Friday, July 31, 2009

The Only Way Forward

Can I just say that I am so proud of our president? Sitting down for beers with Sgt. Crowley and HLG to discuss the possibly racial profiling incident that has emblazoned the news for more than a week now. Talk about diffusing conflict and taking the high road. Another thing I like about Obama is the fact that he owns up to his mistakes. He's not afraid to admit when he's wrong and apologize for it. He retracted his statement that the Cambridge police had "acted stupidly" and admitted that he "could've calibrated those words differently." I'll take that any day over blatant lies ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman.")

Here's my favorite of his quotes from the day:

"I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode."

Although I think this particular story might have been blown a bit out of proportion too quickly, and I don't think the media put all the facts out there in the initial reporting, Obama has used this situation to set an example for how we must move forward with race relations in this country--by TALKING about it. As people, as equals, side-by-side. White people shouldn't be afraid to talk about their fears and frustrations; Black people shouldn't immediately jump on the defensive. Are we running toward the post-racial finish line? Perhaps...


When I feel disillusioned about love, or confused (which I do today), I just read the words of one of my favorite writers, Kahlil Gibran. Here are some from The Prophet that remind me what love truly is--not something to be gained but something to give:

Love gives naught but itself and takes
naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say,
'God is in my heart',
But rather, 'I am in the heart of God'.
And think not you can direct the
course of love,
For love, if it finds you worthy, directs
your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

Radio Feature

Yesterday I was a guest on the Al Sharpton show! A connection I know from the workshop in San Francisco directed me to Elinor Tatum, publisher of New Amsterdam and co-host of the show. The subject was cross-cultural adoption, and they discussed all the political issues behind domestic adoption and race--whether white people should be able to adopt black children (let's face it: black children in foster care outnumber white children by up to 10 times in some areas of this country, the reasons for this are also major problems), how should parents approach identity formation, etc. I had about 15 minutes of fame when they dialed me in. I brushed up on my statistics and facts so I could weigh into the conversation, which I'm well-versed in already, but it turns out they were more interested in my story. They were incredulous about how I went so long without even knowing my black heritage, and it reminded me how peculiar my story really is. How strong ignorance and denial are, especially when supported by your parents. How strange that social workers found it okay to lie in order to place a child in a loving home. Do the ends justify the means? I am not bitter. But it could have been done a better way.

At any rate, they sounded interested in my book--Al even said I need to call him when it comes out so he can have me back on the show--so now I'm even more motivated to get it out there! What a blessing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Strange Neighbors

Like ghosts of my Christmas past, the guys who moved in across the street appear to be smalltown folk, bordering on red necks. We often see them standing on their back porch, shirtless, beer in hand, screaming curses at a raggedy blonde woman who comes and goes at all hours. There's even a shitty car in the driveway constantly blaring John Mellencamp. I don't know what motivated these guys to leave the country and buy a home in urban Pittsburgh, but they seem so absolutely out of place I'm not sure they're real. Are they figments of my imagination? Muses to help me conjure the past for my memoir?

Several days ago one of the guys talked to me for the first time. I was locking my bike on the front porch, and he waved.

"In case no one has told you today," he said, pointing up to the sky, "Somebody loves you."
I smiled, surprised, and only blurted a meek "thanks." What should I have said? "Jesus loves you too." ? Well, I justify, he already knows that. Why do I clam up talking about God-ish stuff to strangers? In this case was it because I was so ready for him to say something racist to me that I was caught off-guard when he said something so totally true and kind? I think maybe. I wonder later whether God is the only thing we'd have in common anymore. Perhaps my memories are skewed and at that moment an ember of fear overtook all the things I loved about living in a small town and the family-like atmosphere and the often unquestioning kindness front-and-center.

I asked him whether he'd just moved in. He hints that they bought the place as a fixer-upper and it's been a pain in the ass to do the fixin' part. Well that explains it. Perhaps they'll flip it and head back out to the cornfields. Here's something strange, though: part of me kind of likes having them here. Comic relief, maybe.

Or perhaps another kind of relief too.

Tearing Down the Gate(s)

If you haven't heard about the bogus arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., last week at his home: Read up.

Harvard history scholar/critic/professor, Gates was trying to get in his own front door, which was jammed, when the cops showed up and accused him of breaking in. They couldn't seem to believe that he lived blocks away from one of the most prestigious universities in our country, and proceeded to cart him off to jail.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Gates is African American.

Gates says this is not atypical behavior.

This is an absolute outrage on so many levels, and just goes to show how deep ignorance pervades the psyche. I imagine it's still quite a problem at universities such as Harvard, Yale, Brown, etc., in regard to enrollment as well as faculty.

I am personally offended by this story because I love HLG. He was my first Black crush. When I read his memoir Colored People, in which he describes the foibles of dealing with Black folks' hair and how it absolutely affected every aspect of Black life during the 50s/60s, I laughed so hard it hurt. I laughed because what he was describing was my hair and my experience, though I'd lived it in a vacuum of isolation. I laughed with warmth growing all around me because his words spoke directly to my heart. I laughed because--at last--it was starting not to hurt so much anymore.

So I am hurt by this. Hurt that for all his work, here we are. Another day and another Black man and another act of racial profiling.

Dr. Counter, a Black Med school prof at Harvard was quoted in the article as saying, “My colleagues and I have asked the question of whether this kind of egregious act would have happened had Professor Gates been a white professor."

Oo--me, me! Pick me, teacher! I know the answer to this one.

(Also note, as my friend Shelagh pointed out yesterday, that the NYT article only cites words of outrage from Blacks. As if they would be the only ones upset.)

At any rate, I believe this is just another example of why we cannot glibly say we are in a post-racial society. We may be working toward this, yes, but we have not arrived yet.

Geography of Racial Demographics

Today I was reading a few articles dealing with how book covers are often "whitewashed,"which means the cover is race neutral or depicts a white person even when the main character is a person of color, as in the case of Liar by Justine Larbalestier (thanks for the link, Adri!) It's one of those things that just makes sense, another media thing that unconsciously panders to what is familiar and appealing to the majority. I like to think that people just aren't aware when they do these things, that it's unconscious--images that have been imbedded into our brains are not there because we absolutely dislike other images but just because that's how it is. We have to form an awareness to recognize this. I don't think people are inherently evil, and I don't think most intend to be overtly racist. That's why the quiet, covert things slip through without permission. Plus, I know ALL about the power of ignorance! (See life story.)

Here's the thing that bothered me about one of the articles entitled "Straight Talk about Race: Challenging the Stereotype in Kids' Books": early on the writer begins laying out the current racial landscape of America, stating that
"Today’s teens are more diverse than we were at their age. The New York Times recently reported that the “enrollment of Hispanic and Asian students in American schools has increased by more than 5 million since the 1990s.” In 1993, there was a 52 percent chance that two students selected at random would be members of a different ethnic group. By 2006, that likelihood had risen to 61 percent."

These statistics seem surprising to me, not because of number, but because geography is not discussed. My immediate thoughts were, "Where are these increases happening? Cities, of course." The actual NYT article does cite a few surprising examples of rural-ish areas that have seen an increase in immigration, but although they get attention in the article, it's clear to me they are exceptions. You can link to a map of the U.S. and click on various counties to see the population percentages of foreign-born residents. Want to know the stats for my home Knox County, Illinois?

A total of 902/55, 836 = 1.6%.

Wonder what the percentage difference in a book's sales would be if the cover depicted a dark-skinned person versus a light-skinned one, a person with nappy hair or a person with familiar straight locks.

I ever get my book published, will people there buy it? If a picture of my face and hair are on the cover, will they recognize me as one of their own? Will they recognize me at all?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Imagining Michelle Obama's Hair Natural

Check out this computerized rendition of Michelle Obama with a natural 'do. Hilarious! This is why I love blogger Linda Jones.