Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Revolution You Do Not Want Will Start in the Middle

Dear Friend,
Voting rights are under attack across the nation, and I want you to help protect them!
When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act last year, it got rid of a powerful tool to end discrimination at polling places.  States and localities across the country are now enacting and implementing anti-voter rules that will keep many Americans' voices from being heard.
I'm asking Congress to stand up for every voter and fix the VRA -- will you join me?

Don't believe it? Need more proof? Well, here ya' go!

Well, I know that's about all people can take in at one time. And I'm leaving the commentary out because I have some other things I need to write about. But right now, this issue feels very urgent. People, you had better understand something pretty soon. W.B. Yeats said it best in one of my favorite poems, "The Second Coming".  

 Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

Where is the "centre" in the United States of America?  This is my opinion, but it's Missouri. The revolution you do not want will probably start in the middle.

African Americans lining up to vote in 1965 after the Voting Rights Act was passed: 
This picture is part of the America's Black Holocaust Museum collection. To see this historical photograph and more, click on this link: America's Black Holocaust Museum

Monday, September 15, 2014

Too many have that others could live

I had a conversation a few days ago with my niece, Jasmine Shortt, about the importance of young African Americans knowing and understanding the history of what people have sacrificed over the past 400+ years, so that long standing institutions based on racial hatred, assumed superiority and economic benefits for the ruling class no longer have the type of stranglehold and taint on this country that they did at one time. Many young people don't know, or if they do, they don't understand what it means to them because people have a tendency to preach instead of teach. In my opinion, history has be broken down, put into context, and made personal to THEM. Otherwise, it's all about the Hamlet effect: "Words, words, words."
What I told Jasmine is that many people died so that her grandparents, my parents, could own their home at 8420 Fawcett Avenue in Tacoma, Washington and at 2124 Kirk Way in Sacramento, California. The house in Tacoma was in a mostly White neighborhood. It was nearly impossible for most Africans Americans to live in a neighborhood like that prior to the Civil Rights Movement. This is important for young people of all races to understand, not just AfrIcan Americans. The life they have now is the direct result of people being beaten, lynched, sprayed with water hoses and attacked by huge German Shepards. The end result of these painful sacrifices was that de jure segregation (meaning segregation was the law) ended, and my parents were able to buy homes, and my siblings and I attended schools that would have been forbidden to my parents. And my children, niece and grandson haven't had to experience that kind of life, except through the stories I tell them. And I would like the stories they tell their children to be even better.
I wanted to perhaps show how people have literally been dying for centuries in the most grisly ways, but the pictures I viewed were simply too much for most of the people here on Facebook. They are absolutely horrific. But this is part of America's history, and it kept happening until enough people stood up, Black and White, were united after a Chicago teenager named Emmett Till, visiting relatives in Mississippi, was beaten and mutilated beyond what would seem humanly possible. Then his body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River. That was the first lightning rod for what would become the Civil Rights Movement. I can't tell you how this makes me feel to read about the Emmett Till murder, since it happened only three years before I was born. I can only say that I kept shivering, and it is not cold here in Sacramento. I have lived a very good life, thanks to them. If you want to know more about Emmett Till and the Civil Rights Movement, check this web page on Biography:
On, follow the tragic story of Emmett Till, who was tortured and killed after supposedly flirting with a white woman in Mississippi in 1955.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ray Rice, Domestic Violence and my experiences with the second topic

My ex husband and I never had what anyone could call a "good relationship". I have to own up to my part in this: by the time I met him, I was very unsure of myself and suffering from the effects of a very out of control eating disorder, low self esteem, guilt about being a disappointment to my parents (this was a projection of my own disturbing thoughts; they never did show me any indication that they were disappointed in me), and, at age 22, I had dropped out the last semester of my senior year in college. I told myself that I needed a job more than I needed the degree because I wanted to move out of my parents' house. But that wasn't it. Here's the truth. I had an obsessive need to look like the many stunningly beautiful Black women I saw each day. I thought if I looked as good as they did, I could snag a boyfriend just as easily as I imagined they had done. The mixture of imagination, jealousy, resentment, and insecurity is an extremely bad combination for anyone. My unsolicited but experienced advice: Don't do that to yourself. It's extremely bad for your mental health.

But I was obese, depressed, unable to walk delicately in high heels, fashionably style my hair, wear stylish clothes and put on makeup like those women. In other words, I hated being ME. The only thing I had going for myself was that I had managed to snag an internship with the Sacramento Observer Newspaper, which turned into a full time position as a staff writer. I regretted dropping out of my English program at California State University, Sacramento, but I was so depressed at that time that I would go to the campus, buy some food, find a place to sit in the dining area of the University Union building, and stare out of the huge pane windows at people walking across the quad until I fell asleep. Consequently, I missed a lot of classes, and my grades reflected that problem.

After working for the Sacramento Observer for a little over a year, I met the man who I would eventually marry. At the time, I had been very influenced by many activists who had written and published numerous Black Power Movement books and articles, and I believed that my place in that post movement had been illuminated by this passage, written by Amiri Baraka (Everett LeRoi Jones):

We are beautiful people
With African imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with African eyes, and noses, and arms
tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun. 

We have been captured,
and we labor to make our getaway, into
the ancient image; into a new 

Correspondence with ourselves
and our Black family. We need magic
now we need the spells, to raise up
return, destroy,and create. What will be 

the sacred word?

From "Ka' Ba" by Amiri Baraka

Partly because I felt disconnected from my culture because I grew up in a somewhat "privileged" middle class family (and it was, compared to my parents' impoverished lives growing up in the Jim Crow South), and partly because I've always been the kind of person who "fights for the underdog", I felt an obligation to "help" (alarm bells should go off in your heads, dear readers), by marrying a man who would acknowledge my willingness to do what it takes to make up for whatever racism has stolen from him. Seems noble enough, right? It isn't. It's pure ego. It's not within my power to "lift up" anyone except myself. And with my less-than-zero self esteem, I should have been working on lifting myself up out the dregs of self pity, food addiction, depression and codependency. But I had no clue what was going on with me at the time. I thought if I could just find a Black man who would appreciate my willingness to help him get past whatever obstacles were in his path through life, I would feel complete. Yes, those are five alarm fire bells you hear going off right now.

Short version of the story: I did meet a Black man who...well, I don't know what he thought. I only know what I thought. He was my rehabilitation project. I was going to make over a guy who came from a horrendously abusive family and had been in and out of juvenile detention centers and jails since he was 13. He was 19 when we met. Almost two years later, we got married and had our first child, a girl. When that baby girl was only four months old and I was still breastfeeding her, he leaned over the front passenger seat of his mother's car while she was driving us to a Fourth of July gathering at her friend's house, pinned me against the back seat and smashed his fist into my face several times. We had been arguing, although I don't remember what it was about. He had quit his job, which was a violation of his solemn promise that he would "take care of his family" while I stayed home with our baby.  I had to go back to my parents house because we lost the apartment we were living in. On top of that, he was sleeping around with other women. 

But the clincher was when he called my mother a bitch. I saw red. No one calls my mother a bitch to my face, especially since the man who did so wasn't doing anything that I thought was productive to our little family, unless you consider doing drugs and sleeping around with a bunch of skanky chicks "productive". In a state of unbridled fury, I poured the can of soda that I was drinking on his head. That's when he pinned me against the back seat and proceeded to punch my face into an unrecognizable mass of blood and bruises. Did he knock me unconscious the way Ray Rice did to his then girlfriend, now wife? I honestly don't remember, which probably answers the question. I remember being pummeled, and hearing sounds that resembled Rocky Balboa hitting that cow carcass in that meat processing plant scene from the first "Rocky" movie, The next thing I remember was being on the ground beside his mother's car. Somehow, I was taken to his mother's friend's house, and laid down on a bed. I stayed there while complete strangers placed ice wrapped in towels on my face. At one point, I had to go to the restroom. I peered into the mirror and nearly fainted. My face was an unrecognizable mass of black, blue and purple bruises and welts. I looked like a monster. My eyes were nearly closed slits. After that, I don't remember much. 

At some point, I was taken to the emergency room at Mercy San Juan Hospital in Citrus Heights, where X-rays were taken of my head. Again, my memory is sketchy about the details of my hospital stay, but I was told that in addition to the numerous cuts, bruises and swelling on my face, I had a crushed right cheekbone and a concussion, which turned out bad enough to cause traumatic brain injury and memory loss, which was something I didn't realize until I was tested for what I thought would be math learning disabilities in 2013.* Moreover, the doctor told me that if I had been struck one millimeter closer to my temple, I would have been killed. He was shaking with rage as he told me this, and asked me who had done such a thing to me. I was too ashamed to tell him it was my husband. How could I be so stupid to marry a man who would beat me so badly that I was unrecognizable? I told him it was "a relative". When he demanded to know who this "relative" was, I couldn't answer him. Deep shame, confusion and remorse seemed to pour over me like hot tar. What could I say? That I was a lonely, desperate woman who married a complete loser who nearly beat me to death? I wasn't surprised when the doctor stormed out of the room.

I had surgery to repair my broken cheekbone, and, after three days in the hospital I was taken back to my parents' house, where bedridden for two weeks. My breast milk had dried up so I could no longer nurse my daughter, which I grieved about when I wasn't drowsy and weak from the pain medication. I had bandages wrapped around my entire head, which made laying down on the stack of pillows on my bed very uncomfortable. At some point, my ex mother in law came to visit me, which was something she NEVER did before. My ex husband was on the run from the police, and she wanted me to drop the felony assault charges that had been filed against him. She was firmly persistent, coming over every day to convince me to go to the police and tell them it was all a mistake, and I didn't want to move forward with the criminal case. "Just tell them you're going to file for divorce, and that will be punishment enough for him", she told me. 

At that point, I felt extraordinarily stressed out, exhausted and in constant pain. I had trouble remembering where I was and how I got there. The only thing I was certain about was that my head never seemed to stop pounding, and the only thing that helped me feel better was holding my baby girl. After a week of those strange daily visits from my mother in law, who I was never close to in the first place, I consented to dropping the charges. She drove me down to the police station, where I signed the papers, and drove me back to my parents' house. With her oldest child finally safe from the police, she finally left me alone to heal. I didn't see or hear from her for nearly three years after that.

I didn't know it at the time, but what I was also suffering from is now known as Battered Woman Syndrome. , an emotionally vulnerable and confusing state of fear and uncertainty that makes leaving an abusive spouse extremely difficult. During that period, my ex husband threatened to harm my family if I tried to divorce him and take his daughter away from him. I knew that wasn't going to happen; my father had already gone after him with his 30 OT 6 deer hunting rifle (outfitted with a scope, of course), and Dad was such a well trained marksman throughout his 24 years in the Air Force that he had exceeded the qualifications for the FBI whenever he went to the shooting range. He also brought along my 16 year old brother Ricky, who was armed with his trusty 22 rifle, which he had been using to go duck and pheasant hunting with my father since he was 12. He was also a very good marksman. My ex ran and jumped his grandmother's backyard fence when he heard my father's truck come to a screeching halt in front of her house. He knew he didn't stand a chance if they got a bead on him. For my part, I didn't want to be responsible for any bloodshed, and my father and brother going to jail for my mistake (another symptom of Battered Woman Syndrome). I went back to my husband, and an uneasy truce between my family and his was in place for the next six years. 

For most of those years, he refrained from beating me up. He slapped me twice, and I grabbed a butcher knife in retaliation. What he did more often was frighten me by saying he would take our children (we eventually had three, girl, boy, girl) away from me, and at one point, threatened to throw them from our second story apartment balcony. 

These were acts of emotional terrorism, and for me, much more painful than being hit. I began planning to divorce him after our third child was born, and secured loan to pay a paralegal firm to help me fill out the paperwork for a simple divorce, since he had ravaged all of  the money in our joint bank account for crack and sex with various unsavory women, so we had no money or property to argue over. His drug addiction and behavior had been reeling out of control for nearly six months. The death note for the marriage was struck after he went on a month long drug binge in which he went into hiding with a 14 year old runaway girl, an act of insanity that made the front page of the local newspaper. The police kept calling me to see if I could give them information I didn't have about his street life adventures. 

He finally called me, tweaking badly from the crack and screaming obscenities into the receiver of a pay phone, I told him that he shouldn't bother coming home; he was not welcome, and I had changed the locks. He shrieked that he was going to be there in five minutes to kill me. I was tired of the drama. I hung up, called my mother and informed her that I was going to kill my husband because he had threatened to kill me. I hung up again, then called the police to tell them that the man they had been looking for had finally called me, and if they didn't get there soon they would have to come pick him up with the coroner's wagon because I wasn't going to let him hurt me again. I hung up from that call, went to bedroom closet, pulled down all of the clothes that were on hangers, dumped them on the closet floor, then grabbed the pole, which I intended to use as a weapon. There was a crash on glass in the living room, and my ex husband was bellowing obscenities. I ran out of the bedroom, and he lunged toward me brandishing a large Bowie knife , which he seemed to intent on using to open up a vital organ in my stomach. He would have been successful if I hadn't instinctively met each blow with the closet pole. The battle ended when I struck him on the side of his head just as my mother came through the front door, followed by several members of the Sacramento Police Department. A few of the officers were fruitlessly pleading with my mother to stay back, which she ignored as she gathered up my terrified and sobbing children and took them outside. Other officers successfully convinced me that it was safe to put the closet pole down; they weren't going to let my ex husband hurt me. I complied. Of course, he roared in anger, and threatened me, my mother, and the police. He continued to do so as he was led away in handcuffs.  

I filed the papers successfully, and a year later, we were legally divorced. I didn't ask for alimony or child support because he was in jail for almost two years, and I knew that he had no inclination to secure any kind of employment once he had served his time. I now consider myself very fortunate. The Ray Rice case has brought all of this to the forefront of my mind, but as I was looking up statistics concerning the physical abuse of women in the United States, I came across stories on Twitter about South Africa's Para-Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorious, who was found not guilty of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. All I can do is realize that I am indeed fortunate. My experiences with domestic violence could have ended very differently. 

Janay Rice, I'm sure, loves her husband and wants all this to go away. While I can't say that I relate to the love your husband part (as ugly as this is, the fact remains that I selfishly wanted to feel better about myself by "rehabilitating" a troubled person, and that is not love), I can relate to wanting domestic violence and the subsequent fallout from it to go away. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Once a person stoops to punching, biting, pushing, burning, slapping or throwing objects at the woman he claims to love, the door becomes wide open to increasingly more violent incidents. I hope and pray her situation doesn't end tragically the way Ms. Steenkamp's did.

*I do have a spatial perception disorder, which has caused me enormous problems with handwriting, art projects in school, measuring things, using scissors or a knife, trying to sew, organizing my living spaces, etc.) I was shocked to discover that my short term memory is pretty bad, especially for someone my age. The first question the psychologist asked me after the test was, "Have you ever had a head injury?" Of course I had.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Unintentional Deception

The post started with a simple declaration: I think I am in love with someone! What should I do?
Usually, when I post on Facebook, it's about some cause or issue that I am passionate about. And usually, I'm lucky if five people like the post. I've hit the lotto if someone comments. But when I put up that question, which wasn't at all what it seemed to be, I was flooded with comments, suggestions and a couple of jokes. (I really liked the jokes!) I was flabberghasted. I thought most of them would be suspicious that I would post something like that because a) they know that I am not into mushy romantic stuff; b) In the five years I've been on Facebook, I've never posted anything like that before. I might post an article from a psychology website about (cough, cough) romance and relationships, but that's about it. I don't talk about myself that much, and I'm certainly not going to put myself out there on blast if I were in a relationship. But the comments and advice were delightful and numerous, and I intend to refer to them if I ever meet "Mr. Right". They could be useful.

But that's not the reason I posted the aforementioned comment. It was part of one of those annual spoofs on Facebook that are designed to capture peoples' attention so I could tell them about Breast Cancer Awareness, and the need of self exams and early detection techniques, such as 3D imaging. (Actually, one of my friends posted about the imaging.)

You can read the comments by clicking on the link I provided in the first sentence. But I am re-posting what I told my friends about the real purpose of my so called love declaration.

All right, time for me to come clean with this! But first, I need to tell all of you a story about two women who were friends of mine. The first one is Myrtle Stephens, who was not only a dear friend, but an adopted aunt to my children. Myrtle worked in community theater, in addition to being a very talented, Elly award winning actress here in Sacramento. She was also the theater director for Celebration Arts Theater, and my children took acting classes with her and James Wheatley from the time they were very young until they became teenagers. Myrtle and James were generous and patient by producing two of the plays I wrote, too. More than that, Myrtle was a very, very good friend. We always laughed until tears streamed down our faces whenever my sister Tam, my friend Cindy Heavens and way too many other people to name over to our house for an impromptu dinner party, "just 'cause" One party was epic. I pan fried salmon, made homemade macaroni and cheese, and my sister made cornbread, greens and (I think) chocolate chip pound cake. Myrle did her typical thing: ate until she had to undo her pants, laid down on her back in the middle of the living room, and started snoring. My kids came in from a rehearsal at the theater, looked down at her sprawled on the floor and cracked up laughing. Myrtle moved around a bit, muttered "Y'all go to hell!" and resumed snoring. I can't begin to tell you how much I laughed that night, especially since Myrtle very rarely used a single cuss word when she was awake!

Now I have to tell you about my friend Carol. I met her through my sister, and she was one of the thinnest persons i've ever met. One day, we were all sitting and talking in the Pub, one of the eating and drinking places on the Sacramento State University campus, and Carol said to me, "I bet I can eat more than you!" I looked at her sideways. At the time, I probably weighed around 350 pounds. I was avoiding, um, taking a break from 12 step programs for food issues back then. Carol's body looked like the Black woman's version of Olive Oyl, which is the way she described herself. "You have GOT TO BE kidding me!" I told her. Tam said, "Angie, don't do it. I'm warning you!" But, being the competitive Aries that I am, I took her up on the challenge. The eat-off took place at an all you can eat vegan buffet restaurant that was then located in downtown Sacramento. It was Carol's favorite place to "get down" with some food. I was amused by how confident she was about being able to "eat so much more than you can imagine". There was NO WAY this skinny child could eat more than me! Well...I had one plate of food that was loaded down with food, but didn't even come close to that Leaning Tower of Pisa Carol had piled on her plate. She finished that and went back for her second plate while I was still trying to finish the first. By the time I tried to go for my second plate, Carol had finished plate four and was working on her dessert. I couldn't believe it. How did she manage to fit all that food in that rail thin, itty bitty body of hers? I couldn't even finish the second plate, let alone dessert! I had to concede. She beat me. I couldn't handle another bite. Carol grinned at me and said, "Don't you want some dessert?" Then she finished off what was on my plate. Then she got me with the zinger: "That was really good, but in two hours I'll be ready to eat some more!" I sounded like Lurch from the Adams Family: "Uuhhhh!" I had to go home to lay down for a long nap.

Why have I told you these long stories about my two friends? Because I no longer have them in my life. I lost, no, the world lost Myrtle and Carol to breast cancer. And I have one friend who has sucessfully made it through breast cancer treatment and living her life full tilt as she's always done, and another friend who has been very recently diagnosed and has begun treatment. I don't like losing my friends to this disease. I miss them, and I don't want to miss anymore of my friends. The post that I did about being in love with someone was for the purpose of gearing up for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October:. The National Breast Cancer Foundation/ I apologize for the deception, but it was for a very worthy cause. Like I said, I don't want to lose another friend. If it makes any difference, I did have a special man in my life, but we parted ways amicably last month. I'm not very good at this relationship thing. I'm incredibly self asorbed, and I'm not always, no, rarely aware of when I'm in that state. But if, by some miracle, I ever meet a man who can put up with a stubborn, very opinionated and determined-to-do-her-own-thing woman, I will keep everything you have posted in mind. Maybe I will have better luck next time!

It still baffles me that people would rather comment about "love" instead of what's going on in Ferguson, Missouri, Gaza and Israel, Iraq/Syria with ISIS or ISIL, Russia and Ukraine, or the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa. But that's me. News and issues that affect people is something that I am passionate about. I know there are other people are just as passionate as I am. A few of them are my Facebook friends. But the vast majority of my friends on that site are kind, virtuous people, mostly Baha'is and Christians, who adore the simple pleasures of life such as laughing at funny animal videos, praying for those who are sick or going through hard times, and posting pictures of family, friends and special occasions. I think there's one of those damned life lessons that I'm supposed to be learning from this.