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Why is it always racism?

One question that comes up again and again is "why is it always about race?" Many liberals and progressives are accused repeatedly of using the "race card" by the conservative media. Also, I have heard many conservatives point the finger back at liberals claiming that the left are the real racists because we bring the conversation back to it again and again.

I cannot speak for all progressives, but I can tell you why I personally think that racism is THE issue in the US and that this country will not be able to deal with our other problems until it is addressed and dealt with by the government and the country as a whole.

First, I was taught by my father that racism is the core issue that America needs to address.

My father was a civil rights supporter. He never joined any protests that I know of and I am also not certain how or why he came to his conclusions; although I do know that the time he spent in the Army greatly changed him, as did the Lunch Counter Sit-Ins and Martin Luther King Jr. He never explained to me what made him a civil rights supporter. He may not have thought about it enough to be able to articulate it, and quite frankly it was probably several things added together.

I also want to be clear for those who do not personally know me that my family background is mostly German, with Irish, Polish, Native-American, and Jewish mixed in. We are definitely white, yet my father raised me to see the world and American society through a much different lens than my white peers.

One of the things that my father taught me was that Black History Month hinders rather than helps the Civil Rights movement. I can remember him saying to me that it isn't Black History, it is American History. He stated that until it is taught in schools year round with the same emphasis, we will not make progress.

At the time this came up, I was in high school and I thought the opposite. I thought that Black History month would help foster change and education. Much later in my life, after my father died, I realized that he was right.

I learned the wisdom of my father's viewpoint when I taught at Missouri Valley College. It is a small school and most of their students come from the rural areas of Missouri. A lot of the students when I taught there explained to me that they did not plan to go to college because it was too expensive and they did not want to take out loans. However, a representative from Missouri Valley saw them perform at a sports event, like rodeo, and offered them a scholarship. The students did not have the luxury of attending a college preparatory high school. Some of them were scared to be in my English Composition class because they hadn't written anything, not even a sentence, during high school; their district did not have the money for an English teacher. Missouri Valley did a lot of recruitment to bring in minority students, but overall my students were white and conservative.

I had one student complain during the fall term that we shouldn't have to read works by African-American authors because "it [wasn't] Black History month." I was floored at the idea that one should only read/teach black authors in February.

Then a young woman accused me of being racist because the class was an introduction to world literature and all I ever taught was black authors.

Now I am a smart-ass. I do my best to curb this behavior in the class room because I don't think that it helps me be a good educator. However, the smart-ass in me came out when I replied "I didn't know that Shakespeare was black, or William Faulkner, or Poe, or Flannery O'Connor…"

She cut me off and said that yes, those author's are white but everyone else was black and world literature should focus on dead, white men.

Smart-ass reared her head again and asked, "So I shouldn't teach women writer's either?"

"No, no. White women authors are fine…"

Needless to say, the conversation did not go the way that she wanted it to and she reported me to the Dean for being a reverse racist. I have also been called a race traitor and a reverse Oreo, along with other impolite names.

So we had a meeting with the Dean. She stated her case and the Dean told her that the situation would be handled. She left the office and the Dean waited, letting enough time pass for her to walk down the hall before saying to me "Good job."

My father's opinion of Black History Month was vindicated at that moment. His fear that Black History would be relegated to only 28 days a year has been proven correct. Likewise, his fear that calling it Black History would only serve to further the divide was also correct. The term that academics use today is the "Other." It was not a term that my father would have known, but he would have understood the concept. The "Other" is someone, or a group of people, who is seen as not being a part of regular society. Oftentimes the designation is a negative one. Black History Month keeps various historical topics (slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement and so on) in the camp of the "Other." It leads people, like my student, to not see Black Literature as a part of World Literature. It is separate, but not equal since 28 days minus the weekends doesn't come close.

I also think that this is why my father started teaching me about the Civil Rights movement around the age of eight. Getting into the car with my father meant having to answer questions like:

Who was Rosa Parks?
Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
What was his speech "I have a dream" about?
Why did blacks start the bus boycott?
Why did people protest at lunch counters?

At the age of eight, I thought that his endless oral quizzes were fun. By the time that I was in high school, I was rolling my eyes when they started. I appreciate what he did now but then I was annoyed because I had figured out that other parents didn't do this to their kids, so why was I the lucky one?

I had no idea then that he was teaching me an important lesson, one of many. By constantly quizzing me on what he had experienced during the Civil Rights movement, he was emphasizing the importance of race in our country. The quizzes were not the only way that he taught me that race is the issue that America has to deal with--many experiences were turned into lessons.

One of the first I remember and it may be what prompted him to start quizzing me, happened when I was about seven or eight. We went to the Famous Barr store in downtown St. Louis so that I could see Santa. At that time, "Santa" gave each child a toy after getting their picture taken. I was excited to get the wrapped box. Inside I found a black doll, a Barbie knock-off. I was upset and it showed on my face. Now I remember my thoughts at the time and I was mortified that I had opened another little girl's gift. Never mind that it had been handed to me by the one of the elves, and never mind that it did not have anyone's name on it, I felt guilty and awful. I knew how I felt when someone opened up a gift meant for me and I did not want to do that to someone else.

I was also wondering why Santa gave out a fake Barbie, but I digress.

My dad, seeing the look on my face and not knowing what was going on in my head, used it as an opportunity to teach me. He asked me what was wrong and I said that the doll was black. The discussion led to him asking me to think about how a little black girl felt when she got a white doll. He also asked me if I was in a mixed school (the school I attended at the time was not), would I have black friends? I replied that I would and he pointed out that my white Barbie's should also have black friends. By the end of the conversation, I was okay with the gift and no longer felt guilty about opening someone else's gift--a part of the conversation also dealt with why Santa would give me the wrong gift when he knows everything. After that I also asked for a black Barbie, a real one. I was the only one of my friends who had black Barbie's.

My dad also taught me about racism by letting me apply for a job at the Burger King down the street from the funeral home that we lived in (my parents answered the phone at night so we lived in the upstairs apartment). We lived on Delmar in St. Louis close the intersection of Delmar and Union. If you go in one direction down Union towards Forest Park, you are in one the richest areas of St. Louis, the private streets. If you go the other direction, you are in one of the poorest areas which is primarily black. All of the employees at the Burger King who I saw were black. The manager who interviewed me was black. I did not get the job though they said that they would keep my application on file.

I was upset and thought that there was something wrong with me, like was I too stupid to work fast food? I do wish that my father had addressed that fear, because it gets to the heart of many of my problems, but he didn't. Instead he told me bluntly that I wasn't hired because I was white. In true teenager fashion I said that it wasn't fair. He laughed and said that life wasn't fair. He pointed out that if I really wanted to flip burgers, he could take me to any fast food place in South St. Louis and he was pretty sure that I would be hired. I said that I thought that was racist. He told me that it wasn't because in society as a whole, black people do not have the power to be racist. Anyone could be a bigot, but racism was bigotry and oppression compounded by one group having power over another one. Hence, bigotry and oppression then become law, like the Jim Crow Laws. He ended with asking me to imagine how I would feel if I had to deal with discrimination based on my race every single day of my life. He again pointed out that I had whole bunch of options available to me but the kids who worked at that Burger King didn't.

Through the real life lessons and the quizzing, my father taught me that racism is the most important issue in America. He showed me why everything comes down to race. He made me see that there are two realities in America and once it is seen, it cannot be unseen. I have had arguments with people and been told that there is only one reality. I have to disagree. The reality that one must deal with day to day if you are black is different than if you are white. You are treated differently. You are perceived differently, which I will get into in another essay.

Interestingly enough, I found only one site that agreed with me about racism being power based, "Ask the White Guy: Is the Oxford Dictionary Definition of Racism too White for you?" The official definition states that it is basically one racial group thinking that it is superior to another, which is a lot less nuanced than what my father taught me. I think that it also muddies up the arguments because of course then when someone points out that something is racist, the other person can say things like "well you're a racist too!" A tactic that flips the argument and attacks the one who has a grievance, victim blaming. If there is one thing that American society is good at is victim blaming.


Sexual Predators and the Pagan community

This morning I woke up and got on the internet to discover that someone who I consider to be a friend has been arrested for having and distributing child pornography. There are three articles on that talk about Kenny Klein’s arrest, and several more on other sites if you Google his name. This situation came to light on March 26th, so I am a little bit behind the times. Many people are doing the typical response to the situation—they are distancing themselves from Kenny and making the point that the behavior is not condoned by the Pagan community or the Blue Star Tradition, a coven founded by his ex-wife Tzipora. They were the heads of Blue Star for many years. I read some really awful things today, including the viewpoint that he should be locked away with someone named “Tiny.” The writer later takes a step back from this viewpoint.

I understand why people are distancing themselves from this situation and the person. The media, especially conservative media, is going to have a field day with this story. It will be a literal and figurative witch hunt. The case will most probably be used to attack the Pagan community since it proves just how evil and unmoral we really are. It is going to be a really difficult time to be a Pagan and many semi-out people may decide to go back into the closet because who in their right mind is going to want to associate with or hire/work with a known Pagan? They are all child molesters, haven’t you heard?
If the news really gets a lot of media coverage, the Catholic Church may breathe a slight sigh of relief as the world focuses on someone else. In fact, the Catholic Church could openly condemn the Pagan community and I doubt that many people would note that they were being hypocrites.

There will be a lot of hypocrisy in this case. While the scandals in the Catholic Church have sadly made a lot of people judge all Priests negatively, it has not caused the world to say that all Catholics are child molesters. Likewise, a case about a Pastor does not reflect on the whole community. I have not heard anyone say something like “Well you know how those Christians are…..” and no one should make such a statement, but I am pretty certain that people will in this case.

Of the three articles on today, the one that I agree with the most is “Six Rules for Safer Pagan Sex: A Guide” by Caer Jones. The author argues that we as a community need to rethink our behaviors and if I am reading the article correctly, we need to accept how this is a community problem.

“We learned that the path to being a good Pagan was through indulgence, not restraint. Hedonism, not asceticism. And while the attitude was different, the pressure to conform to the community standard was still there. When I came in to the community it was pretty well accepted that those who didn’t embrace the Pagan ideal of sexual freedom were obviously still dealing with whatever rules they were raised with. Eventually there would get past all that repression and join with the rest of the Pagan community. Pun intended.” (Jones paragraph 3)

The author’s words really hit home with me. I have not attended an outdoor Pagan festival in over ten years. At the time I stopped because I was through with camping for various reasons (I am not a nature child) but I still attended nearby Pagan conventions where I did not have to worry about setting up a tent and then having everything I had with me drenched in a thunderstorm, but that is another story. However, one of the things I enjoyed most about the conventions was that I did not have to deal with people being skyclad—nude for those of you not in the Pagan community.

I am not comfortable with my body and I am not comfortable with nudity in general. The amount of peer pressure that I had to deal with at Pagan gatherings was astounding.

There are now women coming forward to tell their story about how Kenny did things that made them uncomfortable and how their attempts to tell someone failed because he was an important Pagan. Personally, Kenny never did anything to me, which may be because I was in my twenties when I met him, but I have a lot of empathy for those who are coming forward. I know what they had to deal with.

I can remember one time when I was standing around the fire after a ritual at Heartland Pagan Festival and a man who was nude, like most of the people there, was also obviously aroused. He wanted to give me a hug and I felt pressured to do so even though I felt really uncomfortable with the situation. I did not know him at all, but I already knew that to say no would only lead to lectures from him and others. So I gave him a hug and then found an excuse to leave the ritual area as soon as I thought I politely could. The situation fits the definition of sexual harassment, but within the Pagan community many would say that it does not fit the definition at all. It was a hug, nothing more. Some would even argue that there was nothing sexual about it, because that is not what being skyclad is about. I also knew that I had no desire to wrangle with the Courts about this because I knew what would be said:

You didn’t say no.
You went willingly to an event where people would be nude.
You stayed at the fire for the dancing, knowing what generally happens after a ritual.

And I could go on. One needs only to read about what rape victims go through to get an idea of what would be thrown at me and I knew that I didn’t have a leg to stand on. It wasn’t worth it and would only serve to most probably get me ostracized from the community.

From personal experience I knew that I would not get any understanding from the Pagan community in general. By that time I had already received the lecture from a Priestess about how my refusal to be skyclad in a ritual was unhealthy. What was I trying to hide from myself and the other members of the coven? What was I trying to hide from the Gods? We can only be our true selves when we are nude. I was also bringing the other members down with my negative body image and I needed to go into counseling and get help so that I would not continue to ruin other people’s spiritual experiences. She also suggested that I withdraw from the Pagan community until I had healed myself of my toxicity and gotten my ducks in a row, so to speak. It would be better for the community, and myself, if I did so.

Like the situation at the campfire, I never said no. I could have left before the ritual began when it became clear how things were going to go, but on some level I knew that I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. If I left then I would have ruined the spiritual experience anyway. Looking back, I should have left because they could have told me beforehand. It would have been the polite thing to do and then I could have gracefully bowed out of the situation. As it was I was given a robe when I walked into the door and spent most of the evening like a deer in headlights, until I broke down in the bathroom.

Jones’s point is extremely valid. Kenny Klein’s arrest is not an incident that we need to separate ourselves from immediately. It is a good reason to look at the Community attitudes and review what we do that that creates an environment that is unhealthy. I still consider Kenny to be a friend and the one thing that I think is good about the situation is that he admitted to the crime. I wish that I could say that he is going to get help, but prisons don’t do that anymore. It is too costly and if Louisiana has for profit prison system, it goes against the standard contract of keeping the prisons at 90% capacity at all times.

Burning his books and music will not help solve the problem. It will only serve as a distraction from the real issue. Those who tried to sweep the behavior under the rug are just as guilty, and I also have to shoulder some of the blame since I have not stood up for what was right. I have caved to the peer pressure to conform as much as anyone else, and then for various reasons, became less active in the community. I should have continued banging my head against the brick wall.

I recently posted a photo from Women of Asatru Facebook group which says “My honor does not come from doctrine. It comes from me deeds. My courage doesn’t come from subjugation. It comes from my determination. They are not for sale. May my actions always reflect that.” By not speaking up in the past, my deeds have not brought me honor and the Pagan community’s deeds have not brought us honor. I hope to have the courage to stand for what is right even when it is not easy.

Works cited

Jones, Caer. "Six Rules for Safer Pagan Sex: A Guide." The Witches Voice. The week of April 20, 2014 to April 26, 2014. Internet. April 20, 2014.
So in an article I posted on Facebook, ""That's Racist Against White People!" A Discussion on Power and Privilege," the writer defines Cracker, and as I read it I started to snicker. The term was used to describe the one who cracked the whip. I have never been called a cracker, but now I would to be so that I can proudly say "Yes I am." Smile wickedly and then walk away.

17 years

17 years ago my dad died of pancreatic cancer. It has been 23 years since my paternal grandmother died of the same disease. Over the years I have tried to deal with the sadness that encompasses me each summer as I get closer and closer to the anniversary of his death. There were a lot of things wrong with my father, but he did the best that he could. He had his own demons to fight and did not have any help.

He died early in the morning. My aunt, his sister, was the one who was with him at the time. Some people have thought that I would regret it if I was not there when he died. While there are things that I regret, that is not one of them. I wish that he had lived longer. I wish many things, but I think that it was a lot more important that she be there with him. I am also glad that my mother was not there. I would like to think that it made his dying easier to have some peace and to be with someone who was not emotionally abusive. A part of me thinks that I am a horrible person for thinking that, but then again, it is just one more thing to to add to the list about why I am going to hell in a hand basket.

In many ways I am still dealing with the aftermath of his death. It seems like I have lost my ability to recover from major problems in my life. At the same time that my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Don and I began marriage counseling. I tried really hard to save the marriage, but some things are not to be. I can say that but in reality I always wonder if I could have done something differently. Did I work on it enough? Did I spend enough time in counseling? I have known or heard of people who knew it was over in under six months. I spent almost 2 1/2 years in counseling and still have days where I question myself.

I then spent several months living with friends until I could get my own apartment. I miss living alone in many ways. In fact it has made me question whether I am really capable of living with anyone. Dr. Fletcher says that it is actually very normal to feel the way I do because it is easier.

Living alone should have given me the space to deal with my losses, but I got involved in a bad relationship with a manipulative asshole. I lost a $1,000.00 and almost lost the relationship with Chris over it. I also gained more emotional scars and my fear level reached new highs when my apartment was robbed. The robber I am fairly certain, was the Manipulator number one. I went from loving living alone to hating it. I was afraid of every noise I heard. It was a relief to move in with Chris.

Then I was kicked out of graduate school because I owed them too much money. I felt like my life had fallen apart. My dream of being a professor was swirling down the toilet. I tried valiantly to finish my degree on my own, but it was not meant to be. I am still angry over what happened.

So I started working at the Diabetes Action Network for a man who did not control his diabetes. My stress levels were going up as I had to routinely call the paramedics to deal with blood sugar crashes. I was nervous wreck at work sometimes. Eventually the situation would lead to sign up with the temp agency that eventually placed me in my current job, which also makes me nervous wreck. Between angry customers and a toxic environment, I have had a really hard time. At my lowest points I have burst into tears because I did not want to go to work.

This is also around the time that I hooked up with Manipulator number two, another winner. Some people would not agree with me about this person, but trust me, they are bad news. I would go two rounds with this one, although round one would be pretty benign. Things would not explode until round two when the real fun began. Unlike Manipulator number one, this person is emotionally abusive. I not only spent a lot of money on this relationship but I also came close to losing my mind. Say what you will about whether or not I needed to be in therapy, I certainly did not need someone purposely pushing all of my buttons.

Then I lost my first girlfriend, which just added to my emotional mess.

Then Chris lost her job. I have lately felt like that I cannot get a break. When I look back at my history of the last 17 years, it seems like every time I start to feel like I am beginning to deal with and heal from all of the trauma, something else happens to set me back to square one. Consequently, I am emotionally exhausted and raw. The diagnoses of PTSD has come up in therapy, and it makes a lot of sense. I am constantly on the edge. Loud noises startle me. I do not trust people and often have to fight against social anxiety. I feel like the whole world is judging me. I am very paranoid.

As I look back on my recent life, I am amazed that I am still here. Yet, I have also lost the ability to deal with the daily setbacks of life. I view our financial crisis insurmountable for example. I have been attacking myself for not being able to pay for all of our bills on my salary. I have done what I can but it is never enough in my mind.

Now we are battling bed bugs and I am not handling it well at all. For those of you who have gone camping with me, you probably remember my tick dance. It is a lovely show where Flea runs around like a crazy thing screaming "get it off me!" Dealing with the bedbugs is worse because there are so many of them. It is in many ways my worst nightmare--one that I have been worried about since they first started reporting problems a few years ago. Today we put casings on my box springs and mattress. I had not been having issues, but sure enough there were at least 4 or 5 bedbugs that we saw and killed in the process. It is easier to deal with my bed because of the wood floor. The real problem is upstairs and I dread the process of encasing Chris' bed and dealing with the carpet.

Several people have all said that it is just one of those things. It is a nuisance that one must deal with. I am finding that I cannot cope with it. I am a mess. Encasing my bed gave me a panic attack. I had a hysterical fit the other night over it. I am grossed out and have been having issues sleeping. I also feel dirty. I had to call the hotel where Sooner Con was held to let them know. I had to call Zoe to let her know since we shared the room. I had to call Tina and let her know since I watch their house when they are gone. It is like I have an STD. I am ashamed.

I had not even thought about the time of year until Chris pointed it out yesterday. She pointed out that I always have problems at this time of year. Certainly the timing is not helping. I have to wonder if I did not have a history of trauma (and I forgot to put in the whole Mother debacle, like I could forget), that maybe I would not be so freaked out about the bedbugs, my car problems, the money issues and so on.

The ironic part is that I found myself wishing my father were still here to help me with bed bug issue. He was in the pest control business for many year and I always called him when I had issues.

But now I have to try and get some sleep so that I can work tomorrow.


Battling my Inner Demons

I am so tired of battling my inner demons.

The original plan today was to go to work and sit in the kitchen area until 9 AM. However, I had no desire to get there any earlier than necessary. So I have ended up at McDonald's instead. It has become my habit to try check for freelance writing assignments. When I went to the site, I had no desire to write on any of the topics. I then remembered that I had a student interview to grade, so that is what I did. Then I went back to the freelance site and realized that I just did not want to do anything.

The demons reared up, attacking me. They condemn me for being lazy, for thinking that I am too good to write 400 words for a dentist's website and so on. Dr. F. says that I will always battle these voices in my head and that they will always be problematic when I am tired and stressed.

I want to be like everyone else and take a break without the guilt and internal battle.

I had problem yesterday at work because for some reason I imagined going back in time to take care of myself as a child. Evidently, DFS was called in when I really small because I banged my head against my crib. My doctor noticed the bruising on my forehead and called the authorities. When the case worker arrived, I was evidently banging my head, so the case was dropped.

A previous counselor said that many babies do this, but I wonder how unhappy and bored I was as a baby. I wanted to comfort the younger me, pay attention to her. My guess is that is what I wanted, attention. However my mother was too depressed and or too self centered to give me the attention I needed.

Would my demons be so strong today if I had gotten more attention as a child? I don't know and I will never know.

The Schedule from Hell

Chris and I are currently sharing my car until the funds are available to get hers back on the road. She finally has a temp position with the University. She is working at Academic Support and they are on the bloody summer schedule--7:30 AM to 4:00 PM. I hated that schedule when I worked it and I hate it more now since I start work at 9:00 AM. So I am losing an hour more of sleep (I normally often get only 6 hours, so hello 5!) to get her to work on time, and then I have to find something to do for about 75 minutes. I have been doing freelance writing, but I would rather be asleep, especially when I teach in the evening. Then my day does not end until 10:00 PM.

I survived week one and then slept about 11 hours a night on the weekend. It is Tuesday of week two and I feel as bad as I did by last Thursday.This does not bode well.

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