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Posts Tagged ‘things that make me go GAAAAH!’

NPR’s podcast, Invisibilia, just ran a piece about Max Hawkins, “a kind of unassuming white guy.” Maybe you know Max because he arrived, uninvited, at your Passover seder, or the sushi-making party you threw last year. Because that’s his thing: using technology to find and show up at private events.

And—surprise!—strangers welcome him gladly! Relationships are formed, and good times are had by all!

The piece is skewed to read as wacky, charming, renewing-your-faith-in-the-basic-goodness-of-your-fellow-citydwellers. All that. Definitely played for sweetness: young man realizes he lives in a bubble and uses tech to try new things and meet people he wouldn’t have otherwise met. You can listen to it on the NPR site. It’s a great story.

And it enrages me.

For real. On so many levels: as a woman, as a Black person, as a private citizen who doesn’t have a lot of love for colonizers and gate crashers. This story reeks of privilege, and NPR’s inability or unwillingness to call that out in a real way is frustrating in the extreme. There is a half-second nod to Hawkins’ privilege. But that’s it. The idea is almost acknowledged, and we’re told that Hawkins acknowledges it, too … and then we move right back to the smiley, feel-goodness of this zany tale.

But it’s not that simple. In 2017, in MAGA America, it cannot be that simple.

In the past, you could do an interview like this and never have to include even token acknowledgement of the power of whiteness. Why would you? It was expected that stories would be told from the point of view of white folk, quite often from the vantage point of white men. The white person’s point of view was, simply, the “norm,” and the rest of us were welcome to fit ourselves in around the margins if we could, but we were expected to accept our exclusion and erasure and keep quiet. Inclusion? Not possible.

Also impossible? The idea that anyone else’s feelings or interests or privacy need be respected. The white people are having fun, and that was the only point. Never mind if their “fun” disturbed or damaged someone else, one of those nameless “other” people who count so very much less.

This story is presented as funny and clever, something we should all try because surely all of us could benefit from stepping out of our comfort zones and meeting new people. Really? How well would that work for me as a woman alone to go present myself at the homes of strangers? How well would it work of for me as a Black person? How well would it work for a Black man?

Let’s pause for a moment to consider how unnecessary any of this is. In a city like San Francisco, there are plenty of public events that could have helped Max break free of his homogenous bubble. There are gallery openings, readings, performance art installations, open houses. He could volunteer with an organization working in a neighborhood he’s curious about but never visited. He could join his community board and meet some of the old-timey residents who have yet to be priced out by his gentrifying butt. Why am I supposed to think it’s okay for him to insert himself in other people’s lives because his own life feels boring or stuck in a rut?

As I said, the story does take a quick glance over the wall at privilege: “as a kind of unassuming white guy, [Max] actually didn’t [have to worry about people not responding positively.] (And Max acknowledges this privilege.)” Oh. Okay, then. Max acknowledges his privilege. Carry on.

This hat tip to white male privilege isn’t enough. No points for that little wink and nod. What privilege is it that Max is aware of? We have no idea because we’re just given that pat on the head, no actual information. No, sorry. NPR and Invisibilia, you have failed. You need to take that further. In the case of this profile of Max, a lot of my anger would have melted away if the reporter creating this story had stepped away from the cutesy narrative and said plainly:

Max was able to get away with his shenanigans because he is a young white man who is not aggressively muscular and looks goofily non-threatening. Given the realities of our current society’s entrenchment in rape culture, this kind of reliance on the kindness of strangers isn’t recommended for women. Given our adherence to the belief that all Black bodies are dangerous and criminal and in need of neutralization, showing up at strangers’ doors and demanding entrance to their parties is discouraged for Black folks … well, hell, for all people of color.

But my anger runs along another path as well. Yes, the white male privilege of Max being able to feel safe and comfortable putting himself in places he doesn’t belong would be enough to piss me right off. But there’s more. There’s the raging sense of entitlement that allows Max to decide he has the right to show up at strangers’ homes, at strangers’ private events. That entitlement allows him to made decisions about other people’s lives, allows him to decide that whatever he sees that he wants, he can have. And that is just the whitest thing in the world.

It’s easy for me to believe Max Hawkins is a nice guy. Look at his almost cartoonishly goofy face:

He really looks like a nice guy. That’s not the point, however. Nice people do shitty things all the time. Nice people take full, comfortable advantage of their privilege all the time. They may even, like Max, acknowledge that they have privilege. But when Invisiblia reports on all of that without acknowledging any of it, that’s the problem, that’s what sparks my rage.

Back in December, Storycorps raised hackles by framing an awful story as a heartwarming one, just in time for the holidays … and then refused to take full responsibility for their crap when listeners and readers called them out.

Now it’s Invisibilia’s turn. There is no excuse for presenting a story like this without context, without explicit acknowledgement of the ways in which Max’s life-randomizing hijinks are also dangerous, intrusive, and dripping with privilege.

Is it fair for me to expect more from Invisibilia, from NPR? I say yes. The Washington Post’s new motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” tells me that the paper must be held to an even higher level of accountability for its journalism, for its honesty, for its calling out of wrongs and lies. Not that it shouldn’t be held to high standards simply because it’s a major national newspaper. But when you slap that kind of high and mighty line on yourself, you are asking to be put under a more exacting microscope. I mean, Fox News was terrible for years, but when they started describing themselves as “fair and balanced,” that was clearly a call for pointing out every instance of their utter lack of fairness or balance.

NPR presents itself as the news organization that goes beneath the surface, that takes more time with its stories, digs deep for the hidden bits that are crucial to understanding, to informed, critical thinking. That standard of reporting has to apply to all of the reporting. That standard of reporting has to be followed even when a reporter is faced with “a kind of unassuming white guy” who’s doing some madcap thing that seems the perfect idea for a fluff piece. You sell your wares based on the promise of critical analysis. Throwing the words, “And Max acknowledges this privilege” at me is laziness. It’s telling me, “Look, we know there’s more here, some deep mess that needs dissecting, but we’re not in the mood. We like this guy and don’t feel like examining the seamy underbelly of his privilege, don’t want to make him feel bad about this adorably crazy thing he’s done.”

That laziness is bad journalism. There are people who don’t understand what privilege is or how it works, who don’t know how to spot it, who can’t see that it’s lurking in harmless spaces like Max’s decision to amp up the interesting-quotient in his life. It’s up to quality, responsible journalism to point that out.

The decision to ignore the negative aspect of Max’s story is bad for Max, too. As I said, it’s easy to believe Max is a nice guy. He probably means well and didn’t set out to harm anyone. The I-can’t-fully-open-my-eyes, nerdboy look of him makes that easier to believe. He’s a nice guy. By not calling his attention to what he’s doing, by not picking apart his “awareness” of his privilege, he gets to continue running headlong down his slippery slope.

Max’s slope? Monetizing his behavior and taking it public. He is developing a “suite of randomization apps.” Of course he is. Because what he’s done is so fun and clever, and of course lots of other people should do the same.

He hopes to introduce [the apps] for public use in the coming months. He has also created a Facebook group that encourages people to attend strangers’ publicly listed events and offers tips and tricks for doing so.

(I’m not even going to list all the ways I’ve already imagined for this to go horribly wrong, all the folks with ill intent who could take full and painful advantage of Max’s apps. No, we’ll just pretend he’s done something fun and clever and of course lots of other people should do the same.)

When we don’t push people to think about the problematic things they’re doing, they will keep doing them. And, in some cases, they will expand them, and make money from them, and get other people to start doing them, too. Swell.

Being a nice guy shouldn’t give you a pass when you’re doing something wrong. By finding Max clever and off-beat, NPR lost sight of the work it’s supposed to be doing, the quality journalism we’ve been led to expect.

I expect my purveyors of quality news to be aware of the larger world, even in a puff piece about a bored hipster who’s created an app for that.



In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind. I committed to writing an essay a week … but fell behind behind pretty quickly. I’m determined to catch up, committed to 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride.

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Or, to be entirely accurate (and doubly literary), fear and loathing.

I am a big fan of the whole six degrees of separation idea. I’m always charting my connections to see how far afield I can go, what unexpected people I can get to. My aunt knew Barbara Jordan, so all kinds of connections there. My mom dated Freddy Cole, so a ton more there. A crazy teacher I once hired gave me a connection to Trotsky. You get the idea.

Generally speaking, I love this game. I love the Kevin Bacon version of this game. When Fox was first becoming a Lord of the Rings fangirl, I made her a Six Degrees of LOTR book, connecting all of the trilogy’s principal cast to Bacon. This was, of course, super easy to do. The man really does connect to everyone.

But the connections to be discovered aren’t always great. I just learned that I am only three short degrees from THOTUS¹.

To be honest, I already knew I could get to that sunken place in four degrees. Shortening that path to three … well, it hurts a bit, makes me wish that sometimes the world wouldn’t be so small.

But I can’t write a chōka for THOTUS. I mean, I can, but I refuse to.

_____

Love Lost

Did I really write
a poem about old lovers?
Why yes, yes I did.
I guess it’s true: anything
can turn into art.
Of course: love is poetic,
so that makes some sense.
Poems pick at the emotion —
feelings, not the men
not the flawed and fallible
simple, human men.
I’m sure it’s better this way.
The men that I’ve loved
and the others, the lovers
they can all be spared
my ink, my rancor, my scorn —
I’ll turn aside. Write elsewhere.

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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Yes, all of that. For all the reasons.

First, let me say that, the moment you fix your mouth to tell me that “even Hitler” wouldn’t do some particularly heinous thing … you’ve gone down the wrong path. The very moment it occurs to you to make such a comparison, STOP. Stop, take a deep breath, try to count at least to five. Let a new thought flow into your brain, anything but a favorable reference to Hitler, a reference to the genocide he orchestrated in a way that makes it sound like the Mall of America. Maybe count all the way to ten … and remember that you, in fact, know absolutely not one whit about history, that you half-recall some names, no dates, a few terms of art. Realize that all of this means you should shut the fuck up — all the way up — that you should change course and never, ever attempt to make even the most basic of analogies ever again.

That’s first.

Second, how clear is it today and to how many people, that THOTUS¹ has no respect for anything that is in any way related to the job he has lied and cheated his way into? You tried to pretend it didn’t bother you when Kellyann curled up on the Oval Office couch with her got-damn shoes on to play with her phone before taking a pic of all those school choice advocates who’d come to see her boss. You looked down at your hands and acted as if you couldn’t see when Ivanka sat in on diplomatic meetings, when she officially took on an advisory role. You were suddenly interested in your shoes and their need for a shine when Jared was put in charge of brokering Middle East peace and a thousand other important issues for which he isn’t the least bit qualified.

But now Hitler’s been put on the table, and surely you finally have to admit that you see it. If THOTUS cared at all about the job he has shoehorned himself into, he would make some kind of effort to surround himself with staff who have the first clue about government, about the world, about history, about any damn thing that has to do with leading this country.

But THOTUS doesn’t care. At all. He has never cared. He has only ever been interested in winning, in showing the naysayers that he could walk in and take whatever the fuck he wanted. That was always the goal. What happens to the rest of us now that his aides are sitting around picking their noses and playing with their hair is not his concern.

And so, three. What now? What’s your path forward in spite of, in response to, in solidarity against? Have you found the form that resistance takes for you?

_____

Jib for the Jobber

I have only this —
anger, an uncontrolled rage,
only this belief
that we will have to survive,
have to save ourselves
step out of the inferno.
I have always rage,
questions, my fierce, ugly hope —
bulked up and ready,
pushing me forward in spite
and in spite of. Yes.
This isn’t my song,
but I have learned all the words.
I can sing all day,
long into the night. Watch me
outlast you, my voice still strong.

__________
¹ Titular Head oThese United States

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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Yes, of course I’m still watching April. Tell me you’re not. How are you managing to resist?

But I have other things going on, too. Thank heavens for multi-tasking skills.

__________

There is a random man I see on my way home from time to time. He’s one of my “bus neighbors,” someone I don’t know but recognize because we’re both regulars on the B65.

He seems a nice enough man, but he drives me crazy because he’s always listening to his music and doesn’t use headphones. Last night I learned that he’s bought himself a little bluetooth speaker!

He plays music I like, for the most part, but that’s not entirely the point. If I’m trying to read or write (or sleep), that music is the bane of my existence. If, like tonight, a song gets caught in my head … GAAAAH!!

Till We Just Can’t

Your repetition
driving me out of my mind.
Same nonsense words, looped
over, over … and again.
You keep telling me
to “get up on the floor” —
you’ve been telling me
near a solid forty years —
If I dance, will you fade out?

This, of course, is utter I’m-so-tired foolishness, but it is also a chōka, and I’m going to take these where I find them until I can get some rest and try to find some deeper inspiration.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7.



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So yesterday there was some unnecessary-but-unsurprising ugliness in the world. There was April Ryan getting scolded and bullied by the White House press secretary. There Representative Maxine Waters being insulted by Bill O’Reilly. It was a bonanza day for Black women. Bo.nan.za. If you missed it, you can get a recap, complete with lame, insincere apologies over at The Mary Sue.

I was feeling that #BlackWomanAtWork hashtag, for sure. This nonsense had me remembering a lot of things that have happened to me during the long course of my work life. I posted some of those thanks-for-the-memories moments on FB:

“Don’t get excited.” Said by coworker when I leaned forward in a meeting as I spoke.

“Okay, stay calm,” said by coworker every time I express displeasure at something.

“Calm down, don’t get so upset,” said by a friend any time I expressed anger, displeasure, concern. Went on a long time until I finally called her out. Hasn’t happened since.

Boss looking at my natural hair and asking if I think it might be “too street.” (Whatever the fuck that is when it’s home.)

HR manager after I interviewed with him (many years ago): “You’re very intimidating, you know. You should work on that if you want to find something.”

“No, you cannot be the director. I need to speak to the director.” Man trying to bully his way into the program I used to direct.

Presenter looking directly at me for the only time during his presentation: “We have programs for single parents and people who didn’t finish college.”

“Hello … again!” Member of another team who thinks he’s seen me already even though he hasn’t … even though there is not a single other Black woman on our floor who looks anything at all like me.

“You’re listening to rock? Black people don’t like rock!” Coworker in ed program where I used to teach.

This crap is ridiculous. And it’s all the time. It’s everywhere. It’s when you expect it, and — best of all — when you least expect it. There’s a reason both April Ryan and Maxine Waters dealt so well with the awful treatment they received. They have had years of these experiences, and they have learned how to brush off their shoulders and move on.

I have to wonder at O’Reilly, though. Coming for Mother Maxine is just foolish, plain and simple. Ms. Waters is not here to play with you and your racism. She is not going to take her ball and go home because you chose to show yourself to be a hateful bag of wind (again). No. Ms. Maxine will take that O’Reilly, raise you a Spicer, lay you and your misogynoir out with a royal flush of proud Black clapback, and walk away with the pot every damn time. (Yes, note the Oxford comma. Just like Ms. Maxine, it is not here to play.)

But I’m not really expecting sense from O’Reilly. Or Spicer. I know better.

And I don’t need to defend Mother Maxine. She can take care of her fine self by herself. And, too, she has R. Eric Thomas in her corner, writing his love for her practically every day. If you haven’t caught up with him yet, you can click over and check out what he wrote about this foolishness. Because of course he wrote about this nonsense.

Here is a scrummy little taste:

Because Bill O’Reilly (whoever that is) can’t come for her. He wasn’t sent for. His hairline doesn’t have the range. She has 40 years of political receipts. He has tired, racist dog whistles about hair. These are not equivalent. If he thinks he was reading her, he needs Hooked on Phonics.

Giving me life. 100%.

As you can see, Ms. Maxine is fine out here without me. Me, on the other hand? Mostly I’m just tired. All the ways we are always and always being pushed down, pushed back, silenced, shamed, erased. Can’t folks just give it a rest already? Can’t we just live? I know this answers to these questions is going to stay “No,” maybe for a good, long while. Knowing the truth of that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, doesn’t make me feel any better about any of it. As a friend said in response to my FB post: “We call them microaggressions, but what about a constant onslaught on your very being and existing is micro?”

Yes. What she said.

But then I remember Representative Waters. And I remember one of my coworkers telling me that I gave total Maxine Waters in a meeting on Monday. And I feel a little energized. Feel a little more like I can keep standing up, keep clapping back.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

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Years ago, when I knew a little Spanish but before I started taking classes, I was in the airport in Mexico City, sitting near my gate, waiting for the connecting flight to Veracruz. A man came up and asked me why I had a cane. He asked in Spanish, so I endeavored to answer in Spanish. A simple response, just needed to say, “Tengo problemas con mis rodillas.” (I have problems with my knees.) Instead of rodillas, however, I told him I had problems with my rodillo… my um … rolling pins. Seriously, though, they are practically the same word, it’s an honest mistake.

Well, tonight I’m wishing for some rolling pin problems to swap out for my knee problems. For the last week, I’ve been walking (sitting, sleeping  …)  with almost constant pain. This is the kind of pain having my knees replaced should have eliminated. Recovery from the first surgery was such a cakewalk … and then there’s my current experience with knee number two. I was doing pretty well for a while but have definitely begun a rapid slide backward — seven months into healing and I’m walking with my cane again. This was definitely not on the agenda. I’ll see my surgeon on the 17th, but I wish I was seeing him tomorrow.

Instead, in the morning, my rolling pins and I will be going to physical therapy, which I hope will provide some relief in the interim.


It’s Slice of Life Story Challenge time! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

SOL image 2014

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Finally I understand. Finally someone has shed light on a biological question that has plagued me for years. Thanks to Missouri’s Todd Akin, I now know that I should never have worried about getting pregnant after Alain forced himself on me. The superpower of my vagina kicked into high gear to shut that thing down. Amazing. I wish doctors had been more forthcoming with that news earlier. Would have saved me a lot of stress, maybe delayed the onset of my hair going grey.

Oh, but wait. That wouldn’t have worked for me, would it? After all, by Akin’s definition, I wasn’t legitimately raped. Date rape doesn’t meet Akin’s “forcible” criteria. My trusty vajayjay would have been all confused, unsure about releasing the shut-down chemicals and blasting that rapist sperm to smithereens. Damn. Guess I was right to worry and just plain lucky that all I got was raped.

I’m betting the folks who came up with the ridiculous and offensive ad campaign for Summer’s Eve had no idea just how right they were when they exhorted us all to hail the V. I mean, that’s some awesome power. Okay, so it wouldn’t have worked for me, but that’s my fault for not having the sense to get myself legitimately raped. But for all the women who do, wow. Someone ought to harness the power of those shut-down chemicals. Surely a natural contraceptive would be welcomed by millions. No more migraines and weight gain caused by the pill. Oh yes. Hail to the ever-loving V.

Of course, now that I know about the shut-down system, I’m a little annoyed. The system seems flawed. It’s great, the whole not getting pregnant from legitimate rape thing. Really great. Absolutely. But it doesn’t go far enough, does it? Even Representative Akin realized that, saying that there should be some kind of punishment for the rapist. Some kind. I don’t know what kind he was thinking of, but I know the kind that seems best fitting to me. That fabled vaginal shut-down system should shut down more than pregnancy. I’m thinking a two-step approach. First, of course, is the instant penile vaporization — which would take care of the pregnancy danger most handily. Next would be the injection of a neutralizing agent that would make rapists turn themselves over to authorities as well as acknowledge and seek help for their power and control issues. Now that’s what I call a shut-down system.

Alas, that’s just crazy, unscientific, hysterical fantasy talking, nothing to do with the evidence-based pronouncements of Representative Akin. Hey a girl can dream, can’t she?

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