Thursday, April 29, 2010

at last, the religious right gets honest

From Exposing the Christian Right's New Racial Playbook News & Politics AlterNet:

At the Freedom Federation meeting, Rodriguez's rhetoric epitomized how the religious right is reframing its core issues to build a new army for "spiritual warfare" on sexual impurity and its consequences. Appearing on a panel moderated by Richard Land, who for decades has been the public and political face of the Southern Baptist Convention in Washington, Rodriguez said, "Let me be very blunt here. I don't believe white evangelicals or white conservatives alone can repudiate the spirit of Herod, the spirit of Sodom and Gomorrah, the spirit of Jezebel."

During the summit's closing rally, Rev. Arnold Culbreath, an African-American minister from Cincinnati, Ohio, admonished young women for their lack of purity. Culbreath is billed as the urban outreach director of Life Issues Institute, Inc., an anti-abortion organization, and the leader of the group's Black Life Initiative. "I want to say a word to the young ladies: Stop making it so easy for the young men," Culbreath said. His words were met with applause. "God has designed us to be the pursuers," he continued, "and you to be the pursuees." [emphasis mine]

Before, the religious right had always tip-toed around their obsession with gender roles and appropriate feminine behavior. Oh, sure - they want to save babies and segregate gays, but they'd never cop to the charge that they focused on these issues because a reproductively autonomous woman or gay man/woman challenged notions of hyper-patriarchy and 'natural order.'

They'd just chalk it up to God or the Bible and hide their intentions behind mealy-mouthed Jesus-talk.

But at last, their agenda is overt: in order to break the hold the Dems have over African American and Latino votes, the christian right is overtly positioning themselves to be the voice of pre-modernity by going after those issues that cross all racial/ethnic lines: killing teh babehs, gays, and sluts.

What's the spirit of Herod? Abortion.
The spirit of Sodom and Gomorrah? Homosexuality.
The spirit of Jezebel? Those goddamned women who like sex, have sex and use birth control, aren't married, flout (male) authority, work outside the home, feminists, loud-mouthed bitches and so on. In other words, women like me. Or you. Just .... women.

The social ick factor posed by abortion, homosexuality and feminism for religious conservatives has never been in doubt. But it's interesting to see how they've pitched race out the window in order to unify disparate factions under a banner everyone can get behind: hetero-coersive patriarchy.

Can I get an amen? (I'll write later about thoughts of how this movement appeals to the not so latent patriarchal tendencies among some black clergy and how it soothes their fear of the 'Sapphire' and tries to build a cage around black women's agency in order to support and protect the black male ego.)

And they're willing to build a socio-political movement behind it:

That vision of social justice is -- like the traditional religious right -- anti-government and theocratic. For the "multiracial" Freedom Federation, it is focused on saving black and brown babies from the spirit of Herod. In a panel discussion on social justice, Engle said, "prostitution in America is fueled majorly [sic] out of the foster care system. Government is going to produce that kind of thing. Here is where the church becomes the outrageous lover, the outrageous answer." [emphasis mine]

(It's interesting to note how Engle's thinking turns the government into a pimp - and, of course, there won't be any thinking about how such a hyper-patriarchal model of gender creates the man who buys the trafficked woman... )

The way Engle connects domestic trafficking to the foster care system makes me take a closer look at the ways that evangelical groups have begun to advocate around international and domestic sex trafficking and wonder how their advocacy on those issues(the presence of which anti-violence against women groups have warily welcomed) is going to merge with this new fight to rescue America from the Herods, Sodomites and Jezebels among us.

And how are their wary feminist/pro-woman partners going to navigate that?

(I'm thinking specifically of particular 'rescue and restore' ministries that have worked with established feminist anti-trafficking groups; these groups have very heavy 'American patriot' overtones/imagery and a definite vibe of 'manly Christian men rescuing endangered frail, corrupted woman in order to restore her to home and hearth, where she rightfully belongs.' It is a discourse ripped directly from the 19th century Victorian playbook.)

The religious right has always fascinated me. One, because I come from it and understand it; and two, because their narratives and goals are so very, very narrow and familiar. Throughout history there have been those who have fought to hold back time and progress. Despite the lessons to be learned in literature, history, art and psychology about the unhappiness and damage such a narrowly defined culture can produce, they fight on.

And keep losing. For every women who is educated, employed, empowered and autonomous, beholden to no one, they lose.

I hope we women are strong enough for this fight again.
Bible story time!
Who is Jezebel?

It's one of the most vivid and violent stories in the Old Testament. I read it constantly when I was a little girl.  Jezebel is married to Ahab, who covets a man's land. Ahab dithers so his wife strategizes to steal the land, kill the owner and make the land a gift to Ahab. The prophet Elijah forsees doom because of their sin and when the kingdom is attacked, Ahab dies in battle and Elijah orders Jehu to find Jezebel and throw her from the highest tower. The dogs lick her blood and eat her body, leaving only her hands, feet and head - the tools that schemed, wrote the order and delivered the gift to Ahab. 

And....that's who sexually impure women are supposed to be: scheming, murderous, manipulative sluts who deserve to be thrown off a tower and eaten by dogs.

(Think I'm exaggerating? Church folk interpret this story exactly like this.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So I'm on the bus this morning, basking in the glow that today is my and M-'s 1 yr anniversary, and amazed that I'm still in love (though not irrationally so.)  I'm emailing a friend for drinks tomorrow night when I hear what is either a really phlegmy cough or...someone is vomiting.

This goes on for several stops. When we pull away from the curb I look down and see a tell-tale stream of someone's stomach contents.

Disgusted, I rear up and loudly say, "Oh, euwww! Really?? Really? You're just going to vomit all over the bus and just sit there! Disgusting! Totally disgusting!"

Everyone turns around. I stand up and move toward the rear exit. Another woman moves with me.

An older lady says, "He can't help it! What do you expect him to do?"

"Not ride the bus and vomit all over everything!"

The man, who looks like he's coming off a big drunk, then raises his head and says, "Shut the fuck up you bitch."

"Whatever. You're disgusting."

He lurches up and says, "Lemme off!"  Everyone gets out of his way. The smell of vomit is growing stronger and it's now all over the floor.  He staggers off the bus and I get off behind him.  There is no way in hell I'm sitting on a hot bus full of someone's sick.

And I watch him stagger behind a tree and vomit for the next 5 minutes then walk away.  Another bus comes and I stifle my dry heaves. I am mildly regretful that I called him disgusting, but then I get over it. This isn't frakking New York.

I try to get back in an anniversary mood but can't. Then I decide to interpret the incident as an analogy of the upheaval of modern relationships. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

a very cool shout out to this blog!

Thanks so much for reader Pamela, who gave me a heads up about this: My Earth Day Wish? For Stories to Flourish!

It's great to see all the thinking prompted by Chimamanda Adichie's presentation.

My exRoomie also loved Adichie's story and we were talking last night about how it started her thinking about the complexities of our stories and how this should build empathy and hope between us. (Or something like that - we had a few apple beers.)

Anyway, if you're interested in being a donor that cares about more than one story, I'd start with the Small Change Fund.

Monday, April 19, 2010

the limits of the single story

This is so perfect, I don't want to ruin it with my prattling: People of colour are not a story of suffering . . . Or resistance. « Restructure!

We should be familiar with the 'single story' told by our most familiar -isms: racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, cisism, etc.


What is the 'single story' that feminism tells?
What is the 'single story' of our national identity?
What is the 'single story' of your city or town?
What is the 'single story' of your religion or political party?
(Even the Tea Party has a 'single story' being told by the MSM and others.)

What is the 'single story' of your work - especially if you work for a non profit human services organization?

This is not a weird question: the 'single story' most orgs tell is of the broken down - nevermind the agency that these populations have shown, or that these populations very well might have their own stories to tell. But the 'single story' we tell about these populations is a direct product of the racial/class power and privilege of those of us who work in these orgs.

A friend of mine recently confronted this single story issue when she was preparing a proposal for a large corporate donor for one of our service areas. She was in the middle of writing it when something began to niggle at her. The whole thing felt wrong. The women we were purporting to serve weren't in it at all. It was all stats and 'statements of need' that made it seem like the west side of Chicago was just a bombed out crater, where women wandered the streets begging for bread and children lived in boxes. It was a standard grant narrative that painted the worst picture, without any room for self-determination, agency or stories other than the one we told of poverty levels, literacy rates and lack.

So my friend retooled her proposal to make that niggling itch go away.

It's significant to note that my friend is a woman of color (it is.) And when the proposal was reviewed by a non person of color, the shift in frame was immediately noted - and instantly edited. My friend was told that the single story of women's experiences on the west side is the preferred story to donors - this is the reality that needs to be made even more starkly solid, and repeated everywhere we go, and to everyone we solicit.

The voice of our org, therefore, must reflect "No possibility of feelings more complex than pity." We must reify, no matter how problematic, unfair or racist, a power and privilege that has "the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person."

As a writer I know that I've been guilty of telling only one story. It's an easy shorthand to fall into, especially if this is the way one's sector works. I don't quite know how to end this post except to hope that those of us who are privileged to be in the position to tell the stories of others take our storytelling seriously - and resist the impulse to tell them singly.

Friday, April 16, 2010

calgon, take me away!

I have thoughts on work, feminist generational wars (at work), relationships, friendships and all sorts of other things, but I'm so busy I can't write it all down.
And if I did, it would be the longest, shambliest post ever.

So, all 16 of my readers, sorry my content has been scarce.

Life, you know?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

connecting the dots

This is the story of fatal domestic violence: Frantic call after 4 found dead: 'He killed everyone' - Chicago Breaking News.
Though the suspect in this story had a record based in Wisconsin his story is not necessarily unique to it.

This story is also one of our state's weakening social safety net.

In March, a FY11 Department of Human Services budget briefing laid out these stark realities:
Mental health community services would be reduced by $90 million
Mental health providers would be warned to provide only 'crisis' care
All non-Medicaid spending would be eliminated - meaning that acute or chronic care would be unfunded.

Because of these draconian cuts, according to an agency official, the mental healthcare system in Illinois would be set back 30 years. Imagine that.

It's a very basic example of how bad things trickle down:
State budgets get slashed due to billion dollar deficits ->
Public Safety budgets get reduced ->
Human/Social/Mental health services get slashed ->
State programs for the treatment of incarcerated mentally ill adults are defunded ->
Mentally ill prisoners are released to free up space ->
Transitional/supportive housing and care for mentally ill ex-prisoner is eliminated ->
Mentally ill ex-prisoner goes untreated (and unhoused) ->
Mentally ill ex-prisoner re-offends, a result of their untreated mental illness as well as their homelessness ->
Mentally ill ex-prisoner re-enters criminal justice system ->
Criminal justice system catches and releases them again, because there is no money for guards, prisons or treatment.

And so on.

We could play the same game with rehabilitation services, alcohol and drug abuse services, or even childcare. Oh, not to say that all those who receive those services end up in the criminal justice system, but that insufficient funding for each of these areas creates a series of unintended consequences for communities which are ill-equipped to deal with them in the first place.

The community organizations who do this work do it precisely because the state can't.

And now, because of the indefensible lagging and delay of most (not all) of our elected officials, the state won't.

In mental health alone, over 3000 jobs will be lost in Illinois.
Anywhere between 23-87 mental health organizations will close (depending on their niche population.)
4000 adults in residential care will be impacted.
70,000 people (including 4200 children) will no longer have access to mental health care.

So that's the mental health 'dot.'
In addition to the education 'dot.'
And the public safety 'dot.'
There are a lot more dots if you really want to see them.
How many other dots need to be connected before our elected officials get off their complacent asses shrug off their complacency and do what they need to do?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

dear religious people: stop picking and choosing bigotry

Eric Zorn: Hateful parents, teens conspire to throw fake prom for learning disabled students and a lesbian couple

I had a few assumptions already in my mind about this small community and this latest story just confirmed them.

Assumption: this town is all about conformity and tightly regulated social order.
Assumption: this town is to outsiders.
Assumption: this town has the small-minded meanness required to maintain a rigid social structure.

Check, check and check.

Zorn links to a post here (and here) that has even more details on what kind of mind could think this was ok.

It's interesting to note what kind of blinders they're using to justify their really cruel behavior.
They just wanted a regular prom.
They didn't want all the attention (hence 'laying low.')
They didn't want to knuckle under the 'demands' of a student 'no one really liked anyway.'
They wanted to end the year 'right.'
They wanted their year 'back on track.'

What all this equals to is selfishness (as well as a huge gulp of bigotry.)

The notions of fair play, equality, kindness, ethical behavior, or even basic decency didn't enter their minds.

Before all the kids put their Facebook profiles on lockdown, they were pretty vocal about how much they loved Jesus but it's clear they didn't internalize any of the Sunday school lessons embodied by Jesus' encounters with the socially marginalized. 

If these kids saw the woman by the well, what would they have done?
If they came across the prostitute about to be stoned by the Pharisees, what would they have done?
If they were forced to have dinner with a tax collector, what would they have said?

Is it a stretch to guess these kids and their parents would have no problem shunning, stoning or isolating people who aren't like them? 

Is that what Jesus taught?

Superficially religious folk conveniently ignore the simple lessons Jesus taught.  Of course they cling to the Pauline injunctions against homosexuality  - which also happen to support their bigotry.  Their stubborn privileging of this injunction rather than the commandment to 'love your neighbor and treat others like you'd be treated' supposedly gives them cover for righteous behavior. 

After all, they say 'you can't pick and choose' which parts of the Bible you're going to believe and live by.  Good point. But picking and choosing, however, is exactly what you're doing when you choose to treat someone with hate and exclusion rather than love and compassion. 

Here's an exegetical tip to folks who use the picking/choosing to justify their bigoted reading of scripture: when you are confronted by an apparent conflict in the Bible (in this case the conflict between loving your neighbor or telling your neighbor to go to a fake prom because you hate gay people), err on the side of love and acceptance.

And if that's not enough to give pause to knee-jerk bigotry, here's my question to all those self-righteous religous folk out there who'd rather be an empty tomb than filled with the love of Christ:

When it's your time to meet your Lord, do you really think God is going to judge you if you treat gays, lesbians and trans people like human beings?

(yeah. don't get a baptist preacher's daugher on your back about jesus, man.)
Remember when I'd post almost weekly about the weddings column in the Times?
Funny how I don't do that anymore.

Vivienne La Borde, Kaddu Luyombya -

Friday, April 02, 2010

This Whisper of a Wince

First, the links:
Jill Scott says something.
And Ta-Nehisi Coates says this.
Then Racialicious said some other things.
And then Coates had a PS.
And then we wrap up the week with Kevin Powell writing all us black folk a letter.

And now, the stories (which aren't prescriptive, merely illustrative):

When my friend Prof. L- sent me the Coates link I wrote him back. 'When ppl open their mouths and tell me how they 'feel' when they see another person's relationship choice I want to tell them to keep their personal issues to themselves. If they aren't about to say 'I hope they're happy,' then folks need to STFU.'

And Prof. L- replied,'Is there much of a distance from discomfort to disapproval?'
Here's another story:
When I was in therapy, my therapist (a WOC) started to dig deeper into my family background when our sessions began to concentrate on intimacy and relationships and why I felt I was such crap at them.  She wanted to know about my relationship to my father; what it was like to grow up in my old Baptist church; how I felt growing up in such a patriarchal and religious environment; what I really needed in a relationship.

My relationship to my father: I love the man, and I'm his 'duffle bag' (don't ask) but he was/is also the only man to make me ramp up to rage in under 10 minutes when the subject is women, men, politics or women in the bible/church.
What it was like growing up in my old Baptist church: it was like being a visitor from the future and you landed in 1898. BC.
How I felt growing up in such an environment: I was angry at all the bloviating old black dudes who were traditional, controlling, bullying, manipulative, insecure, and completely transparent with their greed and ambition. I hated that I had to compete with them for my father's attention.  Because I was better than they were, I had contempt for them.
What I needed most in a relationship:  Safety; recognition; personal integrity; comfort; to be taken care of; trust; mutual, unconditional support.  Acceptance.

Dr. C- would ask, 'And you can't find this in black men?'
I'd say, 'I probably could, but I don't give them the chance to show me. I am so angry, I can't see straight. All I can think of is those men in that church or I'm anticipating how they are going to turn into those types of men.'
Dr. C- would ask, 'Those men in the church. What was your primary method of dealing with them?'
I'd say, 'Competition. I had to beat them. I had to be smarter than they were, than their children were. I had to be a better church person than they were. Understand the bible better than they were. Even if they didn't let me preach, I had to be better at preaching.'
'So my dad would tell me 'good job,' or something. They didn't think a woman could be a leader in anything and I had to show them I was better than they were.'
Dr. C- (who was married to a very nice black man) would say, 'What do you think about trying to date a black man?'
I'd say, 'Well....ok. If you think that will help.'
And she'd say, 'It always helps to challenge our fears.'

And I tried.  But every conversation I'd have with a black man would either remind me of a tired R&B song or fill me with such panic attack anxiety I took a break and fell back into a liaison with B-, which was even more unsatisfying because it was finally clear to me that he was utterly incapble of giving me the things I needed most.

But at least he didn't remind me of that old Baptist church.

Then, when I was at the point of letting my account expire, I met M-.  A white guy. Who didn't graduate college. Who worked blue collar most of his life. Who wouldn't know Foucault if Michel bit him on his ass. Who, when he drove me home on our first date, said he wanted to make me a mixed CD and cancel his Match account the next day.  And I never spoke to, or saw, B- again.  Because of a white guy.  The Other.

This month marks our 1-year anniversary. It is the most emotionally satisfying relationship I've had since grad school.
A third, and final, story (which long-time readers may have already heard):
When it was time for me to go off to grad school, my cracker barrel, deeply southern godfather pulled me aside after evening church services.  I was leaving for Michigan in a couple of days and I was excited. Scared, too, but excited. In my imagination, Ann Arbor looked like Boston. (Yes, I was completely inaccurate but the main point was it was 2000 miles away from my provincial church.)

It was clear my godfather was trying to do the avuncular thing and this was the sterling piece of advice that he gave me:

'Don't jump the fence.'

What kind of backwoods, country folk-ism was this? I was blank-faced for a few seconds until his fierce gaze and the eventual, firing synapses in my brain made me stiffen. Don't jump the fence.  Don't leave your side of the social divide. Don't get involved with a white guy. Don't sleep with a white guy. Don't have sex with a white guy. Don't betray your people.  I wanted to slap his southern face.

'My father 'jumped the fence,' James.'
'Well, now. That's a little different. You just be careful. Don't jump the fence. Stay where you belong.'

I stomped away and seethed for hours. That was the last time I spoke to him.

Just this past year, my father told me that old James had died and it was revealed that he had had an affair with a married woman in the church for years. My old anger at his goatish hypocrisy rushed back at me and all I could do was sputter over the phone about that 'fucking old man.'
The 'heart wants what the heart wants' and it's usually because of something pushed so way down deep, you can't even recognize it.  So I get Scott's wince.  I do.  (I'm a student of African American history and literature; I've read the same history books and wondered why everyone gets play but a black girl.)

But I've got a wince of my own and the whisper of it makes me almost ashamed; I almost want to hand in my own Black Card of Racial Solidarity because of it. Almost. This is not to say that my triggers are the fault of others. It's not all black men's fault that I have this whisper of a wince. But I have it.  It has caused me to close one type of door between me and black men.  Other doors (filial, platonic or professional ones) remain open; just not intimate ones. In this regard, the man who has given me what I need is a white man.

Not all white men. Not every white man. A white man.

When we are together, the looks or stares (or whether someone may or may not have a wince) people send us don't register with me.  He is more aware of it than I am. And he is now more aware of the complex ways that our being together works as a kind of social shorthand in different parts of the city.  (He'd never say it that way; he just tells me, 'My Mexican neighbors like me better now because of you.')  But shorthand or not, when he looks at me he tells me that he has been waiting his whole life for me and I know that because of him, my heart is bigger.

So wince away, you Scotts of the world.  You can't help it.  It's not your fault.