I have no headline for this, and I am pretty good at writing headlines. So there! :-)

Gimme a second and let me figure out where it starts.

People make all kinds of claims about Southern Culture. Most of those people don’t actually know what they are a talking about. The only way to know a culture is to live in it. Internalize it. So today I will try and give you a walk in my shoes.

What if you missed the Civil Rights Movement by a few short years, and you began your life thinking it was all over. Settled. Done? Because apparently everyone was now equal and we we done with all that fighting??

What if you grew up, at least at the beginning, in a household which taught you to not say the N-Word in public, but it was ok to use that word from time to time where only White People could hear?

That whole chain of logic is strange to me to this day. I wasn’t taught to not use it because it’s offensive, hurtful, and a symbol of a system of slavery which was still almost a living memory on the day I was born. I was taught not to use it because it would harm me more than help me. It was a lesson in calculated decisions.

I opened my eyes and said “Hello” to this big, beautiful world for the first time in the early 1970s if that helps. I had no idea what the fuck I was in for. I was born in Mobile, which is in Alabama, which is in the United States, which is in the Northern Hemisphere of this one planet . . . etc.

How’s that for a prologue?

Now, I don’t want to write or share the next part of this, but I am doing it anyway. And don’t applaud me until you see if there is even a next post.

The racism, sexism, ( and more and more these days) militaristic nationalism . . . They trouble me.

One of the reasons I have such a hard time just writing this shit and throwing it out there is that it’s hard to look at, and it’s even harder to acknowledge that it’s real.

But it’s real. Talking about it is better than giving it a pass, because talking about it robs it of a little bit of its power.

Know that I am on your side.

Just don’t be looking for another post from me tomorrow. These things take a long time to write. Not because I’m short on words. What I am short on, these days, is courage.

If I take this up again. I will have more to say about emotional and financial manipulation, with a heapin’ helpin’ of religious fundamentalism thrown in to, you know, save my soul.

I remember when The Christian Coalition took over the little churches and weaponized them in the service of the Reaganites. I lived through the AIDS crisis, as a child, and I am not done burying people who were older than me and were damaged by it more than me because they had a more full understanding of what was happening there.

I am not done.

These words are hard to come by these days, though. Composition time is hard to come by. But I think I have more to say.

Hello, gloves. Enjoy being on my hands for the next little while. I will take you off soon.j

Don’t go mouthing off about Southern Culture on account of things you learned about it on the teevee. Don’t give it a pass, either.

This situation is way more complicated than that.

That is all.

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Weekend Coffee Share: Of Racism, Demagogues and Hope

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you it’s been a roller coaster of a week, both on and off the social media. My day job’s been intense lately, so I’ve not been able to hit the internet until late in the evenings for the past few days. I’ve spent most of my social media time on Facebook posting and commenting about the impending U.S. elections. And about racism.

newcoffee

The two seem to be going hand-in-hand right now because one of our candidates has used a lot of racist language to whip up support. I’d planned to write a long, blistering post today about the horror show known as the Trump Presidential campaign, but Jeremy Nix already did that at HuffPo, so I’ll just link to his Open Letter to My Friends Who Support Donald Trump, give it a quick quote, and try to add something to the conversation.

Trump’s supporters are angry, and anger is infectious. I can tell you as a non-supporter of Trump I am just as angry. We need the kind of leader that seeks to bring us together, not tear us apart. Why do we have to fight against helping each other, against common sense, against a united Nation? The American Dream is a nightmare and we are feeding it, making it worse every day. Trump is a bully, a loud mouth, ignorant, sexist, racist, disgusting example of how horrible humans can potentially be.

Nix provides ample support in the form of Trump quotes, and later in the article says this: “If you’re not a racist, bigoted, misogynistic jerk, then voting for Trump simply because you don’t like Democrats is wrong.” I agree with that 100 percent, and I’ll add: Should Trump win the Republican nomination, it will also be wrong to vote for Trump simply because whichever Democrat you prefer lost the primary.

Moving right along. I’ve been using Facebook for the last couple of weeks to get back into the swing of writing about substantive things. I’ve been posting over there too frequently, the posts have tended to be long (for Facebook), and I’ve even written a couple of notes.fblike

I’ve also been using it to gauge the political mood and to figure out how to talk about these elections without setting people off to the point that things get ugly. For the most part, things have not gotten ugly and I’ve only had to block one person. I’ve had productive conversations with people I have strong disagreements with. I’ve learned things.

So good. Now it’s time for me to come back to the blog and write about what’s going on in the U.S. in a serious way as often as I can manage it.

I have a lot of assertively liberal Facebook friends. Many are creative types and a lot of them blog. During normal times, my Facebook feed is a confection of smartly-written articles about all manner of social issues ranging from LGBTQ equality to Feminsm to disability to mass incarceration and much more, mixed in with things about writing, publishing, and social media marketing. Much of the social commentary touches race in one way or another even when it isn’t focused exclusively on racism.

These last couple of weeks, Facebook has been a fever swamp of political chatter. Most of my friends have been talking about the Super Tuesday primaries, this week’s GOP debate, and above all, Trump. Most of what I’m seeing falls into a few easy categories.

  • Disbelief that this candidate who should have either been jeered off the stage the first time he opened his mouth or simply rejected by the powers that be as unfit to run on a major party ticket has a Presidential nomination within striking distance.
  • Stomach-churning dismay at the level of popular support we’re seeing for what has to be the most bigoted and mean-spirited nationwide political campaign in this country since the 19th Century.
  • Appeals to everyone to get out and vote, just this once, no matter how they feel about the political system or the value of voting.
  • Takedowns like the Nix article. It’s so easy to write stuff like that and to find hard factual evidence to support it, I could spend all day rounding up links for you.
  • Speculation and concern about what’s going to happen if Trump actually wins the primary. The smart money says Trump gets shredded by either Democratic candidate, but November is months away and I’ve been burned too many times by Democratic in-fighting, protest voting, and stolen swing states. So I think concern is warranted at least until we see how the Ohio and Florida primaries play out.
  • Concern about the way protesters and journalists are being handled at Trump rallies,  about the overall mood of the crowds who are supporting him, and about his flagrant disrespect for our Constitutional principles.

    Meme discovered at Eco-Style Life Beau Monde

    Meme discovered at Eco-Style Life Beau Monde

This election has crowded everything else out of my news feed, aside from things I’m set up to always see. At some point during all of this I became so disheartened by the number of people who seem to be ok supporting an overt racist for the Presidency I decided to run a short personal campaign to see how many new page likes I could generate for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconcilation, a nonprofit organization based at the University of Mississippi.

I’ve been following the Winter Institute for a couple of years and I have them flagged so I see almost everything they post. The best description I can offer for them is that they’re an advocacy group which promotes equality and nonviolent conflict resolution. I urge you to give their page a look. If you appreciate what you see there, please like their Facebook page. I don’t make these appeals on the blog very often, but this is important.

Ten minutes after I posted a status update on my timeline asking people to support the Winter Institute, Facebook fed me a post from a friend who I met through 1000 Speak. The post was about a white supremacist group tossing plastic bags filled with hateful propaganda onto peoples’ porches.This is a well-developed tactic hate groups have been using for years.

1000speakLizziLast year it happened in the very county where I live. The friend who shared the post has in the past found similar stuff left under the windshield wiper of her car in a public parking lot. Sometimes included with the propaganda: a physical object which is intended to insult people of color but often reads like non-sequitur. In the case of the post I read on Facebook, the bags included rice. The bags distributed in my neck of the woods included two breath mints.

Here is how Trump’s use of bigotry to score political points connects to white supremacist groups distributing propaganda. And why I am concerned about the Trump phenomenon whether he wins the Republican nomination or not. Leaving aside for the moment that he’s playing footsie with white nationalists who are known to support the Ku Klux Klan, this level of hate from a serious Presidential candidate has perilous consequences for our political culture, for our way of life, and for the way the rest of the world views the U.S. if we allow it to persist.

Racism is about attitudes, emotion, and education. Hate speech laws and legal protections for vulnerable groups are necessary and appropriate, but the laws have to be strictly written to avoid doing more harm than good. So racist people can always skate right up to the line because they have the same freedom of expression as the rest of us.

It is impossible to legislate racism out of existence. The only way to get at the root of racism is to make it so socially unacceptable that people teach their children not to be racist as a matter of course, to teach tolerance in schools, and to reform institutions (like the U.S. penal system) which perpetuate structural racism. We’re not as far along with that in this country as I’d like, but we’ve made some progress in the last 100 years.

Most of us want more and better progress. Those of us who understand that we are all bitten in one way or another by racism every day of our lives from the moment we open our eyes in this world whether we realize it or not are positively screaming for more and better progress.

mlk_justiceWhen Presidential candidates say racist things to whip up political support, that sends a message to their followers that it’s ok say and do racist things in public. Which makes people who actually have racist attitudes a little more comfortable with spreading bigotry and hate. It also emboldens the hardcore fringe who do things like toss propaganda onto peoples’ lawns. Whether he intends his words to have this effect or not, Donald Trump is giving political cover to racial supremacists. That’s unacceptable.

We fought a civil war over slavery. Even after the abolitionists won and the slaves were freed, we took another 100 years to agree that racial segregation should be illegal. When our government finally found the political will to criminalize segregation, the National Guard had to be called out to enforce the law in several states because both the state governments and the white populations were too intransigent to do the right thing.

Lynchings were once commonplace in this country. In the 1960s race relations were so bad we had black nationalist groups arming themselves and white people murdering civil rights workers. If Martin Luther King, Jr. and his allies hadn’t convinced so many people to assert their rights nonviolently, or if the federal government hadn’t acquiesced and enforced the law, we might have had chaos and bloodshed of cataclysmic proportions before it was done. I am not overstating this.

It is easy to look at the U.S. in 2016 and be discouraged by the state of race relations. I fall into that myself sometimes. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are light years ahead of where we were even 30 years ago. And let’s not forget that much of the progress we’re  benefiting from right now was paid for with the lives and blood of our citizens.

We can’t allow our country to slide back to the point where public hatred of people because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or any other category that ought to be protected is an acceptable thing to do in a political campaign. We’ve proven ourselves willing to fight and die, to offer ourselves up to be arrested and abused, over these principles time and again practically from the moment we won our independence.

We can’t allow Trump’s demagoguery nor his style of politics to go unchallenged. We don’t want his ideas to gain a larger foothold in the public consciousness than they already have, lest they persist and shape our public discourse. Trump is not just dogwhistling to play on white anger the way Republicans have been doing for the last 40 years. He’s openly scapegoating minorities, and he’s advocating racist public policies.

Trump is using a different sort of racism than we’re accustomed to seeing from our Presidential candidates. He’s escalating the hate. Senators and talk show hosts have been forced to resign from their jobs for saying things that weren’t as bad as some of Trump’s statements.

Even if you think he doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning the Presidency, you should be concerned about him. Even if your state or district is not in play, you should take the time to vote for a candidate who’s running against Trump just to lower his popular vote percentage.

When I was writing about the white supremacy on Facebook the other night, I said “just because a thing is legal doesn’t make it right.” That’s where I am with Trump. He has the right to run for President and the right to say what he wants as long as he doesn’t incite a riot or defame anyone. But that doesn’t mean one of our two major political parties has to give him the big stage.

If I were a Republican, I’d be so angry with my party establishment for allowing this situation to develop, I’d consider severing ties. But I’m not a Republican, so all I can do is speak my mind, watch, and wait.

justice_quickmeme_by_geneo

I’m upset and concerned about all this, but I’m not demoralized. A Trump Presidency — or even a nomination — is far from a foregone conclusion. I believe most Americans are smart enough to see Trump for what he is and are assertive enough to repudiate him.

I truly believe we’re better than this, ya’ll. So I have hope.

Why Blog Politics?

When i first started blogging here, I’d sometimes write posts just to clarify my thoughts and see what sort of feedback they’d get. This is one of those. Now that I’ve moved my #WeekendCoffeeShare posts to Sourcerer and the Feminist Friday archive is hosted at Part Time Monster, this blog’s going to need a new tagline and and about page revision. I’m wrapping up the summer run of the Feminist Friday Discussions here this week. Do join us — it will be at least several weeks before we start them up again.

Long-term, I don’t see keeping this blog active, but for the moment, this is the only one I have access to where I can do social commentary any time I feel like it. So I’m not quite done. I’ve done political blogging off-and-on for almost as long as blogs have existed. I’ve not always been good at it, and I’ve had to learn a few lessons the hard way over the years.

This is me.

This is me.

I’ve had to learn to moderate my rhetoric and be open to criticism while remaining firm in my position and not allowing myself to be baited by debating tricks — not always easy things to do, especially on the internet. It’s very much a work in progress. I’ve learned to not attack people (also the hard way), and I’ve moved away from advocating for political parties and candidates.

Now, I’ll just be honest. Aside from a handful of local candidates, I haven’t voted for a Republican since, well . . . ever. I’m a liberal by any reasonable standard of American politics, but I don’t consider myself that far to the left. There have been times in the history of the U.S. when I’d have been considered a moderate. But I feel like my own views are defined, as far as the larger culture goes, by measuring their distance from a center which has shifted progressively to the right for most of my lifetime.

I’ve been given all sorts of labels over the years for having views I consider to be common sense. Liberal. Progressive. Leftist. Socialist. Bleeding Heart. Hippie. That was difficult to deal with when I was in my 20s and early 30s. It’s one of the reasons it’s been such a struggle to moderate my rhetoric and learn to write political content that has a chance of appealing to readers. As I’ve gotten older, though, my skin’s gotten thicker. I’ve learned to shrug that stuff off and just say what I need to say.

I think there are signs the center could be shifting back a little in the U.S. The marriage equality ruling, the progress on legalization some of the western states are making, and the President talking about prison reform all bode well for that. I think the way the country is trending demographically also favors this shift.

That said, the culture warriors of the far right aren’t going quietly, and I don’t see anything resembling an actual “left” in this country. Yes, you can find a handful of liberal politicians who hold some extreme views on a few issues. And yes, large segments of the population would prefer more liberal leaders and more liberal public policies. But there’s no “left” equivalent of the Tea Party.

Feminist_Morpheus_Quickmeme_by_GeneOThat’s important to note. Even if the more extreme elements of the right were correct on the issues and we could all stomach their vision for the country, not having a coherent group to counterbalance them is bad for everyone. I don’t know what to do about it except keep advocating for my own positions and hope to make enough friends on the internet to find ways of making progress.

I’m in an especially difficult position for a liberal because I live in the Deep South. So I not only have to contend with run-of-the-mill parochial conservatism, there are all the historical social problems, too. I have to deal with various strains of Christianity that I can only describe as 19th-century ways of thinking. Because of the way we’ve been historically divided by race — and at times our elites have intentionally set us against one another — it’s nearly impossible to have a productive conversation about either race or class. There’s plenty of misogyny, much of it unacknowledged, which informs all kinds of conversations about issues that intersect with gender. And conspiracy theories all around.

Despite those difficulties, I’m lucky. I’m a man. I’m tall. Even though I’m not smokin’ hot or anything, it’s fair to call me attractive and I present well. My intelligence is above average. I’ve always been physically healthy because I grew up middle class in a home with two parents who took care of their children, so I had good nutrition and the best medical care an insurance company could afford until I was in my mid-20s. I’ve got an undergraduate degree I didn’t have to pay for myself, which allowed me to get a graduate degree later without being absolutely crushed by the debt.

If I’d been born into real wealth and didn’t have the anxiety, depression, and insomnia to deal with, I’d basically have ALL the privilege, except a high-ranking government job. I wasn’t born into real wealth, though. My entire adult life has been a struggle to maintain my financial independence and to keep myself and my family afloat. I came out of a middle class family with no idea how much money it was requiring to maintain that standard of living. I chose my college major because I thought I wanted to be a poet or fiction writer or a professor, and I was encouraged to pick something I liked, rather than something that paid. Started out in local journalism (which pays terribly) because I knew I didn’t want to teach school.CSE_Live_06_26_2015

Yet still, despite my modest means, I’m privileged. I’ve never been hungry unless I chose to be. Never had to sleep on the street. And when I look at how 85 percent of the rest of the world lives, it seems like I have it pretty good. “Get to the point, Gene’O,” you say.

My point is this. Yes, I’m privileged. But I’ve lived close enough to edge to wonder if I was going to end up either homeless and hungry, or completely dependent on relatives. I’ve seen enough real, on-the-ground, racism, poverty, and sexism, to last a couple of lifetimes. And enough outright meanness cloaked in conservative and Christian ideology to last a dozen. So I have to figure out this social criticism thing.

I support adequate social services because I don’t believe people should go hungry for lack of money, and I’m not content to leave that entirely to charities. I support Planned Parenthood not because of my pro-choice and feminist views, but because women who don’t have the money or adequate insurance to afford them still need pap smears and cancer screenings. I support penal reform because I believe we’re locking too many people up, and the application of our laws is falling disproportionately on minorities and economically-disadvantaged people.

I’ve got to find a way to cut through the noise and start talking about that stuff openly and productively. Got to learn to put things in terms people can understand. And most importantly, I’ve got to find a better place to do all that than this tiny WordPress blog.

Thanks for reading, and do stay tuned.