Now What?

Not guilty.

Now what? What do we do now? Where do we turn? Who do we turn to, except each other to grieve and travail as despair and fear grip our souls mamas?

What do we do women of color? Jim Crow’s ghost is laughing at us, reminding us yet again that it is a crime for our men to even exist, reminding us yet again that ever since they were first chained to ships bound for these shores, our men are not worthy of life and freedom.

Black & brown manhood has once again been demonized, criminalized, and deemed a threat to humanity, and allowed to be stalked and hunted like prey by predators blinded by fear, insecurity and delusion.

Profiled in broad daylight.

Hunted in the dark.

Statistics.

Killed by them and by each other. Every. Day. By the hundreds.

What do we do now? What do we tell our babies? How do we raise our sons? How do we dress them? Where can we send them to keep them safe from urban violence and from the suburban neighborhood watchman with a gun?

What is enough? Education? Income? Manners? No…seems like it was for awhile but that got ripped from us tonight. Again.

How do we change the system if we can’t become it because they’re closing our schools and putting our men in prison? How do we fight systemic legal and cultural oppression?

When will our voice be heard? How much longer do we have to go on killing ourselves everyday? How many more of our futures must be killed and destroyed by violence? By systemic and cultural oppression?

When will our anger be deemed righteous and worthy enough to receive and initiate effective change for ourselves and our men? Our baby boys?

Not guilty. What do we DO now? Except hold our sons and feel the crushing weight of guilt for bringing them into a world & society that doesn’t value their personhood shatter our hearts?

I am a wailing woman tonight. A woman travailing in despair for the lives of brown boys and brown men in this country. For my sons. For my husband. For my brother. For your men, your sons.

What do we do? What do we tell them to encourage them to be who they are when who they are is on trial every day? Misunderstood, demonized, criticized, devalued, and dehumanized on a daily basis?

What do we do besides hold our babies tonight and feel hopeless and terrified to send them out into the world and see pain and maybe death too soon in their future?

How do we fight? Where do we fight? WHO do we fight? When will our fight for them and their fight for themselves matter?

When will brown men and brown people matter in this country? We haven’t since Columbus set foot on this continent. We have been fighting genocide and for our existence for that long. When will the fight for survival end?

A brown man can be sent to jail for fighting and killing dogs. But if he fights for his life after he’s stalked and confronted? He goes on trial for his own death and his killer is handed the gun that ended his life as he goes home. Free.

Not guilty.

What do we do?

America’s Not Here for Us

“Mom-are we still slaves? Do people still hate us, African-Americans?”

Brennan asked me this last week while driving home. A few days before while shopping in HEB, he asked me questions about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, the Civil War, why “brown” people were slaves…the same questions he’s been asking me since he learned about all of this and Martin Luther King Jr in kindergarten this year. In the store, I answered them as best I could, bearing in mind to keep it age appropriate, yet honest. I don’t believe in glossing over or hiding history from my kids or relying on the public education system to tell one version of it.

However when he asked me in the car if we were still slaves, if people still hated us, I faltered. The only immediate response I had for him was “let’s talk about this later with Bertski, ok? I think we should talk about it together, alright?” He agreed and went back to watching Fantastic Four, going back to being the innocent 6-year-old boy I wish he could always be but know he’ll grow out of.

I faltered at answering his questions because they caught me between two parts of myself that both bear a particular responsibility. As his mother, I carry the responsibility of trying to keep him as innocent, carefree, and sheltered as possible while encouraging him to grow into who he is, be inclusive with others, and have some responsibility for how he carries himself and interacts with the world around him. I want him to enjoy the freedom that comes with being a child…yet teach him what he needs to know about the world around him in stages of understanding that aren’t marred by the ugliness that can come with increased knowledge about the world he lives in and life in general.

But as a woman of color raising an African-American son who has a Puerto-Rican stepfather and half-Puerto-Rican brother, I (and my husband) also bear the responsibility of teaching him about things like racism, white privilege, equality, how black and other brown men have been and still are perceived in American society, and really just about being a person of color PERIOD in the United States of America. I have to explain to him why “peach” people think he looks suspicious even though he might be doing the same exact thing they are-walking through a neighborhood, shopping in a store, hanging out with a group of his friends, wearing his favorite hoodie.

As a mother I have to worry about my child’s quality of life, his education, his growth as an individual, how he treats others, help him shape a worldview that is hopefully inclusive, healthy, well-rounded, educated, rooted in morality…I have to help him navigate the nuances of engaging with the world around him and the people in it, the ups and downs of life, and everything that comes with being a man. But as the mother of a brown boy in the United States of America in 2013, I also have to worry about how to keep him out of prison, where a disproportionate amount of black and brown males are sent to and reside these days, more so than their white counterparts. I have to worry about him walking down the street or driving in his car and being profiled simply because he is a black male. I have to teach him how to carry himself, talk and express who he is in a certain way so that he’s not viewed as “threatening,” “a thug” “a criminal”….”an animal” even.

I have to teach him how to work that much harder than his peers just so he can *maybe* stand a chance at having the same benefits they do. I have to teach him that he can be more than an athlete, a rapper, or some other occupation white people have deemed “ok” for brown people to succeed in. I have to teach him that even if he became the President of our United States, he’d still have to prove himself worthy, articulate, capable, and not some terrorist hell-bent on destroying the country. I have to basically teach him that when he’s done his very best, to dig deeper and push harder to do even better because our society (unfairly) demands he be more than just a human being like his white friends. I have to make him aware of how our society views him, but still encourage him to not let this societal perspective define him and who he wants to be as a man and a citizen of this country.

I have to teach him that because he is not “peach” others will deem him unworthy and dismiss him just by looking upon his face; that they will still feel they have the right to call him a nigger because “that’s how they were raised,” they “don’t mean any harm by it,” their black friend says “nigga” and Jay Z & Kanye have a song called “Niggas in Paris.”

I have to teach him that people will often not see him at first-they will see a preconceived, stereotyped version of him that has been engraved upon their consciousness by their culture, the media, and sadly, even those who “look like” him. I will have to encourage him to remember that although white folks have always been taught on some level that black & brown people are inherently, at their core, evil, bad, incapable of being good, lack value, and lack intelligence that he is NONE of those things. I will have to constantly remind him that no matter what is said, what laws are enacted, no matter how many jobs or promotions he’s denied, he DOES indeed have rights, he IS more than a stereotype and is not less than his boss, his friend, his classmate…

***********

I thought about all of this as I sat in the shower this morning, hot water mixing in with the tears streaming down my face, my heart heavy. I thought about his questions to me last week, and whispered, “Yes-yes we ARE still slaves and yes, people do still hate us, my son…even our own people are still oppressed with the self-hate fostered in us when we were just property.” In 2013, 40+ years after desegregation and Martin Luther King Jr’s speech on Washington’s monument, we. are. still. slaves. We are free, yes, and slavery is illegal…an amendment in the Constitution says so. But systematically? In people’s minds? In our OWN minds as people of color? No….we are far from free. No we are not free, and since Obama started his run for office back in 2007, the hate for the color of our skin and our culture has been getting louder, bolder, and more vile than I can remember hearing and experiencing growing up. Yes. We ARE still hated, still thought of as less than human.

As my heart weighed heavy with this answer, the thought that came next was “I’m brown. I am a woman. America’s not here for me. I have brown sons, a brown husband. America’s not here for them either.”

Somehow, in 2013, America is still not here for people of color. For men of color. And for women of color? Well…“For some folks being black and being a woman makes us less of both.” -A Letter to Rachel Jeanteal (Note: You WANT to read this….and this.)

**********

America isn’t here for me and my family because our skin is brown and we are a mixed multi-cultural family. Response to Cheerios latest commercial is just ONE of the recent events to reinforce this belief for me. Add SCOTUS’ gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the defense of Paula Deen’s use of racist language, her blind eye to discrimination and harassment in her own establishments, and the reaction to the George Zimmerman trial to the equation and that’s what it all adds up to, doesn’t it?

So my question is this: Who IS America here for?

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not you, citizen. Not unless you are white, straight, rich, Christian, AND male, the 2013 America is not for you and is barely better than what it was in the past.

If you are poor….

If you are gay….

If you have a mental illness…

If you are an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or any faith other than “The Bible is the innerant and literal Word of God” Christian…

AMERICA. IS. NOT. FOR. YOU.

White, male dominated America doesn’t care about you as a human being if you’re brown or gay, and doesn’t care about your rights and freedoms to make your own choices about your body and reproductive health if you’re a woman-even a white woman.

America only stands for life…ONE kind of life. One that is privileged, entitled, elitist, and democratic only in theory.

FUCK THAT.

You want to stand for life, America? You want to stand for life American Church?

Stand and fight for the millions of children living outside of the womb who are hungry, homeless, abused, in foster care, neglected, and living below the poverty line.

You want to stand for life? Stand for the kids in Chicago, Philly, D.C. and even in rural areas where our public schools are failing and having funding ripped from them.

You want to stand for life? Then fund schools. Fund innovation and technology. Fund the arts. Supply food deserts. Fund your local food bank. Stop taking money from schools in the inner cities to build $400 million prisons. (I’m looking at you Philadelphia)

You want to stand for life? Get real about who can purchase a gun, what kind, how many, and how much ammunition they can have. Get real about gun safety and gun control. Care about violence in urban areas just as much as you do in the suburbs where you live comfortably encased in your “hard-earned” privilege.

You want to stand for life? Volunteer at a Veteran’s home, clinic, hospital or service organization. Spend some time giving back to those who sacrificed their time and lives so you can make your “stand” for life.

Want to stand for life? Man a suicide hotline.

Want to stand for life? Stop enforcing your way of life on others and allow them the same benefits and rights you enjoy. Church? We aren’t a theocratic nation-people can marry, love, and believe who and what they want.

Want to stand for life? Support SNAP benefits and your local food bank. Feed and clothe the homeless, whether you think they deserve it or not.

So you stand for life? Do you stand & vote for deep cuts to food and other welfare programs?

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Stop demanding hungry people sit through your tired ass, patronizing sermons to get the bags of food you offer every week. (I’m looking at you Black Church)

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be just as mission-minded here in our country as you are in others.

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be inclusive. Extend your outreach and support to those with mental illness. Stop the sexual and emotional abuse happening in your congregations and institutions.

Hear me: if you stand for the unborn who you claim are more worthy than the women impregnated with them and than those who are already living? If you’re an apologist for racist behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and ideals? If you aren’t here for my rights as a woman and mother of color? If you aren’t here for my mixed family who works just as hard as your privileged ass despite the systematic racism we encounter in various ways every fucking day?

Well then, I’m not here for you. Or your God, or your so-called God-blessed America.

I’m here for a much different country. Maybe I believe in a different God and perhaps I AM living in the wrong “democratic” nation. Guess I should take my black ass back to where I came from, huh?

HEY YOU: Don’t Drink the VOTY Kool-Aid

I gots some thangs to say…..forgive me if this just kinda tumbles out, I’m not in the mood to filter much today. Here we go:

Yesterday I listened to a heart whisper and submitted two pieces for BlogHer’s 2013 Voices of the Year, one visual, one written.

I submitted them because one of my words for this year is “pursue,” and when it comes to my writing and art, my intention this year is to pursue opportunities for them to be showcased. Why? Why the hell not? I write and paint for myself first and foremost and will always do so even if I have zero readers and the world thinks my art is a travesty, BUT I’m also a storyteller who believes in the power of sharing your experiences with others. Writing and painting save me from the parts of myself that thanks to illness are hell-bent on destroying me-and so does sharing about my life through the written word and visual art. Sharing my stories here and through paint are my way of giving back-I hope that at some point, what I share and convey in what I create helps someone on some level, in some area of life be it motherhood, mental illness, abuse, or just life in general.

I also submitted because hey, who doesn’t like to connect with others and be heard? And who says it’s wrong to be proud of what you’ve created? What’s wrong with just going for it, JUST BECAUSE you never know what will become of it? YOLO! Am I right?

I said all of that to say that I didn’t submit my pieces because I think other people will find them moving and valuable, worthy of attention. I shared them because I FIND THEM VALUABLE, MOVING, AND WORTHY. Maybe if my piece on being bipolar and a mother is selected, maybe another mom who was just diagnosed will find it and find some comfort-or find a way to contact me so she can find someone to talk to or ask questions. Maybe if my piece is selected people will stop believing people with an illness like bipolar disorder are incapable of being quality parents and raising healthy kids. But if I had decided to NOT submit that piece, then the chances of that happening are significantly reduced considering how “small” I am in the blogosphere. So I saw an opportunity to be an advocate, be a storyteller, honor MYSELF for owning my story, and took advantage of it-Like Nike, I just did it. Insecure, vulnerable, and all, dammit I sat my ass down, read through my stuff and submitted.

Maybe for you, it’s not about any of this. Maybe you just want your work to be heard, be seen, be validated, be recognized. Maybe you wrote some funny shit and you want others to recognize you’re the next Richard Pryor or Sarah Silverman. That’s OK. It really is. Go ahead-submit! Honor your work. Pat yourself on the back, man. Be proud.

For those of you who are discouraged by this whole VOTY thing, hear me: STOP WAITING FOR OTHERS TO VALIDATE YOU AND YOUR WORK AND VALIDATE YOURSELF. STOP DRINKING THE DAMN VOTY KOOL-AID. I’m watching so many of you flog yourselves and doubt your self-worth and value as a blogger, writer, and fucking human being because no one is nominating your work. I get why it’s a downer, and trust me, I think the voting aspect of the process is asinine and I know that’s what’s discouraging so many of you from submitting. But I learned a couple of years ago that sometimes you can’t wait for others to celebrate and honor you, you’ve got to do it yourself, fuck everyone else. THROW YOUR OWN DAMN PARTY. Stop waiting for an invite. NO ONE will take pride in you or what you’re putting out there if you don’t.

96 of the pieces that will be selected as VOTY will be selected by the committee-guess what? They are reading each and every piece submitted whether it has 500 votes or 0. So even if you’re small potatoes like myself, your work will still be seen. Shouldn’t that matter more than some damn votes? Even if your piece isn’t selected, you never know who will become a fan of your work just because they were on the committee and read your piece. You don’t know what kind of opportunities could come out of this. And even if nothing comes out of it, shit, pour a drink and cheer yourself for having the balls to do something so many people wouldn’t.

I know when you’re a small fry in the blog/writing arena it’s easy to get intimidated and feel left out because those with bigger platforms are being nominated, called out, read, and recognized-and recognizing their own peers. But hear me: SMALL DOES NOT EQUAL INSIGNIFICANT  and is in no way an indication of the value and worth of your work and your story.

So STOP DRINKING THE VOTY KOOL-AID. Submit something if it’s on your heart to do so. (Heart whispers are meant to be listened to-unless it’s telling you to go kill someone. If that’s the case, get a new fucking heart ASAP.) Go find a favorite piece from someone you read and submit it to honor them-if they’re a fellow small fry, I can guarantee you it will make their day and probably encourage them to keep writing, sharing, owning their story.

So. What are you still doing here reading this? GO. Bye!

My Initial Response to The NRA’s “Database for the Mentally Ill” Request

“How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark,” LaPierre said. “A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?”-Wayne LaPierre, NRA lobbyist

The NRA sickens me. Truly. They just gave a completely tone-deaf and disrespectful response to what occurred a week ago today. They believe arming school officials and having armed guards at school will prevent such tragedies. I don’t agree with this perspective at all for varying reasons, but I know there are those of you who do. I don’t want to debate that with you today. I simply want to address the question asked at the end of the above statement.

I’m a mother of two boys.

I’m a USAF disabled veteran and former police officer.

I’ve survived Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

I currently live with mental illnesses called rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder type II and OCD.

 I take medication for these illness. 4 of them. Every day. Every.Single.Day.

I go to therapy. I see a psychiatrist.

There are days I struggle to keep it all together and not let the fact that I have some chemical imbalances stop me from living life.

There are days when I want to give up.

I have been hospitalized-not because I was a threat to those around me but because I was a threat to myself.

I am not a violent person, although I have been traumatized by and have experienced violence first hand.

I am not a threat to society.

I have no desire to own a weapon, and never have despite my knowledge of how to use, clean, and take them apart, and being properly trained and qualified on several of them-ranging from the M9 pistol I carried on my hip every shift to the M203 grenade launchers, M249′s, and M4′s I was trained to use in combat during deployments.

I do not belong in a database because I have a mental illness.

My mental illness does not mean I am a violent person.

I am a compliant, law-abiding citizen who still manages to function just like everyone else despite the effects my illness has on me.

My friends who also have mental illnesses? They don’t belong in a database either.

They are just like me: men and women, mothers and fathers living with a painful “invisible” illness but still living their lives, working, raising their children, loving, helping others, and being productive members of society.

If our mental health records should be put into a database, then every person who applies for a weapons permit or who purchases a weapon, should submit to a comprehensive mental health evaluation, comprehensive background check similar to what’s required to obtain a security clearance, and a weapons safety course. You can’t say I should be registered in a mental illness database but not even mention that a more rigorous and comprehensive screening of those applying for weapons permits and buying guns is needs to be monitored as well.

It shouldn’t take less than 20 minutes to walk in to WalMart and walk out with a gun, I don’t care what you’re using it for.

Also? No one should be allowed to own or put together an assault rifle or semiautomatic weapon. I don’t understand why such a deadly weapon should be in the hands of the man who lives next door to me.

Yes, you have the right to bear arms, but maybe the kind of arms you’re entitled to bear should be re-evaluated. Yes, you have the right to protect yourself in case of a threat or danger…but we all saw how that played out with the Trayvon Martin incident, didn’t we? Maybe we start redefining what a threat is and what self-defense actually looks like. Maybe we start asking ourselves some hard questions and making some compromises. Not saying I’m right. Not saying the solutions or answers to this are simple. Just thinking out loud here.

You have the right to bear arms, but guess what? I have rights too. I have the right to have access to mental health services and resources that aren’t underfunded and understaffed; services and resources that have qualified professionals working for them who treat us with the respect and dignity we deserve just as much as “normal” people.

You have your rights. What about mine? And the other 1 in 5 people who live with some form of mental illness in this country? You have a right to arm yourself…we have our rights to privacy…and to the same life you do.

Those who live with mental illness are not all dangerous. We don’t all need to be tagged and stored in some database. If you REALLY think we do, then I say you should be too. Because while you may not have a mental illness you could be just as capable of violence. ANYONE with access to a gun can quickly and easily become a criminal-yes, even “responsible good guy gun owners.”

I am mentally ill. I am not violent. I don’t belong in your database. Stop stigmatizing me and those just like me. Stop using us to redirect criticism and calls to action by saying we are the problem. We are not your scapegoat.

I guess the old cliché is true: “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” No you can’t. Not when their greed disguised as advocating for”rights” is stronger than their desire to admit they could stand to learn a few things.

Go fuck yourself, NRA and hold another press conference when you have something more substantial to say.

Let’s Wake Up From Our Inoculation & Get Real About Violence & Race in America

I didn’t find out about the shootings in Newtown until early Friday afternoon. I don’t spend my mornings watching the news and had spent all of Friday morning playing with Alex and writing my previous post.

When Alex went down for a nap, I settled in on the couch and pulled up Twitter, looking forward to catching up with my friends & posted links.  That’s when I found out. Tweet after tweet expressed shock, terror, anger, and talk about mental illness, gun control…As my mind scrambled to try to figure out what had happened, Bertski started yelling and cussing, his voice angry and choked up with emotion. I ran to the room and found him staring at his computer screen, his face a mix of anger and disbelief. Following his gaze, my eyes met the headline on CNN’s front page. I stared at it, unable to process what I was reading. When I did I quietly went back to the couch and started reading what was coming in about the shooting.

20 children dead. Kindergarteners. First graders. Teachers hiding their students and sacrificing their lives to save those of their students. Assault rifle. A hundred rounds of ammunition. My whole body started shaking, my heart sank, tears blurred my vision. Pain, shock, and disbelief gripped me and rendered me unable to speak. I turned to Twitter to try to express my grief, only to realize that it was too much, too triggering, to overwhelming, the arguing and hateful comments too disgusting. I turned everything off and tried to focus on cleaning my house while processing the grief slowly consuming me.

What happened in Connecticut has shaken me to my core. I’m disgusted, enraged, and mourning the loss of life and desperately wishing the families affected could experience comfort and peace in the midst of their grief.  I’m horrified that such young children were subjected to such terrifying, cold-blooded violence, and feel both grateful and guilty that Brennan had a fun-filled, SAFE day at kindergarten, while the children in Newtown did not and will never have the chance to again or become the people they were destined to be…..

Over the last few days, I’ve read hundreds of tweets and a large amount of posts by people expressing much the same emotions I myself have been feeling. I’ve found solidarity and join in with those expressing outrage and asking as my friend Stephanie did: “If not now, then when?” When will we care more about the lives of our children, and human life as a whole over our “right” to own an assault rifle, or an arsenal of weapons in our homes…even if they are for hunting or so-called “protection?” When will we look at the context of the time period and intent of our forefathers when they originally wrote the second amendment and realize, that the context in which our society now lives is drastically different from the one back in the 1700′s? When we will look at updating an outdated perspective?

I’ve also seen people discussing mental illness, both the need for better mental health care and access to it, as well as the need to “protect” ourselves from such “dangerous and unstable” individuals. “Put them away where they belong, they aren’t fit to function in our society.” I’ve seen the media and others instantly assume that mental illness was to blame for the killer’s actions, even BEFORE we knew he really did have some mental problems we now know were never addressed. I’ve seen heated arguments about gun control, rights, and people demanding we FINALLY do something to make it so these kinds of events are less likely to occur.

So I want to take the time today to address two very important things that I think need to be thought about and acknowledged in the aftermath of this latest tragedy to rock and horrify our nation. I waffled back and forth with whether or not to say these things and make them part of the conversations we’re having with each other and the questions we’re asking, the arguments we’re making. After some thought-provoking and civil conversations with friends who urged me to share my thoughts, I’ve decided to just go ahead and say somethings that I know are not going to be well-received, seriously thought about, and given validation. As I discuss the following points I beg you to not forget that I am in NO WAY diminishing or intending to trivialize what occurred in Connecticut, Wisconsin or Colorado. Bear in mind that I am just as horrified, enraged and heartbroken as you are. But please open your mind up and seriously ponder what I have to say.

First: I hate the way each time something like this happens and captures national attention, the immediate conclusion people jump to is ” this is SUCH a heinous act of barbaric violence that only someone who’s mentally ill could commit such a crime.” Do I believe that there are some mentally ill people who become violent? Yes, definitely. However I believe that it’s a small percentage and know that the majority of those living with mental illness are not violent towards others and have no intent to be. I have a mental illness and while I’ve tried to harm MYSELF I’ve NEVER thought of actually committing a violent act against another human being. So when I hear people instantly associate senseless acts of violence with mental illness, it infuriates me, because I know that doing so only perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness, and compromises the efforts to make mental health and the resources it so desperately needs, a priority in this country.  It damages & undermines the empathy and understanding of mental illness that thousands of people are trying to advocate for in this country as well. For more thoughts on this, please read this letter from a mother whose son has a mental illness: “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.”

What I do believe more is that there are some very sick bastards out there with no conscience, who for whatever reasons they deem important, senselessly embark on killing sprees-either for fun, some kind of glory, revenge, or to send some kind of message they can’t communicate in another form or fashion. I think instantly labeling such people as mentally ill, especially before it’s even been verified, is not only sensationalistic in regards to the media, but also dangerous because it gives these killers a subtle immunity if you will from the justice system and public opinion. It gives these killers the opportunity to capitalize off of the insanity defense and increases the chances they will be institutionalized in an understaffed or funded mental health facility instead of in jail or on death row where they belong in my opinion.  So, I firmly believe we need to be very careful about automatically associating mental illness with violence.

Second: This is going to be very hard for the majority of you to swallow and I’ll be honest and let you know it’s as equally difficult for me to say, because I know that when you force people to confront harsh realities outside of the bubbles they live in, their first reaction is a visceral one; they instantly get defensive and reject what’s being presented because really listening to and acknowledging what’s challenging their belief and world view requires asking themselves some rather uncomfortable and tough questions. I know, because I’ve experienced it myself, several times, especially within the past year and a half.  I also know what I’m going to say will be met with a ” this is NOT about race, race doesn’t play a part in these tragedies, and you can’t compare this to what has just happened.” But I’m here to say that whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, race DOES play a role when it comes to violence and how we respond to it in this country.  Socioeconomics also plays a role, but they really just intersect and sometimes overlap each other so I’m making these points understanding this fact.

Let me be honest and say that as senseless and horrific as what happened in Newtown is,  and as heartbroken as I am over the loss of life, I’m also very aware that this kind of violence occurs EVERY day in minority & poverty-stricken communities and receives very little, if any, attention either on a state or national level.  When senseless violence rocks these communities, no one in the media EVER instantly considers mental illness as a contributing factor, or as an explanation as to why someone decided to go on a killing spree. There are no “we need to ACT NOW and demand our elected officials to make access to weapons more difficult. This is UNACCEPTABLE!” expressions of outrage-at least not on a national level.

I also know that if there is any outcry or demands for change from citizens in these communities those cries for justice and real change are often ignored, stifled, and stalled by politicians who care more about advancing their own “more important” agendas than getting their hands dirty and dealing with the complicated and messy reality of life in urban areas.

You’re going to hate me for saying this but do I believe the reasons for the lack of attention and demand for change are steeped in racial bias? Yes, you’re damn right I do. I know it is, because I’ve witnessed and have family members who have lived it, pushed and argued for change, for help, and been ignored or beaten down by a system designed to stay broken instead of fix the problems. Now I know and have spoken over the years to lots of white friends, co-workers, classmates, etc who adamantly and even vehemently claim that what happens daily in the inner city is not on the same level as what happens in communities that don’t experience violence everyday. I’ve even had heard white people during class discussions on violence and race say that it’s not as serious of a problem because it’s “expected” to happen in urban communities, because “that’s just their way of life. That’s the ghetto. Those people choose to live that way instead of choosing to live the right way.”

My response to this bullshit (and yes, racist) argument? Tell it to the thousands of families that are slaughtered on a regular basis, in cold blood. Tell it to the thousands of school children who are shot and killed in school, walking home from school or while they are outside playing because one of their relatives had a “beef” with someone and that person decided the only way to handle being “disrespected” was to kill everyone attached to the person who supposedly wronged them.; to “send a message.” Tell it to the families of those who are killed on street corners and the front steps of their homes…to the parents of children whose throats have been slashed and bodies thrown away in a dumpster.

Perfect examples of cities with this level of everyday crime are Chicago, Philadelphia, and Camden, NJ, a city that can’t afford to pay their police force so they’ve laid them off.  The crime and violence in Camden is so vile, that the city council has given up and reached out to the state and federal government for help. Are they getting it? Not enough to solve the crisis happening there.  In Philadelphia where my mom is a school administrator in charge of dealing with students who have violated the district’s “zero tolerance” policy, kindergarten-second grade students are constantly being brought into her office because a knife or gun was found in their book bag. One six-year-old girl told my mother she took the pistol from where her mother stored it because she wanted something to defend herself if something happened while she walked to and from school. She was terrified of that daily journey. 4 days later, after being in my mother’s office, she was found dead in an alley down the street from her home with her backpack still on. Was there an outcry then? A demand for stricter gun control laws and a more threatening police presence? No. Why? Because it’s an everyday occurrence. It’s “expected” so “there’s not a whole lot that can be done to fix it.” Too much politics, too much bureaucracy, not enough REAL action or solutions being implemented. Murders in inner cities happen because that’s what “we” do. It’s normal. So we just “deal” with it as a way of life.

So what’s my point?

  • That when things like what happened in Newtown occur, the immediate response and assumption by the media and public is 1) if the killer is white, he probably acted so violently because he’s mentally ill, and didn’t get the adequate mental health care that could’ve prevented his violent actions. When it’s a white man committing these kinds of horrifying crimes, the media and police work overtime to snuff out and explain his motives for doing so. If he has an illness, then that almost gives people some kind of…I don’t know what the right word is, but it gives them something to partially explain away his behavior. “Of COURSE he did this because he’s mentally ill and unstable.” Me personally, my first response is that he must be some kind of vengeful son a bitch who decided for whatever sick & twisted reason that his relatives and the KINDERGARTENERS he didn’t even know deserved to feel his wrath.
  • There is never any national attention, sensationalism, outrage and calls for more restrictive gun control laws unless something this violent and senseless occurs in a predominantly white, suburban community where exposure to violence is not an everyday reality its citizens have to live with. It’s not “real” or worth addressing until it happens in their backyards and touches them, and then there is outrage, there are vigils, there are relief funds, there is mourning. And guess what? There damn well should be. Yes- we need to stop and mourn the lives of those innocent children who died way too young & were robbed of becoming who they were destined to be. Yes, we need to help their families recover and offer them whatever they need to make it through this. Yes, we need to honor those who gave their lives to save others. Yes, we need to help the children who witnessed this unbelievable horror who will forever be traumatized and most likely develop PTSD as a result. But we should be doing the same for those who endure this everyday in communities deemed as lost causes.  We need to be just as outraged, just as saddened, just as heartbroken, and just as vocal for the forgotten and broken down communities who don’t have enough voices to speak & fight for them-for their children. They are American citizens too and their kids are America’s children too.  The fact that we only cry out for some and not others disgusts me just as much as the violence in Wisconsin, Colorado and now Connecticut.

Also? In President Obama’s address to the nation on what happened in Newtown, he said we need to quit with the bullshit politics and get real about fixing this problem, “whether its at a temple in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Colorado, an elementary school in Connecticut, or a street corner in Chicago.” Guess what? That was the FIRST time in my ADULT life I have ever heard an elected official in high office put the violence that happens everyday in urban communities on the same level as the violence that occurs in predominantly white communities and say we it’s past time we deal with this shit.

We need to focus on mental health care in this country. We need to pressure our elected officials to change our gun control laws. But while we’re focused on addressing the immediate needs in the aftermath of what happened in Newtown, we need to think long-term and look within to have a much larger conversation on the racial, and socioeconomic issues that breed violence period. We need to confront ourselves and get real about getting to the real roots of these problems. We need to change the way we teach our children about differences and tolerance of those who are different from them. We need to level the playing field for everyone, no matter what race, creed or sexual orientation. Until we do, the governing systems and climate of our culture will continue to be unbalanced, riddled with double standards, and experience the heavily resistant movement toward the “post racial/post modern” society we mistakenly claim to already be.

****************UPDATE***********************

After I published this post yesterday, I came across an essay today expressing & expounding brilliantly on what I talked about here. It helped me feel proud for sharing my thoughts and it was gratifying to read someone else sharing similar thoughts. It was written by Tim Wise, a noted author & speaker on race relations and white privilege: “Race, Class, Violence, and Denial: Mass Murder and the Pathologies of Privilege.” I’ve been an avid reader of his writing and perspective for close to a year now-I highly recommend taking some time to read and reflect on what he presents in his other essays.

Who Needs Values When You Can Have a Cool $50 Million in Your Wallet?

Diabetes and heart disease are sexy!

Note: I know. I said I was taking a break. I still plan on taking one for at least the first few months of 2013, but I realized I do have a post or two that I want to share … Continue reading

America the Beautiful?

There's some ugliness mixed in there-can you see it?

So. The election season from Dante’s 7th circle of hell is over. As hellish as it was, some good DID come out of it,  at least in my opinion. We have 19 women Senators in U.S. Congress. Elizabeth Warren? She’s … Continue reading

Covered in Shit & Earth

*WARNING: I can’t guarantee that this will make sense or be a solid piece of writing. They are just thoughts, tumbling out one right after the other.*

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Tears envelop my eyes and distort my vision as I sit here trying to type this.

I don’t want to engage in a wrestling match between words & my emotions, trying to bring the two together like matching puzzle pieces, giving them life & voice so you can understand my current state of mind.

I’m tired of thinking, of trying to process all that I’ve read, heard, and seen online and in conversations with people. I’m overwhelmed with trying to grasp and retain it all.

When I was 13, we lived in a 2 acre plot of land in a small town 45 minutes outside of San Antonio. Our neighbors on the left, the Clarks, housed chickens on the back end of their property. Our neighbor on the right, Mr. Lopez, housed goats, chickens, and a calf named Bandit. We had three Rottweilers ourselves, and I spent several occasions hopping over the fence into Bandit’s pen, trying to get them back into our own property.

It was exhausting. The pen was full of mud & cow manure, both mixing together into one slippery surface. Chasing after my dogs and trying to grab ahold of them was next to impossible…and messy. Running, jumping, and wrestling them to the fence meant being on my hands and knees, reaching through the mud & manure to grasp their slick legs and midsections. I’d often give up and just sit in the middle of the pen, silently hoping they’d tire themselves out soon & make my task easier to accomplish.

I’d just sit there and watch them run in circles around the pen, terrorizing Bandit & the rest of the animals and feel helpless & frustrated at my inability to make them stop. I’d sit there, covered in shit and earth from head to toe, feeling defeated.

That’s how I feel this morning. Like I’m back out in that pen, covered from head to toe in shit & earth, tired from wrestling & wrangling, wanting nothing more than to close my eyes and pretend I’m in another place, and not spitting cow shit out of my mouth.

Only today, it’s not cow shit & I’m not on a 2 acre plot of land in Texas with 3 rowdy dogs and barn animals. I’m in my apartment trying to play with my two boys while blinking back tears & quieting a mind reeling from news headlines.

The Wisconsin Sikh shooting yesterday….The shooting spree in Colorado just a couple of weeks ago….gun control, the Second Amendment, the NRA…mental health…hate crimes…violence…

Chic Fil A, marriage equality, gay rights, freedom of speech, Christianity, Homosexuality, religious freedom, dogma, intolerance…boycotts, kiss-ins, appreciation days…

Trayvon Martin, racism, race, “looking suspicious”, injustice, politics….

HATE. From acts of violence to comments on media sites & Facebook all I see is hate.

And ignorance. So much ignorance.

And a faith being misrepresented by those who have forgotten what Jesus would’ve actually done. So called “Christians” who care more about being “right” than people.

Intolerance and polarization. Everywhere I look, I see lines in the sand and giant gaps in the middle where only a minority dare to reside.

My mind has spun tirelessly in an effort to take it all in, process it, draw conclusions, and give a voice to how it all makes me feel. I’ve spent the summer wrestling & wrangling in the shit & earth that these issues present, trying grasp ahold of my own thoughts on each and find my footing on a shifting worldview, slipping, sliding, and losing a grip that was once firm & sure of what it was holding on to & why.

My mind is back in that pen, and I find myself sitting there covered from head to toe in the messiness & ugliness of humanity, wanting nothing more than to close my eyes, and pretend I don’t see it, and that my heart is not breaking within me from the pain of it.

During a session called “Blogging the Fine Line Between Your Identity & the Issues,” at BlogHer this weekend, I felt challenged by the panelists to not look away from the ugliness. To find a way to speak to it and give it a voice.

In the past I’ve been hesitant to talk about things like race, religion & politics here on the blog. I’ve wanted to share my thoughts, questions, and perspective on various cultural issues that are difficult to talk about but wasn’t sure how or if I should. I’ve been comfortable with being transparent about my struggles but not with my thoughts & feelings on issues I feel strongly or have questions about. But then I attended this session. Heard Kelly Wickham (@mochamomma) say to “work past your own tension & discomfort,” when wanting to write about “the issues.” When I asked her “how?” she simply extended her foot on the ground and said, “like this-just step out & step up to it, a little at a time if you have to but just get out there. Don’t be afraid to take that step.”

So…this is me. Taking that step and refusing to just navel gaze and vowing to be more open with you about how I’m feeling & what I’m questioning in regards to “the issues.”

This is me saying that I’m going to let you watch me wrestle and wrangle my way through them….and ask you to wrestle & wrangle with me, share your insights & questions so we can be challenged to learn & grow together.

And? This is me, covered in the shit of all the hate, violence, and ignorance of the past weeks & saying it has left my soul weary and my heart broken. It has left me scrambling to find a way to raise my boys in a still racially divided society & infuriated with the Christian Church here in America. I’ve found myself in the middle of so many opposing sides wanting my cries for compassion to override the hate and ignorance being screamed back & forth, and just being overwhelmed by it all….

How have you been dealing with all of this? Do you feel defeated & overwhelmed too? Are you wrestling with anything as a result of all that’s been happening lately?

The Heavy Weight of Transparency

I find it interesting that as obsessed as our culture is with “reality” television, we’re only comfortable with the realities of another person’s life when parts of it are still scripted.

Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” but answer it honestly and you’ll find others trying to shame or criticize you for choosing to do so. No one really wants to know what’s really on your mind-they want the watered down, mundane, heavily filtered, “fluff” that resides on your mind’s surface. Reveal anything deeper, and people start hiding you from their news feeds.

Blog about what’s bouncing around & lurking in the corners of your mind, or buried within the folds of your heart and people refuse to read. Peel back a wound to reveal the ugliness underneath, and people look away.

During my Social Works Basics class this past semester, my professor constantly discussed this, saying that people are too afraid of other people’s realities. He would challenge us to reflect on why this is.

What is it about the reality of life and another person’s vulnerability that  makes us so uncomfortable? So uneasy, so fearful, so angry even?

Good questions. To which I only have theories for answers, but nothing definitive.

I have a heavy heart this morning because I had an encounter that left me feeling the weight of my decision to be as real as I can with people. It was so uncomfortable and the reason for their coolness toward me so obvious, I felt my face burning hot with shame at the realization.

It hurt.

It’s never easy being rejected or losing a friendship because of what you believe or how you choose to live your life. It’s painful…I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve gone through it the past 3 years, but its frequency doesn’t lessen the blow when it happens.

Writing this blog and being as open as I am on Facebook has cost me a lot. About 50% of the distance that lies between some people (and family) who know me “in real life” and myself I’ve created on purpose and for good reasons. In order to focus on growth and healing, creating distance was necessary. Not easy, but a must. (It’s amazing how much therapy has helped me recognize and understand this)

The other 50%, however comes from people distancing themselves from me because they don’t like what I’ve dared to share and talk about here…and even on Facebook. I’ve gotten complaint after complaint. Angry messages, chastising emails, and have had people refuse to talk to me because they either don’t like something I’ve revealed about myself, my past, an opinion I’ve had, or just don’t like that I choose, above all else to be transparent, to be real. I’ve been talked about, ridiculed,and people have walked away. Some departures haven’t bothered me…others have. Exhibit A: Today’s encounter.

The result is that I’m now fairly filtered on Facebook. And most of my “friends” have gone from people who know me “in real life” to people I’ve met on Twitter who don’t mind when I have verbal diarrhea, bare my soul, or rant about an irritation. Or at least if they do, they don’t tell me about it.

That’s the strange thing I’ve noticed since I started blogging and joined Twitter. Complete strangers can value, respect, and appreciate your vulnerability. They’ll even commend you for your bravery even if they don’t agree or can’t identify with what you’ve shared. They validate your effort. They encourage you. But those who “know” the “real” you? Friends, family, church members? They give you the most grief, their silence, a deaf ear to talk to, and a chipped shoulder to lean on.

The only person in my everyday life who hasn’t done this is Bertski-and guess what? He hates how open I can be. It makes him uncomfortable. But he pushes past his comfort zone and supports my decision to practice transparency, which I love him for.

But while I’ve become more filtered on Facebook, I haven’t here and I absolutely refuse to.  I feel like this is the one place I have to share anything I want, and I intend to keep it that way. As difficult as it is to maintain that stance, I’m always reminded of why it’s important that I do. It helps me, but more than that, every now and then, I find out what I share here, good or bad, helps someone.  A message pops up on my Facebook, an email finds its way to my inbox, and it’s always from someone sharing something with me they haven’t told anyone-simply because I dared (in spite of my fears) to put it all out there.

Practicing transparency and choosing to live authentically is far from easy, and comes with a price.  But it’s one I’ll always be willing to pay, even when it hurts. Why? Because the rewards of helping another person outweighs the cost. It might not for other people, but it does for me.

I just wish the weight of it didn’t feel so heavy sometimes.

Maybe I’m doing something wrong?

 

Why Politics Scare The Crap Out Of Me As A Parent

Confession: I’ve grown to hate political campaigns. I’ve come to despise election year. I loathe the way we do our politics here in the U.S. and what it’s done to our culture.

Why?

Because at a time when candidates are supposed to be putting their best feet forward,and encouraging us to think critically about issues, the whole process seems to bring out the worst in both candidates and their supporters.

Things aren’t just divisive. Nowadays they are downright hostile. People can’t agree to disagree anymore, they instead have to load their rhetoric with hate, fear, and truly disgusting insults.

Prejudices about gender and race are alive and well. I find it saddening that in 2012, 48 years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, and the dismantling of segregation and Jim Crow, racism is still a major stumbling block for our society. I find it insulting that women’s rights are still being decided upon by men who think our health and well being isn’t a necessary concern. With social networking and social media making the work a smaller place in terms of communication, it has also paved the way for us to see in black and white what people really think about each other, classes of people, basic human rights, and other key issues….I wish I could say this is a good thing.

I’ve watched and read the thoughts of our society on news sites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter streams, and what I’ve read has made me fear for the world my two sons will grow up in, especially since they are African American and Latino males. I worry about how they will adjust and assimilate into a culture that appears to hate them….I wonder how they will fare in a culture that speaks so much negativity and seems to be hell bent on restricting their potential and progress just because they aren’t part of the 1%.

As a Christian parent I’m wondering how to teach them to love others in such an environment, especially when Christian culture is just as hateful in our response to those who are “different.”

I wish the climate of our culture didn’t make me so uneasy and fearful, but it at least pushes me to try and raise my boys to be the most loving and responsible people they can be. It urges me to do my best to instill solid values into them and validate who they are. It also pushes me to be a better example for them when it comes to respecting, loving, and treating others they way I want us to be treated.

Do you get worried a out the world your kids will grow up in? How do you channel those fears into constructive parenting and life lessons?