Sunday, January 27, 2008

Huckabee's Free Ride

I think that avoidance is America's national pastime, especially when it comes to dealing with subjects that make us uncomfortable. It's the only explanation as to why presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's blatant appeal to racism has been ignored by the media. I find this fascinating because the media never hesitates to pounce on alleged racism that generally consists of nothing more than foot-in-mouth disease.

Witness the focus on Imus' ill-chosen remarks and the more recent hoopla about the comments by the sports commentator pairing lynching and Tiger Woods in the same sentence. Or my personal favorite, Larry King's astonishment that black people were just like everyone else and not consumed with a desire to shout motherf**** while drinking iced tea in a restaurant.

All of these remarks were thoughtless, but hardly a major indicator of racist thought or action, and they certainly had no ability to affect the lives of black people in any meaningful way. Even the more vicious comments such as those spouted by Dog the Bounty Hunter are nothing more than words. What do you really expect from a man who calls himself Dog?

However, Huckabee is a horse of a different color. First, he is a former state governor, and, oh yeah, he's running for president of this country. So what did Huckabee say?

"You don't like people from outside the state telling you what to do with your flag," he told an audience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them where to put the pole."

When my friend, SG, sent me this illustrious quote from Huck, my immediate response was, "Funny, I don't recall anyone complaining about South Carolina's state flag. It has a lovely plametto tree on it." 


I was being facetious. The flag that Huckabee references is the Confederate battle flag, first hoisted above the South Carolina state capital building in 1962, as an in-your-face, screw the civil rights movement act of defiance. That flag has never been the state flag of South Carolina, and was removed from its display over the state capital, by a majority vote of both South Carolina legislative houses in 2000. (Progress moves more slowly than molasses going uphill in the winter time.) It is currently flown over South Carolina's memorial to its fallen soldiers in the Civil War.

It's not Huckabee's evident affection for the Confederate flag that disturbs me; it's the rhetoric that he uses to assert that affection. Huckabee's word's echo those of the most virulent of the segregationists, including one of Huckabee's predecessors as governor of Arkansas, Orval Flaubus. In 1957, Gov. Flaubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the implementation of Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education, defying the Supreme Court and the federal government to prevent black children from attending school with white children in Arkansas. One of Flaubus' repeated references was to speak disparangingly of the "outside agitators" that had come in to stir up Arkansas' Negroes. The feds sent in a group of mostly "outsiders," the 101st Airborne Division, to escort the young black students who integrated the public school system in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I also am disgusted that a presidential candidate would express approval for a symbol of an effort to destroy this country. The goal of the Confederacy was secession, to destroy the Union and set up its own government. The flag that South Carolina flew proudly over the state capital from 1962 to 2000 was not just an affront to its black citizens, but to all Americans.

The Confederacy tried to destroy the bonafide and duly elected government of this country; I think that they call this treason. The Confederacy sought the help of foreign governments to destroy the union; refused to obey the laws of this country; and tried to overthrow its government by the use of force. I definitely call that treason seasoned with terrorism. This adulation of the Confederate flags (yes, there was more than one), is misplaced at best, and a repugnant desire to recapture a glory that never was, at its worst.

So how come the media has given Huckabee a pass? Maybe it's because we, as a country, are incapable of having an intelligent and reasoned discussion of race. Maybe it's because most of us think that history means someting that happened in the 1970s and we're not too clear on events preceding that era. Maybe it's because we take a perverse pride in our anti-intellectualism. Don't believe me? Ask any group of people to name someone living or dead that they admire, that they aspire to emulate, and see how many philosphers or scientists show up on the list in comparison to athletes and movie stars. I get it that Huckabee said what he thought would secure votes for him in South Carolina, what I don't get it is why no one called him on it.

Interestingly, the flag that South Carolina flew over the state capital was not the official flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars. It was a latter version, known as the Confederate Battle Flag, the one that has become associated with a nostalgia for the good old days and a fond wish that the south will rise again. The battle flag is associated with a viciousness on the part of the Confederacy that was demonstrated in the commission of desperate atrocities against Union prisoners as certain defeat of the Confederacy loomed on the horizon. If you don't know the difference in the flags, I've provided a visual aid at the end of this post. The battle flag is to the left; the stars and bars is to the right.

Confederate Battle Flag Stars and Bars

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Content of Their Character

Recently, my blogami, Marc, posted an entry that touched me deeply entitled, "Strong Black Women I Have Known."  It is an honest exploration of a moment of clarity, when he internalized one of life's best truths, that people are people, regardless of seeming external differences such as race. In response to my comment left in his blog, Marc stated that he "... would be intrigued to know when a black woman from your time and place first became aware of gay people, and what inner hoops (if any) you had to jump through to get to comfort and acceptance...." 


It's a good topic and one that I think is particularly appropriate as we celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend. I will be participating in a celebration for Dr. King's life tomorrow afternoon. My sister's husband, Bobby Moody, an accomplished musician, is playing sax as a part of a performance that is part music and part spoken word. The director of the program needed someone to recite Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech and my brother-in-law volunteered me for the gig. We had a rehearsal today, and I as I recited the familiar words, I felt a sense of exuberance and connection with humankind that infused me with joy.


I didn't know that I knew any gay people when I was a child. The word that people used was "funny." I was a quiet child and managed to get away with a great deal of lurking about when adults were talking. I can recall hearing the grownups speaking cryptically about one of my cousins being funny. I was somewhat puzzled, as I didn't see that cousin William was any funnier than my other cousins; he was really lousy at telling jokes.


By the time I was in ninth grade, I understood that  some girls liked other girls. There were whispered rumors that our gym teacher was a lesbian. I didn't know if she was, but I knew that she was my savior, encouraging me to do my best in gym class in spite of my rotund physique and general clumsiness. I wasn't quite certain what lesbians did but I figured that it couldn't be too bad because Mrs. Gilchrist was so nice. But I did know that it involved sex and that people thought that being a lesbian was unnatural. Knowing very little about sex of any sorts, I was still at the age where I thought that all sex was unnatural.


My first meaningful confrontation with the issue of sexual orientation came about because of my ninth grade French teacher. She was in her 20s and she was white. The student body at the school that I attended was still segregated but the faculty had been partially integrated in 1970, my first year in public school.


My mother had elected to send me to the Catholic mission school, St. Alphonsus, when she learned that the segregated grade school that I would have been assigned to was overcrowded, understaffed, and only offered a half-day of education for elementary students. From kindergarten through eighth grade I attended St. Alphonsus. The nuns that taught at the school, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, were all women of color, mostly African-American, one Cuban. I loved St. Alphonsus and I thrived there; it was with some trepidation that I began public school in 9th grade.


My French teacher, Ms. Foltz, was a lifesaver. She was a wonderful teacher and I had a natural affinity for acquiring the language. She took a personal interest in me and offered to take me on a visit to her alma mater, Salem College. The school was in Winston-Salem, about a three and a-half hours drive from where I lived and the trip involved an overnight stay. I was thrilled and went home to tell my mother of the invitation. I wasn't prepared for my mother's reaction. She was opposed to the trip and when my father came home, they discussed it in hushed tones. It was years later before I fully understood their concerns.


It was a convoluted mix centered on my parents' estimation of my lack of value and their mistrust of any one who would be interested in me. They assumed that Ms. Foltz had nefarious intentions of a sexual nature; why else would she want to take me anywhere? My parents intimated that Ms. Foltz was "funny" and that it wasn't proper for a young girl to go off with an adult woman who was not a relative for a weekend. They had no basis for this other than suspicion of her motives for wanting to do this kindness for me.


I don't want to be unfair to my parents. They loved me then, as they do now, but in their world, no one did anything for you without wanting something in return. They couldn't trust that this unknown white woman had a healthy interest in me, that she simply believed that I had some special potential that needed to be nurtured. The world that they lived in, had grown up in, was not a world where white people typically did anything to help black people. Ms. Foltz was both a stranger and in their eyes, strange; they couldn't imagine anything good in her intentions.  


There was a happy ending of sorts. I had maintained my relationship with one a nun that had been one of my grade school teachers and I confided in her about my parents' refusal to allow me to travel unaccompanied with Ms. Foltz. She volunteered to go with us, and so Ms. Foltz, Sister Assissi, and myself set off to explore Salem College. I didn't end up going to college there but I learned a lot from the experience.


I don't know if Ms. Gilchrist or Ms. Foltz was gay. It didn't and it doesn't matter. What I do know is that each of them gave me the nurturing that I was so desperately in need of at that time in my life. They made me feel special, as if I mattered. They were good people who reached out to a  lonely, insecure girl and taught me that there was more to life than being pretty, thin, and popular. I don't recall consciously deciding that sexual orientation was irrelevant when it came to whether or not people were good people.  I just know that these two women gave me a sense of self that allowed me to grow into the person that I have become and that I love them for it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Southern Belle in Black

For a little over a year, I’ve been engaging in something new for me, I’ve been writing a book. It has gone much more slowly than I had planned but I have a lot more to say than I initially thought. Following is an excerpt from chapter one of my manuscript. I figure that it’s about time to try my words out on the public. If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you have read these some of these lines before, incorporated into other blog entries. My plan is to share a chapter or two in my blog over the next few weeks, sort of a trial run to discover if readers find my musings of interest. The book is a memoir about growing up southern, female, and black, The title was suggested to me by a friend. I like the title and I think that I may keep it.


Memory is to truth as a coffee filter is to coffee beans.  A pot of coffee contains the essence of the beans just as memory contains the essence of truth, but the details have been ground up and blended together.

My memories of growing up have been filtered through time and experience but the essence of the truth remains intact, although the details may have blended in unexpected ways.   These are my memories of being a girl child, born black and southern in a small town in North Carolina.

Chapter I—Me and Scarlet

In 1955, my mother gave birth in eastern North Carolina to a colored girl, sometimes a Negro. By the 1960s, I was black and proud.  Sometime in the 1990s, I became African-American. I think that I'm black again in 2007 but sometimes I'm still African-American. Born one year after Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education, I grew up in a fully segregated society. 

I was raised in a mid-sized southern town, Wilson, North Carolina, in the heart of tobacco country.  Our town was divided by a railroad track.  In my childhood, blacks lived to the east of the track and whites to the west. My parents still live in Wilson, and the boundaries are no longer so solidly fixed. Black families have moved across the tracks and there are mixed neighborhoods on the western side of the city, but east of the tracks remains all black.

I love all things southern--grits, the summer heat, and the way that y’all sort of rolls off your tongue like molasses.  When I travel outside of the south, my drawl intensifies. I don’t make a conscious decision to sound more southern but I find myself tossing about southern colloquialisms and stretching words like ice, nice, and rice into multiple syllables. Perhaps it is a defense mechanism against the anticipated raised eyebrows that question how a black person could actually like being southern.

As a girl, I never gave much thought to being a black child in the south; it was the only world that I knew. We had first cousins that came south to visit during the summer but their world seemed a bit alien to us. I recall the unconcealed disgust my brother, sister and I expressed when our northern cousins put milk and sugar on their bowl of grits. Their parents, my mother’s siblings, left North Carolina in their youth, and my cousins had been raised in northern cities that I only knew by name—Brooklyn, Trenton, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. Strictly speaking, Baltimore and DC weren’t northern cities, but they were north of us and my cousins didn’t act or sound southern. 

My first connection to identifying myself as southern came about the summer that I read Gone with the Wind.  I was eleven-years-old when I checked Mitchell’s saga of the south out of our local library. I fell in love with Scarlett O’Hara with her first “fiddle-dee-dee” to the Tarleton twins.  Scarlett was everything that I was not—beautiful, adored, and high-spirited. When Mammy tried to force feed her and make her cover her bosom before attending the big shindig at the Wilkes estate, Scarlett stomped her slender foot and refused to be bullied. She cared nothing for convention, daring to dance with Captain Butler when she was expected to behave with the decorum of a grieving widow. She was brave and resourceful, facing down the invading Yankees and making a killer outfit out of a pair of old drapes.

I read the entire book in two days, pretending not to hear my mother call my name when she wanted my help with some household chore.  I suffered with Scarlett as she and Melanie fled from the Yankees, and lusted with her as Rhett Butler put a blush on her cheeks with his suggestive comments.  Of course, I was only 11 so I didn’t really know what he was suggesting. I cried my heart out when he left her at the end and felt Scarlett’s defiant sense of hope as she turned her eyes towards Tara and vowed to get him back, “After all… tomorrow is another day.”

That summer, my dad took us to the Starlite Drive-In Movie Theater and I saw Gone with the Wind on the big screen.  It was one of those rare cases of the movie being as good as the book.  I was enthralled and swept away as Atlanta burned.  When Vivien Leigh threw that vase at Clark Gable’s head, I knew that I was in the presence of greatness.  I wanted to be Scarlett.

I spent hours in front of a mirror trying to arch one eyebrow in pursuit of my best Scarlet impression.  To my great disappointment, I never mastered raising just one eyebrow.  Eventually, I came to realize that my inability to replicate Vivien Leigh’s quizzical eyebrow lift was not the only bar to my becoming Scarlett O’Hara. In spite of my childish ability to ignore the obvious, the face that stared back at me as I vainly worked my forehead muscles, was that of a brown-eyed, brown-skinned girl, who looked a lot more like Prissy than Miz Scarlett. It wasn't until I became an adult that I fully realized the irony in my Scarlet O’Hara obsession, the peculiar intersection of being black, female, and southern. 



I have the new Jill Scott CD and I love the song "Hate on Me." If it doesn't autoplay, click here to listen. 


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Thursday, January 10, 2008

My Album Cover

I copied this creative meme from Marc. Of course, the last time I did a meme that Marc precipitated, some people thought that I had changed my name to Lurleen and moved to Qatar. So let me make it perfectly clear--I have not recorded an album; although, I wouldn't mind doing so. I do most of my singing in the shower.

However, the instructions for the meme are:

1. The first article title on the Wikipedia Random Articles page is the name of your band. (Click on "Random Articles" in the left column)

2. The last four words of the very last quotation on the Random Quotations page is the title of your album. Just click on the link that reads, "random quotes."

3. Any appropriate picture in Flickr's Creative Commons licensed photos will be your album cover. 4. Use your graphics program of choice to throw them together, and post the result. c'mon budding cover art designers - give it a try! (words of encouragement from Marc!)

I went to Wikipedia and selected "Random Articles" and the article that popped up was entitled Lola. I'm not kidding; it was the one that popped up. In this case, Lola references the title of a 1961 French film starring Anouk Aimee as the title character. So the name of my band is LOLA. On the "Random Quotations" page, I picked up the last four words of a quote by George Bernard Shaw, "only wasted my time."

The photos I got at Flickr and played around with them until I got the effect that I wanted.

I also decided that the album contained a song with the same title as the album, so I wrote a few lyrics for the chorus. Yeah, I know, I get carried away, but blame it on Marc; he's quite inspirational. Besides, he wrote lyrics for our blogami Paul's album.

I was a fool  to want you,

Such a fool to care,

What you did to my heart was a crime.

A wiser woman would have known,

Recognized the signs,

Loving you only wasted my time.  

Oh yeah, here's the album cover. album-cover.jpg

Friday, January 4, 2008

Obama, Iowa, and the Audacity of Hope

I am in a really good mood. Last night, Barack Obama won in Iowa. I am shocked but delighted.

I am a cynic and I don’t have a lot of faith in humankind. I never thought that people would hear Obama’s message because I figured that they would be too busy focusing on the color of his skin and not the content of his character. I’ve always respected and admired Dr. king, but I also thought that he was a dreamer, and dreams don’t come true. I am thinking that I was wrong. I am praying that I was wrong.

My blogami, Marc, wrote a thoughtful post today in which he spoke about racial identity. He made perfect sense in his assertions about Barack Obama as being as much white as black, and that his appeal transcended traditional notions of racial identity.  However, I do think that there is another piece to the whole racial identity bit.  I know that it is difficult for white people to understand why black people talk about race so much. I can only tell you by way of explanation that we didn’t start the conversation.

Historically, a person with any non-white ancestry was not white in this country. Ironically, prior to the 20th century, people of mixed parentage were classified with terms intended to indicate the mixture--mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon. However as Jim Crow took wings, state after state enacted race laws that included the "one drop rule." After the Emancipation Proclamation and during the period of Reconstruction, blacks began enjoying political, economic, and social freedoms that had been previously denied to us. Throughout the country, but particularly in the southern states, where there was a significant black population, the white majority became more and more concerned about growing black political and economic power. By the early 1900s, Jim Crow laws were introduced, designed to keep blacks in their place and prevent blacks from displacing the white power hierarchy. The key word is “law.” These were not social customs of exclusion but laws passed with the specific intent of subjugating an entire group of people. Maybe the reason so many black people play the race card is because it was the only deck that we were dealt.

By 1925, nearly every state had laws that included some definition of race or the one-drop rule.  It is important to note, that the one-drop rule was rarely applied to other ethnic groups, but primarily to people who had “black blood.” In the social and cultural fabric of this country, Barack Obama is a black man, first and foremost. Don't get me wrong, I think that my friend Marc’s analysis is absolutely on target and correct; I'm talking about feelings more than logic or reality.

The first of the racial identity laws was struck down legally in 1967 in Virginia in the Loving case, heard before the US Supreme Court; however, many states persisted in racial classification and culturally, people continued to identify people based on the one-drop rule. As recently as 1986, the US Supreme Court allowed a de facto standing of the one-drop rule in Louisiana by refusing to hear a case regarding a woman who appeared to be white and had lived as white her entire life, but had recently discovered that she was identified on her birth certificate as black, based on some great or great-great grandmother. The Court declined to hear the case and the highest court in Louisiana, based on the one-drop rule, declared that the woman was black. Under the one-drop rule, so were her children. I don’t know whatever became of this woman, but at one point, her husband was reported to be considering divorcing her and friends were shunning her. The woman brought the lawsuit because she wanted to be declared to be white.

It sounds pretty nuts, but black people didn't invent this schizophrenic nonsense.  The upshot of this fixation on racial identification was that it was possible to identify someone as black whose external characteristics weren’t clearly identifiable as having sub-Saharan ancestry—think Lena Horne, G. K. Butterfield, and Mariah Carey, for example.  The other side of this coin was that eventually black people began to see it as a badge of honor to be able to claim someone as black, based on the one-drop rule. We became distrustful of anyone who had so-called “black blood” who tried to acknowledge his or her multi-racial identity. Witness all the flack Tiger Woods drew when he focused on his Asian heritage as well as his black ancestry.

I've always liked the Obama campaign slogan, Audacity of Hope. I think that having hope is audacious, especially for a black man (regardless of his parentage, under every social and cultural norm applied in this country, Obama is black) to even think that he has a serious shot at the presidency of the U.S. is audacious. It isn't as if it's ever been done before. Hope isn't easy, not when you have been a citizen of a country in which you have been continually marginalized, legally, socially, educationally, and economically for generations. What's easy is to give up hope, to believe that the status quo will always be and that there is nothing that you can do to change it. Without hope, there can be no action. If you don't believe in the possibility of success, why make the attempt. Having hope in the face of everything that you have ever experienced telling you that hope is meaningless, that is audacious.

Maybe Barack Obama’s Iowa win is the beginning of closing the door on this chapter of race relations. Perhaps, this country is ready to become the country of which Dr. King spoke in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

I usually hate to be wrong, but I am delighted at the very real possibility that I’ve been wrong in my pessimism about the reality of Dr. King’s dream.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."—August 28, 1963

P.S. While shopping for music for my sister as part of her Christmas gift, I purchased a present for myself, a CD of Janis Joplin's greatest hits. If you don't hear music, click here to listen: I Need a Man to Love.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Briefly While Drying

This is really difficult because I have a tendency to be rather verbose, but I don't have time tonight because I have to get the laundry out of the dryer in 15 minutes. If you let it stop and sit, then you have to iron stuff. I don't have a working iron. I keep the old one for nostalgia purposes; I don't believe in ironing.

I just read today's newspaper and New Hampshire has joined the list of states that have legalized civil unions for all of its citizens, regardless of whom you choose to union with, which I think is a good thing. I don't approve of the change in the law because I have gay friends, (although I do), or because I think that marriage is the apple pie of all relationships, (I don't), but because I find it abhorrent that we continue to have legalized discrimination any where in this country. New Hampshire joins Connecticut, New Jersey, and Vermont in recognizing civil unions; only Massachusetts actual allows marriage regardless of the sexual orientation of the partners.

I have never had one person who is apoplectic over the prospect of gay people marrying one another give me a coherent explanation of how same gender marriages destroy the institution of marriage. I figure that if the institution of marriage can survive adultery, spousal abuse, and an ever increasing divorce rate, it ought to be able to withstand a public commitment between two people who want to share their lives out of love.

So I am pleased that the state legislature of New Hampshire has realized that arbitrary discrimination against its community members is immoral and illegal. If  only the rest of this ass backward country could just catch up.

By the way, please don't leave me comments about God and homosexuality. I've read the bible and I have my own favorite verses: Judge not lest ye be judged; Vengeance is mine saith the Lord; Love thy neighbor as you  love thyself; Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I'm fond of the King James version; I like the language.

This poppycock nonsense that passes for religious objections to homosexuality is merely judgment based on prurient sensibilities. I am continually amazed at how much time straight people spend speculating as to what gay people do in the bedroom. 

Buzzer just went off and I have to grab those clothes, now!