Glad I Saw It: Mural

East Orange Campus High School MuralThis is one of several murals at East Orange Campus High School. It makes me smile every time I pass it.

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On Finding Empathy, Not Approval, for Protests That Become Riots

usatpeacefulfergusWe’ve heard it on the news and in conversations, usually on-line, related to protests that turn violent surrounding the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision. And it’s a logical question, although often pathetically accented with ugly adjectives. And I’m sure many of us have said similar things in the past: Why are they destroying their own neighborhood? They’re only hurting themselves! What did that business owner do to them? Sensible, reasonable, logical questions. Questions that can be asked in all similar situations. But when we break down the wider actions to look at our own responses to stress and anger, it can appear very different. Relatable, if not agreeable. Understandable, if not worthy of approval.

A few months after leaving Brooklyn, I waited until my kids were napping in their rooms to punch in a the door of a cabinet that housed craft supplies like stickers and kiddie scissors and glue and doodle pads. I was still angry, even furious after punching in the door, but the wave of shame and the realization that I couldn’t hide the damaged built-in cabinet stopped me from hitting the flimsy one-step-up from particle board door again and again. I was feeling isolated and frustrated and angry and out of control of my life. In that moment of helplessness, I punched a hole into my own cabinet door. It’s still broken after five years. I purposely broke part of a house I had just gone into debt to move into. It didn’t make sense, but I did it.

Just a few weeks ago I was aggravated about a disagreement I can no longer remember, but the intensity of my frustration was palpable. It was something about not feeling a part of things and being ignored and wanting respect on my terms. So much so that I grabbed an oven mitt and smacked it several times on the countertop. Hard. The last swing was poorly placed and I walloped my knuckles on the sharp edge. My hand was swollen within two minutes and stayed swollen for almost a week. I’m thankful we had formica countertops and not some version of stone. Even so, in that moment, for a reason I can’t remember, I damaged my own hand. It was painful, and it could have been a lot worse. I could have easily broken my knuckles. It didn’t make sense, but I did it.

And I know of people who have damaged their own car doors and bumpers, kicked in garage doors, slammed screen doors off the hinges, thrown prized possessions, punched walls and even trees until their hands bled in frustration. I know of others who floor the gas pedal in anger and guzzle beer, wine, gin in desperation. I know of people who eat things and smoke things and ingest pills they know are killing them slowly when they are sad or hopeless or afraid or grimacing with anger. Harmful actions, all. And many of those emotions grew out of a more manageable roadblock than institutionalized racism. It’s not an excuse; it’s a reason. It’s not approval; it’s empathy.

So, even as I despair in the images of burning buildings. Even as I fear that the creative and peaceful and purposeful protesting may escalate to violence again. Even as I hate seeing some take advantage of the media attention worldwide given to the many — though not enough — people declaring that #BlackLivesMatter, I can’t wholly condemn the destruction of buildings and cars without first admitting that I have felt an ounce of the same fury for lesser reasons. And I’m willing to bet that you have too.

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You Cannot Change What You Refuse to Confront

“If you hated what you saw Monday night, if you hated seeing those human beings pushed past their limit, YOU need to do something about the government and the justice system and the institutions of policing. You need to do something about the cause…you, I, we need to go out there and make this country into a place where black lives matter.” ~ Jay Smooth

h/t Eloiza Jorge

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Thanksgiving: Joy of Giving

This video has gotten a lot of play, but it’s worth another share. Narayanan Krishnan, as a part of the CNN Heroes: Everyday People Changing the World series, shares how his life has become about giving to others. I appreciate that he addresses, however peripherally, the caste system restrictions and how his values and morals demanded that he ignore them. Please watch.

“What is the ultimate purpose of life? It’s to give. Start giving! See the joy of giving.” ~ Narayanan Krishnan

Those of us who are everyday people (lower case) may not be able or willing to make the changes and put in the complete dedication that Narayanan does in this video. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be “everyday heroes” in smaller ways. Be in the moment and don’t overthink how you respond to need — whether it’s emotional, physical, or something you can’t define. Need some help getting started? Give a sincere compliment, listen without interrupting, hold the door with a smile, write a quick postcard to someone you’ve been thinking about. Call someone you’ve been meaning to call. Smile more.

We can’t all run around doing good deeds or grinning from ear to ear all the time — or even much at all. But by being conscious of wanting to tip the balance to positivity, authentic opportunities will arise. Even grumpy anti-socialites like me can take part.

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Guest Post: Guilt Isn’t the Point

The words that follow aren’t mine. I am at a loss for how to sound eloquent and worthy a read lately. So once again, as I did yesterday, I’ll turn to someone else’s words. Today my husband posted something on Facebook in response to others’ reactions on social media following the Ferguson verdict. I asked his permission to re-post it here because it’s insightful, thoughtful, and honest.

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A few friends in my timeline are (understandably) feeling put on the spot, called out for the mere fact of their whiteness. I can understand the emotional response—the sense that one is being “labeled” as racist when one feels that one is no such thing. Believe me, I can understand it.

But. But.

Really, “labeling” is the least of our problems. When a cultural disposition is baked in, all the way down, what does this quibbling about “labels” amount to? Nada. Nothing. It’s a side issue. It makes this about *me*, rather than about the people who are desperately pleading with me (and all other well-meaning white people) to get over myself and help them change a system that is inherently unfair.

malesincThe color of my skin means (objectively) that I can waltz through my life without worrying that my skin color marks me as worthy of suspicion or worse by law enforcement and others. Sure, I may not be overtly “racist”, which is what most white people who protest that they’re not racist mean when they say this. But that doesn’t magically excuse me from being implicated in the institutional apparatus of racism that results in black men being incarcerated at dramatically higher rates than white men (1), black people being shot by police at a higher rate than whites (2), and black children being deprived of the educational opportunities and resources that might provide some sliver of hope for them to find a place at the cultural table (3).

If we look at the sociological data in this country objectively, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the U.S. is still functioning with an inherently *structural* racism. Those of us who are white, who clearly aren’t harmed by that structure, and who can even be said to benefit from it, needn’t flagellate our individual selves when we see this (i.e., feeling *guilt* isn’t the point), but we really should open our eyes, be *honest* with ourselves about the advantages that we enjoy that are not enjoyed by our black and brown neighbors, and support those who are working to make this ostensible “nation of laws” a more just and equal society.

(Data referred to above: (1) Incarceration: http://bit.ly/1vluzkf ; (2) Police shootings: http://bit.ly/1CV3fML ; (3) Unequal educational opportunities: http://wapo.st/1viEFBd)

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To Kill a Mockingbird is Apropos Again. And Again.

To Kill a MockingbirdIt is about justice for Michael Brown. Even more, for many, it’s also about preventing future Darren Wilsons. And I believe that in order to do that, we have to work hard. Everyday. To confront our own biases (yes, you) and to demand that our institutions do so as well. And we need to ask, as Jem does in To Kill a Mockingbird, “How could they do it, how could they?” again and again even as we try to work it out.

I find solace through information, and by trying to dig down to the humanity and empathy, I will hopefully discover there. Here is a start: Grand Jury Document analysis. I found this link via Yamiche Alcindor’s Twitter stream. And NPR is analyzing the documents in real time.

There can be understanding without acceptance. And through understanding HOW or WHY and injustice, an abuse, has occurred, we can start to prevent it. Because it will happen again. It’s happening right now.

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Glad I Saw It: Dresses for Dancing

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Yesterday, as my daughter and I walked around Nutley waiting for a birthday party to finish, we came across Shall We Dance. My daughter was entranced by the sparkle and fringe in the window, so we went in. It was busy with customers, and a dance program was playing on a television, and we wondered aloud about the many colors and styles and the tiny finger ties to keep sleeves in place during performances. It was a lot of fun! I highly recommend stopping in — and the sale rack has some great options for a fancy New Year’s Eve (or WTF, I’m wearing this!) outing.

Have a few minutes to spare for glam? Take a look at the Facebook photos!

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If you haven’t voted yet, get to it!

VOTE!

Find your polling place here.

For more reticent voters: Find your f***ing polling place. (Language NSFW!)

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Have a Punny Halloween!

Grammarly is an English teacher’s dream. And it’s perfect for the wickedly corny folks as well. And so, Happy Halloween!photo

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Bearing Witness, Declaring Support for Domestic Violence Awareness

10675623_302816956578972_2493514775744459775_nAttending a vigil is to be a witness. We listen, we nod, we speak names aloud, we stand in remembrance of those lost. Attending a vigil is to be an advocate. We show support, solidarity, unity with those who survive. Attending a vigil is to be an activist. We demand attention, action, change in honor of those who are suffering. A vigil is more than a memorial. It is an act of rebellion against the status quo.

Most importantly, especially when domestic violence is concerned, attending a vigil is to show vigilance and support for those suffering. With our presence, we tell those who may be close to losing hope and drive and the will to keep on that we know. We care. We are here and ready to bear witness. We are here and ready to be advocates. We are here and ready to activate change. Unified and connected, the web is ready to give support.

Domestic violence is affecting someone you know right now. Be vigilant. Be an advocate. Be there.

SOFIA was in Montclair’s Crane Park on Monday, October 27, 2014 for a Domestic Violence Awareness Candlelight Vigil. See images of the event here: OUTlooks by OUTthere.

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