Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Of Misogyny and Autonomy

This election has brought out the worst in men. I say men alone for good reason. The GOP frontrunner has more or less given men permission to be misogynists. Of course, the frontrunner has also given another group, also largely men, permission to be racists, but that’s an argument for another day.

 When Donald Trump says that he respects women and that no one loves women as much as he does, it has the same icky sounding truth to it as “I didn’t beat my wife since the last time.” It’s revolting. If Trump has such love and respect for women, why has his campaign crashed and burned with women voters? Recent polls show that 73% of female voters have an unfavorable view of the candidate. Keeping in mind that women make up the largest group of voters in this country, how does one say that they are doing well with women amidst the actual evidence?

 Trump’s unedited, unforced comment in the MSNBC town hall with Chris Matthews about punishing women who have an abortion in a future where abortion is once again illegal in this country shook the campaign and gripped the news cycle. What’s interesting about his comments is that he didn’t appear to have thought it out. Like so many of the things that have ended up troublesome for the candidate, he spoke freely as he was working out an issue in his mind. He shows no evidence that he has actually thought through the big issues. Imagine a candidate for even the U.S. Senate who hasn’t spent a moment either listening to advisors or hell, even interest groups before stating a position on abortion. That a candidate for the highest office in the land hadn’t considered the pitfalls of punishing women for seeking an abortion is unthinkable, yet here we are. His campaign quickly, almost before the entirety of his words were out of his mouth, backtracked and said Trump meant punishing doctors and abortion providers. Let’s be clear, that is not what he said and he was given multiple chances by Matthews to clarify. He stuck to punishing women.

 What Trump’s candid answer about abortion signifies about the candidate himself is how little autonomy he believes women have and should have. Matthews was quick to point out to Trump that men have a role in pregnancies, too. God forbid men take any responsibility in this. The former Trump, long before he was a candidate, spoke about sex on the Howard Stern Show and elsewhere, bragging about conquests and whatnot. There’s no other way to view this than another man who enjoys sex, lots of it, and with multiple partners, without placing any responsibility on possible conception on him. However, a woman should not never choose an abortion to deal with the real consequences of said sex and if she should, may she be shamed for it and ultimately be punished for it under the law.

 Unfortunately, there’s more in to the autonomy issue in this campaign than only Trump’s remark on abortion. Keeping in mind that Ted Cruz and John Kasich also believe that abortion should be illegal and would nominate justices to the Supreme Court that would hopefully one day participate in a ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion is not the only way in which candidates wish to strip autonomy from women. And it’s not only the male Republican candidates who have a bleak view of women.

 Can we talk for a second about the Clinton administration? For the sake of making sure nobody is in the dark or is too young to remember any of that 8-year period of our recent history, understand that we are speaking of the Bill Clinton administration. Bill, as in the husband of current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, and not to be confused with some amalgamation of both Bill and Hillary. The First Lady of the United States is a title. It is not a job. It is not a formal advisor. It is not elected. It holds no power over matters of state. When asked by the press, while the First Lady often shows her support for the policies and goals of her husband, she is not expected to take an adversarial role nor would it be advisable to do so. Speaking against a particular policy would, without question, undercut it. Speaking against a policy would also cause the entire beltway press to lose their collective minds. The First Lady does not and, in significant ways, cannot speak out against her husband.

 Take these examples: Imagine if when George W. Bush sought to use his acquired political capital to privatize Social Security, Laura Bush came out and said she believed it to be bargaining with the safety net and opposed it. How would that have played in the press? First of all, the quiet Laura Bush would have been picked apart for making the statement. And when they had chewed her up and spit her out, they would have turned on President Bush. There would be some, inevitably men, who would say that W. couldn’t control his wife. I say this sincerely. Speaking out is still considered by some men something that women shouldn’t do. Never should women speak out against their husbands and certainly not when their husband is Commander-in-Chief. Another example, this one you’ve probably heard, is when Bill Clinton and Congress passed NAFTA. Imagine if Hillary Clinton had gone on the Sunday shows and said that she thought NAFTA was ill conceived and that a decade or two down the road, all manufacturing jobs would be devastated and cities like Detroit and Cleveland would be bankrupt. Oh, the shitstorm that would have ensued. Remember, many a man was bothered when the First Lady led on the issue of healthcare. That was no place for the First Lady. She was the official mouthpiece of the administration in that case. Can you wrap your mind around the outrage that would have occurred if she had publicly ridiculed NAFTA? The First Lady is expected to support her husband, spiritually, emotionally, on the campaign trail and in all matters of policy. She has very little autonomy as it is, but when it comes to whether or not she supports a policy of her husband’s administration, the right to decide is stripped from her. What choice does she have?

 Taking all of this into account, it does not stop her Democratic opponent from railing against her support of NAFTA. It is hung around her neck as if it were her decision and only her decision to make. By the way her opponent uses the phrase “the Clinton administration,” you would think she were running for re-election and had already been president.

 There’s something else troubling about how Hillary is received by Sanders supporters that can’t quite be placed in the same box as autonomy on policy decisions. It happened this week, in fact. At a Clinton rally, protestors began chanting “Monica! Monica!” To be fair, they may not all be Sanders supporters. There could certainly be some pro-Trump voices in that crowd. However, it wouldn’t be wrong to characterize those voices as predominantly male.

 I don’t get it. Of all the things happening with each of the candidates, there are few occurrences that routinely make my jaw drop. I am appalled that some small-minded people exist in this country that think that chanting the name of a woman’s husband’s former mistress is acceptable as an actual protest against a candidate for President of the United States. It sickens me, as it should all women and reasonable men.

Back to the Republicans for a minute…sort of. When Donald Trump tweets an unflattering picture of Ted Cruz’s wife along side his own supermodel wife, it leads the news and causes uproar. The thing is, though, Hillary’s detractors aren’t even attacking her husband. They aren’t making a statement about his infidelity in some way to discredit him, not like attacking Heidi Cruz’s looks. They’re attacking Hillary for her role in his infidelity. They’re using what must have been the darkest point in both her life and her marriage to attack her candidacy. As if she had any control whatsoever of Bill’s behavior. In some ways this goes back to the old argument that when a man cheats it’s because his wife isn’t meeting his needs. If a man cheats, it’s his wife’s fault. If a woman cheats, she’s a slut.

Just yesterday Sanders gave a speech in which he mentioned that his recent successes were or should be making Hillary nervous. He went on to say that Hillary didn't need anything else to add to the nervousness she already is carrying as if she were too weak to handle it. It was a soundbite at best and sexist at worst. Is her character too weak to stand the heat of the race? Hardly. She is a formidable candidate. So why would Bernie say something like this if not to imply in some way that Hillary were a weak person, a weak woman, and couldn't handle being a touch more nervous about the race?

There is so much about this election cycle that I don’t understand. How Trump came to be the frontrunner and how his opponents didn’t attack him from day one on the unending amount of filth he has to his credit over the years, I will never understand. How that same candidate thinks that sending his wife out to make a statement on his behalf and introduce him at a campaign rally to try to win over women voters, I don’t think women nationwide find sensible. What the hell, right? If your numbers are absolutely terrible among the largest block of voters, why not send our your former super model wife to the stage to talk about how fair you are and how great you will be for this country. Fair? Right. So fair you called all Mexicans rapists. So fair you don’t want any Muslims entering this country unless they are athletes or your rich friends. So fair you think a woman’s looks matter more than brains, talent and dedication. So fair you want women punished for seeking an illegal abortion over the even greater punishment they and their child would face if they were forced to give birth in terrible situations that might have included, rape, incest or even plain old poverty. So fair you believe that wages are too high for those who work their asses off for minimum wage in this country while you and your cronies are cashing in big. Fair. Perhaps a dictionary would be useful on that private jet of Trump’s.

 Not all women support Hillary Clinton and for a variety of reasons, some I understand and some I don’t. But you know what? They all make that decision for themselves. They weight what they know about her and decide to vote for her or not. Maybe they vote for a Republican instead. Or maybe they’re of the few female voters in the Bernie camp. They choose. And no matter their decision, I respect that. The difference between women against Hillary and women against Trump is that Mr. Trump gives women a reason to think of him unfavorably and throw their support elsewhere every single day of this campaign. 

Remember when Romney lost and the Republican Party had their so-called autopsy and decided that they had to scale back the crazy to do better with Hispanics, blacks and women? They’re failing miserably and while most of it falls on the frontrunner, let us not that forget that Ted Cruz is the same kind of wingnut who desires very little more than to strip women’s autonomy.

How’s that plan working for you, RNC?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

'Codification of a Slur' Continuation

My Twitter diatribe continuing on yesterday's post about the proposed specialty license plate for Orofino High School:











Friday, February 5, 2016

The Codification of a Slur

Words matter. What we call one another reflects on both ourselves and on those around us.

If I were to use a slur against you right now, how would it be read? First, it would speak to who I am--my values, principles, worldview--and then it would inevitably say something about you--your race, religion, culture. This has always been how we process information that underlies a slur.

Now think about the slurs that we don't allow in our culture, at least to the degree that we do not condone their use and often shame their users. Did the n-word come to mind? Of course it did. There are slurs that most of us think of as so heinous that even uttering them in an explanatory way may cause a visceral reaction. Slurs used against African-Americans, Jews and women tend to fall in this category for many Americans.

If we as a country have come to a place where we largely accept that these types of slurs are not acceptable, even slurs against Hispanics and the LGBT community are now widely denounced, why can't we jointly reach the conclusion that slurs against and in reference to the disabled are equally abhorrent?

I've written about the End the Word campaign here numerous times. The use of the r-word remains a blight on our society. But it's more than that one word. As I will explain, and as Leonard Hitchcock, a dear friend, did here, it's more than being politically correct, that oft-heard phrase in today's politics, it's about respecting every human being as just that--human. And in communities of developmentally disabled and mentally ill people, the r-word is not the only word that is offensive.

The United States, like many industrialized nations, has a dark history with respect to how it has treated the disabled and mentally ill. For generations, disabled and mentally ill people were locked away from the outside world, set up in self-sustaining communities in often remote parts of counties and states, where the fear of those inside would not have to be faced by the population at large.

This brings me to Idaho. Idaho was not immune to this heinous history.

For those not familiar, Idaho has long had state-operated psychiatric hospitals. They once went by names like Northern Idaho Sanitarium and Insane Asylum, Idaho Sanitarium for the Feeble-minded and Epilectic and Idaho State School and Colony. You may now know these hospitals as State Hospital North (Orofino), State Hospital South (Blackfoot) and Idaho State School and Hospital (Nampa).

State Hospital North, a state-run psychiatic hospital is located in Orofino. Built in 1905, the hospital has long been in Orofino, but not always a part of Orofino. Asylums, sanitariums and the like were closed communities. They had their own land to raise their animals for slaughter on, some had their own slaughterhouses, they kept up self-sustaining farms, they had housing for their staff and had burial grounds for their patients, continuing their seclusion even in death. However secluded, the often inhumane treatment of patients at those hospitals occasionally spilled out into the communities around them. In the 1940s, the Idaho governor's office undertook an investigation of the Blackfoot hospital after a series of patients died under mysterious circumstances, some quite violently.

Let's take a moment to discuss what is meant by inhumane treatment: Until pharmaceuticals were invented that could treat mental illness (and even afterward to a degree), medicine as a practice didn't always know how to deal with the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. Electroshock therapy, lobotomies, insulin shock, hydrotherapy and other extremely distressing treatments were used to attempt to cure illnesses, if not manage them. Perhaps the greatest reason that so many ghost hunting shows and horror flicks are set in asylums is because of the fact that for over a century, we treated these patients as if they were animals, nothing resembling human.

Beyond the medical treatments afforded these poor souls was the language in which we referred to them. 'Imbecile', 'retard', 'moron', 'lunatic' and 'maniac' were common both within the medical community and the general population. In fact, it has taken until the last ten to fifteen years for state and federal government to remove these despicable terms from code.

In the 21st century, I believe we as Americans have learned that groups who have historically been disparaged by a slur have the right to reclaim that slur and use it about themselves or others of their demographic. Whether they use it about themselves or not, that gives us no right to use those words about them, in reference to them or indirectly about anyone or anything else. This applies to the n-word as much as it applies to words like faggot, kike or spic.

To my point: The Orofino High School mascot has been the Maniacs for decades.  The mascot is a direct reference to the residents of the hospital, both in name and image. The mascot has hair standing on end and appears to be wearing a hospital gown as it "freaks out" in some way that apparently connotes mania. The issue of whether or not 'maniac' is a slur or not has been coming up in Orofino for at least 25 years. Never is it more at issue than now when, once again, Paul Shepherd (R-Riggins) wants a specialty license plate with the image of the Orofino Maniac proudly displayed on it. The legislation has been "toned down" by removing the term 'maniac' from the plate itself, but the image of the gowned maniac remains.

In response to concerns that using the mascot is offensive to those with mental illness as well as those who work with the mentally ill, the comments have been a bit hard to wrap one's head around. The state hospital in Orofino? They apparently are "proud of their maniacs" and don't have a problem with the plate. A local councilwoman said that it is positive representation of the community. Thankfully, some don't have the same position. For instance, the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities "opposes the legislation because of the stigmatizing effect the word 'maniac' has on people experiencing mental health issues."

The entire reason Orofino High School wants a specialty plate is to raise money for a district that is strapped for funds. Isn't there a better way of doing this than portraying a segment of the population in this way? The answer is yes. I personally believe there is.

A place we can look to for a similar example of people grappling with language and what words we choose to use to refer to an entire race of people has to do with Native Americans. In the last few years, Americans, particularly football fans, have been confronted with the question of whether or not a team in the National Football League should be allowed to use both an image and a slur against American Indians as its mascot. For years, fans of the Cleveland Indians have protested the same thing. My own team, the Atlanta Braves, faces all kinds of scrutiny, rightly so, for the Tomahawk Chop, prior use of the character Chief Noc-A-Homa and a logo featuring a screaming Indian. There are few instances of collegiate or professional teams willingly changing their mascots to suit the world we live in. Florida State, rather than ditch the Seminoles mascot, asked the tribe itself for permission to continue its use. There is a lot of work to be done and it will be years before we see real change.

There is hope for high schools, however. Adidas has offered free design assistance and money for new gear if high schools will phase out their mascots that feature Native American imagery. I took it upon myself to personally reach out to Adidas to ask if they would be willing to expand the parameters of this program to include a mascot like that of Orofino. Not only could Orofino benefit from this in a monetary way, schools like Salmon High School where they are the Savages could also apply. Wouldn't the free design help and money to replace their sports equipment be just as useful to their districts as whatever dollars they could raise from a specialty plate? I realize that the Adidas money, or similar money from an organization with the same intent, is a one-time infusion whereas the plate money would be ongoing, but there has to be a way to continue bringing funds to a school district that needs it in exchange for the kind of goodwill teams would create in the community and the state with a more appropriate mascots.

Why does this matter? Why does a single word matter? Please consider three things:

First, in 2010 the Idaho Legislature and Governor Otter finally removed words like 'mentally retarded', 'idiot', 'feeble-minded', 'lunatic' and 'mentally deficient' from Idaho Code. Even in 2010, there were 73 laws that had outdated and deeply painful words and phrases that represent long-since abandoned thinking about the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. Those references forever inked in Idaho Code went back as far as 1908 when the state hospital system was beginning. Why then in 2016 would we want to insert 'maniac' back into Idaho Code, in word or in reference to this image? Why would we want to go backward when we don't have to?

Secondly, the dark and distressing history of psychiatric hospitals in this state and the words once used to describe the patients there deserve your careful consideration. While I do not doubt that the current community respects and is proud of "their maniacs," that has not always been the case. When we use the term today, without ill will, remember that we are not speaking just of the current patients at the hospital in Orofino, we are speaking of the patients throughout the history of that hospital. We are speaking of those that led secluded, lonely lives, shunned by society and treated horrendously by both family and those that were entrusted with their care. We're speaking of the men and women who were stared at, beaten and abused, treated as animals and left to die in these hospitals. In the beginning, these patients were brought by train to Orofino and housed in tents. At the height of demand, 600 patients would be housed in a building intended for 450. Their illnesses were treated with isolation, extreme temperatures like ice water baths, lobotomies, insulin shock therapy and straight jackets. When the people of the town would drive by the hospital in horror, fear or curiosity, they would point at the patients and call them maniacs. There was nothing loving in the way that word was used.

And finally, ask yourself this: If they were the Orofino Retards or OHS Feeble-minded, would you be okay with having that on a state-sponsored license plate? Of course not and neither should we be okay with the Maniacs.

The legislation introduced by Rep. Shepherd has been approved in the House Transportation Committee and will go to a vote.



Friday, December 4, 2015

'The Last Fight'



Rest in peace, Scott Weiland.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

QOTD

"When we finally find what we have been looking for in the darkness, we nearly always discover that it was exactly that. Darkness."  
- C.G. Reinhart, Police Officer (h/t Hakan Nesser, Mind's Eye)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

TDIH: Rosa Parks, 60 Years

A message from President Obama on the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks' arrest:

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 1, 2015

Statement by the President

Rosa Parks held no elected office.  She was not born into wealth or power.  Yet sixty years ago today, Rosa Parks changed America.  Refusing to give up a seat on a segregated bus was the simplest of gestures, but her grace, dignity, and refusal to tolerate injustice helped spark a Civil Rights Movement that spread across America.  Just a few days after Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Alabama, a little-known, 26 year-old pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. stood by her side, along with thousands of her fellow citizens.  Together, they began a boycott.  Three-hundred and eighty-five days later, the Montgomery buses were desegregated, and the entire foundation of Jim Crow began to crumble. 

Like so many giants of her age, Rosa Parks is no longer with us.  But her lifetime of activism – and her singular moment of courage – continue to inspire us today.  Rosa Parks reminds us that there is always something we can do.  It is always within our power to make America better.  Because Rosa Parks kept her seat, thousands of ordinary commuters walked instead of rode.  Because they walked, countless other quiet heroes marched.  Because they marched, our union is more perfect.  Today, we remember their heroism.  Most of all, we recommit ourselves to continuing their march. 
While 60 years and the story of Rosa Parks seems but a 20th century wonder, a time in which we have moved irrevocably past, there are similarities between that day and the Montgomery bus boycott and now.

NPR did a recent story on the state of public transit in Montgomery, Alabama in 2015 which revealed disturbing details of a system underfunded and poorly thought of by those holding the state purse. Bus fare is $2, discounted by half for seniors and students. Annual fares bring in less than $1 million a year and the Montgomery transit system costs approximately $6 million. Reliance on the government, whether local, state or national, has left the system running in the red.

When President Obama says "we recommit ourselves to continuing their march," he isn't speaking just of the work of those who ended the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he is speaking of the larger end to Jim Crow and the segregated South. However, that end is less a set point on a timeline of history as its blurry edges are seen in the South today. Both in the ways the NPR piece portrayed, but also in the devastating blow the Supreme Court leveled against the Voting Rights Act in 2014 that caused several states to react abhorrently.

60 years on and the battle for racial equality rages on.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ranae Stallings, 1943-2015

If, as Henry James said, the three most important things in life are to be kind, be kind and be kind, Ranae Stallings had life mastered.

There was no kinder soul than Ranae. As a politician's wife she must have greeted thousands of people over the years, some she agreed with, some she didn't, but never did ideology stand in the way of her innate kindness. On the campaign trail with her husband, four-term former Idaho Rep. Richard Stallings, constituents would eagerly tell the story of how Richard helped them get their Social Security checks or nominated them to one of the service academies. As they spoke of his helpfulness, they almost always remarked on the kindness of his wife who also happened to be his scheduling secretary. She is remembered as being as pivotal to the success of their cases as he was.

In Idaho politics there has been no more respected and powerful political partnership than that of Frank and Bethine Church. Behind everything Frank did was his supportive wife who, with her family's political clout and causes of her own, not so quietly pushed him forward. The partnership of Richard and Ranae Stallings may never have been as flashy or memorable as that of Frank and Bethine, but it has been just as admirable. Nearly fifty-two years of marriage, twelve years in Congress, twelve political campaigns, three children and many grandchildren--all extremely respectable for two humble people who met in an LDS Institute class at Weber State College.

While so many people knew Ranae as the quiet supporter of a political husband, the kind handshake and warm smile that accompanied them both everywhere, they don't always know enough to appreciate the sacrifices she made to be by Richard's side. From leaving college so that her young, ambitious other half could complete a graduate degree while teaching high school in Odgen to uprooting her life and the life of her youngest child to follow her newly-elected husband to Washington, D.C., Ranae sacrificed much and never complained. Even during the 2014 campaign when Richard threw himself into a congressional race that was doomed from the start, disagreeing with the decision to run, she still stood beside him and only ever commented on how much easier it was to run a congressional race when they were in their 40s.

There are married couples who, after years together, cannot be thought of separately in the minds of those who know them. As her husband alluded to in his touching tribute to her, this was the case for them as much as it has been for those who know them. Imagining Richard without Ranae is a heartbreaking task left to those of us who loved her and loved the two of them together. It is difficult, yes, but in no way comparable to the struggle of Richard himself as he goes forward in this world without the love of his life by his side.

Each person touched by Ranae will forever remember her kindness, intellect and unwavering support of Richard. And Idaho will remember her for the devotion and sacrifice she offered her state and for the love she gave unconditionally to the man who served us so well.

Ranae Garner Stallings
1943 - 2015


Thursday, July 2, 2015

'Heritage Not Hate' and Other Fallacies

In 1909, my great-great-great grandfather began a journal entry that would outlive him by many generations. At the age of seventy-seven, J.N. Taylor described for his children and theirs his experience in the Civil War as a soldier for the Confederacy. Those experiences included one in particular that took place on the day of April 9, 1865. That event was the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House.

Having enlisted in 1861, Taylor served for two years before going on furlough. He would then return to the war and serve until the surrender at war's end. He fought in the Battle of Appomattox Court House on the morning of the surrender. Born and raised in Georgia, the thirty-three year old would walk home following the surrender and the end of what were the most important years of his adult life.

Google Maps approximation
Writing about the walk home, Taylor said: "I walked from Appomattox Courthouse to Milledgeville I road [sic] from there to Stevens Pottery two miles home." Imagine walking 438 miles in tattered clothing, your weapons having been surrendered, no money to your name and no idea what your life would be with the war behind you. Google Maps says that distance would take 145 hours.

That walk home found itself portrayed with as many words, if not more, as the surrender itself. I have often wondered if he had written his memories down nearer to the end of the war if he wouldn't have voiced his disappointment in the outcome. He had fought valiantly for the Confederate States of America and they had been defeated by the the great Union Army, an outcome that would begin the uniting of a fractured country, a uniting that current events proves we are still working toward today.

About the surrender, Taylor wrote:
"In my seeing I saw General Lee surrender at Appomattox I saw him walk a few paces in front of a squad of men took out his sword and stuck it in the ground and walked back and talked to the men whom I thought was General Grant and staff I saw them get on their horses and road [sic] off towards Richmond then after that I saw the end of the war I saw about 500 men a fiting [sic] fist and skull of Yanks and Rebels and after we started for home without a mouthful to eat for about 120 miles we went about 3 or 4 miles and then we came to a mill and we pressed 2 bushels of mint we went into the woods and cooked and don’t  you forget we had something to eat."
Journal entry of J.N. Taylor
What he didn't write in his journal was what, like the paper he put pen to, would outlive him by many generations: A deep-seated prejudice. 

This man, born in 1838, never stepped foot north of the Mason-Dixon line. His kin would not leave Georgia for two more generations. And with them to eastern Idaho they took the prejudice that had been instilled in their ancestor since even before his time of service as a Confederate solider.

In the news cycle centering on the Confederate battle flag, I have often thought of my ancestor and wondered if those who continue to espouse the belief that there is no hatred attached to the flag they proudly fly would extend their so-called right to display it to a northerner like myself who, like them, had an ancestor fighting for the Confederacy. Isn't it my heritage, too? And if so, why do I, and presumably many Americans who likely have some connection in their lineage to southern soldiers, find the sight of that flag so jarring and offensive?

The answer to why I find the flag offensive is complex, perhaps made more complex by my understanding of American history. Sometimes it is visceral. But also, as is the case for many with this issue, it is quite personal. Obviously, I didn't live through the Civil War. I never saw my country attempt to heal as the Reconstruction was rife with hostility and bitterness. I have only read about the African-Americans who had to endure the Klu Klux Klan marching through the streets of their towns and neighborhoods, setting fire to crosses, waving that flag as they terrorized a community and often turned to lynchings. I never saw the menacing red and blue flag carried by children as I marched through Selma and other cities of the former Confederacy. My own life has been blessed with a distance from that level of hatred, but not completely distant. I was a child during the rise of neo-Nazis in the Pacific Northwest in the 90s. My childhood saw a scattering of right-wing domestic terrorism that often cloaked itself in the colors of that flag. That flag was not a relic in a museum as far as I was concerned. It was completely obvious to me what it stood for.

Even as a young child in the vast white population of Idaho, I knew what racism was. My earliest encounters with individual racism (rather than that of hate groups or institutions) could be traced back to the man who wrote in his diary about the day his service in the Confederate army ended. 

Journal entry of J.N. Taylor,
My great-grandmother, the granddaughter of J.N. Taylor, was a racist. I say that without any hesitation because I grew up knowing this to be true. The first time I realized this was as a child, no older than ten. I had been watching boxing with my grandfather fairly often and knew that he got his love of the sport from his mother. What I didn't know until watching it with both of them was why she loved the sport. To paraphrase a disgusting and highly disturbing statement she often made, she loved watching black men beat the hell out of each other. Of course, she didn't offer them the courtesy of calling them black or men. As disturbing as what she had said with my young ears present was that my grandfather didn't admonish her or later take me aside for a teaching moment. 

This wasn't the only time that one of them said something particularly racist in my presence and while words can be overcome, actions often cannot. In addition to speaking her racist beliefs, my great-grandmother lived her life by them. In her later years, she was one of those grandmothers who prided herself on the number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren she had. Despite that personal pride, her underlying belief in the supremacy of the white race could not be overcome. My younger brother and I, both adopted, were not included in her tally of great-grandchildren because we were not blood. Not only were we not blood, there was no way to determine what kind of blood we did have. While we were obviously Caucasian, we could have had Asian, Native American or some "other" tainted DNA. Whatever bitterness I might have carried both before and after I understood why I was singled out in this way was at times lessened by knowing she had been as terrible to her own son. Her son married a Hispanic woman, having met her in Mexico, and they had children together. Imagine my great-grandmother's response to that abomination.

To my grandfather's credit, he allowed the influence of his liberal, tolerant wife to curb his own racism. She might have threatened him with his life if he spoke a racist word in front of the grandchildren for all I know, but it worked. In my childhood I can count on one hand the times he voiced something untoward. As it tends to happen, the generation between he and his mother was useful in changing the words he spoke, if not his heart.

Gone With the Wind, 1939
My great-grandmother's ties to Georgia and her husband's ties to North Carolina may not live inside me in the way someone born and raised in the south today might experience. I do not feel attached to southern heritage, despite my lineage. But like a child of the south, I am daily reminded of a period in our history that is now being both romanticized and defended by those who mistakenly believe the rebel flag represents only that time (to further understand why I say mistakenly: see Ta-nehisi Coates). Why? Because of a movie that was released in 1939.

Yes, every day I am reminded of what is one of the most romanticized and yet controversial films in American cinematic history. I was named after the fictional plantation created by writer Margaret Mitchell and brought to life on film by David O. Selznick and Victor Fleming in Gone With the Wind. A fictional plantation that subsisted on the backs of slaves. The film itself is riddled with historical inaccuracies and the bigger issue of romanticizing slavery, the treasonous act that fractured our nation leading us to civil war, and a reverence for Reconstruction and the perseverance of the South. This doesn't even begin to address the horrendous way that black actors were treated during the filming and production of the film decades after the events being depicted.

Did the lineage of my mother lead her to obsession with the film? Of course not. However, the things she must have grown up hearing from the mouth of her own father and grandmother must have made her far less sensitive to the atrocities the film viewed with rose-colored lens. Take a moment to consider this: Mitchell told the story of General Sherman's march to the Atlantic with the humanity of evacuating the white characters prior to brutal scorched earth warfare arriving at the plantation, but left the nearly 100 slaves of the plantation unprotected. They were nothing more than cattle. Facts like this, largely ignored by its fans, continue to be why historians argue about the film today.

I am not willing to ignore the revisionist history in a film any more than I am willing to ignore it in a conversation about a flag that flies tonight over the statehouse in South Carolina. It does not make a difference that my ancestor fought for an ideal attached to that flag. It does not make me romantic about a time in the south simply because of my name, either. Nor should it any other American. If we ever hope to heal the racial wounds of our country, we can't allow the lie of what a flag stood for or what it means today to persist. If we think we can live a non-violent existence in country where a flag is both the latter-day representation of hate toward all non-white groups and the symbol of our proud heritage, we're fooling ourselves.


 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Comments at TPG

While I realize I am not writing regularly here anymore, not with my side projects and the outlet I've found on Twitter, I acknowledge that people continue to read and leave comments on pieces I have written previously. What I didn't realize was that the comment process here at TPG has been problematic for some time.

Readers commenting on pieces that were 14+ days old were subject to moderation, something I had intended due to the amount of spam that gets attached to long-forgotten posts, but somehow readers commenting on pieces 14+ days weren't actually being placed in the moderation section. For those of you who have commented on older pieces, I apologize if you came back to see if your comment was posted following moderation and then hoped for a response only to find your comment never appeared. I wish I knew for certain where these comments had gone, but I suspect the answer is one of my own doing. What I do know is I have been sporadically deleting all comments awaiting moderation. Assuming they were spam because I wasn't notified to choose whether they could be posted or not, I deleted them all. Every last comment that had been left and never posted was due to my own mistake.

I apologize for this screwup and would like everyone to know that your comments will post now. If you left a comment that you hoped I would see and I didn't, feel free to leave a comment again or you are always welcome to email me at the address attached to my complete profile.