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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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Memory business

My husband is making a documentary film about an American family and their "memory business"—for 65 years they helped communities with all aspects of photography. Sadly, actual film photography is a dying business. People today "snap" photos and roll film with their phones, and few of those gazillion pixels are even being printed anymore.

A prominent theme of this documentary is survival. The family came to the U.S. in 1939, fleeing the Nazi infiltration of Austria. As the now-deceased matriarch of the family recalled on film her experience of Vienna during the Anschluss, I felt extreme anxiety because, ever since I was old enough to understand the Holocaust, I have always believed it could happen here. And this survivor's description of Vienna under Hitler matches too closely our new political landscape. Chiefly:

"Well, I thought that the good old Viennese, they go with the wind, you know? They're typical for that, Viennese—they will do anything. When they can better their lifestyle, they will do it."

Our human capacity to turn a blind eye to others' suffering while focusing on our own aggrandizement is precisely why Holocaust-like crimes can and do persist. And now, with the Trump presidency, our democracy is vulnerable to being swept up in fascism or autocracy, systems where individual human life and rights don't matter.

Cornel West has long decried American neo-liberalism and squarely blames the Democratic Party for our current political chaos:

"The abysmal failure of the Democratic party to speak to the arrested mobility and escalating poverty of working people unleashed a hate-filled populism and protectionism that threaten to tear apart the fragile fiber of what is left of US democracy."

I have contributed to that failure. I have not demanded that my elected officials wrestle with unequal education, unequal healthcare, unequal pay, unequal opportunity. Thankfully, it's not too late to start, and I will be joining throngs of other protestors. I have felt tremendously uplifted and inspired to see the millions around the globe who have protested the Trump presidency and its policies.

In answer to the question—what is to be done?—Dr. West replies, "First, we must tell the truth." He adds that:

"Trump's neofascist rhetoric and predictable authoritarian reign is just another ugly moment that calls forth the best of who we are and what we can do."

We are all in the "memory business." We cannot forget our unifying principles. The realities of today will be the memories of tomorrow. Let us all actively be our best and do our best. 

For those of you in New Mexico, here are the names and numbers of those you need to call to make your voice heard:

Senator Tom Udall (D): Online comments or call (202) 224-6621.

Senator Martin Heinrich (D): Online comments or call at (202) 224-5521.

Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), District 1: Online comments or call at: (202) 225-6316.

Representative Steve Pearce (R), District 2: Online comments or call at 202-225-2365.

Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D), District 3: Online comments or call at (202) 225-6190.

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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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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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