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.

America is Becoming a Dystopian Nightmare: What Do We Do Now???

June 28, 2018

I’m sick to my stomach. It doesn’t seem like a survivable idiocracy at this point. It feels like the drift into authoritarianism. Both my undergraduate and doctoral work focused on how fascist movements emerge. My professional work as a researcher has centered on the threat of right-wing extremism. I have to slap myself to make sure this is not a bad dream. Trade wars lead to depressions which lead to authoritarian strongmen willing to do whatever it takes to make their nation “great again.” Is this 1938 or 1968? Old straight white men don’t see it, but almost everyone else sees the writing on the wall.

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At least the summer of 1968 had just a few central issues to focus America’s rage on; the Vietnam War, institutional racism, would the Detroit Tigers make it to the World Series (yes). For us in 2018 it’s dizzying. Our president alienating our allies and playing footsies with dictators, then lying about about a member of Congress, children being ripped from their parents by government police forces, the Supreme Court rolling back reproductive rights, worker rights, and banning many Muslims from entering the country. And that’s just in the last two weeks! How are we supposed to get a footing to fight back?

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Or is that their plan?

The announcement of the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court should be taken as a monumental threat to our democracy but, jeez, it’s just another headline. There’ a protest about it, but I was going to go to the protest about the Supreme Court ending fair share support of public unions, and also those kids on the border, and what were we angry about this time last month? I can’t keep up. I’ve got Trump fatigue and that’s good for Trump and his cult of personality. Is this how Germans felt in 1929?

The Supreme Court situation is more than dire. George H.W. Bush recognized stacking the courts with his “yes-men” was the way to go 30 years ago. It’s an old tactic but it was raised to a new height of authoritarian rule in 2016 when Senate Leader and human turtle Mitch McConnell refused to hold hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court pick until after the election. Most of us thought, Fine, then President Hillary will appoint someone who is actually a progressive.

Trump’s pick (which constitutionally should have been Obama’s but GOP + U.S. Constitution = meh), Neil Gorsuch has helped to swing the bench away from the center and to the hard right. The decisions this past week prove that hard fought victories for women, workers, and a sane anti-terrorism policy can be zeroed out by a single vote. Now that Kennedy, the last remaining (Reagan-appointed) centrist is leaving, Trump can recreate the court in his image. Do you think he’s going for judicial balance or for a rubber stamp for his destructive policies? Look for Don, Jr. to be his go to “judge.”

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It’s clear that Roe v. Wade’s days are numbered and women and girls will soon be dying again in back alley abortions. (If Donald J. Trump ever paid for your abortion, now would be the time to come forward.) Marriage equality is in the cross-hairs as President Pussy Grabber tries to appease his evangelical gay-hating “Christian” base. Border policy that rounds up the “infestation” (his word) of non-white immigrants will be expanded. Start looking for an expiration date on green cards. But most of all the Trump Court will hand more of the people’s rights over to corporations and destroy the democratic (that’s a small “d”) fiber that made this country the shining city on the hill.

Trump looks more and more like Saddam Hussein every day, pushing this country into a permanent one party rule. He’s been quietly appointing scores of judges to the lower courts, including white supremacists. And we’re focused on Roseanne Barr and whether or not Sarah Huckabee Sanders can eat a burrito in peace. Post-modern theorist Frederick Jameson warned us that late capitalism would be characterized by an obsession with “politics” while the rich and powerful consolidated their control over the masses. “Trump’s creating an authoritarian state!” “Yeah, but did you hear on Fox & Friends what Maxine Waters said?”

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Speaking of TV shows, as I’ve mentioned before, this all seems like a preview of season three of The Handmaid’s Tale. Every woman and gay person who voted for Trump (or didn’t vote for Clinton) will see their rights rolled back. It might not be the government that is lynching “gender traitors” en mass and forcing non-Christians to work in the wastelands, but the hate mongers who love Trump and hate those who don’t will have high octane fuel for their pogroms. I spent the hour after the Kennedy announcement on white supremacist discussion pages and the Neo-Nazis could not be more excited about where Trump could take this.

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Where I’m stuck is what to do. When I watch The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m cheering for the terrorists. Whoever said that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter was right on the money. King George III called the American revolutionaries “terrorists” because of their asymmetrical warfare. Our country was founded by terrorists/freedom fighters. But there are also the Timothy McVeigh-style terrorists who call for a “2nd American Revolution” to purge America of its control by the “global Zionist cabal.” The 2nd Amendment Trumpies are itching for a civil war and any excuse to unload their ammo on random “libtards.” So, I think blowing shit up is probably off the table.

Can we rally behind a corporately-funded Democratic Party to plug the holes of this sinking ship in November? They don’t have a very good track record as of late and have done a perfect job of blowing perfect opportunities. Of course, all those “progressives” who refused to vote for Hillary in 2016 pretty much handed America Trump on a Mir-a-Lago platter. Can the entrenched misogyny be overcome by the clarion call of an Elizabeth Warren or are we just doomed to have to follow whatever old white man can puff up his chest the biggest?

Healing

I’m so torn. There’s a big part of me that believes Trump supporters are either complete morons or racists (recognizing that there is a third possibility, that they’re both). There’s also a big part of me that believes Trump supporters, like the Nazi skinheads I have spent thirty years studying, have just been misled by those speaking to their emotional distress and can be rescued. And therefore that America can be rescued from this abyss it stands on the edge of. It’s easier to say, “You’re wrong and you are being lied to” than it is to say, “Hey, let’s talk about our common values and how we can act on something other than fear.” Are we up for that challenge?

But right now fear is driving these people, like this ludicrous fear of MS-13. (I want “Angel Family” rallies for people killed by the police, or corporate malfeasance, or falling trees.) Trump’s “campaign events” look more and more like the fascist rallies of 80 years ago, full of scapegoating and dangerous conspiracy theories packaged in easily busted lies. Are his crowd paid actors (like they were at his campaign announcement) or are these people for real?

I don’t know what to do right now. A little angel is sitting on my shoulder and saying, “Randy, you’ve studied this phenomenon your entire adult life. You know what’s coming. Gather your family and get the fuck out.” But part of me wants to reason with these people one last time and remind them that we can be one nation again. That this politics of division will be the end of us. I’m ready to put my shoulder to the wheel to build bridges instead of walls. I’m ready to fight and recruit allies. Even old white men (and their “classy” (barf) women) can be reasoned with. It’s not over yet. America, I’m giving you until November.

 

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