Monday, September 24, 2018

Protecting Patriarchy

We’ve seen this play before--Republican men scurrying like rats on steroids to ram through a Supreme Court nominee without a full investigation of women’s allegations of sexual misconduct. The old white boys club is circling their patriarchal bully sticks around one of their own--Brett Kavanaugh--who has, in his various opinions, displayed the same anti-woman bias that binds them to a past when women were considered men’s property and had no rights except those dispensed by their fathers or husbands. Make no mistake, confirming Kavanaugh to the high court, would shift the balance to the far right and take women back to a pre-scientific era when there was no respect for women’s personhood, no reproductive health, no reproductive choice.

Thankfully this is a different world. The old white male supremacist ship is not going to make it out of its patriarchal harbor. Because of the #MeToo movement, male Republicans’ rhetoric is a bit different from 1991 when Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas subjected her to sexual harassment. Two of the same committee members, Hatch and Grassley, who vilified Ms. Hill in 1991 are now choosing their words more carefully. They say Dr. Christine Blasey Ford deserves a hearing but they aren’t convincing. The smear-mongers mobilized faster than a swarm of bees, calling Dr. Blasey Ford “confused,” “mistaken.” It couldn’t have happened because she didn’t report it years ago. Haven’t they noticed? Victims of sexual abuse, whether by priests or politicians, don’t report for many years. Some never report. For her bravery in coming forward, Dr. Blasey Ford received death threats and had to move out of her home for her and her family’s safety. Senator Diane Feinstein, who released Dr. Blasey Ford’s letter, has received threats to her staff. Patriarchy in full vicious display. Such big men.

As of September 23, 2018, a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, has come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. It turns out that Republicans on the Judiciary Committee knew about the second woman last week but only speeded up their efforts to confirm Kavanaugh without a full investigation. Senate czar Mitch McConnell proclaimed that Kavanaugh would be confirmed. The clear message here is that sexual misconduct by a rich white boy should just be shrugged off as “boys-will-be-boys behavior,” nothing to make such a fuss about. But they aren’t going to get away with it this time.

Senator Feinstein and other senators are again calling for a full investigation. With two sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh, and possibly more, an investigation must be held. A full investigation. With witnesses who are waiting in the wings.

This is about more than the constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Yes, that right is critical to women’s health and must be protected. But more is at stake here. The sex-abuser-in-chief and his servile courtiers are all out to reinstate power and control over women, body and soul. While decrying large government, these smarmy male hypocrites have no problem using every legal tool at their disposal to allow government to invade the most intimate orifices of women’s bodies. If Roe v. Wade is gone, women’s bodies once again become, in effect, property of the state. The use of physical force to overpower women is rape. The use of laws to control women’s bodies is legislative rape. Kavanaugh is one of their boys.

Imagine installing a man who called birth control “abortion-inducing drugs” on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh sounds like someone left over from the age when dispensing birth control was considered witchcraft. He has already argued in a 2015 case, Priests for Life v. HHS, and in the earlier “Hobby Lobby case,” that religious organizations should not be forced to provide contraception. Obamacare required employers to provide birth control to employees. Women’s health is unthinkable without contraception. Enlightened men whose sense of masculinity doesn’t ride on women’s backs know this is true. These are the decent men whose masculinity doesn't depend on an erect penis or a loaded gun.

Confirmation to the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment. Whoever becomes a justice could be on the Court for the next 30 years. Clarence Thomas, confirmed without full investigation of Professor Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual misconduct, has served on the Court almost 27 years. The process of confirming a lifetime appointment must take whatever time is needed for a thorough investigation, not hustled through committee like fast-food. Women--and the American people--deserved better than Clarence Thomas. Now we deserve better than Brett Kavanaugh. No more male use of the law to control women. No more protecting white patriarchy at women’s expense. No more!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Declare Your Independence with Your Vote

Last night I watched the local fireworks celebrating our country’s declaration of independence from a tyrannical king. Ironically we now have a tyrannical president who, with the compliant political party he owns, is working as hard as he can to undo some of the values and rights so many of our forebears fought and died for.

I re-read the Declaration of Independence. These are the key passages: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Let’s analyze these precious lines in today’s context. According to the wannabe dictator who is sometimes in the White House when not on one of his golf courses, there are no truths. He speaks and tweets more lies than a shark has teeth. In case you didn’t know, sharks continually replace their teeth throughout their lives. The Trumplicans (I cannot call this once respectable party Republican any longer.) have replaced truth with “alternative facts,” following the Nazi dictum that the repetition of lies conditions the less discerning masses to believe them as truths.

Since taking office, hardly a day has passed without Trump’s vilification of the press, most recently calling it the “enemy of the people.” This drumbeat, along with his repeated rhetorical incitements to violence, recently had tragic consequences--the murders of five journalists at the Maryland newspaper, Capital Gazette.

Then there’s the passage about all men (women weren’t recognized as full citizens in 1776) being created equal. Equality was a radical concept to the wealthy white men who signed the Declaration. Some of them, including Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration, owned slaves. They did not practice what they dared to preach, but they left the noble concept of equality that we are still trying to live up to. And we were making progress until the current administration took office and began working to take us backwards and resurrect the worst abuses in our racist history. With slave-master cruelty, this administration is empowering white supremacists. It has violated every tenet of moral decency by wrenching children from immigrant parents and holding them in cage-like internment camps.

Appealing to hatred and prejudice against people of color, this tyrannical president calls immigrants of color “criminals,” “animals,” and “rapists.” He never mentions he is the son of immigrants. His wife is an immigrant. But they’re white. So they’re OK. He called Haiti, El Salvador and African countries "shit holes."

With respect to the Declaration’s “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” the Trumplicans are doing as much as they can, as fast as they can, to strip those rights from everyone except the privileged 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans. To avoid any ambiguity about the Trumplicans' position on people's rights, the United States has withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Trumplican denial of decades of scientific evidence for climate change poses an unprecedented threat not only to national security but also planetary security. Climate change has already started creating extreme storms, flooding, heat waves, and other conditions that will make it difficult if not impossible for many people to enjoy life, liberty or any kind of happiness. On the home front, we have an EPA administrator whose Trumpian-endorsed goal is to weaken hard won environmental protections of clean air and water and conservation of our wild national parks.

Trumplicans worked hard throughout the two Obama administrations to trade patriotism for power. For eight years they worked only to destroy a presidency rather than work on behalf of the American people. In my book, that was treason. Their shameful efforts to deprive millions of people of health care have endangered life, liberty and the health necessary to pursue any kind of happiness.

Trumplicans wage war against women. Apparently they never recovered from the fact that women can vote. This gang of men vow to take women backwards into a pre-scientific era by taking away women’s fundamental liberty to make their own reproductive choices. Repeatedly these men try to enact legislation that would enable the government to control women’s bodies as if they were commodities.

Trumplicans have a problem with that last passage: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Representative democracy is only as good as the education of its citizens. Trumplicans know that and are doing all they can to promote ignorance--ignorance of science, the U.S. Constitution, complex thinking, and basic educational skills. Under slavery, reading was banned among slaves. Anyone who taught a slave to read could be punished. Nobody has dared suggest that reading be banned, but the current education secretary is doing everything she can to destroy public schools.

Trumplicans do not want an educated people who can think critically. In order to stay in power, they need a people who will follow them without question or criticism. And this leads to the most insidious action of all -- suppressing the vote, especially among voters of color, through voter suppression tactics, including gerrymandering of districts to favor one party. In the 2016 election, governmental officials close to Trump and members of his family, even reached out to a foreign government to interfere in our election. Some of these officials have already been indicted on criminal charges.

So here we are on Independence Day 2018 with a corrupt, tyrannical president who idolizes totalitarian dictators, again with the support and approval of a once respectable political party that now seems bent on destroying basic democratic institutions.

In my mind, this calls for a new declaration of independence this coming November. View your vote as your declaration of independence from the tyrant in the White House. Vote as if your life and your country depended on it, because they do.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Keep 'em In Their Place

I am a white senior citizen who grew up in the racially segregated South. Even as a child, I sensed there was something terribly wrong with the way we were living. Nothing made any sense. I felt I was getting stop and go signals simultaneously.

Love your neighbor as yourself, said the church my family attended. But I was also taught I could not love my black playmates in the full sense of love. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” said my church and school. But this, too, was not what segregated life exemplified. Blacks were not treated as whites treated themselves. Aunt Sarah and Uncle Bill, the black couple who worked for my parents on the Virginia farm where I grew up, did not sit and eat with us at the same table. Why? When I asked my mother whose sister was Aunt Sarah, she patiently explained, after recovering from the shock of my question, that “Aunt” and “Uncle” were titles of respect that white children used for older colored people (Colored was the term used in the South during the 40s and 50s.) Well, then why didn't we respect them and eat together and visit together?

I was getting more and more confused. My brother and I could play with the children of our black neighbors at home but we could not go to church or school or movies or parties together. Nobody could explain in any way that made sense to me why we were had to live a divided life--intimate friends and playmates privately but separated in all public areas of life. I would sometimes examine my skin in a mirror and I knew that if my skin were brown I would be the same person but I would not be treated the same.

Whites, some in my own family, said, “Good niggers know their place.” It was mostly men who used this language. My brother and I knew that if we used that "N" word, we would be punished as severely as if we cursed. I wondered about this “place.” What was it? Where was it? It was clear it was not the same “place” whites reserved for themselves. I later learned it was a subordinate place. But why? What had whites done to earn a place of privilege?

The answer, of course, was nothing. They believed their white skin was enough to ensure privilege. It was their security blanket. But to maintain that superstition, they had to invent laws and traditions that punished Blacks for no reason other than the fact that they were not white. Sadly that attitude is a rabid infection in our culture today. Because of the changing demographics many whites act terrified of losing the privilege they believe they own solely because they happened to have been born with white skin. Instead of working to transform society and make things better for themselves and everyone else, they are beating a militant retreat into the racist sewer.

What Roger Goodell and the NFL have done by banning the respectful taking of a knee is the equivalent of segregationalists using every tactic at their disposal to put and keep Blacks in their “place.” The NFL was already guilty of gross injustice by effectively banning quarterback Colin Kaepernick from football because he exercised his First Amendment rights in the most respectful way. Taking a knee is basically a prayerful posture. This new policy takes the NFL to the bottom of the racist barrel. It is offensive that the NFL has chosen to endorse Trump’s blatant racism rather than showing leadership and acknowledging that athletes who take a knee have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to do so. Depending on which analysis you read, Black athletes make up some 70 percent of NFL players. Without those Black athletes, football as we know it wouldn’t exist. Black athletes are in leadership positions throughout sports. The NFL’s action says loud and clear: “Put those uppity Blacks in their place.”

I can’t believe I’m writing about football. I’m not even a football fan. But this is much bigger than football. It’s about the racist dregs of white supremacy being used punitively against Blacks who dare to bring attention to a huge social problem--police violence and brutality that target and criminalize Black men and boys in particular. In a sane world, their protest would be heard, examined and lead to vigorous efforts to transform the culture that continues to criminalize and punish Blacks. It is my hope that entire teams--and spectators, too--will protest in solidarity by taking a knee on the field and off. It would be great to see a stadium of spectators take a knee when the national anthem is played. Democracy is on the line here. Its promise still has not been fulfilled. It would be gratifying to see the NFL follow the Black athletes’ heroic lead toward greater democracy rather than taking us backwards into one of the ugliest periods of our history. It is no less ugly today.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

THE CRY OF JAZZ NEW UPDATED HD FORMAT

In 1958 my late husband Ed Bland and three friends and colleagues made a semi-documentary film they called THE CRY OF JAZZ. This film marked the first time American blacks directly challenged whites about white supremacy and the racist culture in the United States. So committed were the people who worked on the film that some 65 people gave their time and talents freely. First released in 1959, the 34-minute film ignited controversy wherever it was shown. In 2010, Anthology Film Archives received a grant from the Martin Scorsese Film Foundation to preserve the film. It was transferred from the original 16mm to 35mm and selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Over the years, the film has been shown widely in university film departments and film festivals. Now, for the first time, an authorized, updated version is available in high-definition digital format. Bonus features include two in-depth commentaries by Ed about the making of the film.

In 1971, Willard Van Dyle, pioneer American documentary filmmaker and then Curator of Films at New York's Museum of Modern Art, called the CRY "The most prophetic film ever made . . . [because] it predicted the riots of the '69s and '70s and gave the basis for them."

In the film, Ed used the musical structure of jazz as a metaphor for black life in the United States. The film is a milestone in filmmaking by black Americans. It was far ahead of its time in 1959 and is more timely than ever now. Ed Bland directed the film and co-wrote and co-produced it.

Writing about the film, journalist Matt Rogers said: "Relying on dozens of volunteers to pull it off, the short—shot on 16mm for a cost of roughly $3500 and first screened in '59—is a monumental literal and figurative black-and-white dialectic that uses jazz as both lens and springboard for interpreting America's past, present, and future ills (and possibilities.) Black life is seen as a reflection of jazz and jazz as a reflection of Black life, all broken down by Black men who are not only their white peers' equals but clearly are schoolin' them. The blunt, didactic style pushes a jungle-fever tinged (hey, kickin' that knowledge is sexy!) history lesson that not only peeks into ghetto life on Chicago’s South Side—from the streets to the church to the pool halls and jazz clubs—but also presages, among many things, the popularity of rock and roll, the rapturous embrace of jazz by other countries, the American race riots of the late '60s, as well as, believe it or not, the evolution of hip-hop. True, no rappers, but the science of the loop is heard in full effect. Not to mention the rare live footage of Bland's friend, Le Sun Ra and his Arkestra, featured throughout."

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Enough!

School used to be a place for learning,
A place for education,
Not a place to die from a shooter’s gun.
Not a place to cringe in fear,
Wondering if you would be alive at the end of the day.

One school shooting a week,
Since January 1, 2018:
Birmingham, Alabama
Jackson, Mississippi
Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Norfolk, Virginia
Ita Bena, Mississippi
Savannah, Georgia
Nashville, Tennessee
Oxon Hill, Maryland
Los Angeles, California
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Italy, Texas
Winston Salem, North Carolina
Parkland, Florida
Oh, that one made news
17 human lives gunned down
The others not so bad--just one or two killed.
How many killings are tolerable?

Cry for the children
if you care
But celebrate the Parkland students who say “enough,”
Enough of thoughts and prayers
Enough of politicians and the NRA
with their BS and their campaign contributions
protecting guns over human life.
Enough!

Bullet-proof vests should not be the new school uniform
for students and teachers
No military occupation of schools either.
PTSD is not a college degree.

As for arming teachers,
Really?
Add lethal weapons to
language and literature and science and math and art?
And where should the teacher put her gun or his gun--
shoulder holster? Boot? Purse? Locked drawer?
And what if the gun goes off accidentally,
as it already has in at least one case?
Where does fear for one’s life fit in the curriculum?

Are we trying to develop minds
or set land mines to development?

Cry for the children
and the adults gunned down,
And after shedding your tears
Do something.

The school’s business is education,
not target practice.
ENOUGH!

Dedicated to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida, and students across the country who are challenging our legislators to pass gun controls.