I Can’t Breathe

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I can’t breathe. Black men dying before their time is not new, nor at the hands of authorities, but Eric Garner’s death was more than I could take.

Like millions of others, I shook my head and muttered, “not surprised” when the grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. Disappointed, but not surprised, not at all.

Then came Eric Garner’s death.

There was no way this case could fail to go to trial. There is a video. Even if Officer Daniel Pantaleo wasn’t convicted of homicide, at least he, and thus the NYPD, would face a trial.

We all know how that turned out.

Now my students look to me to explain this, to help them make sense out of this senselessness. They struggle to place blame, because recognizing how badly broken our nation is, is beyond countenance. And I have no way to assuage their pain.

So, I give them the one thing that saved me in some of my darkest days – words.

I give them the words of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou.

I give them Claude McKay, “If we must die, let it not be like hogs / Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot.”

I give them Langston Hughes, “O, let America be America again— /The land that never has been yet— /And yet must be—the land where every man is free.”

And when they grieve, and we do grieve, I give them Toni Morrison, “It was a fine cry — loud and long — but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”

These words promise that we are not alone in our dismay. That others have raged, others have wept, others have hoped. If nothing else, we know we are not alone.

Forgive me public…

Angel

Angel

Tomorrow I’m going to be part of a panel discussion on forgiveness on NPR’s “On Point.” It has gotten me thinking, what does it mean to forgive someone?  Do celebrities need, want or deserve the public’s forgiveness? Who are we to forgive someone anyway?

Eliot Spitzer, former New York governor and client no. 9, wants to get back into politics He recently said of his bid to be the next NYC comptroller, “I’m hopeful there will be forgiveness, I am asking for it.” Anthony Weiner is making a run at the mayor’s office after his fall from grace when he tweeted raunchy pictures of himself.  Mark Sanford made a remarkable comeback after ditching his wife (and job) for his Argentinian soul mate back in 2009.  Don’t even get me started on Bill Clinton.  Has the public forgiven them or do we just have very short memories? Or maybe we just don’t care about sex.

I wrote that as a black woman, I forgave Paula Deen for using the n-word 30 years ago.  Does Deen need my forgiveness? Maybe not. But as a member of the group that was wronged, I am certainly entitled to offer it.  Am I giving her a pass because of her age and heritage? No.  She should have known better. But should her entire empire be demolished because of this?  If so, then a whole lot of other public figures should be joining her in the rubble of broken careers.

I’m forgiving her for using the n-word and saying she thought a “very southern style wedding” would be nice for her brother. I don’t know if she has contributed to a hostile work environment, the jury is out on that for the moment, but that’s another issue altogether.

What does it take to forgive someone?  The bible (I’m Christian) says that we should forgive someone not seven times but seventy times seven (meaning don’t keep count), and forgive others as “your heavenly father forgives you.” A friend says, “I forgive, but I never forget.” I like that. I am perfectly willing to forgive someone the wrong they have done as long as I believe that they are actually sorry for what they did, they’ve tried to make amends, and they don’t do it again.  But if you keep doing the same thing, well, let’s just say I’m not God.

Which brings me back to these politicians and celebrities.  How many times can they abuse the public trust and still come back? And how big or small must the wrongdoing be?  If you are not the wronged party is your forgiveness too easy to be meaningful?  I’m not Jewish, but I have a lot of friends who are (seriously) and I wouldn’t presume to forgive Mel Gibson for his drunken anti-Semitic rant. I don’t have that power, it’s not my place.  I can however, condemn him though. As a person who abhors discrimination and anything that vilifies a group of people I think it is my responsibility to condemn that.

So I’m not forgiving Alec Baldwin for his latest Twitter melt-down.  I don’t care how supportive of gay rights he has been, he does not get to put violently homophobic words out to the public and then act like he didn’t mean it. His response to his tirade hardly helped his case. “My ill-advised attack on George Stark of the Daily Mail had absolutely nothing to do with issues of anyone’s sexual orientation [and] I would not advocate violence against someone for being gay and I hope that my friends at GLAAD and the gay community understand that my attack on Mr. Stark in no way was the result of homophobia.”

Really Alec? Here’s what he wrote: “[I’d] put my foot up your f**king ass, George Stark, but I’m sure you’d dig it too much,” and “I’m gonna find you George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna f**k you…up,” If that’s not a result of homophobia what is it?  Not once, but twice he threatened violence on a man he refers to by a homophobic slur.  As a member of the LGBT community, I don’t understand and I don’t forgive him.  Forgiveness is for the truly repentant, and Baldwin has demonstrated no regret, remorse or shame; other than for being called on his behavior – again.  Baldwin is great at saying sorry and deleting his Twitter account, but it doesn’t hold much weight when he reactivates it just days later. He did the same thing after being escorted off an American Airlines flight when he refused to put away his phone before takeoff.  I guess he thinks the rules don’t apply to celebrities, or perhaps they don’t apply to white male celebrities.

I’m seeing a lot of double standards with this forgiveness business.  Race matters, gender matters, sexuality matters and certainly class matters. So I guess I’d better watch what I say tomorrow; I certainly won’t be forgiven.

A country divided?

When I wrote “I’m Black and I forgive Paula Deen” I was hoping to start a conversation about the state of race in America using Paula Deen’s mess as a jumping off point. Judging by the comments on Salon it looks like it worked. I haven’t jumped into the fray of online comments, but to those who said I should read the deposition, I did.  I try to be as informed and educated about a subject as possible before reaching an opinion.  Mine, was based on Deen’s deposition (all 150 pages of it), her public persona and my personal experience with racism in this country.

But I think my main point was missed by many.  What Paula Deen says, said or didn’t say really doesn’t affect my life, but decisions by the Supreme Court do.  The fact that the national media has been able to make such a big deal over the racist epithet she admitted to saying 30 years ago (not the actual point of the lawsuit which is about a hostile workplace) demonstrates that we are not a post-racial society.  Race or ethnicity is still the biggest factor when it come to discrimination today. According to the EEOC the most discrimination complaints filed fall under the categories that define race, (over 47% of the charges).

So while the Supreme Court takes a step forward in guaranteeing that all Americans are treated the same with its rejection of DOMA as unconstitutional, it took one back when it killed the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Already Texas has said it will move forward with its law requiring photo I.D. to vote and changing the district lines so as to limit the power of the Hispanic voting majority.  It’s just a matter of time before other states follow suit.  The same qualifying tests that kept minorities from voting during Jim Crow will be able to be passed without federal supervision. Redistricting will allow those in power to stay in power, and the disenfranchised to remain without a voice. I had hoped we had moved beyond this as a country, but Texas’s actions prove that SCOTUS is out of touch with reality.

Wednesday the Chicago Tribune, along with many other media outlets, reported that a contestant from the CBS show “Big Brother” was being dropped by her modeling agency due to racist and homophobic comments she made on the subscription only “Big Brother” Live Feed. Apparently, 22 year old Aaryn Gries thought it was just fine to say, “that Helen, who is Asian American, should ‘shut up and go make some rice’ and that ‘she is the first Asian I know who doesn’t do nails.’ She also called Andy, who is gay, a ‘queer,’ and said that Candice and Howard, who are black, would naturally stick together ‘because of the black thing.’ She also said people should be careful what they say about Candice when the lights are out because ‘you might not be able to see that bitch.'” What?!

Is this the country that the Justices claim is no longer divided along race lines? Obviously they are not living in the same country as I am. I’m no less surprised to know that this young lady thinks these things than I was to hear that Deen used the N-word three decades ago. The country has made great strides forward in improving race relations, but it still has an awful long way to go. Not too long ago, no one would dare to utter such ignorantly bigoted words on a broadcast where anyone and everyone could hear. But it seems that Gries, a Texan (am I seeing a theme?) didn’t see anything wrong with it.

But wait, that’s not all. Another contestant on the same show, Ginamarie Zimmerman has lost her job with the East Coast USA Pageant after calling welfare “N—–  insurance” on Big Brother’s live feed.  Sure SCOTUS, the country isn’t divided along racial lines at all, it’s just a thing of the past – NOT.

Big Brother is the worst kind of reality show, one that makes abhorrent behavior profitable and seemingly innocuous. But it isn’t innocuous, it’s hate speech plain and simple. And it doesn’t stop with racist remarks. No, the Big Brother house has some homophobes too.

Andy Herren, the openly gay contestant this season has been the recipient of some hate also, being called “f-g” by more than one of the housemates.

And what is CBS doing about this? Not a thing it seems. They’ve issued a statement saying that these views aren’t theirs and they obviously don’t condone them. But I guess since the contestants are still in the house, CBS and the Big Brother producers aren’t too sorry about portraying Americans as rude, ignorant racists and homophobic bigots.

So this is my question to you: Is America becoming more divided (by race, religion, political party, sexuality etc.) or is SCOTUS right, and laws that protect minorities’ rights are no longer necessary because we are all one big happy country?