Thoughts on “morality”

Last night I went to the movies with a 69 year old activist, feminist woman whom I met through my local Democratic club. She’s been protesting since the 1960s, her son served on active duty in the Army in Iraq,  and she’d suggested we go see Loving at the cheap theater near her house.

I didn’t know anything about this movie. Not the premise, not the actors, nothing. The only thing she said was that it had something to do with civil rights.

The story centers on the lives of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginian couple who’s marriage successfully defeated the ban on interracial marriage in the Supreme Court in 1967.

As the final credits were rolling on screen, she asked me if I realized how recent that was. “It was around the time I graduated high school,” she told me. That’s when it sunk in, the recency of this “history.”

I was born in 1978. I’m no math wizard, but that’s ….that’s 11 years from 1967.

Eleven years before I was born, it was illegal for people to marry people they loved because they were different.

And now, not really all that many years later, we’ve barely achieved the legal freedom for people to marry people they love because they’re exactly the same – and the current administration seems pretty comfortable with taking those rights away.

People say we’ve come so far, but …no, we really haven’t, have we?

It’s interesting to me that the country is so focused on one religion right now. Muslims – it seems like either you’re buying into the vilification of a fundamentally peaceful religion or you’re forming a protest line to protect their right to pray.

You hear the people screaming that it doesn’t belong in public, but those same people scream that prayer and the teaching of creationism should be enforced in schools.

Meanwhile, it’s a so-called “Christian” that blows up a Mosque in Canada. I’m pretty sure it’s not Muslims that are painting swastikas and calling in bomb threats on Jewish centers in my own state.

You can easily find factual data that tell a story about violence caused in the name of Christianity vs violence caused in the name of Islam or any other religion and…well, both historically and more recently, the data does not reflect the rhetoric of our current government.

Yet, I don’t believe religious people of any kind are inherently evil. I know many, many good people who are very religious Christians, Muslims, and Jews. There are those who might disagree with me on certain issues, but overall – they are kind, generous, loving people who care about others.

But most of the best people I’ve known are also atheist or agnostic.

I’ve been questioning the concept of “morality” for a while. Why is it that people feel like they need religion to enforce their own morality? I’m not convinced the people who established the “morality” of a religion were even all that moral to begin with.

The thing about stoning women and selling your daughters? Yeah, I don’t buy it.

It’s not to say that they got it all wrong. There’s that whole thing about loving your neighbor, but I didn’t ever see the version of the Bible that had the footnote excluding neighbors that are darker in complexion than you are.

It’s the same way that I see laws sometimes. Before Loving vs. Virginia, there was a law that said a black woman could not be married to a white man – and the basis for this law? According to the movie “God didn’t intend for the races to mix, that’s why he put them all on separate continents.”

The lapse in logic in this argument blows me away.

I mean, I think it’s bullshit, but let’s accept the premise that God intended for all the races to stay in their corners of the world…

Do the white people realize that they’re the ones that started mixing shit up? Nobody invited them to cross the ocean and settle in the New World. Nobody invited them to kidnap Africans and bring them there to do all the heavy lifting, either.

But God is gonna frown on interracial couples, but not the people who put them together in the first place?

Nah, “manifest destiny,” they claim. There’s a destiny decreed by God that Americans will spread their moral virtue on the world. That’s what bothers me. When you have people putting words in God’s mouth for personal gain.

It’s never really about God when it’s about power. Certainly not when the party seeking power is uplifted mostly when another party is downtrodden.

This is why I don’t practice any religion and why I adamantly believe that religion is frequently a toxin to morality rather than its arbiter.

Frequently, I said. Not always.

But there I am, one of the people standing between an administration and their religious-based targets.

This is not about how things affect me. Most of the causes I passionately fight for do not affect me. I am not lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, or asexual. I am not a person of color. I was born here. I am gainfully employed, financially comfortable, am in good overall health and get health insurance through my employer with or without the ACA. I’m definitely not Muslim, nor am I Native American. Nobody wants to bulldoze my home to put in pipeline. For that matter, I own my home and nobody has been trying to lay claim on it despite the paperwork that says it’s mine. When I’m hungry, I eat, and when I’m thirsty, clean water is available straight from the faucet. I can afford birth control and I’ve never been pregnant, and at my age – am unlikely to become so without medical intervention. I am never misgendered and nobody ever questions which public restroom I can use. In fact, there have been times I’ve even used the men’s restroom when the women’s line was so long, and nobody batted an eye.

And yet you’ll see me out there fighting for all of the people who cannot claim any of those privileges. What drives me isn’t only what benefits me. I am driven by own sense of what is right and wrong – my on-board moral compass that thinks critically and independently of a highly-flawed ancient text written by the highly flawed race of humanity – whether you are talking about the Bible that hates on gays or the Constitution that allowed for slavery before it was amended.

Maybe someone wants to make the argument that my sense of morality comes from God the way they attribute people’s talents to a higher power. I’m fine with that. It doesn’t affect me.

And I would fight for your right to think it has something to do with God, even if I don’t.

Because it’s not about me, specifically. It’s about freedom.

And that’s about us all.

Advertisements

Ms. Hardy’s 6th Grade Class

I remember the first time I became aware of her. I was sent to her classroom with a note from another teacher.  I’d stepped in just as she was quieting down her students after some sort of disruption, and she turned her head as I opened the door with her big, almost accusatory eyes piercing through my timid little soul.

I handed her the note and her demeanor changed.  “Oh. Okay.  Thank you.”

The following year, she I was assigned to her sixth grade class.

I’ll admit, I was scared. I remember talking to my friend about her.  Until then, all our teachers had been ….

What’s the word I’m looking for?

Sweet? Passive? I don’t know. They all just seemed like they liked us.

Not her.  She could quiet a room full of schoolchildren with a stern look. She was there to teach, not to babysit us.

And teach us she did.  After a few weeks, I started to realize that Miss Hardy wasn’t really all that scary. She didn’t have to like us. She respected us. She was an excellent teacher. It was in that class that I first learned there was such a thing as Black History Month.

Or maybe, it was in that class that I first paid attention to it.

Because Miss Hardy was black.

I remember thinking it was strange – that all of Black History could be taught in one month. It didn’t make sense to me.  Why wouldn’t we learn about historical Black figures throughout the year? I also pondered why it had to be the *shortest* month that was picked for this focused instruction.

That’s a question a naive child asks herself – the naive child who had learned about the United States Constitution and believed everything she’d heard about an America that believed in Civil Rights, denounced cruel and unusual punishment, and valued truth, liberty, and justice for all.

Oh, sweet, dear young me.

Most of my memories of actually learning can be traced back to the year I spent in Miss Hardy’s 6th grade class. I remember details from the lessons she taught me more clearly than any other in my entire educational history, all the way into college. I still have all 51 prepositions memorized in alphabetical order.  I still use many of our weekly vocabulary words in every day sentences.  I first became fascinated with the story of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in her class. I looked at pictures of the ruins in Ancient Rome – these relics of ancient history and learned about the importance of innovation with the aqueducts. We drew the ocean currents in blue crayon on a huge world map across the back wall.

She was the teacher that interrupted our scheduled lesson for the day to pass around the front page of the newspaper the year that the Berlin Wall came down. She explained its significance to us.

But there was much more she taught me that I didn’t even realize I had carried with me all this time. She taught me not to judge people based on their appearance or their first impression. She taught me that to be respected was often significantly more important than to be liked. She taught me about the America that I could be proud of despite its questionable history.

I miss that America, sometimes.

Today is the first day of Black History Month for 2017.  It makes plenty of sense to me now.

Angry White Woman

I’m angry.

I’m angry, and it’s not just because recent events have exposed my complacency with an imbalanced system because I was under the impression that “things will get better.”

I mean, that makes me angry. It makes me angry to have been so wrong. It means I was believing lies and avoiding truths.

There was a time when I was actively avoiding truths. I wasn’t pretending they didn’t exist, I was just putting on the blinders so I wouldn’t have to see them. I knew they were there.

Like those videos with the animals and the Sarah McLachlan song. I couldn’t watch them without crying and feeling completely heartbroken. So I’d mute the TV, go off to get a drink, or change the channel. I knew that my not watching wasn’t automatically saving all those animals from hardships. I knew that shit was still happening. All I was doing was trying to avoid the additional hardship of feeling helpless to do anything about it (other than send money).

Last year, I started doing a little more. It was either the #BlackLivesMatter movement or the Orlando Pulse shooting that woke me up a little and helped me realize that my blinders were a disservice to my convictions and the causes I believe in. They were making me complacent, and in some ways complicit.

Now, I’m no big social media star. My voice doesn’t have much range in the grand scheme of things, but it has some range.

So I started writing. It’s what I can do. Possibly not the very least, but pretty close to down there.

Then the Flaming Yam* became our national main course. I got really angry because it was pretty much proof that the reality I thought I existed in – the “things will get better” reality – was way off base.

I was so wrong. So wrong.

I tore off the blinders. I started to see, not just where the injustices play out in the media and in the lives of people I’ve never met, but even in my own family and in my own (in)actions.

I struggled hard last week – coming off the high of that incredible show of civil discourse in the March that exponentially eclipsed Captain Tangerine’s inauguration – I struggled with the heavy levels of criticism that came, not from those who oppose everything we stand for, but from within the community of my allies.

It was that feeling again. That uncomfortable feeling, but without the Sarah McLachlan song as a signal it was coming. Why? Because, in a way, they were right.

In every way, they were right.

Now, in reality – in my reality – I’d done as much for the BLM and LGBTQ causes as I did for the Women’s March.

I blogged about them. Again, pretty close to the least I could do. I didn’t show up in person for any of them, to put my physical whiteness on the line for the causes I believe in. I just blogged, under my pseudonym from the safety of my suburban home.

The difference, though, was my intention. If I hadn’t had to work that day, I had planned to go to the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

I had the intention of doing more.

So the criticism, while difficult to face – was right on the money.

For those who follow me on twitter, or who intersect with me on Facebook, you’ve likely seen a change. I’m a little more vocal now and there are a lot more political messages coming out along with the cute pictures of cats doing funny things.

But, I’m also done doing the very least I can do. Earlier this week, I rolled my window down and thanked a homeless man who rushed needlessly to move some things out of the way when I was driving past him. Before? I might have waved and smiled. I took a moment and viewed him as a person and not an extra in the story of my life. (That’s the writer in me that believes every piece of dialogue in a well-written story serves to inform the plot or move it forward, rather than the simple gesture of a hand wave that would have been forgotten by the next scene.)

I’ve RSVP’d and am planning to attend local marches and protests being organized to protest on behalf of a number of causes that don’t personally affect me. I am not black. I have great health insurance. I’m not at great risk of having an unwanted pregnancy. I have the right to marry because I’d choose someone that our oppressors wouldn’t find objectionable (polyamory notwithstanding). I’m pretty darned heterosexual, and as a widow, I’m given a bit more of a free pass for being an unmarried woman without children in this society.

I’ve gotten involved with my local Indivisible chapter and am planning to take a day off from work next week to join a group or citizens in a local visit to my republican representative in congress – a man who won by less than 2% of the vote in my district.

I’m reading a lot more, I’m fact checking a lot more, and I’m allowing myself exposure voices I care about who might not have the nicest things to say about me based on the way that I look.

As a fellow blogger wrote, “they don’t know what’s in my heart.” They don’t know that I identify culturally more along the lines of Latino than Caucasian. They don’t know my first language was Spanish and my parents were immigrants from Latin America, and great grandparents were from Syria and Egypt. They don’t know this by the way I look.

But for how long have they endured living a life where they are under constant scrutiny and prejudice for the way that they look? For how long have I benefited socially from the paleness of my skin and the blue of my eyes?

Maybe it’s time I walk a little in those ill-fitting shoes.

I’m “leaning in” to my discomfort.

I want to thank the people in my life who listened to me as struggled with this over the past week. I didn’t come to this conclusion right away. I had to do some soul searching and a whole lot of listening before I figured out why their truth was so hurtful, even though I knew it was true.

But mostly, I want to thank this woman for posting this video on facebook. This is the one that helped me come to terms with my discomfort. I hope you’ll watch it. I hope you’ll listen.

And I hope you’ll join me in doing a whole lot more than the very least we can do.

(Flaming Yam* taken from a comment someone left on a blog. I can’t take credit for it, but holy shit it gave me a good laugh this morning.)

Afflicting the Comfortable

I heard a quote yesterday during a conference. The key note speaker called it out as his favorite quote. We “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”

I just saw a friend on twitter lament over a post on facebook asking “why does everything have to be about race?”

And…yeah. Because it is. But it’s a really uncomfortable reality, isn’t it? When you are the comfortable and not the afflicted and everyone wants to talk about the injustice that people who look like you perpetrate on people who look like them?

I wrote the posts about my dad a couple nights ago because I was really upset. I was really upset about the turn that conversation took. But, at the end of the day, I know my father loves me. I know that, for the most part, he’s a decent person. I was never abused or lacked for anything. I have had a very comfortable life with all my needs and most of my wants addressed.

So it makes me uncomfortable when I have to face the imperfections of my parents. When I have to face the fact that, as their daughter, my power to change them is limited. That my ability to cry and get what i want out of them stopped a long time ago.

i’ve had my dad unfollowed on facebook for years now. Started during the original Obama presidential campaign. He’s a conservative republican and a troll, so his posts hit ALL my buttons.

A cousin of mine likes to get into it with him. He’s like, the liberal version of my dad. Loves to get into the weeds of a political debate. My late husband was kind of like that, until there was a big family blow up that caused a rift and then we all decided never to speak about politics or racism again.

Anyway, so my cousin posted something the other day – about racism in America. Calling out the hypocrisy of people up in arms about a guy taking a knee during the national anthem, but seemingly unperturbed by the many guys getting shot by police without cause.

My dad commented that he took offense to the post. ‘Cause America is the greatest country in the world, y’all!

I sent my cousin a private message. I wanted to make sure he knew my dad mostly likes just getting a rise out of people and conveyed that I was impressed he (my cousin) put up with my dad’s bullshit so frequently.

My cousin wrote back:
“it’s funny because it’s exactly the same with my dad. Anyway, I think your dad and I still respect each other, we just have vastly different views. Most of that generation have bought into a political and cultural narrative [as immigrants]that they feel defines their love for this country. I think it’s possible to still love my country while recognizing its flaws and fighting to make it better for people who aren’t as fortunate as the rest of us. Your dad and my dad are good hearted and intelligent people, they’re just very much in a bubble and poking holes in that makes them very uncomfortable. So, we get on each other’s case sometimes, but I think we also both enjoy the reparte.”

Until …probably some time around the Pulse shooting in Orlando, I would nearly always run away from a fight. Until then, I would choose to disengage rather than engage with people who made me uncomfortable with their willingness to get me to the point of rage with their debate. I learned this from my interactions with my dad.

It is a lot easier to remember that i love him very much when we don’t engage in the conversations that make me want to use life’s “block” button on him. To paraphrase from my cousin, I think it’s possible to still love my dad while recognizing his flaws…I just stopped short of the fight to make him better.

Slowly but surely I’ve been a little more vocal on the topics that matter to me that are sometimes the very same ones I used to keep quiet on. But I guess I’d rather go head to head in a debate with someone on Fetlife than risk losing my relationship with my family. I don’t have so much invested here. I’m able to stay comfortable.

The turn the conversation with my dad took the other night definitely afflicted my comfort zone.

I still don’t know how I feel about that. Maybe that’s a good thing.

How the #BlackLivesMatter and #LGBTQ Rights movements helped a straight white girl become a better person

I went to a frozen yogurt place today after work. A woman walked in with two young girls. I’m not good at guessing ages, but I’d guess they were somewhere between the ages of nine and twelve.

Here’s the part that I never would have mentioned in the story before. The woman and one of the girls were black.

My parents like to tell the story of the first time they met with my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. H. Mrs. H was a remarkable force in education. She was a no-nonsense educator with a dry sense of humor. I used to come home and talk about Mrs. H nonstop after school.

I never mentioned she was black. My parents didn’t know until they met her on Open House night for the first time. They tell this story with both a sense of surprise and pride. Surprised it didn’t occur to me to mention to them that my teacher was black, and proud that they’d managed to raise a kid in a whitewashed neighborhood that didn’t think her blackness was material information in response to “how was your day?”

As far as what happened in the frozen yogurt shop this afternoon, the color of their skin is not material. Except…maybe it was.

So, they walk in just ahead of me and we’re kind of moving around each other to take sample tastes of the different flavors. The girls were fond of Cake Batter while I was all over Peanut Butter Cup and Mudslide. I smiled and waited patiently as they made their selections.

One of the girls (the black one) went to try the special edition “Ice Age” flavor and the machine squirted out blue liquid. It got a little messy and she was a little shocked.

“All I did was pull the lever down and it splattered,” she said to nobody in particular. Her mom was a few machines down, filling up her cup with Vanilla Snow.

“Yeah, it sure did,” I responded to her. “Here, let me grab you some napkins.”

And I did. She thanked me.

Then she turned around again and, almost with a tone of surprise, added “You’re really nice.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“And really pretty,” she added.

Wasn’t expecting that. “Thank you,” I said.

The other girl turned around and nodded. “Yeah, I really like your shirt, too.”

“Wow,” I said to them both. “You’re both really nice, too!”

Took them a little longer to get rung up than me, so I was already sitting down and eating when they were heading out the door. I looked up and smiled and waved bye to the girls, and offered the mom that was with them a big smile.

“Have a great afternoon!” she told me. And it was sincere. Not just a bunch of words, but I felt like she was sincerely wishing me a great afternoon.

“You too!” and I meant it.


A few things to note. I grew up with a Mexican nanny who took care of my brother and me while our parents worked long retail hours in their furniture store. She lived with us, along with her two kids. Each of her kids had different fathers, so one was very dark skinned, one was lighter skinned, and my brother and I were both pale, blonde haired and blue-eyed.

She used to take us all out on errands or to McDonalds or to the movies, and whenever people would ask which ones were hers, she’d respond “All of them.”

We were raised as a family. They’re my two extra brothers. My parents paid their way through the same private school my brother and I went to. They had all the privileges of being raised in an upper-middle class suburban environment, but they still faced certain prejudices based on their names and the way they looked.

So, when I saw this woman with the two girls, I consciously made the decision to not assume ANYTHING about them. For all I knew, she could have adopted the two of them and they were sisters. The whiteness and blackness of the girls did not dictate their relationship to each other nor the woman who was with them.

However, during the time that she was paying for their yogurts, she talked to the white girl about whether her parents let her put that many toppings in her yogurt when they went out, so….y’know. Turns out the conclusion I might have jumped to would have been the correct one.


Ok, so I started thinking. I feel like the #BlackLivesMatter movement has made me more aware of my interactions with (the admittedly few) black people I run into. It’s not that I wouldn’t have offered any other little girl a napkin under the circumstances, but I do feel like I was making a conscious effort to smile and be friendly because of what I’ve been reading and seeing in the news lately.

Similarly, my understanding of trans and gender issues grew exponentially when I became close with a friend of mine who speaks eloquently on eir experience as a gender queer individual. I’ve found myself noticing when I’m using binary references to gender, and in my writing, have made a conscious effort to move away from saying “men and women” and toward saying “people.”

I’ve never really had a history of treating people differently because of their color, sexuality, or gender identification. I think, in fact, it’d be more accurate to say I treated them with indifference. No better and no worse than anybody else I’d run into during the course of a day. I treated them the same as I’d treat the next stranger who walked past me.

Something else I’ve managed to finally understand through many of the writings I’ve read and conversations I’ve had is the concept of “privilege.”

I’ve got lots of them. I’m white-looking. I’m educated. I come from a tight-knit nuclear family of means. Even being “pretty” is itself a privilege. I might even say I have geographical privilege, because where I live, people tend to be more liberal, multi-cultural, and accepting – so my latina/jewish background never really had much of a negative effect on me.

Sometimes people talk of privilege with disdain, so I understand why people feel defensive about their privileges. Like, it’s not my fault that I was born white(ish). Not my fault I was born into a successfully entrepreneurial family. I don’t like feeling guilty about my privileges.

But I do understand now that these same privileges inherently mean I do not fully comprehend what it’s like to be hungry, or poor, or disenfranchised. I don’t understand what it’s like to be hated for loving who you love or looking the way you look. I can sympathize. I can validate. I can try to understand.

But I don’t know.

What the #BlackLivesMatter movement has done is opened my eyes to how similar experiences differ from one person to the next. When I get pulled over for a traffic violation, I usually know exactly what I did and I’m not too concerned about my physical safety. I have the privilege to be annoyed, rather than frightened.

I think what #BlackLivesMatter and similar movements for LGBTQ rights has taught me is that my indifference is not a virtue. What happened this afternoon in the yogurt shop was that I made an extra effort to be kind to a fellow human being, because in my head all I could think was “her life matters.”

And her response? Telling me that I’m really nice? That really touched me.

She made me feel like my life mattered, too.