Tea With Mephistopheles ~ ~ ~

There was an article recently in the New York Times about the new scope and focus of right-to-life organizations around the country. The benefactors of these good works and services are a group both familiar and dear to me~young African-American women. Imagine this…

A local college or university campus center is screening a film about the horrors of genocide. Our host for the evening is a slender, well dressed mid-aged African-American woman. As she rises to speak and makes her way to the podium something of the familiar stirs in your consciousness: she could be a fondly recalled teacher, a neighbor from back home or perhaps even an “auntie.”

After the film there is a breakout session and she makes her way towards your table and graciously asks if an open seat is taken. She is bearing cups with tea and other refreshments from the welcome table. The two of you enter easily into conversation about classes, student life…choices ~ and then that film! Oh that film…so awful! Yes, she muses whilst plying you with tea and sympathy. Careful, dearest…beyond here there be monsters.

The lobbies of abortion opponents have a newfangled approach for outreach in the African American community. Folks who look like you and yours are newly in the employ of agencies such as Georgia Right to Life, the state’s primary anti-abortion organization, and have been dispatched to churches, community centers, and university campuses. The campaign also features a dedicated web page, and in the Atlanta area, eighty new billboards with the message that reproductive rights and pro-choice are merely code for “Black genocide.” Additionally, there is a controversial documentary being routinely screened by African Americans sympathetic to the anti-abortion cause, namely religious groups and faith-based civic organizations.

The film, “Maafa 21” systematically connects the “dots” of the post-slavery period, the eugenics movement in the U.S., the Third Reich, birth control and abortion. Many of the assertions made early on in the documentary resonate with truths long accepted in our community concerning attitudes of whites during the period immediately following emancipation. The idea that there was going be a deluge of “unskilled, illiterate, and dangerous” Black people loosed on cities throughout the nation generated panic. The real concern was the sharing of wealth, ironically created expressly through the labor of the maligned people.

It was at this juncture, the approaching belle époque of the nineteenth century and the burgeoning of the twentieth, when the sociological science of eugenics began. At the fore of this movement was a woman, Margaret Sanger, who taught health, hygiene and family planning to black and white women in the slums and ghettos of the Northeast. Ms. Sanger’s good works notwithstanding, her politics and related papers reveal her to be perhaps the most dangerous woman in America at that time.

Margaret Sanger’s alliance with eugenics and her acceptance (and financing) by the white male power structure of the time, complicate the history of the organization she founded, Planned Parenthood. There is ample evidence in the film of the organizations “black-eye” as it relates to African Americans, specifically a segment that exposes conversations between mock racist callers and Planned Parenthood staffers concerning donations that would be earmarked for abortion services to minority groups, especially Blacks. This is where the focus of the documentary actually lies, associating family planning with abortion, and that with calculated Black genocide by the white power structure. There is just enough truth present in Maafa 21 to be persuasive to susceptible viewers, its scope is both sagacious and myopic.

The inflammatory content of the documentary aside, the statistics related to women of color and abortion rates are staggering. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that nearly forty percent of the abortions performed in the United States are for Black women, although we comprise just thirteen percent of the entire population. The numbers speak for themselves…but what are we to say about ourselves and these numbers? Why are Black women having abortions at such disproportional rates? The answer is simple: too many unwanted pregnancies.

Many young urban, Black women succumb to the double societal ills of unwanted pregnancies and poverty not due solely to the excessively high costs of contraceptives. For most women with private or public health insurance plans, birth control pills, and other medically prescribed contraceptives are a covered item, comparable to any other medication dispensed from a physician’s written prescription.

In the current framework the health professional (typically, physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner) is the de facto gatekeeper for access to safe, affordable, effective contraceptives.The cost of a reproductive health exam ranges widely, but in certain areas of the country, including urban centers, the fees may exceed $200.00. The missing links of a successful family planning formula within our populations must include a removal of barriers to accessing care (such as the expense of the medical exam required to obtain prescription birth control) and sustained sexual education resources. Research has borne out that one-hit, one-size fits all sexual education lessons are an ineffectual way for young women, particularly teens, to understand and access the labyrinth that is the health care system.

Barriers to medically prescribed birth control methods make the go-to method of choice the male condom. Unfortunately, inconsistencies in technical use and compliance render the male condom one of the birth control options with the highest failure rate. Ultimately, the lack of access to free or low-cost medical exams for prescribed birth control methods, coupled with inadequate sexual education resources leads to an increase in unwanted pregnancies, a higher incidence of termination of pregnancy, and the probability that a child is born into poverty.

Family planning, aka safe, affordable, accessible, birth control is the key to reducing the fact that almost half of all Black pregnancies’ are ending in abortions. I am unapologetically pro-choice and I make a distinction between birth control and abortion. Choice is inclusive of planning for pregnancy via contraception. Arguably, the most outrageous inconsistency in pro-life rhetoric (they are legion) is an ideology that is both anti-contraceptive and anti-abortion. Intelligent, sexually active people of all creeds and allegiances commit to family planning practices everyday because it is understood that you cannot have it both ways in this fight.

Another disconcerting feature of the pro-life movements’ new found interest in Black America is that it is targeting our young intelligentsia with its propaganda. The Times article highlighted the singular response of a college sophomore to the film: “I was pro-choice before I saw the movie…but now…I’d keep my child no matter what, because of the conspiracy.” Pregnancy and parenthood as acts of protest; defiance to a perceived “conspiracy.” The only conspiracy clearly present is that existing between some religious leaders in the African American community and pro-life organizations; it is a marriage of guile and convenience that is predatory in its very nature.

Family planning and contraception are and have always been about a woman’s self-determination with regard to her reproductive system. The Roe vs. Wade ruling of 1973 was but a small, albeit significant triumph of this will for female autonomy. Black women must continue to think and act analytically about whom we align ourselves with on issues of reproductive rights. An old adage comes to mind when I consider the outreached hands of pro-life groups into our community: always be wary of Greeks bearing gifts.

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A Case for National Education Standards~ ~ ~

One of the laments frequently echoed from the halls of higher education is that students are too often academically unprepared upon entering college. Students who have successfully completed their high school curricula and exit exams frequently find themselves mired in semesters of remedial college preparatory work upon enrolling in college. Both parties, university professors and college freshmen, tacitly assign the blame to poor educational standards. Currently, as part of the public outcry for educational reform, and the Obama administration educational initiative “Race to the Top” many states are considering sweeping changes that would amount to the development and implementation of national educational standards.

Presently, states have core standards in place to assure uniformity in the performance criteria of their high school graduates. In the past ten years, these standards have been reviewed and adjusted to comply with the criteria of the former Bush administrations’ “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB ) initiative. The NCLB program was heavily flawed, however one of its direct benefits was the exposure of the achievement gap . Consequently, states and local schools became more responsive to the educational needs of at-risk student populations.

The Race to the Top design also aims to address the achievement gap using a significantly different approach. States would volunteer to participate in the implementation of standardized national educational requirements http://www.corestandards.org in a bid for federal money. The presumed removal of local/state control of educational criteria has set off a firestorm of criticisms and controversy of Race to the Top. Why are so many of the stakeholders in education resistant to the concept of nationalized standards?

Much of the contempt for the notion of nationalized standards stems from the idea that its goal is not to create the “philosopher-king” student model, but rather that of the employable drone. A concern that this kind of educational reform will result in an educational system that places too much emphasis on preparing for global competitiveness. That a day will arrive when one looks into the face of young students across the country, and merely sees the future workforce, not individual students.

Some fear that it will mean the abolishment of terrific educational programs sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, and eliminate programs in the sciences and vocational education. I assert that all of these concerns are essentially baseless, as presently most states have core standards that are inclusive of these items; reason dictates that any national educational model would be inclusive also. There is no evidence to suggest that the adoption of national standards would obliterate curricula that is in place. Indeed, the idea that states could work together to create a national model from their best practices is an exciting proposition to many educators.

Nearly every developed country in the world has a form of national educational standards. It is to our advantage that students prepared in U.S. schools share a common educational experience. That may actually be accomplished with a set of uniform grade-level expectations from state to state. As long as they reflect the best-practice thinking within the core subject areas, the standards will help us be sure that what we think our students are learning will not vary wildly based on where they live. This is precisely what is meant by “closing the achievement gap” in the educational system.

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Beyond Good and Evil: Blacks, Ethics and the Health Care System ~~~

Springtime has many rites of passage attributed to it alone: garden parties, weddings and graduations just to name a few. As I reflected on these ideas, I began to consider the spring season of 2009, and far less romantic notions. During last year’s spring season, many American’s stood aghast as an unseasonable breakout of influenza ripped through the country. Health professionals and the general public scrambled to keep up with the recommendations and precautions being issued via health-related government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and NIH (National Institute of Health).

Many of us living in large metro areas saw the health crisis began to hit home as both children and adults in these urban communities lost the struggle with a newly identified influenza, given the unusual moniker H1N1. We began to decline hugs and handshakes from one another, kept our children home, and witnessed school closings, surgically-masked people in public settings, and hospital emergency room lines that wound around city blocks.

The predictions for the fall flu season were exceptionally grim, and the race to develop a vaccine against the H1N1 strain began in fervor. By October 2009, a vaccine was available, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identified high risk populations who should receive the vaccine. Urban populations, specifically African Americans, were encouraged to get the vaccine. To the bewilderment of the medical establishment, the Black community viewed the invitation with suspicion and doubt. Why, it was wondered, after seeing the frenzied outbreak of this illness the previous spring, were Blacks now balking at receiving the vaccine designed to prevent it? One possible suggestion is the lack of confidence held by many in the African American community for the health care system.

Black distrust of the health care system is shrouded in the history that bears witness to a system built on the bodies of our ancestors. Attorney and author Vernellia R. Randall’s book, Dying While Black, charts this phenomenon, beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing through the modern period, including the allegations that AIDS was created by a government sanctioned health care system. Her research illustrates to us how Blacks have been exploited by the medical sciences for the purpose of research, often without knowledge or consent. Here we find stories shared by Black residents of northern and southern cities about the “night doctors” – medical personnel that would grab Black citizens for use in experiments after the sun went down. Although this has never been substantially documented, there is evidence that during this period the bodies of the Black deceased were systematically being removed from their graves for the purpose of medical research.

During the 1890s, the American health care system experienced an unprecedented boom in research and scientific growth that was internationally noted as bold and brilliant, and not being performed anywhere else on earth. Tragically, these advances were at the expense of the health and welfare of the Blacks and other poor populations in the country. Enslaved Blacks in particular served as instructional material for teaching medical students both here and abroad.

There are several well researched and documented instances of medical abuse and misconduct where Blacks have been subjects of ill-advised, if not patently criminal research studies. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is one such case. The Tuskegee Experiment involved four hundred African American men in a government-sponsored study to research the effects of untreated syphilis. This “study” began a few years prior to the development and use of penicillin as an effective treatment for syphilis. Yet it continued for nearly thirty years after the known availability of effective treatment. The men involved with the study were never offered the antibiotic. In fact, the intended end point of the research experiment was the post-mortem exam of each participant to study the ravages of the disease on the Black male vis-à-vis that of the white population.

Unfortunately, the Tuskegee debacle is not an isolated event; many more instances of bioethical misconduct occurred in the mid- and late twentieth century period. During the 1960s and ‘70s, cases became exposed all over the country. Black prisoners were used for skin-testing experimental drugs; blood samples were obtained from thousands of Black boys to test for “anemia” (the blood was actually being collected for a study on the genetic predisposition to criminal activity); young and poor Black women were used to test a device for terminating pregnancy that resulted in severe bleeding and total hysterectomy; a Sickle Cell Anemia testing program breached medical confidentiality, leading to poorly managed “genetic counseling” services which seemed to serve as Black population control and genocide. The list goes on.

There is a long and storied history of medical science and its abuses toward what it has considered the dregs of humanity: the poor, uneducated, and the “feeble-minded.” In the Jim Crow south, “Negro” was parlance for all of the above. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a book on Blacks and bioethics by author Rebecca Skloot, tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who was thrust into the void when she developed cervical cancer. Born on a 1950s tobacco farm in the Jim Crow South meant that health care was relegated to the so-called public wards of Johns Hopkins University Hospital. The hospital was, at that time, one of the few that would see black clients. Without her consent, tissue samples were collected from Mrs. Lacks and developed in the cytology laboratories at Johns Hopkins. The cells thrived (unlike others collected samples) and were so prolific, they were sold throughout the United States and internationally to research labs. The HeLa cells, as they are known globally, have been used extensively in biomedical and pharmaceutical research, including the development of the polio vaccine, breast cancer treatment drugs, and human-origin insulin, and many, many others. Breakthroughs that have made lives better the world over. Sadly, these medical triumphs came at too high a price for the Lacks family, and specifically her children who were never aware of their mother’s contributions to science until an article was published and medical science came knocking at their doors (again) seeking additional genetic and biological tissue from them.

The Lacks’ family story is merely the most contemporary exposé of an unhealthy relationship between African Americans and the medical community at large, in matters related to trust and confidence. It begs the question, “How is the medical community responding to this lack of confidence?” A health care survey conducted in 2009 found that Blacks (as opposed to whites) were more likely to not trust their doctors when it came to addressing their health concerns, or explain treatment for medical conditions to their satisfaction. There continues to be an underlying element of mistrust between minority populations at any socioeconomic level and the American health care system at large. Clearly, the perception of mistrust from the African American community in particular is in largely caused by previous experiences with the health care system, and the history that has deepened that distrust.

The realities of the Tuskegee and HeLa experiments have the effect of maintaining and strengthening the distrust in the health care system by Blacks in ways that may be inestimable. It leaves many African Americans, as well as other underrepresented populations, wondering how they may fare better when assessing the health systems in existence. Fortunately, gains may be made via the newly adopted health reform bill, which includes provisions for improvements in the delivery of health services and information. The reform bill is not without flaws, however, and research study protocols continue to be a prickly area everywhere in health delivery.

The very structure of modern healthcare delivery systems depends upon these constructs to assure the safety and respect of its main consumer – the patient. Science and medicine have at their disposal disciplines to assist in the management and delivery of ethical health services. Every stakeholder in the health care industry must be implored to comply with the ethical principles of nonmaleficence (“first, do no harm”) and beneficence (“actively doing good”).
Bioethics review boards and panels are standing committees at most pharmaceutical research and hospital centers. Ethicists operating within the medical and pharmaceutical disciplines have designed reasoning frameworks that may be applied to the prickly topics that arise at the intersection of medicine and race.

Increased representation on these bioethical review boards by minorities and lay persons would assist in quality assurance for all health care consumers. The involvement of independent ‘watch-dog’ organization, such as Amnesty International may also help. For example, Amnesty International currently has an open study on the high mortality rate of pregnant and post-partum young, poor ~ frequently Black, women in the United States.

The truth is that many of the health consumer/patient protections in place currently, have come at the expense of human beings like the men in the Tuskegee program and Mrs. Henrietta Lacks. Government agencies entrusted with the public‘s health, organized medicine, and the pharmaceutical industry have much work to do to create a progressive, inclusive health care system that fosters trust and confidence. The health care system needs a check-up in the ethical ward, so to speak, to revitalize that trust. Our health care delivery system and all of its principals must be committed to both doing good, and avoiding evil.

Requiem For A Goodnight Kiss ~~~

I am frequently drawn to stories about love, in all its incarnations: philia, apage and eros. I am particularly an ardent believer in loves ability to triumph over adversity. More realistically stated, I’m exceptionally stubborn about things that tug at the heart-strings. I have been in love more times that it may be considered decent to own to. And during those periods “in between” love affairs, I have tried to fill the time as best I could until fortune should smile on me and the lightening bolts of love would strike again. So imagine my chagrin as I began to hear scandalous reports and see articles about the death of romantic love and old-fashioned courtship in the Black community. Admittedly, I’d been a bit distracted, but how had I missed the full demise of Black love?

It did appear as though the rituals that I was accustomed to were nearly gone. Replaced with, a little research revealed, all manner of “pairings”: hookups, hangouts, meetups ~any and every kind of combination except the typical one-on-one tete’ a tete’ that was the one time norm. On the surface, these new-fangled styles of becoming acquainted did not seem so awful, until I began to understand that these pairings often don’t progress beyond this “casual” stage.

I quickly assumed that this was a plague that had beset only the dating young, however was very shortly apprised that it was also contiguous and pervasive in the over forty set, a case of cross contamination…a pandemic condition. Well, I thought…time to take up knitting on Friday evenings. And then I had a second thought, why not protest? No surrender…simply refuse to accept the status quo.

And so, this is my official position on the matter at hand. I am holding out for the very purpose that Providence created Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons: shy introductions, the coy acceptance of affection, butterflies of anticipation, awkwardness and missteps along the way… the indulgent sweetness of a goodnight kiss. How long I will be required to stand my ground is at present unsure, however I remain ever hopeful that soon others will join me in the Resistance.

Of Sins and Sinners in the Arts ~ ~ ~

 

I recently struggled through Chinua Achebe’s wonder Things Fall Apart.

My use of the descriptives “wonder” and “struggled” are not mere hyperbole.  I would read pages and pages at a stint, caught up and transported to the villages inhabited by the Igbo people, listening to their searing voices and rhythmic music. The communal life flow and rituals for the harvest, marriage, birth, and death enrapture; the reader is completely drawn within, so artfully done is Achebe’s manner of writing.

 It is this exact talent of the author’s that would inevitably cause me to recoil as I repeatedly encountered episodes of pain and hatred in the form of brutal wife beatings.  Thoroughly disturbed by the rampant misogyny, I’d reject the story as wholly as I had once embraced it, putting it aside for indefinite periods of time. I am glad that I was able to push past these perverse feelings for the novel and  finish it, with a full appreciation for what it represents as a contribution to world literature and the story of the African diasporas.  But the incident with this novel begs a question:  How are we to embrace artistry without reproaching the artist for faults and deficiencies?

I recall reading an interview Miles Davis once gave in which he described an episode with his then wife Cicely Tyson. The police had responded to a call for a domestic incident, whereas according to Miles, Ms. Tyson had been “slapped around a little bit” and was at present “downstairs, hiding out.”  Beyond this, it has been alleged that Miles slapped around  several of his wives, mistresses and even on occasion, a couple of band mates…very bad behavior indeed.  How is one to reconcile the genius within the demon, or is that the demon in the genius? How do you hate the sin and love the sinner ?

 Perhaps the problem is that we somehow expect more from the artist than fine work; we hope them to be fine people as well. No one wants to become acquainted with the seedy underbelly of an artist’s misogynistic underpinnings.  That would demand that we examine our baseline ~ that is, what forms of behavior surpass our personal threshold for tolerance.  How much easier it would be for everyone if the artists we patronage would commit to living admirable lives. This is of course, counter-intuitive to everything that makes the artist a celebrity: notoriety, infamy and scandal.

 So, in the final analysis it seems a more grown-up response to the artist-behaving-badly scenario is required of the patron.  Reading a great book or listening to red-hot cool jazz is an aesthetic endeavor, not an opportunity to pass the creator through the sieve of morality. The grown-up in us may also appreciate this caveat: It’s not so easy to be a good person.  It’s even harder to produce brilliant work… so much so, that few of us ever accomplish either in a lifetime. Holding the artist to such an impossible standard may be a state far to arduous for any mere human to achieve.  Enjoying the art for its own virtue is a matter of acknowledging the unlimited virtuoso it demonstrates, while understanding the human limits of its creator.

A Backward Glance: Why Purple is to Lavender as Womanist is to Feminist~~~

Just recently I’ve had the good fortune to come across an article of my writing from some years ago. Reading it again gave me that rare, but sublime experience that Edith Wharton once described as “a backward glance.” This is one of the blessings life affords us, the occasion to review without harsh judgment, the endeavors of our youth. In actuality, the specifics of my own circumstances require that I appeal to my reader’s most generous nature; for the “endeavor of my youth” discussed here places me squarely in my mid-thirties. Not quite so young, but still with enough bloom on the vine to perhaps be pardoned for my excesses.

 For me fall always conjures images of leaves and lessons, and so as it was, I was once again taking classes towards completing my undergraduate degree. During this same period, I was an adjunct clinical instructor at a health science university, a dental hygienist in private practice and I taught evening classes several times a week at a vocational school. Indeed, I was busy.

 These facts, notwithstanding, I tackled the rigors of my class with enthusiasm; I adored the text, participated in group discussions, and consistently aced my hourly exams. All was right as rain…until the weekend after Thanksgiving. As it seems, the professor, a woman in her late forties with fiery red-hair, who once described herself to the class as a “feminist and a practicing Semite,” had spent some time at a retreat hosted by Wellesley University and been exposed to the scholarship of one Dr. Peggy McIntosh.  

Clearly, having experienced some manner of orgiastic revelation, she had discovered herself to be white and had become painfully conscious of her unearned privileges. The dynamics of the class sessions changed dramatically, as this traditionally educated woman sought to become a part of what she deemed the avant-garde, and work out her white guilt and other assorted baggage within the context of her teaching responsibilities. So, our newly created capstone assignment for the semester became “What Is White Privilege, and Why Don’t We Recognize How We Benefit From It?” Trust me, I wish I tell you I was making this up. 

 Now, here’s the rub. I was the only ethnically Black person in the lecture hall at the time of her pronouncement. As the session ended and I approached her to discuss how the hell  I was going to complete this assignment, I was subjected to the full extent of her discomfort with me and the topic at hand. She fawned and chaffed, until we settled on the idea that I would be “allowed” to conceive a position paper from my “unique’” perspective. Honestly, if I hadn’t been so pissed, I would have been embarrassed for her. So, what follows is the original position paper I submitted. I have added only annotations where necessary to assist in understanding the period, especially of  (white) feminist ideology at the time. Every opportunity I got, I turned that stuff understood as scholarship on its silly little fair head, and used it to dig into her (well you know…)

 I hope you enjoy reading it   }:~)

A Response To:  

“White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondence through Work in Women’s Studies (1988)

“White Privilege” and its companion, “White Guilt” are concepts that I was surprised many may have been unaware. Both concepts have been assimilated into popular culture and satirized on television and feature films. Persons are likely to be unaware primarily because, having always had such privileges bequeathed to them, say as a birthright, they are remiss in observing that others may not.   I am aware of the daily slights, oversights, etc. that society has apparently deemed to be a part of my birthright as an American of African heritage. It is beyond stating the obvious that racial issues are complicated, however, the issues of sexism and other related biases complicate them further. I am certain that there are instances where I have directly benefited in a situation by the sheer fact of being female and African American. By this I do not necessarily mean through the agency of affirmative action (although, I am a strident supporter of such practices). I mean in the same sense of unearned privilege that Peggy McIntosh1 writes.

 I have been in the company of European-American males, professionally and socially, and have had them carve out a little space in the discussion where my voice could be heard. As I related these instances to my European-American female friends, they were perplexed; they were accustomed to being dismissed in those same settings, frustrated because they were not taken seriously enough.  I do not and never will subscribe to the notion of the hysterical white woman.2  Nevertheless, at times I do feel as if I have greater concerns to consider than the “undermining and inherent dangers”  or the potential “backlash” of being deemed beautiful by a patriarchal society.3  I am also certain that the more enlightened scholar’s involved in Women’s Studies would support these statements. I have also had instances in my adult life where I was confronted with acts of overt racism.

I remember the first one best because I guess I was so taken aback. I was in a supermarket parking lot, less than a five minutes drive from my home. I was driving behind a vehicle that repeatedly put on brakes, with no apparent reason to do so. Finally, in utter frustration, I blew the horn. A man leaped out of the car and very aggressively came to my window yelling “You got some kind of problem lady?” So,  I said yes, “ Why are you braking, what’s the problem…? He cut me off with this : “ Stupid nigger bitch.” Well, I was raised to respond to this sort of thing, so I lost my mind as well and joined in the yelling of profanities and dispensing of obscene gestures as he returned to his car. I drove home, parked the car…and  I just could not move. I had fifteen minutes of complete devastation. It had happened~ I’d had an authentic Negro experience, not the silly taunting of kids messing with one another. This was real. Immediately I thought all my white friends from school, work, all of them. Did they all feel this way? Is this what they did to us behind closed doors?

Now, perhaps the incident in the parking lot had more to do with his bad day, or road rage or whatever, but the fact remains that this man had at his disposal the most vile and vulgar terms, and he reached into his bag of tricks and extracted the ‘best’ of them for my special benefit. Interestingly enough, I find it quite easy to dismiss the anonymous idiot/sexist/racist at Grand Union and not feel forever marred by the experience. What I find hard to accept is the way some of my well meaning friends and coworkers often don’t see, because they don’t have to, or notice the things I must, in order to safe guard my emotional well-being. I am trained to anticipate circumstances where I may be made to feel uncomfortable and avoid those places. Saving this being possible and I am with “others,” then I must endure it so as to not make a scene that would cause anyone else embarrassment. 

 I am speaking here of privileges, simple creature comforts, that are not granted or guaranteed to me because of my race in my own country of origin. I have essentially been socialized in both a macro- and micro- culture. I have deliberately chosen to use these terms over minority and majority, because I feel they are over used. Within any microculture, parents are cognizant of that along with loving their children and teaching them to know their wonderfulness, they must also teach them that there are others in the world that will not love them or acknowledge their wonderfulness and greatness. Therefore children within the microcultures learn very early on to be discerning of peoples motives towards them. Actually, this may in fact make them more socially savvy than their macroculture contemporaries.

 The wonderfulness and greatness I speak of here is our humanity. This brings to mind an essay I read during my freshman year in college. It was about an English explorer, who upon setting his feet on soil in the “New World” reflected upon it as an entry in his travel diary, how similar it was to his arrival on the African continent. He remarked on the expanse, and “vast nothingness”  he saw all around him. Nothingness?  

There were people, and language, and civilizations!  This is a lack of seeing “others” as human as one’s self. I have had this conversation with African American males whereas, like McIntosh I used examples of sexism that parallel racism. I told one male friend that several of the problems we were facing in our relationship, was because he sought to treat me the way he “treated his women” I told him that this was tantamount to someone of another race treating him the way they “treat Blacks”. To his credit, he finally understood my point; there is a grave danger to everyone in a supposed just society when one’s humanity is disregarded, and like only extends privilege to like. When people fail to see people as people.

 Members of microcultures therefore have the onerous duty of being nearly hyper vigilant about the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of persons within the macroculture. Not only is this notion exhausting, it is impossible. Revolutions must initially occur from within, not without, and it is not within the power of another to bring such a shift in someone else’s reasoning and frame of reference.  So, the best that may be said of the McIntosh position paper is that it is a start, and for beginning the dialog she is to be applauded. The best case scenario following a reading of the paper would involve an awareness of one’s personhood, and that of others. This would hopefully translate into interactions that honor everyone’s humanity and obliterates unearned privileges.

This would in effect represent a truly evolved society.

  1)      McIntosh’s paper juxtaposed the similarities between White Privilege and Male Privilege in American society. It was published in 1988

2)       Psychoanalyst such as Freud, et al frequently attributed the malaise of any women to “female hysteria” In fact, for several years the DSM-I (1952) and DSM-II (1968) acknowledged female-specific maladies. Historically, women of color were typically not studied and therefore not represented within these descriptions.

 3)      The Beauty Myth  by Naomi Wolf (1993) galvanized (white) feminist in a way that had been unprecedented since, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published in 1963. 

 

 

Civil Disobedience for Beginners ~ ~ ~

This week law makers in the NJ senate rejected a bill designed to legalize same sex marriage within the state. Given the pseudo-liberal political climate in New Jersey, this most likely came as little surprise to many who live here. I describe the climate in my home state as pseudo-liberal because there appears to be a propensity of its inhabitants to have a jarring knee-jerk reaction to nearly every hotly debated or controversial issue that comes across the plate. This would be fine, I suppose if I didn’t have my suspicions of about why it occurs so often. In this particular case at issue, a casual audit of the population could easily reveal that the majority of people have absolutely no idea what approval of a bill on same sex marriage would even mean.

  We have all been exposed to the polluted line of thinking that essentially has hordes of legally married gay couples seizing power and conquering the known world, beginning of course with the prime real estate that is New Jersey. Oh, too drastic for you?  I’ll admit, these are the thoughts of the extreme right wing, and most well meaning liberal, blue-state dwellers would never concede to these points. But what about the other points, those that don’t seem so radically, well… radical?

 The really compelling stuff like: same sex marriages promote the wrong message to kids, and speaking of them, how would they function in school with children from “normal” families? If your channel of thoughts on the matter run along these lines, its time to do a purge of your reasoning system. Couples comprised of same-sex unions already exist ~ replete with school aged children, who are functioning quite well with the children from “normal” families, thank you very much. In fact, other than the “who sleeps where & with whom” factor, same-sex, civil union households look a lot like opposite sex, married households on paper: The median income of same-sex couples in New Jersey is $74,100,  the median for traditionally married couples is $75,000. Moreover, beyond being quite economically solvent, same-sex households are racially and ethnically diverse, representing and consistent with the multiculturalism observed daily in NJ public schools.

 So, one may reason, with the availability of civil unions, why are same-sex couples pushing for legalized marriage?  It is very clear that NJ’s ruling has a separate but equal stance in mind when it comes to same-sex unions vs. traditional (married) unions. And, let us be thorough here, as the States’ go…so goes the region, up and through to the federal government, which has saw fit to defer to States’ rights insofar as same sex marriages are concerned. It may, therefore be concluded that the federal government will not respect  civil unions for the purposes of  many federal benefits and protections that married spouses have  such as Social Security payments, immigration protections, veterans’ benefits, and taxation.  Ultimately, the message is that what same-sex couples have is not as legitimate or as significant as  a real marriage, and that these lesser relationships  are undeserving of the name~marriage.

It is a message that serves as a dangerous example for others in New Jersey that gays and lesbians, their children, and families are fair game for discrimination and abuse. These issues have a long reaching impact, especially on the children of same-sex couples.  So, opposition to legalized same-sex marriage carries with it an anti-family, anti-child stench.  Is this who we, the people of color, really are in New Jersey?

Or, has a spirit of complacency taken over our short-term memory ~ the rationale for the fight in the legalization of same-sex marriages has to do with civil rights, period. We need to re-remember how and when to practice free and independent thought. The judgment of our individual conscience is not necessarily or even likely to be inferior to those of the political majority.  It is a practical and warranted  obligation to disagree loudly and often with what you don’t agree with. This may take the form of crafting letter campaigns, taking to the streets and attending rallies, or organizing protests by form of petition, blogging etc. Otherwise, we are almost certain to become what Thoreau warned about in On Civil Disobedience ~ the well-disposed fashioned into the agents of injustice.