Owning My White Privilege: Stories I won’t (have to) tell my children

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Sept. 21, 2016

The beauty of privilege is that is invisible. If you’ve got it, it’s really hard to see. A right-handed person might not feel they have any unearned privilege but just talk to a left-handed person about that subject. Being privileged does not mean you are a bad person, it just means you have been given an advantage. And there is nothing more real than white privilege. It’s evidence is a dead father in the middle of a lonesome highway in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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There’s a whole army of white people who want to deny the existence of white privilege. “I’ve worked hard for everything I’ve got!” they crow. “There are black people with a lot more money than me and a black man in the White House!” they’ll point out. “It’s a liberal plot to make me feel guilty!” they’ll bleat. These folks don’t understand the concept of white privilege. They may or may not be racist, but they’re definitely ignorant and ignorance can be fixed. We’re all ignorant about things, especially things that are invisible.

There are a lot of folks who have written about the daily experience of white privilege more eloquently than I have, people like Peggy MacIntosh and Tim Wise. Although my next book project is a tome on privilege called Recovering Asshole, so maybe I can join their ranks. The daily stuff is like just turning on the TV and knowing I’m going to see people who look like me or knowing that when people see me, my race isn’t the first thing that registers. This post is about the privilege that keeps me from being killed when my car breaks down.

I always tell my students about a local news broadcast I saw about two separate sexual assaults in Portland in which the attackers were still at large. In the first story, the wanted man was 6’1 with brown eyes and long dark hair. In the second story, the wanted attacker was 5’10, black with brown eyes and short dark hair. See the difference? The white man was colorless, because white is the “normal” race. You don’t even have to mention it. If you say “a person,” it’s just assumed to be a white person.

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There’s a lot assuming that goes with race. Assumptions that Asians are good at math, and Mexicans want to steal somebody’s job (How is that even possible?) and, of course, that African-Americans are naturally violent and animalistic. This last one has gotten a lot of unarmed black men shot by police over the years, because, well, you know, we don’t know what any of them might do. Meanwhile, there’s an “open carry” white guy on the side of the road who thinks cops are agents of the ZOG (that’s the Zionist Occupation Government for you non-right-wing extremists), but let him pass. He has rights!

White “Sovereign Citizens” are America’s top cop-killers.

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The shooting of Terence Crutcher by police last week next to his broken-down car in Tulsa is such a textbook case. We don’t know what the police were thinking as the father of four, heading home from a music appreciation class, held his hands up as instructed. But we do have audio from the police chopper as it circled over head. “That looks like a bad dude, too. He could be on something,” they said. Why would they say that? Because they were playing the race card. All you need to be a bad dude is black skin.

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If I were to breakdown on an Oklahoma highway, I am willing to bet my life that police would never unholster their weapons in the first place, let alone shoot me, even if I ignored a few commands. Because I’m white. Just because I’m white. My whiteness gives me the benefit of the doubt. And there are countless examples of this every day. Just ask how police dealt with Dylann Roof, the white guy that shot 9 people to death in a black church in Charleston last year. He got the benefit of the doubt. Instead of shooting him, the police got him some food from Burger King.

It’s called implicit bias and you don’t have to be a white supremacist to have it. Pretty much everyone does. Research has shown that white people have been successfully taught to fear minorities even though most crime is white-on-white and committed by someone known to the victim. African-Americans get the brunt of this insidious lesson. When I was a kid and we drove into Atlanta, as soon as my mom saw black pedestrians she‘d lock the car doors. “They will snatch you right out of this car, Randy.” (I grew up thinking black people collected white kids.) So I leaned that lesson, too.

CLICK HERE  to take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test but be prepared for your results!

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Implicit bias is precognitive. It happens before you have a chance to think about it. As a criminologist, I know that the overwhelming amount of property crime is done by white people (especially in Portland) but if a black guy is near my car there’s a little switch that goes off in my head. It was put there by a nation steeped in white privilege that very clearly whispers in your ear, year after year, that black lives matter but just not as much. Police officers, being humans, experience the same implicit bias. Before any rational thought it says, BLACK MAN = THREAT!!!! When the officer has a gun, that message can have disastrous results, as we add another unarmed black man to the body count. “Well, we couldn’t be sure what the true threat was.”

Let me say that I know a lot of good cops and they will tell you that every police interaction is different and there are often factors in some high profile cases that the community doesn’t see. (Was Crutcher on PCP? Am I on PCP? White people need a defense!) I’ve also done a “use of force” training with the Mutlnomah Sheriff’s Department and know that a momentary hesitation can get innocent people killed. (I tried to tell a gunman that I was going to shoot him in the crotch if he didn’t put the gun down. Instead, he hopped in my police car with my rifle in and sped off to do more killin’. I should mention that this was SIMULATION.) But the reality is that even the most fair-minded police officer is up against the same racist messaging that says that, when it’s a black guy, better to be “safe” than “sorry.”

So here’s one example of my white privilege. I won’t have to explain to my light skinned children that the police, who are sworn to protect them, might accidentally kill them. Even if they have their hands up.

Again, if you want to say, “All lives matter,” you need to prove it, because it doesn’t look like it to me in 2016. The first step, if you are white, is stop being defensive about your white privilege. Secretary Clinton said this very clearly this week. “We white Americans need to do a better job of listening when African-Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers they face everyday. We need to recognize our privilege and and practice humility, rather than assume our experiences are everyone’s experiences.” I don’t care what you think of her. I want you to care about this truth, in this crossroads in our history. We can tear down this wall.

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The Princess Problem

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Sept. 15, 2016

As a dad and a feminist, I don’t really know what to make of this princess thing. It’s a huge industry. (It would be ironic if it was just a “cottage” industry.) I didn’t notice it until I became a parent, but there a princesses freaking everywhere!  Want to take you daughter on a “Disney Princess Cruise?” Your son probably will skip that one for a roll in the mud. But there is a pushback against the “princess narrative,” so I’m trying to figure out how to fit my daughter into it and still keep a smile on her face.

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I know that I never played “prince” as a little boy and all the storybook princesses I knew just waited around to be rescued by Prince Charming. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your damn hair!” One might guess the Brothers Grimm didn’t know many bad-ass chicas who could escape the castle on their own. Or maybe stories of heroines just didn’t sell in the early 1800s. The Nazis really loved those Grimm fairy tales, so that should tell you something.

The Brothers Grimm published Cinderella in 1812 so you’d think 204 years later this princess thing would be played out, right? Au contraire mon frère, it’s bigger than ever. Just take a trip to the “pink” isle at any toy store or the Help Wanted ads at Disneyland. “Help wanted: An anorexic girl to dress as Sleeping Beauty and smile for 8 hours a day in the Anaheim sun. Previous princess threw herself under a pumpkin.”

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This gets a mention because suddenly one of my daughter’s precious vocabulary words is “princess.” I was hoping “theoretician” would come first, or even “OBG/GYN.” But there it is. “Princess!” with a squeal of delight. She has a CD from the Disney TV show Sofia the First and the good thing is that she learned how to work the CD player in her room so she could play it. (It’s playing as I write this and Cozy is dancing in her Minnie Mouse dress.) The bad news is these are the lyrics:

There are many things princesses do

Like hosting balls and dancing too

Or Wearing gowns of pink and blue

That’s what we like to do

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There are many things that princes like

Jousting polo and taking hikes

Suits of armour with lots of spikes

That’s what we really like

We do princess things

And we do princely things

And no-one crosses in between

We stick with our routine

Not very gender queer. To be fair, Sofia believes that anything can be a “princess thing,” but it’s an uphill battle, not a given that she’s already liberated from her princess routine.

The princess tales seem to fall into two categories, one is the girl born into royalty but the more common version is the peasant girl who is “lucky” enough to be launched into royalty. What’s better than being rich? And they are all hyper-heteronormative. How many little girls grew up singing, “Someday My Prince Will Come,” from Snow White, thinking the story ends when he (or a reasonable facsimile of Prince Charming) shows up. The fairy tale leaves out the part that after the “happily ever after” part when he’s banging the milkmaid and won’t even think about letting his “queen” take night classes at the kingdom’s community college.

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Little girls seem to think the life of a princess is all peach pudding and party dresses. Bud Light pitch girl Amy Schumer has a brilliant skit about the reality of the medieval princess forced into arranged marriages with cousins so she can get busy birthing male heirs to the throne. Every girl should see it before asking for a princess party for her next birthday.

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Earlier this week, Andrea and I were at the Disney Studios in Burbank visiting a good friend and pretending that Hollywood was ready for us. We stopped by the employee store to pick up some Minnie Mouse swag for Cozy. (It’s just too cute when she says, “Minnie Moush.”) When I saw all the princess dresses from all the Disney films I could just imagine our daughter exploding in screams. I resisted the urge to buy her a Belle dress and bought her an Incredible Hulk t-shirt instead. (Disney owns Marvel now.) But I know what she would really want.

Let me say Disney princesses have come a long way since Snow White. There are princesses of every shade these days, including Elena, the Latina princess. And Merida, from Brave, isn’t exactly a damsel in distress and didn’t even have a romance with a brutish boy. But if you survey the list of Disney princesses, they pretty much are all teenage girls who are awarded with a dominant male at the end of the tale. They are less passive than Sleeping Beauty but their goal is still to end up like a Mrs. Trump.  I’m going to encourage Cozy to avoid all that. The princesses tale is exactly what not to wish for.

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We’re not raising a demure princess in this house, looking for her Beast. She’s not a kitten who needs to be rescued from a tree. (As Ani DiFranco once sang, “Don’t you think every kitten figures out how to get down, whether or not you ever show up?”) If she wants to live in a palace, she can invent an app or something. But she can pretend to be whoever she wants to be. Who are we going to be today, Cozy? Ariel or Harriet Tubman? Oh, Princess Leia? We’re good.

 

So I Married an Alien

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Sept. 8, 2016

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I thought I should post this little confession. I married an alien. She invaded America in 1998, coming from a strange land called Mexico. Now if she was a white person we would just call her an “ex-pat,” but Americans prefer to refer to non-white visitors who weren’t born here as “immigrants.” If they came here to escape war or violence or just the American dream of economic mobility but they didn’t come through the very tiny door controlled by the federal bureaucracy we all love so much, they are called “undocumented immigrants,” or what the Trump crowd prefers, “illegal aliens.” I’m going to compromise and refer to my wife as an undocumented alien. It sounds more X-Files. And sexy. Hey, I saw a cute alien finger and I put a ring on it! (Or rather, she graciously allowed me the great honor.)

Now before Donald sounds the butt bugle for his quasi-fascist “deportation force,” let me say she now has papers. Thanks to immigration reforms under the first Clinton administration (See what I did there?), a loophole opened and she earned a green card that establishes a right to permeant residence in the USA. I just hope we can find it if Donald’s thugs kick down our door in the middle of the night as they round up the “very bad people” the Mexican government is “sending here” to “kill us.”

I mention this because, like most intelligent Americans, I have whiplash from trying to figure out what the fuck Trump’s ever-changing immigration policy is. Is he planning on asking “his generals” to come up with the answer to that one as well? It seems his policy is based on who his audience is and if his teleprompter is working or not. It certainly was a lot of xenophobic screaming after he returned from his brief trip to Mexico.

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There are a couple of reasons this matters. First, as I’ve written about many times in this blog, he is using scare tactics to whip white voters into a frenzy. His recent cavalcade of “angel moms” whose kids were allegedly killed by undocumented immigrants is a classic example. Of course it’s heartbreaking to have a family member murdered, but most people are murdered by people they are closely connected to, not the neighbor’s gardner. According to FBI crime statistics, only 12.3% of homicides are committed by strangers. Donald Trump is more likely to be murdered by Donald Trump, Jr. than an documented immigrant. But he’s successfully made brown immigrants into this season’s Willie Horton bogey man.

Despite his claim that America is a “complete disaster. Believe me.” – the crime rate has steadily been dropping in this country since 1993 at a rate of about 5% a year. And not only do immigrants have lower rates of crime offending than non-immigrants, studies show that cities with higher undocumented populations have lower crime rates. Think about it – If I’m here without papers, I’m not even going to jaywalk for fear of being discovered by police who might deport me and send me far from my family and my job. (And by the way, as Mexican President Peña Nieto pointed out to Trump’s confused face, illegal immigration to the U.S. has also been steadily declining, but, you know, THE SKY IS FALLING.)

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The second reason this is important is that all those “illegal aliens” that the Trump mob loves to hate and are convinced are stealing “their” jobs (picking strawberries) have stories. Some are escaping the insane violence of El Salvador and sending them back would be a death sentence. Some just want a better life for their children. Andrea wrote about her crossing so beautifully in the new collection, A Journey of Words. She didn’t come here to steal anybody’s job or rip anybody off. She came to live and to make America greater, as generations of immigrants, both legal and illegal (whatever that really means), have before and after her.

I feel like we’re at a turning point. So much of the political rhetoric from the Trump mob sounds like Germany in 1933 or even the United States in 1942, when 120,000 Japanese-American citizens and Japanese immigrants were ripped from their homes and thrown in desolate concentration camps until the end of the war. I wonder if my daughter, who Trump has hinted is not guaranteed citizenship just because she was born here, will be safe even if America’s favorite con artist loses in November.

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It’s clear that many of Trump’s thugs could care less about the facts, whether it’s Trump lying on TV about his past statements (that happen to be on video) or just repeating the “Crooked Hillary” mantra in hopes that truthiness beats out the truth. I’ve given up trying to convince these people. But I think if they just knew somebody like Andrea or any of the twelve million people who are here without papers, Trump’s fear mongering would fall on deaf ears.

Remember when pretty much every gay person outside of San Francisco was in the closet? (Maybe you’re not old enough.) As those people found the courage to come out, attitudes changed. A guy in Omaha had a harder time going off about “them queers” because he probably knew (and liked) some people who were gay. Just think of all the people in the Bible Belt who watch Ellen Degeneres five days a week. They must be pretty conflicted about the “hate the sin, love the sinner” crap they are supposed to believe.

It’s time for these same people to get to know their neighborhood undocumented immigrant. Who knows – they might also find love.

 

My Unintended Gap Year: The humility of looking for work

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Sept. 1, 2016

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I had my dream job. For twenty years I was an award winning sociology professor at Portland State University. My research on hate groups made me an internationally recognized expert on the subject and I did countless media appearances, from The O’Reilly Factor to Al Jazeera. I published and presented and diligently worked my way up the ranks: the young Assistant Professor, the tenured Associate Professor, and finally the stately Full Professor. Most importantly, I would walk out of every single class and feel privileged that I got to impact so many lives on crucial issues like race, gender, and power dynamics. Occasionally, I felt it was like a huge mistake that a punk like me ended up with such a wonderful career.

Then this career that meant something to the world was taken away from me because I fell in love.

In what seemed like a David Mamet play, a small group of powerful administrators teamed up with a racist skinhead incarcerated in an Oregon prison to purge me from campus. I was an officer in the faculty union and we had recently voted to go on strike so there were already battle lines drawn. My crime? My wife was taking an online Women’s Studies class at PSU. After numerous accusations generated by the inmate, all of which fell flat, they asked me, “Are you sleeping with any students at this university?” I responded, “Yes, I sleep with one every night. My wife.” Our child was in her carrier set next to me when I said it. And that was that. They had their technical violation.

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Andrea had been a student in one of my huge Intro Sociology classes and I never really even spoke to her during the class. After the class was over I ran into her at Dante’s bar and she bought me a shot of tequila and asked if I’d like to go out sometime. I told her I didn’t date students. She bought me another shot of tequila and I said maybe we could be friends. It wasn’t long after that that we fell madly in love, became travel companions, got married and had a beautiful daughter. Not once in this drama did I ever regret choosing to be with Andrea. She is the partner I’ve waited for all my life. Any regret is reserved for the trust I placed in university administrators to recognize that love is a gift to be celebrated, not punished.

The whole thing was pointless, yet emotionally devastating. I can’t speak to their true motives. I have my suspicions. They had discretion to weigh my contribution to the university against this supposed offense, so it’s hard for me to see their response as a rational action. Perhaps they saw my unconventionality as a liability. My only real regret in the matter is that I let the lawyers make all the decisions after that point. I should have fought harder against the rumor mongers and for my place at the school that I loved. But we had a new baby and I was afraid if I didn’t accept the settlement, I would have a hard time finding work in my field again.

So I walked away from my dream job.

I wanted to write and be a stay-at-home dad for a bit. I hoped I could land in something quickly, a visiting professorship, a publishing advance, an invitation to be on Dancing with the Stars. Turns out the market for full professors is pretty slim. Shrinking academic budgets have departments looking for cheap Assistant Professors just out of grad school. “I’ve already been through the tenure process,” I said to myself. “I’m not going through that hell again.” With my experience couldn’t I just hop over to Reed College or the University of Portland? I had guest lectured at both.

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In the meantime, the great health benefits I had at PSU ended and our baby needed health care. We went on to the Oregon Health Plan and signed up for WIC. These services for “poor people” I had lectured about since my grad school days at Emory were now a vital part of keeping my family going. I would take Cozy to the dental services with the other low income parents and thank the universe that Obamacare was actually a thing. But going to the bank to take out my unemployment funds or using the WIC vouchers to purchase milk and government cheese for my child was the first lesson in humility. “This is just temporary,” I would promise myself. My wife, who actually had a job would laugh. “You’re a white man with a PhD,” she’d say. “You’re gonna be fine.”

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I had plenty of irons in the fire. I was happy to have time to work on a new novel, partially inspired by what happened. Friends and fans of my last book fully funded a $10,000 Kickstarter project to back it. I developed a reality show about teachers that might have some legs. I sent off applications for jobs I seemed to be cut out for, including at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. I was flown out to interview for a professorship at a great university in NYC and then flown out again to meet with the Provost. When she asked me what salary I’d require, I answered with my last salary at PSU and hoped that would be enough to move my family to the very expensive Big Apple. They ended up giving the job to some kid straight out of Harvard who probably said he would work for half that,

All the money I had banked away over the years started to thin out. Andrea got a great job at a law firm but I had to start selling off my beloved comic book collection. My summer teaching position in Isla Mujeres meant we could live on pesos and stretch it out for a while. I had fashioned myself as a bohemian stay-at-home dad, writing, pouring wine while Andrea painted, and presenting on Portland’s civil rights history with the baby on my hip. As long as the mortgage was covered I got less and less interested in looking for a job that didn’t suit me. (Although, I worried I might end up working weekends at the Foot Locker.)

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I’ve had a great detour for the last year-and-a-half, away from regular work. I desperately miss my students and colleagues at PSU, but I’ve continued to teach classes at the University of Oregon and on Isla Mujeres. I’ve done dozens of important tours with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, worked as a grant evaluator at the National Institute of Justice in DC, and written a pretty damn good book that will be out in a month. But it’s time to get back to work. Cozy is 2 and Andrea has her eyes on law school.  I need to step back into the provider role.

The second stage of humility is the asking for help finding a job. My Pisces brain thought someone would just hand me a plum gig because I’m just so fabulous. I don’t think it works that way in the real world. It’s time to put myself out there and get my foot in a few doors. That might include swallowing my pride and taking a few steps back so I can compete with those kids right out of grad school. A friend messaged me, “Don’t be afraid to backtrack with teaching in Higher Ed. There is no need to be prideful. You had a great run in education and maybe you could have another great run.”

There are so many philosophies to job-seeking. Some think you should wait for the job you envision yourself in. I just want to be able to take care of my family and the world they live in. Also, I know Excel.

I’ve worked steadily since I was 15. I got a job putting up Christmas decorations at Northlake Mall. At 16, I was the youngest person hired at Turtles Records, a great local Atlanta music chain that is long gone. I’ve loved work all my life, making this “gap year” a strange experience. But raising a child is a full time job in itself and I think Cozy is a better person for hiring me.

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So here I am, passionate about seeing the human race evolve into a kinder species. Sometimes my sense of humor is questionable. I’m obsessed with music I haven’t heard yet. I’m completely devoted to my wife and child and making their dreams come true. I love to teach and write and sometimes forget where the comma goes. I have a lifetime of community involvement and thousands of former students that hopefully learned a thing or two about how the world works. I’m paper trained and I need a job.

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I found a 2-year-old!

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August 22, 2016

I was thinking of Googling “quotes about time.” Maybe there was one that said something like, “Time is a baby cobra, waiting for the right moment to jab its poison fangs into your neck.” Cozy just turned two, so that might be fitting of the stabbing realization that our “baby” is a fairly formed little person now. Or maybe for the fact that she is now in complete realization of the power of the temper tantrum, ready to shut all forward motion down. She’s grown into this glorious child, charming the pantaloons off of everyone in Mexico, but she also learning the power of one word – no. And that’s probably a good thing.

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As I wrote a few weeks ago, Andrea and I came to Isla Mujeres alone, leaving Cozy in Morelia with Andrea’s family. After over two weeks apart, we were finally reunited last Tuesday. We were both so excited about her coming to Isla we could barely sleep. Cozy loves flowers so I bought her a bouquet and we hopped on the ferry to meet her on the Cancun side of the bay. When she and her abuela finally arrived at the port (transport from the Cancun airport can take a long time if your collectivo has to stop by a lot of tourist hotels first), she seemed a bit surprised to see us, like, “Oh, I sort of remember these two.” Then she looked out at the Caribbean and said, “Agua!” That’s my hija.

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Birthdays are a big deal in Mexico so we made a big deal about our little Bug turning two. She had a party in Morelia, with uncles and aunts and a cake. Here it became a two-day celebration. We started out at the beach building sandcastles, going to see the sea turtles at Tortugranja, and the iguanas at Punta Sur. We rented a golf cart to ride around the island and at one point, with the beautiful Caribbean rolling by on our right side, she put each arm around our necks and hugged us tightly with the biggest smile ever on her face. “I think she remembers us,” I thought. It was all worth it for that moment.

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Then to Café Mogagua for the second annual Café Mogagua birthday banana split. It’s a Mexican tradition to push a kid’s face in their birthday cake and Andrea is not one to pass up a good tradition. The white people in the café were probably shocked but the Latino family next to us thought it was hilarious. And so did Cozy. So much of this trip has been about connecting her to her Mexican heritage, why not a little whipped cream?

 

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Day Two was a trip to Xcaret, an ecological amusement park between Cancun and Tulum. These people know how to make eco-tourism fun for the whole family. I thought Cozy would love seeing the birds, dolphins, monkeys, and butterflies (and she did). The most amazing part of the experience was the half-mile long underwater river that visitors get to float down. They give you a life jacket and flippers, and like a Mayan offering, you are thrown into the water. Cozy was apprehensive about the whole thing. It might have been the fact that two days before she fell into the hotel swimming pool and was rescued by one of my students. (I dove in too, but “first responder” Elaine was on it!) But once in the river, clinging to my neck, she started to go all wide-eyed. “Do you like this, Bug?” I asked. “Si!” she said.

Xcaret is essentially a water-park with animals (Cozy was fascinated by the stingrays and roared at a puma) with several all-you-can-eat buffets scattered through the park. Everyone is in their bathing suits all day so it’s an opportunity to be reminded of the wide variety of bodies in the world, all entitled to a good snorkel with a nurse shark.

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Then, at 7 pm, everyone dries off and heads to this giant arena for a two-hour spectacular. A cast of over 300 puts on an impressive show about the history of Mexico, complete with Mayan sports, mariachi bands, dances from Jalisco, the flying men of Papantla, parrots flying around, and ending with an ode to the diaspora of the Mexican people that would make Donald Trump caca in his foreign-made suit. It was great seeing Andrea’s mother sing along to every song and Cozy was just completely amazed by the whole spectacle. I watched her as much as the show. It’s been so important for her to be exposed to her Mexican culture and she got it in grand style that night.

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In the middle of all this excitement it became clear that we now have a two-year-old daughter. She’s a little social butterfly who loves to chat it up with the other chavos. She will wander off as far as we’ll let her, confident on her own path. (Don’t worry, I’m quite mindful of the horror stories of kids like her being snatched or falling into gorilla enclosures.) But she also has a new defiance. She can walk a mile, but if she wants to be carried all she needs to do is stage a noisy sit in. If she doesn’t want to eat in a restaurant, banging her head on the table and screaming bloody murder sends the message to everyone in earshot. “No!” works in both English and Spanish.

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Andrea figured out how to handle this fairly quickly. You’ve got to come on strong with a stern voice. For all my lecturing on raising children, I’m a complete wimp. I can’t yell at her just yet. I worry about her little flameouts after being away from her for two-and-a half-weeks. I worry about other people thinking I’m shitty parent because my kid is wailing in front of the flamingos. I worry that Super Nanny will judge me for not putting the kid on the naughty step. So I carry her through the jungles of Mexico. But Andrea’s way works and I know it’s important for parents to be on the same page. (“Yeah, I’m not wrapped around anybody’s finger,” he said.) Firm and supportive, like a Playtex brassiere.

We’re settling in to our new parenting role. I don’t know if the “terrible 2’s” is really a thing, but it feels like the junior member of this partnership is now testing her autonomy. Right now life is about enjoying our last week here in Mexico, swimming, eating as many street cart quesadillas as possible, and dancing to the Beatles in our air-conditioned room. The outside world still sneaks in, including sexism at the Olympics, the spectacle of Trump’s free fall, and kids like Cozy being endlessly bombed in Syria, but we’re happy to be a tight little gang of three isleños. I have a sneaking suspicion that the bilingual kid we will bring back to Portland is gonna have her own ideas about how to live in this world.

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Feministing in Havana

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14 August 2016

Going to Cuba was a lot easier than I thought it would be. My second major at Emory in the Reagan ‘80s was “International Studies” with a focus on Soviet and Latin American politics, Cuba being the connection. My mother was there as a bobby-soxed teenager in 1959 and flew out Havana the day Castro took the city. The one paper my she saved from her college days was about Kruschev and the Cuban Missile Crisis. So Cuba has always seemed completely off-limits to me. But if Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, I can see Cuba from my balcony here on Isla Mujeres. Actually, it’s just over the horizon. If I had a frisbee and a good south-eastern trade wind, I could probably land it inside a cell in Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. government is still actively creating terrorists. So why not just go?

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That’s what Andrea and I did. On a mad impulse we bought tickets to go. On Tuesday I went scuba-diving and on Wednesday I was on a Cubana Airlines flight over the water from Cancun to Havana. Barely an hour in the air and we were there with our hastily prepared visas and access to the world’s last “socialist paradise.” (Your Nikes are made in Vietnam and your iPhone is made in China, so they are disqualified and nobody is claiming North Korea as anything but an Orwellian nightmare.) Off to the land with no internet, leaving our wi’s and fi’s behind.

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There’s so much to write about the experience. We were there as the country was getting ready for Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday. I can’t believe the guy has been there my entire life. His brother, Raul Castro, has somewhat normalized relations with the U.S. and since Obama eased the embargo, you can feel the Starbucks shops just lining up to come in and change the nation overnight. Ask anyone from a small-town what Wal-Mart has done to America. Havana had plenty of construction cranes and the new hotels were coming. I’m sure the names “Hilton” and “Trump” will become part of the new oceanfront skyline. (Although nobody seemed to know who Donald Trump was. God bless them.)

It reminded me of my first trip to Czechoslovakia in 1991, right when the country opened its doors to the west. The people and infrastructure in Prague had no idea how to handle the rush of tourists who wanted to come and look around. There were no hotels or restaurants and capitalist entrepreneurialism was a foreign language. We stayed in people’s homes and ate whatever we could find in beer halls. When I returned in 1992, all that had changed. Western money flooded the “Paris of the East,” and there were billboards proclaiming (in English), “There are now four McDonalds in Praha!”

So we’ll see if Brother Raul lets that happen to his island. I have feeling it’ll look a lot different next time we go back. We stayed in a wonderful casa in the center of the city that might be a Quality Inn this time next year.

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But I thought I’d write a little but about gender on the streets of Havana. Cuba has been known for being on the vanguard of gender equality issues for a long time. Women, like Celia Sånchez, were at the forefront of the revolution in 1959, fighting alongside Fidel and Che. The Federation of Cuban Women was formed shortly after that. Half of the judges and justices in Cuba are female, over a third of the parliament is female and 62% of university students are female. There are great feminist Cuban rappers, like Krudas Cubensi and Obsession and 31 Cuban women are competing in the Rio Olympics.  (Watch for Yorgelis Rodríguez in the heptathlon finals.) Unlike in the United States, gender equality is a part of the Cuban constitution. “The state guarantees women the same opportunities and possibilities as men in order to achieve woman’s full participation in the development of the country.”

So it must be a great place to be a woman, right?

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Andrea and I were walking around our little neighborhood on Friday morning, just behind the Cuban capital building and some guy, seeing her, angrily shouted out to his friend, “She got fucked by the French!” He probably thought I was French and what was this brown girl doing with a white guy. It was in Spanish so I totally missed it but Andrea was visibly upset. After a similar comment she felt abused enough to return to our room and just hang out, away from the catcalls. She was shaken as the daily war on women followed her all the way to a communist outpost that supposedly outlawed sexism before I was even born.

Cuba is an incredibly diverse place, from dark Afro-Caribbean to Europeans (and probably some Hemingway descendants). Andrea, who would be punishingly sexy in a medieval suit of armor, noticed the comments were coming from men of color and asked me why that was. I assured her that white men were not free from the same behavior but there might be some good feminist explanations of the race-gender interaction.

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I took a moment to play professor and tackle it from three of the many feminist perspectives. Liberal feminists would argue that black Cuban men have be raised with a different relationship to women than white Cuban men which may be more vocally aggressive and seeing a Latin woman with a white man viewed as a betrayal of an ethnic subcultural value. Marxist feminists would say that even in allegedly communist society, poor people still exist and are alienated and poor black Cubans are alienated the most. (Stats back up that black Cubans have the lowest paid jobs.) So Marxist Feminists would argue the one place those men have power in a patriarchal world is over women. (Stats also show black women in Cuba experience more domestic violence.) Finally, radical feminists argue that patriarchy will rear its ugly head in spite of popular values of gender equality, finding any way possible to subordinate females, either through institutional means (less pay) or old-fashioned scare tactics. So on our little block, mostly populated by men who were poor and dark-skinned, it was the catcall.

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I don’t know if this discussion was of any value to my wife. The conversation became one of how do we get men to raise their sons right so our daughter won’t routinely experience the same harassment. We both absolutely loved our brief time in Cuba and want to return as soon as possible, before Starbucks and Wal-Mart (and future bankrupt Trump casinos) erase a nation frozen in revolutionary amber.

There’s a great line about Cuba – “Cuba got three things right: education, health care, and baseball.  And it got three things wrong: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” The food can be pretty bland. I would say it’s been wrong on lots of human rights issues as well (although the last ten yeas have seen massive improvements for the lesbian, gay, and transgender populations). But all the socialist good will hasn’t stopped men from being dicks. I have to side with the radical feminists on this one. You can get rid of capitalism, but until you get rid of patriarchy it’s the same old shit. Cuba libre.

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Dad Love 9: I Become Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

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Aug. 8, 2016

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Cozy is fine. She’s with her abuela in Morelia, Mexico in a serious Spanish-language immersion class, going to the park with her tia, and, by all video accounts, having a blast. Andrea and I came to Isla Mujeres without her so I could start teaching this anthropology field research course. Cozy joins us on August 16 and we will be the reunited island family.

Sounds great, right?

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I mean what couple with a toddler wouldn’t want to have a few child-free weeks on a tropical island? It is certainly great for Andrea and I. This is my second year teaching a summer course at the amazing Isla Mujeres Ethnographic Field School and to have our own time is a true godsend. We sleep in and stay out late and when we walk down Hidalgo, the main street, the merchants shout, “Hey, honeymooners!” as they try to sell us trinkets and Cuban cigars. It’s a trip in time that’s allowed us to remember who we were together before we were “parents.”

But the missing part. That part can be rough.

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When we started on this experiment, I thought we’d have regular video hookups with Cozy via FaceTime. That’s how we did it last year when I came to Isla first and Andrea and Cozy stayed in Morelia for a few weeks. Technology has often been our link when I am out of town. I love seeing my daughter make goofy faces at me on her mom’s laptop.

A lot of therapy over the years helped me learn that some of my core relationship issues revolved around attachment and fear of being abandoned. Good therapy can take you way back to things that happened to you early in life, before you thought much about the world other than, “Wow.” My big “breakthrough” happened when I suddenly remembered how my parents would drop with an elderly neighbor when they went out of town for Amway conventions in the 1960s. I was maybe 3. I remembered thinking they would never come back and then being overwhelmed with emotion when they actually did come to get me. My apologies to all subsequent relationships. I’m better now.

So you can guess I don’t want to inflict that stress on my own daughter. This situation is different. She’s with family who spoil her to death. Andrea’s mother came to Portland from Mexico for the birth and was one of the first people on Earth to hold Cozy. She guards her like the most precious child. She is well fed and entertained and fortunately was out of the path of Hurricane Earl that almost hit our island last week.

We got to the island on July 29th and after a few days organized a FaceTime chat. Andrea’s sister, Viri, rang in with Cozy on her lap. We were so thrilled to see her and Cozy tried to kiss the screen. We were singing and hearing her new words and all smiles. Then I think she suddenly realized that we weren’t actually there and started crying with a horribly stressed look on her face. Her wise aunt just hung up. It was the right thing to do but I could feel a Mayan dagger plunged into my heart. And that was that. She won’t see us until we’re standing on the docks at Puerto Jaurez on the 16th, the day before her second birthday. (We plan to welcome her back with a big celebration.)

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We’re on “Island of Women,” but it’s really “Isla Niños.” There are so many little kids here, it’s hard not to be reminded of ours at every turn. Kids at the beach, kids riding with their family on motorcycles, a gang of four little girls who play in the alleyway of our hotel. Last year when we had Cozy’s first birthday party here, it was not hard to round up the local rug rats to have a go at the piñata. They are all stand-ins for our Bug.

So that’s the challenge. I want to enjoy every second with my beautiful, brilliant wife and not think my child is “gone.” I’m trying not to worry that she’s unsafe or that she’s forgetting about us or preferring the attention she’s getting to our less exotic life in Portland. Will she have grown so much I don’t recognize her? Just don’t think about it.

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I don’t need to string up Christmas lights to get messages from her in the upside down (OK, we just burned through all 8 episodes of Stranger Things). It not time to go mental. But missing your child is a powerful thing. Looking forward to hugging her is like all the Christmas Advent calendars I had as a kid rolled into one. One day closer.

I’ve been writing a lot about empathy in this blog and I’m getting a bite size chunk of the struggle of parents in the military or in prison who are far from their children. It’s got to be rough for parents who are separated and have work out custody arrangements. And we are not even touching the experience of actually losing a child. Lord. We probably grow more than our kids through all this. Letting go just a little bit. Not so easy. And it’s only sixteen years until she heads off to college. Help!

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For now it’s only eight days until Cozy and I are building castles in the sand and then watching them melt into the sea.

Dad Love 1: Dad Love

Dad Love 2: A Star is Born

Dad Love 3: Death and U2

Dad Love 4: You’re So Far Away

Dad Love 5: Flash, Ah! He’ll Save Every One of Us!

Dad Love 6: First Steps

Dad Love 7: I Need a Pep Talk

Dad Love 8: I’m on Drugs