One Last Night

This is Mr. My President and Mrs. My First Lady’s last night in the White House. I’m sure they’re doing it up, dancing and laughing through every room, singing old songs and clinking glasses. I’m betting there’s even a little cuddling under that last piece of mistletoe they saved just for this night. I’m sure they’re looking forward to having the tiniest bit of their real lives back — they won’t get too much of a return to normalcy, but that smidgen will surely feel like heaven.

Just about every day since Mr. My President was elected, I have said a prayer for him. (Does this surprise you? You couldn’t be more surprised than I’ve been.) Every clear night, I’ve given up my wish on the first star for him. I’ve prayed and wished for his life, for his health and safety, for the health and safety of his family, for him to have the love and support of his rockstar lady-wife and his fabulous daughters, for him to find the way to be the president we voted for.

Eight years of wishes. Eight years of dreams. And now I have to learn to say goodbye.

It hasn’t been an eight-year love fest. There have been those times … those times when Mr. My President has annoyed me, angered me, disappointed me, driven me crazy. He has backed things I’ve wished he wouldn’t, and turned his back on things I know he should have picked up and carried. But he’s always been my president, and I have always loved him, will keep on loving him. I love his poise, his sense of humor, his intelligence, his graciousness, his calm, his speechifying, his love of children, his measured contemplation of issues, his friendship with Uncle Joe, his love for his family … and most especially, his love for Michelle. For eight years he has stood center stage showing us what Black love can look like, showing us strength and grace, swagger and humility. And now, in his last act of modeling classy behavior, he will hand over this country to a man he would surely rather read for filth. And he will do it with dignity. Of course.

Thanks, Obama.

(Surprise me tomorrow morning and change your mind about Leonard. It’s really the one thing I’ve most wanted you to do these last eight years. There’s still time.)

“Can you hear me now?”

Yeah, I think that might be what Mr. My President said to General McChrystal when he gave him the heave-ho.

I’m so over General McChrystal.  Maybe he’s a good commander in war-time.  But there are other good war-time commanders.  Like General Petraeus, for example.  Maybe McChrystal knows how to lead soldiers.  What he clearly doesn’t know is how to accept that, even if his Commander-in-Chief is someone he might not like having to take orders from, he still has to take orders from him and still has to treat him as his superior (aye, there’s the rub, eh Stanley?).  This nonsense with Rolling Stone isn’t McChrystal’s first exercise in “poor judgement” in terms of talking about the President.  He’s made a bit of a habit of criticizing Obama, and I’d been wondering what it would take to finally see the back of him.

Well, now I know.  I was afraid Obama would be conciliatory, would accept some lame mea culpa from McChrystal and move on.  I was pleased to come home from work tonight and see that things had gone the other way.  I guess even Mr. Calm-and-Collected has a tipping point.  Good.

And I like that Obama talked about McChrystal as if his career had just ended.  Who knows if that will be true, but I kind of dug it, like the President was rubbing McChrystal’s nose in it a little, like: “Hey, Stanley.  See me over here?  You may not like me or the way I do business, but I can fire your ass and make sure some important doors close in your face.  How d’you like them apples?”

Of course Mr. My President is much cooler, kinder and more tactful than I am, so I’m sure that wasn’t what he was doing at all.

I don’t know what any of this will mean in terms of the war in Afghanistan.  Foolishly, I had thought we’d already be seeing the end of our involvement there.  Clearly not.  I don’t know anything about waging a war, but General Petraeus does seem to know how to do his job and is liked and respected by all sorts of people who can’t agree on much of anything else, so that’s promising.  And maybe in the long run, we’ll all look back and wish McChrystal had been allowed to keep running the ship.

But not me.

He needed to go.  I am done trying to pretend to have patience with these people who think they don’t need to show any respect to Mr. My President.  You don’t like the man.  Get. over. it.  Get the fuck over it.  The man is the leader of our country and you need to give him the respect his office demands.  End of story.  You spent eight years genuflecting before a dangerous moron.  You can’t bite your tongue during an interview?  Get. over. it.

And Stanley?  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

What’d you get done in the last 14 1/3 weeks?

Author’s note: I’m cleaning house today and found this post lying around in my “Draft” folder.  It’s from April 30th, so it’s the 14 1/3 weeks before April 30th that this post refers to.  Not sure why I never hit “Publish” when this is pretty much whole and says what I wanted to say.  WordPress tells me it was last edited at 11:49pm, so did I fall asleep and just forget about it?  Weird.  In any case, step into my time machine and go back six months to see what I was thinking on a Thursday night in April …

My students and I talked about this last night, about how much we thought we could accomplish in a few months … about how much of that stuff would have real import, about how much might have a positive impact on anyone other than ourselves.  We had an interesting list as our brainstorming continued:

  • get a job
  • unpack in my new apartment
  • do community service
  • get together with other people to work on some big project
  • do a lot of reading
  • write a lot of essays
  • start to learn something new
  • maybe watch the news more
  • travel

We talked about it for a while.  Fourteen and a third weeks.  Fourteen and a third weeks.  They had some wacky, not-quite-reality-based ideas, too, but they kept cycling back around to getting stuff done in their houses or with their families and friends.

And then I asked: “About how many days is 14 1/3 weeks?”  (And, after the mad scramble to do some math …)

“It’s like 100 days.”

“A hundred days?  I heard something about that on TV.”

“Why, what’s 100 days?”

“Isn’t it something about the president?”

And there we were.  One hundred days.  About three and a half months.

I know the first 100 days is supposed to be a big deal, supposed to tell us what a new administration is going to be like, tell us whether we made the right or wrong choice at the polls months earlier … but can it ever actually to any of that?  It is, after all, only three and a half months.  What is the real point of putting this kind of pressure on our politicians?  Are we really so hungry for instant gratification that we can’t sit back and give our pols half a minute to get things moving?  At the same time, I understand wanting to see some movement in the first couple of months, but this still feels like an empty milestone.

So, what’d you get done in the last 14 and 1/3 weeks?

Remember that wishbone I was choking on?

I just can’t seem to get it out of my throat, you know?  After my angry rant about The New York Times’  shocking discovery of Michelle Obama’s white ancestry, I thought I’d be able to shut up a bit, at least for a few minutes.  As if.  I was over at Michelle Obama Watch and saw this little bit of sunshine.*

First, let me just say that Megan Smolenyak is riding this train as far as she can, isn’t she?  Who is it that can help her understand that what she’s done isn’t interesting or cool?  Who is it that can help her see that her drive to uncover this ‘useful history lesson’ shows her lack of understanding about or sensitivity toward black people in this country more than it tells us anything about MO?  Who is it that can make her sit down and keep her enthusiastic mouth shut?

And then there’s Debbie Shields.  I can’t fault her for having a little frisson of excitement to discover that she’s related to MO.  But I’d expect to see that excitement die down as the reality of how she’s related to Mrs. My First Lady sinks in.  I’d expect her to have half a brain and not say something as unbelievable as: “I think it’s great. I would like to sit down and talk with her and share memories,  share photographs, stories.”

Share memories?  Share stories?  What kinds of memories and stories might those be?  Maybe they could talk about rape, about exploitation and white privilege?  Oh, good times!  I sure hope MO invites her over for tea and cucumber sandwiches real soon.  Maybe Shields should take a tip from her 17-year-old son.  If you click over to the Inside Edition story, you get to see a photo of Debbie and Brandon.  The caption claims that both are excited about the discovery of this familial link with the First Family, but Brandon’s face tells a very different story.

Can we let this go already?

No.  Let’s not.  Better than letting it go, let’s take reparations to a whole different place.  Whenever I hear white people argue against reparations, they say things like, “I didn’t enslave anyone.  I’m not responsible for what happened all those years ago.”  They talk about how there’s no way to assign blame, to determine who’s responsible.  Now, nevermind that individual responsibility has never been the issue when we as a country have paid reparations in the past.  And nevermind the issue of benefitting from the fact of the slave trade, benefitting from a culture that gave privilege to one group and steadfastly withheld it from another.  Nevermind all that.

Inspired by Smolenyak and the reporters at the Times, I think African Americans all over the country should personalize their reparations quests.  Yes, we’ll have to do a lot of homework searching back through our family histories to find the rapists and slaveowners in our pasts, but once we do … Well, let’s go look them up — historical records in hand — and ask for a little payback.

I need to get to work, find the Welsh rapist bastard responsible for my father’s family having this last name, and put in for generations of back alimony and child support.  And then I can start on my mother’s side of the family …


* Sadly the video has disappeared.  Maybe Debbie Shields finally figured herself out and was embarrassed to have it up.  But there’s a description of the piece on HuffPo.

One year later: (My Head Is) Spinning

On the radio the other day, a newscaster said, “President Obama has been in office for a year now …”  Excuse me, what?

She was leading into another point she wanted to make about how little movement there has been in certain areas in this first year of the Obama presidency.  And, while I can agree that there are areas in which I had hoped to see more movement (or any real movememt), her throw-away line about him being in office for a year stopped me.  A yearReally?  Is she high?  Ah, no, excuse me.  This is just the current spin.

When Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize last month (something my brain has still not quite processed), the outcry was that he’d barely been in office eight months.  Now, three weeks later, he’s suddenly in office for a year?  That kind of math makes my head hurt.  And this kind of casual slanting of information, “innocently” scattering these “truthy facts” pisses me off.  In the moment, saying the president has been in office for a year fits better with the angle this reporter wants for her story.  But does that make bending the actual fact ok? 

Here’s an actual fact: a year ago today, I joined millions of other Americans and elected Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency of these United States.  (N.B. Elected one year ago, not in office one year ago.  Just saying.)  That was a pretty excellent day.  I was so giddy, I photographed my vote:

VOTE! Yes, because I was that excited, that dorky.  Certainly I wasn’t alone in my excited dorkiness, and that made it feel a little less silly.

And now it’s a year later, nine months into Mr. My New President’s term, and … ?  Well, it’s not all brilliant.  I haven’t changed my mind.  My goodness, no.  I’m still quite happy to have BHO as my president, much happier than I would have been to have the McCain/Palin machine smiling malevolently over me and mine.  Still.  There’s more I’m wishing for.

I want the Defense of Marriage Act repealed.  I want to see the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  I want to see a little more aggressively progressive movement and a little less waiting for bi-partisanship that isn’t coming.  I want a true public option.  I want … well, you know, all those things I heard about during the campaign.

(And, too, I want to hear more from Michelle.  I get that she has children to raise, and I love that she’s doing that.  But she’s a smart, well-spoken woman, and I want to hear more about her than gardening and wardrobe.  Also, I want her to be photographed with people of normal height so that she can stop being shown as a giantess.  Seriously.  Who knew there were so many 5-foot tall people who could line up for photo ops with the first lady?)

Nine months in, am I disappointed with my president?  On DADT, yes.  Compared to everything else on his plate, that is surely the the easiest promise to keep.  We’ve been hearing since January how he’s going to end DADT … well, it’s many months later and he’s still making speeches about how he’s going to end DADT.  Well, when?  And DOMA disappoints me, too.  I know he doesn’t support gay marriage.  But why not?  Why not?  But am I disappointed overall?  Hardly.  I’m extremely happy about the Hate Crimes Act that Obama signed last week (as a nation, we’re eleven years late on this one — thirteen if we go back past Matthew Shepard’s murder to James Byrd’s).  So, no, I’m not disappointed overall.  I just want him to be more like the president I elected.  And more quickly.  The spinning will continue — in all possible directions — but I want to see BHO stay the course he set out during the campaign.  He’s got that Nobel to live up to, after all.

Attention white folks …

… some of your ancestors may have raped some of mine.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Is this is the first you’re hearing of it?

The New York Times ‘broke’ a story today: they’ve discovered the white ancestor in Michelle Obama’s family tree. SHOCKER!!  She’s not as black as we thought, not as black as she wants us all to believe.  She’s got a white relative.  Five generations ago a slave owner raped her adolescent great-great-great grandmother.

I’m sorry.  Help me understand the film-at-eleven significance here.  This is a story that is true for just about every African American.  So … how is this news? 

On The Takeaway this morning, the story was introduced with teasers about shaking up Michelle Obama’s family tree and Michelle Obama’s family tree being controversial.  Really?  I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand for whom this discovery is supposed to be a big surprise.  How can it be?  And why is anyone this interested in finding Michelle’s white ancestor?  What does this prove other than things we already know: Michelle Obama is African American, and blacks in this country have suffered abuse at the hands of whites.  Where’s the shake-up?  Where’s the controversy?

Rachel Swarns, who wrote the story with Jodi Kantor, noted that the White House had declined to comment because this was a personal matter.  Yes.  Exactly.  And about what would Swarns have wanted the White House to comment?  About the fact that she and Kantor had researched the history of a person who hadn’t asked for the favor?  Because for me that’s the only news here.

The ‘white ancestor’ story has been around for centuries, has been told in every black American household.  It isn’t usually papered over in bullshit like the Jefferson-Hemings story, but it has been told again and again.

When questioned about whether this ‘news’ was any of The Times‘ business, about whether anyone should be putting Michelle Obama’s business in the street, Swarns said this was our business because it’s ‘an American story’ that speaks to ‘this older racial intermingling.’  That sounds a bit too much like a lean toward choice, toward the Hemings whitewash.  Megan Smolenyak, the genealogist who worked on the research with Swarns says that African Americans need to decide whether or not we want to confront our history and that doing genealogical research is a choice that each individual has to make.

Right.  I mean, I guess that’s right … unless you’re Michelle Obama and someone decides to make the choice for you and publish it in The New York Times for the rest of us to pick over.

When Celeste Headlee, Takeaway co-host, talked about her own family line including a white overseer who raped her great-great grandmother, Smolenyak is quick to point out (in what to my ear was a somewhat teacher-y, almost-condescending voice) that ‘those white overseers are also your ancestors.’

Oh.  Really?  Can Smolenyak really think she has something to teach Headlee here?  Can she really think Headlee doesn’t know this, hasn’t already come to terms with it?  Does anyone truly believe any of this is news for any black person?  Look at us.  Look at all the shades and hair textures of us.  We would have to be insane to not have known and long ago accepted the existence of our ‘white ancestors.’  Please.

To whom is this news, then?  To white Americans?  Is it?  Really?  Is it whites who need to confront their histories and acknowledge that the children their great-great-great grandfather sold to other plantations are their relatives?  Is it whites who need to acknowledge that great-great-great grandpa was a rapist?  Is that the history that needs confronting?  Is that the family tree that’s controversial?

I’m offended by this story.  I know Michelle Obama is a public figure.  I just don’t see why anyone felt they had any right to go digging into Obama’s history.  For what?  Has anyone researched the geneology of our former first ladies?  Did it make the news?  Yes, Michelle Obama is a history-making first lady.  Do you know how little that excuses in terms of a story like this?  While I applaud John Hockenberry for asking why Swarns thought this story was anyone’s business, for asking why The Times felt the need to run the story, he loses points with me for insisting on talking about the story as if it’s real news, as if there’s a shocking controversy in this utterly commonplace fact.

What’s the real agenda of this story?  Are we now supposed to think Michelle Obama isn’t quite ‘authentically black’ enough?  (See, she’s been hiding her white family all this time!)  Or is this an effort to quiet the crazies who paint her as a black nationalist militant?  (See, she can’t be all bad: she has white blood!)  Or are we now supposed to see the Obamas as ‘more American,’ because we now have definitive proof that the first lady’s family came up from slavery.  (See, it’s ok that the president is half-foreign: Michelle’s ancestors were slaves!)  I’m still looking for a little clarity on what it is we’re supposed to be taking away from this (… and wondering how long it will be before descendants of that rapist slave owner show up at the front door in DC looking to cozy up to their long-lost cousin).

Stealing Lesson Plans from the President

Thanks to President Obama’s executive order on stem cell research, I have found myself with too much lesson and not enough time to teach it in. When I wrote about my nervousness teaching science, I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d be teaching this, and certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of the veritable abandon with which I’ve been throwing myself into it.  I’d like to think my aunt would be pleased and proud to hear me in class these days, talking about cell division and Krabbe’s Leukodystrophy and cryogenics cell banks and peripheral blood systems and such like. 

I’ve had to do a lot of homework, but it’s been fun and interesting.  This is a topic I’ve wanted to know more about, but haven’t given myself the time to study.  And I now know so much more about stem cells than I ever did before … which has led to me having many more questions than I had before.  The same has been true for my students.  We’ve been having wonderfully dynamic discussions and wandering off on interesting tangents.

My favorite tangents so far: talking about brain function (quick! I run to my office during break to do a rapid-fire search for images of the brain and some basic written info), talking about the fertility industry (quick! I run to my office and look up some stats), talking about genetics (quick! I run to my office and open the doc I created for the genetics lesson I was going to work on later in the unit and grab a few key ideas to share), talking about cloning.

This last  has been very interesting.  I wouldn’t have guessed how completely people associate cloning with stem cell research.  Now that I’ve had four or five different cloning conversations, I can see the ways they are connected in people’s minds, I just wasn’t on that page before.  The conversations I’ve had in both classes have eventually turned to cloning and people’s fantasies/worries/fears about all that it could mean.  (Yes, there really is always someone in the group who thinks it would be a great idea to have a clone farm somewhere … in the middle of nowhere … where we could be growing clones to kill off for organ donation!  I cannot say how much this troubles me.  Apparently it was a Jessica Alba movie.)

I owe a little thank you to my president.  I was feeling nearly frozen about starting the science unit, and — although stem cells were never more than a mention as part of that unit — his decision to renew research funding threw me into the work without me having time to fret over it and worry myself into an inability to teach.  We’ve had such animated discussions, and all of us walk away with more questions.  When I said at the end of this morning’s conversation that we were pretty much done with stem cells, there was actually a moan of disappointment!

Oh yes, we’re having some fun now!