Hey you, Outraged Citizen! Stop making everything worse!

Published July 13, 2016 by livinggraciously

(I wrote this before July 4 and published it on my LJ account, intending to publish it here after the holiday. With the violence of those days, it felt inappropriate. But now that we are in the midst of indignance over Pokemon, it seemed appropriate to put it up.)

Today I heard about the boycott of Finding Dory because there is a lesbian couple in it for a split second. I was, naturally, outraged. I was, naturally, about to link to the article in Facebook and write a diatribe. I was, naturally, All Worked Up.

But then, quite unnaturally, I paused a moment to do a search on Twitter. A couple different searches. I found a gazillion tweets on the topic.

Almost uniformly, they were outrage at the notion that people would boycott Finding Dory and how terrible those people were. Pages and pages of outrage.

What didn’t I find? Very much encouragement for actually boycotting. In fact, I found one guy who is an obvious troll, and one woman who seemed genuinely to be boycotting.

Oddly, that one real tweet was the exact same tweet that had been in the article I read about this terrible boycott–strange, if the Twittersphere is full of calls for boycott, don’t you think? It had a response from only one other person. The troll’s tweet had no responses at all.

But someone in a newsroom somewhere decided to write an article designed for outrage, and someone else got outraged, and then there was Mass Hysteria (TM).

So out of curiosity, I went looking for the Horrible Boycott of Cheerios over the ad with the mixed race couple. Once again, loads of outrage. Once again, little sign of people actually encouraging boycott.

The news would certainly have you believe that All Those White Christians are out there hating on blacks and gays. But when The Daily Show went to rural Mississippi and asked people how they felt about gay marriage, there was lots of, “okay good for them.”

I’m reminded of being in Israel as the wall was being built. The Israelis I talked to about relations were uniformly of the opinion that they had to find a way to live in harmony, that the wall wasn’t going to work, and that most of their experience interacting with Palestinians was positive. Not the picture that is painted by the government or the news.

Could it possibly be that there isn’t as much divisiveness and hatred than we are being sold? And are we making that rift larger by helping to blow these stories out of proportion?

Yes, there is hatred, and yes there is prejudice and the KKK and Westboro. But we’re allowing ourselves to believe that those outliers are the mainstream. And we’re making it worse by linking to fake outrage.

The next time you see something that makes your blood boil, don’t just click “Share” and add your own fury to the screed. Take a minute to see how true the claim is. And if it’s not true, don’t share it. Instead, go looking for a story filled with positivity, particularly one that involves a group of people who you wouldn’t generally consider allies. They are out there–the world is filled with people of faith doing good works and reaching out in support of others.

But it’s not as glamorous as outrage and disgust. It doesn’t get the kind of clicks that hate-baiting gets. So it needs a lot more help being seen.

I don’t think most of America is as far apart as the news outlets and the politicians would like us to believe. And I’m tired of playing into their hands to the detriment of society. I believe in the power of good works, and the general decency of most people.

Let’s stop feeding the trolls.

The privilege you don’t know you have

Published July 11, 2016 by livinggraciously

A couple weeks ago, our friends Nick and Heather were here visiting and we went downtown to eat lunch. After, Ferrett said that we had to take them to the most amazing men’s clothing store, Albert’s, which is downtown.

Albert’s customers are mostly African-American, and it caters to people who want to dress with style and flash. The window displays always have suits in sherbet colors, with matching shoes. The fashion is decidedly urban, and a lot of fun.

So the four of us walk in. I immediately felt the tension in the air as the clerks all turned to look at us. It was a game day; lots of people downtown who usually aren’t. This was two big, very white guys, with their wives. Were we there to ridicule? To make trouble? I could feel them holding their breath. I felt self-conscious and awkward, like I was invading in a place I shouldn’t be. It took a lot for me to smile and step the rest of the way into the store.

It quickly became apparent that we were just enthusiastic shoppers, and everyone relaxed and visited with us while Ferrett tried on a flashy jacket (alas, it didn’t fit him through the shoulders in a way that would have required too much tailoring) and the rest of us wandered around admiring the suits (most of which weren’t in exotic colors) and shirts. It was all good, and we departed with warm well-wishes.

And as I left, I realized that, for most African-Americans, particularly black males, that tension we felt when we first entered the store is the reaction they get almost every place they go. The only difference? For them, it generally doesn’t fade away. The entire time they are in a business, people are eyeing them. Tense. Waiting for something bad to happen. They face that kind of tension day after day.

Lots of people look askance at the notion of white privilege—this so-called privilege hasn’t afforded them a nice car or a good job or the ability to buy a house. But that’s not what I’m talking about when I talk about privilege. I’m talking about the kind of invisible ease with which people can move through life. The average white person doesn’t think about the fact that they are welcome in their local grocery store. That no one follows them around, watching their every move.

That if they pick up a toy gun in the kid’s section of Walmart and carry it with them to grab a gallon of milk, they don’t have to worry about someone calling 911 and getting them shot dead in the automotive section.

It’s these small things, so invisible as to be considered just “how life is” that I’m talking about when I talk about privilege. Yes, there was that study where they sent out identical resumes, half with white-sounding names and half with black-sounding names, and the ones with white-sounding names got responses at a rate more than double. Yes, there is the pervasive inequality in the terms for mortgages given to black and white people with the same credit scores and incomes. There are lots of those big things that need to be addressed.

But the little things, the invisible things, the things that allow white people to move through their lives unhampered, they have barriers for black people. And we need to be sensitive to that. So that it can change.

 

 

Careful there, your solipsism is showing

Published July 8, 2016 by livinggraciously

“Why is there only a gay pride parade? Where’s my heterosexual pride parade?”

“Why is there a black history month, but not a white history month?”

“I’m a size 8. Why doesn’t the body acceptance movement talk about people like me?”

“Why do you say Black Lives Matter? Don’t *all* lives matter?”

I have heard all of these statements, from people saying them seriously. You know what they really boil down to?

“Why are there things in the world that aren’t about me?”

And my reaction is, “My god, are you an infant?”

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: gay people, black people, fat people? They’d all be much happier if there wasn’t a need for their causes. If they could all just live their lives without prejudice and fear and hatred, if they didn’t feel a need for solidarity because no one shouted obscenities at them, or beat them, or killed them? If their experience wasn’t ignored or denigrated?

If they got to go through life with the same kind of acceptance and safety as the average skinny white heterosexual?

Hell, they wouldn’t need parades, either.

But they don’t. We don’t. So we have to take a stand and say, “Hey, I’m a person, and my experience is valid and important!”

That isn’t saying that the experience of the skinny white heterosexual isn’t valid. It’s asking to be allowed the same experience.

Shouldn’t we celebrate white history? We do. We have a special name for it. It’s calledhistory.

Shouldn’t we celebrate smaller body sizes? We do. It’s called all the fashion magazines and every department store, where the clothes will fit you.

Shouldn’t we celebrate heterosexuals? WE DO. It’s called every institution of family and business and society.

Shouldn’t we celebrate white all lives? We. Freaking. Do. It’s called watching your children walk out the door in the morning without the sick fear that a mistake will leave them lying dead in the gutter while the whole world assumes it’s the child’s fault.

When you protest that anyone’s struggle for dignity and fair treatment isn’t paying attention to you, the greed and arrogance that displays is not just stupid. It’s evil. It’s determined to not only keep your fair share of the good in the world; it’s seeking to keep everyone else away from that goodness.

Black Lives Matter has no implicit “only”–what’s implicit is the “also.” If you don’t see that, you’re either stupid, or you’re pretending not to see it so that you can hold onto your superiority in society. You genuinely believe that people who aren’t like you are inherently inferior. And that is an ugly and evil thing to believe.

What is it about Italy?

Published July 1, 2016 by livinggraciously

In July 2014 we went to Italy. Before we went there, I couldn’t stand olives.

When we came back, I loved them. I still do. I have a giant jar of them in the fridge, and every once in a while lunch is simply olives and artichoke hearts, maybe with a little feta.

This year, our Mediterranean cruise started in Italy and our first stop was on the island of Capri. Before we got there, orange was a color that I associated with traffic cones and not much else. I didn’t really like it at all.

While shopping I saw and fell in love with an orange purse. I carry it everywhere now. It doesn’t match anything I own, but I don’t care. It’s my new favorite color.

I didn’t have this kind of thing happen when I visited any other country. Not Israel back in 2006, nor England or Germany later that year. Not Greece or Turkey in the latter part of this trip. I saw many amazing things, and am grateful for the experience. But none of them completely changed an aspect of my very nature.

Italy apparently has a special, magical hold over me. I’m okay with that–I’d move there in a heartbeat, given the chance. It’s just peculiar and amusing.

That New Year thing

Published December 31, 2015 by livinggraciously

I don’t do resolutions anymore. They are always failures. Instead, I set a goal. One year, it was learning to juggle. I accomplished it, and felt great about myself.

This year? My goal is finishing up my UFOs. That’s quilter slang for UnFinished Objects. Years ago I used to teach quilting classes, up in Fairbanks. For those classes I made sample pieces in different colors. Now I don’t teach, but I had four different lonestar centers, the beginnings of full-sized quilts. I also have a top pieced together from the different step examples from a different class. That’s four quilts to make, not an insurmountable number to accomplish in one year.

Pictures, as projects get finished. Let’s see how I do.

Tamir Rice, and why the wrong decision is tragically right

Published December 28, 2015 by livinggraciously

No one will face charges in the death of Tamir Rice. And as frustrating as that is, I understand why it happened.

We are wrong to look at the actions of individual officers. What needs indicting is the system of police training itself.

Within the parameters outlined by the grand jury (the exact details to which I am not privy), I can only surmise that the details were quite straightforward: officers were informed by a 911 operator that a black youth was pointing a gun at people in a park. Officers responding placed themselves between the youth and other potential targets. Officers saw black youth reach for a weapon. Officers responded with protective–and, alas, deadly–force.

Facts presented in that way make it clear that the officers, though they may be regretful at the death of a 12-year-old, reacted in a manner that followed police procedure. And, in that light, the grand jury could not return with a warrant for prosecution.

They made the proper decision, based on what was presented. But what was presented is a long way from the universal truths.

Truth one: Tamir Rice was a dopey kid playing with a pretend gun. The way he played would be written off if he were white. But because he wasn’t, someone called him into the cops.

Truth two: Cops are trained to a kind of risk avoidance that perceives persons of color as a far bigger risk than they really are. The stats show that cops are at less risk now than they have been in the last century, but they are trained to regard every difficulty involving a minority as possibly fatal. No one wants to end up dead on the streets, so this training makes cops much edgier than reality warrants.

Truth three: An African American male cannot overcome being viewed as a deadly enemy. Tamir was <i>playing</i>. His play can be regarded as thoughtless and stupid, but considering that white mass murderers have been brought in without injury, an honest assessment of the situation has to consider that unsubstantiated fear triggers tragic reactions.

The cop who shot Tamir testifies that the kid was admonished at least twice to drop his weapon. Yet the act of reaching for the weapon–possibly to drop it–was the inciting act that led to the firing of shots that killed a 12-year-old boy. How could Tamir have survived a situation where trying to drop his toy gun resulted in getting shot, but not trying to drop it would have led to getting shot? The kid was literally in a no-win situation. Perhaps if he had had the wits to drop to his stomach with his hands behind his head he might have survived.

Is that really the standard we want to accept? Perfect understanding of a situation and the ability to make a decision that only cool hindsight would make obvious? Dear heavens, that’s not the standard I want to abide.

And yet that is the standard to which we appear to be holding black youths. Don’t you know that you should always be perfect? Don’t you know that anything less that complete compliance is a death sentence?

Why can’t you just be the good nigger?

It’s painful to write that sentence. But I can’t avoid it. It’s what so many people expect. A white kid murders people in a church, and the cops find the time and energy to talk him out of his stronghold. They take him to freakin’ Burger King.

A black child plays unwisely with a toy gun. And people defend his murder as his own fault.

Tamir Rice didn’t bow and scrape. He wasn’t white, so he didn’t get the benefit of the doubt. He hadn’t killed anybody, but because he wasn’t white that didn’t matter. Any minute now, a black man could just freaking kill anyone. Everyone.

Being black and all.

And yet, I will sadly and regretfully nod in agreement of the decision made, regarding these cops, in these circumstances. Because this nonsensical behavior is what they were trained to do.

The problem is not with Officer Friday, on patrol. The problem is systemic, endemic. It stems from the belief that The Other is inferior, that there is only one way to live, to be.

Until we deal with that. Tamir Rice is just one more statistic.

Loss, and grief, and helping

Published November 3, 2015 by livinggraciously

A year ago today my mother died. It was not a surprise; she had made the choice to discontinue painful treatment and to go into hospice. That gave me an opportunity to fly out to Montana and spend some time with her while she was still lucid. We had a good visit: much laughter, much reminiscing, a bit of old business that needed to be dealt with and gotten past, and then more laughter and reminiscing. I will always be grateful for those days.

I’m still devastated. It’s still hard to believe, a year on, that I can’t pick up the phone and hear her voice. Returning to the West, being in the places that she knew and loved–both last April for Ferrett’s book tour and on last month’s adventure–had me time and again thinking, “Oh, I should tell Mom about this,” before remembering that she wasn’t there to tell.

But as hard as losing Mom was, the death of a parent is in the natural order of things. We know that our parents will die. We expect that they will die before we do.

Not so, the death of a child. A child’s death disrupts the timeline. It feels like an insult to our very existence.

When children are dying, there is a wealth of resources for support for that child. Make-a-Wish is just the best known, but there are lots of other organizations and businesses who reach out to help. Our sense of the unfairness of a child dying, of how wrong it is that their life experiences will be stunted, cut short by death, motivates people to provide what fun they can for that short life.

But once the child is dead, all these organizations walk away, ignoring that a broken and grieving family must go on, must try to figure out how to function as a family with that hole in the middle. Surviving children, who spent the last months or years always feeling like they came second, like they were a continual afterthought in the face of medical treatment and last days, have resentment and guilt to work through. Parents often feel that everything they’d put on hold for the last few months needs to be handled *right now* — even if right now is when they most need a break from the demands of the world. In the stress of readjusting, a family can get lost and overwhelmed trying to cope with everything at once. The divorce rate for parents of a deceased child are more than twice that of other couples.

And all the help that preceded their child’s death? It’s gone. Yes, there is still grief counseling, but the kind of help that let a family walk away from their problems for just a little while? Nothing.

That lack of support is what inspired my friend Kat Meyer to start Rebecca’s Gift. After Rebecca died, Kat looked for resources to help families coping with grief and in need of time to get away, but there simply was nothing there.

The philosophy behind Make-a-Wish and other organizations is to provide experience to a dying child, but the family that’s left behind is a damaged and frail entity, and in need of healing. The Meyers took a family trip, a trip that took them out of the day-to-day demands and distractions of life. It helped them rediscover themselves as a family unit. Without friends and TV, all crammed into one hotel room, they weren’t distracted from each other. They bonded.

That is the mission of Rebecca’s Gift: giving the families of deceased children a chance to get away from the stresses and demands of daily life and rebuild their bonds. Like Make-a-Wish, Rebecca’s Gift will send families on trips so that those families can rediscover themselves.

Rebecca’s Gift is having their first major fundraiser on Sunday, November 15, 2015. Rebecca’s Boardwalk will celebrate Rebecca’s great love of the Jersey Shore and all the games and foods of summer. This is a family event, with lots of prizes and games for kids, and it’s for a need that truly is not being met by any other organization.

If you are local to Cleveland, please come and enjoy the fun. If you are not local, please consider donating. Help bring joy into the life of grieving families.

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