On Violence: a response to the responses to Richmond, VA., 1/20/20

It isn’t just physical, although Americans often seem only to recognize violence in that form. Poverty and hunger are violent. The forced or coerced suppression of sexual identities is violent, as is the suppression of and lack of reward/recognition of the arts and artists. Words can also be violent.

Racism: seriously violent in all of its forms.

Sexism/misogyny: violence

Ethnic hatred (anti Semitism, anti Muslim, anti Indigenous, anti Latino/Pakistani/Palestinian/name your group, is violence.

Fear of/animosity towards disabled people or those with mental health problems isn’t just messed up, it’s violence.

The perpetuation of racist, homophobic, and sexist stereotypes and tropes via all forms of media, texts, films, and art equals violence.

These forms of violence aren’t passive or unimportant. They have moral, ethical, and social implications and real world, practical effects. They result in redlining, blackballing, disenfranchisement, inequality in pay/opportunities/expectations, and a lack of support. They create and uphold poverty, depression, and other forms of repression and oppression.

They shorten the lifespans and lower the quality of life of those living with these forms of violence, and often result in serious physical harm, both directly and in insidious ways over time.

Violence isn’t just the cudgels, knives, and bombs. It’s the will to harm, via a multiplicity of actions and inactions that are institutionalized in every section of society. It’s also the denial of harm towards others and all of the emotional and psychological damage that denying reality causes to the victims of such social and spiritual violence.

Violence is a pervasive yet often denied part of our cultures and society, and so long as we mislabel non-physical assaults as “peaceful” we will continue to have a society of injustice, hatred, and fear.

Santayana Was Right

Watching Cabaret for the first time in a long while.

The “African safari”scene (“Tomorrow Belongs to Me”) was always disturbing with its juxtapositions between the sweetly singing Brown Shirt Hitler Youth, the menacing threat behind it, and the enthusiasm so easily enlisted among the audience members. It encapsulates the dormant-until-triggered, but ever present white supremacist ideology as potential and inevitable violence.

Particularly chilling in this era of history repeating.

Sandy 2012

When I wrote these, we had NO idea what was about to happen or how many neighbors, colleagues, and students would suffer. Many have yet to fully recover, structurally or emotionally.

Just last week a student mentioned working at Ruvo in Greenlawn and I sent my thanks and regards to their chef. They were quickly functional after the storm, and their daily soup, reheated over a candle warmer and with our little bbq, were the only sources for food and warmth for several days. We couldn’t drive out of the area because of the downed wires until all of us neighbors pooled money to get what was needed and pay a neighbor who worked for a utility company to get a cherry picker to reach the box and turn the power off.

We had each other, a safe structure, and are always reasonably prepared, so fortunate, but it certainly increased my empathy for others then and the victims of the increasingly frequent “super storms” and other disasters tied to climate change.

BLISS

Love begets Love. When I found out that I was pregnant, I saw a constellation of stars. It was as though I had a window into cosmic bliss, experiencing joy like I never knew existed. Whatever my shortcomings as a parent, my son was wanted, loved, and the source of the greatest joy and grace I’d experienced. If I have in any way become a better person, it is because of him.

He was always his own person: a kind, protective, funny, and serious little soul. He is that rare person who can be completely in the moment and who always knew when he was in a good time and always expressed gratitude. Precocious, often wise, occasionally harsh, always supportive, he remains the person who can make me laugh to tears and of whom I am most proud. He has become a man I am happy to know and glad to consider a friend as well as a good son and great family man.

When he walked down the aisle to marry his most beloved, uniting our families, and lovingly accompanied by my own dear father, I thought I would burst with happiness. As I turned to see the generations of both families and felt my Mother’s blessing, I knew that indeed, the Circle was unbroken.

It has been a wonder to watch them grow as individuals and become even closer as a couple over the years. They had suffered quietly for years, using every means possible to sustain a pregnancy, always having their dreams dashed. They carried that sadness with grace until finally being advised to give up.

I didn’t, and I made ceremony at home, entreating my ancestors and hers. Earlier, they had joined me on a fieldwork trip, where the most respected elders chastised me for having only one child, but then took my boy aside and blessed him. Magical thinking? Yes, but I held the hope that the charms or just the way that people eventually relax after letting go of disappointment sometimes results in a “miracle.” Meanwhile, we looked into adoption and other options, knowing that any child that came to us would be OUR child, wanted and loved.

A few months later, I asked my son -a tv producer- to film an event I was chairing at the college where I taught, and he agreed. It was rare at that point for us to be able to get together outside of regular family visits, so I was especially happy to have a few hours with my son and to show him off to my colleagues. After setting up the cameras and staging areas, he suggested we take a break before the activities started and people poured in. Sitting in the dark and quiet auditorium, he put his arm around me and pulled something out of his duffle, saying he wanted me to see something and handing me what looked like a photograph. It was a sonogram of his daughter, my granddaughter, somehow already resembling her Dad at this early stage.

If I thought the heavens opened when he was conceived, I can tell you that the entire universe sang at that moment. I can count on one hand the number of times I have wept from pure, uncontainable joy, and that moment is the most memorable. My serious, often somber child, was lit up like a million Christmas trees, Times Square at night, and the Aurora Borealis in spring. For the next several months (and ever since) I was to see the deep dimples he has when smiling, every single day.

I’m here to tell you that Life presents us with many opportunities and occasions for happiness. When I conceived and again when it was confirmed, I experienced unexpected joy. My life has not been an easy one and joy was not my companion, so its visits were always special, appreciated, and noted. I didn’t know that anything could make me happier than my own child had, but I’m here to tell you that the joy of seeing my child’s happiness made my heart open up a whole new chamber. I went back into the gala in a haze of joy, my face swollen from the happy tears we’d shared and my brain on autopilot for the rest of that wonderful night.

And then she was born, and again, my joy was for their joy: my son and the beautiful soul he’d brought into our lives through love and marriage, the woman who made him aspire to greatness, and laugh, who brought out his silly side, and for whom he felt pride and gratitude. This beautiful couple were finally graced with the child they so wanted and who had- artiste that she is- built up this tremendous anticipation before gracing us with her presence on the stage of Life. Our little star was born and my heart was overwhelmed with love for this person who made my children so happy.

But then somehow, my heart expanded even further as this little blissball grew, and I loved her for herself, this shining, bright eyed wonder whose face danced with aspects of everyone I’d loved in my family, along with features from her gorgeous mother. And as she has grown, new heart chambers have emerged to accommodate my Bliss, as well as heart rooms for all of the new friends and family who’ve come into our lives because of this once tiny seed of love.

So that’s it. I just wanted to say that Love is real. It’s precious and fine and often illusive and illusionary because we humans are basically assholes with legs who tend to miss our own good times or screw them up by trying to capture, control, or otherwise change what is. It’s painful in its absence and wrenching in loss. But sometimes (perhaps as a reward for good deeds but likely for no particular reason at all) we are *blessed* with Love, true and abiding. I think that we are never exactly “deserving” as it’s popularly put, but we are graced with it and made better by it and we should cherish it. Always.

And so for me, each and every year that I live, this date is the Second Day of Bliss and Gratitude and I give thanks for my gifts of Love, from the bottom of my now endlessly expanding heart.

“In Vain I Tried To Tell You”

  • (Originally published 9/28/19)
  • Ok, I’m still in my first “Years of I told you so” and too many things have been sticking in my craw and must come out now even though it’ll make no difference to youz because people just sit around wringing their hands and intellectualizing rather than doing anything. However, it will make me feel better and maybe decrease that lump in my craw. Yeah, unfriend me, tomorrow’s a new year anyhow 🤷🏽‍♀️ (Shana Tovah, btw.)
  • 1. I told everyone that he was illiterate in 2015, 2016, 2017. Actually illiterate, not merely unread. Ya’ll thought that just couldn’t be, that you knew better. Phht!
  • 2. Other NYers and I told folks that he ran a criminal enterprise & was mobbed up. Blank stares.
  • 3. In vain I tried to tell anyone who would listen that he doesn’t pay debts, is petty, small minded, and vengeful, and likely suffering-no, making US suffer- the effects of tertiary syphilis/dementia. Ya’ll thought that was exaggeration. Tchp.
  • 4. I told you that there are two reasons Repubs/Congress wouldn’t ditch him:
  • A. They’re getting rich(er)
  • B. A number of them were connected to improprieties and therefore subject to pressure
  • 5. Americans are passive and afraid to challenge authorities because most of them buy into the false hope that they can become part of the upper class. (I blame the dismantling of class awareness in the 80s that included Reagonomics/trickledown theory, the media promotion of shows like Lifestyles of The Rich & Famous, and the Martha Stewartfication of the household & centering of malls & mall mentality over traditional downtown areas, but that’s a whole other book you’ll have to purchase)
  • 6. Told ya that he was a racist and lier. Reminded people of The Central Park Five & his connections to Roy Cohen.
  • 7. We ALL told yuz that he was a bad businessman, but the idiots who watched tv and had for years been bamboozled into the idea of corporate salvation shut their eyes and ears and loudly hummed a tune that the piper wrote. (And yes, that makes you children or rats)
  • 8. Word to the at-least-not-terminally-stupid: if a candidate isn’t supported in their home state, ya probably shouldn’t trust them. Just sayin’. 🤷🏽‍♀️
  • 9. Oh yeah, remember when I told you that I thought Rudy wanted revenge and to take him down and everybody laughed at my “foolishness”?
  • So, don’t like my presentation? But guess what? I’m right.
  • Told ya!
  • Toni Morrison, Our Greatest US American Writer

    I think it might annoy her that I cannot fully explain the profound effect that each of her books has had on me. How to explain that Beloved resonated so strongly that I experienced a form of PTSD, reading and digesting it by chapters or partial chapters so that it took months to read it all. I knew those ghosts so intimately that I wondered how it could be that she was “singing my life with her words.” Could it really be only a coincidence that my childhood address was 124? I admit that I’ve never seen the movie and never will because I have no interest in anyone else’s interpretation of this awakening.

    Through her and a host of other (mostly) Black women writers, I came to a more nuanced, often cuttingly sharp understanding of our connectedness through our shared histories and humanity. She read and spoke my heart when she posited that we are always interesting; that love is complex and sacred; that we must write and speak our own stories.

    This is my favorite Toni Morrison book, (if one can even choose among her painfully exquisite offerings to the world) and when I met her at Sarah Lawrence College in 1988, she challenged me about “why” in a way that no one previously had interrogated me about anything I thought or felt. She quietly confronted me, right in front of the group of students who were invited to meet her, requiring that I shine a ruthless eye on my thoughts and feelings and not settle for the easy or false enlightenment, nor write before I better understood how my perceptions were influenced by personal and US history. She noted that for an intelligent woman and aspiring writer to do less was moral cowardice. She forced me to reckon with what courage- from the heart-really means. It hurt. I grew.

    I wish that I had a photo of that encounter, and perhaps there is one somewhere in the bowels of my college’s photo archives. I would love to see her piercing eyes sending the strength of her words straight into my soul. I’d love to see my body’s presentation of the shock and awe that I remember feeling. I wonder if the lens captured any of the depth of those relatively short minutes of a brief, deeply meaningful encounter that continues to inform and inspire me. Having been raised in the art of bodily self control, I’d bet that only my widened eyes conveyed any of what felt like an hours long police interrogation under bright lights. Perhaps an auric reader might have seen my soul shift to a new level of maturity. Maybe the other people present noticed that I staggered away in shock, but I doubt it, because Toni Morrison skewered me without leaving a mark or any trace of blood. She entered through my skull and went straight to the heart, like an expert charcutier, cutting away the fat and dross, leaving my generally loquacious inner voice with not a blessed word to say, but a whole lot of reckoning to do. It was years later that I understood that by being provocative, she was also asking to be challenged, not just venerated.

    She was indeed a gift, a blessing, a razor sharp sword: the voice of the Ancestors reuniting us with our natural selves, providing the medicines for our long healing.

    Thank you, Ms. Morrison for the love. May you rest in the peace and power that you so richly deserve.

    Farewell, Johnny Clegg

    Johnny Clegg’s music marked a very special period in my life and has connected me to lifelong friends. I was saddened to learn of his death at the relatively young age of 66.
    I’d been introduced to his story and music with Juluka during my first year of graduate philosophy at Rutgers by my classmate and friend, Sarah.
    Later, when I transferred to anthropology at UVA, my very first outing in Charlottesville was to a Johnny Clegg concert. Sarah was visiting, and we were thrilled to be able to catch them at small venue like Trax. I was new to the area and anthropology, missing my NY/NJ life, and ready for good music and the good vibes Savuka invoked among fans.
    My expectations went awry as this happy outing was where I was also embroiled in my first and only barroom fight. As Johnny and Savuka sang about racial harmony and peace, I found myself fighting off a humongous, belligerently drunk blond woman who tried to push us out of our front row spaces.
    In one of the more surreal moments of my adult life, I watched as the band’s eyes grew larger and two bouncers moved toward us. After a series of flirtatious moves with a member of Savuka, I also watched helplessly as my friend’s hopes of hanging out with the band went down in flames. It was a memorable night for us and for years afterwards, I harbored a hope of running into Mr. Clegg and explaining to him why my face seemed familiar.
    Living in married graduate student housing and later renting a house in the Fifeville section, I played hostess to an assortment of wonderful students and locals and dancing to Savuka was pretty much a daily ritual. Dances learned from Donna Graham at Chihamba were adapted to Johnny Clegg songs. Friends courted loved ones to Dela and African Dreams, we invoked Third World Child , One Human One Vote, Warsaw 1943, and other political numbers as we waged our own battles against racial, class, and gender discrimination. The music was part of the fabric of our lives and we considered Johnny to have been “a white boy anthropologist who made good: a man who tried to live his values in difficult times, insisting on recognizing the humanity of all people and being willing to face being banned for his antiracist work. Honorable.
    Asking forgiveness for my poor Zulu, with a sad heart and gratitude for the music I say:
    Ukuhlonipha abafileyo; Ukuphumula emandleni.
    Respect to the Dead;
    Rest in Power