Category Archives: Civil Rights

Actions have consequences, or, how I responded to a MAGAing business associate.

Text conversation with a white guy I used to do business with:

Contractor: [discussion of potential project].  MAGA!

Me: Um, please tell me you don’t mean “MAGA.”  Srsly

Not funny.

I thought that might get a response from U.

But I have to ask:  are you a Trump supporter?

I am a supporter of the Constitution, less government
and the value of the individual.  I am not a supporter of
identity politics and victim culture.

Did you vote for Trump?  Will you vote for him in 2020?

Yes and yes

What is my alternative?

I’m sorry, I can’t work with you.  I respect your skills,
but I can’t work with someone who supports an entire
movement inimical to everything I believe in.
I appreciate your past work, but I’m afraid that’s it.

But I vote in CA, so my vote is completely wasted/futile.

Well I’m sorry to hear that.

Yeah, me too.

Signing off.

I answered your question: U didn’t answer mine.
What is my alternative?

You could do what many principled republicans do/did:  not vote.
STand up for your small government whatever,
but not vote for someone who is an admitted harasser,
who is working hard to oppress immigrants,
lgbtq people, muslims, and people with disabilities.

It’s not red vs. blue.  It’s a racist, nativist
movement that scares me for our future.

So:  actions have consequences.  Sorry.

I don’t see him that way, and that’s not what I support.

Those are his explicit policies.  He enacted a muslim ban.
He is banning trans people from serving our country.
He is turning back asylum seekers at teh border.

But thank U for answering my question.

it’s not what you may or may not see; it’s his policy.

So, yes, that is my answer.

 

Confiscating a Dynavox in the name of Christ.

Religious hospitals get a lot of press for denying healthcare to LBGTQ folks and the like, but a lesser known problem is that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act includes this language:

The provisions of [Title III] shall not apply to … religious organizations or entities controlled by religious organizations, including places of worship.  42 U.S.C. § 12187

So, yknow, churches can be as inaccessible as they want and can’t be challenged under Title III of the ADA.  Fine.  Well, not fine, but we’re stuck with it.  But religious-themed hospitals are big business, and dominate the healthcare landscape.  Then they do this — to a psychiatric patient who used a Dynavox to communicate  — and claim immunity as a religious organization:

[The patient, Linda Reed] claims that she was denied the use of her Dynavox; that hospital staff attempted to give her medication she was allergic to; that she was denied timely access to her medical records; that she was denied the use of a telephone to call her case manager (about whom the record reveals little); that she was denied access to a chaplain; and that she was physically escorted off the premises by two security guards. Notably, the hospital’s corporate representative and nursing supervisor, William Fry, testified in his deposition that the Dynavox was locked up outside Reed’s room at night and that she had access to it during the day only “as long as her behavior was appropriate.”

Reed v. Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, No. 17-1469, 2019 WL 494073, at *1 (7th Cir. Feb. 8, 2019) (emphasis added).*  Read that again:  she was only ALLOWED TO COMMUNICATE if her “behavior was appropriate,” apparently as assessed by Nurse Ratched.

 

Image: Dynavox speech generating device; similar appearance to a tablet; bottom half containing a QWERTY keyboard; top half a field showing the text being typed.

Dynavox

 

The hospital in question was Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital, now named “Ascension.”  It claimed, in seeking immunity, that it “will not perform medical procedures inconsistent with Catholic ethical directives.”  Id. at *6.  So I guess denying communication access — including communication with a chaplain — is fully consistent with Ascension’s Catholic ethical directives.

The Seventh Circuit denied the claim of religious immunity, but only because the hospital forgot to plead it.  The court “express[ed] no opinion on whether … the hospital might fit within the exemption for entities controlled by religious organizations.”  Id.  That is, if its lawyers hadn’t been so sloppy, the hospital might have been able to confiscate and control the patient’s only way to communicate, and gotten away with it . . . in the name of Christ.

*******

*I wanted to write “emphasis added, motherfucker” but didn’t find that in the Blue Book.

You want a safe space? How about Yale College, 1924.

Thomas Chatterton Williams joins a long line of whiners complaining that taking basic steps to make our public and academic life more inclusive is Just. Too. Hard.  In his review, entitled “Does Our Cultural Obsession with Safety Spell the Downfall of Democracy,” he argues that it is “fraught” for marginalized people to object to the appropriation of their language or to the use of their bodies as metaphors.  He describes an allegedly new generation of college students who “are ‘obsessed with safety,’ which they define to include expansive notions of ‘emotional safety.’”  He asserts that this “safetyism culture” started when this generation “began arriving on college campuses in 2013.”  These students apparently have the audacity to want respect, to want a classroom in which their existence, freedom, and standing as citizens is not open for debate.  Oh the drama!

You want safe?  I’ll show you safe.  I’ll show you a truly fucking safe college experience — 89 years before 2013.

When it was time for my white, Christian, Southern,* formerly-wealthy-but-still-pretty-fucking-privileged, two-generations-away-from-enslaving-people grandfather to go to college, he found a very, very safe space.** In 1924 — according to a story my father often told*** — Yale College accepted the entire graduating class from Hotchkiss, my grandfather’s prep school.  Talk about safety schools!

Image: Yearbook photo of a white man with brown hair in a suit and tie. Text reads Arthur Clendenin Robertson. Age 19. Yale College. Home address: 12 Coolidge Hill Rd., Cambridge, Mass. Prepared at: Hotchkiss. Activities: Hawaiian Trio, Freshman Cabinet Dwight Hall.  What Granddaddy found when he got to Yale must have felt very safe, too. His entering class of 823 students had (::checks calculator::) zero women.  It also had:

  • one (1) Black student;
  • by my very unscientific count (*cough* lastnames *cough*) approximately 20 Jewish students;
  • one Armenian-American (again, per my unscientific analysis of the guy’s last name);
  • one Greek-American (same), and
  • one (likely) Syrian-American (same).

The “Yale Freshman Yearbook” for the Class of 1928 claimed that the class included six “foreign” students, which turned out to be six white guys who happened to be living outside the country when they were accepted at Yale, for example, Willard Tisdel Hodgsdon from Guatemala, and George Robert Carter, Jr. from Hawaii (remember the year!).  And of course a token Canadian — so diverse!  There were no students with names that appeared to be even remotely Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, etc.).

If the Yale class of 1928 was not safe enough for Granddaddy, he could always retreat to his fraternity or, if that was still too diverse, to his “secret society,”  Skull and Bones.  There, I said it.  A bunch of white guys with weird rituals whose childish need for safety, sorry secrecy, was so profound that my father warned us NEVER, EVER to so much as say the words “skull and bones” in front of my grandfather.  Guess this made our family an “emotionally safe space” for Granddaddy.

This cocoon of unisex, monoracial safety was the default setting for the American university for most of our history.  These white dudes did not have to encounter classmates with different gender, racial, cultural, or linguistic experiences.  They did not have to worry that speakers invited to campus would call their very existence a “disease” or “a disorder comparable to sociopathy” or explain that they were genetically inferior to individuals of a different race.

Sometime between 1924 and 2013, colleges began to integrate.  My guess is that, for much of that time, female and minority students were (and were expected to be) sufficiently grateful just to attend college in the first place that they did not dare or did not know how to demand a space that respected their existence.  By the time I started college in 1978, we were griping about the white male canon and marching for divestment from apartheid.  Even then, though, I don’t think we gave much thought to how welcoming we were to students of different backgrounds.

But let’s examine the whole “safety” thing from a broader perspective. White people’s need to feel safe has given us lynchings, the modern police state, and BBQ Becky.  A white woman felt emotionally unsafe in the presence of Emmett Till.**** His penalty was not cancellation of his speaking tour or criticism in the college newspaper.  It was violent death at the hands of a white mob.

Do students from marginalized backgrounds demanding respect at university “spell the downfall of democracy.”  Oh hell no.  They will help us build a democracy that is truly democratic. But I’ll edit Williams’s question and answer in the  affirmative. “Has White People’s Cultural Obsession with Safety Almost Spelled the Downfall of Democracy?”  A resounding yes.

****

* I’m not really sure how he ended up with a Cambridge, MA address.  I think I know the story, but it’s not really important.  He was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a family with deep roots in the south.

** I hate telling this story.  Granddaddy is not who I am.  Within his generation, the family fortune was lost in the Depression and he was a very deeply flawed, highly entertaining failure.  My father, also a privileged WASP, married my mother, the daughter of a middle-class Jewish family, and my public school upbringing in the DC suburbs was a far cry from Hotchkiss.  But who am I really fooling?  I went to a small liberal arts college that my aunt and uncle had also attended, and then to Yale Law School, which my father had attended.  My path, too, was plowed by white affirmative action.

*** My father often told this story because he lectured widely on employment discrimination and specifically affirmative action.  He would explain “you want affirmative action?  Let me tell you about Yale’s admissions policies in 1924.”

**** Edited.  I originally wrote, “Emmett Till made a white woman feel emotionally unsafe.”  As Anita Cameron pointed out, Mr. Till himself did nothing.  His accuser ultimately confessed that “she falsely testified he made physical and verbal threats.”

The straw ban is the white liberalest thing ever.

Image: two drinks sitting on a wooden picnic table: a beer without a straw and a margarita with a straw.The effort to ban plastic straws is everything that’s wrong with ableist white liberalism in a nutshell:

  • It’s a policy built on emotion
  • about animals
  • that solves a tiny part of an enormous problem
  • by imposing on a marginalized part of society
  • without listening to the lived experience of those folks
  • letting big corporations make bold declarations of solidarity
  • without holding accountable those and other corporations that cause the real problems.

The disability rights movement needs names for ableist dorks equivalent to “Becky” and “Chad.”  Suggestions?

Update:  I love the suggestion of “Wally” the White Ableist Liberal.  Thanks, MontanaBradley!

Dos and don’ts of building an inclusive Democratic party.

Image: photo of woman with brown skin and shoulder length brown hair in a striped shirt, facing the camera smiling.As I’ve written before, I was a very enthusiastic about Saira Rao’s campaign for Congress in Colorado’s CD-1.  She ran on a progressive, inclusive platform, and received endorsements from a wide and diverse range of people and organizations.  Her opponent — the incumbent Diana DeGette — was, IMHO, out of touch and did not really give a rat’s ass about civil rights and, in my specific experience, disability rights.

 

Rao was working hard — and successfully — to make the Democratic Party the inclusive party it needs to be to move forward.

On Tuesday, Rao lost to DeGette, but got 30% of the vote — having started six months ago with no name recognition.  It was an amazing, energetic, inspiring campaign, touching the lives of people who had given up on the Dems as a relevant force in their lives.

It would have been the perfect time for DeGette to reach out to Rao and her voters.  That’s what we so desperately need in these frightening, divisive, Trumpian times.

But no.

“It really didn’t turn out to be a very strong challenge, did it?” DeGette said in an interview Tuesday night.

Seriously?  I’m not sure DeGette could have found more alienating words if she’d stayed up late and hired Alienating Words Consultants.  This is now *not* to build an inclusive party and how — in more purple districts — how to alienate the coalition we need to win in November and in 2020.

But the good news is, Saira Rao and her supporters are not going away.  She’s starting to organize for 2020 and will keep working for progress in the meantime.  Sign up to join her and keep track of this inspiring new political force.

Casual ableism and sexism: still not OK

Sitting around a table with a bunch of attorneys.  One guy describes a multi-party case involving parties who are blind.  He says:  “We call them the ‘two blind mice.'”

My brain chokes momentarily.  I call him out:  “you gotta be kidding me!”

No one else says a thing.

He says, “sorry you were offended.  People have different senses of humor.”

Earlier in the meeting, he consistently referred to female judges and magistrates as “The,” for example “The Krieger” or “The Tafoya.”  Male judges were just “Hegarty” or “Watanabe.”

Called him on that, too:  “Are we only The-ing the women?  Or the men, too?  I want to know how we should use our determiners.”  I was actually sort of cracking myself up with those questions, but appear to have been the only person amused.

Don’t think he really knew what I was talking about.  I did get an eyeroll from another woman in the room for that one.

I’m guessing I’ve been added to everyone’s list of humorless women.  Whatever.  Way too old to give a fuck about that.

Or maybe now I’m The Robertson.

Do you live in a bubble? Yeah, me too!

You’ve probably seen some version of the NPR bubble quiz.  It was published in March, 2016, but has been making the rounds on Facebook again.

It’s prefaced like this:

There exists a new upper class that’s completely disconnected from the average white American and American culture at large, argues Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and author.

Of course, if it’s based on Charles Murray’s work, it gets an automatic 5-star bullshit rating, but I took it for fun, and learned that I’m pretty bubblified:  my father was a lawyer; I’ve never owned a pickup truck; and I can’t identify military insignia.  I’m saved from total hermetically sealed oblivion by the fact that I have had friends who are evangelical Christians, have purchased Avon products,* and am pretty sure Tim would have gone fishing in the past five years if it weren’t so inaccessible.

Why is it, though, that we only think of educated middle-class liberals as living in a bubble?  And those in Murray’s white suburban Christian bubble as defining “American culture”?

Want to see if you are part of “American culture” as millions of people outside the exurbs of the south and midwest experience it?  Take the official ThoughtSnax Bubble Quiz!


Do you have any close friends or family members who rely on a wheelchair to get around (full time; not just at the airport)?**

Have you ever been unable to shop, dine out, or patronize an entertainment venue because of architectural barriers?

Have you ever been unable to enjoy a movie, play, concert, or sporting event because of communications barriers?

Do you consider people with significant disabilities who do ordinary things like work, shop, or dine out with friends to be “inspirational”?

Do you regularly interact professionally with professionals of other races or national origins?

Do you have any friends who are gay or lesbian?  Trans?  That you know of?

Do you know what “trans” means?

Have you ever been mis-gendered or dead-named?  Do you know what this means?

Have you ever read a book, article, or poem by any of the following?

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Dan Savage
  • Laura Hershey
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Stephen Kuusisto
  • N.K. Jemisin
  • Junot Diaz
  • Marjane Satrapi
  • Philip Pullman
  • Jhumpa Lahiri

Have you or anyone close to you ever feared for their life, health, or safety at the hands of the police?

Have you or anyone close to you ever feared for their life, health, or safety if pending Republican “health” “care” legislation were to pass?

Do you know any Jews?

Do you know any Jews as personal friends, not just colleagues or professionals?

Do you know who any of these people are?

  • Fred Korematsu
  • Maysoon Zayid
  • Stella Young
  • Audre Lorde
  • Justin Dart
  • Sarah McBride
  • Bill Lann Lee
  • I. King Jordan
  • Bree Newsome

Have you ever had anyone attempt to proselytize you or convert you to their religion?

Do you have an education that you’re proud of?

Have you ever experienced discrimination on the basis of your race, sexual orientation, gender/identity/expression, disability, or national origin?

Has anyone ever assumed you were:

  • the nanny?
  • the help?
  • the aide?
  • unable to speak for yourself?
  • not married to your actual spouse because you’re the same gender?
  • not married to your actual spouse because one of you has a disability?
  • a different religion, nationality, or gender because you don’t look like they assume people of your religion, nationality, or gender should look?

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a “bless your heart!”

Are you sick and tired of non-disabled, straight, cis, white, Christian conservatives acting all superior because you answered “yes” to many of these questions?

UPDATE (from my astute and perceptive sister-in-law, Terri Robertson):

Have you ever been subjected to harassment because of your gender?

Have you had your reproductive or sexual health choices questioned?

Do you dress based on fear?

Can you walk by yourself in a parking garage without fear? Can you walk anywhere by yourself without fear?

UPDATE II (from my astute and perceptive step-sister-in-law*** Annie McQuilken):

Have you ever had your parenting skills questioned in public because your kid didn’t look or behave “typically”?

******

*The quiz did not require me to have used these products.

**You knew that would be first, right?

*** My parents did not supply me with any sisters, but luckily we have an extensive blended family that provided a few.