Saturday, October 25, 2008

Racism is a Race that Must End

I wrote my college history thesis on the Vietnam anti-war movement at the University of Virgina. A rather narrow topic that required many hours spent in the basement of Alderman Library and in personal interviews with a tape recorder in hand. I took notes in my spiral bound notebook because the Trapper Keeper was too bulky. I had the honor and pleasure of talking to men who were outraged at the political, racial, and social divisions of their day. Men who took a stand, often against their upbringing, their parents, their professors, and their fraternity brothers.

Keep in mind it was 1969 when these men clad in suit coats and ties were quietly protesting the Vietnam war at a conservative Southern school where women (4 of them) had just been admitted. Nevermind that it took The University from 1895 to 1969 to finally admit women to its hallowed halls. The anti-war movement at UVa. was not newsworthy on the same scale as Kent State, Berkley or the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin. But is was news in Charlottesville, a quintessentially quaint college town.

The climate is much the same now.

If those old cassette tapes still worked I know I would sense the same emotion, zeal, and frustration that I sense among my peers today. The handful of protesting men could sit as bystanders no longer. The racist jokes and chauvanist banter could be ignored no more. They took action, as a small group, and faced jeering, mimickry, and black balling. But they did not shed their convictions. They did not silence their battlecry.

I had a History of the Civil Rights Movement professor in college who inspired me to write about this small, unknown anti-war movement in the South. He told tales of small groups of citizens banding together for a common cause, to right what was wrong. He spoke of grassroots power, civil disobedience, living by conviction. Perhaps you've heard of my professor, Julian Bond. He regaled us with harrowing tales of the civil rights movement. He brought in speakers who marched, protested, organized, and battled for us. All of us. Rosa Parks spoke. I can still hear her story and see her grandmotherly face. I read to my kids about Rosa Parks now and I am proud to tell them I heard her tale spun from her own frail lips.

Julian Bond, Rosa Parks, and the men of UVa. cemented for me the reality of the fight they fought. The made it more than a chapter in a history book. They were more than answers on a test or names engraved on a plaque covered in ivy. The gave me faces of change. Of hope. Of grassroots power.

Our climate is much the same today.

I used to joke that people who vote for John McCain are either greedy or stupid. Sure, that's anger rearing its snarky head. But one thing I cannot shake is that some people voting for John McCain are racist. I say this from firsthand experience. I realize it is no small claim but I stand behind my words and assessment.

The beast that is Racism snarls its rotten teeth and growls its hot gasp in corners we don't suspect. Let me recount a conversation I just had with someone very close to me. She had just taken a Greyhound trip and arrived delightfully on time. I asked about her trip, and she commented it was fine, easy, and swift. She went on to tell me the trip was fine because there were lots of white people on the bus. As soon as the words escaped her lips she backpedaled, trying to suck them back in. Racism managed to squeak past, stealth in its manner. She felt ashamed and disappointed in her remarks. But the sad truth is that the feelings and the words were there, hovering above us. It made me sick to my stomach. This person is voting for Barack Obama and has been a staunch, tireless supporter and volunteer. I tell you this tale so you see how camoflaged and unexpected Racism can be.

Another friend has been saying for months now that she simply cannot vote for Obama because she is worried about his safety. She, a 30-something white woman, speaks with feigned empathy and concern as she says a vote against Obama will help spare his life. She cannot bear for the country to experience another Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy tragedy. Oh to hear her treacly earnestness is enough to make a diabetic go into shock. I call bullshit here. She takes issue with Obama's race. Period. She cannot get past it. She knows nothing of either candidate's policies. She is not politically active, much less aware. She has said that Obama will be assassinated while in office and she does not want to be responsible for the country's loss and his family's loss with her vote. This is simple Racism hiding in the wings of sympathy. I don't buy it.

I hear this story, this canned rationale, from a number of people. My friends have shared similar tales. We see through you. We distrust you. We're calling you on it.

These subtle forms of racism affect me as a woman of color who was not born in this country or raised Christian (YIKES! Someone alert the authorities!). My boys are of mixed race since Mac Daddy is as white as they make 'em up in Wisconsin. They are first generation American. They will always be the children of a brown immigrant mother. We teach them what an honor that is.

It would be a lie if I told that life is peachy keen. When we are out as a family we get plenty of stares and snickers, especially when we are off the beaten path. Race is a hot topic in these parts, and many people see the world as black and white, literally and figuratively. When acquaintances or neighbors rant about immigrants or funny accents, I remind them that I am an immigrant, that my parents speak English with an accent, that they speak Bengali, Hindi, German, French, and Italian with an accent too. And then I try to bite my tongue and not remark about how the rest of the country thinks a Southern accent sounds hick.

Anyway, when I gently interject a reminder of who I am into the conversation, I get a blase head toss, waving hand as if to say pshaw and an "Oh, you're different. We don't even think of you as Indian." Whhaaaaatttt????? This is supposed to make me feel better? To discount my heritage, my appearance, my identity is supposed to make me feel better? Does "different" mean "better?" Is it somehow complimentary that they don't see me as Indian because I am "good enough" to be considered one of them? Someone help me understand what the fuck a comment like that means.

News flash, folks, that's Racism snickering in your psyche.

This is how our friends at Merriam Webster define racism:
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination
— rac·ist \-sist also -shist\ noun or adjective

The underslying subtleties of racism are difficult to express in words. But I feel them all the time. During this heated, and historic, election, I hear them all the time. Silent racism plagues more people than we realize. Many friends in our lifetime will come to disappoint us when they give voice to their silent racism. Bear to witness my friend who is voting for John McCain in principle of race alone.

I think back to the professorial, driven, enchanting Julian Bond. I think of Rosa Parks speaking from what might as well have been a pulpit. I think of the brave men who were willing to put their necks on the line at a conservative good ol' boys' school. I think of the faceless, countless others who have devoted their time, and their lives, to bring equality to our country. A country founded on eqality and freedom in the first place. I think of them and feel unabashed pride in my vote.

I am not voting for Obama because he is black. I am voting for him because he will help make this country change into what the people who inspired me back in 1990 at the University of Virginia fought for. It is no understatement to say that he is our Bobby Kennedy.
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Politics Dr. Seuss Style

My friend Carmen just sent me this link, and I had to post it right away. Pass it on. Vote early. Canvass. Enter data. Make calls. We need you.

Obama does not need you.

WE, the people, need you.
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5:00 Fridays

Today's drink is a clue to my Halloween costume.

Pink Lady

Shot of Tanqueray
Splash of fresh lemon juice
Couple drops of grenadine
Splash of cream (Light cream is fine.)
1 egg white

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a few frozen raspberries or some strawberry slices.

It's fine to omit the egg white if that makes you skeevy.

So, three guess what I'm going to be for Halloween.

Considering it's Friday, I made it easy on you folks.

I still need a poodle skirt.

By the way, this drink is electrifyin'!
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You Are *Where* You Eat

My book club recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book changed my life. Oh, you heckle me and jeer at such a hyperbolic statement. I hear you; Web 2.0 is that powerful. Snicker not, dear readers. I mean it. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle changed my life. And my family's. Our newly adopted philosophy is not just "You are what you eat," it is "You are where you eat."

In a nutshell, a nutshell indigenous to Kingsolver's farm in Virgina, natch. Barbara (I've read all her books so I think she'd be cool with the first name basis here.) and her family lived for one year on what they grew or raised on their own farm. Homemade cheese included! They supplemented their fare with what they could purchase from fellow farmers and vowed to only consume what could be purchased from a 50-mile radius. That means giving up peanut M&Ms, Haribo gummi bears, and Malbec. Well, that's what such a commitment would mean for me.

What Barbara did was not unconventional or radical; she simply lived as our ancestors did not all that long ago. Tomatoes do not grow in most places in November. So why do we settle for mealy, waxy ones during winter months? How many times have you chewed that iceberg, tomato, and stale crouton salad drenched in ranch dressing with absolutely no orgasmic sounds brewing from your tastebuds? Exactly how fresh is that kiwi that flew for two days to get to your local market? No telling how many days you can add to account for those little green gems to be picked, packed, trucked. Fresh? Nah!

Now compare those mealy flavorless tomatoes to the ruby red ones handpicked from your own summer plot of soil. No. Comparison. Ditto for the cukes, squash, okra (what, you don't grow okra, much less eat it?! You are missing out on a Southern and Indian delicacy!), chard (Don't tell me you don't eat chard either.), spinach, and even basil and dill.

The beauty of Barbara's book was not just how it enlightened me to try to eat locally. I gained a fresh new perspective of farming and farmers. Some neighbors invited the neighborhood younguns to come pick carrots and potatoes from their vast garden. What a joy to see the kids hand pluck carrots, brush off the pesticide free dirt, and chomp away! What a teaching moment to bring to life where our vegetables really come from. Something we all take for granted. We have become inured to the balnd flavor and have come to expect uniform perfection. God forbid the apples have blemishes. We treat our produce the way we treat women in our society; they must look perfect to be desirable.

The Dirt & Noise family joined a CSA this year. Farmer Tom has surpassed our tastebud expectations week after week. His little tomatoes were candy. His basil divine. Snap peas went like candy corn, with both Bird and Deal clamoring for handful after handful. Mac Daddy didn't even get a taste. And the lettuce and turnip salad we enjoyed tonight was spectacular. Truly. Who knew that lettuce had its own flavor that need not be masked with bottled dressing (a condiment we do not own...why buy when I can make my own concoction without high fructose corn syrup?). The turnip is an oft overlooked root vegetable. They are delicious raw or roasted. The most divine food is also the simplest and the freshest.

Our salad was simply hand torn curly leaf lettuce, sliced raw turnips (not even peeled because the real deal have no freaking wax !), freshly ground black pepper (never the pre-ground powdery stuff in my kitchen), and a splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar. I'm telling you, Bird was eating the turnips as quickly as I could cut them. It's a wonder we had enough for the salad.

We have not adopted Barbara's full regime but we are doing what we can. Local veggies, meat, and some cheese. Local wine frankly sucks so we still get that imported from outside our fine state. Organic for the most part, especially for dairy products and meat. We live a nitrite free and high fructose corn syrup free life. I'm not over-the-top since we still eat out (fast food even, Gasp!), but I am vigilant when it comes to my grocery list.

We take our food for granted. We take our growers for granted. We are a country of entitled consumers. We must have instant gratification. We think that if we can afford it we must have it. We indulge in crap and don't give our children the benefit and joy of a diversified palate. We squash our children's gastronomic curiosity. No 15-year old suddenly wants to eat habanero corn chowder and sweet potato biscuits with cilantro butter. Oh man, the shit kids eat and the shit their parents feed them is a whole other post.

We never, ever, ever think about the political ramifications of our food choices. Yes, political. Food consumption requires food creation. That means consolidated big business farming, chemical fertilizer lobbyists, astronomical fuel consumption, packaging waste, and a bevy of other issues. Michael Pollan's article is a must-read.

I urge you to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and do your own homework on the food choices you make. To steal a line from Loreal, you and your family are worth it.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Joe and Jill Went to the Hill

I shunned Girl Scouts, cheerleading, my all girls boarding school, the field hockey and lacrosse teams, and the Delta-somethings to whom I wrote a fat check every semester. I was more than a foot dragger when it came to all that stuff. I was never a girl who wanted to hang with the other girls. At least not in an organized fashion. I couldn't deal with the pettiness, popularity contests, and primping. The insecurity (mine and theirs) was too much to bear. Add hormones to the mix, and it's a veritable beaker of hydrocloric acid about to erupt. It seemed that there was a lot of gabbing and not much doing. I was just not one of those girls.

It was not until well into my adulthood that I saw my fellow X-chromosomes in a different light. I have found that without us, nothing gets done. And we can gab and do at the same time. That old tired adage about behind every man is a great woman is a gross understatement. Behind every man is an even greater, more organized, more disciplined, more aware, multitasker of a woman.

Here's food for thought: By electing Barack Obama to the White House, our country gets a 4-fer. Way better than a bogo ("buy one get one," as we marketing folks say). Along with Barack, we get Joe, Michelle, and Jill.

Jill, you say?

Jill, say I.

Dr. Jill Biden.

I had the priviledge of talking with Dr. Biden on a conference call with some other bloggers last week. She was articulate, candid, impassioned, and earnest. This is a learned woman with 2 masters degrees (English and Education) and a doctorate in Educational Leadership. She has devoted her life to children and learning. She raised three kids and somehow managed to earn all those degrees. But she's not a bookish dorky type. Oh no. She's confident, clever, and laughs easily without being folksy. She made no disparaging remarks about the McCain ticket; Jill Biden does not need to resort to snarky banter.

Dr. Biden has taught emotionally troubled kids and currently teaches at Delaware Community and Technical College. She is passionate about literacy, instilling confidence in our youth through their studies, helping students find their voice, and bringing books to low income children and families through the Book Buddies program. She is also dedicated to breast cancer awareness, serving as the president of the Biden Breast Health Initiative, a non-profit that provides free educational breast health programs free of charge to schools in Delaware.

Aside from her impressive resume, she responded to our questions (that we asked off the cuff, not prepared and presented ahead of time) with straight answers and candor. It is clear that this amazing woman is fired up. She is no shrinking violet cowering behind her powerful husband. While Joe is on the campaign trail, Jill continues to teach four days a week. That demonstrates an unwielding commitment to her students.

I could wax on but I think you get my drift. Obama will be backed by some pretty damn smart minds. Sure, Michelle and Jill won't be sitting in on cabinet meetings or hanging out on the Hill while bills are being written and argued. But they also won't be strolling the boutiques of Georgetown whiling away the hours while their menfolk do the real work. Nuh uh. Not these women who are forces to be reckoned with on their own. And they shop at Target and off the rack anyway!

I don't spend much time at Mac Daddy's office but I do listen to him vent and offer solutions sometimes. I do some proofreading and editing (of nothing confidential, mind you). And he does the same for me. I did have to quickly squash his help on brainstorming for a client once when he came up with some cockamamie idea for a lawyer retreat: an underwear and lingerie show called Legal Briefs. Yeah, other that than Mac Daddy is actually a second set of eyes and brain power that I lean on. You get my drift.

I tell you, I would cast my vote for any combination of Obamas and Bidens. Impressive credentials and a passion for justice abounds in this foursome.

Dr. Jill Biden is not the distant, wallflower the handlers keep out of the limelight. She simply has more important things to tend to. Her family and students.

Note that I did not mention Sarah Palin one time in this post.

Note that I also did not compare Michelle Obama to the First Dude, Todd Palin.
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