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Speak Right On

A book is usually a one-sided affair: only the author reveals her thoughts and feelings. The airing of readers’ reactions typically is left to book groups. But not now, not here.

With this blog I want to hear what you have to say. Though I will use Speak Right On as a springboard and reference point for my blog entries, you don’t need to read my book to join the conversation.

Just speak right on, from the heart.

“He who does his best for his own time, lives for all times.”

African proverb

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Reader, beware!

Those who know a little about my research for Speak Right On know that I had no choice but to publish my book as fiction. Information about the details of Dred Scott's life simply is too scant for a work of nonfiction. Nevertheless, I was able to weave into my story many facts. This could be challenging, because I sometimes encountered varying accounts—I had to scrutinize the differences, seek supporting evidence, and critically evaluate the sources.

So it is with our news today: we have many varying accounts of a vast range of stories. Are they based in fact or in fiction? In "Americans' Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low," Gallup reported in September that only 32 percent of adults have "fair" or a "great deal of" confidence in what the mass media is reporting.

Many times in the pre-election year I felt confused and unable to keep track of what was credible and what wasn't. And now that the election is decided, the haze of misinformation grows ever thicker. In our latest elections, no matter how or whether they voted, many people agree that we were all poorly served by our media, pundits, and pollsters. It should be obvious that opinion is not fact, but it bears emphasizing. We heard a lot of opinions—a good measure of it unsubstantiated—and then we marched to the polls and cast our votes.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I am grateful to share an article by Glenn Kessler from the Washington Post: "The truth behind the rhetoric," which provides recommendations and steps for individuals to vet their online news sources.

Kessler's first suggestion: don't share a headline before you actually read the article. (Duh!) This is especially key on social media, because a whopping 59% of us never click on the links to the full information. Pause a moment to think about this; it means we are embracing as truths headlines that are designed to elicit an emotion, not deliver information.

Next: check to see if the article comes from a legitimate website. This isn't as subjective as it sounds. Legitimate sites have logos, links, and an "about us" page. Most will also have a page about corrections, because legitimate reporters sometimes get things wrong—and they have an obligation to clarify and correct their stories. The Post offers this example of an actual news site and a fake one that copies it:

  • ​"There's ABC News, the television network, with the Web address of And there's ABC News, the fake news website, with the Web address of The use of ".co" at the end of the URL is a strong clue you are looking at a fake news website. (It signifies the Internet country code domain assigned to the country of Colombia.)"

But don't stop there: the article lists these other litmus tests:

  • Does the site have a "contact us" page? Are names of the publisher and reporters listed? Are there news departments? Do the pictures and addresses seem hokey?
  • Consider the byline of the reporter: do the biographical details seem farfetched? Do a quick Google search on the reporter to validate whether she indeed won all the awards claimed.
  • Okay, you're reading the article all the way through, and you come upon a quote from someone that sounds implausible—check that out too. Fact-check any statement that makes you pause, shake your head, or do a double-take.
  • What sources are cited? None? Merely a re-Tweet? If there are no credible sources there is no credible information; it's just opinion or fantasy.
  • What type of advertisements appear on the site? If they're cheesy, the information on the site is bound to be likewise.

Don't accept "news" in a vacuum. Google the topic, and you'll quickly see whether other, legitimate news groups are covering the story. If they aren't, they probably have come to the conclusion it isn't reliable. If you do find additional coverage, read one or two so that you know where the discrepancies lie and which seems most reliable. 

Finally, the Post gives two other websites for learning more about fake news at, which offers a Field Guide to Fake News Sites, and

We each have a civic responsibility to be informed. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. cautioned:

There is nothing more dangerous in the world than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

 Martin Luther King Jr.
Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
It takes more work to be informed and check for reliability, but as you say, with increasing bias it becomes more important than ... Read More
Sunday, 27 November 2016 22:34
  9302 Hits

What this election shows, but doesn't say, about race

I've been avoiding speaking about Trump and Clinton, primarily because I feel hopeless when I read and watch election news. My stubborn heart drifts into fantasies of a first-ever, write-in win by the likes of Michelle Obama or Elizabeth Warren. This is idle escapism, but I did go so far as to google "write-in candidates," and I zeroed in on Dick Gregory's 1968 campaign. 

This reminded me of when I was living in St. Louis, in the late 1990s, researching history about Dred ScottMy husband and I attended a discussion led by Dick Gregory at a local independent bookstore. Gregory bluntly asked the mostly white audience: what is "whiteness"? I remember that I couldn't do it, couldn't articulate it—no one satisfactorily expressed what whiteness is—but the question has been indelibly imprinted on my thinking about race since that night at Left Bank Books. 

A recent article from the New York Times, originally published in the Interpreter, by Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, comes as close as anything I've ever read to answering that question:

Whiteness means being part of the group whose appearance, traditions, religion, and even food are the default norm. It's being a person who, by unspoken rules, was long entitled as part of "us" instead of "them" (emphasis mine).

by Taub and Fisher

Simply put: as a white person in America, I am not "other" in terms of race.

The article chiefly explores concepts of whiteness that are playing out globally in national politics. America is not alone in experiencing a rise of right-wing nationalism and so-called populist ideology. Another Times article cites right-wing and far-right ideologies growing in Austria, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, and a good many more.

The Taub-Fisher report offers a cogent hypothesis for this current swing of the pendulum, examining "white identity" issues and how that plays out in political arenas, where national and racial identities are frequently conflated. All of the angst and outrage about "losing our nation" and "wanting it back" boil down to this consideration. Quoting Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London:

What does it mean to be part of this nation? Is it not "our" nation anymore, "our" meaning the ethnic majority? These kinds of questions are really front and center, even though they're not necessarily verbalized.

Eric Kaufmann

Breaking down the concept of identity into "achieved" (by personal effort) and "ascribed" (based on innate characteristics), the authors make a strong case that the weakening of "achieved identity" is leading to a strengthening of "ascribed identity." As economic opportunities shrink, those who are struggling and see their children's prospects waning—those who cannot feel pride in their personal achievements—are more likely ". . . to get more self-esteem out of a communal identity such as ethnicity or the nation than you would out of any sort of achieved identity." (Kaufmann)

Describing the quest of the American Dream as waiting in a long line ascending a hill, the authors state: 

Focusing on lost identities rather than lost livelihoods helps answer one of the most puzzling questions about the link between economic stress and the rise of nationalist politics: why it is flowing from the middle and working classes, and not the very poor.

by Taub and Fisher

And here they make a crucial distinction:

The mantra [I want my country back] is not all about bigotry. Rather, being part of a culture designed around people's own community and customs is a constant background hum of reassurance, of belonging (emphasis mine). The loss of that comforting hum has accelerated a phenomenon that Robin DiAngelo, a lecturer and author, calls "white fragility"—the stress white people feel when they confront the knowledge that they are neither special nor the default; that whiteness is just a race like any other. Fragility leads to feelings of insecurity, defensiveness, even threat. And it can trigger a backlash against those who are perceived as outsiders.

[T]he struggle for white identity is not just a political problem; it is about the "deep story" of feeling stuck while others move forward.

by Taub and Fisher

And for "others," read non-whites.

Earlier this year at a book-signing event, a woman in the audience asked me if I thought Republican opposition to President Obama was based on racial prejudice. I said I believed in large part it was. If I had considered the issues of identity posed by Taub and Fisher, I might have added:

Yes, but also consider this factor: many whites, consciously or not, are motivated by wanting to belong. Yet they've never questioned or understood that their sense of belonging has been built upon racial inequality. They've never paused to explore how they can achieve that sense of belonging without putting others down.

This is what we all can strive for: establishing or restoring the sense that we all belong. It doesn't have to be us vs. them.

So this is what I have to say about the elections: our next president (who is sure to be white) must explicitly represent all of America, just as President Obama did: he didn't just represent and lead blacks. Our president must communicate and demonstrate, leading by personal example, that we all belong.

Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
I've been in a bit of a fog, mentally and emotionally, since learning that Trump is our president-elect. Your comment, Jeannette, ... Read More
Friday, 11 November 2016 14:16
  9958 Hits

Skin color is not a costume

I receive a weekly email from the New York Times that is a roundup of race-related issues called, you guessed it: "Race/Related."

I highly recommend that anyone wishing to understand race better subscribe to this. A skim of the headlines alone will be informative, and typically there are several items that I just have to read through.

This week, articles by Annie Correal and Saleem Reshamwala talked about Halloween costumes and why white people should pause and think through their choice of dressing up as a black person or character. The newsletter editor says:

Every year, it seems, people need to be reminded that skin color is not a costume; or as, Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance at the Southern Poverty Law Center, recently put it: "You can't take symbols or practices that are hurtful in the past and expect for your particular purposes that history disappears."

"Race/Related," The Times

In other words, history, like black lives, matters. Just because you are engaged in make believe doesn't mean you're acting without any historical context. Reasonable people can argue this issue from all sides, but the questions I would put to anyone are:

  • Do you think your depiction is likely to offend others?
  • If so, why would you want to proceed and be offensive?
  • Are you able to look at your actions from the perspective of those you offend?
  • Are you willing to look at yourself and understand what motivates you?

We live in times where giving racial offense is abundant. Overwhelmingly, the offense given is by whites, the offense taken is by non-whites. The history of racism is what's boiling up to the surface, and it cannot be ignored.

Yes, let's be glad that a white person can identify with a black character and want to emulate them. If I wanted to "be" Michelle Obama for Halloween, I'd be challenged to create a costume that didn't include blackface, because I'm aware of the racist underpinnings of blackface and minstrelsy in our history. I know the pain it has caused. And why would I want cause pain through caricature, when my intent is to celebrate a female superhero?

Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Aaaach! On the brighter side, one of the good things about kids moving from small towns to cities is that it's hard to avoid hav... Read More
Monday, 31 October 2016 22:34
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Changing Colors

I've been traveling in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, joyfully soaking up the changing colors of autumn and the company of family. At my brother and sister-in-law's house, I met a neighbor who is an AT&T project manager, and we had a great conversation about a recent video of AT&T's CEO, Randall Stephenson, speaking to a large group of employee resource managers.

Mr. Stephenson's speech is a powerful and personal account of an epiphany. He described his moment of revelation when he abruptly understood how important race was to Chris, a dear friend who is black—and Stephenson was incredulous that he and his friend of many years had never had a conversation about race

After expressing a newfound understanding for the value of the Black Lives Matter movement, he concludes his talk with an exhortation to the AT&T employees to go out and begin the difficult discussions of race, telling them:

Do not tolerate each other. Work hard. Move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other. . . . Start the discussion with WHY, why does my colleague feel this way; and then we can discover what needs to be done.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO

Please watch this exciting, important speech here.

Not surprisingly, an AT&T company slogan is "Every voice matters," and DiversityInc recently ranked AT&T as #4 on its list of Top 50 Companies for Diversity. Can an international conglomerate really have an impact on how we feel about and address race in our country? I believe it can; it can change the color of these conversations from black-and-white to a vast palette of hues, tones, and vibrancy. My brother in NC reminded me that Charlotte emerged from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement as a leader among Southern states in correcting Jim Crow laws and traditions--and that Charlotte's thriving business community set the stage for this advancement by not tolerating workplace segregation and anti-black hiring practices. Now AT&T is urging its employees to move beyond tolerance--mere tolerance is for cowards, says Stephenson--and blaze new trails of understanding and respect through dialogue.

Because "Every voice matters" has so much in common with the purpose of this Speak Right On blog, I plan in upcoming weeks to reach out to Mr. Stephenson and propose workshops designed to facilitate those difficult discussions of race. ​I want to begin by inviting Mr. Stephenson and his friend to read chapters 8 and 9 in Speak Right On: Conjuring the Slave Narrative of Dred Scott. Those of you who have read my novel will remember that these two chapters depict a relationship between Dred Scott and Nat Turner: two slave boys who chose vastly different approaches to freedom: one through speaking out in the courts and the other through bloody rebellion.

Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Glad you liked the video. I think with enough follow-through we're likely to see a giant leap forward in race relations!
Sunday, 23 October 2016 20:04
Super User
"Every voice matters" is wonderful. Last night I re-watched the movie Invictus about Nelson Mandela. It occurred to me how silly i... Read More
Monday, 24 October 2016 17:50
  5574 Hits

Are you wearing blinders?

All photos (c) Andrew Neighbour

In a blog on HuffPost this week, Ann Girdharry wrote about a lack of diversity in published books--something I spoke about in my August 13 blog, "Don't be afraid." I hesitate to write again so soon on the issue, but it occurs to me that there are several aspects to the topic:

    • What we find in publishing reflects the lack of diversity in our culture
    • Many people are afraid to speak about matters of race
    • Many people are downright resistant to acknowledging that race matters and inequity is prevalent
    • Many people just don't "see" that a problem exists

Girdharry says: 

"It's an unconscious bias and we tend not to think about it. But we should. . . . Why can't we have more black heroines? More main characters who are people of colour? Can you even think of a book you've read with a diverse main character? Asian? Chinese? A character with a different mind-set to the usual tropes? With a different world view?"

I find it easy to agree with Girdharry, and I suspect many of my readers here do, too. However, on the HuffPost site, the comments about this article were overwhelmingly negative; here's a sampling:

  • Write a real article about stuff that matters :-/
  • Get more black people writing books then! no ones stopping them!
  • My god get a life love and stop trying to devide nationalities so you can write another book
  • Stop the PC insanity. You are a pathetic news source.
  • Now I've heard everything. This is totally unbelievable.
  • I can only think this blogger hasn't really tried . . . she clearly hasn't looked
  • Oh get a bloody grip! I get sick and tired of these politically correct whinge pieces.
  • Perhaps you're reading too much into your .......reads?
  • You want more books with non-white protagonists? Write some.
  • Darn evil whiteys writing about whiteys.

I was astounded by the number of these reactions—but I shouldn't be. Any time you confront people with elements from the unconscious, expect a backlash. Girdharry speaks to "an unconscious bias" toward all things white being the default position, being the norm, as well as to a resistance toward accepting more diversity in our lives. I'm reminded of the song lyrics: 

"If you're white, you're alright; if you're brown, stick around; if you're black get back."

We have racial segregation in many aspects of our societies—keeping blinders on only deepens and prolongs the inequalities. I encourage you to open your eyes—and your heart: where in your life do you see or experience inequality?

  • Are you stopped frequently by the police when you're not doing anything wrong?
  • Are you insulted because of your skin color?
  • Are you treated as being invisible when waiting in line?
  • Do people stare at you or surreptitiously watch your conduct when you're in a store?
  • Do you hear car doors lock as you walk through a parking lot?

If you answered no to most of these questions, I'm willing to bet you're white. That's the problem with white bias—it most frequently occurs as a negation of something, an absence of a slight or a wrong—and that makes it very difficult for white people to "see" it. But have no doubt: it's real.

Just look around.

  5999 Hits

The US Supreme Court’s 1990 Dread Scott Decision

Dread Scott. "What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?," 1988. Installation for audience participation: Silver gelatin print, books, pens, shelf, active audience, US flag; 80 x 28 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

No, that's not a typo in the headline. Dread Scott is an artist who creates provocative art, and his 1988 work, "What Is the Proper Way to Display the US Flag?" led to a Supreme Court decision (US v. Eichman et al; 496 U.S. 310 (1990)) that ruled his use of the Stars 'n Stripes, even to the extent of burning the flag, was protected free-speech conduct under the First Amendment.

The exhibit placed a large US flag on the floor in front of a photomontage showing the flag and expressions of anti-American sentiment. A blank journal was below the photo, inviting gallery visitors to write comments—but to do so, one would have to stand on the flag.

Of course, this upset many people, and the following year Congress passed an act outlawing desecration of "Old Glory." Scott and others, in protest, burned the flag on the steps of the Capitol Building. And that was the issue that led to the Supreme Court case. 

Dread Scott likes to ask hard questions—about racism, capitalism, war, mass incarceration, and more—and his artwork is intended make people think about how to answer them:

    • After the 1999 police shooting and killing of Amadou Diallo, Scott created a screen print reminiscent of yellow-and-black traffic signs, with the text "Danger: Police in Area." It depicted silhouette figures of a cop shooting a man. The sign has been displayed at various locations. 
    • After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and other sites, a performance was choreographed in Times Square, consisting of more than 100 artists all wearing facemasks and signs with the slogan "Our Grief Is Not a Cry for War."
    • 2000 – 2004, "Lockdown," an installation series of photographs and taped interviews with youths in prison was publicly on display.
    • In 2010, during election time, "Poll Dance" presented a set of graphs and charts based on polling information divorced from the question that was asked. For example a pie chart with data: very worried 10%; not too worried 36%; what the respondents were concerned about remained unknown.
    • In 2012, again in advance of elections, Scott read out loud the 1857 Dred Scott decision. Simultaneously, four naked black men stood in a line guarded by two barking German shepherd dogs and their handlers. Finally, the audience was asked to walk through a line to a polling booth, where they could "vote" on moral questions such as, "Would you vote in the upcoming US presidential election if your vote implied acceptance of continuing the legacy of slavery within US society?"

This Labor Day weekend, Dread Scott has a retrospective exhibit of some of his works that explore civil rights issues and the criminal justice system in particular. "A Sharp Divide" will be hosted by the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, New Jersey.

I won't be there, but I hope to hear more about this show and about Scott's ongoing work. He is certainly a man who speaks right on.

America was forged by genocide and slavery and carries out profound exploitation and oppressions of whole peoples and vast regions of the planet to maintain this lopsided relationship.  It doesn't have to be this way and I personally look forward to the day when America and its flag are in the dustbin of history and people are striving to build a world of freely associating human beings, free of exploitation.  In this spirit I created a conceptual artwork where people could engage the question of what US patriotism and the US flag represents.

Dread Scott
Recent Comments
Laura Merrill
A thoughtful and thought-provoking artist. Thanks for sharing this.
Sunday, 04 September 2016 15:01
Mary Neighbour
As a talented artist yourself, you're most welcome!
Sunday, 04 September 2016 15:26
Mary Neighbour
Jeannette, thank you for sharing the info about Blackdom--I'm definitely going to learn more about that. And also for sharing abou... Read More
Monday, 05 September 2016 14:04
  22958 Hits

Don't be afraid

I spend a fair amount of time reading about changes in publishing. Recently I've noticed a few articles that are addressing diversity, or rather its lack, in the industry. Publishing Perspectives offered a great article by Porter Anderson that focused on Sisters in Crime, a writers support group with chapters across the US. It seems they annually release a "Report for Change," and this year they spoke up for "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Mystery Community."

Apparently, they looked in the mirror and weren't satisfied with their reflection:

Source: Report for-change-psr2016 from sistersincrime

In addition to the racial and ethnic groups identified in the chart, they also looked at groups within their ranks such as LGBT and disabled writers.

The introduction to the report begins:

Becoming a successful writer is hard work. For writers who belong to the groups often referred to as "diverse," there are factors that make it even harder. But talking about diversity can feel like walking across a minefield. Some people show angry resistance to having the conversation at all. Even those who see the need for change can be stuck because of fear: fear of getting it wrong; fear of seeming to pander; fear of being criticized; fear of making things worse. [Emphasis mine]

Sisters in Crime

I couldn't agree more: fear holds us back from the important conversations that are needed in order to better understand each other. Yet I also believe it is incontrovertible that if we can expand our knowledge of each other, we can begin to create meaningful change.

When I sought publication of Speak Right On, I was filled with fears, the worst of which was that I would be pilloried as William Styron had been for his Confessions of Nat Turner. Styron was criticized for perpetuating harmful racial stereotypes, some of which I guessed were subconscious.

In other words, I feared betrayal by my own subconscious: 

  • What ugly stereotypes might be lurking there? 
  • Had any deviously slipped into my writing? 
  • Was I exposing myself as another white person who just doesn't get it? 
  • Would this overshadow any merits the book might have? 
  • What might I discover about myself that I wouldn't want to admit?

Obviously I did publish it, and the enthusiasm and graciousness with which I have been treated as the author continues to surprise me. But it also helps me have more confidence; it helps me keep trying to have the difficult conversations. And I know this will be true for others who demonstrate curiosity and respect when they eclipse their own fears and engage in dialogs about race.

Take courage, speak right on.

Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Jeannette, I share your dismay. I am reminded of the Jewish entreaty: Never Forget. This phrase reflects the atrocities of the Hol... Read More
Tuesday, 16 August 2016 05:02
  9029 Hits

Slave patrols and modern police

Photo by vnyberg at
Someone reminded me recently that Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, explained his shooting by saying that Brown looked "like a demon." Wilson also compared Brown to Hulk Hogan and said of himself, "I felt like a five-year-old." Reading the transcript of Wilson's testimony I found a number of these bizarre characterizations that reduced Brown to something either subhuman or superhuman.

I also read Wilson's explanations about why he didn't use mace, an asp, or a flashlight to defend himself from punches delivered by Brown, but I was left wondering why he didn't use his car to create distance between him and Brown. According to Wilson's account, Brown stood outside the driver's door, punching Wilson through the open car window. When Wilson drew his gun, Brown wrestled him for control of it. Brown never got the gun, he was unarmed, and the patrol car was running the whole time, so why couldn't this officer pull away?

I return to this 2014 incident because it remains an unsolved mystery—no, not who killed Michael Brown, but why he is dead. I believe the clues trace back to our history of slavery and racism. The centuries of American slavery, from the 1600s to the 1800s, seem distant to most of us, but the truth is that slavery's ravages continue to afflict us today. And one of the ways we live with its legacy is evident in current-day policing activities.

Though the National Law Enforcement Museum website and Wikipedia don't touch on this connection, other sources, like the National Institute of Justice and Eastern Kentucky University, are quite frank that precursors of the modern police department include groups that were organized and paid to protect whites and white property against slaves, Indians, and other minorities. Part of this protection of "property," of course, included slaves. Slaves were the property of white men, and they could not question the authority of the system that contained them, denied them freedom, and subjected them to cruelty.

Slave patrols and slave catchers were organized to ensure that slave "property" was securely under the control of the white owners. Not only were blacks excluded from the ranks of those considered to be deserving of protection, they were vilified and believed to be subhuman, violent, treacherous, and murderous—and these all-white, all-male police forces were backed up by state and federal laws and institutions.

Significantly, it was a given in Dred Scott's world that any white person was in a position of authority over any black person. In Speak Right On, Dred Scott encounters a group of white circus performers who physically harass him and humiliate him with impunity, knowing that society will not stop or sanction them (p. 131-132). Not long thereafter, he argues with Gran in their hottest disagreement in the book, and the argument is sparked by the fact that Master Peter Blow did not give Dred papers for his safe transport over Alabama roads patrolled by slave catchers (p. 140-147). Had he been stopped, he might easily have been beaten, kidnapped, or killed. Later, while still a newcomer to St. Louis, Dred witnesses the physical and emotional abuse of slaves who pause to watch a building being erected (p. 179-180). The only objection raised from the whites in the crowd toward the white abuser is that his words and actions have distressed white ladies.

Of course, the reality is that slaves weren't like any other class of property. Owners didn't hate their crops or fear their jewelry; there were no cautionary tales told about demon cattle or evil pigs. 

So when blacks ceased being property, the prejudice about them remained intact. Whites continued to regard blacks with fear and loathing. Throughout Reconstruction and Jim Crow, blacks were routinely beaten, lynched, or burned off the land for minor infractions against whites—even for the "offense" of simply being black. Police, vigilantes, the KKK, and all-white "citizens" councils perpetrated this murder and destruction of property. History is absolutely clear that this abuse continued from the nineteenth century, through the twentieth, and still exists today.

Yes, there are fewer vigilantes, the KKK has been driven into shadowed corners of society, and many groups that are mostly white strive to include one or two "persons of color." In many modern police forces, there is a conscious commitment to having officers "look" more like the communities they serve and protect. This means black officers in black neighborhoods. Sometimes it even means civilians sit on the police review board.

This is a step in the right direction, but applying makeup to the complexion of a group will never cover the ugly truth of unequal treatment. Blacks today continue to face prejudice, irrational fear, and retaliation or even death when they question law enforcement and the justice system. They face it at the hands of trained officers and elected officials, and they face it at the hands of vigilantes.

One solution, I believe, is to promote equality among racial and ethnic groups—in ways we may not be thinking of. For example, until America more fairly educates, houses, feeds (and here I include water), and cares for the health of blacks, we will not have blacks equally in positions of authority. White citizens, how many black teachers have you had? How many black doctors have cared for you? How many black officers have you interacted with? How many black judges do you know? Was the person who married you black? Have you ever consulted a black lawyer? Have you ever met a black farmer? Did you ever have a black boss? How many black authority figures can you count in your life?

This matters, because black authority figures can help whites pull away from dread and hostility—for the simple reason that it's difficult to sustain hatred for the teacher that opens up possibilities; for the doctor who delivers your baby; for the officer who protects you from a mugging; for a judge who rights a wrong; for the preacher who marries you. 

Had officer Wilson pulled away, Michael Brown might still be alive.

Toward the end of the transcript, someone asks Wilson why he didn't use his car to defend himself, why he didn't pull away. He answered, "We're trained not to run away from a threat. . . . That never entered my mind to flee." Presumably, police are similarly not trained to see themselves as a threat, or to understand how they are perceived by others as a threat, or to anticipate how they themselves escalate situations until the outcome is tragic.

Slavery's legacy of physical and emotional abuse toward blacks is not peculiar to our police—many whites contribute to the dynamic—but in a just society our law enforcement officers especially should be prohibited, through training and sanctions, from unfair treatment based on racial stereotypes. 

Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Hi Jeannette - I'm really glad this phrase/idea struck a chord with you, because it's not something I hear much about in discussio... Read More
Monday, 01 August 2016 13:44
  9492 Hits

I'm discouraged

That whites and blacks have vastly different cultural experiences of being American is well established, with blacks generally getting the worst of the bargain. Significantly, our differences remain caged off. Opportunities for experiencing anything outside the cage are locked away, precisely because we are all conditioned to react to skin color; we can't not react to this otherwise meaningless factor.

In this blog, I have tried various approaches to stimulating conversations on race, looking for keys that will open our cages. Starting with Speak Right On, I've tried to point out how Dred Scott remains relevant today, and why.

I have posted comments to online articles and then reported on those "conversations"—a nice word for what amounts to, in most cases, people barking from behind a metal grill that blocks broader perceptions and understanding (me included).

I have reiterated news reports and statistics, because we need to know the facts before we engage in meaningful talk.

And I have tried to understand some of the emotional and psychological underpinnings of what works and what doesn't.

But I get discouraged. News on this topic is typically depressing, horrifying—and it's overwhelming in its frequency and magnitude.

In any given week, I read articles from a variety of sources that report (progressively and conservatively) on racial issues. I watch documentaries and "town hall" meetings when they're aired. I buy books, like Keeanga-Tamahtta Taylor's From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (which I recommend). And I often have discussions with others in my personal circle.

This week, I watched President Obama on ABC answering questions directly pertaining to recent killings of black citizens and white police officers. He seemed a bit overwhelmed himself. I guess he was trying to be balanced, trying to avoid stoking emotions that are tender and volatile. But he seemed vague and evasive, and I felt disappointed by the absence of two things I've often admired in him—leadership and inspiration.

I'm left feeling, today, at this point in time, that maybe words and talking just aren't a strong enough tool for the job. Worse, I don't know that there is a tool that can do the job of creating more unity and less divisiveness when it comes to race.

Thankfully, I'm pretty confident this mood will lift; I've been down this rabbit hole before. 

Part of me realizes that this bleak perspective also belongs to the conversation. . . .

And as soon as I accept this thought and this feeling, room is made for more creative thoughts: imagine how often black people have felt this way, exhausted from the effort of trying to make the world accept that they matter?

I mean it: try to imagine just that. 

Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Ah, the support and the wisdom of the Dalai Lama are very uplifting. I am grateful. And this morning, like a prairie dog, I am pok... Read More
Sunday, 17 July 2016 16:51
Mary Neighbour
Hi Jeannette, I just went to the Journal's website and read that article you mentioned. Thanks for sharing that. I respect the per... Read More
Sunday, 17 July 2016 19:47
Mary Neighbour
Oh my, Jan, you raise a number of good points. It is heartening to learn how others deal with racism constructively. And you're ri... Read More
Sunday, 17 July 2016 20:43
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Do small moments of micro-aggression build to mass murder?

This has been a faith-shattering week. The aggressions have been major and overwhelming. Another murdered black man in Louisiana. Another murdered black man in Minnesota. Another peaceful protest turned into a bloody slaughter—this time of police officers: 5 dead, 2 injured, as well as 2 civilians injured.

What has led up to this? Well, in the week preceding the murders in Dallas, there was quite a bit of everyday bloodshed:

  • July 6: Philando Castile in Minnesota
  • July 5: Alton Sterling in Louisiana
  • July 4: Delrawn Small in New York
  • July 2: Jai Williams in North Carolina
  • June 30:Kawme Patrick in Ohio

And these are just the black men killed by police in the week of June 30 – July 6. The Guardian reports that 24 men and women were killed by officers during these 7 days.

Yeah, yeah: many more whites are killed than blacks. But when you factor in those killed per million, then you see that the ratio of black-skinned citizens to white-skinned citizens is more than double:

  • 3.40 Native American
  • 3.25 Black
  • 1.59 Hispanic/Latino
  • 1.41 White
  • 0.56 Asian/Pacific Islander

And if you're anyone whose skin isn't white, you're nearly six times as likely to be killed by a police officer than a white person.

How have things gotten this bad? I used the phrase "faith-shattering" above not because I have faith in a god (I don't) but because I have faith in our human ability to overcome our innate destructiveness. But this week's events, playing out under the big top of our presidential campaign, makes that faith falter. I despair. Is there anything I—or any single person—can do against this flood of racial violence?

Then today a friend shared a poem with me.

Poet Claudia Rankine has made it her mission to point out the many small moments of aggression that go unchallenged—the racial slur, treating someone as if they were invisible, applauding bigots—and to challenge them. The following is from her book Citizen, an excerpt from "You are in the dark, in the car . . .":

Poet Claudia Rankine; photo by John Lucas

You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.

You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having.

Why do you feel okay saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, be propelled forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.

As usual you drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said. It is not only that confrontation is headache producing; it is also that you have a destination that doesn't include acting like this moment isn't inhabitable, hasn't happened before, and the before isn't part of the now as the night darkens and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.

by Claudia Rankine
Time indeed "shortens between where we are and where we are going," and each of us better step on the brake to slow things down.

Taking a lesson from Ms. Rankine, the next time you hear someone express a racial slur, stand firm and ask, "Why do you feel okay saying that to me?"

Just try it. Stay calm. Be firm. Keep your voice level.

If the other person sneers or attacks verbally, you can conclude the confrontation by saying, "It's not okay to say that to me. I want you to know that. Goodbye."

If you think they might listen to your views, take it one step further: "Your complaint about being obliged to hire a minority insinuates that a person of color would underperform and be of lesser value than a white person. Is that how you really feel?"

If they back-peddle, retract the statement, try to explain that of course they are not prejudiced, you can point out that many reasonable people would hear their comment the way you have. Tell them that words matter. Ask them to articulate their thoughts more carefully.

And if you're really brave, admit that you, too, have had to examine your own values. You, too, have let racial stereotypes enter into your thoughts and words.
  • There was that time you went to a new dentist, and he was black, and you know that your eyes immediately registered surprise. And you saw that he saw it.

  • There was a time when you told a joke that was disrespectful of Native Americans.

  • There was a time when you were rear-ended by a Mexican and before you could stop it, the thought flashed through your mind: oh god, I hope he's insured.

So I think this is what I can do: I can resist the urge to "drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said." I can slow down and contemplate "where we are and where we are going." And I can choose to change direction.

So can you. Take the bull--you know what I mean--by the horns.

Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Jeannette, I so appreciate your attention and contribution to these blogs. Your words, "in a kind and caring way," deserve to be h... Read More
Sunday, 10 July 2016 17:53
Mary Neighbour
Welcome back, Maxine, and thanks for raising the point about gun control, the lack of which is a major contributing factor to this... Read More
Sunday, 10 July 2016 18:33
Lloyd Carter
Thank you, Mary, for once again sharing your wise and inspiring words on your Speak Right On blog. The poem by Claudia Rankine an... Read More
Monday, 11 July 2016 18:06
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What might Dred say?

Dred Scott has been mentioned in the news again, in connection to the Louisiana legislature last month. A bill introduced by state Rep. Valarie Hodges (R) would have required school students to recite a passage from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence on a daily basis. It was withdrawn and tabled after opposition from two state representatives.

I was curious to know who objected to the words all men are created equal—and why. The leading voice of dissent was Rep. Barbara Norton (D), and I had to read several reports before finding some answers to my questions.

First I read a Forbes article, which laid out the who, what, where, and when—but not the why. As quoted, Norton's complaint and argument were hard to understand:

One thing I do know is, all men are not created equal. . . . When I think back in 1776, July the 4th, African-Americans were slaves, and for you to bring a bill to request that our children will recite the Declaration, I think is a little bit unfair to us to ask those children to recite something that's not the truth.

Barbara Norton

The Declaration of Independence is not the truth? Surely a state representative knows the difference between an ideal and a reality—right? Possibly, I thought, her real intent was obscured by her confusing syntax and weak delivery.

Clicking on links within the article, I learned more at the website of the Independent Journal, which added this part of Norton's argument:

In 1776, Dr. King was not even born. African-Americans were in slavery, so since they were in slavery, the Declaration of Independence say we are 'all created equal,' we were not created equal because in 1776, July the 4th, I nor you nor any of us were born, nor was Dr. King born, so we were in slavery, and to have our children repeat again and again documents that were not even validated, I don't think that that's fair.

Barbara Norton

This was singularly unenlightening, only adding to my confusion. What had Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to do with this? I later learned that Rep. Hodges had invoked Dr. King's praise of the Declaration of Independence, but still, it's unclear why his birth is tangled up with 18th-century slavery. Besides, being enslaved doesn't establish that we aren't created equally, just that we aren't treated equally. And documents not being validated—what does that mean?

I was leaning toward the conclusion that Rep. Norton lacked the ability to make a cogent argument; whether or not she actually had one still intrigued me. It seemed plausible that the reporting on Norton's argument was biased, especially since the article's wrap-up merely added a vague and belligerent call to action, quoting from "Fox and Friends":

For her [Norton] to be attacking the Declaration of Independence, that is attacking liberty, that is attacking freedom. People should not let her get away with this.

Deneen Borelli
Deneen Borelli

This notion that we cannot criticize our Constitution or government without being unpatriotic is another red herring, adding nothing but vitriol.

Still seeking clarification about Norton's position on this matter, I wound up at the Breitbart website, whose article interpreted Norton's statements as an argument "that school children should not be required to recite words that were written during a time in history when slavery was prevalent." That's clear, but I'm not sure that's what the Representative was actually saying, or trying to say. If indeed that was part of her argument, why didn't someone point out the illogic of abandoning ideals simply because we fail to live up to them?

Illumination was finally shed by Rep. Pat Smith (D), who sided with Norton and described how the Declaration of Independence was used against millions of black citizens in so-called "voter eligibility" tests:

They [blacks registering to vote] had to recite this [the Declaration] at a poll place in order to be able to vote. That was unconscionable that individuals could not vote without having to repeat parts of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. That was a requirement by the southern states. It was used against them.

Pat Smith

Now, that's an argument I can make sense of. Up until reading this paragraph, I was not taking into account this unsavory piece of our history. But I could see Rep. Smith's point, that for some people, reciting the Declaration of Independence carried this taint from a time in history when the words of the Declaration were used to disenfranchise citizens. Moreover, I read on at The Times Picayune and learned that Norton offered an amendment to this bill that proposed students recite instead from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which grants citizenship and equal protection to those born in this country—a seemingly reasonable and justifiable alternative.

Yet Rep. Hodges chose to withdraw the bill and table it, without hearing argument on Rep. Norton's amendment (or anyone else's). So my final question became: are these people who are interested in educating students in history and civics, or are they using the education of children for a perverted aim?

This episode is a terrible example of democracy in action, reflecting badly on our elected representatives and our journalists. Maybe I shouldn't be spending time trying to parse this poorly argued debate, but I'm motivated by something disturbing: the prevalence of rhetoric that is purely reactionary, steeped in ignorance, expressed in politics, with real consequences that are usually detrimental to citizens.

The take-away lesson for me is that we Americans need better education. We need to learn to think more comprehensively and critically, and we need to learn to articulate our positions in a clear and unambiguous manner. 

We don't need to be eloquent; we just need to be honest. As Dred Scott said in Speak Right On

Sure 'nough, freedom's skinny. Skinny and sickly and weak. But I reckon there may yet be ways to feed it and fatten it and make it grow strong.

Dred Scott, Speak Right On (p. 230)
Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Hi Jeannette, Thanks for taking my call to action seriously. I am certain that you do all you can to fatten equality, freedom, an... Read More
Sunday, 03 July 2016 20:17
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I was wrong

It's so difficult to say the words I was wrong—and mean them, feel them. Partly it must be rooted in childhood, when a parent says, "Bad girl!" Whatever the roots of this aversion, it seems to me that it's universal: we humans don't like harboring negative feelings about ourselves.

So, yes, it's difficult. But it's also sometimes necessary to say "I was wrong"; otherwise, the damage done by the wrong is imprisoned, barring any chance for real, true contact with others. This applies to interpersonal relationships and to our relationships with leaders and politicians, though it seems nearly impossible for politicians to utter this phrase. And I think this accounts for a lot of the falseness in political life and is partly why politicians so often don't seem like "real people." Our political leaders are guilty of, among other things, the mass incarceration of harms done. These are locked away, apparently on death row, never again to see the light of day. 

There are millions of examples of this throughout our American history, but most recently, in this presidential campaign season, Bill and Hillary Clinton come to mind. During the Clinton presidency of the 1990s, Bill Clinton's "three-strikes" policy led to the mass incarceration of young black men. And Hillary used that phrase super-predators in the mid-1990s to refer to some youthful black criminals. Some Black Lives Matter activists have paroled that particular harm, and in February 2016, a young woman disrupted a fundraising talk by Hillary Clinton, demanding an apology on behalf of youth of color. Watch the video on YouTube.

Clinton's response to the disrupting woman starts out reasonably enough: "We'll talk about it." But as the woman continues to press for an apology, Clinton moves from being dismissive to being combative, until the young woman is escorted from the room. Once the woman is gone, Clinton returns to being dismissive. 

In a follow-up video, the young woman explained that she wanted Clinton to take responsibility for the ways in which she (Clinton) has been complicit in contributing to the problems of mass incarceration and contemptuous racial stereotypes.

The dynamic on display in these two videos is familiar to all of us. I'm sure we've each been in the position of pressing for an apology as well as the position of defensively sidestepping accountability.

Further, Kevin E. Hooks argues that blaming the Clintons today for policies of the 1990s ignores important context:

[O]ur rear-view vision is clouded as we blindly reach back for historical liability that scapegoats two individuals while disregarding those of us who either stood by and did nothing or begged for crime reduction....

I continuously say "we," because we wanted change, we wanted solutions and we wanted a president to lead the change and be tough on crime. And now that the pain and urgency we felt has dulled, we want to make Hillary Clinton culpable for everything that went wrong....

If we focus our energy and efforts on assigning blame rather than forcing long-term systemic change, we do a disservice to the poor, the black and the brown who still languish unnecessarily in the hundreds of for-profit correctional facilities. Of greater importance, we fail to recognize a valuable teaching moment. One that begins with honest self-reflection.

Kevin E. Hooks

While I do agree with Mr. Hooks, I also think the teaching moment can be extended. If we can find the courage to step out from behind our defenses, then we have the opportunity for real, true connection with others. If we hide behind our defenses and lock away our empathy to another's sense of wrong, the connection never happens, and the hurt never heals.

Paring down these complex issues to just the single instance of Hillary Clinton calling black youths "super-predators," I have to ask: Does she acknowledge that her words caused harm by inflating racial stereotypes? And if she doesn't, why not? Is it because she can't tolerate the feeling of being wrong, or does she have some justification to offer? And even if she has a justification, can't she acknowledge this young woman's sense of being wronged? Where is Clinton's empathy? 

I doubt Clinton will ever answer any of these questions, but I've got a suggestion: maybe Clinton could work up to I was wrong by saying something less uncomfortable, like: "I have learned more since then. Then, my focus was on decreasing rates of crime and violence. Now, my focus is broader, and I understand more about the fallout that occurred in the wake of our efforts to curb crime. I didn't anticipate that my words would fuel racist action and racist policies. I regret that my words were used that way, and I do apologize to black youth who have been harmed by the incendiary phrase super-predator

It comes down to, among other things, taking responsibility for one's thoughts, feelings, actions, and speech . . . and it includes saying I'm sorry to those we've hurt—even when the hurt is entirely unintentional.

Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
I'm curious, Jeannette: are women more likely or better equipped to ferret out truth ? I know you have studied and written on gend... Read More
Sunday, 01 May 2016 20:13
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Sold down the river

When we¹ve been betrayed, a common expression is ³I was sold down the river.² This traces back to the historical circumstances through which Dred Scott lived while in St. Louis, Missouri. Slaves in St. Louis were permitted to sue in the courts for freedom, under the doctrine ³once free, always free²‹and hundreds took advantage of this and successfully moved out of enslavement. For example, Dred Scott was taken by his owner, John Emerson, into the state of Illinois, where slavery was illegal, and into the Wisconsin Territory, where slavery was prohibited by an act of Congress. When Scott returned to St. Louis, still as Emerson¹s slave, he learned about ³once free, always free,² and he brought a suit in the St. Louis District Court. Though he was successful in the lower court, the US Supreme Court ultimately denied his freedom. Just try to imagine how betrayed he must have felt when the Supreme Court ruled against him. I imagined, in Speak Right On, that having clung to and fought for freedom for eleven years, Harried and Dred Scott would not relinquish the dream. They would continue seeking freedom. But Dred was consumptive and unable to run, so he would have had to convince Harriet to leave without him, to lead their two daughters to freedom. Harriet speaks: - ³I don¹t know iffen I can really leave you‹it¹s what I fear most in the whole world.² - Still stroking her hair, Dred asked, ³And what is it you most hope for in the world?² - ³That we can stay a family.² - He nodded, and finally the tears sprung to his eyes and he answered, ³That¹s how it be sometimes. To get what you most want, you got to face what you most fear.² A recent story by Willis Ryder Arnold for St. Louis Public Radio highlights the risks involved for slaves such as Scott. If a slave lost his suit in court, he was often sold downriver to slavers in Mississippi and Louisiana, which were much harsher slave environments than St. Louis. There were also risks for the lawyers who represented the slaves, because they typically were not paid and often suffered a backlash among their peers. The difficulties of obtaining freedom through the courts will soon be commemorated in a sculpture by Preston Jackson (see sketch above, left). The Freedom Suits Memorial will be erected in the St. Louis Civil Courts building, and the artist intends to depict how hard and steep were the challenges. The article also includes quotes and a video clip by Judge David C. Mason, who conceived of commissioning the work. He read a line from the jury in the Scott case, which I had never heard before: ³White man, you have lost your power over this slave. He is now a free person to live in this city, own property, and have all the rights granted to other free persons or at least other free slaves,² Mason said. Despite the caveat, just imagine how wonderful those words would be to a man enslaved.

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Burn down the icons

Prison-wall art: NM State Penitentiary

We humans create icons in many ways, representing numerous and varied ideals. In its strictest sense, an icon is a depiction of Jesus or Mary or other Christian figures. Broadly, however, we use the word to refer to someone or something that is a symbol of what is valued morally, culturally, and historically.

Dred Scott has been called an icon of American history, and I understand this to mean he is emblematic of a particular chapter of our history—namely, enslaved people's struggle for freedom. Without having to be told, we understand that he is not a symbol of all US history, just what is reflected from his life upon our history.

In contrast, Chief Justice Taney, who ruled against Dred Scott and declared that descendants of Africans were "so far inferior [to descendants of Europeans, i.e., white Americans] that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect," is not often referred to as an icon. His 1857 opinion—and its consequences—are almost unanimously reviled today. Nevertheless, there exists a large, prominently situated statue of him in front of the State House in Annapolis, Maryland.(Taney was born and raised in Maryland.)

The removal of Taney's statue is being debated, much as many other national symbols of slavery are being contested—such as flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina State House. The objection to the Taney statue rests on the question: why should Maryland and the nation memorialize a man whose Supreme Court decision upheld slavery? While scholars have pointed to other, admirable judicial accomplishments of the man, it remains true that he is remembered only for the 1857 decision in Scott v. Sanford.

So how do we answer the question surrounding his statue?

In a guest column for the Annapolis Gazette (March 7, 2016), Joe Slaughter wrote about the circumstances in 1872 giving rise to the statue:

It was the height of Reconstruction, as Americans fought (literally) over the integration of newly freed slaves and previously free persons of color into the American polity. Just months after Maryland dedicated Taney's statue, 105 African-Americans and three white Americans died in the infamous Colfax Massacre, when white vigilante Democrats attacked black Republican freedmen and militia over the results of a contested election in Grant Parish, Louisiana.

Noted historian of the 19th century Eric Foner considers Colfax the "bloodiest single instance of racial carnage in the Reconstruction era" (and there were many to choose from during Reconstruction). Within this context, Maryland was making a clear political statement about the project of racial integration by choosing to memorialize the chief justice of Dred Scott in front of the seat of state authority. (Emphasis mine.)

​Joe Slaughter
Roger B. Taney

Knowing the historical context of the erection of the statue would lead a reasonable person to conclude, as did Slaughter, that the Taney memorial was emblematic of Maryland's adherence to slavery and its racial prejudices. What is commemorated is racism. This is the argument of those who favor removing the statue.
And now the debate gets heated:

    • removing the statue is "white-washing" history
    • keeping the statue is paying tribute to a lie, i.e., that Taney was a man to be esteemed, a fine representative of 19th-century Maryland
    • all who have made history have their flaws
    • yes, but we don't venerate their immorality
    • slavery is a thing of the past; no one reasonably believes the statue represents a call to revive it
    • slavery's consequences are still very much with us, and they need to be understood and discussed
    • making this about slavery ignores the other, proud aspects of Southern culture
    • etc.

A compromise position is reported in another interesting column in the Annapolis Gazette (March 4, 2016), by Phil Davis. Annapolis architect Chip Bohl proposes keeping the Taney statue and erecting a new statue of Frederick Douglass (another Maryland son). Douglass, of course, was an enslaved black man who escaped slavery and became an icon of abolitionism. (Watch a brief video of his concept.)

Stained glass window: NM State Penitentiary

This third argument champions education: Understanding what we are ashamed of and what we are proud of. Learning what really happened and who stood for what. Weighing the historical perspective of yesterday and of today. Let it all hang out.

I favor the compromise position, except—and many of you who know me will anticipate where I'm headed—why not erect a statue of Dred Scott opposite to and in opposition of Taney? Scott, too, is emblematic of the struggle against slavery, and he's been overshadowed and all but lost to history because Taney declared him a piece of property. There would be poetic justice in having them square off again.

Speaking of poetry, there is an unyet extinguished corner of idealism in me, which whispers: beyond teaching history, let's find ways to teach unity, respect, justice, and peace. One of my favorite collections of poetry from my college years was Grace Schulman's Burn Down the Icons:

. . . Unsanctify me.
Erase my feast day from the calendar.
Shatter the stained-glass windows of my mind.

Grace Schulman (1976)
Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Thanks, Jeannette, and welcome back to this blog. I agree that education is key, and yet it seems our educational system is worsen... Read More
Monday, 11 April 2016 20:10
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More thoughts on empathy

Xray of bound feet (Wikimedia Commons)

Warning: empathy is not for the squeamish

Readers of Speak Right On often want to know how I was able to write in the first person as an imagined enslaved person. The differences between Dred Scott and me are enormous. I'm a 21st century-educated-free-white woman, writing about a 19th century-illiterate-enslaved-black man. As I mentioned in my last post, few of us today know what it means to be enslaved, so it takes empathy.

What was the connective tissue, though, that I massaged in order to find empathy? There were several things I drew upon in my personal life—pains, injustices, fears—but the best way I think I can help others understand is to try to elicit empathy from you.

I will tell you a story, and it will make you cringe. This is a true story about very young girls in China, and like the practices of American slavery, these horrors are rarely perpetrated today. But for centuries, girls as young as four were deliberately deformed so that they would be considered more beautiful.

That probably makes you shake your head, but I doubt the empathy is flowing yet. The devil is in the details, and if you can bear to face the devil, read on.

How long do you think your foot is? I measured mine: from heel to big toe, it's about 10 inches long. So I did a double-take when I read that the desired foot length for grown women was less than 5 inches. The ideal was 4 inches. Presumably women in China 100, 300, 500 years ago were smaller than I, but that small?

Obviously not; otherwise, binding the feet wouldn't have been necessary. So how was this "ideal" foot size obtained?

  • First the toes were broken. Some variations stretched the big toe up instead of bending it under.
  • Cloth bindings were next wrapped tightly around the foot, pulling the toes toward the sole of the foot.
  • But of course, that doesn't take off enough inches, so the arch of the foot had to be broken.
  • Pushing the foot so that it was in straight alignment with the leg, a sturdy cloth was wrapped around the foot and sewn shut so the girl would not, could not, loosen it.
  • Finally, you repeat these steps with the other foot.

I don't know what they did about the crying and screaming. 

But I do know that the broken toes, the broken arch, the tiny foot bones, the sinews and yes, the toenails, continued to grow. So daily—and in wealthier homes, several times daily—the girl received a pedicure. Her nails were carefully trimmed to avoid ingrowing, and the broken feet were kneaded. And the soles and arch and joints were beaten, beaten to make them more flexible.And the broken toes were folded back to the sole and rebound, and with each binding the cloth was pulled tighter.

Eventually, for most, the feet became numb. For the most unfortunate, they did not go numb.

Toes sometimes fell off, and that was considered a good thing, because the foot could be bound even tighter. Other times, septic shock and gangrene claimed the life of the poor girl. Older women not infrequently incurred broken hips and other broken bones, because they could not balance themselves in a standing position.

If you're cringing, then you're empathizing.

Now imagine growing up in a world that didn't want your mind to grow; it wanted you to remain childlike; it was happiest when you were stupid.

It hated your personality, any characteristic that made you you—your nature. Imagine the world used restraints as rigid as foot bindings, and it punished you if you ever dared try to loosen those bindings.

Imagine a world that beat your soul in order to soften you, deform you, limit you.

This is how I began to empathize, and I'm thinking most who read this post will also be able to—if they can bear to spend just a few minutes more pondering these questions:

  • How would you conceal who you are?

  • Where would you turn to satisfy your innate curiosity and unbidden, forbidden insights?
  • What happens to an agile mind that is deprived of literacy?
  • What happens to eloquence that has a bit shoved in its mouth to hold down the tongue?
Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Jan, your comment demonstrates why it's important to exercise the empathy muscle, despite our own discomfort: we can make things b... Read More
Monday, 28 March 2016 15:21
Mary Neighbour
I heard a disturbing story the other day, about a family in a restaurant. There were two small boys--one was "beautiful" and the o... Read More
Wednesday, 30 March 2016 15:21
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Can we empathize with slaves?

I watched the first episode of Underground (Wednesdays 9:00c on WGN America) and was not surprised that Dred Scott was mentioned in the opening few minutes. The show begins in 1857, the year the Supreme Court decided adversely on Scott's plea for freedom, and it centers on a particular plantation where slaves are contemplating running away.

Like many new and ambitious shows, Underground may need a few episodes before it hits its stride. Overall, I felt the depictions of slaves and masters were a bit stale, and I wasn't touched emotionally, though the story and characters seem promising.

I've been questioning my own depictions of slavery. It's difficult to talk about this subject without employing some well-known tropes: field hands in dirty, tattered clothes vs. clean, gloved servants in the big house; or impunity on the faces of slave owners vs. despair and defiance in the guarded eyes of slaves. Given the familiarity (thanks in large part to the television series Roots) of such motifs, when I wrote Speak Right On, I felt challenged to chisel out—what?—something that would make these necessary elements of the story, of the history, fresh and relatable.

Although I wasn't always successful, I realized I needed to develop the knack of personalizing the experience I wrote about; that is, I wrote about the emotional and psychological aspects of, say, daily wearing inferior clothes:

  • How would I feel about myself? I remember feeling shame when I was given hand-me-downs that I needed but thought were ugly.
  • How would I feel when I saw or sensed the reactions of others? I remember feeling hopeless and ugly. 

While few readers guess that my characterization of Dred Scott is autobiographical in significant ways, many authors recognize that this is what is required of the writer: dredging up sometimes painful memories so that readers feel what the characters are experiencing.

I've heard from readers who exclaim I helped them understand slavery in entirely new ways, and I believe it comes down to realizing that we are the same, in fundamental ways. White or black, privileged or deprived, we share common human reactions when we are debased: it hurts. When we are humiliated, we feel worthless. When we are stripped of opportunities that are laid out like a smorgasbord for others, we yearn.

But the writer doesn't stop there, because of course there are individual differences that matter greatly, which are rooted in each individual's circumstances and constitution. Depicting these variations is how we build memorable characters. When Joe is beaten in my story, young Dred perceives how it galvanizes the old man, as if the torn-open flesh released his opressed humanity and dignity—and the reader understands, in part, that Joe is suppressing his pain and fear, so that his agony does not add to Dred's trauma.

I believe good storytelling happens in the balance between what is universally human and how individuals exercise their will and talent to live through their ordeals. And empathy hangs in that balance: writers evoke it, readers feel it. This is especially true for a topic as historically remote as slavery, since few alive today empirically know what it feels like to be enslaved. But from our own empirical experiences, we do know what fear, rage, and shame feel like—as well as liberation, union, and triumph.

I look forward to seeing the emotional lives of the characters emerge in Underground, because its story, history, and legacy are important. We all need to be reminded that we need to empathize, so that we can better live with all the differences in our lives.

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Speak Right On: Author reading on the 159th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Scott v. Sanford

On March 6, 2016, I was on stage at Santa Fe's Jean Cocteau Cinema with Maxine Neely Davenport, author of Love Is a Legal Affair. We both read from our books and answered questions, and then we signed books. It was a great event, and I thank everyone who came out that day. 

This film clip is the first of several, taken by my husband, Andrew. Here, I read from "Chapter 1, Upriver, Downriver." I hope you enjoy it. 

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stereoscope |ˈsterēəˌskōp|   noun

a device by which two photographs of the same object taken at slightly different angles are viewed together, creating an impression of depth and solidity.

My husband, Andrew, did a series of juxtaposed images like the one at right. Instead of a stereoscopic pair of separate images depicting left- and right-eye views of the same scene, he placed similar but different images side by side. This one shows the ruins of an ancient cave dwelling at Bandelier, in New Mexico (left), and the ruins of an inner-city building in Brooklyn, NY (right).

We don't see the same thing that other people see, even when we're looking at the same thing. We all know this, but it's not a bad idea to remind yourself every now and then. That's one take-away of these conversations I'm having online. 

This week's conversation followed an NPR story about the Black Lives Matter presence at the US Conference of Mayors, held last Wednesday in Washington, DC (hosted by Robert Siegel, with a byline from Cheryl Corly).  City leaders were set to discuss policing and safe communities, one of BLM's primary areas of protest. 

I think that it would irresponsible for me not to show up here and say that this is some fantasy world that they live while the thousands and millions of people in their cities are experiencing something totally different.

April Goggins, representing Black Lives Matter

Here are the comments following the story:

Charles Tudor

The best way to avoid getting shot by a cop is to obey their orders. The police represent society. If there is misconduct on the part of a cop, it can be brought to the attention of the people that oversee and investigate the cops, but to get that done, you have to remain alive.

Mary Neighbour to Charles Tudor
Yes, the police do represent society. In many towns and cities the police are the only--or at least the most frequent--representatives of government that residents see and interact with. How horrifying, then, when residents see their unarmed neighbors shot and killed in such great numbers. The statistics speak incredibly loud: see In 2014, Canada law enforcement killed 78 people; in England, from 2010 to 2014, police killed 4 people; in Germany, no one was killed by law enforcement in 2013 or 2014; and in China, with a population 4.5x greater than ours, police killed 12 people in 2014. And us/US? In 2014 police killed over 900; in 2015, police killed over 1,000. Our society has something seriously wrong.

Charles Tudor to Mary Neighbour
Being "unarmed" is drummed loudly, but the fact remains that people who cooperate with the police do not get shot, usually. Seeing cops as adversarial is part of local culture.

Ng to Mary Neighbour
Correct! We have many more violent criminals.

Mary Neighbour to Ng
And we have even more people dying from cancer. What's one problem got to do with the other? You speak about violent criminals as if that eclipses the problem of police using excessive and deadly force--it doesn't. They are two discrete issues.

teslavroom to Charles Tudor
Listen to the lady dude.
Try telling that to the family of AKAI GURLY
I mean are you even following this stuff or do you get your news from the precinct press releases.

Charles Tudor to teslavroom
I read major news sources. The NY Times had a major article showing over a dozen such events.

GrandmaCool43 to Charles Tudor
Reply to Charles Tudor: Remember that the older woman who was shot by police (in Chicago) was shot the moment she opened her door, before a word was spoken by either party. She had no opportunity to obey their orders. The small boy who was playing with a toy gun was the same. He was not ordered to put down the gun. He was just shot to death before he could kill a cop with his toy gun. If you read the stories about police shootings of civilians in Chicago, you will see that many of them read this way. One officer was freed because they said that he did not have enough time to verify whether or not the person was armed. In that case, the person did not have enough time to hear, much less obey the cops orders. Doesn't this bother you ? Do you really think that so many of these stories can be made up? The anguish in the daughter's voice when she spoke of her mother's being shot the minute she opened the door was heart wrenching and sure didn't sound like a political comment to me. Her crime was living next door to a possible suspect.

Marshall Ney to GrandmaCool43
This may have something to do with the issue (source Department of Justice):
Blacks were disproportionately represented as both homicide
victims and off enders. Th e victimization rate for blacks (27.8
per 100,000) was 6 times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per
100,000). Th e off ending rate for blacks (34.4 per 100,000) was almost
8 times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000) (table 1).

InheritTheWindow to GrandmaCool43
Don't forget the dude at the gas station who, when asked by police to get his license, reached back into his car for it and was shot because "we thought he was going for a weapon."

Charles Tudor to GrandmaCool43
Maybe we should start including a required course in middle school that shows people how to behave when cops arrive so that they don't get shot.

InheritTheWindow to Charles Tudor
The lengths you will go to blame victims is astonishing.

Charles Tudor to InheritTheWindow
What's astonishing is the level of endorsement of the concept of indelible Victimhood and Persecution as the cause of all these incidents. People are losing their lives because of their exploitation by people who are pretending to be their Rescuers. When people begin to behave correctly when police are involved then these tragic incidents will no longer occur.

Ng to GrandmaCool43
"Small Boy", hardly! Please! He was 5'-7" and weighted as much as a grown man. It was still a tragedy of the highest order, but that does not make it a crime.

Mary Neighbour to Ng
It is interesting to read "tragedy" and "crime" juxtaposed in your last sentence. "Tragedy" makes these victims' deaths sound like a natural disaster befell them; "crime" implies human action and responsibility. Who is responsible for the deaths of Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, and so many others? To start with, the rookie (or otherwise) cops who fired the lethal bullets, closely followed by their police departments and trainers, and then you don't have to travel too to far identify mayors and governors. But don't stop there--this is a fatal (literally) flaw in our society; we each have a civic responsibility to try to address and correct the situation: speak out, vote, protest.

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My learning curve begins . . . and continues

After publishing last week's post, "My Learning Curve," there was a continuation of that conversation throughout the week that I want to share with you now. I like this ending much more, because we get into a real exchange of views and especially what our views are based on. The commenter "Moonchalk"begins by denying my assertion that the Black Lives Matter movement is fueled by pain:

Moonchalk to Mary Neighbour
I deny it as whites have the same "pain" as statistically proven by the data from Holder's Dept. of Justice. Thus, there is no "problem" as the BLM paints it (racism heavily against blacks by LEOs). If one is bereft of the ability to use logic to analyse these situations one is apt to fall for the false rhetoric of a group like BLM.

ALL other problems of X on black violence are background noise (statistically) when compared to black on black violence. To NOT focus FIRST on that proves the insanity of the BLM leadership. Or at least its criminality.

Mary Neighbour to Moonchalk
I'm new to these types of conversations, so please bear with me. I don't know what statistics you're talking about that show whites have the same pain. I'd like know about that data.

About blacks being unfairly and unequally handled by law enforcement, both the Washington Post ("A Year of Reckoning") and the Guardian ("The Counted: people killed by police in the US) have the most recent data--more recent that the FBI or the Justice Dept.-- which substantiate that unarmed blacks are indeed more likely than unarmed whites to be killed by police.

Moonchalk to Mary Neighbour
Reread my comment. The Dept. of Justice keeps all the stats on cops murdering people. Go research the statistics. Remember to factor IN the black violent crime rate when calculating number of LEO on civilian violent encounters as blacks commit those at a rate 500% HIGHER than whites. Then you'll see that whites get shot and killed by police at a rate GREATER than do blacks.

Mary Neighbour to Moonchalk 
I have looked at the DOJ stats, and they are seriously outdated (2003-2009)--such that the Bureau of Justice Statistics "determined that the ARD data did not meet BJS data quality standards, and in March 2014, BJS suspended data collection and publication of the ARD data until further notice." The FBI stats are not faring any better, and FBI Director Comey has acknowledged that the database maintained by The Guardian is the most complete record available. Even the Wall Street Journal (December 3, 2015) has confirmed this.

Whatever statistics you're relying upon have been discredited. I urge you to reconsider your position in view of this, and again encourage all speakers on this topic to re-read the Washington Post article, "A year of reckoning: Police fatally shoot nearly 1,000," where statistics show that "Although black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police this year." Clearly, unarmed black men being killed by police is a problem that needs attention.

Moonchalk to Mary Neighbour
DOJ recently released compiled stats through 2013. That is as recent as is needed. Large groups don't change faster than that. They are there and they show what I said. Case closed (at least for the logically minded)

Mary Neighbour to Moonchalk
Moonchalk, this explains a lot. I have been talking about killings of blacks by police. The statistics you shared from the American Renaissance site are about all violent crimes except murder. It remains true that the DOJ has suspended its collection of stats on murders by police because of inadequate methods, and that this problem is a legitimate concern for protestors.

You have been addressing my argument by deflecting to the stats of all violent crimes (except murder). The more I press you for specifics, the more your argument falls apart. Your "500% higher" statement is false. And the statistics you cite do not address police killings of either blacks or whites.

Take another look at the stats posted by AmRen. It's significant that you rail against black-on-black crime but not white-on white crime. According to the AmRen site, white-on-white violent crime is 82.4% of all violent crime committed by whites. Black-on-black crime is only 40.9% of all violent crimes committed by blacks. Similarly, Hispanic-on-Hispanic violent crime is 40.1% of all violent crimes committed by Hispanics. Therefore, the problem of intra-racial crime is twice as great among whites as among blacks or Hispanics.

I am glad to know these statistics. Thank you.

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My learning curve begins

These online conversations are messy--every bit as messy as in-person conversations can be. Sometimes we talk at each other instead of to each other; sometimes we can't get our point across; sometimes we don't listen well to the other person's perspective. The conversations copied below followed an article from The Atlantic, "A Year of Black Lives Matter," by Clare Foran. Posted on December 31, 2015, it reviewed the Black Lives Matter movement in 2015. The time stamps are meaningless at this point, but please read the back-and-forth arguments, and please add your voice and views to these ideas. 

This Week's Conversation:

Mary Neighbouran hour ago

"There's an absurd quality to the idea of people telling you to be calm and controlled in your pain." Does anyone deny that there is immense pain fueling the BLM movement? Sure, it's easier to ignore or reject or denigrate someone else's pain, but haven't you been helped at some time in your life with a pain that you couldn't resolve alone?

Deus ex iguana Mary Neighbouran hour ago
Yes, I do deny it. The Missouri student who went on a hunger strike was the member of an extremely wealthy family. Virtually all of the incidents of racism at Missouri were fabricated and even if they had been real, they were hardly painful. A "poop swastika" on a bathroom stall door (seen by no one) is offensive to Jews, if anyone. It was certainly a prank left by some idiot. This is the pain point? Who in their right mind would take that seriously?

Mary Neighbour Deus ex iguana16 minutes ago

I'll refer in reply to another article today, in the Chicago Tribune, "Dunbar slayings prompt a rethinking of Black Lives Matter," by William Lee. Among other things, he writes about a high school where 3 students were killed this past year, and he asks what are the odds of 3 classmates being murdered within days of each other. He researched the odds with the CDC: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 2010 and 2012, on an annual basis only one in every 40,000 white Americans was a homicide victim, while the number was one in 5,000 for African-Americans." If that's not a painful reality, I don't know what is. If I grew up knowing and feeling this reality, I'd feel pain, fear, anxiety--and yes--anger.

Deus ex iguana4 minutes ago
I think we are in agreement. I fully support any movement, BLM or whatever, that wants to stop the senseless murder going on in the black community. I will join the movement myself.

Will Yum Mary Neighbour34 minutes ago

Wow Mary,

So you think BLM is dealing with criminal violence in the black community? If so, please give links.

Mary Neighbour Will Yum8 minutes ago
I agree with the author: "The challenge, for the movement, is to stem the tide of violence against black men and women while working to fix what activists believe is a fragmented and broken society. It's an ambition that won't be easily achieved. But as the movement evolves and expands, it has forced change."
This whole article is a review of the BLM's growth and impact, with prescriptions for its ongoing growth. BLM is not centrally organized; as they become more organized, new priorities--like addressing all violence in black communities--will likely be added. I think your argument, Will, is a mirror image of the debate over black lives matter vs. all lives matter. BLM has a legitimate focus. It's narrow for a legitimate reason, and it's to be expected that it will become more broad as the movement expands.

Moonchalk Mary Neighbour6 hours ago

I deny it as whites have the same "pain" as statistically proven by the data from Holder's Dept. of Justice. Thus, there is no "problem" as the BLM paints it (racism heavily against blacks by LEOs). If one is bereft of the ability to use logic to analyse these situations one is apt to fall for the false rhetoric of a group like BLM.

Mary Neighbour Moonchalka minute ago
I'm new to these types of conversations, so please bear with me. I don't know what statistics you're talking about that show whites have the same pain. I'd like know about that data.
About blacks being unfairly and unequally handled by law enforcement, both the Washington Post ("A Year of Reckoning") and the Guardian ("The Counted: people killed by police in the US) have the most recent data--more recent that the FBI or the Justice Dept.-- which substantiate that unarmed blacks are indeed more likely than unarmed whites to be killed by police.

  • 2ndRules Mary Neighbour16 hours ago
    "the tide of violence against black men and women" is from other blacks. until you address that, no one will take it seriously.

Mary Neighbour 2ndRules4 minutes ago
No one denies the reality of the problem of black-against-black violence. But why can't BLM have the objectives of--(1) bringing awareness to the higher rates of black deaths at the hands of police and (2) eradicating that risk in their lives--without addressing other objectives? Your priority is not their priority--but does that delegitimize their position?

2ndRules Mary Neighbouran hour ago

"(1) bringing awareness to the higher rates of black deaths at the hands of police" That number is tiny compared to the real problem.

"(2) eradicating that risk in their lives" You do that by not running from cops, not robbing liquor stores, not allowing a cultural acceptance of violent behavior

Mary Neighbour 2ndRulesa few seconds ago
Your perspective is valid: you perceive violence in black communities to be the main issue. I'm making the point that other perspectives also are valid, especially the expectation that a black man or woman should be safe from police brutality.
The bigger problem I perceive with conflating these two perspectives is that your position implies that police brutality against blacks is somehow justified (or at a minimum, should be ignored) because blacks are violent themselves. You wouldn't, I think, say that all blacks are violent, would you?
Tamir Rice was not violent; Freddie Gray was not violent; Bettie Jones was not violent; Jamar Clark was not violent; Felix Kumi was not violent; and on and on--and none of these were armed.

2ndRules Mary Neighbour3 hours ago

You are opining purely on emotion, I am talking hard numbers. More than the people you mentioned are killed every weekend in any one major city 52 weekends a year, by other blacks. The numbers speak for themselves, inarguable.

Mary Neighbour 2ndRules2 hours ago
We are talking issues and facts. In support of my position, I presented five instances where unarmed blacks were killed by police. Please check "The Counted," database of police killings in 2015; you can find it at You have not given any numbers or references to support your argument that black-on-black crime justifies police killings of blacks.
I can only conclude that you are saying that police can kill unarmed blacks because, after all, blacks kill other blacks. That's not an emotional argument, but it lacks logic.

2ndRules Mary Neighbouran hour ago
I never said it "justified" anything, the two aren't connected, what I said there is selective outrage bases upon a political narrative.2015 in Chicago alone:
2986 shootings
Since 1/1/16: 29 shootings
This far exceeds any police shootings, but you will never hear about it, because it would force him to admit the abject failure of Ron Emmanuel, a political ally.

Mary Neighbour 2ndRules35 minutes ago
Good, so we agree: the two issues (cops killing blacks and blacks killing blacks) are not connected. So, why do you focus only on the second, and use that focus to dismiss the first?

2ndRules Mary Neighbour30 minutes ago
I'm not focusing on either, I don't have a dog in the fight. I'm saying that the outrage is a false political one.If he was so concerned, he would send in the National Guard to quell the problem. But he won't because of political ties and his disdain of anything Military. His gained political capital would not be worth the cost.

Mary Neighbour 2ndRules2 minutes ago
You've lost me. You've responded 5 times in this thread, and now you say you're not focusing on the topic? And in the last two you interject an unidentified "he." I can't follow your thoughts.

2ndRules Mary Neighbour15 minutes ago

The unidentified "he" is his majesty obama, and when I say I'm not focusing, I'm just commenting. I honestly don't care about either type of shooting, cop or thug

Mary Neighbour 2ndRulesa few seconds ago
Okay, thanks for being engaged.

Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Hi Ann, Welcome back and best wishes for the new year. Your conclusion in the first paragraph is certainly supported by this week... Read More
Monday, 11 January 2016 15:00
Mary Neighbour
Jeannette, your comparison to the '60s is a good reminder that America's collective learning curve is not very long, nor is it con... Read More
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 14:22
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Speaking out . . . on a limb

I decided to make a change in this blog: in 2016 I want to submit my comments on other sites, and then I'll report back here on the conversations I engage in.

I wrote my initial comment this morning on an article by Clare Foran in The Atlantic that reviewed the Black Lives Matter movement in 2015. And I'm feeling vulnerable. You see, I used my own picture and my own name. Have I just painted a target on my back? There's a lot of vitriol out there.

Most commenters on sites that I've visited do not use their picture or their real name, and I think that's partly because many commenters are sarcastic, rude, and/or disrespectful. But it's also likely that many don't use their real name and picture because, well, it's uncomfortably personal.

"We're at a breaking point in this country right now," Yates said. [Ashley Yates, a Black Lives Matter activist who helped plan and carry out a protest at Netroots Nation, a conference where Sanders and O'Malley were slated to speak in July.] "We got to this moment with people sacrificing and putting their lives on the line and we have to support each other through that. It sounds easy to remember, but sometimes it's hard."

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Not so silent night

The lovely story of "Silent Night" is that the world changed—was saved—by the birth of Christ during a silent and holy night. Millions have been soothed and reassured by the carol's peaceful, hopeful message and harmonies.

But isn't it interesting that in order for the song to have effect, voices must be raised—silence must be disturbed?

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I read a lot of editorial pieces that express resentment because of a perceived injustice. Here are just a few:

  • Heterosexuals offended because same-sex couples' right to marry has been recognized
  • Jews affronted when a rabbi advocates justice for Palestinians (she advocated for several other wrongs to be righted as well)
  • Trump-ettes blaring about denying asylum, no less citizenship, to foreign workers and refugees
  • And of course, whites indignant that blacks affirm that their lives matter

In all of these issues, Dred Scott invariably gets mentioned, typically as a symbol of a man treated unjustly by an errant Supreme Court ruling.

Let's be clear: no one today suggests that Dred Scott should not have been freed. They reference the Supreme Court decision declaring him a piece of property to be unjust—to him and all enslaved persons of the day—because he had an innate, fundamental right to be free. That is not debated. What is debated is the role of the Supreme Court in deciding what rights are granted under the Constitution.

So here are my questions to those feeling aggrieved when the rights of others are affirmed:

  • Your rights are not abridged under Obergefell—why can't everyone enjoy religious and civil liberties?
  • Are your values so fragile that you cannot embrace justice for all people, even those outside your "group"?
  • Should your fears and prejudices trump everything else? Have you no tenderness toward or generosity for individuals impoverished, oppressed, and threatened?
  • Does your ignorance of the history of blacks in this country blind you so that you cannot understand that Black Lives Matter is a civil rights movement as legitimate as any this country has ever seen—and benefitted from?

We all do better when we help others do better. We all live more freely when we support others living freely.

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Silence the Guns for Christmas!

I am pleased to be part of Rhonda Parrish's Giftmas Blog Tour. She has brought together a couple of dozen bloggers, and today I'm hosting a blog from Rebecca Gibson, an author of a novel set during the First World War. I know you'll enjoy what she has to share . . . and be sure to check out the links below, because Rhonda has lined up some great raffle prizes!

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Recent Comments
Mary Neighbour
Rhonda, you've put the connections together--thank you!
Tuesday, 08 December 2015 19:19
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Necessary first steps

Painting by H. L. Stephens

Among all the other things going on this time of year, there's an anniversary date you might be missing: December 6, 2015 will be the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. By doing so, the amendment effectively righted the wrong imposed by the controversial US Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. John Sanford, in which Dred Scott and his family were declared slaves who "had no rights which the white man was bound to consider."

The Emancipation Proclamation, which was passed 2 years earlier, freed only Confederate slaves. The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, freed all slaves, estimated to be 4 million people. While there was a great deal of work still to be done in order to move our country toward an equal society with freedom and civil rights for all—work that is still ongoing—this Constitutional Amendment was a necessary first step.

In recognition of this often overlooked day, the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation (St. Louis) is hosting the first Freedom Awards Dinner tomorrow, a fundraising event honoring fourteen individuals and organizations that have contributed to civil rights and to the improvement of society in their chosen fields.  

Many readers will remember that Lynne Jackson is the founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation and the great-great-granddaughter of Harriet and Dred Scott, who recently wrote the foreword for the re-release of Speak Right On: Conjuring the Slave Narrative of Dred ScottBoth Lynne and I, in our respective paths, focus on raising awareness and stimulating informed, respectful conversations about race and politics today. There are many ills in society, but each of us can do some good simply by speaking up and affirming the values of equality and justice that should be enjoyed by all.

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