Ruby Bridges Through Her Eyes

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Having grown up in the area where Norman Rockwell painted some of his most famous works, I remember not only the actual photographs of the little girl, but also the iconic painting of the girl in the white dress flanked by four federal marshals.

The white dress, white socks and shoes emphasize the darkness of her skin. On the wall behind her is a racial epithet. Smashed tomatoes lie at the foot of the wall. You don’t see the marshals’ heads, but their fists are clenched as if ready for battle.

Friday I had the privilege of hearing the woman who grew out of that little girl speak. Ruby Bridges’ name is writ large in the history of civil rights. As she came onto the stage at Smith College, the crowd jumped to its feet with thunderous applause.

ruby nowMs. Bridges is a reluctant speaker. She never meant to spend the last 20 years of her life giving public addresses, she said. But this is what she has felt called to do. She uses no notes, just says what she believes God wants her to say. Her soft voice is mesmerizing as she speaks, reaches back into the memories of her six-year-old self in 1960, as she tells us what it was like through her eyes (the title of her memoir) in segregated New Orleans.

Though Brown vs. the Board of Education mandated the integration of public schools in 1954, it took years for segregated school systems to comply. When the NAACP knocked on doors in the New Orleans projects seeking children who were in the first grade, Ruby’s mother was enthusiastic about letting her daughter be used to integrate the schools. Mrs. Bridges had grown up in a sharecropping family in Louisiana and going to school was a rare occurrence; she regretted not having a chance to be educated.

Ruby’s father had a different point of view. He had served in the segregated Army of the Korean War. He might be on the front lines with white soldiers at one moment, but when they returned to base, he had to go to the “colored” barracks and the white soldiers to the white barracks. He did not want his daughter to experience the shame he had known.

Ruby’s mother overrode his wishes. Ruby was taken for all-day testing and passed. Since she hadn’t been told anything about what was happening, she got it into her head that she was going to skip from first grade directly to college.

Then came the first day of her new school. Creating a new ritual, neighbors came to her house to help get her dressed in her beautiful new clothes (though she hated the coat her mother made her wear). Four white men came to the door, put her and her mother into a car, and her journey began.

Seeing all the people lining the route to the school, hearing them shout, seeing them throwing things, seeing police on horses and motorcycles, Ruby thought she was in a Mardi Gras parade, even though it was November. The white men told her mother that when they got out of the car, the men would surround her and Ruby and they should not look around them. They entered the school and went to the principal’s office. And there they sat all day long as white parents entered the school, angrily pointed at Ruby, and then took their children home.

“College is easy!” Ms. Bridges said she thought when she went home that day. She ended up having school alone with a teacher, Mrs. Henry, all day every day for the rest of that school year. She loved Mrs. Henry and she learned a lot, but she was so lonely for the company of other children. She slowly came to understand what was happening and that she was alone in her class because of the color of her skin. She could hear the voices of other children when she hung up her coat in the cloakroom. She could smell food from the cafeteria but had to bring her own lunch because of threats made to poison her food.

Eventually, because she kept asking about the children’s voices, Mrs. Henry took her to the cloakroom, moved a cabinet that revealed a door, and took her to a room where white children were playing. She sat down next to a little boy who told her, “My mother said I can’t play with you because you’re a nigger.”

His words gave birth to what she now emphasizes when she speaks in public. “Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.” It is adults who have failed, she said, and brought us to where we are now, by “robbing children of their innocence.” Children aren’t born racists; they are taught to be racists. We must raise them a different way, encourage their dreams, and truly follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dictum to judge others not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

There really is an “us” and a “them,” she said. “We all have a common enemy and it is evil.” Sometimes the evil looks just like us and is hard to recognize, she said as she talked about the murder of her oldest son, who was killed for trying to find out who had shot into his younger brother’s car.

Ms. Bridges noted at the beginning of her talk that she gets many letters from children telling her how brave she was when she took those historic steps into a white school. “I have to set the record straight,” she laughed, “I wasn’t brave at all because I didn’t really know what was going on.”

But it is bravery, and it is courage, to follow her faith and tell her story over and over again all these years later. Her insistence on inclusion at all points is sometimes not popular – as when a student seemed to seek her approve for the effort to get all-black housing at Smith and Ms. Bridges said she did not approve of black separatism – and her refusal to hate the little boy who said he couldn’t play with her show courage indeed.

I have cried over the picture of the beautiful smiling little girl who was in effect offered up to be the face of integration. Having seen her in person, and heard her words, I will just smile and celebrate her from now on.

 

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The GOP’s War on Christmas

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Yes, Virginia, there is a War on Christmas.

It’s just not being waged by those who the “president” and Bill O’Reilly have accused.

You see, Virginia, the “president” and the Congressional GOP mostly identify as Christians. Yet, less than a week before the celebration of the birth of Jesus, they have shown themselves to either blatantly disregard, or not believe in, any of Jesus’s teachings.

Rather than feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit those in prison, or heal the sick, the “president” and the GOP want to enrich the already wealthy, steal from the poor, arrest the protesters. and let the sick get sicker even to the point of death.

Take care of widows and orphans? Oh no, they say with their actions, we need that money to pay for the billions of dollars we are giving our donors and ourselves.

Not only that, your children and your children’s children will have to deal with the mess of the trillion-dollar deficit and the ruined environment.

We don’t really know whether Jesus was born in a barn, but we have faith that this story reflects God’s message to human kind.

Wealth, earthly power, and political authority are not what God wants for God’s people. Sharing one’s heart and soul with all God’s children – and therefore our sisters and brothers – and caring for the most vulnerable in any society is what brings the kingdom of heaven to earth.

If we fight the GOP’s War on Christmas, we have righteousness on our side, Virginia. Never forget that loving the outcast, welcoming the stranger, and walking side by side with those who have met with discrimination are our weapons.

This is a war we can win if we believe in the sanctity of our cause. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and humanists can all agree and come together to form a great army that is on the side of justice.

Let it be so.

 

 

 

Adventures in Twitterland

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Here’s a tip: If you use Twitter, don’t mention “white men” and “guns” in the same sentence unless you want to hear from every angry white man with a gun in the country.

I did and got more than 600 angry notifications and still counting.

Oh, their white female counterparts chimed in also; it’s hard to tell sometimes because not one of them uses his or her own name and the majority use an avatar for their profile picture.

I was called everything from an ignoramus to a cow to an old hag to cunt. It was suggested that since I obviously was alive during World War II, I should know how important white men with guns are. And I should be reported to the FBI. These are some of the less offensive remarks!

In just seven words in which I suggested that white men with guns are dangerous in our society, it somehow also turns out that I am racist, sexist, a “libtard,” a race-baiter, and a traitor to my country.

Here’s the irony: The respondents jumped all over themselves to charge that Muslims, African-Americans, and Mexicans are the truly dangerous people; one gentleman suggested that I am a racist while using the “N” word.

And Chicago. I can’t even count how many people mentioned Chicago. These people’s Supreme Leader started talking about what a morass Chicago was during his campaign and even this week brought up Chicago after Ali Vitali of NBC asked him about extreme vetting for gun buyers. You might recall this was when he said that with gun control, the slaughter in Sutherland, Texas, would have been much worse.

Then the “conversation” (of which I was no longer a part) turned to the stated “fact” that the white male killers are all Democrats, liberals, and atheists.

I forebore to bring up the white men with guns who originally plundered this continent and decimated the indigenous peoples.

I forebore to bring up the white men with guns who herded human beings they’d kidnapped onto ships , tossed some overboard if they needed to lighten the ship, and sold the rest into slavery.

I forebore to bring up the mass murder of freed African-Americans by white men with guns during Reconstruction, or the lynchings that have continued to this day.

I also forebore to call any of these people by derogatory, vile names or make suggestions about violent sexual acts they could perform on themselves.

I’m not seeking sympathy or comfort. I’m a big girl now and we have to know what is going through the minds of the opposition in order to respond to it. But how does one respond to people who appear to be brainwashed from birth? And who are so insecure that they threaten 65-year-old women who don’t agree with them?

I know that not all shooters are white men. However, when the shooter IS a white man, we can be damn sure that nothing will be done to prevent it happening again. The GOP simply refuses to put the word “domestic” in front of “terrorism.”

 

 

Who We Are, Who We Want to Be

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In the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy, amid the outrage and grief and disbelief, I had to re-learn a painful lesson for a white American.

Most of the people I follow on Twitter are African-American journalists, politicians and activitists: Charles Blow, Bree Newsome, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Vann R. Newkirk II, Jamelle Bouie.

Ms. Newsome, the woman who climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina statehouse and took down the flag, put what the others were saying in one form or another most succinctly.

As white Americans cried, “This is not who we are!”, in fact, this is exactly who you are and have been and all black people know it, she said.

I know it too; I’ve been writing about it for some time now, but it hasn’t stayed at the forefront of my attention. White America is a racist society and has been since the first white European stepped foot on this continent and had the arrogance to claim it as a white man’s (and I do mean man’s, not human’s) paradise.

To make that paradise, however, meant neutralizing one way or another the indigenous peoples. Usually by slaughter, often by treaties that were never meant to be kept and to this day are not honored.

Then came the importation of Africans to actually do the work of building an economy. Next came the battles to seize land from the indigenous Mexicans, Polynesians and Inuits and Aleuts.

In every era, white “Americans” have taken something away from someone else, right up to the present time. Now, it’s not only enough to take something away, but white American society wants to bar others from coming in, based solely on religion. And even the liberal arguments in favor of immigrants more often than not points out their economic worth rather than their worth as human beings.

What happened in Charlottesville is not new to its black citizenry; Mr. Newkirk’s most recent article in The Atlantic spells it out briefly and powerfully.

We cannot say, “This is not who we are!” We can, and must, say, “This is not who we want to be,” but only if we’re willing to follow up words with action. Mr. Newkirk quotes Charlottesville-Albemarle NAACP President Emeritus M. Rick Turner: “People want to have a conversation . . . But see we’ve had conservations, ever since the Civil War, every time something happens. That’s why nothing ever gets done beyond that, because the courage stops right there.”

I could say that the counter-protestors in Boston and other cities this weekend prove this thesis wrong. But we have not heard the last from the white supremacists. Do we, who consider ourselves non-racist, have the courage to go beyond the conversations?

Heather Heyer did.

Pray for Guam

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Of all the reasons to find Donald Trump despicable this week, his dismissal of Guam as a possible target for North Korea is the highest on my list.

Every time he opened his bellicose mouth, he implied that Guam and its 160,000 people are expendable.

As if there aren’t young children who may be being taught to duck and cover right now.

As if there aren’t teen-agers dreaming about their futures now.

As if there aren’t adults with a long bucket list.

As if there aren’t elders hoping for security and comfort in their old age.

But Guam has always been expendable to imperial powers, including the Church of Rome, Spain, Japan, and the US.

Despite the fact that the Chamorros settled there at least 4,000 years ago, Tana l’ManChamorro (Land of the Chamorros) has never been self-governing in the modern era. It has been used and abused for what it can offer foreign military strategists and economic strategists.

We can thank good old Teddy Roosevelt, the founder of American Imperialism, for the US takeover of Guam in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, about which he was so “bully”-ish. Fast forward to Pearl Harbor and the taking of Guam by Japan and Tana l’ManChamorro became a very hot zone until the US reclaimed it in 1944.

Despite Governor Eddie Baza Calvo’s public remarks that the colony is not worried about nuclear threats, there are real people on the island who are and who wonder why no one is considering what could happen to them.

The Washington Post wrote about some of them the other day: “ ‘If anything happens, we all got to be ready, be prepared, and pray to God that it doesn’t happen,’ Daisy Mendiola, 56, said after finishing lunch with her family at a restaurant near Hagatna. ‘Everyone’s afraid, because we’re dealing with powers that’s beyond us.’

“Other residents are worried about the political atmosphere and the government’s ability to find a peaceful solution.

“Todd Thompson, a lawyer who lives on Guam, said he laughed off past threats because he ‘figured cooler heads in Washington would prevail, and it was just an idle threat.’ “

But now we know there are not cooler heads in Washington or in New Jersey.

I am a child of the Cold War. I heard a lot of talk about building bomb shelters, though my family did not have one. I laid awake nights putting myself into utter terror thinking of what might happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I wouldn’t let myself go to sleep for fear that I wouldn’t wake up.

No child should ever feel that way. No parent should have to comfort a sleepless child when the parent herself doesn’t know what might happen.

More important, no US president should ever be spouting off threats of nuclear destruction when he has zero knowledge of the true state of the world.

Guam is a little Garden of Eden, by all descriptions. Sandy beaches, temperate weather, friendly people. To misquote Joni Mitchell, please don’t bomb paradise and put up a radioactive parking lot.

 

 

 

“By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them”

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I am just plain sick and tired of being discriminated against because I’m white and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Oh wait, I’m not discriminated against because I’m white.

Never mind.

I’m really getting very good at levitating when news breaks while I’m watching MSNBC.

And of course I turned to Twitter and #affirmativeaction to see how other people were expressing their horror and revulsion at the thought of Jeff Sessions using the Civil Rights Division to investigate the non-discrimination of white people at universities.

Heart-sickeningly, what I found were mostly accolades for Sessions and his decision, which I personally think is his way of trying to get back into Donald Trump’s good graces.

I responded to only a couple of the tweets, pointing out that Affirmative Action is a really tiny step that the US has made toward reparations and should be kept strong.

Here are the tweets, starting with the one I initially replied to:

#AffirmativeAction is a racist cancer. Paternalistic whites who think blacks can only get ahead if they’re given a head start. Toxic.

 

(Me: Not paternalism, just a tiny step toward reparations.)

Same tweeter:

So many socks.https://twitter.com/Radicalgrrrrl/status/892736574059884544 

Not sure what that means, but he posted my twitter profile.

A different tweeter:

Take your tablets and go back to bed now, Cynthia.

 

Yet another:

Does welfare count?

 

The next few are from the same person:

  • For dead people by people that didn’t have crap to do with it? Lol. Nope.
  • People who blame others for their failures are destined to stay failures.
  • It’s a discriminatory law.
  • The government shouldn’t be involved AT ALL with hiring decisions.

 

From the tweeter who told me to take my tablets and go to bed:

Yes. Go on now, dear.

 

The most recent:

Only 3% of the white people living today had ancestors who owned slaves! WHY SHOULD WE ALL PAY FOR THE EVIL OF THE FEW?! YOU ARE SICK!!!!!

 

It was interesting to note that all four of the respondents use made-up names and pictures of well-known people or cartoons in their profiles.

The Scripture “By their fruits ye shall know them” becomes more meaningful to me day by day. I am blessed to know the compassionate, loving, peace-filled, generous fruits of many, many people on Twitter and in person. Sadly, this can make them the target of people who hide behind fake images and names. At least we have the courage of our convictions.

PS: It’s time to rename the Department of Justice.

Obama’s Legacy Will Endure

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Everything that the current resident of the White House has done since he took office, which has mainly been deregulating every regulation the Obama Presidency put in place, and everything that the GOP Congress has attempted, is because these white men cannot ABIDE the thought of our country having any trace of having been led by an African-American.

There are headlines just in the past couple of days about the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle President Obama’s legacy. But I have news for the White House:

They cannot dismantle President Obama’s legacy.

All that Trump is doing is ensuring that Barack Obama will go down in history as one of the best Presidents we have ever had who was followed by the worst president we have ever had.

This past winter, it took Rachel Maddow almost a half hour to list, not explain or analyze but to list, all of the extremely positive measures that President Obama was responsible for.

Trump and his fellow racists can never take that away from him.

There’s a saying that history is written by the winners. I don’t think that is strictly true. However, history does celebrate the winners and the times when truth and goodness prevail.

President Obama is a winner who will be celebrated in history because he is a man of integrity, compassion, and plain old human decency. He is able to look at situations from all sides and to look to advisers to help in that task. He has nerve and he doesn’t freak out at any setback. He takes responsibility and does not apportion blame to the nearest fall guy. Oh yeah, and he’s very, very intelligent.

Trump is a loser, a clown, a liar, a cheat, an anti-intellectual, and most likely the perpetrator of treason and other high crimes and misdemeanors. He is also a hater, and what he hates most (and you can bet Steve Bannon is goading him on) is that he follows a man of color who is happily married to a real woman of an even darker color and the father of intelligent, charming daughters who also have, of course, a darker skin tone than your average white supremacist.

There’s this: Trump

And this: Image result for Obama pictures

I believe that history will record Barack Obama as the President who lifted us up and lifted up the moral tone of this country during very difficult times.

And it will record Donald Trump as the reprobate who tried to bring the country down. All because of the color of Obama’s skin.