Daily Thoughts

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 thought 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 the statement may seem 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 that 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 on 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.

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 time we were at an out of town football game watching my brothers play. 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 close minded mentality. My niece and nephew are half Puerto Rican, and they had their share of social difficulties living in an that narrow minded community 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, when we were kids growing up in that town, 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 great emphasis about how great President Kennedy was.

I believe it was the desecration of the Native American people that kicked off my 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 other cultures.

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 me to read other books that opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of our history and the unfolding America.  I dove deeply into the historical accounts of the Wounded Knee massacre and the obliteration of the First Nation people on our continent. Beyond that was the enlightening accounts of human atrocities across the globe throughout history.  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 was 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 called. 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 brought me around 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.

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.

 

American Stew – A Recipe for Greatness

“The New Colossus,” written by American poet Emma Lazarus, is forever etched in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty. While the bronze Lady Liberty has symbolized many things over the years since placement at her permanent home on Ellis Island (then Bedloe’s Island) in 1886, today she represents the beacon of freedom for any and all who desire to take up the challenge.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”    —Emma Lazarus

The words “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” remind us that the wealth and power of established old world nations are not America’s story. The nationalistic and patriarchal protectionism of the old world will not fit the developing philosophy of freedom in the new. Though this may not have been the expanded mindset of our founding fathers, it most certainly has become the mindset of today’s Americans.

The very design of the Statue of Liberty is symbolic of every struggle we’ve experienced in America. From the broken chain at her feet, to the torch she holds above her head, there is a hint toward the freedom and progress of all people. The creator, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, dressed her in flowing robes as a symbol of peace and softness, though her build is decidedly strong.  Her gaze is like that of a protective mother, welcoming and lifting those who are seeking a better life. Rather than the masculine figure and stance of a guard protecting the nation, Lady Liberty stands as a light in the darkness welcoming all to the shores of opportunity.

It seems as though Bartholdi held a vision of the coming America, one which rose to the symbolism of Lady Liberty. The struggles of our young country include the violent clash of diversity out of necessity, for without the history of such divisiveness we would not experience the glory of overcoming. We are still in the midst of this struggle, but there is a rising up of feminine wisdom, a quickening of new birth. The birth of an age of balance between all people. This change will bring the true meaning of both the Statue of Liberty and the words of Emma Lazarus full circle.

Today, July 12 of 2016, we are on the verge of an election that may result in the first female President of the United States.

Photo by Jason Lavengood
Photo by Jason Lavengood

Our Olympic team looks like the face of America with its grand diversity. The Roman Goddess Libertas, our Lady Liberty’s model, shines brightly in my mind.

The ancestors on my father’s side have been in America for multiple generations, his great-grandmothers both of native descent. My mother’s grandparents came from Ireland and Scotland. My children, grandchildren, cousins, nephews and nieces make up a tapestry of culture including African-American, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Navajo, Filipino, Hawaiian, Romanian, Dutch, English, German, Irish, Scottish and who knows what else.

We are American Stew. The recipe for greatness begins with diversity, different ingredients that combine for a perfect whole. Let’s make America the beacon she was meant to be, let’s show the world what united means and how freedom works. We have begun to fit the Lady Liberty mold, let’s keep flowing into that form of greatness!

Hillary, Bernie, Donald and the paradigm shift

Background text pattern concept wordcloud illustration of paradigm shift

The year 2016 will be forever known as the moment everything shifted. From politics to social issues to climate, nothing is or will ever be the same. This kind of shift happens in each generation to one degree or another, but for those of us born between the 1950’s and 1970’s it has been exponential. And this particular shift comes with a move toward a great balancing.

I was born in 1960, the year when much of what we are now experiencing as Americans was also being birthed. Consider the following list of important happenings in and around 1960, and the comparison to today:

  1. Four African-American men sat down at a  Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina and were refused service. This sparked a peaceful protest and ignited a movement to end racial inequality across the South. Though we have a long way to go, we have achieved laws that protect every American from discrimination and are soon to pass more. We have seen in just the past decade LGBTQ rights come to pass, right to die became a legal choice in some states, progress in equal pay…and etc.
  2.  Official United States involvement began in the Vietnam War. Today, our Vietnam Veterans are aging and some, after experiencing years of neglect by the country have spent much of their lives in mental and physical agony or homeless. According to the Vietnam Veterans of America, vva.org, Veterans Advocacy, Government Relations, two-thirds of the some twenty-one-and-a-half-million veterans in our country do not interact with the Veterans Administration. Though progress has been made, we are still far from where we should be in caring for our nation’s veterans. Yet, even with the analysis of the purpose and outcome of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, we engaged in a similar situation in the Middle East. Another generation of young people are forever changed by a never-ending war and its repercussions.
  3. The U.S. launched the first Weather Satellite and the first Navigation Satellite  Each day we take for granted the technological advances in communication and global positioning systems while our once giant computer that filled the basement of a building is now a wristwatch, and global positioning satellites can pinpoint our location to within as close as 1 meter or better.
  4. The Civil Rights Act of 1960 was signed by Dwight Eisenhower ensuring voting rights for African-Americans. Voting rights continue to be a source of battle for opposing political sides. The fact that gerrymandering has been allowed to run wild with the specific goal of limiting the votes of one party is finally being discussed and changed, with the true motive exposed.
  5. Oral Contraception (the “Pill”) was approved by the FDA. Advances in medicine and the understanding of human biology have produced a variety of methods of birth control. Since the approval of “the Pill” and the rise of other types of birth control, coupled with media campaigns and public schools teaching sex education, the total number of teen pregnancies dropped 44% between 1990 and 2009.
  6. Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) won his first professional boxing match, later converted to Islam and refused the draft based on religious beliefs. When I was six months old in September of 1960, Cassius Clay won the Olympic Gold Medal in boxing. As political tensions rise in the 2016 Presidential campaigns, the subject of Islam and the Muslim faith seem to be at the center of discussion, and the passing of the converted champ now known as Muhammad Ali seems all the more poignant given his devotion to humanitarian efforts. 
  7. The approval of oral contraceptive was a shot of adrenaline for the Women’s Movement. In 1960 the Women’s Movement shot into overdrive. Now, in 2016 we are on the verge of making history in the United States with the highest seat in the land potentially being handed over to a woman, and not just any woman, Hillary Clinton is a woman who epitomizes the strength of American spirit (more on that later).
  8. Charles David Keeling’s publishing of his findings describing the seasonal pattern of CO2 variations led to the study of Global Warming.  Air pollution in Los Angeles, California was so bad in the 1960’s that people could not continue with daily activities outdoors due to the physical effects of the rise in ozone concentration. Children were kept home from school, athletes worked out in doors and farmers stood by helplessly as crops withered. The combined pollutants stood at 100 parts per billion in volume in 1960, but with an aggressive campaign to reduce, limit or outlaw certain types of pollutants the result has been a declining factor of 4 in nitrogen oxides, 50 in volatile organic compounds (which produce ozone and particulate matter) and 130 in peroxyacetyl nitrate (which causes eye irritation). While these changes are encouraging, without the cooperation of the entire country and a global effort, our human habits have contributed to the natural rise in temperature of the earth thus resulting in an earlier and more rapid climate change than normal.
  9. American Socialism had become unpopular due to improved living for the middle class and the negative influences of McCarthyism among other things. There is no question that America’s form of capitalism and democracy is a successful example of growing a country from birth to dominance in a short period of time. Two hundred and forty years is a blip of existence compared to the rise of other countries, many which have fallen or changed drastically since their inception. That being said, there is room for improvement. The United States of America has been an experiment in freedom that began with a simple set of assumptions. Today, with increasing complications that are inherent in a free society, we are facing difficult choices that challenge the original plan. Socialism became a dirty word to many in the 1960’s, but with examples of success in parts of the globe, some young people are looking at the system with fresh eyes.
  10. According to the 1960 U.S. Census, 85% of Americans were white. Our nation is on track for becoming the true melting pot we were labeled in 1908. According to the U.S. News & World Report, 2015, July 6, “It’s Official: The U.S. is Becoming a Minority-Majority Nation,” the 2014 census revealed that over 50% of the children born that year were classified as minorities. This tips the scale for the number of white versus non-white citizens and will forever change the face of America.
  11. According to a Pew Research report, in 1960 on 25% of households had Dual Income. A final comparison is that of the 1960 household income with today’s. Then only 25% of Americans had a dual income, by the year 2012 that number rose to 60%.

This data comparison leads to a conclusion that 2016 is a year of turning corners. A shift in the structure built by the “good ole boy club” who controlled everything. There are signs of a waning guard and a waxing new mindset with our future generations. The youth of today are the majority of tomorrow and they come in all gender configurations, colors and methods of communication.

The fact that a woman, Hillary Clinton, battled it out with an admitted Socialist, Bernie Sanders,  for the Democratic nomination (as of this writing she is the presumptive nominee), and will most likely be competing against the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, a wealthy man with no political experience who is being accused of misogyny and racism is ironic. I say that because Hillary represents the story of American spirit for women during a time when women have to fight just to be heard, Bernie is indicative of the new mindset that the younger generation is developing about what type of government system they see as effective, and Donald is the epitome of the old guard in his last spasms of life.

The status quo is no longer working for the youth of today, let alone tomorrow. The comparisons made are evidence of that. The interesting thing about it all is that I have witnessed such a shift in my lifetime. Everything we are currently debating from Civil Rights to Global Warming began and mutated during my life up to this point. Women are currently fighting for the right to breastfeed in public, we are fighting over what bathroom we can use and trying to justify the average citizen’s right to own a gun that can mow down 50 people in seconds.

There is a paradigm shift happening. A shift that the youth are bringing. The old ways are not going to work in this new world. Our Constitution needs to be seen as a living document if we are to develop beyond this first quarter of the 21st century. Religious and racial intolerance, gender bias and discrimination, hate and fear are all things that will hold us back or keep us in a perpetual battle with one another.

Bernie Sanders shook things up, he opened Pandora’s box for the youth of our country. The interest he generated in financial responsibility and economic fairness, gender equality and a win-win philosophy will most likely inspire many young people to further investigate public policy that will make positive changes for social reform.

Hillary Clinton showed women of all ages that even during times of oppression, developing a fortitude that will carry you to achieve your dreams is meaningful and effective. While the strength some women display may be offensive to some, their perception is not what matters, it is the individual woman’s personal goal that does. When the ignorant and small-minded were (and still are) critical of Hillary for staying with her husband in light of his transgressions, the confident and focused woman measured her options and made decisions strategically based on what would suit her future endeavors. Staying consistent in her attitude, method and mission, Hillary Clinton is a determined strong person with years of experience developed through the trials and tribulation of a navigating a man’s world.

Donald Trump is representative of the fading face of Andrew Jackson on an old $20 bill. He may be worth a lot down the road, but his true usefulness is outdated. The rhetoric, strange ideas and outlandish comments seem to be contrived in a purposeful way to make things easy for his Democratic opponent. It reminds me of a man playing at 50% assuming the woman will be easy to beat, but in this case wildly underestimating the talent and strength of his female competitor.

We are witnessing changing weather patterns, technological and medical miracles, scientific discoveries that rock our very foundation of belief and understanding, worldwide social upheaval…is it the end? No, I believe it is a turning, a re-balancing of masculine and feminine. A quickening in the womb of our existence before the birth of extraordinary change. Are you ready? This child of the 60’s is.

 

March, Women and America

EveThe month of March is significant to me personally for a variety of reasons. March is my birth month, that makes it special, but the celebration of women in history and recognition of their contribution to the progress of the world make March an important month. This year it is especially important due to the upcoming election. During this amazing month of discovering women I never had the privilege to learn about in school, it is good to also recognize the importance of the feminine half of our social equation, that feminine quality in all people representing wisdom, patience, nurturing and softness.

There is a movement that has been building for years, quietly and strategically, to raise the awareness of an imbalance in society. The violence, chaos, greed, destruction and so many other threats to society are closely correlated with the attitude toward anything feminine. The fact that we as women are still fighting to breast feed our children in public, receive equal pay for equal work or even be considered for leadership roles proves that society is out of balance.

Beyond gender equality is the attitude toward empathy, compromise, compassion, and sharing. It seems that any discussion alluding to anything altruistic is seen as weak, liberal or worse. I find it interesting that we are considering presidential candidates that represent extremes of ideals that take us back to the time of my birth in 1960. We have come such a long way in many respects regarding equal rights, but political platforms and cries of “make America great again,” and the desire to go back to “the way things were,” prove we have a long way to go.

In the mid 1960’s President Johnson was able to move forward with a plan to eliminate poverty and racial injustice in America. The Medicare and Medicaid programs giving the poor a hand up, not a hand out, was instrumental in lifting elderly and low-income individuals pay for health care, Head Start helped prepare young children for school and the Job Corps trained unskilled workers. These programs coupled with the Civil Rights movement and urban redevelopment brought many people up from poverty and gave many youth a brighter future.

The civil rights movement resulted in such protection as the Equal Pay Act for women, Civil Rights Act against discrimination and the Voting Rights Act. My first ten years of life were experienced in this tumultuous but meaningful time. We were going into space, we were recognizing the equal rights of all Americans, and we were growing in so many new ways. Those were good days that we should be proud of. Yet here we are in 2016, and some are trying to go backward.

If we consider the attitude of those who would like to turn back the clock, it seems that the competitive need to be the biggest, the greatest, the one with the most toys drives many with the need to conquer. It is a fear of losing that drives this need. Unfortunately gentleness, compassion, empathy or a win-win philosophy represents weakness to these types of people.

A truly sophisticated and successful society should not still be arguing about the morality of a woman’s breast showing in any capacity, let alone when using it for its purpose…feeding her child. A well-balanced society should not be arguing about the validity of mistreating certain groups but instead should be discussing the resolution of any situation that hints at the possibility. True freedom in any society is only as free as its citizens allow one another to express that freedom.

As a woman I am not compelled to vote for a woman simply because she is a woman. As a liberal I am not compelled to vote for a socialist simply because he represents progressive liberal ideals. As a white middle-aged woman I am not compelled to vote for a white middle-aged man. As an American I am compelled to vote for the person who represents the progress and movement toward a healthy, strong and respected society that understands we are only as strong as our weakest member and that all people should be welcome at our table. This is balance. This is our path back to a strong America.

All Lives Matter

Me (far right) with my siblings
Faces of the future

The debate over issues involving our safety as Americans is in a chaotic frenzy at the moment. Gun control, police brutality, racism, classism, health care, drug use and etc., the list of controversial subject matter goes on and on. The list is nothing new, but the passionate opinion on both sides is drifting further apart leaving little hope for any compromise or resolution.

Yet, the answer to all of the societal issues we face today is so very simple. All lives matter. While such a statement may seem naïve, when we consider the children of our country, those who will be running the show in the near future, perhaps the statement “All lives matter” takes on new meaning.

The rise in number of tragic deaths involving innocent Americans and the police is not necessarily a rise in the number of incidents, but as a result of the easy access to video and instant publication. The important after effect is an increased awareness in how stress, ignorance and undiagnosed mental health challenges are a volatile mix.

We are in a time of transition, a revolution of sorts in which the average American citizen is more free to access information than ever before and can influence others on a scale like never before. This awakening of an informed populace creates an environment of distrust and paranoia to a certain extent. Those who were able to control the people through withholding or distorting information are now forced to operate with transparency. The masses who now have begun to discover the unfortunate corruption that was always rumored to be but left unsubstantiated have lost their trust in the leadership. At the same time the spread of disinformation and deliberate lies have become the 21st Century version of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Some of the more irresponsible media are adding fuel to the fire on a daily basis.

Imagine if we all measured every decision and action by how it will effect a child’s life.

Those Americans who are far removed from the challenges of poverty, mental or physical health issues and the struggles of the working class tend to form opinions and make decisions that are seemingly apathetic. It is more often a case of being ill-informed or blinded by the belief that there is a fire in the theater.

The debate over where our tax dollars should be spent is a necessary and ongoing one that keeps us in check. That being said, if we as a society were to consider that the children of today will be in control tomorrow and that their health and well-being is crucial to our own in the near future, then we might make better decisions. The child living in poverty and chaos may be the teenager with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder later. That PTSD can manifest into severe mental health challenges that lead to unhealthy choices and potentially dangerous behaviors.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, says “Youth with unidentified and untreated mental disorders also tragically end up in jails and prisons. According to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health—the largest ever undertaken—an alarming 65 percent of boys and 75 percent of girls in juvenile detention have at least one mental illness.10 We are incarcerating youth living with mental illness, some as young as eight years old, rather than identifying their conditions early and intervening with appropriate treatment.”

When a society values its wealth over its children it is strangling itself. When a society divides its value by race, culture, class or geography it is doomed to failure. Note I said “divides its value,” all societies will have separations, hierarchy and class delineation. It’s when that delineation includes the value of the lives that the structure begins to fail.

All lives matter. Once we are willing to recognize that and build our society on that premise, we can be assured a strong future for America.

I am just a woman

Eve“I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get it — and bear the lash as well! I have borne thirteen children, and seen most of ’em sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me!”

Strong words spoken by Sojourner Truth in May of 1851. She was responding to other speakers on the subject of women’s rights. An emancipated slave, Sojourner became a champion for women and the poor. Even President Lincoln was moved by her. During a meeting between the two of them, he wrote a note and signed his name in her little notebook stating “For Aunty Sojourner Truth, A. Lincoln, October 29, 1864.”

My Grandmother raised her four children and four of her sisters in a two room house she shared with her husband and her father. They did not have running water or an indoor bathroom, she did not drive or have any money of her own. She made their clothes, their toys, their meals, washed everything by hand, grew most of their food, milked the goat, tended the chickens…and she was just a woman.

In 1960, only 40 years after women won the right to vote, I was born. My mother raised me and my three siblings while she finished high school and then graduated from nursing school. I remember her studying anywhere she could, in the sun waiting for ball practice or ballet to finish, late at night after getting us off to bed, sometimes at the kitchen table while we all watched television. Just a woman.

By 1972 when I wanted to learn how to pump gas and work on cars at my Dad’s gas station I was told no. When I wanted to play Little League Baseball with my brothers I was told no. When I could run as fast and throw a football better than my brothers and their Junior All American team-mates I was given pom-poms instead. When I asked why I couldn’t play they said I might get hurt. Because I’m just a woman.

So I started gymnastics instead, where I jumped backward from my feet onto my hands then back to my feet landing on a four-inch wide piece of wood, four feet off the ground. Then I would swing myself around on parallel bars and fling into the air from the top bar twelve feet off the ground to complete a full flip with my body before landing on the mat below. Hmm. But I’m just a woman.  Years later I gave birth to four children without any medication and became a working mom when things didn’t work out with their father. I’m still just a woman.

When I was the Executive Director for a well-known non-profit and was asked to complete a financial report I did so without hesitation. When several men on the Board of Directors asked me who prepared the report for me I told them, “No one, this is my own work.” When asked how I did it by myself I answered, “With a calculator, and a computer.” They were puzzled. Still just a woman.

When the new CEO of that same non-profit grabbed my wrist and said, “Don’t leave the room when I’m talking to you,” and I jerked my arm out of his grasp telling him, “Don’t ever touch me.” I was just a woman.

When I created a new program and wrote up a business strategy to save our company thousands of dollars but my male co-worker “forgot” to mention to the Board of Directors that it was my idea…I was just a woman.

When my second husband left me because of wrongs he committed, and I was approached by two male neighbors who thought I needed help with my “out of control” daughters, I was just a woman. I was accused by my ex-husband of raising my daughters to be man haters because I told them they should not measure their value by whether or not they have a man by their side. Yet today all three have grown to be strong successful women who see a partner as a joy not a necessity.  And still, just a woman.

Today, we are trying to protect equal pay for women, and cannot get a bill to pass or a law renewed, yet women earn more than 40% of the average family income. Harvard Business School did not allow women to enter until 1962, yet women make up 41% of the school’s 2015 graduating class. Still, according to the Washington Post article “At this rate American women won’t see equal pay until 2058,” we have a long way to go. Since 1959, the year before I was born, the rate of change between what men make and what women make has been quite different. That gap will not close for at least another 43 years.

At 55 years old I may not live to see that equalization, but I have faith that it will happen. I know that my children and my grandchildren will have a different view about the value of all people, but especially women. Sojourner Truth said of the Biblical Eve, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now that they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

I believe that the imbalance that started with the story of forbidden fruit will right itself when equality in all aspects of life has been achieved. But what do I know, I’m just a woman.