A quick note...

Obsessed with Searching For Zion

Have you ever read a book that completely rocked your world? I'm in the midst of this kind of forced rumbling of the emotional tectonic plates right now. The next several days are filled with deadlines and busy work (yay!), but I had to take a quick pause to share Emily Raboteau's Searching for Zion with you. 

In 2015 more people are having conversations with themselves about their blackness, their brownness, their whiteness, and any other racial or sexual identity that is part of the patchwork that makes up an awareness of self. Our culture calls upon us to label ourselves and others in ways that chips away at our richness as human beings. Raboteau's memoir looks this labeling and inner monologue dead in the eye. It's painful. I'm even finding the reading to be just painful enough to have to take it in small, hyperobsessed doses. The story not only exposes a conversation that America desperately needs to have with itself, but it investigates the idea of what makes a land "home," and why displacement has psychological effects that ripple through generations.

All I have left to say (at the moment) is, buy this book. 

America needs a therapist

Why our racial discord isn't getting cured

I’ve been watching in dismay while traveling this week as headlines race through my news feed regarding the horrific murder of Walter Scott in N. Charleston, SC. My first thought was, “Damn it. Here we go again. What’s going on with white cops and black men?” If one were to only glance at the surface of this complex and multilayered issue, one might think the United States is engaged in a race war.

But we’re not (yet). What we do have is an internal culture of complacent whiners that have been enabled by 200 years of looking away from our country’s most criminal mistakes. We have a culture that promotes intra-regional misunderstanding and allows for scapegoating according to income and skin level. None of this is officially government sanctioned, but it may as well be, because the government, as a whole, has made no official move to reconcile the United States with her inner demons.

These days it’s common knowledge that if a person experiences years of trauma, the best course of action is to seek out a therapist with whom the patient can discuss the issues that are keeping her from living a productive, healthy life. The patient and therapist will spend months—even years—discovering how the path leading up to the trauma was paved, who helped lay the foundation, and what steps led her to the fate that awaited her at the path’s end. When the patient has a decent understanding of what roles the people in her life—including herself—played in getting to the breaking point she can finally, gingerly, start to put her life together. 

Somehow, this logic is lost on the collective citizens and policymakers of the United States of America. For years our country has acted under the rule of if we don’t talk about slavery/Jim Crow/institutionalized racism/discrimination, it will fade away and we’ll all get along. The result? A ticking time bomb whose clock is about to reach its end. People have run out of patience and their chests and throats are on the verge of bursting with all that there is to say. The death of Walter Scott has brought this feeling even closer to the surface, as friends, neighbors, writers and pundits hold a magnifying glass to the state that is perceived as the one that should be leading the charge against universal brotherhood.

THERE’S A REASON WHY WE’RE TOLD TO PAUSE AND TAKE A BREATH BEFORE RESPONDING TO AN ARGUMENT

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few days, and now will be splitting my thoughts into two or three posts. For now, I’ll leave you with these facts about this case and South Carolina, the state that I love like a drunk uncle who’s obscenely embarrassing at Thanksgiving dinner but is the first to arrive when you need him most…

  • Walter Scott was killed as he ran from Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston on Saturday, April 4.
  • The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) received the video—the only evidence of what took place—on Tuesday, April 7.
  • On Wednesday, April 8 Officer Slager was charged with murder and fired from the police department.

South Carolina—like Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, New York, and California—has a wrenching, terrible history of dysfunction in its race relations. But, if one looks at the simple surface of the incident at hand as many pundits and columnists seem to do (though at the least productive layers), North Charleston moved swiftly into action instead of searching for reasons to excuse this officer-turned-murderer’s guilt. That’s not something we can say for most of the incidents that have made it to the headlines. It’s time to stop laying blame and focusing on the wrong parts of the issues. It’s time, instead, to bring the roots of America’s racial discord into a daily conversation, amongst our neighbors, and in an official capacity by a commission that should be appointed by the White House. If we don’t converse we will only continue to see more senseless murders, more strife, and more division. 

From Chelsea Clinton's March curation of ONE.org's blog

Still A Boys' Club

We've seen so many headlines regarding the problem of gender equality in the tech world. I don't know if the feeling is different for my friends on the West Coast, but when the numbers and stories started rolling out I was astonished. Surely a modern industry that specializes in... well... being modern... would be ahead of the curve when it comes to hiring women, paying them the same wages as their male counterparts, and treating them with the same respect as their male counterparts. Even now, when I'm older, wiser, and have female friends who hold prestigious positions within or connected to the Silicon Valley, I'm shocked every time I see reports of the Silicon Valley "Boys' Club" that would have been confirmed rumors during the 1960s instead of now. 

When Chelsea Clinton curated the ONE Campaign's blog last month, she made sure to share news about America's gender equality issues. She shared this article from Fortune, which includes an analysis of the largest, most visible and celebrated companies that don't have a single woman sitting on their boards. Did you know that only 25 out of the Fortune 500 have a woman CEO, and that 23 of those boards are all male? If you haven't seen these stats, get reading and get talking!

Stop Whining and Come Together

Instead of continuing the cycle of negativity, take some action that pumps love, peace, and groove into the community

It seems as though, increasingly, I’m greeted with an overflow of complaints when I sign onto Facebook. I know that I certainly do my share of complaining, but I’m not referring to complaints about children who won’t go to sleep or the stomach bug that’s made rounds through someone’s family three times. I’m talking about bigger societal complaints. The kind that border on (and sometimes cross into) outrage. The posts run the gamut from anger over the hiring of a school superintendent to hot, finger-pointing commentary on the racial issues we still deal with today.

People should certainly be able to air their grievances when they perceive something going wrong in place and culture in which they live, but if a person has made five status updates in a row listing newly discovered justifications for their (self)righteous indignation, what purpose are they serving? The person is only whipping themselves into further froth, and if there’s no solution or call for discussion and understanding proposed, such “commentary” only poisons the waters even further. 

Today I’d like to share an example of a freshening of the community waters—Columbia’s Hip-Hop Family Day, presented by Hip-Hop Live in partnership with the Indie Grits Film Festival.

At a time when today’s commentary and social media arguments seem laced with racial or racist undertones, there are times when certain aspects of creative culture are attacked or dismissed. Hip-hop has dealt with the smudge of social stigma from the time it began as an underground artistic expression of urban life in the 1970s. Over the past 40-some-odd years, the music and cultural aspects of this genre have evolved into the mainstream, where bolder, more audacious performers and negative imagery tend to attract more attention. Sherard Shekeese Duvall is leading the charge for a day of “Love, Peace, and Hip-Hop” for a third year, calling on families of every background to come together on April 18 from 11 A.M. - 5 P.M. at the 1700 block of Main Street in Columbia, SC. 

“Our goal is to ensure that hip-hop is represented properly and works as a medium that can unify our community for a day of peace, love and fun,” Duvall writes. In 2013 and 2014 that goal was accomplished and surpassed. Everyone I know who’s taken their brood to Hip-Hop Family Day has had glowing reviews, some even saying that they were surprised by the amount of family bonding that occurred as a result. Once again, this year’s party will feature interactive art exhibits, dancing, and live performances in a family-friendly atmosphere of fun and inclusion. Headliners include Nice & Smooth, Big Gipp of the Goodie Mob, and London-born Monie Love, who was the first British hip-hop artist to be signed to a major label.

Last year I’d planned to take the kids downtown and let them go wild at this celebration, but little B went down for an early nap (my attempt to get through the party without a toddler meltdown) that turned into a 5-hour sleep marathon. This year there’s no way we’re missing it (B quit napping this month!).

There’s a lot to complain about in the world, but without offering solutions and opportunities for conversation and fellowship, a persons vocal grievances can easily become something for those on the receiving end to dismiss or complain about. Be active instead. When you do so, you actually become an ambassador for a better community. One way you can start is by checking out Hip-Hop Family Day's Kickstarter page and making a donation of $25, $50, $100 or $250 to help make this day of fun and community fellowship a huge success. The organizers are half-way to their goal of raising $5,000 by midnight on April 1. I know Shekeese and the other organizers would certainly appreciate it, and because I want my community to be one that embraces all the good things that diversity brings, I would be pretty appreciative, as well.

A tough row to hoe...

Chelsea Clinton's curated blog posts for the ONE Campaign shed light on problems & progress

Last month was an overly dramatic crapshoot around here. As a result I’m sharing a couple of big moments well outside of real time, and I’m pretty okay with that because the message is just as important on March 31 as it was March 10. Hopefully I won’t have to type out a similar phrase on March 15, 2030.*

I recently came across an interesting Garrison Keillor quote while thumbing through a parenting book:

Girls…were allowed to play in the house… and boys were sent outdoors…Boys ran around in the yard with toy guns going kksshh-kksshh, fighting wars for made-up reasons and arguing about who was dead, while girls stayed inside and played with dolls, creating complex family groups and learning how to solve problems through negotiation and role-playing.
— Garrison Keillor

Considering the invisible status in which many of the world’s girls and women dwell, Keillor’s use of irony is particularly striking. Girls and boys are often trained—consciously and unconsciously—to fill certain roles that were prescribed by male-dominated governance reaching far back into the recesses of ancestral memory. Yet somehow it’s the girls—the ones who have been practicing the complexities of empathy, diplomacy and the perpetuation of social infrastructure—who are most often kept from putting those skills to use in a setting where a large impact is possible. 

As we celebrated International Women’s Month, the ONE Campaign was thrilled to welcome Chelsea Clinton as a guest and curator on its blog. In her guest post, Clinton shares a report that was put together through a partnership between the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, entitled No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project. The report is an analysis of 20 years’-worth of accumulated data from more than 190 countries, showing us where the status of women and girls has improved, and where more work needs to be done. 

There’s no doubt that women have more freedoms in 2015 than in any other time in written history, yet we still deal with the following problems around the world:

  • Around the world, only about 23% of parliamentarians are female, presenting a major problem when it comes to representing a population’s needs and demographics.

  • Globally, women aded 15 - 24 are more at risk of HIV infection than men of the same age.

  • In developing countries, 200 million fewer women have access to the internet (and therefore job listings, competitive pricing of staples and supplies, etc) than men.

  • Between 2005 and 2013, 1 in 4 girls was married before her 18th birthday, violating her basic human rights, robbing her of her childhood, and denying there control over her health, education and future.

  • Two-thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate citizens are women.

Throughout March, Clinton shared some staggering statistics, shined a light upon organizations and partnerships that are actively working to improve the lives of women, and revealed what parts of our own society need some work. Over the next few days I’ll post some snippets here on the blog and on my Twitter and Facebook pages. Keep an eye out, and I hope you’ll find creative ways to take action, whether they’re large and global or small and locally-focused. Stay tuned!

*The year 2030 is the goal set by the ONE Campaign, the United Nations, and other global leaders to end extreme poverty.

So now I'm a basketball fan?

The NCAA is starting to work it's magic on me

I’m not typically a big basketball fan, but Jr. Played his first season this year and worked at it harder than I’ve ever seen. I started watching basketball documentaries and games with him (and of course, his games!) out of admiration for my second grader’s dedication. Stereotypically, this writer isn’t huge on “big” sports, and I’ve often questioned the core philosophies behind the amount of time and labor that goes into high school and college leagues. Two things have started to turn me around, though.

A'ja Wilson signing autographs for the younger kids on signing day. image via The State Newspaper. credit: Tracy Glantz

A'ja Wilson signing autographs for the younger kids on signing day. image via The State Newspaper. credit: Tracy Glantz

First, there’s A’ja Wilson, the freshman dynamo playing for the University of South Carolina’s Lady Gamecocks. A’ja actually graduated from the same school Jr. attends (which is also my alma mater). It’s not often that a small, private Episcopal school can claim the nation’s number one women’s basketball recruit as their own, so it’s not surprising that the school community has been swept up and A’ja-mania for quite some time. On signing day, Jr. begged for me to let him go. The ESPN cameramen surely had a blast in our gym, which was filled with screaming kids ages 3 - 18, plus parents and teachers. When A’ja’s first game came around this year, the kids had their parents buying up tickets for the women’s games, which outsold the men’s games most days. Jr. was starstruck even before A’ja graduated, reporting A’ja sightings when I’d pick him up from school, which was particularly funny considering the close-knit nature of the community. Everyone has easy access to everyone, whether they’re in first or twelfth grade.  When I recently told Jr. that I’d met A’ja’s dad and we’d become friends I thought he was literally going to do a backflip! I take a special pride in knowing that my son’s extra enthusiasm and hard work during his first basketball season can be directly tied to a smart, accomplished young woman who dominates the court. 

The second thing that has me seeing the big world of sports in a new light is the way the NCAA has been publicly stepping up to the plate to be leader on recent issues in the news. During the men’s Elite 8 I was heartened to see a commercial encouraging campus communities to prevent sexual assault. The #ItsOnUs commercials are the result of a partnership between the NCAA and the White House to promote the goals and findings of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.  

Then, the other night, I read that the NCAA has threatened to move the organization's offices out of Indianapolis over the so-called "religious freedom" law signed in Indiana last week. In the words of the fake (wish he were real) President Josiah Bartlett, from his Twitter account:* "Forget putting the Christ back in Christmas. How about putting the Christ back in Christianity?"

On one hand, I’m not sure how I feel about our country having to look to its athletic institutions to show us how to have a moral backbone, but but it makes me feel a little better about our culture’s dark (or willfully uninvolved) side when I see the NCAA utilize its influence upon a large and impressionable audience to do some good. I know someone out there may wonder about my Pollyanna side on this issue, arguing that the NCAA is trying to save face and/or prevent a PR nightmare. But here’s the thing… they don’t have to. As long as they’re pouring big bucks into universities and generating kabillions of dollars in sales for advertisers, television networks, apparel companies, and endless other entities, they’ll be fine. The NCAA is one of the elite groups sitting atop our capitalist society’s food chain, but they’re opting to publicly speak out on some very hot-button issues. So for that, I’m applauding them today. Just don’t get mad at me when my March Madness tweets make little sense… I’m still learning about the game through an 8-year-old!

*how the main character from a show that was cancelled 9 years ago has a Twitter account will be saved for a lively discussion involving dinner & wine…

The complexity of falsehood

So many mistakes in Ferguson, including our own

Here’s a shocker… I’m actually working on a queue of blog posts! Yes, it may actually be sleeting in hell, folks. 

But honestly, I’ve been up many late nights over the past few weeks thanks to illnesses, kid illnesses, and the like. I won’t bore you with the details here because I’m trying to enforce a “no whining” policy on my blog,* but the point is that while I wasn’t writing there was no break in world happenings to keep my brain churning.

One week ago I was stunned when I read Jonathan Capehart’s blog on The Washington Post. Unfortunately Ii was in a flurry of other things when the news reports emerged regarding the Dept. Of Justice’s report on the Ferguson Police Department. There were so many disturbing aspects to the report. First, there was the fact that the DOJ found that Officer Darren Wilson was “justified” in shooting Michael Brown. It seemed almost too much to believe. However forensic evidence indicates that Michael Brown did not surrender with his hands up and that he did put up a very strong resistance to arrest. Capehart’s poignant post is almost as striking as this evidence. An outspoken opinion writer, Capehart is often a leading voice on the topic of American culture and politics. He was quite vocal—as many of us were—throughout the proceedings and unrest in Ferguson. I can only imagine how it felt for him to write a piece  that essentially accepts that “Hands up, don’t shoot,” the phrase adopted in protests around the country seeking racial equality and justice, “was built on a lie.”

What cannot be dismissed, however, is how Ferguson got to a place where such contradictions and misinformation can become such powerful TNT. This brings me to the second shocking revelation from the DOJ report that I’ll mention here: Ferguson, MO has basically been operating as a miniature police state for decades. 

image via owning-my-truth on Instagram

image via owning-my-truth on Instagram

According to the Ferguson Municipal Court’s arrest warrant data, out of 21,000 residents living in the St. Louis suburb, 16,000 have outstanding arrest warrants. Does that sound normal to you? Does that sound like a statistic that would belong to a town whose residents are living in harmony with the government and services that have been established to support and protect them? Over the last several months we’ve been told about Ferguson’s racial makeup and it is a stark contrast to that of the police department. The DOJ report detailed the consistent mistreatment of mostly black residents, dismissing their constitutional rights, using arrests and tickets to fund the government, and more. This is the most blatant example of institutionalized oppression to be put into a report in our time. Years of such oppression will put a community out of its mind. 

Yes, it’s true that the Black Lives Matter movement was kicked off with a terrible example in Michael Brown’s apparent actions. But the fact is, America is undergoing a period of racial strife that many of us thought was behind us—or at least would be in a future that’s apparently not as near as we thought. Unarmed black children are still getting killed by police at alarming rates. Communities still segregate themselves when they get home from work. Hell, the fact that I’m writing this blog post is my own personal evidence. When I was an eager, nerdy high school student learning how to debate cultural and policy issues I never would have imagined that this would be a topic I would be discussing at age 36. It’s a sad fact that we need “Black Lives Matter” more now than ever.

Capehart writes:

Now that black lives matter to everyone, it is imperative that we continue marching for and giving voice to those killed in racially charged incidents at the hands of police and others. But we must never allow ourselves to march under the banner of a false narrative on behalf of someone who would otherwise offend our sense of right and wrong. And when we discover that we have, we must acknowledge it, admit our error and keep on marching.
— Jonathan Capehart, 'Hands up, don't shoot was built on a lie.' PostPartisan; The Washington Post

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you, Mr. Capehart.

*But if you’re dying to know, click here.

Whammied.

I think that my March 8 post may have been the last thing I wrote before slipping into an oblivion of illness. My husband left for London and the boys and I immediately came down with an insipid version of the crud. On Friday I was doing a happy dance because we'd all recovered and everyone had been sent to school in for the first time that week.

What's that's saying about counting chickens? I woke up on Saturday morning not feeling quite right. By midday there was this strange swelling in my neck and face that was growing scarier by the minute. It turned out that I had mono, for crying out loud! Well, a mono-like virus, to be accurate. It seems like I've been asleep ever since. Right now, at 10:15pm, I've been awake since 4. This 6 hours and 15 minutes is the longest I've been awake since Saturday night! 

Anyhow, I'll slowly be getting back to writing and to #DiversityMeans over the next few days, but I just wanted to pop in and let you guys know that I haven't gone AWOL on you! 

Take care of yourselves and please stay healthy! 

xoxo