Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Islamophobia in New Jersey's Foster Care System

In New Jersey, an employee of the state is alleged to have verbally assaulted a Muslim man (and his female dinner partner) in a restaurant, calling him a "terrorist" and an "Osama bin Ladin lover", along with several other xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic insults. What makes matters even worse is that this state employee was an agent of New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services and the person he was assaulting was a parent in one of the cases he is assigned to handle.

The article on NBC's website also mentioned the fact that the state placed Mohamad Khalil's son in a Christian home where he is being raised with "Christian cultural values". The Council for American-Islamic Relations pointed out that this is not an isolated incident and that there are many cases where the state has also done this with other Muslim children.

You know, I don't understand why people feel like they should be allowed to go around converting other people's kids. Even if the state of New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services couldn't find enough Muslim foster homes to place all of the Muslim children in their care--and I'm not so sure that if proper effort were put forth, this would be the case--is it really too much to insist that families agree to respect the religious faith of the child and the child's family?

Children can end up in foster care for many different reasons. Being removed from whatever situation they were in before is often overwhelming enough without adding the stress of trying to adapt to a foreign religion, at the same time. Foster parents need to understand that they are simply being entrusted with looking after a child's basic care, not their eternal salvation. If you can't deal with allowing a child to practice their own religion in your home, then you probably shouldn't be a foster care provider.

When the state shows such little regard for the children in its care, is it really any surprise that we see an agent of this same system behaving like this towards a parent who simply wants to raise their child? Yet, we're supposed to believe that these agents of the state really want to keep families intact, whenever possible. Yeah, right!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I Can't Even Say What I Want to Tell This Woman

Teabagger Kate O'Beirn thinks that we should end the school lunch program and that any parent who can't "rustle up a bowl of cereal and a banana" for their child is criminally negligent.

Could someone please tell this waste of carbon that school lunches are a public health concern? Hungry, malnourished children are more susceptible to diseases. Having an entire subset of the population that is going hungry AND can't get health care represents a danger to EVERYONE. And, let me tell ya', if things get bad enough, people with money shouldn't be too sure that the poor won't rise up and do what the French did.

I like living in my comfy, well-heated home with the stocked pantry that I can look through and still go to McDonald's if I feel like it. I love my pretty daughter and buying her pretty clothes for various social events. Even if I didn't give a dern about other people's children--I do care, but this is for the sake of example--it would still make sense for me to at least ensure those kids had enough to eat each day. Hunger is enough to make any person irrational and irrational people don't care about my suburban comforts.

Dear Gott in Himmel, Why Won't These People Go Away Already?

As soon as I see Hamsher on anything, I turn it off. Evidently, I'm not the only one who has figured out that this fool is utterly clueless.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time on FireDogLake knows that it has always been hostile to people of color. It doesn't surprise me one bit that she has this indefensible position. They want the President to fix all the problems of the world, but any incremental changes he makes are met with complaints that he's not doing enough, fast enough.

It all boils down to the fact that her and her ilk never support candidates of color who think for themselves. I mean, this is the same person whose blog regularly posts and defends the use of racist pictures. They truly believe that they are the ones who put Obama in office and now he owes it to them to make their petulant, petty whims come true all at once. This President is not their dancing monkey and the world isn't going to worship at the feet of Hamsher like her sycophant co-bloggers do.

The average Americans, be they Democrats or Republicans, have no idea who these talking-heads are nor do they care what their opinions may be. We just want to get through these hard times as best as we can. All those people counting on their Earned Income Tax Credit just to pay for an old car to get around in or new shoes for their kids have absolutely nothing in common with these self-aggrandizing jerks. The idea that they know what the average American wants from the President is simply laughable.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Woman w/stroller Cries Because She Was Forced Out of Wheelchair Space

So, last week in Ottawa, a woman with a stroller was forced to get off of a bus, because she was taking up the space designated for people with wheelchairs and someone in a wheelchair needed the space. Some folks are grumbling about it.

I have no problem with her being told to get off if she's taking up the space designated for wheelchairs. It sounds like the driver wasn't being a jerk, because he allowed the stroller-users to take up the space for as long as it wasn't needed for someone who is supposed to have it available to them. When that space became needed, it was only appropriate for it to be emptied in favor of the person who it was designed for. Even then, it doesn't seem like he just had a thing against women with kids in strollers, because his decision allowed the woman with two kids to stay on.

If the bus driver had been a jerk, he could have kept her off the bus in the first place, because there wasn't enough room for her to get on without taking up the wheelchair-designated spot. She'd have had to take the next bus anyway. His decision to let her ride as long as the space wasn't needed seems fair to me, because if her trip had been shorter, then she might have been able to get off and on without anyone else ever needing that spot.

In New Orleans, a large portion of the population used public transportation. I've ridden as a person with disabilities and I've ridden as a mother with a child in a stroller. In fact, I did it for a couple of years, five days a week, twice a day. Down here, it was illegal to leave your stroller in the aisle, so you had to be able to put it between your seat and the seat in front of you or in the area reserved for wheelchairs. If someone with a wheelchair came along, you had to move. It was as simple as that. They issued you a transfer ticket so that you could get on the next bus, and at least you were closer to your destination than you would have been if you hadn't been allowed to get on in the first place.

I hate how so many people have switched from the smaller (less expensive) strollers to using these SUV style models and just expect for everyone else to work around them. Those umbrella strollers are still on the market. Heck, there are even lots of deluxe strollers that fold flat. The only models that don't fold flat are the ones that cost a lot of money. It makes sense, though. If you're spending big money on a top of the line stroller, the manufacturers seem to figure that you must be planning to put it in a spacious, top of the line automobile.

If someone knows that they may have to use public transportation, it just doesn't make sense to get a stroller that is too big for those spaces. If you have one non-disabled kid, why should you be allowed to use the space that was designed for folks in wheelchairs? You're certainly not entitled to that space.

People with disabilities have had to fight to get these designated spaces on public transportation. If the folks who use those SUV style strollers really think they should have their own designated spot, then let them go and make their case with the public transit authorities in their region. Complaining because you weren't allowed to use the space that was meant for a person with disabilities is nothing more than ablism. As much as I love babies, I don't think that parents should be given a free pass on this.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

It's World AIDS Day: Know Your Status

So, today is World AIDS Day. I got tested yesterday. Since I have to get blood work done almost every time I go to a doctor's appointment, it makes sense to have them include an HIV test. Even though I've been w/the same partner for 10 yrs. we both think testing is important to show our daughter that it's just what responsible adults do, regardless of their relationship status.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Have The Indigenous Girl Blues Today

Every Thanksgiving, I like to re-post a story that I wrote a few years ago. If you have ever wondered why I don't celebrate Thanksgiving and/or you don't understand why I have absolutely no tolerance for those who do, please read this. Feel free to leave a comment if you want.

A Modern-Day Thanksgiving Story

Here's another post full of links that talk about this "holiday" from the perspective of other indigenous Americans.

For Those With Warm and Fuzzy Feelings About Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Write-In Ballots are a Disability Rights Issue

So, this jackass tea-bagger Senate candidate Joe Miller up in Alaska is challenging ballots where people wrote in the name of the candidate they chose, in an attempt to whittle away at the votes cast by Lisa Murkowski.

I am a person with disabilities and so is my partner. I have rheumatoid arthritis and my partner had a traumatic brain injury that has left him permanently damaged. My handwriting is absolutely atrocious, even when I don't write in cursive lettering. Should someone like me have their vote disqualified if my "u" looked like an "a" or my "k" looks like an "h"? If my partner is dealing with a bit of fogginess or his vision isn't too great on a given day and he happens to misspell a name by a single letter, should his vote be thrown out? Most reasonable people can understand how that would be discrimination that our founding documents prohibit. If all men are created equal, then those who have poor handwriting or poor spelling skills have just as much of a right to be able to choose their representatives as everyone else.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brothers and Sisters, When We're Dead They'll Be Able to Appropriate our Cultures as Much as They Please

There's not much more that I feel up to saying about why appropriating NDN culture is unethical. BrownFemiPower does a great job of discussing this in her post. However, in the link about NDNs trying not to get their heat cut off in the middle of winter, there's a report of one of us who was forced to resort to burning their clothes for heat.

When it gets down to that, how can someone not begin to feel that they are losing their humanity? Allowing someone to get to that point effectively means that we no longer consider that person as worthy of being a part of any human society in existence today. Without clothes, you are no longer considered fit for interactions with the general public. As proof of this, try appearing on the streets without clothes or even without what is considered the right kind or combination of clothes and see how long you are allowed to go about the typical activities associated with life.

Do we really need any more evidence that this nation is making a deliberate effort to eliminate the indigenous people of this country, especially those who retain some of their culture by grouping together with others from the same background (on reservations)? I feel so numb today after reading this.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tokenism and Identity Policing go Hand in Hand

Chally from Zero at the Bone and Feministe blogged about a case in Australia where a mixed-ethnicity woman was not hired because she didn't look indigenous enough. Chally challenged who had the right to define one's racial identity. Well, to be specific, she pointed out that Racial Identity Cannot be Determined by Casual Bystanders. Of course I agree with that.

When I read this story, it seemed to me that the point where they went wrong came long before they even interviewed Betteridge. From what's been reported, these people were looking for a token.

Some folks (who aren't marginalized on the basis of race) tend to think that they are doing those who are marginalized on that basis a favor by making sure that they include one of us in their projects. It seems we're supposed to see their efforts as somehow benevolent or magnanimous. In that view, I guess we should just be grateful that they were willing to hire any of us.

However, as I see it, the main problem with their behavior isn't that they didn't choose Betteridge because of her looks--it would have been just as problematic if they did. The problem is that they were attempting to use indigenous people as a means to an end. Having someone who looks more like the stereotypical Aborigine provides them with cover. It assuages the nagging feelings of guilt or responsibility that some non-indigenous people may harbor when they know that they are participating in systemic racism.

If we consider this story from that angle, it makes perfect sense why they would do what they did. After all, what good is such a token if they don't actually seem all that much different from you? How can you make those pesky marginalized people believe that you're "one of the good ones", if you can't get at least one of them to vouch for you? This company was looking for the corporate equivalent of a "best friend who's black".

Your "black friend" is only useful if they make it so that you don't have to do any real work to prove that you care about the lives, concerns, and interests of those other(ed) folks. Your "black friend" gives, or at least lends, you street cred. So, if you say or do something that makes marginalized people question your motives, then your token can help put things in the "proper" perspective...while you hide out in the corner, until things feel safe again.

Evidently, Betteridge didn't have enough indigenous street cred to satisfy this company's desire for a "black friend". However, in their mind, she's the one who's to blame, because she didn't figure out that they weren't really looking for someone to pass out flyers. They were looking for an actor, someone to play a role. When you're looking for an actor, it's perfectly acceptable to use looks as a criteria.

I'd have respected the interviewers a lot more if they had been honest about it and admitted that they just wanted to hire an actor who looks like a stereotypical Australian indigenous person. I mean, marginalized folks gotta eat, too. I'll never judge another indigenous person for filling the role of a token. That way, the non-indigenous folks can actually get what they are looking for and an indigenous person makes some cash that they might truly need bad enough to put up with the kind of b.s. that almost always goes along with being a token.

*By the way, I know that I'm seeing racial identity through my very Americanized eyes. I am not exactly clear about what sort of terminology the indigenous people of Australian tend to use or prefer. Chally's reminder that we should respect those preferences is definitely relevant. If anyone sees some problems with the terms I've used, I hope you'll let me know so that I can fix things.

Friday, November 12, 2010

To Write Love On Her Arms 2010

Today, many women and girls commemorated To Write Love On Her Arms. If you've never heard of this day/group/movement, that's okay. I didn't learn about it until last year. My daughter is the one who introduced me to it.

To Write Love On Her Arms is very dear to her heart. I think most people would be surprised how many girls her age deal with the issue of self-mutilation and/or suicide. If this is something that you have been affected by, in one way or another, check out this website that tells the story behind TWLOHA:

In order to spark conversation and discussion on this issue, many girls (and boys) at my daughter's school decorate their bodies in different ways. My daughter used pens and markers to draw on her arms. I was going to just describe what they looked like, but I decided to let her artwork speak for itself.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Thanks Again, Kanye!

The worst thing about Bush's comment is that I just know that Kanye is going to cut up even more now. Y'all thought he was a wee bit conceited before? No. Just wait until he hears that the President of the United States thinks he out-ranks Hurricane Katrina, Osamma bin Ladin, 9/11, The failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in terms of significance.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting An Education Without Breaking the Bank (or Your Mother's Heart)

Today, I read an article by Arielle Loren that challenges the notion that we should all go to graduate school. "Debt and Success: Why I Said NO to Graduate School" seems geared towards those who come from a middle to upper-middle class background, so someone outside of that economic bracket might not find it very useful.

If you don't have parents who were able to finish high school, they may not have the same expectations for you as those who were privileged enough to go beyond that. If your parents can't afford to help you finance college and/or you don't qualify for scholarships and grants (because Congress still hasn't passed the DREAM ACT), then this article might not be relevant in your life. There is a fair amount of privilege associated with being someone that this article is really geared to and I think that should be acknowledged up front. If anyone who reads this knows of any links that provide advice to those potential students who are less privileged, please share them with me and I will add them to this post.

Like Loren, I also come from a long line of college graduates and folks with advanced degrees. This idea that everyone in the family should take this route is definitely a reflection of the values of bourgeoisie black society. At this point in our family history, going to college just isn't all that extraordinary. Receiving a full scholarship or graduating in less than four years is still considered brag-worthy (even though you won't be the first one to do it), but my relatives unquestioningly assume that everyone will go to college.

Through a combination of scholarships and grants, my husband and I both left college with almost no debt. As a result, we were able to purchase a home without having to take out a mortgage (If you've been saving your money for a while, this can be an excellent time to buy a house). We now have a teenager and, as I've talked about before, VanGoghGirl goes to a really prestigious high school where the administration bragged during Orientation about how 99% of their students went on to a university after graduation. The school is set up so that everyone will have plenty of "extra-curricular" activities to put on their college applications. For example, all students are required to join at least three clubs.

Because it is almost a certainty that VanGoghGirl will go to college, we've been teaching her how to make smart educational decisions as she plans for her future. Next year, she may start taking classes at one of the local universities, so that when she graduates high school she will at least have some of her first semester classes already under her belt. If she decides to enroll in a state school after she graduates from high school, she won't have any problems with transferring the credits she'll have earned. All of the graduates from her high school qualify for a program that Louisiana has that pays for all of a student's tuition to a state school for four years. That has proven to be a powerful incentive for my daughter.

Personally, I think it's better to go to a cheap(er) university for your undergraduate program. Having studied at top tier and state schools, I can say for a certainty that there isn't much of a difference between what you will learn at the undergraduate level. Besides, many states now offer programs where tuition is much lower or even free for students from that area. Many students get caught up in the hype and become totally star-struck when an expensive school accepts them. They and their families go into debt needlessly, with very little added benefit.

The smarter thing to do is to save your finances for a better graduate school. When it comes to education, employers seem to care more about where you ended up than they do about where you started out. I know sooo many people who were able to pull together financing for a top tier school for a couple of years, but finally realized that it wasn't going to be possible or practical for them to continue to do so. Having to go home and attend a less prestigious school can often feel like defeat.

If you start out at a state school and then move on to a more prestigious graduate school, you can have the best of both worlds. By staying at home for a few more years, my daughter can do all of the traveling she wants over the summers, without worrying about how she's going to pay for housing and meal plans and tuition during the rest of the year. I think this is the best route for those who know they will need or want or be expected to go to graduate school at some point. If it turns out that you don't need to go to graduate school, you can start your career without the debt that forces many people to take jobs that will enable them to start paying off their loans, but won't further their career one bit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What Will Follow the Dehumanization of Muslims Throughout Western Society

Thanks to my dear sister Aaminah, I read an article today about some alarming legal measures that are being taken in Canada right now.
Bad news comes in bunches. First there was Quebec's Bill 94, which would refuse government services, public employment, educational opportunities and even most medical care to Muslim women wearing the niqab. Then there was the Angus Reid poll showing that 80 per cent of all Canadians agree with this measure. Evidently Abe Lincoln was right. You can fool (almost) all the people some of the time. You can fool them into unreasonable persecution of their fellow citizens.
-No Room at the Inn for Veiled Women? Get Real, Canada!
I don't know how I hadn't heard about this before; maybe it's because I've been busy marveling over the islamophobic atrocities going on in France right now. To hear that these measures have crept this close to home, without me knowing about it, just makes me shiver. How did 80% of Canadians become this virulently xenophobic before my very eyes?

I feel like I/we are witnessing a very frightening movement gaining steam. The widespread isolation of Muslims from the very populations that they have been born and raised in has already occurred. The dehumanizing treatment towards them is, evidently, already acceptable to the majority of people within nearly all of Western society (and our little satellite, Israel). I honestly don't know what else could follow except what has always followed when this pattern takes place. Is there anyone reading this who isn't aware of what happens after a minority has been successfully dehumanized by the population they are in?

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Conversation between me and my daughter:

Her: Mom, why does everything always come down to "vagina" with you?

Me: Because vagina is where it's at.

Her: You're right. It always comes back to "vagina" with me, too.

Oh the joys of being a queer woman raising a queer kid! :)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

But was it "Racism"?

Okay, I know I'm not the first person of color who has said what I'm about to write. However, it seems as if some people think the jury is still out when it comes to how incidences like Lawrence O'Donnell's recent verbal gaffe should be viewed.

O'Donnell has apologized and explained why he shouldn't have said what he did. For the most part, he took responsibility for his words even though I would argue that the last part was an attempt to minimize his actions via a tu quoque argument about how the Republican party has also made similarly problematic statements without Steele making a public comment. Never mind the fact that Steele didn't make a public comment about O'Donnell's words either. Instead he chose to contact O'Donnell personally to address his thoughts. However, that's not the main thing I want to address.

I've noticed that there are still people who think that this is an issue of whether O'Donnell is a racist or was making a racist remark. What I think is that whether it should be considered racism is irrelevant. If it makes you more comfortable, we can call O'Donnell's words "problematic" , "thoughtless" or whatever else you'd prefer. This is about the effect of his words. Regardless of whether O'Donnell was trying to make a racist remark, describing the relationship of a person of color and a group of mostly rich white men in the way that he did, has a historic context that is still relevant today. This is certainly true in a political discussion and it would be hard to argue that it isn't especially the case with Steele's role as the Republican National Committee Chairman. Race was undeniably a factor in why he was appointed to that position just as the Democratic party was patting itself on the back after making Barack Obama their Presidential nominee.

Some people are saying that Steele ran with what O'Donnell said, but even if that's true, would it really be all that surprising? That's what political advocates do! O'Donnell does it, too. He did it during the interview with Steele when he asked if the Chairman's comments about the tea-baggers' relationship with the Republican party meant that the Republicans now considered the minimum wage unconstitutional (as some tea-baggers have claimed). It's an easy (or some might say cheap, depending on how you want to look at it) technique used to box your opponent into a corner. They can either agree with an odious position that has been asserted by someone else or risk alienating a demographic that they are trying to court.

I'm a (relatively) economically-privileged person. There are things that I could say about quality of life issues that might be interpreted as thoughtless or problematic or even classist. If I am told that I've said something classist, I should understand that those on the short end of the stick with regards to classism don't go around making these accusations for no reason. If I think that classism is wrong, then I should learn from what they have to say about how someone in my position can do better in the future. That's just one example.

Some people mistakenly believe that situations like O'Donnell's are best handled by listing the person's "street cred" as if it's proof that it's impossible for that person to ever do anything that might rightfully be construed as bigoted. However, none of a person's prior actions or beliefs preclude them from causing harm in a particular incident that might crop up. The best way to show that you aren't a particular kind of bigot is by listening when people who are on the receiving end of that kind of discrimination are telling you how you've messed up and then acting on what you've learned.

I think that is what we should really be focusing on: how to learn from what people in marginalized communities have to teach us about the effects of our words and behaviors.

Black Republican Philosophy

The other day, a fellow woman of color was talking to me and she remarked that she just can't understand how black Republicans can remain silent as their political party engages in so much racist speech. I started thinking about it and maybe as a former conservative person of color, I can add a helpful perspective to this topic.

The fact that someone is the same color/race/ethnicity as you doesn't mean that you'll necessarily see them as having anything significant in common with them. Some people don't willingly define themselves as a part of a community of people of color. They see themselves as ______ first, who just happen to also be black. You can fill that blank with "evangelical Christians", "Republicans", "capitalists", "Americans" or many other labels that folks like that prefer to identify as.

A lot of it has to do with how you are raised. My own family was completely uninterested in politics, because they sought to be seen as Christians above all else. If a politician said something that was in line with their interpretation of Christianity, then they had no problem praising them, but defending a politician who was the victim of racism just wasn't their focus. Part of it is black bourgeoisie values that teach we should fight racism, not by speaking out about it, but by being 10 times better at whatever we do. We were taught to be above complaining, no matter what obstacles put before us. There were no reasons for not becoming successful, only excuses.

With a values set like that, it's easy to see why the Republican party has a certain appeal for those black people who buy into the bourgeoisie philosophy. Many of them would take issue with the idea that they sit idly by as Republicans engage in racism. They are simply more interested in accomplishing certain goals, believing that their success will prove their superiority over racists in both parties.

But that's just my two cents.

O'Donnell Shows How It's Done, So Listen Up

Last Tuesday, Lawrence O'Donnell was on his new television show talking about the Republican Chairman Michael Steele when he said,
"As the first congressional election during his party chairmanship approaches, Michael Steele is dancing as fast as he can, trying to charm independent voters and tea partiers while never losing sight of his real master and paycheck provider: the Republican National Committee,"
After Steele called O'Donnell and expressed how this use of the term "master" in reference was quite offensive, O'Donnell went on his show the next night and apologized in a manner that I think all white Americans could stand to emulate.

Fortunately, O'Donnell recognizes that the effect of one's actions are always more important than the intent. Sure, he didn't have to apologize, but the fact that he did shows he has a lot better understanding of white privilege than many folks within liberal/progressive circles.

You see, his apology has little to do with Steele. It's about right and wrong. The appropriateness of an apology isn't dependent on whether or not Steele is a decent person, because O'Donnell's words reach far beyond just the individual he was referring to. It would have been much better if he hadn't made this remark in the first place. However, after saying it, he had to decide to how he was going to react to being told how offensive it was. He could either contribute to the way that white Americans try to decide for themselves what should and should not be offensive to people of color or he could make it clear that he understands the impact of his actions as a media figure. Thankfully, he chose the ethical response. My hope is that more white Americans will learn from this and follow his example.

The Difficulties of Being a Young Commercial Graphic Artist

Today, someone on Facebook posted a link to some YouTube videos created by a young cat who has made some pretty hilarious shorts. It turns out, he's from my hometown (New Orleans) and he's also a graphic artist. After watching some of his skits, I found an interview where he explains some of the difficulties of being an artist trying to make a living from his work and why he calls his business "R.I.P. Jerry Lavigne Jr.".

His rates are ridiculously cheap considering how much he includes. For an 11" x 14" picture, on professional grade paper, with matting and a frame using non-glare glass, he charges $150. Frankly, I don't know how he manages to turn a decent profit. I'm really glad to see this reality spelled out for all of the folks who don't understand the years of training/practice that goes into getting this good & how that deserves compensation, too.

My daughter is in high school but she's been a professional artist for years. We just bought a router and a couple of sawhorses, so that she can start making her own frames. You can charge more for framed photos than for unframed ones, but it's still hard to make a decent profit unless you can get the frames for a good price.

We first thought about getting a router after she started learning how to use power tools when her theatre teacher began teaching them about stagecraft. Since we did need to replace some baseboards and window sills in our new house and my mother-in-law was also doing some remodeling, we concluded that it would make sense to invest in one.

Now she'll be able to offer several different framing options to customers and she isn't limited to whatever the local businesses offer. She plans to eventually begin experimenting with different finishes and stains. We can get wood and glass from building supplies stores for cheap, so the router was the only significant investment.

I hope that my daughter will grow up to be a savvy artist like Jerry Lavigne. To be a successful commercial artist in today's world, you have to be able to think creatively in more ways than one. The more you can do yourself, the more money you make. That is, if you can get it through people's heads that "the worker is worthy of his wages" (1 Timothy 5:18).

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Eva Cassidy Memories

I discovered Eva Cassidy's music when I was in treatment for my cancer. She became a sort of patron saint for me. Her music gave me strength to keep going, even when the doctors told me that my cancer was incurable. Seeing how Cassidy fought her cancer with grace and courage to her dying day inspired me to keep on fighting.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Mixed Girls Don't Need Collagen Injections

Okay, that's a big generalization. It's certainly not always the case, but I'm trying to make a point that's related to this. I check the Huffington Post almost every day, so a lot of what I see online comes from things I've read there. As usual, I found some an article that made me want to come over to my blog and rant. There's a picture of Matthew Modine and his daughter, Ruby, who accompanied him to a movie premiere. She's a lovely, lovely young lady.

When I looked at the picture, the first thing I thought was, "Hmm. I didn't know that Matthew Modine was in an inter-racial marriage. Cool!" Then when I started reading the comments and I felt like my head was going to explode. I kept seeing all these comments about how it was a shame how all these young girls were getting collagen injections in their lips. I thought to myself, "What the heck?" I mean, this is obviously a woman of color. At least, it's obvious to me.

I started wondering if it was just me imagining things, so I looked up the name of the woman Matthew Modine is married to. She's an Afro-Latina named Caridad Rivera. If you take a look at how beautiful she is, it's no wonder that a guy who looks like your average white guy--Well, I guess he's sort of handsome, in a Middle America kind of way--would hang on to a catch like her.

It's really aggravating to watch how white people assume that features associated with people of European descent are the norm and everything that falls outside of that range must be unnatural. I mean, really? Are there really that many white Americans who have never seen what a Euro/Afro/Latina looks like? Maybe I've just wanted to believe that my fellow Americans are a lot more sophisticated than they tend to be.

It's just that, being from New Orleans with its history of Creole/gens de coleur libres, we get to seeing the diversity of features that occur when you mix folks from indigenous America, the African diaspora, and European colonizers. It's not even anything special here, because there are so many folks like that down here. I just want to face-palm every time I see some white people still so clueless about racial/ethnic diversity.

If you look at a few pages of comments, it becomes clear what this is all about. The problem boils down to the fact that many white Americans still haven't come to grips with the fact that this country is becoming browner before their very eyes. Well, I should say, it's becoming brown again, because America is simply returning to how it looked before Europeans arrived and killed off the brown majority that originally inhabited these lands.

If you are used to living in a country where most people look like you and those in your family, and you occasionally see a few folks who look very different, it's easy to just gawk or giggle or ignore these outsiders. However, if you wake up one morning, go outside, and suddenly realize that more and more people are starting to look like the "outsiders" and a lot less like you, it's harder to ignore and a lot more difficult to avoid these differences. You go through your day and now people don't care as much about what you see as beautiful and, furthermore, you are no longer as likely to be included in what's considered the ideal beauty.

As a person of color, I've never been in that position, but I have to imagine that it might not be a pleasant experience. Some people are better than others with regards to dealing with changes. I figure they'll have the easiest time adjusting to the the changes in America's racial/ethnic demographics.

Unfortunately, a certain percentage of folks are going to fight the changes tooth and nail. It's sad, because they are fighting a losing battle. We are the future. They can either get with the program or they will just die out and become a part of history.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How Can I Explain?

God is so good to me. He knows the secret desires of my heart and gives me, not only what I need, but also what I want.

My neighbors asked my daughter if she'd be interested in reading to their 2 little boys for an hour or so, twice a week. Today is their first session. They just finished reading "The Very Bouncy Bear" and now they are using markers to draw pictures of animals. My sister-in-law's dog, Gizmo, is hanging out with us while she runs some errands, so the boys are also taking breaks to pet the dog and squeal with delight every time he nuzzles them.

Watching the fun that they are having fills me with joy. Though I can't have any more kids, look at how God has still made it possible for me to have plenty of children in my life. I am so blessed that some days it feels like my heart will burst from all of the love I've been shown.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gimme That Ol' Time Revolution!

Please forgive me for not being OMG EXCITED about the idea that lesbians/bi-/gay people may now be added to the list of those who can go to third world nations, kill their inhabitants, and then aid the US in appropriating all of the natural resources. Removing "Don't Ask. Don't Tell" isn't progress. It's simply propping up the legitimacy of a war-mongering nation. I want revolution, not repeals.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Love Over the Telephone

VanGoghGirl was on the phone with my mom tonight. When I walked into the room, I overheard her telling my mom

"Mémé, if you were a cactus, I'd just be covered with prickles because I'd still hug you and hug you all of the time."

I really appreciate the relationship that the two of them share and I thought that was just the sweetest and most heartfelt words of affection that I've heard in a very long time.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Dangers of an Afro? Really?

Sooo, apparently, some folks believe that wearing afros is dangerous. Do we really have to get melodramatic with this? Why are we making these blanket statements without regard to what sort of hair one has? My daughter has extremely-fine hair. Pulling, twisting, and/or braiding it often causes more damage and breakage than when we simply leave it loose. Since we started leaving it alone, it has grown faster and healthier than at any other point in her life.

Like thousands upon thousands of African-American women, I have lupus. Because of this, I have an extreme sensitivity to the sun. The afro works best for me, because it provides coverage for my scalp when I go outside. Otherwise, I'd have to wear a hat all of the time and we all know what sort of moisture-stealing materials most of those are made of.

Instead of making generalizations, let's base information on facts: different types of hair need to be treated differently and what's good for one hair type may not be good for someone else. We just need to know our hair as well as we know the other parts of our body.

I use an afro pick and it still hasn’t damaged my hair one bit. I rarely see more than a few hairs in my comb. I’m not sure why the assumption is being made that those who use a pick aren’t also using moisturizers. Even in the 70′s afro-wearers often used pomades and oils, so this is not a new practice.

It’s just irrational to say that a particular practice or style is dangerous for all kinds of hair. It’s like saying that peanuts are all dangerous, just because some people are allergic to them. No, it’s simply ill-advised for those who experience problems with it. Likewise, when you make generalizations without regard to who is included in the group you’re talking about, then you’re bound to give out inaccurate information and that’s the only thing that we KNOW can be dangerous.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Pat Robertson's latest Islamophobic Scare Tactic

So, Pat Robertson thinks that the "Islamization"of Paris is a warning to the West.

This is fear-mongering of the worst type and completely bogus. I just shook my head when reading how it separates Muslims from "native" French people, as if those who are Muslim are necessarily foreigners. Like Islam, Christianity didn't originate in France, but no one claims that being a Christian means one can not possibly be a real Frenchman. What CBN is doing is "othering" French Muslims and creating a hostile environment for people seeking to practice their religion in peace. When you have situations where random Muslims are being attacked on the streets and on their jobs, I don't blame them for hiring private security to keep a look out while they pray.

And can anything be more ignorant than staging pork parties as a sign of French patriotism? I laughed my head off when I saw the guy waving a giant sausage above his head. I mean, what is that supposed to do? Scare the Muslims away like a vampire who sees a cross? This idea that French Muslims are doing something all that different from other groups is just ridiculous. Do the French disallow Christmas displays? Do they tell Christians that they can not walk around in public in priests' robes or nuns' habits? Do they prevent the playing of Christmas music outside of church or private homes?

If the Muslims had a mosque the size of the Notre Dame Cathedral, they wouldn't have to pray out on the streets when they go to their religious services on Fridays. Of all the Muslims I know and have known in my lifetime, I have yet to meet a single one who would prefer to pray outside on the nasty public streets next to gutters instead of having a nice indoors place to worship. However, it's pretty clear that if Muslims did try to build a mosque of that size, these islamophobes wouldn't approve of that either.

Their issue isn't really with the fact that religious people are praying outside. Robertson is constantly using his propaganda station to threaten people with the wrath of God for trying to enforce our own separation of church and state principle. No, what Robertson's really complaining about is that French Muslims exist at all. Notice how his reporter goes on this tangent about French Muslims who have been accused of polygamy. Predictably, he doesn't mention how many French Christians also practice it, in one form or another, nor does he point out how the majority of people collecting welfare checks in France are not Muslims. French men having children with more than one woman is only worth mentioning if those men are Muslims and those children might one day grow up to be Muslims, too.

I understand that if Pat Robertson wants to keep fleecing his sheeple flock for every dime they have, he's going to have to resort to scaring them into thinking they'd better fight back against this supposed "Islamization coming-to-a-nation-near-you". And what better way to fight back than to send money to Robertson and his completely non-political religious organization, right? Anyone who falls for this, deserves to lose every dime in their pocket.

Here's a real warning for "the West": A fool and his money are soon parted.

Friday, September 03, 2010

RaHoWa? Hardly!

With all of the hoopla about mosques being built in the USA, I've seen more talk on the internet from Ku Klux Klan types talking about how they believe that RaHoWa (racial holy war) is imminent. Personally, I don't think there will ever be any nationwide race riots. I think it's going to eventually come down to something a lot more basic, like food riots. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening while the percentage of the population that's non-white is quickly evening out with the percentage who are whites. I think that eventually, people will care a lot less about what color their neighbor is and a lot more about the fact that everyone around them is finding it harder and harder to eke out a living while the rich b**tards behave as if the world truly belongs to them.”

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Withdrawal of Troops in 2011 is not Good Enough

Pelosi and Gates Differ on Expectations for July 2011 Troop Withdrawal

As a matter of fact, even 2010 is too late for some of us. As long as we're in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, our troops are going to die--there and once they come back with the PTSD that caused my veteran uncle to blow his brains out three years ago. When it comes right down to it, it doesn't matter what role our troops are playing over there (advisory or combat) because our presence is still unwanted by the majority of the Iraqi population. As long as we're unwanted but still around, our troops will die because they will remain a target.

I have a lot of respect for Obama, but that doesn't change the fact that the blood of all those slain--Iraqi, Afghans, and Americans--are on the hands of those who are responsible for our continued presence.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is Sexism and Agism Allstate Insurance's Best Strategy for Winning Customers?

Am I the only one who really, really hates these Allstate insurance commercials where there's some douche bag dressed up in all pink and doing all sorts of property damage and then saying "I'm a teenage girl and if you (bought insurance from the other company then basically, you'd be screwed right now)"? I mean, what makes a teenage girl more likely to be irresponsible than a teenage boy or an adult male. And wearing all pink and driving a pink car--lord knows girls love love love the color pink, amirite?--while doing it has got to be the icing on the cake.

Here are a few different versions of the commercial.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Islamophobia Comes to a Head in New York City

One of my brothers is a Muslim now. He also works part-time as a taxicab driver. That's why reading this story in the news today gave me the chills.

Muslim Cab Driver STABBED in New York City, Michael Enright Arrested on Hate Crime Charge

My mom is a Jehovah's Witness. They aren't exactly known for being folks who are open to the idea that there is more than one right way to do things, especially when it comes to religion. However, my mom always encouraged us to learn about the world around us. She taught us to be voracious readers and she never stopped us from reading about other religions and studying their holy texts. She caught a lot of flack for how she raised us, but we all turned out to be critical thinkers as adults. We didn't become Jehovah's Witnesses, but we all have a great deal of respect for folks of all faiths.

The worst part of this is that it has happened during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This is a month that Muslims around the world use as a time of reflection and fasting, prayer, sacrifice, and repentance. To have this happen to a Muslim during Ramadan is like having the same thing happen to a Catholic during Lent or to a Protestant on Christmas. Just when you have your thoughts focused on God and you're trying to reaffirm your commitment to worship Him to the best of your ability, someone comes along and stabs you in the neck.

This was an act of religious persecution. It is a hate crime, if ever there was one.

Please keep Ahmed H. Sharif and his family in your prayers and consider using the month of Ramadan as an opportunity to visit a mosque in your area. Every time I have ever entered one, I have been treated warmly, with welcoming arms. If the idea of religious persecution makes you as angry as it makes me, I think we should reach out to our Muslim sisters and brothers and let them know that we are not willing to sit by and watch bigots impugn Islam and victimize them in their own country.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Best Native American/Arizona Joke EVER!

When NASA was preparing for the Apollo Project, they conducted some astronaut training on the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona. One day a Navajo elder and his son were herding sheep when they encountered the space crew engaged in such training. The old man spoke only Navajo and asked a question which his son translated. “What are these guys in the big suits doing?” A member of the crew replied that they were practicing for their trip to the moon.

The old man got excited and asked if he could send a message to the moon with the astronauts. Recognizing a promotional opportunity for the spin doctors, the NASA folks found a tape recorder. When the old man had finished recording his message, they asked the son to translate it for them, however he refused to do it. So the NASA reps brought the tape into town to get it translated. The other members of the tribe listened to it and then laughed, but also refused to translate the elder’s message to the moon. Finally the NASA crew called in an official government translator. He then translated the elder’s message as saying;

“Watch out for these assholes… they have come to steal your land”

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Beautiful Obama Family

Today, I saw a picture of President Obama leaving an independent bookstore with his two daughters as they are vacationing out in Martha's Vineyard. As a person in a family that has been inter-racial for several generations, I just never get enough of seeing them. It's hard enough finding positive portrayals of black families in the media. Trying to show your child other families like yours when you have an inter-racial/inter-ethnic family is like searching for the dodo bird.

Obama dresses just like my dad, nothing flashy, no labels on his clothes and always carrying or wearing a pair of sunglasses that are just cool enough for me to suspect that someone else picked them out for him. :) Sasha & Malia never have that overly-dressed up look that I hate to see on children. I'm talking about the kind of doll-like clothes that kids are afraid to really get down and play in because their parents might scream about them messing up their pretty outfits. They look as if they are ready to join a picnic or a game of hopscotch or any other activity that a kid should be free to kick back and enjoy while on vacation. They are adorable, well-mannered, well-adjusted, and unpretentious. They're exactly the kind of family that I would have chosen for what the first black/multi-racial family in the White House would be like.

People may certainly find several things to criticize about Obama's presidency, but no one can deny the fact that this family is doing an excellent job at creating a loving and supportive environment for their children. All little kids deserve to be adored by their parents in the same way that Sasha and Malia obviously are.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I found this picture on the Huffington Post slide show. I think I really liked it, because of the twenty different things that one can be in order to qualify for entrance into Satan's eternal disco party, I've actually done or been fourteen of these at some time in my life.

How many reasons does this guy think that God has to send you to hell? Come on! 'Fess up, folks!

WorldNetDaily Gets Down to Serious Business

The German thinks I have a twisted sense of humor, because when I'm having a bad day I like to cheer myself up by spending hours and hours looking at websites from what he and I refer to as the "other internetz", "Internet /b/", or the "dark side". If I had to analyze it, I guess teabagger conspiracies about Obama's supposed plan to enslave whites or evangelical preachers trying to convince us that Obama is the Anti-Christ are so absurd that it's virtually impossible for me not to laugh, even on days where it's hard for me to get my mind off of my back pain or my stomach problems.

One of my favorite sources of lulz is the right-wing website WorldNutDaily WorldNetDaily. Yesterday, they posted an article about how their CEO has disinvited Ann Coulter from speaking at his "Taking America Back" national conference. He says it was a gut-wrenching decision, but one that he was forced to make after Coulter decided to speak in front of a group of gay Republicans at an event called "HomoCon". Coulter explained that she was simply doing it for the money, but (surprisingly) even that wasn't a good enough excuse for Farah who has decided to allow Coulter to remain a regular columnist on his site, nevertheless. The article features a quote where he explains his decision:
"There's a different standard for columnists and speakers at our conference," Farah explained. "We boast the broadest ideological forum of commentators in any news or opinion publication or website anywhere on the planet – and we will continue to do that. We think people should hear all points of view discussed openly and honestly. However, this conference is a serious event designed to provide some real leadership for those who are serious about changing the direction of this country. There is simply no room there for compromisers or for people who accept money from those determined to destroy the moral fabric required for self-governance and liberty."
What makes this whole story outrageously funny is the lines that directly followed this quote.
The conference will feature Rep. Michele Bachmann, Ambassador Alan Keyes, Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo, former Sen. and retired Admiral Jeremiah Denton, WND's Jerome Corsi, Aaron Klein, David Kupelian, comedienne Victoria Jackson, talk-show host Rusty Humphries, homeschool champion Michael Farris and many others in a lively, interactive forum that will include debates on some of the hottest issues of the day.
Oh yeah, any event featuring Bachmann, Keyes and comedienne Victoria Jackson is definitely srz bznz! God bless the series of tubes. Without them, I might not ever find out just how stupid these folks really are.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Message for White Xenophobes

Dear White Xenophobes,

You clearly don't understand the human psyche. What happens when you threaten adults and tell them that they had better not do something? Why, even if they had no prior plans to do it, the idea of trying it suddenly becomes more intriguing to them, of course! By making migration across this imaginary border into something forbidden, you make it a challenge that some folks will become determined to conquer.

You like facts? Well, here's one: The US military is stuck in two god-forsaken wars that leave it too stretched out and distracted to put enough people on the border to actually prevent folks from crossing. Even Arpaio and Brewer's little stunts aren't enough to keep folks from crossing. All they have done is alienate people of color who are citizens, including those who might actually have gone along with a reasonable and comprehensive approach to migration.

My very conservative partner, who is just a swarthy man of German-descent and is often mistaken as a Latino or Arab, can no longer travel/vacation through AZ without worrying about being snatched away from his family. Do you really think he'll ever vote Republican again? You folks really didn't think this one through very well or maybe you just decided to let your prejudices win out over all other considerations. Either way, you played yourself, buddy. The cat's out of the bag and even conservative people of color are dumping your party like a hot rock. Thanks for playing, though!”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

VanGoghGirl Sure is Growing Up

My baby just made 15! I can barely believe that I have a kid who's that old. Today, I just felt like posting some pictures of my beautiful, talented little pixie.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And Who Said The Cops Don't "Protect And Serve"?

Jumping Jehosaphat, I just don't know what the heck is wrong with my people sometimes. Okay, so there's a story in the news right now about how a woman of color wound up being tasered, repeatedly, after calling the police for help because she was afraid that there might be a prowler outside. On one of the news sites reporting this story, I made the comment that what I take away from this is that people of color are better off taking their chances with the criminals because calling the police only increases the likelihood that they/we will be victimized twice. In response, a fellow woman of color criticized my statement saying,
"So people of color should not call the cops. Are we inconveniencing them and therefore should be subject to torture or murder? The problem is we are becoming too silent on issues we need to speak out on. After awhile we can't look them in the eye and should hold our heads down and always remember to say yes suh, no suh. Honestly I can't believe we forget people were lynched, beat, hosed so that we had our civil rights. Police protection or at least holding them as best we can to do their jobs without killing us is better than being silent."
I wrote back to her and said,
"It's up to you to decide if YOU should call the cops. However, if you do, there's no reason for you to think that you won't be victimized by them. Given their history in this nation, it would be extremely naive for a person of color to think that a systemically racist organization is going to work to the advantage of those who it was designed to suppress. Who has said anything about remaining silent? Not expecting them to be our knights in shining armor is not the same as being silent. By all means, speak out. However, it's hard to effect change as long as you're perpetuating the problem by not finding other ways of dealing with societal issues. If we make calling the cops the only correct way of dealing with issues of safety, what are we supposed to do when it is the cops who are endangering us (e.g. a case like this one)? Have you forgotten that it was often the police who were doing the lynching and beating and hosing of people of color? Don't you get it? These cops WERE doing their job. Their job isn't to protect and serve YOU. Their job is to protect and serve the system that codified the oppression of those people of color you're referencing."
If this story isn't proof that cops don't work for us, I don't know what would be. Sure, our taxes pay their salary, but that doesn't mean they work for us. It simply means that we are paying "protection money" to state-sanctioned mob. We're supposed to believe that if we don't pay them to protect us, then we'll be victimized by the "bad guys". However, they are the bad guys, so even though we pay them, we still wind up being victimized. Having a police force doesn't keep people of color safe, so what do we have to lose by not assuming that they are going to be there to protect us?

Oh no! There are Scary Brown People on Your Interwebz!

Today, a woman that I went to high school with was on Facebook talking about how she and her kids just watched an episode of Dateline that was all about this newest "online epidemic": gangs using Facebook and Twitter to recruit new members and organize their nefarious activities. Some people on her feed thought that she was joking, so she posted this link to a news story on the subject. I took a look at it and just felt so frustrated.

I mean, it's such crap! Okay, what does the picture of young men of color have to do with this story? Given the fact that there are wayyyyyy more white folks on Facebook and Twitter, why don't they have a picture of some white people, if they just wanted to add a random photo? See, it's articles like this that make our children into targets for the police regardless of whether they are guilty of anything. Ugh!

By the way, what's new about this crap? Before cell phones and the internet, people were using beepers and graffiti. Before that, people were using scarves and handkerchiefs. Before that, they were using word of mouth. This isn't anything new. I swear, the media is always trying to get white good, law-abiding folks all whipped up into a frenzy, making them think that there are some scary black or brown people they need to be afraid of.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Look it up, Dear!

Okay, start with this: War Bonnet Appropriation Etiquette=Don't Do It

"What? Stepping on your neck hurts? If I ask really, really sweetly, would you please explain to me why it hurts? Maybe then I can make up my mind about whether your reason for not liking it is valid enough for me to consider taking my heels out of your jugular vein."

It doesn't take a genius to see what's wrong with these kinds of comments. I am Native American and even I don't wear eagle feathers. If it's not appropriate for me to do, it certainly isn't something that non-Natives should even consider trying. There is absolutely no justification for it. I have an especially hard time being nice about this when conversations like this come up on the internet. If you had the time to sit there and request information from me, then you could have simply looked up the info for yourself without asking me to spoon-feed it to you. I mean, the last time I checked, teh googles were still working.

I spent the first few years of blogging taking the time to explain this kind of stuff to these oh-so-sincere folks. When other people of color said that they weren't going to explain it even when asked nicely, I felt sympathetic. I thought I understood their reasons. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me for an individual not to feel like having the same conversations over and over again. At the same time, I felt like at least some of us within the communities of people of color needed to give the answers to those who asked.

I had people of color who tried to explain to me that the person requesting this kind of information is the one who had the responsibility for finding the answers they sought. I still felt justified, though. I thought that a white person who asked these questions was at least taking the first step by asking questions. I felt like it at least showed they were acting in good faith.

Sadly, it took me a few years to see what other people of color were trying to help me see. When the information is so readily available, a white person asking a person of color to explain why something is problematic isn't really about educating themselves. If their goal was to understand these issues, then they could simply research it themselves. Asking us for information is really an attempt to make us justify our stance. Answering these requests made me an enabler. It undermined the efforts of those who were showing white people that they shouldn't expect for us to jump at their beckoning call. Asking sweetly doesn't change the fact that they're still trying to make us prove ourselves to them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Drilling Moratorium is a Matter of Survival in a Post-Oil Spill La.

Right now, down here in southeast Louisiana, it has been interesting to see hardcore Republicans and Democrats agreeing that we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels. Back in the 80's we learned a hard lesson about how foolish it was to base our economy on the oil industry. As the years passed, some people forgot about how disastrous that was and began to see the oil companies as some sort of benign industry that still benefited to our economy. Now that British Petroleum has shown its true colors, a lot of folks who were formerly supporters are feeling more than a little bit bitter. They are downright angry and they have every reason to be.

What BP's existence might have contributed to our economy is nothing compared to the damage that it has done to it. And that's NOTHING, NOTHING compared to what it has done to our lands. Some folks from up north don't realize how much many Louisianians still live off of the land. I'm a city-dweller, but even I know folks who are so far from a grocery store that they have to hunt and fish for most of their food. What are they supposed to do when the animal populations begin to decrease?

Given how much of our plants and animals are going to die from this current fiasco, we simply can't afford to allow the oil companies to keep on drilling until we can be sure that they've fixed all of their problematic practices. The proposed moratorium on drilling is a matter of survival, but now it has been struck down by a U.S. District Judge who has extensive investments in the oil industry. Folks like him care about their money more than they are interested in the survival of poor people, so it's not surprising that some folks still want to "drill, baby, drill".

Friday, June 11, 2010

To Those Who Think That Islam Does Not Allow for Diversity of Thought

Have you ever ridden down a highway? Though you and I can both be traveling down the same highway, we may travel in different lanes. We can both end up at the same destination, but take slightly different paths within that same highway system. Perhaps, you will have to dodge a few obstacles that I may manage to avoid completely and vice versa. None of this changes the fact that we are still traveling down the same road, going to the same place.

For Muslims, through Islam, Allah sets the parameters and allows a great deal of freedom within those parameters. Personally, it annoys me to no end when non-Muslims say that Islam takes away all of a person's freedom, because we (i.e. those who have an intimate relationship with Islam) know that it is through Islam that many of us have been made free.

I also get a bit irritated when I hear certain Muslims making very similar comments. There are those (within the Muslim communities that I have been privileged to be a part of throughout the years) who I've seen make it easier for this charge to be made against Islam and Muslims. They do this through their words when they claim that there is only one correct way to practice Islam.

Even the most pious of the Muslims don't live identical lives. Though they are all striving to be in submission in everything they do and think, they don't all reach the same conclusions. If humans try to regulate those things that Allah has seen fit not to regulate, then they are the ones lacking in submission--not those they are trying to rein in.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Haiti and the Social Gospel

Today, I read a tweet from a local (rich, white, cisgender, male) youth pastor talking about Haiti. He was saying how we need to see food, clothing and shelter as secondary and that we should view the gospel as what they need the most. To me, this was a rather flawed way to view things.

I grew up in a religious tradition that did not much believe in getting involved in social justice. If there was a hurricane or tsunami somewhere, the people from the associated churches would all create a little fund which was sent to the main organization and they would use the contributions as they saw fit to help whomever they saw fit for a very limited period of time. After that initial contribution, they basically went back to just proselytizing in the usual ways--inviting people to church, preaching to people in public spaces, offering salvation in the form of baptism.

Each year, they raked in millions of dollars from all across the world, yet they never built one school, created one clinic, or ran a single food or clothing bank. This never sat well with me. I have a hard time respecting any organization that would gladly take money from already-impoverished people, but offer them nothing more than intangibles in return.

I love beautiful churches. I enjoy visiting the ornate surroundings of many cathedrals and mosques and synagogues. At the same time, I do feel a bit uncomfortable with all of the froufrou, knowing that millions of people are still dying of starvation each year. I can't help but think that at least some of the money spent on these works of art and wonders of architecture could have been better used providing for the needs of the poor.

There's a chapter in the Bible that I thought about when I read that pastor's tweet today.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Matthew 25:34-46
Notice who was pronounced righteous in this chapter. If we are not feeding and clothing and putting a roof over the heads of people such as those now living in Haiti, then all of our good intentions are for naught--we will still end up facing eternal punishment. Mohandas Gandhi once said, "There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread". I think that where the youth pastor went wrong was in thinking that providing for the physical needs of others is somehow separate from the gospel of the Bible. Instead, I see it as the very core of what it means to live the gospel and if we are not living the gospel, we certainly can't spread it to others.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Aaminah Speaks Out About Why All Indigenous People are Arizonans Now

My dearest friend online is a sister named Aaminah. She is an indigenous woman of color with disabilities. Both of us are descended from Native American nations in the same area, so I consider her my cousin. She wrote something today that I just can't read without responding to. It's called "if you think i’m identifying a little too much with the mexicans…". It's only a paragraph long, so you should read it.

When I read her post, the first thing I said to myself was, "Yes! Exactly!". I felt like I could have written this myself. It describes my feelings better than I can do myself.

Aaminah is right! These are OUR people. I am not Latino, but I am indigenous. This means all indigenous people of the Americas are my family. Mexicans are just one branch of that family. The thing is, as indigenous people, we know that their struggle is inextricably linked to ours. The people that don't want Mexicans here don't want us here either. If we allow them to kick out all of the Mexicans in this country, pretty soon we'll be begging our indigenous primos to the south to allow us to come and live there with them.

Make no mistake about it, we are next on the list. Our presence is a challenge to the narrative that the White people in this country have tried to propagate about this land. Our existence proves that this was not an empty continent, just waiting for the white man to come and conquer. It was a fully populated land, from top to bottom. We developed this land. We settled it. Then Europeans came and shit all over our lands. They spread their unsustainable, capitalist, wasteful way of life across the North American continent and into Central America.

Well, shitting on something doesn't make it yours. This is our land. I don't care how many White Arizonans approve of the new law created to drive out all undocumented people--and don't even get me started about problematic that term is, too.

No matter what you approve or disapprove of, this land belongs to me and my people. Personally, I hope that the people of Arizona get so sick of people like me that they all make their way back to their family's country of origin. You can come in my backyard and make yourself comfortable and even claim that it's yours, but it won't change the fact that my family and I lived here first and we're not going to give you this country just because you want it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Legal Deportation of Citizens & Why Your Status Doesn't Matter

The city of Baltimore auctioned off and sold this woman's house--a house with no mortgage that was owned free and clear by the woman living in it--because of an unpaid water bill. She fell behind when she had to quit her job to take care of her father who had Alzheimer's Disease. Now, she and her family are homeless and the house sits empty. After all, who's going to want to buy a house where practically every other house in the neighborhood is boarded up?

Where is the justice system that is supposed to protect the people of this country? Do you really think that the quality of life will improve for citizens, if we can manage to deport all of undocumented workers? How do you account for this woman's situation, then? Do you actually believe that the forces that be will be satisfied with criminalizing everyone who isn't a citizen? Immigrants are just today's scapegoats. When the politicians can't milk that issue any further, what or who do you think they'll criminalize next?

My partner and I own a house. Thanks be to God that we have no mortgage! It's easy to be in a situation like ours and think that at least you'll always have a roof over your head. However, this is proof that no one, no one is really safe. If they want to, the government can make anything you do into a criminal act. And if you don't do anything? Well, they can make even your existence in this country into a criminal act.

Think about it. What do you think has happened to this woman? She has been effectively "deported" from the place where she has lived for decades. A place that was paid for with her family's blood, sweat, and tears. Yet the government now says that she's not entitled to live there. She can't even be inside the home that her family made for itself. How is this any different from what's being done in places like Arizona (and all around the country, actually)?

The indigenous people of America developed this land, made it livable for humans. They carved out homes for themselves. They did all of this without the assistance of the United States government. Then, some Europeans came in and decided that God wanted them to take it from the indigenous people. We never agreed to leave our home. This land is our home. Our ancestors have roamed and resided on these lands for thousands of years. How can any one's claim to it be stronger than that? Still, using brute force and with the aid of the United States government, we were and are being removed from it.

It's not because this land can't support both us and them. The indigenous people of this land were more than willing to share this land with the Europeans. However, that wasn't enough for them. In their greed, they attempted to take over everything. Now they can't even manage all of the land they've stolen. It's just like the corporations that are buying up tax lien properties. They don't even have anything they can do with them yet. They are just hoping that they can kick out the people who live there without too much resistance.

No matter what corporations tell you, they know that land is the most valuable commodity on earth. Nothing compares to it, not diamonds, not oil, not even an individual human's life. These people are shrewd. They know that if they can maintain possession of the land, they can control almost everything that goes on within it. They don't really care about whether someone is "legal" or "illegal". These labels mean nothing to corporate America.

Labeling some people "illegal" makes it possible for those who are really in charge to take possession of a certain percentage of the land in this country. The fewer people with claims to it that are on the land, the less likely it is that they will have their claims challenged. And when that tactic has been milked for all it's worth, they aren't going to just sit back and enjoy their ill-gotten gains. The same greed that motivated them to dispossess undocumented workers also motivates them to go after the money-poor/property-rich citizens in this country. This is what's happening in Baltimore and all around the nation.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Keep it Classist, Paul SCHMIDTBERGER

Last week, The New York Times published an article, written by a man named Paul Schmidtberger, called "Brittney, Brittny, Brittneigh". In case you haven't figured it out yet, the article is all about how appalled Mr. Schmidtberger is at the names parents are giving their children these days. In it, he states:
Misspelling a child’s name won’t make Junior special, creative or unique. Y’s and I’s are not interchangeable, and apostrophes are not some sort of newfangled confetti to be sprinkled liberally throughout groups of letters. Parents shouldn’t impose cryptic, incoherent or foolish spellings on their own children, nor on society as a whole. And they shouldn’t condemn their children to a lifetime of bleakly repeating that, no, the name in question is spelled “Shaiyahne,” not “Cheyenne.” (And while I’m at it, don’t name your child Cheyenne, either.)
My daughter has an Arabic name. People actually have an easier time pronouncing and spelling her name than they do with mine--a name that is solidly Anglo and spelled about as traditionally as it gets. My name is constantly being misspelled and mispronounced.

This article really has nothing to do with caring about the experiences of people with unusual names. If that had been his true concern, he'd favor names that are both short and spelled phonetically. My daughter's name conforms to that standard and it's a name that's been around for thousands of years. It's just not a part of European culture, but evidently that's not good enough for Schmidtberger. Heaven forbid someone give their child a name that's associated with a non-white culture! Provided one conforms to his spelling restrictions, he's willing to deal with a French name like "Brittany", but a Native American name like "Cheyenne" is absolutely beyond the pale.

Shmidtberger's rant is really a thinly-veiled complaint about white people having to deal with the traditions and cultures of others. It's a means of defining who and what is should be accepted as truly civilized. If the reader has any doubts about whether this is about white supremacy, just read his final paragraph.
The liberty to name one’s child is not always absolute, certainly not outside the United States. In France, for example, the district attorney has a short window of time after a child is born to block names contrary to the interest of the child, including those that are pejorative or rude or would cause ridicule. I’m not suggesting we commission a similar corps of name police in the United States. But I am saying that a little humility and some common sense would go a long way.
Schmidtberger actually has the audacity to claim that parents who, for whatever reason, don't want to give their child a name that they will have to share with hundreds of thousands of other Americans should humble themselves before him and adopt his views about what constitutes a proper name. Oh, and I guess it's just coincidence that the names he prefers are those that conform to the naming traditions of a particular (socio-economic) segment of White, Western cultures. Riiight! I mean, common sense dictates that this is the only legitimate naming practice, right? I guess it would be pointless to inform Schmidtberger that even white people didn't give a dern about standardizing names until quite recently.

While reading it, I thought back to a book that I read many years ago called "How the Irish Became White" that chronicles how one group of people sought to escape oppression by turning into the same kind of oppressors that they had faced in their homeland. Paul Schmidtberger seems to be imitating that process by sneering at those who give their children names that are unique or unusual to him. Perhaps, he hopes that no one will notice that multi-syllabic, far-from-straightforward "Schmidtberger" following his first name in the article's by-line. Nope, nothing unusual there, right Schmidtberger?

I remember when I got one of my first real jobs. It was with the United States Navy. The soldier over the department where I was working (a white male in his forties) mispronounced my name the first time he tried to say it. I pronounced it for him the right way, and in an attempt to be accommodating (one of those traits that bourgeoisie black society champions as a necessity for those people of color who wish to be successful in the world), I told him that I was used to people saying it wrong, so as long as he said something close to it, I'd know he was talking to me.

I learned a big lesson that day. When I told him that, he sternly told me that I should never accept people saying my name incorrectly. He said that it's disrespectful to mispronounce someone's name and that I should always insist that people say it and spell it correctly.

That lesson has stayed with me. Over the years, I've found that those who want to pronounce names correctly keep at it until they get it right*. Those who insist on calling you something other than your name are letting you know that they don't think your identity is worth respecting. They've decided that they can't be arsed to get it right and that's that.

What Schmidtberger is doing here is blaming other people for the fact that he might have to put forth some effort when addressing them. How dare parents force him to have to think about the person that he's talking to as an individual? How dare parents not take into consideration HIS comfort when giving their children names? How dare we insist on exercising our right to be self-defining?

*There are exceptions that should be noted. I have encountered people who, despite their best efforts, don't pronounce my name the way I say it or spell it. Most of the time, these have been people whose first language does not feature words that use the same sounds that are found in my name. It's nearly impossible to confuse these people with those like Schmidtberger, though. Those in the former group will almost always make a concerted effort to get people's names right, whereas the Schmidtberger-types will only (at best) make a half-hearted effort before expecting others to just accept whatever they decide to call you.