Chapter Next: In Which Alex Meets the Popo …

Alex and I had two conversations about the police — or “la policia,” as we call them – this week before the events described in the last paragraph of this post took place last night.  In the first, he declared to me that “all police are not bad.”  That’s part of a larger and ongoing post-Trayvon talk we’ve been having this summer (more on that here).  Then, Wednesday morning, he pointed out that the “police man or police woman,” did not have the siren on.   The combination of that, and the fact that my father –an Episcopal minister and civil rights activist – attended the March on Washington fifty years ago – has set me to thinking about whether, what and how we have (not) overcome during the ensuing five decades since that march, and the work that remains.

Pew Research is out with some timely data, apropos of the anniversary of the March.  The data is as striking for what it says as it is for what it does not say.   The comparisons are largely along the lines of black/white, or black/white/Hispanic progress and opinions, even as a huge battle over immigration is, with the August recess of the Congress, on hiatus in Washington, DC.  Despite a discussion of both marriage, and family formation and how different things are 50 years on, there’s no exploration of what it means in terms of education, or poverty that nearly 1/3 of white women, 1/2 of Latinas, and ¾ of black women are giving birth while unmarried.  The small section on gender does not look at the issue of pay equity.  There’s also no wrestling with data on, or opinions of single parent households, despite the fact that “half or more of today’s children will likely spend at least part of their childhood in a single parent family.”  And then there’s this: “[Asians,] Native Americans and mixed-race groups not shown.”  That sentence, sometimes including Asians, sometimes not, appears 8 times in the 31-page report. I readily concede that no survey can be all things to all people, and in some instances, the data is unavailable, but it seems to me that even as one wants to compare apples to apples 50 years later, taking serious account of the fact that there are a variety of oranges, mangoes and other fruit in the mix means spending more time assessing the impact that they have had, and the complexity that they bring to any discussion of progress.


I am a single black woman, born two years after the ’63 March.  My son is bi-racial.  The relative to total absence of people who share our background and experience in the Pew study informs not only my approach to the remainder of this post, but also my approach to raising my Alex.  I have to put the Pew data aside, and turn to other sources to make this report relevant to/inclusive of me.  Similarly, in order for Alex to understand that the police may not always be on his side (an issue on which those polled by Pew and I largely agree), I have to make that issue part of the narrative and not just expect that he’ll somehow get it without my being explicit.   If you’re not intentional, and inclusive about your facts, or about your child-rearing, the result is often a reader or a child insufficiently prepared to grapple with the nuances and complexities of modern life. We are far from having achieved Martin Luther King’s aspiration that we be judged by the content of our character as against the color of our skin, but to get there, we must be inclusive in every respect, from our data sets to how we raise our kids.

A few stats and articles to highlight the need for inclusivity:

  • The Equal Pay Act is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  Thus, it’s important as we heed Dr. King’s call for equality, to make sure that discussions about pay parity for women and minorities are brought to the fore.
    • According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, women who work full time earn about 77 cents for every dollar men earn. Because of the wage gap, since 1960, the real median earnings of women have fallen short by more than half a million dollars compared to men. Minority women face a larger wage gap. Compared to white men, African American women make 70 cents on the dollar (African American men make 74 cents); Hispanic or Latina women make about 60 cents (Hispanic men make almost 66 cents).
    • Tied to pay equity is the issue of childcare.  According to a recent New York Times op ed,  pay inequity between the sexes is exacerbated by the cost of child care, i.e. women with children lag behind their childless women peers in the quest for pay equity with men.  Moreover, “child care is the single greatest expense among low-income families in [New York] [C]ity, surpassing both food and housing.”

Without an explicit focus on how the above-mentioned issues perpetuate poverty, particularly among women and minorities, we are no closer to realizing the dream.   Similarly, only if we are explicit with children about how issues of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, culture, immigration status, socio-economic status, and a host of other variables may influence how they, or their friends perceive or proceed in various situations, will we be raising children who are fully equipped to participate in a society that grows ever more diverse.


In closing, I offer two articles that I’ve come across recently as models of how to parent more inclusively: 1) an MSNBC article authored by an African American man who writes about the parenting of his white mother, and 2) a HuffPo article  by a parent who is white, and talks about how she engages with her children on issues of race.  Both highlight the same thing: instead of unhelpful discussions of color-blindness, which do not encourage children to grapple with the realities of race in this country, the parents in both stories engaged with their kids when issues implicating race arose in school, or chose a diverse neighborhood, or in other ways ensured that they thought, talked, and read about issues of race instead of overlooking them.

Similarly, I’ve tried to make Alex aware of issues of race and gender, among others.  He demonstrated that awareness Wed. morning when he spoke about the policeman or woman in the car in front of us.  Then last night, he got to put what he’d learned from our Trayvon talks into action.  It was twilight, and he’d run halfway down the block ahead of me as I paused to talk to a neighbor.  A police car slowed; the officer was unsure that Alex was being accompanied by an adult.  Having absorbed the lesson that all police are not bad, yet you don’t know the disposition of the one that’s stopped you, Alex not only ran to me rather than engaging with the officer, but was able to articulate why he’d done so.  While it was great to see that he’d learned the lesson so well, it was tragic that 50 years later, even as we prepare to commemorate the March on Washington, I had to teach it to him.  A bittersweet moment on the road to the place where we are all “free at last.”


What the ???


In fact, cheers only this week.  The only reason my dad didn’t sit in the back of the bus when he attended a segregated seminary in the 40’s in Petersburg, VA was that he — an immigrant and native Spanish speaker — refused to speak English to the driver.  Nearly twenty years later when he attended the March on Washington, he couldn’t have forseen women running for governor, nor women running for school board seats in an integrated North Carolina school system, much less an African American president. We may not have gotten there, my friends, but we are making progress step by step.

This week, I have the privilege of commending to you — and urging you to support — two women who I have the privilege of calling friends.

My friend, Juliette Kayyem announced that she was jumping into the race to be the next governor of Massachusetts earlier this week.

My friend, Monika Johnson-Hostler is running for a seat on the Wake County, NC School Board.

I’ve had the privilege of working with both of them.  They are smarted, talented, amazing women and proven leaders dedicated to making their respective corners of this country better.  In an age when we constantly scratch our heads wondering why people would choose public service, they have both answered the call. I urge you to support them both early, often and to the extent allowable by law!!!


It’s been heartening to see this post from Upworthy making the rounds on Facebook.  As we observe the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, how about a little self-observation?  Are you a beneficiary of privilege of whatever kind?  If yes, and you don’t already do so, use your power for good!!


Breaking Out of the Silo: On (un)Seeing Multiple Oppressions

As someone who’s worked in the civil rights community for many years, I’ve worked on a number of issues.  I name many of them in the beginning of this post.  In one of my many coalitions, we joke frequently about what each of our “t-shirts” says.  By that we mean, what issue does each of us frequently bring up, or what preoccupation do we have with respect to the bill we might be working on.  Often, I say that my t-shirt says the following:  “Silo politics will be the death of us all.”  It can be tough to work at intersections or to acknowledge that, for instance, solving a problem for “women,” does not always a yield a workable solution for women of color, or women with disabilities, or immigrant women or that a coalition that is inclusive of LGBT folks on the one hand, and people of color on the other may nevertheless fall short of comprehensively addressing issues for LGBT folks of color. The vital discussion that took place this week on twitter under the tag #solidarityisforwhitewomen suggests that there is still much vital work to be done not only to ensure that we’re reaching comprehensive and inclusive results in our work, but as importantly to live into and not just give lip service to the notion of being a good ally to other groups in the struggle.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve heard a lot this week about the misogynist misstep of Russell Simmons who promoted and characterized as “hilarious” a so-called Harriet Tubman sex tape. Not only was it not hilarious, it served to trigger and bring up awful recollections of sexual assault for more than one survivor.  Simmons and his colleagues at AllDefDigital have been rightfully and righteously pilloried for making a video where Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, conductor on the Underground Railroad and the only woman to lead men in battle during the Civil War, is portrayed as a wily seducer, and ultimately, blackmailer of her slavemaster.  The myriad ways in which finding this amusing, much less endorsing it as a form of amusement is misogynist, a perversion of history and wrong in general, much less coming from someone who called Don Lemon to account, defy comprehension.  But it also distracts, crucially, from the other hideous parody gone wrong in the same video.

Although most of the video is focused is on Tubman’s attempts to entrap “massa,” she has an accomplice.  The video opens with her plotting with her cameraman about “the sting,” or entrapment that she’s about to engage in.  Her willing accomplice then hides in the closet with a video camera and assures her that he “won’t leave her hanging.”   While you could dismiss that allusion to lynching without more, you aren’t allowed to do so as the actor playing the accomplice pantomimes tying a rope around his neck at the very moment that he says it.  So, not only are the repeated sexual assaults endured by black women during slavery an appropriate subject for mockery, so is lynching.

Thus, although she features more prominently in this assault on African American women and history, Harriet Tubman is not the only one whose life and times are being parodied.  Ida B. Wells, all that she contributed to the anti-lynching movement, and the nearly 5,000 blacks and whites who were murdered when lynching was at its peak (1882 -1920) are being  mocked and denigrated along with her.

Why, I’m wondering, has there been so much attention to the Tubman part of the parody, but none to the lynching comment?  Was it just overlooked since the video was hastily removed before folks had a chance to review it thoroughly?  Was it inconvenient because what folks really wanted to do was to call out Russell Simmons for sexism in light of his critique of Don Lemon?  Did it render the deconstruction too messy to have to deal with both misogyny and xenophobia?   Was it just disregarded as a one off comment?  It should not have been.  For me, seeing a black man making an imaginary noose in the middle of a parody set in slavery times was nothing short of chilling.  

All of my theories about why everyone seems to have missed the lynching issue are both unsatisfying, and slightly disturbing because we’re reduced to having only one part of a broader discussion.  That video was most certainly about misogyny, but it was also about the deepest most destructive kind of self loathing there is.  The kind that can find any humor in extra-judicial murder.  The kind that fails to understand that lynching was simultaneously an instrument of repression and terror, even as the event of a lynching was often treated as a social occasion and spectacle to which people would bring their children and picnic baskets.  Also the kind that fails to understand that many communities, black, brown, LGBT, immigrant continue to live in terror in 2013.  Continue to fear that they could be tasered by cops, stopped for no reason, murdered while walking home from 7-11, or repeatedly see their children taken out of state and put into adoption proceedings in contravention of state and federal laws.  To overlook the justifiable terror of many communities as you satirize them for fun and cash is profiteering at its worst.  But we must do our part to hold profiteers accountable for all the damage they do, not just the most visible or easily attacked aspects of it. 

What the ???


Credit where credit is due.  Despite wreaking havoc in everything from more restrictive abortion laws, to voting rights restrictions, the Gov. of North Carolina,  Bill McCrory, did the right thing yesterday when he vetoed a law that would have imposed drug testing requirements on some welfare recipients.


To the GOP Super PAC that thought that a video game that slapped Hillary Clinton for speaking was in any way appropriate.

What Price, Privilege? A Closer Look at the Zimmerman & Baby Veronica cases

I take the law seriously; maybe seriously enough is a better phrase given my bygone love affair with a little blue sports car.  I’m a member of several bars, including that of the U.S. Supreme Court, and I’ve raised my hand and sworn to defend and uphold the Constitution.  But this is truly the summer of my discontent, where I have spent a lot of wondering if truly, “the law is an ass.”  Maybe George Zimmerman’s lawyer had it right when he started the trial by cracking jokes.  Maybe the system is one big joke.

Look at what is being passed off as justice this summer:

George Zimmerman was let off by a jury even as one juror is on record as saying she felt that he was guilty, while another — she of the now dead book deal — fully acknowledges that he went “beyond what he should have done,” because he “wanted to catch these people.” (italics mine)  How does it happen that someone concludes that a man who took a human life is guilty only of bad judgement?  Welcome to the the very scary — never more than when it rears its head in a criminal court — world of privilege.   What do I mean by privilege?  We could be here for quite a while.  Privilege is a status that you enjoy that enables you to do things that others in circumstances similar to yours can’t.  Privilege can be based on race, or perceived race , status, sex, religion or a variety of other factors.  As I talked about in my first post, privilege is what gave the woman who heckled the First Lady the notion that it was ok to do that.

Privilege can also assert itself in law:  witness the laws of apartheid, or Jim Crow.  Now that that legally enshrined privilege is largely a thing of the past, privilege can be more difficult to see.  A friend has described it as the water the fish swims in, such that the fish is largely unaware of its existence even as it is one with it.  Sometimes instantly accorded, privilege can be accompanied by the invocation of a code.

Two Zimmerman related examples suffice.  To any people of color reading this:  have you ever been stopped by a cop and:  a) avoided directly answering his/her question, or b) told him/her that you have a gun in the glove compartment even if you were carrying it legally.  No?  Me neither.  Because we’ve been killed for infractions much more minor than that, say minding our business while walking home with a can of iced tea and a bag of skittles. But then, none of us belongs to the George Zimmerman club.  Stopped for speeding last week, Zimmerman tells the cop he has a gun in his glove compartment, won’t tell the cop where he’s going and when queried, says, “you didn’t see my name?”  Having literally gotten away with murder, Zimmerman tells the cop he has a gun, and succeeds in not only not having to tell the cop where he’s going, but doesn’t even get a ticket.  This is privilege on parade. Behaving as if you’re untouchable and having law enforcement go along with it.  “You didn’t see my name,” is a pretty in your face invocation of privilege.  But it doesn’t always work, even when it should.  Note this story of a 3-star police chief in New York City, the city’s highest ranking African-American who, while sitting in an unmarked police car, though wearing NYPD i.d., is not accorded privilege when he says, “don’t you know who I am?,” almost identical to what Zimmerman said. Instead, they order him from the car with their weapons drawn, and question the validity of his i.d.  Though the black cop has the greater indicia of status or privilege in this set of examples, Zimmerman, who some have pointed out is Hispanic, is characterized by the cop who stops him as “white” when he radios in to check his i.d.  And who gets the deference and club membership?  Not the 3-star African American NYPD police chief.  It also bears pointing out, given all the recent attention to the Marissa Alexander case, that women of color who defend themselves, stand their ground, or engage in similar acts reserved for the privileged, are dealt with very harshly by the system. 

In the second Zimmerman example, one of his lawyers subtly threatens the judge with reversal (i.e. appealing to a higher court to have the verdict reversed) if she does not go along with his approach to the jury instructions.  The judge then agrees with the defense and thus, in one writer’s view, the “jurors were told only about the parts of Florida self-defense law that benefited [Zimmerman], without knowing anything about the most relevant potential limitation.”   This both explains why the jurors who felt Zimmerman to be guilty could not find any grounds on which to find him so, and defines the essence of privilege.  Defense counsel had basically bullied the judge into ruling their way. The temerity, or chutzpah, if you will, to tell a judge she should see things your way or be reversed reeks of privilege.  In this case, it’s privilege heaped upon privilege:  George Zimmerman’s retired judge father (1) both knew who to hire (2), and the means to do so (3).  Three strikes and you’re “not guilty.”

Elsewhere in the valley called “miscarriage of justice,” is the Baby Veronica story.  Child custody cases rarely end up in the Supreme Court, unless they involve questions of federal (or international) law, in this case the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) or unless one of the key figures is represented by someone with connections to the Chief Justice.  But, I’ve gotten ahead of the story.  At the center of this story is Dusten Brown, an Iraq war veteran, and member of the Cherokee Nation who has never stopped fighting for custody of his daughter, Veronica.  Brown was engaged to Veronica’s mother when she discovered she was pregnant.  He offered to marry and support the mother, Christy Maldonado, but she broke off the engagement and would not respond to his texts or calls.  When Veronica was 4 mos. old, and Dusten was on the verge of shipping out for Iraq, he learned of Maldonado’s plans to give his daughter up for adoption.  She had neither consulted him, nor gotten his permission.  She had asked him to give up custody, and he had reluctantly done so, thinking that she would be raising their daughter.   Dusten tells his story here.

If this country has a dark history involving peoples of African descent and slavery and Jim Crow, it has an equally cruel and destructive history where Native Americans are concerned.  The history involves forcibly removing and resettling Native Americans from their land largely in the name of  “progress.”  The history also involves trying to destroy Native peoples and culture by removing Native children (often forcibly) from their homes and families, and sending them to boarding schools.  The idea was to divest the Native children of their language, their culture. Abuse was rampant.  An Army officer described the goal this way:  “kill the Indian in them, and save the man.”   Removal of Native Americans from their land, and their children from their homes was every bit as violent and rapacious an exercise of privilege as slavery and Jim Crow.   It was as a direct result of this history that the U.S. Congress passed ICWA in 1978.  It sets out federal requirements that govern state adoptions involving children who are, or are eligible to be members of federally recognized tribes. 

Though the attorneys for the S.C. couple that wanted to adopt Veronica filed initial papers within days of her birth, Veronica’s father was not served with papers for 4 months, just before he deployed to Iraq.  Over two years, three successive courts ruled in Dusten Brown’s favor.  After losing in the S. Carolina Supreme Court, the prospective parents — many articles I’ve read suggest that the adoption had not been finalized, though Veronica did live with them for some time — so the use of adoptive parents is inappropriate, in my mind– took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is where we hit the left turn from Albuquerque.  By the time the case gets to the S. Court, Veronica — by virtue of the 3 court rulings in his favor — is living with her father, stepmother and older sister.  Leaving the law aside for a moment, it’s hard for me to understand why the prospective parents, with 3 losses under their belt and having lost custody of Veronica, could not put a stop to things.  Surely, it is not in her best interest to be taken from not only her father, but the family, including her sister that she’s been living with for the better part of 2 years?  This is when you start to believe that this case must be about something else … My guess is that the something else is the rights of adoptive families, esp. since Chief Justice Roberts, who has a very problematic role in all this, is himself an adoptive parent.  Of course I support adoption in general, but there appear to be several problematic things  at work here.  It comes back to what I was talking about in the Zimmerman context:  privilege.  Though ICWA exists to prevent Native children from being adopted away from their Native families, the Supreme Court disregarded it, and held part of it invalid.  In so doing, it opined about how Indian Veronica was and found her to be 1.2% Native.  Not only is that not the issue, it wasn’t for them to opine about her whether she was a member of the Cherokee Nation or not.  The Constitution recognizes many Native nations, including Cherokee as “domestic dependent sovereigns.”  Thus, it was up to them to make a determination as to whether Veronica was a member, and they decided she was.  End of story.  Unless someone decides such facts are inconvenient to the way they wish to decide a case. in which instance they proceed as they like, disregarding simultaneously, the sovereignty of the Cherokee nation and the reasons that Congress created ICWA to begin with.

Justice Sotomayor makes clear how out of line the majority is in this part of her dissent:

“[T]he majority openly professes its aversion to Congress’ explicitly stated purpose in enacting the statute. The majority expresses concern that reading the Act to mean what it says will make it more difficult to place Indian children in adoptive homes, see ante, at 14, 16, but the Congress that enacted the statute announced its intent to stop “an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families [from being] broken up” by, among other things, a trend of “plac[ing] [Indian children] in non-Indian . . . adoptive homes.” 25 U. S. C. §1901(4). Policy disagreement with Congress’ judgment is not a valid reason for this Court to distort the pro­visions of the Act.”

Thus, despite the fact that the U.S. Congress, recognizing the terrible and destructive history of this country in adopting Native children away from their families, passed a law to protect Native children, and prevent this from happening, Native people have no rights that the U.S. Supreme Court must respect.  Or, at least, that’s my take away.  It’s also worth pointing out that Chief Justice Roberts attended the wedding of the birth mother’s lawyer:  she’s married to one of his former clerks.   This is what I refer to as “privilege on parade.”

The battle continues:  A  S. Carolina court has moved to finalize the adoption, but has not ordered a hearing as to what’s in the best interest of the child, despite the fact that this is required by ICWA.  Dusten Brown petitioned the Supreme Court to put the enforcement of the S. Carolina court order on hold until such a hearing could be held, and Chief Justice Roberts, who hears the emergency petitions from the 4th Circuit of which SC is a part, turned the petition down.  Again, methinks this case has long been about something other than the best interests of Baby Veronica.  The case will now move to Oklahoma, where Veronica lives, and the courts there will have to determine how best to enforce the order issued in S.C.   With luck, they will see wisdom in determining Veronica’s best interests before proceeding.


What the???

Cheers  To the many responsible for keeping the heat on in FL, until their legislature agreed to review its  Stand Your Ground law.  While reviewing the SYG law is a good start, things should not end there as a number of recent articles found here and here suggest that black men of all ages have as much to fear from FL law enforcement as from gun wielding citizens.

Jeers Cong. Reid Ribble of WI.  At a House hearing on poverty last week, Ribble took on a Catholic nun (mentioned in a previous post of mine) who was speaking about the positive role that federal programs like SNAP and Head Start play in the lives of people struggling to make ends meet.  RIbble asked, “What is the church doing wrong that they have to come to the government to get so much help?”

Jeers To the Ocean City Police Dept.  What transpired initially is the subject of dispute, however, an altercation occurred between the police and some beachgoers — their names sound African to me. They could be from anywhere really, because what the police saw was skin color not ethnicity.  At some point, the police threw a pregnant woman to ground and held her there.  Ultimately, she had to have an emergency c-section.  Seriously?

Cheers I highly recommend the article, The Fight for Black Men, by former White House advisor Joshua DuBois.  It’s wide-ranging, and he interviews many thoughtful people for the article, none more so than Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly who says, “If there’s one thing that’s missing in our country, it’s an acknowledgment of the broad humanity of black folks. Racism—and anti-black racism in particular—is the belief that there’s something wrong with black people … and I mean something in our bones.”