Careful What You Hold High

The world is devastated about the children who have been separated from their families after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. And they should be. It’s devastating. Some people say it’s a political conversation. Some people say it’s a personal travesty. We know it’s both, because the personal is political and the political is personal.

We can probably have reasonable debates about immigration policy. You know, as long as part of that reasonable debate includes the foundation that humans with excess should share it with humans who lack basic necessities. And that we’re all better when we lift one another up. I’m personally a huge fan of radios and jeans and birth control and airplanes. I’m crazy like that.

I also happen to think most people don’t leave their homes unless their lives are so difficult or dangerous or scary that the prospect of moving somewhere where their skills are devalued and they don’t speak the language and people discriminate against them in both thoughtless and threatening ways is somehow less difficult or dangerous or scary. And, because I think that, I believe that if a government is concerned about the number of immigrants attempting to seek safety in their country, they should spend their efforts making these immigrants’ countries of origin less difficult and dangerous and scary. But that’s just me.

So we can have debates about immigration. But we can’t have debates about how we should treat people seeking immigration status. We can’t have debates about whether or not people coming to this country are entitled to the legal guarantees and human rights standards we’ve hung up on our walls in the form of “America is Awesome” posters: due process, parental rights, the fourth and fifth and sixth amendments. If we want to keep our U.S.A. posters up next to those ones with the kittens who are just “hangin’ in there,” we can’t pick and choose who is entitled to these rights and who isn’t, regardless of their citizenship. We either think these things are important or we don’t.

This subject is close to my heart (clearly), and I could tell dozens of stories about the wonderful, smart, and kind children who I had the privilege of helping—but I’m pretty sure there are specific attorney rules about that kind of thing. I will say this: many of these children are scared and overwhelmed. They’re coping with a different culture and language. They’re dealing with the trauma of what they left or how they got here. They’re trying to pass their American history classes and finding solace in art or math—subjects where language is less important. They’re learning English by watching sitcoms on tv. They’re eating McDonald’s after school with the friends they made in ESL class. They’re trying out for soccer teams and dance squads. Most significantly, they’re babies and children and teenagers. They’re confused about life, because all kids are, and they deserve love and support and care.

They also deserve the same legal process any child who is removed from their parents is entitled to—going to court, having the state explain why the removal occurred, hearing the court make a determination about whether the removal reached the required standard, and, if so, being placed in a safe and appropriate environment. Yes, children can be removed from the care of their parents in the U.S. No, they cannot be removed indefinitely, without legal recourse, or placed in inappropriate and unsafe places. These laws exist and I guarantee you the people supporting these recent separations would cling to them if they were faced with the removal of their own children.

People say you can tell a lot about someone by how they treat waiters or flight attendants or valets. That’s true, but I think you can also tell a lot about someone by how they react to a stranger’s crying baby or, you know, someone else’s child sleeping on the floor of a warehouse surrounded by chain-link fence and armed guards.

We’re Building Bulldozers

Ed Sheeran’s Grammy win for “Shape of You” over Kesha’s “Praying” is the story of women everywhere.

I can imagine the (old male) judges sitting in a room listening to all the songs up for Best Pop Solo Performance.*

“Ok, here we have Kelly Clarkson’s song, ‘Love So Soft.’ Good jam. She seems like a sexy lady who’s interested in singing about being sexy. There’s a lot of innuendo in here, but it doesn’t threaten my masculinity. This is the kind of lady-music we’re looking for in a pop song. We can get behind this. (Literally. Am I right, fellow creepy old dudes?) Let’s keep this one in the running.”

“Next up is Lady Gaga with ‘A Million Reasons.’ She seems sad. I don’t really like when women sound sad. They should be smiling. But she is singing about wanting to stand by her man despite his terrible behavior, which is good. I like a forgiving woman who seems a little heartbroken and desperate. I’m torn on this one. Let’s move on.”

“Put on Pink’s song, ‘What About Us.’ Her name sounds feminine, so I have a good feeling about this one. Huh, what is she saying? We’re rockets pointed up at the stars? Billions of beautiful hearts? Sold down the river? This is getting complicated. She’s pulling up all kinds of themes I don’t feel safe talking about at a dinner party. I think she’s not really focusing on what we’re looking for here—a pretty face that makes us feel good. That’s enough. We don’t need to hear the rest.”

“Ok, back to something family friendly. Kesha’s song is called Praying, so this has got to be great. We love praying. Everyone loves praying. Wait, is she talking? Songs are for singing. What is this, some artsy nonsense? Alright, here comes the music. Oh, is Kesha the one who sued her music producer because he kept sexually assaulting her? That sounds controversial. And now it’s getting emotional. She’s really putting it all out there. Not very ladylike if you ask me. I can’t identify with this at all. Ok, that’s enough. There’s way too much going on here. I said that’s enough! This is making me uncomfortable! I don’t care if it’s beautiful! Turn it off! Make it stop!”

“This room is getting a little too intense. Let’s play the last one. Oh, thank god, it’s a guy. Here’s Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You.’ This one has a nice beat. It sounds like it’s good for dancing. Oh, and it’s about how he likes the form of a particular woman’s body. This seems like a comfortable space for us. I’m feeling better already. I have liked the shape of a woman’s body before. Guys, I think we’ve landed on our winner.”

Multiply this a thousand times in a thousand different ways and you’ve got a world where women have to fight against brick walls to gain traditional success and accolades. But fight we are. Women keep creating art and telling stories and sharing themselves. We will do it whether you give us awards or burn our books. We’ll keep singing and writing and speaking. We’re building bulldozers, so you better hope you aren’t holding up that wall from the other side.

 

*I know they don’t really sit in a room together, but nothing says they can’t, so just roll with it.

Not My Answer

Our new executive office has proposed budget cuts that will limit or remove various social and educational programs. Don’t worry, though, it’s just the unimportant stuff like feeding people, providing safe learning environments, and supporting scientific research. I could write a long post about why that is a step backward and an inappropriate distribution of our funds, but other people have done that more thoughtfully, in a more carefully researched manner, than I can do right now. I’m going to just talk about one little part of this conversation.

When asked by the press how the administration came to these decisions, the White House budget director said each change was rooted in the answer to the question, “Can we ask the taxpayer to pay for this?”

The question is reasonable. I can respect a reflection on whether government spending answers the needs of the populous. The problem is the answer. This office decided no. No to food assistance programs. No to public television. No to arts education. No to scientific research programs. No to public transportation support. No to early-childhood education.

I wish they would have asked this taxpayer whether I would pay for these programs, because my answer is a resounding yes. Yes, I am happy to pay to feed people who are hungry. Yes, I’d be glad to fund an after-school arts program for kids. Yes, I want to my money to support the education of low-income and special needs toddlers. Yes, I am very ok with paying to heat homes for people who would otherwise be cold.

I don’t need a stranger to speak for me, to claim to know what I think is best—distorting my thoughts to match their agenda. I have a perfectly functional voice, and I plan to use it.

Found Girls

In 1979, China instituted a one-child policy, meaning that every family was allowed to have just one kid. Because of deeply-rooted stereotypes and traditions, a lot of families wanted a boy instead of a girl. This was terrible for a bunch of reasons, like gender-based abortions and infanticide, and it also created a crazy gender imbalance in society.

Social scientists have long asserted that tens of millions of girls had gone “missing”—as in, disappeared from the population—between 1980 and 2010. They compared the expected number of girls and women against those currently registered. And, it’s true, millions of girls that would naturally have existed do not.

However, some other scientists from Cambridge started studying this phenomenon, and they discovered that huge numbers of these “missing girls,” especially those in rural regions, actually just went unreported. They suspect that between 1990 and 2010 around 11 million girls were hidden from the government. Now, I’m not particularly well-versed in Chinese politics, but I’m pretty sure these Cambridge scientists didn’t really discover this situation. I’d guess there were communities around the country who supported families hiding these girls. I can’t image that 11 million girls were hiding in plain sight without anyone knowing about it. But let’s set that false notion of discovery aside for a moment.

The best part of this story is that there are millions of girls who have hidden under the government’s radar but are now out and about, doing things. Probably awesome things. Maybe also just regular things like reading books or riding bicycles, but those are great too.

Now imagine that these girls, these young women, have taken note of the system that claimed they were lesser than their brothers. With a quiet rebellion in their blood, they might become leaders and teachers and mothers and scientists, set to prove the world wrong. Maybe they’ll start a tiny movement of “found girls” just to spread the truth—the truth that they are worth just as much as anyone else.

Really, though, they could do none of that and still be amazing. For these girls, just living is an act of defiance and revolt. The rest of us have some catching up to do.

 

 

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Someone out there is trying to tell us the press is our enemy. He’s been spreading lies about how they’re our greatest threat and how we must defend ourselves against these horrendous, conniving nerds with notepads and laptops. This person has clearly lived a life of privilege, because there are a whole bunch of things I’m way more afraid of than the New York Times.

Here’s a short list:

  1. long lines
  2. peeling potatoes
  3. tight pants and buffets
  4. commercials where babies talk
  5. trying to close a pocket knife
  6. earwigs
  7. leaning on a railing
  8. over-plucking my eyebrows
  9. making uncomfortable small talk
  10. invisible mold

I could keep going, but I’ve worked myself into a frenzy of fear just thinking about this list. I’m going to go read a trustworthy news site to calm myself. I suggest you do the same.

Walk > Talk

I know most of us don’t want to listen to our current president’s statements. I don’t click on the videos that pop up on my feed because his voice makes me cringe. I’m not accustomed to finding any space in my life for people that serve only to make it worse. Plus, when I hear one of his interviews, a tiny tornado starts to whirl inside me. After that, I can’t be responsible for what happens. Tornados are hard to control.

To keep from going into a wild fury or collapsing into a little heap on the floor, I avoid it entirely. It’s not the most socially or politically responsible act, but it’s the arrangement I’ve made for myself right now.

The bright side of this disaster is that terrible people make great examples for what not to do in life. Today’s lesson: what you say means nothing if you do the opposite. For example, side-stepping into a near-repudiation of recent hate crimes means even less when you’re being coached by the founder of a media group that spreads and supports hate, misogyny, and neo-Nazi politics.

The need for an actual, substantial response against these crimes is real and urgent. Anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the United States. Or, at least, outright and reported acts of hate and violence have been on the rise. Incidents on college campuses nearly doubled in 2015, hate-mongers and neo-Nazis have found strongholds online and are stepping out from behind their computer screens, and there have been 69 bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in the past two months.

This isn’t a new problem. Hating Jews is old hat. They keep on coming and we keep on surviving. And then celebrating that survival by eating a lot of carbs. It’s not a perfect cycle, but it’s got us where we are today. Today, though, is turning out to be not so great. What had been forced to quiet down for a bit is screaming again, and it’s making those of us getting yelled at a little comfortable. In times like this, it’s nice to have a leader who says, “Lock it up, haters. Chill out on the conspiracy theories and calls for mass murder.”

We don’t have that, but he did once utter that anti-Semitism is horrible, so let’s—for just a moment—pretend our fearful leader is consistently saying those things. It would still mean pretty much nothing. If you tell me you’re a vegetarian while chomping down on a cheeseburger, I won’t believe you. If you say you can read Mandarin, but you won’t translate anything for me, I’m going to be skeptical. And if you tell me you condemn hate and violence while bolstering and endorsing people who promote hate and violence, I won’t believe you either.

Basically, talk is cheap. Cheap like a bad toupee or a gold-plated toilet seat.

 

Code Red

I’m convinced the Earth is revolting against us. Last week, China issued a environmental red alert in a bunch of regions because of the terrible fog, which really means smog in this case. Red is apparently the highest level they use and, right now, many areas that aren’t at red level are at orange.

Orange is obviously just below red. That makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is why their lowest level in this environmental rating system is blue and not green. Silly Chinese government officials. Don’t they know green means go and go means get in your car for a drive and that’s certainly the beginning of this pollution ladder? I suppose we all have the right to choose whatever color scale we want. I’m drawn to grey and black, so my preferred scale might get a little confusing. Reporters would be like, “It’s code black on hostile rodents in the city today.” That sounds threatening, but it would really mean rat levels are way down. People would eventually get the hang of it. Still though, I think my grey scale makes more sense than the blue-yellow-orange-red system. Blue could maybe be used as the standard for tracking water pollutants, but it’d have to go blue-purple-pink-red. A red river is extra dangerous and plague-like, so people would take notice. Though in my experience when a river has reached maximum danger levels, it’s really a code murky brown. No one wants to say that on the news.

Well, that’s not where I planned to take this. Let’s get back to business.

The important thing here isn’t the color choices of the Chinese government. It’s the fact that we are filling our atmosphere with dangerous compounds that hurt our lungs and kill our plants. I don’t think anyone in China is reading this blog, and I’m not a climate scientist, but I feel like it’s unlikely my taking public transportation is going to help clear the smog over Hefei. That said, we should probably all care and do our best. Otherwise, we have to just admit we’re ok with kickstarting some kind of post-apocalyptic universe where we can’t see what’s right in front of our faces and giant smog monsters come out of the sky to attack us. Because that’s the next step in this story.

The Mannequin Challenge

I just read a story about a few police officers in New York who smashed a car window to save an old woman. She looked about 80 or 90, with a head full of grey hair and skin covered in liver spots. It was freezing outside, and she wasn’t wearing a jacket—just a beige and tan patterned sweater over a light pink blouse and an oxygen mask strapped to her face. Most significantly, she was completely unresponsive.

Because she was a mannequin.

Apparently the person who had buckled this mannequin into his car sells medical supplies, and Fran was meant to be used for CPR training. (Note: I named her Fran, not the guy. Though I really have no idea. He might call her Fran. She looks like a Fran.) Dave thinks the guy actually buckled her in so he could use the carpool lane. That’s probably true, because who would buckle a mannequin into the front seat of their car? Was he trying to keep it in good shape? Why not use the back seat then? Maybe just lay her gently in the trunk? Either he was using poor Fran to sneak into the carpool lane or he’s going through some kind of existential crisis and was looking for the support of a kind, grandmotherly figure.

I like to imagine that Frank—what I’ve now named the medical salesman—just wanted someone to chat with on his long drives to and from various hospitals and doctor’s offices. Fran was probably a great listener—never judging, giving him a lot of space to really get out his thoughts and feelings. Of which he apparently had a lot. When he found out the police officers had smashed his window to rescue Fran, he was super mad. Apparently he yelled at them a bunch and got a little aggressive.

The police chief, however, adamantly supported his officer. He said that any time they find a life-like mannequin in someone’s car during a bout of freezing temperatures, they’ll break the windows. So everyone be warned. If it’s cold, just bring your mannequins inside. You could set them up in front of the fire and listen to the crackling wood together. You could read a good book (you’d have to read out loud, obviously). You could watch a Turner Classic movie. Probably skip Psycho though, just so no one gets the wrong idea.

Yesterday and Tomorrow

People

We know what hate, fear, and anger breed. We knew it before yesterday night. We know because to really battle against something, you have to see it. Look it in the face. Today it’s in our path, but we’ll keep pushing up against it until it cracks and crumbles.
 
To the women I love: We will do what we’ve always done—day after day, year after year. Recognize the threat and try our best to step around it. Get up every morning, wade through the horrors, and rebuild the world around us.
 
To my friends, all you beautifully unique, diverse, wonderful humans: We will not let a stranger, no matter how powerful, or a mass, no matter how large, tell us our value. We know who we are. We hold our worth and we will support one another as we clasp tightly to our hard-won rights.
 
To all my fellow fighters: We know this struggle. We will keep moving. Let the mantra of one of us echo in our minds when we begin to falter: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
 
Let’s not forget that before us, there were others who were denied. We stand on their shoulders and someone will stand on ours. Let’s rise tall and be strong, so she can get a good foothold.