Politics Wednesday – From Emmett to Trayvon

I was too young to remember Emmett Till. In fact I’d never heard of Emmett Till until the early 1990’s when I read Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle, a novel based on what happened to Emmett Till. Till was a fourteen year old black youth from Chicago, IL, visiting family in Mississippi and not attuned to the racial protocols in the South in 1955. He spoke to a white girl, an offense that got him killed. His killers mutilated his body hideously, so much so everyone encouraged his mother to have a closed-casket funeral. “No,” she said, “let them see what they did to my boy.”

If you Google “Emmett Till” and click on the Wikipedia article, you’ll see a picture of Emmett taken the Christmas before he died. You’ll see a smooth-faced, handsome kid, sporting a man’s hat at a jaunty angle on his head. If you scroll down, you’ll see what his mother wanted the world to see, and it’s tough to look at; but don’t you dare look away.

Till’s death didn’t stop the wave of violence against blacks in the 1950’s or 1960’s, but it put a face to it. Till was a diminutive young man, small for his age and no match for the two, grown men who kidnapped him, beat him, gouged an eye out, shot him, then disposed of his body in the Tallahatchie River after they tied a seventy-pound cotton gin fan to his neck. Months after their acquittal, his murderers admitted to the killing in an interview; double jeopardy prevented a re-trial.

Today, what happened to Emmett Till is abbreviated to KWB–Killed While Black–and too many of us think, “That was the past. That doesn’t happen anymore.” Flash forward almost sixty years to a time when Emmett, had he lived, would likely have grown grandchildren, and hear the name Trayvon Martin.

Trayvon was murdered and buried before we ever learned how he died. We may be past the time where Trayvon could be executed for speaking to a white woman; however, he couldn’t survive a walk to a convenience store and a return to a “gated community.”

I’ll digress for a moment and say I abhor gated communities. The thought of putting up a gate to keep out the riff-raff is medieval. Oh, the homeowners would never say “riff-raff,” but, wink, wink, you know what they mean. When I was looking for a house after retirement, someone recommended a community in Haymarket, VA, near where I grew up, so I went to have a look. I had an appointment with a realtor, but the rent-a-cop at the gate wouldn’t let me inside unless he Xeroxed my driver’s license. I refused and left. When the realtor called later to find out why I stood her up, I said, “I didn’t know it was a gated community.” “What’s wrong with that?” she asked. “They’re fucking elitist.” Digression over.

Trayvon was allowed to be in that gated community; his father was visiting someone who lived there. They had been watching a basketball game, and the seventeen year old, probably needing a break from the adults, walked a short distance to a convenience store to purchase an Arizona Iced Tea and a box of Skittles. It was a rainy, February afternoon in Florida, and Trayvon wore a hoodie.

Trayvon committed the “crime” of being a young, black man dressed in a hoodie while walking in a gated community in a state where you can say anything short of shooting someone in the back is self-defense and get away with it. Trayvon had the misfortune of piquing the attention of a self-ordained neighborhood watcher and wannabe cop who followed him after a 9-1-1 Dispatcher told him not to, who apparently accosted Trayvon, and who, though he out-weighed Trayvon by more than 100 pounds, was so frightened of that can of tea and that box of candy that he put a single 9mm round in Trayvon’s chest. Trayvon’s body was drug-tested; the shooter wasn’t. The shooter claimed self-defense, and the cops looked at a dead, young, black man in a hoodie and decided no arrest was in order.

We all know the shooter’s name, but I’m not acknowledging him as a person right now. Yes, my religion tells me to appreciate the inherent goodness in every person, and eventually I’ll forgive. The name we need to have on our lips every minute of every day until the shooter is behind bars is Trayvon Martin. White or black, or any color in between, sit your children down and tell them Trayvon’s name. Tell them Trayvon was a good kid, a good student. Tell them he loved airplanes and wanted to be an aviation mechanic. Tell them he played football and loved basketball. Tell them he was murdered because he was black. What? You don’t want to tell your children that? Tell them anyway.

Because Trayvon has to be the last one. Do you understand? The last time this happens.

Politics Wednesday 3

Several years ago I was mentoring a new manager in my division. Her secretary was my former secretary, and where I had no issues with the secretary’s work ethic or performance, this new manager did. So, I got them both in my office one morning to do some mediation.

Normally, I wouldn’t mention gender and/or race, but in this instance it was important. The new manager was a white female, born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who admitted she didn’t see a person of color until she went to college. The secretary was an African-American woman, born and raised in the District of Columbia. She was the mother of two boys, both of whom had the same father, the man to whom she was married.

We started off with the typical mediation scenario, and we were making some progress toward improved communication. Then, the new manager decided she’d make an attempt to find common ground with the secretary.

“My family was on welfare and got food stamps, too,” she said, “and my sister has children out of wedlock.”

It truly wasn’t said with malice, but it was ill-spoken. After figuratively peeling the secretary off the ceiling–from which she had loudly proclaimed, “My family has never been on welfare, I’ve never had food stamps, and I’m married, and my mother and grandmother were married!”–I dismissed the secretary and tried to explain to the new manager what she had said was inappropriate. I asked her why she said it.

“Well,” she said, “I just assumed…” And we all know “assume” makes an ass of you and me.

This event was in the 1990’s, a decade past the welfare-queen lies of Ronald Reagan, but this woman, much like Newt Gingrich today, didn’t bother to check the facts.

Most of the people on welfare and food stamps are white because, well, more people in America are white. (Not for long, but that’s another story.) That’s the same reason most out-of-wedlock births are by white women. Yet, the Republicans have perpetuated the myth that black people are only interested in lining up for handouts from the government–your taxpayer dollars–that they don’t know how to work and don’t want to work, that they have no concept of a traditional family. The saddest thing is, some people still believe that.

Because of the ruined economy given us by the Republicans and their pro-rich people policies, we have a high unemployment rate and, as a result, more people than ever on food stamps. When you have a family to feed, you get over what everyone has told you is a stigma, and you’re grateful for the means to put food on the table.

Yet, Gingrich turns that statistic around to say, “Obama has put more people on food stamps than any other President in American History.” Wink, wink. You know what he means–black president, increase in food stamp recipients… Wink, wink. The South Carolinians in the debate audience Monday night got it. Gingrich received a standing ovation for his blatant racism. And he did it on purpose. He knew his audience. He knew he could get away with it, and he did.

The manager I was mentoring I can excuse–she was ignorant. Gingrich’s cynical play to the people who refuse to acknowledge the Civil War is over is unforgivable. Without ever resorting to typical racist language, Gingrich has shown us his true color–and it’s lily white.

Gingrich sees himself as a focal point in history–his words, not mine. He has done nothing to earn that distinction. Like the crass racism he exploits, he needs to be but a footnote to history. And a small one, at that.

Politics Wednesday

It was coincidence that my writing work plan sets Wednesday as politics blogging day, and the first such blog of 2012 comes the morning after the Iowa Caucuses. Coincidental but serendipitous. That throwback to the days of smoke-filled rooms, the caucus, left plenty to talk about.

First, Willard M. Romney got a win he can’t really puff his chest up about, and he appeared to be somewhat muted on the Wednesday morning gabfests. I believe that eight-vote margin is one of the smallest in election history, especially for a national office. The other bad news Romney has to take away from this is that, after essentially four years of campaigning, he won the same percentage of Iowa Caucus votes as he did in 2008. On paper, it’s a victory, but it must leave the taste of ash in Romney’s mouth.

Though he came in second, Rick Santorum is the real winner. He did in a few weeks what Romney took four years to accomplish–get twenty-five percent of the votes. A month ago, Santorum was in the low double digits, and he gained a lot of ground and even led by more than 100 votes on occasion throughout the evening. Of course, he gained that ground by appealing to the basest instincts of the white voter–by fronting that stereotype that black people don’t want to work and by doing his best imitation of Tim Tebow without bending a knee.

Ron Paul. What more can be said about him? He wants you to have the right to drink raw milk if you want. I grew up on a farm. I’ve drunk raw milk, and, Mr. Paul, you don’t want to know the crap (literally) that’s in raw milk. Paul wants to withdraw within our borders, have no foreign entanglements, and let everyone within those borders fend for themselves. He’s no fan of Lincoln because Lincoln got us into an unnecessary war. WTF? I say that a lot about Ron Paul. Yes, he’s grandfatherly. Yes, he sounds like the eccentric uncle who only comes to visit on holidays and upsets everyone, but one-fifth of the Iowa voters like his vision for America. And that’s scary.

And, can you imagine, Newt Gingrich got relegated to a somewhat distant fourth place? How dare they? How dare they ignore someone of his self-declared intellect? But you just wait. He’s not going negative. He’s just going to tell the truth. (Cheers and applause) His truth, of course, which is somewhat detached from our everyday reality. As a former federal employee, I remember Newt’s fit of pique when he and other members of Congress had to exit Air Force One from the rear stairs–he shut the government down because President Clinton wouldn’t acknowledge Gingrich’s odd notion he was the co-President, not Hillary. His suck-up to Santorum and his “watch out, I’m coming to get you” riff to Romney was pure, nasty Newt.

The Village of Texas is getting its other idiot back. How nice for them. It’s hard to believe there is actually a Texas politician who can make W look like a Rhodes Scholar, but, good old Rick, he proved there was. Perry brought nothing original to this campaign, and it serves no point to waste any more blog space on him.

I wonder how Michelle Bachmann feels this morning after all that praying for a miracle from the entity she knows makes miracles. I guess she didn’t pray hard enough because the miracle didn’t happen. She essentially came in dead last, since Huntsman, Cain, Roehmer, and “No Preference” together garnered less than one percent of the votes, and none of them campaigned in Iowa. As of this writing, she has canceled her trip to South Carolina for that upcoming primary and will hold a press conference later today. At least I won’t have to listen to her carping about being disrespected because she was a woman. The hypocrisy of someone who has done all she could to reverse or disdain the accomplishments of the women’s movement who then uses sexism as an excuse for her personal shortcomings just astounds me. I hope she’s back in Minnesota for good.

The real winner in my opinion–and others more knowledgeable than I agree–is, ultimately, President Obama. Many people think Romney is the “most electable” Republican choice when paired against the President. I think the square jaw and the whitener-enhanced smile only go so far, especially for someone whose profession was to shut down companies and move jobs overseas, for which he received tremendous remuneration. When it comes down to the person who represents my values, it’s President Obama. Mind you, I’d like to have a talk with him about a few things, but the hope and the change still do it for me.

Here’s the most telling thing. If you haven’t noticed, none of the candidates refer to the President by his title–it’s Obama or Barack Obama. Now, trust me, I had trouble uttering the words “President” and “Bush” together, but I always tried to say “The President.” (Or President Shrub when I was really pissed.) This refusal to acknowledge the President’s status is indicative of a privileged (because they’re white) section of society–they just can’t wrap their heads around the reality of someone in the White House who is not white.

What I took away from the Iowa spectacle was a post-caucus interview with a white man in his fifties. When asked why he voted for Romney, he said, “He’s the best one to beat [slight hesitation and the beginning of a sneer] Mister Obama.”

That says it all. Unfortunately.

Writing Work Schedule update:

Monday afternoon:

  • Edited the review for Linkage: The Narrows of Time Series (Volume 1) and sent interview questions to the author
  • Drafted a review of Loki and Sigyn: A Love Story
  • Morning: edited a short story called “The Drink” and sent it to an on-line critique group I’m in (got very constructive comments so far)
  • Afternoon: pulled out my 2009 NaNoWriMo manuscript and reviewed it to see if, with a few name changes, it could be a good candidate for a Kindle Publication
  • Morning: Blog on politics (see above)
  • To do for the afternoon: work on editing/revising a novel (depends on how tired and sore I am from coughing)

Two Steps Back

I have tried my entire life to overcome my legacy as a Southerner. Now, there are good things about being from the South, but we seem to have a hard time kicking our racism habit. We do stupid things then blink our eyes in feigned innocence and proclaim we had no idea. Yes, you did. Sometimes we take things that try to mitigate our former ignorance and decide to make them ours. We just don’t get it.

Who is the “we” I’m talking about? Some white people who can’t or won’t move out of the 19th or 20th Century as far as racism is concerned.

After the Brown v. Board of Education ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, many jurisdictions in Southern states closed their public schools to thwart the intent of the ruling. This happened in my home town. Because all public schools were closed, the segregated, African American schools were, too. The difference was white families pooled resources, formed “private academies” which held classes in the former public school buildings, hired the former public school teachers, and education went on much as it would have as a public school. African Americans who could afford it moved to jurisdictions that didn’t close their public schools, but most black communities tried to hold classes in church basements or private homes, without the resources the private academies had, i.e., a wealth of trained teachers, current textbooks, and extracurricular activities.

I attended one of these “academies” for several years, but at the time I didn’t understand the implications. To me, it was just school. My education certainly didn’t suffer. When I entered public school in the 6th grade, I was reading at a higher grade level, my math skills were two years ahead, and most of the 6th grade was a repetition of what I’d already been taught. Though I received a more than decent education, I’m not advocating these “academies.” The point is African American families didn’t have these options, and by the time public schools were re-opened, many African American students were academically far behind their white peers. Some never caught up.

In 2004 my home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia, had one of those rare moments of insight. After receiving a gift from an estate of one million dollars, the Commonwealth established the “Brown v. Board of Education Scholarships” for those who missed out on educational opportunities when the public schools were closed. Let’s recall who actually “missed out” on a chance for an education? Not me, and not all the white kids in the “academies.” I’ll concede that there were some white children who did not attend the makeshift academies, but they were few.

Since the inception of that scholarship, 70 have been awarded–some (and the Commonwealth won’t say how many) have gone to whites. The administrator of the scholarship fund indicates that both white and African American children lost the opportunity to go to school and so both should be eligible for the scholarships. Indeed, she wants to get the word out to whites so they can take advantage of it. I think she has her proportions skewed. The vast majority of people who “lost the opportunity” for an education were African American, and I believe that’s where the scholarships should go. As I said, I didn’t lose a chance for an education nor did the great majority of my classmates, and, consequently, I don’t deserve such a scholarship. I would never dream of even applying for one.

One of the African American recipients of the scholarship raises a good point. What if one of the scholarships went to a member of a family who supported segregation? That, to me, would be a slap in the face to those who fought and bled and died for equal opportunity. The person who thought up the scholarship indicated he certainly had African American, not white, students in mind. He indicated he had a hard time accepting that white children’s education suffered. I agree.

So, this post is titled, “Two Steps Back.” What’s the other step? I find this so outrageous, I don’t know if I can write much about it without elevating my blood pressure. Someone setting up the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans this past weekend hired “comedian” Reggie Brown, an Obama impersonator. Brown came on stage in his Obama persona and proceeded to tell racial joke after racial joke. The attendees hooted and laughed, but when he switched to dissing the slate of Republican Presidential hopefuls, he got booed and booted from the stage.

I’m sorry, when is it acceptable for anyone to make racial jokes? Some talking heads on morning TV tried to spin it as the audience expressing disapproval of Brown’s schtick, but, come on, if you hire an Obama impersonator for a mostly white, very conservative group, you knew exactly what you were getting. And if you watch the YouTube video of the event, you’ll see the audience thought he was hilarious until he started in on making fun of Republicans.

These are the days when my optimism about a post-racial world wanes. Sadly, neither of these backward steps surprises me.

What Really Motivates the Birthers?

Just coincidentally a week or so ago, I was looking for something in my desk and came across an envelope with my mother’s handwriting on it. Just one word–“Important.” I had a vague memory of seeing it when I was going through papers after her death, so I decided to open it. Guess what I discovered? A Certificate of Live Birth.

For some reason I needed a copy of my certificate of live birth in 1990 and sent for it. The certificate itself is a Xerox on elaborately bordered, special paper (manufactured by the American Bank Note Company, no less), which bears the words, “Certification of Vital Record.” It was produced by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Health, Division of Vital Records. At the bottom right is the seal of the Virginia Department of Health. At the bottom left is a raised version of that same seal. In tiny print at the bottom, it reads, “This is to certify that this is a true and correct reproduction or abstract of the official record filed with the Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia.” That’s followed by the photocopied signature of the then State Registrar.

It has a birth number and all sorts of interesting statistical information. Of particular note is box 15 “Birthplace (State or foreign country)”. Typed in is the word, “Virginia.” Not, Virginia, USA; just Virginia. As certified by the doctor attending, a Dr. Jones–hmm, that sounds like a made-up name, doesn’t it–it even includes the time of birth: 2:20 a.m.

All of this bureaucratic information, the birth number, the raised seal, even the facsimile of the original record, etc., is reminiscent of the Certificate of Live Birth for Barack Hussein Obama, which I’ve viewed at Politifact.com, a 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner, by the way. However, according to Donald Trump and other birthers, there is a question as to whether I was really born in Virginia, because for them, a certificate of live birth doesn’t cut it.

I guess my mother and father conspired before my birth to make me a bureaucrat in a Federal agency, so they submitted false information to the Commonwealth of Virginia so it would appear I was born there. How devious is that?

Then, deeper in the envelope, I found a 1976 version of my certificate of live birth. Though the middle portion of this version is the exact same record as the 1990 version, the whole certificate is a Xerox. Uh, oh. I now have two versions of my certificate of live birth. Highly questionable. The information on both versions match to every letter and comma, but two versions? I better not run for office–I have my own conspiracy in the making.

Then, there’s the whole matter of one citizen verbally abusing another citizen over the production of a “long form” birth certificate. I went to Virginia’s state government Web site and searched for “long form birth certificate.” No hits. Apparently, either of my two versions of my certificate of live birth is a long form birth certificate because it’s the only birth certificate Virginia issues.

I am still amazed that we’re discussing this in America. I’ve written before about how my mother and her family came to America when she was very young and how a town in Virginia “adopted” them, got them SSN’s, and any other government form a citizen would need. So, yes, I’m an anchor baby, apparently. The fact that my mother wasn’t a citizen didn’t come to light until the late 1970’s when she and my father were supposed to go to the Soviet Union at the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an agricultural expo. She simply refused to apply for a passport, and my father finally figured it out and decided it would be way too complicated to get her “established” as a citizen. They didn’t go. Several flags got raised, but my mother was never investigated. She even served several times on juries. The difference, of course, was my mother looked like the majority of people in the country at the time she immigrated. She was European and white, not of African descent and dark, like our President.

And that, my dear Watson, is the crux of the matter and the answer to the question I posed in the title of this post. Would anyone be questioning the validity of President Obama’s certificate of live birth if he were as white as Sen. John McCain? Of course not. McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone when his father, on active duty in the military, was stationed there. That should hold the same concern for the ignorant Tea Baggers who raise the issue of the President’s birth, but it doesn’t. (By the way, children born overseas to American citizens, whether on active duty in the military or not, are U.S. citizens, but you have to dig into the law to know that, and we all know the Tea Baggers only go for the superficial.)

Most people and the media, as usual, have tried to overlook the overt racism in Trump’s and the other birthers’ claims, saying it’s just politics as usual. No, it’s not. Every time Trump or Bachmann or the half-governor of Alaska or any of the other self-aggrandizing publicity hogs mentions that the President may not have been born here or questions why he doesn’t produce that elusive long form birth certificate, call them on their racism. Point out exactly what they are–so insecure we have a President who doesn’t look like them that they have to resort to childish finger-pointing and bullying. They are racists, plain and simple. That, not patriotism, is their sole motivation.