Why this Israeli is so invested in Egypt.

I have a picture of myself and my sister sitting outside of the Cairo museum, its red walls and reed-filled gardens a rather stunning backdrop to our full-on late-’80s Duran-Duran hair and our travel companion, my then-beloved Palestinian-Israeli boyfriend Ali.

We had gone to Cairo for a few days, in spite of the fact that none of us had any money to spare, because my sister had come to visit me in Israel — and dude: Egypt’s right there! — and also because only by leaving the country could Ali and I be together 24/7 without fear of being caught by someone he knew. I was a secret (a poorly kept one, as it turned out), and we wanted desperately to feel some kind of normal.

The entire trip was wonderful, even bearing in mind that our 3-star hotel had serious plumbing issues (remind me: When one flushes a toilet, it’s not supposed to come back up the shower drain – right?) and that with Ali at my side, I could confirm what I had suspected on my earlier trips to the city: Many Egyptian men do not think much of American women. Moreover, they feel free to express these opinions loudly, because: Arabic. (The irony here was that poor Ali — thrilled to be finally visiting an Arab country — was constantly thought to be American [even when not by our side] likely because of his height and pale skin [indeed, the further irony was that he could have passed for a Jew]. Men would say nasty things about us, and he would surprise them by cursing them out in Arabic. In its way, that was actually kind of awesome).

It was wonderful because — even with the dirt, the nasty remarks, and the nastier plumbing — there was that same thing in Cairo that I had always found there, a kind of warmth and vivacity that I’ve rarely seen in other cities.  The Cairo I visited was full of surprises, smiling faces, offers of tea, crazy (by which I mean: almost insurmountably insane) traffic, snatches of intense beauty, and antiquities so antique as to make the heart lodge in the throat. You try to visit the Pyramids — the actual-factual Pyramids — while your sister teaches your Palestinian boyfriend to whistle the theme song to The Andy Griffith Show and tell me it won’t be awesome. Just try! Also: Buying lunch in a down-at-heel Egyptian grocery store, turning the corner, and bam! The Sphinx.

Even more than the Pyramids or the Sphinx, though, walking the halls of the Cairo Museum was for me nearly a pilgrimage, a chance to get to within inches of the touch of human hands so far in the past that I genuinely cannot comprehend what their humanity entailed. I remember standing before a glass case holding a statue of a scribe (who I came to think of as “my scribe”) and willing myself to take in the knowledge that the paint around his eyes, the nails on his fingers, the black of his hair — all of it had been touched by someone who had lived and died some 4,500 years before me. I bought a poster of my scribe and he long hung over my desk, the closest I’ve ever come to a patron saint of writing (how that house-sitter managed to ruin it remains a mystery to me, to this day).

So as I obsess about the uprising in Egypt, I’m seeing in my mind’s eye a jumble of memories from three different trips: the halls of the museum (and thank you, brave Egyptians, for protecting it from those who would plunder your history), the tiny shop just outside the Pyramid-Sphinx complex, the pharmacist who helped me out when I had to explain that I needed “tampons,” the hole-in-the-wall restaurant where I brought Ali and my sister for “Egyptian pancakes” (not at all like pancakes, if only because they are a meat dish), the Nile — by boat, from the shore, from another shore, from a bridge, from another bridge — the lovely American University campus, and the people of the City of the Dead, coming out of the homes they’d been forced to build for themselves in and between a sprawling cemetery’s mausoleums, to offer, from the nothing they had, tea.

But the truth is that my obsession with, my hunger for, the news out of Egypt — for good news, for news of freedom and justice and hope — goes beyond the understandable voyeurism of a woman who was there for a minute, a few times.

Aside from anything else, I’m also an Israeli, an Israeli who has struggled for peace and justice for a quarter of a century. I know that the Egyptians don’t love the peace that Sadat signed with us. I know that they hate the occupation, distrust Israel and the US because of it, are prone to believing mildly (and not-so-mildly) anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. I know that the Magen David, the Star of David, the symbol of my faith, is often used by them as a symbol of evil. I know these things.

But in my heart, they are my people, too. I understand their anger, and I think the hatred can be fixed. And I am so hungry for justice to be served in the part of the world to which I gave my heart so many years ago, that all I can do is watch, and hope, and pray that the Egyptians succeed where so many have failed — that they will be able to wrest justice from the hands of tyranny, and find the way through to true freedom.

I wish I could be on the streets with them.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Egypt update – good links.

A few of really good links to catch up on the events in Egypt:

1) Al-Jazeera’s timeline of events: An excellent, brief summary of the protests to date — the bare facts to get your started or fill in blanks.

2) Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy: “Obama’s handling Egypt pretty well” – money quote:

I completely understand why activists and those who desperately want the protestors to succeed would be frustrated — anything short of Obama gripping the podium and shouting “Down With Mubarak!” probably would have disappointed them. But that wasn’t going to happen, and shouldn’t have. If Obama had abandoned a major ally of the United States such as Hosni Mubarak without even making a phone call, it would have been irresponsible and would have sent a very dangerous message to every other U.S. ally. That doesn’t mean, as some would have it, that Obama has to stick with Mubarak over the long term — or even the weekend — but he simply had to make a show of trying to give a long-term ally one last chance to change.

The key to the administration’s emerging strategy is the public and private signal that this is Mubarak’s last chance, that the administration does not expect him to seize it, and that the U.S. has clear expectations of those who might succeed him.

3) Brief background in The New Yorker on Omar Suleiman, the man Hosni Mubarak picked to be his new (and first ever) Vice-President when he dissolved his government but refused to step down himself.

Suleiman is a well-known quantity in Washington. Suave, sophisticated, and fluent in English, he has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak. While he has a reputation for loyalty and effectiveness, he also carries some controversial baggage…. Since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.

4) A powerful series of photographs – this shot of a crowd in Cairo’s Tahrir Square is particularly stunning, as is this one (from a different source), of a woman kissing a member of the riot police as if he were her own son.

5) Of course, my own post from yesterday is also a decent place to start, and it, too, has useful links throughout the text, plus a handful more at the end.

Egypt – January 25.

I know I said I’d write about the Palestine Papers as the week moved ahead, but as the week moved ahead, not only were my days still too packed to allow the rumination I needed, but then Egypt exploded.

So instead, I’m going to write a little about what’s going on in Egypt and the one thing an American can do to try to help the Egyptian people.

The protests began on Tuesday (January 25), Egypt’s Police Day (a national holiday), the date chosen as an opposition “Day of Anger.” The original protest was apparently organized by a group of Egyptian lawyers, the point being to protest the rampant police corruption that Egyptians face on a daily basis.

In the meantime, of course, the protests have just exploded. There’s a lot of speculation that Tunisia’s recent revolt is one of the reasons that the protests have gotten so big — but I always think it’s important to remember that a spark won’t start a conflagration unless there’s something there to burn. The Egyptian people have been brutally held down by their government for decades, living under a State of Emergency since 1967. As an Israeli, I’m sad to say that part of what the Egyptian people appear to hate about their government is the ongoing peace with Israel — I wouldn’t want to think of what would happen if that peace treaty is abrogated.

But having said that, if I’m going to fight for social justice in this country and fight for social justice in Israel and Palestine, how can I possibly do anything but wish the Egyptian people the best? They hate the peace with Israel in no small part because Israel continues to oppress the Palestinian people — at a certain point, I can’t fight the fact that just like people, countries often reap what they sow.

I have real concerns that the situation in Tunisia won’t actually be a whole lot better for the people there than what they were living with before, and if the end result of Egypt’s protests is a take-over by the military (which is what appears to be a real possibility as of this writing), I’m not sure that’s all that great either. Having said that, I’ve been much heartened by reports that, unlike in Iran in 2009, Egyptians protesters and security forces have had many shared moments over the past several days, including one moment in which (according to CNN) the sides greeted each other with open arms. No one knows what will happen, and the unfortunate truth is that, far more often than not in human history, “people power” all too often leads not to true revolution, but to a new kind of oppression.

So, we’ll see. My fingers are crossed, and my heart is with the Egyptian people today.

Among the very few things that Americans can do to support the drive for liberty and justice in Egypt right now is to write to their government to ask it to act on that support. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has asked people to write a letter to the White House, “urging pressure on Egyptian govt to release of M. El-Baradei, stop violence against protestors.” I called his office to ask “letters? Do you mean emails, faxes – what would be best?” and a staffer told me to send emails via the White House contact page (click here).

Following is the letter I wrote, just to give you an idea — obviously your own words are best.

Dear President Obama,

I write today to express my support for the Egyptian people. As an American-Israeli with an academic and professional background in the Middle East, I have watched Egypt closely for years, and I want to urge you to act in support of civil society and democratic institutions. Please use whatever resources are at your disposal to aid the Egyptian people as they seek to enjoy the kinds of rights & freedoms that we enjoy every day in the US.

Sincerely, Emily L. Hauser


A few interesting resources:

Why Egypt matters – BBC: “Egypt matters, in a way that tiny Tunisia – key catalyst that it has been in the current wave of protest – does not. It matters because its destiny affects, in a range of ways, not only Arab interests but Israeli, Iranian and Western interests, too.”

Washington eyes a fateful day in Egypt – Foreign Policy: “It’s easy for me, as an analyst, to push the United States to be forceful in support of the Egyptian protestors (sic) but I can understand why the administration appears cautious. That said, the arguments for caution are crumbling rapidly.”

Egyptian Activists’ Action Plan: Translated – The Atlantic: “Egyptian activists have been circulating a kind of primer to Friday’s planned protest. We were sent the plan by two separate sources and have decided to publish excerpts here, with translations  into English.”

Liveblogging Egypt – The Atlantic: “Tracking the ongoing demonstrations and government response in Egypt.”

Note: The links that I’ve embedded in the above text will also take you to a lot of good information.

On the essential American-ness of Muslim Americans.

Once again, thanks to the Twitter (in this case, @ggreenwald), I’ve been made more aware of an important issue than I might otherwise have been.

Apparently the reprehensible Rep. Peter King (R- Ignoramus City NY) is holding hearings next month regarding the threat American Muslims pose to their own country. King maintains that “over 80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by radical Imams,” and that when it comes to combating terror and times of war, Muslims are not “American.”

I’d heard about these shenanigans, but wasn’t really following very closely. Then this morning Glenn Greenwald (a man with whom, it must be noted, I do on occasion have my disagreements!) tweeted a link to that first story I referenced above, writing

This Peter King hearing on American Muslims is certain to be one of the most disgusting spectacles seen in some time.

And I just thought: Yes. Yes it is.

Awhile back, I posted a short compilation of Muslim statements categorically rejecting terrorism, which might prove informative here, and ThinkProgress has done great job of debunking the King nonsense:

King’s assertion that American Muslims aren’t cooperating with authorities and that Muslim organizations in the U.S. aren’t denouncing terrorism is simply false. At an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) reported that, “About a third of all foiled al-Qaida-related plots in the U.S. relied on support or information provided by members of the Muslim community.” …

But the hearings/investigations aren’t really about establishing fact. They’re about establishing an idea: Muslims are dangerous.

King is planning a show, a game, a series of entirely symbolic events, all with one aim: To establish in the mind of the average Real American [tm] that Muslim Americans aren’t Real Americans — that they are, in fact, a threat to Real Americans. Why, if a member of the US Congress believes these people to be dangerous enough to warrant hearings, by gum, they must be dangerous!

As such, facts — as written on paper or blinking on computer screens — aren’t really what will outmaneuver such an effort. No, what’s called for here are good optics. What’s needed is something, or somethingS, that will be more symbolically powerful than the implications of a Congressional hearing.

After seeing the Greenwald tweet, I immediately began thinking of all the ways that I would try to combat the hearings’ message, were I the Person In Charge of Public Relations for Muslim Americans.

How about sending Muslim veterans in uniform to the hearings (possibly from among the more than 200 Muslim Americans to be awarded combat action ribbons)? Or newspaper commentary by those who knew Muslims killed in action? How about interfaith prayer vigils across the country? Or maybe just Muslims declaring themselves in some public place outside the hearings, ala the Rally to Restore Sanity: “I’m a Muslim doctor,” “I’m a Muslim teacher,” “I’m a Muslim dad.” (I’d love it if singer Kareem Salama would chime in with his own sign: “I’m a Muslim country/western singer” — Kareem, call me!).

Sadly, I am not the Person In Charge of Public Relations for Muslim Americans.

But I believe I’m going to try to run with these ideas, or push them along, or put them out into the general political ether. How, I’m not sure. By what means, also not sure. But I have some ideas about that, too.

I’ll let you know!


In the meantime, if you have some thoughts about the essential American-ness of Muslim Americans, let your Senators and Representatives know! The best way to do that is via letter — letters take forever in the nation’s capital (really – security, and all), but we’ve got a little bit of time before the hearings, so knock yourselves out! The second best way to contact your elected representatives is by phone, followed by email. But however you do it, please do it! You can find contact information for you Senators here and your Representative here. This is especially important if your Representative is on the Homeland Security Committee – check here.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.


Al-Jazeera released a treasure trove of documents yesterday, Wikileaks-style, that it’s calling The Palestine Papers, and the Twitter exploded. The internet exploded. Analysis came quick and sharp and occasionally in very, very confident 140-character increments.

For good or ill I had but little time yesterday to pay attention, and today I have even less — the kids have a day off and I promised fun n’ frolic. I’m trying to remember that the world will hold steady even if I can’t immediately bathe in the flood of information that the Palestine Papers provide.

And indeed, I think it’s for good. There is too much information there, much of it concerning internal Palestinian politics, for me to take in quickly. Yesterday I kept seeing confident assertions that this means the end of the Palestinian Authority, this means the end of the benighted peace process (usually written with quotes around it: “peace process”), this means an end to the myth that the Israelis have constantly sought peace while the Palestinians have failed to be a partner in the process.

But it’s been my experience that people in positions of power — whether it’s the people we actually see, or the people behind those people (in this case: the Palestinian Authority, or the people in the US Administration who support the Palestinian Authority) tend to find ways to continue to call the shots. It’s been my experience that institutions that are enormous in scope and in which hundreds of powerful people are heavily invested (The Peace Process [tm]) don’t tend to just pass from the stage because of embarrassing information. And it’s also been my experience that myths die very, very hard.

Is it explosive? Yes. Does the  new information — such as the fact that the PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told Israel in 2008 that the PA was willing to cede all-but-one of the Jerusalem settlements  (aka: “Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem”) — present real challenges to the status quo and conventional wisdom? Yes. Is it all likely to have some real impact on the future of Israelis and Palestinians alike? Absolutely.

I wish it were my job to dig into this stuff and analyze it — read: I really, really wish I were paid to do what I’ve been trained to do — but it’s not,  and trying to genuinely understand, and make useful predictions based on, what amounts to an enormous document dump (a document mudslide, a document avalanche) can’t be done without first really digging into the material. It can’t be done off the top of one’s head — at least not off the top of mine.

Not to mention that more will be released later today, and if memory serves, there’s a third dump planned for tomorrow.

So I’m going to wait a little. I’m going to read some analysis, take some time, when I have the time, to do a little of my own digging, and probably by the end of the week, I’ll pull something together. I’m a graduate student in spirit, not a talking head — and for good or ill, the world isn’t waiting on me. I’ve got the time, and I’d rather get it as close to right as I can.

In the meantime, here are a few links: The Guardian has created an interactive database for the papers, HaAretz is of course all over it (here, here, and here are good places to start), Amjad Attallah is discussing it at Foreign Policy, and here’s MJ Rosenberg.

If you have thoughts, suggestions, lines of inquiry that you’d like to share, please comment away!

Where angels fear to tread.

The astute reader will have noticed that this blog (often touted — by others, not by me! — as an “Israel/Palestine blog”) has been very light on the Israel/Palestine stuff of late. Ever since our return from Israel/Palestine, in fact. Well over a month ago.

The long-time reader, however, may have also noticed that I do this periodically — I just check out. Can’t handle it. Choose not to handle it. Take an unplanned and entirely unintended Break From The Insanity.

Indeed, just writing this much has been no barrel of laughs, and I haven’t actually written anything yet.

Here’s the thing: When you’ve been observing, studying, writing about, and living in/with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for nearly 30 years (ellaesther – losing her damn mind since 1982! [tm]), you’ve seen a thing or two. You’ve seen it a time or two. You seen it over and fucking over, and even though each time it is, incredibly, unbelievably, incomprehensibly, worse than the other time or two or twenty or three hundred that you’ve seen it? It’s all stuff you’ve seen before, and have, moreover, predicted. Time and time and time and time again (again, again, again). After all these years, it is occasionally, simply, very hard to write about it again (again, again, again).

– Israel’s Prime Minister telling the entire world about how much he wants peace while simultaneously doing everything he can to prevent the Palestinians from getting anything they want and/or need? Check/check.

– Israel creating hell on earth for Palestinians under their control while simultaneously a) denying that it’s hell and b) insisting that it’s the Palestinians’ own damn fault? Check, check, and check.

– Israel doggedly building settlements in the face of massive international opprobrium? Check.

– Israel’s government doing nothing so much as maintaining its own existence? Check.

– Israeli society rejecting out-of-hand anyone who suggests that the occupation is Bad For The Jews? Check.

– Israel roiling with racist hate speech? Check.

– Violence — whether State-sponsored (read: war) or intra-Israeli (read: ideologically motivated murder) — increasingly on the horizon? Check and check.

– Famous (and increasingly irrelevant) politician splitting off from a major party in an attempt to salvage his or her own career? Check.

– The Labor Party shrinking to an ever-smaller sliver of a shadow of its former self? Check.

– Former members of Labor saying some version of “I knew Ben Gurion and you, sir, are no Ben Gurion?” Check.

– The Israeli people writ large complaining about how shit everything is and yet taking active part in seeing that it stays that way? Check (and also: check).

I just – can’t. I cannot. I cannot with this government. I cannot with this people. I cannot with the same old self-deception and self-imposed horror. I cannot bear to bathe in the endless stream of caricatured awful that my beloved country has allowed itself to be reduced to. Perpetuates. Appears to ask for. I just can’t.

So instead, I bring you the one slim ray of hope I have seen emerge from my benighted home in time out of mind: a column by the always, always excellent Bradley Burston.

The other day, the man who recently wrote the chill-inducing, elegiac “When the Messiah comes, Israel will deport him,” wrote the following:

I know you’re out there. I feel for you. The person with the good heart and the generous conscience, for whom Israel has become passion turned quiet shame. A person with genuine compassion for Palestinians, who may at this point seem more understandable, certainly more deserving of sympathy than these people, my friends, your cousins, the Israelis.

I have some idea what it feels like, a powerful, not easily comprehended fondness for Israel, a love which feels of late to have been stomped on, twisted, abused, manipulated, silenced, belittled, ridiculed, and, again and again, betrayed. A person who has begun to think that Israel, this Israel, is a lost cause.

You’re in luck.

In a piece he provocatively titled “Think Israel’s a lost cause? Ten reasons to think again,” Burston argues that “for the first time in a long time, something good, the decency that still somehow informs people here, has a chance of taking wing,” and lists some fairly reasonable reasons for admitting hope back into the heart — including “Avigdor Lieberman may be a lost cause,” and “Greater Israel and settlements are a lost cause,” and “The American Jewish community has begun to speak its true mind.”

I don’t know that he’s right, but I very much hope that he is, and I would encourage you to read the whole thing (why look, here’s another link!) — it’s not long, and it is wise. (And Burston is such a good writer that, generally, developing a Burston habit is a good thing).

Go, read, come back and tell me what you think. Or don’t. Whatevs. I’ll be here, either way.

Stewing in my juices, insisting I’ve run out of patience, hope, and will, even as I continue to obsess and pray for miracles.



Israel/Palestine: The basics.

Israel/Palestine: A reading list.

Israel/Palestine peace advocacy: Places to start.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

On watching an entire season of Glee in just over two weeks.

The boy recently determined that he wanted to start watching Glee, and at age 11 and a half, the husband and I determined that he could.

For good or ill, however, the boy was saddled with a mother who is a particular kind of geek, the kind who thinks that if you’re going to adopt an Important Cultural Phenomenon for your own, God forbid you should jump in all willy-nilly-like! No, no — one must know canon! And history! And such like.

In this case, I’m going to allow as how it’s a good thing to be saddled with such a mom, because it meant that he and I have spent a very enjoyable two and a half weeks working our way through all 22 episodes of the first season. Indeed, I fear that (having watched #22 yesterday) he will feel somewhat bereft tonight! (No worries: We’re already working on internet downloads of season two. We are nothing if not full-service parents).

Of course, for me it was mostly re-runs, and one comes away from such an intense re-run experience with a few new observations. Which I will now detail for you, forthwith and hereunder! For I am a giver.

  1. First of all – I know that episodic television isn’t designed to be watched one-after-the-other — and yet there came a point, at about episode 12, that I realized that if I had a dollar for every time I’d heard the words “sectionals” and “regionals,” I could keep my family in tacos for a week. If I added a dollar for every time the very existence of Glee Club was histrionically threatened? Tacos for everybody!
  2. Jane Lynch – Please someone, please, hire this woman for dramatic work, too. Please? I will pay you in gratitude and shower you with affection! And possibly tacos!
  3. Hmmm! Did you notice how often Britney dances with Artie? It’s like the writers were preparing us for something!
  4. Dude. Really. Upon repeat viewing, the storyline of the second Kristin Chenowith episode was exactly and precisely as trenta-weaksauce as all and sundry have said.
  5. And yet! Oh my God, even so, there were such amazing moments in that episode that it was still totally worth it. Kurt singing “A House Is Not a Home”? One of the most goose-bump inducing moments of the series to date (minus poor Cory Monteith’s contribution. It’s really not fair putting him in the same song as Chris Colfer. For shame, people of Glee! [Gleeople?]*), bested only by Kurt’s rendition of  “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” this season.
  6. Dude. Really. (Part deux). Upon repeat viewing, the speed with which Mercedes zoomed through her eating disorder (in the same ding-dang episode as Kristen Chenowith and the roller rink! Busy, busy, busy!) was just ridiculous. If the show weren’t so good, it would be frankly insulting.
  7. But the fact is, the show really is that good. Indeed, that episode was the first time I’ve seen ED, and more generally body image, dealt with even remotely honestly on network television, and bottom line, hyper-speed or no, it was a good thing. And yes, dear reader, I wept when Mercedes sang “I Am Beautiful.” Both times.
  8. And speaking of which – Can we hear it for the wide range of body types we see on Glee? Mercedes is Mercedes, Tina is Tina, Santana is Santana. The differences are neither glossed over nor treated as a non-issue, and they’re there. On my TV. Like in reality. (Granted, there’s a higher pretty-to-not-pretty ratio on my TV than in my reality, but one can only expect so much).
  9. And further speaking of which – it appears that the network teevee gods have decreed that Glee is to carry on it’s singing-and-dancing shoulders ALLLL the diversity that network teevee can bring itself to present. Let’s consider: Glee features 66%** of network television’s main-character Asians, 47% of its main-character blacks-not-specifically-scripted-for-black-audiences, 100% of its main-character gays, 100% of its main-character slutty innocents (Britney) (come on, she’s so sweet and innocent in her sluttiness!), 100% of its bisexual characters (main- or other) (Britney and Santana! Stick with me, people!), 100% of its plus-sized-characters-not-on-a-diet (main- or other) (though I do wish that Wrestler Chick weren’t played for the humor of how scary she is. At least she isn’t jolly), and about 500% of mainstream-entertainment-writ-large’s openly gay performers (Lynch, Colfer, Neil Patrick Harris, the guy who played Jesse).

Which is not to say that there weren’t occasionally uncomfortable moments sitting next to a 6th grader as all this revealed itself (thank God, FSM, and all that is good and right he didn’t ask me what “MILF” means). But bottom line, if this is his introduction to grown-up TV (and, a few episodes of Everybody Hates Chris aside, it is) then I would say we’re setting the bar pretty high and I’m good with that.

But I could do without the non-stop loop of “Don’t Stop Believing” in my head.

*No disrespect. I like Cory Monteith a lot. It’s just, you know: Pop voices and Broadway voices are not always terribly blendy.

**All statistics non-scientific in nature, entirely made-up, and for illustrative purposes only. Don’t try this at home; professional blogger on a closed course.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE How could I forget Modern Family?! Which has not one but two out gay characters, one of whom is played by an out gay actor?! I blame all the Journey now coursing through my neural passageways for driving that information from my addled brain. Thank you, most excellent Karin S., for pointing this out!

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

“Our God is able.”

Over the course of last spring, I periodically blogged about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Strength to Love. Then I stopped, largely because I’d hit a chapter that really didn’t speak to me — and as previously admitted, I sometimes have a hard time following through on projects.Then I started again, and after one more stab at it, stopped again — for, I believe, the same reason.

But what better day to go back to grappling with King’s legacy than his birthday? (Or, ok, not really his birthday, but the day on which we commemorate his birth.  You see what I mean). So here I am again. If you want to see the earlier posts, each can be read independently —  click here.

Chapter eleven – Our God is able.

Given my powerful tendency to look at the world through my It’s All About Me glasses, you will perhaps understand (though not, I hope, condone) why I was disappointed (again) upon reading this chapter.

I struggled with chapter nine so mightily that I gave up my MLK blogging for not-quite four months; I struggled with chapter ten so mightily that I then gave it up again, this time going four and a half months. And dear reader, I like chapter eleven least of all.

As a self-describedbelieving Jew and the wife of a deeply moral atheist,” there’s just nothing for me here. This is a chapter — a sermon — written by a member of the Christian clergy in order to reassure his Christian flock. And a very particular flock, at that:

An evil system, known as colonialism, swept across Africa and Asia. But then the quiet invisible law began to operate…. The powerful colonial empire began to disintegrate like stacks of cards…. In our own nation another unjust and evil system, known as segregation, for nearly one hundred years inflicted the Negro with a sense of inferiority, deprived him or his personhood, and denied him of his birthright of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Segregation has been the Negroes’ burden and America’s shame.

God is able to conquer the evils of history. His control is never usurped. If at times we despair because of the relatively slow progress being made in ending racial discrimination and if we become disappointed because of the undue cautiousness of the federal government, let us gain new heart in the fact that God is able. In our sometimes difficult and often lonesome walk up freedom’s road, we do not walk alone. God walks with us.

So as I’m reading along, once again struggling with Dr. King’s easy dismissal of what he calls “man-centered religion” (“Man is not able to save himself or the world,” for instance), once again wishing that he could meet my husband (or, frankly, about two-thirds of the people I know and love, genuine or very-nearly atheists who are actively involved in matters of social justice and outreach to those in need), I finally have to realize: This man was talking to people who were, no doubt, genuinely terrified.

Many too terrified to join their brothers and sisters in the movement (many possibly even angry that the movement was rocking society’s boat), many involved but terrified by the violence with which they were so often met, or absolutely discouraged by the slow progress that the movement was making, many looking back on their people’s long, nightmarish journey through the ugly woods of American history and coming away with the sure knowledge that hope was a fool’s errand.

To what extent can I — a white woman born two months after the Civil Rights Act was passed — possibly understand Dr. King’s audience here?

And the answer is that on a very real level, I can’t. The man was larger than life, larger than his position, larger than his community, he was a genius who offered all of humanity hope and guidance that we still desperately need — but he was also a pastor serving a very specific group of people, people who needed his service and his ministry. He would not have been fulfilling his mission, had he not ministered to the people before him in the way that they needed him to.

Or, in other words, Dr. King cannot be all about me. Even if I want him to be.

When I gave myself this project, I consciously decided not to learn about the book, but rather to study Strength to Love itself, in isolation. Dr. King’s words in isolation — to hear them reverberate in my head, and to hear how I respond. We are surrounded by so much context on Dr. King — nothing he ever said or did is allowed to just be — that I wanted to enjoy this personal discovery on my own terms and in my own time.

Today, though, under the circumstances, I realized that I should look into the timing of “Our God is able,” and quickly found the King Papers Project at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute — and thus discovered that this sermon, as presented in Strength to Love, was based on a sermon Dr. King first gave in 1956, and the version we know it in was crafted sometime between July 1962 and March 1963 — both moments in African-American history in which I feel safe in assuming that members of this country’s black Christian community might well have needed reassuring.

As humanity-spanning, I remind myself, as his mission became, Dr. King’s ministry began as one focused on the very tangible struggles of a very discreet community, one of which he was a member. I claim him for my own, but perhaps on the very day that we celebrate his birth, it’s worth remembering that at a certain point, he is not mine to claim.

Guest blogger: The boy.

I’m planning on returning to my blogging of Dr. King’s Strength to Love on Monday, in celebration of his birthday — but of course, in schools across America, kids have been talking about and working on Dr. King’s legacy all this week.

The boy’s 6th grade Language Arts class was given an assignment to write a speech about their own dreams, in the style and tone of the “I have a dream” speech. When Ted (that’s his name) asked to read his to us at dinner last night, I had no idea what to expect — but the tears were pouring down my face before he got a third of the way through.

In honor of Dr. King, and with great, enormous respect for this boy that I am lucky enough to call my own, I decided to post his speech here today. It’s a great way to start thinking about what Dr. King called on us to do — how far we’ve come, and how far we have left to go.

My Dream

I say to you today, my fellow Americans, that in 40 years we have accomplished something phenomenal. On April 4th, 1968, the legendary Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated for believing in freedom. On November 4th, 2008, exactly 40 years and 7 months later, a black man known as Barack Obama was given the position as the most powerful individual figure in the United States. Yes, what we did could be classified as amazing. However, our work is far from done in the endless struggle known as human rights. Many kinds of people still fight for equality. It is my dream that all of these people will be treated with equality and kindness.

I have a dream, my fellow Americans, that one day this nation will stand as one, hand in hand, with every race and religion. Muslims, Hispanics, Asians, Black People, White People, all people will regard each other as equals.

I have a dream, my fellow Americans, that one day you can love the person you choose to love and no one can say otherwise. That you can devote yourself to someone and not be discriminated no matter what gender they are. That the only boundary love will know is the content of your character.

I have a dream, my fellow Americans, that one day money will not serve as a boundary between humans, but  instead only serve to bring them closer. The rich class and the middle class and the poor class will live together, supporting and caring for each other.

I have a dream, my fellow Americans, that one day all of God’s people, regardless of their race, age, economic status or any other separation that serves as a dividing line will be united as one. Many people have been fighting the war for equality for too long. It is my hope that the end of this war is on the horizon.

My fellow Americans, I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day no one in this world will be able to push you down, regardless of any stereotypes. I have a dream that in all 50 states Muslim Boys and Muslim Girls and homosexual boys and homosexual girls and rich boys and rich girls and poor boys and poor girls and all of the boys and girls of America will join together and nothing in the world will be able to stop them.

My fellow Americans, I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day no matter what your community thinks of you, or what your friends think of you, or what you think of you, when you have a choice to make, your decision is the one you trust.

This is my dream. This is my hope, my wish, my desire, my own personal Messiah. I have a firm belief that this day will come, slowly but surely, and when it comes all classifications of people will join in a splendorous celebration of connection and peace. When this day comes the earth itself will cry out: “I have witnessed a miracle!”

written by Ted L____, 6th grader

January 13th, 2011

Great expectations (Or: Odd, unsettling expectations).

One carries around, deep within one’s bosom, a series of expectations, assumptions, and Known Truths, a random and rambly bunch of ephemera, stuff one didn’t even know one had collected and internalized, beliefs one didn’t even know that one was applying to the world.

Because they’re Known Truths — like, you know: Grass, green. Sky, blue. Who needs to apply that shit? It.just.is.


Oh ho ho! The sheer humor in watching my Known Truths be blown to bits over the course of my life!

Like just the other day. I was watching a video of the floods in Queensland, listening to the combined horror and oddly quippy chit-chat of the videotaping guy and a couple of women, and I realized: I think he’s gay.

No, wait. It went like this: “Australian Gay Guy is being funny — it’s so funny that Australian Gay Guy is being funny in these circumstances! [time passes] Wait. He’s gay? I don’t know that. Why do I think I know that?” And it came to me that I knew he was gay because his voice and accent are so similar to that of the one male Australian friend I have. Who is gay.

So, like, maybe he is gay, but if all men who sound like my friend are gay? There are a lot of lonely straight women in Australia.

Or like that time I was about to sit down with a struggling third grader at my kids’ school to work on his reading, and another kid asked to join us.

I tried to tell Kid B that we could read together later, because I knew Kid A would be embarrassed to read in front of Kid B, since Kid B’s reading was really good. And then Kid B started to read out loud. And oh my good nightshirt, he was as bad as Kid A!

And why, you ask, did I know him to be a good reader when in fact he was not? Because he was wearing a button down shirt and glasses. That’s right — I thought a kid had above average intelligence because he was wearing specs.

I mean to say.

I think about this sort of thing when I consider my unsuspected bits and bobs of random bigotry. The sort of bigotry that you didn’t even know that you had in your head until it comes out.

Like when I learned that the man I referred to yesterday as my “fave rave” (’cause he is), Ta-Nehisi Coates, is a gamer. The thought process, much as I cringe to reveal it, went something like: “Hold on. There are… black… nerds? I thought all black people were cool?”

Or like back in October 2008, when I found myself chatting with a young employee at Hancock Fabrics — and was mortified to realize that her detailed knowledge of the Presidential campaign had surprised me. She was a young, single mother, holding down two minimum-wage jobs — so I figured she didn’t read the paper. I guess.

And there was that other time I was asked to help out a different third grader, this time with math. I had to have the girl pointed out to me twice — because she was Asian. And didn’t you know? Asians are really good at math!

My brain sputter surrounding the notion of black geeks is comical, and easily overcome — analogous, I think, to the story told by the self-same Ta-Nehisi Coates about his early, only semi-joking sense that surely white women didn’t go to the hairdressers, because their hair was already straight. My observed reality had yet to include a black gamer, so, I just hadn’t noticed that I had an assumption. Ok — fixt nao.

The moment with the young fabric store employee, on the other hand, was genuinely troubling (seriously, what’s wrong with my elitist ass?), but the one that bothered me most was the moment with the little Asian girl. She needed help, and — even if for only a minute — I couldn’t see past the model minority stereotype that suggested she should be getting As.

That shit is damaging.

I don’t think I’m a genuine bigot — to my mind, genuine bigots are those who order their world based on bigoted assumptions (racial or otherwise), and either refuse to see the fact, or actively embrace it. I think I’m a person of good will who has unknowingly absorbed some bigoted assumptions (some funny, some not so much), who struggles to be honest and to root those assumptions out.

But it’s certainly nothing to be proud of.

Though it does give me some small measure of comfort to consider the full extent of the absurdity (glasses? Really?), because maybe I’m not so much a potential bigot, as a moron.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

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