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January 21, 2017

Childhood Flashbacks

As I have said many times on this blog, I am a child of the 60s. I was born in the opening months of 1961, and I have been blessed and cursed with a long memory. My earliest memories are of early 1963. I’ve been blessed and cursed with intelligence, so I was processing things faster than some of my peers. And right now, I’m having flashbacks to that era.

Unlike many people, I’m not a fan of nostalgia. The good old days weren’t all that good. My earliest childhood memories of the world are Vietnam, civil rights marches and abuses, National Guards shooting college students and the Cold War. Sure, I had fun playing with my friends, but my bestie and I discussed what we’d do when we learned the bomb was coming. We really thought there was a good chance we’d die. We were going to run to Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church and be near the statue of Mary if we couldn’t get into the church. These were serious conversations held by 8 year old girls.

We weren’t alone in those fears. Soviet children grew with fear, too. I know that my Swedish husband had no fond Cold War memories. Vietnamese children lived out many of our fears, of course. Bestie and I were relatively safe in our little New York City suburb.

Things changed. Vietnam ended, civil rights were almost fully codified into law, and the Wall came down. My fears died down, and I moved on to actively trying to change the world and keep the dream of a better world alive. So did my bestie, who after all these years is still my bestie and still fights for human rights and justice and a better America every day. We matured into True Believers and our 60s values of equality and justice for all races, creeds, colors and, a later addition, orientations have just grown stronger. We do not walk alone in this country, but there are far fewer of us than I’d like.

But everything old is new again. Today, the war has moved west to the Middle East, civil rights marches are still needed and happening, government authorities are still killing young people, and I actually saw the phrase Cold War 2 in print this week, written by a professional writer. Today talking to my adult son, I felt myself choking up when relating my flashbacks, because that’s what’s happening. The violence and hatred of that era is alive again. Much of what we fought for, and even in the 60s I fought, is gone.

Those childhood impressions run deep, and my childhood fears are reignited. But I am no child, and I know I must not only fight the fear but help the young ones, as well.

Today ushers in a new era, one that is terrifying me more than Reagan’s inauguration and later GW Bush’s. These are two presidents whose policies I believe harmed America. Lest you think me fully partisan, I also think President Obama’s financial policies harmed America. I shall miss him, but I wrote a fair share of letters of complaint to the White House during his tenure. But I fully believe all three men had a clear set of principles. Pragmatism, as well, and a too-large debt to the wealthy of this country, but principles. I admired them on some levels. OK, admire is strong, especially for GW Bush. Pity has always been the dominant emotion there. But while I feared what might happen, I never thought it a massive turning point in the history of my country. Obama’s election was historic and a great step in our country’s maturity, but I didn’t think it would bring a sea change.

But we have turned a corner and found ourselves back in the Gilded Age.  Almost. America in the Gilded Age had high wages, much higher than Europe, and that brought in waves of immigrants. Well, we do have higher wages than developing countries, which is bringing many immigrants, but wages for our middle class have dropped when adjusted for inflation. I know as a professor overseas, I made a comfortable wage. I’d never be rich, but I earned a wage that allowed me to work one job and use my summers for scholarship and learning new technology and methods of teaching. In the US, I’ve never held a college teaching job that has made that possible, and I’ve even had to turn down three positions because the salaries they were offering were literally not enough to live on in the urban areas the schools were in.

I’ve said it before. If we adjust for inflation, in America, I have yet to make an annual salary equal to what my father, the high school dropout, earned in the decade before he died in 1972. He was a heavy machine operator in NYC, a union man who helped build the original World Trade Center, the Verrazano Bridge, Madison Square Garden and countless New York skyrises. Yes, his job took skill. Yes, his job was dangerous—he operated the cranes up on the scaffolding—but my job takes skill, as well. And education. And in today’s world, it can be dangerous. I have been threatened with a beating by a screaming student (while pregnant), stalked for a while by another angry student, and threatened with murder by a very angry student. As an urban teacher, I’ve taught in schools where shootings have happened on the sidewalks outside our buildings and knife attacks have happened in the school.

And I’m not alone. One of my high school friends is a crackerjack secretary. Her grammar and spelling are above the level of the freshman I teach in college. She’s organized, professional and cool under pressure. Earlier generations of executive secretaries made good wages. She doesn’t. Many of my friends are teachers. Teachers are the lowest paid professionals in the country, and their pay has been stagnant for almost a decade. We have an education crisis because teacher burnout is so high and many people just can’t afford to stay in the profession. Even many of my lawyer and doctor friends aren’t making what they thought they’d make when they went into the professions.

These are the angry people who just want a square deal. But instead of Roosevelt (and I mean Teddy, the Republican, not his cousin, the Democrat), we now have as president Donald Trump.

I can’t tell the future. I don’t like the signs I see, but as the eternally optimistic idealist, I have hope. I’m trying not to worry because worry only makes us suffer twice. But I am concerned about my “kids.” In fact, I’m concerned about all kids. I don’t want any child anywhere growing up in fear. I’m worried about my country.

Today was a surreal day. I’ve avoided social media, only popping on for a few minutes before I left in disgust. Too much hate and nastiness from both sides. In remembrance of my 60s values, I wore my best tie dye.  I also wore my “courage” and “wisdom” bracelets, not because I think they give me anything, but as reminders that what we need are wisdom and courage so that this country that I love so much emerges from this dark period stronger and wiser than we’ve been since the beginning of this century.

June 12, 2016

Broken Country, Broken Heart

When did it become ok to kill people we disagree with? Whose choices we disapprove of?

Oh, never?

People aren’t getting the message.

We’ve been beating and killing folks in the LGBT community for eons, and even here in America, where people are free to choose, where freedom is an enduring ideal, we don’t allow people to be free to be who they were born to be.

Most religions are hetero-normative. Fine. If your religion tells you that being gay is a sin, you deal with it. I hope you weren’t born gay, though.

Because people are. They just are. It’s not a learned trait. No one can “turn” someone gay just as no one can “turn” someone hetero (I dislike the term straight because it implies something else is crooked or off).

Someone can learn to unpeel the socialization that makes us behave in a certain way, that makes us hide who we really are. Then when someone comes out, some may think “they were ‘turned'”.

Today our country suffered the worst mass shooting in our history. The first reports didn’t even mention that it was at a gay bar.

But 50 people were killed because of who they were and because someone thought gay people are evil. A kiss disturbed him is the going rumor.

Some are saying “oh, he’s Muslim, that’s why”. No, that’s not why. He was a selfish, mentally unstable person with a gross sense of entitlement.I know many Muslims. None of them are killers. They might think gayness is a sin, but they don’t kill people for it. Nor do they condone Islamic countries that do. They consider it barbaric.

My heart is broken for all those lives lost, for the fears that my LGBT brothers and sisters are facing. All people are my brothers and sisters, and I am called to love them. I don’t  hate the shooter. I pity him his twisted mind that drove him to kill and be killed. I hate what he did.

In the coming days, let’s see what we can do to help the survivors heal, the mourning be comforted. It’s time to reach out in love, not anger or hatred.

 

 

July 14, 2013

National Anger

I’m watching the maelstrom of anger, sadness, disappointment and frustration on social media since last night’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial. The reaction was expected, of course, especially by anyone who remembers the response to the Rodney King beating trial verdict and the fear following the OJ Simpson verdict.

I’m glad to see that things are peaceful–well, perhaps peace isn’t the proper word, but non-violent.

My comment on Twitter last night was to repeat the old Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr quote, “this is a court of law…not a court of justice.”  In his address to the nation today, President Obama said something similar: “we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”

That’s what they do. Was it overt racism, bad prosecution, good defense? Who knows? I didn’t follow the trial testimony for the same reason I don’t follow many of the sensational trials splashed on television and the news outlets.  While the death of a teen is lamentable, while vigilante justice is wrong, in the big picture, the US has worse things to worry about. Teens get killed every day for stupid, stupid reasons. Most of the time, the rest of America doesn’t notice.  But every once in a while, a trial will catch the nation’s attention.

Deep in my heart, I believe that when this happens, corporations and government heave a sigh of relief. Another weapon of mass distraction to help keep people from paying attention.

It’s not that I’m callous. In fact, it might be a little too close to home. I deplore the entire situation, and as a mother, as someone who teaches and loves the many young black men (and Latino, and Asian, and White) I teach, my heart breaks.

In my own family I’ve seen the anguish of the mother, grandmothers and aunts when the woman who killed my cousin and damaged his brother so badly he lives with pain every day got off with a slap on the wrist. It broke their hearts once again.  His father, grandfathers, brother, and uncles were shattered as well, but it’s the mother love that speaks most closely to my heart.  But the entire family felt stripped of justice.  It’s been years and there’s still anger.

I pray that Trayvon Martin’s family will find peace in their hearts, because I have seen the damage done to a family like his up close.

George Zimmerman will have to live with his actions for the rest of his life. I also pray that he realizes the enormity of what he’s stolen from the world. I pray that he turns his evil to good somehow. But that’s for time to tell.

In the meantime, I just feel sad and hope is hard to find. The fact that the streets are not burning is a good sign, I think.

But perhaps this is one more straw in the camel’s basket.

 

May 6, 2011

Nice to know humans don’t change

Yesterday I wrote about the death of bin Laden. Do I believe he’s dead? Of course. Do I need a picture? No, and frankly, I don’t want one. I don’t think they should be released not because they might upset Muslims and incite terrorists. I don’t want them released because it will upset me.  My high school history textbook had a small black and white photo of Mussolini hanging by his feet. It still haunts me. Pictures of lynched African-American men in America’s south haunt me. So a close-up color shot of a high-powered rifle bullet to the head? I’ll pass.

And frankly, people who want to doubt are going to doubt. Even if the photos are released, and the president has vowed not to release them, there will be those who cry “Photoshop”. So really, releasing them isn’t necessary.

The kill has been confirmed by Al-Qaeda itself. I don’t really think Al-Qaeda cares about Obama’s approval ratings. I don’t think its leadership has an interest in making the US look “good”.  Of course, my mind can do paranoid and conspiracy as well as the next guy’s. Maybe bin Laden is still alive, and well, the US is lying to make itself look good and Al-Qaeda is lying to reenergize itself. They haven’t been as popular as late, you know. They had no role in the liberation movements that have been happening throughout the Middle East. This is a perfect way to drum up support, having their leader be “dead”. But truly, I don’t think so.

Conspiracy theories have been around as long as there have been people. Do governments lie? Yes. Can governments be fully trusted? No. Should they? No. But does that mean everything that a government does is bad because, by definition, governments are evil and everything said is a lie? No.

During war, bad things happen. Soldiers are trained to kill and are rewarded for doing it well.  Decisions are made in less than an instant and unless I was there, I am not going to second guess a soldier’s actions in the heat of an attack. As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay “Notes on Nationalism,” “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.” I don’t like that uncomfortable truth, but there it is. I live in a world in which violence is used by nations on a regular basis. As an idealist, I wish that weren’t so. But as a thinking human, I know it is. I can work to change it, but in the meantime, battles rage.

Do I question the legality of the raid? Yes. The US did violate another country’s sovereignty to carry it out.  Do I understand the realpolitik thinking behind the decision?  Of course. I do think the US should be above reproof not because it’s the US and what it does is inherently “right,” but because its actions are right and proper indeed. On the other hand, this “War on Terror” has changed the art of war . No longer are the combatants clearly defined. War against a thing and not a nation? How can this work? Obviously not well, at all. But the world is changing, so the rules of war are changing as well.  How can the old rules work when the board and players are radically different?

And humans like to think we’ve changed, too. We  are civilized and compassionate. We have learned much about violence and how it’s a bad thing. Yet we still want the world “safe for democracy”. We want our peaceful comfortable lives. We want to “fight the good fight”. As long as no one dies, is injured, is damaged in any way.   People want Al-Qaeda gone. They want the terrorism to end. We send soldiers to fight, searching for the terrorists and those soldiers die or are injured. And people are shocked.  What part of “going to war brings death” are they confused about, I wonder.

We are constantly shocked and outraged about “women and children” and “innocent civilians” being killed during attacks. I don’t want to see children killed, or women, or civilian men, but since when is it a surprise that it happens? Once upon a time wars might have been taken place in battles outside a town or city on a field, but even when the fighting was mostly hand-to-hand, civilians got caught in the crossfire.  Children went to battle on a regular basis. If family legend is true, my own great-grandfather was in the Crimean war at the age of 10, sent as a bugler, but still on the battlefield. 

I am not saying these deaths are right or are to be accepted. What I’m saying is why the shock? What do we expect? A bloodless war?

We want it all–all the benefits of war without the drawbacks. This would be great if we could figure out how to stop human beings from resorting to war, but we can’t. Why? Because human nature doesn’t really change.

April 22, 2011

Weddings can bring out the worst in people

There’s a certain wedding happening in a week that is showing me some amazing insight into Anglo-American relations.

We pretty much hate one another.

This is quite strange to me, considering the Revolution ended 228 years ago. But people have long memories, I guess. Or something.

Probably more the something.

There’s a lot of sniping going back and forth over the monarchy and whether people care about the wedding. Two people are getting married. I have no personal insights into either of them, but in my book a wedding is always nice. And royal weddings are fun to watch because they are just done so nicely.  So in today’s world, with killings and war and a country that’s falling apart thanks to inequity in tax laws and education and all the other things plaguing us (America, I mean, but I guess the UK has similar problems) a wedding is a nice respite.

Until I hit the internet. I’ll look at a story, mostly to avoid grading papers, the bane of my life right now, and boom–Americans insulting the British. British people bashing the Americans. Why? I don’t get it. Really, we have more in common than most countries.

The worst, of course, are in the comments people can post.

“Ma! Why do you read them? You know those people are crazy,” my son warns me. He’s right, I know. But I can’t help myself. I am amazed anew at how stupid people are–how hateful, ignorant and just so willing to share that with the world.

But it is also interesting to see the inherent snarkiness when the BBC reports on America. Now I love BBC America, and as a proud Doctor Who fan, I’m glad we have them. Makes my life easier to get my fix. And really, the BBC produces quality television, and I’d be more than willing to chip in and pay a licensing fee to access their materials on-line. But there’s no denying that corporate BBC takes a rather superior tone when discussing Americans. We’re so quaint. British newspapers often take the same tone. We’re just so naive and gullible, oh, and let’s not forget ignorant.  And fat and loud, while we’re at it.

American newspapers and television aren’t exempt from dishing out biased stereotypes. Them Brits–either effete snobs or football hooligans, right? But they do a mean period drama. And sure, most Americans don’t “get” the whole royalty thing. Many Americans I know see the royal family (of anywhere) as just another type of celebrity, and we manufacture them by the cart load over here–no big deal. The royals are just around longer. But I’ve been disgusted with the press on this side of the pond, too.

Why do we hate each other so?  I know why my relatives were a little touchy about Britain, being of Irish extraction. But I also know that the cousins who were the most rabid haters of Britain (and they are pretty much gone now) couldn’t have found Ireland on a map. Of course, they couldn’t have found Kansas, either. They just knew the British are the bad guys. At a family wake, a cousin castigated me for traveling to England. “Why give them a dime of our money?”

Well, because London is a great city?  I love England. I love America, too, and Italy and Ireland and Taiwan, and well, you get the picture.  When I go to England I feel right at home. We share a language, a heritage, and much to the chagrin of a lot of people, a shockingly similar DNA. When I’m in England, most people don’t realize I’m American till I speak, quietly, but with a definite New York accent. No one has said, oh, you’re so American, except for the Welsh ex-boyfriend who commented on my “big, American teeth”. Genetics, buddy. Never had braces or dental work. But I am very American.

There’s really no reason for us to hate one another. But people love to hate, don’t they? And we can do it so well.  Let’s snipe at one another–keeps us from expending energy on fixing what is wrong with our respective countries. It just amazes me that something as benign as a wedding shows the deep rifts between our two countries.  Of course, I’ve never known a wedding that didn’t cause all sorts of sniping and anger, so in this way, I guess poor William and Catherine are having a “people’s wedding”.

But obviously, this hatred is bothering me enough to put aside the grading to write about it.  Although we share a language and aspects of our culture, we have been officially separate countries for 228 years, so why is it a surprise to people that we’re different on a number of levels? And why do we hate what’s different? Oh, right, because we’re humans. And humans are a very strange species.

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