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.

“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

    In Remembrance

    I was fortunate enough to have had my father in my life for a little more than fifty years. My Dad was the kind of father who would get down on the floor to play with his kids. He did Cossack dances around the house, sang sad and silly songs, told really funny and really corny jokes, brought us bubble gum at the end of his work week, and played rag time piano. He struggled with us (certainly me) through math classes, taught us all to play poker, box, and skip rope. He taught my sister and me to waltz, and retained Victorian-like, romantic ideas and attitudes of courtliness and honor.

    My Pop was fiercely clannish in the best sense, hard working, athletic, and tenacious. He dreamed of having a Kennedyesque compound, with all of his family and other loved ones close, sharing, helping, and protecting each other. When I was very small, before he could afford a car during the hours the bus didn’t run, he walked back and forth between Jersey City and his job in Bayonne (5 miles each way.) Providing for, and keeping his family together was central to his being.

    He seldom attended church but held strong beliefs about honoring parents and holding God in awe. He taught me to always fight fairly and never throw the first punch, a stance that cost me dearly during the street fights of my childhood. He was mostly self-taught and retained a positivist belief in self and home improvement, remaining active until he was about ninety.

    I was completely devoted to him as a child and thought he was the most brilliant man alive with his adherence to scientific method and home-made chemistry lab. He taught me to believe that I was smart and could learn/teach myself anything into which I was willing to put time and energy. As a teen, we struggled because of my difficulties with algebra and developing interest in boys, but he was always protective: a reasonable and considerate father, and I always knew that he loved me even when I thought he didn’t understand me.

    We played piano duets, watched science fiction movies, played simple games of chess, discussed politics and art and music and science and architecture. He taught me how to order at a restaurant if I was alone- a seemingly small thing-but for a shy girl, a gift that allowed me to travel independently. I was taught how to use tools and treat them with respect, to change a tire, and some basic plumbing. He often called me “pixilated”, recognizing that I was dancing to a song unheard by others, and he did his best to prepare me for the practical world he knew would invade my artistic, sometimes dreamy world. He was a bit less successful in this than in other endeavors, but his love continues to shore me up as I dance gingerly through an often harsh reality.

    He was a good man and it is my sincere pleasure to wish all of the good fathers and fathers-to- be a wonderful and Happy Father’s Day today.