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Friday, December 12, 2014

Grumpy in "Post-Racial" America

I’ve been grumpy this week. The husband is working too much. The weather has been meh. The 16-year-old complained that our town is too white – and I don’t disagree. She worries that perfectly nice people grow up to be racists simply because they aren’t familiar with people of other colors, especially black people. Including herself. She’s worried about herself. Made me really miss NYC.  Even if you live in a bubble in NYC, you encounter people of other colors and classes as you move around the city.

A couple months ago, on the WTF Podcast, Marc Maron interviewed a comedian called Ms Pat (Episode 540). This interview was really great.  Really great. Ms Pat comes from inner city Atlanta. She's black, and grew up poor, and she was pregnant at 13. And she has gotten out and moved to a northern city and to a mostly white suburb. She explains her upbringing and the attitudes of the disenfranchised poor in the ghetto. She makes it funny, and therefore palatable. There’s intentional wall-building on the part of the inner city folk. A sense of f-you if you won’t help me out and make room and recognize my humanity, then I don’t want any part of yours. Thus the intentional crude and unschooled attitude, the anti-"bougie" stance. It’s self-defeating by being so repellent. On the other hand, it’s understandable.

Anyway, Ms.Pat. If you're not likely to visit the WTF Podcast, or you find Marc Maron crass and tiresome, which he can be, here’s a sample on YouTube of Ms Pat. 

So in my handy dandy New York Times, I read that popping some magic mushrooms could help me feel less anxious and happier. One Eugenia Bone, the author of this opinion piece, wrote that on a psychotropic mushroom trip, "I envisioned my body as a ship that was taking me through life, and that made it beautiful. I stopped feeling guilty about growing older and regretful about losing my looks. Instead, I felt overwhelming gratitude. It was a tremendous relief that I still feel.”

I want some of that mushroom juice. Because this phrase in particular, “guilty about growing older,” struck me. Guilt. Or shame. About a less than perfect, youthful body. I relate. As if it’s somehow shameful to grow older. As if it reflects badly on one to show signs of age. I relate to that, and I reject it. I must, right? I mean. 

Okay, am I rejecting it? Because, Readers, I did highlight my hair. And I use face cream. And other cosmetics. And, ironically, just at the point in my life when I’m losing it, I feel very appreciative of my waist and want to highlight it in my fashion ensembles. In fact, just at this point in my life I’ve suddenly started paying close attention to what I wear. That’s not exactly rejecting the shame of decaying in public. Which is why I'm considering trying some psychotropic mushrooms. Never tried 'em. 

Decaying in public.

Like our society. The good news is I’m in sync with the times. I have company. Along with our commitment to human welfare, civil rights, and the “Pursuit of happiness,” I’m decaying in public.

As Auntie Mame might say, “That’s enough of that.”

I told you I'm grumpy. 

Okay, here’s a cute thing. This boot. 

This arrived in the mail the other day with a note saying, “No we haven’t got the wrong size; we’re just letting you know we have your order and we’re working hard on getting it to you.” This because I ordered a pair of LL Bean boots, you know those basic duck boots, those boots I hated when I first became aware of them back in 1978. Anyway, I ordered a pair of the old standby (with Gortex and Thinsulate), and they were backordered. Backordered until the end of February.

Hello? End of February my, uh, foot. That will be practically spring. Oh, sure, up here in the Northeast, we might be a few blizzards shy of actual spring, but we will definitely be at least 4/5 of the way through winter.

This isn’t a problem for me, actually. I still have my L.L.Bean boots. They are about 25 years old and going strong. No, these are for the 16 year-old. Said I, when I discovered this backorder business, “Hmmm. If my 16-year-old wants L.L.Bean boots, then they must be having a popularity surge.” And sure enough, I learned, when I went for lunch with a well-informed friend (a librarian, of course), that L.L.Bean has experienced such a run on their boots that they are making more machines to make more boots to meet demand. Apparently this is because of the Normcore trend among college students and young adults. Normcoreis all about “intentional blandness." Once again, I guess, it's hip to be square. 

So let’s just get one thing straight. Apparently these boots, which I loathed as representing Preppy back in my teen years; these boots, which I caved to and bought in my twenties because they are the best boots for cold, slushy snow (I lived in Boston); these boots now appeal to my style-conscious teen. The one who wears flannel ironically, with a miniskirt. And Dr. Martens combat boots.

You know, when I was – how shall I phrase this? Young – too general? Twenty-something-overused? In extended adolescence – yes, that’s it – when I was in extended adolescence, the person who wore Dr. Martens combat boots was not the same person who wore L.L.Bean boots. Just saying.

That flannel she wears, by the way? Mine. Vintage. From L.L.Bean. Although, come to think of it, I bought it during the Grunge Phase in the late Eighties, and I wore it with Dr. Martens (shoes, not boots). So what is my point? I don't have one. 

Have a good weekend.

Friday, December 5, 2014

You know, I really wanted to write something clever and amusing about my cyclamen plant. I got it
last year at the food co-op. It had beautiful flowers that kept dying and returning for months. Then the plant turned dry and dead looking. I was really sad. I searched the interwebs and discovered that cyclamen experience dormancy during the summer, and that I should put the plant in a cool, dark place until the fall. So I did. Then, about a month ago, I remembered it was there. I brought it back upstairs and put it on the windowsill. Well, it looked dead. Dead, dead, dead.

Anyway, I wanted to write about that, maybe make an nice analogy to something in my life. But national events – grand jury decisions and protests – intervened.

You know, I like to pretend I live in a certain kind of world: liberal, reasonable, open to all kinds of religions, sexual preferences, gender designations, career choices, and so on. That liberal elite. Yes, I am very comfortable there.

Following the news of the grand jury’s decisions in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner was news of the results of a two year study of police policy and procedures in Cleveland. Conclusion: police often act with excessive force resulting in damaged community relations, not to mention damaged lives. Was anyone surprised? Did anyone read that?

Anyone who read the Kerner Commission Report in 1967 wouldn’t have been, apparently. This commission was set up to examine the underlying causes of  the riots happening in various inner cities across the US at that time, in the olden days. I was three when the Kerner Commission Report came out, so I don’t remember this firsthand. According to my latest New Yorker, that report “is best known for its conclusion that the United States was ‘moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.’” 

I guess the Kerner Report was right.

For 5 years I lived at the intersection of those worlds, on the edge of East Harlem and the Upper East Side. My kids went to an elementary school in East Harlem where they were in the minority, color-wise. Also, and to a lesser degree, economically. East Harlem, in case you don’t know, used to be known as Spanish Harlem, or El Barrio, and it’s one of those pockets of Manhattan that remains mostly ungentrified. The school day my children spent in East Harlem, but all of their extra-curricular activities met below 96th Street, in the white part of town.

Those five years were an amazing education. I made some friends, first with some of the other white parents, but eventually with some of the non-white parents. That took longer. But I noticed that whatever color they were, my friends were similar to me in key ways, in education, in family’s education primarily, of life expectations for ourselves and our children. We were of the same economic class. The parents of those kids from El Barrio (East Harlem) and I – we didn’t really know each other. The elder daughter was friends with someone from the neighborhood, but her mother really seemed reluctant to let her come to our apartment  - and my daughter never entered the vestibule of her building. She was never asked.

Nevertheless, Hurricane Katrina was the first real shocker to me. Sure, in ed school I read about the underclass, and I read about de-facto segregation in public schools. Heck, I experienced that. But those images of the poor at the Superdome? My God, what country was that? That was so much more real. All those people, mostly poor, mostly poorly educated, basically abandoned. Horrible to contemplate. They were so unappealing looking, too. But I had to ask myself, what separated me from them? Luck, education, money. 

Ten years later, ten more years of government policies meant to destroy the social fabric, to eliminate the government’s responsibility to care for people. Ten more years of policies that elevate business values and dehumanize people, and we’ve got this defacto segregation more than ever. Horrible to contemplate. I read in Backlash by Susan Faludi that the Heritage Foundation, that conservative think-tank behind the Moral Majority, had at its founding, the explict goal of turning the clock back to 1954. Well. 1954 was the year of Brown v. Board of Education, that ruled that “Separate but Equal” was not constitutional and gave a lot of momentum to the civil rights movement. Jim Crow laws were still in effect. Abortion illegal. So on. Turning back all the civil rights gains, including women’s rights. People really wanted - want to do this. I cannot understand that. 

I cannot understand why people would want to do that, but I now understand that people do. So I conclude that I live in a different world than a lot of other people. And this is not ok.

Race, class, education. Those are the boundaries of my little world. I guess I thought it was bigger. I am awakened now.  

One of my friends wrote on Facebook that she has given up hope. She wrote that she wants a reason to feel some optimism, but she worries that the future will bring more of the same.

Well, there is my cyclamen. It looked dead. People who shall remain unidentified made fun of its deadness. Someone moved it off the windowsill, closer to the trash. But I watered it anyway. I noticed that the water didn’t gush out of the bottom of the pot. There were roots holding it in there, buried. And then, just this week, I saw a couple of green shoots. I had been right. I hadn’t given up.

And we can’t do it for our country, either. I’d say the good that comes of the bad here is that more people are educated to the reality of the racial and economic divide before us. Laws shaped this situation, and they can reshape it as well. Protests shape the protesters as much as, or more than, those against whom they protest. Those people shape the laws. And the laws shape justice. So, no, I don’t give up hope entirely. I feel that we – I – have been able to ignore the problem for a long time; but now that it’s out in the open, there’s a chance to do something about it.