Politics Aside, Sexual Harassment is Unacceptable

Like many, I have been troubled by the eruption of the political scandal in Virginia, made public by revelations of racist behavior by the state’s governor and attorney general, and of sexist behavior by the lieutenant governor.

While it appears that the revelations were politically driven, the fact remains that what we learned was troubling. To be honest, I leaned toward wanting the public to give Gov. Ralph Northam a pass. White folks have put on blackface ever since I can recall and have kept live their association with the Ku Klux Klan, though they’ve wanted to keep it a secret. The picture in the yearbook was taken over 30 years ago and to be honest, as this government has given so many accusations of egregious behavior a pass, I shrugged it off. From all reports, Gov. Northam has been an exemplary person and has worked for racial justice.

I was glad that he at first admitted that it was him in the picture we all saw. He apologized and I was done with it. But then he changed his story and I also paid more attention to the “when” of the story. I had originally chalked his actions up to youthful foolishness – something of which we are all guilty – but this picture appeared in the governor’s medical school yearbook. Presumably, the governor and his friends were in their mid-20s, too old for such pranks. And I took issue with the fact that a medical school would even publish such offensive images. And so I changed my mind about chalking it up. And while I believe in the Christian mandate to forgive, I wonder what forgiveness looks like in this instance.

I am still wrestling with what I believe should happen. Something should happen, but I am not sure if I believe it is resignation.

That situation was enough to have to absorb, but then we were hit with the accusation of sexual impropriety toward a young woman by Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax. In this era of the #MeToo movement, this type of behavior perpetrated by powerful men has been revealed as being all too common. In spite of how some men have gotten a pass in light of accusations, as was the case with United States Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many of the men who have been exposed as having been involved in this kind of behavior have lost their jobs, their reputations, and in some cases, their freedom.

I was clear, though sad to feel this way, that Fairfax should resign.

Why am I wrestling with the fate of a white man and resolute on my belief that the black man should resolve? It is partly because with the blackface accusation, I am convinced that many to most white men have a history of racist behavior. It is part of our culture, and I am convinced that many who engaged in such behavior did as they did because of peer pressure. To not join the crowd would set them up to be ostracized from their friends and kids do not handle separation from their friends easily. Even though Northam was older when he allegedly engaged in the prank that was caught on film, it is quite possible he was just trying to “fit in,” and if the Christian mandate to forgive is genuine, we must forgive, not hard to do in light of Northam’s public record of service. Where I shudder is the idea that a medical school, preparing people to take care of all kinds of people, blacks included, would sanction and publish the picture. I would not want to be treated by any doctors from that institution.

But in the case of Fairfax, as much as I want to defend him, I cannot, because sexual aggression toward women has for too long been sanctioned and accepted. Powerful men have for decades abused their power by using sex to intimidate and manipulate women. Their sexist behavior has caused far too many women too much pain, a pain which has been exacerbated by a general tendency in society to disregard the women’s claims of sexual assault. Men have had no reason to curb their impetuous sexual behavior and have taken advantage of the same.

If Fairfax did what he has been accused of, who is to say he would not do it again? In all honesty, there are women who are willing to compromise their bodies and their values for the opportunity to connect with a powerful man, and the men know it. The only way to get men to understand that having male genitals does not give them a pass to do whatever they want is for enough of them to have to face the music and lose something that is important to them. The sex drive is powerful, but it has to be controlled.

I am still offended that Brett Kavanaugh got off and was put onto the US Supreme Court in spite of Christine Blasey Ford’s compelling testimony. Worse, I am still offended that Clarence Thomas was likewise elevated to the nation’s high court in spite of Anita Hill’s accusations against him. Men have for too long gotten away with being sexually arrogant, reckless and impulsive. They have not had to pay the price for damaging so many women (and children as well, both male and female). We have to deal with racism and have always had to; it is systemic and cannot disappear because we want it to. We have to stay on the battlefield and fight against all the ways in which it impacts people of color.

But sexual recklessness, carried out by men, some powerful, some not, needs to be stopped. Men are too willing to give themselves a pass on what they do with their bodies, while they have a little too much to say and opine about what women can and should do with theirs.

As my son would say to his sister when they were little and she was trying to boss him around, “You’re not the boss of me!” so too, we as women, have to be consistent and say to men who disrespect us, “you are not the boss of us!”

A candid observation …

Revising History in Our Faces

The remembrance of the late President George H.W. Bush was moving; his good work as president – i.e., ending the Cold War, getting the Berlin Wall down – was rightfully noted. His civility was understandably emphasized in light of the total lack of civility we are experiencing now. His family was surely comforted by affirmation of his inherent goodness.

But his racism was nearly totally glossed over.

It was his administration that used the case of Willie Horton to feed into the racist fears of white people. In 1988 a group called “Americans for Bush” created and ran what came to be known as the “Willie Horton ad.” It was so reprehensible that it still gives me chills. This group of white Americans capitalized on the sad fact that a man who was given a furlough by Bush’s Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, raped a white woman twice while on a weekend furlough. Many governors in states across the nation granted furloughs at that time, but the impact of this ad on white people was enormous. Lee Atwater, the brains behind the Bush campaign, ended up apologizing for the ad on his deathbed, but at the time of the election, all bets were off. Dukakis was too much of a threat, and so white campaign strategists used what is being used today – race – to make sure their guy got into office.

It was disgusting.

It is beyond dispute that President Bush 41 did some really good things while in office. Nobody can dispute that. But he did some things that were not so good (https://truthout.org/articles/i-will-not-speak-kindly-of-the-dead-bush-was-detestable/?utm_source=sharebuttons&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=mashshare&fbclid=IwAR3lfOMPejr4FOtKxgkUda0PfQaaSjWchIGO3LvF1uyVUm7AMBpb5hqZGPk) and in lifting him up as one of America’s last great presidents, those things, which have had a tremendous impact on the world, have been ignored – including his racism.

White Americans have historically been able to separate their racism from their faith. In the antebellum South, whites would say that slavery was a problem but that it was not immoral or wrong; the Slavery Bible was written to contort the will of God to fit the racist mindset of Southerners who believed in it. White Christianity has always been different from the Christianity practiced by oppressed people. The god of white people has been ok with racism and all of its tentacles, but their god did not gel with the God of all people described in the Christian Bible.

Robert P. Jones in his book The End of White Christian America says that “White Christian America…has died.” But has it?  This sect of Christians is making a comeback, using race as their foundation, to maintain what has been the status quo. If the “swamp” was drained, it was refilled with these “good, Christian” people who believe in the sanctity of white supremacy. The noticeable silence on the part of the media about this president’s racism supports that reality. Nobody expected the funeral of the late president to be the place where Bush’s racism was mentioned, but the media should have. The role of racism in this country and its use by the “best of the best” as indicated by the Bush campaign, should have been noted more prominently, not to beat him over the head but to remind America that we still have a problem.

My guess is that the majority of white people, white Christians especially, do not know about the Willie Horton ad and that if they did, it would not bother them. They would shrug and say that Willie Horton was a bad guy and that using him to win an election was fair game.

This attitude, even though the very architect of the ad struggled with the wrongness of that ad until he died.

Revising history when it comes to race seems to be the only way white Americans can survive. Dr. Joy DeGruy, the author of Post– Traumatic Slave Syndrome, identifies the cognitive dissonance that white people have learned to use so well as a major reason why racism still fills this country with its stench.

The voter suppression that is running rampant throughout the country has a racist core; many of the policies being created have a racist core. We are a racist nation, and we will not admit it.

President George H.W. Bush was a good person to and for his family and friends. He did some things that perhaps helped the African American community during his presidency. He was certainly civil, unlike the current president; he was not an outright liar, again, as is the current president.

But he was racist and knew how to use racism to get what he wanted. I cannot forget that, and I suspect, many others cannot, either.

A candid observation

 

 

Is America’s Democracy in Trouble?

The antics and behavior that are coming out of the White House are disturbing on many levels, but one of the most troubling is that it feels like this country is moving toward becoming an autocratic state.

A survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp during the Holocaust, architect Stephen Jacobs, said in a recent interview that the “rise of Donald Trump is reminiscent of the years that led to the Nazi takeover of Germany.”  (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5596737/Holocaust-survivor-says-Trumps-America-reminds-years-lead-Nazi-takeover.html)

At the time that Hitler rose to power, Germany was experiencing economic, social and political unrest. Hitler seized the moment, telling Germans that he could restore their country to its former greatness. The people bought his argument, and the fall of civilized government resulted in the murders of over 6 million Jewish people.

What is astounding is not so much that the president is doing what he is doing, but that so many people seem not to care. From the Congress – representatives and senators alike – to Evangelical Christians, to masses of people who like it that he “tells it like it is,” there seem to be few people in power – politically or morally – who have the best interests of “the least of these” at heart.

These people turn a blind eye to the role of the Congress to check the raw ascent of power of the Executive branch of our government. Evangelical Christians, who have been known to be deeply judgmental of all kinds of people for behavior much less offensive and troubling than that of the president, are silent and acquiescent.

It has been amazing to listen to people defend this president at every turn; nothing, it seems, not even the cyber-attack of our voting system by a known enemy, has been enough to inspire people to do something to put the brakes on what seems like a train running downhill, spiraling out of control.

We thought that our government was immune to becoming autocratic. We thought that our Constitution and our professed love of “liberty and justice for all” were enough to incubate us from encroaching fascism. It appears that many Conservatives feel like there is no danger of our democracy falling into disrepair or ruination. But democracies, historically, have fallen, following a course much like the one on which America now finds itself.

What is worrying is that the only people who might seem to not have to worry are the very rich. This country has not been a “democracy” for some time; it has been a plutocracy, with a very few really wealthy people making policies for everyone else. But even that number of wealthy people, in control of the lives of the masses, is dwindling; we are more an oligarchy now than ever before.

Oligarchies do not care about the masses.

During the Holocaust, Hitler and his minions made decisions about who was worthy to live and who was not. The Jews were certainly deemed unworthy, but so were people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, gay people, gypsies, twins, priests, and other groups, were murdered. It is estimated that 5 million non-Jews died under Hitler.

Germany, using the science developed in America that formed the foundation of the eugenics movement, made it its cause to eliminate those who were not the right kind of “white” person – i.e., those with Nordic features.

It feels like everyone, with the exception of that very small group of wealthy white people, are in danger from the way this administration is running the country, and none of the people who we might have thought would defend the masses from this kind of tyranny are stepping forward.

It is difficult to understand how “people of faith” can marginalize the directives given for how to create a “Beloved Community” by Jesus the Christ. Jesus is far removed from what is going on, it seems, and very few people are working to bring Jesus of Nazareth back to the center of who we are.

It feels like we are on a collision course with tragedy, and in this, the so-called “land of the free and home of the brave,” that ought not be the case.

A candid observation …

 

Make America “Great” Again!

The battle cry for Donald Trump is that he will “make America great again.” He will get the jobs back, he will defeat ISIS, he will build that wall and keep all the illegal Mexican immigrants out, even as he deports literally millions of Muslims from this country.

He will take us back, back to the time when, he says, America was truly great.

When was that? What made America great and for whom was it great?

America may have been “great” when Founding Fathers crafted the concept of democracy, using and relying on the words “all men are created equal and are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights,” which included  “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But from the time of the crafting of the Constitution, it was clear that those words were woefully mythic in nature. The Founding Fathers never intended for some people to be free, to be considered equal, or in the case of African-Americans, to even be considered full human beings.

Nearly every endeavor engaged in by those who “made America great” involved the subjugation, oppression and discrimination against people who were not white and male. Indigenous Americans were killed off; that is called genocide. White women were considered second class citizens, prizes to be used for the sexual fulfillment of their men and to be used as an excuse to indiscriminately lynch black men.

Black people were, simply, the backbone upon which the local and global economy was built. They were objects to be used, traded, and ultimately discarded.

So, given that reality, when was America great? Or, maybe the better question is, “what”  does “great” mean? What is the definition that Trump and his followers are using?

At one of his rallies, Trump ordered a protester out, saying, “remember how it used to be,” and going on to explain people who “caused trouble” were often handled.  (http://www.mediaite.com/online/trump-tells-crowd-to-knock-the-crap-out-of-protesters-offers-to-pay-legal-fees/  ) Wild West” mentality, a man was considered tough by the way he handled his enemies, real or perceived. If he had to take someone out, then so be it. “In the good old days,” Trump mused at one of his rallies, “this didn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough. (http://mashable.com/2016/03/12/trump-rally-incite-violence/#ytvHzFqipiqh)

He is right. In the “good old days,” black people could be and were lynched at worst, or at least badly beaten, for merely being accused of a “crime,” which could be something as petty as being out at the wrong time of night. In those “good old days,” African Americans returning from battle in World Wars I and II were treated like common criminals, often being beaten by whites while still in uniform. Brutal, barbaric lynchings of blacks were carried out by white people as a matter of course, increasing in the time period after Reconstruction, with white perpetrators never having to worry about being held accountable, and with white law enforcement officers often part of the lynch mobs.

In spite of the US Constitution saying that every American citizen had a right to a trial by a “jury of his peers,” black people were almost always tried by all-white juries – which almost always convicted them. After slavery was abolished (except for people who had been convicted of a crime, per the 13th Amendment), white people and white systems sought to criminalize as many black people  as possible, via the Convict Leasing program, which kept blacks virtually enslaved for the duration of their lives.

And so I ask again, when was America so great, and for whom was it great?

Trump knows what he is thinking. His definition of a great America is a time when people did not have to care about, worry about, what black people and brown people and Muslims and Mexicans needed. The great America was a place where women were objectified and used at the discretion of sexually and physically abusive men. “Great America” is a time when white people could enjoy their whiteness basically undisturbed.

That America is long gone; the demographics of this nation have shifted too much. Women have gained too many rights. A way has been made for “the marginalized.” Jobs have been outsourced by business moguls like Trump so that they can realize the greatest profits possible with as little output of capital as possible.  “Great America” is now, as Fareed Zakaria says, “post America.” That idea is scary to everyone, not just white people.

But Trump is seeking the triumph of white male supremacy in an era where the resistance against it is behemoth. Trump is calling the troops for a fight that has been in the losing lane for years. The question is, if Trump wins, and those who want “Great America” back as it was, and it doesn’t come – which it most probably will not – what will they do?

What will America do?

America the beautiful is now America the embattled. Not even Trump can change the course of history that has been in place for generations.

A candid observation …

 

 

What is a Joke?

At the height of the Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump, our Republican nominee for president, called a press conference, and during that press conference, he invited the Russian government to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email account.

He said that if the Russian government could find 30,000 missing emails, emails that Hillary Clinton said she erased, that the American press would probably “mightily reward” them. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/world/europe/russia-trump-clinton-email-hacking.html)

His statement was shocking and troubling, and the press, as well as American government and security personnel, jumped all over it. Pundits tried to play it down; it was just “The Donald” being “The Donald,” practicing his craft of manipulating the press, as he so skillfully does. Any press, even bad press, is good, he believes. What better way to keep the spotlight on him, in light of what some might say is a fairly successful Democratic National Convention, than for him to say something outrageous?

But as the press and people who know government spoke out, Trump backtracked some, and said he was merely being sarcastic. And his friend Newt Gingrich, said that Trump had only been “joking.” (https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/07/27/newt-gingrich-says-donald-trump-was-joking-about-hillary-clinton-mails/vx5Ml4OXKJmfIcFMaDv6BK/story.html)

I’m confused. I thought a “joke” was or is supposed to be funny. Granted, the perception, understanding and interpretation of what is “funny” is left to the beholder, but there ought to be some thread of commonality, regardless of who is doing the interpreting, right?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that a joke is “something said or done to cause laughter. : a brief story with a surprising and funny ending. : someone or something that is not worth taking seriously.” Good comedians are rare; they are capable of taking what we experience every day and making it funny. Their jokes make us laugh at ourselves, laugh at our habits and idiosyncrasies, laugh at our situations or even how we think. The best jokes, it seems, don’t make us look at someone who has a problem and laugh at them; at best, good jokes make us look at how we look at different people at laugh at ourselves.

But it seems that far too often in our world in general, and in our American world specifically, people say things that insult or put others down and when their words are found to offend, the immediate response is, “It was just a joke,” or “you can’t take a joke.”

Seriously?

When the mayor of a small town in Washington State called Michelle Obama a “gorilla face” and President Obama a “monkey man,” he said that it was just “playful back and forth banter.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/washington-mayor-racist_us_55a71677e4b04740a3defd84)

Amy Schumer has been called on the carpet for saying disparaging things about Mexicans. She calls them “jokes.” Mexicans call her words hurtful, racist and offensive. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/07/06/dont-believe-her-defenders-amy-schumers-jokes-are-racist/)

I personally hate the “n” word, but when an African-American is telling a story about some experience he or she has had with friends or family and uses the word, sharing an experience with which we as African Americans are all familiar, it is funny. But when a white person begins to use the word, not becoming immersed in a common, comical cultural experience but instead is standing outside looking in, the words sound judgmental, racist, and, frankly, inappropriate. A white person using the “n” word is never funny, and black people need to drop it, too. But there is a noticeable difference when black people are using it to describe black life, black experiences, black emotions and black pain.

But back to Donald Trump and his invitation to Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails – where  is the humor? Where is the joke? What are we supposed to find amusing about a presidential candidate inviting a known enemy of this nation to commit espionage?

Am I missing something here?

It is a cop-out to say one was only “joking”  when his or her words have backfired. If President Obama gave a presentation and called Donald Trump some disparaging term that has obvious racist overtones, the airwaves would burn. When people have said things about Trump, say, for instance, about his hair, they haven’t had to back up and say they were joking. They weren’t.

And neither was Trump. He was speaking from his heart, just as too many people do who say things that offend other people, especially along racial, ethnic and sexual lines. Calling someone a name, like too many have done, is not funny. Inviting an enemy to compromise your own nation’s security…is not funny, either.

Donald Trump was not joking and you were not being sarcastic. That’s what makes what he said so troubling, and even more troubling is the fact that his hard core followers do not care.

But many more do care, Mr. Trump. Many more do.

A candid observation …