Cages, Criminal Justice Reform, Census Questions, and the Criminal in the White House

(Let us not forget!)

Over the past three years, the Groping Old President and his Groveling Old Party have sown so much discord, chaos, and danger that we are now reminding each other “to focus on what’s important,” to “not get distracted” by the latest illegal comments and behaviors of the man who stole the White House.  This is both good and misleading advice.  Good, in that political resistance to Trump must rely on documented facts, data, and coordinated resistance efforts focused on the actions placing the greatest number of people in danger.  Misleading, in that every so-called “distraction” also represents an illegal speech-act and/or behavior of the Groping Old President.  As a person who has researched and written copiously on harassment and assault, I hear every utterance and read every tweet of the White House occupant as an accountant tallies debits and credits.  The accumulation of racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic (combined with numerous other –isms and phobias) behaviors amounts to a pattern of harassing behavior by the most visible workplace supervisor in the most iconic workplace of the United States.

We should not be distracted from recognizing our border policies as crimes of the highest order: separation of families; isolation of children; children in cages; rape and molestation of migrants and refugees; deprivation of basic needs; denial of legal services.  The concentration camps created by the White House occupant and supported by the GOP make us a brutal and punishing nation.  These concentration camp gurus complement their crimes at the border with ICE raids.  We must remember that targeted raids, round-ups, and concentration camps were the cornerstone of the Third Reich. At a family party three years ago, I called Trump a fascist, evoking the ire of family members for my too-heightened rhetoric.  Well, here we are, three years later, with a president whose fascism becomes more textbook with each act and utterance.  The United Nations has appropriately weighed in on the human rights abuses enacted in the country that claims to be the strongest democracy in the world.  When Trump says about Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayana Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he is unwittingly describing his country, the United States of America, as “a broken and crime infested place.”  Yes, that’s one fact he has right after three years of the destruction he has wrought.

We should not be distracted from the fact that Trump lost the battle over the citizenship question on the 2020 Census and wants us to forget that he lost.  Of course, his unconstitutional attempts to add it brought him some success, in that some people had to respond in the test census and many people fear responding at all at this point.

(*Read Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends.  An Essay in Forty Questions.)

We should not be distracted from criminal justice reform, needed more acutely than ever to decolonize, deracialize, and decriminalize, and to restore full humanity and rights to all peoples.  Here is just a small sampling of the challenges and injustices of “living while black,” published by CNN.

(*Watch Ava Duvernay’s Selma and 13th.  Read Jesmyn Ward’s edited collection, The Fire This Time. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates. Read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.)

Three years ago at this time, we learned of the Access Hollywood tape.  We learned that the GOP candidate articulated rapist desires and revealed a rapist past.  Russia and the GOP elected him anyway, and now we have a criminal in the White House whose rap sheet is as long as were Mueller’s days investigating him.  While we’re at it, let us not forget that Mueller will testify on July 24th.  In Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace, I link sexual and racial harassment to assault, stating that if we don’t address damaging behavior on the harassment end, then we will never address criminal behavior on the rape-assault end of the spectrum.  Trump’s Access Hollywood tape already told us everything we needed to know about how his tenure in the White House would go.  By election time, he had already harassed Miss Universe participants, Rosie O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina, and Hillary Clinton.  This list includes, up to 2017, “every offensive comment in one place.” In this month alone, July of 2019, the criminal has harassed Megan Rapinoe and the United States World Cup Soccer Champion team and Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib.  The harassment is intersectional, based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.  Trump is Trump, and he is also the company he keeps (Roger Ailes, Roger Stone, Jeffrey Epstein, Billy Bush, and the list goes on and on).

We have all the data we need.  For any workplace in the United States, this documentation would be more than sufficient for bringing a Title VII case.  It is time, way past time, to initiate impeachment proceedings.  I have never cared if it is politically expedient to impeach, thinking that impeachment is simply the right thing to do.  At this point, impeachment seems both politically expedient and the right thing to do.  Representative John Lewis tweets: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way. #goodtrouble.” Impeachment might just be the “good trouble” we need.

Let us not be distracted from any of these profound injustices, explicit crimes, and dangerous words and actions. It is time to act.

Benched: The Politics of Cojones

(Photo from the Ancient Origins website)

In her 2013 novel/memoir, The Ridiculous Idea of Never Seeing You Again (La ridícula idea de no volver a verte), rock-star Spanish author Rosa Montero tells of a legend of a 9th-century woman, Juana (Joan), who had passed for years as a monk, made a name for her/himself, and then became pope.  Juana had spent years traveling with another monk, who presumably was the father of the baby to whom Juana would give birth while occupying the highest holy office in the land.  Montero writes (translation mine): “The legend says that she proved herself to be a well-qualified and prudent pope.  But, Juana ended up pregnant, with the aforementioned man of the cloth as father, and, one day, as she traversed the city in a solemn papal procession, Juana went into premature labor and gave birth right there in front of the people of the city.  Imagine the scene: the golden crown, the staff, the silk, the subdued brocade cloth soaked with blood and splattered with lowly bits of placenta.  It is said that the people, enraged and horrified, leapt on top of the woman pope, tied her to the feet of a horse, and dragged and stoned her for several miles before killing her.”

This one story, so powerful in its possibilities, speaks to contemporary gender issues.  There’s the unevolved Catholic Church, welcoming women to leadership neither in the 9th century nor now; there’s the Catholic Church, still relying on the piety of its women parishioners to advance its patriarchal agenda; there’s the brilliant woman having to dress as a man to enact her brilliance; there’s the transvestite/transgender element for the monk couple, who cannot openly express their love and attraction for one another; there’s placenta, exposed to the world in all its silky power; there’s a baby, left alone while its mother is murdered; there’s a mother, who must be shamed, harmed, and killed for her supposed transgression, and there’s the age-old story of a woman being taught her place.  There is a blending of religion and government.  There is reproductive choice and subsequent retribution.  There is justice, in all its patriarchal glory. There is a return to “normalcy,” with the men in charge.

Montero concludes the recounting of the Pope Juana legend with the papal protocol supposedly established after Juana’s murder (translation mine):  The youngest prelate “had to tap the presumptive pope’s genitals under the seat and then call out, ‘Habet!,’ or ‘He’s got them!’  At that point, the cardinals in attendance would answer, ‘Deo Gratias!’, I suppose full of relief and rejoicing that the new Peter was another Pater.”  I know it’s Fathers’ Day season and all here in the United States, but of course it bears mentioning that the Pater-Peter-Father-Pope inherits his rightly place as head of household, decision-maker, public figure, with all freedoms and rights properly accorded to him.  That’s patriarchy—we have confirmed you have balls, and now you shall have everything else.

I want to return to the characterization of the legendary Pope Juana as “well-qualified and prudent.”  When, in 1991, the well-qualified and prudent lawyer Anita Hill testified in Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings regarding the sexual harassment she had experienced while she worked for him, she was maligned and scorned, and eventually ignored. (*See this 5-9-19 opinion piece by Anita Hill in which she again advocates in smart, specific, and determined ways for putting an end to sexual violence.)

In 2011, Thomas’ wife made an imprudent early-morning phone call to encourage Hill to stop her activism, and this year (2019), Hill received other ill-advised calls from Democratic presidential hopeful and current frontrunner Joe Biden, who step by little campaign-advised step, kept trying to take the nation’s temperature to assume as little guilt for his role in the 1991 hearings as possible. Joe is too busy preparing for his “Habet!”moment to understand and acknowledge the role he played in allowing Thomas to occupy the Bench for so long. Note, too, that David Leonhardt in this The New York Times opinion piece (1-13-19), encourages Biden to “Run, Joe, Run,” as he exhorts Biden to run for office because “your populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation” and because “you are not afraid of losing.”

(https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/30/us/politics/joe-biden-anita-hill.html)

The anti-reproductive rights Roman Catholic presence on the Bench—Thomas for almost 28 years and now Kavanaugh for too many months—sets the tone for the entire nation, from Alabama to Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and to Ohio.  The religiously motivated and conservatively empowered pater familias confirms the might of the testicles and the decreased body autonomy for those with other parts in play.

Dress Code, A Noun and a Verb

Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri legislatures are making “handmaid” a verb, an action taken upon any and all women, whether or not of reproductive age or inclination.  This action sends the message to us women that our whole selves are just a synecdoche, a decrescendo of body parts, pudenda, or what my son and daughter used to call “particulars.”  Another blog post will explore ways to think of men’s whole selves as just their sperm, but today’s treats the unequal burden of school dress codes on girl students.

Our local county school system has made “dress code” a verb, dress-coding high-school girls left and right for the clothes they choose to wear or have available to wear.  Some girls get dress-coded, and others don’t, even if they’re wearing the same clothes or same exact styles as the ones who do.  Some girls don’t get dress-coded for a specific outfit four weeks in a row, but then do get dress-coded for that same outfit the fifth week.  Some girls attend formal conversations about the dress code held at school.  They are wearing clothes that the dress code prohibits.  The administrators do not dress-code them or make any mention of it.  Most high-school students have a certain set of styles available to them, and those styles also do not conform to dress code.  Many students cannot afford one set of clothes for weekend activities and an entirely different set for the school week.

Also, it’s hot.  We sometimes have ten days in a row of hot, humid weather in February or March, and very often we have this weather in August, September, October, March, April, and May.  Schools have air-conditioning, but it doesn’t always work.  It is just hot. Dress codes that mandate shorts and skirts to “mid-thigh range” are impossible to obey, unless Target, American Eagle, JCPenney, and any other number of stores completely overhaul their inventory.  “Mid-thigh” also points all interested parties’ attention to one region—the mid-thigh.  As a friend recently pointed out, school should point everyone’s attention to one region—the brain.

And the boys?  They’re wearing whatever the hell they want and watching their girl classmates’ bodies get scrutinized, criticized, taxonomized, and harassed by adult teachers and administrators.  These role models teach the students that girls’ bodies define them, thus making the girls objects, non-human, subject to whatever other decisions are to be made for and about them, not by or with them.  Some girls are sent home to change and some are given others’ clothes to change into. Some girls are punished with after-school detention, and some with in-school suspension.  These girls who dare to be themselves are labeled “defiant,” a loaded and gendered term in the context of school rules, hierarchies, and power systems.

This is the path to the Handmaid’s Tale.  If a girl is just her body, then we forget that she has a brain and a skill set and an opinion and her own way of existing in the world.  This objectification creates a shorter path from real, live, full-person girl to just body to state-controlled incubator, as we’re seeing in various states and on way too many courts in the land.

Furthermore, if we can’t even eliminate a binary gender-based boy/girl dress code, how will we teach students to embrace a full range of gender expression, thus creating a welcoming environment for all students who spend the day in the public school environment?

When I was in ninth grade (first year of high school), my mother made me wear a dress or a skirt every day.  I was not a big fan of dresses or skirts, preferring to wear athletic clothing so that I could play pick-up basketball at lunchtime and make a quick change into practice clothes for after-school sports.  My mother had the idea that you should honor the school day by wearing “proper” clothing, and so I wore a dress or skirt most days of ninth grade.  I walked to school, carrying a book bag, instrument, and sports bag, and I climbed over a brick wall at the beginning of my walk to shorten the trek by at least a mile.  Looking back, I can’t imagine my clothing was in a proper state most days by the time I got to school.  In the meantime, this was the early ‘80’s, and my classmates were wearing the standard uniform of blue jeans and black concert t-shirts (winter) or shorts and black concert t-shirts (spring). My attire was decidedly impractical and uncool, but I did what my mother said.

I did what my mother said for one year, and then I didn’t.  Obedience was silly and impractical.  She knew that, too. I was 15 and had my own tastes and personality and hobbies, and I needed to wear the clothing that expressed all of that.  I also had been buying my own clothes since I was 12, and it was time to buy clothes that I wanted to buy.  By that point, my mother got the point.  There was no need for me to stage a rebellion or to outline a case.  It was just time for me to wear the clothing that made sense for the weather and my daily trajectory and activities.

I don’t remember that my school had a dress code, and I don’t remember any of us being scrutinized by teachers or administrators for the clothes we chose to wear.  Admittedly, this doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; I just don’t remember our feeling bound by a dress code or, by extrapolation, of enforcement of a dress code.  In other words, we were free to wear what was comfortable, to express ourselves through our clothing (or not to, if that was our preference).  I could be the nerd in the dress for a whole year, and then I could be the tomboy in the gym shorts the next year.  It didn’t matter.

It does not matter whether I like or do not like the fashions young people, and especially school-aged girls, choose to wear.  What matters is that each and every person has fair and equal access to educational opportunities and success, with no undue burden placed on any gender.

When I go to my daughter’s sporting events, a disembodied voice from the press box commands the audience to rise for the National Anthem and for the gentlemen to remove their caps.  I don’t consider myself a gentleman, and so I don’t remove my cap, which I’m wearing to keep the setting sun out of my eyes as the game begins.  I believe this is the only instance in which the boys and men are being asked to obey a dress code element that the girls and women are not—but it’s only due to the gendered assumption that only one gender wears baseball caps.

I believe, too, that women administrators (and maybe teachers) often bear the extra burden of enforcing dress codes because dress codes often make men afraid to have to look at or to be caught looking at adolescent girls’ bodies.  All of it is weirdly sexualizing, creepy, and unnecessary.

This 2016 Forbes Magazine article looks at the history of dress codes, and therefore the history of gender bias through clothing impositions, stating that: “In ancient Sparta, Athens and many other Greek city states from around the 4th century BCE, there was an appointed group of magistrates called the γυναικονόμοι (“controllers of women”).”  You can guess where the rest of the paragraph will take you.   This 2014 NPR piece examines the inconsistent nature of public school dress codes, as well as the pervasive gender bias in the codes themselves.  NPR also links to the National Center for Transgender Equality site as a resource for schools to be more inclusive in their dress codes.  In 2015, the ACLU of Idaho sent out a legal memo, which “notes that gender stereotyping dress standards can violate the U.S. and Idaho constitutions, federal laws including Title IX, and the Idaho Human Rights Act. Requiring boys and girls to dress differently or according to government-imposed gender norms is unlawful gender discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. and State Constitution also prohibit this type of discrimination.”  (See more ACLU dress code information here; see also this interesting and thorough 2015 piece from The Atlantic.)  This 2016 Newsweek article signals the dangers of mandating what women employees must wear or must not wear.

Let’s stop looking mid-thigh and start going full-brain.  In summary, a poem:


Parts is Parts

Women are like Perdue chickens,
born whole, then harvested for our parts,
the breast meat, the drumsticks, the thigh;
no head left, no brain there.

Just parts

parts

parts.

We’re like Perdue chickens,
bred for service,
born
hole.


	

Gender Don’t’s and Do’s

A neighbor recently commented that we should not teach our daughter to do chores, that not knowing how to do chores would help her to do fewer of them in the future.  I have thought about this a lot in terms of day-to-day equity at work and in the home.  After all, chores do have to be done (they do, right?).  My parents assigned chores as evenly as possible to the seven of us, often not along gender lines since there was already such great gender imbalance (two girls and five boys).  This should have taught us all that we were part of a group bigger than ourselves and, therefore, that we had to contribute to ensure the group was taken care of.  I can only speak for myself when I say that I believe this early teaching took root.

Now, though, when I recall the stern speech I delivered a while ago to my daughter (“I want you to be more generous—of your time, labor, material goods, and humor”), I wonder how to strike an equilibrium between teaching her to contribute equitably to group needs and teaching her to give too often or too much.  The same goes for my son, who should probably receive the opposite speech from the one my daughter got.  In a more perfect community or culture or world, our children would simply love themselves and their neighbors and therefore have a built-in sense of labor equity.  Maybe we are working our way in that direction, somewhere, in some way.  You will find this quandary to be threaded through the text below.

Gender mishaps have piled high of late, and so I have compiled a list of do’s and don’t’s.  Some items from the following list can certainly apply to other intersectional points (national origin, race, religion, socioeconomic class, sexual expression, etc.), but I am framing the list through gender. These suggestions appear just to make good sense, but the more I exist in the workplace, the more I wonder what good sense is.

Don’t’s go first, do’s second, so that the post at least appears to end on a positive note.

DON’T:

  • Don’t call a woman Spanish professor “Señora” and a man Spanish professor “Profesor.” While we’re at it, do use the term “professor” (or “doctor,” if you prefer, especially for the science folks, who seem to prefer this title) for all of your professors when you’re addressing them in English.
  • Don’t assume that women co-workers will take care of all the gifts and the cards. If gifts and cards are happening, all department members can figure out how to proceed.
  • Don’t invite a woman to participate on a committee by telling her you need a woman on the committee. Instead, decide what expertise and experience she brings to the group, and ask if she’ll contribute those.
  • Don’t confer with senior women only about the minutiae of the department.
  • When interviewing candidates, don’t have women in the department address only lower-level teaching and men in the department address only research.
  • Don’t leave most or all of the advising to the women. The more women advise, or “nurture,” the less the job is valued, and the more women are doing the undervalued work.
  • Don’t “reply all” to a group of co-workers and write exactly what your woman co-worker just wrote in the previous e-mail.
  • Don’t laugh when a woman negotiates. Don’t ignore women’s negotiations and honor men’s.
  • Don’t tell women job candidates to calm down.
  • Don’t run a meeting, come to consensus, end the meeting, and then visit individual offices to undo the consensus.
  • Don’t reverse departmental decisions. When you reverse departmental decisions, do consider if, by undoing them, you are valuing men’s opinions more than women’s.
  • Don’t touch women co-workers who don’t want to be touched by you. If you assume they do want to be touched by you, you could be wrong.  If you assume they don’t want to be touched by you, you’re on the right path.
  • Don’t assume women are weak. This will bite you on the ass.
  • Don’t overvalue men’s work and undervalue women’s work, especially as value is tied to work performance and remuneration.
  • Don’t tell people what they want to hear and then do something different. Do be honest about how you’re going to proceed, even if people don’t like it.
  • Don’t ignore process.
  • Generally, don’t be an asshole.

DO:

  • Do follow these general process principles.
  • Do plan ahead. This allows for everyone to contribute to the work equally.
  • Do figure out how to share the work. Use a spreadsheet, list the job responsibilities, and fill them equitably.
  • Do think about power and hierarchy. If you have power, why do you have it?  How can you use the power to do the most good for the most people?  If you want power, why do you want it?
  • Do consider representation. How many people of color are in the room when big and small decisions are made?  How many women are in the room?  How many people of color and/or women have the opportunity to speak, vote, and influence the decisions?
  • Do attempt to put aside your own expectations for others’ behaviors and self-expression. If you can’t, then do attempt to be aware of your own biases.
  • Do be honest—with yourself and others.

These two lists should just serve as a mini-refresher.  Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace treats all of these suggestions in more theoretical and more expanded practical ways.

Dull

Spanish speakers know the nuanced differences between the verbs ser and estar, and Spanish language learners encounter lesson after lesson on the differences between these two verbs, both usually translated into English as “to be.”  If you combine “aburrida/o/x” with ser, it means “to be boring,” while combining the word with estar means “to be bored.”  This important distinction plays out in many other combinations, making the use of these two key verbs rich, rewarding, and rife for linguistic play.

But today’s blog post is not about grammar.  Today I am thinking about the word “dull” in English in the context of world, national, and local events.  I am both dull—not sharp, not ready, not synapsing as I usually do—and dulled—adrenaline on overdrive and body on shutdown—by these events.  I still feel anger, frustration, sadness, and outrage, but I feel them in a muffled way—not quite robotic, but also not quite human.  The other day, a dear friend and fellow activist spoke through tears as he described the case of Nusrat Jahan Rafi, who reported to Bangladeshi authorities the sexual assault committed by the principal of her school, only to be burned to death by a group of men attempting to defend the principal and punish the woman for reporting.

The BBC recounts the story in this way: “Nusrat Jahan Rafi was from a small town, came from a conservative family, and went to a religious school. For a girl in her position, reporting sexual harassment can come with consequences. Victims often face judgement from their communities, harassment, in person and online, and in some cases violent attacks. Nusrat went on to experience all of these.  On 27 March, after she went to the police, they arrested the headmaster. Things then got worse for Nusrat. A group of people gathered in the streets demanding his release. The protest had been arranged by two male students and local politicians were allegedly in attendance. People began to blame Nusrat. Her family say they started to worry about her safety.”

The consequences listed in the BBC article are common in many reporting environments, and the family’s worry for their daughter’s safety was of course deeply connected to their tacit understanding of patriarchy’s unremitting violence.  My friend’s appropriately shocked and sad response to this incident contrasted sharply with my quick, understanding nod and shift to a different topic.  This is not like me.  Violence and injustice usually move me to tears, and then to action.  Kindness and generosity do as well.  And there I was, noticing my friend’s tears from a distance, unable to register shock or sadness, despite the fact that every minute of every day I am so worried for our world, so worried about how power for power’s sake and sheer selfishness have taken over.  My response was both dull and dulled.

Three years ago, when “Candidate Trump” (to use Mueller Report terminology) had gained major traction but few people believed he could win, Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace came out.  All of the sharp, feisty observations I had made about gender injustice in the workplace were tempered in the book by abundant research, a sober, academic tone, and a writing process that required a certain slow care.  The sharpness was made necessarily duller, as the pen battled the sword. At the same time, I watched the GOP continue to push its retrograde rhetoric and policies and to gather support for a Groping Old President who would mock the disabled, cage children, otherize the non-Christian, non-U.S. born, non-white, non-hetero, non-male, and peaceful populace, and weaponize the White House in support of only him.  The shrapnel—based in gender, race, religion, national origin, ability, and any other attribute designated by the GOP as weak—continued to swirl around us to such an extent that it became the norm, the weapons in the air, the fight and flight.

Hillary Clinton’s recent op-ed in The Washington Post (4-24-19) reenacts the dynamic of the period prior to the 2016 presidential election and the election itself in that a smart, tough, and experienced woman tells the country what’s what, and she’s right, and the country somehow pays her no mind.  She should not have to do the mea culpa she performs early in the piece: “Obviously, this is personal for me, and some may say I’m not the right messenger. But my perspective is not just that of a former candidate and target of the Russian plot. I am also a former senator and secretary of state who served during much of Vladi­mir Putin’s ascent, sat across the table from him and knows firsthand that he seeks to weaken our country.”  Once again, a woman is having to state her well-known credentials just to be able to do the work, to write the rest of the article, to school the country on what it already should know.  Clinton cogently lays out a four-point plan for responding to the Mueller report.  She concludes by saying, “Of all the lessons from our history, the one that’s most important may be that each of us has a vital role to play as citizens. A crime was committed against all Americans, and all Americans should demand action and accountability. Our founders envisioned the danger we face today and designed a system to meet it. Now it’s up to us to prove the wisdom of our Constitution, the resilience of our democracy and the strength of our nation.”  Clearly, Clinton’s intellect has not been dulled by the repeated attacks against her, nor by what those repeated attacks say about United States patriarchy and failing democracy.

In the meantime, in our little local area, our high school is operating under a dress code that is more burdensome—in both the text of it and the application of it—for girls than for boys, thus suggesting that a Title IX discussion is warranted.  Girls believed to be in violation of the code are labeled “defiant” and are unduly punished, thus again demonstrating how we police women’s bodies and then punish women for standing up for body autonomy. Besides the dress code, concerned citizens interested in at the very least a discussion of an outdated non-discrimination policy for the public schools are told that everything is fine and that no discussion is needed.  What are administrative groups so afraid of?  How do we overcome the throbbing dullness of groupthink and groupspeak in our government?

It is no wonder the senses dull.  I understand more viscerally now what I never understood in studying coups d’état and dictatorships, that the daily struggle to resist in the early-going can exacerbate the challenges of the longer-term resistance.

Explico algunas cosas

My Spanish 240 students and I just read Pablo Neruda’s poem “Explico algunas cosas,” remarking on the poet’s call to the world to see the bloodshed on Spanish soil during the Spanish Civil War, the three-year struggle that would define the violence and alliances of World War II.  We commented on the title, literally translated as “I explain/I’m explaining some things,” but perhaps more aptly saying this, “I’ve got a few things to say,” or, “I’m putting some things on the table,” or even, “Listen up, people, there’s some bullshit in the world.”  I love this poem’s no-nonsense title, and I am particularly grateful for an era in which a poem’s verses can move people, groups, and nations to think and act.

Over the past two or three weeks, I have had several luxuries in my own little town and little time to sort through my impressions and opinions surrounding them.  This blog post is simply about getting a few things on the table, trying to understand my own reactions to the brilliant and creative work I have heard delivered or performed live in this short time.

I have heard Joy Harjo read her poetry, establishing voice and cadence and connection to the past and to Oklahoma, lamenting colonization and genocide and the willful ignorance surrounding these purposeful conquests.  She highlighted the Monacan Indian Nation as an important part of Virginia history.  As I sprinted from Harjo’s reading to Rebecca Traister’s presentation focused on her book, Good and Mad. The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, I thought again about how poetry packs a wallop, how it doesn’t have to be angry to show anger, how it doesn’t have to say, “This bullshit happened again,” to communicate that the bullshit did indeed happen again.  As I jumped into the Traister talk, I was struck by how the author’s style changed when she moved from her prepared remarks to speaking off-the-cuff.  Her prepared remarks slowed things down, stated an academic case, supported it with evidence.  When she spoke off-the-cuff, which really was not off-the-cuff but rather a brilliant demonstration of how much Traister holds in her head and how quickly she constructs the most lucid of arguments, you saw Traister allow the fire and anger to emerge.  You saw her live the academic argument she has made so often.  You saw her fatigue and frustration forged into smart fury, each comment building to the next, each example eliciting knowing nods from most of the audience.

As I walked from Traister’s talk to a group discussion of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, I sorted through how anger works in, for, and against me.  Anger shows on my face (friends often remind me that, even if I’m silent, people can actually still see my face), knots in my belly, and pumps blood through my body.  It drives me to a clear outline of the points I’m mad about and forces me to take some kind of action.  I’m sure it works against me in a whole host of ways that I don’t usually slow down long enough to analyze or to halt.  I arrived at the building where the book discussion was scheduled and laughed out loud thinking of my daughter when she was about four years old.  We had been at a 4th of July fair until too late.  She was in a tie-dye dress, had red, white, and blue popsicle stains across her face, and wild curls across her head. She was four, and she was pissed.  When we got home, and I was drawing a bath for her, she stood over me imperiously and announced that she was mad, mad for three reasons.  “Number one,” she yelled, index finger in the air.  “You didn’t let me cross the street by myself.”  “Number two,” she continued, new finger up and waving in my face.  “I wasn’t allowed to have another popsicle.”  Third finger up, the trifecta of her ire. “And, number three.  I am NOT taking a bath.”  I watched anger galvanize her thoughts and her forceful articulation of them.  I remembered thinking, “Yep, apple, tree, and all that.”

The White Fragility discussion challenged those of us who were present.  I realized immediately that I often approach social events and community gatherings too much as an academic.  I wanted to talk about the book—what I liked, what I didn’t, what I had learned, what I still needed to know, what my weaknesses are—and had little patience for those who just wanted to talk about the issue.  I was still in Good and Mad mode and had to let it go and just listen.  The next hour and a half reinforced for me the fatigue people of color must experience as they hear iteration after iteration of white people coming to terms with their own racism, sometimes in the most stroking and least aware of ways.  It also reinforced the challenge of living at various intersections and having to watch this play out in many different contexts every day.  Nevertheless, it is also clear that working in and as community means living these iterative processes and hoping that, slowly but surely, we are circling back to a more advanced point in our development.

Three nights ago, many of us heard the story of the 8-person local group who traveled to Tijuana in December to offer legal aid to migrants at the border.  The group provided excellent information on international human rights, immigration law, asylum procedures, and specifics about migration through Central America, Mexico, and the U.S.  They also shared the ways in which they were struck by, undone by, worried about, tenderly addressing all the need and tension and preoccupation about further separation and economic hardship.  A colleague talked about being touched again by the power of the law and the need to help people shape their narratives.  As the whole group discussed the “credible fear” interviews for asylum, I could not stop thinking about the additional credible fears our own country has created through detention, separation, and general dehumanization.  An excellent lunchtime presentation yesterday about the forthcoming documentary film The Burning allowed me to draw parallels between the migrant and refugee crisis in Morocco, Algeria, and Libya and the one addressed by the Tijuana group.  The mighty hypocrisy of it all, the unnecessary trauma of it all. We are living this vaivén, this back-and-forth between evil enacted by powerful people and desire for good brought about by people on the ground.

Two nights ago, again on campus, I joined a packed house to watch BlackkKlansman.  I saw most, but not all of the film, but thought it was incredibly powerful in its unflinching portrayal of racism and its institutions, of hatred of an entire race, layered with profound anti-Semitism and misogyny.  I hope to hear about the discussion after the film. Maybe it was a few steps ahead of the white fragility discussion of a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, across town at our local public schools, some great and worrisome events have taken place.  The high school boasts a state champion, Danielle Crawford, in the shot put and the state championship academic team (I can’t yet find a link announcing this), along with outstanding performances in the state championships by several swimmers.  At the same time, though, the high school had planned to hold one of its few assemblies for the whole school.  The assembly, just now scrapped, but only due to some necessary consciousness-raising, was to feature a preacher named Bob Holmes, who sees public schools as “mission fields,” hopes to guide students to Jesus, and states that girls who have been raped can find forgiveness from Jesus.  A local middle school also this week witnessed one of its teachers making racist and sexist remarks to a student.

There is so much work being done, and so much work still before us.  Of course, as a nation, we have also just witnessed the theater of the absurd of the GOP defense of Trump through their attack on Cohen.  The racist, conman, and cheat-in-chief continues to exercise his white supremacist, misogynist, dictator power.  The more we “explicamos algunas cosas,” the more cosas there seem to be.  In the meantime, I am profoundly grateful to the many people across the globe who are finding ways to ask us to see the bloodshed on our lands and do something about it.

Commonwealth of Virginia: Time to Ratify the ERA

(Here is a letter to the editor I have just submitted to support ratification of the ERA.)

White women got the right to vote in 1920, 133 years after the Constitution was signed in Philadelphia and 129 years after the approval of the Bill of Rights.  African-American women waited even longer, until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  These plain historical facts reveal to us the multiple gaps left by the Constitution’s framers and the ways in which we must encourage the document to catch up with and to reflect contemporary realities of citizens and citizenship.

The Equal Rights Amendment, a Republican endeavor of the 1970s, is still alive, well, and ready for even more support in the state of Virginia.  Virginia could become the 38th state—the last one necessary—to ratify the ERA, following Illinois (2018) and Nevada (2017).

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”  This simple text reminds us that women’s rights are civil rights and that strict scrutiny is needed for gender discrimination cases, as is already the case for race and religion.

84% of the 197 constitutions in the world guarantee gender equality, and all international constitutions since 1950 have included gender equality clauses.  The ERA provides a national standard for the elimination of gender discrimination. In the United States, widespread, bipartisan support for the amendment speaks to the common-sense nature of it.

This is a great time for the United States to step up its game and ensure all citizens equality under the law.  Virginians, let’s do our part!  You can sign local and state petitions in support of the ERA, contact your delegate and the House Leadership every day, visit the General Assembly now or in the future to advocate for the amendment, write to Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Speaker of the Virginia House, and spread the word to friends and neighbors of the Commonwealth.

Check out the VA Ratify ERA website.