Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Bee is Still Buzzing!

Hi all!

I just want to say thanks to those of you who take time to visit the blog and share your thoughts, comments, ideas, and viewpoints with me through your posts and your emails.

Been super busy with this wonderful, wild, wacky thing called life, so I know I'm way behind on news updates and other posts. But if you're a regular visitor and you've been wondering where I am, don't worry, I'll be posting some new stuff very soon!

Thanks again, I truly appreciate your time! There are thousands of blogs out there and the fact that you visit mine really means a lot :-)

Peace and Wonder!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Women's Equality Day: Much To Celebrate, Much Work Still To Do

Today marks the 89th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. After a long, hard fight, women were finally given the right to vote in this country on August 26, 1920. In 1971 (the year I was born), Bella Abzug, the first Jewish woman elected to Congress, was pivitol in getting a resolution passed through Congress that would designate August 26 national "Women's Equality Day."

21 years after that resolution passed, I voted for the first time in the 1992 presidential election. This was not only a significant rite of passage for me, a young, idealistic college student who believed anything was possible, it was a monumental moment for my mother, who also voted for the first time in her life that year. After falling victim to the devastating ultra-conservative, right wing policies of the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, she had finally had enough and decided to exercise the little bit of political power she as a poor black woman possessed: her right to vote. So together she and I went downtown to register and together we went to the polls in November to cast our ballots. She voted in every local and federal election from then until her death in 2002, and I, following the example she set, have done the same.

Because of that moment in my life, the 19th Amendment took on a special significance for me. When I reflect on the importance of Women’s Equality day, it is my mother, her life, and her determination to exercise her political power that gives me reason to rejoice at how far women have come. But amidst the many causes for celebration, I hope we do not lose sight of the very stark reality that women have still not achieved full inclusion. There is much to do. In disproportionate numbers, women continue to be the victims of violence and abuse. Fatherhood is still not held to the same level of significance and accountability as motherhood, so women continue to shoulder the burden of being the primary caretakers of children and families. Women are still underrepresented in fields requiring advanced degrees but overrepresented in skilled labor and service industry jobs, and are often the victims of wage discrimination. And women still have less political power than males, which is the greatest cause of feminine oppression since having economic and political power in this country is critical for creating true, lasting change.

When I reflect on the work and passion of women like Ida B. Wells, Bella Abzug, and many, many others who took up the cause of women's rights, I wonder where that passion for feminist equality has gone in this post modern age. What happened? Where is the energy and fire from women of my generation? And young women - where are they in the struggle? It seems that advancement has lulled women into a false sense of accomplishment, just as it did with blacks in the post-civil rights era. Like many African-Americans, women have been fooled into believing that the struggle is over. We believe the lie that consumerism is the answer to personal fulfillment. We've been side-tracked and distracted by the yummy candy and shiny trinkets those with real political power have dangled in front of us in order to deflect us from the real problems and issues that plague our society.

Yes, much has changed for women, and to say otherwise would be a tremendous insult to the folks who made possible the many opportunities now open to women of my generation. But the presence of certain rights and freedoms does not automatically equal the absence of inequality. The dark legacy of oppression created by male privilege and sexism is alive and well, thank you very much. It boggles my mind that there are women who, in this day and age - the 21st century of the new Millenium - are still so blinded and brainwashed by patriarchy that they fear even the mention of the word feminism. These are the women Germaine Greer referred to when she said, "the fear of freedom is strong in us." These are the women who will cuss you out if you even put their name in the same sentence with the word feminist, yet they are the first ones to take advantage of (and benefit from) the opportunities, rights, and freedoms that the rest of us who proudly proclaim ourselves feminists are struggling to maintain.

There is a sad irony in the words "Women's Equality Day." It is an irony that arises from the reality that women are not yet truly equal in American society. And yet there is also much hope in those words; hope for the present and the future of women's equality. Still, I worry that if women and our male allies continue to rest on our laurels, whatever remaining hope we have will diminish completely, and we will see a return to a time when women lacked options and lived like second class citizens; a time when the only expectations for a woman was to have babies, cook, clean, and be the people whose backs were the bridges that men trampled over in homes, churches, schools, and the workplace.

As I think about where we go from here in the struggle for women's equality, and how best to get there, I have no easy answers. But I challenge women and our male allies to look upon Women's Equality Day and everyday as a new and exciting opportunity to continue the work that so many brave women and men began many, many years ago. I challenge us to not stop until we reach a point in time where future generations of young women will have no idea what it once meant to be a woman in a male-dominated society, except through the stories they will read in dusty old history books.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shame on You Linda Chavez!

By E.N. Jackson
Frost Illustrated Newspaper, Inc. Vol. 41, Issue 34
Copyright 2009

So it’s official. We now, for the first time in American history, have a woman of color sitting on the highest bench in the land. Judge Sonia Sotomayor held her ground, did what she felt she had to do, and was eventually confirmed and sworn in as the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States. Quite a fete accompli to say the least. But in spite of this incredible victory, I cannot help but think back to the actions of one witness in particular who attempted to completely derail the Sotomayor train on day 4 of the Senate Judicial confirmation hearings.

As I watched that day’s proceedings, my stomach churned and my head nearly exploded when Linda Chavez, right-wing conservative, Chairperson of The Center for Equal Opportunity, and Fox News political analyst, sat before the judicial committee and accused Sonia Sotomayor of – among other things – playing identity politics, being a radical leftist, disrespecting Congress and the Constitution, and generally being completely undeserving on every level of being the next Supreme Court Justice. Chavez seemed hell bound and determined to say and do anything she could to disparage everything about Sotomayor, both personally and professionally, and ended by saying that she "respectfully" urges the committee not to confirm Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice. Sadly but not surprisingly, Chavez was the most vehement and vocal of the opposing witnesses in conveying her opposition to Sotomayor's nomination. Not even New Haven, CT firefighter Frank Ricci, whose discrimination case Sotomayor presided over, spoke against her in such a viciously personal and denigrating way.

Before I am accused of pulling a "Jeff Sessions" (the racist Senator who once called white lawyers a "disgrace to their race" for defending black litigants in a court case), let me just say that Linda Chavez may think, feel, act, and do whatever she wants. I do not believe that just because she is a woman and a Latina she must defend, like, or support someone with whom she clearly has political, ideological, and philosophical differences. However, that having been said, I also claim my right to call into question Chavez’s motives and actions as she faced the men and women (all white) in whose hands Sonia Sotomayor's fate lies. Why would this woman be so dogged and determined in her attempts to derail the Sotomayor train? Why the intense playa hatin’?

Though she would deny it until she was blue in the face, my belief is that Chavez, like so many minorities who have internalized their oppression, sees other minorities like Sotomayor as a clear and direct threat to everything she has achieved. People like Chavez are individuals who, instead of celebrating the success of someone from their community and seeing that success as their own, instantly react with intense scorn, resentment, and jealousy to that success. Why? Well, most likely because Sotomayor has done something incredible, something most minorities in positions of power try so hard to do but often fail miserably at: she has managed to stay true to herself, her people, her cultural roots, and her principles while at the same time appreciating the richness and diversity of what other races, cultures, and genders have to offer. Put plainly, she has resisted the call to “Tom” her way up the ladder.

Sotomayor’s success lies in stark contrast to the success of the Chavezes of the world who have succeeded primarily because of their willingness to turn themselves inside out trying to maintain the status quo. They obey the rule that says minorities must color within the lines, and not demand too much of the world around them, even when operating in this way is detrimental to themselves and other minorities. Where Linda Chavez is the symbol of what happens when you deny who one you are in order to become someone else's ideal of who you should be, Sonia Sotomayor is the anti-Chavez and stands as evidence that you don’t have to turn against yourself or your community in order to be declared an "American Success Story."

But Chavez's actions on day 4 of the confirmation hearings were really no surprise and are actually in keeping with the attack dog way in which she has been going after Sotomayor for years. When the firefighter case broke, this added yet more fuel to her fire, so to speak, and true to character she went on the attack, claiming "reverse discrimination.” She even wrote an essay entitled "When Whites Are Discriminated Against" in which she criticizes the panel of 2nd circuit court judges (which included Sotomayor) that upheld a lower court ruling which decided in favor of the city of New Haven, CT rather than in favor of the firefighters (source: jewishworldreview.com). While I understand the frustration and anger felt by Mr. Ricci and the other New York firefighters who clearly believe they were dealt an incredible injustice, I am nonetheless astonished by how quickly Chavez and others like her rush to the defense of whites who feel they have been discriminated against. Yet they just as quickly dismiss the claims of women, people of color, and other minority groups who suffer an endless variety of bigotry and discrimination day in and day out. In fact, if women, people of color, the poor, and members of the GLBT community had a dollar for every time they have been passed up for a promotion or otherwise barred access due to their gender, sexuality, or skin tone, they would be exceedingly wealthy. And if these same groups pursued legal action every single time they felt they had been discriminated against, the courts would be DROWNING in cases.

If anything, those firefighters stand as living proof of the truth that ensuring civil rights and equality for minorities ensures civil rights and equality for ALL Americans. When any group in our country is hurt by a policy of discrimination, we are all hurt by it. And it did nothing to advance the cause of civil rights and equality when Linda Chavez put her foot out to trip Sonia Sotomayor as she ran toward her seat on the highest court in the land. Shame on you, Linda Chavez! Shame on you!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Regina Benjamin's Rebellion against Society's Female Body Obsession

African-American Women: Falling Short of the Breed Standard
By E.N. Jackson
Copyright 2009 E.N. Jackson
Frost Illustrated Newspaper, Inc. Vol. 41, Issue 32

“The Shih Tzu is a sturdy, lively, alert toy dog with long flowing double coat. Befitting his noble Chinese ancestry as a highly valued, prized companion and palace pet, the Shih Tzu is proud of bearing, has a distinctively arrogant carriage with head well up and tail curved over the back. The Shih Tzu must be compact, solid, carrying good weight and substance. Even though a toy dog, the Shih Tzu must be subject to the same requirements of soundness and structure prescribed for all breeds, and any deviation from the ideal described in the standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. Structural faults common to all breeds are as undesirable in the Shih Tzu as in any other breed . . .” (source: akc.org).

This is the American Kennel Club’s description of the Shih-Tzu. In the world of show dogs, this description is called the “breed standard.” Go back and read that description again. As you do, take special notice of the phrase “and any deviation from the ideal described in the standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. Structural faults common to all breeds are as undesirable in the Shih Tzu as in any other breed.” Now, imagine that you’re a Shih-Tzu, like my adorable little Shih-Tzu, Sunni Boy, and someone somewhere has magically and arbitrarily decided that you somehow fall short of that breed standard. Perhaps your tail does not quite curl over your back, or maybe your coat is short and flat rather than long and flowing, or maybe you’re in a grumpy mood and you’re not as lively and alert as the standard demands. Regardless of what your fault or flaw may be, the fact remains that according to the breed standard, you should be “penalized to the extent of the deviation” because structural faults are “undesirable” in your breed.

If that same method of applying a breed standard to dogs also applied to women, then the breed standard for the “American Woman” would probably go something like this: The quintessential American Woman is the ideal beauty. She is pale, tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and so lacking in hips, thighs, buttocks, and breasts that she often appears “boyishly slim,” which we all know is a cute euphemism for skinny as a beanpole.

Women of color are all too aware of the breed standard for the American Woman and the multitude of ways in which we supposedly come up short when measured against it. From J-Lo to Beyonce, we have seen the effects of the dominant culture’s discomfort and disgust with the curvalicious bodies of black and Latina women. And now Dr. Regina Benjamin, President Obama’s pick for Surgeon General, is the latest woman of color to come up against the American Woman breed standard and supposedly fall short. People who do not approve of Benjamin’s apple plump cheeks, shapely hips, and sensuously round belly, want her to know that she falls short, just like the AKC breed standard police want dog owners to know when their dogs fail to measure up. Benjamin’s critics include women like Lillie Shockney, administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center, who stated, "When a teenager listens to this person I want them to listen and respond in a positive way, not say ho-hum and then drive to a fast food place." And women like Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard University Medical School, who said, "Having a surgeon general who is noticeably overweight raises questions in people's minds. Currently there is extensive public concern about the national epidemic of obesity.”

Wait a minute, here. Noticeably overweight? Obese? Questions in people’s minds? Who are they talking about? And what questions does the size of Regina Benjamin’s body raise in people’s minds? Because this is not a woman I look at and think, “Dang! That girl needs to lose a few hundred pounds!” I do not look at her and then suddenly have visions of Big Macs dancing around in my head. I do not shake my head in concern about the nation’s obesity epidemic and worry that Benjamin will only contribute to it. In fact, my reaction is just the opposite, because what goes through my mind when I see Dr. Benjamin is, “Finally! A woman who looks like me!” So exactly who are these people who see Benjamin’s body as a threat? Could they be people – and let’s face it, mostly women – who have internalized the sexually oppressive breed standard of the American Woman and are killing themselves trying to achieve it? Could they be women who are appalled by, and yet envy, the idea of a “fat ‘n sassy” black woman being the point guard for America’s health and well-being? And how does Benjamin’s proud defiance and total rejection of the breed standard make her unqualified to fulfill her role as Surgeon General?

After the announcement of her nomination, Benjamin stated, "My hope, if confirmed as surgeon general, is to be America's doctor, America's family physician, [and] as we work toward a solution to this health care crisis, I promise to communicate directly with the American people to help guide them through whatever changes may come with health care reform." Hmmm. Sounds like she plans to do the job she was hired to do. Good enough for me! Luckily I am not the only rational human being who sees through the insanity of the baseless and ridiculous attacks against Benjamin. Others do as well, including Jenny Backus, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, who said, "Dr. Benjamin is a highly qualified physician who has dedicated her life to providing care to her patients. She is a role model for all of us, and will be an outstanding surgeon general."

Dr. Regina Benjamin is an intelligent, competent, professional, and yes, beautiful African-American woman. She is a past recipient of the highly coveted MacArthur grant, holds advanced degrees in medicine and business administration, is a family practice doctor who runs her own medical practice, the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic that treats predominately poor and rural patients in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, and was the first black woman to be elected to the American Medical Association board of trustees, not to mention the first black woman to be president of a state medical society, the Alabama Medical Association. But to hear her discussed in the media by those who have chosen to focus on her waistline rather than her vast accomplishments and qualifications, you would think that she is an obese, slovenly hack who has no business holding a position of power that will allow her to make reasoned and informed decisions about America's health and well-being based on science and medical expertise.

American society suffers from a crippling illness, and that illness is an unhealthy, bizarre, and destructive obsession with women’s bodies and women's sexuality, especially the bodies and sexuality of black and Latina women. Benjamin’s critics are right about one thing: there is definitely a weight problem in our country. However, it is not Regina Benjamin's weight that is the problem, but the dead weight of the dominant culture’s ignorance, bias, and prejudice against the unique beauty of women of color and their bodies. Come on people, get over it already.

The Dark Side of Our "Post-racial" Society

The Disorderly Conduct of the Henry Louis Gates Case
By E.N. Jackson
Copyright 2009 E.N. Jackson
Frost Illustrated Newspaper, Inc. Vol. 41, Issue 31

The historic election of America's first black president has brought to life the nightmare I feared it would: an intense backlash against anyone who dares to reject the notion that we are living in a "post-racial" society.

For those of us, both black and white, who continue to speak out against bigotry and injustice in our country, this is a very dangerous time; a time in which people are expected to sit down, shut up, and pretend that the racial bias, sexism, classism, and homophobia they see and experience each and every day has suddenly disappeared. Why? Because America has elected a black president.

But just ask noted Harvard professor and African-American historian and scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates if we are living in a "post-racial" society and I'm sure his answer would be an unequivocal “No!” When Dr. Gates wrote, produced, and hosted the ground-breaking documentary "The Two Nations of Black America" exploring issues of racial and class bias, I wonder if he could have ever predicated that he would one day find himself smack dab in the middle of a controversy that calls into question some of the very issues he raised in the film.

On July 16, Gates was questioned under suspicion of breaking and entering. The location he was supposedly breaking into was his own home. How did this happen? A neighbor called 911 and reported seeing two black males attempting to break into a home several doors down from hers. She told Cambridge police that she saw "two black males with backpacks on the porch," with one "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry." (source: Associated Press). How any reasonable minded person can, as Huffington Post columnist Brandon Terry put it, "confuse a nearly sixty year old bespectacled professor with a blue blazer who cannot walk without the aid of a cane with a crafty black burglar practicing his illicit deeds at 12:30 PM in the afternoon" escapes my powers of logic. Nonetheless, the neighbor in question felt completely justified in notifying the police about the black man attempting to burglarize a home; and as it turns out, the home being “burgled” belonged to Gates who had just returned from an overseas trip and was having trouble getting his jammed front door unlocked.

Ultimately, none of us will know the full extent of what happened on Dr. Gates's porch that afternoon, but in a nutshell, it seems that when the police arrived at Gates's home he explained the situation and expected that to be the end of it. However, the officer questioning Gates demanded to see ID. Gates protested and initially refused to show ID, but eventually did show his Harvard ID. Unfortunately, the incident still did not end there. In fact, the incident did not end until tempers had flared, words had been exchanged, and Gates had been arrested for what the Cambridge police called "disorderly conduct,” or, as columnist Brandon Terry calls it, for "failure of a black man to show proper deference to a white police officer." In Terry's mind, and indeed the minds of many trying to break this unthinkable incident down into mentally digestible pieces, the situation is clear. Terry stated: "Gates's refusal to be humiliated in his own home and [his] insistence on calling the incident what it was – racial profiling – was more than anything, a direct challenge to the fragile hierarchy of superiority and propriety that Officer Crowley attempted to enforce." It is important to note that charges have since been dropped; however, the damage done to Dr. Gates's psyche and reputation will not so easily go away.

Almost as disturbing as the incident itself are the reactions around the net to the incident. Post after post exposes the racial animosity so many Americans still feel in our supposedly post-racial society toward Gates and minorities in general. In her article "Race Today: Comments on the Arrest of Henry Louis Gates," Huffington Post blogger Martha St. Jean gave a few examples of the passionate resistance many Americans have been exhibiting to the characterization of the Gates incident as racial profiling. St. Jean quotes one poster as saying on Boston.com: "Enough of throwing down the race card ... we have a Black President now, so that tired old ship has sailed. The guy got indignant like any self-important Harvard professor does, pulled the old "Do you know who I am?" routine, and got arrested as a result." (source: Huffington Post.com).

Another poster stated on Gates’s website, The Root.com: "Black america like white america has to use common sense and tell the professor very clealry he was in the wrong for shouting at the officer, making a quick judgement of race being used against him and act like an adult professional should act like. Talking calmly and intelligently and willing to cooperate to the questions of the concerned officer doing his job would have avoided this altogather. He should then appollogize for his wrongfull treatment to the officer and thank him for responding to a 911 call that might have been his last. If this professor is not willing to man up to this and black america refuses to tell him he was wrong. Blacks will continue to be at bay, only due to their own arrogance. P.S. my daughter is married to a kind intelligent black man and he aggrees with this concerned point. It's not always about color. Treat others with respect and you will almost always get it back.." (Source: Huffington Post.com).

While the tone of these two posts differ, the intent and the purpose are, in my opinion, the same: blacks need to get off their hot-headed, arrogant high horses, stop playing the "race card," play by the rules like everyone else, show "proper" deference and respect (even when being challenged about your identity and your right to be in your own home), and forget about all this racism stuff. This assumes that Dr. Gates responded inappropriately when the truth is none of us were there. It also assumes that a person of another ethnicity in the same situation would have responded differently and correctly. It further assumes that minorities whose rights have been clearly violated have no cause to feel, much less show, something as human as anger and indignation, and this is perhaps the most damaging assumption in this case because it strips minorities of their full humanity and perpetuates the mentality which states that if you are a minority then no matter what is happening to you, you must not forget your proper place.

It is a frightening reality that what mattered most to those Cambridge police officers who arrested Dr. Gates was not his academic pedigree, his Harvard professorship, his McArthur Fellowship, his upper middle class status, his position as Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, his documentaries, his books, his awards and accolades, nor that he was once named one of the top 25 most influential Americans by Time magazine. None of this came into play as he dared to show outrage at being accused of breaking into his own home. Sadly, many minorities cannot help but see the Gates incident as more proof that even in this supposedly post-racial society, no person of color, regardless of education level or economic status, is safe from being caught in the cross-hairs of racial bias, just as no woman or GLBT person is safe from the cross-hairs of sexism, classism, and homophobia.

The idealist in me fervently and sincerely hopes to live long enough to see the day that America does become a fully post-racial society. In fact, I hope to look back at this time and be able to say that I was active in the mass movement of raised consciousness that will usher in a new era of unity, peace, and understanding among ethnicities, cultures, and genders. But the realist in me cannot deny, ignore, or in any way diminish a very simple fact: the longer we continue to categorize human beings by their skin color, gender, economic status, or sexual identity - and then use those constructed categories to determine how people will be treated and who will receive rights, freedoms, and resources (and to what extend they will receive them) - the longer we will delay the coming of this post-racial society in which so many of us yearn to live.