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Monday, July 20, 2015

Oh Dear God, Not Another Talk About Racism: Dispatches from the Post-Racial Era

These were the words running through my mind at a recent brunch with some old friends as the subject of racism came up - well, actually, it didn't start off as a discussion about racism, it started off as a discussion about the possible lynching of Sandra Bland and why I don't take long-distance solo drives through certain areas of the United States, so really, it was a discussion about logistics and the shortcomings of GPS maps that may give you turn-by-turn directions, but are silent as to whether or not persons of color, like myself, might want to bypass certain routes in order to arrive at our final destinations ALIVE! Come to think of it, I guess it WAS a discussion about racism. 

The friends are a married couple and the wife and I met while in college. The husband was a later edition. My friend and I are like sisters. We've been there for each through the questionable hair decisions of our college days, job searches, still more questionable hair decisions, boyfriends, marriage, parental illness and death, and the birth of children. When our husbands are with us, she and I still talk a thousand miles a minute as our spouses try to get a word in, here and there. On issues of religion and social justice, she and I are in sync, but her husband is more conservative in his stance on certain issues. While he and I don't always agree, I was shocked when he responded to my fears and concerns around traveling to certain potentially hostile places with the following statement: I don't see it. The "it" he was referring to was racism. And that, my friends, was when the "it" hit the fan!

Let me walk you through his argument: Racism exists now because we (meaning minorities) keep talking about it. If we stopped talking about our differences, then we'd all just get along and racism would end.

But, there's more: The nine African-American church members murdered in Charleston, SC died not because of the actions of the racist shooter, but because minorities keep talking about racism and the media continues to cover minorities talking about racism, so much so that WE minorities have created the construct that fueled the racial hatred in the shooter. Oh, and, of course, President Obama is responsible for everything that's wrong in this country.

So there you have it - finally, I now know how to eliminate racism from this country. Dr. King must be shouting Hallelujah in that heavenly kingdom: let's just stop talking about it! Who knew it was all so easy!!

Racism is like your childhood imaginary friend, I guess. Like that movie "Drop Dead Fred" where the heroine reunites with her imaginary friend as a psychological crutch as she navigates the tough stuff of adulthood, including her divorce from a philandering husband. I'm so glad that I got whitemalesplained about racism before it was too late. Maybe, if talking about racism only perpetuates racism and NOT talking about racism ends racism, then maybe we should stop talking about rape or about suicide or about genocide. Don't you all feel great now that these burdens have been lifted from our shoulders??

I was offended, as you can tell. The intellectual in me was offended. This college educated professional whose own Italian American family had dealt with racism when they first came to this country seemed to be either ignoring or ignorant of how racism affected his own family. But the emotional side of me was just plain hurt. After almost 20 years of friendship, I was blown away by his inability to empathize with his friend sitting across from him. I wanted to cry because "I don't see it" means that he doesn't see ME. 

It's hard when your friends disappoint you, and it's harder, still, to forgive them. But the hard way is, unfortunately, the only way to break through someone's ignorance. I'd love for racism to die, but its death won't just happen because we've silenced the conversations about it. It's disheartening to think that Trayvon, Charleston, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner haven't been enough to move this man into "seeing" racism.  But, maybe the issue here is scale. It's easy to push platitudes and axioms pulled from political talking points and applied to large-scale stories that have grabbed international headlines. It's an easy thing to debate the issues, but how do you deal with an actual someone and not a some thing? This is the hard work and it can only be done one person at a time, and one conversation at a time. 


Monday, July 13, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies: Why "The Bachelorette" Makes Me Mad, Not Sad

Every season "The Bachelorette" seems like it goes on waaaaaay longer than it should. With this year's "Bachelorette", Kaitlyn, the producers must be beside themselves with glee. She's the whole package: weirdly-spelled first name, bobble-head body, baby talk voice with an old-man belly laugh, overly-large teeth, she can cry with the snap of a finger, she likes to be "goofy", oh, and she likes sex. Finally, they can put to bed the delicate metaphors like "fantasy suite" and "overnights" (you know, like they're a bunch of 12 year old girls having a sleepover, complete with popcorn and Taylor Swift on the radio), and all of the other linguistic gymnastics that the writers' room agonized over for lo these many years in order to avoid directly addressing the simple chemistry when hordes of telegenic young singles combine in dreamy exotic locations supplied with liquor, hot tubs, and cameras. But this "Bachelorette" is a monster of reality TV's own making. The reality TV universe has finally turned the corner and produced its own spawn!!

Cue the scary music and the clap of thunder!

That's right, Dr. Frankenstein has been hard at work because Kaitlyn isn't real. Sure, she looks like she's made of flesh, blood and bone, but her brain was swapped out long ago for a processing system that runs on bottle caps and lip gloss. Think about it - is she really such a cool girl who is down for anything? Who's idea of a great first date involves sloppy burgers and beer in a bottle? She came to the show's producers fully-formed. She'd probably already sketched out some notes as to who her character "Kaitlyn" would be - what motivates her, what angers her, who her enemies are and what the arc of her storyline would be. I wouldn't be surprised if she was running lines with her girlfriends every night after she got home from her day job in the weeks leading up to the submission of her audition tape. 

And it's not just "Kaitlyn" that's not real, just take a look at the bachelors. There's The Soulful One, The Moody One, The One Who Picks a Fight Before the Rose Ceremony, The One Who Rats Out The One Who is a Liar Who is Then Sent Home, The One Who Fools The Bachelorette But Not America - all of whom know how to cause the dreaded "drama" and all of whom think that every romantic cliche thrown up to them as a date is "amazing" as they "follow their heart" on this "journey" to, you know, "find love" and, when not handed a rose, spend their limo drive into the sunset wondering how they'll "process what's just happened." ENOUGH!! 

Look, there was a time when reality TV was authentic. They called them documentaries and they were unflinching and real. The first season of MTV's "Real World" reads more like a documentary in that it makes you deeply uncomfortable because it's so real with all of the awkwardness and that feeling when you're stuck on a full flight with a couple who are having the worst argument of their marriage, like way worse than Elaine Benes and David Putty on that episode of "Seinfeld" and minus the comedic genius of Larry David. 

But now reality TV is stocked with heroes and villains who arrive fully-formed and aren't created by post-production slight of hand in the editing suite. Slowly, we, the general public, have become characters in our own reality shows. Creation of the alter ego usually begins with creating your first social media account. The profile questions - favorite films, favorite music, hobbies/interests - are all opportunities to create yourself, or recreate yourself. Some of us bring these cyber ids off of the screen and into the four dimensional world and then boomerang back to the screen - at least that's what I think Instagram is for, right? I mean if you've described yourself as a foodie then eating at a fancy restaurant having a great meal is your THANG, but it doesn't really count until you take a photo of the meal at the fancy restaurant, Instagram it out to your followers, and then tag the heck out of it so that the fancy restaurant knows that you're eating there and loving it because you're a foodie, that's what you do! We've become wedded to the weird internal storyline that appears to be guiding our lives, and we have become insistent on maintaining a narrative consistency with the characters we've created. We've made existence boring and predictable and that makes me mad - not disappointed, not sad, not angry, just MAD. 

So, let's mix it up a little bit. Stop trying to be "The [fill in the blank]" and just BE.