Archive for the ‘Peace’ Category

Manuscript Monday: “Patriarchy and our sons”

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Hi readers!  Sorry I haven’t posted much lately, but it’s sorta hard to type when you’re hiding under your thickest blanket, scared to death not only of the bizarro Minnesota weather (nine inches of snow last week, eight inches more expected tonight) but also of the United States Senate.  And that thing that happened in Boston.

 

 

I can’t get over how young and vulnerable the boy in this photograph seems.  He’s a baby!  What the hell happened between the moment this picture was taken and the moment he decided to drop a bomb in a crowd full of people?  

As this face flashed across my television and computer screens myriad times over the last five days I flashed back to the intense, white-knuckled terror I felt in 1999 when, within weeks of each other, the Columbine tapes were released and discovered the sex of my first child.  

 

 

Since [my] angst-filled first pregnancy, I’ve become convinced that the greatest challenge of the 21st century women’s movement is to raise feminist boys who become feminist men.  I chanted this mantra to myself in 1999 to build up my confidence, to be sure, but the reality is that no part of our culture will change until men make it happen.

If you’ve forgotten, we live under patriarchy.  Men make the world go ‘round.  Women like Indira Gandhi of India, Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of the UK, Michelle Bachelet of Argentina, and our own Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are exceptions, but not the rule.  A 2007 report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) discovered that  “women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the [world’s] food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.”

Successful civil rights movements acknowledge that power can’t be shifted without the consent of the powerful.  Women got the vote by appealing to the consciences of their menfolk.  How will we upend patriarchy?  By raising a generation of boys who reject the rigidity of gendered society in favor of a balance of power that will ultimately benefit everybody.

Deeper minds than mine have probed the motives and psyches of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; I cannot claim to improve on their work here.  But would these broken children have expressed their frustrations differently in a world less accepting of testosterone-fueled violence?  Could some gender flexibility instead of ingrained machismo have allowed Klebold to ask for help with his suicidal ideation?  Perhaps suicide was an inevitable outcome of his mental illness—chronic depression has as high a fatality rate as cancer—but where does a boy get the idea to kill others, too?

The prevailing wisdom is that Harris was an irredeemable psychopath.  Where does such a lack of empathy for others begin?  In the cradle, where boy babies are less likely than their sisters to be held when they cry?

Is it too radical to suggest that feminism could have prevented Columbine?  I don’t think so.  Feminism asks that we critically examine the interconnections between gender roles and social behavior, and there’s no better starting point for such a discussion than in our persistent, almost intractable, culture of violence.

 

 

So why the hell are you so angry, fellas?  Why, with virtually all the power on the planet, do you still need to hurt others?  Why do you, yourselves, hurt so badly?

Would you like to talk about it?

 

 

Fear

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

 

Once upon a time, I thought that the opposite of love was hate.  Now that I’ve grown (much) older, I believe that the opposite of love is fear.

Fear prevents us from asking for help when we need it, sometimes desperately.  Fear prevents us from offering help to others when we know, from the gut, that it is desperately needed.

Fear stops us from accessing our own humanity.

Fear sells weapons.

 

 

Fear enforces stereotypes.

Fear tightens, restricts, confines.  Fear obscures our interconnectedness.

Fear hurts.

 

Fear feeds on fear.  Fear snowballs, compounds, multiplies.  Fear makes you type dumb things on Facebook that you would never say to a person’s face, things like “unfriend me now if you don’t do this or that.”

Fear creates an insatiable need to create and assign labels, from “outcast” to “weirdo” to “Trench Coat Mafia” to “mentally ill” to “autistic” to “threat to society” to “gun-worshipping NRA lunatic.”

Fear stigmatizes.  Fear isolates.

Fear kills.

 

Knowing that, what can we do?  Here’s a thought from Pema Chödrön, who has made the study of fear her life’s work:

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”  

I’m starting to do things differently already–but it’s not easy, and I am afraid.  Are you?

 

 

 

Racism in your own backyard

Friday, July 13th, 2012

 

Minnesota Public Radio News recently published an essay of mine called “Racism in the neighborhood.” I began work on the piece in October 2011, just after the community event that I mention in the first paragraph.  Like a lot of things in my life, it languished as my fall careened towards disaster and my winter proved no better.  And my spring?  Meh. Now I’m not suggesting that I’m in the midst of what Camus would call an invincible summer, but I’m starting to get a few things back on track.  I certainly aim to post here more often, gentle readers.  I appreciate your patience.

Below is the complete text of the essay, accompanied by a photo of Miriam and Megan playing in the backyard of Michele Norris’s house.  The Grace of Silence is a wonderful read, and I highly recommend it.  Elliott promises me that he will get started on it soon–after he finishes memorizing every character in The Halo Encyclopedia, of course.

 

 

Last fall, I attended an event sponsored by Building Bridges, a community organization that, according to its mission statement, “seeks to understand how race and racism impact our communities and to build the future of our neighborhoods together.” The group’s name reflects the yawning gap exposed when south Minneapolis neighbors clashed over a proposal to create an off-leash dog area in a park named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s also a literal reference to the east-west divide created when Interstate Hwy. 35W was built in the 1950s.

Held in Minneapolis’ Field neighborhood, the event featured remarks from Minneapolis native Michele Norris, former co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered and author of the 2010 memoir The Grace of Silence. Norris grew up in a two-story Tudor on a corner lot only three blocks away from where we feted her, and her book describes not only her Minneapolis childhood but also the painful legacy of racism in the silence and secrets carried by members of her family and, by extension, members of her hometown and nation.

Here in Field our discussions over the book are personal, indeed — Norris spent her childhood on the same street where my children Elliott and Miriam are spending theirs. The corner house where Norris lived with her parents Belvin and Betty is where my kids and their friends alight from the bus every afternoon.

My kids were thrilled when they learned that “the lady on the radio” once lived on the block. But their joy turned to confusion when I shared that Norris’ white neighbors put their homes up for sale as soon as the block’s first black family moved in. Next door, Norris wrote, “the forlorn For Sale sign sat in front of the house for weeks. At one point, someone attached a flyer that read BEWARE NEGRO NEIGHBORS.”

When he heard that, Elliott looked stricken, as if he’d bit into an apple and tasted a worm. To a young white child in the Midwest of the 21st century, racism is not unfamiliar, but it is too easily categorized as the distant past, or something that occurred in the South. His school did a terrific job teaching about the horrors of the Middle Passage as part of a unit on colonial history, and the work of Dr. King is recalled throughout the year, not just around his birthday. But racism, here? In this bucolic backyard, where friends of many different colors like to play with one another?

His reaction was immediate: “that’s awful,” he said, adding quickly: “We can’t tell Kelcy and Megan about this.” Like the Norris sisters, these two dear friends are African-American.

“Why? I asked.

He looked at me like I was insane. “It would hurt them,” he said.

I couldn’t blame Elliott for automatically defaulting to silence. As Norris writes, “the mere mention of the word race can make some people apopleptic or pious or frozen by anxiety, only to beat a hasty retreat to their comfort zone: grim taciturnity.” Norris acknowledged that even she and her husband struggle with how much they care to expose their own kids to what she writes is “a four-hundred-year-old cancerous social disease.”

Though the discussion that evening was fascinating, heartfelt and honest, I had to admit later that I had attended in hopes it would immediately thaw my own anxiety about discussing the thorny issues of race with my children and their friends. It’s melting, but like most parents, I am impatient; I want to fix ugliness for them now.

On June 26, 2012, 5-year-old Nizzel George was killed when gang members fired into the north Minneapolis home where he slept. We heard the story reported on public radio as we drove to summer swimming lessons.

“Could that happen to me?” Elliott asked anxiously.

“No,” I replied.

Nizzel may have lived in the same city, but he inhabited a different world. The north side might as well be on another planet, racked by poverty, unemployment, violence and the painful legacy of racial quarantining — the same separate but unequal attitudes that confronted the Norrises when they were among the first to integrate the south side. How could I begin to untangle all this for a confused 12-year-old, a kid who wanted answers now?

Our human response to discomfort is fight or flight, anger or withdrawal, seething or silence. Rarely do we allow ourselves the opportunity to grapple with nuance, yet this is where the real transformations occur. Building Bridges and The Grace of Silence are essential tools as we tread that middle path — and I’m happy to say that the book is now on my son’s nightstand.

 

 

I must not think bad thoughts

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

 

I’m guilty of murder of innocent men

innocent women, innocent children–thousands of ‘em

my planes, my guns, my money, my soldiers

my blood on my hands

it’s all my fault

I must not think bad thoughts

I must not think bad thoughts

I must not think bad thoughts

 

Lyrics by Exene Cervenka & John Doe, 1983

 

 

 

http://xtheband.com/

 

 

Happy Xmas (war is over)

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

“Let’s not waste the lives of those we have lost. Let’s, together, make the world a place of love and joy and not a place of fear and anger.” Yoko Ono, December 2007

Be true to yourself. Be peace. Speak truth. Be grateful. Show love.
Merry, merry.