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

March 15, 2017

Earlier this week a neighborhood in Southeast Portland was covered in spray-painted swastikas. Swastikas on cars, fences, trees, and sidewalks. It’s been part of a rash of similar graffiti in the metro area this winter, including “Kill niggers” and other racist scrawlings at Lake Oswego High School and a swastika with a “Heil Trump” tag in men’s room at Portland State University. A report released today by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism-California State University, San Bernardino found a 22% increase in reported hate crimes in 2016 in ten large cities across the country (including Seattle). Is this the new normal in Trump’s America?


I spent the morning testifying at the Oregon state capital in support of Senate Bill 356, that would refine the state’s hate crime law and add gender and ethnicity to the protected statuses. It was a chance to explain to our state’s lawmakers the “greater harm” of bias motivated criminality and why the nation started passing these laws in the 1980s. I began my testimony with the story of a woman named Loni Kai, who was born a male named Lorenzo Okaruru. Kai was brutally murdered in 2001. She was last seen hitchhiking on a main thoroughfare in Hillsboro, Oregon. Her body was found in a  nearby field the following day with her head caved in from a savage beating. At the time, the case could not be investigated and prosecuted as a hate crime because gender (and gender identity) were not included in the state’s hate crime statute. Almost 16 years later there still have been no arrests in the murder of Loni Kai.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 9.39.48 PM

Since election day there has been a dramatic increase of hate crimes and hate incidents around the country. Hate incidents are acts that protected by the Constitution as free speech but are still hateful. After the election, there were numerous reports of high school boys telling Muslim and Latinx students that Trump was going to get them. It’s not uncommon to see cars and trucks in Oregon with swastika placards. Hate crimes are things that are already illegal (vandalism, assault, murder, etc.) that are committed because of a bias motive towards the victims perceived demographic membership. Yes, this includes kids who get beat up because they are white.

Hate Crimes as a form of terrorism

If I had the dollar for every time somebody asked me, “Isn’t every crime a hate crime?” I’d be a rich sociologist. Most crimes are motivated by financial gain, so I’d like to hear your argument that stealing a bike is a hate crime or burning down the business for insurance fraud is a hate crime. Hate crimes focus on the motive, a common thing in criminal prosecution. That’s why there is a difference between homicide and manslaughter. Did that guy break into your house to steal your gun or to just take a shower? Those are two different crimes.

Why don’t we consider the September 11, 2001 attacks 2,977 cases of homicide (or one case of homicide with 2,977 victims)? Because all of America was the target. And those who were around on that day can testify that every single person was affected. (I had an irrational anxiety about crossing large bridges for months – a real problem in Portland). The goal wasn’t to kill just the people on the planes, in the Pentagon, and in the World Trade Center. The intended victim was all Americans. Terrorism is a message crime targeted at entire populations. A swastika spray-painted on a Jewish family’s car is going to impact more than just that family. This is why these laws exist. Greater harm.


The research is clear. Hate hurts more. Nobody wants to be a victim of a crime. It straight up sucks. But hate crimes tend to be more violent, like baseball repeatedly bashing a skull violent. Like Osama bin Laden, hate criminals want to send a clear message to a larger population. Get out of my land. If hate crime victims survive, they are more likely to need reconstructive surgery and long term-therapy compared to other victims of violent crime. We know that hate crime victims have deeper psychological scars and suicide attempts. When someone beats you for your gender identity, it’s deeper than someone beating you because they want your debit card. Victims of hate tend to withdraw and then the cavalcade of problems continue; at their job, in their family, and with their community.

It doesn’t end there. The target community also suffers. Who is going to be the next victim? Is this attack a reflection of wider beliefs? If there is a gay bashing in Portland tonight, all members of the LGBTQ community in Portland will experience the wave of anxiety and impulse to withdraw. The 1988 murder of Mulugeta Seraw in Portland by racist skineads created a wave of fear in the city, and not just among the local Ethiopian community. Many people of color shut their doors and focused on their and their children’s safety. Like how Americans felt after 9/11, but just think of a 9/11 after 9/11 after 9/11.

Wait, there’s more! Researchers have found that whole communities suffer after a hate crime. People start wondering what side their neighbors are on. Vibrant networks are strained as distrust grows. Yusef Hawkins was a 16-year-old black boy who was murdered by a white mob in Bensonhurst, New York in 1989. In the aftermath, the community erupted into months of racial conflict and violence. To this day, you can’t hear the name “Bensonhurst” and not think of how bad we can be to each other.

Officials gather near the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek in Wisconsin

That leads to the last harm, the place itself. Like Bensonhurst, what do you think of when someone says Jasper, Texas or Laramie, Wyoming? There’s a good chance you recall the brutal 1998 murders of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard. Places become stigmatized by the hate crimes that occur there. Many people across the world still think of the Seraw killing (29 years ago!) when someone says “Portland, Oregon.” I’ve had numerous people ask me, “Is Portland safe? I’ve heard about these skinheads.” And pity the poor state of Idaho. Nobody is looking at brochures from the Chamber of Commerce these days. They’re using Google and guess what they find when they look up Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

I am not your white person


In the Academy Award-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, the late African-American author James Baldwin asks us to take a real look at the state of race in America. Not a Hollywood version, but a real hard look. And by “us,” he really means white people because everybody else pretty much knows what’s up. I’ve learned that most white people don’t like it when a person of color holds a mirror too close to their face. They’ll call them “racist” for trying to show them their own unstated racism. They’ll accuse them of “stirring up trouble” (as a white friend from Georgia said on my Facebook page today about Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. John Lewis). Looking is uncomfortable. The airbrushed version of myself is so much prettier.

The ugly reflection is that hate crimes are on the increase in America. Bomb threats at Jewish Centers, Muslim-Americans being assaulted and told to leave the country, Latinos being beaten by self-styled vigilantes, gay and trans kids being bullied, and, yes, even some white folks getting beaten up just for being white. This is the civil war our current president has no interest in rectifying. In fact, he has only fanned the flames of hatred.

In Oregon, we are trying to take a stand against both the history of oppression and the current effort to take us back to “again,” when, for some people, America was “great.” Never again. I’m proud to be a part of that effort.


The Art Teacher Was a Lady

March 2, 2017

Art Lady, you saved me.

It was big thrill when we got out of our usual elementary school routine to go to art class. It may have been for only one hour once a week, but it gave the kids a chance to use a different part of their brains. The teacher was usually a lady with crazy make-up and funky clothes (a big deal in 1970s Georgia), but we were happy to be unleashed. I seem to remember making a lot of crappy ashtrays for my parents who didn’t smoke. But whoever she was, Ms. Art Teacher always let us do our own thing. And I don’t ever remember any Mr. Art Teachers.

There was a coded message that art was feminine. Men taught math, even football coaches, and women “let you” do art. History (as the history of wars) was necessary, but art was extracurricular. When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002, public schools saw a dramatic defunding of “non-essential” arts and music programs (as well as history and language classes) to shift resources to math and English. Once again the feminine was devalued. So the millennials got even less time with the Art Lady then we did. Gee, what could go wrong?

There are a truckload of studies that show the benefits of exposing kids to arts in school. Students that have arts, music, and dance in school score better in reading, writing, and math and have higher graduation rates. Kids with an art background become better citizens and add to community cohesion. Schools with art programs have fewer disciplinary problems. Students who take art classes even have healthier brains. And the findings go on and on. But why waste our time with artsy fartsy arts when we could be teaching our youth to find the value of x?


I’ve been reflecting on my own arts education, or lack of it. The elementary school arts teacher didn’t follow us into high school. (There was no middle school in Georgia in the 1970s). There was a small arts club at our school but not much beyond that. (The Industrial Arts Club had more members.) Certainly if you showed any affinity for the arts you were called a “fag.” This was especially true for boys. I’ve written about my short tenure playing high school football as simply a performance of the narrow definition of high school masculinity. I was riding the bench when I would have rather been reading and listening to records. It wasn’t until the arrival of punk rock to rural Georgia that I found righteousness in being bullied. Iggy Pop saved me from a life as a half-assed jock.


I was one of the lucky ones. My parents were from Cleveland, not Stone Mountain. My mom played saxophone in a jazz band and got to hang out with Louis Armstrong. Her mother was a globe trotter and brought us musical instruments from all over the planet. (I used the balalaika to mime to Kiss songs.) My dad traveled for business and brought the outside world back with him. We had a baby grand piano in the house and regularly gathered around and sang the songs of old. I liked to act in school plays. (I was Mr. Grumpy in Mr. Grumpy’s Toy Shop, dammit!) My great love of literature was nurtured at home, so while my friends were off getting drunk in a field, I was reading George Orwell, Jim Carroll and barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard, while listening to Blue Oyster Cult albums. My cohort seemed to reject anything connected expression, by themselves or others. (Although there was a brief moment in 1980 when it seemed that half of Redan High School was reading Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire.) The mission, as it is in every high school, was to manage conformity. And anyone a few steps outside of normal had to be punished.


By my senior year there was a small group of us punk kids and it was brutal. We’d get physically attacked by boys who demand that we stop listening to “fag rock” and “go buy some Nugent.” Gender conformity extended to even music. (I actually had Ted Nugent in my LP collection, between the New York Dolls and Gary Numan.) Thanks to rock magazines, like Creem and Circus, I got into the Australian band AC/DC long before they broke in the US. But I knew if I wore my AC/DC t-shirt to to RHS in the 70s, the reaction from the rednecks was like the drool of Pavlov’s dogs. “Hey, Gayzak! AC/DC? That means you’re a fucking faggot! Ha, ha!” Two years later they would worship this band, but they had to make it to the overground first. Anything from the underground was associated with “fairies.”

Of course, for me, the underground is where I wanted to be. I wanted to escape to the Lower East Side of NYC and hang out with Patti Smith and the Ramones. Or San Francisco and sip cappuccinos with the bastard children of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Or the Sunset Strip in LA where I could have a funny haircut and hang out with actors. There was one store at Lennox Square Mall in Atlanta called Rain that sold “new wave clothes,” and once I got my drivers license I was a regular customer, fully knowing that identifying myself as “other” would lead to more beat downs from the boys. Saint Iggy, protect us.


The world of art was my escape. I was never told by the people that mattered to me, including parents, teachers, and rock stars interviewed in the sacred pages of Rolling Stone, that I should not search for my own voice. When you’re a kid, it’s mostly consuming to find the idiom that most speaks to you. Am I a realist, surrealist, goth, or mod? And then you start, in bits and pieces, and five-line poems and napkin sketchings, to externalize your own internal chaos. For me it was discovering the teenage poetry of Liverpool writers, like Roger McGough and Adrian Henri, that got my #2 pencil moving. “In forgotten graveyards everywhere the dead will quietly bury the living and you will tell me you love me, tonight at noon.” They opened the door to bebop jazz and the world of bohemia. My mind was gone and my body soon followed. Out, out, out of Stone Mountain.

I’m reflecting on all this because the strange world of Facebook has given me a fascinating (and totally unscientific) longitudinal data set. It’s allowed me to reconnect with my high school peers and peek in on their trajectories over the last 30+ years. Those of us who hung out on the fringes of conformity, the formerly despised “art fags,” generally ended up in some pretty cool places and are still rooted in a cultural defiance that others never got to enjoy. The Nugent-crowd still has a vested interest in the status quo. (“Give Trump a chance. Get rid of those illegals. Religious freedom of cake bakers to discriminate!”) There are certainly exceptions to this, but the art-averse climate of my little Georgia Klan town is not that dissimilar to the defunded arts program world that gave us Trump and the “mandate” to not offer protection to transgender kids who need to use the goddam bathroom.


At what point did we become truly human? One could argue that it was when Paleolithic people first began making art. Artifacts dating as far back as 50,000 years show our attempt to translate our experience for others. The 10,000 year-old cave paintings in France are vivid depictions of not only the real but the spiritual. What is life? There is a direct link from a cave dweller banging out a new rhythm on a hollow log to the latest Ed Sheeran song. (Well, I’m guessing cave drummer didn’t see the beat as “product,” but you get what I mean.) The arts tell us we are unique and have our own voice. You don’t need Ted Nugent to speak for you.

It’s funny how the arts are framed as feminine. All the most famous artists are male. Name one female painter other than Frida Kahlo. Meanwhile girls and women are creating amazing works because it is an innately human act. It’s like how cooking is a “feminine art,” but all the highest paid chefs are men. Casting the wide world of the arts, whether it’s playing a cello or writing a memoir, as a feminine world allows it to be marginalized. Artists are in touch with their feminine side and soldiers are in touch with their masculine side. And we wonder why ISIS blows up libraries and Donald Trump wants to defund the National Endowment for the Arts to help pay for record build up of the military.

Our future as humans depends on fostering the arts among our youth. I bet the Art Lady would agree.


I found a 2-year-old!

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.


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.


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.


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?


Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 8.43.49 PM

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.


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.


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.


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.




A Coyote brought her to us – Cozy’s birth week

March 2, 2016

Stephen G Girolami

For the last year and a half I’ve been trying to get around to sending Dr. Stephen Girolami, at Providence St. Vincent Hospital, a thank you note for delivering our baby. He met Andrea when she was in full labor. Not the typical birth scenario. We had intended to “demedicalize” the birth and were on track to have Cozy born in a cozy bathtub at Alma Birth Center with a mid-wife. I had even practiced catching the baby.

But sometimes life has other plans. Cozy was already late so she definitely was planning a grand entrance. Our team at Alma and the Medical staff, including Dr. Girolami, at St. Vincent’s were all amazing and we will forever remember how they were there on our big day. So, here’s how it went down:

Wed. 8/13/14 – Day 1

Pre-labor starts, and we freak out thinking this is it and I cancel my last Prison Culture class at Portland State. We go to brunch at Milo’s, thinking it’s the last day we will be childless. We watch The Business of Being Born in Spanish, so Andrea’s mom and sister, who are here from Mexico, understand why we chose to have Cozy in a birth center. Our doula, Cassandra, comes by as contractions get stronger. No sleep this night.

Thurs. 8/14/14 – Day 2

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 12.16.41 PM

One week past the due date. Contractions get stronger and I practice my new ukulele. Cassandra and Bree, our nurse midwife, come over and help Andrea work through the pain. I do an interview live on KGW about the Ferguson riots, hoping I don’t miss the birth. No sleep.

Fri. 8/15/14 – Day 3

Bree, our nurse-midwife, comes over to help. Andrea takes some walks around the neighborhood, howling like a wolf. We keep thinking baby is coming. No sleep.

Sat. 8/16/14 – Day 4

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 12.45.00 PM

We check in to Alma at 3:30 pm. We get there a few minutes early and Andrea howling outside the locked gate attracts the attention of cyclists on SE Ankeny. Her sister heads back to Mexico because classes are about to start. Once inside Alma, Andrea gets in the water and Laura, our midwife checks her cervix dilation. Around 10:30 pm her water finally breaks. No sleep. (Maybe a minute for me.)

Sun. 8/17/14 – Day 5

Around 5 am Andrea sends me to get her mother to help comfort her. I see a coyote in Irvington on the way. Cozy’s spirit animal. A coyote brought her mother to America so the circle is complete.

Heavy labor continues. Andrea’s cervix reaches 10 cms, time for birth. But the cervix closes back to 8 cm, revealing a problem and the mid-wives consult on what is best for the baby. Around 2 pm, Laura says we would be best helped in a hospital with an epidural and Pitocin to get the baby out.

Andrea, her mother, and Laura climb in our Prius and I drive us all to St. Vincent’s hospital, which is not in Beaverton. Andrea says she is going to jump out of the car on the Sunset Highway. Alerted to her arrival beforehand, the hospital security guard puts Andrea in a wheelchair and sprints with her to the maternity ward. We all run after, as if in a movie. Laura consults with the nurses and Andrea gets an epidural helping with the pain.

It turns out that Cozy’s head is at a weird angle and she can’t make the tricky passage through the pelvis. A C-section becomes a very real possibility. Dr. Girolami arrives, and with great calm and confidence believes he can help get the baby out.

There in Room 324, with several nurses, Andrea’s mom, Bree, the ICU nurses, and I, Andrea begins her heroic push. Bree is holding her left foot and I am holding her right as Dr. Girolami says he can see the top of her head. Cassandra and Laura arrive, and Laura begins photographing the birth (annoying the doctor, who is focused mightily on getting Cozy out). “Let’s focus on the birth!” I say.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 12.12.03 PM

After an incredible hour or so, at 9:25 pm, Cozette Valentina is born and placed on mom’s chest. She’s 8 lbs. and 6 oz. and 21 inches. I cut the cord and think she looks like my dad. I quickly take a picture of mother and child so our friends on Instagram and Facebook can know that all is well. The nurses hand over the placenta to the midwives for encapsulation. We are moved to Room 447 in the post-partum wing. After 3 nights of no sleep, I fall asleep with my beautiful daughter on my chest.

Mon. 8/18/14 – Day 6

We are ready to go home, but the pediatrician, Dr. Jan, wants us to stay 48 hours and run tests. Bree helps us to advocate for what’s best for Cozy and we agree to stay for an extra day. Andrea gets lots of help with nursing and I change an awful lot of poopy diapers. I take Andrea’s mom home and bring back a burrito from Don Pancho’s. We play lots of Beatles in our room for Cozy, who we can’t stop staring at. I try to watch Under the Dome but Cozy keeps crying.

Tues. 8/19/14 – Day 7

I wake up early and grade a giant stack of PSU papers. Grades are due later in the day. Against the official advice of the doctor, but with the support of our midwife team (and the tacit support of all the female nurses), we are discharged at noon. Cozy is wrapped in the blanket my mother brought me home in 50 years ago. Andrea rides in the back with Cozy, but wants to make a pitstop at Starbucks for a caramel frappuccino.

We get home, neighbors have put up “Welcome home, Cozy” signs on the house and in chalk on the sidewalk. Andrea’s mom (and now Cozy’s abuela) opens the door and we start a new chapter.


Ben Carson is not retarded: The language of marginalization

February 23, 2016

When our daughter Cozette was on her way to us, we had all the usual concerns new parents have. Were we emotionally and financially ready? Would our lives become unrecognizable? And of course, would our daughter be born a healthy baby.

The statistics are daunting. One in 33 babies born in the U.S. has a birth-defect of some sort. Of course, you would love that child regardless but the issue adds another level of challenges to the already challenging task of parenting. Many of those disabilities are mental in nature. For example, 2.5 to 3% of Americans experience some form of mental retardation. That’s about 7 million people. Neither Andrea or I smoke tobacco or crack so we felt the odds were in our favor.

When Cozy when was born, we counted her fingers and her toes. After a year and a half, she seems to be perfectly healthy and mentally awesome. And we often stop to think about those parents that have the challenges we escaped, maybe just because of a roll of the cosmic dice.

All this is to make a case about the language we use to marginalize those with disabilities. When I was in high school we had (secret) nick-names for many of the kids with disabilities, to quietly bully them behind their backs and make ourselves feel normal. I carry a lot of guilt around about that. If you are going to high school in 1970s Georgia in a wheelchair, you deserve a fucking Nobel Prize, not ostracization from kids who were a little bit luckier than you.

When I started studying the world of hate, one of the fist lessons was that Hitler targeted Germans with disabilities before he went after the Jews. He wanted to create a genetically pure race and forcefully sterilized up to 400,000 Germans who suffered from mental retardation, schizophrenia, epilepsy and other disabilities. The treatment of the disabled by the Nazis is one of the under-told horror stories of the Holocaust. Of course, there were similar eugenic practices happening in the U.S. at the time.

So, when I teach about hate crimes and hate groups, I also talk about the language of hate. I talk about the dehumanizing effect of calling people (PEOPLE) fags, wetbacks, bitches and niggers. When I talk to high school students, I especially discuss the trend of calling people “retards,” or saying, “that’s so retarded.” It’s not to shame or punish those kids that do it, it’s to enlighten them to the fact that words can hurt people who are already hurting. Instead of “punching down,” find another word in your growing vocabulary.


The impetus for his blog post is because, being an imperfect being, I don’t always follow my own advice. I was watching the GOP debates and the Bizarro World candidacy of Ben Carson. This alleged brain surgeon who may be wandering on to stage near your has talked about the Egyptian pyramids being grain storage units, joked about poisoning gay wedding cakes and believes going to prison can turn you into a homosexual. In the debates he seems stoned, at best, and maybe a little touched in the head (as my mother was fond of saying).

So as I was tweeting my witty tweets, letting the impulsive thoughts go straight to 160 characters for the entire planet to read, I wondered aloud if Ben Carson might be “retarded.” At the time it seemed like a rational explanation for his behavior. Of course, that would make him the first mentally retarded brain surgeon in America and therefore deserving of some highest of high honors (besides the White House).


I was busted by a Trump follower who asked if that was an appropriate tweet from a PhD. I don’t often agree with Trumpies, but she was 100% correct. I finally deleted it and any other reference to Carson being “special,” that might be seen as disparaging to my mentally disabled friends and family in the past, present, or future. I suddenly saw teenage Randy and modern Randy (who complains about trolls) standing there in the same spot. So much for growth, right?

And this isn’t about “political correctness.” Donald Trump and his thugs complain about political correctness because they don’t want to have to think about the hurtful nature of their rhetoric. They don’t want to worry about whether or not they are being bigoted because they are already bigoted. Being challenged on it undermines their able bodied-straight-white-Christian-male privilege. My job as a privileged person is to dismantle that privilege.

People should be taken to tasks for the choices they make and the things they say. That’s still fair game in a free society. But we can also be kinder towards the people we disagree with and the people who have traditionally been the butt of the jokes. My Polish family members would appreciate that.

Some of my fondest memories of my time at Emory University were volunteering for the Special Olympics. Those kids have such great hearts. It’s hugely humbling. I have been a supporter ever since. So, when I got called out on my silly comments, I felt that same guilt that comes with anybody who is aware of their privilege. The history of people with mental challenges is full of great heroism and courage. As someone who has dealt with depression, I have a tiny, tiny window into those struggles.


I don’t think Ben Carson is retarded. I wish I had found a better word in my “PhD vocabulary” to express my concerns about this man’s mental state. Experts have diagnosed Trump as having a narcissistic personality disorder. Pundits have wondered about Carson but it’s not my place to make a claim. I just hope he goes away soon so we can focus on the real threat of fascism that Trump represents. As someone who gets called a “libtard,” on a daily basis, I’d like to elevate the level of discourse that, in a tweet, I lowered.

We don’t win hearts and minds by marginalizing human beings who are different from us. We evolve by developing empathy with them. The Anti-PC crowd fears that challenging task. I want to encourage people to embrace it. I want to encourage myself to embrace it.

We now live in a “Live by the tweet, die by the tweet,” society where people, at their impulsive worst, are not allowed to make mistakes. Someone has taken a screenshot of your little blurb so be prepared for it to haunt you. I just wanted to apologize for mine.


18 thoughts for Cozy’s 18-month birthday

February 17, 2016


How did we end up with a child who is a year and a half old? While she’s watching Sesame Street, let me quickly jot down these thoughts.


  1. One does not simply “just leave the house” with a toddler.
  2. Whoever invented the packaging for cheese sticks needs a very long Time Out.
  3. Only here am I allowed to ask, “Can I smell your butt?”
  4. If the kid eats food off the floor, she doubles as a pet.
  5. So what if her two favorite words are “Dada” and “cracker”? White dads lives matter.
  6. If she doesn’t get what she wants she bangs her head against the wall, getting what she wants.
  7. She’s very helpful loading clothes into the clothes into the dryer. Along with my tools.
  8. This girl is a dancing queen with moves that might be an alien version of crunking.
  9. She loves her mama and dada almost as much as she loves Elmo and Ellen Degeneres.
  10. If she likes you, she will blow you a kiss goodbye. She likes the checkout ladies at Fred Meyer especially.
  11. When she eats an apple, it’s not to the core, it’s and the core.
  12. She has her own language which is a mix of Spanglish, ASL and (I’m guessing) Icelandic.
  13. There is great joy when the kid sits on her potty and grunts.
  14. She was barking like a dog before Hilary Clinton made it a thing.
  15. She likes to sweep the floor, unlike her mother.
  16. The moment when she took “Wheels on the Bus” off her CD player, put Radiohead on and started space dancing.
  17. She thinks the move of Sesame Street to HBO is a complete betrayal of the whole purpose of public television.
  18. This baby is not a baby anymore.


A Valentines Poem for My Beloved Wife

February 14, 2016

The Song of Sirens

I am a child of Daedalus

Who designed the Labyrinth to imprison our monsters

With wax and feathers attached to our arms

He told me not to fly too low

The sea would pull me into its waves

He told me to not fly too high

The sun would melt my wings


But I saw your face in the sky

And I reached up for your cheek

As I could feel the wax melt

Burning my legs

I only wanted to reach up, up, up

And I fell to earth

I fell below the earth


The Sirens collected me from the waves

And sang me your song

“The sea and sky are only blue

They are both too small for you

The time as arrived to be free

Spread your arms and

Come with me.”


Falling and flying at the same time

Detached from the profane world

Into your bosom

The warmth healed my bones

Your breath filled my lungs

In your eyes were cosmos

Give me infinity to explore


You are the great mother of creation

I am humbled before your power

You are the sad daughter of colonization

I want to nurse your soul to bloom

You are the honored judge of mediation

I am schooled by your soft wisdom

You are the seductive goddess of fascination

I want to dream inside your womb


Like a wanderer who steps off a cliff

I chose to depart the muddy road

Toward the glow of your beauty

My right arm grabbed by the archangel Raphael

And lifted to a new heaven

I leave the mortal pain below

To be born again in your resolute love

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 6.31.21 PM