An observation on observation of Mother’s Day vs Father’s Day

Having been part of a household observing the two holidays for 14 years or so, not to mention my own experiences as a kid with them, I have some observations. This is also informed by my experiences with my friends, my church community, and American culture in general. There are lots of variations but some themes emerge.

In general, on Mother’s Day, we do activities to “give mom a break” from the stereotypical jobs that mom does. We take her to dinner or someone else makes dinner. Someone besides mom does house cleaning and the dishes. We may even ask her if there is “something fun” she wants to do. And our language reflects recognition of the work that she does for the kids and family that doesn’t always get recognized. We honor her by excusing her from her chores.

In general, on father’s day, we ask dad what sort of family activities he would like to do. No one offers to do the stereotypically dad jobs (mowing the yard, car maintenance, clean the garage, etc.) We might ask him what he wants for dinner but rarely do we go out to dinner. (Even restaurants have caught on to this.) Our language reflects that this day is a chance for dad to “actually be a dad” and not have to do all those “dad jobs” but instead he can “play with the kids.” We honor him by giving him family time.

Mom’s chores and work are integral to the family.

Dad’s chores and work are external to the family.

Mom’s role is essential and has to be done every day even if she doesn’t do it.

Dad’s work can all be put off for a day.

Mom gets a break from “the family” (by which we really just mean her work) for her day.

Dad gets to play and have fun with the family on his day, since he doesn’t usually get to.

On Mother’s Day, we recognize “all the mom’s in our life” including those moms “that had to also be dad’s.”

On father’s day, we recognize that not all father’s are positive memories in our lives and the day may be troubling for some.

Most of these things are stereotypes and/or vestiges of heteronormative post-WWII culture. Where mom “is” the family and dad is the support of the family.

This is becoming increasingly challenging for families that don’t fit this. Some of my friends don’t fit this and we have discussed this at times. Maybe dad is a stay at home dad and packs the lunches and drives kids to soccer practice while mom works 60 hour weeks. Or maybe there are two moms, two dads, or two gender-non-conforming parents trying to navigate these gendered norms. Or maybe dad is a single-dad playing both roles. Maybe mom is abusive.

Besides their two very different origins, I think it is important to recognize the embedded cultural assumptions of how these two holidays are practiced. Practices based on two relatively-fixed (or at least slow to change) parental archetypes of the post-war mid-20th century. However, maybe dad wants flowers and maybe mom wants a necktie. Or maybe both parents just want some time to play with their kids. And maybe they hope that at least once a year their kids will recognize their contributions in some way.

Ask your parent figures, at least once a year, on whatever day you feel comfortable with, what you can do to recognize the contributions they have made in your life both seen and unseen. They will appreciate it. Especially if you recognize it in whatever way they want it recognized. And mom, dad, don’t be afraid to share the recognition you want.

(I find it odd that my iPad autocorrects Mother’s Day to be capitalized but not father’s day.)

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My love and minor discontent with the new Black Panther film

*****Warning: Spoilers****** (both cinematic and philosophical, lol).

Let me start off with this initial statement: I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I will see it again (and again, and again). It is right up there with Wonder Woman, Captain America, Deadpool, etc. in my list of over-the-top comic book movies. I also love the fact that there was a superhero movie featuring African American actors, an African American director, and so much African music. I think it is awesome that African American kids will see a superhero that looks like them and white kids will see a superhero of color.

What I have struggled with is white liberal hype around the movie.  First and foremost, the white liberals praising that “finally” Hollywood made a move with a black cast and black director and black music. Ok, let’s be clear here. That is just not factually true. There have been lots of “black movies” over the years. Now, they were aimed at a black audience almost exclusively and were seen almost exclusively by black audiences. So they aren’t considered “blockbusters” because the majority white audience never saw them. So I’m not surprised that a group of privileged white liberals don’t know that they exist.

Black Panther is the first black superhero movie (from a major comic book entity and Walt Disney) and will therefore hopefully appeal to a white audience as well. But that is the limit of its firsts. The only people claiming this as a “first” are either too young to know who Foxy Brown and Shaft are or they don’t understand the history of blaxsplotation films. (And so many never heard of Black Panther before this for the same reason they never heard of Foxy Brown.) For those unfamiliar with this term, this is when a white Hollywood production company hires a black director, black actors, and uses black music to make a film for black audiences. It started in the 1970s and has continued in many forms through today. The money from these films largely comes back to the white production companies. They also have ignored the entire genre of films it has spawned that includes comedies (Don’t Be a Menace to South Central and the Madea series.) Things white liberals are generally uncomfortable watching because it includes a lot of cultural humor they don’t get. But a superhero film doesn’t have as much of that. (Although there are a few hilarious quips in it – like the “colonizer” line.)

So is Black Panther a blaxsplotation film? I see an argument that it is an evolution of the genre. In some ways, it does fit and in some it doesn’t. It certainly appeals to black audiences to try and make money for a white production company. It uses black actors and black music to do so. It tells a story of both African American life and black culture. If it is a blaxsplotatoin film, it is the biggest budget one of all time (I am guessing) and it is the first superhero one and the first Walt Disney one.

So is Black Panther a superhero film? Yes, I think it is firmly grounded in that genre. As such, my complaint is in how they changed the sub-text of the original comic book series to be more palatable to a wider audience and did some damage with that. The original Black Panther stood up for African Americans. He was a crime fighter. He protected black communities when police wouldn’t do it.

I think my other struggle was with Killmonger. (This part might not make sense if you haven’t seen the movie.) Killmonger works for himself and wants to overthrow governments and rule the world. If memory serves me right, in the comic book series, the bad guys were always corporations trying to steal African treasures and resources. And the bad guys always worked for these corporations in some way. Anti-global-capitalism is the theme that comes to mind. Instead, they create a new story line that is closer to a blaxsplotation film. Killmonger plays out a deep philosophical conflict concerning what kind of activism is appropriate in the African American community. (I do love a philosophical problem. Hence, I like him more than we are probably supposed to.) It asks the question, should the oppressed rise up with violence and threats of violence or should they aspire to non-violence means and forgiveness of their oppressors.

So is Black Panther a socialjustice film? No. Not beyond the “look at all the money Hollywood put into a film made by African Americans” sort of way. I think the superhero genre bent to meet a blaxsplotation genre in a couple ways. First, Killmonger’s story of his father being killed for his involvement in crime results in Killmonger turning to killing and crime despite clear intellectual ability. This sub-plot reinforces white conservative story lines about the problems of inner-city violence. Second, much of the story is about black-on-black violence that is core to blaxsplotation films. Lastly, you still have a tribe of black “ape-like” people who come to the rescue while grunting like apes. Yes, in the end they build a community center and yes, they tell the UN they are there for everyone that doesn’t undo the previous hour.

If this is not a blaxsplotation film, designed purely for an African American audience you have to consider how these plots points will be received in conservative rural America. The same people who pass around memes of the Obamas comparing them to apes now think it is acceptable. The same people who blame problems in the African American community on “black-on-black” crime will see that here too.

If this film was designed as a superhero film for everyone, I think these plot points could have been smoothed out and addressed in better ways. They don’t ruin the film but they don’t help it as a tool for social justice that my liberal friends seem to think it is.

I realize these aren’t popular things to bring up. If you are mad at me by reading this far, I apologize. Remember – I like the film. Please don’t hate me. But I was told be a well-meaning liberal family member that if I was going to bring these points up, I probably shouldn’t engage in discussions about the film with people. In other words, liberals don’t care how racists might see the film. Especially with our liberal friends, most of whom are falling all over themselves talking about what a great movie it is and what a break-through it is for Hollywood. I think it is a break-through but it can have some problems too and that’s okay. It’s a paradox I am comfortable with, even if they aren’t.

I still think it is a great movie. I still want to see it again. But for now, I’m keeping my plot point criticisms to myself (and the three people who read this blog.) But I look forward to seeing what film critics say of it over time. I also hope this opens the door for more blockbuster films with people of color in lead and supporting roles and featuring their music and culture.

 

 

Half-hearted about half-mast

The Governor has ordered flags around that state to be lowered to half-mast on Friday in honor of Reverend Billy Graham whose funeral is that day. I have debated if my neighbors will notice if I don’t participate and leave my flag all the way up. I’m debating it for two reasons:

  1. Billy Graham doesn’t fit the guidelines of who we are supposed to honor with half-staff. Then again, a lot of people don’t. I think we are getting a bit too liberal with the half-staff. I’m all for recognizing national tragedies and the passing of major elected officials. I feel like Billy Graham’s death is less of a national tragedy and more of the death of that old awkward uncle that everybody is secretly thankful they won’t hear from anymore.
  2. You’ve probably figured out already that I’m not a big fan of Billy Graham. It’s not just a a theological difference. It is a moral and civil rights difference. The guy openly and actively opposed same-sex marriage. He believes his religion dictates women should be homemakers. Graham denied his daughters a college education because they might turn into “career women.”

I googled and checked to see if Democratic governors had issued calls to half-staff their flags. The couple I checked had done it as well. So it isn’t just a Republican thing.

I think Friday, my flag will staff at full-staff in my own quiet little act of defiance. Even if my neighbors don’t notice.

My problem with pronouns

There is a trend in certain liberal circles right now to put “your preferred pronouns” on your email, on your business cards, on your name tag at conferences, etc. I don’t do it. Yet, I live in fear of being challenged for not doing it, in part because I’m a cisgender hetero white male who  runs in multiple liberal circles. And I’m sure I get perceived as being a “cranky old white dude” not willing to give up power. But I actually have two other reasons that I don’t do it.

First: Privilege. Note that the only place you see this trend is among educated elite and like-minded groups of liberals. You don’t see the cashier at Taco Bell or the grocery store worker doing this. You don’t see this trend with school custodian or manufacturing workers. And if Taco Bell did allow this, could the staff get mad at customers and correct them when they didn’t use the right pronoun? I mean Starbucks can’t get some people’s names right but I have to get their pronouns right? The reality is that advertising how they want people to interpret their gender isn’t a luxury they have. I’m not claiming to be one of them. In fact, the opposite. As a privileged straight white male, I’m not going to use my power and privilege to further dictate to people what they call me. I feel like dictating what pronouns you use to describe me is like the professor who insists you call them doctor or professor. As if you need to constantly remind them of their special place in society. Telling people to refer to me as “he” is just saying “remind yourself of my privilege.” Even the military gets tired of using ranks with people you work with all the time. On this note, I’ve noticed that it is largely women and non-gender binary folks who participate in this trend which makes me wonder how many other white males feel this way.

Second: It doesn’t function in practice. At a conference, I had a speaker pass out pronoun stickers and tell everyone to put it on their name tag. Then during her session, two minutes later, she started repeatedly said “I can’t see your name tag from up here, so I’m going to assume you use _____” from the front of the room. Not only is this the case at conferences, but we also don’t walk around with our email signatures pasted to us every day. If you really want to be inclusive in your language, don’t modify it for each person – practice saying “they” and using people’s names all the time, not just at conferences and on email. I feel bad for non-gender binary folks who have a preferred pronoun but often find people using the other one. I just don’t think telling people what pronouns you prefer is the answer to changing several thousand years of language programming. Encouraging society to adopt a single non-gender specific pronoun for every single person seems the better linguistic and practical route.

Why statues matter

Statues are not history. Rarely is a statue erected at the moment that something historic happens. (For instance, the first statues of George Washington were over 40 years after his death.) This is because we need time and distance to see what is historic. And also because statues are not history. Statues are looking back through history, through the lens of our moment, and cherry-picking someone we think exemplifies something worth looking up to – literally. Statues are public civics lessons.

So statues matter less because of who they are and more because of why they were made. One of my favorite statues is one you have probably never seen and it is someone you probably don’t know. In the Indiana State House, there is a statue of Colonel Richard Owen. He was a geologist and university professor who served in the Mexican American War and the Union Army in the Civil War. The statue though….was commission in 1913, by Confederates who had been in a prison camp run by Owen. No, those are not typos. Owen set up standards for how to run a prisoner of war camp. (Standards that later became norms in something called the Geneva Convention.) Those norms included allowing the prisoners to maintain their rank structure and chain of command in the camp. Ensuring prisoners had enough to eat. Allowing them to write home and read books. In fact, this became well known during the Civil War because of the deplorable condition of most prison camps. So well known, that when Owen was later leading a regiment in the war and was captured, the Confederate General thanked him and released Owen and his regiment to return home “on parole.”

The Confederate veterans continued to recognize how special Owen as they heard horror stories about other camps. In 1913, they commissioned and paid for the statue. It was then given to the state of Indiana. It is the only statue of a Union soldier directly commissioned by Confederate veterans. And they did it for his “courtesy and kindness.” That is why it matters. That is the lesson they wanted taught.

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Are there other reasons to honor Owen? Sure. He was the first President of Purdue University. He was a very influential geologist. He was an abolitionist. He and his family were major leaders in Indiana history throughout the 1800s. But that isn’t why they did it. Read the plaque. READ. THE. PLAQUE. Even the Owen bust is cherry-picked history. The Confederates were not commissioning a memorial to an abolitionist. I wonder if they even knew that? If they had, would they have done it?

Which leads us to today’s topic. Statues of Confederate leaders. Why do we have them? It’s not like they were put up during the war. As mentioned before, statues come later. They weren’t even erected right after the war in most cases. Most of the contentious ones today were erected in the 1920s and 1930s. The height of segregation, lynching, voter suppression, and Jim Crow era power. Erected by white governments and white-controlled communities intent on cementing a sense of white power. Statues are also symbols of power. That’s why we make them larger than life.

So people were told, look up at these great powerful leaders! Look up at these cherry-picked historical moments! Look at our attempt to preserve slavery! And a solid reminder to African Americans as to where they belonged in the community (or didn’t belong as the case may be) and that “the South will rise again.” A reminder that African Americans were once owned by white people who would die to defend their right to own them. It’s not like the Southerners were erecting statues to Abraham Lincoln. Or statues of General Lee reading to children. They were being intentional about who they wanted people to look up to and how they wanted them to be seen.

And when a community decides that it no longer wants to look up at a statue and see that civics lesson, they can and should take it down. Putting a new plaque on it to change the meaning doesn’t work when you have spent decades using it as a tool to teach another lesson. Remember all those scenes of people tearing down Saddam Hussein statues in Iraq? Remember how we all laughed and cheered? They didn’t want that lesson anymore.

I’d love to see a park created for old statues. I’d love to see just row after row of statues and monuments in a park on the outskirts of town. One that we could take kids to and ask questions like – why is this here now? How has our culture changed over time? How has our community values changed? That would make for some excellent civics lessons.

Taking down statues doesn’t change history. Taking down statues says these are no longer the people from history who we want to look up to. These are no longer the people who we put on a pedestal. These are no longer the people we want our children to grow up to emulate. Statues are civics lessons, not history lessons. History will still be there in the books. We can still read about those people. We can even learn about why we took the statue down or moved to someplace else. Yes, we could also surround it with “opposing statues” but is putting Abraham Lincoln or Frederick Douglas next to a bunch of Confederate Generals really the same? (Or the first black professional tennis player….looking at you there Richmond). Unless we put Ulysses S. Grant on a horse headed directly at General Lee we are still teaching civics not history (and that wouldn’t be a very accurate history lesson anyway.)

 

…a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die.

“I know he had an object and it was dark, and he was pulling it out with his right hand. And as he was pulling it out I, a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die.”

Those are the words of a scared man. A man who is explaining why he shot another man. The words of a police officer who shot a man. A man he pulled over for his taillight being out. A black man who was out driving with his family. A black man who then did what he was supposed to do and told the officer he had a gun permit and had a gun in the car. Seconds later the officer shot him because the officer thought he was going to die.

If you haven’t watch the police dash cam footage of the Philando Castile shooting, you should. White people, black people, red people, blue people. Everyone should watch it. It’s scary. Not because of the violence and death of Castile, but in how quickly the officer goes from a friendly tone saying “hey you got a light out” to fearing for his life because Castile tells him that he is legally armed. His fear seems to rocket up because it turns out he pulled over an armed black man. (Note that he reaches for his gun the moment Castile mentions being armed.)

It seems that many officers fear for their life upon meeting someone else that is armed, particularly if that person is of color. We are considerably less concerned with armed white men who blatantly use the threat of violence to get what they want (you do remember Y’all Qaeda and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff right?). We are willing to give them some space and “respect their rights.” But a black man clearly does not get the same right because an armed black man inspires fear in people including many police officers. Even if he is just out for a drive with his family and was stopped as a courtesy about his brake lights.

I’ve grown up around guns my whole life. I’m a former NRA member (I gave up on them about the same time George H.W. Bush gave back his lifetime membership.) Rule number one that I was taught (by cops!) was that you should always let an officer know that you are legally armed. Clearly, this only goes for white folks. But to be honest, now I’m a bit worried too.

I have known a bunch of cops in different agencies and types of places throughout my life including now. Most of them are really good people. But what I’ve noticed over the years is that more of them have become afraid. They are more and more convinced that they have to shoot first or they won’t make it home. More of an “us or them” mentality. When talking about even the most mundane situations, they switch to language I associate with war in foreign countries even when they aren’t veterans.

I have yet to figure out what has changed in our culture in the last 20 years that has made our officers so scared. The 1980s cop movies were Police Academy, Beverly Hills Cop, and Dirty Harry. And CHiPs and Hill Street Blues were on tv. Then suddenly we had Colors. But the 1990s had lone cop movies like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. And NYPD Blue was on tv. But then back to the Colors-esque genre of Training Day, End of Watch, The Departed, etc. Even the tv shows about cops now days reflect this change with mass shootouts and over the top adrenaline in every show. Some of this reflected a growing population of heavily armed drug gangs, particularly in urban environments but the societal impact was much wider.

My anecdotal-based hypothesis is that we are attracting a different type of person to being in law enforcement today and cultivating a different mindset among our officers. (This mindset varies widely by department culture!) We used to attract people who were interested in solving and preventing crime first and foremost. People who lived in and were vested in their community. People who saw policing as a mental exercise to help their community. Now, many of the newer officers seem to be primarily interested in just being a bad ass, wanting respect “for the badge,” and constantly seeking that adrenaline rush of confrontation. Therefore, I hear older officers lament how the newer ones don’t bother with the non-adrenaline stuff like paperwork, cold cases, working with the homeless, and non-violent crime. (And the officers who do those things are looked down on.)

Maybe both of these types were always there. Maybe in the past, law enforcement did a better job of self-regulation to control for these things. But most of the questionable shootings done by officers today seem to come from this newer generation of officers. I’ve not floated this theory among my law enforcement friends. But when I talk to that older generation about the younger ones, I see the often silent acknowledgement that things have changed even if they can’t put their finger on it.

How do we change this? How do we reverse this trend as a society? There is no one solution. Part of it is internal to the law enforcement community. Another part of it is on us. I think law enforcement officers need a wider breadth of experience before becoming law enforcement. They need more time with the general public, outside their own comfort bubble. More time spent around people who are different from them – socially, economically, culturally, racially, etc.

One system already in place to do this is higher education. We could actually require college degrees for law enforcement. A 2010 study from Police Quarterly found that officers with a college education are less likely to resort to use of force compared to those without a degree. Nationally, the rate of officers with a degree is very low. Stats vary widely but I’ve not see any above 40%. This isn’t new. In the 1960s, the federal government studies of law enforcement were recommending bachelor’s degrees.

I also think we need to change the system. Taking 2-3 years for someone to go from job application to officer on patrol is a lot of time. During that time, we need to find ways to build in this cross-cultural experience. They need to work in the community and get to know people. We also need to diversify our police officers as much as possible and building in programs that support applicants from underrepresented groups in the population.

Lastly, “I felt threatened” can’t remain as a blanket defense for police officers in a court of law. It isn’t considered justifiable for the military or those working overseas, so why do we allow it as a justification for police officers in the US. It isn’t even a universal justification for non-police officers despite some notable cases like Trayvon Martin (where again, his biggest threat was being a black male.)

We have to get rid officers who have an “us and them” mentality. Police officers need to come from throughout the community they serve. They need to understand the community they serve. They need to be part of the community. Then maybe getting pulled over for a brake light being out and mentioning you are a legal gun owner won’t seem like a threat to an officers life.

 

 

Shouting people down is not the same as free speech

I have watched it play out on campus after campus this past year. And it has begun to creep into off-campus protests and events as well including local government meetings and civic events. Somewhere along the way, we have confused shouting people down with free speech. When it is rather the opposite. It is suppression. I am specifically talking about the idea that free speech means being allowed to stand in someone’s face and scream at them or disrupt and shut down an event.

Let me set a ground rule before I start. I don’t believe all ideas are equally valid. I don’t even think all ideas are worth giving air time to or listening too. However, all people, have a right to their own ideas. They have a right to gather together and discuss their ideas with like minded people. And to a certain extent, the government should not be involved in suppressing those rights. In fact, this is the very thing the has built progressive America into what it is today. I have an even bigger concern when the legislatures start weighing in with free speech bills and legislation that are clearly punitive to one side or idea.

The majority of the context I am speaking about is with higher education. Let me begin by telling you a secret. [whispers] There are conservative students, faculty, and staff in higher education. And that’s okay. A certain vocal minority within the left has convinced themselves that higher education, particularly large, public, liberal arts colleges, are bubbles of pure untouched left wing thinkers whose only limitation is the moderately left leaning administration.

Then when some small conservative group (or any group with an idea they find questionable) gets together – regardless of cause – they immediately want to hound them, suppress them, shout them down, and drive them from campus. This is not freedom of speech nor the free exchange of ideas. This is mob mentality, intimidation, and suppression. This is not what we claim our institutions value.

Three years ago, at my nearby college, the largest campus religious group invited a nationally known anti-GLBT speaker. The speaker is a strong advocate of being able to “pray the gay away”. Almost no one noticed. This year, that same group, has noticeably limited their advertisements about who they are inviting and has actually started employing security for their meetings. The largest. campus. religious. group.

This sort of “majority rules” “mob-intimidation mentality” that forces people to think and act like the majority wants them to act is dangerous – be it left, right, up, or down. And the truth is that it isn’t really a majority. It is another minority (for now). But it is a minority to whom the largely left-of-center campus is sympathetic. And as such, few seem to perceive the danger in this and many are willing to tolerate it. Though few are around to actually watch when dozens of shouting people surround one or two lone people and scream them down. The intimidation and fear is real and intentional. But afterwards and beforehand, the crowd wants to label it “free speech.”

I worry about this as the military has previously been a target of visceral free speech. The Martin Niemöller statement of “First they came for the socialists….” sticks in my head. So now, me, a social liberal, religious progressive, and social justice advocate, has to say we’re going too far. (Maybe it’s not “too far,” maybe it is just the wrong direction?)

I was proud of our local college when they did not let an invited speaker get suppressed by those who proudly boasted of their intent to disrupt the event and shut it down. Even though some students, faculty, and locals made it cost a fortune and made it get ugly. Yes, I found myself being proud that we let a conservative speaker with some ideas that resound of racism and bias come speak. That part hurts I admit. I’m not proud that we invited him but I’m proud that our students who invited him were able to hear him. I was not proud that some in our community’s plan to protest it was to shut it down. Too often the majority has ruled by intimidation and suppression. We can’t allow this to be the way our emerging progressive majority acts if want to claim to be inclusive.