Race

Gazillion Voices, Will You Just Consider This?

You got something to say?

Say something!

You got something to say?

Say something!

That is the call-and-response that my daughter learned at Pact Family Camp where we have taken her every summer for the last three summers.

Pact, as you know if you’ve read anything I’ve written, is an organization whose mission is to advocate for adopted children of color throughout their lives (you can read their full mission here). Pact Family Camp is the place where Ruby is given the tools and the language to talk about adoption and race, and where her father and I learn about how to help her into adulthood bearing the full weight of the single biggest choice in her life about which she never had any say. It’s big, heady, lifelong-journey stuff, and we bring it all home and go forward into the world, doing our best to push against the stereotypes and narratives the world has set aside for us.

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You got something to say?

Say something!

I’m dusting this space off because, for the first time in a long while, I have something to say. I used to write frequently here (and in CityBeat) about adoption, race, and parenting, and the convergence of all three. I had lots of views and opinions—still do, actually. But I’m more informed now in many ways, most pointedly because with our first keynote speaker at camp, I began listening to and internalizing the voices of adult adoptees. The things they have to say have really given me pause, both figuratively and literally. Figuratively, because they pushed me to seriously reflect on where I was as an adoptive parent, where I had been, where I need to go, and how best to get there. And literally, in that I pretty much changed the way I wrote about adoption; which is to say, I mostly stopped. I think it is important that adoptive parents writing about adoption include and/or bear in mind, adoptee voices and viewpoints in some way, and that has been a real shift for me.

One of my main sources (though not my only one) for adult adoptee voices has been an organization called Land of Gazillion Adoptees (LGA). LGA, led by adult transracial adoptee Kevin Vollmers, is putting. It. Out. There. Like, all of it. And—I say this with a caveat, which I’ll get to in a minute—it’s good. Without question, the most silenced, the most dismissed voice in the adoption triad is that of the adoptee, and Vollmers has created a platform from which these marginalized voices can be heard. It isn’t always easy to hear what adult adoptees have to say though, and there have been more than a few moments where I’ve had to check myself. Something’s not to my liking? I feel myself getting angry? Instead of getting defensive, I try to sit with it; to figure out why it is my hackles are up; to really understand why something that a person said has made me so uncomfortable. And I always keep in mind that no matter my discomfort, no matter how dismissed or marginalized I might feel, it really is small in comparison to what adoptees face in society. At least, this is what I’ve learned so far. So, yes, most of what Vollmers and LGA are offering is good, even when it makes me feel sorta bad.

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But about that caveat.

There have been moments over the last year-ish since LGA appeared on my radar, when the administrators have lashed out in a way that I think is harmful to their goals. It’s funny I should say this now because just yesterday, a friend told me in a chat that, while he and I are “a hair’s breadth different” when it comes to issues of race, he feels my approach is sometimes detrimental to the greater cause. And while I wouldn’t admit it in the moment, I think he was right. I know he was right. (If he’s reading this, he should feel vindicated). I’m well-intentioned, and relatively unafraid to put myself out there, and sometimes I get it wrong because I’m super-duper passionate with a Luxardo cherry on top. And sometimes, I let that super-duper-passionate-with-a-Luxardo-cherry-on-top part of me get in the way of delivering a meaningful message or creating a productive dialogue. The fire that keeps my fingers at the keyboard can both serve me and undermine me, and it’s something I work on. “Sharpen your pen,” my friend said to me. Ouch, but also: Yes.

My point in bringing that up is that I get the roaring flame and brimstone of LGA. Adoptees are tired of being silenced. And when you’re sick to here of something, well then.

You got something to say?

Say something!

Which is what LGA did. Someone in their camp smashed his pen and reached for his flame thrower the other day over an interview at Water Cooler Convos with adoptive parent and mommy blogger Kristen Howerton, author of Rage Against The Minivan. I know how good, how electrifying that can feel in the moment. But…yeah. I also know what it feels like to pine for an unsend button.

I won’t go into all the details, but I will say that what started out as a “*YAWN* Why do we find her so…boring!” and the unfortunate FOX News-ish administrator claiming to have heard “from a very reliable source” that Howerton tends to “talk smack about adoptees behind closed doors,” ended with a series of mean-spirited attacks and accusations. LGA even went so far as to compare Howerton to Joyce Maynard, a woman who disrupted two adoptions (read: gave her adopted children away) and went on to write a book about it. (I refuse to link to her; you’ll have to seek that one out for herseslf.) That was, in my opionion, an unnecessary low point for LGA.

As it happens, I was at a Pact event in Los Angeles last weekend and met Kristen Howerton (and her family) in person for the first time. We had dinner together with four other families (I must throw out a huge thank you to our wonderful waiter at Lyfe Kitchen, who was patient with us and our many rambunctious kids) and the inimitable founder of Pact. Many incredible conversations took place and I did not get the same impression of Howerton that LGA seems to have.

I don’t know Howerton well, or at all, really. I do not read her blog. But I do know that she was at the Pact function, which speaks volumes about whether she is invested in doing the hard work. Pact is not for do-gooders or saviors; it is not for people collecting children like wrist charms or for those who wish to be tourists in race. You either get it, or you don’t; there is little middle ground. Howerton and her husband, in my experience of them, are thinking deeply about issues facing their transracial family and are making decisions—small and (some very) large—based not on what is easiest or most comfortable for them, but based on the immediate and long-term needs of their children, specifically their adopted children. From our conversations, I learned that she listens to and internalizes what adult adoptees are saying, including those voices coming from LGA. And while yes, she is a Christian, something LGA pointed out and something that gets my hackles up, she doesn’t seem to be prosthelytizing or bringing to the table the dangerous views shared by a wide swath of evanagelicals making adoption news these days. In all, my impression is that the lightning bolt pointed toward her is overcharged, if not misdirected.

None of us is perfect, and I would include Howerton in this assessment. I don’t necessarily agree with all of her viewpoints (and she probably wouldn’t agree with all of mine), but she does love her children and I think she takes very seriously what the adult adoptees have to say.

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LGA got excited yesterday when Howerton responded to some of their attacks, and encouraged their supporters to keep tweeting at her. “We’ve got her attention!” they said, gleefully. But, I have to ask, to what end? They want her to engage so they can brutalize her? That seems so counter-productive, and shortsighted, so…contemporary in this age of outrage porn. So yes, LGA, you got her attention. But did you do it in a way that can work for you? How much better would it have been to get her attention (which wouldn’t have been difficult to begin with, since she is a fan of LGA) by calmly yet seriously calling her on the things you think she is wrong about? How much further could that kind of dialogue have gone? Imagine a thoughtful conversation between LGA and Rage Against The Minivan? That would be a collaboration from which many readers could benefit, saving the rage for the Maynards of the world. Instead, the ugliness that unfolded served to undermine LGA’s credibility and the important work they are trying to do.

As I said before, I have largely stopped writing about our daughter’s adoption and my feelings about it. I approach any writing with the fear of being viciously attacked by a community that has taught me so much and is very important to me, even as I stand on the outside looking in. I value what adult adoptees have to say and where they’re coming from; those voices are essential in my child rearing efforts. Essential. I want to be—and in fact, am—an ally to adult adoptees. I think Howerton may be an ally, too. There are quite a lot of us, I think. And LGA would do well to recognize us as such, even as they understand we probably have a lot more to learn, even as we may make some missteps along the way. Those of us who would otherwise be activists and speak out on behalf of adult adoptees, adoptee rights, and reform in adoption cannot join you if we get pilloried any time we say something in a public forum.

No, it’s not your job to help us. It’s not. But maybe, please, try not to shut us out completely. Set down the flame thrower. Sharpen that pen. Because like it or not, we are all in this together. And not to be all Pollyanna or anything but together, we are stronger.

 

 

 

Movie review: Closure

Every once in a while, someone touches your life in a an unexpected and deeply meaningful way. Such is the case when I had the good fortune to meet Angela Tucker.

Angela Tucker and me.

All because: Once upon a time, I saw a trailer, cried an ugly sniveling cry, and promptly emailed the producer to say ILOVEYOUALLHOWCANISEEYOURFILM? It’s true. I did that waaaay back in the spring, was allowed to see an advanced copy, promised a review, and then I got to hug Angela at Pact Camp because she and her husband brought their film to Pact Camp! My review is horribly delayed because I suck. But you know who doesn’t suck? Angela Tucker, that’s who! You can totally tell from that photo of her, too.

Now, on to the horribly delayed-because-I-suck review:

Angela is the subject of an intensely personal and widely relevant documentary currently making its way through the indie film festival circuit (it’s currently being screened at the Doctober Festival in Bellingham, Wa.). Produced and edited by Angela’s husband Bryan Tucker—with original music by Mr. & Mrs. SomethingClosure follows then 26-year-old Angela on her journey to meet her birth mother, who placed her for adoption when she was born.

Diagnosed as special needs and given a long-term prognosis that didn’t include walking, Angela spent one year in the home of a foster family before being adopted by David and Teresa Burt, a white couple who live in Washington. There they raised a total of eight children, seven of whom were adopted, and Angela flourished into the radiant, active person you see in that picture up there. The same one who chooses, with each new preview of this film, to bravely share what most adoptees would not. And who can blame them? This film is about transracial adoption and the difficult search for identity and connection. This. Is. Big.

The film opens with Angela in a Skype conversation with Teresa. Angela is preparing to dial the number of her birth mother for the first time, and the back-and-forth between the two women is filled with nervous giggles, sighs, reassurances. There is a lot of love and trust between these two, and you feel it immediately. Angela’s mother listens to her daughter, and counsels her calmly about how to end the call if and when she needs to. Angela takes a moment, takes a breath, looks at the camera, then dials. The phone rings and the screen goes dark as Deborah picks up.

The tension created is immediate and doesn’t let up for much of the film. Whether it was intentional on the part of the filmmaker, the first twenty minutes was especially rife with moments that had the potential to go off the rails. Bryan (I’m going with first names since he and his wife share the same last one) focused much of his attention on interviews with David and Teresa telling the story of how they built their family. And as they spoke of Angela’s growing desire to know her birth mother and other relatives, there were admissions that felt sort of…dangerous.

David mentioned not seeing color, just kids in need; Teresa expressed worry about being replaced; Angela’s sister grappled with why their parents weren’t “enough.” In the modern adoption world, we hope for openness and the need to recognize that in fact, adoptive parents aren’t enough. But theirs are real fears spoken of honestly, and it is clear that the family moved beyond them and instead came to fully understand and support Angela’s need to know where she came from, and in rather amazing ways: Angela’s brother-in-law rises to the occasion, and his dedication to not just her but to one of her siblings as well, is something I didn’t expect. This evolution in thinking is crucial and Bryan’s focus on it was smart.

Unable to find her birth mother through the limited records at her disposal, Angela and Bryan decide to focus their search on Angela’s birth father instead. Thanks to determination, the wonder that is the Internet, and a process that left me agape, they find him living in Chatanooga. The family promptly sets off for Tennessee, where they meet Oterious “Sandy” Bell, along with numerous other extended family members. At some point during this meeting, Sandy mentions he knows where Angela’s birth mother Deborah lives, and they once again pile into a van. When Angela and a car load of family members approach Deborah on the sidewalk, Bryan shuts off his camera, realizing that this is a moment that warrants more privacy. And it does: Deborah denies Angela. But still: We had seen a lot. This was a very difficult scene for me, because I felt as though Deborah was ambushed.

That’s not how you’re supposed to do it, I thought. But there is no How To Meet Your Birth Mother handbook, and I found this scene—like much of the film—to be very instructional in backing off with my adoptive parent knows best judgement. This was Angela navigating a very difficult circumstance unfolding in the moment; it makes sense that she would want those she loves most to be there.

And again, this is her story. Which includes Deborah’s rejection—a second rejection, really—which is sharp, and Angela is stunned as she tries to work through why Deborah has done this. “I do feel like I deserve to know stuff. She has an obligation to tell me some things,” Angela says at one point. And we feel her angst completely. I defy anyone to withhold tears at this. We soon learn that Deborah has kept Angela a secret from her family for 26-years and we are given a window into the loss she has experienced as a result of placing Angela for adoption, as well as some insight into the wall this secret built between Deborah and her siblings. That loss ripples out to all of Angela’s people—her aunts, uncles, siblings—who flood her with phone calls, effusive in their longing for her, desperate it seems, to make up for lost time. The voice mails are both joyous and mournful, much like adoption itself.

As defining life moments go, meeting birth family had to be a major kicking up of sediment, and I would guess that neither Angela or Bryan were prepared for the aftermath of repeatedly sharing and discussing this little film with very big implications. To relive it at each screening, to discuss it and defend it and explain it must be exhausting. The audience with whom I watched this movie was made up of adoptive parents and adult adoptees some of whom took great issue with the film’s title (I personally kept thinking that this was less of a closure and more of an opening).  But as Bryan said in a Q & A after the screening, this is Angela’s story, but it’s his film; it is a documentary, but it is art. It should be noted that while this film is worthwhile to any members of the adoption triad—adoptees (age 13 and older), birth parents, and adoptive parents—it can be very triggering, and the title may be a part of that. As I understand it, audiences not intimately familiar with adoption don’t tend to have the same reaction. This film will be  different experience, with different meaning and impact for each viewer, depending on the lens.

I’m no expert in cinematography, but there are some places in this film that felt long to me—a few drives in the car and one scene in a pool hall—and more economical editing wouldn’t have taken away from the tone being established. There are also a several spots with religious overtones that could lend this film to being the darling of the currently in vogue Christian adoption movement.

It sort of goes without saying that Closure doesn’t end in a crisp package with a neat bow. There isn’t an end to this story. This is real life. Bryan Tucker brings his humanity to this film, to his wife’s most personal story, and gives a compelling, heart-wrenching, validating, and deeply moving depiction of her struggle. This is a gift to those of us living in families touched by adoption, for those of us who see ourselves in any of the roles, and offers us much to contemplate and discuss.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS: If 90% of the American public supported the outlawing of abortion, you bet your sweet zygotes that our elected officials would have it done. What’s so different about the background check?

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Uh-huh. That’s right. I’m gonna deal with this today, because re-sharing this photo on Facebook didn’t make me feel any better. I shouldn’t write about it now because I’m really pissed off, and I always try to sleep on things I’ve written before I hit publish (or send, for that matter). I’m so pissed off about yesterday’s despicable senate capitulation to big money and the gun lobby. I’m pissed off even though I knew way back in December—about 13 seconds after I heard the death tally in the Newtown massacre—that nothing was going to change. It was this firm knowledge that was going to keep me from getting pissed off when today happened. I was supposed to shrug, sigh and move on. Bombing in Boston, Cowardly Congress, ho-hum, do these pants make me look fat?

But about 12 seconds after that grim announcement that 20 babies had been heinously slaughtered at the end of a weapon designed for warfare, I had a kernel of hope that, Hmmmm…maybe the obliteration of a bunch of (almost all) white children will finally tip the scales.

I quickly dismissed that sense of possibility. I’m a realist, after all. But the human spirit has a proclivity toward wishful thinking, an affinity for hope. It’s a survival thing, I think, an involuntary response to unbearable trauma.

Well. I attribute my anger tonight to that stupid fucking hope. That singular floating dust mite of ridiculously irrational, completely intangible bullshit that must have lodged itself somewhere deep in my body even as I’ve said, over and over again when discussing this topic, We will never change.

I knew. I knew nothing would come of the twenty murdered kids. If congress couldn’t make change after the gun was turned on one of its own (narcissists as they are, this—if anything—should have compelled them to act), why would a smattering of six-year-old body parts across a schoolroom have any impact?

Even as 90%— NINETYFUCKINGPERCENT!—of American people support background checks for gun purchasers: Nothing. 45 “nay”s (I’m not counting Harry Reid’s strategic vote) and our representatives stacked their papers, and straightened their ties and headed home for the night with their jobs and their pay checks and their free-health-care-for-life happily in tact. Shit we, as voters, bestow on them with the humble expectation that they, oh…I don’t know…represent the fuck out of us? That’s right. They represent us. Is 90% so loud as to be deafening?

Meanwhile, gun violence goes on and on, blahdeeblah, I wonder what shoes to wear to the gala on Saturday….

You know, black children die every day in America thanks to guns, and nobody in congress cares. It’s a fact of life. But congress doesn’t care about dying white kids either. It occurs to me that we may finally have undeniable proof of a level playing field. Are we supposed to be hopeful about that?

No. No we are not. We should be depressed and ashamed, because we all lose. Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 10.44.54 PM

Look. 90% of Americans do not agree that we should confiscate all guns. Nor do 90% of Americans agree that we should ban automatic weapons, though I line up in that group, too. What 90% of American people do agree on, is the requirement of a background check for gun purchasers, not unlike that required to obtain a driver license. Or a passport. Or a child. Funny: You have to have to have a background check to adopt a child, but not to kill one. Any bonehead can do that. In fact, has done that. And will again.

About the part that was excluded

My father died five days ago. My youngest brother learned of his death via Facebook, of all things, four days after the fact. The obituary paints a sleek portrait of a beautiful man who climbed mountains and adored animals. A mountain of a man, some might say of John Allred.

To be sure, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is an impressive accomplishment. Taking in and loving animals are acts of humanity. But it is commonly accepted—across time and throughout cultures—that one of the most meaningful things a person can do is to become a parent. To omit this portion of my father’s life with only a passing mention to “children from a previous marriage,” reduces the wholeness of it, and conveniently obliterates any truth of who he was at the very core of his being.

US in the snow

Aaryn Greer Allred

John Derek Allred

Corey Braden Allred

Those are the names of John’s three children. My brothers and I are real people with full, rich, complicated lives. We are not hypothetical afterthoughts. We are not apparitions. Except in the way our father treated us.

It deserves to be said that before marrying Susan Creager, “the love of his life,” John was married briefly to Leslie Kennedy, and then for 13 years to my amazing, resilient mother, Gaydi Shore. It could be argued that Leslie and my mother were also the loves of John’s life at one time.

Though it ended in divorce, my parents marriage began as a love affair, the kind any person could hope to experience in a lifetime.

mom and dad

To this day, despite the inevitable implosion of their relationship, I still love to hear the many stories of my parents’ courtship. Often at the holidays, I’ll ask my mother to recount—again—their wedding at the former Hotel Utah; the time she spent with my father in Germany; how he taught her to drive stick shift in their old Porsche; how much they wanted to have a baby. For all the trauma that was to follow those happier days, there is no doubt my brothers and I were conceived in love.

Ultimately, John chose to exile me from his life, and to a different extent, he did the same with my brothers. He chose this path with the full support and complicity of Susan, a woman with endless space in her heart for animals in need, but no such capacity for John’s children.

In addition to my brothers and me, John is survived by two granddaughters: The lovely and inimitable 12-year-old Maisie; and seven-year-old Ruby, a most magical and glorious child whom John never had the desire to know. A third granddaughter will make the world a better place when she arrives this spring. It is my hope that Baby Doris will bring healing to my brother, as he will have the opportunity to become the kind of father he never had, but always deserved.

In the end, a man can summit the highest peaks in the world and rescue every pitbull at the shelter. But the true measure of his character—of his humanity—is plainly visible in the way he treats his children.

 

A New Year Question

Can all food be prepared gluten free so we no longer have to talk about it?

Discuss.

Race 2012: Voter intimidation and WTBleep is up with our “democracy”?

Have you heard? Mitt Romney is kicking butt (that’s for you, PBS) and taking names when it comes to the white vote. According to this Washington Post article from late last week, he’s losing the Latino vote by enough to potentially cost him the election…but not if Latinos stay home while white folks storm the gates in favor of the agitated, sweaty  shape-changer from last Monday’s debate. (Edited to add: This latest piece agrees, and mentions an “uncomfortable racial math” of this election. “We don’t want to see our politics divided by race going into the future,” says one CNN analyst whom I presume is not talking about the GOP.) And is Romney peeling off some of the Black vote? In 2008, Barack Obama carried 95% of the Black vote, but reports like this claim the number is slipping.

It makes little sense to me that this race is even close. But it is. And given how close it is, what is the GOP doing to push their guy over the edge? It certainly isn’t their opaque “5 Points Plan.” So what, exactly, are they doing?

I have one word for you: Cheating.

Since a candidate cannot win on the white vote alone, and since courting the brown vote hasn’t been a priority for Romney, Willard and his Grand Old Party are doing what they do best. Yes, the folks that will go to the mat over an American Flag lapel pin, and who will out-patriot any patriot in Patriotland by telling you exactly how patriotic they are, are disenfranchising voters of color.

In Arizona’s Maricopa County last week, Spanish language voter registration cards were sent out with the wrong election date. They claim only 50 cards had the wrong date, which makes complete sense, since there’s no way they would print, you know, 2 million election cards in bulk, right? Nah! You definitely run those off using your ink jet printer on an as-need basis!

Moving east, 140 of these beauties went up in African-American neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin:

The Billboards were funded by an anonymous “family foundation” and are being taken down, thanks to some angry community members who knew that staying silent was to be complicit. These citizens helped Clear Channel—the company that owns the billboards—get over its Romnesia, reminding them about their policy that disallows anonymous funding of billboards. Another interesting tidbit: Clear Channel is co-owned by Bain Capital which is Mitt Romney’s former-ish company. If it smells like a rat…

Of course, we’ve been hearing all about the push for voter ID laws in myriad states across this country, a below-the-radar effort during the past two years to disproportionately target people of color even while right-wing supporters claim they are simply rooting out fraud. This is peachy coming as it does from those who know about voter fraud first hand. This anti-American effort to cut out the already disenfranchised in our society should be alarming to all of us, but especially so, according to the Center for American Progress, for women of color. Behold:

“Women of color stand at the crossroads of what is in essence a double disenfranchisement. When they are denied the opportunity to participate in civic life, they also lose the ability to voice their opinions and hold lawmakers accountable on the reproductive health issues that directly affect them.”

That’s a double-whammy, right there, if we inaugurate a President Romney next January.

And today, Race 2012 blogger Julene, pointed out a disturbing link between the anti-Obama ads running on BET and the overwhelmingly white make up of the board of directors of its new owner, Viacom. It’s sort of like white people owning the majority of black hair products on the market, only (no disrespect here, that is also a serious issue), it’s worse. It’s way worse. See the Tim Wise video at the bottom of my previous post for a primer about the age old divide-and-conquer method of disenfranchisement.

What I want to know is, when do the rest of us get outraged enough to act, like the people who forced Clear Channel to atone? When do we demand an end to this deviousness in our elections, and accountability and truthfulness and honesty in our political process? How bad do things have to get before all people, regardless of party affiliation, admit that these kinds of election shenanigans hurt all of us, individually and collectively and undermine everything that is good about—or should I say, anything that is left of—our democracy?

The time is now, people. The time is yesterday, today and tomorrow.

 

Talking about race: Is there any other way to bring about change?

When I considered joining the cast of writers participating in the Race 2012 blogging project hosted by Monica’s Tangled Web, I had to think carefully about what it was I wanted to say as it pertains to race and politics. As the white parent of a Black child, I come to the table with a unique-ish experience; there are endless opportunities to write, dissect, present, discuss, address, argue, and advocate.

I should say here that race is a part of my life in a way that it isn’t for most white people who have the privilege of talking about race or, sadly, not talking about it. This is not an option for people of color, and it’s not an option for people who have adopted children of color, regardless of color. I wrote in June about an incident that led to a discussion with our young child about the N-word, a chat we realized should have had much sooner. It goes without saying that I don’t know one white family who has had this talk over breakfast. Just yesterday, we had the occasion to explain to our child what it meant to be tarred and feathered. Indeed, it is no easy task to look into the eyes of a child and describe a method of brutalization used against her people.

Not a single morning passes without me having contemplated race before I’ve had my first cup of coffee; I don’t pass the Hispanic woman cleaning windows at my gym without thinking about immigrants; I don’t thank the woman wearing a hijab, who bags my groceries, without thinking about bigotry; never do I kiss my daughter on her forehead at the end of the day without thinking about her future as a Black woman.

I am a member of the privileged white class whose numbers are dwindling (have you watched Race 2012 yet? How about America By The Numbers?). Still, white remains the barometer of all that is normal, the yardstick against which everyone of any other skin color is compared and like most of my white counterparts, I’ve had it easy. Thanks to my blended family, I’ve also had an awakening. I’ve always held the same fundamental beliefs, but before Ruby, I was a toddler on the spectrum of understanding. As a Black friend of mine lovingly likes to say, I’m now an angry Black teenager. I quite like that.

So. My problem writing each post for Race 2012 isn’t lack of topics or angles. Race issues always come back around to politics. One cannot watch our president on a stage next to Mitt Romney and not think about race and what that means to them. One cannot watch The Choice: 2012, a Frontline special on the candidates, and not see the struggle for identity that defines Obama, and the lack of a comparable experience in his opponent. To pretend not to see it, is to not talk about it. And not talking about it doesn’t help us move toward a more equitable and just America.

Fortunately, people are choosing to do it, even when it scares them. One of my fellow bloggers, Sarah Auerswald, wrote a very honest piece today about being afraid to talk about race, even as she has decided to blog about it. Writer Stephanie Spencer (not involved in this project, but someone who could be) also wrote a come-to-Jesus piece on her blog about becoming aware of her white privilege. The angst in both posts is palpable and relate-able and their willingness to admit their fears and failings as they confront issues of race is precisely what needs to be happening right now.

I said it in an earlier piece, that that the election of a Black president has provided inspiration for people of color all across this country. A friend of mine told me during dinner one night last month, that Obama has shown her son “that there is another way to be a Black man.” This is significant in ways that nearly defy description. But one of the greatest gifts bestowed on our country by the election of Barack Obama, has been the giant spotlight it has focused on racism, small and large. As it happens, having a Black man in the White House (which was built by slaves, by the way) has served to bring racists out in daylight, away from the shadows of political correctness and out from behind the armor of the long-accepted myth of colorblindness. Barack Obama may be reticent to talk about race—and for arguably good reasons: he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t—but he’s been a great conduit for the rest of us.

People of color have been engaged in real talks about race for generations. It’s time white people started doing the same, even if it is scary and uncomfortable. I wonder: What are you doing reader, to talk about race in your life? Are you talking about? Are you fighting for justice and equality? Are you, too, in the angry black teenager stage? Because I’d like there to be more of us.

 

Race 2012: Watch it with me

If you missed the premier of Race 2012 last Tuesday night, you can watch it again tonight when it is rebroadcast (check your local listing for air time). Or you can hunker down with your laptop and watch it right here:

In the spirit of the blogging project launched by Monica’s Tangled Web, I have to share an on-point piece from Jack & Jill Politics.  I didn’t write this piece, but “Dear Black People: You Are Invisible and Irrelevant” captures some of my thoughts since watching the debates and then the PBS documentary. I have my own thoughts to add, but for now I’m stuck on Dear Black People. This part right here really struck me:

“These debates have taught me one thing. In the eyes of the debate organizers and most of the viewers, the plight of Big Bird is far more important than the plight of my people. “Binders full of women” are more important than prisons full of black people.”

Read that piece and then consider the dialogue that has engulfed our country in the wake of each debate. Put in such crisp perspective, it’s hard to deny that race is both a fundamental part of this election and also the thing that nobody wants to really deal with. Not the media, not the candidates, not the moderators, and not certain voters. I continue to shake my head at the notion of a post-racial anything. We are so far from where we need to be.

RACE 2012: Airs tonight. Will you be watching?

Last night, with my daughter on my lap, I watched the trailer for the PBS documentary, Race 2012: A Conversation About Race & Politics in America, which airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. in San Diego. (Check your local listings if you’re not here enjoying our extended summer.) It began with a montage of images of the crowd at Grant Park on the night of Barack Obama’s election four years ago, a rotating set of pictures set to Obama’s acceptance speech and the cheers that nearly made it impossible to hear. One photo after another showed Americans of all backgrounds in various states of disbelief and elation. Some wept, some hugged, some prayed. Many stood with mouths agape, faces to the sky, witnesses to a moment most of us never thought possible.

I remember that night with a more flat affect now. Intellectually, I can say, Yeah, that was an incredible night. But the visceral emotion of it isn’t always so accessible. Much of that enthusiasm and promise and, yes, hope, have been wiped away by the bipartisan struggles and disappointments that were inevitible. But director/producer Phillip Rodriguez made me feel it all over again, and more importantly, he made it impossible for Ruby to misunderstand the meaning of what happened that night.

And though she didn’t ask any questions until later in the trailer when Rodriguez illustrated how white people will become the minority in the very near future (“You mean, there will be more brown people in America?”), she sat curled on my lap, watching with so much intensity and concentration, a person looking in through our front window might have thought she was watching Finding Nemo.

Welcome. Bienvenue. Bienvenidos. This is the future. And millions of brown children just like her are learning from the first family, that there are other ways of being black than what our society has generally laid out for them.

Please watch the documentary and then visit the Facebook page—and any of the writers who are blogging about the program—and let’s talk about the changing political landscape in America. There is much to discuss, and the sooner we all get comfortable doing it, the better.

 

 

 

 

Even Ginger Rogers had to hang up her shoes

After almost six years and a lot of consideration, I decided to end my column in San Diego CityBeat. The decision was not an easy one. Not every writer stumbles her way into a byline and is given a wide open platform from which to share her sometimes outlandish, often embarrassing, generally controversial ideas. But that is exactly what happened to me. With the guidance and support of my editor, I developed “Backwards and In High Heels”; I ran with it, I took it seriously, and I worked hard at it. I learned a ton from it, and I loved it. Like, I really, really loved it.

CityBeat is where I became convinced that I am, despite all the voices in my head, a real writer.

Sometimes I used my column to share the silly stuff of life—like bikini waxes, and shoes, and my husband’s vasectomy (which wasn’t particularly silly to him, aside from getting his balls washed by a nurse named Happy). But the bulk of my CityBeat work focuses on issues of vital importance to who I am as a person—issues of race, adoption, education, equality, justice, and the danger that is stupid people who insist on sharing our planet. Some of these topics aren’t being discussed nearly enough in this city…or at least, not in the way that I would like to see them being discussed. As I work on some longer-term projects, continue to write on my website, and find other outlets for my ideas, I hope to continue to create a dialogue.

Glancing back at six years of every-other-week columns is like a parent looking back over her child’s life: There is a palpable sense of melancholy for what is no longer, of regret over missteps, and of wonder that it even happened at all. Do you pinch yourself? Yes. Do you move forward because you have no choice? Yes to that, too.

I’m excited about the opportunities ahead, but I will always be grateful to have been given the opportunity to share my stories, my life, and my opinions with a wider audience than that enjoyed by most mommy bloggers, which—as much as I cringe to think about it—is how I started out.

All of that being said, here is my final column. Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll continue to visit and weigh in here.

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Let’s Not Sell Our Souls To The Reform Devil: San Diego Unified School District Gets Race To The Top Right

What with the tiresome budget fights, cutbacks and narrowly averted layoffs, there aren’t many reasons to be happy with the San Diego Unified School District’s Board of Education these days. Parents at my kid’s school, for instance, are still seething about the recent handling—or non-handling—of the heat wave last week that, for two consecutive days, saw in-classroom temperatures clock in with triple-digits.

We have Promethean Boards! And iPads—for everyone!—are on the way. Meanwhile, only seven rooms on a campus of nearly 1,000 kids have air conditioning.

Despite repeated requests to be proactive (the National Weather Service predicted the heat) and declare the equivalent of a “snow day,” the board members sat in their (presumably) air-conditioned offices and left kids at the mercy of the district’s official five-page document titled “Operation of Schools During Hot Weather.” Or, as I like to call it, the Keep- The-Kids-Calm-And-Give-Them-Water Policy. The joyous read is packed with insightful tips like “darken rooms” and “provide electrical fans” and “turn on sprinklers nearest classrooms for short periods of time.” The author of this document obviously hasn’t visited the concrete jungle that is my daughter’s school.

As disappointing as this might be for parents at any overheated school in the district, the board deserves a solid back-patting for one important decision they made during the heat wave: SDUSD announced its decision not to apply for Race to the Top (RTTT) funds.

Had the district applied for and received the money—a long-shot given the number of districts applying and amount of funds being distributed—it would likely cost more to implement the necessary requirements than the award is worth. Because of this and other “limiting factors… the Superintendent concluded that there is too little potential benefit to warrant the time and resources required to submit an application,” according to information provided by district staff to the board. This was the board making a responsible decision.

But if you’re hearing a grinding noise over the echoes of my standing ovation, that would be the sound of teeth gnashing among the reform-y types. Astroturf groups (those that pretend to be grassroots but actually have corporate backing) like our local Parent-Trigger-happy Up For Ed, would like to French-kiss RTTT. In fact, they pushed this particular issue with the school board precisely because the punishment for failure to thrive under RTTT aligns with their organization’s nefarious agenda. Though a small victory in the longer battle, it was fun to watch their effort fizzle.

If you know nothing about Race to the Top, you should know this: It’s toxic. Perhaps more so than No Child Left Behind (NCLB) because, as education historian and activist Diane Ravitch puts it, “NCLB holds schools accountable; Race to the Top holds individual teachers accountable.”

To get RTTT funds, Ravitch has pointed out, states must “promise to open more privately managed charter schools and to tie teacher evaluation to test scores,” part of the reason Chicago teachers went on strike last month. (SDUSD teachers should take note, for value-added measures are coming to haunt them, too.) Furthermore, schools that continue to post low scores will have their entire staffs fired and be closed, turned into charters or turned over to private management.

RTTT will serve to make sure the lid of the coffin is nailed in tight atop public education, which is the jackpot to groups like Up For Ed, L.A.’s Parent Revolution and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.

Of course, I’m not naïve. This decision by the board is a finger in the dike, and I’m not talking about the lesbian kind, you dirty birds; that’s spelled with a “y.”

But on Nov. 6, we voters might drastically change the face of our school board if we’re not careful. Current board President John Lee Evans of District A is being challenged by Mark Powell, a right-wing ideologue endorsed by the reputable U-T San Diego.

And District E is a race between one Bill Ponder and CityBeat-endorsed Marne Foster, who trounced Ponder in the primary election but who’s been oddly silent in the run-up to the general. (Marne! Call me, maybe?)

As it happens, Ponder is a former Up For Ed board member, and, oddly enough, like Evans’ ultra-conservative opponent, he’s also endorsed by the esteemed U-T San Diego. In addition, according to a piece this past July by Matt Potter at The Reader, Ponder has the backing of one R.B. “Buzz” Wooley Jr.

Wooley is a charter-school advocate (i.e. privatizer) and the largest financial backer of the nonprofit online news website Voice of San Diego—which might explain the love affair going on between Voice and Up For Ed, the latter of which endorses Ponder. And we come full circle.

After reading Potter’s story, the general contempt toward the school board and the teachers union that’s come from Voice’s imperious education reporter during the past year suddenly made total sense. Certainly, Voice is no U-T, but the two media outlets’ support of education reform is about as dissimilar as Obama’s and Romney’s education policies. Oh, Emily Alpert, how we parents miss your balanced reporting!

Look. Our school board may not be perfect. In fact, it’s super-far from perfect. And the problems it faces are not easy to solve. But if we turn seats over to extremists with agendas, we’ll have a lot bigger issues to be pissed about than whether our children get a some goddamned air conditioning in their classrooms. We just might wish for the days when our problems were so basic.