June 24, 2013

A Buttery, Slippery Slope

It was the shot heard round the bundt pan: Paula Deen admitted to uttering the n-word...repeatedly. In the past. She issued one pathetic video recant (or so I've heard because it was taken down as quickly as it was posted), then was scheduled to issue another wanna-be mea culpa on The Today Show, but instead settled for a new Please-I-Got-Butter-In-My-Recipes-Don't-Y'all-Remember-How-Much-Y'all-Love-Butter apology video.

None worked and the Food Network summarily dismissed her and her buttery goodness by not renewing her contract.

Sorry, Paula. Yes, I said it: Sorry.

What hapeend to you is because you reflected your upbringing in the south during the days when people living south of the Mason Dixon Line regularly referred to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. Trouble is, somehow, someway, you just couldn't keep those words, that history and that slant from bubbling up out of you and into conversation.

Truthfully Paula, I'm not worried about you. You will ultimately be fine. Oh yes, your slip o' the attitude is causing some momentary unpleasantness, but it'll blow over. Just give it a minute. Soon another high profile person will commit a cultural faux pax, and the internet will be consumed with crucifying them; and that's when you can make a quiet comeback. Trust me.

What really concerns me is that you got the axe in the first place for admitting to telling a few off-color tastesless jokes, saying the n-word and having the craptacular idea of dressing folks up as slaves for an antebellum-themed event. The subject matter of the jokes, the ugliess of the word and the sheer stupidity of the event theme are all cringe-worthy.

But is it right to lose your job because of words and ideas? I just don't think so. No matter how inane.

Listen Paula, I'm not an alarmist nor am I a public figure, but your very public execution puts me ill at ease:
Will the internet village mob wielding pitchforks and torches who called for and joyfully received your head on a platter, one day come knocking on my door because I admitted to uttering unwise words or doing something(s) stupid in my blissfully ignorant youth, or espoused an unpopular concept or slant on a hot-button topic?
Will they come knocking at the door of my employer and demand my dismissal because of it? Will my employer go along with it to save the bottom line?
Or what about my pastor? What if he preaches about the Bible's slant on a social issue that doesn't align with "what everyone thinks?" Will the mob show up on my church's steps too and demand a public apology or a change in theology?
Understand Paula, the ethnic jokes you admitted to tittering about and telling: Dumb. About the n-word: Hate it. Hate that you used it. Hate that anyone uses it, including black people (who by the way need to stop it. Just stop it.) Oh, and the antebellum event theme you were musing over? You probably rethought it a couple days later and wondered if you had drunk too many mint julips to come up with that beauty.

I've been there. We all have, if we're being honest.

But all of us won't lose our jobs over it....as long as this slippery slope we all seem to be on doesn't get any slipperier.

Pic from Mad Art Lab by Amy Davis Roth

June 6, 2013

Ask Me No Questions…No Really. Don’t.

Her head spun around once, then twice and upon the third rotation, she levitated. Her eyes, now radioactive green, met mine and she hissed “I already washed my hands for dinner!” With that, she began to happily chirp away about something funny that happened at school. It was as if the levitating, the hissing had never happened.

My daughter -- my sweet, happy-go-lucky baby girl was possessed.

By hormones.

As frustrating as it is for me, I’m careful not to give her the kookoo-for-cocoa-puffs side-eye, or be dismissive of the venom that might escape her lips because all too often, hormonal blame is the eraser of valid thoughts and feelings.

You know the excuses: “Oh, she’s just PMS-ing" or it’s “That Time of the Month” or "She’s Menopausal" or "She’s Perimenopausal.” Wink-wink, nudge-nudge. It's a diagnosis that negates whatever your complaint is no matter how valid.

Which is even more frustrating, because nine times out of ten you’re having an out-of-body experience even as you’re going off on what or whomever. You hear your own voice and you know you sound like a crazy person, but you also know that what you’re saying is the truth. Just kicked up a hormonal notch or two. Or three.

I’m also doing everything in my power to be patient, because even as she’s a newbie to the monthly hormonal madness, I’ve been in it for a long while with new elements being introduced with each passing year: acne; temperature swings that have me holding my head out the car window like a dog on a joy ride and the slow, sure, steady decline of my metabolism. So I’m reminded that I need to be extra patient with her changes even as I manage the havoc monthly biology wreaks on me.

Like the amplification of minor annoyances like questions. Simple questions. Simple questions from Jamie, in particular.

His questions are ordinary. Routine. They happen every day. All the time. Just like bleeping clockwork. Every day until death us do part or the apocalypse.

But I digress. [deep breath] They're questions like:
“Do we have hot dogs?”(as he’s standing in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator) My blood begins to simmer and I’m thinking Why are you asking me instead of looking? Time slows down and I see him blink once, twice -- wide-eyed like a five-year-old. Then I’m screaming on the inside: PROBLEM-SOLVE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! GRAB THE SHINY LONG THING ON THE BIG WHITE BOX RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU, PULL ON IT AND LOOK INSIDE! YOU MAY HAVE TO LOOK UP, OR DOWN OR MAYBE EVEN SIDE TO SIDE, BUT LOOK FOR YOURSELF!!
Instead I say: You’ll have to check the fridge, hon.
When you're hormonal, another "routine" question feels like an anvil dropping on your toe:
“Mmmm…smells good. What’re we having? Noodles? Macaroni and cheese? Tuna casserole?” (as he’s looking at his filled dinner plate) Cue internal screaming: JUST EAT IT! ARE YOUR SENSES NOT WORKING?! CAN YOU OPERATE THAT PRONGY-FORKIE THING IN YOUR HAND OR SHOULD I FEED YOU?  Over stifled screaming, I eke out: It’s tuna casserole...darling.
A third question, no matter how innocent, is enough to drive you over the edge:
“Hey…what’s the weather supposed to be like tomorrow?”
After a few deep breaths, I advise: A little chilly so you’ll need to wear your sweatshirt…SWEETHEART.
Doesn’t matter that my teeth were ground down a little bit in the process, I had contained several potential hormone-driven, valid rants.

So in the case of our temporarily possessed girl, I understand. I sympathize with her – even if the object of irritation was me. She heard me tell her to wash her hands three times in a span of ten minutes and she had simply had enough. Hormones are new to her and she hasn’t mastered the art of internal screaming yet; hence the head-spinning, levitating and hissing. It was just the tween version of my hormone-driven internal tantrums.

Hormone-filled, yes. But still valid.

Any questions?

June 2, 2013

Cheerios and a Lesson from George Wallace

It was too early to head home on a much-too-rare date night when I espyed the bar a few blocks from our house that I had long been curious about. From the outside, you could tell the seating capacity inside was fifty at most, and the name spelled out in glowing blue and pink neon letters was one I couldn't pronounce. The most I knew was that it was a few blocks from the Serbian orthodox church and the Serbian meeting hall so it must have been Serbian. Didn't matter. It seemed like the kind of place where you walk in a stranger, but quickly make friends with the nieghborhood regulars and the friendly bartender who'd never forget your name or your drink after a first meeting. No frills, cheap drinks and probably a great jukebox with Patsy Cline and the Eagles in rotation.

I convinced Jamie as much. We parked and went in.

As expected, it was dark and cozy, and I immediately liked the place. Also as expected, it was a Serbian hangout. Handsome, dark swarthy people in soccer clothes, from leagues I guessed, were watching a soccer game. At least they were watching until they saw us. Because at that moment, everything stopped. I mean everything. The bar chatter switched from English to a native tongue. The fruit fllies buzzing around liqueur bottles stopped in mid-buzz. Competing soccer teams and spectators on the television's foreign cable network stopped. Everyone was staring. My "third eye" AKA my gut sensed it was "Fly in the Buttermilk Syndrome," meaning that being the only black person in a sea of non-black people earns extra and longer gazes than if I blended in. Jamie's never quite understood my third eye, but I don't expect him to. It's not part of his experience.

So when he leaned over and whispered "Hey...this is not cool, and it could get out of hand real fast. We need to leave. Now. " I realized it was more than my third eye and it was not about flies and buttermilk.

It was about us. More specifically, us being a mixed-race couple.

It was palpable. I've been in a lot of places where I'm that proverbial fly -- from towns in Northern Wisconsin where the population's so small there's no need for a stoplight, to parts of rural Alabama where houses lean on sticks for support, to quaint villages in Ireland -- and never had I ever felt in danger. Been given the double-take, yes, yet in this place -- this neighborhood bar less than a mile from our home where there were neighbors with whom I certainly had interacted at the grocer's, liquor store, gas station, drug store -- here in this place: I was scared. Then Jamie's voice -- strangely tinged with intimidation and fright -- echoed in my head; and I decided no. No, we weren't -- to use the vernacular -- going out like that. These folks were going to face -- and serve -- the very thing they didn't like. I told Jamie to chill out and find a table.

Grinning ear to ear, I gave an oblivious excuse-me to the two glaring patrons separating me from the bar. Once at the bar, I ordered in my best businesslike-teetering-on-snobby voice "I'd like a Stoli Raspberry with seltzer and my husband would like a bottle of Lite." And then topped it off with he sunniest "Thanks so much!" and a "This is for you" tip. I brought our drinks over to where Jamie was seated and said "We paid for these and we're going to enjoy them. Don't hurry. At all." We nursed the drinks...

...and then got the heck out of there. No use in temptimg fate.

Meh. Weird, but not suprising. Not everyone agrees in crossing racial lines and that's okay. That's their right, and it doesn't make them awful people. We all have our ideas about what's acceptable and what's not; and just because we don't see eye-to-eye doesn't make the person who disagrees terrible. Although I do believe that people who think along those lines limit their chances of meeting a BFF or Mister or Miss Right. But in the end, it's just a difference of opinion. Besides, if we'd paint people who are against biracial/multiracial unions with a broad brush of nazis, radical racists or any other label, wouldn't we be just as guilty as they are?

Now, what did bother me is that I probably had interactions with some of these folks -- after all, they were my neighbors. We're a community. Had they been thinking like they were acting that night all the years when they were scanning our groceries and checking our bags at the neighborhood store? Why didn't the glare and hostility come out then? Maybe because they weren't with others who thought the same? It's a mystery to me. And an usettling one.

Listen, I don't believe its an Us Against the World situation, nor is my third eye constantly on high alert because progress is being made every day. Even big companies like Cheerios are starting to catch up with the reality of bi-racial/multi-racial families. Just look at this commercial if you haven't already seen it. Mom who's white. Adorable kid who's bi-racial. Napping dad on the couch who's black (some things are the same regardless of color).

Adorable. Absolutely adorable.

Youtube posted the commercial and commentors praised Cheerios for reflecting another type of American family that's barely portrayed in media. I watched it in delight, and it was only then that I realized this is what I had wanted to see for so long: a family like ours being portrayed as everyday. Typical. Normal. Just a family with a snoozing dad and a precocious kid. Today, the Huffington Post broke the news that Youtube had to disable comments because with the praise came malicious, ugly, race-baiting sentiments.
About a hundred years ago, then Governor George Wallace proudly stated, "Segregation now, segregation tomorr-ah, segregation forever!" Kudos to that Dixiecrat Segregationist. Seriously: kudos and then some because old George owned what he said.

He was proud to be standing there on the dais spewing his brand of patriotism with cameras on him and everything.

But before he died, he apologized for his words and admitted he was wrong about segregation and the overall blacks-are-less-than-people thing.

I believe George was only able to take back his words and his viewpoint -- no matter how ugly, ignorant and stupid we think they are in retrospect -- because he stood behind them in the first place.

If he had hidden his words
behind a white sheet
or under a social media platform pseudonym
or in a neighborhood bar with his buddies,
would he ever have realized how wrong he was?

I don't think so.

So, my wish for the Youtube Cheerios haters and any neighbors who live with ugly thoughts under the cloak of a clique is not that they would change their minds and hearts, but that they would take a page from the late governor and own up to how they feel: use a real name in the comments section...or look me and my white husband and our beautiful intelligent kid in the eye the next time we see each other in passing and tell us our family's messed up because it's mixed up.

And then who knows? Maybe a few years down the road, they'll be able to make a change too...just like old George.