Monday, August 14, 2017

Racist rampage: Charlottesville, revisited

It really can’t be lost that those today decrying a preservation of whiteness are rallying around iconography that celebrates a rejection of the United States. Nor should the level of violence that broke out in Thomas Jefferson’s backyard come as a real shock. It’s been brewing for some time. 

Last weekend’s assembly in Charlottesville – Unite the Right – descended on the small liberal Virginia college town under the guise of protesting the proposed removal of statutes of leading Confederate figures.

But they actually came because they are racists and are desperate to retain the vestiges of power racism offers, especially as wealth and the world passes them by. Those excusing their behavior are participants by proxy. Period.

Defined, racism is the ardent belief that one race’s superiority – in this case, white people – not only exists, but should be exercised and maintained by every available social, legal, financial and policy means available.

The neo-Nazis, the white nationalists and Ku Klux Klan that gathered in Charlottesville hold this view. And these torch-bearing Neanderthals traveled from across the country to spew racist, anti-Semitic bilge under the guise of protecting “white heritage.”

Believing that the First Amendment prescription for hate speech is more speech, counter protesters met them, to defend their town and ideals. Mayhem and even death ensued. 
Heyer


Heather D. Heyer, 32, along with Virginia State troopers H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke Bates, days from  turning 41, lost their lives in the aftermath.
 That so-called conservatives are laying blame for the violence on the counter protesters besmirches America. There are others who say white nationalists have “legitimate” concerns. 

There is a shorter explanation for this alt-right placation: "Racism works for me, thanks. Just don't call me a racist."

You see, “racist” has taken on the connotation of the vulgar and ugly, and no one wants to be so linked. It’s so unsophisticated, so impolite.

Better to believe things just happen for certain groups, as if by osmosis, an inherent abundance or lack of fill-in-the-blank –  intellect, talent, ethic, breeding, looks, charm or so on.

And never mention any type of unspoken edge or “privilege.” That would assume some mindfully requested advantage, as opposed to self-determination (see above fill-in-the-blank).

Chris Rock famously pointed out back in 1999 that when it gets down to it, average white people wouldn’t want to change places with even rich black people. They’d prefer things as they are, with some folks on top. Since most of those on top look alike, that must be the natural order of things, goes the thinking.

In Jefferson’s day, it was understood that only white (Anglo-Saxon, if you please) men counted when it came to possessing power, and those who gathered in Charlottesville deeply hold that conviction. They were determined to exercise it on behalf of all white people, even those who are content to blithely enjoy the fruits of their racist labor.

So they swathed themselves in symbolism to demonstrate their contempt for anything other than what truth they hold to be self-evident. Like those Confederates before them, they stood in open rebellion to the values of the United States of America. Like the Nazis who stood in open rebellion to the world, seeking to divide and conquer.

Both are textbook definitions for enemies of the state. So are terrorists, except when those doing the terrorizing are white. Then, heinous misdeeds seem to find new nomenclature.

That split view wasn’t lost on those rally participants, declaring they were just there to defend against affronts to “white heritage.” 

Brandishing Nazi swastikas is a harder sell. There’s little that could be less patriotic, something pointed out vigorously by a range of people across the political spectrum, from U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, all more forcefully than the U.S. president.

It took this president two passes to address Charlottesville, the second landing 48 hours after the carnage and only slightly stronger than the first. Both came couched amid braggadocio regarding plans for the U.S. economy. To borrow from his vocabulary, “Sad!”

The president's party succinctly says what he couldn't manage
It confirmed what many suspected, even feared, with his election. There’s no evidence that he’s an ardent alt-right follower, though key administration figures such as Stephen K. Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen Miller and others are near-celebrities in such circles.

But he’s clearly an opportunist, and the ways of this president bring
a heavy moral baggage that left unchecked will translate into more wink-nods of tacit consent to those wailing to “take their country back” – by any means necessary, including more American bloodshed.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why ending hunger deserves your attention

In the midst of my typical morning routine, it hit. Slammed, actually.
That urgent growl rising deeply, rumbling and stabbing my stomach. That normal, albeit painful, signal letting me know I was empty and it’s time to eat. But upon deeper reflection, I realized I can’t call it hunger. Momentary discomfort, even a little listlessness, sure. But not true hunger

Hunger is a near-insatiable sensation wracking your entire body, beginning with your brain flashing messages of despair, crying on behalf of your weakened state, due to missing energy-inducing nutrients. It’s a yearning for the luscious delights of food, dreams held but rarely realized. 

Hunger is an all-too familiar feeling around the world and eight American aid agencies are drilling down on this fact, focusing attention on a famine set to engulf some 20 million people in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia. 

Courtesy: Global Emergency Response
The Global Emergency Response initiative is admirable in its scope and purpose. Rather than wrangle for the spotlight or individual dollar donations, these known NGOs – CARE, World Vision, Save the Children, Oxfam America, Mercy Corps, Plan International, International Medical Corps and Rescue – are banding together to direct resources to this cause. 

In rallying Americans, and the world, they hope to effort to avert a horrible humanitarian crisis. And death by starvation among enough people to populate Canada is a looming crisis. And an avoidable one. 

This African-centered effort pinpoints one type of hunger in the world. But others just as horrific continue to unfold around us daily, as millions are displaced due to ongoing conflicts, both man made and natural. The devastation in Syria and the Middle East and the ongoing attempts to restore normalcy inHaiti are but two blaring examples. There, you have a hunger for food as well as a hunger for home, for safety and love. 

Stories of those struggling to survive – from treacherous seas to suspicious new neighbors in foreign lands – can break your heart, if you take the time to listen, to watch. Likely, that’s why many prefer the bliss of ignorance. Sometimes, the mind can only take but so much pain. Escapism is easier.

My escapes often are in the kitchen, as I relish the joys of food, both cooking and eating. The colors, textures, flavors and aromas long drew me toward pots, pans and plates, and continue to entice me there when life gets stressful, evident by my Instagram feed

Being without those comforts, both physical and emotional, is nearly unfathomable for a foodie like myself. Yet, that’s the reality for many, including millions of children. And the honest among us recognize that some of those kids and families are just a few doors down. 

Yes, the majority of Americans are “food secure,” meaning we have enough to supply basic meals. Still, hunger among our neighbors is one of our most oft-ignored facts. Some 1 in 8 Pennsylvanians don’t have enough food to eat, according to Feeding America’s latest tallies. In Philly, that number is closer to 1 in 5.  

Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports there are 15.8 million “food insecure” households

Despite this down news, the up note is those numbers have been dropping, largely due to new policies and increasing philanthropy. Due to people like you. 

It’s the sort of infectious spirit we can stand to increase. 


There’s a food bank waiting for your drop off. A web site deserving of your clicked donation. A lawmaker’s office needing to hear your voice. Together, we can defeat hunger, in our neighborhoods and in the world. 

So let’s do this.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

DVR Alert: Latest media appearance

If you missed your friendly-neighborhood browngirl's one-day hit June 27 on WURD Radio, subbing for Steph Renee on the Midday MOJO, never fear! You can catch your favorite Philly pundit on 6abc-TV's Inside Story today at 11:30 a.m.

(L-R) G. Terry Madonna, the author, Tamala Edwards,
Sam Katz and Val DiGiorgio weigh in on the world.
Of course, if you're not in front of the TV or the DVR didn't record, you may yet be saved! On Tuesday, you should be able to retrieve the episode online here

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The face of privilege in America

There was a time that “kid” applied to a child who was not yet a legal adult, someone between the post-infant ages of 2 and 17. So it’s fairly perplexing to consider a 39-year-old man as a “kid.”

Or a 30-year-old man. 

Or even an 18-year-old, for that matter.

Then again, there tend to be convenient exceptions when reconciling poor judgment or criminal behavior.

Be wealthy, say, Donald Trump Jr., and flagrant actions that could be considered treasonous are tossed off as “mistakes” by a “nice young man,” a “good kid.” 

Be motivated, say, Edward Snowden, and impertinent activities may be considered “patriotic.”

Be sheltered, say, Brock Turner, and “20 minutes of actions” can be dismissed as a youthful yearning to “fit in.”

We claim to frown upon selling out your country or raping our women. But those standards clearly don’t apply across the board.  Our society can – and does, routinely – excuse the activities of those whom we value, even if those activities are antithetical to principles we have codified. 

Faces of American privilege (l.-r.):
 Donald J. Trump Jr., Edward Snowden and Brock Turner

Articles I and III of the U.S. Constitution give specific references and definitions for federal crimes, as outlined by the Founding Fathers – piracy, counterfeiting and treason. Given such prominent positioning, one could extrapolate that in the minds of the nation’s original framers, theft, even murder (which they got to in 1790), were considered of lesser gravity to the health of the republic than the other aforementioned infractions.

A traitor, then, would be deemed worst than a killer – or drug pusher – following Constitutional originalist theory, often attributed to conservative jurists such as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia,  Self-proclaimed political conservatives love to extol the views of these jurists. And traitors certainly wouldn’t qualify as people grinding to “Make America Great Again.” That may be why the unfolding case of Trump Jr. is marked as “a Democratic witch hunt.” The recriminations might make your head spin. In short: Nothing to see here!

Switch to Snowden, the infamous former National Security Agency contractor who leaked confidential cables casting the Obama Administration in a poor light, and find conservatives hailing him as a “patriot.” Ditto some liberals. The Kremlin extended his asylum last January through 2020, because of uncertainty about how the new administration would handle him. But these mink-cozy Russian relations fostered by the current president could mean an even earlier, jail-free return for Snowden.

When Turner’s father wrote to the judge presiding over his rape case and pleaded with him to release his son on probation, he argued that jail time would be too harsh for “20 minutes of action.” His mother sent her own save-my-tender-son letter, conveniently failing to acknowledge the Stanford swimmer’s arrest or disturbing behavior that predated the sexual assault charges. While his crimes could have landed Turner a 14-year sentence – or at least two years, according to minimum statutory requirements, Judge Aaron Persky defended his decision to release Turner after a six month stint in jail. After all, he did tack on three years of probation.

Yay, justice for all.

Except for average black boys in school, or walking down the street. They are instantly suspected of something, even if they demonstrate identical – and unpunished – actions of their white peers. Black boys as young as 10 are seen as “men” in the eyes of too many police officers. Teachers reflect the same biases, except the age of perceived guilt among black and brown boys drops to preschool level.

See, being privileged in America has many meanings. Being allowed to be a “kid” who “made a mistake” is one. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Verdict in Philando Castile slaying presents more heartache, cynicism and anger

Mid-week, America approved a $100 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia, home to most of the 9/11 hijackers who visited the worst terrorist horror on our country in its history. During his recent state visit there, the current president assured Arabian leaders that the United States would no longer seek to impose our values on them, trifle matters like improving human rights records.

Instead, the new policy would focus on making deals and boosting “partnership.”

By Friday, this administration rescinded moves by President Obama to help normalize relations with Cuba. Citing “infringement on freedoms,” the current president attacked both Obama’s leadership and that of Cuba, and asserted that American values would reign again. 

Because America values human life and human rights. Except when black people enter the picture.

Philando Castile's life mattered.
Courtesy: Facebook

You see, later the same day, a Minnesota jury acquitted Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, the man who shot and killed Philando Castile in his own car last August. He was killed right beside his girlfriend as his 4-year-old daughter watched from the backseat, terrified.

Yanez wasn’t even being tried on murder charges; he faced manslaughter and endangering innocents.

He was cleared of it all.

By now, the shock and anger shouldn’t arise, right? Castile was only a black man, and our history shows black humanity remains a point of question, particularly when there’s an interaction with law enforcement. And it’s certainly difficult to see any justice arising in this verdict.

Licensed with a concealed carry permit, Castile had the temerity to tell Yanez that and he had a gun. Because not to tell the officer would, you know, be irresponsible. It’d cause him to risk posing an undisclosed threat and possible grounds to get shot.

So of course, Castile was shot anyway. While  trying to put up his hands. Demonstrating he posed no threat.

Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, had the presence of mind to jump onto Facebook to live stream what unfolded after he was shot. All the while, she worked to comfort their daughter, who watched a man armed by the state shoot into their car and kill her father for no apparent reason. She wanted to document an atrocity she saw happening.

Meanwhile, Yanez seemed to take his time in calling for help. Castile, the elementary school food service worker beloved by children, co-workers and family alike, bled out.

If you were waiting for the ever-boisterous NRA to file an amicus brief or even denounce this killing, you’re clearly still waiting – as are some of its members. The Minnesota jury didn’t focus on Castile’s standing under the Second Amendment, either.

Instead, jurors chose to fixate on the fact that Castile had smoked marijuana that night, the rationale Yanez gave for declaring his actions justified. The fact that white people with guns approach  police AND return home unharmed mattered not here.

Yanez wasn’t too moved by Castile’s humanity in the moment, nor the lifelong scars he’d inflict on Reynolds or her pre-school daughter. But in court, he was moved to tears as he described the incident, and made sure to demonstrate the sentiment so often cited by police officers questioned for killing black people – fearing for his life.

Because whenever a police officer in this country encounters a black person – male or female – there seems to be instantaneous fear, and quite often, acquittals, no matter the circumstances or even video caught by body cams or bystanders. 


Because juries empathize with them, that these officers feared for their lives.

There’s seldom such empathy for those who are terrorized by experiencing or hearing about such events, time and again. That’s despite the fact that America proclaims itself completely and totally vested in preserving human rights. 

Americans shake their heads when they read stories about destruction-bent suicide jihadists who want to inflict pain on others. So many fail to imagine a rage that would drive someone to such a desperate and despicable act.

Living as a black person in America could give you a glimpse into that level of despair. Guess that’s why our sense of patriotism often feels tenuous, especially when any passion we have for our nation of birth seems unrequited, at best.