Tuesday, November 30, 2010

DADT- Sign Up, Strap On, or Shut Up

It appears that the US is close to repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Not so affectionately known as DADT. It seems that in a most recent poll of people in the military, the actual people who have the most at stake, for whom this issue is not theoretical, 70% have said it is not an issue for them! Well, yeah. Damn skippy.

Repealing DADT is seventeen years overdue. If there were ever a time to let go of this half-step, placeholder compromise to keep the issue on the table in a way that appeases both those for and against openly gay American's serving in the military, it would be now.

Hey America, wake up and smell the gunpowder. We are at war. Stretched thinner than your last piece of plastic wrap. You know what war is don't you? War is when our young people, primarily from poor and working class communities because they lack few other options, are fighting and dying for us. Whether we agree with the war or not, (and I don't but I digress) they are fighting for us. We are at war, even our National Guard members, our weekend soldiers have been serving three, four tours without a break. And some of those soldiers, they aren't so young.

This war is being fought out of our sight, and too often out of mind. It is an abstract for many of us because we don't see the coffins unloaded from the planes, are unaware of the holes left in the lives of families, don't see the broken bodies trying to heal in our military hospitals. And that is the critical issue, the cognitive dissonance between what we see (very little), what we know (even less), and the actual reality of being at war. It allows us to have this really silly theoretical abstract conversation about who should serve, and how they should serve.

The military has been up against the wall for recruits since we invaded Iraq. That would be since 2003, seven years! And because no one is willing to even consider the idea of a draft, (that would bring this war to complete and quick end let me tell you, but, I digress) so this is an all volunteer army which means, people have to be motivated to VOLUNTEER.

Now I don't know about you but I know this much. When I'm in a fight and the other side is beyond motivated and seemingly has access to hundreds of thousands of recruits to keep throwing at you, and I need help, like right now. I don't care if the person who jumps in to help is a guy wearing a dress, and a girl in tuxedo. It could be a clown in an Elvis costume. All I want to know is, "Can you fight? Are you willing, because it is all hands on deck here? Whew, thank you because I'm getting my butt kicked here."

America is at war. If gay people want to fight, let them. And for all of you who object to gays serving openly, for whatever your reason, I say this...Sign up. Strap on. Ship out. Or shut the hell up. Really. Help or Hush. It isn't that deep or that difficult. Seriously. It isn't. Don't Ask. Just call your representative and tell them the time has passed to get this done.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pack up Lady Liberty and Return Her To France

It was mid-term election night here in Georgia. What's a progressive girl to do when she lives in the belly of the Republicrats Beast? Try to get a little distance from this thing in order to gain perspective. So tonight it has been a week exactly since some folks decided not to vote because they weren't excited, weren't motivated, didn't really see what was at stake, and others were chomping at the bit to undo the "mistake" they think 72 million Americans made in 2008.

Unlike my time spent in places like New York, NJ, Chicago, and Oakland, CA, where progressives weren't laboring in isolation, at the least there were more of us. Here, we are definitely in the minority. And this after living near one of the largest cities in the South, the place that is seen as a mecca for those looking for a place less hidebound, restrictive, uptight than almost every place in the region. There were so many different people in those other cities, from different cultures and traditions, more of a live and let live attitude. No one was much interested in trying to shove their way of life down your throat. (Of course there are exceptions but for the most part there are just way too many people to contend with to try to strong arm your belief system on others.)

As quiet as it's kept, the South is also home to thousands of immigrants from around the globe. They appear to keep a low profile though. Like they don't want to rock too many boats, remain under the radar. After last Tuesday I bet they'll hunker down even more.

In the South progressives are not only in the minority, but it is place rife with people who feel that they have the answer to everything. They want to live their lives and yours too. I now fully understand taxation without representation because our Republicrat US Senators and our congressman really don't give a crap about anyone but their corporate cronies. And bunches of my fellow citizens are just itching to roll back the clock on the social issues near and dear to their hearts. (More about the Republicrats in a later post.)

It is too bad that these too often poor and working class Caucasians don't realize that our elected officials only care about getting back to DC and riding this corporate cruise line of endless money until the very last wave in the very last ocean. (They should fall on their knees every night and thank the Supremes. No, not Diana and the girls, but the men in robes who voted for Citizens United.)

And that's what I've come to grips with this election night. There are millions and millions of Americans who do not care enough to even give lip service to the euphemisms that many of us, myself included have taken as faith, drummed into us in school over the decades such as "We're all in this together." "We're all swimming in the same ocean." "I felt sorry for the man with no shoes...""A rising tide lifts all boats." I could go on and on, and on. So could you I bet.

Factually, if there is a social contract in America, it is only a contract between those of us who believe that there but for the grace of God, go I. The other side apparently never signed the contract. I'm unsure if they are even aware there ever was one.

21st century Republicrats, have no such contract, no such ideal, and care less about the grace of God. (But you'll find them in church heads bowed, fist ready to pound the word into your hostile brain.) Who needs grace. They're Republicrats. So what if the factories have shut down and jobs shipped over seas. So what if the family farms have been consumed by big Agribusiness and now they have to buy what they once produced.

One of the most repugnant, unrepentant, repulsive Republican strategists was a man named Lee Atwater. Old Lee was one of, if not the, architects of the Southern Strategy that propelled Reagan into office, and Bush Senior. The Southern Strategy used emotional wedge issues such as race and religion, coupled with coded words like "special interests," and "busing" and "welfare queens," linking all this to "tax cuts" and before you could say Jack Rabbit three times real fast, ushered in four decades of whites who could least afford to, solidly align with the corporate class and continually vote against their best interest.

(As I read in a post today, a caller to the Rush Limbaugh show said he was for tax breaks for his boss/CEO so that he could one day keep more of his money if achieved success.) Yup! Good luck with that podna.

It's a real neat trick when eight million Americans are out of work, people are losing their homes, can't pay their bills, dare not get sick, their kids have no real future that their schools have prepared them for, their schools don't educate and these folks blame their problems on Mexicans, gays, black people, Democrats, and the president! It's kind of mind boggling actually. And pitiful. Really. But I don't feel that sorry for them, they've drunk the Kool-Aid. Shame on them. When the roof caves in it will fall on them as well, but they won't believe it until it happens.

Once upon a time in America there may have been a social contract. But today, I can't even put some lipstick on that pig. The contract has gone through the shredder people. And I sincerely feel for those frightened by the media and opinionated charlatans with a microphone pushing the race button and weeping widows, waiting hands wrapped around their bibles believing that "Muslims" or "Gays" are taking over America. They are in for a very rude awakening. They still have not grasped that their leaders run on the social issues, race, religion, gays, but govern from their vested financial interests, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Koch Enterprises. And those folks will not ever do anything to mess up their gravy train. Ever.

If Republicrats have any compassion, and I'm not talking about the politicians here but the people who vote for them, I can tell you that they only seem to locate their compassion button when life catches up with them. Until then, it's every man/woman/family/ for themselves and the heck with everyone else. Especially those who don't look like them.

Folks, I think it is time that we send Lady Liberty back to France. Her "Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." is so 19th, 20th century. Is so out of date. Those sentiments are nice, make great PR and photo opportunities during holidays, gives tourists a thrill to read those words and remember their ancestors for whom the words offered comfort and hope. The Lady has become as much an American icon as the Washington Monument, old Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Capitol and the White House. But what was once a beacon of hope to those who would risk life and limb to come to the land of opportunity, her light has been blown out and only the torch remains. Cold. Empty. Alone. Foreign.

The man who ushered in this seemingly endless era of division, of economic rape and pillage, and destruction of the middle class, Lee Atwater, this son of the south, the man known for being utterly ruthless, caring nothing about anyone, for whom no tactic was too vile, too repulsive, too low in the quest for power, had his, " There but for the grace of God," come to Jesus moment. He died from a malignant brain tumor at forty years old. And this is what he said he learned at the end:

"My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The '80s were about acquiring — acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn't I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn't I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don't know who will lead us through the '90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul."

Some said that Lee was spinning till the end, that he didn't really mean it. Regardless, at the end he got it right. Unfortunately we didn't learn on his dime, and our spiritual vacuum? You may have your own list of shame, but clearly Cheney, Rove, Bush II, Condoleeza, and Rumsfeld modeled the continuance of the spiritual vacuum as they used fear as a whip to appeal to their base, and gluttony and greed ruled straight through the first decade of the new century.

And what's still missing in our country is what is missing inside of us.

The French are in the middle of a class war. They are fighting for their lives. But at least they understand that those who work, who labor, who produce things, are as deserving of a humane life as those who are the captains of industry. I think they'll appreciate getting their Lady back.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Living at the Edge of New

I have been a political junkie since, well, since I can remember. It probably has a lot to do with coming of age with the civil rights movement; even though I grew up in New York City all our family was in South Carolina. So the dogs, firehouses, church bombings, segregated everything weren't abstracts for me. Every home in our Harlem neighborhood had Jet magazine with the photos of Emmett Till's funeral. He was fourteen when he was murdered. I was seven. As a grandchild of a Baptist minister I spent what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time in excruciatingly long church services. (Man those Baptists can talk.) Until one Sunday in 1963. Until the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I walked away from church, and for a long time, from God. I could not reconcile a church that did not rise up as one to not just condemn with words but throw it's not insignificant weight to disown those whose hate led to such cowardice. Instead thousands and thousands of churches urged their members to "go slow, don't push too hard, too fast. These things take time." Other churches fanned the flames with fiery rhetoric and exhorted their members to stand fast, "God was on their side."

It was beyond my understanding how anyone could do such horrific things to other human beings. I could not fathom a God that would allow it.

Growing into adulthood as feminism hit its stride had a tremendous impact upon me. My first jobs before finding my path in the theater put me at the cusp of that period when the Mad Men were coming to grips with a changing America. One where women were no longer content to remain relegated to the typing pool. (Wow, technology has done away with that, huh!) It was a time where the age old expectation that a woman would go from the house of her father to that of her husband was ending. Out with the white gloves, stockings, matching purses and shoes, Sunday hats and girdles (Spanx anyone?) and in with college, our own bank accounts, a leased apartment in our own name, and careers versus a job.

The backlash against feminism was ugly, nasty, harsh, often vulgar and filled with a vitriol that I wish I could say was unfamiliar. But the absolute power of patriarchy was being challenged at hearth and home and it would not go down without a fight.

There were many lessons I absorbed from that period, lessons that I fear are lost on the generations who have followed; Freedom isn't free, someone always pays for the privileges others are able to enjoy. And democracy is not a spectator sport. My politics have been informed by seeing some of the worse that human beings can do to each other, the lengths that people and government will go to deny people basic human rights, to deny people's humanity in the process. (For example, the US Supreme Court decided that Native Americans were in fact human beings somewhere around 1888 or so. Seriously. Those highly evolved, highly educated, enlightened men couldn't recognize another human being until the nine of them got their heads together. If there isn't something wrong, a whole lot wrong with that picture, then we are in greater trouble than I thought! Two year old's grasp this concept without any help.)

It is not to give a history lesson that causes me to write this post. Rather it is an attempt to struggle to articulate something that has been gnawing at me. Our country is going through a period of incredible upheaval. It plays out in things like the uproar about a proposed Muslim center to be built in NYC near ground zero. You see it in other communities who, too, are mounting opposition to building mosques in their communities. (Right here in Georgia in fact.) It is manifested in our response around immigration of Spanish speaking peoples, primarily those from Mexico.

What this roiled up fear manifesting as the Tea Party, and other crap masquerading as free speech, what it calls up in me are echoes of voices from that other period when the status quo was being challenged. "I wasn't born back then, when those poor civil rights workers were killed. Why do I have to pay for something that has nothing to do with me?" Or, "Don't let the acts of a few filled with hatred and fear paint all of us with the same brush. We are are not all racists." And one of my favorites, "My (fill in the blank_____) marched with Dr. King and gave money to support____. Not all of us were like those others."

Conceding that they may have a point, and following that thinking to its logical extension, if we should not attribute the acts of a few extremists as representatives of the entire group, then why are we up in arms about Muslims seeking to build houses of worship in their communities?

Taken to its logical extension, the acts of some good God-fearing Christians in the 1950s under the guise of the KKK, aided and abetted by other good God-fearing Christians who did not want to rock the boat, and then in the abortion battles of the 1980s, 90s, and well into the first decade of the new millennium when a doctor who performs a perfectly legal medical procedure is gunned down in his church, then all of us have reason to mount serious opposition to the building of Christian churches. Anywhere. Period.

You cannot have it both ways. And yes, September 11th was a horrific event, a heinous act, performed by nineteen fanatics who were Muslim. And yes, slavery, and the subjugation of women, and the destruction of the African continent, the genocide against millions and millions of Africans in the Middle Passage, and the genocidal acts conducted against millions of Native Americans to take their lands and subdue their people, were all done with the blessing and support of Christian churches.

Shall we condemn Christianity the same way some condemn Islams and Muslims? That would be the only logical outcome if we are being completely truthful and intellectually honest. (Ooh, intellectual honesty and consistency in thinking? Scary stuff.)

In order to get beyond this madness and pull back from the edge of disaster, we must begin to have open and honest dialogue about the fear of the other that is at the heart of this hour of our discontent. We must call out and name as agitators, liars, shit disturbers and war mongers, those whose business it is to foment war: Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Rupert Murdoch, Fox No-news Here, and feel free to add to the list. These people care nothing for America or Americans, only those who think as they think, believe as they believe, and make them ever richer, more notorious, give them more legitimacy, credibility and power. They are more like a modern day Taliban than anything else. They are bullies. We know how to handle bullies, if you don't handle them they've been given permission to run buck wild and they will.

Although I am still a political junkie, I find that modern news media does nothing but make me go straight to crazy. They do not seek to inform, educate, or enlighten just sell ad time and fill space. Now I depend more than ever on my first love to quench my never ending thirst to learn. (Yea for books!)

I still have issues with organized religion; it too often plays to the smallness in us rather than calling upon our highest expression of the divine. (Isn't it a contradiction in terms to claim to be enlightened, spiritual, imbued with the spirit of Christ and still think George Bush and Dick Cheney were the second coming? Just saying.)

Most ministers make me itch. But some time ago I realized that God has nothing to do with this craziness; this stuff, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, fanatical religious expression, some all but believing that the earth is flat and that people inhabited the earth the same time as dinosaurs, it's all on us. Once we own up to it, then we can fix it. Not one second sooner. That's what I call Living at the Edge of New where we balance at the precipice of darkness or light, balance at the edge of a New World or retreating to our own not too distant dark ages. It is up to us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And Your People Came From Where?

American's seem to be going crazy these days. It feels like folks are letting all the madness, all the anger and rage, all the fear, letting all their angst just hang out with a if you've got it flaunt it feeling. The level of vitriol and sheer craziness is like that of someone who has been contained in an emotional strait jacket and has now managed to shred it to bits, is reveling in the freedom to spew all that had been held in. I mean spewing bile like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, heads doing a 360, faces plastered with a wild grin because hot damn it all to hell if it isn't feeling like this is their moment! Maybe it feels like their patience and single minded pursuit to destroy any sense of comity between white, black, and brown, between left and right, between the poor and each other is paying off. Touched off by the election of Barack Obama and a country that has never dealt honestly with its demons, they now look backward for inspiration to a more blatant period, a more openly racist environment like the 1950s, one that encouraged xenophobia and all of this hate and irrational fear is now being fueled by a 24/7 news cycle and a cowardly media.

The downside of the 24/7 news cycle plays is that coupled with the net, it is like the wild wild west, shoot first and think later. Oh, wait, wait, no, don't think, heaven forbid, no thinking encouraged here! A populace unwilling to exercise their brains coupled with a manifest destiny media plays a huge role fomenting and fermenting all this madness. Nature abhors a vacuum and the net and cable news has rushed in to fill the gap. Egged on by No-News Here Fox, and their compatriot these days Craven Clueless News aka CNN, the pot is stirred to just under a boil in order to keep their licenses. And the Andrew Breitbart's of the world know just how to take advantage of the situation.

So here we sit at the end of summer 2010 on the manic side of bipolarism being edged ever closer to the cliffs dead ahead. There are forces at work in our country, (The Bully Idiot Beck, The Would Be Dictator O'Reilly, the bad Bobbsy Twins Bachman and Palin, and the man without a heartbeat Cheney come to mind. Seriously, to keep him alive Cheney no longer has a heartbeat but then I doubted he had a heart, so I guess I was partially wrong.) that are willing to heighten the contradiction and if that means pushing millions over the cliff, then so be it. If it means painting Mexican immigrants as the other, the new N*#@^^$S, sorry about that but there are millions of folks who are good with that.

So we find ourselves at this curious place where delusional American's have forgotten their family history, let alone their US history. Seriously. All of these folks carrying signs and signing petitions, and supporting legislation to "Send Immigrants back where they came from," must think that their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, or the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. And even those who can claim that their ancestors were on the Mayflower, they too were immigrants. As the old folks would say, t'ain't nary non a them was Native Americans. (For those who need a translation, not one of them were native either!)

This great wounded seriously bipolar nation of ours is a nation of immigrants. That is a fact, not interpretation, not speculation, not revisionist history, just a bare plain fact. Either by choice or in chains, every single man jack or jacqueline with the exception of American Indians, came here from another country, from Ireland, Spain, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Poland, Portugal, France, Jamaica and the Caribbean, Sweden, Norway, the list goes and on and on. This is our adopted by-force country. Period. End of discussion.

There have been periods when America threw the doors wide open and invited folks to, "Come on in, we've gotten rid of those pesky natives, take this land out here, it's yours, for free! Yeah, there were some folks living here already but, hey, what you gonna do?" And they came, the immigrants flowed or flew in waves and waves and were not treated to parades or welcome mats at every door. Hence WOP (With Out Papers) entered the lexicon along with the Italians, and there was wetback and a slew of other epithets that all meant the same thing, "Go back where you came from." Each wave of immigrants caught on to the idea of telling those coming behind them, "Get back, go back, you're not wanted. This is for me and mine only." (From one perspective one could even say we are all an occupying force in sovereign land. Deeds, title, and broken treaties aside, the contradictions at the heart of our nation will haunt us until we confront it.)

But the opportunity back then to chart a new destiny, to create a new future for them and their families in this land of seemingly endless possibilities proved irresistible. And it does still. Sure, I hear the stupid comments, "They are taking our jobs." Really. Is that right? Well, hell if it is a job you want, then that can be remedied. Get out there with them then, show up at dawn to get in on that back breaking work, working the fields, tearing down buildings, gardening and roofing! Apparently all the work these angry American's are looking for is available for the taking except those damn people keep crossing the border, keep getting up earlier, are willing to be paid less.

It is maddening to hear relatively sane people say things like "They should speak English." Well, I can tell you growing up in New York City in the 1960s, first stop for millions of immigrants, I heard more languages being spoken than you could shake the proverbial stick at, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Polish, Yiddish, Chinese and the list goes on. Today you are as likely to hear a dozen different Middle Eastern, Asian, or Africa languages in major urban areas as not. A nation of immigrants should remember that first generation immigrants rarely make the language transition. It is the second and third generations who strive so hard to fit in, who are embarrassed by their elders who after forty, fifty, sixty years or more in the US, still can't speak English. That's just the way it is. And quite frankly many of times I've come across Americans, especially here in the South, who speak a close facsimile of English, close, but no cigar. It's a case of Pot, meet Kettle!

All of these issues can be worked out, and will be over time. If we don't lose our collective damn minds and go backwards down the rabbit hole. And if those who are relatively sane and brave are willing to confront the madness where we see it, when we hear it then we will weather this storm; we must take our country back.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Re-segregating Black Authors, Can I Get a Winess

I sincerely hope that I can write this post and not melt the keys on my lap top. Going into this I know my blood pressure is going to rise. But as you will see, not without reason.

Barnes and Noble is one of my most favorite places in the world. It probably has something to do with growing up in New York City and the original B&N being almost a second home, the New Public Library was first. Then B&N caught the expansion bug and went global. But I digress.

Moving to Georgia almost four years ago now, and discovering a B&N within five minutes of my house was a source of great great joy. I've spent a lot of time there sitting, sipping, wandering, listening, reading, and of course buying books.

Last night though, I wandered in to my favorite B&N and inquired, "I'm looking for UPTOWN, by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant." Now understand, I only inquired after trying on my own to find this new book that was just published a month ago! It wasn't with the NEW FICTION-JUST RELEASED. It wasn't in the Fiction section that also has a space for JUST RELEASED. By now I'm scratching my head and feeling slightly perturbed.

So the kindly well trained clerk rapidly begins walking away from the fiction section, actually it looks like she's heading to the kiddie section, then a detour around a couple more areas that look like research and non-fiction and voila, she points to the African American section. Huh? To add insult to injury it is a right pitiful African American section at that. It can't rightly be called a section as it is only one book case and it isn't full. Hello. What's wrong with this picture?

My kindly clerk checks the few books in Afr Am, UPTOWN is absent. Like a run away slave, I wonder, maybe it ran to another section? So back we go toward the fiction section but we only get as far as the entrance to the golden gates for there on what I now know is called an end-cap, there are more books by Black authors! About six of them, and at the very bottom, there is UPTOWN. Your two or three year-old might find it, it would be at eye level for them. But for adults? I don't think so.

So even if not in the Af-Am section, just in case you don't get the message, it is "segregated" with other books by Black authors because they just have so so much in common.

Sensing the heat radiating from my head, the clerk inquired, "Is there something wrong?"

Is there something wrong? Hell yeah there's something wrong. Because as I looked around the fiction section, prominently displayed in the front so that it can't be missed with all the other books they want you to see as you come in the door is a book, Little Bee, by a white male British author, telling the story of a Nigerian girl in England. Excuse me! Why is his book featuring a story about a black female considered "General" fiction and put up front but a book by two black authors about black people is considered Afr Am and relegated to the back of the book bus?

Just writing this gets me infuriated all over again. The kindly clerk, by now figuring this is something over her pay-grade, tries to explain that the store gets the book, scans the bar code supplied by the publisher, and that tells them which genre or audience to place the book. Apparently the bar code supplied by Simon and Shuster for UPTOWN, African American.

Now here's one of those moments that makes you go, hmmm? Little Bee. Also published by Simon and Shuster. Yes, that's right. So I want to know, what does the bar code for Little Bee tell them? General market? White, black everybody? What exactly did it tell them that resulted in its being promoted as story that everybody should want to read?

How is it that in 2010 we are still fighting this same damn battle. Does it really mean that Simon and Shuster and Barnes and Noble think that books by black authors should only be read by, be of interest to, Black readers? Or that it has to be endorsed by an acceptable non-threatening Black person like Oprah before non-blacks might be comfortable reading? Really? Seriously?

What I do know is the effect of this re-segregation of Black authors is that once again, someone else gets to tell our stories, to become the authority, to explain us to us and to them. And where does this leave us? With less and less diversity of voices, perspectives, and experiences because Simon and Shuster, or Penguin, or who ever the publisher is would rather give the contract to, publish and promote to the general market, a book by a white writer telling a story about us, and a white male at that.

Must black authors write stories featuring white characters before they will be published?

It is time to stop the madness. Everyone knows the publishing industry is going through a major shake-up. Like newspapers they are losing the war against technology. How do they respond? By publishing tons of urban and Christian lit for black audiences. Say what? Don't believe me? Check the book shelves. This is great for those writers. Not so good for the rest of us.

Urban and Christian lit doesn't even begin to touch the places I may want to go when I curl up with a book. If you want something more complex and nuanced, something contemporary, something that might make you think, challenge you, or expand your point of view, dare I say something well written, apparently neither publishers nor book stores care. Nor do they think that white readers can find anything written by black writers that might expand or enhance their perspectives, or that they may even relate to.

Before I give up my B&N jones, I am going to give them a chance to do better and seek a meeting with the branch manager. (Shades of Dr. Maya Angelou, "if you knew better, you'd do better.") Simon and Shuster will also get a letter, as well as this post. Hopefully this might move you to look at your own favorite book store and see what books are being pushed at you, who's telling your story. Especially if you live in the South. I'd love to know what you find in your local B&N, or Borders, or Books a Million.

Black writers who have been published, who have an audience, established writers, skilled, talented, funny, interesting, writers are dying in this not-so-brave new world. Without us weighing in on our own behalf, black literary voices will go the way of the dodo bird before long.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The More Things Change...

It has been a couple three months since I last posted. In retrospect it felt as though there was nothing much to say, and then all too much. But the craziness over the past couple months just leaves me breathless.

Massachusetts decided that a right-wing Republican who snidely asserted that he wasn't sure the president's parents were married, that that idiot was the best person to replace Senator Ted Kennedy? Huh? Say what?

Then here in the South someone named Moose, or something such, took a page right out of the Old Dixie handbook. (New South 21st century, Old Dixie very 19th century.) Moose announced the formation of an all-white men, born in America basketball league, creatively named the All American Basketball League! (How clever is that?) No street ball for these guys, no sir, no girls league either I guess. If there are women involved you can bet they'll be wearing cute short skirts, tight tops, and dancing the night away. Moose's league, they will just play the fundamentals of the game thank you very much, none of that exciting dunking, and fast breaks, none of that breaking the backboard because the guys jump so high with such force that they often bring the whole thing down. Uh huh, there are millions of people who will line up for this. (IDFTS!)

Now Moose says he's not doing this out of hatred. No, no, that's too crass. No, he's doing this because he's a minority now. Yup, that's right, he's a minority! Huh? It makes my head spin to see how these folks contort themselves; they could join Cirque du Soleil as verbal contortionists, up is down, left is right, wrong is right. So 1984. Fortunately so far Moose isn't getting much traction with his league. But he has outlined that the league is focused on the Southern states, surprise surprise. Like many white men, especially in the South, seeing a sea change in the nation as we strive to continue our journey out of the Dark Ages of the 20th Century, they are not going willingly.

Personally my position is that when a system has been built to provide one with every advantage, every privilege, every break, a system that gives you the benefit of the doubt based solely upon your skin color and your gender, and you can't make it, feel a need to" lower the baskets" so to speak, then that sounds like a personal problem to me.

Ever since the election in Massachusetts, I feel as though I must have missed a step somewhere along the line. How do you rationally go from Kennedy to, what's this guy's name? It was just last August that people were lined up for hours in the heat and sun to pay their respects to Senator Kennedy. To thank him for his decades of work and effort to help us fix this hot-mess of a health care system. Really. Watching the outpouring of emotion and expressions of grief was just heart warming. And then the folks turn around and__??

Cognitive dissonance. The past few months have been a carousel of dissonant moment after dissonant moment. Where's the rabbit hole y'all? Or should I be looking for the hand basket?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Outrunning the Express Train

By the time I post this, another anniversary of the day the earth shook will have passed, twenty years in fact. It was October 17, 1989 and at 4:25 pm I'd finally knuckled my way through traffic, jaws tight, much gnashing of teeth, inching across the Bay Bridge to take my daughter to an acting class in San Francisco and then head to the McKesson corporation for a meeting.

I worked in the theater as managing director of a company in Oakland so really was not conscious of the sports mania around me. But almost everyone around else was in baseball heaven around the fact that the Bay Area was having it's own version of New York's subway series, the Oakland A's versus the San Francisco Giants. I just wanted the darn traffic to end so that I could get where I had to go.

After seeing my twelve year old down the stairs of a very large, very solid looking office building, essentially in the basement of the building to her youth acting class, I still managed to be on time for my meeting, about ten minutes away by car. I walked into the office of the program officer for McKesson's foundation, hand extended to say hello and thank her for her time, only to hear a crunching, grinding, deep wrenching sound and discovered that I could not stand up. We both ended on our knees in her office. That was probably the proper place to be given what was happening around us and the devastation not too far away. I suspect we both silently prayed our way through what was the longest fifteen to twenty seconds in my life.

Once the moving stopped, and I could catch my breath, we looked at each other, nothing broken, no blood, and both bolted for the door. As any Californian will tell you, when it begins to shake, head for a doorway. In my ten years in the Bay Area, we'd always managed to make it to the doorway. Always. Now the only thing I wanted to do was to get through the door and down the stairs.

I don't remember anymore which floor we were on. I don't remember the pounding rush down the stairs, it could have been silent for all I know, the only thing I remember is the pounding of my heart. The stairway was dark as the power was out, there were no flashlights, and a ton of humanity with one goal, get out of the building.

When we hit the ground floor and rushed through the front glass doors, still intact, I couldn't figure out why there were so many people who'd gotten no further than a few feet from the building. Then I began to see, bricks and masonry on tops of cars, hoods and trunks, tops of cars bashed in with huge huge chunks of buildings on top, glass all over the street, buildings with yawning gaping holes where things used to be. It was eerily quiet, with the exception of the sirens. I finally understood that this may have been the big one.

I thought of my daughter in the basement of that big, solid looking building and my heart almost stuttered to a stop. I heard someone say something about a fallen span of the Bay Bridge, they heard it from a portable radio someone had. The bridge that my daughter and I been not twenty minutes ago, for almost a full thirty minutes because of the game.

My feet began to move and my brain caught up with them. "Where was my car, were the streets passable, the traffic lights aren't working, will they let me drive, where was my car?" My brain seemed be on a loop, fear, panic, think, fear, panic, think. I opted to walk rather than chance the streets, plus there were bound to be after shocks. I've never walked as fast in my life.

In the days before the ubiquitous use of cell phones we used public pay phones. And they worked. And they weren't vandalized. But I digress. But that day the system was over loaded and no calls were going out nor coming in right then. I couldn't reach her school, nor my husband and sons across the Bay, nor my office. I kept walking, and fear took three steps to my every one.

When I got to her building they'd managed to safely get the kids up the stairs and into an open air parking lot with no wires around, and not enclosed by buildings nearby. You think about these things in earthquake country. When she saw me, she grabbed me by the waist and hung on for dear life. She'd heard about the Bay Bridge but didn't remember if my meeting was in San Francisco or back across the bridge in Oakland. She'd been all but rooted to the same spot since they'd fled up the stairs with the noise of the earth moving around and through them, loud beyond measure seemingly following them, chasing them up and out of the dark to the outside. She was velcroed to me for the next two months. ("Really, I'll be in the bathroom for only five minutes." I'd come out and she'd still be there waiting. This was two weeks afterward.)

Now joined cheek by jowl to each other and not yet sure how much damage had been done, and if our family had survived, we made our way to a restaurant with, miraculously, power and television. There I saw with mine own two eyes the price one pays for living in California. Nothing however prepared me for the collapse of the freeway. It too had been a parking lot that afternoon on our journey across the bridge. And now it was...gone, collapsed, on top of countless people, missing my across the hall neighbor by twenty feet. Twenty feet became the difference between life and death that day as she watched cars right in front of her just drop out of sight amidst a cloud of smoke, dirt, dust, and debris.

My daughter wiped tears from my face, tears that I was unaware were even sliding down my face. So close, we were so close to having been a statistic.

I decided to make our way through the hordes of dazed and stunned people to my car and try to figure out how far north I had to go to find a bridge open to get me back across the bay and then head south home. Just as we stepped outside the restaurant, courage in hand and fear on a tight rein, I saw a colleague, the face of someone I knew. Brian was wending his way surely but very slowly home on foot, I had a highly dubious chance of making it across the bay that evening but I had a car. We got my car, went to his place and spent the evening glued to the television and trying the phone every five minutes until finally around 11 pm, Eureka, a dial tone. Brian graciously allowed me to go first as a woman with a family in harms way.

Undoubtedly my relief was all but palpable when my husband picked up the phone and I learned that he and the boys had made it through okay, that our apartment was fine, we'd sustained almost no damage at all. Now that he'd heard from us, our daughter in school back east could rest and stop calling every fifteen minutes, he could relay that the two of us were safe and sound and had a place to stay.

In those fifteen seconds on my knees in the office I'd prayed and promised. I prayed for the safety of my family and I promised that when the next earthquake came, "God, I won't be here." When I got back to work, after making a pilgrimage to the Cypress Freeway where they were still trying to locate survivors two days later, I announced, "I'm outta here."

What was so amazing to me was that everyone else wasn't saying the same thing. Instead they tried to talk me out of it. I finally explained that for me and mine, living in California is like living on railroad tracks. You know sooner or later that express train is going to come running through, and me, I'm getting out the way, getting off the track. I'm bowing to the superior strength of mother nature.

If it were just me, I'd have done what one woman did. Packed up her car, walked away and left everything else in her apartment with a note on her door, "Take it, it's yours, I'm not coming back."

Ten months almost to the day we left California for Chicago. We'd survived tremors, shakes, minor quakes and shrugged them all off. We'd survived the annual fall fire season. We even survived mud slides where the homes of two neighbors gave into gravity and soaked land and slid down the hill. We'd survived floods in the rainy season. And I said good riddance and good bye without a backward look at some of the most beautiful country God ever created, but I suspect he meant for us to enjoy it, passing through on our way some place else.