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 …

On the Real “Bad Hombres”

             As the president of this nation pushes the narrative that this country needs a wall on its southern border because people from Mexico and Central America are “bad hombres” who “bring their rapists, their drugs” and other “bad things,” the fact that once again, people of color are being made out to be the “bad” ones does not ring true. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/06/16/theyre-rapists-presidents-trump-campaign-launch-speech-two-years-later-annotated/?utm_term=.8ad954839e89)

While there are likely to be some people who seek to live in this country who have questionable motives, it is clear that the majority of them are seeking a better and safer life. They are not criminals, any more than were people who have historically entered this country from other countries throughout history. (https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/italian3.html) People have flocked here looking for work; the opportunities here that they heard about drew them here in mass numbers.

This president has made it an art form to label the people coming across the southern border as “bad” people, and he keeps lifting up his belief (or maybe his political talking point) that these people are bringing drugs, causing the opioid epidemic that is killing people here every day. There is no mention of the role that big pharmaceutical companies has played in marketing, selling and promoting the use of fentanyl, which is reportedly 100 times more potent than is heroin. “Big pharma,” driven by greed, has been intent on making as much money as possible by pushing this dangerous drug. (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/05/insys-subsys-whistleblower-lawsuits/)

At the same time, as so many people of color are languishing in prisons because they possessed a small amount of marijuana, the former Speaker of the House is encouraging people to come to seminars to learn how to become wealthy by selling marijuana. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/irisdorbian/2018/10/19/looking-to-make-millions-from-cannabis-ex-house-speaker-boehner-will-tell-you-how/#15a8e26d7c52)

Who are the “bad hombres,” really, if the definition of the same is those who bring drugs?

Then there is the question of rapists coming over our southern border as if we do not have a real problem with men keeping their genitals inside of their pants. White supremacy, I am finally understanding, is as much sexual as it is racial; men believe they are superior to women and they have been given power by our patriarchal society. The slew of men who have been accused of and/or convicted of sexual impropriety is only growing. In this country, rapists are in the White House, heading major television networks, making films, starring in movies, sitting in Congress, pastoring churches and giving communion to children.

Americans, in other words, have no platform for touting moral superiority. Bad hombres in our country, permeating every aspect of life, are everywhere, even here.

What is particularly distasteful is that our media really does bring out the fact that a false equivalency is being raised by the White House to push its racist agenda. America has always struggled with immigration and has a history of wanting to keep people of color out.  Even though Chinese immigrants were responsible for building much of America’s railroads, the Chinese Exclusion Acts were passed by Congress to keep them out. (https://history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/chinese-immigration) Benjamin Franklin didn’t think Germans looked white enough and wanted to keep them and others who had “swarthy complexions” out of the fledgling country. (https://qz.com/904933/a-history-of-american-anti-immigrant-bias-starting-with-benjamin-franklins-hatred-of-the-germans/)

The point is that the White House’s claim that “bad hombres” are who are coming over the southern border is a dog whistle for its racist desire to keep people of color out of the United States. There are bad hombres in this administration who, though they wear three-piece suits are engaged in shady financial situations, who are rapists, who use drugs and who are now lining up to sell them legally.

The “bad hombres” label is as disingenuous as it is wrong. America needs to see herself for what she is, bad hombres and all.

A candid observation …

Our Slip is Showing

In the “old days,” women would wear slips under their dresses and/or skirts; to not do so was considered a violation of proper modesty. The slip could be whole or what was called a “half slip,” which was, as the name indicates, a garment that hung from the waist down.

Half slips were notorious for not being cooperative. You would get what you thought was your size, and the slip would be fine for a while, but sooner or later the elastic around the waist would wear, and the slip would not stay in place.

In variably, the slip would hang below the hem of the skirt or dress, and some other sympathetic woman would whisper, “Your slip is showing.”

I thought about that as I have been watching what has been going on in our government. Our foundation is one which was built on racism and sexism. Though we were purported to be a democracy, the Founding Fathers seemed to have disdain for the idea of too much power coming from the people. This government was always about elevating and keeping some in power, and about keeping other people down. According to Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States, four groups of people were not represented in the Constitutional Convention: slaves, indentured servants, women and men without property.” (p. 91) Even at the inception of this “great democracy” the value system was firmly in place: the rich were to run the country and to maintain their power and increase their wealth by exploiting the working poor. Writes Zinn: “the Declaration functioned to mobilize certain groups of Americans, ignoring others.” “The American people” was never the masses, but was really the small group of wealthy, white, male landowners…”We the people,” a phrase coined by Governor Gouverneur Morris did not mean Indians or blacks or women or white servants.”

Charles Beard, a 20th century historian, wrote in his book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution  that “the rich must, in their own interest, either control the government directly or control the laws by which government operates.”

If we read and study this history of America, we might not get quite as agitated as some of us are in the present day as we watch what is going on in our government. We are abiding by traditional American political history. That history is not a stellar one; it is fraught with discrimination and bias, with government allowing for and even sanctioning those who do what they think best in order to keep the moneyed class in power, to keep the oligarchy intact.

And while it has not gotten as much attention as the escapades that have been going on in and around the White House, the sexism that was written into our Constitution is rearing its ugle head as well. The House constructed a health care bill that is sure to have devastating effects on many, including women. In their work to craft this bill, a picture appeared having only white men in the White House, deciding whether or not maternity care and mammograms should be considered to be “essential” health issues to be covered under the Republican bill. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/03/trump-health-care-summit-white-guys)

As this administration barrels through proposals that will hurt so many people, it seems that her slip is showing – a slip which includes her racism, sexism, and paternalism at the least. With these people in power, poverty will increase, as will mass incarceration; voting rights are in danger of being seriously compromised, and anyone who challenges the policies stands the possibility of being sanctioned. These people in power are not unlike, it seems, the Founding Fathers, who envisioned a country run by a small group of wealthy white men who controlled everyone and everything.

The slip which is America’s undergarment has been soiled by the dust that comes from such injustice, but it is America’s legacy. Those in power do not worry or care about if the slip is showing, but, rather, only that it stay in place in order to maintain – or in this case, regain – the status quo.

It’s called “making America great again.”

A candid observation.

The Season of Dis-ease

Since the election of the new president, I have heard more than a few people say that they do not feel safe. People of color, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community have all said something to the effect of “I don’t know anymore, when I look at people, who is with me and who hates me.”

I feel them. I have felt the same way.

Not long ago, I was in a doctor’s office just to drop off a form. I went to the front desk and said why I was there and the receptionist, without really looking up, said, “You’ll have to sign in.”

OK. All right. There were about six names ahead of me. For the life of me I could not understand why I should have to sign in, but I did. I was irritated because I had somewhere else to go and had thought I would just be able to whisk into and out of this office.

After a half-hour wait, the receptionist called my name. Yes, by this time I was ticked off, but was relieved that I could finally just drop off the form. But another woman said, “you’ll have to sign in” as she looked at me.

Totally irritated now, I said – and my irritation came through my voice – “I already signed in” and someone else in the area, feeling the tension, verified that I had in fact signed in. The woman at the desk rolled her eyes at me and said, grudgingly, “oh, all right.”

This happened after the presidential election. I had heard of increasing incidents of racial hatred in schools and in businesses and saw a truck slowly moving in my neighborhood sporting a Confederate flag. It had all made me uneasy. I thought white Americans were pretty much moving away from racism.

But what I’d seen and heard since the election did not verify my beliefs, and raised in me, I admit, some concern and anticipation of what to expect from people who were happy with who was now in the White House.

They were glad; they had a guy in place who would “make America great again,” which meant, in my mind, that he would make America unabashedly embrace her white supremacist world view.

The fact that I have heard so many different people say the same thing boggles my mind. At a recent direct action rally, a man of Hispanic descent said the same thing. I have heard Muslims, little black and brown children, members of the LGBTQ community all say the same thing – and I have read stories where even the little children, little white children, have picked up the language of division and hate and are spewing it to their classmates.

Nothing, when it comes to race relations and tolerance and acceptance and affirmation, and egalitarianism and pluralism has changed. In spite of her boast of being the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” America is still a foundation ally racist country which espouses and supports hatred toward people of color and people of different religions.

It is very disheartening, but true.

I don’t know if that woman in the doctor’s office that day rolled her eyes at me because I sounded irritated or if because she felt her whiteness gave her the right to do so. I know I raged inside because of my now heightened distrust of the fundamental American spirit when it comes to people of color.

None of us feel safe …here. Radical Islamic terrorism are the battle-cry words of those in power, but for us who are black, brown, members of marginalized groups, Muslim…for us, “radical American Christian terrorism and hatred” are far more real to us. I and many like me are in a state of dis-ease, the same dis-ease that people of color have felt for literally hundreds of years.

Little has changed, in spite of our hope that it would.

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 …