Never Forget

Every September 11, I remember the quiet scary days around that date in 2001.  I remember sitting in my office and hearing a street musician outside my window playing the the National Anthem on his saxophone and touching my soul.  I remember that, for a brief moment, people around the world said “Je suis Americain(e)” in many languages.

But if you want to talk memories — things I can’t forget — this brings back how quickly we squandered that good will on an unrelated war that led to far greater loss of life.  And, as I heard someone point out on the first or second anniversary of 9/11/2001, many of the people instructing us to Never Forget The Twin Towers would spend the other 364 days of the year deriding the coastal elites and striving immigrants who actually lost their lives in those buildings.

But more recently, the instruction to Never Forget strikes a sour note with me — largely because it brings into stark relief the things that many Never Forgetters are comfortable forgetting.  So herewith a (likely still incomplete) list, in approximate chronological order, of things I will Never Forget:

  • My Jewish ancestors who died in the Inquisition.
  • Native Americans who died following the arrival of my various ancestors to this land.
  • Enslaved African-Americans who died crossing the Atlantic or due to the lethal practices of our system of enslavement.
  • Workers who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the Ludlow Massacre and others.
  • African-Americans who were lynched during Jim Crow and after.
  • American soldiers who died fighting Nazis and fascists.
  • Jews killed by Nazis and fascists.
  • Japanese killed by atomic bombs.
  • Americans killed in the (ongoing) struggle for civil rights.
  • Americans killed on 9/11/2001.
  • Millions of Iraqis who died after we decided to declare war on a country that did not launch the 9/11 attacks and did not have WMDs.
  • Matthew Shepard and the countless LGBTQ individuals killed for who they are.
  • Marvin Booker, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Ethan Saylor, Daniel Harris, Shawn Vigil, Jessica Hernandez, Michael Marshall, and other people of color and people with disabilities who have died at the hands of law enforcement.
  • The children who died at Sandy Hook, and other victims of mass shootings and gun violence.

Never. Forget.

Micro Aggressor Dramatic Overreaction Syndrome

Envard Munch’s “The Scream.” Description from the BBC: Beneath a boiling sky, aflame with yellow, orange and red, an androgynous figure stands upon a bridge. Wearing a sinuous blue coat, which appears to flow, surreally, into a torrent of aqua, indigo and ultramarine behind him, he holds up two elongated hands on either side of his hairless, skull-like head. His eyes wide with shock, he unleashes a bloodcurdling shriek. Despite distant vestiges of normality – two figures upon the bridge, a boat on the fjord – everything is suffused with a sense of primal, overwhelming horror.My first blog post* — presciently titled “In which I start my new blog by offending everyone” — discussed the fact that ostensibly right-thinking people, who have banished from their vocabulary epithets based on race, gender/identity, religion, national origin, and sexual orientation are still more than willing to toss around epithets based on disability.  And when you call these paradigms of liberal open-mindedness on this insulting inconsistency, you get a very consistent reaction:  that’s just one too many interest group’s feelings to keep track of.

This is such a consistent reaction it needs a name:  Micro Aggressor Dramatic Overreaction Syndrome.

Yesterday, I had this email exchange with a well-respected older, white, male, lefty plaintiff’s lawyer — let’s call him “Joe” because, I promise you, that’s not his name — starting with a post to a listserv about what one person might have known about another:**

Joe (to listserv):  I know that love is blind, but I don’t think it’s blind, deaf and dumb.  (Apologies for use of non-PC references to visual, auditory and speech disabilities.)

Me (in a private email to Joe):  C’mon Joe: “ I know that love is blind, but I don’t think it’s blind, deaf and dumb.  (Apologies for use of non-PC references to visual, auditory and speech disabilities.)”   You know we love you, but that’s really not OK.  I always try to do the protected-class switcheroo:   would you have said something demeaning about a person of color, LGBTQI person, etc, and then excused it as “non-PC”?  Thanks.

This, of course, would have been a good time for Joe to say “oops, I fucked up” or “sorry, I didn’t think about it that way.”  Instead, he doubled down and displayed a classic case of Micro Aggressor Dramatic Overreaction Syndrome:

I was trying to inject a note of levity, although that note might have been flat.

Of course, I did not mean that love is literally blind.  Obviously, the term “blind” is a metaphor.  So is the word “blind” in the saying, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  That refers to people who will not see, in a volitional sense, not to those who cannot see, who have a severe vision disability.

My use of “deaf” and “dumb” was also metaphorical, although in this case it might have been volitional as well.  [Did the witness choose not to know?]**

Maybe I’ll just swear off metaphors.  They can be treacherous.

“Oh poor me!  Instead of thinking about people with disabilities as human beings instead of metaphors for failure, I’ll just swear off metaphors!”  Micro Aggressor Dramatic Overreaction Syndrome.  And of course, it’s the metaphoricalness (metaphorocity?) that’s the problem:  he invokes disability as a negative quality of someone who apparently refuses to recognize a bad fact about someone else.

I responded:

You don’t have to swear off metaphors; only those based on negative associations with protected classes.  I’m guessing you wouldn’t metaphorically call someone an “Indian giver,” or use the term “Jew him down,” or “n****r in the woodpile.”  All of these are metaphors that we have long ago left behind – with good reason.  Disability metaphors are some of the last to go, but I think it’s time to leave them behind too.

Thanks for thinking this through.

No response, which I suppose is as it should be:  we’d each said our piece.  I said this two years ago and I’ll say it again:

I’m done. I’m done being polite.***  I’m done shutting up about good liberals who seem to get every sort of civil rights and civil liberties except the equality of rights, respect, and dignity of our brothers and sisters with disabilities.  I’m done with disability rights as a “when we get around to it” right.  I’m done with people who are willing to use respectful terminology except — *big sigh* — avoiding using the word “retard” is just one step too far toward thought control.  And I’m done with “civil rights” law firms in inaccessible offices and “civil rights” lawyers who don’t hire interpreters.  I’m done.

Still done.  Even more done.

***************

*Not actually THE first blog post — which was, of course, “Hello, World!” — but next after that one.

**Eliding any information that might actually relate to the case in question.

***Yes, I know, there is clear and convincing evidence that I was done with politeness, as a general matter, a long time ago.

Wanted: foreign affairs journalist to cover events in Ferguson, Minneapolis, and Cleveland.

Sometimes I think journalists don’t even read their own articles — or internalize their own hot air.  In this Sunday’s New York Times, Ellen Barry writes about a murder case in India in which caste affiliation gets in the way of justice.  Early in the piece, she grills the local constable, gets pushback, and examines her navel a bit:

Over the past decade, in Russia and then India, I have been asked versions of this question hundreds of times: Who are you to come here and tell us what is wrong with our system? And it’s true, the whole enterprise of foreign correspondence has a whiff of colonialism. During the years I have worked abroad, Americans’ interest in promoting their values in the world has receded, slowly and then precipitously. I doubted the regional hegemons filling the vacuum would do better, but still, I wasn’t sure it was such a bad thing.

(Emphasis, as the law nerds say, added.)  So, cool, I think, she’s just a little bit self-aware about her privileged position and first-world filter.  But after reporting that the local justice system refused to recognize a murder as a murder — based on caste loyalty — she sheds her self-awareness like a gossamer scarf:*

Sometimes it seemed that the European legal system, with its liberal emphasis on individual rights, had settled only lightly on a country fixated on the rights of groups. Political leaders have driven this deeper into the culture: Equality, in India, is equality among groups. Justice is group justice.

Perhaps her next colonial assignment should be Ferguson.  Or Minneapolis.  Or Baltimore.  Or Cleveland.  Or New York.  I’d be interested in the promotion of American values in those far flung locales.

********

*I’m picturing a blonde woman — perhaps in a perfume ad — running in slow mo as the scarf of self awareness floats gracefully up and away from her.**

**Note the latest in accessible images:  the image-free image description.

You’ll Never Be as Radical as This 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf – NYTimes.com

Slowly, over a quarter-century, his relentless agitation changed hearts and minds. … He died a year later, an outsider to the Quaker community he loved, but a moral giant of a man.

Source: You’ll Never Be as Radical as This 18th-Century Quaker Dwarf – NYTimes.com

Seriously? Seriously??? You write about a radical Little Person who presciently opposed slavery, point out that part of why history has ignored him is his disability, and conclude with words equating moral superiority with physical size or typicality.

And we wonder why no one ever gets disability rights.

Happy [redacted] Birthday to my Mom!

Please enjoy these photos of my Mom before she makes me take them down!

Today is her [redacted] birthday, and I selfishly want to share with you some of the photographic evidence of her sustaining love and support throughout my life.  Luckily I look a lot like her, or you might doubt how a quiet and self-effacing woman could raise such a loudmouth, or how an incredibly creative artisan could raise someone who can’t knit a scarf in a straight line, or how a talented musician could raise someone who can’t sing or play a note.

I’ve probably told this story on this blog before, but one of the crucial lessons she taught me was when I was about 6 and a neighbor kid was trying to scare me with a snake he had caught. Mom pointed out that all he wanted was a reaction, and if I laughed, he’d go away.  I did, and he did, and thus I received my first lesson in dealing with corporate defense counsel!

She tolerated my insufferable picky eating, and eventually taught me to enjoy food from around the world.  One of our continuing joys is visiting and finding new and interesting restaurants in DC, Denver, or other destinations.

She was an important part of making me the proud nerd that I am today, reading to us and teaching us throughout our kidhood, and storming the high school and eventually taking over the English Lit education of a handful of us when the school persisted in thinking 10th graders didn’t need to read literature.  She initially thought a linguistics major was impractical, but I’m pretty sure she’s glad I can appreciate her bilingual puns and other language nerd jokes.

Possibly because she grew up as a Jewish girl in largely Christian/WASP DC, she taught us to be proud of our mixed heritage and to be open to those of others.  I have never, ever, known her to show prejudice to any group or person — a statement few of any age can make.

Also I got to meet Mstislav Rostropovich — in our very own living room!

Ultimately, she taught me to be independent and was the home I came home to after my independent adventures.

Happy Birthday, Mom, and so much love.  And onward to more travel, adventures, reading, creativity, and excellent restaurants.

Image: Mom in 2016 standing in front of a leafy background, wearing a patterned black shirt and black pants.

Mom at my niece Petra Robertson’s graduation, 2016.

 

Image: two women sitting at a restaurant table. Mom on the right in a sweater and t-shirt; Laura Rovner on the left, a younger woman with long black hair and glasses.

Mom with Laura Rovner in Boston last week.

Image: three people in front of a gothic-looking building: an man with white hair and beard in a suit and tie; younger man in a tie and red graduation gown; and Mom in a crocheted shirt with a black shirt underneath.

Step-father David North, nephew Christian Robertson, and Mom at Christian’s high school graduation in 2012.

 

Image: four people, all white: young woman with long brown hair; slightly older woman (me), with salt and pepper hair and a green shirt; Mom in black shirt and patterned shawl, and older man (David) in a suit and tie.

Rebecca Smullin, me, Mom, and David at the Impact Fund, 2007.

Image: six people, all white posed sitting on a lawn: older man, white hair & beard; young woman in a pink t-shirt holding a toddler with a plush animal in her lap; young boy in t-shirt also with beanie baby toy, man wearing ball cap and beige polo shirt, and mom, in a white t-shirt and khakis.

David, sister-in-law Terri Robertson (holding Petra), Christian, brother Bruce Robertson, Mom in Boston ca. 2001.

 

Image: four people, all white, posed in front of a house: woman with gray hair in green t-shirt; woman with brown/gray hair and glasses and green dress; man with white hair an beard in blue shirt; younger man with brown hair in white shirt and striped pants with red suspenders.

Aunt Miriam Grabois, Mom, David, cousin Adam Grabois in Boston ca. 2000.

 

Image: two women, both white, sitting on the sofa. Me with short brown hair and glasses wearing a knit vest and khakis; Mom with short brown/gray hair and glasses wearing a green sweater.

Mom and me on the sofa at Mom’s house.

 

Image: four people, all white, posed on the patio in back of a brick house - man with blond hair in dark sweater using a wheelchair, woman in pink t-shirt, older (balding) man sitting in lawn chair wearing light blue shirt; me with an uncharacteristic pony tail wearing a brown sweatshirt and jeans.

Tim, Mom, grandfather Clarence Blau, and me, ca 1994.

 

Image: two white women in party dresses, one with straight brown hair and glasses, the other with curly hair; both holding white roses.

The mothers-in-law: Mom and Nora Fox at our wedding.

 

Image: three white people sitting at a restaurant table; man in suit with glasses; younger man also in suit; woman (Mom) in black dress with gold-embroidered sleeves.

Dad, Bruce, and Mom ca 1990.

 

 

Image: 5 white people posing in front of a building. Mom (brown/gray hair and glasses in a white sweater); older man in suit and white fishing hat; me (short brown hair; graduation gown); younger man in spiked hair with sunglasses in a shirt and tie, and slightly older man in a suit and tie, also with sunglasses.

Mom, my grandfather Clen Robertson, me, Bruce, Dad at my law school graduation, 1988.

 

Image: three white people posed in front of a building; me (short brown hair, dark sweater, jeans); Mom (short dark hair, blazer, jeans); David (white hair & beard; blazer, knit vest, jeans).

Me, Mom, David in China ca. 1981

 

Image: white woman in shortsleeve red shirt holds a small white dog that is licking the face of a small boy in a blue sweatshirt and shorts with a camera around his neck.

Mom, Bruce and our dog, Jenny, 1970.

 

Image: three white people and a dog pose on the side of a boat: girl with ponytail wearing a blue t-shirt and red shorts; woman in red shirt and sunglasses; man with curly brown hair and beard in shortsleeve shirt and brown pants.

Me, Mom, Dad and Jenny on vacation ca. 1970.

 

 

Image: white woman & 2 white kids on tricycles posed on a driveway in front of a white station wagon.

Me, Mom, Bruce ca. 1964.

 

Image: White woman with brown hair in a blue dress squatting down to holdsa toy out to a white toddler in a white dress. They are on the sidewalk in front of a row of houses.

Mom and me, ca. 1961

And here’s the photo that proves we were really a Soviet spy family all along:

Nikita Khrushchev, Mom, Dad in 1959.

 

Trump critique: OK vs. Not OK

Not OK:

  • His mental health.
  • His body shape.
  • His need for a mobility device to get to the G7 photo.  Josh Marshall, looking at you:  “Look on the bright side. Could have been a mobility scooter.”  Seriously?

OK:

  • His policies, cronies, ignorance, and greed will kill us all.

Patriotism as political correctness

New Orleans is finally doing the right thing and taking down statues of famous traitors.  The linked story relates that “opponents see this as suppressing or rewriting history in the name of political correctness.”*  Says one such opponent:

This is American history, whether you like it or not.

I find it curious that the only way these opponents can see to preserve history is through monumental statues of traitors and enemies of our country.  (Side question:  how many of the opponents have American flags on their cars or sweaters or lapels?)

On the opponents’ theory, the only way we can learn the history of World War II would be to erect a statue of Adolph Hitler; avoid suppressing or rewriting the history of the Cold War by installing a statue of Stalin (perhaps the Russians a few extra lying around); tell the true story of all of the brave boys of the revolution by putting up a statue of George III?

No one is preventing anyone from learning about the history of the civil war, individual sacrifice and brutality on both sides, or who these guys were who used to be displayed greater-than-life-size in the middle of traffic circles.  Books — and movies and TV specials, for those less inclined to read — abound for learning just about everything you’d like to know about those awful years.  Hell, even our ignorant president seems curious about what the heck could possibly have caused the Civil War.  But the people we honor through giant carved slabs of rock should not include those who tried to rip our country apart in the name of enslaving our fellow humans.

Preview of coming blog posts I may or may not ever get the energy to write:  Conservatives don’t understand hypocrisy because you have to (1) be capable of rational thought (“one of these things is not like the other”); and (2) give enough of a shit to engage in it.  And, I suppose, (3) not have your entire worldview and sense of self defined by the need to reject it.

*******

*I also deeply love this use of political correctness:  now simple loyalty to country is dismissed as “PC.”