2017, the Year America Fell Into the Upside Down

December 29, 2017

How is it possible to sum up a year like the 2017, the first year of the unimaginable Trump presidency, when alternative facts became accepted reality and actual facts were branded “fake news”? It’s been hard to believe any of it has been real. Americans seem to either embrace this pathological liar as their perfect savior (quite literally, there is nothing this man could do to lose their support) or are just too tired to fact-check him anymore to care. It started to feel like America’s greatness was fading in the rearview mirror, replaced by a kleptocratic idiocracy, populated by a mindless flock who would make George Orwell slit his goddamn wrists. The war on the truth was gleefully embraced by his cult-like followers and it felt like the slippery slope to fascism just had truckload after truckload of lube dumped on it. Then a fellow sexual predator was (barely) defeated in, of all places, Alabama and it started to feel like 2018 might just make America great again.

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That the year started with the massive Women’s March protesting the accused sexual assaulter about to be sworn in to the high office and wrapped up with the #MeToo women as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year was the real story of 2017. It may have taken an alleged child rapist becoming to president (Listen to the witness testimony of the 2016 rape lawsuit against their dear leader) to awaken the sisterhood and their common stories of victimization. As more of these stories spread on social media, more powerful men fell, both friend and foe. Accept for the one. He stands as the teflon tower of patriarchy. But he will fall, too. His “silent majority” has become a sickening minority. America knows it is better than him. And that’s an awfully low bar.

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It has been a transformative year for me. This dramatic swing to the alt-right, the rise of hate groups, and the hateful murders in Charlottesville and here in Portland, have put me in front of the media in more ways than I can count. CBS News, NPR, CNN several times, I can’t count how many interviews I’ve given in a desperate hope to put all this bad news into a useful context. This week I was asked to appear on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News in response to some comments I had made in an article on Newsweek. After much soul searching, I declined. I don’t need more face-time. I need platforms that will be able to reach people who are ready to break through the madness. I’m not skilled enough to tame the trolls of Fox News.

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While I watched the nation burn, figuratively and literally, I watched my beautiful family grow. The year began and ended with Cozy playing in the snow. But Cozy at 3 years and 4 months is a different creature from the 2 year and 4 month-old that started the year. In January we were just starting our conversations, often talking in our pretend language that she named “Cupa Sana.” Now she is telling jokes, relating things to lessons she learned in pre-school, and making up songs. The other day she heard a Christmas song with the word “manger” in it and said, “That’s where Jesus was born.” So I guess she has a religion. (My attempt to raise as a pagan has failed.) After her third birthday at Disneyland in August, she just seems to be exploding. It’s a bit freaky. She did addition today. And she always knows where lost things are. And Christmas morning she figured out right wen Santa snuck in.

 

 

One of my favorite things about her has been her love of music, surely an influence of her record spinning father. “Daddy, let’s rock out,” she’ll say, asking me to play something loud so she can thrash around the living room. U2’s “American Soul” is her current favorite. Or “Daddy, play some beautiful music,” which is a key to spin some jazz so she can do some ballet dancing. Yesterday she was making up dances to some Benny Goodman tunes but was in a hilarious aggro mood. One dance was called, “Behavior,” after she spilled a glass of water and was upset. The next dance was called “Bad Sugar Plum Fairy,” that had her spinning around the room like a Hurricane Maria. We started the year with a toddler and ended with a talented performer. How much do ballet lessons cost?

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So much was squeezed into 2017, it’s hard to believe I spent most of it as a stay-at-home dad. Lots of traveling, a new book deal, organizing community forums and anti-bias trainings. And growing almost as much as Cozy did. There were tough moments, like the passings of Tom Petty and Chuck Berry, but there was great music throughout the year, enjoyed with my ever amazing wife, Andrea. She supported me through all this media storm, occasionally luring me off the field for a night out on the town or a Roku binge. (Narcos, OzarkStranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, what’s next?) While I waited for my novel, The Dream Police, to find a wider audience, she won an impressive literary award for her writing.

Through it all, I’ve tried to chronicle each week here on the blog: my life as a parent, husband, and citizen of this increasingly fractured nation, keeping my feminist lens in place. Launching the Recovering Asshole podcast has helped to expand the audience (even if iTunes temporarily kicked the show off because of the title). My blog post on sexuality and Chris Cornell was the most popular post of the year, followed by “Interviewing Neo-Nazis Taught Me How to Talk to Trump Supporters.” My piece, “Fascists Fall for Trump, Their Nazi Dream Date,” was published in CounterPunch. Of the 52 weekly posts, 7 were specifically about Donald Trump, but my favorites were about the joy of parenting, especially May 11th’s “A Dad Love Supreme.” The pieces on Charlottesville and #MeToo were probably the most important, but writing about being Cozy’s dad was just so much damn fun.

In 2018, we will have a conclusion to the FBI investigation of our media-hating/loving president, the most important mid-term election in our nation’s history, and I will have a 4-year-old (and maybe a full-time job). I hope you will continue to check in and watch the wheels with me.

Here’s the 2017 in hyperlink.

Preparing for the Great Leap Backwards: We call it “anomie” (Jan. 4)

Obama has been to the mountain top (and so have we) (Jan. 13)

I stand with the women who march: Anatomy of a backlash (Jan. 18)

Forsyth County, Georgia, January 24th, 1987: The day we marched for freedom and won (Jan. 24)

Donald Trump’s Uncivil War on American Values and Human Decency (Jan. 30)

Hey, hey, hey, it’s fat shaming! (Feb. 9)

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The Bebop of Love (Feb. 14)

Dad Love 10: We become gendered. (Feb. 17)

Coming of Age in the Watergate Era and Awaiting the Trump Impeachment (Feb. 24)

The Art Teacher Was a Lady (Mar. 2)

Interviewing Neo-Nazis has taught me how to talk to Trump supporters (Mar. 9)

(Re) Making the case for hate crime laws in Trump’s America (Mar. 15) 

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Chuck Berry told Jim Crow to roll over (Mar. 19)

That Pig is a She! Normality of normative maleness (Mar. 22)

An Interview with My Dad about Parenting and Gender (Apr. 5)

Jukebox Hero 1: Queens of Noise (Apr. 13)

Men Who Just Don’t Get It: Sexual harassment and my falafel with Bill O’Reilly (Apr. 20)

For the love of God, please eat your dinner (Apr. 27)

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An Anarchist and a Cop Walk Into a Bar (May 4)

A Dad Love Supreme (May 11)

Chris Cornell taught me something about sex. (May 18)

Should we care about Donald Trump’s marriage? (Or anybody else’s?) (May 25)

Living with hate in Portland (Jun. 1)

How I Learned to Stop Fearing Teenage Girls and Started Loving Harry Styles (Jun. 8)

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It’s all a part of asshole recovery (Jun. 15)

The Need to Work (Jun. 22)

Jukebox Hero 2: I Will Follow (Jun. 29)

The Monsters Under the Bed (Jul. 7)

A Time to Refrain from Fighting (Jul. 14)

The World of Wonder in the Backyard (Jul. 20)

Feminisms

“Speaking for all feminists…” (Jul. 28)

Fascists Fall for Trump, their Nazi Dream Date (Aug. 4)

Charlottesville: America’s fork in the road (Aug. 16)

Cozy turns 3 in Fantasyland (Aug. 22)

We must now ask if the President of the United States is a psychopath (Aug. 31)

“You’re gonna need a shotgun” Raising a daughter in a rape culture (Sep. 7)

March

It’s not the KKK in masks and hoods: Fighting hate without violence (Sep. 15)

And Jill came tumbling after. Why? Purging sexist kids’ stories. (Sep. 22)

Donald Trump as the Slave Master of the Black Athlete Plantation (Sep. 29)

How to talk rationally about gun control (Oct. 5)

The emotional fatigue of liberation work (Oct. 13)

The emotional fatigue of looking for work (Oct. 19)

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Me, too, Harvey Weinstein, me, too: Undoing the Normality of Rape Culture (Oct. 24)

Baby Brain 3.0: The cognitive space between baby and baccalaureate (Nov. 3)

It’s time to tax men: Shutting down gun violence (Nov. 7)

Rape Culture and the Complexity of Consent (Nov. 16)

Watching the Wheels Turns 3: Thanks and Resistance (Nov. 23)

Dad Love: The Wonder of Parenthood (Nov. 30)

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Are you helping or are you just acting like you’re helping? Performative allyship (Dec. 8)

Look out, I’m about to use the “N” word. Appropriately??? (Dec. 15)

Dad’s Top 20 Favorite New Spins of 2017 (Dec. 21)

2017: The Year America Fell into the Upside Down

 

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Dad’s Top 20 Favorite New Spins of 2017

December 21, 2017

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This has been a weird year for music for me. The budget tightened as Cozy got bigger and the sabbatical cushion got smaller. Weekly trips to Music Millennium were replaced by lots of speaking engagements and news interviews about the rise of fascism in Trump’s America. I buried my ears in old John Coltrane albums as I read Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest by Eric Nisenson. I spent a lot more listening time in 1964 than 2017, perhaps as an escape from the endless bad news of America going into the ditch. Just turn on KMHD radio and forget about the train wrecks (both literal and not) for a moment.

In my book, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, I posit a theory about the music of the seventh year of each decade. There is one pop album and one underground album that truly defines the decade. 1967: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1977: Saturday Night Fever and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bullocks, 1987: U2’s The Joshua Tree and Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show, 1997: The Spice Girl’s debut and Radiohead’s OK, Computer. The theory sort of falls apart with the death of the album in the 2000s. (You could make the case that 2007 fell to Kanye West and the White Stripes). But what will it be for 2017? It wasn’t exactly the Summer of Love 2.0. It may take years to figure out how we survived a year without a new Beyoncé album.

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We did make it to a few great shows this year. Paul Weller in Seattle was probably my favorite and Solange in Portland was pretty epic. Beck and Spoon on the Portland Waterfront were mass entertaining. Runaway Lita Ford rocked Dante’s and getting to sing with Drivin’ N’ Cryin in Marietta, Georgia was a hoot. (Kevn Kinney introduced me as “Randy Blazak from U2!”)  Herb Albert gave a master class in pop history at the Aladdin and Sting and Michael Kiwanuka brought some neo-soul to town. Bomba Estereo and Y La Bamba covered our Latin fixes. We had a great night with Shannon & the Clams and Portland garage kings The Shivas. However, I missed a ton of great gigs, choosing stay home and sing Frozen songs with Cozy.

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I missed a lot of great music this year. I hear both the War on Drugs and Roger Waters have brilliant new albums out.. I know everyone has Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN at the top of their year-end polls. I loved his last one but I’m just tired of rap albums where every other word is “bitch.” It shows a lack of imagination, no matter how brilliant your commentary might be. The anti-Trump music is finally coming out. Jason Isbell’s “White Man’s World” is a chilling take on election day and I must have played “Fuck Donald Trump” by YG a hundred times on the binks jukebox. Maybe 2018 will be our 1968. You say you want a revolution? Well, you know. Is it streaming?

So this isn’t the best new albums of the year, just the ones I enjoyed the most, while Andrea painted and Cozy built increasingly impressive towers of blocks. I’ve already written about my complete submission to the joyous Harry Styles album, so it should be of no surprise that it tops my heart’s charts. We lost some greats, like Chuck Berry and Sharon Jones, and some old friends returned to remind us that, despite our foray into the Upside Down, great music will always sustain us.

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  1. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
  2. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Soul of a Woman
  3. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
  4. U2 – Songs of Experience
  5. SZA – Cntrl
  6. Sleater-Kinney – Live in Paris
  7. Tim Darcy – Saturday Night
  8. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
  9. Dhani Harrison – In///Parallel
  10. Ringo Starr – Give More Love
  11. Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution
  12. Algiers – The Underside of Power
  13. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
  14. Drivin N Cryin – Mystery Road Expanded Edition
  15. Portugal, The Man – Woodstock
  16. Chuck Berry – Chuck
  17. Cheap Trick – We’re All Alright 
  18. Waterboys – Out of this Blue
  19. Big Thief – Capacity 
  20. Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here?

And Special Portland Topper:  Jared Mees –  Life is Long Besides being a perfect album, it gave me the theme song for my podcast, Recovering Asshole.

Look out, I’m about to use the “N” word. Appropriately???

December 15, 2017

So much of this year has been about checking myself instead of wrecking myself. Maybe 90% checkin’ Donald Trump, 10% checkin’ myself. Is my implicit bias in play? Am I playing my male privilege card? Am I making heteronormative assumptions? Is my allyship performative? Am I expressing internalized racism? It can drive a nigga crazy.

Much of the work in 2017 has been confronting the rise in “polite racism” in the mainstream, from the “white nationalist” bullying by the alt right to the plantation talk of our more orange-than-whte president. But some of it has been done in the mirror. I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of the “N word,” not by Trump supporters or racist skinheads or rappers, but by me. I don’t ever us it as a pejorative. I was called “nigger lover” often enough as a white kid in Georgia who refused to board the cracker train to know when that word is used to hurt. But just the fact that I could use it in that sentence I just wrote, points to the shield of my white privilege.

There’s also a lot of talk this year about “triggers.” I’ve discussed it with regard to rape culture. A rape victim is not going to watch Saturday Night Fever (or Game of Thrones) the same way a non-rape victim will. We are better now at understanding the reality of collective trauma holding people back in their footsteps. Assholes call people who care about such things “snowflakes.” Decent people understand that being aware of triggers is practicing empathy. Well, I’ve been a bit slack with the n****r trigger. My white privilege says it’s not my problem. It’s just a man-made word.

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Because I’m an academic who studies racism and, specifically, white supremacism, I assume people know my anti-racist agenda and that that somehow permits me to use racist language when I am “making a point.” I remember one time in a criminology class I was teaching at Portland State when I was going off on how horribly sexist and misogynistic it was that the term “pimp” was being exalted in pop culture. This was somewhere between the time of Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” and “Pimping” your MySpace page. I was trying to make the point that the sexual exploitation of women by pimps was not that different than the dynamic of slavery. So I said, “Pimps have their ho’s, just like slave masters have their niggers.” Yep.

Two young African-American male students looked at me like I just pushed a TNT plunger. Now, aside from the fact that there is a world of sociological difference between a poor black street hustler and a wealthy slave-holding plantation owner, I thought I had carte blanch to use that word, because I’m, you know, down. In my Intro Class at Emory I’d make students mix tapes with The Last Poets’ “Niggers are Scared of Revolution” or would bust into random lyrics from NWA’s “Fuck the Police.” “A young nigga on a warpath, and when I’m finished it’s gonna be a blood bath.” Because I was making a point. About racism! John Lennon and Patti Smith recorded songs in the 1970s using that word, why couldn’t I use it too? (Answer: They were established artists making powerful statements to large audiences. I was a grad student.)

The thing is, I have never heard that word the way my black students heard it. And they were hearing it from the mouth of a white man. It’s gonna sound different. It’s gonna carry more historical and cultural weight. It’s gonna hit harder. Somebody on Facebook can call me an idiot and whatever. If my father calls me an idiot, it’s gonna be a gut punch. Context matters, even if you are a dope-ass woke white brotha. You don’t get a pass. Even if you went undercover to study racist hate groups, you don’t get a pass. Even if you voted for Obama (Twice!), you don’t get a pass.

I would justify it by saying these obviously smart black students understood the role of context, the point I was trying to make. I make a similar case about the “F word.” If I say, “F word,” nobody is thinking, “Gee, which F word does he mean? Fellatio? Feminism? Furby?” No, it’s fuck. So if I say, “the N word,” the word “nigger” is magically placed inside people’s heads, so why not (in the proper context) just say it? The reason is that is sounds differently in one’s head when it came out a white man’s mouth first.

 

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I always loved the bit from comedian Lenny Bruce from the early 1960s about the “N word.” It was recreated brilliantly by Dustin Hoffman in the 1974 movie Lenny. Bruce just starts using the word in front of a live audience at a comedy show. Then he starts adding other racial slurs, kike, mick, wop. His point is that it’s the suppression of the word that gives it the power to hurt and maybe we should take those words away from the racists.(Paging Dr. Foucault.) Comedian Richard Pryor did that as well. When I was a kid in Stone Mountain, we’d secretly listen to his comedy albums, including That Nigger’s Crazy and Bicentennial Nigger. The difference was Pryor was black, Bruce was not. Then, in 1979, Pryor went to Kenya and wrote, “There are no niggers here. … The people here, they still have their self-respect, their pride.” And he vowed never to say the “N word” again.

A lot of white people wonder why black people can use the word when they can’t. They want to rap along to the same Kendrick Lamar songs but they might have to censor themselves if in mixed company. “I’m the realest uh huh after all. Bitch, be humble.” Again, context matters and it’s complicated. Part of if is black people reclaiming the word from racists and getting a slice of privilege because whites can’t say it. Lenny Bruce was right. You can reduce it’s power to hurt, but you can’t remove it. The other thing is that things are different inside the family. I used to call my little brother names all the time, but if you called him names, oh, we were going to have a problem. Whether it’s “nigger” or “nigga” (Tupac turned it into an acronym for Never Ignorant About Getting Goals Accomplished), context matters. Whose mouth it is coming out of matters. Intent matters.

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When I was in grad school, I read the the late great Dick Gregory’s 1964 autobiography, Nigger. It’s about the struggle to overcome the worst Jim Crow America had to offer. In it he writes, “Those of us who weren’t destroyed got stronger, got calluses on our souls. And now we’re ready to change a system, a system where a white man can destroy a black man with a single word. Nigger.” I began assigning another autobiography to my students soon after that, Malcolm X’s. One of the most powerful lines in that 1965 book was when Malcolm asks a black audience, “Do you know what they call a negro scholar? Ph.D.? Professor? They call him a nigger.” This is not just a slur. You can’t even compare it to “kike” or “wetback” (also assaultive words). It’s a word with centuries of brutal oppression woven into its six letters. You just don’t throw a word like that around.

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In 1990, my roommate and I went to go see Public Enemy perform in Atlanta. (Opening acts: Heavy D & the Boyz and MC Hammer). Two white guys at the Omni Colosseum in a sea of black hip hop fans. We heard, “Hey crackers!” a few times. My first thought was, This what it must be like for a black guy to be at a Garth Brooks concert. But then I realized those two words are in no way equivalent. One word was sort of classist, and the other had centuries of genocidal violence and institutional disenfranchisement behind it. There were no black nightriders burning down the homes of cracker families to discourage then from getting too uppity.

I’m teaching two sections of Intro Sociology at Portland Community College this winter and I’m assigning The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I thought that, in the wake of Black Lives Matters and Trump’s racist plantation rhetoric, it was time to return to its vitally wise pages. But I won’t be using the “N word” to make any points. People of color are experiencing enough collective trauma right now in Trump’s America, enough deja vu, with out me adding one more pin prick to the daily tally of micro aggressions and macro assaults. They’re not snowflakes, but enduring humans. My apology for using that word, even in “context,” doesn’t make up for the cumulative impact of the result. I’ll quote a white guy who once said, “Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.” I know there are some white people who are just so sad they can’t say it. It’s complicated. If you can’t figure it out, best leave it alone. Just don’t say it. Now about that “B word.”

NOTE: I’ve already gotten shit from well-meaning white people for using the “N word” in this post. I’m gonna guess that 100% of African-Americans reading this will get the point. White radicals, I’m shooting for a 65% comprehension rate.

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Are you helping or are you just acting like you’re helping? Performative allyship

December 8, 2017

When I agreed to be on a public panel on racism and white allies, I had no idea it would be such a learning experience for me. I thought I was on the stage to share my expertise with a packed room about “what works” and “lessons learned.” Instead, it became a lesson in how not to respond when called out in one of those not-so courageous conversations. “But I’ve spent my life fighting racism! Racist skinheads have attacked me!” In my mind, suddenly I was there to defend myself. Well, I got schooled. Welcome to the next chapter in getting it.

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Point number one: None of us are perfect. When I talk to white people about this work, I tell them you are going to mistakes so prepare yourself for it. Wrong words used, wrong inferences made, wrong facts stated. I never included the other part of that – How you should respond when you do make a mistake. It’s so easy to get defensive. “But I’m an ally! I don’t even have to be here!” And it’s easy to forget that white people can walk away from a cause that people of color are in every single day off their lives.

Point number two: I can’t be the only one who struggles with reconciling their intellectual self with their emotional self. How many liberal sexual harassers have said, “This is not who I am!” Well, for those of us who don’t live inside your head, it is who you are. But I get the feeling. My ideas about the world and my behavior don’t always match up. I see the world through a feminist lens but I can be sexist. I’m a committed anti-racist, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune from my own internalized racism. This “woke ally” still has a little boy from Stone Mountain, Georgia inside him, whispering in his ear. “Say it. It’s just a joke.”

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I’ve written about how that panel turned into a bit of a shit show when I felt like I was being attacked by a black activist. You can watch the video of the event here. (I can’t watch it. I know what mistakes I made.) The short version is that I got defensive and made it all about me instead of using the moment to unpack any harm I was doing. I should have said, “Thank you for expressing this. Could you please help me to understand what micro aggression I’m engaging in?” Instead I just laughed. How could I be acting racist? Then, afterwards, I turned to Twitter for some classic spleen venting. Then I wrote a blog about “Woe is me” and how hard it is to do this work. “Wahhhh! I should have become a stock broker. Don’t hurt my feelings! I worked for Jesse Jackson!” It was an honest expression of frustration but it missed an important point. This isn’t about me.

While some anti-racist activists probably just wrote me off at that point as a “clueless white person,” others reached out to me. I had coffee with Donna Maxey, the long-time organizer of Race Talks. These monthly conversations are vital work in undoing the harm of racism in our community and she is a true shero. She saw me responding from a place of desperation, about my current transition in life, and a need to be seen as bringing value to the world. Then three white activists invited me to a conversation about performing allyship as opposed to actually fighting racism and it was like a thousand light bulbs went off above my head. An hour can change your perspective.

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I’ve written about Queer Theory in this blog and the concept that we perform gender. As Judith Butler wrote, gender is something we do. Well, so is being an ally in liberation struggles. For some people it is just a performance, not a real commitment to the endgame. “Look at me, I’m performing anti-racism! I marched in a protest! Selfie!” And then they put a Black Lives Matter sign in front of their gentrified house that used to be the home of a family of black lives. I’ll admit it, that night at Race Talks for sure, some of my allyship was performative as hell.

We met at the library in downtown Portland for this summit. I think we were all nervous about how it would go. My previous willingness to be combative on the issue probably didn’t give them much hope. They graciously allowed me to record our talk for an upcoming episode of my Recovering Asshole podcast. Fortunately for them, I recognize that Randy Blazak’s worst enemy is Randy Blazak. I was there to listen with an open heart and not get my hackles up, which is more in line with my emotional training. Hackles.

The next hour was an enlightening conversation about mainstream frameworks of response verses true anti-racist responses. Not only did I recognize the responses of others, I recognized some of my own. How have I responded when called out on my own racism? This is an example from Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s work on white fragility.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 10.52.43 PMThis is just a piece of it (the whole thing is here), but each step of the process is about turning off one’s ego and being open to growth. This is an issue that’s always been challenging for me. Because of my own childhood story, I immediately go into defensive mode and the first response is to battle. Sitting quietly with my feelings before responding has never been a default position. Fighting has. So I understand how I could have done harm by turning the exchange at Race Talks into a sparring match instead of an opportunity for growth. I thought the packed room wasn’t there to hear these two guys go at it. In reality, they could have learned a lot about how to be a good ally if I had provided a good example of how to actually navigate those uncomfortable situations.

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I see this same response from the conservatives in my circle. If they get called out for their racism, they immediately shut down, of talk about their “black friend,” or say they are being misconstrued, instead of just listening. They are afraid to say, “I might be wrong,” or “Help me to see your point.” Everything just ends. And white liberals do the same damn thing. “You are judging me! Look at my liberal credentials! I have a blog!” Shut up and listen.

There are some real red flags that you’re a performer and not a true ally. When you’re with bunch of white people and somebody says something racist. If you don’t say something, you might be a performer. If you get miffed because nobody said “thank you” for your contribution to the cause, you might be a performer. And you’re not willing to take a back seat and just listen, you might be a performer. If posting an anti-racist statement on Facebook is about as a big a risk you are willing to take fight racism, you might be a performer.

During our talk, one of the white allies talked about how important my voice was on this issue because I have such a large audience that listens to me, through my public speaking, my podcast, and this blog. One of the other folks there pointed out how I puffed up when that was being said. It is true. I’m bit of a performer and it is good to get recognition for trying to be part of the solution to all this. But we don’t do it for the recognition. We do it because it needs to be done. It’s not a show starring me. It’s the hard work of dismantling oppression. It’s what needs to be done for us to be truly free.

I think at each step of our lives we have the tendency to think we are fully formed. When I graduated from college at 21, I thought I had it all figured out. I would never know more  about how things worked than I did on May 13, 1985. That seems laughable now. I continue to learn the importance of listening instead of just responding. Listening and hearing. It applies to my role as a husband, a parent, a friend, and an ally in the struggle to bring us out of the darkness. I am but one, but we are many.

Dad Love: The Wonder of Parenthood

November 30, 2017

Cozy was at her abuela’s for Thanksgiving weekend so Andrea and I used the rare child-free time to reconnect as “just us.” You know, like before everything became endless kid clutter and whose turn in was put the girl to bed. We’re talking wine bars, non-wine bars, a lot of making out in the car, sleeping in, and going to the movies. I didn’t dare to suggest The Justice League, because I knew Andrea wanted to see Wonder. It’s not a prequel to The Justice League (that’s Wonder Woman), but Julia Robert’s new film about a cute kid with a facial disfigurement. (How often have you heard that tag line?) If we thought we were briefly, “child free,” that film quashed that illusion.

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I blame my tendency to cry in films on my being a Pisces. That scene in Spiderman 2 when Spiderman (Tobey McGuire, dammit) is fighting Doctor Octopus and ends up on the commuter train with his mask ripped off. You know the scene? When the commuters realize he’s “just a kid.” Every time I lose it. (Even writing this I want to weep for Spiderman.) So Wonder was hard. I did not bring tissues. (Note: There are no spoilers in this post other than the fact the goddamn dog dies.)

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Wonder, directed by newbie Stephen Chbosky, follows the Pullman family who has a kid named Auggie with Treachers Collins Syndrome that makes him look a little like the Mole Man in Fantastic Four #1. (There are already way too many superhero references in this post.) The very first scene was the birth. Mom (Julia Roberts) and Dad (Owen Wilson and his beautiful nose) are filled with excitement as their second child pops out. You see the horrified faces of the young doctor and nurses as they rush the baby out of the room. Julia and Owen don’t know what’s wrong, but we do because we’ve seen the previews. And let the sobbing begin. Two minutes into the film.

Those of us who have had babies or who have held the right knee of our spouse while she gave birth know how emotional that moment is. It’s not just the nine months of anticipation. It’s the lifetime of wondering if you’ll ever have kids and what those kids will be like. Will they be healthy? Will they have all their parts? Will they have a few extra parts that will give them super powers? (Sorry.) In the birth video of  Cozy’s arrival you can hear my voice go into some range that doesn’t actually exists for humans. I was so happy she was finally with us after a crazy detour in her trip to be born. That moment is us at both our most mammalian and most human. All the hopes in dreams placed on our lineage are in that moment. We are the dreams of our ancestors and those dreams are now placed on this tiny baby. Bam.

We were so lucky that, even though Cozy was seriously late, she was completely healthy. That’s not the case for the Pullmans in Wonder. Little Auggie is facing countless surgeries that would have broken our hearts. So many parents go through this hell, but they do it without question, and often without much help. Their lives become consumed with surgeries, appointments, and special needs. Their lives, as well as their other children’s lives, orbit around the sick life of their child, losing much of their own identity in the process. That’s kind of the set up in Wonder when rejoin the family about ten years later.

The rest of the film is about how Auggie, who has been homeschooled by Pretty Woman, is starting middle school and likes to where a space helmet to hide his funky face. So that means cruel kids, bullies, inspiring teachers, Saul from Homeland, asshole parents of bullies, sweet kids, supportive siblings, the dog dying, Mom’s dreams deferred, cool dads, and, finally, acceptance. There’s a lot of tropes found in such films. (Will the bully be redeemed?) Ebert & Siskel might have felt a bit manipulated. But as a parent, I fucking bawled through the whole movie, and so did Andrea. In fact, my throat physically hurt from trying to choke back the tears for two hours. Thank God there was a bar nearby.

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Here’s why. You experience life differently as a parent. The young people in the theater (and there plenty of kids in the audience) must have had no idea how all of us parents were seeing this movie. I would have loved to interview them. “It was funny, not sad. Why were all these people crying?” But a switch is flicked when you become a parent. I felt it the first time we heard Cozy’s heartbeat. It’s not about you. It’s about them. You’re sole mission is to protect them so they will be ready to live without you. If this wasn’t true, women would give birth to 18-year-olds who who climb out of the womb and head straight to college. We have one job. And that job is 24-7 and does not get Thanksgiving weekends off.

I kept thinking that while watching the movie. What other job is 24-7 with no time off? I think we could do a better job of letting teenagers who think getting knocked up means a show on MTV in on this truth. It’s just not your time. (“My mom will help with the baby.”) It’s your mind. I’m never more than two thoughts away from Cozy. Right now I’m sitting in a Portland coffee shop and I know that Cozy is in daycare 9 blocks in front of me and one block to the left. She’s having her lunch and then a nap. I will pick her up at five o’clock and fall to my knees, knowing she’s had a fun, supportive day and is telling me all about it while I wrap my arms around her.

BLAH

The Sunday before Thanksgiving we were at the packed grocery store getting supplies. I was trying to get some Tillamook cheese out of the case, along with a few other shoppers. When I turned around, Cozy was gone. Just like that. Gone. Did she wander off? Was she abducted? Did I even bring her with me? My first thought was to find her but my second thought was my wife was going to kill me. “Oh, we’ll find her. I have to go back tomorrow. I forgot the almond milk.” So I’m yelling for my three-year-old. Who cares what people think? I don’t care about their judgment at this point. What am I going to do? Before I can grab an employee and order an immediate lockdown, I hear “Daddy!” Cozy was three isles away playing with some colorful soap she had found. In those 30 seconds there was the entire range of emotion, from sheer panic to an endorphin blast of picking her up again.

As a criminologist, I know that kids that don’t have close emotional bonds with their parents are more at-risk of becoming delinquent. The clearest example of this is the research on kids who are in foster care. They may have a roof over their heads and hopefully non-abusive guardians, but it’s not the same as an emotionally invested parent (biological or not) who has made that child’s well-being their priority above absolutely everything else. Someone needs to tell Kylie Jenner that her kid will take precedence over her Instagram account and make-up supply. It also makes me wonder about abusive parents. Do they have some genetic abnormality” To hurt my child seems contrary to every cell in my body. Every time I pick her up, I immediately think, “Don’t you dare drop her.”

I might just be neurotic. That’s also a Pisces thing. I’m still more than a parent. I’m still a sociologist and vinyl junkie. Andrea is still an artist and an immigrant. But our identities have been formalized by being Cozy’s parents. My being is shaped by this primary duty. “What do you do for a living?” “I make sure my kid is OK.” It’s a wonder we ever get to exhale.

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