What is normal? On the changing of American social discourse.

I was reminded of this post today and decided to re-up it. Because why not?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the broad American social struggle of the past 60-odd years, about what ties the whole messy package together. I’ve been thinking about how for the vast majority of human history, men have ruled the roost, but only men of a certain socio-economic standing — something that has varied from culture to culture (much as the ethnicity, religion, and geographical seat of these men has varied), but has always translated to “power.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in this country, in this time, when white, Christian men of a certain socio-economic standing (and heteronormative identity) complain that something is being ripped from their hands, that order hangs in the balance, they’re right.

They’re right, because ever since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement (or, in fact, ever since abolition and universal suffrage, but more comprehensively since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement), more and more people have been chipping away – tchink, tchink, tchink – at that order, and the central American discourse has become about who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior.

Like everything else in human history, there’s no straight trajectory, if only because the Human Venn Diagram is too messy. Black men are men; white women are white; rich Asian Americans are rich; Christians with handicaps are Christians; and every one of them is something else besides.

But if we look at the arc of American social and political upheaval since about 1955, that’s what it comes down to: Who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior?

Within those questions are, of course, many other questions (not least, of course: Where does your right to help shape our discourse impinge on mine? And: What are the words with which we may reasonably hold that discourse?), and every individual and community struggle is unique. I’m not trying to draw unwarranted parallels, or erase diversity of experience — it just strikes me that when history looks back in 100, 200 years, that’s what people will see: A massive upheaval of norms and mores, from all corners and all comers, a mighty tussle, often with individuals and communities tumbling over and on top of each other and each other’s needs and rights as we all continue to chip away  – tchink, tchink, tchink – at what was once Normal.

Seeing this arc, seeing a unifying question that goes beyond the rather imprecise metrics of “equality” and “perfecting our union,” helps me also to grasp what we in social justice circles so clumsily call “intersectionality” — because really, if in my struggle to achieve the space to contribute to the social compact and determine its parameters, I leave others behind, what have I accomplished? My struggle to achieve, say, the right to decide my own body’s future is entirely of a piece — is wrapped in the same garment of destiny — as that of a black man to wear a hoodie without suspicion, and a trans* woman to live as her most authentic self, and a Muslim in a wheelchair to both wear her hijab and have access to her classes.

What we’ve been saying for the last six decades, with more and more people listening as the years fly and crawl by, is that all of this belongs to all of us. We all get to say what society is and does. We all get to set and then move the boundaries of what’s ok. We are — all of us, even (often) the straight, white dudes — rethinking and reshaping the social compact itself.

This strikes me as a fundamentally American thing to do — wasn’t Independence the breaking of one compact to build something new? Isn’t our very Idea rooted in an ever-expanding circle of rights and interconnected responsibilities? Our system is flawed, positively riddled with imperfections, but it’s structured to allow us to continuously fix those flaws. It’s fundamentally American to do so.

Maybe this isn’t a particularly new idea. Many people have probably said and written similar things, and I’m late to the understanding. But this has been a fascinating notion for me to consider, and, ultimately, a tremendously hopeful one. This is our conversation, and we’re changing the rules — right now. Together. All of us.

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Who gets to decide what’s normal?

whatisnormalI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the broad American social struggle of the past 60-odd years, about what ties the whole messy package together. I’ve been thinking about how for the vast majority of human history, men have ruled the roost, but only men of a certain socio-economic standing — something that has varied from culture to culture (much as the ethnicity, religion, and geographical seat of these men has varied), but has always translated to “power.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in this country, in this time, when white, Christian men of a certain socio-economic standing (and heteronormative identity) complain that something is being ripped from their hands, that order hangs in the balance, they’re right.

They’re right, because ever since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement (or, in fact, ever since abolition and universal suffrage, but more comprehensively since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement), more and more people have been chipping away — tchink, tchink, tchink — at that order, and the central American discourse has become about who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior.

Like everything else in human history, there’s no straight trajectory, if only because the Human Venn Diagram is too messy. Black men are men; white women are white; rich Asian Americans are rich; Christians with handicaps are Christians; and every one of them is something else besides.

But if we look at the arc of American social and political upheaval since about 1955, that’s what it comes down to: Who gets to set the boundaries of our discourse, and who gets to determine what is normative behavior?

Within those questions are, of course, many other questions (not least, of course: Where does your right to help shape our discourse impinge on mine? And: What are the words with which we may reasonably hold that discourse?), and every individual and community struggle is unique. I’m not trying to draw unwarranted parallels, or erase diversity of experience — it just strikes me that when history looks back in 100, 200 years, that’s what people will see: A massive upheaval of norms and mores, from all corners and all comers, a mighty tussle, often with individuals and communities tumbling over and on top of each other and each other’s needs and rights as we all continue to chip away  — tchink, tchink, tchink — at what was once Normal.

Seeing this arc, seeing a unifying question that goes beyond the rather imprecise metrics of “equality” and “perfecting our union,” helps me also to grasp what we in social justice circles so clumsily call “intersectionality” — because really, if in my struggle to achieve the space to contribute to the social compact and determine its parameters, I leave others behind, what have I accomplished? My struggle to achieve, say, the right to decide my own body’s future is entirely of a piece — is wrapped in the same garment of destiny — as that of a black man to wear a hoodie without suspicion, and a trans* woman to live as her most authentic self, and a Muslim in a wheelchair to both wear her hijab and have access to her classes.

What we’ve been saying for the last six decades, with more and more people listening as the years fly and crawl by, is that all of this belongs to all of us. We all get to say what society is and does. We all get to set and then move the boundaries of what’s ok. We are — all of us, even (often) the straight, white dudes — rethinking and reshaping the social compact itself.

This strikes me as a fundamentally American thing to do — wasn’t Independence the breaking of one compact to build something new? Isn’t our very Idea rooted in an ever-expanding circle of rights and interconnected responsibilities? Our system is flawed, positively riddled with imperfections, but it’s structured to allow us to continuously fix those flaws. It’s fundamentally American to do so.

Maybe this isn’t a particularly new idea. Many people have probably said and written similar things, and I’m late to the understanding. But this has been a fascinating notion for me to consider, and, ultimately, a tremendously hopeful one. This is our conversation, and we’re changing the rules — right now. Together. All of us.

The boy responds to I Have a Dream.

Last year, 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 that 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 who I am lucky enough to call my own, I decided to post his speech here then, and am doing so again now. 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

Martin Luther King – not really all about me.

Over the course of a few months in 2010, I periodically blogged about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Strength to Love. Last MLK day, I returned to the project and wrote the following (which I have very slightly edited), in an effort to remember that he was a flesh-and-blood human who first and foremost served a flesh-and-blood community.  (The rest of the Strength to Love posts, each of which can be read independently, can be found 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-described “believing 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 likely 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 — a time frame in African-American history in which surely the members of this country’s black Christian community had great need of reassurance from their spiritual leaders.

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 discrete 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.

How to support Muslims.

UPDATE: The “Today I Am a Muslim Too” rally (see #6) is now behind us (read about it here) but all of the rest of the following suggestions are still a go!

UPDATE #2: Make sure you read this post, too — it’s essentially a guestpost, someone else’s most-excellent letter to his Congressman.

In recent weeks, I’ve produced a couple of  posts in which I call on folks to respond to the decision of Rep. Pete King (R-NY) to hold hearings into the “radicalization” of American Muslims, but as we saw yesterday, King’s hearings are not the result of a single, narrow mind, but are rather reflective of a broader wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and hysteria that gripped the nation on September 12, 2001 and has been roiling our society ever since.

I firmly, genuinely believe that the fight for the full inclusion of Muslim Americans into mainstream American society is one of the two defining civil rights struggles of our era (the other being the fight for LGBTQ rights), and I further believe that it is incumbent upon all Americans of good will to stand by their fellow citizens. So today, I’m going to make that a little easier for you. (more…)

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.

“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.

Right?

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.