February 5, 2016

The Black History Month of My Dreams

It’s Black History Month and my daughter, like a lot of kids, will learn about the basics – the very basics: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Dred Scot – and of course, MLK. I’m grateful for this annual spotlight, but I can’t help but think how that approach narrows Black History to people who lived within slavery and civil rights demonstrations.

Systems are also part of American history, and these systems were the impetus for individuals we laud during Black History Month to play the role we laud them for in the first place.

Now I’ve heard that the American Work Ethic is passed down from generation to generation, and I wholeheartedly agree. At the same time, I can’t help but think that maybe systems implemented throughout history have also been passed down generationally in some form as well.

And that’s when I start thinking…dreaming: what if Black History Month was used as an opportunity to discuss the systems that made black historical figures instead of discussing the black historical figures as a stand-alone?

What if kids learned about systems that said: white and black kids should go to different schools; black people couldn’t serve on juries; black people couldn’t vote; where black people could live or which races could marry which.

Seriously. This is the craziness that's baked into the stuff of which America is made. Kids need to learn about it just as much as they need to learn that George Washington was a slaveholder as they need to learn that George Washington Carver was born into slavery.

What if kids were encouraged to talk about how those systems might impact us today?

I know for sure this isn’t anything we even remotely covered in school. Our black history lessons were like Life was hard for Harriet Tubman because she was black, but we never learned that her hard life was hard because there were systems that made it hard.

We never learned who drew up the framework or their rationale behind doing it or the system's present day impacts. We only rejoiced that she overcame it. Yaaaay, Harriet!

And I think that’s the massive blind spot we’re all missing now, because it’s easier and much more comfortable to point fingers and say That's history, get over it already; and/or to view today’s racist outliers than to unravel their beginnings in a circuitous system set in motion way back when.

That’s just it: the racial stuff we debate and argue about today didn’t just happen. We’re all sitting at a table that was set for us long ago, elbowing each other instead of doing the hard work of talking about the systems that got us here in the first place.

Those are conversations that are long overdue, and that we should always be having -- and not only during Black History Month. Who knows? Maybe if kids start having those conversations now, there won’t be a need to have Black History Month at all in the future. Maybe it’ll just be American history.

Which is what it should’ve been all along.

November 23, 2015

That's the Last Time I'll Listen to Ryan Gosling - NaBloPoMo

After leaving my job back in June, my bank account has now gone Ryan Gosling on me.

Like any red-blooded American woman, I can't resist Ryan Gosling, so I dove in.

Understand, the last time I applied for a job was fifteen years ago. FIFTEEN. It was simple back then. I'd show up with a resume and a starchy blue suit, scribble in forms with a fancy pen, sign the application and leave. There'd either be an interview call a couple days later or a thanks-but-no-thanks letter in the mail.

It was simple.

But online applications are icy cold as a Wisconsin winter and as frustrating as driving through a snowstorm in rush hour.

First, I searched. Then I refined the search by city, then I further refined by miles away from the city that I just refined. Then, I searched by industry and then refined the industry by sub-industry.

How refined of me.

After an hour, I finally found the position and description.

Press Here to Apply!

Yay! I thought, Technology really does make this easier! And I pressed here to apply.

Do you have an account?

Why no, no I don't have an account, but I'll set one up.

That was easy enough until I encountered the cryptic password guidelines which stated:
The password's third character needs to be an uppercase character followed by the eighth letter of the Albanian alphabet with an underscore followed by a numeric character that isn't between 1 and 2 million. And your password must be less than 5 characters total.

An hour later, I was signed up.

After another hour, I remembered the position for which I wanted to apply in the first place and happily hit the Press Here to Apply button; and then:

Press here to upload your resume.

Could it be that easy or are the Technology gods yanking my chain? Success! It uploaded easily.

I was about to praise technology when I was taken to a screen of fields upon fields demanding to be completed to complete the application.

Field 1: Name
Field 2: Address
Field 3: Phone Number (and alternate)
Filed 4: Please list your experience.

My name, address and phone? My experience? Didn't I just upload a resume? Is this some kind of sick joke on the unemployed?

Another two hours later and my application was finally complete.

Nearly a full day's work to get a full day's work.

Thanks a lot Ryan. Thanks a lot.

November 22, 2015

An Amazing Thing - NaBloPoMo

Despite having every intention of holing up during today's first snowfall, we attended the commissioning ceremony of the USS Milwaukee today like many other "hearty" Wisconsinites. County sheriffs, city police officers and military personnel - active and veteran were well represented.

One sailor in particular caught my eye. He couldn't have been that much older than my own teen daughter, I thought, and he definitely couldn't have been a Wisconsin native because Wisconsinites feel the cold, but we don't necessarily look like we feel it. This poor kid, he looked like he was feeling every bit of the minus zero wind chill and snow.

In my mind, he was a baby. His ears stuck out from his sailor's hat. They were bright red from the cold and his teeth visibly chattered. My motherly instinct was to grab his shoulders and give them the warm-up-down-rub or at least shield his ears.

Before I could do any well-meaning gesture that would get all of us removed from the ceremony, the ship was officially commissioned.


The ceremony was then concluded by a prayer.

I bowed my head and closed my eyes and thought of the sailor and all the service men and women on board...just babies. Somebody's babies. And I prayed for their safety.

I thought of how in this age of fear-mongering rationalized by race, ethnicity and religion, that I was standing there out in the open, praying --in front of God  and to God with black, brown, yellow and white people. Babies, all of us, God's babies.

I thought about how this scene, the show of military leadership alongside our prayers for God's blessings on them couldn't happen in some places in the world today.

Is the US flawed in terms of racial, economic and gender justice? Does it have a habit of appropriating land, culture and narratives? Definitely.

At the same time, it can draw people together despite all of that.

And that's pretty amazing.

Keep them in your prayers.

November 20, 2015

We Are a House Divided - NaBloPoMo

There were no recipes. No measuring spoons. Just a mish-mash of ingredients that went in the stuff. We used our senses: did the veggie pile look like another celery stalk should be added; did the dressing feel too mushy when you stirred it; could the sweet potato pie use a little more vanilla when you tasted it?

The heat, the stirring, the tastes of my childhood Thanksgiving followed me into adulthood.

And then I got married.

Of all the things people tell you about marriage, the thing they don't tell you is about Thanksgiving -- or more specifically -- Pumpkin Pie v Sweet Potato Pie. My husband and I can handle the black/white thing. We can handle the financial thing. We can even handle the division of labor thing.

But Pumpkin Pie v Sweet Potato Pie? That's another matter entirely.

Our first Thanksgiving, we found ourselves in the midst of an escalating war of the pies.

Him: Um...why don't you have pumpkin pie written down on the Thanksgiving menu? We always had pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving when I was growing up. (This was back when I took the time to actually write the menu down because, newly married and idealistic, AKA stupid)

Me: Um...why would your family make a tradition of eating slimy pie...my love? But we shall carry on your slimy pie tradition and I shall make the slimy pie and forego the sweet potato pie that civilized people eat. (Because stupid.)

Thanksgiving rolled around and in my sweet potato pie's absence, I'd watch, while suppressing my gag reflex, as people scarfed the pie down. I felt sorry for them. But more sorry for myself because I didn't make my pie.

I vowed right then that the next Thanksgiving would be different.

As Nature intended.  

The next year on Thanksgiving eve, sweet potatoes simmered on the stove while I happily fetched the condensed milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, sugar, vanilla, eggs and the big bowl to create my Thanksgiving, when:

It's getting late. Do we really need another pie.. we already have pumpkin.

In the split second before responding I prayed,
Lord, please help me help him understand that for the past thirty years he has been eating slimy, tasteless gourd pie befitting of Pilgrims at Plymouth who could do no better.

My prayer was heard and the only thing I uttered was a side-eye, lips-pursed YES.

And it's been that way ever since: he asks for pumpkin pie, and I buy it (Because, not stupid anymore); then he complains about the extra effort I take into making a sweet potato pie on top of everything else I'm making, and I don't even answer (Because, not stupid anymore.)

And we have a glorious Thanksgiving, even though we are a house divided.

But seriously, when has pumpkin pie inspired people to SING about it like this?

I thought so.
Point: Sweet Potato Pie.

NaBloPoMo November 2015