Absolutely gorgeous flashmob tribute to Nelson Mandela by the Soweto Gospel Choir.

Just watch.

*

For the story behind this, and a translation of the lyrics, click here.

And not for nothing, but if you’d like to hear Mandela himself sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (“which he loved to use as an ice breaker when speaking to wide-eyed four and five year olds”), click here.

To watch his first television interview, in 1961, in which you can hear him begin to hint toward a need to shift away from nonviolence, click here.

And finally, to listen to NPR’s special program, “Nelson Mandela: An Audio History,” click here.

Big h/t and thanks to my internet friend from way back, @Cthulhucachoo.

Killed, halfway home.

I live in a lovely, upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago known for its trees, its schools, and its diversity. We’re also known for the safety of our streets, but we live at the edge of chaos, on the literal border of one of the city’s poorest, roughest neighborhoods. Literally: On one side of my town’s eastern border you’ll find our tony little arugula enclave; on the other, abandoned buildings and schools with no libraries.

We are safe here, but occasionally the chaos leaks out and across the street. Over the course of 15 years, I can think of five murders that took place within a few blocks of my home or my regular haunts, all of them Chicago’s violence spread west. These events don’t frighten me, because they don’t belong to me. Someone ran, someone followed. They’re not my story, however heartbreaking they may be.

But last night the chaos leaked out and took the life of a 14 year old boy.

Damani Henard’s family had moved from that rougher, tougher neighborhood to my town, so that he could go to high school here. He had ridden his bike into the city to visit friends and was, according to the Chicago Tribune, “about halfway home” when he was shot in the head and killed, apparently instantly.

That family lives blocks from my home. That boy was enrolled in our high school, would have ridden his bike down the same streets that my boy will walk come fall. His family had done what they could to make him safe, and they probably figured that a 15 minute bike ride down a well-lit, major thoroughfare was safe, too.

But they were wrong. Someone else — also a teenager, a 19 year old young woman named Ashley Hardmon — was shot and killed less than an hour earlier, not far from where Damani was killed. His mom figures her boy was collateral damage. “He coincidentally had on black,” she told reporters — as if, in a functional world, that would in any way consign a boy to death. But the world we live in is not functional.

This is not my story. This was Chicago’s violence. It spilled over again, through the tiny hole of a woman and a family trying to get away. Damani Henard was not my son.

But this is my story. This is my violence. That woman ran to my town to keep her boy alive, and the world in which we both live reached out and snatched him from her. Damani was my boy, just as much as every child in the streets of Chicago and across this grieving nation are my children, the children of all the adults who fail them again and again, unto death. This is what a nation awash with guns looks like: Dead children.

I’ve written before that white privilege is sending your son out into the world without the fear that he will not return — at the time I was referring to state-mandated violence, but race lies deep within the heart of this story, too. Who are Chicago’s poor? What neighborhoods go under-protected by Chicago’s police? What color are the families doing the fleeing? My black neighbors — the upper middle class ones, the professional ones, the ones who dress like me and talk like me and who send their boys to private schools because our high school, the school to which Damani was coming for shelter, doesn’t always serve its black boys well — they know far better than me that class and geography don’t always suffice. Their boys don’t have to be poor, don’t have to be surrounded by gangs, to be in danger. They just have to live inside their skins.

I made my son a cheese sandwich for lunch today. I held him as tight as I could without making him suspicious, without weeping. Damani’s mother will never hold him again.

In memory of Trayvon Martin & all American boys killed for being black: What is white privilege.

Trayvon Martin was killed a year ago today [February 26, 2013 ]. In his memory and in the memory of all the African Americans killed simply for having the wrong skin in the wrong place, I’m re-upping the following, written in the wake of Trayvon’s murder. May he rest in peace, may his family find some measure of justice and peace, and may we take upon ourselves the burden of making this country a better place. Stories like this give me hope.

****************

Trayvon MartinWhen my husband and I came to Chicago from Israel so that I could go to graduate school, we had no intention of staying here permanently.

But then the second Palestinian intifada happened, and the Israeli government’s entirely irresponsible and deadly response to same, and we came to a conclusion: We no longer wanted to raise children in Israel.

At the time, we only had the one child, a round-cheeked toddler boy, but the fact of his boy-ness sharpened the point. Our choice came mostly out of a desire to educate him differently, to not sacrifice his up-bringing and our values on the altar of occupation and settlement, but there was an unavoidable sense of having also snatched our son from the jaws of war — because in Israel, of course, every 18 year old boy is drafted into the military. Girls go, too, but they don’t see combat. They don’t die.

I bring this up now because I’ve been thinking a lot about all the parents of African American boys who are holding their sons a little closer today in the wake of the horrible, heartbreaking Trayvon Martin case.

My aunt is one of those moms — white as me, but mom to a black man who was once young, a young black man who was stopped for jogging in his own neighborhood, a young black man for whom she would tremble a little whenever he went into the city.

Like every other parent of a young black man, my aunt knew that my cousin could be frisked, arrested, and even killed for little but his youth, gender, and skin.

Like Trayvon Martin.

Like Travares McGill.

Like Sean Bell.

Like Timothy Stansbury, Jr.

Like Amadou Diallo.

Like Oscar Grant.

Like Orlando Barlow.

Like Aaron Campbell.

Like Steven Eugene Washington.

Like Kiwane Carrington.

Kiwane Carrington was 15 when he was killed. Steven Eugene Washington was autistic. Orlando Barlow “was surrendering and on his knees.”

All were killed by people charged with protecting them, whether as law enforcement or law enforcement support of one kind or another. None were armed.

When I look at my boy — on the cusp of adolescence, at the brink of a teenager’s certainty and stupidity, about to try on the world in the guise of a boy-man — I can imagine what might have been: We might have sent him to the Israeli military, he might have worn that uniform, we might have sat by the phone and trembled in fear.

But we removed him and ourselves from those might-haves. We stayed in a place where just being a young man did not by definition mean offering yourself up to die.

For Trayvon Martin, Travares McGill, Sean Bell, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell, Steven Eugene Washington, Kiwane Carrington, and countless others, however, there was never a choice.

These days, Americans spent a lot of time arguing about “white privilege” — if it exists, what it means, what its consequences might be.

But I think I know what white privilege is.

White privilege is never being frightened for my son’s life, simply because of the color of his skin.

****************

Please also see: 

What is white privilege, pt II – “If you watch the following and realize that you have never needed to share any of these tips with anyone you love, you’re living with a very particular kind of privilege.”

What is white privilege.

Trayvon Martin

When my husband and I came to Chicago from Israel so that I could go to graduate school, we had no intention of staying here permanently.

But then the second Palestinian intifada happened, and the Israeli government’s entirely irresponsible and deadly response to same, and we came to a conclusion: We no longer wanted to raise children in Israel.

At the time, we only had the one child, a round-cheeked toddler boy, but the fact of his boy-ness sharpened the point. Our choice came mostly out of a desire to educate him differently, to not sacrifice his up-bringing and our values on the altar of occupation and settlement, but there was an unavoidable sense of having also snatched our son from the jaws of war — because in Israel, of course, every 18 year old boy is drafted into the military. Girls go, too, but they don’t see combat. They don’t die.

I bring this up now because I’ve been thinking a lot about all the parents of African American boys who are holding their sons a little closer today in the wake of the horrible, heartbreaking Trayvon Martin case.

My aunt is one of those moms — white as me, but mom to a black man who was once young, a young black man who was stopped for jogging in his own neighborhood, a young black man for whom she would tremble a little whenever he went into the city.

Like every other parent of a young black man, my aunt knew that my cousin could be frisked, arrested, and even killed for little but his youth, gender, and skin.

Like Trayvon Martin.

Like Travares McGill.

Like Sean Bell.

Like Timothy Stansbury, Jr.

Like Amadou Diallo.

Like Oscar Grant.

Like Orlando Barlow.

Like Aaron Campbell.

Like Steven Eugene Washington.

Like Kiwane Carrington.

Kiwane Carrington was 15 when he was killed. Steven Eugene Washington was autistic. Orlando Barlow “was surrendering and on his knees.”

All were killed by people charged with protecting them, whether as law enforcement or law enforcement support of one kind or another. None were armed.

When I look at my boy — on the cusp of adolescence, at the brink of a teenager’s certainty and stupidity, about to try on the world in the guise of a boy-man — I can imagine what might have been: We might have sent him to the Israeli military, he might have worn that uniform, we might have sat by the phone and trembled in fear.

But we removed him and ourselves from those might-haves. We stayed in a place where just being a young man did not by definition mean offering yourself up to die.

For Trayvon Martin, Travares McGill, Sean Bell, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell, Steven Eugene Washington, Kiwane Carrington, and countless others, however, there was never a choice.

These days, Americans spent a lot of time arguing about “white privilege” — if it exists, what it means, what its consequences might be.

But I think I know what white privilege is.

White privilege is never being frightened for my son’s life, simply because of the color of his skin.

***********************

Update – please also see: 

What is white privilege, pt II – “If you watch the following and realize that you have never needed to share any of these tips with anyone you love, you’re living with a very particular kind of privilege.”

Vaclav Havel, Jack Layton, and the year that was in LGBTQ rights.

Over at BuzzFeed this morning, you’ll find a very heartwarming post: 40 Reasons Why 2011 Was the Best Year for Gays Ever, including such very cool items as:

  1. On February 1, the State Department began issuing passport applications that asks applicants for Mother or parent one and Father or parent two instead of for Father and Mother – “in recognition of different types of families.” (I didn’t even know this was a thing!)
  2. On February 23, the Justice Department announced that it will no longer defend the constitutionality the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
  3. In May, for the first time, a Gallup poll found that most Americans support legalizing same sex marriage.
  4. On September 20, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was officially repealed.
  5. On December 6, the Obama Administration issued a memorandum directing US agencies abroad to use foreign aid to assist LGBT people  facing human rights violations, and to protect LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. In a related speech to the UN in Geneva, Secretary of State Clinton declared that LGBT rights are universal human rights.

I often joke that the only reliable source for good news these days is the LGBTQ community, and it’s the ding-dang truth — but the deeper truth is that all of these advances also serve to show how far we’ve had to come, and still have to go, in recognizing the essential humanity of millions of our fellow Americans. Furthermore, it’s very important to note that while it was the best year ever for gays in the US and a few other places, it wasn’t particularly rosy elsewhere — such as those countries where a person can quite literally be put to death for being gay.

Yet these facts do not detract from the good news for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and I cannot help but think that as things improve in the west, they will also begin to improve elsewhere.

And this brings me to Vaclav Havel and Jack Layton.

Vaclav Havel (who I was lucky enough to meet and briefly interview when I was a baby-journalist and blustered my way into a press event in Jerusalem in 1990) once said to those with whom he would dare to overthrow Communist rule: “Truth and love will overcome lies and hatred.” As he lay dying, Canadian politician Jack Layton (of whom I only learned after his death) wrote a letter to his fellow Canadians, ending with: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic, and we’ll change the world.”

I often despair of the essential power of truth, love, hope and optimism. Forgive me — I am an Israeli peace activist.

But if anything shows how those things can change the world and save us from lies and hatred, it is the advancements made by the LGBTQ community in recent years.

We have so, so far to go — yet we have already come so far. Unsurprisingly, both Havel and Layton were staunch supporters of gay rights. They knew the way, and they, hand in hand with millions of brave LGBTQ people, helped show us the way.

Truth, love, hope and optimism. Maybe we really can change the world.

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