Today in Racism: Victims of Hurricane Florence

The same event, different players: Hurricane Florence is barreling through the Carolinas. A car drives past a barricade, floodwaters take over the vehicle and not everyone can get out time. Later, the bodies are recovered. If you are the sheriff tasked with determining the criminality/negligence of the situation, it would appear to depend on one thing: whether or not you are a police officer. Two separate incidents occured, one involving a young black mother and another, involving two police officers transporting mental health patients. The earlier stories both indicate a poor choice was made to go around a barricade, but only the one pertaining to the young mother inquired as to whether or not charges might be filed despite the fact that the exact same mistake was made. A few weeks later, two different outcomes: the mother is charged with involuntary manslaughter; and the police officers? Are given pink slips and a convenient excuse. Apparently, they were waved through by National Guardsmen because they were in a law enforcement vehicle. No mention is made as to why they would be waved through in an area under watch for flood or who the individuals were that waved them through and whether or not they would be held accountable. Also, why didn’t the earlier story mention that the National Guard were in the area at the time? Things that make you go, ‘hmm,’ and ‘mmph.’

Um…that’s not Blackface

Thoughts on Megan Kelly and conversations about race

Full disclosure: years ago, I went as a white colleague of mine for Halloween and she had planned to go as me. The day of the party arrives and she can’t make it, but I decided to keep my costume intact. Some close friends of mine decided to go as ‘thugs’ and had taken some makeup of mine to darken their skin. I don’t remember exactly what I said to them at the time, but it was something along the lines of, ‘you don’t have to be dark to be a thug.’ They respectfully (and wisely) stopped with the makeup. I, however, when out in full pale makeup, wig, stuffed bra and overalls, looking like a life-size Raggedy Ann doll. And the reaction?…I won best costume. During my heartfelt acceptance speech, I thanked my absent colleague, and my touching words were met with a face full of silly string. I promptly took my seat. The lesson? It’s that serious and sometimes, it’s not.

Sometimes, It is

I recoiled when my friends tried to darken their skin to portray hoodlums because they were playing with a stereotype, the idea that baggy clothes and a tough guy pose is the sole province of dark skinned people. I couldn’t sit with that and when I expressed that to them, they respected it and stopped. So what made my get-up any less objectionable? Not much. It was in poor taste, as costumes typically are on Halloween, but I was a joke (not a stereotype) and the target was in on it.

And Sometimes, It’s Not

The term blackface and minstrelsy has been used more in the past couple of days since the implosion of Megan Kelly’s talk show. If you haven’t seen it, check it out below. “It” happens around the 4-minute mark. After watching though, I genuinely don’t think that Kelly was defending traditional blackface as being an acceptable costume when she was a kid and here’s why: the example she gives of Luann De Lesseps, and the flack she received for her Diana Ross costume on the Real Housewives of New York, which surprised and confused Kelly. And after seeing the picture, I think I was more offended by the hair (Diana Ross would never) than her skin.

Blackface and more specifically, Minstrelsy, was a popular form of entertainment starting in the 1830s. It was especially racist because of its reliance on popular stereotypes of African Americans and influential because it reinforced the worst assumptions that White Americans had, giving the perspective that theatregoers were getting accurate depictions of Black life. And even though minstrel shows would eventually be replaced in popularity by vaudeville and later on, motion pictures, many of its staple characters (Mammy, Sambo, Tom, etc) remained deeply entrenched, making their way to later mediums, including radio and television, forcing black actors to accept demeaning roles or unemployment.

Fast forward to the 21th century, minstrel shows are dead, but dressing up as another race…not so much:

 

The vast majority of the depictions above are from comedies (where the boundaries of good taste are…looser) and are, what I believe, Megan Kelly was referring to when she said ‘blackface’. The significant difference between these images and traditional blackface is obvious, but the most important one is time. It would be quite a stretch to say in 2018 that any one of those individuals greatly influenced the perceptions people had of the specific ethnic group they were imitating; I didn’t watch Ms. Swan on Mad TV (bottom left) and think, ‘So that’s what they’re really like!’ Those who claim that race based costumes are essentially the same as blackface in minstrelsy are themselves dressing their logic in the ill-fitting clothes and garish makeup of a time gone by and, are in effect, denying the successful work done to drain the once popular artform of its power.

Racism is often defined as having an element of power, and I would suggest the missing piece is not prejudice, but suffering. Black Americans suffered under the perpetuation of racial stereotypes popularize in Minstrelsy. Can we say that today? That Robert Downey Jr’s Oscar nominated performance in Tropic Thunder set us back a few years? That Megan Kelly’s genuine question about what qualifies as being racist has done tremendous harm to progress? I would be afraid to be a part of a movement where suffering is wielded as weapon against those who would be better served by mercy, and energies are focused on draining power from individuals rather than from the institutions.

There is a line. Let’s talk more about where it is and why and less about who’s crossing it.

 

Traitors in the White House: What the NY Times Op-Ed Really Means

“I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

This oath was taken by the author of the editorial written in the New York Times, two weeks ago (yes, I know I’m late to the party). So what does it mean when the same person who spoke allegiance to the Constitution chooses to undermine a democratically elected President whose administration s/he serves in? What should we think about a person: who anonymously (along with others) has ‘vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses’? Who praises the unsung, unknown heroes of the West Wing who work to isolate the rest of us from the commander in chief’s poor, erratic decisions? I have a word: coward.

We don’t know who this person is, but if accounts by Bob Woodruff and Michael Wolff are to be believed, backstabbing is a pastime in the White House. Perhaps this individual is jockeying for a more favorable position and, knowing the President’s anxieties, reached out to the Times and offered an op-ed in an attempt to give confirmation and false comfort to the general public, but primarily, to push the President to cut off competitors from within his inner circle.

I am not assuaged by self congratulatory statements about the ‘steady state’ and ‘adults being in the room’. This individual described a sitting President as being amoral, anti-democratic, and as having a leadership style that is petty, adversarial and ineffective, but to Trump’s face, likely says otherwise. What would we call someone in the real world who does that?

The author describes early talk of invoking the 25th Amendment, but claims ‘no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.’ And I get it, specifically, if by ‘constitutional crisis’, they mean precipitating certain career suicide. Who wants to risk self when you can maintain the status quo (with all its horrors) and double talk the President and the public into thinking you’re on their side?

It’s clear to me that this person is quite clever and manipulative. They might think that after enough time, they will be able to reveal themselves and be considered a hero of sorts, a truth teller in a time of alternative facts, but they are not deserving of such a title. True heroism requires sacrifice, something not embodied by taking papers off a desk. Furthermore, if you have to go that far and still choose to be a silent witness, then it’s not about sticking around to preserve the democratic institutions you claim to love or the Constitution you are sworn to uphold, it’s about self preservation and maintaining party dominance.

Removing Trump from office through impeachment or the 25th Amendment requires those ‘resisting’ in the shadows to make their truth publicly known. There will be backlash and shouts of ‘traitor,’ but I believe deeply that those voices will be silenced when they see a unified front of members of both parties and houses of Congress agree that their leader is incapable. The only way to get the Never Trumpers and the MAGA crowd to wake up from their blind allegiance/hatred toward the President is through an act of courage. Courage is truth in action and people respond to truth and that’s undeniable, no matter which way you lean.

(random thought: it’s not the 25th amendment or the Mueller investigation that’s going to end Trump’s presidency, it’s the emoluments clause of the Constitution.)

Today in ‘Ugh’: UF Graduates Manhandled

So today’s current annoyance is the treatment of students at their graduation at the University of Florida. If you’re unfamiliar, get acquainted.

I used that video first because it was one of the earliest reports I could find of the story, before it got picked up nationally. Contrast it with this one, post virality. Inserted now are suggestions of racial profiling; one of the students is quoted as saying that she found it ‘degrading’ and felt she was being treated like a criminal (!). Another one expressed ‘shock and disappointment’ at being treated this way in 2018. Question: are we talking about being pushed off stage or a plank?

The first story makes it clear it was several students and not just black graduates that were rushed off. It also discusses whether the dancing was unseemly at a graduation ceremony and the inappropriateness of the physical contact between the faculty member and students, but the latter report doesn’t bother to explore any of those topics. Instead it inserts racial undertones to give the story more of an unnecessary, polarizing edge. The first reporter presented two students with slightly opposing opinions while the other gave us lopsided vent sessions. Reporting Red Flag: if your only hearing one side of the story, you’re being patronized. Good reporting makes no assumptions and offers no judgement.

And finally, a logic exercise: is it possible that students strolling or dancing across the stage happened for the first time ever at this ceremony? Probably not. If not, why was the faculty member’s reaction so severe? Protocol? Nope, that ain’t it. So what are his reasons? We don’t know. The people responsible for finding out didn’t tell us, but what would you think if the previous ceremony ran long because of unencumbered celebrations and the staff member was then tasked with making sure that didn’t happen again? Which might explain why no other faculty member intervened when he began to shove students. His method was excessive. Could he have tried speaking to them? I’m curious to see how this plays out, but my guess is that UF is protecting him (by not releasing his name) because part of this was the school’s idea. Better to apologize than accept blame.

Last thought: 20 years ago, a young woman gave a speech at her college graduation…naked. She was not rushed off the stage.

 

The only hole to worry about is the one you’re digging

Where you’re from is not who you are, what you do is.

Yes, there are crappy places on earth to live, but that’s not the point. Whether some of those crappy places include Haiti and El Salvador, countries reportedly named by President Trump in an article from The Washington Post, is also not the point. Assuming that people who come from these countries are also crappy IS the problem. Colonization, corruption, unrest, and natural disasters all play a part in the quality of life within a nation. And none of those factors can be easily controlled by the average citizen. The average citizen simply wants a better life which is what immigration is all about: getting the hell out of s***holes. From the Pilgrims to the ‘poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ we are descendants of people who mastered the art of spinning straw into gold and this thread is woven into the fabric of the American experience and, most importantly, American success.

How to Make a Scapegoat: Chanel Lewis, Karina Vetrano’s accused killer

If you’re from New York City, you’ve heard the story of Karina Vetrano, the young woman who was found sexually assaulted and strangled in Spring Creek Park. Almost out of the blue, the NYPD have charged 20-year Chanel Lewis with her murder. The minute I looked at the young man, I knew something wasn’t right.

What kind of guilty person gives DNA and a confession without any legal counsel? It’s not clear if Mr. Lewis has any disabilities, but according to the New York Times, he attended a high school for students who, ‘struggle with internal and external factors beyond their control that have contributed to a failure to thrive in school.’ So at the very least, he had to deal with challenges that made attendance in a traditional high school not possible, and perhaps he’s graduation in 2015, remarkable. Since graduating, he wasn’t employed and lived with his mother; no criminal record or disciplinary record in school, so how did police make a connection? Through an anonymous tip? A witness who heard him say something incriminating? Nope. A cop remembered seeing him in the park and thought it was ‘suspicious’. Read the article.

In it, sources are quoted as saying that Lt. John Russo claimed to have seen Lewis back in May, called 911, but the man left before police arrived (so there’s no record that the man he saw was even Mr. Lewis). He alleges that he saw him the next day, and the police arrived in enough time to record the encounter, but nothing more as he was not charged with any wrongdoing. For those of you unfamiliar with being black in Howard Beach, the general rule is-don’t be. If you need evidence: Police recorded an encounter with someone doing NOTHING wrong except being ‘suspicious’ (i.e, black) in a white neighborhood.

Now, with his name in police record, someone calls 911 again and mentions Lewis by name saying that he looks like he was going to break into a Howard Beach home with a crowbar. This is not a neighborhood he lives in and yet the caller knew him by name? Now that is suspicious. Fast forward a couple of months and we now have a viable scapegoat: wrong place at the right time: check; issues of any kind: check; Black: check. What Lewis lacked, however, was criminality. So what happens? Reports of him making threats while in school are reported in the NY Post and the NY Times quotes, Chief Robert Boyce saying, that they found, ‘some things that disturbed us.‘ Ultimately, as the article mentions, the executive director of his school stated that they were no reports of him making threatening statements. Mmmmh…

After tracking him down, police get a DNA sample voluntarily from Lewis and found that his samples were “‘strong profiles’ that matched evidence from the victim’s body and her cellphone”. When DNA matches, you say it matches; when you say anything else, you’re playing semantics and when you’re playing semantics, you’re lying. Chief Boyce also says that Lewis gave ‘detailed incriminating statements,’ but not a confession. Lewis hasn’t entered a plea, but is being held without bail. He currently has legal representation and my hope is that they find evidence that he was somewhere else at the time, not because I want an alleged killer to ‘get away with it,’ but because I believe the evidence was cobbled together and pinned on a vulnerable person to appease people desperate for resolution. Peace of mind is a worthy cause, but at what cost?

 

 

Is @DancingABC pulling a prank?

I’ve watched the Ryan Lochte saga on ABC for the past two weeks now; I was stunned like everyone else and was glued to the tube as all the details unfolded the following day on what seemed to be every network. And then, I realized: this is too good to be true. Imagine this: You’re a showrunner and you have a controversial contestant: bonus- you have a controversial  contestant and people love watching trouble, wait, people also love getting rid of people they can’t stand. How do we get as much mileage out of this contestant as we possibly can without comprising the integrity of the show and have the judges do something crazy like inflating the scores…Got it! Let’s plant some paid troublemakers, get them to make a scene and hopefully, get lots of attention (check!) and sway opinion favorably toward him (remains to be seen).

Apparently, the protesters didn’t have valid tickets, whatever that means. As many shows as I’ve been to, at the bare minimum I have to give my name (which is on a pre-printed list) and show proof of ticket and you’re telling me these guys got seating on the dance floor level with winks and smiles? Oh…okay. Secondly, they’ve been working that footage hard, why? Because they paid for it, so they might as well. They have given permission for every network on earth to air footage of the incident, they’ve used it in commercials and during the show. All the angles show that one of the protesters was so close to Lochte that  as he got tackled by security, he bumped into him on the way to the ground. So, let me get his straight, you want to call this guy a liar, you get close enough to touch him and you focus your energy on the judges? Or were you obeying instructions to not touch or confront the talent? The second guy never even moved toward the Olympic swimmer. I call shenanigans and I call it hard!

 

 

Harambe Had to Die

I just finished reading the change.org petition entitled ‘Justice For Harambe’ authored by Shelia Hurt. As of this post, it has over 400,000 signatures. And now, the Cincinnati Police Department will (after electing not to at first) investigate the parents and the events leading up to the accident. Seems like a waste of time to me.

The loss of an endangered animal in such a violent way is tragic. I’m sure the decision to kill the gorilla was painful to the staff who cared for him, and from what I can tell, the many fans who are currently mourning his death. But one thing needs to made abundantly clear, due to the circumstances, this animal had to die. Arguments to the contrary suggests that this child’s life was worth the risk. He already spent ten minutes in the enclosure. How much longer would be appropriate? Or what amount of violence from the gorilla would be acceptable? Broken limbs? Bruises? Concussions? With a tranquilizer shot, there’s no way predict the silverback’s reaction. Is that a preferable situation to put a child in? Is that a chance you’d take with your own child?

Another thing that needs to be made abundantly clear: the mother is not negligent. What’s most distasteful about the petition is that it’s a vengeance scheme poorly disguised as concern. The author claims, ‘We the undersigned want the parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life. We the undersigned feel the child’s safety is paramount in this situation.‘ If the undersigned are so concerned about the child’s safety, why aren’t they worried about how a preschooler managed to climb through a ‘secure’ enclosure? If it was as barricaded as it should have been, no amount of innocent curiosity could have penetrated it. Parental vigilance doesn’t stand a chance if spaces where children are reasonably expected to be, aren’t designed with certain provisions in place. Even the petition suggested that the only thing preventing the child from a MAJOR security breach was supervision (‘We the undersigned believe that the child would not have been able to enter the enclosure under proper parental supervision.’). I would hope that a zoo with such a high level of prestige and with over a million visitors annually would have higher standards for access to one of its marquee exhibits.

Call it far fetched, but this incident revealed a major issue at this zoo (and maybe others). Had this happened to a litigious family, perhaps this could have been spun to the tune of millions. Either way, the mother is not to blame. The lack of empathy towards her is galling. What parent (especially a mother of 4) can keep both eyes on all children at all times? And even if she did, I doubt she thought he could get in there. Criminalizing her behavior solves nothing. Suggesting this is evidence of neglect in the home is dumb. Hoping that the Cincinnati Police find something wrong, so that this already traumatized child has to suffer through the ordeal of a parent possibly being fined or worst, jailed…now that’s criminal.

Where’s God?

Daily News posted this image on their Twitter account today:

NY Daily News

Left me wondering, not where is God when tragedy strikes, but what is it we want God to do when we pray after things like this happen? I don’t mind praying: communication with God is an important part of spiritual growth and relationship, but has it become a cowardly, even cliché alternative to action?

It’s much easier to tell your newly evicted aunt that you’ll pray for a new job than to offer her your pull out couch to sleep on. After all, you don’t have the space (and how long is she really going to stay…). Once we start thinking about the real answer to the prayer (which, without a doubt, would require some discomfort and effort on our part), it’s much easier to just give it to God and ask him to do something…anything.

Some of the greatest things that God has ever done…was through willing people. When tragedy strikes, people ask where was God or why couldn’t God have done something, like a ‘part the Red Sea’type of moment, often forgetting that God used Moses’ hands to do that.

When people suffer, it’s time to put our hands together to work and pray.