Running from my White-ness

This has been a difficult year for many as we adjust to a new government administration that seems the polar opposite of the previous eight years.  The past administration has been blamed for increasing racial tension and making our country less safe. I continue to look for any logic in their thinking, yet what I believed would be a uniting moment in our country’s tumultuous current state turned out to actually divide us more. My husband has been the voice of reason for eight years. He said that the increase in tension between cultural, political, religious and racial groups is due to the scab being removed and all the ugly coming to the surface. That actually makes a lot of sense, but the new administration seems to be a dirty bandage that is causing further infection.

Maybe it’s my generation, maybe it’s my liberal insanity or maybe it’s just my personal need to be everyone’s mother (I got an A+ in co-dependency), but I expect everyone to play nice. My feathers get very ruffled any time I perceive something as unfair or unjust. It stirs me up to the point of saying and writing things that may surprise people, even offend or anger them. Lately, though, I am beginning to wonder if my need to crusade for people of color and those who seem to be treated unfairly is just as biased in its obsession as the most racist among us in their need to oppress.  The answer may be what my husband said when he basically called me out on it with his simple words, “It’s not about black or white it’s about justice and equality.”

Me and my husband Mike
Me and my husband Mike

Now, I know that at first thought this statement seems strange, but it makes perfect sense once I apply my hubby’s logic. Equality and freedom are straight forward. We are either free and equal or we are not.  As Americans we believe in equal opportunity and freedom, after all it is what we are built on. If everything is measured by this standard we all know the truth. The battle for justice in this country boils down to education versus ignorance, fact versus fiction and responsible lawmaking.

The ugliness that has come out of the shadows over the past two years, leading up to and since the 2016 election of a new U.S. president, did not surprise me in its existence, but it did surprise me in its newfound arrogance. To be so openly bigoted is something not seen on such a scale in my lifetime. The ugly has been oozing out for some time, leaking into all walks of social and cultural groups. I have been inspired to climb onto a platform and fight for the voice of the oppressed to be heard…but now wonder if that action is actually defeating its purpose. Knowing that I am the epitome of the “white privilege” that plays such an important role in how and why we’ve gotten here, maybe there are better ways to help. I hope to discover those ways while writing this, but first must reveal the process that so many of us privileged Americans have experienced during our own enculturation, and how “whiteness” is about more than skin color.

My father, Hubert Wayne Bell, around 1955
My father, Hubert Wayne Bell, around 1955

Growing up I was fascinated by the Native American culture. I wanted to be part of that culture, and spent hours researching my dad’s family trying to find a connection that would prove my Native American bloodline. Though looking at my father, sister and brother one could plainly see some interesting colorful influence on our family gene pool, we have only 1% DNA connecting me to Native American. I do have a strong amount connecting me to Portugal, Spain and Morocco, with a slight trace from the Caucasus. The other 98% is Britain, made up primarily of English and Irish. Why does this matter to me? Should this matter to me? Somehow early in childhood I recognized and became fascinated by the differences in the faces I was seeing on television or in places outside my small town bubble. That helped to shape my attitude and view of different cultures, but I have begun to realize that the empathy I developed was misdirected by a watered down and outright censored education. My mother and grandmother were influential in shaping us with an open heart when it comes to all life, they were advocates for racial harmony and wholly against discrimination. I am grateful for the teachings of my mother and grandmother, but regret the lack of exposure to other cultures during my childhood. This lack of exposure led to an amusing ignorant understanding of other people. Let me share an example.

As a teenager I was in love with the Jackson 5.  I had all their records and wanted to marry Michael.  My little sister was influenced by that as well.  One day our family went to an out of town football game that my brothers played in while my sister and I joined the team cheerleaders on the sidelines. Our team was primarily White with a sprinkling of Hispanic, the other football team was entirely Black.  There was a large family sitting near us with the opposing team. When my six year old sister saw them she got very excited and yelled out, “Look mom, it’s the Jackson 5!”  My mom was horrified, she shushed my sister and smiled a shy apology to the family.  My sister’s reaction and our general response to anyone of color was born out of our fascination with them.  All children are curious about difference, and unless that curiosity is tainted by a racist environment they will explore and learn about each other without preconception.

Me (far right) with my siblings
Me (far right) with my siblings

At that same football game I took my little sister to the restroom which was packed with girls from the other team’s cheerleading squad.  We walked in the door, they stopped talking and stared at us. I smiled and said hello, then squeezed through them to take little sis to the stall. The silence was uncomfortable, but soon my sister finished and walked out to wash her hands. As we stood there, two of the girls came to the sink and asked if they could touch our hair. My hair was long, brown and straight, my sister had soft natural curls almost black in color. The girls began to smooth our hair, talking about how long it was, play with different braiding techniques and discussing its texture.  Then the other girls started to talk about their own hair and soon we were all talking about our hair, outfits and cheer leading. We went back to the game and waved to each other across the field.

When you grow up in a sheltered bubble, without any negative influence regarding difference, you maintain that untainted acceptance of everyone.  It is only when society or your family circle point out those differences that children form an opinion.  Racism is learned. In addition, as in my case, without exposure to different cultures and the opportunity to interact with them regularly, we cannot develop a natural understanding of each other.

My three daughters are very different in every way, but they also have had a common thread during their childhood. Each of them without prompting by anyone had a best or close friend in school who was Black. Now this may not seem like an odd occurrence in California, but the small city we lived in has a Black population of 0.9%. Thinking this over I realize that my sister and I may have influenced and encouraged our children with comments about equality, etc. over the years. This should be a good thing, right? But why does there need to be a reason for my children’s open acceptance of any friend that resonates with them? Isn’t this what I was trying to teach them? Did I influence them or were these natural friendships? Am I over-analyzing it?

Our family is quite diverse. I now have African American, Mexican, Filipino, Navajo, Romanian, Dutch, Hawaiian, and other mixtures in my family tree. This has helped me to realize that being in awe of such diversity may be racism on my part because I am emphasizing the difference. Yet, my reaction is born out of the past experience of that small town closed-minded mentality. My niece and nephew are half Puerto Rican, and they had their share of social difficulties living in an our town because of their dark skin and curly hair. I was angered time and again by the hateful comments thrown their way. As an adult in that same community, their mother, my little sister Wendy, endured comments about her choice of friends and mates.  After dating a Black man for a year or so she was referred to in our town as “that chick who dates Black guys.”  In fact, while attending school in this small town as kids, my brother came home from his first day of Kindergarten crying because the other kids called him “brown potato” due to his dark skin and hair. My sister and I have discussed this at length, and our adult children laugh at the emphasis we put on diversity. But what Wendy and I have concluded is that our under-exposure to diversity while growing up in a small white town, coupled with the philosophy taught by our family matriarch, made us crusaders instead of educators on the subject.

My niece Amanda and nephew Miguel
My niece Amanda and nephew Miguel, around 1993

This crusader persona manifested in a big way when one of my daughters did not want to participate in a class project on family heritage because she was ashamed of that heritage. Most of her friends were Hispanic or mixed race and she felt embarrassed because of the history she represented. Considering the fact that she has very light skin and blonde hair, I think they already knew her racial background, but she still tried to be something else.  I remember her even saying to me, “I am ashamed to be white.”  This disturbed me because I wanted her to be proud of her ancestors, but I understood where she was coming from.

But what about the guilt?  Why did I spend my life running from my whiteness? Why did my youngest daughter go through the same thing growing up? I began to realize that education had the greatest impact.  What I learned in my grade school days was so sugary sweet that I graduated with the belief that America was the savior of the world and that Slavery was a  blight caused by a few bad people wiped clean by the heroic Abraham Lincoln.  The Civil Rights Movement was touched on with very little information about Martin Luther King, Jr. and a lot of emphasis about how great President Kennedy was.

I believe it was the desecration of the Native American people, however, that kicked off my true passion for other cultures.  My great grandfather Arthur Buchanan lived for many years with the Blackfoot and  Lakota Sioux in Pine Ridge, and was seven years old when some of his friends were killed during the Wounded Knee massacre. He loved the Sioux people and spent much of his life helping them. His stories contributed to my fascination with them.

My Great-Great Grandparents
My Great-Great Grandparents

When I got into college and began to take history and philosophy courses, I started to wake up.  Some of the required books led to other books that opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of our history and the unfolding America.  I dove into the historical accounts of the Wounded Knee massacre and the obliteration of the First Nation people on our continent. I was also affected by the historical accounts of human atrocities across the globe. It was a Pandora’s Box and I craved more.  I found myself seeking out stories of conquest and oppression, from Manifest Destiny to the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition.  In most cases the common denominator in the historical accounts were European conquest and the progress of religion or entitlement.

I grew up barefoot running around on a farm.  At that time poor people in my part of California lived a farming life.  We grew most of our food and made a twice per year visit to Sears for clothes supplemented by hand-me-downs from relatives.  My parents came to California with their parents from Oklahoma and Michigan during the 1940’s.  Their ancestors were struggling farm folk as well. Irish, Scottish, English and a sprinkling of something mysterious rooted in the backcountry of the South, our family is a perfect representation of the so-called “melting pot” America has been referred as. But that melting pot is really more of an invasion, conquest and forced assimilation if we want to describe it accurately.

Me, dad, mom and siblings
Me, dad, mom and siblings

Maybe the realization of my heritage made me want to belong to something better. I was searching for identity, searching for a “race” or a heritage that had a culture I could be proud of.  What I’ve come to realize is that my culture is American, my race is American Stew and pride can be found in the multicolored beauty of the faces that built and continue to build this awesome country.  My husband’s simple words have me to understand that the way to a more united and equal America is by less separation and more conversation, a focus on our commonalities rather than our differences and finding pride in our diversity.  My childhood curiosity and need to connect to something exotic influenced me to discover the history of other cultures. That is a good thing, but becoming a naive crusader for people as if they do not have their own intellectual voice is really perpetuating the stigma that they are ignorant and need to be taken care of. Really? Who am I to speak for them?

We must reach a point at which we understand and embrace our differences as well as our commonalities so that we can move toward a more cohesive existence. But everyone needs to have a seat at the table in order to do that. We must agree that no matter what color, age, shape, gender or lifestyle we are equally deserving of justice and freedom, mercy and understanding. Starting from a point of equality and becoming the embodiment of the blindfolded Lady Justice, we must start a new conversation. We must be willing to listen to the stories from oppressed people about the daily adjustments they have had to make in order to feel safe and free. We must discuss ways to eliminate the need for a Black father to lecture his son about how to avoid being arrested, beaten or killed just because he is mistaken for a criminal. We must be willing to remember that this land was conquered and taken at the expense of other cultures, and that the people were not the ones who chose this for themselves but now are forced to abide by the decisions of their leaders. We also must be willing to accept the fact that most White people today have a mixed bag of ancestry with a naive understanding about other cultures, and not all of have hate and racism in their hearts. They do not always know how to help, but the desire to do so is present.

How can I serve my fellow Americans who have a history of oppression and injustice mixed into their rich culture?  By making sure that if I am going to stand up for the right of anyone it must be balanced, and that my recognition of one culture’s oppression while ignoring the point of view of another is biased.  I can serve by celebrating me, my family, and my history while continuing to lead by example.  Finally, I can make a difference by embracing who I am now without forgetting who we were, to be reminded that with freedom comes the responsibility to make sure EVERYONE among us is able to experience it.

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Trump’s House of Cards

cardsThe implosion of our current administration is imminent and patience is necessary for those waiting in the wings. President Donald Trump hit the ground running on his first day with a to-do list that stoked the fire of his base. One thing we can say for sure is that what we see is what we get. Everything being signed by the president is consistent with what he promised. The attitude is also no surprise. He was tweeting before and he will continue to tweet. Many Americans knew about the character of Donald Trump before the election, which is in part why they did not vote for him. It is the character, not the politics or policy that is dangerous.

A simple clue as to what type of person our President is can be seen in his reaction to situations. When called upon in public life to behave in a certain way, follow a particular protocol or honor a tradition, the expectation of decency and respect are accepted norms. It has become quite obvious that our new President does not care to adhere to these norms and continues to use that rogue attitude to fan the fire of his supporters. Though this is disappointing and frustrating, if it were only misogyny or non-nonconformity we might still be okay. The danger is that the vulgar lack of decorum is just the tip of the iceberg. We also have a man in the oval office that is not a fan of facts.

So how do we deal with a President who refuses to read, study, listen or adhere to basic protocol? What can citizens, agencies, officials and the press do to monitor an elected official who is paid by the people but refuses to allow transparency and follow guidelines? Normally the press would inform the citizens of all activities, the laws and protocols would ensure fidelity, and voting would make the changes when necessary. The difference in 2017 is that President Trump is attempting to block the ability of the press, citizens, law and protocol to do anything that might interfere with his agenda.

There is, however a weakness in this administration. It is the need to be “the greatest,” and a strong drive to be on top which elicits emotional reaction to any obstacle or opposition. The aftermath of this weakness is public tirades, poor judgment and decision making or revenge. While a bit scary regarding international affairs, rest assured that the obvious and most egregious missteps will not be allowed to come to fruition by the seasoned members of the administration.

The typical result of continued unchecked reactional behavior is an implosion as self-control becomes difficult and outbursts become regular. The only defense for the person is excuses, blame and untruths which become difficult to manage. Once their defense begins to unravel the person must create diversions with unsubstantiated accusations or fabrications that bolster their own cause. Here then lies the weakness. The same ego that drives the madness will also refuse the rules that maintain integrity. Security involving communication, language that may be misinterpreted, delicate relationships that have been built over time all become the weapons that eventually turn on the irrational user. Additionally, the tendency to use vocal and written propaganda that rallies the base will also become a weapon of self-destruction after reacting inappropriately to baiting by those with more intelligent and shrewd strategic skill. Patience and strategy are not the strong suit of one who operates through uncontrollable reactionary emotion.

How do we deal with this new administration? Just keep telling the truth, pushing the buttons, throwing out the fishing line loaded with bait, show a rising number in opposition and build an army of qualified individuals to wait in the wings. @womensmarch  @indivisible @factcheckdotorg are just a few of the watchful entities that are doing what is necessary to monitor the situation. As citizens we must stay informed, be patient and allow the ego driven administration to implode. Much like a neutron star, what will be left is a harmless but heavy mass to be moved aside and replaced by a strong and steady balanced system.

 

Should the disabled have jobs?

Should the disabled have jobs? Does that question make you uncomfortable? Are you not sure how to answer or do you immediately know how to answer? Equal opportunity says yes, they sJoe1hould be allowed and certainly have the right. If you own a business or are a manager in charge of hiring, would you hire someone with a disability? What if their methods were different but the results were the same? What if they did a near perfect job of completing the task but it took a little longer than a worker without a disability?

These questions and more are important for you to ask and have answers to right now. There is a bill being pushed in Congress regarding the 14 c Subminimum Wage law. The bill, introduced by Rep. Greg Harper  known as H.R. 831, is being touted as a way to free people with disabilities from being taken advantage of.  It will do away with 14c and require that all people including those with disabilities be paid at least the minimum wage rate.  At face value, especially if you are not familiar with the world of vocational training and employment for adults with disabilities, this seems like an easy decision. Yes, of course, why shouldn’t they be paid minimum wage like every one else?

In 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed.  In the law was a provision for allowing special wages for populations under particular circumstances.  The section known as 14c stated that certificates would be granted under strict guidelines that allowed a sub minimum wage to be paid to workers with disabilities. The intention was to encourage companies to employ these workers and be able to pay them according to their productivity.

Since that time, at least in my state of California, agencies have popped up to assist individuals with developmental disabilities (Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, etc.)  in vocational training and job support. With funding through the state Department of Rehabilitation, thousands and thousands of adults through the years have benefitted from employment. The benefits include many things such as a paycheck to use for whatever they want, development of social as well as vocational skills, healthy activity for mental and physical well-being, etc.  The programs provide opportunities for the most challenged individuals who could work at a piece rate in a Work Activity Program (also known as a sheltered workshop), and also for those individuals who have the potential to work independently with just a little support to get started (known in the industry as an Individual Placement).

The state funds provide the wages for the instructor or job coach, the insurance, administrative costs and transportation as needed. Agencies work with local business owners in a variety of industries to hire the differently-abled workers.  In its original intent, this seems like a great win for all. Unfortunately, some agencies have become top-heavy with highly paid administrators and low paid staff. Some of those agencies hesitate to move the individual (known in the industry as a Consumer) forward into independent employment because it means losing that person’s funding.

As the mother of a 20-year-old with severe Autism, I do not expect to place my son in a work program. At least not until he fully understands what work and a paycheck means. That being said, I also understand as a former business owner that when I hire someone, I really need to get the most work for my money. To hire a person with a disability may be frightening to many business owners or managers because they are not convinced that the productivity will be worth the hourly wage paid out.  This is an understandable concern, but not impossible to solve.

What is needed at this time is for both sides of this issue to come up with solutions. I for one do believe that 14c is antiquated and certainly does not protect those with disabilities. I do not, however, believe it is smart to suddenly pull the rug out from under those individuals who rely on their jobs for social interaction, spending money and personal growth.

Most of the adults I work with in our company are receiving full disability, housing, medical and transportation funding through the state. The amount they receive is fully dependent upon the amount of money from outside sources.  This means that if you have a trust fund set up by your family, that fund amount will affect your benefit amount. If you have a job and make over a certain amount you may lose your medical or disability support…permanently.  There needs to be a permanent safety net for these individuals. They would be much more inspired to work independently at a regular minimum wage job if they knew that their benefits would reactivate should they lose the job.

Rehabilitation was set up as just that…RE-habilitation. The individuals we are discussing have lifelong disabilities and their vocational skill level or employability is usually dependent upon the severity of the disability. Some would be able to go toe to toe with a worker without a disability. Others would require many accommodations, adaption, special treatment and possibly less productivity expectations.  That is a reality. Employers need to be willing to take a step back and look at the value of each individual.

We must change what we are doing and how we are doing it. Many people with disabilities are being held back and not challenged to grow because of the fear of a loss in benefits or an agency’s concern for the bottom line. Let’s consider looking at the strengths and work toward a truly equal opportunity for everyone.

The New Dawn

There may be some dispute over the timing of the Age of Aquarius, but the fact that change is afoot seems indisputable.

In Astrological terms each age is the mark of time under a specific constellation of stars. The span of time for each age is approximately 2,150 years, which represents the movement of the vernal equinox from one constellation to another in the Zodiac. The numerous calculations for the exact time of the arrival of Aquarius range from 1447 AD to 3597 AD.

Aquarius is associated with great change that ushers in a shift in cultural tendencies. It is generally associated with electricity, computers, humanitarianism, philanthropy and other major societal influences.

Any shift in consciousness throughout the ages has come along following great discovery. Many advancements in technology, medicine and the like have shaken the traditions of cultures by introducing new thought about our relationship to the universe at large. As our self-awareness expands and our consciousness moves to a great understanding, change is unavoidable.

For several generations humankind has pondered the coming of the “new age.” The Mayan calendar theories and speculations about the Dec. 21, 2012 end times have stimulated conversation and philosophic musings about the post apocalyptic world. Interestingly, we have witnessed changes in society and cultures throughout the past decade with exponential frequency.

Advances in technology has allowed us to map the entire human genome, made computers faster and more powerful than ever imagined possible, moved cell phone and video communication to become a part of every day life, brought the very outer edges of our universe into view, and exposed truth in many corners of the world which produced uprising and regime changes in places with generations of dictatorship. We’ve seen a movement toward a new understanding of freedom, civil rights and the definition of equality. We’ve seen a change in attitude toward the importance of earthly stewardship…and so much more.

Such changes began with the subtle nudging of people who saw the potential for a better world, and has grown exponentially as a result of changes beginning to take place. The more we see changes, and the more acceptable the changes become, the more rapidly they will occur. Our youngest generation will always become more accepting of the change, and help move it along.

Whether we are reacting to the movement of the stars because the position of our constellation produces changes in our consciousness, or we are shifting our thinking because of the generations of belief that something would happen at this time in our planet’s existence, the truth is change is happening. Call it growth, call it evolution, call it spiritual revolution, whatever we choose to label this time of humanity there is no arguing that change is happening.

The actual Age of Aquarius may have passed or is still to come, but the spirit of the Aquarian influence is definitely upon us.  It is the dawning of a new age for human kind.

A Season for Giving

Tis the season, so they say.  We all try to do our part but when organizations take up the challenge to make positive changes a little goes a long way.  Today Google recognized just such organizations.  I was impressed by the activities and the acknowledgement.  Small steps by many people will lead us to a better place as humans.

Google’s Global Impact Awards recognized the following organizations:

Charity: Water

Bar coding Life

U.S. School Donations

Equal Opportunity Schools

Promoting Positive Image For Women

Direct Giving

World Wildlife Fund

When we provide a platform for the individual to make a difference, that individual will use it.  As technology in communication and media transfer expands people move closer together.  By putting the power of action in the hands of the people we are changing our world into a more cooperative, supportive place which promotes peace and overall health.

I applaud Google’s effort in bringing attention to these organizations, and I applaud you for taking the time to read about them.