Unapologetic progressive. Fearless activist. Plucky liberal.

Archive for the ‘holiday’ Category

What are you willing to sacrifice?

That’s a question every white person should be asking themselves right now.

“What am I willing to sacrifice in order to be anti-racist and resist the Trump administration?”

If the answer is “nothing,” you’re part of the problem, and you’ve come to the wrong place. Part of talking with other white people, especially those we know well, is that there have to be consequences for bad behavior. If someone you know is racist, and their beliefs are never challenged and they never face consequences for it, why would they change? Maybe they don’t deserve your loyalty or the gift of your company anymore.

I fully expect to be ending relationships with people in the days and weeks ahead. I used to be able to agree to disagree on politics. Not anymore. Someone who cannot see my humanity and the humanity of millions of Americans is not someone I want in my life.

If, however, there are people in your life you think can change, or if you need to work on your own views, here are some more things to think about:

–If a person of color says something or someone is racist, don’t argue with them. Don’t say “well, actually,” or defend the racism. The same applies if someone tells you that you have said or done something racist. Don’t be defensive. Don’t deny it. You’re being given a chance to identify and change your behavior. Take it and be grateful. An example of how not to act would be Ellen DeGeneres. She has done racist things on her show and continues to deny her racism. (This is also why the “I have a black friend so I can’t be racist” trope is false. DeGeneres is clearly a fan of Barack and Michelle Obama, yet she obviously at the same time holds racist views about black people.) It doesn’t matter what her intentions were. Few people would admit to being deliberately racist.

A good example of how to behave is Chris Hemsworth, who this year apologized for appropriating First Nations clothing at a party.  He didn’t make excuses. He acknowledged he should have known better and apologized. That’s how it’s done.

–Don’t be the person who says “talking about racism is racist.” Talking about racism is its only possible solution.

–Know that racism is not a mental illness. Neither is sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, or Islamophobia. They are learned behaviors. Mental illnesses are not. That’s why it’s dangerous (and ableist) to dismiss Trump and people with similar views as “crazy,” “nutjobs,” “lunatic,” etc. It denies the racist person agency and obscures the fact they have control over their behavior. They can choose not to be racist, or sexist, or homophobic, etc. People who are mentally ill cannot choose not to be.

–Speaking of ableism, people who are disabled and receive government support are some of the most vulnerable under a Trump administration. Cuts to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security/SSDI are literally a matter of life and death for some people. Do not forget them and their struggle. One of the things that struck me about the deaths caused by Hurricane Matthew was how many of the people used wheelchairs. We must do better for people with disabilities so they can lead full, healthy lives. Consider donating to Human Rights Watch or Disability Rights Advocates.

–Finally, here are some good resources for how to have those hard conversations with people at Thanksgiving (itself a racist holiday) this year:

How to Tell Someone They Should Racist by the incomparable Jay Smooth

A post-election guide to changing hearts and minds

Speak up: Responding to everyday bigotry





Don’t shop on Black Friday

Well, it’s happened. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the United States, has crept ever earlier, to the point where big-box retailers are opening on the actual holiday.

My sister, who works at Target, shared this on Facebook recently (reposted with her permission):

This season, for many reasons, I implore you to not shop on black friday. I would encourage everyone to spend that day with family, not shopping. As an employee of Target, I am saddened for myself and my coworkers, that our store is opening at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving day. Last year it was midnight, now it’s 9pm, next year stores may be open all day, and it is not just Target of course. Walmart is opening at 8 p.m. These hours make it nearly impossible to have a Thanksgiving with our families. The sales are not worth it, the stress, the crowds, the rude attitudes people bring in, it is all one big scam. You may say that we could work somewhere else, this is true, but for many people, just to have job is a blessing. It would be kind of Target corporate to think about their employees for one day, to give them a whole 24 hours off for a holiday. I’ve heard their reasoning for the change in hours, but that is only their side, which when heard as an employee sounds a lot like “Corporate will make whatever changes they want, with no regard for your personal life, so suck it up, and get over it” Please spread the word, and if you do go shopping on black friday (which in itself, is a terrible name for a day) please don’t go as soon as stores open, it will save you a lot of stress. Thanks.

I have worked on many holidays myself, first in journalism and then in politics. I’ve also worked odd hours, so I’m grateful for the gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies that are open late or on holidays. And I’m sure we all sleep better knowing first responders are just a phone call away, day or night, holiday or non, should an emergency arise.

However, there is just no good reason for retail workers to have such unreasonable schedules over Thanksgiving. My sister works from 8:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 7 a.m. the next day. That’s just ridiculous. As she said above, next year stores may be open all day on Thanksgiving. Why? So these corporations can make more money.

I was out last year on Black Friday, but not shopping; I was collecting signatures to get President Obama on Indiana’s primary ballot. And the lines were unbelievable, at Toys “R” Us, Best Buy, Old Navy, Target… I couldn’t imagine why people were standing in line in the bitter cold when they could have been at home with their families. And because they wanted to get a good deal, many police officers were present to make sure the crowds were safe, when they could have been at home themselves or attending to more important matters.

Is saving a few dollars really worth the hassle? I don’t think so, which is why I urge you to honor my sister’s request. And if you absolutely have to shop on Black Friday, remember to be extra kind to the people waiting on you. They aren’t paid nearly enough to put up with the abuse they get this time of year.

Happy Father's Day, Dad

My dad contemplating the Gulf of Mexico

I knew immediately after writing my Mother’s Day post I had to write one for Father’s Day, and as Rick said, the pressure was on to make this one just as good. It’s not hard to please my dad, though. He loves absolutely everything I give him. Each time I see him, he points out how much he enjoys the gifts I’ve given him over the years: the watch for Christmas, the Chicago shirt for his birthday, the Kindle for Christmas a few months ago that he can’t stop raving about. It’s rare to see someone so honestly and thoroughly enjoy the tokens of your feelings for him.

My dad had an unusual childhood; his mother died in childbirth, his first stepmother died when he was 5 and his second stepmother was not what you’d call maternal. Despite all of that upheaval, my dad is one of the kindest and most loving people I know. He has a huge heart, and he will call me to say “I just wanted to hear your voice.” He is unfailingly kind and loves to meet new people. He can find something in common with almost everyone.

He grew up in Chicago and left as a young man because he couldn’t stand the traffic. Lucky for me that he did, and that in the mid-1960s he married my mom. When they met he was working at a newspaper, and did that for about 10 more years before discovering the non-familial love of his life: aviation. He became a charter pilot, and flew people like Hillary Clinton, Bobby Knight and Pete Dye. He also flew organ transplant teams. He worked odd hours and was sometimes gone for birthdays and holidays, but he never forgot us, and would often bring back gifts from his travels.

My mom was the one who sang to us, but my dad was the one who read bedtime stories. We read the Berenstain Bears, the Serendipity books, Bill Peet and the American Girl books. Peet is a delightfully quirky author and artist, and to this day my dad and I are especially fond of one book called “Eli,” about a clumsy lion who says his fastest speed is “lumpity clumpity.” My dad has a great voice, and long after we could read for ourselves we would ask him to do it for us.

Both of my parents love to read, but my dad is the one who collects books. He has a huge personal library with authors ranging from Lois McMaster Bujold to Charles Dickens to Dean Koontz to Patrick O’Brien to Lawrence Block to David McCullough to Sue Grafton to Mark Twain. One of his favorite subjects is the Civil War. All of his reading developed an intelligence that my family was convinced would win him a fortune if he ever consented to appear on “Jeopardy!”, one of our favorite shows to watch when I was growing up.

I was pretty sick as a child with complications from asthma, and my dad would listen to hear if I was coughing in the night, then get up with me to administer the noisy breathing treatments. He also took me to my specialist’s office in the state capital, an hour away. After the appointments, we would have lunch, and depending on which clinic we went to, we would either visit a bookstore or wander through a gift shop. The first Barnes & Noble I ever went to was with my dad after a doctor’s appointment. Not only was browsing bookstores one of our favorite things to do together, it was a regular outing for the whole family. We would often go out to dinner — my dad’s idea of cooking — and afterward stop by the Little Professor, or Book World.

My dad has always loved music, and for several years after my mom gave him a trombone as a Christmas present (he had played one in the Army band in the ’50s), he took weekly lessons. He loved to wail on his horn, and I was happy he enjoyed it so much, though it was tempered by the fact his practice area was directly beneath my bedroom. He is a jazz aficionado, and I’ve always been sad that was one interest that none of us kids shared with him. He also has a weakness for romantic comedies, and he can never resist watching movies like “The American President,” “Notting Hill” or “While You Were Sleeping” when he comes across them on TV, even though he’s seen them dozens of times.

My dad takes pride in all of my accomplishments, and recently when we say goodbye on the phone he’s started saying, “Organize those Obama supporters.” Like my mom, he is always ready to give me his help and support; when I ask for a favor, his response is often, “For you, dear, anything.”

He has had a lot of health problems in the last few years, starting with a stroke and including a heart attack, quadruple bypass surgery and dialysis. Any one of those things could have killed him, and I am eternally grateful that he is still with us. I have tried to appreciate each moment with him, and I have savored some of the especially significant ones: diving off a pier at our favorite vacation spot. Attending a Purdue basketball game. Touring my hometown together so he could point out where relatives used to live. I will never be ready to lose him, and not because he thinks I can do no wrong, but because of everything I’ve listed here. This is another occasion when I won’t be with him in person, but we’ll talk and maybe Skype later so I can say:

I love you, Dad. Thanks for everything.

What are you doing for Memorial Day?

Americans will be enjoying a three-day weekend because Memorial Day is Monday. Do you have an annual tradition or do your plans change each year? Let us know in the poll below.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

My mom wouldn’t hold it against me if I didn’t write about her today, but she has been such a supporter of the blog that it felt wrong not to. I told her when we started back in November that I wouldn’t be offended if she didn’t read it, because blogs and politics aren’t exactly her hobbies, but she has been a regular commenter and reader, and I gave her a thank-you hug the last time I saw her.

My mom grew up on a farm in rural Indiana as the youngest of four girls. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, and met my father not long after she started her teaching career in the mid 1960s. A lot of her family members doubted my mom would ever have kids, because she and my dad waited for more than a decade after they married to start our family. She retired from teaching in order to focus on her kids: first came my older brother, then me, then my younger sister. We did our best to try her patience, but she didn’t feel the urge to lose us in the woods surrounding our house (or she never acted on the urge, anyway).

My mom has all kinds of skills I wish I had made her teach me. She’s famed throughout our family for her awesome carrot cake and cheesecake. Whenever one of us misplaced anything, no matter how small, she always managed to find it. She made incredible homemade Halloween costumes for all three of us. Over the years I was a Smurf, Care Bear, Minnie Mouse, Betsy Ross and a wizard, among other things; my sister was a princess and Cruella DeVille.

Not only is she very handy with a needle and thread, but my mom is a great artist, maybe because she and one of her sisters would spend hours as kids drawing horses. (They loved Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Trigger.) One year in elementary school I was supposed to make a float celebrating Indiana history. I had no idea how to begin doing that, but my mom helped me create something out of a scooter boarda bendable plastic clown and a cardboard box. (She’s like the MacGyver of school projects.) One of my favorite Easter decorations is one she made herself. It’s a painted wooden circle on which she glued individually painted wooden Easter eggs, and I’ve made her promise I will inherit it (hopefully several decades from now).

These days my mom shows off her voice in her church choir, but when we were growing up she would sing to get us to sleep and to wake us up. (I liked the lullabies best because I’ve never been a morning person.) Perhaps one of the reasons I so love the lilies of the valley that are blooming right now is the song she used to sing about them: “White coral bells upon a slender stalk, lilies of the valley deck my garden walk. Oh, how I wish that I might hear them ring. That will happen only when the fairies sing.” I don’t have lilies of the valley at my apartment, and my mom has gone to great lengths in the past to make sure I can enjoy their delicate scent during their brief season.

Digging up plants is no great hardship for her, however, because her favorite thing to do is mess around in her garden. I can name maybe a couple of dozen flowers, but she knows the names of every little flower, plant, weed, tree, shrub and bush that grows in a 20-mile radius. I admit that apart from color, it’s hard for me to tell one day lily from another, but she can point out exactly which ones I gave her and for what occasion. We had a fun time a couple of years ago going on a Quilt Gardens Tour, which combined two of her favorite things.

All of her interests come second to her family, however. She was often on her own with us because my dad worked unusual hours as a charter pilot, but she didn’t let that slow her down. She volunteered as a room mother, Girl Scout leader and 4-H leader, and shuttled us to sporting events, friends’ houses, workshops, band practices and more. And she didn’t complain about it, even though it wasn’t her favorite thing to do. She and my dad helped me and my sister move back and forth from college doom rooms each semester, and in my case, helped me move into, out of, and set up three different apartments in three different cities. One of her biggest pet peeves is when I don’t ask for her help, because she is always ready and more than willing to do whatever she can for me.

Like most kids, I took my mom for granted growing up, but as I’ve reached adulthood I’ve tried to tell her how much I appreciate her and how grateful I am for everything she’s done for me. She’s had to deal with a lot of stress and grief the last few years. My brother died in 2004, and my father has had many health problems. I can only hope that I have inherited the strength and grace with which she has faced adversity. I can’t be with her today to tell her in person, but we’ll talk on the phone later so I can say:

I love you, Mom. Thanks for everything.

The flexibility of white ethnicity

Today is the perfect day to talk about optional and symbolic ethnicities, terms Mary C. Waters, a Harvard sociology professor, discusses in “Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America.” St. Patrick’s Day is unusual among American holidays in that today huge numbers of people claim to be Irish, even if they don’t identify that way any other day of the year, and even if they don’t know if any of their ancestors were Irish.

Chances are if you’re a white American of European descent, you do have some Irish in you. I’ve been told several times my name sounds very Irish, although I point out my surname is of Scottish heritage. But one of Waters’ points is that as a white American, I have the option of identifying as Irish or Scottish — or German or Swedish or Polish — if I choose to. People of color generally don’t have that same freedom to don and shed ethnicities at will, which is another example of white privilege.

If a black man claims to be Irish, even if he has Irish ancestors, most people will regard him with skepticism. For that matter, even people of color born and raised in America often are asked to prove their “Americanness” because they don’t look like a “typical” American — i.e., white. If you don’t believe me, just scroll through the entries at Microaggressions. (You should really read the blog anyway because it’s awesome and a great how-to guide for how NOT to act.) Perfect strangers will ask a person with Asian features where he’s from and won’t accept “Pittsburgh” for an answer. The man could be a fourth-generation American, but the stranger expects an answer like South Korea, China, Thailand, etc.

Waters says symbolic ethnicity is a phrase coined by Herbert Gans “to refer to ethnicity that is individualistic in nature and without real social cost to the individual.” St. Patrick’s Day is an example:

An example of symbolic ethnicity is individuals who identify as Irish, for example, on occasions such as Saint Patrick’s Day, on family holidays, or for vacations. They do not usually belong to Irish American organizations, live in Irish neighborhoods, work in Irish jobs, or marry other Irish people. The symbolic meaning of being Irish American can be constructed by individuals from mass media images, family traditions, or other intermittent social activities. In other words, for later-generation White ethnics, ethnicity is not something that influences their lives unless they want it to.

Gwen Sharp wrote another good discussion about highlighting Irish ancestry here, about a judicial candidate in Las Vegas who put shamrocks on her campaign signs.

So on a day when everyone claims to be Irish, you can celebrate but don’t pretend to be Irish if you know you’re not. Or, if you do, acknowledge that privilege to yourself. For myself, I’ll wear green and wish others a happy St. Patrick’s Day, but I’m proud of my heritage the way it is.

Fun Friday: St. Patrick's Day games

It feels wrong to post this today when so many people are suffering, but I know every Friday there are millions of people suffering even if they don’t make the headlines. St. Patrick’s Day is on Thursday, so if you want to get into the spirit of the holiday, try playing some of these games. They’re geared toward kids but they’re fun for all ages. The Shamrock Shatter game is especially tricky, and I found it’s easier with a mouse than a track pad.