Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: News and Politics (page 1 of 13)

Women’s March in NYC 1/21/17

Hands Across America

  

I have a friend who is involved with the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Group, which was started in 1966 by the iconic musician and activist Pete Seeger in response to his despair over the pollution of the Hudson River. Today, the organization is still thriving, and during the spring and summer, the schooner Clearwater sails down the Hudson, bringing the message of activism to thousands. On Saturday, my friend was going for a meetup with other crew members of the replica 19th Century sloop, and I was lucky enough to tag along. There was a pot-luck dinner, great conversation, and some old-fashioned folk-singing. I found myself feeling very comfortable, even when events turned hippyish. Who can resist the beat of Native American drumming?

Many at the meetup were preparing to attend the big march in Washington D.C. protesting Trump’s inauguration. A few said that they would be unable to go to Washington for various reasons, but Clearwater cleverly found a way for  everyone to show their support. A large protest banner was laid out on a table, and those who knew they couldn’t attend created a handprint by pressing their ink-painted hand onto the cloth.

This isn’t slacktivism; it’s symbolism. These individuals will be present in Washington, their hand raised high for all to see, even if they aren’t physically marching in the street. Not everyone has the ability to march. Everyone does their part in the way they can.

I’ll be marching in New York. But I know many of you will be marching in Washington and Los Angeles and Chicago and Raleigh and Miami.  When I go on Facebook next week ready to go into Manhattan to march, feel free to post a photo of YOUR HAND in my Facebook comment section, and I will know you are there with me. I will be doing the exact same thing with you, our hands together in friendship, love, vulnerability, and strength.  Let’s watch out for and support each other.

The Election of Donald Trump and the Hallmark Christmas Movie

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I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, but after it became clear that he wasn’t going to be the nominee, I instantly backed Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton, an accomplished and intelligent public servant, was the obvious choice, compared to Donald Trump, an incompetent demagogue who used hate as his campaign message.

Last week, I waited an hour to get tickets to the big Clinton Election Night Party at the Javits Center, where the symbolic “glass ceiling” would finally be broken. I was excited to be part of history.

On Election Night, the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood around the convention center was chaotic, as thousands of Clinton supporters and the mainstream media crammed into an area blocked off by armed police officers. Those who had general public tickets, like myself, were sent to the back entrance to airport-style security. A few campaign volunteers grumbled about being stuck with the regular folk when VIPS, in their Wall Street suits, were guided inside without waiting in line.  But, all in all,  we all felt like we were on the same team, confident in a Democratic victory.

By nine o’clock, we knew Trump was going to win. The crowd turned to the brightness of their iPhones in a desperate attempt to distract themselves from making eye contact with others. It was heartbreaking.

In the subway going home, you could feel the gloom in the claustrophobic underground air. A homeless man sitting alone in the corner was screaming at his demons in Spanish. The darkness outside the windows grew ominous as the metallic screeches of the train’s wheels pulled us further into the unknown. I asked myself, “How did this happen? “How did Donald Trump become elected when we were so sure that Hillary Clinton was our next President?”

When I returned home, I was too wired to sleep, but too anxious to watch the news. I needed something stupid for entertainment, television as innocuous as possible. I went to my DVR and found my choice.

Every year, around this time, the Hallmark Channel starts showing their annual Christmas movies. These “feel-good” cable movies are hopelessly corny, like the type of network “movie of the week” starring B-list actors that felt outdated even back in 1975. But like many things lowbrow, people like me have turned them into an ironic guilty pleasure. I’m even involved in a Facebook forum where we dissect each new Christmas Movie premiere on the Hallmark Channel. These movies have become so popular, that Hallmark has even started to show them as early as October! I had recorded a few last week, so I picked a rerun that I missed. On election night, with Donald Trump now as the president-elect, I watched a Hallmark Christmas movie.

One of the reasons these Hallmark Christmas movies have achieved a cult- like status is that 85% of these films are the same story told in a slightly different way. It’s amusing to watch the writers tell another yarn from the same basic plot. The protagonist is someone from the big city who travels to a small town in Middle America for some nefarious reason. It can be a real estate guy who wants to turn the “old mill” into a Chipotle, a self-absorbed actress who returns to her roots for some photoshoot about her origins, or some snooty marketing executive who wants to sell off the family farm after her father dies. All of these urban characters have disdain for these boring small towns. They are blind to the fact that they are unhappy in NYC/LA/Chicago and that their big city fiancé or fiancée is self-absorbed and unfaithful.

You know what happens. The protagonist falls in love with the small town values. He/She falls in love with a cowboy/waitress/farmhand. And he/she pays back the small town by saving the mill/the farm/the Christmas parade.

The myth of these Hallmark Christmas movies has nothing to do with the Miracle of Christmas. They are about America. Big cities and small towns need each other, and learn from each other. The big city is more trendy and knows how to get things done in the outside world. They can teach the small town citizens about modern art and rap music. The small town can teach the urban dweller how to fish/hunt/farm, and most importantly, how to live in a loving community where people care for each other.

This pop culture myth of big city/small town, and their need for each other, has been part of American culture for two generations, especially popular after the Second World War, in which the country was required to be unified, and American soldier stood with American soldier, bonding together to save our country.  Our most popular Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, is about a small town man, George Bailey, who dreams of moving to the big city and living the exciting life, like his big-shot, college-educated brother. Instead, he is trapped in a crappy old town, living in a drafty old house with a broken staircase. But what is the final message of the film? Yes, George Bailey’s brother become a war hero, but it is George who saves the town and America’s values from Mr. Potter. George is as important as any soldier. He didn’t march into Berlin, but held the fort at home. Bedford Falls, and George’s values, is why America was fighting.   Small town values. America’s cities were important to this country, but if we let them create the values alone, we get the darkness of Pottersville.

Big city and small town must coexist or else America ceases to be. The big city is America’s muscle and brain, but the heartland is American’s heart.

As I’m watching this Hallmark movie on Election Night, enjoying this absurd romance of a lonely prima donna fashion editor from New York and a hard-working cowboy who’s wife had died, I ponder the mythology of the narrative. The myth of the big city and small town needing each other, learning from each other, was a myth that allowed us to live in the same country, to believe in one America. But as we started to watch different TV, get our news from different outlets, and follow different leaders, this all changed. The cultural interaction stopped. The cities grew more diverse and prosperous, but ignored any of the issues in the small towns, stereotyping their fellow Americans as fat racist losers who only shopped at Walmart. The small towns, at least the ones which declined as we shipped off jobs abroad, retreated into their comfort of white supremacy and anger at the elitism of the establishment. Hillary Clinton felt it was useless to woo small town America, especially in the Rust Belt. Donald Trump exploited the anger of small town America by spreading his vision of bigotry and racism.

We all discovered the real truth about our country today — the big city and small town now hate each other. Both Hallmark Christmas movies and America need a new myth.

How I Explained Black Lives Matter to My Mother’s Mahjong Group

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“Liberals” are sometimes stereotyped in the media as elitists. I wonder if there is an element of truth to this. We say we want to discuss issues with our friends and relatives, but then use abstract language more suitable for a Yale graduate school seminar.   If your conservative Uncle Joe on Facebook is willing to agree with you that there is too much police brutality against African-Americans, does it really matter at this point if he “accepts” the concept of white supremacy on your latest post?

I understand this tendency to sound elitist because I can be that person myself. I’m the type of guy who came home from my first semester of college to scold my mother to stop reading her “stupid Sue Grafton mystery novels” and pick up Plato’s Republic instead.

“Do you want to live your entire life in the shadows?” I told her after my freshman year.  “How can you live without ever getting a strong foundation in Greek philosophy?”

Yeah. That type of guy.

Who would have guessed that one day I would be back living in the same apartment with my mother, reading her Sue Grafton novels?

Twice a week, my mother sets up a bridge table in the living room and plays mahjong with her friends.   Her friends are smart, compassionate women, feminists at heart, open to neighborhoods of diversity, but born of another generation.   Each woman is over eighty years of age,  the children of immigrant parents, and have worked since an early age.  None of them had the opportunity to attend college.   It would be haughty of me to lecture these amazing women based on my advanced education, right? But sometimes I just can’t help myself.

I remember a few months ago, the mahjong group was taking a break from the game, having coffee and cake, and gossiping about their neighbors in the building. I entered the kitchen to grab a piece of the cake myself when I overheard one of them mention the cute children of the “Oriental” neighbor in apartment 3D.

“You probably shouldn’t say that,” I said. “She’s Chinese, not Oriental.”

“What’s so bad about Oriental? I’ve always said Oriental. Like someone from the Orient. Like Oriental salad!”

My mother and her friends teamed up against me.

“Yeah, Neil, what’s so wrong with Oriental?” asked my own mother.

I explained the different of Oriental and Occidental, and how the term Oriental comes from a European perspective and gives off the aura of “the other” and exoticism.

No one understood what the hell I was talking about.

“Just don’t say it! They don’t like it!” I shouted, giving up.

A few days ago, I came back from this rally in Union Square. The women were playing mahjong. I showed them a few of the photos I took, including one of a protester holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter.”

“I don’t get what this means — Black Lives Matter? Don’t ALL lives matter?”

I went to the kitchen and made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, in order to give me time to think about my answer. What was the best way to talk to a group of eighty-year-old Jewish women about this subject?

I had an idea.  I returned to the living room.

“Remember when you were kids, everyone said “Merry Christmas” to each other?”

I figured this was a good way to draw them in, with an analogy.

“We didn’t say Merry Christmas to each other,” said Louise, my mother’s friend.

“Yes, that’s because you’re Jewish,” I replied.   “But the average American said Merry Christmas. People felt like it was a Christian country, so they just said Merry Christmas. This is the equivalant of saying White Lives Matter, but it’s more like Christmas Matters. Or Christian Holidays Matter.”

Now, everyone just looked confused.

“Hear me out. But as time went by, Americans wanted to include everyone in the holiday spirit, particuilarly their Jewish friends, so they started saying Happy Holidays. This is like saying All Holidays Matters — Christmas, Hanukkah, whatever.

“And what’s so wrong about that? Saying Happy Holidays?” said my mother. “You just made the argument for saying All Lives Matter.”

“Well, yes, but we all know that deep in our hearts, All Holidays Matter is really about Christmas, with Hanukkah and the other holidays sitting in the back row. It’s still Christian Holidays Matters in disguise. So someone who really celebrates Hanukkah might not want to be a mere appendage, but wants Hanukkah to be celebrated as worthy of it’s own meaning. So someone might say, “I never liked when you just said Merry Christmas, because it excluded me, and I did appreciate that you started to say Happy Holidays, but we both know that I was never an equal part under that All Holidays Flag, so now I just want to hear Happy Hanukkah so you are acknowledging that my holiday has meaning in itself. There is nothing inherently wrong with saying Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays, but sometimes you just want to hear Happy Hannukah. And it is the same with saying Black Lives Matter. It’s a matter of giving respect.”

And I think I won them over. Either that or they just wanted to go back to their game.

“Hang Out in Another Neighborhood” Day

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I was the opening speaker at the graduation of my Queens elementary school, P.S. 154. I still remember most of the speech. It was a sixth grader’s riff on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.”  He was a hero to everyone, including me.

There were three portraits on the wall of my classroom that year– George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King.  We were a mixed school of different religions and races, and it was as clear as anything that society was changing fast — and that this was the future. We were heading towards a color-blind society where no one would care about the color of your skin, only about how many baseball cards you had in your pocket.

My father was about as liberal as you can get, donating his time and money to numerous causes, but I would cringe when he would mention the word “Negro” or “Oriental,” but eventually I understood that he was extremely good-hearted, just using words from another generation.

I’m now the person from another generation, with outdated language and ideas.   It’s taken me longer than some of my other friends to understand that being color-blind is racist.  I still grumble about the concept of male privilege.   I still catch myself being sexist.   I never was taught about these structural issues in school. We were more about equal rights under the law. Even Martin Luther King, with his mainstream views on integration and non-violence, seems old-school today.

I bring this all up because I had this weird idea this morning, and it won’t make any sense without first giving it some context. I’ve been reading a lot about Ferguson, racism, and the inequality of our society, but much of it doesn’t inspire me in the way that Dr. King once did.   Sure, we can boycott Black Friday or unfriend racist friends, but so what? I know this might sound overly-sentimental, but I’d love to find a way to fight injustice by creating some goodwill between communities, getting people to learn about each other, much as we did back in P.S. 154, when we went over to each other’s houses to do our homework, and experienced neighborhoods different than our own.   Anger at the America is important, and we should be angry, but we also need to feel as if there is hope.

It seems as if America’s biggest problem is that we remain segregated, sometimes even more than I remember in the past. White and Asian people are irrationally afraid of black and Latino areas because of the fear of crime. Black and Latinos feel uncomfortable in white areas in fear of ethnic stereotyping.

Solution — we need a way to start sabotaging this fear.

We’re always creating days online, “Talk Like a Pirate Day” to “Buy a Donut Day,” so why not create a “Hang Out in Another Neighborhood Day,” where Americans purposely go out of their comfort zone to connect with those who live in other neighborhoods, particularly those where the residents are different than themselves?

Imagine if hundreds of white folk and their families went into Ferguson for the day — buying burgers at the local McDonald’s, going to the local church, visiting the park, and getting to know how the other half lives. At the same time, black folks and their families, who are intimidated from entering certain well-off white neighborhoods, are invited WITH OPEN ARMS into these neighborhoods to have lattes at some upscale coffee ship or to do some shopping at the local stores.   Even if it is just for one day, it will make everyone less afraid of each other, because we would all cross the invisible red line.

And it is all perfectly legal.   And it might even been fun.  At least it would help demystify each other.

New Yorkers — “Hang Out in Another Neighborhood Day” — Upper East Siders — go have brunch in the South Bronx. Walk around. Support the stores there. Those who live in South Jamaica — have you ever been to Tiffany’s in Manhattan? Come in and take a look. Even if you can’t afford it now, at least realize that you are free to browse freely at any time.

Los Angeles — Beverly Hills folk — go have a BBQ sandwich in Compton, and then go to some of the small businesses in the area. Folk in Compton — have you ever seen the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel?   Why not?

Some people are going to hate this idea, because it doesn’t really deal with the systematic racism in our society.   That the white people get to go back to their fancy neighborhoods while the others are stuck in a police state.   It is an idea that isn’t angry enough.   Structural inequality will not be solved by gimmicks.    I get it.   But since I am old school, still inspired by my elementary school speech promising Dr. King to further his hopes of a less segregated society, I present this corny but radical little idea to you for your perusal.

Mom, Are You a Feminist?

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I’m eating some chicken soup my mother made (yes, true!) while reading an article online, when I decide to ask my mother the big question that will finally decide the course of Western history.

Me:  Mom, are you a feminist?

Mom:  Uh, what do you mean?

Me:   Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Mom:    Well, I always worked as a woman.

Me:   That doesn’t mean you are a feminist. Do you believe in equal pay for men and women?

Mom:    Yes.

Me:   And do you believe that both a man and a woman can be the boss?

Mom:    Of course. I was an office manager.

Me:   Will you vote for a woman president?

Mom:    Sure. Like Hillary Clinton. But it’s not like I’m going to vote for that Kardashian woman just because she’s a woman.

Me:  Do you think a feminist should look a certain way?  Like not wear lipstick or shave her legs?

Mom:  She could do what she wants.   I mean, eventually, she’ll probably have to shave her legs at least once.  If she wants to date.  Or before her wedding.

Me:   And what do you think about the different roles of mothers and fathers?

Mom:    Well, I do believe that a parent should stay at home with a young child.

Me:   Aha!  Gotcha!  So, you think a mother should stay at home?

Mom:    No, it could be the father.

Me:  Interesting.   So it doesn’t matter?

Mom:  I think women tend to have a better touch with young kids, but if the woman makes more money than her husband, what’s the difference?  As long as one of them stays home.

Me:   Hmm… so, isn’t it a bit hypocritical considering that you didn’t follow your own rule.  You and dad both worked.  You weren’t always home for me.   Is this why I’m in therapy?

Mom:    No, you’re in therapy because you’re crazy. I DID stayed at home until you went to first grade. Don’t you remember?

Me:   Not really.

Mom:  And then when I worked in the city, you always had your Grandma Annette to go to after school in case I had to work late.

Me:   Still sounds like I was a latch-key child without a home.   I’m blaming feminism for giving me social anxiety.

Mom:    Maybe, but remember this, with both of us working, at least we were able to afford to send you to an expensive college.  Where you ended up studying poetry.

Me:   OK, well, thank you for that.   And talking about college.  Here’s a big issue today.  Do you think both men and women are equipped to study in fields such as math, science, and engineering?

Mom:    I wish YOU had studied in math, science, and engineering rather than being an English major who spends time taking photos on his iPhone.  Maybe that’s why you’re in therapy!

Me:   So you believe women belong in technology?

Mom:   Mrs. Kubota’s daughter, Grace, works in Silicon Valley and sends her mother on a cruise every year. So, yes, women can work in match, science, and engineering.

My mother goes into the kitchen.

Mom:  Would you like some more soup?

Me:   No, thanks.

Mom:    Are you sure? There’s only a little left.

Me:   Mom, we are talking feminism here.

Mom:    So, you can’t be a Jewish mother and a feminist?

Me:   OK, I’ll have some more soup.

My mother pours me some more soup.

Me:  And while we’re at it, let’s discuss cooking at home? Do you think that is more a job for a wife than a husband?

Mom:   Ha Ha, no.

Me:   So why didn’t Dad ever cook? You did all the cooking. That wasn’t fair.

Mom:    Well, that’s me marrying wrong. Or the fault of Grandma Annette for never showing your father how to make anything other than a peanut butter sandwich. That’s how it was back then. But today, men love to cook. When you watch Top Chef, half of the best chefs are men, so I sure hope they are also making dinner at home for their wives.  In fact, this weekend, I’m showing you how to make a brisket.

Me:   What about cleaning? Why do women do more of the cleaning at home? That’s also not fair.

Mom:    Now THAT has to change. The biggest scam ever created.  By men.

Me:   So you ARE a feminist?

Mom:    Yes. And I think cleaning the house equally should be the top priority.

Case Closed.   My mother is a feminist.

Find Your Tribes

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Last weekend’s blogging conference was colored by the Gaza conflict that played out on my hotel TV at night.   It put me on edge.   The social media lingo used at the conference suddenly seemed more militaristic than intended.  Words like”Followers” and “Following,” gave me images of soldiers and commanders.  Even the expression “ally” (Feminist Allies, LGBT Allies) had the unfortunate association with the first and second World Wars (Allies and Axis).

But I had the most discomfort with the oft-repeated mantra of “Find Your Tribe.”

At first glance, “Find Your Tribe,” is good advice for a blogger or writer, especially for a newbie searching for a niche, but this year, I was unable to hear this word without also hearing “tribalism.”  Why were we telling others to find their tribe, when the very concept involves exclusion?  Aren’t 98% of all wars about disagreeing tribes bumping heads?

When I arrived at JFK on Monday,  there was a giant TV at the American Airlines gate.   CNN was reporting on the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, brokered by Egypt. I sighed with a relief, not only sickened by the violence, but also the nastiness that I saw online.

It was midnight and the taxi line was short.   Within five minutes, I was on my way.   My taxi driver was a bearded young man with hair as black as shoe polish. His steering wheel bore the colors of the Palestinian flag.  His first name was Mohammed.

“Where you heading?” he asked.

I told him the address.

“By that KOSHER supermarket, right?” he asked.

“Uh, yes.” I mumbled.

The cab was dark inside.  I was in the back seat, my computer bag at my feet.  A pungent air freshener was hanging from the rear view mirror, swaying to the bumps on the Van Wyck Expressway.   I heard a faint speaking from the front, some Arabic, but mostly English.   At first, I thought it was the radio, but as I leaned in, I could see Mohammed speaking into a headset.   He glanced at me in the rear view mirror, but was too involved in his conversation to notice me eavesdropping.  I bent over to look into my computer bag, but the real intention was to listen more closely.

“Is he there with you now?  Will you see him again?” whispered Mohammed into his headset. “No, I’m not jealous. Are you jealous of me? Will you tell me if you do it with him? I just did it that once. I told you about it. But she was nothing like you. You turn me into an animal. Come visit. OK, tomorrow. Will you think about me tonight? I will think about you, all night. When I am in bed. I have to go. I have a customer.”

Mohammed stopped talking. There was silence as the cab moved onto the Grand Central. I’m normally shy and never speak to strangers, but I had an insatiable need to talk to this driver, to learn more about his story. I took the risk.

“There used to be this TV show called Taxicab Confessions,” I told him.  “On the show, cabbies would listen in to their customers as they talk about their personal lives, but I think this is the first time a customer has ever listened in on the taxi driver.”

Mohammed laughed.

“Oh, you heard me speaking to Abal.  Sweet Abal.”

Mohammed proceeded to tell me the story of Abal, his lover in Germany, and their “open relationship.”   The trouble began when Mohammed started seeing a woman in Brooklyn on Friday nights, who was smart, and had a good job, be she couldn’t compare to the”wild cat moves” of sweet sweet Abal.

“Where did you fly in from?” he asked, changing the conversation, as if it wasn’t polite for a driver to talk so much without reciprocating the interest.

“California,” I said.

“Was there a woman there?” he asked, grinning

“Women.”

I’m not going to reveal the rest of the conversation, but let’s just say that straight men of all color, creeds, and religions have more in common than previously thought, with similar passions and frustrations with the opposite sex.

The fighting in the Middle East never came up, nothing about religious or national tribalism, nothing about Israel or the Arab world, Muslims or Jews.   Instead, we focused on a common Tribe between us — “Single Guys Dealing with Women.”   Why do we always go for our differences rather than our similarities.   I’m sure if I continued my conversation with Mohammed we would have discovered more common tribes — “New Yorkers,” “iPhone owners, “Men who Put Air Freshener in their Cars.”

Telling others to “find your tribe” — as if we each have only one tribe that becomes our identity — is bad advice.   It is simplistic.   It breeds isolation and zealotry.    It’s better to say, “Find Your TRIBES (in the plural).”

We live in an overlapping Venn Diagram of tribes, where one person can be Christian, an American, A Kansan, a Writer, a Father, A Democrat, a Juggler, and a Stamp Collector.   By suggesting that people find their TRIBES, rather than their TRIBE, we are sending the positive message to our friends to focus on the concentric circles of connection, which builds compassion and empathy,  rather than the myopic view of tribalism.

I doubt Mohammed and I are ever going to be friends, or if I will ever see him again. I’m sure we have tribes in common, and many that disagree.  But by acknowledging that we are ALL a multitude of Tribes, interlocking circles on the Venn diagram of life, we remind ourselves that the only true Tribe is everyone.

Understanding my Privilege

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I took this photo of some man sweltering in the New York City heatwave, and when I looked at it later, I suddenly understood the concept of “privilege.”

I know this will make no sense to you right now.  But it was an “aha” moment for myself, brought upon by all the discussion about the Zimmerman trial in Florida, and what his acquittal tells us about America.

I’m privileged as a straight, white male — because I’m born as “the norm.”  I could have been a perfect home run if I was also born as a “Christian.”  You would think being born privileged in America is good, and we would want to proudly announce it to the world, but in today’s culture, no one wants to admit that they were given a head start in the race to the finish line.  So, we tend to avoid the conversation.

But as a “Citizen of the Month,” [see blog title], I believe it is important to acknowledge my privilege, because if I don’t, I can’t even begin to understand the struggles of my fellow citizens who weren’t born into the norm.   I have an important role in making things better for everyone, since I am the one with the advantages.

Now, let’s go back to the photo of this man.  He is in a wheelchair.  He looks miserable. Perhaps he is even hit hard times.  He is still a privileged straight white male.

That was the aha moment.

Just imagine how the scenario and context of the photo would change if he were a black man sitting on the street like this.  Would we assume a certain life history that would be different because of his race?   All things aren’t equal.

This man is privileged.  That does not mean he is lucky.  Or even happy.  If I told you that this straight white man was born a multi-millionaire, lost it all to a drug addiction, and is now homeless, would you lose all empathy for him because of his privilege?  Of course not.

A privileged person can have a life of tragedy through illness, broken relationships, bad luck, or plain stupidity.  A non-privileged person can go to one of our nation’s top private university and become President of the United States.  Individuals rise and fall despite of their privilege and lack of privilege for many reasons — psychological, economic, good looks, parental guidance, experience with bullying in school, and even a natural ability to juggle.  This doesn’t change the fact of privilege.

The concept of privilege is a sociological one, and revolves around issues of group identity and social biases.    This does not take away from free will or just plain luck.  A black man could have a life of ease, and be born of wealthy parents, and still lack the privilege of the white man of going to the supermarket wearing a hoodie.

That is what we are talking about.  Not the ups and downs of life that everyone, privileged or not, will have to deal with over their lifetime.

Thinking of this issue as two separate entities  — privilege and free will — makes it easier for me to accept my privilege as a straight white male.  I was born with advantages.    On the other hand, the world is not an academic exercise in sociology.   Life will always be a game of high stakes poker, no matter what cards you are dealt.   Accepting your privilege just means that you believe in making sure the card game of American life as run as fairly as possible for all.   It cannot predict the outcome of every individual’s hand.

Last post:  Owning my Racism

Owning My Racism

In ten days, thousands of bloggers, mostly smart and saavy women, will be heading into the beautiful city of Chicago for the annual BlogHer conference.

Another fun fact: Chicago is also the murder capitol of the nation.

In fact, at the same time as BlogHer, there will be another conference in town — an important emergency national summit on urban violence at Chicago State University, led by the Congressional Black Caucus.

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The Sheraton, the BlogHer host hotel, has a special conference rate of $199 a night. Before I found roommates, I searched the Internet for less expensive alternatives. I discovered a good deal at a chain hotel a train-ride away. I DM-ed one of my friends in Chicago to ask about this hotel.

“You know anything about it?” I asked.

“Oh, you don’t want to go there. It’s in a very bad neighborhood.”

A very bad neighborhood. Chicago. I bet you are having the same images in your mind that I do — liquor stores, pawn shops, Fried Chicken places, unemployed men, gangs, and mostly black faces. And gun violence.

Poor. Black. Crime. Violence. Fear. The words easily come together in urban America.

“Better you stay at the Sheraton,” said my friend. “Why tempt fate?”

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What does this have to do with the Trayvon Martin shooting or the George Zimmerman trial in Florida?

Nothing. But everything. I live in America. I am part of the problem.

News Cycle

First, we were horrified at the Boston bombing.

Then, progressives hoped he was a white nut job so Fox news couldn’t blame it on Islam.  Then conservatives hoped he was Muslim, so liberals would accept the importance of the “war on terror.”

Then we became sentimental about running, marathons,  and the great city of Boston.  Then we debated whether we should even call them terrorists.

Then we all insisted that we hold judgement until the suspects were proven guilty.  Then we talked about them anyway.

Then we laughed at how stupid the media looked in handling the entire story.  Then the media laughed at the internet for fingering the wrong person.

Then we wondered whether this bombing proves a need for more gun control, since it is so easy to buy weapons, or less gun control, so we can protect ourselves.  Then we got caught up in the excitement of the chase and the shootouts.  Then we thanked the police.

Then we felt sympathetic to  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev because he was brainwashed by his brother.  Then we hated him again when we read his racist tweets.

Then we wondered if it was our own colonial policies that caused the radicalization of the world, and the West is to blame.  Then we decided that religion is actually good, but it is the people who distort it who are bad.  Then we wondered if maybe ALL religion is bad.

Then we blamed Russia for their policies in Chechnya.  Then we mocked ourselves for not knowing where Chechnya is on a map.

Then, Neil Diamond sang “Sweet Caroline” at a baseball game, and we decided that Boston has bounced back.

Then there was a thwarted plot in Canada, but since there was no bomb, we shrugged it off.   Then we moved on.

A week later, we hardly remember the victims’ names.

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