Good Saturday morning! I hope you’re enjoying this long holiday weekend. Despite my mother’s illness, I have. Yesterday, Zoe and I had lunch with my stepmom, Kathy, and my neice, Sophia, Joscelyne’s little girl. After munching on crab cakes and mac and cheese at The Tropicana Diner, we went to the park. It was hella hot, but my goodness, the girls had so much fun playing. Then we went back to our place to cool off, and the girls played blocks and puzzles. Later today, we’ll be headed to Sophia’s surprise birthday party. Tomorrow, she’ll be five.
Sophia and Grandma Kathy
Shall we go to the links? First up, this post by Britney Cooper at Salon. On her flight from Jersey to Louisiana on Wednesday, her holiday travel quickly went to hell, and it had nothing do with the TSA:
Standing just ahead of me to board was a handsome, traditional nuclear family. The mom was tall and striking and she had two beautiful boys roughly around the ages of 10 and 7. For some reason, they became the intent subjects of my usual people-watching, as I boarded the flight. The mother was gently nagging the older boy about doing his summer reading and making sure his exercises were accessible on the flight.
As we boarded, I noticed that this mom and I would be sitting in the same row, I in the window seat, she in the center. As we sat awaiting takeoff, I finished a text conversation and signaled to the flight attendant for a seat-belt extender, a fat passenger’s best friend. Then just as the call came to shut our phones off, I glanced over at her, and she was still texting, rapidly. I caught a few words of the end of her text that made me look more intently: “on the plane, sitting thigh to thigh with a big fat nigger. Lucky me.”
My breath caught in my chest.
And then there was pain. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Anger.
I still remember the very first time I was called the N-word. It was 1988 or so, and I was in third grade. My classmate, a poor white girl named Vicki, chose to punctuate the end of a childhood spat by yelling, “You DIRTY NIGGER!” Seven- or 8-year-old me was bewildered. And silent. I had never heard that word used that way before. I didn’t know what it meant. Yet I felt its force and its vitriolic intent viscerally.
Later that evening, I inched close to my mom in the kitchen as she was putting dinner on, and asked, “What does the word ‘nigger’ mean?” Before she answered with words, I simply registered pain on her face. In hindsight, I understand that pain to be the pain of a parent confronting the inevitable reach of other people’s issues from which you cannot protect your child. It was also the pain of a black parent confronting the inevitability of a child’s first encounter with racism. After asking why I wanted to know, she told me simply, “It means an ignorant person.”
When I got called it today, some part of me felt like that little girl again. I felt the slur just as viscerally, the foreboding sense that something was wrong not with anything I had said or done, but simply with me. Immediately I was hyper-aware – looking around, feeling marked, wondering if others find my large, dark-skinned body as distasteful as my seatmate did.
Read it all, especially to find out how Britney handled the situation. It’s instances like this that make my heart sink. It’s a reminder that it’s not just Paula Deen crying to her husband thirty years ago; it’s some random seatmate today. And unlike Deen, who claimed it was said in anger after being held up by a black man, the “striking” mom wrote it in a text about Britney who had done nothing to her. It’s also said by some of the housemates in the not-so-private conversations on the current season of “Big Brother”. Smh. So much for that whole “post-racial America” stuff.
I think we could all take some advice from Allison at Rambling Follower who writes on “Opening Our Hearts to Our Enemies”:
As we all know, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by states is unconstitutional. I didn’t like the resulting vitriol.
After the ruling, one facebook commenter quipped straight couples should just keep having babies, “because we know who isn’t.” As someone with more than one gay relative, I know those loved ones were raised by married mothers and fathers who, in all cases, never divorced. And as someone whose sons have more than one friend being raised by lesbians, I also know one’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with one’s physical ability to give birth, or to love children unconditionally, for that matter.
On the other hand, I find some of the rhetoric of those who support gay marriage equally divisive. Yesterday I drove past a Unitarian Universalist congregation. There was a rainbow flag and a sign that said “Standing On the Side of Love.” The obvious implication is that people who do not believe the government should call same-sex unions marriages are full of hate. Many friends think the government has no business redefining marriage, and to a person, these friends are loving and kind to all. They are in no way bigots.
No matter what our political ideology, or lack thereof, we all can fall into the trap of demonizing those with whom we disagree. This is not how we build human communities and it is not how we build the Kingdom of God.
Thank God for the Gospel. Sunday’s reading goes to the core of what it means to be Christian.
“Christ set us free, so that we should remain free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be fastened again to the yoke of slavery. After all, brothers, you were called to be free; do not use your freedom as an opening for self-indulgence, but be servants to one another in love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in the one commandment: You must love your neighbour as yourself.”
Camille Dodero has drawn parallels between the push for gay rights and the fat-acceptance movement:
Fat Admirers (FA) have historically adopted queer nomenclature for their self-discovery stages and preferences.
Men who openly pursue, prefer, and date fat women are “out.” Men who like fat women but more or less hide them from friends and family are “closeted.” Men who say they like both skinny and supersize women ones are “bisizuals,” a controversial term that’s regarded as disingenuous in various online circles.
Keith Ferguson, a 24-year-old FA from Westchester (“We had two African-American kids in our schools and one fat girl”), wonders if he would have been treated better if he’d been gay. “The immediate reception from my friends was, ‘You’re a fetishistic freak, and I can’t believe I hang out with you.’ ” He confided in a friend, who then spilled it to their freshman class. “It’s almost like the same level of stigma that a homosexual would deal with. But in high school, there were two ‘out’ gay kids before I turned 16. People were like, ‘Ah-hahaha, you’re gay.’ They were maybe on the outskirts of the socially accepted circle, at the end of the day, but enough people liked them that it didn’t really matter. For me, I was actually ostracized.”
Me and Zoe
Bisizuals? That’s a new one for me. On Thursday, in the midst of my doing nothing, I heard this Studio 360 podcast of “American Icons: The Autobigraphy of Malcolm X” and learned some of the details behind the collaboration between Alex Haley and Malcom X. Autobiography is one of my favorite books, so it was enlightening. A little preview:
When Malcolm X was assassinated at 39, his book nearly died with him. Today The Autobiography of Malcolm X — a favorite of President Obama and Justice Clarence Thomas alike — stands as a milestone in America’s struggle with race. The Autobiography is also a Horatio Alger tale, following a man’s journey from poverty to crime to militancy to wisdom. Muslims look to Malcolm as a figure of tolerance; a tea party activist claims him for the Right; Public Enemy’s Chuck D tells us, “This book is like food. It ain’t McDonalds — it’s sit down at the table and say grace.”
Check out the audio or transcripts here. One of the songs featured in the program is Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine”. Such a wonderful piece, it’ll be our song for the day. Have a blessed Saturday, and if you can, remember my mom in prayer.