Talking to My 7-year-old Daughter About Abortion

June 25, 2022

I got a text yesterday morning to turn on the TV. I was worried that someone famous I loved had died or there was another 9/11 unfolding. It was much worse than that. The health and safety of girls and women of child-bearing age was being thrown under the bus by five people, Clarence Thomas, Samual Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kananaugh, and Amy Coney Barratt. Remember their names. They pulled the lever to turn the United States into Afghanistan.

Going against the will of a vast majority of Americans and 50 years of precedent, Roe v. Wade was overturned on a Friday morning in June. The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t end abortion (despite the spontaneous celebrations of tools like Marjorie Taylor Green), it just returns the practice to the back alleys of Mississippi and Missouri. And girls and women will die. But, apparently, America cares more about guns than girls and women.

The Friday morning news woke up my seven-year-old daughter, Cozy, who now, as a female, had fewer rights than she did the day before. She wondered what all the yelling on TV was about. Seven-year-olds should not know about abortion. That information should be reserved for 11-year-olds who are raped by a family member. I didn’t know how to answer her. How do I explain this to a child? Of course, she’s heard the word “abortion” and she’s gonna hear it a lot now thanks to the conservative super-majority on the Supreme Court.

Knowing that that word was going to be everywhere and that I would be dragging her along to a reproductive rights rally in downtown Portland later in the day, I decided to have “the talk” with her. Sort of like how black parents have to talk to their kids about how to the police might kill them if they don’t understand how racism works, millions of parents now have to talk to their daughters about how the state might kill them because of how patriarchy works.

So yesterday afternoon, after she came in from playing in a neighbor’s new tree fort, I sat her down on the couch for America’s new family tradition. The word is now everywhere. She’s an inquisitive child, so I knew she had questions.

Me: Hey, Cozy can we talk a minute? (She gets a worried face, like she was in trouble.) No, it’s not a bad thing. Well, it is a bad thing for society, not for you at the moment. I just want to talk about something that’s been in the news. Have you heard the word, “abortion.”

Cozy: Yes (She got uncomfortable, feeling like we were going to talk about sex.)

Me: Do you know what it means?

Cozy: No

Me: I know you’re hearing that word a lot right now and I just want to explain it to you. So when Mommy and I first got together, we really wanted to have a baby one day. And the day Mom found out she was pregnant with you was one of the happiest days of our lives. We were so excited. But sometimes women get pregnant and they are not happy about it. Maybe they’re too young, or they already have a lot of kids, or having a baby might be really bad for their health. So there this little operation called an abortion that lets women decide if they want a baby or not. Women have had the right to make that decision for 50 years. But this morning some judges picked by Donald Trump decided women no longer have that right.

Most Americans believe that women should have this right but some people think abortion is bad because it stops a baby from being born, so there is a lot of fighting about it and people get really angry on both sides. You really don’t have to worry about it now but let’s say 20 years from now you want to be able to decide whether or not you want to have a baby, you will want to have the right to make that choice.

Cozy: How long until the law changes back?

Me: I don’t know, sweetheart. That’s why we have to vote, and march, and fight for you and Mom’s rights. So we’re going to a demonstration downtown later today to protest the decision these judges made. Just imagine if judges said we can have slavery again, how much that would hurt some of your friends.

Cozy: Yeah, that would be really bad.

Me: We have to protest so we can get your rights back. Hopefully it won’t take long. You’ll see a lot of angry people today. I’m angry. Your mother is angry. You might even hear some bad words because everyone is so angry. But you can ask me anything you want about it. You know how much I love your questions. Do you have any questions?

Cozy: Yeah, can I go back outside and play?

And she did. I know it was a lot to lay on a kid, but the Supreme Court and the Trump cult has foisted this upon our families. I shouldn’t have to talk to her about these things.

Later, we headed downtown to the rally. I told her if it got crazy we would leave. Black clad anarchists have a tendency to hijack demonstrations for their own narcissistic reasons and start fires in the middle of the street. (Haven’t they heard about the CO2 problem?) She was a little uneasy walking into the large crowd, but she’s a veteran of marches, rallies, and protests. So she settled in to the cacophony. She only had one question.

Cozy: Daddy, what’s the deal with the coat hangers?

Me: Can I answer that one later?

We were joined about about 1500 other Portlanders in a panic over the rollback of rights. At the moment, women and girls in Oregon are safe, but we could easily have a Republican governor (a horrid anti-choice woman named Christine Drazen) elected in November and be as bad off as Mississippi. Democratic Socialists at the rally told the crowd to vote for them and not Democrats, which is exactly what the anti-abortion Republicans are hoping for. I just let all the chants and speeches wash over my daughter and I. I wanted her to be able to say she was there.

After about an hour, Cozy asked if we could leave. It seemed like a good time as I saw the teenage anarchists in their black uniforms start to circle the diverse crowd like hungry sharks. Often, I’m right there with them, sharing in the rage against the backward slide. But today I wanted my daughter to still believe in non-violence and the democratic process. I wanted her to believe in Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Margaret Sanger. It’s too soon for me to teach her about the politics of desperation or how enemies send agent provocateurs into demonstrations to start fires in the street to make demonstrators look bad on Fox News.

But, apparently. It’s not too soon to talk to a seven-year-old about abortion.

Note: They (anarchists, agent provocateurs, Fox News producers, whoever) did start a fire in the middle of the street last night. But don’t be surprised if the next fire is women burning down the Supreme Court building.

Represent! Why We Need a Black Woman on the Supreme Court

January 30, 2022

There’s a classic experiment in the 1940s that unmasked the true depth of racism in America. Two psychologists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, gave black children in New York City four baby dolls, two with dark skin and two with light skin. Then the researchers asked the kids to pick the “good” dolls and the “bad” dolls. The black children generally saw the white dolls as good and black dolls as bad. The experiment was later used to convince the Supreme Court to hear the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1951.

The black doll experiment has been repeated numerous times, well into the 21st century, and still results in gut-wrenching displays of the internalized white supremacy in black children. (Just watch a few on YouTube.) The demonstration has an added value as our attention returns to the Supreme Court and the issue of race, and the coming vacancy of Justice Stephen Breyer. President Biden has said he would nominate a black women to the bench. That means something to the little black girls in Harlem that picked the white doll.

Racism takes many forms. We easily associate it with cross-burning Klansmen and “Whites Only” signs from the Jim Crow days. But it can be a slight as a clutched purse when a black man steps on an elevator, or as insidious as predatory lending from banks who prey on black and brown people. We see it in the causal commentary about “Mexican immigrants” and the bloody tally as hate crimes rise.

But it is also present in absence. For every black boy who has never seen a male teacher who looked like him, or for every Asian girl who as never seen an Asian woman in the media portrayed as anything other than “exotic,” representation is a game changer. We white people never notice this because, quite literally, there are people who look like this in every filed we can imagine. A white fish doesn’t know it’s in water until you take it out of the damn water.

That gets coded as “white is normal,” and every other race is the exception. You don’t have to say, “white person.”  You can just say “person,” because their whiteness is assumed (as is their maleness). In the nearly 233 years of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s pretty much been a nonstop sea of white people. That changed in 1967, when President Johnson swore in Thurgood Marshall, who was on the bench until 1991, when he was succeeded by Clarence Thomas and his Pepsi can. Thomas, hasn’t exactly been a civil rights lion, not even offering an opinion until the 2003 Virginia v. Black cross-burning case.

But race is not gender and blackness is not femaleness. Representation is an intersectional matter. Just like there are no actual afro-Caribbeans in Lin-Manuel’s film, In the Heights, (a musical about an afro-Caribbean neighborhood in New York), there have been no black women on the high court. While you might find plenty of black female judges in local courtrooms, 80% of federal judges are white and black women magistrates make up a tiny sliver of the remaining 20%. The addition of a black woman would not only be meaningful to those little black girls (and the thousands of black female attorneys), but it would make a difference to the non-black people, too.

The subtle prejudice of absence is in the lack of affirmation. People thought blacks could never be faster than whites, until Jesse Owens was. People thought a black man could never win the presidency, until Barak Obama did. People thought that a black person could never become a billionaire, until BET founder Robert L. Johnson made it. The Supreme Court is the brain trust of our democracy. The absence of black women sends a subtle message about they capabilities.

The white supremacists over at Fox News are already having a field day, playing the “reverse racism” card to their elderly white audience. The rhetoric goes like this; If Biden picks a black woman for the court, he’s screwing a capable white man out of a job. I wonder how many capable black women have been screwed out that job so a white person and/or a man could be hired. But the white snowflakes are apoplectic over the thought that a black women might have an informed opinion on constitutional matters more rooted in reality than something they heard spewed by Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, Ted Cruz or any of the other white men who, in the words of James Brown, are talking loud and saying nothing.

As we head into Black History Month we can underestimate the power of firsts. The first black airline pilot (Marlon Green, 1964). The first black pole vaulter to medal at the Olympics (LoJo Johnson, 2000). The first black woman in space (Mae Jamison, 1992). Second and thirds are equally important. Like the court was made up of all white men from 1789 to 1967, there may be a future court where all nine justices are black women. Until then, whoever President Biden picks, will be a reminder to those little black girls to pick the doll that looks like them.

White People: If you aren’t actively anti-racism, you are pro-racism

October 23, 2019

One of my weirdest media moments was one of my live CNN interviews. It was August 12, 2017 after the mayhem of the alt right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one anti-racist activist dead. President Trump had said there were “fine people on both sides of the conflict,” equating the Neo-Nazis, who had organized the “Unite the Right” rally, with the counter protestors. I was brought on to do the usual “state of hate” analysis. I must have been too concise in my answers, leaving space in the interview. There was a pause and host Ana Cabrera then asked, “Dr. Blazak, so if you were President Trump’s speech writer today, what would be the very first line, the first words out of the president’s mouth regarding the situation in Charlottesville if you were to advise that?”

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My friends watching said I looked like I wanted to laugh out loud at the thought of being cast as Trump’s speech writer. I didn’t say what I wanted to say. I squelched the devil on my shoulder and decided to remain the professional academic. I replied:

I think it’s acknowledging the importance of diversity in this country, the fact that we are stronger together. And then we do want to come together, it’s going to take people acknowledging the history of oppression and racism that we have before we even take the next step. Sort of acknowledging that truth is key to the whole thing.

Here’s what I should have said:

Donald Trump is an idiot. At least on the issue of race, he’s a complete idiot. Not only does he not understand the very basic elements of race relations in America, he has shown no intellectual interest in understanding them. He’s not the president of all Americans, just of the ones who think like him.

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This matter resurfaces on a regular basis. From his regular proclamation that he’s the “least racist person there is,” (the least racist person would never say that) to this week’s proclamation that the ongoing impeachment inquiry is the equivalent of a “lynching.” This guy is clueless and hasn’t learned anything while being “our” president.

But this isn’t about Trump. It’s all about the white people like him who don’t understand how racism works. They think that being a racist is joining the Klan and burning crosses. They don’t understand the insidious persistence of racism in our institutions and in our psyches in the form of implicit bias. Racists are bad people so how can they be racists? They’re good!

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Sevier County Commission member Warren Hurst (an old white guy in Tennessee) is a perfect of example. At a public meeting this week, after complaining that there was a “queer” running for president, said, “I’m not prejudiced, a white male in this country has very few rights and they’re getting took more every day,” and then a bunch of other white people applauded.

This also isn’t about being “racist.” I would argue everyone is racist to some degree. We’ve all internalized ugly messages about white supremacy. Whether it’s white ladies clutching their purse when they see a black man, or black people placing a greater value on lighter skin, racism is the fabric of our lives. It’s there in Muslim bans, the gentrification of black and brown neighborhoods, police profiling, and the daily micro-aggressions that white people dismiss as “not meaning anything.” Racism wasn’t erased by the end of the Civil War, the civil rights movement, the election of a black president, or white kids listening to Travis Scott. This is about what you’re doing about that racism.

I never say I’m not a racist. I’ve internalized white supremacist values since my childhood, but I’m working hard to purge them. I’m getting better at identifying my white privilege and recognizing when I’m practicing white fragility. It’s hard and it sucks and I can see why a lot of white people don’t want to be bothered with the disentangling that requires a constant mirror reflecting some pretty ugly shit right back at you. I never say I’m not a racist, but I do say I am actively anti-racist.

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If your core orientation, as a white person, is not actively anti-racist, you are practicing racism. Like the “good Germans” who stood on the sidelines and allowed the Holocaust to happen, you are enabling the white supremacy that exists in every corner of society. Being actively anti-racist requires that there are times when you need to shut the fuck up and listen to and honor the real lived experiences of oppression that people of color endure. Don’t speak for them, whitey. Listen with an empathetic heart.

But being actively anti-racist also means speaking up when you encounter racism in systems or people. I was inspired to write this because a good friend referred to Lindsey Graham as her “spirit animal” when he defended Trump’s claim that he was being lynched. An anti-racist person would not do that. An anti-racist white person would hear the anguish of black people with regard to the vicious history of lynching and defer to their pain. An anti-racist person wouldn’t say shit, like “Well, Clarence Thomas used that word.” An anti-racist white person would know how to hear the truth and know that they can be become a better person by hearing that truth.

I never want to hear another person say they are “not a racist.” I want to hear white people say they are actively dismantling white supremacy whenever they encounter it, including in themselves.

But part of white privilege is being lazy and feeling like you don’t have to do any work on yourself. White people, you better work.

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