Current Events

Taking off my mask…nope I am not like you at all: Updated for a Trump World

This original post ran in June 2011 on the blog; it’s the type of deeply personal piece I hesitate to share anymore in this space. Yet, as I heard about Trump’s proposed budget plan, I was reminded of my own childhood. Working-class in a good year and downright poor in a bad year. The availability of arts programming in the schools and community are what made the difference in my life and opened up a world where I could dare to dream and do more. For many years, I was ashamed of my upbringing but I also know that my parents did the best that they could and I now understand that for my father, as one of 16 kids born in rural Arkansas, he was fighting a losing a battle. However, my parents managed to raise two kids with a little help who have both gone on to give back far more than we took (to use the language of the GOP). Poverty has a face and as someone who was able to move out of poverty, I have never forgotten where I came from. And now that I have a voice, I will use it to help anyone that I can. In this case, my thoughts are with our truly vulnerable who will truly suffer under the Trump regime.
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I have a secret to share with you. Of course, the fact that I am putting it on this very public blog means it will no longer be a secret, but that is okay. I go through most of my days feeling like a fraud, a fake, an impostor. Oh, on the surface I look like your average college-educated middle-class person (do they really even exist anymore? Or is that the lie we tell ourselves because we can’t stand the idea that we are no longer in the middle but we didn’t rise to the top?). I have a job where to a large degree I have total autonomy, I live in a reasonable-sized home, have access to a car that is not a jalopy. That’s the sort of shit we see and assume that means folks are fine. Really, that is quite silly. In this economy there are people driving nice cars, hoping and praying the repo man doesn’t show up and who are crossing fingers and toes they can get their home loans modified. Yet, when we see these folks, we have no idea and again assume they are like us.

In the past week or so, there have been several instances both in my day-to-day offline life as well as my online life where it was assumed I was just like everyone else. In one instance, I actually had someone try to explain to me the lives of the poor; I nearly laughed but instead wore my mask of the middle class all the time feeling my guts churning and temper rising.

See, I may not emphasize it a great deal on this blog though I have shared this in the past, but I grew up poor. If it was a good year we were working class but really we were poor. Oh, my parents being young turned it into a fun game, but looking back, there is no mistaking the fact that we were poor. I am talking getting vittles at the food pantry poor; shit, I have only fairly recently started eating English muffins. Why? Because there was a period of time when I was a kid we ate a lot of them because that is what the pantry gave us. There was also the time the pantry gave us chocolate syrup and my folks scraped up enough cash to buy some ice cream so we could have a treat, only to discover that the chocolate syrup had expired (chocolate syrup gone bad has a smell you never forget). I can assure you in the 25 years since that incident I still remember it clear as day.

I also remember when we lost our apartment and moved into a homeless shelter for six months. It was transitional shelter run by Catholic Charities and two nuns who I imagine are long gone. I remember group meals with a host of characters and “shopping” for clothes from the donations that came in. Yeah, I am a card-carrying member of the Grew Up Poor Club and those lessons don’t ever leave you. I know another fellow blogger and Maine resident who had a similar upbringing and believe me, no matter how far away you are from that grinding poverty, it colors your life. Hell, I only recently stopped hoarding food though I will always buy toilet paper in bulk as I never ever want to have to wipe my ass with newspaper or scraps again.

That said, I must admit the level of classicism and assumptions that I see in my day-to-day life sometimes make me want to scream. I recently read this piece and it’s funny because while on paper I am squarely middle class. Never mind I am going bankrupt and my personal net worth is like negative two hundred thousand dollars plus but, because I present as a middle-class person, that is what I am treated like. The fact is in my personal financial life I am very much like the Cracked piece in part because when you do grow up and break free from the poverty it travels with you and you never quite leave it behind.

In my case I did finally make it to college, but I graduated with a shitload of debt and not nearly as much social capital as I really needed to advance my career. Turns out moving to Maine despite the low-paying gigs did a lot more for me professionally than I would have expected. It’s a lot easier to connect with folks when you live in a state with a small population. I truly doubt I would have landed my first Executive Director position at 31 had I stayed in Chicago since I didn’t have social capital. Yet in Maine, to some degree I got a do-over, and its been helpful yet most of us don’t get a do-over in this highly rigged game called life.

Here let me do a quick bit more updating than I did at the start. Like I said, the piece above appeared in 2011 and what appears above has pretty much only been updated for punctuation and grammar. But in the time it was written and the years before and shortly after, I worked with kids from poor (mostly white) families and I worked with old people (mostly white and with few or no family assistance or personal resources). As Trump plans to cut things like Meals On Wheels (which feeds the poor and housebound elderly) and as his cronies talk about how school meal programs don’t help kids (I know different from providing snacks in an afterschool program where kids sometimes missed many…or most meals at home due to poverty)…what he and his people say are lies. These kinds of programs aren’t dragging the country down. Maybe corporate subsidies and wars and the Defense Department play a role…not to mention huge tax breaks for the rich…but programs that feel the needy aren’t our problem. And if you think they are, YOU’RE the problem.
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Failure to name the truth, or White people are rarely named terrorists

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, at a bar in Olathe, Kansas, 51-year-old Adam Purinton shot two engineers from India, killing 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla and wounding 32-year-old Alok Madasani. He also wounded two other bar patrons who tried to intervene. One of them, 24-year-old Ian Grillot, who is white, was seriously wounded.

After Purinton had been kicked out of the bar for being disruptive, he later came back with a weapon, shouted racial slurs at the two Indian men, and began shooting, also shouting “Get out of my country.”

Whether he presumed them to be Muslims (and assumed them to be terrorists-in-waiting or terrorist sympathizers) or whether he simply hated them because of the furious hatred so many white people have toward immigrants right now, legal or otherwise, this was an act of terrorism.

And yet, authorities, and notably the Trump regime, have been reluctant to call this domestic terrorism. They say they don’t know enough about Purinton’s motivations. They say it’s too soon to name it terrorism.

It’s always too soon when the attackers are white. They are almost always called lone wolves, while brown-skinned and/or Muslim attackers are quickly assumed to be tied to terrorist groups. It’s never too early to call a Muslim or a Black person a terrorist. Even when non-white shooters are found to be acting on their own, somehow they aren’t “lone wolves” like the white people are. At the very least, they are assumed to have been radicalized by extremist Muslim groups or philosophies. And then Muslims in general are viewed as terrorists, despite the fact the overwhelming percentage of them are anything but, and groups like Black Lives Matter are labeled terrorists by many white people just because a handful of people act out violently every once in a while at a BLM protest or the like.

How quickly we forget that the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed not only adults but children in a daycare facility there, was committed by two white men, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (and two white accomplices, Michael and Lori Fortier). It was one of the worst acts of terrorism on our soil, motivated by the perpetrators’ hatred of the U.S. federal government and its handling of the 1993 Waco siege and the Ruby Ridge incident in 1992 (both of which involved actions against dangerous white extremists).

How quickly we focus on the 9/11 terrorist attack, which killed many more people but also is also the kind of thing that happens much less often…almost never, in fact, by comparison. Violence by white extremists…domestic white terrorists…is far more frequent and poses a much greater danger overall, especially to non-white people, Jews, LGBTQ people, Muslims and other groups that are marginalized by the government, society and/or large numbers of white, straight, supposedly “Christian” people in most cases. Shootings. Burnings of mosques or synagogues or Black Christian churches. Intimidation and beatings. And more.

Last year, for example, you were more likely to be shot by a toddler than harmed by a foreign terrorist. The fact is the 9/11 was a “lucky shot” by foreign terrorists. They killed so many but there’s never been anything like that before or since, nor much chance of something so dramatic happening again any time soon. Since 9/11, more people have been killed by white terrorists here in the United States than by Muslim terrorists.

Since Trump’s campaign to become president really heated up and since his election, terrorist violence against people in America based on racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia is up sharply. To claim that has nothing to do with Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims, immigrants and non-white people is beyond ridiculous. The cause and effect is clear. Trump and his cronies are happy to rile up the radical right white people, and they don’t care whom they harm, as long as they continue to divide us along lines of race and religion. As long as they continued to sow chaos that helps right-wing power-brokers seize more control and gain more support from white people who can only see the terrorist evil when it wears brown skin or a twisted version of the religion of Islam draped over it. And so many white people are so willing to buy into the lies that foreign terrorists or that innocent and socially conscious movements like Black Lives Matter are the real threats.

Terrorism is awful no matter who commits it. But we are long past the time when we need to name white terrorists as such. Terrorism hurts us all. But in this country, the people it hurts the most are the non-white people, because they get the brunt of overreaching police actions, increased levels of suspicion toward them, and more radicalized white people targeting them when violence is committed by a Muslim or an angry Black person. These victims are all too visible, they are often unprotected by the government compared to white people, and they are fewer in number. Easily targeted. Easily demonized. Easily made the scapegoats. Easily killed, jailed or deported when they’ve done no harm.

Overwhelmingly, white people have little to fear overall from Muslim or Black terrorism, because it is such a small part of the picture of violence in America. But Black and Muslim people, and so many other marginalized groups, have much more to fear from white terrorists.

Name them for what they are. Punish them for what they are. In the land of supposed equality and justice, let them pay the same kinds of prices that Muslim terrorists do. Stop letting them get away with murder.
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Bookends for the school to prison pipeline, or DeVos and Sessions are poison

If I am to be honest, almost all of Donald Trump’s picks for his main minions (cabinet positions and such) I find horrifying.

It started, of course, with Steve Bannon as chief strategist and possibly as a top member of the National Security Council (though apparently the law and tradition might have something to say about that latter thing), a man who looks like he loves his booze as much as he loves white supremacy, racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. And that’s saying a lot.

But aside from having a Nazi kind of guy advising the president and apparently writing a lot of his executive orders and, apparently, kind of doing much of the president’s other work, my two biggest concerns are two recently confirmed Cabinet members: Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions.

The Secretary of Education and the U.S. Attorney General.

The soon-to-be Wonder Twins of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Students of color are among the most vulnerable to being shunted into the criminal justice system at a young age. In fact, studies show that student of color are unfairly targeted for all kinds of disciplinary action, out of proportion to white students (even white students who commit the same, similar or worse offenses).

And with this already the situation, what do we face now?

A Secretary of Education (DeVos) who has never been to public school, never taught or administered at one, and never sent her kids to one. A woman who champions charter schools and likes more religion mixed in with education. The kind of woman who, when she hears about failing schools in predominantly non-white areas, most likely blames the parents and the kids rather than society’s (and government’s) failure to preserve and nurture public education. She sees privatization as the answer. Yes, and privatization of the prison system has worked so well, hasn’t it? We now have a higher rate of our population imprisoned than any other nation on Earth. Except that unlike that prison example, I don’t see privatization of schools leading to more students; it will lead to costs and profits being of higher importance than educating our kids.

And on the other end, what do we face with our Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer and chief lawyer of the nation? Jeff Sessions, a man who in the 1980s was deemed too racist to be a judge. He was too racist in 1986. The ‘80s. A time when America had in the theaters the movie “Soul Man” was really keen on putting Black people in prison in droves because of crack cocaine use. And I haven’t seen anything about Sessions that shows me he has turned over any kind of leaf and embraced racial equity or racial justice.

So, what do I foresee? An Education Secretary who will likely gut our public schools and likely support any efforts to increase disciplinary action against students in “troubled” schools (which I’m sure will rarely be the mostly white ones), which will likely become more troubled because of her policies. And then the KKK Keebler Elf-looking Sessions will be ready with a tough “law and order” approach for the nation that will lock people up more (especially if they aren’t white) and stop giving much of a care to issues like civil rights.

The school-to-prison pipeline seems to be very much on track. Truth is, it never stopped flowing and it’s always been well maintained. But I think the capacity is about to increase.
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