Shitholes and Shinola: A Little Lesson for Donald Trump About History, Immigration, and Economics on MLK Day

Imagine it is 1620. You are in Europe. You are living in a small island country that is the seat of the most powerful empire on the globe. One might even call it the center of the Western world.

Yet, smallpox and typhoid are running rampant in your country. Tens of thousands have succumb to either sweating sickness or bubonic plague. Tens of thousands more will die before the end of the century from communicable illnesses that will one day be curable and practically nonexistent.

By the end of the seventeenth century, though, official records will show that one-fifth of the population of the largest city in your country died from plague between 1563-1665, and in 1665 alone nearly 100,000 people died of plague in the city.

The records will show that thirty percent of children in your country died before they could reach age 15 from plague, dysentery, scarlet fever, flu, whooping cough, pneumonia, and various unidentifiable fevers.

Those children that are not killed by illness are killed in horrible yet very common accidents. Since they are commonly called on to fetch water for their households as soon as they are able to walk and balance a bucket, many fall into wells and drown. Others slip on the mud surrounding the wells or rocks embedded in the shores of rivulets and streams and crack their skulls.

Child labor is legal, so many children working on farms are run over by horses and/or ploughs. Many infants and smaller children are dropped and killed by older children acting as their caretakers. Children working on ships, in shipyards, and in blacksmith shops are burned in accidental fires or poisoned by chemical fumes. Some are even killed on battlefields, where they are enlisted to help soldiers with their artillery.

When these children are injured, and not killed, they are most often treated at home by their mothers, not doctors or professional healers. They are rubbed with mixtures of chicken fat and feces when they suffer burns, or they are given potions like dried dill in honey for coughs. Very rarely are they admitted to the hospital or given manufactured or even just scientifically proven prescriptions.

In your country, blacksmiths most often set broken bones and perform a common surgical procedure for bladder stones called a lithotomy. These bladder stones are caused by the large amount of gravel in the people’s diets. The lithotomies to remove the stones are typically performed with common work tools in the blacksmith shop without any anesthesia.

Adults, when sick or hurt, are subjected to even more harrowing treatments than the children. Rectal purging, bloodletting, and forced vomiting are the most common methods of medical treatment. Surgeries, when performed, are rudimentary, and clean wards in which to convalesce are a rare luxury.

Childbirth is a particularly “tetchy” area of so-called medicine at this time. Up to two percent of women die while giving birth, and many women experience upward from two or three pregnancies because the use of birth control is not widespread, increasing their chances of dying in childbirth. Existent birth control methods are spotty in their effectiveness, and childbearing is essentially a social mandate for married women, so unwanted pregnancies are many and experienced by the majority of women.

Women in labor, if lucky, are only given liquor for the pain. Midwives typically attend births, not doctors, and they have considerable knowledge of how to deliver babies, but no technology available to them to make delivery less painful or safer for mothers or infants. They also have very limited ways of predicting or remedying crises like breech position or shoulder dystocia (when a baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone during delivery).

Some women are poisoned by their attempts to terminate unwanted pregnancies using herbs. Many women force themselves to have violent bowel movements or fits of vomiting in order to lose their babies, and others subject themselves to bloodletting from the foot, which is believed to bring on “blocked” menstruation.

Children born in your country have a 20% chance of dying before their fifth birthday.

Illness and injury in your country are not just products of the profound lack of scientific and medical knowledge. The major cause for the epidemic spread of the Bubonic plague and other communicable diseases is the lack of sanitation.

Big cities in your country have no sewage systems. There is no running water. People must fill tubs with water they gather from wells, natural water sources, or public fountains to cook and bathe, and they must boil the water to sanitize it because there is no filtration system, so they regularly imbibe unfiltered water, and they don’t bathe regularly.

This means the germs that stick to them throughout the day remain on their bodies. They exchange money and other items with dirty hands that help spread diseases faster than rumors that a particularly bold or independent woman is a witch. This keeps the cycle of infection, illness, and death going at amplified volume and speed throughout the century.

There are no toilets in your country. People urinate and vomit in large clay chamber pots that they dump into streets with no drainage (remember). So the excrement remains where it is put and runs off into the rivers, rivulets, and streams when it rains.

Unfortunately, the people do not wash their hands after using chamber pots because germs are not “discovered” until the 1800s, and this is the 1600s. Because there are no public toilets, people urinate and vomit on the streets outside of restaurants, bars, gambling dens, and whorehouses.

People also purposefully dump their chamber pots and trash into the river. Trash that isn’t dumped in the river is tossed onto the streets since there are no organized dumps, and there is no uniform or government-sponsored system of trash collection or incineration. Trash in the streets causes rats to congregate. Rats help to spread diseases with their droppings and by biting people.

The Thames is a major source of water for the people living in the busiest city in your country. Mostly rich people have wells or their own water pumps. The majority of people in this country are poor and/or live in rural areas, so they collect their water from public fountains, streams, rivulets, and rivers. The Thames, though, is a literal cesspool.

A shithole.

All the flowers, rosewater, and vinegar the women in your country use to mask the odors of all the sickness and clean the homes are mere drops in the polluted bucket when it comes to keeping things clean.

Culturally, your country isn’t doing any better than it is doing physically.

Less than 40% of men and 25% of women in the country are literate. Only about one-fifth of the population can sign their names at the end of the 1500s, and this percentage only increases to one-third by the end of the 1600s. There are no free public schools for the general masses to attend, and, more often than not, children not born to nobles or middle class merchants and craftsman end up going to work when they are of age and not school.

“Public” school, in this era, only means that the school is not operated in a private home; it does not indicate that a uniform, government-mandated curriculum is taught, or that education is accessible to the majority of the population. There is no compulsory education for youth, and most schools do not teach science, music, or art.

Rich nobles only make up three percent of the overall population; the majority of the population is poor. Ninety-five percent of the population lives in rural districts where they do one-third of their farming to pay the lords that own the lands, another portion of their farming to support the church, and live off the portion that is left. These so-called peasants are only able to rise in class if they can buy the lands of some lord that has died from old age, plague, or some other disease.

The most desperate peasants live in poorhouses run by churches. Many are displaced when food agriculture slowly gives over to the raising of sheep (to feed the growing cloth industry), and acres of crop fields are turned into pastures. Peasants that relocate to the cities after being displaced have a difficult time finding employment, as there are very few jobs for unskilled laborers.

So, in addition to disease, crime is rampant in the city streets. Thievery, pickpocketing, and prostitution are extremely common, as are homelessness and begging, which are classified as crimes.

The average life expectancy is 42 because the quality of life is so poor.

And speaking of “poor,” poverty is wreaking such social havoc that there are actual poor laws. There are 15,000 parishes in your country, and the parishioners are charged with caring for the poor. The officials calculate how much is needed to do this and then collect the money from the parishioners. The deserving poor – the sick, elderly, and orphans – receive help from this money. The undeserving poor – able-bodied, unemployed men and women – do not receive help from this money, and, if they are found to be vagrant, they are punished for being homeless with public whipping.

And whipping is just one of the cruel and unusual forms of punishment that are common and legal in your country. Criminals that commit murder, treason, or some other serious crime can be tortured by pillory, iron maiden, bastinado, the rack, the jougs, or the gossip’s bridle (look them up).

Banishment doesn’t just occur in Shakespeare plays; it is a real thing to which serious criminals are subjected, and the punishment of returning to your country after being banished is death.

Execution (by hanging or beheading) is legal, exorbitant fines are common, and jail time is sparse and rarely given. Whippings and other forms of corporal punishment are favored because they are less costly than maintaining penitentiaries.

As is typical of just about every western country in this time, single women have practically no legal rights, and children go largely unprotected by the law from abuse and neglect.

The dearth of scientific knowledge of the world allows people in your country to cling to terrible superstitions. Negative occurrences in people’s personal lives are commonly blamed on witches, which makes it possible for random innocent women (because women were more often accused of witchcraft) to be tortured, banished, and executed for imaginary crimes by people that may just be exercising their misogyny, xenophobia, jingoism, or religious bigotry.

Though the Pilgrims that will venture from your country in 1620 to North America are depicted in the grand historical narrative of the US as a sect of poor, persecuted devotees that were simply seeking freedom of religion, the Protestant Reformation out of which they have emerged is not nearly as noble as that (though in truth the Pilgrims themselves are not paragons, but that is another post for another time).

In fact, the Protestant Reformation in your country began with a promiscuous King whose only issue with Catholicism – the religion that had ruled in your country for centuries – is that it does not allow him to divorce one wife and take another.

This King – Henry – only spearheads the Reformation in your country in order to obtain the annulment he seeks (and go on to marry five additional times) and claim the lands and monies held by the Catholic Church in your country.

Through unwarranted, unrelenting “royal” confiscation, Henry empties all of the Catholic Church’s riches into his own coffers and allows the country’s nobility to buy up the Catholic Church’s land for mining and other commercial ventures, which, of course, increase tax revenue for the monarchy without improving life for the peasants.

Henry closes the numerous abbeys and rectories in the country, forcing nuns and priests to enter the workforce with little work experience or social prestige, where they are paid horrible wages and often mistreated by Protestant bosses and coworkers.

The Restoration occurs in the mid-1500s, yet the political prostitution of religion continues into the 1600s.

When your most famous Queen – Elizabeth – takes the throne in 1603, she aligns herself with the Protestants just as her father did before her. She does this mainly for money purposes, which were, again, major motivators for her father.

So many of the big business and land owners in the country are Protestant at this point, after growing their wealth under her father, that the Elizabeth literally cannot afford to allow Catholicism to regain a foothold. It would ruin the monarchy financially if the Vatican swept in to reclaim its lands and co-opted assets from the throne.

So not only does Elizabeth oversee the establishment of the Church of England to force Catholicism out of the country, she stands aside as Parliament passes uniformity laws that force everyone to attend the Church of England and use the same Book of Common Prayer, essentially doing away with freedom of religion.

In the meantime, the Protestants that lead the Church of England (they are now called Anglicans) are not only struggling alongside Elizabeth to suppress underground Catholics that seek to topple the Church; they are using suppressive methods (outlawing their church services, breaking up their protests, jailing their leaders) to silence the fanatical Puritans, who wish to destabilize the Church of England because they believe its rituals are still too decadent and its dealings are still too centered on obtaining money, even after the Reformation.

The Anglicans are so deeply threatened by the Puritans in fact (because their numbers are considerable) that they resort to violence to stop the Puritans. Anglican bishops actually put prices on the heads of the most outspoken and influential Puritan leaders, and they encourage peacekeepers to arrest Puritan protestors and execute outspoken Protestants for heresy.

This persecution of the Puritans occurs from the 1590s until the 1620s, when it reaches such an intensity that the Pilgrims flee this country – yes – it is England – for North America.

And that lands us in the ideal symbolic place for me to make my point about America and its immigration history.

The Pilgrims are revered in this country as its founders. Their genocidal treatment of the Native Americans is treated as a rather insignificant footnote to this main narrative that characterizes the Pilgrims as the brave, strong, and resourceful pioneers of our democracy.

That’s right. Even though revisionist history reveals that Puritan culture was every bit as hegemonic, suppressive, violent, and political as British culture in the seventeenth century, the majority of Americans – and especially the white men in power – still regard the Pilgrims for setting the freedom-seeking, freedom-loving tone of our country’s political ideology.

And whether this is true or not, it is a fact these immigrants from Elizabethan England are the forefathers of our founding fathers, who did actually transform the 13 colonies into this glittering dystopia we call America.

So they are the descendants of a shithole country because Elizabethan England was oozing with filth, emanating with disease, teeming with vagrants, rife with crime, bursting with corruption, and animated by deprivation, division, strife, violence, and oppression in 1620 – the year in which the Puritans departed it.

This is the irony of Donald Trump’s statement in that now notorious DACA meeting that he doesn’t want anymore people from shithole countries like Haiti, Africa (which is not a country, but a continent of 54 countries), and El Salvador entering America, and he would rather see more people arriving here from countries like Norway.

He and others that think like him hail western European countries as better places from which to be descended than the countries of Africa, Asia, and Central or South America, but, when it became the homeland of the Pilgrims back in 1620, England was in the same desperate straits as what we would currently stigmatize as a Third World country.

If the descendants of the England that I described in the opening of this post – an England whose conditions sound very much like those in current day Haiti (though only after suffering from a near-cataclysmic earthquake) – can become the most celebrated citizens of America – can be made into literal monuments – then it stands to reason that the descendants of just about any people – from any country – can also do great things with the opportunities afforded them here in the US.

I can type a list of immigrants of color that have arrived in America with nothing but in their suitcases but dreams and made tremendous contributions to the progress and greatness of this country.

Or I can play into Trump’s bigotry and point out that Alexander Hamilton, though white, was an orphan immigrant from Nevis in the British West Indies – a small Caribbean island covered in slave sugar plantations and rife with political violence with a 90% black population – and he – Hamilton – went on to become the founder of the American financial system, the US Coast Guard, and The New York Times newspaper and the first Secretary of the Treasury.

So Trump is dead-wrong in propagandizing his racist views of immigrants hailing from countries of color as the mere products of so-called intelligent thinking and logical analysis because history shows that immigrants from all over the globe are much more likely to come to America and flourish than they are to flounder.

And anyway Trump is not trying to make America safer by closing its borders to immigrants and refugees of color. He isn’t trying to reduce crime or increase jobs or strengthen the economy or accomplish anything other than his reelection in 2020.

Trump is continuing to gaslight his voter base through the use of divisive propaganda and propagating very ignorant, unfounded concepts of American history and world politics, proving that the many claims that have been made in the news about his lack of preparedness and fitness for the presidency are correct.

It goes without saying, but I will still say it: Trump’s adamant refusal to educate himself about this country is growing increasingly dangerous, as is his willingness to scapegoat minorities, immigrants, Muslims, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community to secure the support of his apparently dwindling voter base.

Trump may have given his supporters some supremacist political porn to which they enjoyed mentally jacking off with his deplorable characterization of countries and immigrants of color and successful sidetracking of a possible Congressional DACA deal, but the majority of Americans and the leaders and people of those countries are disgusted and want Trump to be held accountable.

South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, Senegal, and Haiti have summoned their US ambassadors to meet with government officials in each country and address Trump’s comments. South Africa has also issued a diplomatic protest to the US. The African Union, which represents 55 member states throughout Africa, has demanded an apology from Trump. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a sizable group of Haitian immigrants and Haitian Americans in Florida protested Trump at the gates of his West Palm Beach resort.

These responses – the outrage of these black people – their black lives – matter to Trump whether or not he knows it because the US does $37 billion of trade with Sub-Saharan African countries; we export $18 billion of goods to these countries and import $19 billion of goods from these countries.

We sell machinery, aircraft, vehicles, oil, and electronics to these African countries with which we have trade deals, but we buy crude, iron, and steel from them – materials we use to not only manufacture the good we sell to them, but to other countries.

Trump’s only accomplishment while in Office has been to slightly improve the economy, and he claims that building on this improvement is a top priority for his administration. But sending profitable trade partners to other countries to get their goods will not help our economic situation in the least, so Trump needs to reevaluate his approach to dealing with countries of color across the globe and making leadership decisions that may revert America back to the shithole it was in 2008, during the Recession.

In addition to learning about the England that we Americans stupidly fetishize, aggrandize, and valorize, Trump may need to learn from that historical iteration of England and how Queen Elizabeth wrongly dealt with immigration during her reign.

If he did just five minutes of research on immigration in Elizabeth’s time, Trump would learn that barring immigrants of color and/or expelling immigrants of color is not a panacea for the economic issues a country is facing.

And please believe that all of this sudden emphasis on immigration in the political discourse has to do almost exclusively with the facts that the economy is relatively stable and growing, the rich want that to continue, and the white majority wants to remain the main benefactor of that growth.

However, they cannot maintain their inequitable hold on what the young people have so charmingly taken to calling the “bag” by throwing out all of the immigrants of color and shoring up our borders from immigrants of color, no matter what they may believe.

The underlying trouble with stabilizing and growing our economy is multifaceted and deep-seated. It hasn’t arisen from highly educated immigrants of color taking jobs from lower educated or unskilled white Americans because these lower educated or unskilled whites cannot do the jobs these highly educated immigrants of color do. It hasn’t arisen from unskilled immigrants of color taking jobs from unskilled white Americans because if white Americans wanted those jobs institutional and cultural racism would secure those jobs for the whites. It hasn’t arisen from all of immigrants of color opening new businesses in America because businesses add to tax revenue and stimulate consumerism, which benefits the economy.

No – America has the lack of innovation in American industry, wrongheaded tax and economic policies that perpetuate the wealth gap, governmental favoritism of special interests, cronyism, needless complication of the regulatory apparatus (the regulations placed on American businesses), stale focus in American business on producing goods rather than providing services, poor public education, exorbitant college tuitions, distortions of the tax code, and the lobby to blame for its current and long-standing economic issues.

And seeing as some of its most brilliant and least brainwashed residents are immigrants of color and their children and grandchildren, inviting more immigrants of color to the country and/or allowing those that are here to remain in the country might be more a help than a hindrance when it comes to fixing what’s wrong with American society in general and the economy in particular.

Queen Elizabeth made the same mistake that Donald Trump is considering back in the 1600s. She issued three expulsion orders against Africans living in England in order to improve employment rates and economic conditions for “native” English citizens. And none of these expulsion orders did anything to drastically improve conditions in England. Only one-half of a percent of the jobs available in London were taken up by Africans at that time, and that didn’t account for the widespread unemployment or poverty that the white population was experiencing.

The expulsion of African immigrants from Elizabethan England didn’t reduce crime, either. Poverty was the cause of all of the thievery, prostitution, vagrancy, debt (which was a crime), larceny, and brawling amidst street gangs (yes, there were street gangs), and since Elizabeth could not end it, she couldn’t end crime.

Hint, hint, hint, hint, hint, hint.

According to statistics compiled in 2017, there are roughly 43 million foreign-born people living in the US. This is only about 13 percent of the total population – almost two percent less than when immigration was at its peak in the US in 1890.

Of the 43 million foreign-born people living in the US right now, 20.7 million are citizens, 11.1 million are unauthorized, the largest segment are from Mexico (11.6 million), and another 11 million are from China, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and South Korea.

Only 2.1 million Africans live in America, 1.4 million people from El Salvador live in America, and less than 700,000 Haitians live in America – the people Trump referenced in his rant as coming from shithole countries.

So they are clearly not taking over the country any time soon. The total population of America is 323 million people.

Too, the majority of the foreign-born people living in America today are homeowners, according to the Center for American Progress; fewer than one in five lives in poverty, and only 9.3% of their households receive their entire income from public programs, in comparison with 15% of US-born households.

Thirty-sex percent of US children born of immigrants are college graduates while only 31% of US children born of US-born parents are. This means the majority of immigrants in America are contributing positively to the culture, and as a whole they are contributing significantly to the economic bottom-line.

So Trump really needs to take a seat – preferably beside a tutor – and get to know what’s truly happening in his own country rather than operating off of what he watches on Fox News and reads on Breitbart when he is wheeling and dealing in the Oval and on the Hill.

He may also want to take a look at the article about Norwegian immigration that ran on The Atlantic website just a few days ago, written by Krishnadev Calamur.

In it, Calamur says, “[Norway] discovered oil in the late 1960s, and unlike other resource-rich countries that have succumbed to mismanagement and corruption in the face of sudden wealth, invested heavily in its people and its economy to become one of the world’s wealthiest places . . . Norway has higher life expectancy at birth than the US, lower rates of infant mortality, low unemployment, and access to the European Union’s labor market . . . Norway is the world’s happiest country . . . the place with the most political freedom . . . [the] most press freedom . . . and the most prosperity.”

Calamur also makes the point the US ranks 14th in happiness, 45th in political freedom, 43rd in most free press, and 18th in prosperity – well beneath Norway.

That said, the Norwegians are distinguishing between America’s shittiness and Trump’s shinola and choosing to remain in their homeland, which looks to be the new home of the free.

Calamur makes it abundantly clear in his article that they have no incentive to immigrate to the US even though millions of Norwegians eagerly migrated to the US during the 1800s and 1900s.

So Trump needs to STFU with all his anti-black and anti-Latinx screed before he destroys the incentive that people from other countries have to immigrate to the US and his precious economy, all in one frizzy, bleached blonde swoop.

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Song of Chloe

For Eric and Erica Garner

12/31/2017


This is what Toni has been telling us all along.

This is the moral of her every story.

This is the grievance of her every pen stroke.

Read it and weep.

Be it eyes 

Or girls

Or songs 

Or sons 

Or loves 

Or jazz 

So-called havens

So-called homes 

Be it memories

Or mercies 

Or children 

So-called choices

Or ever afters

Or even God –

Even God.

EVEN GOD.

There is nothing of ours

Their hate will not

Encase in that

Impossible white casting and

Immobilize.

They will take every fucking

Part of a person

If they want it – 

If they want to.

Toni warns us –

She tells us –

It is history.

They ruin all 

Your best things.

Strip 

You from 

Your own existence.

Carve 

You from 

Your own bones.

They hack you

Down to your love –

Down to your faith – 

Down to your truth – 

Down to your voice –

Down to your breath – and

Then cut that.

Rewrite you from 

An “I am” to 

An “I can’t.”

Daily Prompt: Relocate

via Daily Prompt: Relocate

“What is supremacism about generally? It’s about a fragile sense of superiority (covering a sense of insecurity) that must be actively promoted to be maintained. It reflects a system that is inflexible, rigid, and socially autistic (awkward social relations). These are signs of a brain misdeveloped, of unresolved early life trauma.”

Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D.

A favorite argument for the legitimacy of American white supremacy – that it tossed around by so-called evangelicals, conservatives, and members of the alt-right as thoughtlessly as their rape apologetics or political endorsements – is that white people are morally superior to the minorities that populate the nation, and so they deserve to dominate the culture.

Of course, we “woke” black people claim to know better than this. We claim to be 100% hip to the myth of white moral superiority. We claim to have outgrown the puerile need for white approval and validation.

Yet, we remain mired in a complex web of respectability politics woven by our subconscious desire to be viewed as “good” by whites. Yes, we do. I don’t care how adamantly we deny it.

The only way to explain the inanity of our puritanical attitudes about homosexuality, transsexuality, female sexuality, mental health, drug use, abortion, feminism, atheism – I can go on – is to admit that the majority of us are still indoctrinated enough by white hegemony to care what white people think of us.

Middle and upper class blacks in particular are the figurative mortified parents in the supermarket, admonishing or even whipping our working and lower class “kids” loudly enough so that everyone that is watching can know that we do not approve of their behavior one bit.

We are continually performing a rigid, impractical sort of “goodness” that keeps us psychologically dependent on validation from whites and stuck on the short end of a stick that is carved out of white hegemony and hypocrisy.

Think about it.

There is a critical mass of black Christians that are adamantly homophobic. They block black members of the LGBTQIA+ community from their institutions and circles of influence, and they stigmatize and ridicule them in public discourse and on public stages. They say this is what Biblical doctrine mandates, but that is not true. The Bible says that Christians should try to be like Jesus, and he loved and accepted everyone.

So what are these Christians doing if they’re not trying to separate themselves from the “freaks” in a demonstration that they are “normal” or “moral”? For whom are they demonstrating this so-called “normality” or “morality” if not whites?

Black atheists and agnostics aren’t impressed. Neither are blacks that embrace the black members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Certainly, the black members of the LGBTQIA+ community do not see the acts of hostility and hatred committed against them by members of the black religious community as proof of anything other than the pervasiveness of negative indoctrination, religious hypocrisy, and assimilationist values in that community. Not to mention a sort of social stupidity when it comes to dealing with White America.

Why do I call it that? Well, let’s see . . .

Historically, black evangelicals have held themselves apart from white evangelicals while simultaneously attempting to “one-up” them in terms of theological acuity. As Mary Beth Mathews explains in her “The History of Black Evangelicals and American Politics,” black evangelicals “held on to that ‘old time religion’ even as their white counterparts had not . . . [they] remained spiritually rooted in the Protestant tradition, and they eschewed modern amusements, like motion pictures and dance halls.” They tried to position themselves, rhetorically and gesturally, at the high end of the moral totem pole, most certainly thinking this would increase their cultural or societal standing.

So many black evangelicals in the twentieth century fought to “prove” to America that they were “good enough” to be considered equal to whites, and the most fundamentalist of today’s black evangelicals seem to be engaging in a similar exercise – trying to “out-moralize” their white counterparts. But for what?

Has ostracizing lesbian blacks or gay blacks or bisexual blacks or trans blacks or queer blacks translated into greater social acceptance for the blacks that publicly and adamantly do this?

What actual material – polemical, economic – gains has the black religious right made by ostracizing black members of the LGBTQIA+ community?

Somebody tell me, please.

As far as I can tell, every black person in America is subject to racist mistreatment, and the only social designations that might protect a black person from certain forms of it are “celebrity,” “millionaire,” or “billionaire.”

However, I can also name a dozen famous and/or rich blacks this second – without even straining myself – that have gotten what we term their “nigger wake-up calls” right as they were arriving at the apex of their accomplishments or achievements. So, again, what actual material gains has any discrete strata or segment of the black community made by ostracizing another or isolating itself from another?

Or, better yet, has ostracizing one group of blacks allowed another group of blacks to “get in” any better with whites?

Have the “respectables” gotten in any better with whites by separating themselves from the “ratchets”?

Have black men gotten in any better with whites by separating themselves from black women?

Have rich blacks gotten in any better with whites by separating themselves from working class and poor blacks?

Have cishetero blacks gotten in any better with whites by separating themselves from LGBTQIA+ blacks?

No? Then why do we keep doing it?

Because we have been indoctrinated.

We have to face it. We locate our ideas about our intrinsic worth as human beings in the minds and imaginations of whites. Whether we want to admit it or not.

And it is time for us to relocate our ideas about our worth in our own minds and imaginations, finally and for the first time in 398 years (that’s how long ago the first Africans – from Angola – arrived in America to settle in Jamestown, Virginia).

Black America has been just as vocal as everyone else in the nation in lamenting the disaster that is the Trump presidency, but, if there is one upside to it, it is this.

Never before has the falseness of the myth of white moral or intellectual superiority been more obvious or apparent than it is right now.

And this is especially true as it pertains the political sphere of our national culture.

I will not waste time listing all of the absurd and amoral things that Trump, his sycophants, the RNC, alt-right movement, Tea Party, or white religious right have said and done over the past nine months to prove that the “morality” that they pawn off in their rhetoric and propaganda is nothing but a discursive machination – a way of talking up anything they want to happen or do – exaggerating its “goodness” – in order to disguise its unsavory motives and objectives or camouflage its true, detrimental intent.

What I will list, though, is all the things that black people should have learned from witnessing all of these absurd and amoral things play out.

Trusting the people in political power in this country – the majority of which are white and male – to tell you what is happening in our community – because you believe that they are smarter than us, more honest than us, less flawed than us, better educated than us, and hence more capable of leading than us – is something we should not do anymore.

Trusting the people in political power in this country – the majority of which are white and male – to interpret for us what they are doing to us – because we believe that they are more decent than us, more honest than us, more compassionate than us, and hence telling us the truth about themselves – is something we should not anymore.

Hating who the people in political power in this country hate – in which we are included – is not going to make these people love us. It will only allow them to use us, as they have used working class and poor whites to gain power by galvanizing their fear of scarcity and directing it at Democrats, liberals, progressives, minorities, immigrants, foreigners, and, yes, women.

Hating who the people in political power in this country hate – in which we are included – does not make us “good.” It makes us gullible and culpable whenever Trump does something to politically victimize another undeserving segment of American society.

There is no material reward for being the sort of black person that a white person like Trump would regard as “decent” or “safe” or “good” or “moral.”

Just look at what’s happening in DC right now.

Trump is trying to pass a tax law that will only benefit the richest citizens of this country.

He is still trying to figure out a way to gut the ACA.

He has not secured DACA.

He has not prevented state and local politicians from passing laws that inhibit women’s reproductive rights or the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.

He has fought consistently since January to pass laws that are undeniable Islamophobic and propagated Islamophobic ideas about terrorism on his Twitter and in his talking points.

Despite the fact that working class people, poor people, minorities, immigrants, women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Muslims – a swath of Americans that cut across just about every demographic – voted for him in last year’s election.

Right now, Trump is urging the people of Alabama to elect Roy Moore to the US Senate – a man that has had dozens of credible accusations of sexual assault made against him in just the last month.

He is hiding behind the inept defense of a passel of high-paid, high-profile lawyers from credible accusations that he worked with Russia to fix the presidential election.

He is the poster child – yes, child – for the sort of meta-ethical moral relativism that truly pervades and sets the “official” tone in American culture and politics.

He stands for what America stands for, whether America wants to admit it or not.

And that is why we – black Americans – cannot let the mainstream beat us up anymore about our alleged “badness.” Because it is definitely not running through the moral high ground, nor has it ever run through the moral high ground.

This is why we have to relocate a sense of ourselves that is self-defined.

We have to relocate the confidence in our collective worth that we have rooted in mainstream acceptance in acceptance of ourselves and each other.

We have to relocate our psychological and spiritual sources. We have to stop using exclusivity and elitism  – tearing ourselves down – to build ourselves up. We have to start being inclusive and egalitarian.

We have to be open with each other. And loving of each other.

And above everything else, we have to stop believing that white people, and particularly those in power, know all the “right” things to do. Because it’s simply not true.

America is a country built by the ideas and ideals of moneyed white men, dominated by the ideas and ideals of moneyed white men, that still can’t get itself straight.

So what in the world can it credibly tell us about ourselves?

 

I Can’t Take Any Moore: My Two Cents on This Alabama Senatorial Clusterfuck

I have been looking at MSNBC all day (11/14/2017). Not on purpose, mind you.

I turned it on earlier this morning to see what, if anything, had happened overnight to plunge America even deeper into the seeming Trump abyss, and I just never turned it off.

I dozed off on the sofa, woke up and ate my lunch on the sofa, graded some essays on the sofa, answered some emails from the sofa, and let the TV keep talking.

I sat from nine this morning to two this afternoon, subconsciously soaking up all the convoluted talk from back ass-ward Republican officials and pundits about Roy Moore, hearing his fifth accuser bawl out her horrific story in a sickening loop, and tuning in and out as my outrage and exhaustion alternately impelled me.

And this is what I have to say after listening to the umpteenth white male so-called conservative hedge at being asked whether he would rather have a pedophile or Democrat in the US Senate:

These white men attempting to dodge this question are not nearly as artful as they think.

They keep arguing that if the accusations brought to light against Moore are proven to be true, they will retract their support of Moore and his run for the Senate.

Well, Moore is not being prosecuted for any of the crimes or acts of misconduct of which he has been accused. He will not be prosecuted for any of the crimes or acts of misconduct of which he has been accused. So the accusations will never be “proven.”

Alabama has the shortest sexual abuse statutes in the United States, so when Moore’s victims didn’t go to the authorities on Moore directly after he assaulted them, they gave up their opportunities to go the authorities on Moore.

(In Alabama, in child sexual abuse civil cases, the statute of limitations is two years after the alleged victim’s 19th birthday, and in criminal sexual abuse cases, the statute of limitations for felony sexual abuse cases is three years and the statute of limitation for misdemeanor sexual abuse cases is one year.)

And Moore’s supporters know this.

They know the American public can never receive a legal verdict on Moore’s guilt.

They keep saying they will retract their support if Moore is proven guilty so they don’t have to retract their support.

They pretend to be protecting the rule of law and upholding the principle of innocent until proven guilty when they are really acting on political tribalism and sideways racism (Democrat added to the Senate = slightly higher chance that laws will be made in the US that benefit people of color, immigrants of colors, and individuals in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum).

They are immoral, unethical, transparent, and tiresome as fuck.

Now, along with the “wait & seers,” you have the “technically, he isn’t a pedophilers.” They want to pretend that Moore merely “preferred” to date “younger” women.

To them, I grant that Moore isn’t technically a pedophile. By clinical definition, the pedophile engages in sexual behavior with children 13 years and younger, and the youngest any of Moore’s victims on the record has claimed to be at the time of her assault is 14.

That doesn’t absolve Moore of wrongdoing, though.

Because the age of consent in every single state in the US is 16 or older, and the biggest age difference legally allowed between a person that is the age of consent and his or her sexual partner is 10 years (in Utah, not Alabama, where Moore was working and trolling back in the day, while in his late 20s and early 30s).

In Alabama, the age of consent is 16, and the legally allowable age difference is two years, which means the oldest someone that is sleeping with a 16-year-old can be without committing a crime in that state is 18.

People under the age of consent cannot consent to sexual activity, according to the law, so anyone engaging in sexual activity with them is engaging in nonconsensual sexual activity.

And that is sexual assault.

That is sexual abuse; that is molestation; or that is rape. Statutory or violent. It doesn’t matter.

So when these supposed conservatives and Republican evangelicals are talking shit on cable TV or online or anywhere else, saying they are unsure whether Moore is worse for America than his Democratic opponent, and they hinge that argument on the fact that he is technically not a pedophile, they shouldn’t fucking congratulate themselves for winning the “clever” semantical game they’re attempting to play.

They are still aligning themselves with a sexual criminal, no matter what they try to say.

Roy Moore is still a sexual criminal – he is still a sexual predator – not according to opinion, but according to the fucking rule of law that the members of his party are constantly referencing whenever they want to justify their heartless actions, or, better yet, emphasize that their unethical actions are not necessarily illegal.

He is a sexual criminal according to the rule of law that he and his kettle (the name for a group of circling vultures) of withered cronies wrongfully use as a hiding place for their deep-seated amorality.

For anyone that remains undecided on the matter, and is interested in truly weighing the veracity of the allegations that have been made against Moore all you need to do is scrutinize the following facts:

  • According to the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, only 15.8 to 35 percent of sexual assaults in the US are reported to authorities;
  • According to the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, survivors cite fear of reprisal and fear of lack of evidence as reasons for not reporting assaults or attacks;
  • According to the Iowa Law Review, “rape claims [are] often dismissed out of hand with little or no investigation”;
  • According to The Chicago Tribune, misconceptions about rape prosecutions have propagated the notion throughout American culture that “rape and sexual harassment can be minimized, marginalized, or even mocked because the clock has wound down on when the crime could or . . . should be reported or prosecuted”;
  • Public figures like Moore (Weinstein, Trump) foster public goodwill with their personae and so-called accomplishments, or they buy public goodwill with their philanthropy, making it difficult for the typical American to conceive of them as criminals;
  • Public figures like Moore (Weinstein, Trump) possess a great deal of power and belong to powerful networks, making it plausible and possible for them to retaliate against women that go on the record accusing them of committing sexual crimes.

If, when you are considering whether the accusations against Moore are true, you acknowledge that none of these accusers can have Moore arrested at this point and very few people credit them with any real credibility – then you should be able to deduce that these women stand to gain nothing material from going public.

They can’t make any real money off of going public with their accusations, and they can’t gain any fame from it – only infamy. Their names get to go down in the same Hall of Undeserved Shame as Anita Hill and Juanita Broaddrick.

The only thing they could logically or realistically be seeking to gain then is the assurance that they tried to help prevent a remorseless criminal from becoming a US Senator.

Their accusations, if they were lies, wouldn’t be worth telling in this current cultural climate, with its new, intensely virulent strain of misogyny.

More likely than not, when all of this is “over,” they will have succeeded in doing little more than inadvertently inviting a bunch of mean-spirited mendacious scrutiny into their private lives.

They will have sacrificed their anonymity and a certain sort of sexist dignity in order to reveal a truth that no one really wants to hear.

Honestly, think about it: When has America ever rewarded a woman for calling out her politically powerful sexual attacker?

(If you’re unsure of the answer to this question, I advise you to ask Anita Hill.)

The answer is never, so how likely are these women to be lying, particularly when the current trend in public debates about women’s safety is to put the onus for the harm they suffer on women and pretend that American culture isn’t laced with a hatred of women that acts like fentanyl when you mix it with heroin.

Just look: The superficial, circular back-and-forth in which the Fed, media, and citizenry are engaging about the matter, without actually doing anything to remove Moore from Alabama’s senatorial ballot, illustrates how little America on the whole respects or appreciates women that take the socially suicidal plunge into becoming sexual whistleblowers.

And one last thing – one last point – for anyone stupid enough to argue – outside of everything else – that being a sexual offender doesn’t automatically mean that a person is unfit to govern.

I want your ass to take a look at the etiology of the typical sexual offender and then tell me that shit with a straight face.

According to science – the other system of laws that Trump and his sycophants like to bend and twist like the wiry hairs of their unsightly toupees into absurd versions of themselves – in addition to having interests and getting aroused by having sexual contact with others against those others’ wills or without those others’ consent, sexual offenders have interests and get aroused by inflicting pain and humiliation onto others, participating in violent and aggressive acts, and watching acts of violence or aggression.

They know that rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual assault are immoral, illegal, and, most of all, harmful to others, but they choose – and it is instrumental that those of us that are not sexual offenders accept this truth – that sexual offenders choose – to rape, molest, and subject their victims to other forms of sexual assault anyway.

Sexual offenders have cognitive distortions and/or pro-offending attitudes that allow them to justify the terrible things they do to others, such as believing a woman that dresses a certain way or that has hurt their feelings “wants” or “deserves” to be assaulted.

They are much more capable than non-offenders of convincing themselves that their deviant and dangerous behaviors are not as injurious or serious as they really are. They are also extremely capable of serially assaulting people because they don’t accurately perceive that they are doing serious harm, or they don’t accurately perceive the degree of harm that they cause when they assault people.

So when we you (because this is all you, Republican Party) push to put sexual offenders in public office, you are assenting that it is acceptable and perhaps even advisable to empower people that deliberately, consistently, and guiltlessly hurt others to inflict their twisted wills on innocent and undeserving men, women, and children.

And, if the evidence of that claim seems too tied into concepts of sexual behavior to encompass non-sexual behavior, then consider that a great number of sexual offenders have what clinicians refer to as a “cluster” of non-sexual personality deficits that also make them unfit to govern, among a laundry list of other social, interpersonal, and intimate things.

Sexual offenders often have ineffective communication skills; they have difficulty getting along with people; they have a profound lack of empathy; and they lack effective or healthy psychological and/or emotional coping skills.

Many cannot manage their emotions. They tend to be highly impulsive and unwilling to think through the consequences of their actions. They are often isolated because they lack social skills, and they struggle with behavioral self-regulation. They experience a lot of problems in intimate relationships, which tends to make them even less empathic and even more emotionally unstable and allow them to experience even more cognitive dissonance.

Moore is a former judge whose record bears substantial and substantive evidence that the personal issues that have impelled him to sexually attack underage women have very probably affected the way that he performs professionally.

His professional track record proves that he was unfit to be a judge and strongly suggests that he would be disastrous as a federal legislator.

Again, for the hair-splitters, these two positions are not two sides of the same coin. If police officers are, say, pennies, then prosecutors are nickels, municipal and state legislators are dimes, federal legislators are quarters, and executives are dollars.

That means state legislators have much more power than judges. Their power is much more proximal to executive and presidential power, which is even more reason why Moore has no business yielding it.

The US Congress is responsible for making laws that apply to every state in the country; Congress has the power to “declare war, coin money, raise an army and navy, regulate commerce, establish rules of immigration and naturalization, and establish the federal courts and their jurisdictions,” according to ushistory.org.

Congress oversees the annual federal budget and investigates any wrongdoings committed by public officials, including the President.

In fact, the US Congress is among one of the most powerful legislative bodies in the world.

US Senators specifically confirm presidential appointments and try impeachment officials after the House initiates impeachment procedures and raises articles of impeachment.

They serve six-year rather than two-year terms, and they approve treaties, so, in a way, they are more influential or powerful than members of the House.

So, if Moore is allowed to win a seat in the Senate, he will be afforded six years of opportunities to inject his deviant attitudes, including his old-fashioned Southern deep-fried blatant blend of fifty-leven types of bigotry, into the American political discourse and possibly even the actual governance of the country.

That thought should be repulsive to anyone that claims to want America to be great, whether again or eventually.

America has been and still is inexorably shaped by its leaders. That is why Roy Moore became a viable, front-running candidate for Alabama Senator in the first place. He hitched his wagon to the pants zipper of our predatory, pussy-grabbing 45th President.

You can pretend to be unable to imagine how Moore’s tenure in the Senate would unfold, but you know it would very probably be a legislative version of Trump’s presidency: as I said, a fucking clusterfuck.

Now, I know the chances of any of Moore’s supporters reading this blog are nil. I know that my audience of readers is largely liberal, Democrat, or independent.

But I addressed this post to Moore’s army of marauding assholes for a reason, the least of which is I had substantial amounts of anger and frustration to expel.

I addressed this post to Moore and his unfortunate ilk because I feel I need to make the point that Moore’s political ascension is symbolic of an alarming sexist trend occurring in this country’s political culture.

A very small but very powerful white male cis-hetero contingent of the leadership of the Republican Party has become so terrified of the Party losing its political foothold that they have adopted this pro quid pro ethic by which they will work to place sexual deviants and criminals in office as long as these men prevent Democrats from taking office.

This is extremely dangerous because in the process of snatching up presidencies and Congressional seats they are also destigmatizing – they are normalizing – at least in political ideology and rhetoric – sexual assault and abuse.

We who know what a horrific slippery slope down which this can lead American culture cannot stand by while they do this and simply roll our eyes, suck our teeth, and mumble under our collective breath about how “ridiculous” they are and their endeavor is.

We have to speak truth to power. We have to say – whenever we have a chance of being heard – that they are dead fucking wrong. And we have to fight them in whatever ways we can.

I know that anti-Trump Americans are tired of this refrain, but the midterm elections are coming up next year.

And those of us that care about making this country, shit, safer for women again need to demand that the candidates in next year’s elections explicitly decry this insidious polemical “conservative” vein of misogyny that has crept into our politics, and they back their renouncements with consistent, meaningful action that reverses the damage the Trump White House has done, before we give them our votes.

In an open letter to Sean Hannity in response to the flurry of accusations that has surrounded him, Moore says that his wife Kayla and he have five granddaughters.

He throws that up at Hannity And Hannity’s Twitter followers as if being a grandparent to girls somehow makes it impossible for him an abuser of girls.

What Moore doesn’t say, in unequivocal language, is that he did not have sexual dealings with the women that are accusing him of having assaulted them.

He denies the allegations of two of his victims, Leigh Corfman and Beverly Nelson, and says he “did not date underage girls.” I suspect, however, that Moore is playing a similar semantical game to his supporters when he says he did not “date” underage girls. Because he didn’t date these women when they were underage. He molested them. He harassed them. He stalked them. He assaulted them

I think he knows it, and we know it, and we should do something about it. I think that is our obligation as citizens.

We should make America’s political sphere as unsafe for predators like Moore as he apparently made the Gadsden Mall – what appears to have been his favorite place to go trolling  back in the early eighties – for young unsuspecting girls.

We should build a wall around the federal government that blocks out assholes like Moore.

We should lock them out even if we can’t fucking lock them up.

.

 

 

Taking Advantage of Teachable Moments, Or What I Learned From My Parents’ Marriage Re-commitment Ceremony

Yesterday, my parents celebrated 35 years of marriage with an intimate, beautiful re-commitment ceremony. And as amazing as that may sound in itself, and the concept of two people surviving 35 years of marriage may seem, it is even more so because of who my parents are.

My mother and father are two incredibly complex people. They are both black. They are both bright. They are both ambitious. They were both brought up with the same bootstrap mentality and unapologetic middle class aspirations.

They are both fully formed individuals. They are lovers and fighters. They are deeply emotional. Passionate. Strong. Creative.

They are two incredible forces that have clashed just as spectacularly over the years as they have come together to make a way for our family.

They are formidable, each on their own, and even more so as a married couple.

I was overjoyed to be able to pay tribute to them, and I can only hope to one day have with my husband something like what they have with each other.

It was an unqualified pleasure to be a part of their re-commitment ceremony, to have the opportunity to tell them how proud I am to be a product of their union, and watch them revel in the joy of their accomplishment.

Because staying together through all the myriad changes of an adult life – with all the complications of gender, convolutions of heteromance, and crises of blackness – is not something people do accidentally. It is something they can only do through the strenuous exercise of will, character, commitment, and then love.

Love is first, but it’s also last, when it comes to making marriage work.

And that’s just one of the reflections I had during last night’s festivities.

Here are a few more . . .

Joy is a practice.

One of my best friends, Melissa, is a master at it. Even though she just caught a rough, completely undeserved break in her personal life, she still came out to support my people and brought all the love in her heart and appreciation for friendship and family that she could muster. I’m sure she had her troubles lurking somewhere in the back of her head, but she got out on that dance floor once the DJ got his set going, and she danced anyway.

You have to fucking dance anyway.

Thankfulness is medicine.

I had my own relationship drama going on in the hours leading up to the ceremony. I was really upset and wondering whether my husband and I might make it to this morning, let alone through 35 years of marriage. Yet, once I got up to the front of the room to speak to my parents, and I started telling them how grateful I am for their marriage, their love, their support, their example, I couldn’t feel anything except that gratitude I was expressing. I couldn’t do anything except open up to the truth of how blessed I am.

I am so blessed.

Love is the best thing to have in abundance.

This has been a rough summer for me financially. I didn’t get any adjunct work, and I didn’t run into any more luck finding a full-time gig than I’ve had over the last three years since I lost my last one. I taught for Upward Bound through the whole month of June, and then I had nothing to do. No income coming in, as my mom always jokes. But my shit has been decidedly unfunny. And unpretty.

Still, last night, again, I wasn’t worried about it. I didn’t have that skinless feeling of lack that’s been dogging me since the start of July. I felt so loved, talking, laughing, dancing with, breathing in my family and friends. I felt so lucky.

What they reminded me is – if I didn’t have their love, all the steady paychecks in the world wouldn’t do shit.

Vulnerability is worth the risk.

I am the softie in my nuclear family. My mother is the general. My father is the jokester. My sister is the thug.

I spoke first during the ceremony and spilled out all of my emotions in my typical fashion. It wasn’t intimidating for me in the least. All my years of undiagnosed, untreated ADHD have taught me that acting on impulse can be immensely satisfying. If situationally costly. Still, this was an instance in which I had nothing to lose. I wanted to make sure my parents knew everything I felt for them, and so I told them. No one in the room was surprised by it. They weren’t surprised by it. That’s my 1-2, to quote my sister.

What did surprise us – what surprised me – was how open my father and sister were with their feelings. My father generally hides behind humor in his best moments and sarcasm in his worst. And my sister is just a tough, yet entirely lovable, nut to crack. Yet, she got open and spilled her guts for Mom and Dad on their anniversary. My father said all the romantic things you hear movie or TV fathers say about their wives – that make you wonder why your parents never talk to or about each other that way. And I was moved near to tears.

And my mother – who is as pragmatic as they come – was giddy as a girl, standing there, wrapped in the spell of my father’s words.

She didn’t roll her eyes or suck her teeth, as she almost certainly would’ve if he’d made one of his classic jokes.

She beamed all of the love he was giving her right back at him.

Watching, I wanted to tiptoe over, tap him, and ask if her reaction had reformed the smartass in him for good.

Maybe. We’ll see.

Either way, I was thrilled to be there for that glimpse at that big ol’ heart my father is always trying to hide.

I was fully in the present, and it was a glorious space to inhabit for the few hours I was able.

Then, the clock struck on the event. I had to become Michelle again (with my family, I am Mikki). I had to become Mom again.

I went around and kissed everyone and bid them good-bye.

I told them thank you for coming. For being here for my family and me.

And I meant it.

As I get older, I try to take advantage of all the teachable moments in my life. Especially the ones like this. That instruct my spirit.

 

I Wrote This Back in June; I Guess I’ve Had the Babies on My Brain All Summer

Yesterday & Today: Just Some Monday Afternoon Thoughts on the Myriad Complications of Michelle-ing 

I am participating in an interactive art installation titled “Fallout” at a museum in my home city.*

The installation is an interrogation of the concept of protection as it relates to public life in America.

The creators of the installation are posing these questions with the work: In this country, who’s protected and who isn’t? How are decisions about how lives are and aren’t valued made, every day, by both policy-makers and everyday Americans? What’s the difference between false protections and real ones?

These women – that happen to be white – are building a fallout shelter like those utilized during the Cold War inside of a local museum and staging therein conversations between diverse artists, activists, and others about “systemic violence, the manufacturing and manipulation of fear for political gain, and what real protection could actually mean” in this age of hacked elections and hack politicians.

At the same time that I’m preparing for my part in this installation, I am also readying a syllabus for my Upward Bound Summer Academy classes. The director has asked me to teach the YA novel, The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas – a story of a 16-year-old black girl named Starr whose best friend, Khalil, is killed by a white police officer right in front of her one tragic night after they leave a house party together.

This is my life. I have a day job and what I consider a calling, and, often, they intersect. And then my “real” life – of adulting and mothering – forms a third junction – and I am traveling down three different paths to the answer to whatever “big” question is looming in my mind, or pressing on my chest, at the moment.

And I always have these “big” questions because I am a teacher and writer and mother and woman and black person and American, so the world is nothing for me except unending flux.

Yesterday, my little girl had a soccer game, but she didn’t want to go. She didn’t want to go to practice on Friday, either. She says the girls on the team are “mean” to her. They don’t hit her or call her names, but they don’t seek to partner with her during drills. Only a couple of them will even chat with her between drills or on the sidelines of games, and there are a couple others that regularly point out to her how they can execute certain foot skills better than she can.

She is the only black girl on the team. She plays soccer because her father played soccer as a kid. He coaches soccer. He loves soccer. He passed that love onto her. She’s been playing since she was four. She’s nine now. She’s made the jump from recreational to the all-city team, and it’s been hard for her.

The girls on her half of the all-city team are in the third grade together; they see each other during the day in school and on the playground at recess. They have connections outside of soccer. Some even live in the same cul-de-sac.

But my baby entered kindergarten early. She’s a year ahead of them at school, so she’s in a different building. We don’t carpool with them. She’s not in any of their Girl Scout troops. She doesn’t play softball or any other sport with any of them. Her only “in” with them is soccer, but they have their cliques, and she’s not in any of them.

Then, there are the mitigating factors outside of the logistics.

My girl is gifted and precocious. She doesn’t like to do things that don’t come easily to her. She gets easily distracted when she’s not doing something all-consuming like playing video games or reading, and she gets easily discouraged when she makes mistakes. She’s extremely hard on herself. She is guarded with people that don’t seem open to her. She cannot take criticism very well, and she only wants to talk about the topics that interest her – and soccer isn’t actually one of them.

Still, when she’s “on,” she exhibits a real talent for the sport, and she takes immense pride when she is able to do something “good” or “right” on the soccer field. She just isn’t a total “soccer girl,” which many of the girls on her team are. She’s a video gamer.

I honestly think only half of her incentive to play soccer is her love of the sport; the other half is her desire to please her father and me. We think soccer is a good idea because we want her to learn to be a productive part of a team, get some regular exercise, and develop the will and ability to push herself when she feels challenged.

Yet, yesterday, when she said she didn’t want to play in her game because the girls on the team are “mean,” I felt this undeniable urge to tell her that she didn’t have to play. Ever again. I wanted to protect her from the complications of her situation. I wanted to make it easy for her.

It’s difficult, when you’re the parent of a black child in a predominantly white environment, to navigate the microsociology. You have to think really hard to determine if and when your child is being treated a certain way because of her race. You cannot help but question whether race is a factor in any social problem your child experiences.

There is a part of me that thinks my daughter is having a hard time fitting into her soccer team because she is the only black girl, and she’s not being wholly welcomed. Yes, there are Chinese girls on the team, but they are the adopted children of white parents. It’s easy to think of them as white because they are white identified. There is an Indian girl on the team, but Indians are “model minorities” in a sense (as are Chinese people); they’re not stigmatized in the way that black people are. There is another girl on the team whose ethnicity is either Hispanic or Latina – I’m not sure – but she doesn’t fare much better socially than my daughter.

And, no, my baby isn’t being bullied. I would never allow that. She is just being . . . overlooked? Yes, that is probably the best word. A few girls that were on her old recreational teams talk to her. The Indian girl talks to her. One of the Asian girls talks to her. The coaches give her individual attention and the same number of turns as all of the other girls to play offense, defense, and goalie. She plays in every quarter of every game. The parents cheer for her when she does well, and the coaches congratulate her for having “good” games. Yet, the majority of the girls on her team treat her like she’s invisible. They’re not “mean,” but they hurt her nonetheless.

And I hate it. I hate it because it plants the seed in her mind that there may be something wrong with her. They talk so freely and incessantly with each other, albeit in two or three separate “pockets,” it’s hard to make the argument that she is not being ostracized in some sense.

So there I was yesterday. Stuck. Trying to think of the right thing to say to my daughter. Trying to push back the thought of pulling her from the team. Telling myself it was silly because she’s also the only black girl in her gifted class at school, and she might be the only black girl in her major in college – like I was – and what am I going to do? Pull her out of her very well-funded, excellently rated public school? Force her to go to an HBCU if she doesn’t want to or choose a major that is more, well, “black” than computer science (what she insists she wants to study)?

Am I going to send her the message that the only thing she can do when being black gets hard for her is to cut herself off? Sequester herself? Or stick to segregated social situations that may not allow her to explore her true interests or follow her true aspirations?

This is what it’s like for black parents, on a micro scale. You don’t know whether protecting your child means pushing them to deal in a world that is often hostile toward their blackness or shielding them from that world.

This is what the parents in the novel, The Hate U Give, agonize over in their quest to successfully raise their children.

They – the fictional Lisa and Maverick – are products of a poor black neighborhood that want to give their children the experience of growing up in their “own” world, but also provide them the privileges of being educated in the “white” one.

They make their children go to an all-white prep school, where the protagonist, Starr, struggles with the ethics of code-switching and interracial dating and the constant fear of being stigmatized as “ghetto” or stereotyped as the “angry black girl.”

The gap between the two worlds makes her feel almost entirely liminal – like she belongs nowhere and no one can understand her.

My husband and I live in an outer ring suburb of one of the most segregated cities in the US. The suburb itself is racially diverse, but the culture of the suburb is segregated.

The children go to school together. They play sports and they are scouts together. They take swim lessons and go to summer camps together. They make friends across racial lines when they are younger, but it appears to me — as I watch the high school kids walk to and from the bus stops and congregate in the local fast food spots — that they start “grouping off” by color as they get older.

Even though I’m relatively sure my daughter will end up in a social group of black kids that will like and appreciate her — and not stuck in an isolated margin like Starr — I also know that this “grouping off” — when it happens to her class  — is going to hurt her deeply.

Right now, her closest friends are a white girl and boy that adore Pokémon and book series about anthropomorphic cats and owls just as much as she does. She has really good black girls friends, but they’re not in her class, so she doesn’t see them everyday. She sees this girl in class, and this boy on the bus after school, and being able to talk to them about the things she loves — with unadulterated enthusiasm and complete understanding — makes her really happy. I hate the thought that she might lose that.

And I can’t protect her from it.

I can’t make these kids stay friends with her if they don’t want to. Just like I can’t make the girls on the soccer team befriend her if they don’t want to. Just like I can’t make it so that predominantly black schools in our city provide the same level of education as her suburban school so I could send her to one. Just like I can’t guarantee that going to a predominantly black school — after five years of attending her “multicultural” suburban school — would guarantee her a bunch of social acceptance and friends.

The creators of the installation I wrote about in the opening paragraphs of this post are posing the question: What can real protection mean? This is a question that I know every parent actively involved in raising his or her child asks himself or herself every day, but it is a particularly thorny one for black parents.

Because this soccer “thing” is just the tip of the iceberg for my girl and me.

She is only nine, but I’ve already been compelled to discuss with her how to act if she’s approached by the cops.

I’ve had to tell her that the typical teenage “hijinks” that her white friends and classmates may get up to when they are older — pranking each other or arguing with teachers or getting into it with each other — are not acceptable for her because police and school administrators tend to come down harder on black kids. The discipline gap is real. She can’t ruin her permanent school record or gain an arrest record and expect to get into a “good” college.

Not to mention, she might get shot and killed by a cop — if the cops are called — over what will surely be termed a “misunderstanding” or “unfortunate incident.” Just like poor, sweet, but misguided Khalil in The Hate U Give.

The only real protection I can give her — as I see it — is the truth. Things like playing soccer on an interracial team are always going to be harder for you because you’re black. You can tough it out – I will be there to support and love you when your teammates won’t. Or you can quit and possibly miss out on a valuable growth opportunity.

I asked my girl, yesterday, to try my approach to situations like hers. When I am the only black person in a space, I block out my insecurities and any unwelcome vibes or feelings I get from anyone else, and I make up my mind to kill whatever I am in the space to do. To prove to myself that I have just as much right to be there as anyone else. To make myself proud.

I told her that love comes from home.

The most she can expect from her teammates or classmates or colleagues – when she’s older and working – is respect.

Earn it, I told her. By being the best you can be.

Or better yet. Just play the game. Love it like you do. Focus on the joy of being out there and getting to run and kick, breathe the fresh air and feel your self be vital and mobile.

Do what our ancestors have always done. Make a shelter for yourself in personal greatness, self-love, and self-acceptance.

Yeah.

We’ll see what the fallout of all my “motivation” is in Little One’s life.

We’ll see how all of this influences the art I make as part of the installation and on my own.

We’ll see whether my students, when we discuss their reading, will accept my concept of protecting oneself as a black person as readily as my baby did.

  • For personal reasons, I’ve decided not to participate in the workshops centered around “Fallout,” although I encourage anyone that can attend to attend. I know and trust the facilitators, and I believe in their values and wisdom. As far as I can tell, the workshops should be amazing.

Love Is a Battlefield: Why I Am Reflecting on the State of America Rather Than My Baby Girl on the Eve of Her 10th Birthday

What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? 
From the Book of Micah

Ten years ago today, I gave birth to a 6 lb. 15 oz. baby girl that her father and I rather casually named Micaiah. This is the whole name of the Jewish prophet Micah. Her father and I didn’t choose it for cultural or religious purposes; I wanted to name her “Kai,” but Dad said that was a nickname, not a first name, so we compromised.

Today, though, with Charlottesville and Trump’s pathetic response to it, the name has become uncannily coincidental.

Micah, in his time (737 — 696 BCE), predicted the downfall of Jerusalem because its leaders had used dishonest business practices to build up and beautify the city and impoverished its citizens in the process. Micah told the leaders of Jerusalem that if they didn’t abandon their corrupt ways, the city would be destroyed. It took 150 years, apparently, but his prophecy came true in 586 BCE, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem.

Trump got elected by pandering to poor whites that held a grudge against the political establishment for failing to rescue them from the hardships created by the 2008 Recession and the growth of globalization and the green economy; One Percenters that wanted to reapportion any wealth they lost during Obama’s administration back to their pockets; political conservatives that wanted to topple anyone whose social ascension during the Obama administration threatened their hegemony; and white supremacists that wanted to see Obama’s legacy desecrated and the infinitesimal social gains made by people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community during his time in office snatched back from us like we are thieves.

He lied about building a wall to block Mexican immigration. He lied about instituting a ban to block Muslim immigration. He lied about establishing a federal healthcare program that would work more effectively than Obamacare. He lied about providing “safe neighborhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism” for all Americans.

Yes, these are actual words he uttered during his Republican Convention speech last summer.

He built a new, re-energized America over the one left by Obama, but he used lies as his figurative bricks and hatred (the conjoined twin of fear) as his figurative mortar. And now it looks as if America is about to be destroyed. From the inside out.

I say this because a mob of alt-right identifiers, white nationalists, and Neo-Nazis — and I am using this term correctly in this case, unlike racist reporters that use it when they want to vilify peaceful protestors of color — converged for a series of “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville, VA on Friday (August 11) to be carried out in broad fucking daylight.

Ostensibly, the protests were aimed at the Democratic-voting city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee and change the name of the park where the statue is located from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. But, when you consider the amplifying effect Trump’s election has had on racist violence among American civilians, and the increasing number of news reports that the public is growing dissatisfied with Trump’s ineptitude, I think the protestors were really making an emboldened preemptive strike at Trump dissenters.

I think they were trying to quash the birth of a solidified movement against his re-election in 2020 before it can start.

The New York Times even reported that “[David] Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, told reporters on Saturday that the protesters were ‘going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump’ to ‘take our country back.'”

Dr. Cornel West has said that the “crypto-fascists, the neo[-]fascists, the neo-Nazis . . . feel . . . empowered, not just by Trump but by the whole shift in the nation towards scapegoats,” which makes it even easier to read the “Unite the Right” gathering as more of a rally than a protest — rally as in “recover or cause to recover in health, spirits, or poise.”

Trump has been taking hits in the press for allegedly colluding with Putin to influence the outcome of last year’s election; continuing to play political “footsie” with Putin under the proverbial political table, even though the intelligence community has confirmed that Russia did interfere in the election, whether with or without Trump’s aiding and/or abetting; and making serious yet heedless threats at North Korea and Venezuela, of all fucking places.

His supporters may be myopic, but they’re not blind, and they can see that he’s losing ground in the so-called “battle” against the political establishment and the Democrats, liberals, progressives, and social justice activists they scornfully refer to as “snowflakes.”

That is why they went so hard in what is realistically a small battle on a relatively inconsequential ground. They used Charlottesville to make a splashy statement about their unwillingness to crawl back into the metaphoric hole that is American white supremacist subculture now that Trump has made it acceptable for them to be out and slithering about.

On Friday, a group of 100 of these white nationalists marched across the campus of the University of Virginia — over a mile from Lee Park — leveling tiki torches, giving the Nazi salute, and yelling “blood and soil,” “white lives matter,” and “you will not replace us” at students and activists gathered in opposition to “Unite the Right.”

Dara Lind of Vox writes that “a brawl broke out when [the nationalists] — nearly all white men — surrounded a small group of counter[-]protesters [that] were peacefully surrounding a statue of Thomas Jefferson at the center of campus.”

“Counter-protesters reported being hit with pepper spray by marchers,” she claims.

Local activist Emily Gorcenski told the Guardian that the nationalist marchers blocked the counter-protesters from leaving the site where the nationalists were harassing them, but the police did not intervene in the situation until “long after the [nationalists] had struck out” at the counter-protestors.

“I am safe. I am not fine,” she tweeted after the confrontation. “What I just witnessed was the end of America.”

UVA student Ian Ware provided an even more harrowing narration of the events on Friday to MTV News:

Those were all of my friends that were gathered around the statue. I was filming them. It was supposed to be a secret protest; the information was leaked to organizers yesterday morning. There was a pretty quick scramble to try to do something, to counter-protest. What it ended up being was a group of UVA students, groups from around the community, and anti-fascist leaders just literally trying to blockade the Jefferson statue in front of the rotunda, which is of course the most iconic image of Charlottesville and UVA. We were all standing there, waiting, and we heard them, and they just started pouring over the steps of the rotunda, just hundreds of literal Nazis. They were doing the Nazi salute. They were calling everyone slurs. They were pushing people off the stairs of the rotunda. They came down and surrounded our crew of people who were all just trying to keep their faces down and stay safe. A fight broke out, and I could see what was happening, but not who started it; at one point, Nazis were waving their torches at our people and swinging them at us. They threw torches on the ground. There was fire everywhere. Someone had either tear gas or some mace [substance] that a bunch of people got on their faces. Afterwards, they finally started dispersing, but it was really, really terrifying, especially seeing Nazis come over the crest of the most important place at our university, the place you go when you first get into UVA, the place you see every day when you go to class. The pictures of them walking around the grounds were just stunning in the worst way.

The Washington Post reported that a counter-protester used some chemical agent on quite a few nationalist marchers as well.

Though it might seem impossible, things got worse in Charlottesville on Saturday. Protestors that supported the decision to remove the statue — mind, with the same right to assemble and free speech that the white nationalists have — faced off with the mob, and violence unfortunately — and maybe even inevitably — ensued.

According to The New York Times, there was “shoving and outright brawling,” though the reporter doesn’t specify whether it was instigated by the white nationalist or anti-Confederate protestors. Either way, the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency in the city, he called in the National Guard, and, as the white nationalists were dispersing, and some anti-Confederate protestors were rejoicing, a 20-year-old white man (not boy) named James Alex Fields, Jr. from Maumee, (it fucking had to be) Ohio (didn’t it?) allegedly ran his car into a throng of anti-Confederate protestors gathered in a downtown mall area.

Fields — or the undiscovered assailant if Fields is proven to be innocent of the crime — killed one 32-year-old woman and injured 19 other people, according to reports by CNN, The New York Times, The LA Times, and The Washington Post.

To cap off this recount, I’ll just paraphrase Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones: Hate came to Virginia in a way most Americans had hoped we would never see again, but knew could be easily stirred up by granting someone like Trump presidential power.

If you haven’t already connected the dots, this Charlottesville tragedy reads to me like the second stage of the destruction of the American republic. The first stage was Trump’s election. I fear the next stage will be our entrance into a war with North Korea that will be a horrifying repeat of Vietnam.

It reads to me like the fulfillment of a prophecy made collectively by Trump’s dissenters in the days and weeks after he took office. They saw, like Micah saw with Jerusalem, that Trump had won the election by corrupt means, he would govern the country by corrupt means, and America would pay for allowing him to gain power that it was obvious he would misuse and abuse.

I have tied Micah in with Charlottesville here, or Charlottesville in with Micah, because, as I said at the opening of this post, ten years ago today, I gave birth to my first and only child, Micaiah. Today is her day. Her first “double digit” birthday. I should be all about her today.

And I was at first.

Her celebratory weekend actually started out very sweetly and sentimentally for me.

As I tucked her into bed on Friday, I kissed her and began crying when I saw how far her legs stretched out over her mattress beneath her butterfly comforter. I realized that she is nearly five-feet tall – just five inches shorter than me — she is not a baby anymore.

I rejoiced that she is still here with me. That she is healthy and seems to be happy.

I always wanted to be a mother, and I always wanted a daughter. I thought, when I got pregnant, that Micaiah would be a boy because her father has a lot of boys in his family, but there they were – those three tell-tale lines on the sonogram that told us the Eatman-Valentine family was ushering a sixth generation of women.

(My maternal great-grandmother had one girl; that girl (my grandmother) had three girls; the oldest of those girls (my mother) had two girls (her sisters had no children); and I have Micaiah, who will not have a sibling by me, but may get a cat or dog in the next couple of years if she proves to be responsible enough to handle it.)

I was ecstatic to be having a girl child. Yes, I wanted to dress her in the cute little dresses and tie bows in her hair, but I also wanted to teach her everything I know about being a black woman in America. I wanted to learn all of the things that motherhood, and she, would undoubtedly teach me, and I wanted to watch her manifest the dreams of my great-grandmother and grandmother even more splendidly than my mother, aunts, sister, and me.

I wanted to love her. I wanted to experience the sort of divine giving and sharing and communing that parents do. I wanted to grow in the way that parenting – and in particular mothering – grows you. I wanted to be a part of a miracle. I wanted those nine months to witness the wonder of my body doing what it was reproductively designed to do. I wanted to go through labor and finally understand — at perhaps the deepest level — the work my mother did to bring me into this world. I wanted to be able to connect with my mother as a fellow mother and have our friendship deepen. I wanted to connect with my then-boyfriend, now-husband as a co-parent and have our partnership deepen as well.

But, mostly, I wanted to meet my daughter. I wanted to know her. I had a feeling she would be someone whose existence would completely alter mine. And I was righter than I’ve ever been about anything. I am a different person because I had her, and she is in my life. I can barely remember who I was before, and I only miss her in rare instances when I feel especially challenged to do the right thing as Micaiah’s Mama (I’m Mama, not Mommy).

Micaiah is so many wonderful things. She is bright. She is goofy. She is funny. She is affectionate. She is compassionate. She is mischievous. She is moody. She has a very stable sense of identity. She is content with who she is. She is independent and single-minded. She can be vain, but she can also be generous in giving respect and admiration to others. She speaks and takes up for herself. She has a fiery temper and smart mouth, but she also has a tender heart and humble spirit.

Micaiah can admit she is wrong and say she is sorry — something I consider to be a major signifier of decent character. She says “thank you” to me for doing the most mundane things for her, like packing her lunch, and she asks for dozens of kisses from me everyday. She has her own taste, and she isn’t shaken when she realizes that what she is thinking, feeling, or doing is different than the status quo. She takes pleasure and pride in being her own person.

Micaiah follows me around the house all day, talking incessantly about Pokémon, boring me half to death, but, God, I miss her when she’s not there. She is everything to me, and even when I am furious with her, I can still find something in what she’s done to make me proud.

So tell me why — as we shopped for her new Nintendo Switch at Target, picked out a dress for her birthday dinner at Longhorn, had a cake decorated for her gift-opening after dinner — as we sat at dinner and talked about her entering fifth grade and teased her about being able to devour a 10-ounce ribeye all on her own — I should have had to have what was happening in Charlottesville hunkering in the back of my mind?

Toni Morrison — one of my favorite writers and creative role models — attempts to illustrate in her novels not just how institutional racism shapes and thwarts the lives of black people in America, but how its emotional and psychological effects can poison our most intimate experiences and dealings with each other.

In Beloved, she tells a fictionalized version of actual fugitive slave Margaret Garner’s life story.

In 1856, Garner, a probable product of the rape of her mother by her mother’s master, just twenty-one-years-old, pregnant, along with her husband and four children, escaped the Maplewood Plantation in Boone County, Kentucky, where Garner had been used as a “sexual stand-in” by her white owner during his wife’s pregnancies and borne three children — Samuel, Mary, and Priscilla — from his serial raping.

Garner and her family, with 11 others, crossed a frozen section of the Ohio River near Covington, Kentucky and fled to Mill Creek, near Cincinnati, Ohio, where Garner and her family joined with her uncle, Joe Kite.

Kite hid Garner and her family while he met with abolitionist Levi Coffin to discuss the best options for settlement for the Garners, and Coffin agreed to help the Garners travel to Canada, where they would not be subject to the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law.

Before Coffin could help Garner and her family escape further North, however, a group of slave catchers and US marshals found them barricaded in Kite’s home. These men surrounded then stormed the house, so, in order that they wouldn’t be returned to slavery, Garner stabbed her two-year-old daughter to death with a butcher knife and attempted to kill her other children.

Thankfully, she was subdued by members of the posse that had invaded her uncle’s home before she could do more than injure any of her other three children.

Garner was put in jail then she was put on trial, during which the presiding judge ruled that the Fugitive Slave Law had supervening authority over state murder laws, nullifying the prosecutors’ criminal charges against Garner. And rather than being convicted of murder, Garner was returned to enslavement in Kentucky. She toiled as a slave in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee for another two years before dying of typhoid fever in 1858.

Anti-black racists might say about this tragedy that Garner merely demonstrated the moral depravity and savagery that is intrinsic in black people’s nature when she killed her daughter, and I would never say that what she did was sane or “right,” but I will say that PTSD is a significant predictor of psychotic disorder, and it is not a stretch in the least to assume that after being repeatedly raped over months-long stretches, and giving birth to three children that were products of that rape, Garner was suffering from PTSD and very probably psychosis when she attacked her children.

She may even have been experiencing dissociation in the form of hallucinations, paranoia, flashbacks, extreme detachment, or thought disorder since researchers have not convincingly ruled out the possibility that chronic stress and repeated trauma may cause disorders that are not unlike schizophrenia in their sufferers.

The science of her situation, however, is not the point.

The point is the effects of the abuse she suffered as a slave — while at the extreme of the continuum of racist violence — bled — literally and figuratively — all over her parenting dynamic.

Even at the time of Garner’s trial, white abolitionist Lucy Stone was able to recognize the horrific logic in what Garner had done.

“The faded faces of the Negro children tell too plainly to what degradation the female slaves submit,” she reportedly said when called to the stand during Garner’s trial.

“Rather than give her daughter to that life, she killed [her],” Stone argued.

“If in her deep maternal love she felt the impulse to send her child back to God, to save [her] from coming woe, who shall say she had no right not to do so.”

The point is that Garner was pushed to the brink of sanity by the realization that she couldn’t create a physical or ontological (metaphysical) safe space in which she could mother her children with emotional or psychological purity or clarity.

And Charlottesville happening on my baby’s tenth birthday has reminded me that neither can I.

Even in 2017, as a mother, I still have the threat of harm coming to my child, her father, or me just because we are black in America — lumped on to — mind you — the universal fear of every human being that something bad will happen to someone they love that runs courses through our brains as naturally as serotonin, dopamine, or GABA — dogging my every fucking second of interaction. Shit, my every fucking second of existence.

It’s a heavier load than white mothers have to bear — flat-out. And it feels even more oppressive because it is baseless — it is bottomless — it is edgeless — it is seemingly endless. It is so extremely unfair that thinking about it too intently for too long can make me cry from frustration and helplessness.

I did nothing to make my skin black or myself American. Yet, I have inherited a birthright that denies me not just an astounding array of basic human rights but the unencumbered experience of a gut-wrenching range of basic human emotions and experiences as well.

My love is a battlefield because I have to fight through the skein of my blackness — in my head and my heart — to give it.

My literal home may be the only place where I can peel back the coiled threads of racial consciousness that bind my being for even just a minute and mentally and emotionally breathe, but, even there, hatred creeps in — through the soundtrack of a news report playing on my television, reading of a post on social media, residual impact of some nasty interaction in the street, or lingering depression over occurrences like the one in Charlottesville.

My love is a battlefield, too, because I will never stop fighting to love — to be loving — to be loved — despite all of the hateful things that happen in America and to me because racism and bigotry are allowed to thrive, and liberty and justice are seemingly dying of something akin to sociopolitical cancer.

I fought to give my baby a happy birthday. I fight to make sure my baby has a happy childhood. I will keep fighting to do everything possible to help her grow up to have happy life.

The Right won’t stop me with all their egregious wrongs.

Micaiah doesn’t read my blog — even though she tells me all the time that she is proud that I am a writer — but I will put this message here anyway.

It’s for her, but it’s also for me. Proof that in the fight to retain all the dimensions of my humanity, I am still winning.

Happy Birthday, Micaiah, my Little Moo. I cannot think of any privilege greater than being able to aid in and witness your growth and development into a woman.

You are the sun to my moon. The source of so much of my pride and joy. One of the best reasons I get out of bed in the morning. My proof of God’s grace. 

I have a lot of words, Heaven knows, but none that can truly express how much I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back Like Cooked Crack

I tried really hard to do the “right” thing. To put blogging on the back burner so I could devote myself more fully to searching for a full-time job.

I locked up this blog, started another anonymous one, and began combing the employment sites. I reworked then re-reworked my resume. I reached out to the few contacts I have. I applied to every job that sounded even halfway workable. I mean – I really did try to be good.

But I couldn’t stop missing this space. I couldn’t stop longing to write here again. I couldn’t stop feeling as if I had abandoned something that I shouldn’t have abandoned or stopped doing something I should be doing.

So, I’m back. The blog is public again, and I am re-committed to posting on a regular basis. And extremely excited about the prospect of writing more, reconnecting with “old” readers, and possibly gaining some new ones.

In the meantime, I am still pretty excited about the fact that I published my first book – a volume of poetry called Ariel in Black.

You can buy it here: https://blackgirlpoet.wixsite.com/michellesmith/publications.

All purchases go to my broke-ass pockets because I didn’t get any of those full-time jobs for which I applied, if that isn’t already apparent.

About that…

I think it might be a combination of my patchy work history, age, degree area, and/or advanced vocabulary, which probably runs the gamut from making it difficult for your standard HR officer to fully comprehend my cover letters to making him or her think I am an insufferable intellectual snob.

Whatever.

I like my words, and I like to use them.

It’s funny.

Over these last few months, in which I have been doing more agonizing than either job searching or writing, I found myself fixing on my book – on its introduction – on what I wrote about my inspiration, Sylvia Plath, and my process as an artist, which I am, even though I shrink from owning the title because I am still too strung up in wanting and seeking middle class “stability” to summarily fuck the rat race and try to write professionally.

In that intro, I wrote – and I still cannot believe these words came from me –

Blackness is a really complicated thing for a hetero woman in America.

It has enough rules to put the US Code to shame.

You are not allowed to sad because so many that came before you suffered so much more than you, and they were never sad; they were strong.

You are not allowed to be crazy because so many that came before you suffered so much more than you, and they never escaped into madness; they were strong.

You are not allowed to be ambivalent because there are only two acceptable things to do as a black woman – you can stand or you can fight.

You are not allowed to have any problems that weren’t doled out by your history or anatomy.

You cannot cry except at death, and it is the only sort of loss that you can linger on.

You cannot despair, no matter how desperate you are.

You cannot lament your blackness, no matter how it blinds you to your beauty or blocks the sun from you.

You have to love black men when they spurn you.

You have to love black women when they spurn you.

You have to love every black person you meet, whether their greeting is happy or hateful. Whether they want to join your parade or piss on it.

You have to keep secrets that claw at the insides of your guts and throat to be told.

You have to swallow complaints that going down can rip your insides like a rusty nail or screw.

You are not allowed to be honest at the cost of being dignified.

You can only tell your story as a myth or legend, fable or fairy tale.

There are not rules, for the record. They are The Rules. Spelled out for me by my respectable mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother that came before me.

I grew up with the demands for strength, goodness, decency, and solidity hanging over my crib like a mobile.

I understood by six that I had very few acceptable choices for my future beyond getting an education and forging a successful career.

I could marry if I wanted to, and have children if I wanted to, but being a certain type of woman wasn’t an option.

I was a talky, antsy, moody, sassy, nasty girl that was expected to grow into a stoic, stable, suitable woman.

I felt suffocated by that expectation, too. Like it would kill all the joy, wonder, curiosity, humor, and needful angst inside of me.

Until I found Sylvia.

She showed me what to do.

Write it out.

Write it all out.

And fuck what anybody has to say about it . . .

I write to free myself, I know. And when it doesn’t work . . . I write more. I write harder. I write bloodier.

I am too much of a black woman to surrender such a hard-fought thing as my life to something as common as pain.*

But then I am too much of a thin-skinned girl to pretend that pain doesn’t act like a slow poison on my heart and mind.*

It was painful for me to shut up this blog. It shut down my heart and mind, to an extent. I was following The Rules when I made the decision, and following The Rules doesn’t suit me any more now than it did when I was younger or back in 2015, when I wrote that intro.

So I’ve decided to stop, once and for all.

So I’ve opened this blog up again. I’ve opened myself up again.

Michelle is back, bluer, and i-er than ever – on a first name basis with the truth that I am a writer, that is all I’ve ever wanted to be, and that’s exactly what I should be.

I have to say, too.

It feels fucking good to be back.

* I substituted “sadness” in the original text with “pain” in this iteration.

 

Connecting Thots: Linking Carolyn Bryant to Kellyanne Conway on that Goddamn Couch to the Need for Black People to Be More Woke in Three Arduous Steps

I’m going to cast my web wide and then pull it in slowly, so bear with me, please.

I want to touch on a lot of things in this post, like Donald Trump in a dressing room full of beauty pageant contestants.

I’ll wend my way to Kellyanne Conway and what my sister would refer to as her “dry-faced ass” eventually.

(Excuse that anti-feminist lapse right there. And the use of the term “thot” in the title. Racist capers make me even more angry when they come from women.)

I.

I grew up with a mother that taught literature. So we had a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology on our bookcase. I never understood why we had it, though, until I went to college and declared my English major. Then, I learned: the classical Greek and Roman mythologies are western literary cornucopias (a symbol derived from Greek and Roman mythology, in fact).

So many of the plotlines and motifs (the hero’s journey, the concept of redemptive suffering, the inescapability of fate, the ideas that human goodness is rewarded and human evil is punished by divine forces) in Western literature derive from classical European mythology that if you played a drinking game in which you took a shot for every modern book you know with a mythological allusion, your ass would go into an alcohol-induced coma inside of fifteen minutes.

So, as a student of Western literature, I am understandably fascinated by the tenacity of classical mythology.

From what I have been taught, ancient Greeks and Romans regarded these stories that read like children’s fiction to most modern people like they were religious doctrine. They believed these stories told the truth about the supernatural beings that created and ruled the Earth and humanity, certain natural phenomena (like comets), the differences in the ancient cultures, and the roots of the alliances and anima between those ancient cultures. In fact, until the rise of philosophy (which encompassed empirical science until the 1800s), historiography, and rationalism in the 5th century, mythology was regarded as fact.

That mythology played this role in ancient Greek or Roman culture isn’t what fascinates me, though (it makes sense that these civilizations would’ve clung to mythology until another way of understanding the universe evolved to a point where they felt they could trust it).

It’s the human attachment to ancient mythology I find so interesting, stretching as it has from antiquity to post-postmodernity.

I tend to think those individuals that continue to study and creatively mine the mythologies of ancient cultures today do so because they recognize and appreciate the way myths reflect certain truths about human nature and interactions in relatively simple stories and not overly technical science and microsociology.

On the other hand, there is a certain type of attachment to a certain type of mythology – a sociological “twin” to this literary tradition – that has the opposite effect on me. It doesn’t fascinate – it infuriates me.

You see it in white supremacists and black-white supremacists that remain invested in certain antebellum myths about black people.

The problem, as I see it, with racists clinging to these myths is that these myths do not contain or signify any actual truth. In fact, these myths displace factual narratives that would reveal, if we looked back at them, the falsity of American racial formations – the fact that they are instruments of social, economic, and political advantageousness, not products of science or authentic American history.

Take the myth that the black man is a born rapist, for example.

The myth that the black man is a born rapist was envisaged by the racist quarter of the white male ruling class during slavery to expunge – at least ideologically – black men’s sexual attractiveness and white women’s sexual attraction to black men.

It is one of a collection of pseudo-scientific fabrications the members of that class mobilized to disguise their own racist phobias and violent behaviors.

The myth allowed antebellum white men to subvert their own proclivities to rape white and black women, pretend all sexual relations between white women and black men were rape, and “punish” any black man that had sex with a white woman by torturing and/or killing him, if they wanted.

To this day, racists continue to propagate this myth to justify certain acts of violence they perpetrate against black men, and adherents of these racists – black and white – excuse away this violence in what is essentially a Pavlovian response – even though the hypotheses that all black men are born with a violent sexual psychopathology – or they all have an uncontrollable uniform sexual response to white women – or they will all enact their vengeful feelings against the white power structure by raping a white women any time they are given the opportunity – are patently untrue.

That’s right. The “math” of this myth has never added up, not back then, and not now. Despite what David Duke has claimed in the media.

The infamous Table 42 from the 2008 National Crime Victimization Survey, compiled and published by the Bureau of Justice Statistic,  and said to “prove” the myth is true, doesn’t validate the claims of white supremacists about black rapists.

Philip Cohen explains in his post, “Here’s How Bad Government Math Spawned a Racist Lie About Sexual Assault,” that

Like many surveys, the NCVS is weighted to produce estimates that are supposed to reflect the general population. In a nutshell, that means, for example, that they treat each of the 158,000 people (over age 12) covered in 2014 as about 1,700 people. So if one person said, “I was raped,” they would say, “1700 people in the US say they were raped.” This is how sampling works. In fact, they tweak it much more than that, to make the numbers add up according to population distributions of variables like age, sex, race, and region – and non-response, so that if a certain group (say Black women) has a low response rate, their responses get goosed even more . . .

According to Cohen

[The] BJS extrapolates an estimate of 117,640 White women who say they were sexually assaulted, or threatened with sexual assault, in 2008 . . . Of those, 16.4% described their assailant as Black . . . That works out to 19,293 White women sexually assaulted or threatened by Black men in one year . . . [however] . . . [i]f each respondent in the survey counts for about 1,700 people, then . . . [the statisticians that compiled the results] . . . in 2008 [actually counted]  . . . 69 White women who were sexually assaulted or threatened, 11 of whom said their assailant was Black [emphasis added].

He even illustrates for his readers how to do the math on the survey’s faulty numbers: (19293/1,700 = 11.34).

Despite the fact that it is a lie, the myth that the black man is a born rapist still exercises a powerful influence over the American imagination (versus its intellect and morality) and thus our social interactions, political discourse, and patterns of interracial violence.

It not only freezes the black man in the deplorable image of the uncontrollable sex offender; it also freezes the white woman in the image of his needful victim.

II.

A few years back, there were this novel and movie adaptation titled No Country for Old Men. This referred, of course, to America.

That title made me think of a line from the Tony Kushner play about the American identity, “Angels in America.”

In the play, the character Roy Kohn, based on the real life Roy Kohn, is dying of AIDS, and reflects that “Americans have no use for sick.”

Kushner/Kohn is right. Americans do have a certain affinity for the useful. Because Americans have an affinity for getting shit done, and you need tools to do the things you want to do more efficiently.

Technological systems are currently our favorite types of tools. We have an affinity for them, too. Computer systems, global positioning systems, telecommunications systems – you name it.

Correlatively, Guardian writer Steven W. Thrasher explains that race “[is] a technology, “utilized for specific reasons.”

That’s probably why we love it so much, too.

Thrash filters down – from the upper reaches of the black artistic community – the concept from writer Ytasha Womack that “[t]he deployment of this technology has created [emphasis added] racism.”

He says that since “[biological] race is a fiction . . . [that] has only existed as we presently conceive it over the past few hundred years,” the technology of race is used to  “peddle” race itself to the masses.

That is – to keep us believing not only that race is real, but that people of different races pose a real threat to us simply because they are a different race.

Womack’s concept of race as technology helps to explain why Americans continue to exploit racist myths even though they have been scientifically debunked.

If we think about racial mythology as a form of technology, we can understand how racists use it – to create a reality in which the “fiction” of biological race has actual effects.

II.

Back in January, upon the release of Timothy Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till, the media had the dubious honor of running one of the most tragic if anticlimactic news stories in American history, at least in this black woman’s opinion.

Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman that testified in court that 14-year-old Emmett Till grabbed her by her waist and told her, “You needn’t be afraid of me, baby I’ve (done something) with white women before,” confessed that she perjured herself on the stand. She lied outright about her encounter with Till, who she said never spoke directly to her at all.

In fact, Donham reportedly told Tyson that all these years later she can’t remember whether Till even whistled at her that fateful August evening back in Mississippi.

An article in Vanity Fair about Tyson and his dealings with Donham paints a distastefully sympathetic portrait of the elderly woman, even seeming to suggest that her testimony did not play as vital a role in gaining acquittals for Till’s killers as has been historically assumed since their trial in 1955.

(I’m calling subtextual bullshit on that, though, because even though the jury was not present in the courtroom for Donham’s testimony, I have no doubt her allegations crept into the defense of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, feeding the rabidity of those 12 white men to deliver an exoneration. This was Mississippi in fucking 1955.)

The reason I say this story about Donham’s “confession” is anticlimactic is simple, and I also think it should be obvious.

Dahleen Glanton of The Chicago Tribune spells it out in one elegant sentence, for those that may not get it on their own: “We [Black America] already knew her story was a lie.”

“So did the judge who presided over the murder trial of her husband and another man in 1955,” Glanton insists, “and so did most of the people who lived in the tiny town of Money in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.”

So, too, I say, do most of the white people that live in America today.

Yet, I have never read or heard a recount of Till’s murder – from what one would term a “white” source – whether it was in the news, academic, or entertainment genre – that did not include some intimation that Till “either whistled at, flirted with, or touched the hand” of Carolyn Bryant.

And innocuous as that detail may seem, we know that it’s not. It is a lie spread to diminish the horror of Emmett Till’s murder. To blur the line between his innocence and his murderers’ culpability.

It’s also a signifier that the rapist myth is still alive and seething in the American imagination.

If not in its original form, then in a transposed form – a form that elides the old concept of the black men as an automatic sexual deviant – and carries on with its correlative – the lie that cishetero white women epitomize cishetero feminity and so are sexually irresistible to black men.

Under this guise, which the myth gained post Civil Rights, the myth has regained a modicum of acceptability because it’s less objectionable to believe the widely accepted “truth” that white women are the “most beautiful” than the (also widely accepted) lie that black men are animals.

So, this is what post-Civil Rights white supremacists and eugenicists of the highest order – the Steve Bannons of the world – pretend to do – believe that white women are sexually irresistible to black men – so they aren’t written-off as crackpots or backward, hillbilly “trash” – the common caricature of the American white racist.

In pedestalizing the Tomi Lahrens, Sarah Palins, and Kellyann Conways of this country, they’re not just legitimizing these women’s gimmick(kk)y politics; they’re also valorizing “conservative” white womanhood.

They’re emphasizing to white America that there are still “respectable” (cishetero, non-feminist) women within their ranks that need and deserve “protecting” from predators like Trump’s fictitious Mexican rapists and Dylann Roof’s fictitious black rapists.

These new age supremacists capitalize on the mobility of the “face-lifted” rapist myth to tap into the multifarious race-based fears that motivate whites to uphold structural racism, as they do by executing or going along with things like gerrymandering, gentrification, school choice, standardized testing, mandatory sentencing, opposition to policies like Affirmative Action, opposition to institutions like HBCUs, the propagation of symbolic racism, and the election of a failed real estate mogul and reality game show host to the Oval Office.

(Symbolic racism is an anti-black post-Civil Rights belief system based on the four themes that racial discrimination is no longer a serious obstacle for black people; black people’s failure to progress is due to their own unwillingness to work hard; black people’s insistence that the government should take further measures to equalize our social status has no legitimate basis; and the measures that the government has already taken to equalize our social status, such as Affirmative Action, are unjustified).

Too, like the old slave owners, the Steve Bannons, David Dukes, and Richard Spencers of today – they use the rapist myth to galvanize poor whites into terrorizing blacks (see again: Dylann Roof) so they can keep their proverbial hands “clean,” so that journalists and politicians can still appear to be reliable while deigning to deal with them, and so their “alt-right” rhetoric can gain even more acceptability outside of their insular cultural sphere.

And their female counterparts? The Kellyann Conways? They do what Carolyn Bryant did back in 1955.

They buy willingly into the lie that they are sexually irresistible – and they do not want black male attention but cannot help but garner it – to enhance their self- esteem, which still takes seasonal, politically expedient beatings from the white hetero patriarchy.

This entire dynamic is just what Thrasher described in his article. It is how the use of race technology in America has morphed with the times so it can continue to do its work.

III.

Finally, I have arrived at my thoughts about Kellyanne Conway’s posture on that couch in the Oval Office – and the semiotics of that image are the crux of this text (even though I will not post it here – yuck) – because I believe they convey a really pivotal point about the continued use of racism in this country.

Kellyanne Conway is a 50-year-old, married mother of four and Counselor to Donald Trump, but you know why she propped herself up on the couch in the Oval Office like a college co-ed “studying” in the dorm room of a classmate on which she’s been secretly harboring a crush since Orientation back in August?

Because she has internalized the myth.

Because she is a laissez-faire racist. She believed that those black men – automatically and universally – found her sexually attractive. They were not evolved enough to have any other response to her. They were wolves in men’s clothing.

Look at the photo again. Look at her tossed-back hair. Look at her uncrossed legs and arched back. Shoulders back and breasts lifted. All of these are nonverbal cues that she is keying into the situation sexually. She is offering herself up to be objectified.

Think about her choice to perch on a couch – on her knees – rather than stand up – a much more logical choice of positioning to take a photo of a group that size – her willingness to pose for the room despite the nature of the event and her participation in it – both ostensibly professional. Its illogic tells on her.

I don’t care what she claimed in the press after the pictures were released. I don’t care about any journalists’ attempts to make the controversy about her disrespect of the Oval Office in order to trivialize it. The Office wasn’t the issue. Her posture was.

By climbing her ass up on that couch in that room full of black men – and posing like a buttered-up biscuit on the side of a three piece chicken dinner – Kellyanne Conway created some good old-fashioned phobic imagery for Trump’s America.

She gave all the kinds of racists in our current landscape – overt, ambivalent, aversive – a “reminder” of why they “need” to stick to their “unpopular” beliefs.

She invoked the myth, though I will concede that she might have done it unconsciously.

Still, she invoked the myth.

She came off as a mythical white vixen/victim – an echo of Carolyn Bryant – a “could” whose possibility fit right into the cookie cutter shape of Bigger Thomas that I swear every American has in their mind, even if they’ve never read a page of Native Son.

And that’s what made me so mad about that picture, personally.

Her lack of culpability in the face of dire consequences for Outgroup America.

The way I see it, the white male racists in power are triggered enough.

They don’t need any more encouragement to think of blacks as a danger that needs to be extinguished, infestation that needs to be exterminated, or disease that needs to be cured.

I mean . . . damn.

We don’t need shit like Kellyanne Conway whipping her boss and his boys up into a righteous frenzy by pulling a – I don’t know – it might even have been a “Basic Instinct” power move – to boost her embattled confidence – on some unwitting college presidents just trying to secure their federal funding.

Because that’s how easy it appears to be to get Trump all upset. He has the emotional temperament of a toddler.

Luckily, he didn’t go off about that incident. But what about next time, if there is a next time?

We can’t have Kellyanne out here willy-nilly, blinded by the wealth of her ridiculous white privileges, tapping heedlessly into the deep-seated fears that dwell in the chambers of the heart of the rapist myth.

None of which is the fear of the actual psychopathology of men of color, ironically enough.

No – white male racists in power don’t fear black men or Latinx men’s insatiability or animalism because they know the lengths to which they have historically gone to psychologically neuter men of color in this country.

No – what really has them shook is the very real ability of men of color to culturally overtake them, as demonstrated at least partly by black men’s preeminence in professional athletics. Footnote Latinx men in professional baseball.

Jon Entine in his book, Taboo: Why Black Athlete Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It, writes

To the degree that it is a purely scientific debate, the evidence of black superiority in athletics is persuasive and decisively confirmed on the playing field. Elite athletes who trace most or all of their ancestry to Africa are by and large better than the competition. The performance gap is widest when little expensive equipment or facilities are required, such as running, the only true intentional sport, and in widely played team sports such as basketball and football. Blacks not only outnumber their nonwhite competitors but, by and large, are the superstars.

Entine’s quote does read a bit reductively, so let me say: Black men are extraordinarily capable beyond their physicality. Yet, I don’t believe the critical mass of white male racists in power are able to conceive that black men can outthink them. Even in 2017.

What they can imagine, though, and have imagined, since the explosion of the plantation system in the late 1600s, is black men rising up in arms, banding together, and overturning the white power structure in our society.

Concurrently, white male racists in power fear getting pushed from their place at the top of the sexual attractiveness totem pole by an overgrowing white female demand for seemingly superior, “exotic” black and brown male bodies.

And they fear that black-white and Latinx-white sexual relationships – as they exponentially increase – will swallow up whites’ recessive trait genotypes.

At the very beginning of this post, I wrote that myths reflect certain truths about human nature, but then I wrote that racial myths are lies. And they are lies, but their persistence exposes some really important truths about the microsociology of this current version of America.

Blackness still functions largely as the electrical current powering the social machinery of this country, not whiteness. The technology of race has this horrifying way of staying on the cutting edge.

Still, this “newest” iteration of whiteness is a response to blackness. As American whiteness is. By its needful nature.

It wouldn’t exist if blackness didn’t. That symbiosis hasn’t changed since slavery.

So, since black and white are symbiotic, black people can steer the direction in which the white male racists in power take this country, if that is, in fact, what we want to do.

We have money and votes they need to remain in power. And we can use them as the leverage they are. We can be strategic in the way we use them. We can demand political ransom for them.

We can perch our asses on the proverbial couch of the US Capitol and let Trump ‘nem know – a lot of what they think about us is bullshit, but our political power is not mythical. It’s real.

We can deploy the technology of race to achieve our own ends. It is at least half our intellectual property, according to our history. The white male racists in power don’t have exclusive design rights.

We can change the configuration any time and way we want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Out of the Mouths of Babes Series

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