dr. Laura's n-word rant a "positively orgasmic repetition of the word."

Dr. Laura's agitation with the black woman who called her show to ask for advice on handling racially insensitive comments from her white husband's white friends was very clear. She immediately suggested that the caller was overly sensitive to questions from her white husband's white friends asking her to explain all things black. Feeling that perhaps Dr. Laura didn't fully understand her concerns, the caller offered what she considered to be an egregious example of offensive comment.

CALLER: How about the N-word? So, the N-word's been thrown around --
SCHLESSINGER: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger.
CALLER: That isn't --
SCHLESSINGER: I don't get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it's affectionate. It's very confusing. Don't hang up, I want to talk to you some more. Don't go away. (Follow this link to read the entire transcript or to listen to the audio.)

Jeez Dr. Laura, what's so confusing about this? The n-word was used as the most degrading insult that a white person could use in speaking to or of a black person for more than 300 hundred years. It was not ever used with affection by white people. I won't belabor this point. Thoughtful people already get it and trying to reach the lame-brained Dr. Laura and her clones is about as rewarding as trying to teach a pig to salsa. 

What I don't understand is under what circumstances does Dr. Laura or any white person want to use the n-word? Is it a desire to be able to greet black people with a joyous, hello n-word? Or to demonstrate one's street cred by dropping the word in casual conversation? If you are white and feel that your freedom of expression is severely impacted by being unable to freely use the n-word, then I have a suggestion.  Develop a close, affectionate relationship with a black person, and then ask your new BFF if it's okay to call him or her the n-word.

Clearly, Dr. Laura isn't alone in her resentment that there is a double standard when it comes to the use of the n-word. Comments abound from Internet users lamenting, "Why is it okay for black people to use the n-word but white people can't?" By the way, it appears to only be white people (not all, just some) who are feeling deprived. I've never heard any Latino, Asian, or Indian people who are woebegone because they have been denied the use of the n-word.

In spite of Dr. Laura's repeated use of the n-word (11 times in under seven minutes), I find her use of the word to be the least offensive part of her comments. Her assertion that the only reason that black people voted for Obama was because he was half-black says far more about her racist assumptions than her fascination with the n-word.

SCHLESSINGER: No, no, no. I think that's -- well, listen, without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply 'cause he was half-black. Didn't matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That's not a surprise.

What absolute arrogance to assume that her vast "black" experience has qualified Dr. Laura to identify any set of behaviors as a "black thing." She also tells the caller that it's the caller's problem that she doesn't have a sense of humor.

CALLER: I know what the N-word means and I know it came from a white person. And I know the white person made it bad.
SCHLESSINGER: All right. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Can't have this argument. You know what? If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry out of your race.

Perhaps I'm just humorless, but it has never crossed my mind to laugh at being called the n-word by a white person.

Dr. Laura appears particularly obsessed with the use of the n-word by black comedians on HBO; she mentions it more than once in her discussion with the caller. She takes particular offense at the notion of the n-word being restricted to use by only black people.

CALLER: Is it OK to say that word? Is it ever OK to say that word
SCHLESSINGER: It's -- it depends how it's said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it's OK.
CALLER: But you're not black. They're not black. My husband is white.
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, I see. So, a word is restricted to race. Got it. Can't do much about that.

The doctor is correct; there is a double standard. The n-word is loaded with history and all sorts of emotional baggage. White people don't get to say it to black people. That's what this is really about. If white people want to call each other by the n-word, I really don't care and I've never heard any other black person lamenting that white people are calling each other by the n-word. The prohibition isn't against using the n-word; it's against white people calling black people niggers. You can't say it because we won't tolerate it any more. What black people say to each other has nothing to do with it. I laugh at jokes in which black comics say the n-word because it's a shared joke, an insider thing. We don't have any problem with white audiences laughing at the use of the n-word by black comedians, but white people do not get to address us under any circumstances by that word, so get over it and move on to things of substance.

By the way, comedian Jeff Foxworthy self-identifies as a redneck and he's darn funny doing it. When is the last time you've heard black people getting all bent out of shape because we want to call white folks rednecks?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Lessons from a Fat Girl

I just read a blog post by my friend Nance about the politics of food. I found it intriguing because I had never given much thought to there being a political aspect to what we choose to eat. However, I think Nance presents a point of view that appropriately stirs up the brain cells; check it out.

I was rolling along just fine until I got to the image that Nance posted at the end as a sort of what not to look like. I know Nance, and she was merely illustrating her overall thesis about food, the environment and health. Still, give her an Afro and a really good tan and the woman in the photo could be me.

I'm fat. As y'all regulars know, I don't like the word obese; it sounds like some greasy substance you sell in a can. Weight  is a major issue for a lot of us. Most of us who are fat are uncomfortable talking publicly about weight. The first lesson that a fat girl learns from her mother is not to draw attention to herself. Don't do anything to make people look at you such as wear bright colors or laugh loudly and maybe they won't notice that there's a fat girl sitting in the corner. 

I wore a lot of pastel colors as a child. It was a faux pas to dress a child in black (the alleged slimming color), so pastels were preferred to bright reds, blues, and greens. To this day I hate anything in a pastel color; give me something in a bold magenta print with teal accents, or an animal print.

I suspect that fat boys have similar experiences but I've never been a fat boy and I write what I know. I do know that fat men appear to get away with less disparagement, at least they do in straight culture. Think of the television or film career of fat actors; they have wives (slim, pretty wives), or girlfriends. They get to have romantic scenes. They get to play the lead. It's still big news to have a fat woman play the lead in a television show. Drop Dead Diva made  the news when it debuted a year ago because the lead actress was plus size.

People who would never disparage anyone based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation fail to even recognize the daily insults that they and others toss at fat people.

The focus should be on maintaining a healthy weight but we live in a culture where looks are everything. Attractive people are more likely to be hired and more likely to be promoted. If you're fat, perfect strangers feel that it is appropriate to comment on your weight. If you're fat, people take pictures of you from the rear, always a fat person's worst angle, of which you are unaware and use it as a warning of what not to become.

As for fat people, we still hide in the corners, trying to avoid attention. Most of us are unwilling to bring fat prejudice out into  the light because to do so means drawing attention to ourselves. We laugh at the fat jokes and cluck disapprovingly at the image of some hapless fat person in an ad about the nation's obesity problem. We allow the image of fat people as lazy, unattractive, and willfully fat to go unchallenged. We are secretly grateful when there is someone in the room who is larger because we are able to escape the dubious distinction of being the fattest person present.

At age 55, I've gotten beyond having my feelings hurt by offensive comments about my weight. I still have my insecure days when I'm convinced that I look like a small tank, but most of the time I see myself in a more positive light. I have a standard comeback to rude comments when I feel that one is warranted, "I'm fat and you're stupid. I can always lose some weight." My friend Burmadeane came up with that one years ago.

However, most children and teenagers haven't made peace with their bodies and go through untold emotional pain as they receive a consistent message that they are worthless. Don't misunderstand, I think efforts to teach healthy eating and the joy of movement are needed. However, there is a big difference from conveying a message that being physically fit will enhance your enjoyment of life and conveying the message that being fat is akin to wearing a sign around your neck that says criticize me, emotionally batter me until I have no self esteem left and then tell me how it's for my own good.

I think that some of the animosity expressed by fat people towards healthy eating campaigns and efforts to combat childhood obesity (that word again!) masks hurt feelings and insecurities. To be fat in a culture obsessed with appearance is to be a fair target for ridicule and shame. It means being a teenage girl out with your friends and having some woman whom you have never met stop you and tell you that you are going to die young if you don't lose weight. It's having people become so obsessed with the issue of weight that they forget there is a human being in front of them and not an obesity problem.