Current Events

Rainy day musings on marriage, the Ashley Madison hack and judgment

I find myself sitting here on a cool and rainy day with the weight of the world straining my shoulders, pondering my life and my future as I stand at the crossroads of upheaval and change…yet I find myself absolutely engrossed in the story of the Ashley Madison hack and the almost unanimous judgment.

In case you aren’t up to speed let me help you. Ashley Madison is a website that, for the most part, is designed to help married people cheat on their spouses.  It’s safe to say that most people find such a site morally reprehensible, yet the reality is that people do cheat on their spouses (quite often on both sides of the gender fence) and in this market-driven world apparently the market created a niche to help such people. Funny thing is, cheating is as old as time; people have always cheated. It’s just that in our app-heavy, convenience-driven world, someone decided to make it easier for such people. A group calling itself The Impact Team found the whole situation morally repugnant and after telling AM’s parent group to take down the site and being rebuffed, it decided to release data on millions of users. Turns out some of the users of the site are quite known and, well, I suspect the past few days for those people have been quite uncomfortable.  

The majority of people I know have no sympathy for cheaters and I imagine most of my readers are in that same group. Which is why my own feelings on the matter may be a surprise. After over 20 years of marriage between two marriages, I think that marriages are complex and the reasons why people step out are even more complex. I think that we live in a culture that has elevated the institution of marriage without providing most people with a realistic framework for what a marriage really entails.

Most of us assume that all a marriage needs is love and, while love is an important piece of marriage, it is not the most important factor in my opinion. As I deal with my own shifting marital landscape, I can say that two people can love, respect and adore each other but be woefully unprepared for the hard work of sharing their life with another or evolve into two people who aren’t compatible cohabiting anymore, no matter how much they like each other. Marriage requires the ability to surrender and compromise and as long as the ongoing process of surrender and compromise is mutually beneficial, then the marriage continues. But sometimes that process is no longer mutually beneficial and to stay married means to give up so much of ourselves that we become a shell of who we once were.

Marriages hit rocky patches for any number of reasons and ideally a couple can fix the issue or resolve to end the relationship in a mindful and compassionate manner. However, life doesn’t always yield to best practices and relationships and connections become messy. Sometimes partners step out rather than to leave and while no doubt that is a questionable choice, one bad decision does not make a person beyond redemption nor does it invalidate any and all good they have done. It’s also a little presumptuous of those on the outside to assume there isn’t a silent or overt acceptance on the part of the other spouse to allow what so many of us would call indiscretions.

However in a 24-hour cycle world where we can consume details non-stop, it becomes easy to become judge and jury and to issue proclamations on those we will never know and revel in our own sense of righteousness. We may not cheat on our spouses but we easily forget the time we steal time and/or material from our employers when we choose to check our Facebook pages from the office or the office supplies we bring home. Or maybe it’s the “business” lunches we claim to lower our tax burden.

Yet our “cheats” will rarely be discovered and almost certainly never become public fodder so we pat ourselves on the back for being “good” people when in essence few of us are really good. Even professional do-gooders have bad moments. In case you haven’t figured out, I am not a fan of public pitchforks and shame sessions that often forget the humanity of those who transgressed and while shame can have merit, the public shame that has become our norm is rarely helpful and often far more dangerous because it forgets that we are dealing with people. It doesn’t give them a chance to reflect and change but instead exposes them to the entire world, risking (at times) their physical safety, employment and more.

At the end of the day, if one partner has cheated, that is for that couple and their family to deal with and decide their next steps, not outside people. Our culture is fickle when it comes to matters of cheating since we don’t lump all cheating in the same boat yet we find some strict moral compass on cheating when it involves married people…then again, as I noted before we have created a market that elevates marriage to an often unachievable standard.

Having lost a dear friend to suicide many years ago over the shame of an adulterous relationship, it scares me to think of how many lives could be prematurely ended over this hack and while we may all be having a good laugh and feeling better because we would never cheat…the fact is we don’t know what curveballs life will throw at us. Life is funny like that, as soon as we think we know what we would do, life sometimes takes us someplace else. Yet I suspect the one thing we all would like no matter what road we travel is respect and compassion for our less-than-stellar moments.
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Black pain and Black healing…why Black lives must matter

The pundits and social media spaces are abuzz with talk of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and organization. Obviously BLM’s exposure has increased with their recent disruptions of Bernie Sanders and now Hillary Clinton’s campaign events. For all the critics and talk, regardless of how one may feel about BLM as a movement and organization, BLM in my mind serves as a much-needed declaration for Black people ourselves.

To be Black in America is to truly live in a state of “double consciousness” as W.E.B. DuBois wrote many years ago. It is to learn far too early in life that the color of your skin renders you as “other” and to be viewed with suspicion in damn near every setting. It is to learn that you have very few friends and that the “helpers” are rarely there to help you but they will gladly help to send you to an early grave…sometimes for nothing more than being a child on a playground playing with a toy gun.

People tell us that race doesn’t matter and that it is class and financial inequity that plagues the Black community and that access to a solid education and good jobs will equalize the racial disparities. Yet a recent study that any college educated Black person, including yours truly, knows all too well is that playing by the rules that govern white culture don’t play out equally for Black bodies. It turns out that even when Black people are college educated, they still face a racialized wealth gap. In other words, far too many Black college-educated people are not living the same life that their white peers are living. Lower paying jobs, higher loan burdens and a host of factors mean that even the “good” Black people (as determined by the standards of white culture) are still getting the short end of the stick. And a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to follow it up.

Blackness comes at a cost and it takes a toll on Black people. I am firmly convinced that the cumulative effects of racism over a lifetime is one of the greatest reasons why Black people don’t live as long as their white counterparts. More than 40% of African Americans have high blood pressure. It tends to be more severe in Blacks and develop earlier in life. On a personal note, my own blood pressure has been teetering in the higher-than-normal (but not hypertension) zone for well over a year now. I wasn’t surprised when I found out; hypertension runs in my family and in my immediate family there was no diabetes or obesity, which are often used as markers for why Blacks develop hypertension.

I will tell you what was in my family and what is in my own life. Stress. The unrelenting stress of living in a country that is yours but is not yours, The stress of living and loving in a space that would prefer you to shut up and die. The stress of chronic underemployment, the stress of a lifetime of robbing Peter to pay Paul because no matter how many degrees you hold, you still earn less than your white counterparts and your debt load is higher because dear ole Mom and Dad had no nickels to salt away to help with your education. The stress of raising kids who must be raised to be compassionate and loving people in a world where their very presence means to wear a target on their body and essence.  The stress of speaking up and speaking out against injustice and achieving some level of “success” that leaves your humanity invisible to many who decide that you are, as a fellow writer friend calls, a “race portal” whose job is to “help” white people. The stress of never being allowed to just be a woman but a Black woman. These are just some of the stresses that I know keep my blood pressure elevated and body tense.

For my fellow Black brothers and sisters, we all have stressors of various degrees that keep us in a chronic state of fight or flight as we are fighting to live every day of our lives. The problem with nonstop wars though is that you never have an opportunity to rest, to recalibrate or to heal. I fear that for Black people we are in a place where we are dangerously on the edge. White supremacy affects us on such a deep level that we have never had a chance to heal as a collective. I think the lack of ability to heal the psychic scars of our ancestors brutal enslavement and subsequent history in the US have been passed from generation to generation and at times has made it hard for us to love not only ourselves but each other. That the Black collective conscience is in need of tender loving to breakdown the mental and emotional baggage that overwhelms us. The fight for full equality and humanity is being waged on a national and international level but the deep healing must start in our own spaces and lives. Black Lives Matter is many things at this moment in time but for me, I hear a call for healing and loving myself as a Black woman and for all the Black people who touch my life.

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Why We Can’t Wait…musings on Bernie, his stans and BLM

(Note: The headline is not a typo, as several readers have assumed since it was first published. The word “stan” in its simplest term is an extreme fan. Or, as Google will tell you: “A stan is an avid fan and supporter of a celebrity, franchise, or group, often a rock/pop musician. The object of the stan’s affection is often called their fave.” Or, as the online Urban Dictionary will tell you: “Based on the central character in the Eminem song of the same name, a “stan” is an overzealous maniacal fan for any celebrity or athlete.“)…and now, on with the post
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have long held the belief that one of the largest barriers to meaningful discussions on racial matters in the United States is the uncomfortable reality that, by and large, whites and Blacks live highly segregated lives. This de facto segregation, however, is not a two-way street; Black people usually must interact with white people because the majority of power and institutions are governed and controlled by whites. In Black communities, it is not unusual, as we saw in Ferguson, Missouri, that despite an overwhelmingly Black community, the people in control were primarily white. However white people can live, work and love in spaces and rarely if ever encounter a real live Black person. Living in Maine, I have had the first-hand experience in my 13 years in this state of being the first Black person that many people have actually known. This is not an uncommon situation outside urban areas, the South or the coasts. There are not insignificant numbers of white people who have little if any real interaction with Black people. The even dirtier secret is that even in more racially diverse places, oftentimes the communications and connections between people of different races is rarely beyond the superficial.

These silos of whiteness as I like to call them, while seemingly innocuous to those who find themselves ensconced in the silo, are often highly problematic as this country experiences a real demographic shift at a time when anti-Black sentiment is at an all-time high.

If nothing else, the recent brush-up between presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, his followers and the Black Lives Matters movement shows just how troublesome the silo of whiteness is when it is unable to recognize the humanity of a people under duress because of a lack of manners.

While the GOP is overflowing in wanna-be presidents, the other side is not. Which makes the Socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, a stand-out candidate because unlike the establishment favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie speaks for the little person in us all. Which is probably why Bernie is awash in energy as many people are looking for a candidate who might be able to truly shift this economic nightmare that threatens us all. Bernie also cares about the other issues that matter such as climate change. Bernie is a liberal progressive’s dreamboat. However despite Bernie’s platform and past history as someone who in his youth took a stand against segregation and racism, Bernie wasn’t saying much on matters of race in a day and age where the fragility of Black life is on display for all. Until members of the Black Lives Matter movement started disrupting his rallies.

I am not going to rehash the Black Lives Matter disruptions and Bernie’s eventual inclusion of a platform that does speak to matters of racial justice. What I am going to speak to is the reaction of Bernie’s supporters to Black Lives Matters tactics which, for anyone who is familiar with social justice work, should be familiar. In a nutshell, Bernie was and is the most accessible candidate and the one most likely to “hear” the movement and make changes in his own work, unlike Hillary Clinton or any member of the GOP. Even an old Socialist seems to have recognized the strategy and is adjusting his message accordingly.

However, after the most recent disruption in Seattle which turned ugly, it is clear that many white liberal progressives are not nearly the ally to Black folks that they think themselves to be. In fact, unless one is intentional in unpacking their own whiteness and white privilege, the sad reality is that many progressives are simply steeped in a paternalistic, colorblind fantasy that does not take into consideration real-life Black people and when confronted with real Black people who are in real pain, they can’t cope with it and they slide into their white supremacist mindset often without even realizing it.

For many of Bernie’s white supporters, they don’t want their candidate’s chances ruined which, while admirable, threatens to completely invalidate any understanding of just how serious the state violence that is currently being inflicted upon the Black community really is, while they simply fret that their candidate will get labeled a racist by Black activists. In attempting to link economic justice with racial equity, the Sanders campaign and its followers also paint the Black community with a broad brush that is rather offensive and insulting in that it assumes that the vast majority of Blacks are impoverished and maybe even uneducated when the reality is far more complicated than that especially in a day when Black women are one of the most better educated groups in the country (there is also an inherent assumption, quite naive, that economic equity will largely eliminate systemic racism).

The troubles that confront Black America are complex in part because of this country’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge and address just how harmful our racial past really was and how the effects are still playing out in 2015. Black Americans have been under siege and harmed for hundreds of years. Slavery ended in the 1800s but its replacement, Jim Crow, was alive and well into the 1960s. When we step back and realize that many who were born and raised under Jim Crow are still alive and understand the impact of that legacy upon younger generations of Black Americans, we see a puzzle that requires more than good-paying jobs and dash- or body-cams. It also becomes a lot clearer, if one can get past their own emotions, why today’s generation of young Black activists are not feeling like they can wait.

In many ways, the hard-won gains of the Civil Rights era are being rolled back…under the watch of our first Black president (token). Black life is viewed as disposable and denial of Black humanity is the norm.  The Black Lives Matter movement is rooted in the idea that Black Lives not only matter but that they have value and a place in a country that our ancestors helped to build without compensation. Black Lives Matter is not just a slogan but a public declaration of Black love for ourselves and when we love, we do what we need to for those who we love. There are many white-identified allies who are struggling with the “brazenness” of BLM and wondering if BLM is doing too much or pushing too hard. Yet when we look at the words of Martin Luther King (including the ones that began this post), we see that we have been here before.  In fact, Dr. King penned an entire book explaining why we can’t wait. It seems that the young people of Black Lives Matter are following in the rich tradition of King and others who understood that fighting for one’s humanity and freedom is never convenient, neither for themselves nor for those who don’t experience their oppression. To create true change involves disrupting the current systems that seek to oppress, and true allies and accomplices understand that to create equity means a willingness to give up something for the good of all. Anything less is empty words and more of the same.
This space is a commercial free zone that is reader supported. If the musings here are meaningful to you, please consider making a one-time gift or becoming a monthly patron. (If the “gift” link here doesn’t work, click on the “Donate” button in the lefthand sidebar of this page)


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