Gong Xi Gong Xi!* Now put it in the calendar!

Happy New Year!  I loved this wonderful post on Lunar New Year by one of my favorite blogs, Fakequity (get it?  Fake Equity? Motto:  “FAKEQUITY IS BAD. IT SHOWS UP AS ALL TALK AND NO ACTION.”)  The author talks about their love of the Lunar New Year traditions in many Asian cultures, and that “One of the reasons I love lunar new year is it the only Asian holiday even remotely recognized in the US and Western society.”  They then lament those times when organizations schedule random events on Lunar New Year:  “The rant sounds like this: ‘One day! Can we get one day to celebrate? Why did they schedule on this day?!?’”

A couple of years back, an organization I’m in scheduled an event on (IIRC) Purim.  We were quite properly called on it, and rescheduled.  At that time, determined not to make the same mistake, I went into my Google Calendar and checked a bunch of boxes to add a variety of culturally significant holidays:

List titled "Other calendard" with checked boxes for Christian Holidays; Holidays in United States; Jewish Holidays; Muslim Holidays; and Orthodox Holidays."

After reading the Fakequity post, I went to check whether this had resulted in adding Lunar New Year and … of course not.  What’s worse, this is the full list of religious holidays Google lets you add.  After that, it has a very long list of country holidays you can add:

List titled "Other calendard" with checked boxes for Christian Holidays; Holidays in United States; Jewish Holidays; Muslim Holidays; and Orthodox Holidays; Regional Holidays: Holidays in Afghanistan; Holidays in Albania; Holidays in Algeria; Holidays in American Samoa; Holidays in Andorra."

And so on.  So there’s no generic way to add Hindu or other religions’ holidays, Indigenous holidays, or cultural holidays of other parts of Asia or Africa.  To make sure I got at least Chinese cultural holidays, I checked “Holidays in Taiwan,”** which helpfully added such things as “Farmer’s Day.”

Fakequity to the rescue again!  Early this year, they created a list of “2019 Culturally Significant Dates and New Years (x15).”***   These are all going in CREEC’s calendar so we can do our best to respect these diverse holidays.  And also find ways to enjoy culturally significant food throughout the year!

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

*Or “Gong Shi Gong Shi” if you were lucky enough to study Chinese at Middlebury summer language school sometime in the late 1970s and become completely unable to read any other, much more popular, system of Romanization.

**Why Taiwan and not China?  Because I lived there for three years in the early 1980s and still miss it.

***In this post you will find another of the many reasons I love Fakequity.  In listing the holidays, it says;  “Below is a graphic to share. … I’ve listed the text below [the graphic] for people who want to use a text-to-speech reader …”

What’s in YOUR drafts file?

Panama Jackson of Very Smart Brothas asked his readers, “what do you have saved in your drafts?”  He then listed ten draft posts, each of which provided a brief insight into a brilliant topic.  (At least the ones I understood; his music references went over the head of this middle aged white nerd.)  He urged readers to share their top ten unpublished drafts in comments.  Here are mine — could only find seven worth listing:

  1. “Unlearning” about all the racist, colonialist crap I learned in high school, and since, that I’m working hard to unlearn.
  2. “Professionalism” which so far consists of one sentence: “I care about all the wrong things — and all the wrong people — to ever be considered ‘professional’ or ‘respectable.’ I don’t belong here.”  Hmm.  Bad day in court, perhaps?
  3. “Announcing WhAMBAM: White American Male Bad Actor Manifest:” My attempt to counter the Trump Administration’s list of criminals who are immigrants.  I’m guessing I never finished because the news kept supplying new examples of White American Male Bad Actors.
  4. “Why my freak-out shows my privilege.”  An undeveloped essay about why my post-Trump freak out shows how ignorantly privileged (and privilegedly ignorant) I was pre-Trump.
  5. “Facebook reactions we really need.”  Disability-rights version.  I did the graphic, but didn’t really write anything

Series of graphics titled "Facebook Reactions for Disability Rights Posts." 1. The words "Stupid Questions" surrounded by the red-circle-and-slash sign for "no!" with the caption "No Stupid Questions. 2. The international symbol of accessible inside a flash-like icon, with the text "Presume Competence, Asshole!" 3. Clip-art of an ankle being wrapped in an Ace bandage, with the text "The fact that you sprained your ankle does not mean you get what it's like to be disabled." 4. Text box with the following letters, spaced by dashes "F - U - C - K Y - O - U" with the text, "The lady in accounting who knows how to fingerspell is not an interpreter." 5. Icon of a middle finger flipping the bird with the text, "Please reconsider your microagression," and 6. Cartoon drawing of an older man with tufts of white hair on either side of his head, wearing a flannel shirt, with the text, "No, your building is not grandfathered in."

  1. “Before ‘we’ were so easily offended”: Picking up on a meme noting that fragile white people used to be unwilling to drink from the same water fountain as black people, so the whole safe space sneer is bullshit.  Ended up writing this instead:  “You want a safe space? How about Yale College, 1924.”
  2. “Fatal Disability Discrimination:”  Calling bullshit both as a disability rights lawyer and linguistics major/nerd (and major nerd) on the concept of “after birth abortion” for disabled infants.
  3. “The Orange Dog:” a photo essay on an orange plastic poodle that my father and I exchanged as a gift in the most awkward circumstances we could dream up for the other. For example, me at some just-pre-law-school-graduation event:

Image: Photo of me at age 28, white woman with short dark hair wearing a flowered dress, holding an orange plastic poodle with pink fuzzy rabbit ears. I'm sitting at a table with a bottle of beer in the foreground.

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.”

You know who I feel bad for? Alger Hiss.

Alger Fucking Hiss.  Egghead State Department bureaucrat thrown in jail for his fairly tenuous Soviet contacts.*  Also Dalton Trumbo, Ring Lardner, Lester Cole and others blacklisted in Hollywood for Communist “sympathies.”  Pete Seeger — my musical hero — who was a member of the Communist Party and went to jail for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Image: middle aged white man in a suit jacket with a banjo case over his shoulder.

Pete Seeger arrives at court for sentencing with his banjo over his shoulder, April 4, 1961. Source: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002709318/

Every schmuck who was called before HUAC and stood their ground or didn’t.  Every government employee — like my Grandpa Clarence Blau —  whose loyalty was questioned for the job they held, a newspaper they subscribed to, a meeting they attended, or a petition they signed.  Every American whose FBI file Herbert Hoover created and padded.  Everyone who was ever on the receiving end Joseph McCarthy’s or Richard Nixon’s bloviating.

We were terrified of people who read newspapers or sang songs or attended meetings full of other newspaper-readers or song-singers.  We made people’s lives miserable and ruined careers based on false and flimsy allegations.

Hell, I’m sort of sorry for the Rosenbergs, even if they were guilty.

Why do I feel bad for the entire spectrum — from pale pink to bright red, from folk singer to spies?  Because none — not one — of those individuals stood on stage before a worldwide audience and handed over our country to the Russians.

*****

*According to my Granddaddy Clen, Hiss was framed by Whittiker Chambers.  Granddaddy probably had a rip-roaring case of OCD, undiagnosed.  He spent much of his adult life gathering files and articles, creating maps and timelines, and filling stacks of 3×5 cards about this conspiracy.  This will mean something to approximately 16 living humans.

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.